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Review: [untitled]

Author(s): Hans Bakker

Source: Artibus Asiae, Vol. 58, No. 3/4 (1999), pp. 339-343
Published by: Artibus Asiae Publishers
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Accessed: 05/07/2011 17:46

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DorisMethSrinivasan,ManyHeads,ArmsandEyes,Origin, A varietyof subjectsdealtwith in separatearticlesarehere

Meaningand Formof Multiplicityin IndianArt, E.. Brill, synthesizedinto one greatvision, with the resultthat the
Leiden/NewYork/Kdln, 1997,Studiesin Asian Art and Ar- book is ratherapodeicticin character.Other scholarsare
chaeology of Studiesin AsianCulture),vol.XX, cited in footnotes,but mostly in orderto supportthe au-
anda map.
x, 355PP.,76pp.of illustrations thor'sviews,not becausetheprosandconsof alternativein-
terpretationsare balanced.By "workingwith the entire
The author'sopeningphrasedeclaresthat it is "alengthy Brahmanictextualtradition"(p. 125)and, we might add,
bookforjustonethemeandonequestion"(p. 3).Thetheme iconographictradition,Srinivasan displaysa richnessin lit-
is the so-called"multiplicityconvention,"a termshe uses eracyandart-historicalscrutinythatcannotbedonefull jus-
to referto the multipleheads,armsandeyeswhichcharac- tice in a shortreview.We shalllimit ourobservationsto a
terizemuchof Indianreligiousart.Thequestionis, whatis few centralissues.
the meaningandsignificanceof this convention.The book ChapterOne(Theory)introducesthesubjectof thebook
focuseson the originof thephenomenonandto this endthe andformulatesbrieflythemainissuesto beelaboratedin the
authorscrutinizesthe Sanskritliterarytradition,fromthe followingchapters.Theauthorarguesthatthe multiplicity
Vediccorpusthroughthe Epicsas well as the archaeologi- conventionis "notonlywell recognized[intheRgveda, here-
cal evidenceto the Guptaperiod.Her mainconcernis the aftercited as RV], but that it is employedin a fundamen-
Brahmanic/Hindutradition. However, whenever these tally consistentway throughoutthe text"(p. 5). Chapters
earlysourcesarethoughtto be inadequate,latervisualand Three and Four show that the same idea permeatesthe
textualmaterialis takeninto considerationas "furtherevi- AtharvaandYajurVedasaswell.
dence"(p. 3). InChapterTwotheauthorgivesthreeways(definitions)
In view of the comprehensivescope of the book its in which"multiplicitydescribesthestructureofa deitywho
"lengthiness" is within reasonablelimits, thoughthereis a creates,fashions,orprojectsforms."An activeway(I):"mul-
certainredundancy.The bookis dividedinto two sections: tiple bodilypartsandformsareassociatedwith a deitywho
Part I, Meaning,Textual Studies;Part II, Form, Icono- createsthephenomenalworld";apassiveway(2):"multiple
graphicStudies.Suchaschememakesit almostunavoidable bodilypartsand formsareassociatedwith a deity who re-
that muchthat is discussedin PartI is repeatedin PartII. presentstherawmaterialoutofwhichthephenomenal world
Imagesareadducedandtheiriconographydiscussedin Part is created";anda thirdway(3)combining(I)and(2):"mul-
I, aswell, particularlyin the ChaptersTenandElevendeal- tiple bodilypartsandformsareassociatedwith a deitywho
ing with the Mahdndaradyana Upanisadand the "Epicsand creates,projects,emanatesformsfromits numeninto the
Beyond."Moreover,someof the mainthesesof the book,for phenomenalworld"(pp. 24-26). As examplesof (I) Srini-
instancethe author'sfavoritetheme of Siva'sallegedfive- vasanmentionsTvastrandViivakarman,of (2) the Purusa
headednessand the symbolismof numbers,arediscussed of the famousPurusaHymn (RVIO.9O0), and of (3) Indra,
againandagain,andChaptersSix andTwelvepartlyover- whoinRV3.53.8is saidto be "inthehabitof becomingevery
lap. rupa,in effectingmayasaroundhis own body,"and in RV
The third section of the book consists of the plates, 6.47.I8cto bepururupa (p. 26).Thecentralthesisof the book
whicharesuperblyreproduced. Thoughmostof the images is thatthe samemultiplicityconventioninformsthe deities
havebeenpublishedearlier,manyof the photographsareof Rudraand,to a lesserextent,Visnuin Vedicliteratureand,
a qualitythatI havenot seenin printbefore.If only forthe subsequently,is carriedon in the early images in stone.
