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The Gods at Play

Līlā in South Asia

Edited by William S. Sax

Publication Date - 16 March 1995

ISBN: 9780195091021

248 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches


God is playful. Like a child building sand castles on the beach, God creates the world and destroys it again. God plays with his (or her) devotees, sometimes like a lover, sometimes like a mother with her children, sometimes like an actor in a play.
The idea of God's playfulness has been elaborated in Hinduism more, perhaps, than any other religion, providing one of the most distinctive and charming aspects of Indian religious life. Lila or "divine play" can refer to many things: to God's playful creation of the world and to religious dramas or "plays," as well as to various motifs in Hindu art. But despite the importance of lila in the cultural history of South Asia, few comprehensive studies of it are available, partly because scholars have tended to emphasize only one dimension of lila--either the theological or the performative--at the expense of the other. The Gods at Play fills this gap by bringing together scholarly essays on all aspects of this important Hindu idea, providing students with a broader understanding of popular Hindu culture and religion.


"Accessible enough to be useful for introducing college students to the rich concept of play in theistic Hinduism, and sophisticated enough to be of value to specialists."--Religious Studies Review

"It is very helpful to have this collection of reflections on the important notion of Play in South Asia."--Richard Lariviere, University of Texas

"Interesting overview of a key Hindu concept. Especially enlightening are articles by Hein, Wulff, and Hawley. Fills a gap in the field."--Robert Forman, Hunter College

"Good anthology."--Whalen Lai, University of California at Davis

"Looks like an excellent text I could use in classes next time I teach a course on India."--H.L. Seneviratna, University of Virginia

Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Lila, Norvin Hein
    3. Lila in Early Vaisnava Thought, Clifford Hospital
    4. The Play of the Three World: The Trike Concept of Lila, Bettina Baumer
    5. The Playworld of Sanskrit Poetry: Model Sakuntala, Robert E. Goodwin
    6. At the Whim of the Goddess: The Lila of the Goddess in Bengal Saktism, Malcolm McLean
    7. The Play of Emotion: Lilakirtan in Bengal, Donna Wulff
    8. Every Play a Play Within the Play, John S. Hawley
    9. Who's Who in the Panday Lila, W.S. Sax
    10. Class and Gender Politics in the Ramlila, Nita Kumar
    11. The Realm of Play and the Sacred Stage, Vasudha Narayanan
    12. Draupadi Cult Lilas, Alf Hiltebeitel
    13. Some Concluding Reflections, John Carman

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