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Genealogy of Modern Hinduism

The Oxford India Hinduism Reader edited by Vasudha Dalmia and Heinrich von Stietencron;

Economic & Political Weekly EPW september 13, 200829book reviewGenealogy of Modern HinduismArchana VenkatesanThe Oxford India Hinduism Readeredited by Vasudha Dalmia and Heinrich von Stietencron;Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007; pp 397, Rs 650.One would expect that a book enti-tled The Oxford India Hinduism Reader consist of a set of intro-ductory essays that offer a broad over-viewof the various components of Hindu religious traditions – the literature, the chronology, the deities, the ritual. It is therefore a happy surprise that the present volume edited by Vasudha Dalmia and Heinrich von Stietencron offers a fresh approach focused on specific themes, mo-ments and phases that have coalesced into what we now refer to as Hinduism. This is a thoughtful and considered contribution to the complex debates surrounding the genealogy of Hinduism: is it an invention forged in the crucible of colonialism and nationalism, or is its history longer and more continuous? Even while taking the former position, the editors (and the authors) are “interested in tracing key moments in the formation of Hindu traditions, in their relations [to] modern Hinduism” (p 6).In keeping with this aim,The Oxford India Hinduism Readerbrings into dia-logue essays from two earlier edited volumes – Dalmia and Stietencron’s Repre-senting Hinduism: The Construction of Religious Traditions and National Identity (1995), and Dalmia, Malinar and Christof’s Charisma and Canon: Essays on Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent (2001). There are 10 essays from the now out-of-print former volume, three from the latter, and a further new essay (Bacchetta) that are organised into four broad sections: ‘Historical Perspectives’, ‘The Changing Faces of Authority’, ‘Law, History, and the Nationalisation of Hinduism’ and ‘The Category ‘Hindu’ in Political Discourse’. All of these essays are anchored by Vasudha Dalmia’s lucid and thoughtful introduc-tion (pp 1-26). Like any good introduction, it surveys the major arguments of each of the essays, presents the reasoning for the aforementioned chosen frames, and de-velops the common themes of centripetal and centrifugal forces that have borne on the assimilation, rejection and adaptation of various religious forms into constitut-ing Hinduism. However, the essays are also bound together by Dalmia’s key asser-tion that even while different ethnic and geographic groups employ the term Hindu, it comes to be used in Sanskrit in a clearly self-representational manner only in the 19th century, as a direct result of contact with Christian missionaries (pp 3-5). Thus contextualised, each of the essays in the volume pushes the contentious history of Hinduism beyond unravelling the tan-gled genealogy of the term. Not concen-trating solely on the 19th century and later, the first few essays by Hardy, Stietencron or Malinar reveal how these same issues are relevant to the medieval period in various areas of the subcontinent. Such a broad historical perspective ably demon-strates that Hinduism’s continuities with the past go beyond shared deities, mytho-logies or texts. Rather, it convinces that neither the impulse to subsume other reli-gious traditions into a hegemonic system, nor the tension between localisation and universalisation, is unique to the modern impulses of Hindu nationalism or the reform movements of the 19th century. Medieval TraditionsStietencron’s essay, ‘Religious Configura-tions in Medieval India and the Modern Concept of Hinduism’ (pp 50-89) reveals the manner in which medieval Saivas in the south subordinated other deities such as Vishnu and made claims granting Siva exclusive salvific ability. In doing so, they clearly demarcated themselves from other groups, who too made similar claims about their central divine figures. If one of the key markers of a religious tradition are its claims to grant salvation to its adherentsto the exclusion of others, it is clear that themedievalsouthernSaivas (or other similar groups) cannot realisti-cally be classified as sects within the larger matrix of Hinduism. Whether it is the case of Hariscandra (1850-1885) in 19th century Banaras, who sought to posit a parti-cularstrand of Vaisnavism as definitively Hindu (Dalmia, pp 90-125), or the case of these medieval Saivas, it is readily apparent that the notion of Hinduism as a single unified entity forged to designate one’s religious affiliation appeared quite late. The opening three essays authored by Friedhelm Hardy (pp 29-49), Stietencron and Dalmia chart the major themes that enable rewarding conversation across both region and time. For instance in the second section (‘The Changing Faces of Religious Authority’), Angelika Malinar, Robert Zydenbos and Wilhelm Halbfass discuss the intimate relationships between religious authority and religious reform, the latter not being confined to the 19th century. The eighth century south Indian philosopher Sankara, extolled in the 14th century hagio-graphy ‘Sankaradigvijaya’as an ‘avatara’ of Siva, accomplished the daunting task of an intellectual conquest of India, established four centres to promulgate his teachings and thus is revered as a ‘jagadguru’, or world-teacher (Malinar, pp 129-50). Some 10 centuries later,another young monk, Vivekanandais engaged in a different kindofintellectual ‘digvijaya’, seeking to translate theoretical ‘advaita’ philosophy into practical action, asa response to the co-lonialcritiqueslevelled on the Sanskrit/Hindu philosophical traditions (Halbfass, pp 169-83). Sankara, Madhva (who assumed an indisputable authority for himself by claiming to be an incarnation of Vayu) and Vivekananda, provide three telling examples of the impulse to paradoxically push against the gravity of a powerful centralising force, while bringing their own versions of the traditions to the centre. The third frame of ‘Law, History, and the Nationalisation on Hinduism’ shifts attention exclusively to the 19th and early 20th century. Conrad’s essay, ‘The Personal Law Question and Hindu Nationalism’ (pp 187-230) on personal law discusses the
BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW september 13, 200831contribution to this volume, he demonstrates a tangible shift away from the histories of the 19th century, which sought to instil in Hindus, a pride in their shared past. Instead, contemporary Hindu histories see the past as a monumental, epic struggle between the forces of good and evil, of Hindu and Muslim, and as a tool to recapture state power. The great value of The Oxford India Hinduism Readeris its departure from the chronological approach to the teaching and study of Hinduism. The detailed in-troduction provides a solid overview – both methodological and practical – of the central issues that concern the study of Hinduism. As Vasudha Dalmia aptly points out, in most introductory books on Hindu-ism the period of the reform movements is presented as the final phase in the devel-opment of this particular religious tradi-tion. However as we well know, Hinduism continues to change and develop (as any religious tradition is wont to do) under the new frames of immigration and globalisa-tion. What these many essays reveal are the twin, competing forces of centralisation and decentralisation that colour people’s understanding of their and other’s reli-gious traditions. Rich in content about particular aspects of Hinduism, as well as presenting a range of methodological approaches to the study of the subject,The Oxford India Hinduism Reader,a merging of two previous volumes, is an ideal intro-ductory undergraduate text, not only for the study of Hinduism, but also for the study of religion in general. Email: nacciyar@gmail.comNandigram: A Tale of Developmental ViolenceArup Kumar SenThe concept of “development” has a long history. In his entry on development inThe Development Dictionary edited by Wolfang Sachs (1992), the eminent de-professionalised intellec-tual, Gustavo Esteva, wrote the obituary of development in the process of interro-gation of its long journey. He argued that the “metaphor of development gave global hegemony to a purely western genealogy of history, robbing people of different cul-tures of the opportunity to define the forms of their social life”. In the develop-ment discourse, argued Esteva, the indus-trial mode of production became the defi-nition of the terminal stage of a unilinear way of social evolution.There is an intimate connection be-tween development and violence. In the early 1990s, Claude Alvares wrote the story of developmental violence in India as part of a project on science and violence carried out by Ashis Nandy. He argued that the past three decades have seen develop-ment become war and that governments from the south have teamed up with inter-national financial institutions to slaughter their own folk. In the forward march of neoliberal globalisation in India in the first decade of the 21st century, we have noticed an escalation of violence against people and destruction of their subsist-ence lifestyles. The recent state-sponsored violence in Nandigram should be situated in the above perspective.Outburst of ViolenceAfter a landslide victory in the assembly election in 2006, the Left Front govern-ment under the hegemonic leadership of Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M) vigorously pursued the policy of inviting big capital to West Bengal. The government adopted coercive methods to acquire around 1,000 acres of fertile agricultural land in Singur in the Hooghly district for the Tata group. The group has erected a factory in the acquired land for manufacturing low-cost cars. The “success story” in Singur was followed by ruthless state violence in Nandigram for acquiring agricultural land for a special economic zone (SEZ) project. The book under review is based on the Report of the People’s Tribunal on Nandi-gram (May 26-28) held especially in the context of state terror in Nandigram from March 14, 2007 onwards. The people’s tribu-nal was chaired by justice S N Bhargava, former chief justice, Sikkim High Court. The book has updated the contents of the report to include major incidents in Nandi-gram up to December 2007.The fact-finding report on Nandigram has situated the story of people’s resist-ance and state violence in the light of the socio-political profile of the region. The area earmarked for land acquisition as part of the proposedSEZ project is inhab-ited by mostly Muslims and lower caste Hindus. The CPI(M) controlled five out of six panchayats in the affected area before the last panchayat elections. The major focus of the report was to document the state terror in Nandigram during March 14-16, 2007. In the after-math of the state-sponsored violence in Nandigram, the eminent historian, Tanika Sarkar, rightly warned that “the true story of the terror at Nandigram between March14 and March 16 will probably nev-er be disclosed in its fullness”. Reading some of the testimonies of victims and eyewitnesses cited in the report fills one “with a sense of cold horror”.Subrata Sarkar submitted to the tribunal a copy of the March 14-16 case register ofNandigram block hospital. The case register shows 26 bullet injuries of which 15 or 16 were in the upper part of the body including head, chest and abdomen. A significant number of bullet wounds seemed to have been caused by firing from the back while the crowd was running away. The brutality of the massacre was accom-panied by violation of basic medical norms in the treatment of the injured in different government hospitals. After scrutiny of several discharge certificates issued by the local hospitals in Nandigram and Tamluk, the tribunal found that almost in all cases there was not a single mention of injuries being caused by bullets. A definite tendency of hiding facts was noticed.Nandigram: What Really Happened?(Based on the Report of the People’s Tribunal on Nandigram); Daanish Books, Delhi, 2007; pp xviii + 102, Rs 175.

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