These works, still largely unpublished, were once known throughout South and Southeast Asia, their importance testified by the imposing number of manuscripts in which they are transmitted (spanning from Nepal to Kerala), by borrowings and quotations, as well as by allusions in Tamil, Khmer and Kannada inscriptions. Among Tantric Śaiva works, the text that most interests us for this project is an unpublished ritual manual by a certain Brahmaśambhu that was probably written in Western India in the 9th century and that quotations show to have been widely read elsewhere.
That Sanskrit work gives a uniquely detailed account of the day-to-day running of a Śaiva monastery.
This Naimittikakriyānusandhāna survives in a single 12th century manuscript kept in the National Library in Calcutta, of which we have acquired photographs that will allow us to prepare an edition. Works of classical Indian literature abound in descriptions of hermitages. Among instances not hitherto alluded to: a Buddhist āśrama is described
by Bāṇa in his 7th century Sanskrit prose romance, the Harṣacarita; and there is a satirical description of a feast organised in a Jain hermitage in Bhaṭṭa Jayanta’s early 9th century play, the Āgamaḍambara.
Other examples will be drawn from Old Javanese narrative poetry (kakavin), which flourished in Central and Eastern Java and later in Bali between the 9th and the 16th centuries. In the descriptions of hermitages that occur in the kakavin, we often observe the transposition into local settings of places attested in Indian literature, e.g. in the Old Javanese Rāmāyaṇa (c. 850 CE) or in the Sumanasāntaka (c. 1200 CE), which elaborates on king Raghu’s retirement to the forest, originally more cursorily described in Kālidāsa’s Sanskrit epic, the Raghuvaṁśa (c. 400 CE). These literary descriptions greatly enrich the picture we get from inscriptions about the position of hermitage-dwellers in South and
Southeast Asian societies, the interactions between royal courts and āśramas, the attitudes towards abandoned hermitages and derelict sanctuaries (sometimes nostalgic, sometimes practical), etc.