Historically, Kashmir was one of the most dynamic and influential centers of Sanskrit learning and literary production in South Asia. In Poetry as Prayer in the Sanskrit Hymns of Kashmir, Hamsa Stainton investigates the close connection between poetry and prayer in South Asia by studying the history of Sanskrit hymns of praise (stotras) in Kashmir. The book provides a broad introduction to the history and general features of the stotra genre, and it charts the course of these literary hymns in Kashmir from the eighth century to the present. In particular, it offers the first major study in any European language of the Stutikusumāñjali, an important work of religious literature dedicated to the god Śiva and one of the only extant witnesses to the trajectory of Sanskrit literary culture in fourteenth-century Kashmir.
The book also contributes to the study of Śaivism by examining the ways in which Śaiva poets have integrated the traditions of Sanskrit literature and poetics, theology (especially non-dualism), and Śaiva worship and devotion. It substantiates the diverse configurations of Śaiva bhakti expressed and explored in these literary hymns and the challenges they present for standard interpretations of Hindu bhakti. More broadly, this study of stotras from Kashmir offers new perspectives on the history and vitality of prayer in South Asia and its complex relationships to poetry and poetics.