Decolonizing Travel(ing) Theory: Explorations in the ‘Indian’ Analytic Traditions (Online)

Avishek Ray's picture
Subject Fields: 
Area Studies, Asian History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Ethnic History / Studies

Traveling, both as a concept and performativity, has yielded a diverse range of critical literatures that probe into the epistemological, ethical and aesthetic dimensions of travel and mobility. However, much of the critical theories on travel (and, of late, nomadology) draw on the Western canon, while there appears to be a dearth of proportionate research on and/or documentation of the indigenous analytical frameworks that engage with travel(ing) theory. Referencing Edward Said, we use ‘travel(ing) theory’ as a generative concept to better understand how ‘foreign’ theories on travel themselves travel across space and time, are adapted in and adopted by ‘local contexts, often a-historically and a-culturally, thus usurping their indigenous counterparts, in this case, rooted in the ‘Indian’ analytic traditions. Using this as a point of departure, the symposium therefore makes forays into decolonizing travel(ing) theory.

Indeed, ‘pre-modern’ India has had a strong tradition of traveling, alongside producing an extensive body of works exploring the ethics and politics of traveling. All Indic orders of monkhood -- Hindu (cf. Sannyasa Upanishad), Buddhist (cf. Samannaphalasutta) or Jain -- for instance, command travelling to be the chief ‘marker’ of the renunciant, thus distinguished from the householder or the ‘laity’. Concepts of the atithi (contra Derrida’s formulations on ‘hospitality’, or the Christian ethos of neighbor/brethren) -- premised on the idea of a stranger who warrants unconditional hospitality -- and that of the paribrajaka or the prophetic Sufi-Bhakti ‘mad nomads’ are aplenty in the ‘pre-modern’ Indian cultural repertoire, but least theorized from within the axiomatics of Indian epistemology. However, the ‘colonial episteme’ (cf. Bernard Cohn) could not make sense of indigenous practices of mobilities, when viewed through ‘imperial eyes’ (cf. Mary Louise Pratt) and approached from the perspective of instrumental rationality. However, the anxiety around the heuristics of travel continued to reflect in certain indigenous traveling cults -- as illustrated by Rahul Sankrityayan, Indulal Yagnik and Gandhi, among others -- which would have wider ramifications for the Indian configurations of postcoloniality and modernity.

This symposium seeks to stimulate these debates by employing new methodological and epistemological tools from ‘Indian’ analytic traditions. It is hoped that the symposium will serve as a testing ground for ‘critical thinking’ as an epistemic paradigm to foreground ‘an Indian way of thinking’ (cf. A. K. Ramanujan) through ‘travel(ing) theory’. Toward this, the symposium explores (but is not limited to) the following set of problems:

  1. What are the ‘Indian’ textual-cultural-analytical traditions -- very broadly defined -- that engage with the discourse of traveling? What epistemic break do such cults offer? How do we make sense of their ‘affordances’ from within the ‘Indian’ philosophical traditions?

  2. How does ‘cultural difference’ play out in such contexts? What notions of indigeneity -- both with reference to traveling practices and theroizations thereof -- does it invoke? To what extent, if at all, is this indigenization fraught with the articulation of ‘alternative modernity’ (c.f. D.P. Gaonker) and/or postcoloniality?

  3. How do we decolonize ‘travel(ing) theory’? How is this wrought with diverse meanings in the Indian context? What ‘epistemic ruptures’ come in the way of such decolonizing projects?

To participate, please reagiter through the event website below. The symposium schedule (as per Indian Standard Time) is as follows: 

Day 1 | 15 July 2021

10:00 - 10:50 :: Session 1

Kick-off: Introducing the Theme / Avishek Ray

Decolonizing 'Travel': Mind, Words and Magic / Mattia Salvini

11:00 - 12:00 :: Session 2

Re-discovery of Travel as 'Tirthajatra' in Tagore’s Java Jatrir Patra / Subham Dutta

Pastness of the Present in Anuradha Sharma Pujari’s Kolikatar Chithi : A Postcolonial Enquiry / Kabita Chiring

19:30 - 20:10 :: Session 3

Decolonial Dilemmas: Vernacular Translations, Indigenous Inscriptions, Evangelical Entanglements / Saurabh Dube


Day 2 | 16 July 2021

10:00 - 11:30 :: Session 4

Mobilities of/in Ritual: The Agnihotrabrāhmaṇas / Lauren Bausch

The Imagery of Travel within the Raga Music Schools and Its Ecosystem / Pelva Naik

In Search of Love: The Travels and Transgressions of Bulleh Shah / Riti Sharma

19:00 - 19:40 :: Session 5

'Floating straight obedient to the stream': Bibliomigrancy and Riverine Journeys in Colonial Bengal / Swati Chattopadhyay


Day 3 | 17 July 2021

10:00 - 11:00 :: Session 6

From Ignorance to Knowledge: A Selective Reading of Indian Travel Narratives as ‘Jivanmukti’ / Indrani Bandyopadhyay

Riverine Travel as an Existential and Cultural Quest: On Amritlal Vegad’s Narmada Parikrama / Hardeep Kaur

11:15 - 12:30 :: Session 7

'Sair kar duniya ki ghafil…': Liberatory Praxis via Travelling Theory? / Maya Joshi

Fashioning a ‘Hindu’ Freedom: Vernacular Travelogues of Satyadev ‘Parivrajak' / Charu Gupta





Contact Info: 

Avishek Ray

Department of Humanities & Social Sciences

National Institute of Technology Silchar