In this fascinating study, Steven E. Lindquist investigates the intersections between historical context and literary production in the "life" of Yājñavalkya, the most important ancient Indian literary figure prior to the Buddha. Known for his sharp tongue and deep thought, Yājñavalkya is associated with a number of "firsts" in Indian religious literary history: the first person to discuss brahman and ātman thoroughly; the first to put forth a theory of karma and reincarnation; the first to renounce his household life; and the first to dispute with women in religious debate. Throughout early Indian history, he was seen as a priestly bearer of ritual authority, a sage of mystical knowledge, and an innovative propagator of philosophical ideas and religious law. Drawing on history, literary studies, ritual studies, Sanskrit philology, narrative studies, and philosophy, Lindquist traces Yājñavalkya’s literary life—from his earliest mentions in ritual texts, through his developing biography in the Upaniṣads, and finally to his role as a hoary sage in narrative literature—offering the first detailed monograph on this central figure in early Indian religious and literary history.
Steven E. Lindquist is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor, and Director of Asian Studies at Southern Methodist University. He is the editor of Religion and Identity in South Asia: Essays in Honor of Patrick Olivelle.
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