Buddhism Sugata Saurabha
by
Todd Lewis
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0261

Introduction

A work covering the Buddha’s life titled Sugata Saurabha (The Sweet Fragrance of the Buddha) was written by Chittadhar Hridaya (b. 1906–d. 1982), 20th-century Nepal’s most famous and accomplished writer in the Tibeto-Burman language, Nepal Bhasa (Newari in Western sources; Newa in now preferred contemporary use). This long work in nineteen chapters (spanning 354 printed pages) was originally published in 1948 and reissued after the poet’s death in 1982. During the early 1940s, Hridaya was arrested by the Rana government for publishing a poem regarded as subversive; while jailed for this, he wrote this poetic masterpiece, which he had to smuggle out of prison, at times using gaps in the metal storage boxes that families provided to supply provisions for the imprisoned. Features of the text convey the richness of intention and poetic ambition in Sugata Saurabha, and the genius of Hridaya is evident in the blending of both traditional and modern-Western influences. The work is an epic in kāvya style, yet written in Newari—albeit with a vast Sanskrit vocabulary. The kāvya center of Sugata Saurabha is clear in its other core features: stanzas composed in over twenty-five classical Sanskrit meters, the elaborate forms of ornamentation in verse and word choices (alamkāra), the constant reliance on similes and tropes from the Sanskrit tradition (e.g., “lotus-like feet”), and the use of puns (śleṣa) conveying dual meanings. The poet, through many traditional conventions, also seeks to convey a deep feeling for the subject matter by evoking basic aesthetic ideals or rasas. And yet while varying the number of syllables placed in each line, according to Sanskrit rhythmic forms, Hridaya followed the Western poetic tradition of ending each couplet with rhyming suffixes, a possibility that the vowel endings of Newari and Sanskrit words facilitated. The other mark of Western influence in Sugata Saurabha is the use of punctuation and indentation to mark quotations and the ends of couplets, mixed with more traditional devanāgari forms. Hridaya’s Sugata Saurabha conveys major events in the great teacher’s life, yet simultaneously, through his treatment of characters, the description of natural spaces, and by filling in the place and ethnic details that remain unmentioned or underdeveloped in the canonical accounts, the narrative also celebrates his own Newar cultural traditions. In places, the author expresses his own views on political issues, ethical principles, literary life, gender discrimination, economic policy, and social reform. Sugata Saurabha reflects the breadth and wealth of Buddhist ideas in circulation among Newar Buddhists in the first half of the 20th century—a contending realm of Newar Mahayana incorporating tantric practices; a reformist and missionary Theravadin faction in touch with advocates in Sri Lanka and India; a more subdued presence of Tibetan Buddhism mediated by Newar Lhasa traders; and the intellectual, modernist scholarly presence of Indian scholars, particularly Rahul Sankrityayan, who mediated the Pali and Tibetan canonical sources through Hindi translations. Hridaya’s reformist influences are woven through Sugata Saurabha. First, Buddhism is about social reform, intended to reform caste prejudice and uplift the entire society. Second, meditation is at the center of Buddhist spirituality and is for everyone. And third, Buddhism is compatible with rationality; that is, behind historical legends lies a demythologized empirical truth. So Sugata Saurabha has no miracles. Among a two-millennium-long lineage of Buddha biographies, we can place Chittadhar Hridaya’s Sugata Saurabha. He, too, draws upon classical sources, but as mediated by their rendering in two vernacular languages of South Asia (Newari and Hindi). An extraordinary poetic biography of the Buddha, Sugata Saurabha blends a rich awareness of Indic textual culture, Brahmanical and Buddhist, composed masterfully using a host of rhythmic patterns and end rhymes. It is a work that—where the classical sources are silent—creatively inserts details of the Buddha’s material life and urban culture drawn from the author’s own Newar context. It is an epic that eruditely describes the Shakya sage’s life and teachings, inflected through a prism of modernism. Making this work even more extraordinary is that it was composed in prison, smuggled out, and, with yet another more subtle purpose of defending the integrity of the author’s own cultural traditions, offers a positive vision of Newar life and for Nepal as well. Sugata Saurabha deserves a place among the great literary accomplishments of Buddhist history and modern world literature.

History of Newar Civilization and Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley

An ethnic group unique for its urban culture and a remarkable level of artistic achievement, the Newars have been the majority population that has shaped life in the Kathmandu Valley for at least the last millennium and a half. Protected by the lowland malarial zone from colonization by states to the south (Indic, Muslim, British), and by the high Himalayan range from Tibet and China to the north, the Newars created their own civilization, adapted predominantly from the cultures of North India. Living traditions of art, architecture, texts, rituals, and festival celebration that originated in ancient and medieval India endure in great multiplicity in a valley roughly sixty square miles in extent. Buddhism is perhaps the most notable Indic cultural survival, as it has remained a separate tradition followed by distinct Newar castes, primarily in the largest cities and towns. Newar Buddhists have long lived alongside other Newars practicing many other Indic religious traditions, from those derived from very ancient Vedic practices to those associated with modern Hindu teachers. Devotional practices focused on the great gods extolled in the Puranas (Shiva, Vishnu and his incarnations, the goddesses) and many traditions of tantra (Hindu, Buddhist, mixed) have predominated for the last thousand years. In the Kathmandu Valley, Hindus and Buddhists are roughly equal in number, unlike Nepal as a whole, where Hindus are a large majority. So rich are these myriad Indic cultural traditions that scholars of both Hinduism and Buddhism have found Sanskrit manuscripts, surviving cultural practices, and Newar art and architecture to be notable resources for reconstructing the traditions of pre-Islamic South Asian culture.

