Religions of South Asia, Vol 10, No 2 (2016)

Revenge, Hatred, Love, and Regret: The Use of Narrative Empathy in a Regional Purāṇa

Noor van Brussel
Issued Date: 10 Aug 2017


This article analyses the character of the demon found in the Sanskrit Bhadrakālīmāhātmya. This regional Purāṇic text, pertaining to the narrative tradition of the Dārikavadham from Kerala, adopts a specific stance with regard to its main antagonist, the asura king Dārika. While the Bhadrakālīmāhātmya eagerly engages with various Mahāpurāṇas such as the Liṅga and the Mārkaṇḍeya, the demon that it depicts contrasts with the rather rigid image set out by his counterparts in those texts. Instead, the demon’s character is carefully drawn and led through an array of emotional states in a way that tempts the audience to empathize. In this article, I explore this strategic empathy. Perusing the narratives of the Bhadrakālīmāhātmya, I identify passages that are activated by strategies of affect and show how they construct the character of the demon. In the second part of the article, I attempt to unravel the motives for this alternative view of the demon, relying on frameworks stemming from contemporary studies of narrative empathy and classical Indian theories of aesthetics.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/rosa.34409


Achyuta Menon, Chelnat. 1943. Kāḷi Worship in Kerala. Madras: University of Madras.

Aubert, Laurent. 2004. Les feux de la déesse: Rituels villageois du Kerala (Inde du Sud). Lausanne: Payot.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1981. ‘Discourse in the Novel.’ In Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays: 269–422. Ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Barthes, Roland. 1977. ‘The Death of the Author.’ In Roland Barthes, Image—Music—Text: 142–48. Ed. and trans. Stephen Heath. London: Fontana Press.

Bennett, Tony. 1983. ‘Texts, Readers, Reading Formations.’ Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association 16 (1): 3–17.

Bhadrakālīmāhātmya or Bhadrotpatti. Manuscript T697, Oriental Research Institute and Manuscript Library, Kerala University, Thiruvananthapuram.

—P. Visalakshy and R. Girija (eds.), Journal of Manuscript Studies 34 (1-2): 5–82. Thiruvananthapuram: Oriental Research Institute and Manuscripts Library, 1999–2000.

Bronner, Yigal. 2010. Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration. New York: Columbia University Press.

Caldwell, Sarah. 1999a. Oh Terrifying Mother: Sexuality, Violence, and Worship of the Goddess Kāḷi. New York: Oxford University Press.

—1999b. ‘Whose Goddess? Kāḷi as a Cultural Champion in Kerala.’ In Johannes Bronkhorst and Madhav Deshpande (eds.), Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia: Evidence, Interpretation and Ideology: 85–106. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

—2001. ‘Waves of Beauty, Rivers of Blood: Constructing the Goddess in Kerala.’ In Tracy Pintchman (ed.), Seeking Mahādevī: Constructing the Identities of the Hindu Great Goddess: 93–114. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Clough, Patricia T., and Jean Halley (eds.). 2007. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. London: Duke University Press.

Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. 1980. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Forster, Edward M. 1927. Aspects of the Novel. London: Edward Arnold.

Freeman, Rich. 2003. ‘Genre and Society: Literary Culture of Premodern Kerala.’ In Sheldon Pollock (ed.), Literary Cultures in History: Reconstructions from South Asia: 437–500. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hakemulder, Jemeljan. 2004. ‘Foregrounding and its Effect on Readers’ Perception.’ Discourse Processes 38 (2): 193–218.

Harrison, Mary-Catherine. 2008. ‘The Paradox of Fiction and the Ethics of Empathy: Reconceiving Dickens’s Realism.’ Narrative 16 (3): 256–78.

Higgins, Kathleen. 2007. ‘An Alchemy of Emotion: Rasa and Aesthetic Breakthroughs.’ Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65 (1): 43–54.

Hiltebeitel, Alf (ed.). 1989. Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduism. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Hogan, Patrick Colm. 1996. ‘Toward a Cognitive Science of Poetics: Ānandavardhana, Abhinavagupta, and the Theory of Literature.’ College Literature 23 (1): 164–78.

—2001. ‘The Epilogue of Suffering: Heroism, Empathy, Ethics.’ SubStance 30 (1–2): 119–43.

Keen, Suzanne. 2006. ‘A Theory of Narrative Empathy.’ Narrative 14 (3): 207–36.

—2011a. ‘Introduction: Narrative and the Emotions.’ Poetics Today 32 (1): 1–53.

