Posts Tagged ‘South India’

“Religion, Tradition and Ideology: Pre-colonial South India” by Champakalakshmi: A Marxist interpretation!

April 7, 2011

“Religion, Tradition and Ideology: Pre-colonial South India” by Champakalakshmi: A Marxist interpretation!


South India‘s cultural past not confined to one religion: Prof. Champakalakshmi[1]: The Hindu reports, “The empirical pre-eminence in the study of history in inscription-rich Tamil Nadu and a modern outlook on historiography combine to provide a fresh understanding of the past in a book launched here on Tuesday (05-04-2011). Religion, Tradition and Ideology: Pre-colonial South India” (Oxford University Press) is a collection of essays by historian R. Champakalakshmi, discussing the origins and development of multiple religious traditions and their role in the evolution of a rich and complex socio-religious matrix in pre-colonial south India. Champakalakshmi, who retired as professor of the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), has debunked the usual simplistic continuities between Vedic times and the present day that is the staple of the conventional historian’s approach, and attempted to show how conflicting, even irreconcilable beliefs and practices, were incorporated into the Sanskritic tradition”.

From “Indologist to historian and social scientist”: The report goes on to say, “As history is dying in schools and colleges, and he history teachers have been loosing their jobs, they have started crying wolf with changed roles. Thus, it is reported that “the work, which is the consummation of almost five decades of research during which the author “transformed from an Indologist to historian and social scientist,” sketches the emergence of Brahminism as a dominant tradition and the marginalisation of the “sramanic” religions — Jainism and Buddhism — in the socio-economic and political context”. N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, launched the book by handing over the first copy to Iravatham Mahadevan, an expert on Indus and Tamil-Brahmi scripts. Describing the publication as “rich in its material and many-sided in its historical offerings,” Mr. Ram said one of the notable aspects was the nuanced treatment of the interaction between the Brahminical and “sramanic” religions. The author’s approach to caste and community was a breakthrough contribution in understanding caste and its changing dynamics with the community as was her bold treatment of the hegemony of one religion in an otherwise pluralistic tradition, Mr. Ram said”.

There existed no Vedic linkage to the term Hindu which first originated during the Vijayanagara period of the 14th century: The report goes on, “Mr. Mahadevan said the author in her role of historian was “a bridge between tradition and modernity,” a product of the University of Madras who held on to conservative values and yet blossomed to expand her perspective in the JNU milieu. Professor Champakalakshmi was someone who, while being rooted in tradition, brought to historiography the searchlight of modernity, he said. Professor. Champakalakshmi said her over 55 years of research and teaching had been “an eventful and fascinating journey” that took her through many untrodden avenues of India‘s historical past. Noting that south India’s cultural past was not confined to one religion — in fact, there existed no Vedic linkage to the term Hindu which first originated during the Vijayanagara period of the 14th century — Professor Champakalakshmi said she had studied counter-traditions (such as Jainism) to understand the historical processes that led to the dominance of Brahminism. Shashank Sinha, OUP senior commissioning manager, said the book was another illustration of south India‘s emergence as an important component of the publishing programme that ranges across performing arts, music and literature”.

Hinduism to become the dominant tradition and ideology after its development and reworking: Under “Description”, the publishers give the following[2]: “This book discusses the multiple facets, dominant characteristics, and historical trajectories of religious traditions in pre-colonial south India. It explores how Hinduism, primarily the Brahmanical tradition, developed and reworked itself in the context of challenges posed by Buddhism and Jainism to become the dominant tradition and ideology in south Indian society and polity. Examining the linkages between religion and politics, the volume also investigates alternative vernacular traditions, rituals and practices, temple architecture, iconography and other representational art forms that evolved as symbols of power. A detailed introduction weaves together the different aspects and introduces new questions for further research”.

Religion is for the believers, as the ideology is for the Marxist historians: 55 years journey cannot compel the 5500 years old believers with their established belief system, that has already been tested many-many times. The branding of “Bhrahmanical” religion is a myth, as such gabblers never talk about “Khastriya  religion”, “Vaisya religion”, and “Sudra religion”. In fact, they do not explain such “Varna system” existing in other religions. By interpreting the divisions of a society by caste, community by denomination, people by ethnos, or by any other expression the existing vertical or horizontal, social stratifications, or structural arrangements cannot be ignored or suppressed. Therefore, hegemonic interpretation alone cannot be used for such forced conclusion. Days, years, decades and even millenniums have been passing on and in such a milieu, the Hindu religion or the religion of Indians have been no doubt changing, but not ideologically. The question of ideological interpretation of Hindu religion, in the pre-colonial context, cannot take away the facts of underlying[3] the so-called “Shramanic religions”[4].  That Buddhism and Jainism to play crucial role during the Vijayanagara to Colonial period, they had to be resurrected and brought.

Conflicting, even irreconcilable beliefs and practices, were incorporated into the Sanskritic tradition: In religion, that too, followed by millions of people at time and place naturally exhibit differences. In performing rites, rituals, ceremonies, festivals, the regional variance would be there in physical forms depending upon the natural differences. Whenever, any material required for performing rites, rituals, ceremonies, festivals, etc., are not available, substitutes are taken. Such practices, might be opposed by the traditionalists and conservatives initially, but, slowly reconciled, understanding the practical difficulties. This is just like Siva having moustache and beard or without them, as depicted in pictures and sculptures. But, Parvati never claim any “immaculate conception” to have Subramanya / Karttikeya like Mary! Krishna might be in blacks and blues, but, devotees love and like him like Radha and Meera.  They would not preach ahimsa killing and eating animals like Buddhists. Even children or atheists know that “Ramarajya” is talked about by all ideologists and not about “Ravana rajya”! Even during the medieval and pre-colonial period, the other counter-traditions or anti-cultures had to thrive only on such “myths”, if at all, they disbelieve such “greater traditions and bigger heritages”.

Ideological historians never demythologize other religions to present facts: The ideological historians can very well demythologize non-Indian, non-Bharatiya, colonial, Semitic religions to present facts behind the fundamental tenets, as they interpret Hindu religion. Why the Mohamedans issued coins with “Rama” or the British incorporated “Ramrajya” would not be discussed by these historians.  Romila Thapar would not appear then and there and threaten with going on appeal against the Supreme Court judgments as in the case of Temple-mosque disputes.  That is why believers or common people remember Rama’s bridge without caring for the engineer or the college where such engineer studied. In other words, instead of Rama, the Mohammedan and colonial forces must have issued coins with Ravana. “Shramanic” unbelievers or anti-Vedic followers would not have incorporated Lakshmi and other Goddesses for their profits. However, they would discuss about Hindus believers to copy from the Mohammedans to learn Advaita; to adopt syncretism incorporating Mohammedan philosophy; and so on without any conflict, contradiction or reconcilable accommodation.

Vedaprakash

07-04-2011


[3] JG Jennings, The Vedantic Buddhism of the Buddha, A collection of historical texts translated from the original Pāli and edited by J. G. Jennings, Geoffrey Cumberlege,  Oxford University Press, 1947.

[4] Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Hinduism and Buddhism, Philosophical Library, New York, 1943. 2011 edition by Golden Eixir Press.

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