  • Allen, Michael. “Buddhism without Monks: The Vajrayana Religion of the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley.” South Asia 3 (1973): 1–14.

    DOI: 10.1080/00856407308730672Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A classic general overview of the Newar Buddhist tradition.

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    • Gellner, David N. Monk, Householder and Tantric Priest: Newar Buddhism and Its Hierarchy of Ritual. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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      The finest study of Newar Buddhist tradition, focusing on the Shakya and Vajracarya castes and their traditions in Patan.

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      • Gellner, David, and Declan Quigley, eds. Contested Hierarchies: A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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        An edited volume that covers Newar society across the major castes that define its social fabric, including the Urāy merchant class of Hridaya, the Tulādhars.

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        • Lewis, Todd T., and Naresh Man Bajracharya. “Vajrayāna Traditions in Nepal.” In Tantric Traditions in Transmission and Translation. Edited by David B. Gray and Ryan Richard Overbey, 87–198. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

          DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199763689.003.0004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Recent collaborative chapter sketching what is known about the history of Buddhist traditions in the Kathmandu Valley, drawing upon textual, epigraphic, and art-historical records. Attention is also focused on the nature of the Buddhist traditions up to contemporary times, including efforts to revitalize ritual and spiritual practices.

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          • Lienhard, Siegfried. “Nepal: The Survival of Indian Buddhism in a Himalayan Kingdom.” In The World of Buddhism: Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Society and Culture. Edited by Heinz Bechert and Richard Gombrich, 108–114. New York: Facts on File, 1984.

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            Another very concise overview of the Newar Buddhist traditions, emphasizing the continuities between later traditions in the Gangetic Plain and their continuity in the Kathmandu Valley.

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            • Locke, John K. “The Vajrayāna Buddhism in the Kathmandu Valley.” In The Buddhist Heritage of Nepal. 1–36. Kathmandu, Nepal: Dharmodaya Sabba, 1986.

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              An insightful descriptive overview of the tantric traditions in Newar society, by one of the great scholars of this tradition.

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              • Slusser, Mary. Nepal Mandala. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

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                A monumental study of the history of the art and architectural monuments of the Kathmandu Valley, with a separate volume dedicated to photographic documentation.

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                Classical Biographies of the Buddha

                The drama of the prince Siddhartha renouncing his palace and family life to pursue the path to nirvana has been the central and foundational spiritual narrative of Buddhist tradition. Inspiring disciples from India to Japan, biographies of the Buddha have informed devotees about the central tenets of the dharma, or Buddhist doctrine. Since the origin of Buddhist tradition, narratives have described this story: a man blessed with worldly wealth who renounces everything, undergoing penances and arduous solitary searching, to reach a profound awakening called enlightenment; calling himself a Buddha, he becomes an itinerant spiritual leader who wanders for nearly forty-five years in forests and city lanes to teach others out of his compassion for human suffering. Firsthand orally transmitted accounts of the Buddha’s life were collected after his death, and these were transmitted over the first centuries in the spoken local vernaculars of North India. Monks who were specialists in the remembered recitations eventually assembled standard oral renderings of the Buddha’s life, and these found their way into the earliest portions of the written canons in Sanskrit, Prakrits, and Pali. Building on the oral renditions, especially those that found their way into the narrative strands scattered in the first canonical accounts, later Indian scholars, predominantly monks, composed their own written hagiographic accounts of this great spiritual teacher by the turn of the Common Era. Parallel and seemingly congruent traditions in painting and sculpture, marking the beginnings of Buddhist art, also illustrated the Buddha Shakyamuni’s life, becoming the chief focus of early Buddhist art, adorning stūpas, shrine rooms, and texts. As with other genres of Buddhist literature, translations from the canonical texts and the later biographical compositions were then made into the spoken vernacular languages across Asia wherever Buddhism spread, offering the chance for interpretative redactions, both stylistic and doctrinal. The first biographies written in Sanskrit were later translated into Chinese, Tibetan, Thai, Japanese, and Korean to inspire the disciples of the respective communities. Renderings from these textual sources into vernacular languages provide important insights into the cultural adaptations characteristic of the different communities where Buddhism spread. (There will doubtless be more extensive treatments of this theme in the Oxford Bibliographies in Buddhism.) Sugata Saurabha provides one of Asia’s few modern examples of this phenomenon.