—2011b. ‘Empathetic Hardy: Bounded, Ambassadorial, and Broadcast Strategies of Narrative Empathy.’ Poetics Today 32 (2): 349–89.

—2014. ‘Narrative Empathy.’ In Peter Hühn, Jan Christoph Meister, John Pier and Wolf Schmid (eds.), Handbook of Narratology: 521–30. Berlin: De Gruyter.

—2015. ‘Intersectional Narratology in the Study of Narrative Empathy.’ In Robyn Warhol and Susan Lanser (eds.), Narrative Theory Unbound: Queer and Feminist Interventions: 123–46. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Kulke, Hermann, and Dietmar Rothermund. 2004. A History of India. 4th edn. London: Routledge.

Liṅga Purāṇa. Guru Mandal Series. Calcutta, 1960.

McCrea, Lawrence. 2008. The Teleology of Poetics in Medieval Kashmir. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Miall, David. 1988. ‘Affect and Narrative: A Model of Response to Stories.’ Poetics Today 17 (3): 159–272.

Monius, Anne. 2014. ‘“And We Shall Compose a Poem to Establish These Truths”: The Power of Narrative Art in South Asian Literary Cultures.’ In Allan Speight (ed.), Narrative, Philosophy and Life: 151–65. Dordrecht: Springer.

Nāṭyaśāstra. B. Upadhyaya, and B. N. Sharma (eds.), Kashi Sanskrit Series. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Sanskrit Sansthan, 1980.

Nussbaum, Martha C. 1998. Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nyblom, Jussi (trans.). n.d. ‘Translation of Bhadrakāḷi kaḷam pāṭṭῠ.’ Unsubmitted PhD thesis, Helsinki University.

Parameswara Aiyar, U. S. (ed.). 1924. Bhadrōlpatti Kiḷippāṭṭŭ. Thiruvananthapuram: Department for the Publication of Oriental Manuscripts.

Parthasarathy, R. (trans.). 2004. Cilappatikaram: The Tale of an Anklet. New York: Columbia University Press.

Pasty, Marianne. 2010. ‘Au plaisir de la déesse. Le muṭiyēttu’ du Kerala (Inde du Sud): Étude ethnographique d’un théâtre rituel entre tradition et modernité.’ PhD thesis, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris.

Pollock, Sheldon. 2001. ‘The Social Aesthetic and Sanskrit Literary Theory.’ Journal of Indian Philosophy 29 (1-2): 197–229.

Rajaraman, Shankar, and Venetia Kotamraju (trans.). 2012. The Message of the Koel: Uddaṇḍa Śāstrī’s Kokila Sandeśa. Bangalore: Rasāla.

Ramanujan, Attipate Krishnaswami. 1989. ‘Where Mirrors are Windows: Toward an Anthology of Reflections.’ History of Religions 28 (3): 187–216.

Rohlman, Elizabeth. 2011. ‘Geographical Imagination and Literary Boundaries in the Sarasvatī Purāṇa.’ International Journal of Hindu Studies 15 (2): 139–63.

Seely, Clinton. 1991. ‘The Raja’s New Clothes: Redressing Rāvaṇa in Meghanādavadha Kāvya.’ In Paula Richman (ed.), Many Rāmāyaṇas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia: 137–55. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Shklovsky, Viktor. 1965. ‘Art as Technique.’ In Lee Lemon and Marion Reis (eds.), Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Shulman, David. 1979. ‘Divine Order and Divine Evil in the Tamil Tale of Rāma.’ Journal of Asian Studies 38 (4): 651–69.

—1980. Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Śaiva Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Smith, David. 2003. The Dance of Śiva: Religion, Art and Poetry in South India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, Meir. 1982. ‘Proteus in Quotation-Land: Mimesis and the Forms of Reported Discourse.’ Poetics Today 3 (2): 107–56.

Tarabout, Gilles. 1986. Sacrifier et donner à voir en pays Malabar: Les fêtes de temple au Kerala (Inde du Sud): étude anthropologique. Paris: École Française d’Extrême-Orient.

Taylor, McComas. 2012. The Fall of the Indigo Jackal: The Discourse of Division and Pūrṇabhadra’s Pañcatantra. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Titchener, Edward Bradford. 1915. Beginner’s Psychology. New York: Macmillan.

Vischer, Robert. 1872. ‘Über das optische Formgefühlein Beitrag zur Ästhetik.’ PhD thesis, University of Tübingen.

Wispé, Lauren. 1990. ‘History of the Concept of Empathy.’ In Nancy Eisenberg and Janet Strayer (eds.), Empathy and its Development: 17–37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy