Namdev is a central figure in the cultural history of India, especially within the field of bhakti, a devotional practice that has created publics of memory for over eight centuries. Born in the Marathi-speaking region of the Deccan in the late thirteenth century, Namdev is remembered as a simple, low-caste Hindu tailor whose innovative performances of devotional songs spread his fame widely. He is central to many religious traditions within Hinduism, as well as to Sikhism, and he is a key early literary figure in Maharashtra, northern India, and Punjab.
In the modern period, Namdev appears throughout the public spheres of Marathi and Hindi and in India at large, where his identity fluctuates between regional associations and a quiet, pan-Indian, nationalist-secularist profile that champions the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and low caste. Christian Lee Novetzke considers the way social memory coheres around the figure of Namdev from the sixteenth century to the present, examining the practices that situate Namdev's memory in multiple historical publics. Focusing primarily on Maharashtra and drawing on ethnographies of devotional performance, archival materials, scholarly historiography, and popular media, especially film, Novetzke vividly illustrates how religious communities in India preserve their pasts and, in turn, create their own historical narratives.
Christian Lee Novetzke
‘This erudite study is an important contribution to several important issues in contemporary social theory, especially the relations of memory, history, and community through the past thousand years of the vernacular millennium. Deeply grounded in manuscript sources, it never loses sight of the living context of performance where the texts originated.’—Sumit Guha, Rutgers University
‘ … Novetzke lets us see the processes that allow the songs and stories of a fourteenth-century saint to live vibrantly today. His book might be called the “many lives of Sant Namdev” a saint (or sant) very important in Marathi and Hindi but neglected in English. With a discussion of “public memory” and a thorough explanation of the way in which orality influences literacy and performance trumps permanence, Novetzke brings the cultural world of Namdev to life. He breaks new ground in the field of bhakti studies in his use of many kinds of evidence, from the hand written badas used for several centuries by those who perform the song sermon called kirtan to the film industry that features the sants ...’ —Eleanor Zelliot, Carleton College
‘ … For Christian Lee Novetzke, the many pasts of Namdev offer an opportunity to investigate not only the literary and religious legacy of this important fourteenth-century singer—sant—of Maharashtra but the manner in which he has been remembered across the centuries and its implications in the cultural, social, and political history of early-modern and modern India. Along the way, we learn much about the place and potential of religion in history and the evolution of the public sphere in India and beyond. Novetzke is a skilled and sensitive writer, and he has produced a challenging, erudite, and engaging book that will interest both historians and scholars of religion.’—William R. Pinch, Wesleyan University