                • Bays, Gwendolyn, trans. The Lalitavistara Sutra: The Voice of the Buddha, the Beauty of Compassion. 2 vols. Berkeley, CA: Dharma Publications, 1983.

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                  The sole English translation of this work, which was much influenced by early Mahayana traditions, and ends with the enlightenment of the Buddha.

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                  • Cowell, E. B. “The Buddhacarita.” In Buddhist Mahayana Texts. Edited by F. Max Muller. New York: Dover Reprints, 1969.

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                    One of two translations of this ancient work, written originally in beautiful Sanskrit verse by a noted monk who was a learned Brahmin. The chapters after the enlightenment no longer exist in Sanskrit, although a chapter composed by a Newar pandit from the Kathmandu Valley has been appended.

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                    • Ñānamoli, Bhikkhu. The Life of the Buddha. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1972.

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                      An anthology of texts from the Pali Canon that have been arranged to create a continuous narrative. In that the author is a modern monk, and this work is a modern “construction,” this could also be considered a “modern life of the Buddha.”

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                      • Olivelle, Patrick. Life of the Buddha by Ashva-ghosha. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

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                        A fine translation of the extant Sanskrit text, with an English summary of the chapters now found only in Tibetan and Chinese.

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                        • Schaeffer, Kurtis, trans. Tenzin Chogyel’s Life of the Buddha. New York: Penguin, 2015.

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                          A translation of an early modern account of the Buddha’s life by a Tibetan scholar (1701–1767) that is masterfully and concisely contextualized by the translator.

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                          Modern Biographies of the Buddha

                          The topic of the Buddha’s life continues to inspire the translation of new textual sources. This bibliography lists the major translations of the last three centuries. Arnold’s poem (Arnold 1969) must be construed through the lens of empire and Theosophy. Kerouac’s effort (Kerouac 1999) was informed by scholarship, but it must be read in the light of the Beat movement (1950–1965) and its appropriation of Buddhist ideas. The Japanese graphic volumes by one of its leading practitioners (Tezuka 2000–2005) are in part a product of this tradition’s fiction tradition, especially in its introduction of fantasy figures to the traditional story.

                          • Arnold, Edwin. The Light of Asia. London: Quest, 1969.

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                            An enthusiastic, sympathetic, Orientalist account of the Buddha’s life. It is possible that Hridaya read a Hindi translation of this work. First published 1879.

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                            • Kalupahana, David J., and Indrani Kalupahana. The Way of Siddhartha: A Life of the Buddha. Lantham, MD: University Press of America, 1987.

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                              A modern scholarly attempt to construct a coherent biography of the Buddha. It draws on texts from the Pali Canon and conscientiously eliminates all kinds of miracles in the retelling.

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                              • Kerouac, Jack. Some of the Dharma. New York: Penguin, 1999.

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                                A creative compilation of accounts on the Buddha’s life from a major figure in the “Beat” movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

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                                • Tezuka, Osamu. Buddha. 8 vols. New York: Vertical Press, 2000–2005.

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                                  A “graphic novel” series on the Buddha’s life by one of Japan’s major artists working in this genre, here in English translation. Tezuka introduces a character whose life parallel’s Siddhartha’s.

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                                  Scholarly Studies on the Life of the Buddha

                                  Scholarly monographs and essays offering new interpretations of the Buddha’s life are a rich and frequent topic of scholarship. Reliance solely on the Pali Canon among the many ancient texts has been a source of bias, largely since the non-Pali texts were (and still are) not identified and translated into European languages. The monograph Beckwith 2017 proposes that the Buddha was significantly immersed in the philosophy of Pyrrho, the famous founder of skepticism in ancient Greece. The most thorough scholarly treatment of this field of Buddha interpretation is found in Strong 2001. A historical survey of the evolving understanding of the Buddha in the West is engagingly conveyed in Lopez 2013.

                                  • Bareau, André. Recherches sur la biographie du Buddha dans les Sutrapitaka et les Vinayapitaka anciens: De la quête du l’éveil à la conversion de Shāriputra et de Maudgalyāyana. Paris: Presses de l'Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient, 1972.

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                                    A classic, thoroughgoing modern scholarly work seeking to aggregate historical layers to the Pali sources up to early in the Buddha’s teaching career.

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                                    • Beckwith, Christopher. Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

                                      DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691176321.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      A study attempting to show how the Buddha was culturally if not ethnically Greek, drawing on archaeological and Hellenistic sources. This hypothesis has been widely criticized by both Indologists and classical scholars.

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                                      • Cummings, Mary. The Lives of the Buddha in the Art and Literature of Asia. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, 1982.

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                                        A useful recounting of the Buddha’s life adduced from various sources, with special attention to depictions of the story’s many stages as portrayed in various artistic media.

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                                        • Lopez, Donald S. From Stone to Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2013.

                                          DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226493213.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          A thorough account of how the Buddha was first conceived, and repeatedly reconceived, in the various sectors of Western culture, from the missionary to the scholarly.

