Report to Watumull Foundation

By Geoff Ashton
2008 J. Watumull Scholar
Ph.D. Student, Philosophy


Thanks to the support of the J. Watumull Scholarship, I had the opportunity to conduct research in India this past summer that will be integral to the completion of my Dissertation. My proposed Dissertation aims to explore the intersection of aesthetics and ethics by examining the aesthetic theory of the 10th - 11th century Kashmir Shaivite philosopher, Abhinavagupta. Both my living situation in Varanasi, India, and the time and energy that my teachers and caretakers devoted to my well-being made for the perfect recipe to a successful experience.

Upon my arrival to the Cantonment Railway Station in Varanasi, I disembarked the train and was immediately welcomed by a driver sent by the Jnana Pravaha Center. Jnana Pravaha is a Center for Cultural Studies and Research that regularly sponsors projects and hosts seminars concerned with Indian culture. It houses a library stocked with books on Indian history, culture, the arts, Sanskrit literature, philosophy, and various other related subjects. The Jnana Pravaha Center also boasts a museum that has a collection of ancient coins, miniature paintings, classical musical instruments, sculptures, terracotta, and many other art and decorative collections. But Jnana Pravaha is much more than a lecture hall, library, or museum; it is a living work of art itself that breaths its power and grace into you. Located on the west bank of the River Ganges, and just a few kilometers south of the center of one of India's oldest and most entrancing cities, it has hosted some of India's most renowned artists, scholars, and even yogis. Needless to say, I was completely blown away when I arrived to the Center that first day. This amazing first impression was later sustained by the constant care shown by those who live and work at the Jnana Pravaha Center - the cook made the most delicious and strength-giving vegetarian meals I'd ever had and brought fresh glasses of mango, guava, and other fruit juices to my study table on the hour, while the Honorary Director of the Center, Professor Kamal Giri, invited me to live classical Indian music performances and arranged for me to attend other cultural events occurring in Varanasi. All in all, the Jnana Pravha Center was the ideal site for me to immerse myself in the thinking and way of being of the great Hindu mystic, philosopher, and aesthetician, Abhinavagupta.

All of this, and I have yet to mention the person to whom I am most indebted - Professor Kamalesh Jha. Professor Jha was kind enough to meet with me on an almost daily basis, arriving to the Jnana Pravaha Center at the early hour of 4:30 am (the heat of the Indian summer is overwhelming at mid-day, and on most days the early morning was the only time available for Professor Jha). We spent approximately three hours per session carefully reading (sometimes chanting) Sanskrit verses of Abhinavagupta's writings, in particular, the Paramarthasara, and discussing the philosophical perplexities of the ontological and epistemological frameworks underlying his aesthetic theory. Our meetings were not only informative, but inspiring. For this reason, I am especially grateful to Professor Kamalesh Jha.

In the end, I would like to express the utmost thanks to the J. Watumull Foundation for not only making possible a valuable research opportunity, but for also enabling me to deepen my understanding of Indian philosophy and culture generally through the relationships that I was able to establish this past summer at the Jnana Pravaha Center.

Geoff Ashton

Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa
1890 East-West Road, Moore Hall 416, Honolulu, Hawai'i 96822
Phone: (808) 956-5652, Fax: (808) 956-6345, Email: