This book focuses on a certain strand of the religious reform movement in nineteenth-century Bengal which took the form of a nationalist discourse seeking to shape a form of modernity that had simultaneously to be modern and anti-West. A history of anti-colonial modernity must necessarily seek to understand what Western modernity does to a traditional society in terms of cultural transformation, and this is why the question is raised about the displacement of certain strands of Hindu religious thought, commonly characterized as revivalist, from the religious consciousness of Bengali society in its subsequent cultural history. Prominent figures of the revivalist movement such as Sasadhar Tarkachudamani and Krishnaprasanna Sen, when unearthed from the obscure annals of social history, are illuminated by description of heroism of the kind that is commonly attributed to Swami Vivekananda, the leader of the New Hindu movement in Bengal in the late nineteenth century, and the beloved disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, who went on to claim a place for Hinduism in the spiritual domain of Western modernity.
It is striking that from well-known works of history like Sumit Sarkar's Modern India 1885-1947 to relatively minor studies like The Neo Hindu Movement 1886-1911 by Rakhal Chandra Nath there is a consensus that the revivalist movement was antithetical to the emerging modern consciousness in Bengal. 'At a more obscurantist level', writes Sumit Sarkar, 'revivalism was represented by Sasadhar Tarkachudamani and Krishnaprasanna Sen, who claimed shastric precedence fro all the discoveries of modern western sciences'. What is implicit in such statements is a theory that there were certain progressive trends within Hinduism, which, unlike revivalism, did not seek to claim the superiority of the Shastras over modern science, a position which may be easily denied by the evidence of the existing texts. This theory again seeks somewhat simplistic confirmation in the fact that the revivalist bodies, such as the Dharma Rakshini Sabhas, gradually disappeared from the landscape of religious institutions in Bengal in the twentieth century. This is taken to signify that it was the traditional character of the revivalist institutions that eventually led to their decline.
Evidence shows that the mid-nineteenth century also saw the decline of the Brahmo movement and the rise of Hindu revivalism. This trend, a movement away from Brahmoism in spite of its modernist character, belies the theory that it was the traditionalism of the Dharma Sabha that was responsible for its downfall. The story of the decline of the Brahmo movement is recorded by several commentators on the Brahmo Samaj, particularly Sivanath Sastri. The tirade against the Brahmos and the Indian Christians, a reflection of an anti-Western sentiment, was gradually tilting towards extreme conservatism. Keshab Sen's experiment with syncretism and Rajnarain Basu's Hinduization of Brahmoism through his discourses on 'Vedantic Dharma Vindicated', are some examples of the efforts to salvage modern reformism by linking it to the larger Hindu world. In his autobiography, Bipin Chandra Pal writes:
When in 1879 I left the University and went to Cuttack the Brahmo Samaj was still a great intellectual and oral force in the country. Middle nineteenth century Rationalism and Individualism of European culture were still the dominating ideas in the life and evolution of modern Bengal. But the conflict of political interests between the new generation of English educated Indians and the British officialdom in the country, and the more fundamental cultural conflict between European modernism and Indian medievalism soon provoked a new revolt against the foreign domination in the wake of which rapidly followed a new national self consciousness which in the first flush of its new found pride of race and culture, commenced to repudiate whatever was foreign, irrespective of the intrinsic reason and value of it and set up a new defence even of those social institutions and religions and spiritual tendencies that had previously been openly repudiated as false and harmful.
Pali's reminiscences also record another important development in the history of Hinduism. He observes that while in his boyhood Hinduism was 'almost exclusively a personal religion' it was first institutionalized into a form of congregational worship by the Brahmo intervention. However, the new revival movement also followed the Brahmo line in spite of their acerbic criticism. Hari Sabhas which grew up everywhere with the Hindu revival and reaction also inaugurated a kind of congregational worship. 'At meetings of these Sabhas, scriptures, texts were read and expounded by some Pundits and hymns or bhajans were sung. All this was clearly a reproduction of the brahmo mode of worship. Opposition to Brahmoism therefore also diversified in different directions, which signifies the ways in which modernity came to establish its relation with the ancient mode of religious practices, and the significance of this relationship becomes important in the sense that it influenced the form that nationalism took in India in the subsequent period of its cultural history.
This study is based on the hypothesis that the modernity which entered the cultural space of the colonized world through a system of belief, like the Brahmo Samaj movement, came under severe pressure from conservative Hindus and showed signs of weakening till it was able to find a new idiom in the discourse of Vivekananda which enabled it to appropriate the conservative and the popular elements of Hinduism. Modernity would have retreated with the decline of the influence of the Brahmos and the Christians in the face of challenges from conservative Hindus had it not assumed a nationalist form, as in the case of the New Hindu reformation.
Anti-colonialism had approached the West from a position of opposition. This was articulated through several discursive practices in the nineteenth century, which were oppositional in nature. The religious form of this opposition was reflected in the conservative reaction to the West. The central theme of the revivalist movement was 'contamination'. Hinduism was to be protected and fortified against any form of Western influence; any reform amounted to heresy. This doctrine of heresy, which first emerged to a significant degree in the nineteenth century, sought to halt the march of the reformist programmes by establishing revivalist organizations in both Calcutta and the mofussil towns. Recent studies have pointed out that 'in districts and subdivisional towns, in villages and in fact in every possible places they set up societies for the protection of similar nature like Suniti Sancharini Sabha, Balya Ashram
Taking note of this growing popularity which the Dharma Sabhas enjoyed, particularly in Monghyr, Rajnarain Basu is said to have written to his counterpart in the Sadharan Brahma Samaj: 'If you do not preach your religion in accordance with the Hindu ideals, the events of Monghyr will be repeated elsewhere. The Arya Sabhas will supersede Brahmo Samaj every, where. It was in Monghyr that the Hindu conservatives uproariously proclaimed the superiority of orthodox Hinduism by establishing the Arya Dharma Pracharini Sabhas, which gained wide popularity among the local residents.
Customarily, there never was a recognized notion of 'heresy' in Hinduism in the way it is commonly understood in Christianity. Nevertheless, the entry of modernity implied that all that had hitherto remained within the 'universe of the undiscussed or undisputed', which Pierre Bourdieu describes as the 'state of doxa', could now be available for questioning. 'The critique', writes Bourdieu, 'which brings the undiscussed into discussion, the unformulated into formulation, has as the condition of its possibility objective crisis, which, in breaking the immediate fit between the subjective structures and the objective structures, and the objective structures, destroys self evidence practically. It is when the social world loses its character as a natural phenomenon that the question of the natural or conventional character
of social facts can be raised. It is in the nature of modernity that it objectifies all that was hitherto accepted in the ancient world as given and natural. Even what was regarded as virtuous and moral could only be determined by reference to the role appropriate to the individual in society, and this role was not chosen but was regarded as given. As such, there was little division between the natural and the social worlds. Dharma was social but it was also natural in the sense that it was appropriate to the specific Hindu civilization. This understanding of dharma, which was prescribed and given to the communities, had to reorient itself, especially when it had to formulate answers to such Western critiques on caste which sought to attack the moral presuppositions underlying the discourses, particularly in the normative texts such as the Dharmashastras. Caste practices, according to the Western critique, could not be sustained by dharmic injunctions if dharma provided for the good of the community.
The question of truth and falsity, authenticity and spuriousness are all questions that could now be asked of Hinduism in a manner that was unprecedented in many ways. However, this process was integral to the universal enterprise of modernity. In a study on modernism and mass culture, Andreas Huyssen has argued that one of the most significant ways that modernity constructed itself was by erecting the boundary that would separate the high from the mass culture. According to Huyssen, 'modernism constituted itself through a conscious strategy of exclusion, an anxiety of contamination by its other; an increasing consuming and engulfing mass culture. Both the strength and the weakness of modernism as an adversary culture derive from that fact. Not surprisingly this anxiety of contamination has appeared in the guise of an irreconcilable opposition
This insight is useful for it suggests the ways in which these conceptualization of the categories of distinction, setting a binary opposition between the high and the popular, the true and the false which was intrinsic to modernity, came to be valorized and affected the social consciousness of the people who came to be constituted as the subjects of these modernist discourses. The concepts and the logical structures which the rationalist discourses brought with themselves were internalized by the urban elites in the metropolitan centers of the colonial world, and this feature of the reformist project and rhetoric an be identified in its most heightened and tragic form in the discourses of Raja Rammohan Roy whose anxiety to purge Hinduism of its vulgar elements eventually led him to face the backlash of the conservative forces. Tapan Raychaudhuri points out that 'there always existed in India's give and take between the great and the little traditions, and this transactive character of the relationship in no way implied an exclusive and privileged status of one our the other. Religious preceptors like Ram Thakur and Trailanga Swami attracted the same combination of clientele, the patrician and the plebeian alike.
However, with the arrival of modernity this idea of a transactive relationship was to change decisively. In its place what was emphasized was the concept of orthodoxy in order to retain the integrity of the primal state of the Hindu dharma. Interestingly, the move in this direction was first made by the rationalists who wanted to reform in order to restore the former glory of true Hinduism. The idea of orthodoxy emerged as a highly contested notion in nineteenth-century debates and polemics on Hinduism. One of the most significant representations of the way in which the ideas of orthodoxy and heresy were played against each other may be traced in the famous debated of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee with the revivalist leader Sasadhar Tarkachudamani. In Prachar, a famous Bengali monthly, Bankim raised the all important question of who was to decide what the correct version of Hinduism was. 'If rituals are all that Hindudharma is consisted of,' Bankim fiercely posited, 'then we must proclaim openly that by observing the Hindu rituals we can remain physically fit. In that case should we conclude that helping mankind to maintain good health is the only motto of Hinduism? Bankim further argued that the functional or teleological concept of dharma is fundamental to the doctrine of Hinduism, which is why it is commonly said that 'it is the dharma of the thief to steal and the Manusambita speaks of the craft of war to be embraced as the dharma of the king and the warrior. Given such conflicting notions of the concept of dharma who is to judge what is true and false in Hindu religious doctrines? Bankim also added that the kind of Hinduism which Sasadhar wanted to preach will never survive since his defence of rituals in nothing other than the advocacy of superstitions. However, the advocacy of this decentralized form of Hinduism around one abstract core was a neo-Hindu invention of the Hindu religion. What for the conservative pundits constituted orthodox Hinduism greatly differed from the conception that Vivekananda and Bankim held of it, yet all of them were equally influenced by the idea of an essential Hindu dharma. The concept of orthodoxy depends to a large extent on a semitized structuring of religion, which was clearly absent in the Hinduism of ancient times. Instead a variety of different sects existed: Jainas, Vaishnavas, Saivas, and Saktas, which could seldom be described as Hindu.
Historians studying ancient Indian social history have written that 'the notion of the Hindu community does not have a long ancestry'. Indeed, even in classical texts like the Dharmashastras, communities are defined by reference to location, occupation, and caste, 'none of which are necessarily bound together by a common religious identity'. Dharma was conceived of in myriad forms. Apart from understanding it as righteousness and duty, dharma could generally be regarded as constituting customary law. It has been observed that guilds were institutions of great significance to the socio-economic life of ancient India.
The customary law of the guild, the sreni dharma is particularly mentioned in the dharmashastras and to which kings were required to conform. The importance of the guild also lies in the fact that some evolved into jatis or castes, becoming units of endogamous marriage uniting kinsmen and profession. Those not following a Sramanic religion maintained their own separate religious identity. We are also told that the king must respect jati dharma. The emphasis on the dharma of the janapada (locality or territory) sreni (guild) and jati (caste) and the absence of reference to dharma of various religious sects are a pointer perhaps to what actually constituted the sense of community in the early past. Identities were, in contrast to the modern nation state segmented identities. The notion of the community was not absent but there wee multiple communities identified by locality, language, caste, occupation and sect. What appears to have been absent was the notion of a uniform, religious community readily identified as Hindu.