platesthe bookis an importantcontributionto Indianart Tracinghis basiccharacteristics backto the Vedicreligion,
history.The numberingof the photographsis linkedto the Srinivasandismissesa non-Aryanoriginof Rudra,andshe
chaptersin whichthe imageis discussed.When imagesare findsno indicationeitherthat this deity originatedfroma
discussedor referredto in more than one chapterthis layerrepresentedby the materialsof the Induscivilization
methodof numberingcanbe confusing.A descriptivelist (p. 47). Themultiplicityconventionassuchthusappearsto
of plateswouldhavedonemuchto alleviatethis confusion be an heuristicconceptthat, by encompassingtextualand
andits omissionis all the moreto be regretted. materialimagesalike, is used to show that Rudraand his
The bookis evidentlythe resultof the author'slifelong cult - the figureof Visnu is morecomplicatedin this re-
occupationwith Indian(Hindu)artandreligiousthought. spect- belongto mainstream Indo-Aryan culture.Thiscon-


clusion is not revolutionary,but the way by which it is topmostarmsof the eight-armedcrowningfiguretwice,in

reachedis originalandassuchstandsto thecreditof the au- orderto turnanapparentlysevenfoldmanifestationinto an
thor.One wonders,however,whetherSrinivasandoes not eightfoldone.This is how it is done:"Butsix of the bodies
overstretchher point when she arguesthat the originsof havetwo arms;the topmostbodyhasten arms.Hereis the
lingaworshipin Indiaarelikewiseto be tracedbackto this crux.The topmostbodyis to be understoodas havingtwo
tradition,because"it is demonstrablethat lingain Vedic plus eight armsbecause,ideationally,it constitutestwo
andepic literaturehasmeaningsdevoidofpriapiccontent, forms;one bodyin the groupof seven,plus the eighth en-
and,thatthesemeaningsconnectwithSiva"(pp.192,23Iff.). velopingbody"(p. 154).Equallyunconvincingis herinter-
This maybe true,but it doesnot explainthe worshipof re- pretationof the secondexample,an imagefoundin Man-
alisticphalliasdepictedin plates17.2or 17.6. dhal(pl. I9.23-24),believedto be a SivaAstamurtijust be-
ChaptersFiveto Sevenconcentratemainlyon Rudra's causehe has altogethereight heads,thoughhe is without
natureand functionin Vedic literature.Centralto Srini- anyothersign (cihna)that couldlink him to Rudra'seight
vasan'sargumentis Rudra'srole in the sacrifice.This em- formsornames(p. 279f.).In this contextit shouldbe noted
phasisis in accordwith the author'sproposalto "lookat the that the authorkeepssilent aboutanother,similarimage
Vedicritualasa three-dimensional, livingiconwhoseprop- foundin Mandhal,whichhasanextratierof fourheads;the
ertiescouldprovidemodelsuponwhichto constructdevo- conceptof this imageis, no doubt,graftedonto the eight-
tionalicons"(p. 192).As a deity to whomthe sacrificialre- headedimage.,
mainder(ucchista) is sometimesassigned,Rudrais not "di- The AgnicayanasacrificeprovidesSrinivasanwith an-
vorcedfromthe sanctimonyof theVedicrites;insteadit at- otherVedicstarting-pointofRudra'smultiplicity."Ineach
tests to his abilityto guaranteetheircontinuation"(p. 56). of the fivelayerscomprisingthe greataltarare[sic]a group
Symbolicallythis abilityis expressed,the authorargues,by of bricks called 'mukha'bricks. There are five 'mukha'
the numbereight: "Asa prime number,'seven'relatesto bricksin eachof the fivelayersof the altar"(p. 193).The as-
the sacrifice;thusa 'sevenplus one'formulacouldsymbol- sociationof Rudrawith the deityembodiedin the firealtar
ize a deity who is the perfectionand completionof the follows, accordingto the author,from the fact that the
sacrifice"(p. 77). Leavingaside whether "guarantee" of Satarudriyalitany is chantedafterthe completionof the
sacrificialcontinuanceamountsto its "perfection andcom- altar(p. 193f.).Thoughthe authoradmitsthat "it is a big
pletion"andleavingthe numerologyforwhatit is, it should jumpfrombricksin analtarto headson theshaftofa lifiga,"
be observedthat there is anotherconcordancebetween shearguesthattheAgnicayanareveals"manyelementssug-
Rudra'slink with the numbereight andhis relationto the gestive of the iconographicpropertiesfoundin the Pafica-
sacrifice,i.e. Prajapati.The sameRudra,who, as the inces- mukhaLinigaof Siva"(p. 194).The authorfindssupportfor
tuoussonof Prajapati,receiveseight names,etc. at hisbirth herjumpin theSvetdsvatara andMahdndardyana Upanisads.
