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Re-imagining South Asian Religions: Essays in Honour of Professors Harold G. Coward and Ronald W. Neufeldt
 9789004242364, 9789004242371, 2012036677

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Re-imagining South Asian Religions

Numen Book Series Studies in the History of Religions Series Editors

Steven Engler (Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada) Richard King (University of Glasgow, Scotland) Kocku von Stuckrad (University of Groningen, The Netherlands) Gerard Wiegers (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)


The titles published in this series are listed at

Re-imagining South Asian Religions Essays in Honour of Professors Harold G. Coward and Ronald W. Neufeldt Edited by

Pashaura Singh Michael Hawley

Leiden • boston 2013

Cover illustration: Reproduced with kind permission by Donna Ruparell. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Re-imagining South Asian religions : essays in honour of professors Harold G. Coward and Ronald W. Neufeldt / edited by Pashaura Singh, Michael Hawley.   pages cm. — (Numen book series ; volume 141)  Includes index.  ISBN 978-90-04-24236-4 (hardback : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-90-04-24237-1 (e-book) 1. South Asia—Religion. I. Pashaura Singh, editor of compilation. II. Hawley, Michael (Michael Edwin), editor of compilation. III. Coward, Harold G., honouree. IV. Neufeldt, Ronald W. (Ronald Wesley), 1941– honouree.  BL1055.R415 2013  200.954—dc23


This publication has been typeset in the multilingual “Brill” typeface. With over 5,100 characters covering Latin, IPA, Greek, and Cyrillic, this typeface is especially suitable for use in the humanities. For more information, please see ISSN 0169-8834 ISBN 978-90-04-24236-4 (hardback) ISBN 978-90-04-24237-1 (e-book) Copyright 2013 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Global Oriental, Hotei Publishing, IDC Publishers and Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill NV provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, MA 01923, USA. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Contents Acknowledgments ............................................................................................ vii List of Contributors .......................................................................................... ix List of Figures ..................................................................................................... xv Preface and Introduction: Re-imagining South Asian Religions ........ xvii  Pashaura Singh and Michael Hawley Part I

Reflections on the Field Traditional Sanskrit and Modern Scholarship: A Personal . Journey ............................................................................................................ . Harold G. Coward A Modest Retrospective .................................................................................. . Ronald W. Neufeldt

3 15

Part II

New Orientations, Globalization, and Pedagogy Re-imagining Sikhi (‘Sikhness’ ) in the Twenty-First Century: . Toward a Paradigm Shift in Sikh Studies ............................................. . Pashaura Singh


The Politics of Perspectivalism: Anekāntavāda as a Counter. anthropologising Strategy ......................................................................... . Tinu Ruparell


Rewriting the Hindu Traditions from Global Perspectives ................. . Vasudha Narayanan Pedagogy in the Janam-sakhis: ‘Teaching Texts’ Moving Past Old . Categories ....................................................................................................... . Toby Braden Johnson




contents Part III

Performance and Memory Re-imagining Religious History through Women’s Song Performance . at the Kāmākhyā Temple Site .................................................................. 115 . Patricia Α. Dold Tibetan Buddhist Monastic Performance: Ritual Practice and . Cultural Preservation in the Tibetan Diaspora ................................... 155 . Sarah F. Haynes ‘Performance’ and ‘Lived Religion’ Approaches as New Ways of . ‘Re-imagining’ Sikh Studies ....................................................................... 171 . Charles M. Townsend Part IV

History, Encounter, and Exchange Re-imagining Theosophy through Canadian Art: Indian . Theosophical Influences on the Painting and Writing of . Lawren Harris ............................................................................................... 195 . Michael Stoeber Re-imagining Hindu Beginnings in Canada ............................................. 221 . Paul Younger The Indianness of Christianity: The Task of Re-imagination .............. 245 . Dyron B. Daughrity M. K. Gandhi and the Sikhs: Violence, Religious Identity, and . Competing Modernities ............................................................................. 271 . Michael Hawley Index ..................................................................................................................... 293

Acknowledgments The Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies and the Religious Studies Department, University of California, Riverside, provided general financial support for the March 2011 international research seminar on “Re-Imagining South Asian Religions: A Conversation on Old World Cultures through 21st Century” on which this volume is based. This special two-day event was organized to honor the contributions of Dr. Harold G. Coward, Professor of History and Founding Director, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria, BC, Canada and Dr. Ronald W. Neufeldt, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, University of Calgary, Canada. The seminar sponsors included Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Trust and the Sikh Foundation of Palo Alto, California. Veronica Quesada gave assistance in organizing the event and helped with publicity. We wish to thank Professor June O’Connor, who represented Dr. Vivian-Lee Nyitray, Chair of Religious Studies Department (who was in Japan to attend an international seminar), at the seminar and welcomed the visiting scholars with a bouquet of flowers on her behalf. Professor Stephen Cullenburg, Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS), showed special interest in this research seminar, and we thank him for his support and participation in the inaugural session. Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, Chairman of Sikh Foundation of Palo Alto, Dr. Harkeerat Singh Dhillon and Mrs. Saranjit Kaur Saini have contributed energetically in many ways to build the new program in Sikh Studies at the University of California, Riverside. Their selfless and untiring support is much appreciated. Professor Singh’s doctoral students, Toby B. Johnson and Charles M. Townsend, assisted greatly with hospitality and other necessary arrangements for the seminar. We thank both of them for their timely help. The opening section of this volume begins with the preface that puts the research seminar into perspective by highlighting the various activities of this event. It is followed by the introduction which deals with the interpretive discussion of various essays. The opening section ends with the personal reflections of Professor Harold G. Coward and Professor Ronald W. Neufeldt. The following three sections cover all the various essays in the volume. Although the essays are well documented and discuss certain sensitive issues in a scholarly fashion, the interpretations are



the responsibility of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the editors, the sponsors of the seminar, the University of California, or the publishers. October 2011

Pashaura Singh Michael Hawley

List of Contributors Harold Coward (Ph.D., McMaster University, Canada) is Professor and Founding Director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria, Canada. His South Asian research and teaching has focused on Hinduism (the Grammarian and Yoga Schools) along with comparative studies in the thematic areas of scripture, pluralism, environmental and health care ethics, and human rights/responsibilities. His publications include Bhartrhari (Twayne, 1976), The Sphota Theory of Language (Motilal Banarsidass, 1980), Jung and Eastern Thought (SUNY, 1985), Hindu Ethics with Julius Lipner & Katherine Young (SUNY, 1989), The Philosophy of the Grammarians with K. Kunjunni Raja (Princeton, 1990), Derrida and Indian Philosophy (SUNY, 1990), Pluralism in the World Religions (Oneworld Oxford, 2000), Scripture in the World Religions (Oneworld Oxford, 2000), T. R. V. Murti (Munshiram Manoharlal, 2003), Mantra: Hearing the Divine in India (Columbia, 2004), Yoga and Psychology: Language, Memory and Mysticism (SUNY, 2002), Human Rights and the Hindu Tradition (Praeger, 2005), and The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought (SUNY, 2008). He has also edited many volumes including Studies in Indian Thought: the Collected Papers of T. R. V. Murti (Motilal Banarsidass, 1983), Modern Indian Responses to Religious Pluralism (SUNY, 1987), The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada and the United States with John Hinnells and Raymond Williams (SUNY, 2000), and Indian Critiques of Gandhi (SUNY, 2003). Dyron B. Daughrity (Ph.D., University of Calgary, Canada) is Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California. He teaches courses in comparative religion, history of Christianity, and world Christianity. His publications include The Changing World of Christianity: The Global History of a Borderless Religion (Peter Lang 2010) and Bishop Stephen Neill: From Edinburgh to South India (Peter Lang 2008). His latest book deals with five approaches to church history and is scheduled for 2012 publication. Daughrity lectures and researches internationally, specializing in the intersection of religion and culture. His work has been featured on NPR, The History Channel, and Inside Higher Ed.


list of contributors

Patricia a. Dold (Ph.D. McMaster University, Hamilton Canada) is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her main area of teaching are Hindu religious traditions and her research focuses on the goddess-centered texts of Hinduism, especially those of the Kāmākhyā Temple site.  Her publications include articles in edited volumes, such as “Kālī the Terrific and Her Tests: The Śākta Devotionalism of the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa” in Encountering Kālī: in the Margins, at the Center, in the West, (R. McDermott and J. Kripal, editors, University of California Press, 2003) and “Pilgrimage to Kāmākhyā through Text and Lived Religion: Some Forms of the Goddess at an Assamese Temple Site” in Studying Hinduism in Practice, (H. Rodrigues, editor, Routledge, 2011). She is editor of as well as contributor to collections of articles for special issues of the journals, Studies in Religion/ Sciences Religieuses (38:2, 2009: Special Issue on Tantra in Indian Religions) and Religious Studies and Theology (23:1, 2004: Hybridic Hinduisms). Her current research includes examination of the relationships between tantric and puranic Sanskrit texts of Kāmākhyā and the site’s living religious practices, especially the Nām tradition of Kāmākhyā’s women residents. As well, she is currently working with a group of scholars on the significance of deities’ domestic relationships in Vedic and Hindu narratives. Michael Hawley (Ph.D. University of Calgary) is Associate Professor in Religious Studies at Mount Royal University and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary. He is founder and co-Chair of the Sikh Studies Group at the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and is a book reviews editor for the journal Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, Theory (Routledge). Michael Hawley is the author of several articles including “Reorienting Tradition: Radhakrishnan’s Hinduism” in Steven Engler and Greg P. Grieve (eds.) Historicizing’ Tradition’ in the Study of Religion. de Gruyter, 2005; “Rethinking Multiculturalism: Gandhi, Orientalism, and Identity” in Religious Studies and Theology (2008); “Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan” for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) ( (2006); and “The Making of a Mahātma: Radhakrishnan’s Critique of Gandhi” in Studies in Religion (2003). His current research focuses on Sikh diaspora. He is working on a project documenting the kundalini yoga and the 3HO community in Calgary, and is in the early stages of a major research project detailing the history of Calgary’s Sikh community.

list of contributors


Sarah F. Haynes (Ph.D. University of Calgary) is Assistant Professor at Western Illinois University. Her teaching and research focuses upon Tibetan Buddhist ritual and Buddhism in North America. Her publications include “A Relationship of Reciprocity: Globalization, Skilful Means, and Tibetan Buddhism in Canada” in Wild Geese: Studies of Buddhism in Canada (McGill-Queen’s 2010), “An Exploration of Jack Kerouac’s Buddhism: Text and Life” in Journal of Contemporary Buddhism. She is co-editor and contributor to the forthcoming volume Wading into the Stream of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Leslie Kawamura (Institute for Buddhist Studies). She is currently working on a project that examines the adaptation of ritual within Buddhist communities in North America. Toby Braden Johnson is a Doctoral Candidate in the Religious Studies Department at the University of California, Riverside. His research focuses on the interplay of narrative, pedagogy, and human cognition through the janam-sakhis. Vasudha Narayanan is Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, at the University of Florida and a past President of the American Academy of Religion. She was educated at the Universities of Madras and Bombay in India, and at Harvard University. Her fields of interest are global Hindu traditions, visual and expressive cultures in the Hindu traditions, and gender issues. She is currently working on Hindu temples and traditions in Cambodia. She is the author or editor of seven books and has authored numerous articles, chapters in books, and encyclopedia entries. Her research has been supported by grants and fellowships from several organizations including the Centre for Khmer Studies, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Institute of Indian Studies/ Smithsonian, and the Social Science Research Council. Dr. Narayanan and the University of Florida have created the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions (CHiTra) to encourage the research, teaching and public understanding of Hindu culture and traditions.  Ronald W. Neufeldt (Ph.D., University of Iowa) is Emeritus Professor in Religious Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Calgary. The focus of his teaching and research has been religion in modern India, with an emphasis on the Hindu Renaissance, religion and law in modern India, and religion and nationalism. His publications include F. Max Muller and the Rg Veda (Minerva, 1979) Karma and Rebirth: Post-classical


list of contributors

Developments, edited (SUNY, 1986), Readings in Eastern Religions, edited with H. G. Coward and E. Neumaier (WLUP, 1988, 2007), “To Convert or Not to Convert: Legal and Political Dimensions of Conversion in Independent India,” in R. D. Baird, Religion and Law in Independent India (Manohar, 2004), “The Hindu Mahasabha and Gandhi,” in H. G. Coward, Indian Critiques of Gandhi (SUNY, 2003), and “Hindutva and the Rhetoric of Violence: Interpreting the Past and Designing the Future,” in David J. Hawkin, The Twenty-first Century Gods: Globalization, Technology and War (SUNY 2004). In addition to his teaching and research he also served in a number of administrative posts including Head, Department of Religious Studies, University of Calgary, Associate Dean, Faculty of Humanities, University of Calgary, and Resident Director, Delhi Office, Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute. Tinu Ruparell (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary.  Focusing on Indian and European thought, his research interests are in hermeneutics, interreligious dialogue, science and religion, and the comparative philosophy of religion. Along with numerous articles, he is author of the forthcoming Dialogue and Hybridity (SUNY Press) and joint editor of Encountering Religion (Blackwells) and Christian Thought in the 21st century: An Agenda for the Future (Cascade). Pashaura Singh (Ph.D., University of Toronto, Canada) is Professor and Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies at the University of California, Riverside. His teaching and research focus on scriptural studies and early Sikh history. He has a sound knowledge of traditional Sikh learning, manuscripts in archaic forms of Gurmukhi script and Indian religious traditions, with a mastery of contemporary issues in textual studies, canonicity, hermeneutics, literary theory, and history of religions. His publications include The Guru Granth Sahib: Canon, Meaning, and Authority (Oxford University Press/OUP 2000), The Bhagats of the Guru Granth Sahib: Sikh Self-Definition and the Bhagat Bani (OUP 2003), and Life and Work of Guru Arjan: History, Memory, and Biography in the Sikh Tradition (OUP 2006). He has also edited four volumes, the most recent one being Sikhism in Global Context (OUP 2011). Currently, he is working on two research projects: Sacred Melodies: History, Theory and the Performance of Sikh Kirtan and The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies (OUP, UK).

list of contributors


Michael Stoeber (Ph.D., University of Toronto, Canada) teaches in the areas of spirituality and philosophy of religion at Regis College, Toronto School of Theology. He is also cross-appointed to the Graduate Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto. He has published especially in the areas of the nature of religious experience, issues in comparative mysticism, and the problems of evil and suffering.  His publications include: Theo-Monistic Mysticism: A Hindu-Christian Comparison (St Martin’s Press and Macmillan Press, 1994; ebook reprint, Palgrave Connect Platform, 2011); Reclaiming Theodicy: Reflections on Suffering, Compassion and Spiritual Transformation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); “Tantra and Śāktism in the Spirituality of Aurobindo Ghose”, Studies in Religion vol. 38, no. 2 (2009) pp. 293–321;  “Mysticism in Ecumenical Dialogue”, in Teaching Mysticism, William Parsons, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 224–245. Currently he is exploring comparatively certain kinds of yoga and meditative practices, as well as some of the intersections between art and spirituality. Charles M. Townsend is a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside, and a lecturer in Religious Studies at Whittier College. His research and teaching interests include South Asian religions, religion in America, and religion and music. His publications include: “Gurbani Kirtan and the Performance of Sikh Identity in Southern California” in Sikhism in Global Context (edited by Pashaura Singh, Oxford 2011), “The Darbar Sahib” in The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies, (edited by Pashaura Singh and Louis E. Fenech, Oxford, forthcoming 2013), and entries on Sikhism in The Encyclopedia of Asian America Folklore and Folklife (eds. Lee and the Nadeau, Greenwood 2011). He is currently completing a dissertation on Sikhism in America, an ethnographic study focusing on Sikh kirtan. Paul Younger (Ph.D., Princeton University, 1965) Professor Emeritus, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. Recent publications: New Homelands: Hindu Communities in Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Fiji and East Africa (Oxford University Press, 2010); “Learning about Hindu Practice” in Studying Hinduism in Practice, ed. Hillary P. Rodrigues (Routledge, 2011); “Hindus” in The Religions of Canadians, ed. Jamie S. Scott (University of Toronto Press, 2012).

List Of Figures Toby Braden Johnson 1.  Chatman’s Model of a Text ..................................................................... 2. Modified Model .......................................................................................... 3. Traditional Interpretation ....................................................................... 4. Internal and External Hermeneutics ................................................... 5. History in the janam-sakhis .................................................................... 6. History of the janam-sakhis .................................................................... 7. Hagiography ................................................................................................. 8. Homily ...........................................................................................................

93 95 96 98 102 103 106 109

Patricia A. Dold 1.  Kāmākhyā temple ...................................................................................... 117 2. Kāmeśvarī, Queen of Kāma ..................................................................... 132 3. Bhairavī temple ........................................................................................... 134 Michael Stoeber 1.  Lawren Harris, Red House, Winter, 1925 ............................................ 2. Lawren Harris, Isolation Peak, 1929 ...................................................... 3. Theosophical Key to the Meanings of Colours ................................. 4. Lawren Harris, Abstract (War Painting), 1943 ................................... 5. Ideal Shape: Upward Rush of Devotion, Besant and Leadbeater, Thought Forms, 1902 .......................................................... 6. Ideal Shape: Response to Devotion, Besant and Leadbeater, Thought Forms, 1902 .................................................................................. 7. Lawren Harris, Abstraction 103, 1964 ...................................................

204 206 208 210 211 212 214

Preface and Introduction: Re-imagining South Asian Religions Pashaura Singh and Michael Hawley This volume grows out of a 2-day international conference hosted by the Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies and the Religious Studies Department of the University of California at River­side (UCR) from March 4 to 5, 2011 at the newly-built Interdisciplinary Building. Visiting scholars addressed the theme of the conference, ‘Re-Imagining South Asian Religions: A Conversation on Old World Cultures through 21st Century’, leading to lively discussions. In addition to the Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair, the conference was sponsored by the Sikh Foundation of Palo Alto, California. This academic conference, held on UCR’s campus, was organized to honor and continue building on the sustained and distinguished contributions to scholarship on South Asian religions of Dr. Harold G. Coward, Professor of History and Founding Director, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada and Dr. Ronald W. Neufeldt, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada. The conference began on Friday morning, March 4, 2011, with welcoming addresses from Professor Stephen Cullenberg, Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) at the University of California, Riverside, and Dr. June O’Connor, Professor and former chair of UCR’s Department of Religious Studies. Dean Cullenburg appreciated the international scope of the conference: I am glad to be part of this conference. CHASS is the only college in the University of California at Riverside that combines arts, social sciences, and humanities, because historically, contemporary issues are not just within the realm of social sciences and humanities but also the arts, and I think this probably overlaps well with the work of the conference attendees. UCR is the most diverse campus of the UC system, and the only major research institution certified as ‘Hispanic serving’. CHASS’ motto is ‘We are at Home in the World’. The UC has undergone budget cuts, but is still standing. Over the past several years the growth within CHASS has focused on faculty hires that bolster our focus on international studies. The work of Pashaura Singh is a great contribution to CHASS’ international focus.1 1 The excerpts of Dean Stephen Cullenberg’s speech were taken from the video recording of the plenary session on Friday, March 4, 2011.


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Dr. Pashaura Singh provided an introduction to the conference theme, addressing the issue of how religions of South Asian origin have been reimagined in the broader context of globalization, trans-nationalism, and diaspora. This was followed by opening remarks delivered by Dr. Ronald W. Neufeldt, who mainly focused on his reflections on the growth of, and changes within the academic study of South Asian religions that he has witnessed during his academic career, and the continuing work of ‘re-imagining’ this field of study. After this felicitous beginning, the research seminar continued with the presentation of research papers by a group of presenters that included many eminent senior scholars, as well as several scholars at the beginning of their academic careers. The conference participants included scholars from across the United States and Canada. Many of the scholars assembled to present their work were former students and advisees of Drs. Neufeldt and Coward, including Dr. Pashaura Singh and Dr. Michael Hawley. Three UC Riverside graduate students from the department of Religious Studies also gave paper presentations, which were based on their work at UCR under the advisement of Dr. Singh. Thus, the conference brought together a lineage of multiple generations of scholars of South Asian religions influenced by the teaching and writings of Drs. Neufeldt and Coward. The paper presentations took place within panel sessions over the course of two days. Each panel on the first day of the conference was chaired and moderated by a professor from UCR’s Department of Religious Studies (Drs. June O’Connor, Michael Alexander, Jennifer Hughes, and Sherri Johnson). Panels on the second day were chaired and moderated by Dr. Louis E. Fenech, Professor of South Asian History, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA and Dr. Michael Hawley, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada. The paper presentations focused on a diverse range of South Asian religious traditions—including Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Theosophy—and represented a diverse range of theoretical and methodological approaches, including: religious studies, historical studies, philosophy, hermeneutics, art history, anthropology, global and diaspora studies, gender and ethnic studies, ethnomusicology, and ritual and performance studies. The conference papers converged around the theme of ‘Re-imagining’—of continuing the task of utilizing new paradigms and perspectives, and thinking about South Asian religions in ways that build on, and challenge earlier scholarship. Converging on this central theme, the diverse paper topics included: Gandhi studies, Indian Christianity, Global Hinduism and Hinduism in Canada, Theosophy and art, the

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performance of religious music in both Hindu and Sikh traditions, Tibetan Buddhist religious ritual, the Sikh janam-sakhis (narratives about the life of Guru Nanak), Jain philosophy, and the diversity of expressions of Sikh identity. Panel presentations were well attended, with conference participants, UCR faculty members, UCR students, and visitors from the public in attendance. Each paper presentation was followed by a question and answer period, which brought active and critical discussion involving the presenters and the audience. The revised versions of conference papers are presented in this volume as a festschrift in honor of the distinguished scholarly contributions and continuing influence of Drs. Coward and Neufeldt. In addition to the panels and paper presentations, the conference was timed to coincide with the official inauguration of the McLeod library collection at UC Riverside, which was held on the afternoon of March 4th, 2011. This collection of roughly 3,000 books and rare manuscripts represent the transitioning to UCR’s Rivera Library of the personal library of the late Dr. W. H. McLeod. A New Zealander, Dr. McLeod was an internationally acclaimed scholar of Sikh history and religion. He singlehandedly introduced, nourished, and advanced the field of Sikh studies in the western academy for more than four decades of his life. On a number of occasions he represented the Sikhs and Sikhism to both academic and popular audiences in the English-speaking world. He passed away peacefully on July 20, 2009 in Dunedin, New Zealand, after a lengthy illness. At the annual Fall Retreat in September 2010, the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies voted unanimously and enthusiastically to endorse the proposal to work toward purchasing the library of the late Professor McLeod for the Rivera Library. As a matter of fact Dr. McLeod’s library was offered to Dr. Pashaura Singh and UC Riverside by the executor on a right-of-first-refusal basis. There were other people and institutions that were waiting for this opportunity. The library contains a number of rare and intellectually valuable items, and its acquisition complements and greatly enlarges an already impressive collection of books focusing on South Asian religions and Sikh Studies at UCR’s Rivera library, poising the library as a world class center for textual research in Sikh Studies. Dr. Harold Coward, Professor and Founding Director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria, Canada, did the honor of ribbon-cutting, along with Dr. Ruth Jackson, University Librarian of UCR libraries, Dr. Pashaura Singh, and Dr. Louis Fenech of Northern Iowa University. The acquisition of McLeod collection was made possible through a joint undertaking, requiring the cooperation between UCR’s


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Rivera Library, the Department of Religious Studies, the Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies, and the Holstein Family and Community Endowed Chair, held by an internationally renowned distinguished Professor Ivan Strenski. On the evening of March 4th, a reception and dinner was held for conference participants and visitors at the UCR Alumni and Visitor’s Center. During this reception, ‘Lifetime Achievement Awards’ were presented to both Dr. Harold G. Coward and Dr. Ronald W. Neufeldt in recognition of their outstanding scholarship and sustained contributions to the study of South Asian Religions. During the ceremony the plaque of honor was presented to Dr. Coward jointly by Dr. Pashaura Singh and his doctoral student, Toby Johnson, with the following inscription: “The Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies honors Harold George Coward with a lifetime achievement award for his distinguished contribution to the Study of Religion in South Asia.” Similarly, the award was presented to Dr. Neufeldt jointly by Dr. Michael Hawley, Dr. Pashaura Singh and his doctoral student, Charles Townsend. The text on the plaque reads: “The Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies honors Ronald Wesley Neufeldt with a lifetime achievement award for his distinguished contribution to the Study of Religion in South Asia.” The dinner and award ceremony was also attended by several esteemed friends and visitors from local communities, including Harry Hood, Dr. Douglas Parrot, Dr. Harkeerat Singh Dhillon (Chair of the UCR Campaign for Sikh Studies), Dr. Manpreet Kaur Singh, Dr. Mandeep Singh Chadha, Amerjeet Singh Grewal, Dhanwant Singh Mundae, Nasib Kaur, Baljit Kaur Toor, Geeta Johnson, Baljeet Kaur Singh, Jagdish Kaur Chadha, Kiratpreet Kaur Singh, Kirpa Kaur Chadha and others. As a capstone to the events of the conference, on the afternoon of March 5th, the conference participants were taken on a local excursion to eat lunch at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The tram covers an 8,500 foot rise in elevation in around 11 minutes, and offered (nonCalifornian) conference participants a dramatic exposure to the climatic diversity of Southern California and beautiful views of the Inland Empire and Coachella Valley. In the evening Dr. Pashaura Singh and Baljeet Kaur Singh hosted a dinner at their residence for the conference participants who enjoyed delicious Indian food. An especially gratifying part of the conference was to see four generations of scholarship on South Asian religions brought together during panel discussions. It was invigorating to see graduate students from the department of Religious Studies and Music department at UCR in

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attendance, including undergraduate students. Thus, the conference included paper presentations from four scholarly generations of presenters, and facilitated discussions of the papers that also included a fourth generation of students as well as visitors from local communities, making for an exciting opportunity for interconnection and open discourse. The essays in this volume have been organized into three broad thematic areas: New Orientations, Globalization, and Pedagogy; Performance and Memory; and History, Encounter, and Exchange. A word of clarification is needed here. On some level, these groupings might be considered arbitrary. Indeed, one may object in some instances that they do not accurately reflect the content of the papers they claim to describe. However, these headings are intended to be not merely descriptive, but instructive as well. First, they seem to capture the general subject matter of this otherwise diverse collection of papers. Second, these categories tend to highlight, to greater or lesser degrees, the substantive, theoretical, and conceptual intersections among the papers, both within and between the groups. By grouping in this manner, it soon becomes evident that many of them are tethered in unpredictable and unforeseen ways. Third, these categories capture the broad patterns and trajectories in the larger task of re-imagining South Asian religion that are discernable in the papers as a group. The remarks that follow are first and foremost descriptive and summative of the papers. At the same time they begin the task of identifying points of convergence between them as well as reflecting on the patterns and directions that such re-imagining has produced. Part I: Reflections on the Field opens the volume with personal reflections on the field of South Asian religion by Professor Harold Coward and Professor Ronald Neufeldt whom this collection of essays celebrates and to whom it is dedicated. Professor Coward offers a personal reflection on his guru-śiṣya relationship with Professor T. R. V. Murti. This relationship was not only the means by which Professor Coward came to know the Indian philosophical traditions, but his sustained engagement with Murti instilled in him the indispensable value of oral teaching and learning. Professor Coward observes that his own teaching, scholarship, and personal life resonate with the echo of Murti’s voice. Professor Neufeldt maps the trajectory in the study of South Asian religion by tracing the making and remaking of various programme units at the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Neufeldt sees a process of specialization and synthesis at the AAR whereby new areas of specialization in the study of south Asian religion are identified, but intersections between these specialized programme units are also sought out. Such a trajectory has come to prioritize


preface and introduction

the connections and interactions in both content and methodology, intersections Neufeldt sees as necessary for the task of re-imagining South Asian religion. Four essays make up Part II: New Orientations, Globalization, and Pedagogy. In Re-Imagining Sikhi (‘Sikhness’) in the Twenty-first Century: Toward a Paradigm Shift in Sikh Studies, Pashaura Singh envisions an inclusive understanding of sikhi, one that considers the range of both text and practice. Singh questions the assumed universal acceptance of the khalsa rahit, an acceptance that has too often resulted in a reified and monolithic understanding of what is in practice a rich and varied sikhi tradition. Pashaura Singh draws attention to a range of sikhi forms and expressions—Nihangs, Akhand Kirtani Jatha (AKJ), Nanaksar movement, Bhindran Taksal, Nirankaris, Namdharis, the various takhats, the Healthy, Happy Holy Organization (3HO) of Yogi Bhajan, the Chardi Kala Kirtan Jatha—to illustrate the heteronormativity of Sikh practice. In doing so, Singh further dislodges the normative weight that khalsa expressions of Sikh-ness often continue to enjoy at the expense of the heterogeneous richness of sikhi in an increasingly globalized world. Singh’s concern for moving beyond a khalsa-centric understanding of sikhi is mirrored by Tinu Ruparell’s decentering project in The Pragmatics of Perspectivalism: Anekāntavāda as a Counter-anthropologizing Strategy. Ruparell begins by offering a fine recapitulation of the orientalist critique, its rejoinders, and subsequent developments. Ruparell then proposes in this theoretically bold piece that the multiperspectivalism of the Jaina tradition is an efficacious method for not only countering the enduring epistemic effects of colonialism and orientalism, but offers a reappraisal of the power of Indian modes of thinking. Singh and Ruparell’s call to interrogate established categories and methods, many of which reflect the enduring effects of orientalism and colonialism, is echoed in Rewriting Hindu Traditions from Global Pers­ pectives. Vasudha Narayanan recognizes the need to move further the study of Hindu identity and experience beyond borders and texts. She conceives of a narrative(s) that reflects the variations in Hindu practice in a myriad of cultural and linguistic contexts. Such narratives, Narayanan suggests, may well change the trajectory of our thinking about caste, women, rituals, temple and domestic spaces. Narayanan begins by problematizing the notion of ‘global Hinduism’ and by tracing three main waves of Hindu migration from the subcontinent before exploring various elements of lived Hindu expression and experience including social divisions, the making of sacred space, architecture and temple building, and aspects of religio-cultural engagement.

preface and introduction


In Pedagogy in the Janam-sakhis: ‘Teaching texts’ Moving Past Old Cate­ gories, Toby Braden Johnson draws upon both narrative and cognitive theory to read the janam-sakhis as interpretive and heuristic devices. Moving beyond historical and redaction criticism and building on the work of Seymore Chatman , Johnson argues the narratives of Guru Nanak will no longer ‘speak past one another’, thus making a more comprehensive understanding of the janam-sakhi genre possible. Johnson’s call to consider the function and context sensitivity of the janam-sakhis might well be read with Ruparell’s call for a multiperspectival reappraisal of Indian modes of thinking. In addition, Johnson’s essay complements and tacitly reflects the concern for function, orality, and performance in the essays by Townsend and Dold in the next section. Part III: Performance and Memory moves away from the theoretical and methodological orientations of Part I and offers a selection of more ethnographic approaches dealing with the Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh traditions. Challenging the well-entrenched understandings regarding the nature and origins of religion at the Kāmākhyā temple site, Patricia A. Dold argues this local religiosity has strong roots in the Sanskrit texts of both Śāktism and the Kāmākhyā site itself. Re-imagining Religious History through Women’s Song Performance at the Kāmākhyā Temple Site calls into question the established scholarly view that bhakti superseded tantric rites at the Kāmākhyā temple. Dold poses two main questions: What were the women of Kāmākhyā actually doing in the past? And how and when did bhakti become part of the religious life at the Kāmākhyā temple? Patricia A. Dold breaks new ground by documenting, translating, and critically examining religious songs that are performed by women residents of the temple site. While Dold’s essay is situated within the Indian context, the essays by Sarah F. Haynes and Charles Townsend move into the Buddhist and Sikh diasporic environs of the United States. Following the ritual and cultural performance of Tibetan Buddhist monks in the United States, Haynes’ Tibetan Buddhist Monastic Performance: Ritual Practice and Cultural Preservation in the Tibetan Diaspora reveals a process of cultural and religious identity construction and preservation. Haynes examines the ways in which ‘chams (ritual monastic dance) has been (re)imagined for a North American audience while at the same time maintaining its function as a source of religio-cultural authority and identity for the Tibetan diapsora living in the United States. In ‘Performance’ and ‘Lived Religion’ Approaches as New Ways of ‘Reimagining’ Sikh Studies, Charles Townsend breaks from the historical, textual, and area studies approaches that have dominated the study of


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Sikh life. Based on his fieldwork in the Sikh communities in southern California, Townsend argues that sacred musical and performative practices have been central in the preservation, interpretation, and re-creation of Sikh ways of being and knowing. Townsend’s discussion is impressive in its theoretical breath, drawing as it does on a host of writers including Robert Orsi, David Hall, Merideth McGuire, Victor Turner, Richard Schechner, James Livingston, Penny Van Esterik, Catherine Bell, Paul Christopher Johnson, Stanley Tambiah, Bruce Kopferer, and Catherine Albanese in order to bring performance and lived religion approaches into dialogue. Townsend’s essay shares the ethnographic approach found in the essays by Dold and Haynes, but it also resonates with Singh’s call for an understanding of sikhi that considers both text and practice. The essays in Part IV: History, Encounter, and Exchange are both sensitive to historical context and cross religious, geographical, and cultural boundaries. Re-imagining Theosophy through Canadian Art: Indian Theosophical Influences on the Painting and Writing of Lawren Harris is a novel re-imagining the enduring legacy of theosophy. Michael Stoeber explores the intersection of theosophy and aesthetics. But Stoeber not only explores the influence on theosophy on the work of Canadian painter Lawren Harris, but reflects more generally on the relevance of theosophical metaphysics for understanding and interpreting visual art. Stoeber begins by exploring the notion of art and spirituality, and the role of art and beauty from the Theosophical position in order to ground his interpretive analysis of Harris’ painting. While sensitive to the intersections of history and religio-cultural exchange as are the Younger and Hawley papers in this section, Stoeber’s focus on the visual arts complements the contributions by Dold, Haynes, and Townsend which focus on the musical / performing arts. Remaining in the Canadian context, Paul Younger’s essay Re-imagining Hindu Beginnings in Canada documents the struggle of immigrants of South Asian descent to Canada. Younger dislodges the well-established myth of a welcoming history of Canadian immigration policy, and explores several of the challenges new migrants of South Asian origin sought to overcome. Hindu Beginnings in Canada is also comparative, providing as it does insight into immigration policies and attitudes of Canada and the United States, of Quebec and the rest of Canada, as well as the differences between Hindu and Sikh immigrant experiences in Canada. Younger’s concern for South Asian diaspora communities is shared by Townsend, Haynes, Narayanan, and Stoeber.

preface and introduction


The Indianness of Christianity: The Task of Re-imagination showcases the interplay between faith and culture, and explores a range of inter-religious and cross-cultural exchange. In the course of his discussion, Dyron Daughrity notes the congruencies, parallels, and intersections between Christianity and ‘Indianness’, and between Christianity in contemporary India and Christianity in the Greco-Roman world of the New Testament. Working from the question “Is Christianity an Indian Religion?”, Daughrity skillfully problematizes the complexity of religious affiliation and claims of religious identity in India. Daughrity’s essay is an ambitious and lucid one. He rightly ties the question about the Indianness of Christianity to the broader and politicized discourses surrounding nationalism, conversion, and inter-religious dialogue. Michael Hawley’s M.K. Gandhi and the Sikhs: Violence, Religious Identity, and Competing Modernities calls for a reappraisal of the oft neglected and ambiguous relationship between Gandhi and the Sikhs in 1920’s India. Hawley traces the disengagement between Gandhi and the Sikhs regarding the issues of violence and religious identity to the ubiquitous, yet uneven, effects of modernity. Hawley’s essay may well be read with Singh’s insofar as it attempts to rupture an otherwise homogenized and reified understanding of the Sikh position. It also reflects Ruparell’s concern for identifying and dislodging the effects of an enduring colonial idiom in the study of South Asian ways of knowing and being. The essays in this volume propose in their own ways a theoretical, methodological, and conceptual broadening. The task of re-imagining is a call to supplement, to go beyond, to challenge, and when appropriate, to reject established viewpoints, many of which are the products of the presumed universality of non-Indic analytic categories and methods. The essays in this volume recognize the need for a renewed receptiveness to the subjective, experiential component of Indic modes of knowledge, understanding, and being, modes that extend, like the South Asian population itself, beyond the geo-political borders of the sub-continent.

Part I

Reflections on the Field

Traditional Sanskrit and Modern Scholarship: A Personal Journey Harold G. Coward I. Meeting Murti According to the Sanskrit tradition you do not seek out and find your guru, your guru finds you. That was certainly my experience at McMaster University in 1971. After hearing George Grant speak on CBC “Ideas” (Nietzsche and Time), I had written asking if he would be my Ph.D. supervisor at McMaster—I wanted to write a thesis on the Christian Experience of Scriptural Revelation.” George had replied “Come.” So I had moved my family 2,500 miles from the mining town of Blairmore in the Alberta Rockies (where I was a United Church minister) to Hamilton where I began my Ph.D. in September of 1970. After a term in coursework with John Arapura, John Robertson, and George Grant, I submitted my thesis proposal to George early in the New Year. A couple of weeks later, George called me into his office and said I could not write the thesis I wanted to do. Shocked, I asked “why?” George replied, “Since you want to include a psychological analysis of the reception of scriptural revelation, the psychologists will put someone on your Ph.D. oral committee and, as they are all Behaviourists, he will fail you. And as you also propose to include a philosophical analysis, the Philosophy Department will put a philosopher on your committee and, since they are all positivists, he will fail you. So you can’t do it.” I realized George was right and I left his office feeling quite shattered having just moved my wife and children across Canada to McMaster to write this thesis. Just then, I had to stop walking for standing right in front of me was a short Indian man dressed in a black Nehru suit. Now I knew that at the other end of the hall there were a group of professors and students studying Hinduism and Buddhism, including a famous Visiting Professor from India, Professor T. R. V. Murti. But I had not taken a single course in Eastern religion, or Comparative religion. Yet here I was with Professor Murti standing stock still in front of me, his intense eyes locked on mine asking, “What’s the problem?” Well I described to him what had just happened. He listened carefully and then said that in India


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they had been studying the reception of scriptural revelation in Sanskrit thought for about 3000 years. And they did not have this separation into philosophy, psychology and theology—so why didn’t I study the reception of scriptural revelation in the Hindu tradition for my Ph.D., then afterwards I could do my study of Christianity. So that’s what I did. I went back to his office with him to talk some more. He said I would have to learn Sanskrit and start taking his graduate seminar on Indian Philosophy as well as going to his apartment two afternoons each week to read texts in traditional guru-śiṣya style. After talking with Murti, I went home and talked his proposal over with my wife Rachel. I also went to see David Kinsley, for whom I was a T.A., and asked what he thought—telling him that because I had a wife and three children to support, I had to complete my Ph.D. in three years. David’s reply was that if I wanted to be out of McMaster in three years—“don’t do it.” But there was something about my meeting with Murti that felt right—so I did it, and managed to finish in three years. II. Traditional and Modern Study Compared Attending Murti’s graduate seminars at McMaster was an interesting experience. There were no assigned books or even a course outline. Murti simply appeared two evenings a week. Starting at 5:00 pm he would lecture to a packed classroom on the various schools of Indian Philosophy—the Buddhist schools of Theravāda, Mādhyamika and Yogācāra, Jainism and the Hindu schools of Mīmāṃsā, and Vedānta (Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja). Murti used no notes, teaching each school completely from memory. His approach was to engage us in dialogue on whatever school of thought he was teaching until he had “converted” us all to that position. Then he would move on to the next, completely adopting its point of view and overturning the school he had just finished teaching. So, for example, after several seminars on Theravāda Buddhism we would go home finally convinced of the truth of that position only to have it completely overturned the next week when Murti became a Mādhyamika and demolished the Theravāda position by adopting Nāgārjuna’s catuṣkoṭi. The same thing occurred when he moved from Mādhyamika to Yogācāra, then to Vedānta to Śaṅkara followed by Rāmānuja. Each week I would leave class with my head spinning as I was converted from one darśana to the next. In each guise Professor Murti was so convincing that you would feel sure that this was his own position, only to have him seem to completely “change his

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skin” as it were when he moved to a new school or darśana in a subsequent class. I remember one day feeling so completely overwhelmed by it all (remember I had no previous study in Eastern religions) that I put up my hand and asked if there was a book he could refer me to. This was a mistake. Murti became quite furious with me saying why did I need a book when he had just taught me everything. Would I please tell him what exactly it was that I wanted to look up and he would go over it again and again until I understood! Suitably cowed I subsided into silence. After the class, one of the other students took me aside in compassion and said I should get Murti’s own book The Central Philosophy of Buddhism1—I would find most of what he was teaching there. Gradually I discovered that they all had his book and were reading it in preparation for the seminar. Why did Murti, himself, not tell me this or even refer to his book in class? Because he was committed to the traditional Sanskrit position of the superiority of the oral over the written. He had taught us the various schools in oral teacher-student dialogue. What more did we need. Books and the written tradition were clearly secondary—for those who were too stupid to learn from oral teaching, and to remember! Later, when I became Murti’s senior student and was editing his Collected Works,2 I asked him why he had not written more (he had only the one book with his collected articles making a second). His reply was that his interest was in teaching what he knew orally to his students. He would leave it to them to write it down as books for others. And students did come to study with him orally and then go off to write what they learned in books for others including scholars like Frederich Streng, Frits Staal, Karl Potter, Mervyn Sprung, Krishna Sivaraman, and many others.3 It was in this oral tradition that Murti had learned from his teachers K. C. Bhattacharyya and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and it was in this way that he passed the traditional darśanas of Indian philosophy and religion on to us in a McMaster Graduate Seminar in 1970–71. Needless to say, it

1 T. R. V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. London: Allen and Unwin, 1960. This book was Murti’s Western style Ph.D. thesis. He also has two traditional degrees: a Sastri in Vedānta, and an Ācārya in Vyākaraṇa. 2 Studies in Indian Thought (Collected Works of T. R. V. Murti), edited by Harold Coward. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983. 3 See Murti’s Festschrift, Revelation in Indian Thought, edited by Harold Coward and Krishna Sivaraman. Emeryville, California: Dharma Publishing, 1977, for a selection of those taught or influenced by Murti.


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was very different from any of our other seminars. The class was scheduled twice a week from 5:00–6:30 pm. I rarely got home before 8:00 or 8:30 pm. When the official class time expired, Murti would simply continue teaching until he had covered the topic for the day fully and was satisfied that we had understood. If anyone was foolish enough to try to leave, Murti would stop teaching and say, “Where are you going? We are not finished!” and the person would sit back down or leave in disgrace. All of this was Murti’s concession to teaching the Sanskrit tradition in the format of modern Western academia. For doing this he earned his salary (at either McMaster, Harvard, Oxford or B. H. U. in India). And, of course, to attend these seminars we students paid our registration fees to the University. Although he participated in the modern Western style of teaching throughout his academic career in India, U.K., and America, for Murti this was not the real teaching. Students who knew him only in this format missed out on two-thirds of what he had to offer. This two-thirds involved reading texts with Murti in his apartment in Hamilton, or his home in India two to three afternoons a week with no fees, no grades, no transcripts, no set times or terms—it went on year round. Nor could you register into this teaching, as the teacher Murti was the one who invited you into this guru-śiṣya relationship—a relationship which approximated a father-son engagement and for me lasted a lifetime. I and my family became part of Murti’s extended family which included his wife and children along with all his other guru-śiṣya students—my children became as grandchildren to him. Although Murti read texts with me two afternoons a week for months on end (without pay), I had responsibilities and obligations to him such as taking him to the airport to catch his plane or more significantly on the academic side to edit and publish his Collected Papers, put together a festschrift in his honour, write the volume on T. R. V. Murti in the “Builders of Indian Philosophy Series” or, if I became a Dean or Department Chair, help his other students get jobs.4 4 Harold Coward, T. R. V. Murti. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2003. Just as I was about to embark on my final sabbatical before retirement, I was contacted by Professor K. Balasubramanian, the Series Editor, who told me that the Editorial Board had decided that out of Murti’s students I was the one who should take on the responsibility of writing the volume on his contribution to Indian Philosophy in the 20th Century. This meant I had to set aside my own book that I had been preparing to write for ten years and, out of my guru-śiṣya obligation, write the book on Murti. I eventually got my own book The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought written three years later, and published by State University of New York Press in 2008.

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On the teaching-learning side, the guru-śiṣya style of study proceeded as follows. Shortly after I began attending Professor Murti’s classes at the University, he called me to his office and said that I needed to begin reading texts with him to prepare for writing my thesis. Knowing my background and interest in Psychology (I had a B.A. and M.A. in Psychology) and the thesis I wanted to write on the experience of scriptural revelation, Murti suggested that we begin by reading the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. He suggested that I get both the Sanskrit text along with the J. H. Woods and Rama Prasad translations. I was to come to his apartment Tuesday and Friday afternoons from 2–5 pm (in Hamilton). Arriving at Murti’s place at 2 pm I would find him impatient to begin. Murti would chant the sūtra to be studied (along with the bhāṣya or commentary by Vyāsa) in Sanskrit and then go through it in English. He would check my understanding of the meaning going back over it as many times as necessary until he felt that I had it. Then we would proceed to the next sūtra. Often in setting forth the Yoga position on say the self (puruṣa) or one’s mental states, Patañjali and Vyāsa would draw contrasts with the Buddhist or Mīmāṃsā or Vedānta positions. As soon as we would encounter another philosophical school, say Mādhyamika, Murti would stop and teach me that whole school before proceeding—for only then could I fully understand the teaching of the Yoga Sūtras. Proceeding in this slow and careful line by line fashion, in a one on one context, it took us about two years to go through the four chapters or 194 sūtras, bhāṣyas, and tikas of the Yoga Sūtras. But by then I had learned not only Yoga philosophy, but also the Jaina, Buddhist, Vedānta, and Vyākaraṇa schools. None of this was the text upon which I would eventually base my thesis, but it provided the necessary foundational knowledge I would need to undertake that study.5 In all of this, I simply had to trust that as my guru Murti knew what I needed and would get me to my goal (in three years!). After having read texts line by line in this fashion for 2–2 ½ hours we would stop the academic textual study and move to the kitchen table where Murti would make me strong black Darjeeling tea. Over tea Murti would teach me about the culture, the caste systems, Indian history, and recount some of his experiences—such as

5 I eventually did write a book on the Yoga Sūtras in relation to the Philosophy of Language and Modern Western Psychology. It is titled, Yoga and Psychology: Language, Memory and Mysticism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002, which I dedicated to Professor T. R. V. Murti.


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his 2000 mile walk from his village near Madras to join Gandhi in the North. Murti was very ambivalent about Gandhi, one minute praising his leadership of India to freedom and the next railing against his attempts to revise the caste system (to include Untouchables) and his openness to Muslims (against whom Murti would rail in fine Hindu Nationalist fashion). Knowing that I was a Christian, Murti would commend me to be the best Christian I could be so that in my next life I might be reborn as a Hindu and be able to realize release (mokṣa). But he would attack me for my Protestant beliefs saying how superior Catholicism was with its rituals and chants that seemed much closer to his own. After helping wash up the tea dishes I would return home (at about 5:30 pm) for dinner with my wife and children—my head spinning from the intensity of reading new texts and drinking too much strong Indian tea. By April of 1972 Murti was returning to India (having made enough money at McMaster to pay for the dowry and wedding of his remaining unmarried daughter) and he said that it was now time for me to begin study of my thesis text which he proposed as Bhartṛhari’s Vakyapadiya (“The Philosophy of Word and Sentence” composed about 500 C.E. and the founding text of the Grammarian School). This proved to be the perfect text for understanding the philosophy, psychology, and theology of scriptural revelation within Hinduism. In order to read this text with Murti, I followed him to Varanasi where I obtained a room in the Banaras Hindu University foreign student’s residence, traveling to Murti’s home ( just off campus) on foot or by bicycle rickshaw three times a week to again read from 2:00–5:00 pm. It took us two months (June and July) to read the 155 kārikās of Chapter 1 of Bhartṛhari’s Vakyapadiya and one month (August) to read the 35 kārikās of Maṇḍana Misra’s Ṣphotasiddhi—also important for my thesis. At Murti’s home in Banaras, our guru-śiṣya reading sessions proceeded on the same format as they had in Canada but with slight variations. Murti would read sitting cross-legged on his bed (the way Radhakrishnan received people even when he served as the Indian ambassador to Russia). After our reading Murti did not make tea as he had in Canada, rather we were served tea by his wife and daughter. In addition to reading with him, Murti insisted that I travel south to the Madras area (his home) and visit Mahabalipuram and the temples at Madurai. I also visited Murti’s teacher, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan for tea.

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III. The Use of Traditional and Modern Scholarship in Writing My Ph.D. Thesis In September 1972 after having been in India with Murti for four intense months, I returned home to take up my T. A. duties at McMaster— essential to help with the financing of our family expenses. In October I began work on my thesis using the Yoga Sūtras, the Vakyapadiya, and the Ṣphotasiddhi (texts I had read with Murti) as my primary sources and drawing on an array of secondary sources of modern scholarship. As I wrote I found that the way I used these two sources of knowledge (traditional and modern) was most interesting. I would begin with modern scholarship to help me establish the historical context, and then focus on my traditional textual knowledge (from having read guru-śiṣya style with Murti) when it came to deeply mining the key texts. Taking Bhartṛhari’s Sphota theory of language (how language functions to reveal truth) as my focus, I surveyed the way in which language functions in the Brahmanical schools (Sāṇkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, Vedānta) and the Naturalistic schools (Carvaka, Buddhism, Jaina, Nyāya) using the books and articles of modern scholarship as my main sources. This provided part one of my thesis—the metaphysical backdrop against which I would, in part two, unfold Bhartṛhari’s Sphota theory of language as revelation—the core of my thesis. As soon as I started working on part two and my core texts I found myself putting aside the secondary sources and just reading the key passages from the Vakyapadiya, for example, and hearing them read and interpreted by Murti’s voice in my mind. The Sanskrit oral tradition was alive within me (by virtue of my guru-śiṣya training) and that was all I needed to write. I no longer needed to visit Murti because I had his voice and the Vyākaraṇa tradition he had passed on to me present within my mind—just as Murti had it from his teacher when he was awarded an Ācārya in Vyākaraṇa in traditional guru-śiṣya scholarship. Working in this fashion at McMaster, I was able to complete the writing of my Ph.D. thesis in 6 months and defend it in the summer of 1973 just as I took up my first academic appointment at the University of Calgary. My thesis The Sphota Theory of Language was indeed a philosophical, psychological, and theological analysis of the reception of scriptural revelation in Hinduism. It was published by Motilal Banarsidass in 1980 with subsequent editions in 1986 and 1997.6 It became the basis for a later major volume 6 Harold Coward, The Sphota Theory of Language. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980, 1986, 1997.


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on the Vyākaraṇa or Grammarian school of Indian philosophy published by Princeton University Press in 1990.7 Murti had been right on that day he met me in the hallway at McMaster outside George Grant’s office and asked me what was the trouble. He had been right to suggest that I change my focus from Christianity to Hinduism and write my thesis on the Hindu rather than the Christian reception of scriptural revelation. It was a gurustudent meeting that changed my life in remarkable ways. Within two years I changed from someone who had studied only Western psychology, philosophy, and Christian theology to a specialist in Indian philosophy and religion—an area of scholarship in which I have continued to work right up to the present. But Murti was also right when he suggested that I do my Ph.D. on the Hindu rather than Christian experience of scriptural revelation, and then after my Ph.D. I could write on the Christian experience. This I did in 1988 in my Sacred Word and Sacred Text: Scripture in World Religions originally published by Orbis Books and republished in 2000 by Oneworld, Oxford. In it I not only fulfill my original thesis idea of analyzing the experience of scriptural revelation in Christianity but also in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism—with my analysis focusing on the differing roles of the written and oral word in the experience of scriptural revelation.8 Those two years of guru-śiṣya style textual study with Murti provided the basis not only for all my specialized work in Indian philosophy and Hinduism but also the basis for my many comparative studies such as Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions (Orbis, 1985), Sin and Salvation in the World Religions (Oxford: Oneworld, 2003), and my most recent book The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought (SUNY Press, 2008).9 Nor was my guru-śiṣya relationship with Professor Murti limited to those two years. It continued for the rest of his life in editing his Collected Papers, his festschrift, and writing the volume on him in the Builders of Indian Philosophy Series. T. R. V. Murti died in March 1986 at his home in Varanasi. To honour him, I joined with his other senior students in an “International Seminar on T. R. V. Murti and the Indian Philosophical Tradition” held at Banaras Hindu University in December 1986. My presentation was a paper titled, “T. R. V. Murti’s 7 Harold Coward and K. Kunjunni Raja, The Philosophy of the Grammarians. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. 8 Harold Coward, Sacred Word and Sacred Text: Scripture in World Religions. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988, republished in a revised edition as Scripture in World Religions by Oneworld, Oxford in 2000. 9 Harold Coward, The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.

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Contribution to the Philosophy of Language.” Since Murti’s death my relationship has continued with his family and especially with his eldest son. For me it will continue for life, for whenever I work on the texts I read with him guru-śiṣya style, his voice is still alive in my mind. IV. The Enduring Legacy in My Teaching, Research and Personal Life In my teaching I use a mix of modern scholarship and the Sanskrit oral tradition that I learned from Professor Murti. I will assign my students books and articles to read written by the best modern scholars. At the same time in my lectures I will pass on to them the Sanskrit oral tradition style of teaching Murti gave to me. So in teaching Hinduism or even my Introduction to Eastern Religions, when I cover the texts I read with Murti, it will be as if it is his voice speaking through me. And as I teach each of the darśanas of Indian Philosophy—Sāṇkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, Vyākaraṇa, Vedānta, Jaina, Theravāda, and Mādhyamika Buddhism—I find myself following the approach used by Murti in his graduate seminar at McMaster University. I will introduce each school with its founder, key texts, teachings and means to realize release. Like Murti I will try to become a guru of that tradition while teaching it in dialogical question and answer style, before moving on to the next school. I always begin with the Sāṇkhya and Yoga schools as foundational and then move on to Bhartṛhari’s Grammarian or Śankara’s Advaita Vedānta. As was the case with me in Murti’s classroom at McMaster, my students find their heads spinning as I finish convincing them of Patañjali, Bhartṛhari, or say Śankara’s approach to release (mokṣa) before moving on to completely deconstruct that teaching with the presentation of Buddhist Theravāda to be followed immediately by Nagajuna’s Mādhyamika. For my students this presentation of Indian philosophy and religion is something quite new and unusual in terms of both content and my oral dialogical style of teaching—a style which does not work well with power-point. I also find that interjection of my personal experiences of Murti and his teaching about culture or Gandhi, for example, gives me a certain authenticity in the eyes of my students. I am teaching them from my guru-śiṣya experience. I often find my South Asian students coming to me after class to talk about what a grandparent or special member of their extended family had taught them in a similar oral style. It is an interaction with students that is often missed when they choose to interact with me mainly by email rather than in-person in my office hour.


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Regarding research, I find that whenever I do research and writing on Indian philosophy and religion or anything related to it, the guru-śiṣya teaching I received from Murti remains foundational even 35 years later. This does not mean that I always agree with what he taught, for I have moved on in my own understanding and developed my own perspectives in writing articles and books on many different subjects. Yet, with regard to India, my guru-śiṣya time with Murti gave me a secure basis in the Sanskrit texts and traditions that has allowed me to move forward with applications of this traditional knowledge to areas Murti and I never discussed—such as environmental ethics, health-care ethics, ethics and Canadian Marine Fisheries, and most recently to the genetic modifications of plants, animals and humans (the work I now do with genome scientists at U.B.C., S.F.U., UVic, and the B.C. Cancer Agency). Murti’s sensitizing me to the importance and validity of the oral tradition (together with the written tradition) has led me to study and write on Jacques Derrida (his analysis of the function of the oral and the written word)10 and to take the traditional oral teaching of the Haida’s (on the ethics of the fishery, for example) as valid knowledge to be included in my academic analysis.11 Today’s social scientists have made a similar move by classifying such oral teaching as “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” and including it in their scholarly analysis. Murti’s influence, through our guru-śiṣya relationship, and his teaching of the oral Sanskrit tradition, opened me to a whole range of human knowledge that is often missed if one restricts oneself only to literate scholarship—as we have tended to do in the modern West. In the research centers I have directed at both Calgary and Victoria, sensitivity to the importance of the oral tradition has been manifested in the high priority given to gathering in the Centre library each morning for a coffee-hour informal discussion of research. Each research fellow comes out of their office, in response to the ringing of a ship’s bell, and joins other graduate student and faculty fellows (15–20 in total) for a 45–60 minute discussion of their own research, and the research of others. These informal interdisciplinary discussions (involving social science, humanities, fine arts, law, and sometimes science) often produce surprising new insights of a sort that conversations with one’s disciplinary colleagues alone often miss. Ideas for new projects have also been born in these sessions and gone 10 Harold Coward, Derrida and Indian Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990. 11  In Just Fish: Ethics and the Canadian Marine Fisheries, ed. by Harold Coward et al. St. John’s, Newfoundland: ISER Books, see pp. 100–117.

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on to become funded research projects culminating in important Centre books. Centre fellows frequently say that these coffee-hour discussions are one of the things they miss most when they return to their disciplinary departments. For me, as I learned from my study of the Sanskrit oral tradition, such oral interaction is a key part of the scholarly search for knowledge. When blended with modern written research, the oral and written traditions together can produce a scholarly result that goes beyond what either can achieve alone—as I learned in my guru-śiṣya experience with Professor Murti. This key insight has also helped me to open my research to oral knowledge from the local community,12 and, in administration, to bridging between “town” and “gown.” In my personal life, there too my guru-śiṣya time with Murti has also had a significant impact. Being adopted into his extended family has had implications for my own wife and children. When he would visit us and stay with us for a few days, Rachel would respect his Hindu brahmanical vegetarian practice, remove all meat and fish from the house and do only vegetarian cooking. From a young age our three children regarded Dr. Murti, not just as one of my professors at the university, but as a “grandfather figure” in their lives. My children’s openness to and interest in other cultural and religious traditions is traced by them to their early experiences of Dr. Murti and all things Indian. In my personal spiritual life, Murti opened me to the power of mantra chanting, and of the non-conceptual levels of language (Bhartṛhari’s paśyanti vāk) through which one may reach direct mystical experience of the divine.13 Bhartṛhari’s philosophy of language also taught me that while scripture may have special revelatory power, all language from rational scientific to Shakespeare’s love sonnets or the cry of the Eagle—all are daivī vāk, the divine word that descends and embodies itself in word sound, somewhat parallel to the Western notion of logos as used in John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I have also discovered meditation practices in the Christian tradition of which I was previously unaware—the Roman Catholic use of

12 As for example in the use of the local ecological knowledge of fishermen and their wives (who worked in canneries) in the research and writing of Just Fish: Ethics and the Canadian Marine Fisheries, edited by Harold Coward, Rosemary Ommer and Tony Pitcher. St. Johns, NF: ISER Books, 2000. 13 Harold Coward and David Goa, Mantra: Hearing the Divine in India and America. New York: Columbia University Press, Second Edition, 2004.


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mantra as in Gregorian chant singing or the Eastern Orthodox practice of the Jesus Prayer, for example. Writing about the Hindu experience of guru as teacher and spiritual guide, Julius Lipner says, “Sometimes the guru just arrives; the guru seeks one out . . . It is distinctive of the guru to be able to communicate spiritual teachings in a way appropriate to the student’s particular circumstances . . . the guru has a uniquely personal relationship with each student based upon mutual trust.”14 That has been my experience with Professor Murti. By stopping me in the hallway at McMaster as I came out of George Grant’s office and asking me “What’s the trouble?” Murti transformed my scholarly life and personal experience. Under his guidance I did write my thesis on “the experience of scriptural revelation.” But the guru-śiṣya relationship led me to a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience far beyond anything I could have ever imagined—38 years and counting of research and teaching for which I am most grateful.

14 Julius Lipner, Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. (London: Routledge, 1994), 192–3.

A Modest Retrospective Ronald W. Neufeldt Some years ago I was chairing a conference session dedicated to papers on South Asian Religions. I met with the presenters before the session began just to make sure that all of them understood that they had about 20 minutes to present their papers and that the presentation would be followed by discussion. I told them that I would give them notice of the elapsed time including a one-minute warning. One of the presenters worried me because he had come with a 75 page tome. Everything went smoothly until I gave him the one minute warning, at which point he said, “Oh my goodness, I am not even finished the introduction yet. What should I do?” At which point somebody from the audience mercifully shouted, “Conclude!” Why do I tell you this? Well, if I get a bit long winded here you are at liberty to yell, “Conclude!” I say this because what I have prepared is a bit rambling. I have called it a modest retrospective. But before I launch into that permit me to acknowledge a few people who have been important for what turned out to be a rather enjoyable career. First, I want to thank Pashaura and Michael for their work in putting this seminar together. I have to confess that I was quite surprised to receive that first e-mail detailing the purpose of this seminar and inviting my participation. As both Harold and Michael can attest, I had my misgivings. These had nothing to do with the proposed topic of the seminar. The idea of re-imagining is certainly a useful lens through which one can look at traditions that have had their origins in South Asia. Nor did my misgivings have anything to do with the proposed participants, all of whom are on their way to making their mark or have already made rather substantial contributions to scholarship and teaching about South Asian religious traditions. Rather, my misgivings had to do with my feelings about my own contributions to this field of study. Furthermore, I am keenly aware that if it were not for the help and the support of others, I would not be standing here today. In this respect I need to acknowledge two mentors for whom I am profoundly grateful, for without their support and encouragement I doubt whether I would have enjoyed the success that I did have throughout my career. When I embarked on my PhD program at the University of Iowa in


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1969, I had not picked a field of study for my specialization. Indeed, given the system at the University of Iowa, I had the luxury, in my first two years, of surveying the various possibilities that the program had to offer before settling in on a specialization. As luck would have it I took some classes from Robert Baird, well-known by that time for his contributions to the study of South Asian traditions, particularly Hinduism, and for his work in the area of methodology. We hit it off, so to speak. I liked his work, and he liked the work I produced for his classes. I ended up spending a number of years under his demanding but thoroughly enjoyable supervision. I learned a great deal from Dr. Baird, not only about South Asian religious traditions, but also about the art of teaching and supervision. Were it not for his encouragement and support over the years, I doubt that I would be standing here today. In 1977, following two years at the University of Alberta on a short term contract, I landed at the University of Calgary in a tenure track position. In what was then a small but growing department I became a colleague of Harold Coward, a founding member of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary. Harold is a gifted instructor and I learned a great deal from watching and listening to him teach. This was a luxury that came by the fact that the two of us did some team teaching for a few years. On the scholarship side of things, Harold was a mover and shaker in organizing conferences and workshops that would find their way into print. These conferences and workshops were usually a mix of seasoned and younger scholars. Harold saw it as part of his mission to get younger scholars started in the business of scholarship. I was one of those younger scholars who benefited from this. I owe a great deal to Harold for getting me involved and for encouraging me along the way. I would be remiss if I did not mention the positive role that students have played for me throughout my career. In a literal sense, if it were not for the students who were willing to sit in my classes and listen to me ramble on, I would not be here today. I have always enjoyed the classroom. In great part this was the result of hard working and responsive students, particularly at the graduate level. For those whom I had the privilege of supervising, some of whom are here today, it was not always easy work; academic work never is if it is taken seriously. But, it was never dull. In large part this was the result of the interest that the students showed in their work and their willingness to see their programs through to the end. My heartfelt thanks to them for making my job both interesting and fun. Now, back to my retrospective. I had a bit of a struggle with what I should say. The temptation was to do some re-imagining myself, but I

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resisted that in the end and decided to do a bit of reminiscing, in this case, reminiscing about how things have changed in the study of traditions which have their roots in South Asia. But, I will try to do this with a few caveats in mind. First, this is not a research project. Rather, parts are based on my memory, and that memory may no longer be that accurate, particularly in trying to recall what it was like some thirty-five years ago. Second, this is not going to be a broad overview. Rather my focus is a relatively narrow one—using the annual AAR meetings as a lens through which to talk about changes that I think I have experienced over the years in the study of South Asian traditions. Unfortunately I do not have at my disposal old AAR programs to provide some support for my depiction of what was going on at the AAR in South Asian studies during my early years of membership. If my memory is not accurate I will rely on Paul [Younger] and Harold to set me straight. Let me begin by making a few observations about my own career and about this seminar. When I look back over my career I realize that it has undergone significant changes or shifts in emphasis, at least in terms of focus on specific areas in the study of South Asian traditions, shifts that were the result of both interest and the demands of the day. Since I had been a student under Dr. Baird’s supervision it might be expected that my own interests would reflect, at least to some extent, his emphasis on methodology and religions in modern India. Indeed, this turned out to be the case. My Ph.D. thesis, later published as a book, dealing with the role of the Rg Veda in the work of F. Max Muller was primarily a methodological study. While that interest in methodology continued, at least in my teaching in my early years as an academic, my research tended to focus on the Hindu renaissance, particularly figures such as Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Justice M. G. Ranade, and Radhakrishnan. However, my interest in modern India eventually spilled over into other areas resulting in articles and chapters on Sikhism, Muhammad Iqbal, and the Theosophical Society. The latter part of my career witnessed yet another shift in research focus, to the general area of religion and law in modern India, particularly the thorny issue of conversion from Hinduism to Christianity. The specific focus was the debates over religious freedom in the Constituent Assembly Debates and the later State High Court and Supreme Court cases dealing with the Freedom of Religion Acts passed at the State level. Eventually this interest was expanded to include the vision of India contained in Hindutva rhetoric, particularly that of the Hindu Mahasabha. This seminar presents a remarkably broad range of subjects and traditions—the Sikhs, a Hindu response to the Sikhs, Christianity,


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Theosophy, Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, Jainism. Similarly, judging from the panel headings in the program the papers represent a wide variety of approaches to or angles for the subjects at hand—historical, philosophical, textual, performance studies, ritual studies, art, and diaspora studies. As this list suggests, we also have a range of time periods represented, all the way from the classical to the modern periods. Today this kind of range of traditions, topics, and approaches taken to the topics, is probably seen as quite unremarkable and the way things should be. If my memory is at all reliable it was not always this way. When I joined the AAR (I believe it was in 1976, although I had attended at least two AAR meetings prior to 1976 as a graduate student) there was not a whole lot going on by way of sections, groups, or consultations dedicated to the study of South Asian traditions. If my memory serves me correctly, there were a few sessions for paper presentations on Hinduism and Buddhism, but not formal sections dedicated to either of these traditions. According to the Hinduism Group’s own literature on the AAR website, a formal group dedicated to Hinduism did not come into being until 1978. However, some of us were not happy with what was represented by the then sessions on Hinduism. These tended to be dominated by classical and textual studies. Led by Dr. Baird, who was the driving force for change, we petitioned the AAR to make space for a group dedicated to the study of Religion in Modern India. The idea behind the petition was that we wanted something more than classical and textual studies, something that was more representative of the reality of religious diversity in India, particularly modern India. The result was that in addition to ongoing sessions on Buddhism we had two groups at the AAR dedicated to South Asia traditions, one focused on Hinduism and the other focused on Modern India. The Hinduism Group and the Religion in Modern India Group lived side by side for a number of years sharing members and enjoying a healthy cross-pollination. However, while the Religion in Modern India Group prospered in terms of attendance and activity, the Hinduism Group did not, finally folding its tent in 1982. Following that year, representatives of the old Hinduism Group made a proposal to the Religion in Modern India Group, that the two Groups should merge. The merger happened in 1983, an event I remember well since I chaired the meeting at which the merger took place. As a result of that merger we have, over the years, had a very successful and active Section called Religion in South Asia (RISA), to accommodate

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the interests of the old Hinduism Group and the interests of those who wished to focus on developments in the modern period covering not only Hinduism, but other traditions as well and the interactions among these traditions. A quotation from a recent RISA document entitled “History, Structure and Activities of RISA and RISA—L(ist)” summarizes the purpose of the merger well. The purpose behind the merger was to extend the focus beyond Hinduism to include South Asian religious traditions more generally, because critical reflection on individual religions in South Asia requires recognition of the shared history and social context of all religions in this region. RISA was thus created as a space in the AAR that reflects the complex and intertwined history of the multiple religious traditions and communities in South Asia, and recognizes that its social, cultural, economic, political, intellectual and religious realities always have been and continue to be, shaped by the presence and interactions of South Asia’s multiple religious traditions.1

Following 1983, RISA became, for some, the main venue at the AAR for presentations on religious traditions in South Asia. But, anyone knowledgeable about what goes on at the AAR today will know that the picture is now much more complex. The Hinduism group re-emerged in 1997, but with a decidedly different look from the Group that had disappeared in 1982. One could argue that this new Group seems to have taken a page from the playbook of RISA. Its Mission Statement reads as follows: The Hinduism Group was established in 1997 with the mission of providing a forum within the AAR for the academic study of Hinduism as a distinctive world religious tradition, including but not limited to the geographical region of South Asia. The Hinduism Group seeks to foster research on all periods and registers of Hindu texts and practices through the presentation of new data, critical analysis, and interpretive strategies, based on textual, socio-historical, ethnographic, philosophical, theological and theoretical studies. We are particularly interested in forging connections between the study of Hinduism and other areas of religious studies.2

I want to come back later to the business of interpretive strategies and forging connections found in the latter half of the Hinduism Group’s Mission Statement. But, first, I want to continue with the development of South Asian Studies at the AAR. That development does not stop in 1997 with the formation of the Hinduism Group. There have been a number of significant developments since that time. In 2006 the North American 1   RISA Mission Statement, Revised, November 21, 2010. 2 Religious Studies News, January 2011.


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Hinduism Consultation was established to focus on developments in Hinduism in North America and other non-Indian contexts. For a number of years now the Comparative Studies in Hinduism and Judaism Group has been functioning, focusing particularly on comparative work in the area of ritual. For the past number of years the AAR has also hosted the Tantric Studies Group dedicated to the study and analysis of Tantric traditions that have spread throughout Asia from their origins in India. In addition we also have the Yoga In Theory and Practice Consultation which invites reflection from a variety of perspectives on representations of Yoga in South Asian history and in the development of contemporary Yoga culture in and outside of India. In 2007 we see a development that is centrally pertinent to this seminar—the inauguration of the Sikh Studies Consultation, no doubt in response to the growth of a critical mass of scholars who have chosen to work in the area of Sikhism. Both of the organizers of this seminar, Pashaura and Michael have been central figures in this development and its growth. The most recent development regarding traditions of South Asia represented at the AAR is the Jain Consultation. Its own statement about its inauguration is instructive in that the words could also be used to apply to the establishment of the Sikh Studies Consultation. The Consultation in Jain Studies began in 2009 in recognition of the burgeoning state of the field and its relative neglect in the American Academy of Religion.3

Toward the beginning of my comments I mentioned that when I joined the AAR there were sessions that were devoted to the study of Buddhism. Those sessions eventually developed into a formal and to this day thriving Buddhism Section dedicated not only to a range of Buddhist traditions, but also a range of interests and approaches beyond the more traditional philological approach to the study of Buddhism. In addition to the Buddhism Section there are two Groups, the Buddhist Critical—Constructive Reflection Group and the Buddhist Philosophy Group, and a Consultation on Yogācāra Studies. The Buddhist Critical—Constructive Reflection Group is particularly interesting in that it proposes to explore “how modern academic studies—in philosophy, ethics, religious studies, theology, sociology, etc.—can inform or be informed by Buddhist modes of understanding and how Buddhist thought or practice may help address

3 Religious Studies News, January 2011.

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problems, needs, or issues faced by societies today.”4 I should mention that of this lengthy list of developments, only Religion in South Asia and Buddhism have achieved the coveted Section status at the AAR. Finally, I need to mention the Additional Meetings of Societies that are not formally a part of the AAR, but whose meetings are held in conjunction with the AAR. Two are pertinent—the Society for Hindu—Christian Studies and The Dharma Academy of North America (DANAM). DANAM’s Mission Statement has a by now familiar ring to it. . . . to bring Dharma traditions—Jain, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist—which have shared histories, ordinances, and observances, into conversation in order to foster debate on shared categories, and engender mutual illumination.5

The Society of Hindu—Christian Studies came into being as a result of the urging and tireless work of Harold Coward. What does this brief overview tell us? Significantly it points to the fact that while we still do study traditions for their own sakes, we also look for connections and interactions among traditions. In short, there has been the recognition that traditions are not isolated from one another nor are they isolated from political, economic, and cultural developments and forces. More significantly it tells us that the range of offerings at the AAR concerning South Asian traditions is considerably more diverse than it was when I first joined the AAR. But, the diversity that I have been speaking about does not stop at the range of traditions represented at the AAR. It also applies to the range of approaches to, or lenses used for the study of, aspects of these various traditions. At the beginning of my observations I commented on the range of topics and the approaches taken in the papers of this seminar. This is not now unusual. When the Hinduism Group reconstituted itself it spoke of research based on “textual, socio-historical, ethnographic, philosophical, theological and theoretical studies.”6 In its statement on methods and goals, RISA has this to say: Since its inception, RISA has encouraged methodological sophistication and interdisciplinary approaches and perspectives that explore methods that consider connections among textual, ethnographic, archeological, historical, theological, aesthetic, performative and now digital materials.7

4 Religious Studies News, January 2011. 5 Danam 2011 Call for Papers. 6 Religious Studies News, January 2011. 7 RISA Mission Statement, Revised, November 21, 2010.


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I would suggest that this is a much different picture from the one I encountered when I first joined the Academy. Then the emphasis was mainly on Buddhism and Hinduism, and more to the point, in both of these areas the traditions tended to be represented through their classical developments and through a philological, textual lens. It is not the case that classical studies and the philological and textual approaches have disappeared. Rather they are now one piece of a much more complex landscape than we used to have in the study of South Asian traditions. To get an idea of how this complexity plays itself out both in the range of topics and the range of approaches used, I would invite you to look at the Hinduism Group’s call for papers for the upcoming AAR meetings in San Francisco. Among the possibilities included in the list are: Mughal Bhakti; Kali Yuga; Portugal and India; Teaching Hinduism Through Fiction; Changing Conceptions of Hindu Communities; Representations of Hindus and Muslims; Re-evaluating the Colonial Rupture; The Ayodhya Court Ruling; Suicide; Hinduism in the Bay Area; Gender and Performance; Children in Hinduism.8 The RISA call for papers exhibits a similar range of topics and approaches. Included in that list are: The Impact of Print Technology in the Nineteenth Century; Diaspora South Asian Traditions in California; Defining Suicide; Hinduism, Hippies and California; Babri Masjid in 2011; Zakir Hussain, Fusion and Groovy South Asia; Textual Representations of Haute Cuisine in India; South Asian Film as Interpreter of South Asian Religions; “Shamanism” as Heuristic Category; Disgust and Revulsion as Meditative Tools; Performing the Divine in Indian Classical Dance; Future of the “Classical” in the Study/Teaching of South Asian Religions.9 That this last topic should be raised as an issue is indicative of how much things have changed in the academy. A look at other Sections, Groups, or Consultations dealing with South Asia reveals a similar diversity in the range of topics and approaches taken to the topics. Some of the interests and approaches we see now were either non-existent, or just beginning to make themselves felt, when I first entered the academy. What should we make of this growing complexity and diversity? Does this make the study of South Asian traditions so diffuse as to become superficial? I think not. There is, I would suggest, an incredible richness in the range of topics and approaches, a richness that was not always there. In my view this diversity simply mirrors what we actually have in

8 Religious Studies News, January 2011. 9 Religious Studies News, January 2011.

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the study of South Asian traditions in terms of the varied interests of academics. This is, after all, a field of study, not a discipline tightly wrapped up by one or two approaches. I recall the push from the administration at my own university a few years back to make departments and programs more interdisciplinary. Our response as a Department of Religious Studies was to say that Religious Studies is, by its very nature, interdisciplinary. The same can and should be said about the development of the study of South Asian traditions. It is a field of study capable of a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches. One final comment. I began this retrospective with a few observations about this seminar. It strikes me that this seminar, with its range of topics and approaches, not only falls into a fine tradition of re-imagining that has been developing over the years in the study of South Asian religious traditions but also promises to push at the boundaries of that process of re-imagining.

Part II

New Orientations, Globalization, and Pedagogy

Re-Imagining Sikhi (‘Sikhness’) in the Twenty-First Century: Toward a Paradigm Shift in Sikh Studies Pashaura Singh The Sikh tradition is barely five hundred years old. As the youngest world religion it has had to address the various doctrinal, philosophical, and cultural dilemmas and divergent approaches in a more ‘compact’ time frame and within a context of persistent political turmoil. By contrast, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other major religions have spent centuries working through various theological, philosophical, and cultural dilemmas while Sikhism has only just begun to make its impact in both the scholarly field and the world of comparative religion and ethics. The early twenty first century continues to be a very exciting time for Sikh Studies. Within the last generation scholars have begun to question the prevailing attitudes towards the study of Sikhism in both the west and India itself to the point that this least examined and perhaps most misunderstood of South Asian religions now occupies seven academic chairs within the United States and one in Canada, with more proposed. It should therefore elicit little surprise that undergraduate and graduate courses in Sikh Studies, particularly Sikh history and religion, have been increasing dramatically over the last decade, a rise which corresponds in part to the process of globalization, including Sikh immigration into North America and the United Kingdom. The current academic discourse is, however, still theoretically limited as the majority of scholarly works follow with little deviation what we may call the meta-narrative of the Khalsa (that Sikh identity most recognizable as Sikh, one complete with the five corporate symbols known as the Five Ks) and note other ways of being Sikh whether explicitly or not, as deviations from the ‘normative’ Khalsa trajectory. The privileging of a normative Sikh tradition from which others diverge is in itself a Sikhism refracted through a western Orientalist lens (as is the term Sikh-ism) and speaks nothing of the Sikh tradition’s rich, plural, and inclusive past. Among the most important contributions to the modernization of the Sikh tradition were the educational initiatives of the Singh Sabha (‘Society of the Singhs’). Established in 1873 by four prominent Sikh reformers, the Singh Sabha sought to reaffirm Sikh identity in the face of two threats: the


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casual reversion to Hindu practices during the period of Punjabi independence under Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839) and the active proselytizing efforts not only of the Hindu Arya Samaj, but of Christian missionaries. By the end of the nineteenth century the Tat (‘Pure Essence’) Khalsa, the dominant wing of the Singh Sabha, had eradicated the last traces of religious diversity within the Sikh panth and established clear norms of belief and practice. In effect, they made the Khalsa tradition the standard of orthodoxy for all Sikhs during the colonial period. It was an ‘essentialist reconstruction’ of a uniform identity suitable for modern times. During the British Raj the ways and means of the master discourse came to be mimicked by the native Indians in ultimately undercutting the colonialist agenda.1 The new cultural elite among the Sikhs were moving to the apex of a more homogeneous, less ‘oral and popular’ oriented, textually focused ‘syndicated’ tradition that roughly corresponded to the typologies of religion furthered by the colonists.2 Here, it is instructive to closely look at Harjot Oberoi’s major arguments in The Construction of Religious Boundaries—a work that relates to the socio-religious movement among the Sikhs in the colonial period based upon the ethnographic approach and a Foucauldian vision of the ‘new episteme’ fashioned by the Singh Sabha.3 For him, the Singh Sabha consisted of two components: the Sanatan and the Tat Khalsa. Sanatan Sikhs accepted the authority of the Vedas and Puranas in addition to the Sikh scriptures, thereby believing in incarnations and the ideas of pollution and purity based upon the caste system. Tat Khalsa, on the other hand, rejected all Hindu accretions prevalent in the Sikh society in the nineteenth century. Applying a social scientific method of analysis, Oberoi argues how the Tat Khalsa, the most influential segment of the Singh Sabha movement, succeeded in eradicating all forms of religious diversity at the turn of the century and in establishing uniform norms of religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy.4 As a consequence of the success of the Tat Khalsa reformers, Sikhs in the early twentieth century came “to think, imagine and speak in terms of a

1 Homi Bhabha, “Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority Under a Tree Outside Delhi, May 1817,” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 144–165. 2 Romila Thapar, “Syndicated Moksha,” Seminar 313 (September, 1985): 21. 3 Harjot Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994). 4 Ibid., 25.

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universal community of believers united by uniform rites, symbols and scripture.”5 In his analysis, however, Oberoi tilts the balance of evidence artificially in favor of Sanatan Sikhism. There is no doubt that some Sikhs did embrace Hindu practices in the nineteenth century. By projecting this backward, Oberoi seems to imply that Sikh identity was always predominantly fluid, with free mixing of Sikh and Hindu practices. This is questionable. From as early as the period of Guru Arjan, Sikhs clearly were encouraged to think of themselves as a distinct community. Not surprisingly, J. S. Grewal criticizes Oberoi’s view of the Singh Sabha “as a new episteme arising out of praxis” since it precludes the “possibility of any meaningful linkages with the past.”6 Further, Oberoi’s division of the Singh Sabha into ‘Sanatan tradition’ and the ‘Tat Khalsa’ is problematic. There were three strands of thinking represented by three prominent individuals. First, Khem Singh Bedi of Amritsar Singh Sabha supported the centrality of the Singh identity and the significance of the Khalsa initiation (khande di pahul, “nectar prepared with the double-edged sword” accompanied by the recitation of five liturgical prayers in the ceremony to admit people into the Khalsa Order), but he also stressed the idea of divine incarnations, the need for a living guru, and the indivisibility of Sikh and Hindu society. Second, Gurmukh Singh of Lahore Singh Sabha held the middle position that the activities of the ten Gurus and the Guru Granth Sahib serve as the ultimate source of Sikh belief and practice. The Singh identity was the ideal but those who had not undergone the khande di pahul were an indivisible part of the Khalsa as long as they recognized the Guru Granth Sahib as the ‘Eternal Guru’. Sikhs constituted a distinct community and the question of Hindu-Sikh relationship was a redundant issue. Third, the position of Teja Singh of Bhasaur Singh Sabha was far more radical. He claimed that anyone who has not undergone the Khalsa initiation should have no place within the community (panth). In his vision of ‘orthodoxy’ the periphery was to be simply excised, and raising the issue of Hindu-Sikh relationship was an insult to the Sikhs. In the beginning of the twentieth century “Bedi and Bhasaur were eventually sidelined”7 and Gurmukh Singh’s 5 Harjot Oberoi, “From Ritual to Counter-Ritual: Rethinking the Hindu-Sikh Question, 1884–1915,” in Joseph T. O’Connell et al., eds., Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century (Toronto: Centre for South Asian Studies, 1988), 154. 6 J. S. Grewal, Historical Perspectives on Sikh Identity (Patiala: Punjabi University, 1997), 73. 7 Gurinder Singh Mann, Sikhism (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc., 2004), 63.


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middle position of the Tat Khalsa achieved general acceptance, both in institutional and ideological terms. W. H. McLeod recognized continuity in the Sikh tradition from the time of Guru Nanak (1469–1539) but he also noticed changes coming in from time to time. He emphatically stated that the Khalsa tradition was ‘systematized and clarified’ by the Singh Sabha reformers to make Sikh tradition consistent and effective for propagation. The Tat Khalsa conception of Sikh identity was both old and new, a point which McLeod forcefully made in contrast to Oberoi’s assertion that the Tat Khalsa was totally a new invention: “To suggest that they [Singh Sabha reformers] developed a new tradition is false. Equally it is false to claim that their treatment of it can be described as a simple purging of alien excrescence or the restoration of a corrupted original. The Khalsa of the Singh Sabha reformers was both old and new.”8 In other words, the emerging Tat Khalsa identity espoused by the dominant wing of the Singh Sabha “had been forged, admittedly from the pre-existing ores, in the crucible of colonial encounter.”9 In addition to the economic and military policy of the British, there were other elements which meshed together to produce a great impact on the emerging Sikh identity. These additional elements in the larger colonial context were: new patterns of administration, a new technology, a fresh approach to education, the entry of Christian missionaries, and the modernist perspective based on the scientific paradigm of the Enlightenment. All these factors produced a kind of neoSikhism, characterized by a largely successful set of redefinitions in the context of the notions of modernity and religious identity imposed by the dominant ideology of the colonial power closely associated with Victorian Christianity.10 As such, modern Sikhism became a well-defined “system” based on a unified tradition and the Tat Khalsa understanding of Sikh identity became the norm of orthodoxy. In the early decades of the twentieth century the Tat Khalsa re­formers also contributed to two important legal changes. First, in 1909, they obtained legal rec­ognition of the distinctive Sikh wedding ritual in the Anand Marriage Act (1909). Then in the 1920s they helped to re-establish

8 W. H. McLeod, Who is a Sikh? The Problem of Sikh Identity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 80. 9 Ian Kerr, “Sikhs and State,” in Pashaura Singh and N. Gerald Barrier, eds., Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change (New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1999), 161. 10 Christopher Shackle, “Sikhism,” in Linda Wood et al., eds., Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 70.

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direct Khalsa control of the major historical gurdwaras, many of which had fallen into the hands of corrupt mahants (‘cus­todians’) supported by the British. Inspired by the Tat Khalsa ideal, the Akali movement of the 1920s eventually secured British assent to the Sikh Gurdwara Act (1925), under which control of all gurdwaras passed to the Shiromani Gurdwara Pra­bandhak Committee (SGPC; ‘Chief Management Committee of Sikh Shrines’). The Akalis were the forerunners of the modern political party known as the Akali Dal (‘army of the immortal’). Control of the gurdwaras gave the SGPC enor­mous political and economic influence. By 1950 it had established itself as the central authority on all questions of religious discipline, and in that year it published a manual entitled Sikh Rahit Maryada, which has ever since been regarded as the au­thoritative guide to orthodox Sikh doctrine and behavior. This standard manual of sikhi (‘Sikh-ness’ or ‘being Sikh’) was published after reaching a general consensus within the Sikh community. It has ever since been regarded as an authoritative statement of Sikh doctrine and behavior. Ideally, the Sikh Rahit Maryada presents an image of a uniform Sikh identity. Based on the Guru Granth Sahib and supplemented with teachings from revered Sikh leaders, this manual guides Sikhs in the moral, social, and religious aspects of everyday life. It enjoins Sikhs to cultivate a pure and pious inner spirituality (bani), symbolized by the adoption of the Five Ks as outward visible signs of virtuous conduct (bana). The Sikh Rahit Maryada forbids hair-cutting, adultery, the use of intoxicants, and the eating of kutha meat, that is, Muslim halal meat, obtained through the slow bleeding or religious sacrifice of animals. Upholding belief in one Akal Purakh (‘Timeless One’, God), the Guru Granth Sahib and the teachings of the ten Gurus, it encourages the worship of Akal Purakh and meditation on his Name, undergoing Khalsa initiation and attending divine services. It calls upon Sikhs to earn a living honestly and truthfully, to share selflessly with the needy and less fortunate in order to further the well-being of all, to nurture such virtues as compassion, honesty, generosity, patience, perseverance, and humility, and to avoid superstitions, idols, and images. Not punitive in intent or effect, the Sikh Rahit Maryada encourages devotees to regulate their daily lives to the will of Akal Purakh, just as the discipline of nam-simaran (‘remembrance of the divine Name’) is designed to attune Sikhs to the divine will, order, and command (hukam). It calls for tolerance of those who stray or who are slow developers, suggesting that these sehaj-dharis (‘gradualists’), who follow the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib without accepting the full discipline of the code of conduct (rahit), will slowly progress to become the Khalsa. The only code of


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conduct now sanctioned by the Akal Takhat (‘Immortal Throne’), which is the highest seat of religious and temporal authority among Sikhs, the Sikh Rahit Maryada serves to unify the religious and social practices of Sikhism around the world. Distributed free of charge by the SGPC, the Sikh Rahit Maryada has been translated from Punjabi into Hindi and English, in acknowledgement of the needs of Sikhs living outside their historical homeland. The SGPC maintains that the standard manual is a representative of the ‘collective personality of the panth’ and that no single group has any right or authority to challenge it. It is, however, important to note that the Sikh Rahit Maryada was produced as a result of the Tat Khalsa reforms which represented the dominant component of the Singh Sabha movement. It seeks to establish Sikhism as ‘a monolithic, codified and reified religion’ with universal norms of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. To this day its wide circulation of approximately eight hundred thousand copies represents a measure of Singh Sabha success. Its reading certainly accentuates the image of a uniform Khalsa identity. In order to understand the nature of the Rahit Maryada debate within the panth, however, we need to look at the ascendency of the Tat Khalsa interpretation of Sikh tradition and culture. Here, it will be useful to note the basic argument of Harjot Oberoi’s thesis how the Tat Khalsa succeeded in eradicating all forms of religious diversity at the turn of the century. He claims: The older pluralist paradigm of Sikh faith was displaced forever and re­placed by a highly uniform Sikh identity, the one we know today as modern Sikhism.11

Oberoi carefully examines the process by which new cultural elite aggressively usurped the right to represent others within a singular tradition and established universal norms of religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy. But the main question is: Has the Tat Khalsa really succeeded in creating a highly uniform Sikh identity forever? Or one can ask the question of whether or not the homogenizing process initiated by the Tat Khalsa is under attack in the recent debate on the issue of ‘correct’ observance of the Rahit Maryada among different groups within the panth. The present paper is intended to examine the all-important question of whether there is any ‘uniformity’ in the actual observance of the Khalsa rahit throughout the panth. Or in other words, are we justified in applying such terms as

11 Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries, 25.

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‘codified’, ‘monolithic’, ‘reified religion’ to understand the present day Sikh situation in the twenty-first century, particularly the Khalsa discipline? The Major Challenges to the Singh Sabha’s Abiding Influence Although the standard manual of code of conduct (Sikh Rahit Maryada) tends to represent Sikhism as a single coherent orthodoxy, the actual situation at popular level shows the existence of colorful diversity within the Sikh panth. The basis of diverse expressions, however, remains the articulation of sikhi (‘Sikh-ness’ or ‘being Sikh’) that is described by the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, as follows: “I have realized the teachings of sikhi through contemplating the Eternal Guru who grants his gracious glance to carry his servants across [the ocean of existence]” (sikhi sikhia gur vichari//nadari karami langhae pari//).12 The state of being a Sikh cannot be defined explicitly, although the term ‘discipleship’ (sikhi) was internally given in the early Sikh tradition, in the clearly Platonic sense of ‘true discipleship’.13 To use Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s terminology, sikhi is to follow the Guru’s teaching, signifying ‘a transcendent personalist ideal’ of discipleship.14 Over the centuries the original idea of gurmat (‘Teachings of the Gurus’) evolved into “the counterpart of the Western (outsiders’) concept ‘Sikhism’ as the total complex of Sikh religious practices and rites, scriptures and doctrines, history and institutions.”15 To unpack the essentialist notion of ‘Sikhism’ we will try to closely look at the various expressions of sikhi within the Sikh panth. The Nihangs (‘Sikh warriors without attachment’), for instance, constitute a distinctive order within the Khalsa. They are recognized by their distinctive appearance. On their heads they wear a high turban known as a damala, surmounted by a piece of cloth called a pharhara (‘standard’ or ‘flag’). Their garments are always blue, with some saffron and white colorcombinations. They are rigorous in the observance of the Khalsa rahit. Because they have renounced all fear of death, they are always ready to

12 M1, Var Asa, 2 (5), AG, 465. 13 See Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion: A Revolutionary Approach to the Great Religious Traditions (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, paperback 1978; 1962), 67. In the endnotes Smith cites Bhai Gurdas that Sikhi “cannot be stated, nor written in innumerable writings” (Bhai Gurdas, Var 28:1–22), See notes 60 and 61, p. 260 for details. 14 Ibid., 67. 15 Ibid.


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die for their faith. In the past, they used to consume cannabis (bhang) to fortify themselves before battle, and its consumption continues today in the form of sukha (‘soothing drink’) which contains cannabis as one of its ingredients. In North America some Sikhs occasionally wear Nihang dress and add color to the scene in any Sikh gathering. They are conspicuously visible at the time of Baisakhi celebration, particularly in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, New York, and California. Most importantly, the ‘martial art’ (gatka) tradition of the Nihangs is currently resurgent in the UK. The Akhand Kirtani Jatha (or group devoted to “continuous singing of the Sikh scriptures”) owes its inspiration to the words and example of Bhai Randhir Singh (1878–1961) of Narangwal in Ludhiana district. He was strongly opposed to the British presence in India and spent lengthy periods in jail because of his involvement in the Gurdwara Rikabganj agitation and the Ghadar (‘Revolution’) movement, both of which occurred between 1914 and 1916. In the ‘Second Lahore Conspiracy’ case, he was sentenced to life in prison on 30 March 1916.16 His life is described in his Jel Chitthian (‘Letters written from the Jail’), translated as Autobiography of Bhai Randhir Singh.17 It inspired many educated Sikhs from both urban and rural areas of the Malwa region. Bhai Randhir Singh was released from the Central Jail Lahore in October 1930, and in the following year he was ‘honoured for his outstanding services to the Panth’ at the Akal Takhat on 15 September 1931.18 Although he was a contemporary of Bhai Vir Singh (1872–1957), he is almost completely unknown to the Englishspeaking world. This may be due to the hegemonic success of the Singh Sabha scholars, who are abundantly known to those who read only English sources. Other representatives and their versions of Sikhism remain largely hidden. It is important to note that Bhai Randhir Singh had a long association with Babu Teja Singh of Bhasaur. In fact, he received amrit at a religious ceremony organized by the Panch Khalsa Diwan at Bakapur on 14 June 1903.19 Although he parted company with him when Teja Singh was banished from the panth, the influence of Bhasaur Singh Sabha can still be seen on the Akhand Kirtani Jatha. For instance, like the Bhasaur Singh 16 Harbans Singh, Heritage of the Sikhs (Columbia, MO: South Asia Books, 1983), 261–65. Also see the monthly journal of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Sura (July 1990), 41. 17 Trilochan Singh, trans., Autobiography of Bhai Randhir Singh (Ludhiana: Bhai Randhir Singh Publishing House, 1971). 18 Harbans Singh, ed., The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Vol. I (Patiala: Punjabi University, 1992), 59. 19 See Sura (July 1990), 41.

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Sabha, the Jatha is strongly opposed to the recitation of the Ragamala at the Golden Temple. One of its past leaders Ram Singh even attempted to prepare a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib without this controversial text in the recent past.20 Further, the Jatha encourages complete equality of women in every aspect of Sikh life in much the same way as the Bhasaur Singh Sabha did in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The latter advocated that “[w]omen should wear turban[s], be baptized with the double-edged knife, and participate fully in ceremonies, including reading the Granth and helping administer baptism.”21 Furthermore, the Akhand Kirtani Jatha follows the literalist approach of the Bhasur Singh Sabha towards the Sikh scriptures.22 That is perhaps why its members are generally thought of representing a fundamentalist variety of Khalsa tradition.23 One can also observe certain distinctive features of the amrit-ceremony conducted by the Akhand Kirtani Jatha. During their amrit-ceremony the ‘Cherished Five’ (panj piare) lay their hands on the head of an initiate in a particular way to transfer the spiritual power of the divine Name. They call this procedure gurmantar drirauna (‘rendering the Guru’s Word firm’), which involves an ‘intense recitation of Gur-Mantar’ (Vahiguru) by the ‘Cherished Five’ and the novice together. This distinctive practice of nam simaran is a regular feature of the daily discipline of the Jatha. Further, the Akhand Kirtani Jatha strictly follows its own special Khalsa discipline prescribed in the Rahit Bibek (a work that forms the second part of the Gurmat Bibek).24 It includes a complete vegetarian diet, the insistence upon sarab loh (‘all iron’) and the keski or small turban for female members. Although Bhai Randhir Singh refused to eat anything which had not

20 In 1990 the Akhand Kirtani Jatha made an appeal to stop the recitation of the Ragamala at the Akal Takhat (introduced by the Damdami Taksal). Meanwhile, Ram Singh prepared a copy of the Sikh scripture without the controversial text of the Ragamala. The coverage of this controversy in the Punjabi language press created a major stir within the Sikh Panth. 21  N. G. Barrier, “Vernacular Publishing and Sikh Life in the Punjab, 1880–1910,” in Kenneth W. Jones, ed., Religious Controversy in British India: Dialogue in South Asian Languages (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), 219. 22 Ibid., 217–18. 23 For details see W. H. McLeod, “Sikh Fundamentalism,” in Exploring Sikhism: Aspects of Sikh Identity, Culture, and Thought (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), 167–69. 24 Bhai Randhir Singh, Gurmat Bibek (Ludhiana: Bhai Randhir Singh Publishing House, 2nd edn., 1975; 1st edn., 1946), 95–260.


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been cooked in an iron vessel, his North American followers are not keen on this strict observance. The Akhand Kirtani Jatha claims that Bhai Randhir Singh had withdrawn himself from the proceedings of the Ad Hoc (Rahu Rit) Committee in the 1930s on the issue of meat eating. By citing this example the members of the Jatha claim that they had never accepted the Sikh Rahit Maryada as a standard manual of Sikh doctrine and behavior. For them the words and example of Bhai Randhir Singh are quite sufficient for all their needs. True to their name they place great emphasis on the practice of kirtan (‘devotional singing’ of the scriptures) and devote the whole night to a rain sabai (‘all night’) performance of it. There is no place in their services for any katha or exposition of the scriptures. The members of the Jatha never use sub-caste names (got) and they almost invariably marry within their own group. The Akhand Kirtani Jatha is strongly opposed to the Damdami Taksal (‘Damdama School of Sikh Learning’) on the issue of the Ragamala (‘Garland of Musical Modes’, a controversial text at the end of the Adi Granth). However, its members joined hands with the Taksal in mounting the protest against the Sant Nirankaris in Amritsar on Baisakhi Day 1978 (the occasion that thrust Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale before the public gaze) and eleven out of the thirteen Sikhs who were killed belonged to the Akhand Kirtani Jatha. It is important to note that Baba Gurbachan Singh, the leader of the Sant Nirankaris, was assassinated on 24 April 1980. Later, Bhai Ranjit Singh, another member of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, who was appointed the Jathedar of the Akal Takhat (while he was in Delhi’s Tihar Jail), was convicted of Nirankari Baba’s murder on 26 March 1993.25 Also, the Babbar Khalsa, a militant wing of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, played an important part in the Punjab disturbances. The Jatha ultimately realized that things had gone too far, and they have been trying to distance themselves from the agitation. Many of its members hold important positions in the government service in India and a significant number of them have settled in North America. Recently, Doris Jakobsh has felt the need to closely examine the religious performance of Akhand Kirtani Jatha: “Bhai Randhir Singh’s influence on contemporary Sikhism has yet to receive the attention it deserves, but the alternate doctrines, practices and new modes of musicality and performance that are followed by his

25 “Nirankari Baba’s murder: Ex-chief of Akal Takhat convicted,” The Hindustan Times (March 27, 1993).

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Akand Kirtani Jatha devotees is important to Sikhism as a lived religion, particularly within the Sikh diaspora.”26 The Nanaksar tradition originated with Sant Nand Singh Kaleranwale (1872?–1943), who enjoyed high spiritual reputation for his piety and asceticism. After visiting the famous Takhat Sri Hazoor Sahib in Nanded (Maharashtra) in 1918, he returned to Kaleran village near a small town of Jagraon in Ludhiana district of Punjab and ended an epidemic that was crippling the area by the individual performance of an unbroken reading of the Guru Granth Sahib. He then stayed in the nearby wilderness where he continued his life of austerity, practicing meditation on the divine Name (nam simaran) in caves (bhore) and refusing to allow any building to be erected.27 After his death in 1943 he was succeeded by Sant Ishar Singh (1916?–1963),28 who built an imposing gurdwara called Nanaksar at the place of his predecessor’s austerities. He is credited with having initiated about 750,000 Sikhs with the amrit of the double-edged-sword (khande da amrit) during a brief period of his ministry between 1950 and 1963.29 When he died in 1963, he was succeeded by three contenders who set up separate seats in Nanaksar. Each of them has built up a considerable following and influence among the rural people from the neighboring districts of Ludhiana, Ferozepur and Faridkot. Several of their followers have settled in North America and Britain during the last four decades. They follow their own Nanaksar Maryada, which includes the celebration of puranamashi (the night of full moon), the recitation of arti (‘adoration’) at each concluding ceremony and the devotional singing of hymns (kirtan) while akhand path (‘unbroken reading’ of the Sikh scriptures) is going on. They do not mount the nishan sahib (or ‘Sikh Flag’) at their gurdwaras.30 Their devotion to the Guru Granth Sahib is impressive, every

26 Doris R. Jakobsh, “Studying the Sikhs: Thirty Years Later . . . Where Have We Come, Where Are We Going?” in Pashaura Singh, ed., Sikhism in Global Context (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011), 68. 27 For more details, see H. S. Doabia, Life Story of Baba Nand Singh Ji of Kaleran (Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 1981); several volumes of hagiographic accounts in Gurmukh Singh, Anand Chamatkar (Nanaksar, n.d.) and the various issues of Anand Sarovar (Nanaksar: Anand Sarovar Trust, n.d.) by Bhagat Singh. 28 For traditional accounts of his life, see Gurmukh Singh, Ishar Chamatkar (Nanaksar, n.d.). 29 Balbir Singh, Paragat Guran Ki Deh: Part I (1978), iii–iv. 30 See Darshan Singh Tatla, “Nurturing the Faithful: The Role of the Sant among Britain’s Sikhs,” Religion, 22 (1992): 360–63 and Eleanor Nesbitt, “The Nanaksar Movement,” Religion, 15:1 (1985): 67–79.


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care being taken of the physical needs of the scripture as a person, such as providing extra covering during the cold months.31 The main center of the present-day Damdami Taksal (Jatha BhindranMehta) is located at Gurdwara Gurdarshan Parkash at Mehta in Amritsar district. It is actually a branch of a major school of traditional Sikh learning known as the Bhindran Taksal. Although that Taksal was established by Sant Sundar Singh (1883–1930) of Boparai Kalan (in Ludhiana district) in 1906, it achieved prominence through its second incumbent, Sant Gurbachan Singh Khalsa (1902–1969) of Bhindran Kalan (hence the name ‘Bhindran Taksal’).32 He devoted his entire life to teaching correct enunciation and intonation in reciting the Sikh scriptures. He trained a large number of gianis (traditional Sikh scholars) through his mobile seminary. When he died in 1969 he was succeeded by two contenders, Giani Mohan Singh (1919–) and Sant Kartar Singh (1932–1977), the former leading the original Malwa branch in Ludhiana district and the latter leading the Majha branch in Amritsar district. The influence of Bhindran Taksal is attested by the fact that its alumni include the head granthi (‘reader’ of the Sikh scriptures) at the Golden Temple, jathedars (‘commanders’) of various Sikh takhats (‘thrones’) and granthis of major gurdwaras of historical significance. In the recent past an incumbent of the Majha branch of this school was Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (1947–1984), who achieved world-wide attention when he died along with many other Sikhs during the Indian army’s assault on the Golden Temple complex in June 1984. Among North American Sikhs his death is perceived as an example of martyrdom and his picture is displayed in many gurdwaras. The procedure for the amrit-ceremony adopted by the Damdami Taksal includes certain distinctive features from the manual called Gurmat Rahit Maryada.33 First, the chief ( jathedar) of the ‘Cherished Five’ (panj piare) holds an unsheathed sword (kirpan) on his left shoulder with his left hand in such a way that the handle of the sword touches the iron bowl, while he is stirring the sweetened water with double-edged sword (khanda) in his right hand. The divine presence is thus made manifest in the amritceremony through the burnished steel of the unsheathed sword. When the lead person completes the recitation of the assigned prayer from 31 Hew McLeod, Sikhism (London: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 198. 32 For details, see Giani Gurbachan Singh Khalsa, Gurbani Path Darshan (Bhindran Kalan: Gurdwara Akhand Prakash, 5th edn., 1985). 33 Giani Gurbachan Singh Khalsa, Gurmati Rahit Maryada (Amritsar: Khalsa Brothers, 1986), 90–146.

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memory he passes on both the kirpan and the khanda to the next one and the process is repeated five times. Second, the Taksal maintains that during the ‘heroic posture’ (bir asan) the left knee should be laid on the ground and the right knee should be held upright. This is directly opposite to the description given in the standard manual, the Sikh Rahit Maryada, whereby the right knee is laid on the ground and the left is held upright. Third, the Damdami Taksal insists on the recitation of the complete Mul Mantar (from ikk oankar to nanak hosi bhi sach) during the amritceremony. This is in line with the stand taken by the followers of the Gurmat Sidhant Parcharak Sant Samaj and Nihangs who stress the recitation of complete Mul Mantar. They argue that this tradition has come directly from the time of Gurus, and there is certain reliable evidence to support this contention. For instance, the kamar kassa or body armor of Guru Gobind Singh, preserved at Moti Bagh Palace Museum in Patiala, does contain the inscription of complete Mul Mantar.34 In order to buttress its claim to orthodoxy, the Taksal has issued its own version of the Khalsa discipline which it outlines in the manual Gurmat Rahit Maryada. Copies of this text were freely distributed throughout North America in 1986 and the following years. This was the time when Bhindranwale’s influence was at its peak. The followers of two nineteenth-century reform movements, the Nirankaris and the Namdharis, revere their lines of Gurus in opposition to the orthodox claim that after Guru Gobind Singh there can be no human Guru. Baba Dayal (1783–1853) of northwestern frontier city of Peshawar was the founder of Nirankari movement that aimed at recalling Sikhs to their original loyalty to the divine Name teachings of Guru Nanak. His followers came to be called Nirankaris because they sought to restore the worship of the ‘formless and invisible God’ (nirankar) to its pristine purity. Baba Dayal strongly condemned the worship of images and the practice of Hindu rituals by contemporary Sikhs who followed Brahmin priests blindly. His group was especially strong around Rawalpindi where they established their center called Nirnakari Darbar. They revered his Hukam-nama (‘Book of Ordinances’) alongside the Guru Granth Sahib. Their acknowledgement of a line of personal Gurus descending from Baba Dayal set them apart from the mainline Sikh tradition. Most instructively, they have never disputed the orthodox belief in the line of ten Gurus

34 See Patwant Singh, Gurdwaras: In India and Around the World (Himalayan Books, 1992), 108.


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beginning with Guru Nanak and ending with Guru Gobind Singh, nor do they reject the doctrine of the Guru eternally present in the sacred scripture. But they do believe that Baba Dayal represented renewal within the Sikh tradition. The panth had strayed from its duty with the military triumph under Maharaja Ranjit Singh and Baba Dayal was dispatched by God to recall it to obedience. Geographically on the fringe, the Nirankari movement remained on the periphery of the panth. It could not hold the central position even doctrinally. Most of the Nirankaris have been Sehaj-dharis (‘Gradualists’), consisting of traders and shopkeepers of the towns and villages of the upper Sindh Sagar Doab who never accepted initiation into the Khalsa. Their support of the Anand Marriage Bill in 1908–09 was, however, crucial to its passage in the Imperial Council. At the time of partition in 1947 the Nirankaris were uprooted from Rawalpindi. Thereafter, they transferred their headquarters to Chandigarh in India. They acknowledge the centrality of the Guru Granth Sahib in the performance of all Sikh rituals. Their most recent leader was the soft-spoken Dr. Man Singh Nirankari (1911–2010), a renowned ophthalmologist, who passed away in Chandigarh on 11 May 2010. Apart from his professional career, he was active in the educational, cultural, and religious fields. He was a prolific writer who frequently commented on contemporary Sikh issues. The first reformer to stress the importance of the Khalsa under colonial rule was Baba Ram Singh (1816–85). He was the disciple of Baba Balak Singh who had invoked the authority of Sikh scriptures to emphasize the importance of divine Name (nam) for liberation from his center at Hazro near Attock. A new direction was given to the Namdhari movement by Baba Ram Singh who worked in the central districts of the Punjab. He reinstituted the order of Sant Khalsa (‘Devout Khalsa’) in 1862 at his new center in Bhaini Sahib (Ludhiana), creating his own initiation ritual and austere rule of conduct stressing a vegetarian diet, all-white dress, and chanting of the divine Name (the practice from which the Namdharis took their name). As the number of followers increased rapidly, Baba Ram Singh took on an active role in public sphere, promoting boycotts of various kinds as a form of non-violent resistance to the British occupation of the Punjab. After the British gave permission to the slaughter of cows— banned under Maharaja Ranjit Singh—to resume, a number of Muslim butchers in Amritsar and Ludhiana were killed by Namdhari activists. In the background of the mutiny of 1857 the British crushed the Namdhari movement in 1872, sending Baba Ram Singh into exile, and executing more than 60 Namdharis without trial in a particularly horrifying way—tying

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them over the mouths of canons and blasting their bodies into pieces. The Namdharis came to be seen as political martyrs and forerunners of the Gandhian movement for the independence of India. The Namdharis are also known as ‘Kukas’ because they emit ‘shrieks’ (kuks) during their ecstatic singing aloud of kirtan in the congregation. They have given a special name to their kirtan as halle da divan, meaning ‘loud singing’, leading the participants to lose themselves in the singing in a kind of mystical trance. This feature is unique to the Namdharis.35 They use only Indian classical string instruments in their devotional singing and are known to have preserved the ancient tradition of melodies (ragas) of the Sikh scriptures. Again, a distinctive ritual among the Namdharis is the fire ceremony (havan or jag), which is performed before all major celebrations. It is designed to cleanse all evil thoughts from the minds of the participants, to be replaced with the spirit of true piety.36 In fact, Namdhari marriages are solemnized by circumambulating fire rather than the Sikh scripture. Ceremonies are often conducted for multiple couples for economic reasons to ensure that dowries are not provided by the parents of brides. For Namdharis, dowries are at the core of misogynist bias against women and must be thoroughly done away with.37 They insist that both men and women be initiated into the order of the Khalsa to ensure complete gender equality. The Namdharis have developed a doctrine of religious authority much like the Shi’i Muslims about the hidden Imam, maintaining that Guru Gobind Singh did not die in 1708 but went into hiding, and that Ram Singh succeeded him as the twelfth Guru. They still expect Baba Ram Singh to return some day. Their belief in the succession of personal Gurus is vehemently rejected by the mainline Sikh tradition. Their current spiritual leader is Baba Jagjit Singh (b.1920) who has brought a silent musical revolution in Punjab. He himself excels in Indian classical vocal and instrumental music. As early as 1959 he had realized the dearth of talent in the field of classical music. He prudently decided to revive many an extinct musical instrument and genre of traditional music of Punjab. For instance, Indian classical string instruments such as rabab, dilruba, saranda, sarangi, santoor and sitar have been given a new lease of life by his disciples. Hundreds of children in different age groups are today 35 Opinderjit Kaur Takhar, Sikh Identity: An Exploration of Groups among Sikhs (Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005), 75. 36 McLeod, Sikhism, 190. 37 Doris R. Jakobsh, Sikhism (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012), 107.


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learning to play these instruments and are also being trained in classical vocal music. Notably, Baba Jagjit Singh is “a dilruba exponent and his mastery over the percussion of Punjab tabla is unparalleled.”38 He is renowned for having evolved new beats (matras) of tabla like paune ath (seven and three-fourths), paune pandran (fourteen and three-fourths), sava chaudhan (fourteen and one-fourth), sadhe staran (seventeen and a half) and teran sahi sat bata ath (thirteen and seven-eighths). In addition, there are inspirational figures (both male and female spiritual leaders popularly known as Sants / Babas and Bibis), who play an important role in the lives of Sikh devotees throughout the Punjab countryside. Because of their acclaimed piety they exert equally strong influence among the diaspora Sikhs. Sometimes their deras (lit., ‘camps’ to which disciples come to hear and see a revered Sikh figure) become the source of conflict among different factions, taking a violent turn within the last few years (such as the riots after Sant Rama Nand was shot dead at Ravidasia Sikh Temple in Vienna in 2009). For the diaspora Sikhs, a revered saintly figure (Sant) is a transnational link between Sikh congregations (sangats), strengthening individuals’ commitment to sikhi, and in some cases emphasizing details that are distinctive of particular predecessors in the Punjab.39 The two important Sikh centers of authority outside the Punjab, Takhat Sri Patna Sahib in Bihar and Takhat Sri Hazoor Sahib in Nanded (Maharashtra), follow their own daily Sikh rituals which are significantly different from the ones routinely followed at the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar. The Singh Sabha influence never reached at these two Sikh centers. For instance, there is a tradition of waving of lamps at the time of the devotional singing of arti (‘adoration’) in the evening and the paste of sandalwood (chandan) is ritually prepared in the morning to apply as a frontal mark (tikka) on the foreheads of the Sikh devotees. These practices reflect the local Hindu influence in ritual and worship at Hazoor Sahib. Moreover, the sacrifice of a goat on religious festivals (gurpurbs) at Hazoor Sahib reflects the influence of the animal sacrifice so popular in South Indian religious traditions, including South Indian Catholic devotional life. This is by no means a universal Sikh phenomenon. During my recent 38 Recently he was honored with the Tagore Akademy Ratna conferred by the Sangeet Natak Akademy. See Vandana Shukla, “Tagore Akademy Ratna for Sadguru Jagjit Singh Namdhari,” The Tribune (December 18, 2012). 39 Eleanor Nesbitt, Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 100.

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visit to Hazoor Sahib I noticed how brazenly proud the Hazoori Sikhs are of their Singh-Khalsa identity. They have “flourished in a different cultural and social context, with a host of diverse factors—ethnic, linguistics and political—amplifying the gulf between them and the Punjabis.”40 Around 1970 a number of yoga students in Toron­to and Los Angeles were inspired by their teacher, a Sikh named Harbhajan Singh Puri (Yogi Bhajan), to convert to the Sikh faith and join his Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (‘3HO’). Eventually re­named Sikh Dharma, the organization has since established chapters or ashrams in various North American cities. All members of this organization—male and female—wear the same costume of white turbans, tunics, and tight trousers, and for this reason they have come to be known as ‘White Sikhs’ (Gora Sikhs). They live and raise families in communal houses, spending long hours in meditation and chanting as well as yoga practice. Punjabi Sikhs in general praise the strict Khal­sa-style discipline of the White Sikhs. In other re­spects, however, the White Sikh culture is seen as quite alien. In the Punjab, for instance—as in In­dia as whole—white clothing is normally a sign of mourning; only the Namdharis dress entirely in white. And the only Sikh women who wear tur­bans are members of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha. Finally, the concept of izzat (‘prestige’ or ‘honor’), which plays such an important part in Pun­jabi culture and society, is irrelevant to the White Sikhs. Even in North America, therefore, Punjabi Sikhs have tended to distance themselves from the White Sikhs. The White Sikhs are basically attracted towards the egalitarian ideals of the Khalsa. Their leader Harbhajan Singh Puri (Yogi Bhajan) was a polarizing figure among Punjabi Sikhs. On 6 October 2004, he succumbed to heart disease at the age of seventy-five, thus depriving 3HO / Sikh Dharma of its charismatic founder and spiritual leader. With the coming of a second-generation of committed White Sikhs, however, Sikhism has indeed moved beyond its cultural environment of Punjab and become a world religion. In particular, the Chardi Kala Kirtan Jatha (‘High Spirited Group of Devotional Singing’) is a group of three musicians, Jugat Guru Singh Khalsa, Sada Sat Simran Singh Khalsa, and Hari Mander Jot Singh Khalsa, who are trained in classical ragas of the Guru Granth Sahib. They have had the privilege of performing gurbani kirtan (‘Devotional Singing of the Gurus’ Hymns’) at the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple in Amritsar),

40 Nidar Singh Nihang & Parmjit Singh, In the Master’s Presence: The Sikhs of Hazoor Sahib, Volume 1: History (London: Kashi House, 2008), iv.


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and they have travelled extensively, sharing, teaching, and inspiring Sikh congregations around the world. Toward a Paradigm Shift in Sikh Studies About two decades ago W. H. McLeod offered his reflections on the Singh Sabha interpretations of the Sikh tradition as follows: Although the intellectual achievement of the Singh Sabha has been a truly impressive one its dominance must eventually be lost. A century is long enough for any such movement to remain unchallenged and new approaches must supplant the old if our understanding of Sikh scripture and Sikh literature is to keep pace with intellectual developments in other parts of the academic world. This will not be an easy task . . . Challenging Singh Sabha interpretations will involve such a process and the welcome which it receives will not necessarily be a favorable one.41

McLeod was fully aware that Sikh scholarship and Western perceptions of the Sikh tradition have been largely dominated by Singh Sabha interpretations. His earlier works followed these interpretations to a certain extent (as is evidenced in his treatment of Guru Nanak’s teachings), even though he was a skeptic historian who had frequently questioned the well-established traditions. Not surprisingly, a charged religious reaction to his scholarship came from a small but a vocal minority of radical Sikhs who were incapable of adjusting to the secular nature of Western universities. These critics were nurtured in the more doctrinal mode of interpretation of the Sikh tradition. Following the legacy of the Singh Sabha movement that attempted to bring contemporary Sikhism more into line with Eurocentric understandings of religion, they adopted an approach to rebut perceived distortions or misrepresentations of Sikh religion and history. Any kind of scholarly ideas and interpretations that did not appear to pass a litmus test of ‘authentic representation of tradition’ became the target of their polemical attacks. Recent studies based upon post-colonial and post-modern critiques are more interested in the notions of representation and inclusion / exclusion of ‘groups’ within particular religious communities. It is instructive to note that the Sikh panth has never been a monolithic or homogenous group. Among the twenty-five million Sikhs in the world today approximately 41 W. H. McLeod, The Sikhs: History, Religion, and Society (New York: Columbia University, 1989), 100–101.

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twenty per cent are the amrit-dharis (‘initiated’) who represent the orthodox form of the Khalsa. There is, however, a large majority of those Sikhs who ‘retain their hair’ (kes-dharis) and maintain a visible identity. In particular, the male Sikhs are easily recognized by their beards and turbans. They follow most of the Khalsa rahit (‘code’) without having gone through the initiation ceremony. Further, there are others who have shorn their hair and are less conspicuous, but there number is quite large in North America and the United Kingdom. They are popularly known as ‘cleanshaven’ Sikhs, although they do not like the term ‘Mona’ (‘shorn’) as the designation of their status within the panth. In order to overcome this difficulty, I propose to use the term ichha-dhari (one who follows one’s own ‘desire’ or ‘free choice’) for them. I am using the term ichha-dhari with two meanings in mind. In the first place, most of the ichha-dharis ‘desire’ to keep their hair intact, but cut them under the pressure of circumstances at a particular moment (which may be a temporary phase in their life). The moment they feel secure in their life they start keeping the hair again. Secondly, there are those ichha-dharis who cut their hair because of reasons of their own choosing, but retain their affiliation with the Khalsa families. They use the Khalsa names ‘Singh’ and ‘Kaur’ without inhibition. Neither do they consider themselves as ‘lesser Sikhs’ in any way, nor do they identify themselves with the ‘Hindus’. In fact, there has emerged a new sense of identity among them in recent times. Being majority in the diaspora, they participate with equal zeal in all Sikh rituals and in the management of the gurdwaras. The iccha-dharis are frequently confused with the so-called sehajdhari (‘gradualist’) Sikhs who have never accepted the Khalsa discipline. Although the sehaj-dhari Sikhs practice nam simaran and follow the teachings of the Adi Granth, they do not observe the Khalsa rahit and, in particular, cut their hair. The number of sehaj-dharis has continued to decline in the last few decades, although they certainly have not disappeared completely from the panth. This impression, however, concerns only true sehaj-dharis. It does not apply to those who violate the Khalsa rahit and cut their hair after initiation. They are lapsed amrit-dharis who are known as patit Sikhs (‘apostates’). They become apostates after committing any one of the following four prohibitions (char kurahit): “cutting the hair, using tobacco, committing adultery, and eating meat that has not come from an animal killed with a single blow.” This condition has occurred largely in the Sikh diaspora. It should be emphasized here that all these five categories of Sikhs are not ‘fixed’ permanently. The movement from one category to another


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takes place frequently and therefore, it refers to their dynamic nature. For instance, all amrit-dharis are kes-dharis as well, even though all kesdharis are not amrit-dharis. Also, there is internal differentiation in each category. Thus any one individual might go through different stages in one’s life, each referring to a different status within the panth. Therefore, to think of the five categories of Sikhs as ‘predetermined’ or ‘fixed’ permanently (as in the case of the caste system of the Hindus) would be misleading. Moreover, the actual numbers of different categories of Sikhs may show marked variations in different diaspora settings. For instance, the percentage of ichha-dharis is much higher in North America and England than in Singapore, Malaysia, and East Africa. There is thus no single way of being a ‘Sikh’, and Punjabi Sikhs move frequently between different categories according to their situation in life. Most scholarly works in the past have been focused on issues of Sikh religion, ideology, and history. Recently, scholars have begun to explore more contentious and contemporary issues of Sikh identity, culture, and social relations, reflecting the widening of the area of Sikh Studies. They discuss internal differences of caste, community and gender within Sikhism and its allied communities. They have begun to question the conventional premises of Sikh Studies, and they seek to go beyond what has been traditionally treated as normatively acceptable. This expansion of the subdiscipline beyond the study of text and ideology, also points towards a growing confidence of the scholars, the institutionalization of Sikh Studies, and acceptance of Sikhism as an important religious community at the global level. There is however an urgent need to closely look at Sikh religious practice based on anthropological fieldwork and to explore the dynamics of religious practice in everyday life in the context of globalization, Sikh migrations beyond Punjab, and the possible influences of technology on everyday religious life of its members. Frequent attention has been paid in recent years to a phenomenon of ‘global’ Sikhism ‘in diaspora’, with less explicit discussion of the variations that exist among and within the contexts of particular cultural and national locations. Thus, even as local specificity is assumed to be critical in the study of a Sikh population, we can discern a corresponding (if perplexing) increase in the discourse about both global and diasporic Sikhism. There is a need to problematize how local experiences confirm and yet complicate notions of global and/or diasporic Sikh belief and practice. Sikhism has had and continues to have a seemingly unending number of dominant, institutional, regional, national, and local expressions of faith in constant dynamic relationship with one another, continually

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influencing each other and defining and redefining what it has meant and continues to mean to be a Sikh in different places around the globe. There is thus an urgent need to focus on the theme of ‘Expressing Sikhness’ (sikhi) by integrating text with practice, an inclusive tactic which allows the multiplicity of Sikh voices throughout the Sikh World today and throughout Sikhism’s history to be heard without privileging any singular one. Such an approach allows us to view the extraordinary diversity of the Sikh tradition by looking not just at Sikh texts but also at Sikh practices. Most importantly, this approach involves a careful observation of actual Sikh practices not only in South Asian homeland but also in Sikh communities beyond Punjab around the globe. In sum, there is an urgent need to make a paradigm shift from the dominant Tat Khalsa interpretation of the Sikh tradition to a more inclusive approach, from a positivist and objectivist historical perspective to a more reflexive and interactive scholarship based upon multidisciplinary approach. Through this shift alone we will be able to avoid the trap of ‘essentialism’ and re-imagine the colorful diversity of the Sikh tradition in the twenty-first century at the global level. Most interestingly, the internet has further exposed this diversity of Sikh life in its global context. No single group can afford to monopolize the debate on any single issue. Surfing through different Sikh websites and discussion groups one can easily realize that there is a need to look at Sikhism from a global perspective. There are multiple ways to approach Sikh topics in various academic disciplines. Bibliography Bhabha, Homi. “Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority Under a Tree Outside Delhi, May 1817,” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 144–165. Doabia, H. S. Life Story of Baba Nand Singh Ji of Kaleran. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 1981. Grewal, J. S. Historical Perspectives on Sikh Identity. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1997. Jakobsh, Doris R. Sikhism. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012. Jones, Kenneth W., ed. Religious Controversy in British India: Dialogue in South Asian Languages. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992. Khalsa, Giani Gurbachan Singh. Gurmati Rahit Maryada. Amritsar: Khalsa Brothers, 1986. ——. Gurbani Path Darshan. Bhindran Kalan: Gurdwara Akhand Prakash, 5th ed., 1985. Mann, Gurinder Singh. Sikhism. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2004. McLeod, Hew. Sikhism. London: Penguin Books, 1997. McLeod, W. H. The Sikhs: History, Religion, and Society. New York: Columbia University, 1989. ——. Who is a Sikh? The Problem of Sikh Identity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. ——. Exploring Sikhism: Aspects of Sikh Identity, Culture, and Thought. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000.


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Nesbitt, Eleanor. Sikhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. ——. “The Nanaksar Movement,” Religion, 15:1 (1985): 67–79. Nihang, Nidar Singh and & Parmjit Singh. In the Master’s Presence: The Sikhs of Hazoor Sahib, Volume 1: History. London: Kashi House, 2008. Oberoi, Harjot. The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994. O’Connell, Joseph T. et al., eds. Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century. Toronto: Centre for South Asian Studies, 1988. Singh, Balbir. Paragat Guran Ki Deh: Part I. Jagraon: 1978. Singh, Bhagat. Anand Sarovar (Nanaksar: Anand Sarovar Trust, n.d. Singh, Bhai Randhir. Gurmat Bibek. Ludhiana: Bhai Randhir Singh Publishing House, 2nd ed., 1975; 1946. Singh, Gurmukh. Anand Chamatkar. Nanaksar: Gurmukh Singh Trust, n.d. ——. Ishar Chamatkar. Nanaksar: Gurmukh Singh Trust, n.d. Singh, Harbans. Heritage of the Sikhs. Columbia, MO: South Asia Books, 1983. —— (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Vol. I. Patiala: Punjabi University, 1992. Singh, Pashaura and N. Gerald Barrier, (eds.) Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change. New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1999. —— (ed.) Sikhism in Global Context. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2011. Singh, Patwant. Gurdwaras: In India and Around the World. New Delhi: Himalayan Books, 1992. Singh, Trilochan Singh, trans. Autobiography of Bhai Randhir Singh. Ludhiana: Bhai Randhir Singh Publishing House, 1971. Smith, Wilfred Cantwell Smith. The Meaning and End of Religion: A Revolutionary Approach to the Great Religious Traditions. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, paperback 1978; 1962. Takhar, Opinderjit Kaur. Sikh Identity: An Exploration of Groups among Sikhs. Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2005. Tatla, Darshan Singh. “Nurturing the Faithful: The Role of the Sant among Britain’s Sikhs,” Religion, 22 (1992): 360–63. Thapar, Romila. “Syndicated Moksha,” Seminar 313 (September, 1985): 21. Wood, Linda et al., eds. Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

The Politics of Perspectivalism: Anekāntavāda as a Counter-anthropologising Strategy Tinu Ruparell In what follows I wish to propose that re-imagining1 South Asian religions is yet a far off fantasy since understanding the religions of the continent of India is still conducted, promulgated, and vetted assuming largely western categories of ontology, rationality, relevance, and teleology. These categories not only shape the constructions we call Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity, and other religious traditions of India and its environs, but also determine the very kinds of questions scholars habitually ask concerning the religious beliefs and practices of the area. Moreover the social and epistemological location of these questions and the overt and covert pressures they manifest are often masked by social, economic, and political pressures inherent in the academic enterprise. Many of the problematic dialectics inchoate in the study of South Asian religions are revealed under the category of Orientalism and the hermeneutics of suspicion which have arisen in response to and as extensions of Said’s thesis, however in more recent work some of these issues have been of interest to philosophers working in traditional, non-comparative fields as well. The question of the epistemological status of apparently contradictory statements arising from diverse conceptual schemes is no longer the sole province of indologists and comparative religionists, but also now of social theorists such as Habermas,2 analytic philosophers such as Nicholas Rescher,3 and ethicists such as Martha Nussbaum.4 From among this diverse set of related discourses we might isolate the need to conduct

1  The task of re-imagining is that of representation, but representation per se has an ability to obfuscate the categories which make representation possible, that is one must be able to present before one can re-present. The original presentation and the categories of ontology and epistemology which are subsumed in this presentation must be uncovered before re-presentation, and re-imagining can occur. 2 Jürgen Habermas, “Religious Tolerance: The Pacemaker for Cultural Rights,” Philosophy 79.301 (2004): 5–18. 3 Nicholas Rescher, The Strife of Systems. An essay on the grounds and implications of philosophical diversity. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985). 4 Martha Nussbaum, The Clash Within: Democracy, Violence and India’s Future, (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2007).


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the study of Indian religious traditions in ways which consciously seek to interrogate the subterranean biases at work in academic religious studies as well as to begin a strategy of counteranthropologisation of western hegemonic discourse from various south Asian perspectives. This is not merely to ‘turn the tables’ on the western history of religions, applying the same errors onto different subjects, but rather to begin to ask different kinds of questions from quite different perspectives.5 While Nussbaum and Sen, for instance, propose a revaluation of human rights which focus on those at the margins allied to a duty of care, and Billimoria argues for a mīmāṃsā notion of adhikāra-patra to effect a similar criticism, I wish to propose that the Jaina doctrine of anekāntavāda (no one view) can be used as part of just such a counteranthropologising strategy in epistemology. Along with the deployment of other ‘contra-’ social theories from Indian standpoints which together may form a more robust hermeneutics of suspicion, using such a strategy clears away the categories obfuscating our understanding of the religions of south Asia. Far from speaking ‘for the subaltern’ from western academic contexts, using destabilising concepts such as anekāntavāda helps to dissolve the categories which inhibit us from re-imagining south Asian religions in authentic or new ways. We will never escape, I suggest, our Orientalist standpoints in the absence of such acidic methods, hence my paper might be understood as a call for and possibly a first stab at a prolegomenon to future re-imaginative efforts concerning South Asian religions. My argument will develop in two movements. Firstly I will briefly develop the notion of counteranthropology through a recapitulation of the orientalist critique and its most common rejoinders and developments. I shall show that counteranthropology is not a mere reversal of fortune on behalf of the subjugated Indian but rather a more thorough-going epistemological project equally applicable to both typically western and eastern modes of analysis. Moreover I will argue that such a strategy itself relies on the pluralistic commitments found in the anekāntavāda doctrine. The second movement will then be to develop and explicate anekāntavāda to show how it can be used as a hermeneutic of suspicion of typically western standpoints and the epistemological and political commitments with which they are imbricated. This will pave the way for the future work of re-imagining south Asian religions. 5 A similar project is enjoined by Richard King in his Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and the ‘Mystic East,’ (London: Routledge, 1999). In what follows I try, in a necessarily cursory way, to respond to King’s plea.

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A. Orientalism and its Discontents The discourse of Orientalism and its critiques are by now well known and I will not restate its main arguments in full here. It will be useful, however, to review it briefly since firstly the notion of counteranthropologisation must be contextualised in the original anthropologisation carried out under the imperialist enterprise, and secondly because criteria for the inclusion and efficacy of anekāntavāda as a counteranthropologising strategy need to be drawn. Orientalism as a movement can be understood through three interrelated aspects: Firstly there are the Orientalists themselves: those often quite remarkable men whose research and writing did so much to construct and define the Orient for Europeans. These were the ‘experts’ of the day and their biases and prejudices, along with their legitimate conclusions, found equal purchase in the construction of the ‘mystic East.’ Secondly there is the tendency of thought, exhibited by Orientalist scholars and soon spread through popular culture, which construes the dichotomy of East and West, the distinction between Orient and Occident in its epistemic, moral and social forms, as essential categories for the study of the Orient. And finally there are the interpenetrating social, economic, political and religious structures which together form the context of dealing with, colonising and ruling over the Orient. These structures give Orientalism an institutional flavour and weight which transcended the efforts of individual scholars and bureaucrats. Said’s analysis borrows heavily from Foucault’s analysis of representation and power. I shall not go into this in detail, but rather simply highlight Foucault’s anti-representationalism. By this Foucault argued that in dealing with the Other, it is in the nature of language, as well as in the power systems embedded in the enterprise of studying the other, that the Other is objectified—that is, the true Other becomes a reified entity almost unrelated to the actual Other one has before one. For example, in writing or discussing, say first nation Canadians, the ‘aboriginal’ becomes a signifier in one’s discourse. Once one does this, and Foucault argues that any discourse concerning the other necessarily does so, then the Other is effectively flattened into a signifier which while once having reference to the signified, now becomes subject to the role it plays within the discourse. It loses its grasp on the Other and takes up a role in your discussion. In doing so the Other is obfuscated and Foucault’s larger thesis is that this obfuscation implies that discourse, and indeed language itself, loses its grip on the real Other. What discourse has instead are a number


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of signifiers which, in the end, no longer represent the other, but rather refer to the constructed signified—the object of discourse but not the real Other. It is in this sense that Foucault’s thesis is radical: discourse does not bear relation to the Other which it putatively represents—it is antirepresentational. Foucault used this anti-representationality of discourse to do two things: firstly he opens up a critique of the power relations embedded in discourse. Once one has accepted that the signified is but a role-player in discourse, then one is liberated from thinking that the discourse has necessary bearing on truth or reality, and sees it rather as primarily doing something. The intent of discourse is laid bare as it could not have been before. One can then dig deeper into the significations used by the discourse to uncover the political, economic and social contexts and agendas to which the signifiers answer. This Foucault sometimes refers to as the Archaeology of Knowledge. The second thing Foucault uses antirepresentationalism to do is to question the very reality of the Other. By this we should not take it that he was an idealist, believing in the immateriality or unreality of the cosmos. Rather Foucault makes an epistemic or hermeneutic point: there is nothing beyond representation. If all that discourse yields are signifiers which have lost their anchor to the Other, then for all intents and purposes we have no Other to discuss—only the (false) others of discourse (and here discourse refers to all communication regarding a particular object). Anti-representationalism thus implies that all we have in discourse are the others we have constructed: that all objects are in fact mere representations. This paves the way for Said to focus almost solely on works of literature, art, and the constructed signifiers imaginatively developed through the social sciences, to elucidate and illustrate the mutual imbrication of scholarship, politics, economics, and geography in the work of colonisation. Where Said focuses on works of art and literature, the parallel developments of geopolitics are the mirror image of the same constructions. Before we move to some responses and critiques of Said’s work, let me briefly look at Said’s four characteristics of Orientalism in its context. Orientalism is a child of the 18th century and necessarily so. Said develops four characteristics of the 18th century context which he argues are essential in order to understand the general thrust of Orientalism.6

6 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 120.

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1) Expansion. The 18th century saw the scope of the Orient expanding considerably beyond Islamic lands. This was largely due to the increase in European exploration to these and other lands as well as the growing popularity and influence of travel literature, imaginary utopias, moral voyages and scientific reporting bringing the Orient into sharper focus. This increase in knowledge and awareness of the non-European Other nevertheless always had Europe firmly at its centre. The odysseys of the 18th century European traveller, the first cultural tourists, always ended where they began—in the geographic as well as semiotic centre that was Europe. As many adventures which were embarked upon, so many times was Eurocentrism strengthened. 2) Historical Confrontation. The increasing knowledge of the ‘barbarians’ allowed historians of the time to compare Europe with other, older civilisations and cultures. This was a powerful trend in 18th century history and made possible to historians a ‘confrontation of the gods’. While earlier historians saw the Orient merely as an enemy to be feared and annihilated, the historians of the proto-scientific age and the Enlightenment that followed were afforded a more detached or objective perspective. This fit well with their burgeoning interest in rational scientific forms of enquiry as well as, later, the evolutionism of the 19th century. It also fuelled the comparative disciplines of philology, jurisprudence, anatomy, anthropology and religion which were to become so celebrated in the 19th century. 3) Sympathy. The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a key shift in the context of Orientalism. There was a tendency in some Orientalists to exceed the bounds of scholarship towards the goal of sympathetic identification. The idea for these pre-romantics and romantics was that in order to see the kinship between the various religions and cultures the walls of alterity could be overcome if one were to sympathetically immerse oneself in the world and language of the other. Said names Napoleon and Mozart as two examples of this romantic spirit.7 But identification also acted in an ambiguous manner: certainly to identify with the Orient was in some sense a way to valorise it to the detriment of Europe, however identification with the Orient was also a way to highlight one’s egalitarian nature, to draw attention to one’s natural humanity, un-debased, pure and spiritual. It may well have resonance now with how some use solidarity with 7 Ibid., 119.


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Tibet, or indeed the Palestinian struggle so valorised by Said himself, as a badge announcing their caring humanitarian credentials. 4) Classification. The fourth aspect of the 18th century context paving the way for modern Orientalism’s flowering was the whole impulse to categorise and classify nature and humanity. Linnaeus and Buffon are highlighted as the great classifiers. This tendency reflects the will to power according to Said, for in naming and classifying the goal is nothing less than a compendium of all specific and general types along with their interrelationships. This business soon grew to include the naming and classification of social structures, moral character, psychology and physiognomy. To this list we can add one further characteristic: 5) Accumulation. The orientalist was concerned throughout with the growth of knowledge, the accumulation of detail and expertise, the increase of ‘understanding’. This will to accumulate and control produced fruit in the accumulation of land and resources, and the control of, at its height just prior to WWI, 85% of the world’s people.8 Said summarises his thesis thus: the essential aspects of modern Orientalist theory and praxis (from which present-day Orientalism derives) can be understood, not as a sudden access of objective knowledge about the Orient, but as set of structures inherited from the past, secularised, redisposed, and reformed by such disciplines as philology, which in turn were naturalised, modernised, and laicised substitutes for (or versions of ) Christian supernaturalism.9

Let us now consider some critiques of Said, of which there have been many. As I mentioned above, some have argued that Said draws too homogenous a picture of Orientalists. Certainly he focuses only on English and French Orientalism, and it might be argued that other scholars, notably Germans, did not show quite the same attitudes nor commit the same evils as their Anglo and Gallic counterparts. Sheldon Pollock10 suggests that not only did Said neglect an important aspect of European Orientalism—the German study and appropriation of Vedic myths later enabled their own mythology of Aryan purity and anti-Semitism—but that his claim that

8 Ibid., 116–8. 9 Ibid., 122. 10 See Sheldon Pollock, ‘Deep Orientalism. Notes on Sanskrit and Power beyond the Raj’ in Carol A. Brekenridge and Peter van der Veer, eds., Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvanian Press, 1993), 80–96.    

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Orientalism is always associated with colonial adventure is overstated. Both Germany as well as Japan are counterexamples: Germany had no eastern empire to control (though they did later have an African presence) and Japan, despite not having been a colony of western imperial power, was nevertheless caught up in orientalizing discourses.11 Furthermore, and this may be a contentious view, perhaps not every instance of Orientalism was wholly implicated in empire building, nor for that matter altogether disrespectful of the Other. Max Muller, whom Said cites not approvingly, was not only revered at home in Europe, but his translations of the Vedic texts were lauded by Hindu pundits not at all impressed by the notion of a mleccha delineating Brahminical religion. While this is just one example, others can be garnered. Some of the earliest Roman Catholic incursions into the west of India as well as later Hindu-Christian experiments may well be examples of attempts (from within the Orientalist milieu) towards the more non-coercive knowledge Said wishes for at the end of his book. A further, more general point can be made in this regard as well. Said paints Orientalists too broadly and homogeneously and thus commits some of the same errors of representation he decries in the course of his critiques. David Kopf makes similar arguments, suggesting that it may well be the case that Orientalism was the causative pre-cursor to the Indian (Bengali) renaissance.12 This critique can be done away with in short order however when we realise that what Kopf confuses is modernisation with westernisation. Certainly there were a number of colonisers whose task was to recreate England or France on Indian soil—along with the Indian elite who would be the buffer between the colonised and their masters. But this blatant westernisation was in general not distinguishable from the modernisation which Orientalists purported to be carrying out. Kopf single-mindedly reads the Orientalists as modernisers and fails to realise the mutuality of and indistinguishability of this with the westernising, culture transforming power of the discourse. Claims that Said has chosen his subjects carefully and perhaps misses the full plurality and complexity of Orientalism are perhaps quibbling points, for surely we cannot expect even in a book of 350 pages that the author consider every nation and all Orientalists in sufficient detail. There is,

11  Richard King, Orientalism and Religion, 85. 12 David Kopf, “Hermeneutics versus History,” Journal of Asian Studies 39 (May 1980): 495–506.


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however, a more serious problem which concerns Said’s reliance on Foucault. A significant problem for Said is that in order to champion the disenfranchised Orientals (the subtext of the book) he must maintain that there is indeed an Orient to be championed. Moreover, in order to make the moral claim that Orientalist writers were wrong, he must subscribe to a broadly rational humanist, enlightenment position. Both of these—that is the idea of an Orient as a real signified, as well as enlightenment rationality and humanist values—were repudiated by Foucault, who made a full-scale assault on each. Foucault maintains the radical critique that there is no signified, only representations, and that any dream of the signified is but the wishful and ultimately mistaken aspirations of enlightenment rationality’s master narrative of the triumphant ratio allied with liberalism. So Said cannot be a full-blooded Foucauldian (and he admits this in later writings and statements) but if he is to make moral judgements as he does, then he must do so on some grounds—liberal, secular humanist ones. Moreover, if all is representation—as Foucault would have it—then representation per se cannot be a scandal. Said needs to abandon the relativism of Foucault’s critique if he is to be a moralist: one cannot be too vague on the truth if one wishes to claim that some group or other is definitely wrong. But to hold hard and fast to a particular vision of truth is simply to open oneself to the post-modern critique. It seems Said is caught between the horns of a dilemma. To escape this impasse, Said refuses to suggest a positive conception of the Orient. His is essentially a negative programme, and in that sense is true to Foucault’s methods. In Orientalism he undertakes the archaeology of Orientalist claims to knowledge to unearth its complicity with the subjugation and silencing of the larger part of humanity, but when he finds what he is looking for, that is when he uncovers the evils of Orientalism, he reverts back to old, enlightenment humanism in order to make judgements. This is clearly a view predicated on liberal, secular humanism, but no positive appraisal of the Orient on this basis is proffered. Another, significant critique of Said’s thesis is made by Indian and Middle Eastern critics who claim that Said has placed too much emphasis on the passivity of the native. Through most of Orientalism, the colonised native is see as merely ‘done to’, passively being acted upon. This is to construe the Orientalist too simply. Natives were not silent, and Orientalism was not total. Writers such as Homi Babha, Gayatri Spivak and others of the subaltern collective maintain that Orientalism as conceived by Said is itself an elitist critique. The real ‘native’ on the ground did not merely do

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as s/he was told, but actively rebelled in a host of smaller and larger ways. Since Orientalism as well as its critique by Said was carried out by educated, privileged men, the native has been silenced not once but twice. Said unwittingly plays the kindly, wise and good westerner standing up for the rights of the oppressed in terms which the oppressed themselves neither understand nor care about. Their needs and desires go unheeded by western academics (for whom Orientalism was written) in the throes of post-colonial guilt, and while these privileged men deal with the sins of their fathers, the subaltern continues to struggle to find a seat at the table. One of the major criticisms of the subaltern collective writers strikes at the heart of Said’s Foucauldian argument, that is that the post-modern critiques of Foucault against representation were pre-figured in modernist discourse itself and thus the subaltern—those whose voices have been doubly obfuscated by orientalists and anti-orientalists—have eluded the “noncondescending gaze even of postmodernism.”13 We have already seen how Said falters in the horns of his modernist dilemma—here we have the post-modern door closed as well. It is clear from the above summary that Orientalism and its rejoinders are still an unfinished discourse. We have had several refinements and attempts to fill lacunae through Said’s refining of his arguments14 and, of course, through his critics and interlocutors. It is also clear that something greater is needed to complete the task of an authentic engagement with the religious Other, and through this the re-imagination of South Asian religions. Nothing less than a complete counter strategy will do, according to writers such as Purushottama Bilimoria, who with co-editor Andrew Irvine ask the question, ‘What would a postcolonial disquiet and critical assessment look like?”15 They and their contributors embark on an attempt to delineate the beginnings of such an enterprise, the goal being to launch a counter critique on western ideals, categories and concepts from Indian perspectives. This is essentially the work of counteranthropologisation. 13  Purshottama Bilimoria, “Toward Non-Western (Subaltern) Inclusive Categories for Comparative Philosophy and Religion,” unpublished lecture from the Comparative Philosophy and Religion seminar, American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Atlanta, October 2010. 14 Seen in the republication of Orientalism in 2003 with a new preface and an afterword from 1994. 15 See Postcolonial Philosophy of Religion, ed. P. Bilimoria and A. Irvine, (Dordrecht: Springer, 2010).


tinu ruparell B. Counteranthropology

To counteranthropologise is to take on a thorough critique of European derived epistemological and ontological commitments from the perspective of Indian or other Orientalised cultures.16 Anthropology is used as the mode of such a critique partly as a response to and rehabilitation of its use in 18th and 19th century Orientalism but also due to its comprehensiveness in including philosophical and psychological categories, concepts, and rules of relevance, as well as social and economic structures, political and familial networks, literary, musical and artistic expressions, and the various overt and covert ligaments which bind the social body together. In its comprehensive account of individuals, cultures, and societies, anthropology claims a unique universalism which counteranthropology leverages in its analogous consideration of the western other. The social location of the counteranthropologist is an important question. Who rightly could claim this position? Given the subaltern critiques above, is counteranthropologisation limited to those born and raised in the Indian epistemic, ontological, and social context (eliminating at a stroke most western academics)? I would argue that while much depends on South Asian scholars in this regard, counteranthropologisation need not eliminate other voices a priori. I have argued elsewhere17 that the location of a comparative, religious/philosophical enterprise can be understood to situate the counteranthropologist in the interstitial space between the home and foreign tradition. While western scholars cannot claim a ‘native’ standpoint (to use tired anthropological categories) they can imaginatively and metaphorically recreate themselves as hybrids between their two traditions. Such hybrids form new options for being in as much as they reflect a fusion of horizons between the compared perspectives and as such require of its subjects a form of kenosis. While I will not develop this point any further here, I suggest that such a move allows for a moveable and dynamic interstitial perspective inhabitable by comparativist western scholars, though admittedly this is a temporary home at best. The benefit of such an interstitial position is that it uniquely and creatively blends elements from the traditions being compared, subtlely 16 Richard King reiterates Paul Rabinow’s plea to anthropologise the west in Religion and Orientalism, 5, however King goes on only to provide a prolegomenon for such a project. 17 See my contribution, “Locating Cross-cultural Philosophy in Relation to Religion,” in After Appropriation: Explorations in Comparative Philosophy and Religion, ed. Morny Joy, (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2011).

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allowing the interstitial comparativist enough room to move between traditions and thus negotiate a hybrid standpoint. Leaving aside for the moment the question of how such counteranthropologisation might in fact work (to be considered through anekāntavāda below) I propose that ultimately we must use pragmatic criteria to decide whether and how counteranthropologising techniques have been successful or not. To use non-pragmatic criteria—Indian notions of satisfaction, validity or other rhetorical and logical devices for instance—would risk setting up essentialist Indian criteria against which counter strategic results would be measured. Such essentialism would fall into the Occidentalism which we must guard against since the programme would inevitably devolve into merely a form of turning the tables on the western imperialists. Pragmatic considerations involve the negotiation of success or failure among in and out group constituents. Only through the ongoing negotiation of these groups can they (we) decide whether or not a counteranthropologised critique has been successful; however I would add that one hallmark of anekāntavāda as such a strategy (as we shall see) is that it can be equally turned against one’s own constructions of the self as it can be used upon constructions of the other. This reflexiveness in itself may be a valuable criterion for successful counterinterrogations. However a signal problem with pragmatic criteria is that it does not necessarily counteract the imbalance of economic and political prestige among cultures. As Talal Asad has noted: To put it crudely: because the languages of Third World societies . . . are weaker in relation to Western languages (and today, especially to English), they are more likely to submit to forcible transformation in the translation process than the other way around. The reason for this is, first, that in their politico-economic relations with Third World countries, Western nations have a greater ability to manipulate the latter. And, second, Western languages produce and deploy desired knowledge more readily that Third World languages do. (The knowledge that Third World languages deploy most easily is not sought by Western societies in the same way, or for the same reason).18

Asad rightly argues that pragmatic considerations alone are insufficient to address the historical and systemic power imbalance between translating and translated cultures, notwithstanding the global rise in importance of 18 Talal Asad, “The Concept of Cultural Transformation in British Social Anthropology,” in James Clifford and George E. Marcus, eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1986), 157–8.


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South Asian economies and polities. Aside from a relatively ad hoc call for solidarity with the underpowered party in such negotiations, pragmatic criteria may be bolstered through the discursive acid of anekāntavāda dialectics as we shall see below.19 C. Anekāntavāda as a Counteranthropologising Strategy Bimal Krishna Matilal describes the Jaina theory of anekāntavāda (or syādvāda) as a form of meta-metaphysics. Whereas Advaitins may wish to claim that everything is Brahman, Buddhists that everything is non-soul, impermanent and suffering, the materialist that everything is nothing more than matter in its various forms, idealists that everything is mind, the Jainas claim that everything is ‘non-one-sided.’20 As such the Jaina doctrine encompasses the fundamental philosophical commitments of the others, thus gaining a ‘meta-level’ perspective—however by this one should not conclude that the Jaina doctrine is thereby more comprehensive nor more correct, since anekāntavāda itself is but one perspective and thus becomes a member of its own set.21 As a defining characteristic of Jaina thought, however, one can understand anekāntavāda to be the attempt to reconcile contrary positions, that is, to show that the mutually opposite characterisation of reality by rival philosophers should be reconciled, for, depending upon different points of view, the reality can be discovered to have both natures, being and nonbeing, permanent and impermanent, general and particular, expressible and inexpressible.22 19 Practical methods of counteranthropology include, for instance, not making translations of key terms in our use of South Asian concepts. Māyā for instance should never be translated as illusion, not merely because it is mistaken but because in learning the grammar of the Hindu religious tradition, for example, one must understand the various and multiple uses of the terms in situ. Translation not only destroys context but allows for a rather different trajectory of uses for the term in the foreign language. These are of course well know issues to translators but often forgotten in the course of scholarship in South Asian traditions. 20 B. K. Matilal, “Anekānta: Both Yes and No,” in Jaina Theory of Multiple Facets of Reality and Truth. (New Delhi: Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology, 2000), 1. 21 This is strictly only true when applied to human knowledge since to avoid self referentiality the Jainas did accept that one absolute truth is possible in the comprehension of all possible perspectives which is only possible for those Jinas such as the Mahavira. (Ibid. p. 9). Within the deployment of ordinary humans the perspective of anekāntavāda is itself merely one perspective. 22 Matilal, ibid., 4. Quoting Guṇaratna Sūri in his commentary of Haribhadra’s Sarvadarśana-saṃgraha.

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Aside from this pacific element in their thought, anekāntavāda is for Jainas a response to the admission that many seriously held beliefs and positions, individually justifiable by common criteria, are nevertheless contradictory. It simply is the case that serious philosophical positions are mutually incompatible.23 Instead of charting a middle way between opposing commitments, as the Buddha suggested, or rejecting both as ultimately empty as Nāgārjuna was later to argue, the Jainas accept both positions with qualifications. Through anekāntavāda a pluralisation of perspectives is enjoined while at the same time the dogmatic adherence to a single or partial view (ekānta) is mitigated. Anekāntavāda can properly be likened to a kind of perspectivalism. While the notion that one’s historical perspective and social location partly determine the kinds of questions one is likely to ask as well as the availability of certain domains of possible answers is hardly a revelation, we should be careful to distinguished this from a crass relativism which suggests that given the necessarily contextualised nature of all of our epistemic commitments and their ensuing truth claims one can conclude that no particular claim is true or that one claim is as good as any other. Such relativism, though perhaps rife in late modern, western, consumerist society is anathema to the Jaina view. Jaina perspectivalism is closer to what Janet Soskice, drawing upon discussions in the philosophy of science, rightly points out when she argues that the world in which we live is so complex that it will never be able to be comprehended in a single theory.24 Reality, in this sense, always surpasses our ability to describe it. This is an old insight and Aquinas stated it well, writing, “there is nothing to stop a thing that is objectively more certain by its nature from appearing subjectively less certain to us because of the disability of our minds . . . we are like bats, who in the sunshine blink at the most obvious things.”25 All we have are various models, informed by the reality modelled, by which to approach or approximate our object. This does not lead, as noted above, to a pernicious relativism, since the various realities to which our 23 See Nicholas Rescher’s discussion of this in his The Strife of Systems. An essay on the grounds and implications of philosophical diversity. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh press, 1985). An application of this fundamental truth to interreligious dialogue can be found in S. Mark Heim’s Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion (Maryknoll NY: Orbis books, 1995) 24  This version of perspectivalism is from Janet Soskice, “The Truth Looks Different from Here,” New Blackfriars vol. 73, no. 865 (Nov. 1992), 528–42. 25 Summa Theologica, Ia, 1, 5. Blackfriars edn. Vol. 1 trans. Thomas Gilby, P. P. (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964), 19. As quoted is Soskice, 534.


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models refer may be unified despite a panoply of models. Complex topics are generally better described by complex descriptions than by simple single views. The doctrine of anekāntavāda begins with this perspectivalism but develops it further in response to various criticisms. This was deftly exemplified by the 8th century Jaina philosopher Haribadhra. The challenge for Jaina thinkers is to show how a single subject can be predicated by two distinct and contradictory predicates. Let the statement be “X (the subject) is and is not Y”. Matilal’s example is a simple one—it is raining.26 Can the state of affairs predicated by ‘is raining’ be simultaneously predicated ‘is not raining?’ The Jaina answer is first to introduce the idea of perspective: by some perspectives it would be raining while by others it would not. The sentence ‘it is raining’ would be true, for instance if and only if it is raining, and false if it is sunny. The statement can thus be true and false depending on the indexicals pertaining to the subject. The statement could also be true if it is raining in the place where the statement is made and false at some other place; and of course the statement would be true at some times and false at other times. Indeed it is always the case that when the conditions pertaining to the subject of a statement are made clear, one can see that only by virtue of those conditions can the statement be properly indicated as true. When the contrary statement is also clarified as to its subject’s conditions, its truth can also be seen to be justified. So if one simply collects together the conditions by virtue of which the statement and its contradiction are both true, we arrive at the state wherein a single statement is both true and false. The point made here is that the particular conditions or perspectives which are in normal discourse hidden, assumed or neglected must be included in the proposition in order for its correct truth value to be determined. At this point the critic may claim that the Jaina doctrine really amounts to a fairly banal insistence that in order for a statement’s truth value to be ascertained one must simply stipulate all of the various indexicals pertaining to it, that is, to fully contextualise the proposition such that its truth value becomes eternal (as Quine would put it). This would indeed be a banal result and it would be odd, to say the least, were the Jaina doctrine merely to insist on this. However, as Matilal reminds us, anekāntavāda entails the further claim that it is not in fact possible for a non-omniscient

26 The following is taken from Matilal, “Anekānta: Both Yes and No,” in Jaina Theory of Multiple Facets of Reality and Truth. (New Delhi: Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology, 2000), 6–17.

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being to stipulate all of the possible indexicals pertaining to a particular state of affairs. All limited humans must refrain from imagining that we have the ability to exhaust the possible states of affairs which may impinge on the truth value of a proposition at hand. Matilal argues that the plethorisation of perspectives inherent in anekāntavāda is thus really an ethical command to limit our tendency to universalise and generalise.27 We must remain open to revision and even rejection of our prejudiced views. In this Haribadhra is echoed by J. S. Mill who championed a fallibilist epistemology which insists that no truth claim arrived at through reference to empirical data is immune from revision or refutation and thus one must maintain with humility the belief that one may be shown to be wrong about any and every truth claim.28 One significant obstacle remains, however. In the above analysis the critic might claim that once one has clarified the indexicals pertaining to a subject to whom contrary predicates are applied, when combining them to allow for the subject to be both true and false with respect to a particular predicate, the various indexicals have left us with different subjects. If I say, for instance, that ‘X is Y’ is both true and false, depending on the various indexicals relating to X in different circumstances, the critic might argue that just those different circumstances render X non-identical to itself. In one set of circumstances the predicate Y is true of X, but in another set of circumstances X cannot really be said to maintain its identity, the circumstances being radically different. In this case Y being false of X makes no difference since we have different Xs. This strikes at the substance metaphysics of Jainism and is beyond the scope of the present discussion, however a response was developed to this challenge. Whereas traditional western logic is bivalent—its possible states being only True or False—Jaina and Buddhist logic admits four possible states: True, False, Both and Neither. Where Mādhyamikas take the negative (Neither) way, the Jainas accept the positive ‘Both’ state. This separate non-reducible logical state they call avaktavya (inexpressible). Distinguished from apophatic silence, Matilal suggest that the ‘inexpressible’ logical possibility entails a simultaneous ‘yesno’ or ‘truefalse’ which Jainas refer to as avaktavya. 27 Ibid., 12. 28 See Peter Donovan, “The Intolerance of Religious Pluralism,” Religious Studies, 29, (1993), 217–229. One might argue that Donovan leaves the possibility that one is justified in holding a priori necessary truths without these fallibilist caveats, however even geometric truths such as the sum of the internal angles of a triangle being equal to two right angles is true only with regards to Euclidian space. The contextuality highlighted by anekāntavāda applies even here.


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Furthermore, every proposition expressing ontological content has the state avaktavya in addition to its possible truth or falsity.29 Anekāntavāda thus applies to all well formed phrases justifying the belief that limited human nature cannot claim for itself epistemic certainty as well as buttressing the Jaina pluralist, realist metaphysic. By now it should be clear how anekāntavāda might act as an acidic counteranthropologising strategy. Avaktavya being a third logical possibility opens up both epistemic and ontological possibilities currently unavailable to traditional western modes of thought. The either-or mentality so prevalent in western thinking, in all its domains, requires the full frontal attack posed by this third logical option. The closest that European derived thought seems to come to such an insight is Kierkegaardian reflection on the nature of ironic predication. Kierkegaard argues that the absurdity of human existence in the face of a transcendent divinity compels all propositions to be a simultaneous saying-unsaying, the form of which we understand as irony. Irony thus becomes fundamental to all truth claims and as such marks authentic human existence: . . . Irony is a qualification of subjectivity. In irony, the subject is negatively free, since the actuality that is supposed to give the subject content is not there. He is free from the constraint in which the given actuality holds the subject, but he is negatively free and as such is suspended, because there is nothing that holds him. But this very freedom, this suspension, gives the ironist a certain enthusiasm, because he becomes intoxicated, so to speak, in the infinity of possibilities . . .30

To radically ironise western epistemologies and ontologies is thus the first step in counteranthropologisation. Striking at the foundation of the ways in which western bivalent logics operate is no glancing blow: it would radically alter the self understanding of European (-derived) cultures. Only with such fundamental critiques can we begin the process of an authentic re-imagination of South Asian religion. I conclude by highlighting one practical way in which the ironising critique of anekāntavāda may be deployed, leaving to others the full development of both the repercussions of three-valued logic as well as other strategic countermeasures against orientalist Religious Studies. Anekāntavāda may open up space for hitherto marginalised voices but it 29 This distinguishes anekāntavāda from western systems of para-consistent logic. 30 From Kierkegaard’s 1841 doctoral thesis, The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates pp. 262ff, accessed from html (last accessed 18 Feb 2011).

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should also make possible the incursion into academic discourse styles of expression generally dismissed as merely aesthetic. Poems, music, literature and drama may regain a stronger status in our intellectual lives under a logic of both-and, as well as either-or. To that end I offer the following: Everything except language knows the meaning of existence. Trees, planets, rivers, time Know nothing else. They express it Moment by moment as the universe. Even this fool of a body lives it in part, and would have full dignity within it but for the ignorant freedom of my talking mind. —Les Murray From Poems the Size of Photographs, 200231

Bibliography Asad, Talal. “The Concept of Cultural Transformation in British Social Anthropology,” in James Clifford and George E. Marcus, (eds.), Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1986. Bilimoria, Purshottama. “Toward Non-Western (Subaltern) Inclusive Categories for Comparative Philosophy and Religion,” unpublished lecture from the Comparative Philosophy and Religion seminar, American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Oct 2010. Bilimoria, Puroshottama and A. Irvine (eds.). Postcolonial Philosophy of Religion, Dordrecht: Springer, 2010. Donovan, Peter. “The Intolerance of Religious Pluralism,” Religious Studies, 29, (1993): 217–229. Habermas, Jürgen. “Religious Tolerance: The Pacemaker for Cultural Rights,” Philosophy 79.301 (2004): 5–18. (last accessed 18 Feb 2011). (last accessed 18 Feb 2011). King, Richard. Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, Indian and ‘The Mystic East’. London: Routledge, 1999. Kopf, David Kopf. “Hermeneutics versus History,” Journal of Asian Studies 39 (May 1980): 495–506. Matilal, B. K. “Anekānta: Both Yes and No,” in Jaina Theory of Multiple Facets of Reality and Truth. New Delhi: Bhogilal Leherchand Institute of Indology, 2000. Nussbaum, Martha Nussbaum. The Clash Within: Democracy, Violence and India’s Future, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2007.

31 (last accessed 18 Feb 2011).


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Pollock, Sheldon Pollock. ‘Deep Orientalism. Notes on Sanskrit and Power beyond the Raj’ in Carol A. Brekenridge and Peter van der Veer Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. Rescher, Nicholas. The Strife of Systems. An essay on the grounds and implications of philosophical diversity Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985. Said, Edward. Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books, 1994 [2003]. Ruparell, Tinu. “Locating Cross-cultural Philosophy in Relation to Religion,” in After Appropriation: Explorations in Comparative Philosophy and Religion, Morny Joy (ed.) Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2011. Soskice, Janet. “The Truth Looks Different from Here,” New Blackfriars vol. 73, no. 865 (Nov. 1992): 528–42.

Rewriting the Hindu Traditions from Global Perspectives Vasudha Narayanan The story of the Hindu traditions has been largely limited to the Indian sub-continent.  Textbooks have ignored over 1500 years of historical Hindu presence in Southeast Asia as well as more recent migrations. This paper will explore how the history of the Hinduism may be rewritten if we were to take into consideration the multiple Hindu traditions in many parts of the world. While Hindu traditions have flourished for more than two millennia outside the sub-continent, this paper will focus on Southeast Asia and the Americas.  Are the Hindu rituals, architecture, and customs in other parts of the world as local as, say, the Tamil, Assamese, or Oriya traditions, which have both a shared ethos with other Hindu sects and communities as well as distinctive practices? How would our discussions of caste, women, rituals, temple, and domestic spaces change if we take into consideration the lives of the Hindus in many parts of the world? Connected with this is an approach that does not privilege text alone, but art and architecture, as well as the performing arts. This would be an exercise which would portray hundreds of thousands of global Hindus for whom India has not been or is not currently, home. This re-imagined narrative would be one in which global Hindus would even recognize themselves. The first caveat we should make, of course, is that the word “Hindu” has been in common usage only since the nineteenth century and has become popular only after the twentieth century. The word is used in this paper as a convenient umbrella term. It is also used “in retrospect,” so to speak, for hundreds of communities and social divisions, as well as for diverse beliefs, practices, arts, and branches of knowledge connected with people and communities who have geographic, biological, or spiritual connections, whether it be through an ancestor or religious teachings, with the Indian sub-continent. In general, and in line with most philosophers who drew such lines in the first millennium CE, it would exclude those faiths which explicitly reject the exalted status of the Vedas. Although millions of people in India may have never heard of the Vedas, philosophical and elitist segments of the population in India assumed them to be Hindu unless they belonged to a faith tradition that explicitly rejected, denied, or


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self-consciously bypassed the status of the Vedas as exalted in some way. Thus, the term is used here anachronistically for phenomena in the first millennium CE in Southeast Asia, which was then labeled as ‘Vaiṣṇava’ or ‘Śaiva’. ‘Hindu,’ of course, serves as a contemporary label used by almost a billion people today to describe themselves and their multiple histories. “The city is surrounded by a moat, crossed by five bridges. These have on each side a cordon held by giants . . . Half a league from this is a temple called Angar . . . It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of . . .” So wrote Diogo Do Couto, the official historian of the Portuguese Indies around 1586 about the Bayon and the Angkor Wat.1 Angkor Wat, the large temple built by the Khmer king Suryavarman II, was dedicated to the Hindu deity Viṣṇu in the midtwelfth century CE, and today, this temple, which was originally Vaishnava, is on the Cambodian national flag. Indeed, the only country whose flag has a picture of a Hindu temple is Cambodia. Do Couto’s reference to the giants holding a cordon is obvious to anyone who has visited the territories surrounding Angkor: many of the moats leading to the major monuments are lined with giant figures called the deva-s (divine beings/“gods”) and asura-s (demons) pulling a serpent-rope. The extended sculpture is seen in many sizes all over Cambodia; in fact, the largest bas-relief in the world, 49 meters long, depicts this story in the Angkor Wat temple. The narrative is thought of as so uniquely Khmer that large replicas are seen outside Cambodian embassies around the world, including Washington DC, and outside hotels in the Siem Reap area, Cambodia. These sculptures refer to a relatively minor story in Indian Hinduism which is radically transformed to become the most dominant one in Khmer culture. The narrative, found in the Purāṇas, relates how the deva-s and the demons, consummate enemies, came together to churn an ocean of milk in search of the nectar of immortality. In Angkor Wat alone, the story is represented three times, and the depiction in the eastern gallery (southern part), spanning more than 49 meters, is considered to be the largest bas-relief in the world. And indeed, the Gallery of Bas-reliefs, surrounding the first level of Angkor Wat, contains 1200 square meters (12,917 square feet) of sandstone carvings, almost all of them (with the exception of Suryavarman’s court and armies) depicting scenes from Hindu epics and Purāṇas.

1 Charles Higham, The Civilization of Angkor (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001), 2.

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Although some calculations point to the large Swaminarayan temples (Neasden, England or near Atlanta, USA) as larger, the point that we should note is that all contenders to the title of the largest Hindu temple seem to be outside India. Indeed, if one is to look at record-breaking numbers in connection with material religion in Hinduism, one has to frequently look outside of India. The Sdok kok thom, the longest Sanskrit inscription in the world, was done in eleventh century, during the reign of Udayadityavarman II, in Cambodia. It begins thus: “Homage to Śiva whose essence is highly proclaimed without words . . . His form, who pervades (everything) from within and who activates the senses of living beings.” The inscription goes on to describe several generations of priests in royal service and hails Udayadityavarman’s prowess and association with the goddess Lakṣhmī. This inscription is not in the Indian sub-continent; it was done in Sdok kok thom, on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, and is now in the National Library at Bangkok, and Udayadityavarman was a Khmer king. Although Hindu traditions flourished in many parts of the world, we have not included them in our teaching. This paper argues for a revisioning of the way in which we introduce Hinduism to students. A study of the Hindu traditions as a global phenomenon may help us understand not just the pluralistic Hindu traditions but the spread of religions, and ultimately, the phenomenon of religion itself. Such a task is, however, fraught with landmines, and one can debate the relative virtues and pitfalls of the many approaches we can take in the studying of the global Hindu traditions. The first is to be mindful of charges of intellectual colonialism. Second, do we do look at the globalization historically or geographically—as in, if it is Tuesday, it has to be Bali? Or should we be thematic? Should we show how the themes, concepts, or rituals play out in India, somehow giving the impression that we are privileging what takes place in the subcontinent and what happens in other countries as dilute? A combination of historical, geographic, and thematic approaches may help in the teaching of these global traditions. Most textbooks on Hinduism have traditionally focused on India. It is only in the last few decades that we have had a burgeoning cottage industry of studies looking at Hinduism in other countries, mainly by scholars who live in those countries. Most well documented have been England, Canada, and USA, along with transnational movements such as Sai, ISKCON, etc. Both these approaches—studying India alone or Hinduism in just one country—have limitations, and our knowledge ends up like those of the six blind men describing the elephant. The questions before us today are


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several, and in this chapter, we will discuss just a few. What do we mean by global Hinduism? What are the features of Hindu practices in other countries that will help us refocus our gaze on Hinduism in India and our study of the traditions? And if studied that way, would our understanding of the Hindu traditions be different? This exercise would lead us to re-imagine the history of the traditions. Ideally, we should include the many global Hindu traditions in our discussions of the Hindu traditions just as we should include—and have not done so very successfully—the many Hindu traditions in Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Orissa, Bengal, and so on. To say this is to almost speak in shorthand; one must, of course, stay very clear of approaches that smack of intellectual colonialism. Nor should this be an exercise which one re-emphasizes traditional theories of Indianization of Southeast Asia. Although George Coedes (1880–1969) has called the process by which Hindu and Buddhist cultural influence was received in Cambodia as “Indianization,” many scholars today use this term with caution.2 According to an alternative viewpoint, Indian culture was not imposed from outside on a passive land and people. Rather, it is asserted that local rulers in Southeast Asia invited Indian brahmanas to serve them and selected what they wanted of Indian culture.3 Certainly, the whole panoply of Hindu deities is seen in Cambodia, but there are several distinctive features in the architecture and iconography. The artificial mountain temples of Bakheng and Bakong in the Angkor area, or the steep, tenth century temple mountain to Śiva in Koh Ker (100km northeast of Angkor) are similar to the architecture in Borubodur, Indonesia, and very different from the temples in India. The idiom in the architecture here is distinctive to Southeast Asia, and the local kings seem to have had control over what elements of Indian culture they wanted to adopt, magnify, or discard. It is also certainly true that while there was extensive and deep cultural influence from India, some important features of Indian life—the dietary culture, the caste system, etc.—never took hold in Cambodia. When one includes the study of the many countries where Hinduism has flourished in discussions about the religion here, it is more to speak about the different manifestations of Hindu traditions than to hold any 2 See for instance, George Cœdès, The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1968. 3 Michael Vickery, Society, Economics and Politics in Pre-Angkor Cambodia: The 7th–8th Centuries. Tokyo. The Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for Unesco, The Toyo Bunko, 1998.

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one to be ‘original’ or ‘authentic.’ This is ironic because one of the most significant markers of Hindu traditions outside of India may be their quest for ‘authenticity’ in a place that is at once an exile and at once home, and frequently, the only home. Rather, it may be possible to think of Hinduism in Cambodia or Guyana like a Venn diagram, with other parts of the picture being the multiple manifestations of the traditions in various parts of the sub-continent. Thus, it may be possible to argue that the forms of Hindu law seen in Cambodia are as close Manusmṛti and the dharma śāstra as, for example, Chola adaptations of texts on dharma in Tamilnadu. ‘Possession’ in Guyana can be included in our discussions of Hinduism as one more manifestation of such phenomena which are seen in Malaysia or Tamilnadu. A study of Hinduism then, should include the importance of performing arts in Cambodia and Canada, possession in Guyana, the centrality of architecture, the role of women not just in the dharma śāstra but also in Angkor, and the multiple interpretations of caste in other countries. Global Hinduism In what way is Hinduism global? The term ‘Hindu’ is, as is well known, of geographic origin, and some may think of it as the religion of the people east of the Sindhu. But to confine ‘Hindu’ to linguistic origins or to confine Hinduism to India is to ignore Angkor Wat, ignore the performances of the Rāmāyaṇa, the tassa drums of Trinidad, the Kali rituals in Guyana. For, although the word ‘Hindu’ has been popular only since the nineteenth century to designate the diverse and dominant philosophies, beliefs, and practices that form the faith of about 80 percent of the Indian sub-continent, ideas, texts, sectarian movements, rituals, as well as expressive and visual arts connected with the religion that we now call ‘Hinduism’ have traveled along with material culture to many parts of the world for more than two millennia. One may call Hinduism ‘global’ in at least three ways. First, there is a sizeable number of Hindus who are from (or descended from immigrants from) the Indian sub-continent in almost every part of the world. Second, people from local populations in various countries have adopted and still accept teachers, doctrines, beliefs, or practices of one of the many Hindu traditions, whether it is Khmer aristocracy in the ninth century CE or members of the ISKCON/ ‘Hare Kṛṣṇas.’ Third, ideas and practices derived from Hindu traditions are sometimes taken out of their


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socio-cultural milieu, distanced from the term ‘Hindu’, and become part of the cultures outside of India. In this sense, of course, almost all religions are global. An example of the last point is seen in America; starting approximately with the time of the New England Transcendentalists in the nineteenth century and all the way into the twenty-first century, we see American engagement with ideas, philosophies, and practices connected with the many Hindu traditions in the Indian sub-continent; however, these ideas or practices (like yoga) are called ‘universal’, ‘spiritual’, or even just as ‘stress-relief techniques’ and not connected with Hinduism. In its multiple manifestations, Hinduism, of course, comes both in brand names and in generic avatars with a ‘universal’ message. Although one can seldom find a generic Hindu in India, the texts and practices of Hinduism have been mined for ‘universal’ messages which have been disseminated as not belonging to any one religion but to all human beings. Thus, Hindu teachers beginning with leaders like Vivekananda and Yogananda, who came to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, stress the ‘timeless’ truths and practices of Hinduism which are not bound by sectarian belief, dogma, or ethnic fences. We are all of course familiar with the examples—contemplative practices and meditation, yoga, recitation of simple mantras, and even concepts like the immortality and reincarnation of the soul. The numbers of Hindus around the world also tell us that it is a global religion. According to some estimates, there are about a billion Hindus in the world today, which translates to approximately 13–15 percent of the world’s population. It is hard to get numbers for Hinduism because it is not a congregational religion, and Hindus are not necessarily affiliated to a temple for membership and regular worship, and so, their numbers in other parts of the world remain approximations. Most Hindus live in south Asian countries, particularly India, but there are sizeable numbers in other countries in the region, especially Nepal and Bangla Desh, as well as in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia in Southeast Asia. Estimates in 2007 indicate upward of 500,000 Hindus in the United Kingdom, and about 1.5 million in the United States, but Hindus believe that these estimates are low. Although Sanskrit texts, including the Manusmṛti or the codes of behavior according to Manu composed around the beginning of the common era, frowned on the travel outside the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, and some notion of ritual pollution was connected in practice with traveling abroad even to the beginning of the twentieth century, Hindus have traveled and settled in Africa, parts of Europe, and more

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extensively, Southeast Asia, as early as from before the common era. Much of this was connected with economic and professional reasons for men, some, as in Southeast Asia, may have been linked with invitations from and patronage by aristocracy. The economic reasons range from include trade, indentured work, and more recently, in the late twentieth century, professional opportunities in western Europe, Australia, North America, and the Middle East. With a few significant exceptions, particularly after the nineteenth century, and then restricted largely to a few charismatic leaders, sharing of religious ideas does not seem to be the primary force for Hindus to be traveling outside of India. Hindu Populations with Ancestors from the Indian Sub-continent Although there has been steady migration through the centuries, if one were to look at the larger picture, it would be possible to discern at least three major series of migrations of Hindus outside of the Indian subcontinent. The first of these was in the first millennium; it is probable that rather than being large number of immigrants, it was Hindu ideas and practices that moved with small groups of influential elites over several centuries to Southeast Asia. The second major movement we can identify is the migration of workers for commerce or through indentureship in the nineteenth century. The third large immigration, in the second half of the twentieth century, happened in several registers. It includes the enthusiastic embrace of professional opportunities in western countries by a skilled, educated population from India. The watershed year for the United States was 1965, when immigration laws were relaxed to allow professional engineers, physicians, and, towards the end of the century, thousands of software professionals to enter America. During this time, we also see political refugees as well as ‘second’ diasporas. Aspects of sectarian, philosophical, architectural, and performing dimensions of what we call the Hindu traditions today have been in Southeast Asia for about two millennia. Most of these early Hindu traditions have died out in Cambodia, but a legacy of architecture and performing arts, and to a lesser extent, proper names, manuscripts, and rituals, attests to their dominant presence. Small pockets of Hindus from early migrations as well as descendants of more recent migrations still live in Southeast Asia. Many early kingdoms in Southeast Asia, starting in the first half of the first millennium CE selectively chose and adopted Hindu texts, theologies,


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rituals, architecture, and social organization suitable to their times and agendas. The migration of Hindus to Southeast Asia was probably in small waves, following land and sea routes. These new people came with their narratives, religious principles behind the engineering of temples, public water works, performing arts, astronomy/astrology, statecraft, and literary traditions. Small groups of settlers seem to have shared their traditions through the invitation or request of the local elite. Some of these traditions were magnified by the local people, some modified, many jettisoned. The Srivijaya kingdom, based in Palembang in south Sumatra, was very powerful for a while, controlling key trade routes and extending its empire to Thailand in the north and West Borneo in the east. It was largely a Buddhist dynasty, but Hindu dynasties flourished in central Java. In the Sanjaya/Mataram kingdom, one of the best known and largest Hindu temples—the Loro Jonggrang at Prambanan (near Yogyakarta)— was built in the ninth century CE. Hindu dynasties ruled in Bali after the ninth century CE. The larger Khmer empire which included the modern countries of Cambodia, parts of Laos, and Thailand, as well as other territories, was home to hundreds of temples. Inscriptions in Sanskrit attest to the vibrancy and widespread practice of Hindu traditions. There are records of kings bearing Hindu names from about the third or fourth centuries CE, and the Angkor age, starting around 802 CE, saw an efflorescence of templebuilding activities. Hindu traditions declined after the fifteenth century CE, but the memory of the many deities and the stories of the Hindu epics have lingered and traditions rediscovered and reinvented through the centuries. The adoption of Hindu names by Cambodian kings is one of the many striking ways in which they expressed their connection to the royal dynasties in India. Many of the early kings in Cambodia had Hindu/Sanskrit names like Rudravarman, Bhavavarman, or Jayavarman. Almost all the early kings in Southeast Asia bore names ending with the royal ‘varman’, as was the custom in India. It is also well known that according to the text of dharma in India, names of kṣatriyas should end with the term ‘varman’. Inscriptions from the mouth of the Mun river (a tributary of the Mekong) near Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, tell us about a king called Citrasena or Mahendravarman (names common among the Pallava kings of south India) who seems to have ruled there sometime around the sixth or seventh centuries CE. Many of the places and kingdoms also have strikingly auspicious Hindu names. Linga Parvata, or the ‘Linga Mountain’, is near Pakse, Laos; an early capital of Jayavarman II in the ninth century

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was called ‘Hariharalaya’—the sacred abode of Hari (Viṣṇu) and Hara (Śiva). Some of these names have lingered and have been modified in Southeast Asia. The second major wave Hindu migration took place in the nineteenth century and is closely connected with colonialism. Indentured workers, Hindu, Muslim, and a few Christian citizens of India were transported under less than transparent conditions to different parts of the world. This form of labor has been called ‘quasi-slavery’, and the immigrants built communities in many parts of the world.4 The third major wave of migration starting in the late twentieth century has been related to both political and professional reasons. Descendants of immigrants to the Caribbean, Africa, and other parts of the world started moving to the countries which had colonized the land where they originally resided. Thus Hindus from Kenya and Uganda moved to England; and those from Dutch Guyana settled in the Netherlands, and so on. There have also been Hindu refugees moving from Sri Lanka to Europe and Canada in the last two decades of the twentieth century to escape the civil war at home. Toronto, it is said, has the largest number of Sri Lankan Tamil people outside of Sri Lanka. Professionally, the opportunities in the United States, Canada, and Australia attracted large numbers of educated workers to migrate, settle in new hometowns, and build temples in new landscapes. As in earlier migrations, selected elements of the Hindu traditions are retained, transformed, and transmitted. Hindus in the United States strongly support temple culture; transform temple buildings into community centers; frequently conflate ethnicity, culture, and religion; and overwhelmingly use the performing arts, especially dance and music, to transmit Indian/Hindu worldviews to the second generation. The differences between the various communities in global Hindu traditions are directly related to the reasons for migration, economic class, social caste and linguistic divisions, educational qualifications, and place of origin of the members, as well as their relationship to the host country. We will briefly survey a few prominent features of global Hinduism, including social divisions, deities, architecture, and transmission of culture through performing arts.

4 For an excellent account of some of these communities, see Paul Younger, New Homelands: Hindu Communities in Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Fiji, and East Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.


vasudha narayanan Social Divisions

There is considerable diversity in the emphasis on retaining social divisions present in India in global communities. In general, only parts of the caste system are emphasized outside of India. Caste divisions are still prominent in some parts of the world; Younger notes the presence of caste temples in East Africa.5 Caste traditions have an uneasy and limited presence in egalitarian societies of western Europe and the Americas. In many contexts they are diminished and come up only in the context of ritual celebrations. In parts of the Caribbean hybrid religious identities are more fluid. Many Hindus adopted Christianity but retain the ritual performances of their ancestors. In some Caribbean societies, ethnic identity trumped religious identity, and Hindus and Muslims from south Asia have, until recently, intermarried. In Cambodia, we learn from inscriptions the importance given to one’s biological ancestry, the pride taken in important and learned ancestors who are spoken of as brahmanas and learned in the Vedas. The title vrahmana (Sanskrit: brahmaṇa) is also attached to some names in Khmer. However, it must be noted that although great respect has been shown to the brahmanas in Cambodian (as well as Thai) culture, the caste system as we know it in India did not exist here. Mabbett has shown that new castes were created by the king, who seems to have had the power to convey these caste names to his subjects. The caste system existed in so far as we see the importance of brahmanas and the kṣatriyas, but beyond that, we do not know if it had much currency. In general, it is agreed that “the varnas were largely ceremonial orders” and were not a feature of the masses.6 Through inscriptions, we learn that both matrilineal and patrilineal descent is emphasized. Far more emphasis is given to matrilineal descent in Cambodia than it is in India. It is not clear whether it is a local phenomenon or one which was imported from parts of south India. In the famous Sdok Kak Thom inscription of 1052, for instance, we hear of many generations of kings and priests, mostly through a matrilineal descent.

5 Paul Younger, New Homelands: Hindu Communities in Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Fiji, and East Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 6 Ian Mabbett, “Varnas in Angkor and the Indian Caste System.” Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3 (May, 1977): 429–442; see especially 439.

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This matrilineal culture is still seen in modern Cambodia; after marriage, a bridegroom frequently moves in with his wife’s family. There is evidence of queens making endowments; the earliest may have been Queen Kulaprabhavati in southern Cambodia in the fifth/sixth century CE.7 Queen Jayadevi ruled in Cambodia in the early eighth century. Many women seem to have held royal offices, and they certainly executed many pious and charitable constructions. We also hear of many queens— Indralakshmi, Kambujarajalakshmi, and Jayarajadevi—through inscriptions, and they seem to have wielded considerable power. Integrating the way the caste system and gender issues have played out in Hindu societies in various parts of the world, along with other kinship practices, would add to the study and problematize traditional depictions of these issues in textbooks. Global Deities: There are dozens of deities in India, and many of them have traveled well. Icons of Brahma, Viṣṇu, Śiva, Hari-Hara, Ganeṣa, Skanda, Nandi, a bull sacred to Śiva, Garuda, the eagle mount of Viṣṇu, the nine planets worshiped by Hindus, and other deities have been found all over Southeast Asia. Unlike medieval India, where most temples were sectarian, Hindu temples around the world have an array of multiple deities. It was common practice in Southeast Asia to have Śiva, Viṣṇu, and manifestations of the goddess (Devi) all in the same building. We see this multiplicity in most temples in Europe and the Americas. An important exception is the temple-building program of the Swaminarayan sect among immigrant Hindus and the Hare Kṛṣṇa temples among Euro-American Hindus. While traditions relating to local goddesses like Mariamman (popular in the Indian state of Tamilnadu) are seen where indentured workers traveled, by and large, many of the temples in the United States and Canada have pan-Hindu deities who are recognizable in many parts of the Hindu landscape. Since many of the immigrants in the United States and Canada have been professionals of a higher economic class from urban areas, local deities and forms of worship prevalent in village India or ‘lower’ classes are not present in the United States. ‘Local’ deities who are popular in the Americas include Lord Venkateswara (‘Lord of the Venkata Hills’), a manifestation of Viṣṇu who is enshrined in dozens of temples; Murugan from Tamilnadu; as well as Ayyappan, a deity worshiped in Kerala, India.