A common feature of the various discursive practices that sprang up during this period is the constitution of the Hindu religion as a clearly decipherable and discernible object of various discourses like art, literature, philosophy, and science. The presentation of Hinduism as an aspect of knowledge sought to establish the theory of its perfectability, reflecting a general concern about the difficulty of practicing the erstwhile traditional religion in its given form, i.e. through the prescribed scriptures, its injunction, ritual institutions, mores, and social norms. To this difficulty, which was created by the social, economic, and political process of colonialism, diverse responses and solutions were proposed. This study on the new religious movement in nineteenth-century Bengal should be regarded as a work within the paradigm of the history of thought that seeks to understand how social objects are transformed into object of knowledge. The history of thought, as distinguished from the description of discourses, is to be treated, as Foucault argues:
In such a way that one tries to rediscover beyond the statements themselves the intervention of the speaking subject, his conscious activity, what he meant, or again, the unconscious activity that took place, despite himself, in what he said or in the almost imperceptible fracture of the actual words; in any case, we must reconstitute another discourse, rediscover the silent murmurings, the inexhaustible speech that animates from within the sometimes collides with them to the discourse that it employs. The analysis of thought is always allegorical in relation to the discourse that it employs. Its question is unfailingly: what was being said in what was said?
This study is an attempt to interpret how the concept of nation emerged in the religious thought of nineteenth-century Bengal.
It is difficult to identify a discourse as nationalist prior to the nineteenth century, since the idea of 'nation' had not yet been represented and no social group was moved to act in accordance with nationalist imagination. The self-consciousness of the elites as constituting a single community was clearly absent. Instead, the encounter with colonial modernity produced divisive currents that sought to segregate the space of the modern from the traditional and the popular from the high culture.
Modernity in India had entered through the various critiques of Hinduism. Culture in the views of both the Orientalists such as James Mill and T. B. Macaulay 'was to be studied in the linguistic and religious aspects, detached from the question of social evolution. The stress was on spiritual as against material reflection in cultural production'. These two views, as has been shown by contemporary social scientists, were primarily oriented towards the indigenous elites and in the former case encouraged 'acculturation of the higher occupational groups who could afford English education' and 'the latter encouraged conservation of the products of a traditional courtly culture-Sanskrit and Persian classics'.
Within the mode of cultural reproduction, the Brahmos built temples in the church form, Derozians discarded religion in the name of rationalism, university students put Hinduism to text against Hegelian philosophy, all in an endeavour to be included within the domain of European modernity. By forcing a reinterpretation of Hindu dogmas, modernism discursively created a division between those who inhabited the enlightened world of rationalism and those who remained buried within the dark, obscurantist, heathen world, Nationalist thought in the colonial world had to fuse these two worlds together through a strategy of the universalization of Hinduism. By creating a new discourse of Hinduism as the universal religion it provided for a new mode of imagining the nation as a unitary, collective entity.
There is a retrospective consensus that Swami Vivekananda was the main proponent of the form of neo-Hindu nationalism that evoked a sense of national unity through the unity of the common religion, i. e. Hinduism. However, what must not be lost sight of is that advocating an organized collective form of Hinduism was also prevalent among those who wanted to revive the orthodox practices on the ground of nationalism. Hence we find conservative Hindu ideologues such as Krishnaprasanna Sen lamenting during the course of his lecture tour in Dacca that there did not exist in Dacca a single Hindu temple as a common ground for prayer and worship for the whole of the Hindu community.