(the famousastamfrti),is the onewho is homologizedwith ChapterNine is devotedto the ?vetdivataraUpanisad
the firstissueof the sacrifice,the dangerous"foreportion" (hereafter citedas?U).9U 1.7-9definestheSupreme(parama-
(prdSitra,Sdatapathabrdhmana which is procuredby brahman) as "triune,"that is, as consistingin threeunborn,
his (avenging)act of piercing Prajapati.This homology (aja),i.e.irreducibleconstituents:God,thesoulandnature.
seemsto be the rationaleunderlyingadhydya6 of theKausl- Thatthereis sucha unique,underlyingsubstanceis not ob-
taki Brdhmana. vious,but canbe foundby meditation;the existenceof the
It is questionable,however,whetherthe astamurti
is an latentform(linga),being the invisiblesource(yoni)of the
iconographiccategoryin its ownright.Apartfromtwo late manifestform (mirti),is illustratedin 9U 1.13-14by the
AstamukhaLifigas,the authorcanonlyproducetwo dubi- metaphorof the fire-drill.Likefirethis brahman, identified
ous iconicexamples,both datingfrommorethanone mil- it seemswith God, can be churnedin the heart.Thereis
lenniumafterthe Brahmanaperiod,that is postdatingthe someambiguityin the text with respectto God,whoseems
period"whereinthe multiplicityconventionbecamefully to be on the one handa constitutiveprinciple(Godas per-
established"(200 B.C.-A.D.300); consequently,these im- son)andon the otherthe underlyingsubstanceof the triad
agescanhardlybe conceivedof as "furtherevidence"(p. 3). itself. This ambiguityis ingeniouslyconvertedby Srini-
Srinivasan'singeniousinterpretationof the famousParel vasan(pp. 98f.)into a conceptof God (Siva)that impliesa
sculptureas a SivaAstamartirequiresthat we count both "triunedeity"who "unfolds"himselfin a "downward pro-


gression"in "lowerembodiments": the lingaandthe murti.z tic classificationof Saivaart in the Indiansubcontinent"
This conceptionof Sivais certainlyfundamentalto the au- (p. 121).
thor'svision,sustainedthroughoutthebook,butassheduly The Upanisadis datedon veryshakygrounds(namely
observes,it is "notexplicit in the text" and whetherit is on the Samdhyaportionof it) to "circafirstcenturyA.D.,"a
implicit"remainsopento question(p. lO6). datethat "wouldhelp to explaina certaindialogue,felt to
The authormay actuallyhavederivedher interpreta- exist,betweenideaspresentedin thetextandtheirresponses
tion, not fromthe Upanisad,but froman idea imputedto in earlyHindu art"(p. 121).This is, if not apetitioprincipii,
the Agamas:"theAgamasacknowledgethe triplerealityof certainlybeggingthequestion.SupposingSrinivasan's ana-
Sivaandbuildanentiretheologyaroundthisbelief"(p. IIo). lysis to be correct,the questionis whetherthe conceptbe-
Thismaybe so;however,theauthordoesnothelpthe reader lieved to underlythe Andhrarecensionof the Upanisadis
to check the referenceand one wonderswhethershe has concomitantwith the originof Saivaartandassuchmould-
checked it herself. The phrase "the Agamas"appears ing andexplainingit, or ratheran ideaimposedon the text
throughoutthe book wheneverthe authorneeds to sub- with the intentionto "diagnose" earlySaivaart in confor-
stantiatea view, but nowheredo we learnmoreaboutthis mity with later Siddhanta interpretativetheology.By all
elusivecategoryof texts. Where,in whichAgama,written oddsthe latterseemsmorelikelyto be the case,on account
in which partof India,at which periodand belongingto of the textualsituation,which is, inexcusably,completely
which school? Srinivasanrefers only twice to specific ignoredby Srinivasan.
