Detective work revealing 400-year-old scam receives a prize

– It’s a great recognition to receive the Donner Research Prize, especially as my work represents rather “old-fashioned” research, where I have compared the handwritten manuscript letter for letter, say Dr Måns Broo, docent at Åbo Akademi University.

He is interested in the history of religions and wished to use his knowledge of Bengali and Sanskrit.

– The starting point is a well-known story about a Hindu goddess, narrated in a different way. It is like books about Jesus written by Muslims, according to which he is a prophet of Allah.

“You have misunderstood your goddess”

In the seventeenth century, there were two competing streams of Hinduism in Bengal. The polemical text that Broo has analysed is written in Sanskrit and imitates an ancient religious script, to give it more authority in a specific debate concerning the significance of two goddesses.

– The message is that the readers can continue to worship their goddess if they wish, but that they have misunderstood her role, because she is actually subordinate to the author’s own goddess.

Plagiarism 400 years ago

The older the text the better – this was the guiding principle in the religious circles of sixteenth-century India. Ideally, the text should be timeless. Måns Broo’s comparative detective work more than 400 years later has revealed a cheat.

– Today you could talk about plagiarism. The writer has incorporated long excerpts of older texts from the competing religious strand in his text and modified them for his own purposes. The changes made by the author are often substantial.

The research work continues

Broo says that the text today lives on among the opposing religious group, which refers to it as an ancient text.

– At the moment, the opposing side has got the last word in the polemics. I am working on a similar text-based research project now, where I use the experience I gained working with the award-winning book.

Måns Broo received the Donner Institute’s Research Prize 2017 for the book The Rādhā Tantra: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation (Routledge, 2017).