This creed of Hinduism was stressed both by the revivalists and neo-Hindu thinkers alike. Besides, the study of the reports of the Arya Dharma Pracharini Sabha, which were published in the principal revivalist mouthpiece Dharmapracharak, reveals that it is impossible to distinguish between the audience profile of those who supported, for example, the Brahmos and those who thronged to the meetings of the Dharma Rakshini Sabhas. The patrons of the Arya Dharma Pracharini Sabhas also included the urban educated Calcutta elites, like judges and lawyers, as these reports indicate. Indeed, the spread of the Dharma Rakshini Sabhas in north India can hardly be ignored if one considers the influence of revivalism in the contemporary Indian mind. An enquiry into the commentaries that were published for example in Prachar and Navajiban suggest the commonality of themes that were shared alike by the conservatives and the so-called rationalists. Both Vivekananda and Tarkachudamani inhabited the same universe of nationalist discourses on religion. As will be shown in subsequent chapters, if a claim to having an Indian form of history was Vivekananda's concern then that was the case too with the revivalists. Hindu ritual practices were defended on rationalist grounds both by the Swami and those who opposed the reforms. What then separated these two discursive terrains? This is the primary question that underlies the enquiry into the religious thought of nineteenth-century Bengal.
The long and complex history of the events that eventually came to define the boundaries between these movements may be said to determine also the nature of nationalism in India. An attempt is made to locate certain dominant themes, concepts, and logical structures that recur in the writings, speeches, and articles of nearly all the major Hindu religious thinkers of nineteenth-century Bengal. A certain paradigm of thinking about Hinduism may be said to have emerged at this time. There were however major disputes among these various groups, particularly over their claim to be the saviour of Hinduism on nationalist grounds, the writings and speeches of Krishnaprasanna Sen are steeped in patriotic fervour in recounting the tragedy of the Indians who wanted to emulate the West. 'Bharat you have forgotten everything', mourned the writer, in thinking of yourself as the superior product of nineteenth century. You are now possessed with a sense of false pride. We regard this progress as an alien culture induced half, baked beliefs in theories, which can only being your downfall. Nineteenth century is not yours but it belongs to those who take pride in sense pleasures and inhabit the domain of the modern and predominantly Christian west. Who between Swami Vivekananda and Krishnaprasanna Sen finally emerged as victorious as modernist-nationalist and who between them was banished from the pages of history as obscurantist forms the story of nationalism in India, a type of nationalism that secured the triumph of modernity in a traditional society.
Sumit Sarkar raises an important question about the constructed nature of Vivekananda's nationalism. 'Vivekananda', argues Sarkar, 'then was not quite the 'patriot-prophet' who would soon be revered as patron saint by a whole generation of Swadeshi enthusiasts, revolutionary terrorists, and nationalists in general. Nivedita, who perhaps did more than anyone else, to promote this image of Vivekananda, herself recognized its partially constructed character: 'Just as Shri Ramakrisha, in fact without knowing any books, had been a living epitome of the Vedanta, so was Vivekananda of the national life. But of the theory of this he was unconscious. This interpretation however begs the all important question about the horizon of possibilities that was embedded within Vivekananda's thought which would make such constructions possible.
The following chapter outlines the genealogy of nationalism in the way it prefigured I the religious thought of diverse descriptions and heritage. The chapter seeks to delineate what may be described as the 'field of memory': the statements and events in relation to which the genesis, transformation, continuity, and historical discontinuity of neo-Hinduism can be established.
