Tamara (tamara.cohen @ mail.utoronto.ca) joined the Department for the Study of Religion as a PhD student in the fall of 2014. She has a background in the Visual Arts and Cultural Theory, with an MA in Art History from the University of Toronto and undergraduate degrees in Art Education, Studio Metals and Sociology. Tamara’s current project examines truth and allegory in South Asian mythical literature.
Tamara will be considering truth claims of South Asian mythical narratives by comparing the “Arjuna Story” from the Nirvāṇaprakaraṇa (the sixth book of the Yogavāsiṣṭha) to the vulgate Bhagavadgītā. The Yogavāsiṣṭha shares literary language with much South Asian story-literature by virtue of its descriptions, scenarios, characters, themes and plots, but differs from this literature by claiming that its tales are not true and never really happened. Typically, South Asian mythical tales begin with a claim to factuality, or such a claim is assumed by adherents of the tradition itself, for whom these stories are sacred narratives that must be true. The Bhagavadgītā—the most well-known and commented upon Hindu text, and one of the three foundational texts of Vedānta philosophy—is itself an instance of Hindu Story literature that, by virtue of its location within the sixth book of the epic Mahābhārata, partakes of the latter’s truth claims in addition to its mythical genre. Tamara seeks to show that, by recounting and altering the famous Kṛṣṇa-Arjuna dialogue, the Yogavāsiṣṭha has re-cast the Bhagavadgītā as an allegory, declaring this story to be an unreal tale, told for the sake of illustration, and meant to lead the mind to experience that nothing—not even sacred literature—is true.