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                                          • Penner, Hans H. Rediscovering the Buddha: Legends of the Buddha and Their Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

                                            DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385823.001.1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            The first half of the book presents another standard recounting of major incidents in the Buddha’s biography, but drawing only on Pali sources. The second portion examines the legends as mythical constructions; the author argues against using these early accounts to construct a literal historical narrative.

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                                            • Strong, John S. The Buddha: A Short Biography. Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2001.

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                                              An excellent, modern overview for the general reader by an acclaimed scholar of Buddhism. The book moves through the Buddha’s life, attentive to major events, including the founding of the sangha, interactions with famous donors, and miracles. Also original are Strong’s insights on the received textual constructions of the founder’s life.

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                                              • Thomas, Edward J. The Life of the Buddha as Legend and History. 3d ed. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949.

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                                                The classic and still cogent presentation of the legends and other narratives, drawing on both Pali and Sanskrit sources.

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                                                Sources for the Epic

                                                A strong adherent born into a Buddhist family, a polyglot with a facility for languages, and an intellectual with wide-ranging interests, Hridaya also had the educational foundation to undertake the challenge of composing the Buddha’s biography. Newar Mahayana tradition in the last century emphasized specific aspects of Shakyamuni’s life, as the four chief moments are often depicted in the art on Newar caityas, frescoes, and paintings The Buddha’s return to Kapilavastu is likewise often shown in art and recounted in song. Finally, there is a set of popular narratives that have been especially popular in Newar Buddhist culture into the 20th century; most prominent among these are the Manicuda Jātaka, Simhalasārthabāhu Avadāna, Mahasattva Rāj Kumār Jātaka, and the Shṛgabheri Jātaka. All but this last work are cited in Sugata Saurabha. A Newari translation from the Sanskrit Lalitavistara Sūtra, published in 1914 by Pandit Nisthānanda Vajrācārya, was specifically cited by the poet in our 1982 interviews. This was the first book ever printed in Newari, and Hridaya was certainly well aware of it. Other works that the poet encountered as a child studying Sanskrit were the Chānakhya and the Amarakosha, the latter a lexicon and collection of aphorisms that was used to educate India’s and Nepal’s intellectual and political elite for centuries. Another popular text and avadāna that had numerous Newari recensions is the Bhadrakalpāvadāna; its lengthy recounting of Yashodharā’s suffering after Siddhartha leaves the palace may have influenced Hridaya to devote an entire chapter to her on this theme. The author’s facility in Hindi also opened avenues of additional textual education, as translations by modern Indian converts gave access to texts that otherwise remained only in Sanskrit archives. The various early publications of the Theravada modernist Mahabodhi Society were also in common circulation among Newar Buddhists, so the texts and perspectives on the Buddha from the Pali Canon mediated by this group clearly informed Hridaya’s awareness. (The appellation for the Buddha in the title of Hridaya’s poem, Sugata [lit. “Well-Farer”], is the most common single name used in the entire Pali Canon, second only to “Buddha.”) Another major figure informing the poet’s awareness of Buddhism was the Indian scholar Rahul Sankrityayan (b. 1893–d. 1963). Sankrityayan was an adventurer who traveled to Tibet in search of Sanskrit texts, a reformer who sought to revive Buddhism in India and Nepal, a political activist affiliated with the Communist Party of India, and a prolific scholar who published over 150 books. “Mr. Rahul” (as Hridaya referred to him) had special connections to Nepal through meeting Newar Lhasa traders in Tibet. Given the poet’s interest in Buddhism, and the acute understandings evident in Sugata Saurabha, Sankrityayan’s celebrity in the Kathmandu merchant community made it very likely that Hridaya had read many if not all of his Buddhist publications. What sources did the poet possess over the five years that he composed Sugata Saurabha in prison? Initially, none. The harsh sentence he received was matched by fierce prison repression: no books were allowed, and even the prisoners’ talking with one another was proscribed. After several months, a special cellblock was constructed for the political prisoners. From a recollection when the poet was seventy-seven, it would seem that the lengthy Hindi translation of the major Pali works in chronological order was the central work informing the composition of Sugata Saurabha.

                                                • Bajracharya, Nisthananda. Lalitavistara Sutra. Kathmandu, 1914.

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                                                  Now a rare book, the original was edited by Min Bahadur Sakya and reissued by Young Buddhist Publications (Lalitpur [Patan]) in 1978, with a new and useful Introduction to Newar Buddhism by a noted local scholar.

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                                                  • Sankrityayan, Rahul. Buddhacaryyā: Bhagavān Buddhakījīvanī aura Upadesha. 1931.

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                                                    A massive Hindi language compilation (over 400 pages) of the Buddha’s life and teachings that was provided to the poet during the last years of his incarceration.

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                                                    • Tatelman, Joel. “The Trials of Yasodharā: The Legends of the Buddha’s Wife in the Bhadrakalpāvadāna.” Buddhist Literature 1 (1999): 176–261.

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                                                      A Sanskrit text found and copied in the Kathmandu Valley that was possibly told in local Buddhist narrative recitations. Some of the troubles Siddhartha’s wife faced after her husband abandoned her, his family, and the palace are not found in the major narratives of the Buddha biography.

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                                                      The Epic’s Cultural References

                                                      Hridaya’s Sugata Saurabha conveys major events in the Buddha’s long life—the author’s devout homage to the great sage. But a second level of originality, and genius, is seen in his treatment of characters, his description of urban spaces, and his filling in the place and ethnic details that remain unmentioned or underdeveloped in the canonical accounts. Here Hridaya uses the epic narrative to celebrate his own Newar cultural traditions, and also, in places, to express his own views on social reform, politics, ethics, literary life, gender, and government policy. The impressive display of the author’s erudition includes a truly immense Newar cultural encyclopedia, from the panoply of Newar musical scales to the component parts of ornate wooden windows, drawing on an awareness of the details of herbs and practices of ayurvedic medicine, and detailing the myriad ritual offerings and very precise renditions of temple iconography.

                                                      • Anderson, Mary M. The Festivals of Nepal. London: Allen and Unwin, 1971.

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                                                        A lively, informative tourist account that still captures the vibrant festival life of the Newars.

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                                                        • Covill, Linda, trans. Handsome Nanda by Ashvaghosha. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

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                                                          A translation of the classical story (avadāna) of Gautama’s cousin’s conversion to serious practice through skillful manipulation by the Buddha. While this Sanskrit tale extant in the Kathmandu Valley recounts a trip by the two, drawing on the Buddha’s supernormal powers to a heavenly realm with lovely celestial maidens, in Hridaya’s telling in Sugata Saurabha the journey is a natural trek to Tibet. Both end with Nanda’s enlightenment.

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                                                          • Grandin, Igemar. Music and Media in Local Life: Music Practice in a Newar Neighborhood in Nepal. Linköping, Sweden: Linkoping University Press, 1989.

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                                                            Drumming, cymbal playing, and singing are integral to Newar processions, and this study provides one case study of another rich domain of Newar traditional culture.

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                                                            • Gutschow, Neils, Bernhard Kolver, and Ishwaranand Shresthacarya. Newar Towns and Buildings: An Illustrated Dictionary. Sankt Augustin, Germany: VGH Wissenschaftsverlag, 1987.

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                                                              So detailed and precise is Newar architectural detail that an entire dictionary has been compiled based on this vocabulary domain. Without this resource, created by two German scholars and one Newar linguist, it would be impossible to have determined Hridaya’s references.

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                                                              • Korn, Wolfgang. The Traditional Architecture of the Kathmandu Valley. Kathmandu, Nepal: Ratna Pustak Bhandar, 1979.

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                                                                A reliable survey of the architectural history of the Kathmandu Valley, recounted with artful drawings and photographs.

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                                                                • Levy, Robert. Mesocosm. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

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                                                                  A massive anthropological account of Hindu Buddhist society and culture in Bhakatapur, the valley’s first capital and one of three key cities.

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                                                                  • Macdonald, A. W., and Anne Vergati Stahl. Newar Art. Warminster, UK: Aris and Phillips, 1979.

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                                                                    One of the first major scholarly surveys of the art produced in the Kathmandu Valley, with attention to historical connections to India and Tibet.

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                                                                    • van Kooji, Karel Rijk. “The Iconography of the Buddhist Wood-Carvings in a Newar Monastery in Kathmandu (Chusya-Baha).” Journal of the Nepal Research Centre 1 (1977): 39–82.

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                                                                      An extensively documented presentation of the wooden roof struts, tympana, and other forms found in one of Kathmandu’s great, well-preserved, Malla-era monasteries.

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                                                                      • Wegner, Gert-Matthias. The Dhimaybaja of Bhaktapur-Studies in Newar Drumming. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1986.

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                                                                        A study of a common musical group found across the Kathmandu Valley, one that accompanies both Hindu and Buddhist deity processions.

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                                                                        • Wegner, Gert-Matthias. The Naykhibaja of the Newar Butchers. 2 vols. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1988.

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                                                                          Two monographs by the authority on Newar music, focusing on the two major processional forms. Both are incorporated into Sugata Saurabha among the Shakyas, the Buddha’s own ethnic group.

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                                                                          Newar Buddhist Literature in English Translation

                                                                          Although many hundreds of Sanskrit manuscripts were copied by Newar pundits and preserved in Kathmandu Valley monastic libraries, until recently only a very few texts written in the modern vernacular had been translated into Western languages. Jorgensen 1931 was the first modern translation (along with a dictionary and grammar), followed by Lienhard 1963, a translation of a single story that was domesticated in local tradition, and Lienhard 1984, a collection of popular songs. Lewis 2000 translates popular stories that are important in local Buddhist practice, and the bibliography of this study lists a number of other translations of ritual manuals.

                                                                          • Jorgensen, Hans. Vicitrakaraṇikāvadānoddhṛta: A Collection of Buddhistic Legends. London: Royal Asiatic Society Press, 2004 [1931].