Compared with anti-colonialism, nationalism is not merely an attitude of opposition. Nationalism not only contests the Other but also creates its own Self against the description of its adversaries. This expression of the community's consciousness of its self can take various forms. Before Vivekananda there were hesitant and indeterminate moves in this attempt at self-description. The subsequent chapters read the text of Vivekananda's neo-Hinduism as an attempt to construct the unity, history, morals, and the destiny of this national self. In the Conclusion, the question that is raised is in what sense could Vivekananda be regarded as a nationalist, i.e. what form of Hinduism needed to be preached so that a religious ideologue what from of Hinduism needed to be preached so that a religious ideologue like Vivekananda could find a place of pre-eminence in the annals of history as a nationalist and in what way could his religion become relevant in modern India. I refer to the discourses of this outstanding commentator of neo-Hinduism as the principal text of this study, placing it in conjunction with the vast array of other writings on the subject of Hinduism. For the purpose of delimiting the object of enquiry, I have identified from the vast range of primary source materials only those writings that fall within the genre of commentaries and discourses, particularly essays and articles by both minor and major writers that appeared in the vernacular tracts, newspapers, and journals of Nineteenth-century Bengal. I have also concentrated more on the history of Vivekananda's life prior to his arrival at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago as , to my mind, it provides the context of Vivekananda's conversion from a Brahmo rationalist to a Hindu nationalist. What he went on to proclaim at Chicago from 1893 was part of his articulation of nationalist ideology. His commentaries on Hinduism, which I have sought to study as part of the history of thought, are treated as a document, and his appearance in America as a form of performative utterance: an event in the history of the genesis of nationalism in nineteenth-century Bengal. The events prior to this appearance are treated as a foundation, an anterior condition for the appearance of neo-Hinduism. It also needs to be clarified that this is not a work that falls within the category of Indological studies as it does not attempt to say anything meaningful about the authenticity of Vivekananda's Hinduism, or to the extent that he followed classical texts, treatises, and doctrines. Questions pertaining to philology are omitted from the scope of the present study. For a work within the history of ideas it is a heuristic requirement to treat the discourse being analysed as a reasonably coherent set of ideas. For the sake of coherence whenever questions pertaining to philology or doxology have been raised, the study has confined itself only to materials available within the secondary literature.
Having undertaken a textual study I have sought to refer to memoirs, reminiscences, and biographies to provide the ground of interpretation and analysis of Vivekananda's texts. Particularly useful have been the autobiographies and biographies of Brahmo leaders and the monks of the Ramakrishna order, and the annals of Brahmo history, along with the historical documents of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, which provide useful insights into the formation of discursive strategies, enunciative modalities, and the formation of concepts within the religious discourses of the nineteenth century. For conceptual characterization I have relied on the secondary literature on ethnography, historical sociology, and political philosophy. For the vernacular tracts, I have chosen a method of transliteration from Bengali to English that has become an accepted method among social scientists. Diacritical marks have not been used. Sometimes I have had to use different editions of an author's work for his various writings because the relevant volumes in one standard edition were not readily accessible.
From the Jacket:
Swami Vivekananda made a valuable contribution to the Indian social and religious reform movements in the nineteenth century. His teachings reflect the complex relationship between nationalism and modernity in the colonial world of nineteenth-century Bengal. The birth and development of the Ramakrishna and Vivekananda reform movement was intimately associated with the growth of Indian nationalism.
This book is the first to study the Swami's life, teachings, and writings in the light of recent social theories. Vivekananda's thinking is critically examined as a nationalist text and not merely as a discourse of Hindu religion. The author compares the Swami's ideas with political beliefs of other contemporary public intellectuals. She examines the way in which Vivekananda's neo-Hinduism emerged as a powerful ideology of Hindu nationalism, combining the European Enlightenment ideals of modernity and rationalism with the Hindu doctrine of Advaita Vedanta.
The Modernity which entered the cultural space of the colonial world recast old Hinduism in the form of the Brahmo Samaj movement. However, this modern reform agenda provoked opposition from conservative Hindus. It found wider acceptance only when it recast itself as part of Vivekananda's nationalist discours. This new nationalist idiom provided the forum for the reconciliation of the conservative and radical reformers. It also permitted the accommodation of the European Enlightenment values of rationality but without disturbing the ancient spirit of Hinduism.
This intellectual history will interest scholars of modern Indian history, religious studies, and cultural studies.
About The Author:
Shamita Basu teaches political science at the Vivekananda College for Women, Calcutta University.
Brahma Sutras (79)
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