Universiteit Leiden

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Olli Littunen

PhD candidate

O.P.A. Littunen MA
+31 71 527 6362

Olli Littunen is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Area Studies.

More information about Olli Littunen

PhD Research

Title: The Sanctification of Vārāṇasī

Supervisors: Prof. dr. P.C. Bisschop and Dr. E.A. Cecil

This PhD research is part of the ERC-funded project “PURANA – Mythical Discourse and Religious Agency in the Puranic Ecumene” (grant agreement No 101054849). The main focus of the research is to investigate the historical process of the sanctification of Vārāṇasī, a celebrated pilgrimage destination on the banks of the Ganges in the state of Uttar Pradeś in North India.

The sanctification of Vārāṇasī has largely taken place through intertextual, glorificatory Sanskrit texts called Māhātmyas, which are found in various Purāṇas (“Primordial Texts”). The voluminous Kāśīkhaṇḍa (14th century CE) has been the most influential Māhātmya about Vārāṇasī to the present day and will be one of the texts central to the research. Another major source is a unique 12th-century CE manuscript from Nepal, which contains a compendium of individual Māhātmyas attributed to different Purāṇas. The manuscript will be used to investigate how different teachings and storylines may have provided the basis for the comprehensive composition of the canonical Kāśīkhaṇḍa. Medieval Sanskrit collections (Nibandhas), alongside 20th-century Hindi texts, will be used to look into the continuing reception of these storylines.

Through detailed text-critical analysis, translation, and fieldwork, this research will contribute to a nuanced understanding of the development of localized Purāṇa narratives and the dynamic intertextuality of the Purāṇic tradition. It will also provide background information regarding how these narratives are used to promote various goals, including the current politicization of a uniquely Hindu Vārāṇasī.


2020-2022:      ResMA Asian Studies, Leiden University
Thesis: Māhātmyas as Evolving Entities: A Text-Critical Study of a Selection of Vārāṇasīmāhātmyas Attributed to the Brahmapurāṇa

2019-2020:      MA Asian Studies, Leiden University
Thesis: Long Live Banāras: Vārāṇasī in Viśvanāth Mukharjī´s “Banā Rahe Banāras”

2016-2019:      BA South and Southeast Asian Studies, Leiden University
Thesis: Kāshī kā Assī: Literary Representation of a Changing City

PhD candidate

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies
  • SAS India en Tibet
  • No relevant ancillary activities
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