About the Book
The 35 brief essays in this book provide glimpses of the variety that is most characteristic of Hinduism in urban south India today. By examining selected object widely revered in contemporary Dravidian country gods, goddesses, historical figures, sacred plants and stone -the authors succeed at once in disclosing to attentive readers what in the South mirror Hindu norms throughout India and what remains ineluctably local. Beyond that, distinctive details of worship provided here document subtly different nuances in beliefs and practices upheld even among the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada speakers within the region.
The co-authors bring to this project the two quite different perspectives of "insider" and " outsider." As scholars, moreover, they bring to bear the testimony of history and literature, sociology and the arts, as long-time teachers they provide information and insights important for students to keep in mind while they become more familiar with Hindu traditions. Their expert integration into each essay of K.S. Ramu's line-drawings servers as an invitation to readers to follow them imaginatively into a vibrant and widely-shared symbol system in which it become possible to "see" those Hindu images -just as, perhaps, their votaries do as exquisitely meaningful representations of the divine.
The volume is instructively arranged with essays pertaining to conventional sectors of Hindu faith grouped together. Many readers may wish to read from beginning to end following the order of presentation. Yet most essays also stand as discrete entities. This it is appropriate for some readers to start with any essay in the book that captures initial interest and, from it, to move to other essays as curiosity dictates. Either way will prove a pleasure. Admirers of this book in its earlier edition will be pleased to know of its availability in this newly updated, revised and enlarged, second edition.
M. Narasimhachary is a Sanskrit scholar with particular interests in, among other things, the classical, literary works of Valmiki, Vyasa and Kalidasa, the teachings of the Sri Vaishnava Agamas, the traditions of Visistadvaita school, and the philosophical theology of the 10th century figure, Yamunacarya. A native of Andhra, he has lived most of his life in Madras. Prior to his appointment more than a decade ago as Professor and Head of the newly-founded (1984) Department of Vaishnavism at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur and at Vivekananda College in Madras. Among his many books, articles and reviews, Dr. Chary's most often -citied works are his critical edition and study of Yamunacharya's Agamapramanya (Baroda, Gaekwad's Oriental Series 160, 1976) and Contribution of Yamuna to Visistadvaita (Prof. M. Rangacharya Memorial Trust, Madras, 1971).
H. Daniel Smith is perhaps best known in North America for his eleven documentary films on south Indian urban religious rites and celebrations, IMAGE WAY (1969). Elsewhere, however, his most often-cited works have been his bibliographical studies of PancaratraAgama texts in Sanskrit (Baroda, Gaekwad's Oriental Series 158 &168, 1975 & 1980) and of works in English based on Valmiki's Ramayana (Syracuse, 1983 & Bombay, 1989). Prior to his retirement in 1993 after 35 years of teaching at Syracuse University (USA), Professor Smith specialize-ed in undergraduate courses examining contemporary Hindu religious life. His research enabled him to visit India a number of times during the period spanning the 1959s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Earlier collaborations between these coauthors resulted in publications based on Valmiki's Ramayana(1981) and on Pancaratra Agama texts (1969).
K.S. Ramu, who provided the incisive line-drawings for this volume, died in the early 1980swhile the book was still in its formative stages. Prior to his untimely death, he was one of the leading commercial artists in Madras.
What is good way for one who is unfamiliar with the tradition to learn more about Hinduism? To be sure, different people have their own opinions on this matter. To judge from the many textbooks and college –level courses which serve as introductions to Hinduism, there is in fact no unanimity at all. Some evidently feel that it is useful to approach the diversity of Hinduism through a study of its historical development from earliest times to the present; according to that strategy it is important to begin with what is known about conditions in the so-called Indus Valley Period then move through the Vedic, Brahmanical, Upanishadic, the Epic and Puranic, and Bhakti periods up to the Advent of Modernity until one reaches, at last, the complex Contemporary Scene. Others recommend an examination of selected specimens of Hindu literature, all the while seeking to appreciate the respective cultural contexts which gave voice to those utterances; consequently, readings, either in original languages or in translation, in their entirety or in judicious abridgements, are advanced in order to sample the Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanisads, Smrti texts, Epics, Puranas, Bhakti hymns and reform tracts. Still others suggest the importance of acquiring a conceptual perspective as a helpful starting point since doctrines and values are at the heart of Hinduism; their emphasis is placed, then, on ideology as it derives from traditional notions about samsara, karma, varnasramadharama, purusartha, and the like. Yet others advise that Hinduism as a way of life invites exploration of what believers are observed to do; accordingly, that enterprise concentrates on rituals and celebrations ranging from the most ordinary daily routines through the performance of life-cycle rites and domestic litanies study of the great philosophical systems, and enjoin beginners to learn something of the presuppositions, constructs and distinctions inherent in schools of Yoga, perhaps also Mimamsa and surely Vedanta interpretations as well as of Saiva Siddhanta and other, later expressions of philosophical theology. Some turn to the testimony of monuments and masterpieces of the visual and performing arts, analyzing architecture, sculpture, painting and dance, drama and song as expressions of the creativity which is generated by faith.
