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Conference on Religion in South India


CRSI 2001 COMPARATIVE THEOLOGIES IN SOUTH ASIA

PAPER SUMMARIES

Contents

Timothy Cahill (Loyola University of New Orleans), The Emotions of Devotion in South Indian Religious Poetry

Tracy Coleman (Brown University), On Suffering Desire for Krishna: Gender and Salvation in the Bhagavata Purana

Indira Viswanathan Peterson (Mount Holyoke College), The Bethlehem Kuravanji of Vedanayaka Sastri of Tanjavur: The Cultural Discourses of an Early Nineteenth-Century Tamil Christian Poem

Steven Hopkins (Swarthmore College), Loving God in Three Languages: Sanskrit and the Cosmopolitan Vernacular in Fourteenth century South India

Carl Ernst and Jim Laine (University of North Carolina and Macalester College), Ramdas in Urdu Translation: The Message of a Hindu Saint in the Interpretation of a South Indian Sufi

Brian Hatcher (Illinois Wesleyan University), Translating Hindu Reform: Reflections on the Problems of Understanding

Charles Borges, S.J. (Loyola College, Baltimore), Jesuit Responses to Hinduism and Islam in South India in the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

Thomas B. Coburn (St. Lawrence University), What is a Cultural Encounter? Frenchmen and Indians/Mystics and Professors in South India

Georgana Foster (independent scholar), Hybrid Iconography in Hyderabad

John E. Cort (Denison University), God as King or God as Ascetic? A Jain Divine Polarity

Frédérique Apffel-Marglin and Dennis Hudson (Smith College), Who Has the Potency?

Stephen Jenkins (Humboldt State College), Two Oceans of Compassion: Parallels and Reciprocal Appropriations in Srivaisnava and Indian Buddhist Conceptions of Compassion

Balaji N. Hebbar (George Washington University), Is Salvific Bliss One and Equal or Many and Hierarchical? The Ramanujite and the Madhvite Perspectives

Yoshitsugu Sawai (Tenri University, Japan), The Scriptural Interpretation of Madhva's Vedanta Theology

Yvette Rosser (University of Texas), Imagining Jambudviipa: Deconstructing Post-Modern Post-Orientalist Post-Colonial Occi-centric Meta-Theories and other such Intellectual Hyperbole and Re-Restoring Agency to the Indian Subject Who is also a Twentieth Century Scholar

K. R. Sundararajan (St. Bonaventure University), Advocates for Ramanuja--P.N.Srinivasachari and John Carman

Rachel Fell McDermott (Barnard College), The Battle over Bali, or "Why Must We Feed Her Blood?" The Controversial Status of Animal Sacrifice in Bengali Goddess Religion

John Stratton Hawley (Barnard College), Religion, Desire, and the Presence of Krishna's Absence

Sathianathan Clarke (United Theological College, Bangalore), Dalit Religion: Resisting and Contesting the Encompassing Hindu Identity


The Emotions of Devotion in South Indian Religious Poetry

Timothy Cahill
Loyola University of New Orleans

The paper explores the varieties of emotional experience embedded in South Indian devotional poetry composed in Sanskrit and Tamil. A few questions help me select and organize the material. First, can we speak of a "religious emotion" and if so, how is such an experience related to ordinary emotions? Further, can we understand devotion to God as a religious emotion? And to complicate these issues still more I ask what makes an emotion "vicarious" and pursue the possibility that all aesthetic emotions are somehow vicariously experienced. Finally, I explore the possibility of seeing the religious emotion known as devotion as eligible to be experienced vicariously through poetry. The examples I use to explore these ideas are drawn from the religious literature of South India.
The motives for this inquiry relate to the lack of "portability" attached to many aesthetic aspects of religious traditions. A curious commonality is that both "taste" and "religiosity" must be learned, yet they come to feel innate. But while "taste" or aesthetic enjoyment has the potential for vicarious experience, many might resist or be reluctant to see religious impulses as eligible to be enjoyed through imagined participation in the experience of others. I suggest that some South Indian poetry can shed light on this in a theologically intriguing way.


On Suffering Desire for Krishna: Gender and Salvation in the Bhagavata Purana

Tracy Coleman
Brown University

This paper is an exercise in comparative theologies in two respects: 1) it compares and contrasts constructions of devotion and divinity in the Harivamsa and the Bhagavata Purana, focusing on Krishna's lila with the blessed gopis; and 2) it compares and contrasts soteriologies in the Bhagavata itself, this time comparing the gopis (and women devotees generally) to those (generally male) sages who attain oneness with Lord Krishna through desirelessness.
The purpose of part one is to show how the gopis become more wildly desirous in the Bhagavata while Krishna himself becomes desireless, all of which indicates a shifting of the burden of desire (kama), and its concomitant suffering (duhkha), onto women, whereas Krishna becomes the ideal purusa in the yogic sense (detached and unmoved by emotions, etc.). The paper thus attempts to place the erotic lila within the larger philosophical context in which kama is a serious soteriological problem and an obstacle to be entirely overcome by those seriously seeking liberation from samsara. The paper thens examine claims in the Bhagavata itself that the gopis are the most exalted of devotees due to their intense and unconditional devotion to Sri Krishna, and it explores Friedhelm Hardy's thesis in Viraha Bhakti, in which Hardy claims that the author of the Bhagavata aimed to valorize body and emotions in sharp contrast to the philosophical positions which specified freedom from desire as a prerequisite to liberation from duhkha and samsara.

