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This course is an introduction to Prakrit, the literary language that was cultivated from the beginning of the first millennium ce, and continued to occupy an important place in the imagination of language, and the practice of literature, in South Asia for many centuries afterwards. During this time, Prakrit was Sanskrit’s other, and the two languages were constantly used in opposition and complementarity to each othe. This course will begin with a brief overview of the Prakrit literary tradition, and then of Prakrit grammar and metrics. We will then commence reading a selection of texts representing three main genres: lyric poetry, courtly epic, and the story.
Requirements. No knowledge of Prakrit is presupposed. Given, however, that we will spend most of our time reading Prakrit texts, you will have to choose at what level you are willing and able to engage with these texts. For almost all of the readings, I provide both the original text and a translation; for some, I also provide a glossary. Chances are you will find yourself between one of the following three categories:
- Some experience with Prakrit. Keeping up with the readings in the original should not be a problem.
- No experience with Prakrit, but experience with Sanskrit or Pali. After the introduction to Prakrit grammar in week two, it should be possible to make sense of most of the readings, although it will probably not be possible to prepare all of the readings thoroughly; hence the translations may prove useful. The glossaries are intended for those with a background in Sanskrit.
- No experience with Prakrit, Sanskrit, or Pali. It will still be possible to keep up with the readings in translation, but it will often take feats of intense imagination to find the literary value that is present in the original.
Prior experience with Sanskrit or Pali, accordingly, is highly recommended but not absolutely required. Some of the assignments will depend on a reading of the original texts that is possible for those with a background in Sanskrit or Pali and less possible for those without; if you fall into the latter category, please let me know.
This is a seminar, not a language class. I anticipate, however, that many of you will not have had extensive prior experience reading Prakrit, and that the one week we will spend on Prakrit grammar may not provide enough time for the language to reveal all of its secrets to you. With this in mind, we will schedule one additional session per week to discuss portions of the readings in greater grammatical depth. Everyone is welcome to attend these sessions. We will select a time in the first week.
Assignments. Besides doing the readings and participating in in-class discussion (40%), there will be two major assignments for this course:
- a presentation in class on a Prakrit verse or passage of your choosing (30%); these will typically be 20 minutes long, during which you may choose to speak, or lead the class in a discussion, or both; the presentation must be accompanied by a handout (which you are encouraged to either send to the entire class beforehand);
- a paper of 10–12 pages that addresses the Prakrit language or Prakrit literature in some way (30%); please speak to me before week six (April 30) about your topic.
What you will present in these presentations is almost entirely up to you, although we will discuss possibilities in class, and for each text, I will make available a number of editions and commentaries on Canvas. Please also feel free to discuss either the presentation or the paper with me beforehand.
Policies. Please do use computers in the class. Please also adhere to the University’s guidelines on academic honesty. If you have to miss class for any reason, please let me know beforehand.
What this class is not. As we will discuss in class, “Prakrit” is not the same a “Middle Indic.” We will not be reading any inscriptions in Middle Indic. Nor will we be reading any Pali, Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, or Gandhari texts. Given, however, that Prakrit is a Middle Indic language, learning to read Prakrit will probably help with learning to read those languages. Similarly, we will not read any stage-plays, nor will we discuss the language economy of the classical stage-play in any great detail; we will not focus on the minute differences between the so-called “dramatic Prakrits.” Nor, finally, will we deal in any depth with the religious literature of the Jains, including that portion of it that is written in Prakrit. These exclusions are partly motivated by concerns of time, partly by my desire to avoid the dry and pointless exercise of categorization that the study of Prakrit is so persistently afflicted with, and partly by my ceterum censeo that Prakrit was the deliberately-adopted language of a coherent literary tradition which deserves to be experienced and studied as such.
Licenses and disclaimers. The material on this website, where not specifically attributed to someone else, was assembled by me, Andrew Ollett, and is made available under a Creative Commons 4.0 BY-SA license, which means that it should always remain free and open with attribution to the original creator of the content. The same applies to the software on this site, except of course for third-party libraries. Since much of the site is based on a custom TEI-to-HTML pipeline, there may be some glitches and bugs. Let me know if that is the case.