From symposion to goṣṭhī: The Adaptation of a Greek Social Custom in Ancient India
Keywords:male social gatherings, goṣṭhī, symposion, Greece, India, medicine, erotics, polity, rhetoric, Gandhāra, Mathurā
The symposion, a male social gathering that began in ancient Greece, was a social institution by and for men, hence a type of men’s society as we might understand it in modern parlance. Its manifestation on the Indian subcontinent has to date not been fully explored. In its original form, the symposion consisted of three main elements: alcohol, sex, and intellectual pursuits in the form of literature and philosophy, commonly understood by the popular phrase “wine, women, and song”. These sympotic elements find their equivalents in a wide range of Sanskrit literature, which include medicine (Āyurveda), eroticism (Kāmaśāstra), polity (Arthaśāstra), epics, and rhetoric (Alaṃkāraśāstra), as expressed in the Carakasaṃhitā, the Kāmasūtra, the Arthaśāstra, the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa, and the Kāvyamīmāṃsā. The literary evidence indicates that the three sympotic elements came to full blossom in urban Indian men’s social gatherings or goṣṭhīs dating to a few centuries before the Common Era. The paper combines this literary evidence with archaeological sources to show how a foreign social custom contributed to an indigenous institution of men’s society in ancient India by a process of adaptation. It would appear that as the institution moved into different parts of the Indian subcontinent, it increasingly came under Brahmanic influence, which led to an important ideological change that stressed literary and intellectual pursuits over alcohol and sex. Under royal patronage, the goṣṭhī finally became a means for the development of Sanskrit and Indian literature and drama.
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