While acknowledging the relative truth of Hardy's claims, I show that not only has the burden of desire and suffering been shifted onto women in the Bhagavata, but that a new devotional paradigm has been constructed precisely for women--a paradigm that confines women to their roles in society (stridharma) in keeping with the contemporaneous development of dharmasastric ideologies. This means that while men can still attain the very highest state of freedom and desirelessness, women are still bound by their dharma to the realm of kama and duhkha, which means that claims about ultimate salvation necessarily involve implicit claims about gender and the "proper" roles of women in brahmanically designed society.


The Bethlehem Kuravanji of Vedanayaka Sastri of Tanjavur: The Cultural Discourses of an Early Nineteenth-Century Tamil Christian Poem

Indira Viswanathan Peterson
Mount Holyoke College

Vedanayaka Sastri of Tanjavur (1774-1864) was an eminent poet and author of more than a hundred works in the Tamil language, on a range of Christian themes. He was also the first major writer from the Tamil Protestant community of South India. In this paper, I examine Sastri's most celebrated work, the dramatic poem Bethlehem Kuravanji (1800/1820), with the aim of showing how his poetry contributed to the expression and affirmation of an emergent Tamil Protestant culture. I have argued that in the Bethlehem Kuravanji, as in his other poems, Sastri articulates a distinctively Tamil refraction of the Protestantism which had been brought to the Tanjavur region in the early eighteenth century by German Pietists from Halle. I have also shown that the poem eloquently illustrates the engagement of Tamil Protestants in the discourses of the South Indian public sphere as a whole, and of Tamil literary and religious culture in particular, in the early nineteenth century.

Educated by German Pietist missionaries in Tanjavur and Tranquebar, Sastri spent the major portion of his life in the city of Tanjavur, in the Maratha Tanjore kingdom that was then under British control. Sastri served as a trainer of catechists, and as the headmaster of the Tanjavur mission school, where he also taught Mathematics and Astronomy . However, he devoted his greatest energies to composing poetry, hymns and plays, which were performed before large Tamil Christian audiences. In their themes and genres and their combination of poetry, music and performance, Sastri's works participated fully in the characteristic discourses of religion and literature in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century South India. All of his poems share much with the traditional literary forms of Tamil (especially Shaiva) personal devotional religion (bhakti). However, the longer dramatic-narrative poems show specific affinitieswith new developments in Tamil literature in the eighteenth century. The Kuravanji (fortune-teller's play) and other dance-dramatic genres that had arisen in the eighteenth century focused equally on human affairs and contemporary social and political issues and folkloric figures, and on Hindu gods, temples and devotional themes, and they were performed at temples and courts, mainly by female dancers (Devadasi). Sastri's acknowledged masterpiece, the Bethlehem Kuravanji, a poem in the Kuravanji genre, the most popular of these eighteenth century genres, neatly illustrates the contemporary poetic and cultural discourses of Sastri's longer works. I have argued that, through an allegorical treatment of the Kuravanji genre's conventions, in the fortune-teller play Sastri found a vehicle for a comprehensive dramatic-narrative exposition of Protestant theology that accommodated at the same time new European cosmologies and ideas, and was fully in harmony with Tamil cultural sensibilities.


Loving God in Three Languages: Sanskrit and the Cosmopolitan Vernacular in Fourteenth century South India

Steven Hopkins
Swarthmore College

This paper explores the complex historical and literary relationships between Sanskrit, Tamil and Prakrit through the lense of a fourteenth-century south Indian Srivaisnava poet-acarya who composed poems in all three languages. Sheldon Pollock's theories on the Sanskrit "cosmopolis" and the "cosmopolitan vernacular" are used to speak of the persistence of Sanskrit composition within a religious community during the "vernacular millenium" (1000-1500) in pre-modern South Asia.


