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Book: Roots of Wisdom, Branches of Devotion

Chapter: Introduction

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.30977


The idea of this volume arose in the aftermath of the publication of Charming Beauties, Frightful Beasts: Non-Human Animals in South Asian Myth, Ritual and Folklore (Ferrari and Dähnhardt 2013). The growing number of publications on nature in the context of Indian religions led us to consider the possibility of extending our initial study to include plant life and the mineral world. This and the following volume (Ferrari and Dähnhardt
2016) are the result.

Plant life has figured prominently in Indian culture. Archaeobotanical findings and Vedic texts confirm that plants have been central not only as a commodity (sources of food; materia medica; sacrificial matter; etc.) but also as powerful and enduring symbols. Roots of Wisdom, Branches of Devotion: Plant Life in South Asian Traditions explores how herbs, trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables have been studied, classified, represented and discussed in a variety of Indian traditions such as Vedism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, indigenous cultures and Islam. Moving from an analysis of the sentience of plants in early Indian philosophies and scientific literature, the various chapters, divided in four thematic sections, explore Indian flora within devotional and mystic literature (bhakti and Sufism), mythological, ritual and sacrificial culture, folklore, medicine, perfumery, botany, floriculture and agriculture. Arboreal and floral motifs are also discussed as an expression of Indian aesthetics since early coinage to figurative arts and literary figures. Finally, the volume reflects current discourses on environmentalism and ecology as well as on the place of indigenous flora as part of an ancient yet still very much alive sacred geography.

Chapter Contributors

  • Fabrizio Ferrari ( - kocchop) 'University of Chester'
  • Thomas Dähnhardt ( - Dähnhardt1117963669) 'Ca' Foscari University of Venice'