Sander Hens

Research projects

Sander Hens obtained his PhD in 2020 with a dissertation titled “Shaking Hammira: Playfulness and Tragedy in a Sanskrit Historical Epic”, which offers the first in-depth literary reading and contextualization of the well-known fifteenth-century Sanskrit epic Hammīramahākāvya (“The great poem of Hammira”, Gwalior) by the Jain monk-poet Nayacandra Sūri. He received a Junior FWO post doctoral fellowship (2021-2024) to carry further his reserach on the understudied genre of historical poetry, with a focus on the important but long-ignored Pṛthvīrājavijaya-mahākāvya (“The great poem of Prithviraj’s Victory”), by the Kashmirian Shaiva poet Jayānaka. The project is titled “Waking Prithviraj: the subversive poetics of the past in North Indian historical literature.” More generally, his reading of this text is used as a lens to explore the deeply intertextual and playful poetics of history in four quasi-successive trends of historical literature: the Sanskrit patron-centred court epic (carita, mahākāvya, fl. 10th c. onwards), Jain collections of prose narratives in ‘colloquial’ Sanskrit (prabandha, 13th -15th c.), martial Rajput ‘ballads’ in vernacular language (rāso, 14th-15th c. onwards), and tragic-historical poetry in both Sanskrit and vernacular languages, composed in a mix of the former genres (15th c. onwards). Complementing and challenging a dominant socio-political mode of textual analysis, his work aims to reclaim the poet’s playful and subversive voice in a range of texts which are almost exclusively read as political eulogies and merely used as historical sources to extract information. Put differently, Sander Hens’ research seeks to retell the history of North Indian historical literature from the perspective of the poet-historian, who not seldomly inserts himself in his own narrative as a character, given the task to awaken the reader/listener and provoke transforming insights into the elusive nature of time and fortune.  


  • FWO Post-Doctoral fellow (2021-2024), project title "Waking Prithviraj: the subversive poetics of the past in North Indian historical literature.”
  • PhD in Oriental Languages and Cultures (Indology) (Ghent University, BOF, Special Research Fund), 10/09/2020; dissertation title “Shaking Hammira: Playfulness and Tragedy in a Sanskrit historical epic”,

under supervision of Prof. dr. Eva de Clercq)

  • Teaching assistant Hindi II, IV and VI at Ghent University, 09/03/2015 – 22/06/2015
  • Master in Indian languages and Cultures (Hindi-Sanskrit) (Ghent University, 4/07/2014. Dissertation: Nayacandra Sūri’s Hammīramahākāvya: een kritische studie. Verklaringen voor ondergang op het einde van de Sanskrit literaire traditie (a critical study of Nayacandra Sūri’s Hammīramahākāvya: explanations for defeat at the end of the Sanskrit literary tradition)


Hens, Sander (forthcoming). “The first Rajput hero: Hammīra and the Making of Rajasthan.” in Myth and Place, ed. by Shonaleeka Kaul, Delhi and London: Routledge.

Hens, Sander. 2022. “Non-Jain Jain poetry? Nayacandra Sūri’s Playful and Innovative voice in the history of Indian literature.” Newsletter of the Centre of Jaina Studies, issue 17, 31-34.

Hens, Sander. 2020. “Beyond Power and Praise: Nayacandra Sūri’s Tragic-Historical Epic Hammīra-Mahākāvya as a Subversive Response to Hero Glorification in Early Tomar Gwalior.” South Asian History and Culture 11 (1): 40–59.

 Conference papers

-          “Melting stones, dancing life: the playful and erotic fluidity of freedom in medieval Jain literature",  European Association for the Study of Religions, University College Cork,  27th June-2nd July,             2022.

-          "Indian Poetry in Global Perspective: History, Tragedy and Playfulness in a Sanskrit Court Epic”, Culture in Perspective: South and East Asia, Ghent University, May 7, 2019.

-          “Connecting (hi)stories: North Indian historical poetry (ca. 1200-1500) in global perspective”, Belgian Indology Day in honour of Prof. Adriaan Scharpé, December 21, 2018.

-           “A literary challenge at Vīrama Tomar’s court:  the Hammīramahākāvya as a subversive response to Rajput warrior values”, 25th European Conference on South Asian studies (ECSAS),               Paris, 24-27 July, 2018.

-           “Toward a new poetics of history in Sanskrit kāvya? Tragedy, irony and the problem of poetic justice in Nayacandra Sūri’s Hammīramahākāvya”, 17th World Sanskrit Conference,                Vancouver, 9-13 July, 2018.

-          “Glorifying Hammīra Chauhan in Vīrama Tomara’s court? Reflections on Nayacandra Sūri’s poetry in early 15th century Gwalior”, Giant Jinas and Warrior Epics: Memory Construction             and Emotion in India, Past and Present,” Washington University, Seattle, 14-15th September               2017.

-          “Deluded by lust: challenging the experience of sexual and martial pleasure in the performance of Rajput poetry at the Tomara court in Gwalior”, Performances de la littérature en                Asie du Sud 2. Théories et usages des émotions, Maison de la Recherche de l’Université                Sorbonne-Nouvelle, Paris, 7-8 June 2017.

-          “The Legacy of the Jain Prabandhas and the tradition of Rajput eulogies: a view from Nayacandra Sūri’s poetry”, The constitution of a literary legacy and the tradition of patronage in             Jainism, University of Lyon III, 15-17 September, 2016.

-           “From Foolish King to Rajput Hero: Reworking the Life Story of Prithviraj Chauhan during the Delhi Sultanate Period”, 41st Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, Cardiff University,                15-17 April, 2016.

-          “Criticism, ambivalence, and irony in Jaina Sanskrit narratives of the Chauhan kings and the influence of bardic literature”, The Music and Poetics of Devotion in the Jain and Sikh             Traditions; Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, 25-27th February, 2016.

-          Rāma’s valour and Kāma’s victory? Reconsidering Jayānaka’s Pṛthvīrājavijaya”. 7th International Indology Graduate Research Symposium, Department of South Asian & Tibetan studies,             Leiden University, 15-18 October, 2015

-          "Rāma’s valour and Kāma’s victory: eulogizing and criticizing the Chauhan kings in Nayacandra Suri’s Hammīramahakavya". 16th World Sanskrit Conference, panel on poetry, Bangkok,             28th June - 2 July 2015

-          "Criticizing a popular hero: moral explanations for defeat in Nayacandra Suri’s Hammīramahakavya", 6th International Indology Graduate Research Symposium; Department of Indian             and Tibetan Studies, Universität Hamburg, 6-8 October, 2014.