Ramdas in Urdu Translation: The Message of a Hindu Saint in the Interpretation of a South Indian Sufi

Carl Ernst and Jim Laine
University of North Carolina and Macalester College

Ramdas was a seventeenth-century religious figure commonly linked with Shivaji in Maharashtrian lore. He is usually identified as the chief theorist of the Hindu revival embodied in Shivaji and aimed against the Muslims. A few years ago, Carl Ernst stumbled across an Urdu text which is a verse translation in Dakhani Urdu of a work by Ramdas, Manache Shlok. The author of the translation was Shah Turab Chishti (d. 1751), a Sufi who lived for a while at the court of Tanjore and was evidently a native Marathi speaker. From a quick glance at the text, entitled Man Samjhavan, it is clear that he adopts many of the "translation" strategies we have seen in similar works such as the Amritakunda, i.e. Allah = alakh, etc.

We compare selected portions of the Marathi and Urdu texts and then describe the nature of the interpretive process regarding religious terms and symbols. What makes the case particularly striking is the fact that Ramdas has become a symbol for anti-Muslim sentiment, something evidently ignored by the Sufi translator who lived shortly after the time of Ramdas.

How could this peculiar Hindu-Muslim interface happen in the heart of the Tamil country that John Carman knows so well? What are some of the lessons we have learned from John about how one can interpret one's own religious tradition using the very categories and vocabulary of the other?


Translating Hindu Reform: Reflections on the Problems of Understanding

Brian Hatcher
Illinois Wesleyan University

In this paper I play off the theme of translation as it runs through John Carman's work. On a local level, I engage his insights about the role of local scholars/native assistants in Protestant Bible translations by looking at some examples of local translators, both noted/notable (e.g. Rammohan) and unnoticed (like some of the pandits I've studied). I hope to raise issues about some terminological choices centering on the rendering of ideas of religion, dharma, reform, improvement, unnati??inspired somewhat by John's meditations on issues surrounding the translation of concepts like holy, pure, auspicious. On a more global level, I link the essay to Dipesh Chakrabarty's idea of "translating life worlds" to see if there is some way to??as he puts it??provincialize Europe. Behind this bit of the paper is an awareness of John's overriding emphasis on interreligious understanding (though I won't work from or with his theological agenda...).



Jesuit Responses to Hinduism and Islam in South India in the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries

Charles Borges, S.J.
Loyola College, Baltimore

Hinduism and Islam appeared as might constraints to the forward evangelizing plans of the Jesuits in India in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The efforts of the missionaries (most of them Portuguese) were to discredit the religions in whatever form they presented themselves, to tolerate, or at times to understand them from within. The first position most often won the day and the writings of many of the Jesuits engaged in active evangelizing show the extraordinary ideas they entertained.

This paper reflects at deeper length on a document (published in Portuguese) written in 1615 by Fr. Diogo Goncalves, S.J. and entitled Historia do Malavar, and comments on the extreme position undertaken by this veteran south Indian missionary for forty years of his Jesuit life. Other Jesuit views regarding the religions of India are available in the hundreds of letters and reports found in the eighteen volumes of Documenta Indica, which cover mainly the sixteenth century.

The paper also shows how with the exit of the Jesuits (suppressed as an order between 1759 and 1773 worldwide) and other Christian groups working in south India were attempting a syncretism with the religions found there rather than an outright attack on them which had proved futile in the centuries gone by though one admires the efforts of the Jesuit Roberto de Nobili and other like-minded missionaries.


What is a Cultural Encounter? Frenchmen and Indians/Mystics and Professors in South India

Thomas B. Coburn
St. Lawrence University

In the context of contemporary academic discussions of diversity and of education with global horizons, within the context of the liberal arts curriculum, the concept of "intercultural education" is proving to have much to commend it. Unlike the popular concept of "multicultural education"-?with its implicitly essentialist and cafeteria-style conception of culture?-intercultural education foregrounds the dynamic nature of cultural traditions and emphasizes the particularly creative moments, past and present, when previously separate traditions encounter one another in new ways. Religious history is, of course, filled with such instances. Unlike the concept of "diversity education," intercultural education does not privilege the differences between the terms of comparison, but is open equally to the discovery of similarity and of difference. And unlike "international studies," with its emphasis away from the domestic scene and away from the intellectual assumptions of the Western academy, intercultural education implicates both, with exciting new opportunities for self-awareness for all concerned.

This paper brings the concept of "intercultural education" to bear on three episodes where religion figures prominently. The first examines the most painful experience of my scholarly life, when after sending a copy of my recently published book to one of my key, non-academic informants, I received back a letter in which he reported feeling betrayed by what I had written and wishing I'd never sent him the book. What went wrong here? The second episode reflects on the recent experience of a group of mostly secular Western academics on an intercultural study tour of South India, particularly reflecting on their responses to the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. And, finally, the paper engages those reflections with recent methodological discussions in the study of mysticism. This conclusion recognizes John Carman's long-standing interest in weaving the study of mystical experience into both specialized and general education courses?-extending back at least as far as his "Types of Religious Expression" course in 1970-71--and suggests that the key issues remain critical, and often unrecognized, in contemporary liberal arts education.