Agamas(pp. 152, 177),the Kirandgama (no placespecified, The Upanisadhasbeentransmittedin two otherrecen-
noeditionin thebibliography,butonlyareferenceto anear- sions, one ascribedto the Atharvatradition,the otherone
lier publicationof the author)and the Ajitdgama,which claiming to be the tenth adhydyaof the TaittirtyaAra?2yaka
seemsactuallyto havebeenconsultedonce(p. 277, n. 82). andassuchcommentedon by Sayana,the so-calledDravida
The "implicit"notionof a "lifigabody"of Rudra(posi- recension.Firstit shouldbe observedthat the sequenceof
tionedbetween"theWomb"that is ParaBrahmanandthe verseswhichsuggestedto theauthor"aprogressiondealing
materialform)is, accordingto the author,expandedand with the measuredunfolding"is completelydifferentin the
clarifiedin the Mahdndardyana Upanisad(p. II8f.). The otherrecensionsand,secondly,the sectiondealingwith the
Andhrarecension,ortextusornatior, of thisUpanisad(edited so-called (vss.270-76) is altogethermissingin
andtranslatedbyJeanVarenne,I96o)containssevenverses the two otherrecensions,indicativeof its being a laterad-
(vss.270-76), in which aspectsof Siva, togetherwith the dition. As a consequencethe author'sinterpretationof the
subtleessenceormark(lifga)of theseaspects,areeulogized, fiveformulaefiguringa pentadof epithetsin the Mahdnd-
recapitulatedin the concluding phrase: namah. rdjayana (in latertheologyindeedassignedto thefaces[mukha]
Now it is clearthatthis useof the wordlingahaslittle to do of Siva'sli ga) to the effectthat "bythe time of this text,
with the phallicemblemas such,but Srinivasanprovidesa theredevelopedthe beliefin anunfoldingsubsequentto [or
connectionwith the lingaicon by observingthat, "Thisset within?]thelingastage,whichwasrecognizedasbeingfive-
of lifga versesis followedby a set of prayerswhich again foldin nature"(p. 120),seemsto be untenable,orat leastan
havesomeinternalcohesiveness.Mantras277-285invokea anachronism.
pentadof nameswhichcometo be the namesof the fivefaces What, we mayask, is the archaeological evidenceper-
of a PaficamukhaLiftga.The namescited are:Sadyojata, tainingto theearlyperiodthatillustratesthefivefoldnature
Vamadeva[...]" etc., encapsulatedin the nameSadasiva. of Siva'sunfolding?Srinivasanadducesonly one example,
The next versesinvokeSiva'sgolden, i.e. immortalforms "theSufigaPaficamukha LifigafromBhita"(p. 122). How-
"golden-armed" etc. and some of his "anthropomorphic" ever,as the studiesofJ.N. BanerjeaandGerdKreiselhave
personae,Ambikapati,etc. Srinivasanconcludesthat, "The shown(ignoredbytheauthorin hermulti-stageddiscussion
sequenceof these versesstrongly suggests a progression of this image:pp.
I85f.,195,222, 234f.),3we areherecon-
dealingwith the measuredunfoldingof the Supremegod, cernedwith an anthropomorphic, ithyphallicfigure,and
Rudra"(p. II9).Theoriginalandingeniousconclusionruns: notwith a The author is right, however,whensheob-
"TheMahanarayana Upanisadbringstogetherin someco- servesthat the circleoffourheadsconformsto the otherev-
hesivefashionthe threefoldtypologywhichis the diagnos- idencethoughtto representSiva's"fivefoldnature,"theearly
catur-mukha-lirigas, a comparisonalso made by Kreisel.


