William Elison, Christian Lee Novetzke, and Andy Rotman
A Bollywood blockbuster when it was released in 1977, Amar Akbar Anthony has become a classic of Hindi cinema and a touchstone of Indian popular culture. Delighting audiences with its songs and madcap adventures, the film follows the heroics of three Bombay brothers separated in childhood from their parents and one another. Beyond the freewheeling comedy and camp, however, is a potent vision of social harmony, as the three protagonists, each raised in a different religion, discover they are true brothers in the end. William Elison, Christian Lee Novetzke, and Andy Rotman offer a sympathetic and layered interpretation of the film’s deeper symbolism, seeing it as a lens for understanding modern India’s experience with secular democracy.
Amar Akbar Anthony’s celebration of an India built on pluralism and religious tolerance continues to resonate with audiences today. But it also invites a critique of modernity’s mixed blessings. As the authors show, the film’s sunny exterior only partially conceals darker elements: the shadow of Partition, the crisis of Emergency Rule, and the vexed implications of the metaphor of the family for the nation. The lessons viewers draw from the film depend largely on which brother they recognize as its hero. Is it Amar, the straight-edge Hindu policeman? Is it Akbar, the romantic Muslim singer? Or is it Anthony, the Christian outlaw with a heart of gold? In this book’s innovative and multi-perspectival approach, each brother makes his case for himself (although the last word belongs to their mother).
Although Buddhism is often depicted as a religion of meditators and philosophers, some of the earliest writings extant in India offer a very different portrait of the Buddhist practitioner. In Indian Buddhist narratives from the early centuries of the Common Era, most lay religious practice consists not of reading, praying, or meditating, but of visually engaging with certain kinds of objects. These visual practices, moreover, are represented as the primary means of cultivating faith, a necessary precondition for proceeding along the Buddhist spiritual path. In Thus Have I Seen: Visualizing Faith in Early Indian Buddhism, Andy Rotman examines these visual practices and how they function as a kind of skeleton key for opening up Buddhist conceptualizations about the world and the ways it should be navigated.
Rotman's analysis is based primarily on stories from the Divyavadana (Divine Stories), one of the most important collections of ancient Buddhist narratives from India. Though discourses of the Buddha are well known for their opening words, "thus have I heard" - for Buddhist teachings were first preserved and transmitted orally - the Divyavadana presents a very different model for disseminating the Buddhist dharma. Devotees are enjoined to look, not just hear, and visual legacies and lineages are shown to trump their oral counterparts. As Rotman makes clear, this configuration of the visual fundamentally transforms the world of the Buddhist practitioner, changing what one sees, what one believes, and what one does.
Divine Stories is the inaugural volume in a landmark translation series devoted to making the wealth of classical Indian Buddhism accessible to modern readers. The stories here, among the first texts to be inscribed by Buddhists, highlight the moral economy of karma, illustrating how gestures of faith, especially offerings, can bring the reward of future happiness and ultimate liberation. Originally contained in the Divyavadana, an enormous compendium of Sanskrit Buddhist narratives from the early Common Era, the stories in this collection express the moral and ethical impulses of Indian Buddhist thought and are a testament to the historical and social power of narrative. Long believed by followers to be the actual words of the Buddha himself, these divine stories are without a doubt some of the most influential stories in the history of Buddhism.
Explore this second volume of translations, in vivid prose, from one of the most celebrated collections of ancient Buddhist stories.
Actions never come to naught, even after hundreds of millions of years. When the right conditions gather and the time is right, then they will have their effect on embodied beings.
Ancient Buddhist literature is filled with tales of past lives. The Buddha, surrounded by his followers, is asked how it came to be that a certain person has met a particular fate. With his omniscience, the Buddha looks into eons past and uncovers the events that led to the present outcome and foretells the future as well. With stories of wicked wives, patricidal princes, and shape-shifting serpents, Divine Stories offers a fascinating illustration of the law of karma—the truth that the power of good and bad deeds is never lost. These are some of the oldest Buddhist tales ever committed to writing, illuminating the culture of northern India in the early centuries of the common era and bringing to life the Buddhist values of generosity and faith.
Andy Rotman’s evocative translation combines accuracy with readability, with detailed editorial notes comparing readings in various Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan sources. Divine Stories is a major contribution to Indian and Buddhist studies.
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