Hybrid Iconography in Hyderabad

Georgana Foster
Independent Scholar

The twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, exhibit a hybrid personality, with the Golcunda Fort/City and tombs of the Muslim founders on the outskirts and the Urdu court culture of the Nizams in the Old City. In Secunderabad, where the British residency was located, Hindu temples which were small and hidden are becoming elaborated in Andhra style, and even building gopurams. And under the patronage of the late N. T. Rama Rao, former movie star of Hindu mythological films, and founder of the Telegu Desam Party, corridors of Andhra saints and heroes appeared. NTR campaigned for the State Legislature in a Chaitanya Rath, which he had devised, and wearing saffron robes.

When L. K. Advani extended the pilgrimage of his Rath Yatra for the Hindu Vishwa Parishad to its furtherest southern point, in Hyderabad, in October 1990, cutouts of Ram Militant appeared in the streets to exhort people to "Jalo Ayodhya." After the attempt at assault of Babri Mosque at the end of his Yatra, the Old City of Hyderabad blazed into "frenzied killings" and rumored ethnic cleansing, which would not occur in other Indian cities until the mosque was destroyed a year later. In the elections in 199l, when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, mobs ransacked NTR's movie theater with its display of his mythololgical costumes. NTR took up a protest fast at the feet of the Andhra saints corridor, looking out at the waters of the Hussain Sagar into which the 350-ton Buddha statue he had tried to erect on a platform in the Sagar had accidentally fallen into the lake bottom. The Buddha statue was to be the glory of a second corridor, with its Asoka-like stones honoring NTR. Several years and many lakhs of rupees later, Buddha would be rescued, although the local joke was that the Ganesh images that had been immersed at Vinayak Puja told him he would be left there as they had been.

By 1995 NTR had been deposed as head of the Telegu Desam Party by a palace coup of his son in law, Chandrababu Naidu, a coup whose story line could compete with the Hindu epics. By 2000, Naidu had built a new monument, a Cybercity complex for the computer industry, which he showed President Bill Clinton when he visited India.

To illustrate this hybrid iconography, I will show slides of the several images above, taken in 1986-87 and 1990-91: the expanding goddess temple in the Golcunda Fort, the Char Minar, the Andhra saints corridor, the Buddha of Hussein Sagar, the Birla temple on a hilltop, the political cutouts of Rajiv Gandhi and L. K. Advani among the permanent statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, and Ambedkar, the posters of the Ramayana deities in the BJP party headquarters, statues of Ambedkar and Indira Gandhi, and a goddess shrine growing to fill a whole road intersection. And I will ask for comments as to whether these cities look like South India or North India.



God as King or God as Ascetic? A Jain Divine Polarity

John E. Cort
Denison University

Most accounts of Jainism note that there are few significant doctrinal differences between the Shvetambar and Digambar sects. While there is a degree to which this is a valid observation, when comparing the Jains with traditions such as the Buddhist or Christian, it is still only partially true. Further, this is a judgement that betrays a logocentric reliance upon texts, and a concurrent denigration of material and ritual culture. If one starts, however, from the material culture of Jina images and temples, one arrives at different conclusions about the seeming homogeneity of Jain theological understandings.

The differing attitudes toward ornamentation of Jina images between Digambar and Shvetambar Jains is striking. Digambar images are plain, unadorned, and unpainted stone (or metal). Shvetambar images also start out as stone (or metal), but almost never remain as such in a temple setting. Images have eyes painted on, or else glass eyes affixed permanently. Some miraculous (camatkari) images have permanent forehead ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones. On festival occasions many images are adorned with angis: metal breast-plates are placed over the images, and devotees spend hours decorating them with flowers and colored powders. Jeweled crowns are placed atop the Jina images' heads. The underlying stone is often lost beneath the elaborate ornamentation, just as an Orthodox Christian icon can be lost beneath a jewel-encrusted cover.

At a visual level, these attitudes betoken different symbolisms (and so different theologies) of the Jina. The Digambar lack of ornamentation emphasizes the Jina as a sense-conquering, world-renouncing ascetic, whereas the Shvetambar employment of ornamentation emphasizes the Jina as king--king of the senses, king of kings, king of Jinas. These differences in ornamentation point to other differences between the two traditions concerning the understanding of the nature of enlightenment, and the relationship between enlightenment and embodiment. They indicate different understandings of who it is that a Jain worships: one who has transcended the world, or one who has conquered the world.


Who Has the Potency?

