The Servants are not Subservient: Secondary Characters in Rūparāma’s Dharmamaṅgala

Dates & times

Tue 3 September 2019, 12:30 pm–2:00 pm


Lecture Theatre 2, Hedley Bull Building, Building 130


Rebecca J. Manring, Indiana University-Bloomington


The Servants are not Subservient: Secondary Characters in Rūparāma’s Dharmamaṅgala

This paper considers the “unexpected” aspect of some eastern South Asian literature and looks at the roles of some of the subsidiary characters in Rūparāma Cakravartī’s mid-17th-century Dharmamaṅgala. Lāusena’s friend Kālu the Ḍom leads several significant forays, and the Princess Kānaḍā’s maidservant Dhumasī is a very clever woman indeed. Despite their seemingly low social status, these people are crucial to the plot.

Both, and other secondary characters in the maṅgalakāvya, often possess crucial knowledge which their higher-status partners require to complete a task, and often they can move more freely between social realms. As Sudipta Kaviraj has said, “…the maṅgalkāvya tradition seems to disregard the Brahmanical hierarchy of virtues. The stable, unworried system of equation between castes and individual qualities and their professions is set aside, and boundaries are breached by a more radical imagination of possibilities” (“The Two Histories of Literary Culture in Bengal,” p. 516).

This disruption, or perhaps ignoring, of the Brahmanical hierarchy is a hallmark of the maṅgalakāvya literature, and of the Dharmamaṅgalas in particular. What can we deduce from this situation, and how can it help us understand the social milieu in which it appeared?

About the speaker:

Rebecca J. Manring is a Professor of Religious Studies and India Studies at the Indiana University-Bloomington.

She is a scholar of religion with special expertise in the languages and literatures of South Asia, and with particular interest in vernacular religious literature of premodern Bengal. Her scholarship, informed by her training in Asian Languages and Literatures with secondary foci in comparative religion and history, reflects her fascination with language in a multilinguistic society and with the social and political implications language choice conveys. In her work, she has explored community formation and how religious groups use biographies of key figures to define themselves. She is further interested in the role gender and gender identity play in religious affiliation. Her philological expertise opens doors to religious worlds not otherwise accessible. She challenges stereotypes about the specific “others” with whom she work, and present their stories to those who would otherwise never hear them. Doing this requires translation not just across linguistic boundaries, but also across culture, geography, and time.





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