The copious literature on love in early India has most recently been interpreted as a variant of the universal experience of human sexuality. Studies have rooted the uniqueness of Indian ideas either in theological conceptions of the immanent and transcendent, or in the particularity of the parent-child relation in India. Whatever the insights of such scholarship, two major problems relevant to this essay are its positioning of a ‘civilizational’ backdrop as its subject of analysis—either ‘India’ or ‘Hinduism’—and, particularly with the former approach, the subsequent application of what has been called the ‘repressive hypothesis’ to the Indian material, which poses the ‘transcendent’ principles of Indian civilization in a restraining role over those deemed life-affirming or immanent. This essay will offer an alternative to these interpretations by placing conceptions of romantic love in medieval India within their social and discursive contexts, and connect up the discourses on self-discipline in medieval India with those of love in a more historically specific and illuminating way.
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