Frédérique Apffel-Marglin and Dennis Hudson
Smith College

This paper uses the ritual and sculptural evidence from two Krishna temples to explore the theology of female sexual fluid as embodying the potency (sakti) that produces brilliant conquering power (tejas). One temple faces east and the other faces west, yet in both cases devadasis faced south when they danced during the deity's main meal of the day. That ritual detail holds the clue to the meaning of the dance and the sexual fluid it produced. Building on Frederique Apffel-Marglin's longtime research on the Jagannath Temple at Puri, and on Dennis Hudson's continuing research on the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram, this paper explores the generation and use of female sexual fluid in rituals performed in temples during the afternoon and outside the temple during the night. It then broadens the discussion to consider evidence for the theology of female sexual fluid in the broader context of Indian civilization, including the goddess Durga and sexual relations between man and woman.
The paper consists of four parts, alternately presented by Marglin and Hudson:
1) Description of the afternoon mealtime dance once performed in the Nritta Mandapam of the Jagannath Temple (Apffel-Marglin).
2) Commentary on that performance by the Mohini panel of the Vaikuntha Perumal Temple (Hudson).
3) The nighttime version of the devadasi performance as prescribed in the "Syamapuja Bidhi," which Marglin received from the acarya of the king of Puri (Marglin).
4) Exploration of evidence from sculpture and custom to document the widespread theology of female sexual fluid revealed by the daytime and nighttime devadasi rites (Hudson).
Slides and film will be used where appropriate.



Two Oceans of Compassion: Parallels and Reciprocal Appropriations in Srivaisnava and Indian Buddhist Conceptions of Compassion

Stephen Jenkins
Humboldt State College

This paper explores related ideas in Vaisnava and Buddhist thought, including suggestions and explicit attempts to assimilate each other's imagery and conceptualizations. The related ideas here include the "sameness of self and other," service as the goal of the path, the related rejection of world negating meditative absorption as a goal, samsara revalorized as a field of opportunity, i.e. conceived as the glory of the Lord or a Pure Land, dynamics of devotion, and conceptions of empowerment for liberated souls that include creating one's own worlds or buddha fields. The paper also examines Vaisnava attempts to assimilate the Buddha as an icon of compassion while rejecting the Buddhist teaching, and less well known Buddhist attempts to assimilate Visnnu as a bodhisattva or manifestation.
"He has hair like a peacock, blue like a blue jay. His teeth are very white like conch shell or snow. His eyes are blue, flawless, like the color of the blossoming blue lotus. His fine neck is blue shining like the peacocks'. Constantly, constantly I recollect the Buddha. I am consumed with exceeding anxiety to see the Buddha. Weeping pitifully for the sake of the Leader, I am constantly ablaze with the fire of anxiety. Give me the cool water of his appearance. Gladden me with the water of compassion. Grant me your appearance, your placid form. (Suvarnaprabhasottama Sutra)



Is Salvific Bliss One and Equal or Many and Hierarchical? The Ramanujite and the Madhvite Perspectives

Balaji N. Hebbar
George Washington University

The issue of the condition of the soul in the state of salvation is a hotly-debated topic among the various schools of classical Indian thought. The Nyaya-Vaisheshika and the Prabhakara Mimamsa schools believe that the soul in salvation merely exists devoid of both consciousness and bliss. The Sankhya-Yoga school opines that the soul has consciousness but not bliss in salvation. The Kumarila school of Mimamsa believes that the saved soul possesses consciousness and bliss but only potentially. The Shankara school of Vedanta regards consciousness and bliss as synonymous with the soul itself. The Jains believe that the saved soul possesses actual consciousness and bliss and that these are equal to all the saved souls. To the Buddhists this is a non-issue as they are anatmavadins, i.e. those who deny the existence of a soul.

This paper looks into the debate between the Ramanujite and the Madhvite schools of Vedanta on this issue.
The overall Ramanujite position is that not only do all the saved souls enjoy equal bliss but their bliss is equal to the bliss of God Himself. In other words, there is only one (eka), impartite (aparicchinna), eternal (nitya) and infinite (aparimita) bliss in salvation covering both God and all the saved souls in an equal manner without the slightest difference among them.

The general Madhvite position on this issue is that not only is the bliss of the saved souls different from the bliss of God (the latter being infinitely greater), but that the bliss enjoyed by the saved souls are also different from one and another. In short, the blisses of the saved souls are hierarchical. This is due to the innate uniqueness of each soul. Every saved soul experiences bliss to the fullest potential and no more. So, since the souls fundamentally, essentially and permanently differ from each other, their innate capacities for bliss also differ. Therefore, there is a gradation among saved souls and between them and God in the experience of salvific bliss, where God possesses the highest bliss and the rest in a descending order.

Both the Ramanujites and the Madhvites defend their respective positions by resorting to both logic and scripture in order to prove the soundness of their respective viewpoints. This presentation explores the salient features of that debate.