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                                                                            A textual anthology of popular Buddhist stories, typical of the Malla period. The translation is by the first Western scholar to translate into English distinctly Newar literature.

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                                                                            • Lewis, Todd T. Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal: Narratives and Rituals of Newar Buddhism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

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                                                                              Chapters in this book include translations of popular Buddhist stories cited in Sugata Saurabha: the Simhalasārthabāhu Avadāna and the Shṛgabheri Jātaka.

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                                                                              • Lienhard, Siegfried. Manicudāvadānoddhṛta. Stockholm: Almquist and Wiksell, 1963.

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                                                                                A critical edition and translation of the longest accounts of the Manicud Avadāna, a story that Newar tradition holds occurred in the northeastern precincts of the Kathmandu Valley.

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                                                                                • Lienhard, Siegfried. Songs of Nepal. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i, 1984.

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                                                                                  An anthology of various songs composed over the last two centuries, still sung by Newar groups during devotional gatherings and planting season.

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                                                                                  The Historical Context of Sugata Saurabha

                                                                                  Once all the Newar Malla kings were deposed in 1769 by the Shah dynasty of Gorkha, the country’s new elite emerged: Indo-European-language-speaking Pahari (or Parbatiya) Brahmins (Nep. Bahun) and Kshatriyas (Nep. Chettri), along with their allies from various ethnic groups. Other (mostly Hinduized) peoples from the Himalayan mid-hills subsequently migrated into the capital precincts in the Kathmandu Valley to work as laborers, acquire estates, start businesses, or take posts in the new government enclaves. Newars, though amounting to only about 6 percent of Nepal’s population, also came to occupy a prominent and influential place, given their wealth, education, and proximity to the capital. From its inception, the modern state has been staunchly Hindu in character and dominated by high-caste elites allied with the throne. Beginning in 1770, the Shah and Rana governments sought to unify the many non-Indic peoples across the modern state by promoting Nepali as the national language, implementing a legal system based upon ancient Hindu law codes (the Dharmaśastra), and maintaining the Hindu customs of Kshatriya royalty. Nepal’s policies of unification provoked Newars to self-defense and cultural promotion, a movement that Hridaya was drawn to in his youth. Buddhist Newars especially have expressed their need to assert a distinct identity and construct forms of hierarchical separation from Hindu neighbors, vis-à-vis other ethnic groups. During the over two centuries of Shah dynasty rule, the new rulers heavily patronized Hindu temples and priests, while promoting non-Newar Brahmans as government officials. All of these factors realigned the standards of social, economic, and political advancement toward those professing and practicing Hinduism. In the later years of the Rana rule (1847–1950), an era when one family usurped power by rendering the Shah kings mere figureheads, Nepal stagnated and was kept isolated from the world. The Ranas treated the country as a private estate and were concerned primarily with extracting wealth from the nation for themselves, rather than developing its economy or infrastructure. This ultimately led to dissent, mainly in the capital. To stifle this and weaken any of the communities strong enough to oppose them, the state instituted coercive measures against non-Parbatiya ethnic groups—actions that created increasing resistance. In 1905 the Ranas prohibited the printing of literary works in Newari. Other laws targeted cultural celebrations. Rana statutes were especially aimed against Newars; among Newars, it was the Buddhist Newars who were especially targeted, due to their wealth and international connections through trade.

                                                                                  • Chudal, Alaka A. A Freethinking Cultural Nationalist: A Life History of Rahul Sankrityayan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199466870.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    A major treatment of the extraordinary scholar and activist, whose books, especially Buddhacaryyā: Bhagavān Buddhakījīvanī aura Upadesha (1931), were major sources for Hridaya’s treatment of Buddhism and his view on cultural nationalism. Chapter 3 specifically evokes the Newar context during the poet’s formative years.

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                                                                                    • Fisher, James F. Living Martyrs: Individuals and Revolution in Nepal. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                      A nuanced and lucid account of the late Rana period, when Hridaya resisted the regime’s laws, told through the lives of major figures who brought Rana rule to an end.

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                                                                                      • Gellner, David N. “Language, Caste, Religion and Territory: Newar Identity Ancient & Modern.” European Journal of Sociology 27 (1986): 102–148.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/S0003975600004549Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        A cogent overview of the Newar demographic presence across Nepal, as well as the causes of Newar disunity and modern cultural nationalism.

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                                                                                        • Hodgson, Brian H. Essays on the Languages, Literature, and Religion of Nepal and Tibet. New Delhi: Manjusri, 1972.

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                                                                                          A collection of essays and articles, first published in 1874, that revealed the cultural richness of the Kathmandu Valley and Nepal, as documented by a long-residing British resident.

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                                                                                          • Hofer, Andras. The Caste Hierarchy and the State of Nepal: A Study of the Muluki Ain of 1854. Innsbruck, Austria: Universitatsverlag Wagner, 1979.

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                                                                                            A study of the law code that the Rana regime promulgated, which provided the bases for policies directed against the Newars indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley by the rulers occupying this region as their capital.