Srinivasan,and many authors before her, are at pains to ex- mace,sword,andperhapsthe conch,may"declarethegod's
plain the absence of the theological belief in a "threefold sovereigntyoverthewholeworldon the horizontalandver-
SaivaReality" and the "five-headedSaivagod" in a text that ticalplanes"(p.23).All thisseemsplausibleenough,though
is indeed more or less contemporaneous with the early ar- the iconographyof fourarmsposesa problemfromthe au-
chaeological material, the Mahdbhdrata(pp. I48ff.). The for- thor'spoint of view. The Malharimageis amongthe earli-
mer concept, she declares, is "sustained,almost by default," est instancesof the multiplicityconvention,yet the thread
whereaswith regardto the five-headedSiva she admits that thatlinksit with the Indo-AryanorVedictraditionis thin.
"the epic is opaque." If the multiplicityconventionis specificto this tradition,
The epic does maintain explicitly the notion of Siva's andif the "Vedic"Mahdndrdyana Upanisadis silenton "re-
four-headednessand quadriform(caturmukha: MBh. 1.203.26, ligiousdevelopmentsleadingtowardsan understandingof
13.17-74;caturmzurtitva:MBh. 13.128.4),a concept that is il- the earlymultiplicityimagesofVasudeva-Krsna" precisely
lustrated in the myth of Tilottama (MBh. 1.203.21-26, becausethis deity is "notdeeply entrenchedin Vedism"
13.128.3-8), evidence that is discarded by the author as lild (p. 128),how do we explainthat this conventionis imple-
and as having nothing to do with veda, i.e. "theological mentedin suchanearlyspecimen(Ist centuryB.c.)in such
knowledge" (p. 13).This vedarequires- but the reviewerhas a remotearea?Could therebe yet anothersource,folk or
to admit that much of the latter part of Chapter Eleven, tribalreligionperhaps,of the ideathatmultiplicityof arms
"The Bridge from Words to Forms,"is beyond his compre- expressessuperhuman,i.e.divinepower?
hension - that the theoretician should conceive of four as On thewholeSrinivasan's treatmentof theVaisnavatra-
being actually five ("It is well known that a figure in the dition is moreconvincingthanherdiscussionof the Saiva
round ofa four-facedSiva [...] refer(s)to the theological po- materialwhich,one hasthe impression,hasbeensqueezed
sition inhering in the five-faced Siva," p. 13), whereas the into the preconceivedstraightjacketmadeup by the Vedic
empiricist should learn to apply the device (which is evi- originsof its conventions.Occasionallythe samehappens
dently a much later invention) of declaring the fifth head in- with theothermaterial,forinstancewhenthecolossalYaksa
visible, by virtue of the fact that it is associated with ether piece found in Bhita, which shows two addorsedfigures
(dkaa): "his four heads simply remind that the fifth is in- with two moreheadson the sidesabovethe figuresof a lion
visible and that five-headedness is the hallmark of Siva" andpig, is interpretedasa vaisnavaCaturvyahaimage"in-
(p. 161). Could the early Saiva icons not simply represent ventedto transmita rathercomplextheologicaldoctrine
what they look like, a four-headed god, that is a god that (p. 209).
manifests himself in four aspects or personae? In conclusionit seems that the overallschemeof the
Having argued that worship of Rudraand the is or- book leading Saiva iconographyback to Vedic origins,
thogenetic to the Indo-Aryan tradition, Srinivasanadmits whereit is "latent"(p. Io), failsto carryconviction.More-
that things are more complicated with regard to the origin over,therearefrequentdoubtsin individualcasesregard-
of the Vaisnavatradition. The figuresofVisnu and Ndrayana ing the interpretationof textualand iconographicdetails.
have clearly Vedic antecedents, but the origin of the other However,despitethesereservations, Srinivasan'sgrandvi-
early cult figures belonging to the broad stream of the Bha- sion,whichhasincitedherto surveyallsourcesof earlyHin-
gavata religion, Vasudeva-Krsna, the Vrsni Viras, is more duismon a scalenot previouslyundertaken,is admirable.