The Scriptural Interpretation of Madhva's Vedanta Theology

Yoshitsugu Sawai
Tenri University, Japan

The theologies or the religious philosophies of Vedanta religious traditions, represented by Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva, developed as the hermeneutics of such scriptures as the Upanisads, the Brahma-sutras, and the Bhagavad-gita. Their theological or philosophical works mainly consist in the form of scriptural interpretations. In fact, however, these interpretations are not merely exegetical; they are unique reflections by each of these writers and are based upon their own religious faith respectively. It is noteworthy that their scriptural interpretations really came to constitute the foundation of their own religious traditions.

From the phenomenological viewpoint of religion, this paper attempts to clarify the characteristics of such scriptural interpretations in Vedanta theologies with a special focus on Madhva's religious discourse of reality.


Advocates for Ramanuja--P.N.Srinivasachari and John Carman

K. R. Sundararajan
St. Bonaventure University

In my paper, I compare and contrast the contributions of John Carman and P.N. Srinivasachari, as advocates for Ramanuja. These two scholars are advocates in two different sense. While P.N. Srinivasachari is an advocate in the traditional sense of taking a pro-Ramanuja stand in the Vedanta debate, John Carman's advocacy is somewhat different. He is not part of the Vedanta debate, as Srinivasachari was. John Carman's advocacy is to be understood in the context of the phenomenological approach he has used to study Ramanuja. Being a phenomenologist, John Carman's advocacy consists an empathetic understanding and presentation of Ramanuja. In his role a as a phenomenologist, his study illuminates and brings to light the "unthought" in Ramanuja, to borrow an expression from Heidegger. My paper attempts to explore these two kinds of advocacies, by focusing on Srinivasachari's book, The Philosophy of Visistadvaita, and John Carman's book, The Theology of Ramanuja.

P.N. Srinivasachari's book is a landmark in the area of Vaisnava and Visistadvaita studies, a work which shows Ramanuja to be a legitimate and valid presenter of Vedantic thought, holding a middle ground between the non-dualistic Vedanta of Sankara on the one side and the dualistic Vedanta of Madhva on the other side. For Srinivasachari, Ramanuja is a faithful interpreter of the Vedanta Sutras, and his "Qualified Non-dualism" is consistent with the message of the Bhagavad Gita, and the teachings of the Upanisads, and also according to the rules of logic and reasoning. He disputes the position often taken by the admirers of Advaita in the Indian academic circles of his time, that Ramanuja's Visistadvaita is intellectually inferior and logically less rigorous then the Advaita of Sankara. In this process, Srinivasachari also rejects the "staircase (or ladder) view" of the Vedantic schools popular among the academic circles, where one moves up from the lowest step in the ladder of Madhva's dualistic Vedanta (Dvaita Vedanta) to the next higher step of Ramanuja's Qualified non-dualism (Vististadvaita Vedanta), and finally to the highest step to the Non-dualistic Vedanta of Sankara. The Philosophy of Visistadvaita is thus an important land mark in the Vedanta debate that is positively "pro-Ramanuja."

For John Carman, Ramanuja is a theologian in the Western sense, and for that matter, he considers all Vedantic schools including Advaita to be theological and not philosophical as often Indian academicians claimed. He has been drawn into the study of Ramanuja, since his concept of God as Supreme and Accessible comes closest to the Christian understanding of God. As a phenomenologist, perhaps Carman would empathize with Ramanuja more than Sankara or Madhva. He goes on to examine questions such as what are the authentic works of Ramanuja, or did Ramanuja advocate the doctrine of prapatti, questions which, based on the strength of the tradition, scholars like Srinivasachari have simply taken for granted. The advocacy of Carman consists in the careful examination of these and other related issues which are important from the standpoint of Western Christian scholarship and thus he "legitimizes" the presence of Ramanuja as a full-fledged Hindu theologian to be taken seriously by scholars in India and in the West.


Imagining Jambudviipa: Deconstructing Post-Modern Post-Orientalist Post-Colonial Occi-centric Meta-Theories and other such Intellectual Hyperbole and Re-Restoring Agency to the Indian Subject Who is also a Twentieth Century Scholar

Yvette Rosser
University of Texas

Postmodernism, Critical Theory and other twentieth-century approaches have challenged the basic assumptions held by Indologists, catalyzing their standard methodologies of research and analysis. This paper is an attempt to deconstruct many of these "Critical" analyses of India and problematize some of their excesses and clichés. Postmodernism was corrective early on, metamorphosing the field, but in this reading, the meta-theoretical methodologies have gone full circle and are now perpetuating the very hegemonic perspectives they initially were attempting to deconstruct. In this paper I point out the inadequacy of one of the commonly argued constructs--that there was no "Hindu identity" in pre-Islamic/pre-British India and therefore no geographical or "national" concept of a "Hindu nation." In so doing, perhaps I can partially take apart a few of the assertions that have with dexterous intellectual aplomb taken India apart during the last few decades.