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                                                                                            • Lewis, Todd T. “Buddhist Merchants in Kathmandu: The Asan Tol Market and Urāy Social Organization.” In Contested Hierarchies: A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Edited by David Gellner and Declan Quigley, 38–79. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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                                                                                              An ethnographic overview of the merchant caste that the poet Hridaya was born into and that provides a central point of reference in the epic.

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                                                                                              • Whelpton, John. A History of Nepal. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                A modern historical survey that includes the era of the poet’s life and the context for his imprisonment.

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                                                                                                The Context of Newar Literary Traditions, Readership of Sugata Saurabha

                                                                                                Sugata Saurabha falls within a long tradition of Newar religious poetry, although its ambitious scope and length are unique in this long history. The predominant expression in this poetry tradition, dating back at least to the middle Malla era (1570 CE), has been short compositions suitable for singing in the various bhajan and bājan ensembles, the caste and neighborhood-based musical groups that have played for religious festival occasions for centuries. Traditional scribal copying and, more recently, printed publications have reproduced earlier compositions for subsequent generations. As was the case in classical India, anthologies have been the dominant recorded medium for Newar poetry, with over twenty collections of classical poems noted in Nepal’s National Archives. The oldest are those from the time of King Siddhi Narsingh Malla (b. 1622–d. 1657); over five hundred songs were written during the era of King Jagat Prakash Malla (b. 1644–d. 1673). Newar poetry falls into four linguistic columns: tuta (hymn, prayer), from the Sanskrit stotra; sila (stanza, poem), from Sanskrit sloka; cacā (Buddhist song and dance), from Sanskrit caryā; and mye (song or hymn). Although classical Newari poetry is most elaborately represented by love verses and seasonal-work folk songs, especially sinājyā mye (rice planting songs), the traditional form closest to Sugata Saurabha is the bākha mye (narrative song). The imprint of classical Indic cultural forms is strong and clear in this poetry, despite the fact that the Newari poets composed in another language family, Tibeto-Burman. Yet references abound to heroes from classical Sanskrit literature, the Puranas, Indic worldly-wisdom literature, and schools of Hindu philosophy. Yet in numerous examples from these collections, there is also an indigenous creativity at work that is not derivative or beholden to the Indic tradition. Forty-nine drama texts in classical Newari have been discovered, twenty-five of which, like portions of Sugata Saurabha, are multi-language, with Sanskrit, Maithili, or Bengali terms interspersed. The influence of Newar drama in Sugata Saurabha is also seen in the poet’s creative shifting of narrative scenes, especially in the earlier chapters, with their effect designed to hold the reader’s interest. No treatment of Sugata Saurabha would be complete without noting that it is very challenging for the average literate reader. In many lines the author utilizes words that are no longer in common parlance. More challenging is the great number of Sanskrit nouns he incorporates, a practice that has for centuries been a mark of the learned scholar. So thoroughgoing is this Sanskritization of the work that the typical modern Newar reader of Sugata Saurabha has a strong sense that the author is intent on exhibiting his immense Sanskrit vocabulary. Testing the reader’s erudition further is a smattering of terms from Hindi, Nepali, and Tibetan, as well as technical terms from Buddhist philosophy. Here, the poet’s commitment to high scholarly expression inherently undermined an ambition to have the content of Sugata Saurabha reach a large audience. The impressive display of the author’s erudition also includes the very broad range of subject matter, such as the technical terms for architectural components of Newar temples and houses; an inventory of musical instruments and a survey of the tradition’s musical compositions; awareness of the details of herbs and practices of ayurvedic medicine; many examples of philosophical themes drawn from Sanskrit literature (the Veda, dharmaśastra, Purana, doctrinal terms from the literature of Buddhism). In summary, Sugata Saurabha reveals to what extent the Indic cultural world was alive for the Newar elite. Thus, we can say that the primary audience of Sugata Saurabha was the Newar community’s literate elite. Given the stature of Hridaya, however, many Newars bought this book, and though they came to regard it as their community’s great modern indigenous Buddhist literary work, many have trouble actually reading it. So iconic and even authoritative did Sugata Saurabha become that it inspired enthusiasts who memorized the entire text, as well as Keshar Man Tuladhar, a noted musician of Kathmandu’s Asan neighborhood, who composed a musical performance of Sugata Saurabha in the late 1990s.

                                                                                                • Dimock, Edward C., Jr. “The Persistence of Classical Esthetic Categories in Contemporary Indian Literature: Three Bengali Novels.” In The Literatures of India: An Introduction. By Edward C. Dimock, Edwin Gerow, C. M. Naim, A. K. Ramanujan, G. Roadarmel, and J. van Buitenen, 212–238. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

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                                                                                                  A fine essay on how cultural categories of traditional Indian aesthetics persist in shaping modern expressions by authors. Hridaya can be understood in this light as well.

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                                                                                                  • Lewis, Todd T. “Sources and Sentiments in Sugata Saurabha: A Mid-Twentieth Century Narrative on the Buddha’s Life from the Kathmandu Valley.” In Buddhist Himalaya: Studies in Religion, History and Culture. Vol. 1. Edited by Alex McKay and Anna Balikci-Denjongpa, 291–303. Gangtok, India: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology 2012.