In this volume we submit that to understand something essential about Hinduism one does well early on to gain some familiarity with the gods, goddesses, saints and supernaturals which have been honored by the faithful over the generations. We are not so rash as to counsel this approach as the “only” or the “best” way. Anyone with any appreciation at all for the complex nature of living Hinduism knows that no one topic or methodology suffices adequately alone to probe the depths and scan the surfaces of all that currently flourishes-even in one limited area. Yet our venture in this book is to provide for our readers what we hope will be, at least, an avenue of access to the multifaceted nature of the traditional Hinduism to be found in south India today. And it is a procedure that makes good sense to us because consideration of selected figures and objects of adoration there at hand leads so effortlessly to other reflections pertinent to the larger subject beyond our limited scope. So, what we have done here is to use the idea of the holy in Hinduism in South India as a springboard for our readers tradition at large. We hope our procedure will persuade readers-whether non-Hindus or Hindus distance for one reason or another from the tradition-to move on not only to more specialized but also to more broad-ranging studies in their on-going effort to learn more about things Hindu and Indian.
This is not the first time that the divinities of Hinduism have been utilized to initiate interested readers into the lore of the Hindu multitudes. In fact, this effort stands merely as the latest in a line of similar endeavors in English stretching back more than two centuries. Among the predecessors more or less pan-Hindu in their scope must be named E. Moor’s, The Hindu Pantheon , J. Dowson’s A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology , W.L. Wilkins’ Hindu Mythology , E.O. Martin’s Gods of India , P. Thomas’Epics, Myths and Legends of India [1 948], A. Danielou’s Hindu Polytheism  and Prataditya Pal’s Hindu Religion and Iconology . At the same time must be acknowledged the specifically south Indian focus of such works as T.A. Gopinatha Rao’s Elements of Hindu Iconography , W.T. Elmore’s Dravidian Gods in Modern Hinduism , H. Krishna Sastri’s South Indian Images of Gods and Goddesses ,H. Whitehead's The Village Gods of South India  and T.N. Srinivasan's Handbook of South Indian Images -to say nothing of G. Jouveau-Dubreuil's work in French and B. Ziegenbalg's work in German. These have all served to influence us in one way or another to highlight to such a degree as we do the visual aspects of the figures presented. To focus on what is "seen" of a divinity during darsana "by those who have eyes to see" is, clearly, a central thrust of our effort here. Indeed, a feature which we hope very much will set this survey of Hindu gods and goddesses, saints and supernaturals apart from earlier studies is the repeated emphasis here on the impact which representations of these figures have on "visually literate" Hindus. The reason for our emphasis on the visual aspects of the divine is really quite straight-forward. In a populace where literacy in terms of reading and writing is not the norm, much of what gets transmitted from one generation to the next is accomplished by means of oral and visual modes of instruction. We believe it is a fact more common than is generally given credit by Indologists that complex theological teachings and subtle doctrinal "norms get mediated to a "visually literate" public by means of highly developed yet widely shared pictographic and iconographic codes, that is, by an impressively popular heritage of visual signs and symbols. Moreover, this is a heritage that binds together groups of Hindus otherwise separated by language barriers and by dissimilar literary traditions. Clearly, statistics of so-called "literacy rates" do not always tell the whole truth about regional sophistication, cultural diffusion, and ideological integration-or about "visual literacy"!
Each of the 35 essays in this volume is accompanied by a line drawing, and in the majority of those 35 essays we attempt to point out what the icongraphy may mediate both at the level of ordinary identification and at the level of mystical accomodation to a believer already steeped in the lore of the faith. What has impressed us, and what we hope will strike the reader in turn, is the immediacy and eloquence even popular depictions of deities, saints and sacred objects have in terms of helping the ''visually literate" to recollect a saving act, a model life, a gracious presence. We remain grateful to our collaborator, the late Madras artist KS. Ramu, for providing the drawings which we utilize here as visual "reference texts." That he endeavored to make his renderings reflect both the style and symbolism of the widely- disseminated "framing pictures" and "calendar prints" of Hindu gods, goddesses and saints available in the popular market only serves to make his contribution the more valuable to this project.
The 35 essays just mentioned are clustered into groups, as can be noted by quick reference to the table of Contents. However, the essays may be read independently of one another: there is really no beginning, middle, or ending in this volume despite its current lay-out. The reader is encouraged to start with whatever figures are of greatest interest. Cross references linking some essays to others will soon enough lead the casual reader informally to various sections of the collection. In recognition of this loosely- knit structure of the volume we have called it a Handbook, as it may be used for ready reference.
Appendix : Hymns of Adoration
Suggestions for Further Study
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