Many scholars reject terms such as "Hinduism" then employ them as known variables. In Communalism and Ancient Indian History, Romila Thapar states, "The recognizable Hindu begins to emerge in the post-Gupta period in the post fifth century A.D." Yet in the next sentence she claims, "There is ample evidence from the sources of the ancient period to suggest that religious sects and groups in pre-Islamic India did not identify themselves as Hindu and as a unified religion." Thapar questions "the terminology which the Hindus used to distinguish themselves from the Muslims." She concludes, "[S]eparate religious identification emerges only after the establishment of Turkish political power in the subcontinent. It is precisely the nature of the organization of Hinduism which precluded its giving a purely religious identity to the followers of other religions" (emphases mine). Asish Nandy called such use of constructs the "imperialism of categories."

Many theories of historiography lead directly to the discourse that would deny commonalities of religious experience in pre-Islamic India. Nationalists, and in this politically driven context, "Hindu Nationalists," appropriating the Orientalist paradigm, reified essences from India's past in the construction of their own identity. "Hinduism-as-we-know-it," the theory goes, did not develop until the Islamic interface had been solidified after the 1400s. Even the "Bhakti cults" were supposedly unaware of their counterparts in the country. The "Hinduism trope" was created by colonialists in order to facilitate a divide and rule strategy.

Is Hinduism a colonial creation or was there a nascent Hindu identity extant in Indic civilization before the appearance of the Muslim "other"? It is argued that a backdrop of "Hindu" commonalties did not exist on an ascriptive level and in particular, not on a geographic level. However, the tradition of pilgrimage, which is well documented in classical Hindu literature links the extremities of the subcontinent from Kanya Kumari on the southern-most tip to Amarnath in the high Himalayas. "From Orissa to Sindh, bonds of pilgrimage between places known to Hindus since time immemorial created a geographical entity that is not only sacred, but can be located on a modern geo-political map" (Raja Rao, from a communication with the author). There are numerous pre-Islamic scriptural references that substantiate the religious connections between far-flung tirtha sites in India.

The Puranic tales, Burton Stein effectively argues, are one type of Indian historical record, the importance of which was "noted by Kautilya in the Arthasasatra, [and] regarded as "Itihaasa-veda" (Stein 1969). One famous Purana concerns Sati, Shiva's wife, whose body parts were flung across India leaving a trail of tirtha cites linking broad-ranging regions of the subcontinent. The Puranas, whose "early connection with the non-elite strata of society is well documented" were also part of the "Brahmanism trope" (Ramdas Lamb 1994).


The Battle over Bali, or "Why Must We Feed Her Blood?" The Controversial Status of Animal Sacrifice in Bengali Goddess Religion

Rachel Fell McDermott
Barnard College

While Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in south India have enacted laws banning animal sacrifice within temple precincts, the same is not true for the eastern states of Orissa, West Bengal, and Assam, where the practice of offering goats and other live animals (balidan) to various forms of the Goddess continues to thrive. This paper presents a survey of animal sacrifice as it pertains to these three states, though with an emphasis on West Bengal, and examines the history of the practice, its various permutations over time, and the current controversies over its continuance. Some of the same individuals and organizations who were so successful in banning bali in south India have been stymied by the particular historical, social, economic, and religious contexts of eastern India; as such, the research presented here provides a foil to studies of south Indian goddess cults.

In particular, I examine the scriptural and theological justifications for sacrifice as embedded in the Tantras popular in eastern India; discuss the strong, enduring connection between the acquisition of Tantric power and the shedding of blood (almost every week the Calcutta papers report murders by Tantrikas or Tantrika-influenced devotees who kidnap human victims and offer their blood before an image of Kali in the hopes of gaining some favor); demonstrate the prevalence of bali through descriptions of the complex interplay between temple ritual specialists, meat butchers and sellers, and the proclivities of a largely meat-eating Bengali devotee populace; outline the methods (theological, educative, activist, etc.) used by those who wish to attenuate or even completely stop the tradition; and show the strength of bali as an abiding symbol of injustice and oppression by noting the several uses to which it is put in political cartoons, poetry decrying the abuse of women, and artistic displays erected during Durga and Kali Puja festivities as forums for social commentary.

The research for this paper has been in process since 1994, and is based on library research and newspaper surveys (English and Bengali), as well as on interviews and participant observation in the areas from Calcutta to Krishnanagar in West Bengal. To be illustrated by slides.


Religion, Desire, and the Presence of Krishna's Absence

John Stratton Hawley
Barnard College

My main purpose is to consider the poetry and ritual enactment of viraha toward Krishna in the context of real-life sexuality. I see this as some sort of "theological" exercise, in that I try to understand the particular plotlines and phrasings of Vaisnava viraha as perspectives on and products of a general embodiment that we all share. Of course, culture, history, and (yes) theology come in immediately, but I would also hope to work on a larger canvas where many of the strokes have so far only been sketched in pencil. After all, I too have been shaped by Krishna.
I start with the most recent form of the debate about Kali's Child, trying to separate out various debates that are compressed into that one arena: colonized versus colonizers (and their culture- and blood-relatives), insiders versus outsiders, religionists versus psychoanalysts, body-deniers versus body-believers. Each of these battles only estimates the turf being contested. Together they are even rougher, yet more powerful. For that reason if for no other, the prophylactic effort of pulling apart the strands seems advisable at the start.