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                                                                                                    An essay summarizing the epic’s sources and the underlying cultural-political views that inform the masterpiece.

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                                                                                                    • Malla, Kamal P. Classical Newari Literature: A Sketch. Kathmandu, Nepal: Nepal Study Centre, 1981.

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                                                                                                      A very useful survey by one of modern Nepal’s great Newar scholars.

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                                                                                                      • Shrestha, Bal Gopal, and Bert van der Hoek. “Education in the Mother Tongue: The Case of Nepalabhasa (Newari).” Contributions to Nepalese Studies 22 (1995): 73–86.

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                                                                                                        Important discussion of how language use and later public school policy worked to promote Nepali as the national language and undercut various ethnic languages, such as Nepal Bhasa.

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                                                                                                        Works by and about Chittadhar Hridaya in Translation

                                                                                                        Translations of Hridaya’s two book-length works of fiction have finally been translated into English: Sugata Saurabha and Mimana Pau, translated by Kesar Lall. Despite his standing as one of the great writers in modern Asia, of his thirty other published works, only a small collection of his short poems has been rendered into English (Hridaya 1996), as well as his small book for Newar children (Lewis 1989, see also Lewis 1998). Brief reminiscences of the poet have appeared in commemorative volumes (e.g., Lienhard 2014, Tuladhar 2014, Tuladhar 2005). Kesar Lall’s short biography of Hridaya (Lall 2006) is the only one published to date. A translation of the author’s autobiography (published in 2006) would be invaluable.

                                                                                                        • Hridaya, Chittadhar. Pagoda. Kathmandu, Nepal, 1996.

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                                                                                                          Collection of a representative sample of short poems in translation.

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                                                                                                          • Hridaya, Chittadhar. Mimana Pau. Translated by Kesar Lall. Kathmandu, Nepal, 2003.

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                                                                                                            The poet called this short novel, Mimana Pau (The letter the fire didn’t consume), his younger child, and Sugata Saurabha his elder. It consists of letters from a Newar merchant trading in Tibet who regrets his long separations and the suffering he has imposed on his wife back in Kathmandu.

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                                                                                                            • Hridaya, Chittadhar. Jigu Jata, Atmakatha. Kathmandu: Nepal Bhasa Parishad, 2006.

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                                                                                                              The collected account of his autobiography (My horoscope, an autobiography), originally published in a local magazine in the 1960s and 1970s.

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                                                                                                              • Lall, Kesar. The Life and Times of Kavi Keshari Chittadhar “Hridaya.” Kathmandu: Nepal Bhasha Parishad, 2006.

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                                                                                                                A loving, respectful summary of the life of the poet, by one of Nepal’s leading authors of English books designed to communicate about local Newar culture.

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                                                                                                                • Lewis, Todd T. “Childhood and Newar Tradition: Chittadhar Hridaya’s Jhī Macā.” Asian Folklore Studies 48.2 (1989): 195–210.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/1177917Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  A translation of a children’s book of stories written by the poet and designed to teach Nepal Bhasa to youngsters and foster a love of their own native tongue.

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                                                                                                                  • Lewis, Todd T. “Growing Up Newar Buddhist: Chittadhar Hridaya’s Jhī Macā and Its Context.” In Selves in Time and Place: Identities, Experience, and History in Nepal. Edited by Al Pach and Debra Skinner, 301–318. Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                    A study of how the short story Jhī Macā relates to the context of the poet’s and Newar life in mid-20th-century Nepal, and the use of language to revitalize local traditions.

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                                                                                                                    • Lienhard, Siegfried. “Meetings with a Remarkable Man, Chittadhar Hridaya.” In Sucāruvādadeśika: A Festschrift Honoring Professor Theodore Riccardi, Jr. Edited by Todd Lewis and Bruce Owens, 18–22. Kathmandu, Nepal: Himal Press, 2014.

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                                                                                                                      Short account by a noted Indologist and Newar scholar on meeting the poet Hridaya back in the 1960s that conveys the latter’s wit, erudition, and cross-cultural interests.

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                                                                                                                      • Tuladhar, Nirmal M. “An Unpublished Interview with Chittadhar Hridaya in 1975.” In Sucāruvādadeśika: A Festschrift Honoring Professor Theodore Riccardi, Jr. Edited by Todd Lewis and Bruce Owens, 23–35. Kathmandu, Nepal: Himal Press, 2014.

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                                                                                                                        Account of a short interview with the poet by one of Nepal’s leading academic figures, whose family was closely connected to the poet.

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                                                                                                                        • Tuladhar, Subarna Man. “My Last Meetings with Our Poet ‘Hridaya’: A Reminiscence.” Lost Horizon Magazine (2005): 34–38.

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                                                                                                                          Conveying the last interview with Hridaya a few weeks before he died of a stroke in 1982, the co-translator of Sugata Saurabha into English recounts a friendly discussion.

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