Professor Fabrizio M. Ferrari (University of Chester) and Professor Thomas Dähnhardt (University of Venice) are the editors of Charming Beauties and Frightful Beasts: Non-Human Animals in South Asian Myth, Ritual and Folklore (Equinox, 2013). The study of non-human animals as other-than-human persons (including animal-spirits and divine animals) has marked a significant shift in the ethics and politics of the academic study of religion. Charming Beauties and Frightful Beasts investigates how South Asian religions, with their sacred narratives and ritual performances, bear witness to the active presence of non-human animals as both culture makers/bearers and symbols of spirituality.
The structure of the book reflects that of the most popular collection of folktales on animals in South Asia, the Pañcatantra. Such an arrangement creates the backbone for an articulate, clear and reasoned discussion on animals and the concept of animality in different South Asian traditions, or various aspects of the same tradition. Like the original Sanskrit text, the volume is divided into five books (tantras), each dealing with themes as different as South Asian animals as divine messengers, restorers of order, symbols of cultural identity, exemplary beings, spiritual teachers, objects of human reverence and portents symbolizing the life cycle, including its inevitable end. With bourgeoning debates on religion, indigeneity, ecotheology and environmentalism, this volume urges for a promotion and an in-depth analysis of the roles and places of animals within the context of South Asian traditions.
The volume is the first of a larger project investigating nature in South Asian religions. It will be followed by Roots of Wisdom, Branches of Devotion. Plant Life in South Asian Religions and Culture (Volume 2) and Soulless Matter, Seats of Energy. Metals, Gems and Minerals in South Asian Religions and Culture (Volume 3). By drawing from the immensely rich repertoire of beliefs, myths, rituals, folklore, arts and sciences perpetuated all over the social and religious spectrum of the Indian Subcontinent, the three volumes give a colourful account of the vivid picture the South Asian cultural environment offers on the theme of nature. The studies contained in this 3-volume set include contributions from various disciplines, including Indology, anthropology, history, religious studies, medicine and medical humanities, folklore, material culture, arts, literature, hermeneutics and philosophy.