problematic. ChapterSixteen surveys the material evidence The author,in herzealto showthe homogeneityof Indian
of their cult. The author argues convincingly that the cult culture,attachesperhapstoo muchvalueto onlyonestrand
of (human) heroes, including that of the five Vrsni heroes, of this culture,the Brahmanictradition.All the same,I do
is related to Yaksa worship. While most images come from not knowof anypreviousattemptto synthetiseso system-
Mathuraand its environs, one of the earliest examples of an aticallythe Indianiconographicand Brahmanicaltextual
image in which Yaksa, Vira and Vaisnava elements fuse is traditions.Assuchthebook,forall its shortcomings,is orig-
the sculpture found in the Chhattisgarh region (MP), in the inalandopensnewavenuesforresearchin the fieldof artas
village of Malhar. Srinivasanargues that the Malhar sculp- well as textualstudies.
ture is a MahaVira, possibly HansBakker
vaisnava Vasudeva-Krsna,rep-
resenting "the humane apparition of a higher god" (p. 218). of
Institute IndianStudies
The four arms of the crowned image, holding the cakra, Universityof Groningen


I ThissculptureisbrieflydiscussedbyN.P.Joshi,"EarlyForms ofSiva," ofNature:PlantsandInsects

W. Meister,
in Michael ed.Discourseson?iva(Philadelphia:
Universityof in ChinesePainting and Ceramicsof the Yuan Dynasty
Pennsylvania must
( Publications,9993,2 vols.,viii,
haveseenthisimageherself,whenshevisitedtheNagpurUniversity Mu- 27a9--368),
seumandmadeherphotograph of the tetracephalic
figureof Brahmd o4pp., 28pls.
(pl. 22.2).
Fascination of Naturewill becomea key monumentin the
2 In ChapterTen (p. 127)Srinivasanderivesfrom the Mahdndrayana new historyof Song-Yuanpainting.This fine-stylehand-
Upanisadanotherinsightin Siva'striunenature:"Itfeaturesthreetypesof scrollof insects,plants,andflowers,inscribedby the artist
imagessymbolicof the triunedivinity:litiga,mukhalitiga,full anthropo-
Xie Chufang,and dated in correspondence to 1321,is the
most importantpaintingof its kind andperiodto cometo
3 J.N. Banerjea,"ThePhallicEmblemin AncientandMedievalIndia," light in the lastfortyyears.Paintedin inkandcoloron silk,
inJournalof the IndianSocietyof OrientalArt 3 (I935),36-44, and Gerd it is a beautifulworkof superbquality.It exhibitsa mix of
Kreisel,Die ?iva-Bildwerke (Stuttgart:F. SteinerVer- gorgeouscolor,technicalvirtuosity,intimatedescription,
lag Wiesbaden,1986),54-65. and distancedstylizationthat is characteristicof end-of-
Song/early-Yuan flowerpaintingand that makesit repre-
sentativeof its period.Signedanddatedworksof this type
by men whoseresponsesto their times rangedfromSong
loyalistreclusionto serviceunderthe Mongolsduringthe
late Yuan, makethis scrolla uniquelyvaluablesourcefor
understandingfine-stylepaintingandits receptionduring
the Yuan.
Theparticularsignificanceof thispaintinglies in its role
as a link betweenAcademypaintingand scholar-amateur
painting,' especiallythe art of late Song and earlyYuan
(circaI235-before1307),who madefine-styleflowerpaint-
ings.2 Visually, this linkage is evident in Fascinationof
Nature'speculiarmix of contrastingstylistic features:vi-
brantcolorandsignificantmonochromatic passages;sharp,
tight outline and bluntbrushwork; illusionistic
candidtwo-dimensionality.These contrastingvisual ele-
mentsusuallyareassignedeitherto Academyorto scholar-
amateurpracticeby arthistorianswho takethem to typify
thedistinctivetechnicalapproaches andassociatedaesthetic
valuesthat placeAcademypainting and scholarpainting
"polesapart."Moreover,this fine-stylepaintingbearsthe
kind of inscriptions- artist'sdedicationand appreciators
colophons- thatwe associatewith theproductionsof schol-
ars who paint in abbreviated,brush-orientedmonochro-
maticmodes.Fascination ofNaturewill makeit muchharder
to persistin the pro-formaAcademy/amateur polarization
that characterizes traditional(andmanymodern)accounts
of the historyof Songandpost-Songpainting.
That this wonderfulworknow offersits richesto us is
the contributionof RoderickWhitfield,who, it is fairto
say,rescuedit fromoblivion.He encouragedandarranged