All of these strands bear on whatever I might say about longing for Krishna, and indeed the proper understanding of vyakulata has already entered the Ramakrishna debate. In my case, there is another element, too: I speak out of years of talking with students, especially women students, who are offended by the gender disparity expressed in the fact that the longing for Krishna (unlike Ramakrishna's for Kali) is predominantly styled a woman's longing. Here is a celebration of the amorous incapacitation of women, not men.

Who enjoys this incapacitation? Who is incapacitated, actually? (Here enters the cultural construction of gender.) Can one say anything more satisfying than has already been said about its psychosocial roots? What do recent writings?perhaps my own included?reveal about the importance of the timing that governs the new asking of this old set of questions? Does it have anything to do with the fact that this form of viraha may be disappearing from the public stage as the profile of Hindu nationalism?political viraha--grows? Is this differentially so from India and to the Hindu diaspora? Looking back in time, what is to be learned from different emplotments of viraha--beyond Vaisnavism, beyond North India, beyond the formations that were put in place in sixteenth-century Braj and Brajbhasa? Finally, apropos of recent thinking about gender in English, what do we make of the crossdressed, perhaps crossgendered gamings that are so vivid in the world of Radha and Krishna?

This is turf where angels fear to tread. It's tailor-made for the sorts of attack to which Jeff Kripal has been subjected. Why would someone insist on walking into this trap?


Dalit Religion: Resisting and Contesting the Encompassing Hindu Identity

Sathianathan Clarke
United Theological College, Bangalore

This paper arises out of the general ethos and spirit in India, which seeks a radical re-thinking and re-presentation of social identities as constructed by western-fabricated colonialism and home-spun nationalism. In this paper I set out to do three things. First, I trace the manner in which colonialism and nationalism utilized religion to homogenize India toward a constructed unitary and grand entity with an essential Hindu core. In this section I reread V. D. Savarkar's 1923 book entitled Hindutva: Who is a Hindu from a Dalit point of view. Then I briefly inquire into the influence of his ideology on contemporary Hindu nationalism.

Second, and against this backdrop, I present various theories of Dalit religion. Three models are briefly outlined and discussed. The model of stuctural unity posits Dalit religion within the overall workings of one comprehensive Hindu-Indian religious framework. In this schema,which is rooted in the core principle of purity-pollution, the religious beliefs and practices of Dalits are interpreted as an extension of the postulates of caste Hinduism. In every aspect thus Dalit religion "replicates" caste religion. The model of foundational bipolrity stresses the conflictual nature of the relationship between Dalit and Caste religions. Nonetheless, this paradigm also operates from the assumption that reality is unitary. The difference being that there is a dialectic dynamic within this general whole. One strand of this model posits Caste religion along the axis of the virtuous and Dalit religion along the axis of the base; while the other strand of this foundational bipolarity model inverts the correlation by positing Dalit religion along the virtuous axis and Caste religion along the axis of depravation. Both of these models operate from assumptions of the unitary nature of reality and the logic that they are held together by a common essence. In this case the model of structural unity assumes one common essense while the model of foundational disjunction projects this in terms of one bi-polar essence. In resistance to these unitary constructions, which also guided the thinking of colonialists and nationalists and steers the operation of resurgent Hinduism in its various nationalist hues, I valorize the symbolic constructivist model. The school of thinking portrays religion as an accesable sphere through which Dalits symbolically represent their own particularized identity. Difference thus is inscribed into the religion of the Dalits so as to contest and resist the pan-Hindu manoeuvre to co-opt communities which have much to lose by fitting into the hierarchical Hindu system. And yet this difference is couched within an unabashed process of contracting and manipulating Hindu symbolic resources to serve the pusposes of Dalit self-representation.

Third, I delineate one specific characteristic of Dalit religion with a view to problematize the generally accepted notion that Dalits are Hindu. My overall interpretation of Dalit religion fleshes out the subjectivity of subaltern communities that are resisting co-option and assimilation into the overall Hindutva scheme of things. And yet this section is constructive; it dares to creatively conjure symbolic patterns of meaning that emerge from Dalit religious representation.


CRSI 2001: COMPARATIVE THEOLOGIES IN SOUTH ASIA

PAPER SUMMARIES

2001 PROGRAM

2001 REGISTRATION FORM

For more information, contact:

Prof. John E. Cort
Department of Religion
Denison University
Granville, OH 43023
cort@denison.edu

Conference on Religion in South India


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