7 Higham, 2001, 32; Ian W. Mabbett, The Khmers. (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1995), 75.


vasudha narayanan Sacralizing the landscape

Hindus have recreated their cosmologies in migrations. Some of this has been through temple building, some through a recreation of the sacred territories in new lands. Thus, in Cambodia, the Kbal Spean became associated with the river Ganga, and a thousand lingas were carved into the river bed. Kasi, the Indian name for Benares, is found in Flint, MI, and in Sebastian, FL. Temple towers and tanks replicate the Hindu landscape from sea to shining sea in America. Traditional architects and sculptors design and work on the temples which tangibly connect the Hindus with the cosmos, with India, and with the host country. Traditional narratives of modernity which hold that religion is undermined by science and reason are challenged by these activities of temple building and the nostalgic recollection of spiritual homelands. The construction of public spaces congruent with Puranic cosmology, or those said to be connected with the sacred spaces of India, form the dominant meta narratives in the building of modern temples in a new world. Immigrants from India, especially those who came to the Americas in the latter half of the twentieth century, have had economic prosperity, the luxury of going back regularly to their mother country (unlike the immigrants to the Caribbean in the nineteenth century), and freedom to practice their religion. To a large extent, they also perceived the American people as being more open and accepting of immigrant customs and traditions than many other countries. What we see here is mapping out of sacred space that is considered to be contiguous with the ancestral homeland. This is a new kind of globalization; along with the importing scientific talent, the United States was importing new perceptions of sacred cartography. There have been several ways by which the Hindus have made the land of the Americas ritually sacred, and to some extent, ritually contiguous with the land of India. These are (a) identifying America as a continent quoted in purāṇic texts; (b) composing songs extolling the land where the temples are located; (c) consecrating the land with waters from sacred Indian rivers and American rivers; and (d) literally recreating the physical landscape of certain holy places in India, as in Pittsburgh, or Barsana Dham, near Austin, Texas. In addition to these four ways, we can also see a process by which shrines held sacred by the native inhabitants are coopted by Hindus, and the sacrality is re-articulated with Hindu motifs.

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Architecture and Temple Building Perhaps the most noticeable feature of global Hindu communities is the tremendous time, monies, and energy expended in the building of temples. From the time of the Mi Son temple in Champa (Vietnam), which was rebuilt in the early seventh century after a fire had destroyed the earlier shrine; the Prambanan temples of Java (Indonesia) built around the ninth century; and the Angkor Wat (c. 12th century CE), temples have been the centers of Hindu communities. The building of temples and the proliferation of performing arts has characterized the religious lives of Hindus immigrants in America. Hindu traditions have been showcased most prominently in Southeast Asia through architecture. In all the major building enterprises in the Angkor area of Cambodia, we see an emphasis on principles of building construction from text and practice connected with the Hindu traditions. Many of these temples are theologies in stone. Some of the early temple structures were built on a square or a rectangle foundation; in others, the innermost shrine was to be a square. Temples to Śiva are frequently on artificial hills in five stages—the number five, associated with the fivesyllabled mantra “Oṃ nama Śivaya,” is prominent in all constructions to this deity. The Bakheng, in Cambodia, also has 108 towers; from any side, one can only see 33 towers. This is said to remind one of the 33 devas spoken of by the Bṛhadāranyaka. Upaniṣad 3.9.1–2 speaks of these 33 devas— 8 vasus, 11 rudras, 12 adityas, plus Indra and Prajāpati. While there are hundreds of shrines, perhaps one of the most famous temples is the Angkor Wat (mid-twelfth century) in Cambodia. The details of the measurements of Angkor Wat, corresponding to various Hindu deities, their stars, as well as the Hindu calendar, have been extensively studied in recent works through the lens of art history, but not integrated into the texts that we, as scholars of religion, produce.8 Suryavarman II (r. 1131–1150) built Angkor Wat and dedicated it to Viṣṇu. ‘Angkor’ is from the Sanskrit word nagara (city, dwelling), and the Buddhists who occupied this building in later centuries called this a place of worship or ‘Wat’, a word derived from the Sanskrit vatika or garden. It was only one of hundreds of temples built by the Khmers, though arguably one of the most famous. Angkor was both a sacred temple city and

8 See for instance, Eleanor Mannikka, Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996.


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the site that administered a vast irrigation system, but the issue of water management is a contentious topic among scholars. This temple is considered to be the highest achievement of Khmer architecture. It covers an area of 1,500 by 1,300 meters (4,920 by 4,265 ft.) and is surrounded by a vast moat 180 m (590 ft.) wide. Balustrades in the shape of a giant naga are on the sides of the causeway leading to the temple. The Angkor Wat temple faces west, has five main towers representing the five peaks of Mt Meru, and is built in three levels. The towers are said to emulate lotus buds and are similar in some ways to the towers of temples built a century earlier in Orissa. An eight-armed Viṣṇu was possibly the presiding deity of Angkor Wat. A reconstructed version of a Viṣṇu is now worshiped as the Buddha in the first floor of the temple. Although French scholars held Angkor Wat to be a funeral monument, largely on the basis of its west-facing orientation, the evidence to support this theory is not strong. There are several west-facing Viṣṇu temples in south India. Approximately 17 such west-facing temples have been celebrated by the Tamil Alvar poets between the eighth and night centuries CE. Angkor Wat has three floors, and similar temples are seen in Tamilnadu. The Vaikuntha Perumal temple in Kanchipuram, however, is the only temple which, like Angkor, has three floors and is west facing. Angkor Wat is said to have an astronomical and calendrical function. Scholars have shown that the positioning of the Angkor Wat temple is coordinated with very precise astronomical configurations, and the measurements correspond to cycles in the Hindu calendar. In some cases, there is also numerical correspondence, as between the numbers of celestial beings and demons in large panels and calendrical calculations.9 The temple is built such that on spring and autumn equinox days if one stands directly in front of the temple, the sun rises directly over the central tower.10 There are also many bas reliefs depicting stories from Sanskrit texts. As one goes around the Angkor Wat in a clockwise direction, we first see the war scene from the Rāmāyaṇa on the northern side of the Western wall. The entire north wall has stories of celestial beings and gods fighting various demons depicting stories from the Purāṇas. This extends through the north part of the east wall. The largest bas relief in the world is seen on

9 Ibid. 10 Robert Stencel, Fred Gifford, and Eleanor Moron. “Astronomy and Cosmology at Angkor Wat.” Science, vol. 193, issue 4250, (1976): 281–287.

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the eastern wall on a single story that seems to be the most popular in all of Cambodia in the Hindu and Buddhist worlds—the story of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk and Viṣṇu’s incarnation as a turtle. The south wall has depictions of various hells and heavens in the Purāṇas, and as we come back near the front entrance, symmetrical to the Rāmāyaṇa relief, one sees one of the battle scenes of the Mahābhārata. As one proceeds clockwise and returns to the western wall, we first see the brave warriors on their chariots in the battle scene. It culminates with a striking relief of Bhiṣma, an elderly statesman lying on the bed of arrows with the five Pandava brothers near him. The story refers to an incident when the elderly statesman instructed Yudhishtira on statecraft. Of the many narratives of Indian origin in Cambodia, the most popular one is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, which we briefly noted in the beginning of this chapter. This story tells us about the second incarnation of Viṣṇu in which he takes the form of a turtle. The story is told in the Indian epics and Purāṇas and is popular in south Indian dance forms, but is a relatively minor story in Indian temple carvings. Compared to the thousands of sculptures relating to the more popular incarnations of Viṣṇu, Rāma or Kṛṣṇa, in India, the tortoise incarnation is marginal except in the performing arts and folk art. The narrative found in the Purāṇas relates how the celestial beings, the devas and the demons (asuras), consummate enemies, came together to churn an ocean of milk in search of amṛta, the nectar of immortality. Viṣṇu, who is glorified in this story, initiated the action and then helped the enterprise in several ways, including taking the form of a tortoise. Mt. Mandara, the churning rod, is balanced on the back of the turtle. The snake, Vasuki, was used as a rope, and after the rising of initial poison, which the god Śiva swallowed to protect the participants, various treasures emerged. The Goddess Lakṣhmī also appeared and then chose Viṣṇu as her husband. This story becomes one of the most popular ones in Cambodia after about the eighth or ninth centuries CE. References to this story are seen in stylized panegyrics as well as in art forms. For instance, kings like Indravarman I (877–889) were compared to Viṣṇu who is adorned by the ŚrīLakṣhmī, the goddess of good fortune. We then begin to see this story carved over lintels and pediments from Vat Phu in Laos to the Angkor area; the huge bas-relief in Angkor Wat with the asuras and devas is one of the biggest in the world. The story is also depicted in the bridges over the moats leading into temples and towns; devas and asuras hold the serpent Vasuki on the sides of the bridges in Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, and many other sites.


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This Hindu story continues to have an abiding power in Khmer culture. Large depictions of asuras and devas are seen outside many buildings in Cambodia, including hotels. More recently, when a memorial was built to honor those who had been killed during the Khmer Rouge regime, the entire park in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was surrounded by sculptures of devas and asuras holding Vasuki. While a minor story in India, it becomes the controlling story of Khmer culture—and we have to search for the reasons for its significance. By discussing this story in the study of the Hindu traditions, we both see the continuities with the sub-continent, but also the unique ways in which the ‘receiving’ culture shows agency in picking and choosing what it wants and what seems most convenient or efficacious. One could raise the same questions with the co-opting of Yoga in North America—why this has been singled out of Indian culture and why it has become so popular in American culture. Temple building is quite striking in terms of numbers; no other country outside India has been host to such a boom in temple building as the United States in such a short period of time in more than a millennium. The closest one can come to so much of financial resources being invested in temples outside of India is almost a thousand years ago, when there was a steady program of building temples in Southeast Asia, especially, Cambodia. Certainly, the socio-cultural, political, and economic conditions in the United States; the economic class and educational qualifications of the first wave of Hindu immigrants; as well as the reasons for which they migrated have all come together in creating this unique temple culture in the United States. Temple culture is also preeminent in both the religion of the Hindu immigrants as well as several new Religious movements in America, most notably the (ISKCON). While there are many differences in architecture and modes of worship, there are at least two common elements in the temples set up by many of these Hindu communities of Indian origin. In most instances, the temples focus on devotional practices as opposed to meditational or yogic exercises. Second, many of them sponsor regular classes on classical Indian dances like Bharata Natyam. This dance form has become one of the main ways of transmitting Hindu culture to the younger generation girls in the diaspora. Learning the dance forms and performing them in public events during festival days becomes one main avenue for young girls to participate in the larger Hindu community. Popular dance forms like Indian dance garbha are extraordinarily popular in Gujarat, India, and in many parts of the world where Gujarati presence has been

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prominent. In places where there are smaller Hindu communities, people adopt the customs of friends—like participating in garbha dances—and are Hindu in very different ways than they may have been in India. Hindus with Euro-American and African Ancestries While Hinduism does not have a significant history of proselytizing, there have been several ambassadors of Hindu traditions to western countries after the late nineteenth century. Preachers such as Vivekananda and Yogananda have emphasized the universal and intellectual dimensions of Hinduism, such that the traditions can be adopted by followers without their changing their faith traditions. Others like A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896–1977), founder of ISKCON, have taught a highly regulated life style connected with a very specific sectarian faith tradition in India. ISKCON communities and temples dedicated to the Kṛṣṇa and Radha are found all over the world. Among other observances, ISKCON devotees are noted for their strict adherence to not just a vegetarian diet but to avoidance of many foods including onions and garlic. Borrowing, Co-opting, Transforming, and Other Hidden Hybridities Apart from the impact of Hindus immigrants, as well as those who have chosen to adopt Hinduism as their faith around the world, we may also note the presence of Hinduism derived from ideas and practices. Ideas and practices with Hindu roots have become popular around the world, without being considered ‘Hindu’. Examples are the Self-Realization Fellowship, The Art of Living, Siddha Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, and organizations started by followers of religious teachers such as Amritandandamayi or Karunamayi. The teachings in these movements cluster around a Hindu charismatic leader who in many cases comes from India, and focus on self-transformation or the transformation of society. To a large extent, these ‘universal’ or ‘spiritual’ movements underplay, ignore, or distance their connections with Hinduism. A second way in which ideas and practices with Hindu origins have become pervasive in global cultures is through the large-scale co-opting or the secularization of Hinduism-based practices such as Yoga as part of ‘self-help’ programs. Some of these are popular because of the physical


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exercise with which they are associated and are taught in gyms and exercise centers, some are advertised as stress reduction techniques, and others as leading to spiritual enlightenment. Religions borrow from each other, and people have enjoyed and learned from other traditions without having to convert to another faith. The intellectual influence of Hindu texts around the world is stunning; but so, too, would be the influence of the Bible, the Koran, or Sufi poetry. The Upaniṣads and the Bhagavad Gītā are both foundational texts of the Vedānta philosophy; these Hindu texts have been particularly significant in their influence on New England Transcendentalism. Emerson, Thoreau, and others procured these books from the Harvard College library. Emerson’s ‘Brahma’ bears striking resemblance to passages from the Bhagavad Gītā. The impermanence of life, as well as the futility of holding on to earthly possessions, land, wealth, or fame, is addressed in several passages; and Emerson poignantly expresses these themes in his poem Hamatreya. This poem seems to be directly modeled on Viṣṇu Purāṇa (c. first–fourth centuries CE).11 Perhaps the most influential of all the books in the Transcendentalist movement is the Bhagavad Gītā. Under the direction of Warren Hastings, the then Governor-General of India, Charles Wilkins had translated it into English in 1785. Emerson acquired a copy of The Bhagvat Geeta, or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon, in September 1845.12 He calls this a “trans-national book,” and in a conversation with Moncure Conway is reported to have said, “Ah! There is a book to be read on one’s knees.”13 The Transcendentalists’ adulation of the Bhagavad Gītā, as well Emerson’s paraphrasing of some verses in his poem Brahma, assured a place for this book in most large libraries in the United States, and its popularity has remained stable. Reflections Hindu traditions continue to operate on several registers globally—the explicit practice by immigrants or their descendants, and through those

11  Viṣṇu Purāṇa Book IV, chap. 24. 12 William H. Gilman et al., eds., The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Cambridge, MA: 1971), 9:185. 13 Arthur Christy, The Orient in American Transcendentalism; A Study of Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), 7.

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who adopt parts of the tradition either through spiritual teachers or through practices such as yoga. Temple building and performing arts continue to be the primary signifiers of Hindu immigrants. Cultural markers such as names and dress, as well as sectarian and community diversity, are retained at least by first generation immigrants, while a more homogenized version of beliefs is emerging among second generation Hindus in the diaspora. Along with immigrant-derived Hinduism, new religious movements such as ISKCON continue to flourish. One of the greatest booms, however, in global Hinduism can be seen in another register through the silent, disembedded traditions, the universalistic themes presented by global gurus who connect the ideas and practices with spirituality or health benefits, rather than cultural or religious Hindu traditions. Sacred space, architecture, gender issues, performing arts, social divisions and arrangements, porous boundary between ethnic groups, and vernacular traditions—all of these are at once continuous with and different from the many and diverse manifestations we see in the sub-continent. It is these that we have to integrate in our more traditional understanding of the Hindu traditions which are frequently based on normative accounts from India to look at the faith and the field from multiple perspectives. Hindu traditions go around the world and sometimes come back to any ‘home’ land in a different way. We will conclude with two examples which illustrate this idea. At the end of a winter spent with the Bhagavad Gītā, Thoreau saw workers cutting the ice on Walden Pond into large pieces, which were then to be exported to cities in India. In an interesting passage, Thoreau speaks about the reciprocal exchange he idealizes: his material goods (here, the ice from Walden) being sent to the ‘Brahman’ in India who drinks of his water while Thoreau drinks from the intellectual/ spiritual fountain of the Indian. Thoreau meditated on the ice-cutters’ exercise and the scene he witnessed at Walden thus: In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial. . . . I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the Brahman . . . come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.14

14 William D. Thoreau, Walden or Life in the Woods (Boston, MA, 1910), 328–329.


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This trope of America, being the home of scientific progress and material goods while India is the seat of a ‘timeless’ spiritual wisdom, becomes the lens, the stereotype, accepted by and repeated by many gurus in later decades. However, what we should note is this: barely a 150 years after Thoreau’s meditations, the waters of the Ganges which he alluded to were brought very close to Walden to consecrate the temple of the Goddess Lakṣhmī in Ashland, Massachusetts—and also dozens of other temples around America. Waters from the Ganges and other sacred rivers of India are assembled and mingled with the waters of the local rivers of America and used for the consecration rituals of newly-built Hindu temples. The second example is a recent initiative: Though India is the homeland of Hindus, their grandest temple stands thousands of miles away in Cambodia. Now the trustee of a temple in Bihar has decided to do something about it—he is building a full-scale replica of the twelfth century temple of Angkor Wat on the banks of the Ganges river, near the state capital Patna.15

Said to be the largest temple that has been built, it will be a model of the Angkor Wat, but instead of Viṣṇu, it will enshrine a cosmic form or Rāma, an incarnation of Viṣṇu. The report in the British newspaper continued: “Since the style of the original Angkor Wat was influenced by Dravidian architecture, with its typical storyed towers, traditional South Indian temple builders are being hired for the project in Bihar.” The reasons for building it were not immediately apparent, though the one quoted in the press report quotes the director of the project as saying that his hope was “that thousands of Indians who cannot afford to visit Angkor Wat will be able to experience its grandeur by visiting the replica nearer home.”16 The waters of Walden went to the Ganga and came back a century later to the same area; Angkor Wat had several Indian models but was a unique edifice. It will now be a model for a temple in India, almost a millennium later. Being attentive to the many forms of global Hindu traditions, the many parts of the Venn diagram, the many circles and cycles of journeys, and the many mandalas will create newer patterns in the kaleidoscope of our studies. Being attentive to these global manifestations will help us rethink and rewrite the histories of the Hindu traditions.

15 Accessed March 7, 2012. 16 Ibid.

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Bibliography Christy, Arthur. The Orient in American Transcendentalism; A Study of Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. New York: Columbia University Press, 1932. Cœdès, George. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1968. Gilman, William H., et al., eds., The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Cambridge, MA: 1971, 9:185. Higham, Charles. The Civilization of Angkor. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001. p. 2. Accessed March 7, 2012. Mabbett, Ian. “Varnas in Angkor and the Indian Caste System.” Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3 (May, 1977): 429–442. ——. The Khmers. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1995. Mannikka, Eleanor. Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996. Stencel, Robert, Fred Gifford, and Eleanor Moron. 1976. “Astronomy and Cosmology at Angkor Wat.” Science, 193, Issue 4250, 1976. pp. 281–287. Thoreau, William D. Walden or Life in the Woods. Boston, MA, 1910, 328–329. Vickery, Michael. Society, Economics and Politics in Pre-Angkor Cambodia: The 7th–8th Centuries. Tokyo: The Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for Unesco, The Toyo Bunko, 1998. Viṣṇu Purāṇa Book IV, chap. 24. Younger, Paul. New Homelands: Hindu Communities in Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Fiji, and East Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Pedagogy in the Janam-sakhis: ‘Teaching texts’ Moving Past Old Categories Toby Braden Johnson Academic investigations of religions have often stirred controversy. The history of this discipline is certainly ripe with many instances of religious people and communities taking issue with how aspects of their faith have been treated in the pursuit of critical studies. Such controversy followed W. H. McLeod’s Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion which sought to identify the verifiable history of the first Sikh Master, Guru Nanak, as presented in the accounts of the Guru’s life known as the janam-sakhis.1 These “birth-stories” relate the life of the founder through narratives conveying his social and moral teachings, instructions that are key to Sikh belief and practice today. The janam-sakhi literature is a robust collection of anecdotes that bridges history, memory, and a bit of the miraculous to sustain the memory of Guru Nanak in Sikh communities. Through specific research criteria McLeod reduced a vibrant corpus of over 120 different anecdotes to less than one typeset page in order to present, in his words, “everything of any importance which can be affirmed concerning the events of Guru Nanak’s life.”2 McLeod sought to reject the legendary, the unverifiable, and the miraculous from the accounts of Guru Nanak’s life. While pursuing such an endeavor is favored in western academic settings, McLeod’s strict historicism angered many Sikhs because they saw him removing the vibrant life and message of their Guru from these texts. What was traditionally held to be the true biography of the Guru was now the subject of academic investigation and opened the door to further investigations that differed from traditional uses of these stories. This, to say the least, did not necessarily sit well with some Sikhs. McLeod’s studies opened a door for the academic investigation of the janam-sakhis. New approaches to, as well as considerations and use of, the janam-sakhis are central to a wide range of works on Sikhism. This variety of interpretations and uses of the janam-sakhis reveals a key feature of this literature—its didactic, or pedagogical, nature. Each presentation 1  W. H. McLeod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). 2 Ibid., 146.


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or new telling of Guru Nanak’s life is made to convey an interpretation of his teachings. In order to consider the variety of these treatments it is necessary to identify and distinguish how these new works are going about their interpretations of the janam-sakhis. I contend that these pedagogical projects are indicated through elements of the narrative’s construction in relation to the accompanying commentary on the text and by careful examination of the scholarly methods and tools employed in investigation and critical representation of the janam-sakhis. Each new work on the janam-sakhis’ stories seeks to present, in their own way, a specific understanding of the Guru’s life. As scholars debated the nature of the janam-sakhis and asserted a specific view of this literature, they often failed to consider the ways that their treatment set a tone for the specific engagement of the janam-sakhis. Just as each telling of these stories about Guru Nanak seeks to convey features of his teachings, so too does each discussion of these stories structure understandings of the relationship between these texts and their audience. Therefore, discussions about the janam-sakhis are as instructive as the discussions within the janam-sakhis. Scholars have applied new categorical definitions to these traditional texts: history, myth, hagiography, and homily. The simple step to clarify understandings about the janam-sakhis, by defining them with genre designators like these, makes new relationships to this literature possible. This is where the controversy of studying the janam-sakhis becomes evident. Descriptions of the janam-sakhi that rely on specific academic genre have been an impediment to further discussion and engagement. When McLeod chose to consider the janam-sakhis as a source for verifiable historical evidence about the life of Guru Nanak, he conditioned how his readers would engage the janam-sakhi narratives. He set a new pattern for the critical engagement of this literature by way of his assertions about genre. History is to be investigated and evaluated by specific criteria as he set them out in Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion. These criteria had not been previously applied to the janam-sakhis. McLeod’s treatments of them were seen by traditional Sikhs, not as investigations looking to discern historical content, but as judgments against their historical validity. This failure to recognize how a text is being engaged denies opportunity for further exchange and continued discussion. It is my concern here to propose a model of investigation that better facilitates comparison of the varied interpretative models employed in the study of the janam-sakhi literature. I want to re-imagine the framework that organizes these studies to relate the apparently disparate and

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contradictory views and resultant pedagogical projects of these works. Whereas Sikh tradition presents them as the true history of Guru Nanak’s life and journeys, others focus on their moral lessons which elaborate on the Guru’s teachings to give his teachings a memorable real-world context which helps to instill these lessons in the lives of all those who hear them. Scholarly investigations of this literature tend to present the story within the confines of a literary genre, such as hagiography. Direct engagement between these positions is complicated (if not impossible), as they do not regard the source material of the janam-sakhis in the same way. Authors of these positions can only speak to their view on the literature; they have not yet sought to engage different views on their own terms. They try arguing their own view against the view of the other, not willing to see the merits of the initial position. McLeod had to endure many years of such criticisms that failed to see or much less engage his specific goals for investigating the janam-sakhis as a verifiable source on the life of Guru Nanak. In what follows, I present a method that demonstrates the specific pedagogical engagements of these varied presentations of the janam-sakhis. In order to do so, I present a modeling scheme that provides an illustrative means to examine specific approaches to and regard of a narrative text. I draw this from work in literary criticism and demonstrate how this modeling scheme can help identify key aspects of these pedagogical projects. We will then see how traditional Sikh understandings of the janam-sakhi literature can be expressed through this model, before showing how three key academic treatments of the janam-sakhis (as history, as hagiography, and as homily) can be modeled as well. These academic interpretations hinge on the application of these genre designators to condition the particulars of their engagement of this literature. I contend that this is truly a pedagogical project in itself that extends from the narrative to the discourse about the narrative. By choosing and applying a genre designator such as history or hagiography, a specific relationship to the narrative is constructed. In this way, each treatment of the janam-sakhis is a teaching text, as it presents, analyzes and evaluates the source materials in specific manners that condition the reader’s understandings of the janam-sakhis. The first step of this re-imagined framework of the discourse of, and meta-discourse about, the janam-sakhis needs to provide a foundation by which each successive presentation can be compared. Seymour Chatman’s Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film, provides a model of a narrative text that can help shed light on the issues raised in a study of these varied interpretations and representations of


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the janam-sakhis.3 Chatman devised a model that illustrates the two sides at work in both the writing and then reading of a text. The author and reader stand outside of the text and the text mediates their interaction. Unfortunately, such a distinction between a text’s ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’ is not so simple. Chatman showed that within the text itself we can see created or ‘implied’ identities which operate around and within the narrative to aid these parties in the presentation and reception of the narrative. Chatman posited that texts are basically a form of “mediated narration”4 between the three personages he identifies within both the sender and the receiver. The sender consists of the following: 1) the real author, outside the text; 2) the implied author, as suggested by/ within the narrative; and 3) the narrator, the voice that speaks within the text. Meanwhile, the receiver is comprised of: 4) the real reader, holding the book; 5) the implied reader, which Chatman describes as “the audience presupposed by the narrative itself “5 or the intended audience; and 6) the narratee, “a ‘device’ by which the implied author informs the real reader how to perform as implied reader, which Weltanschauung to adopt”6 it is the focus to whom the narrator speaks in the text. You can see how these personages would be arranged in relation to one another in Figure 1. The two sides of the sender and receiver are shown with the narration, the actual story being told bridging the two (the central line leading from narrator to narratee). This illustration will help up map the varied interpretations of the janamsakhis to facilitate our comparisons in the analysis at hand. A couple of caveats need to be made here. In the thirty-plus years since Chatman presented this model, the understanding of it in narrative studies and literary criticism circles have turned more towards a focus on the reader’s response than the manner of representation through the text as I want to discuss. So I must re-configure a few base definitions in Chatman’s model to distinguish this work’s focus on the text. We must also consider the difference between how readers engage fictional narratives as Chatman described, and how religious narratives are understood. I want to be clear that I am concerned with the construction and presentation of these narratives and the later interpretations of them. It is a constrained focus on the specific presentation that is the text and the 3 Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1978). 4 Ibid., 146. 5 Ibid., 150. 6 Ibid., 150.

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Figure 1. Chatman’s Model of a Text

narrative it conveys, or seeks to interpret. As a heuristic device, Chatman’s model serves to illustrate the active nature of the author’s presentation, the authority of the implied author which gives credibility to the story being told and the narrator as the active voice in the text that does the storytelling. This is quite different than the reader-response focus given to this facet of Chatman’s model by those engaged in the fields of narrative studies and literary criticism.7 The reader-response view of the implied author and the implied reader is actually an inference reached by the reader, not an implication. Setting aside the logical fallacy of conflating inference for implication, it is easier for me to alter my presentation of Chatman’s categories than go in the face of thirty years of conversation. So let me propose the following two adjustments: 1) Change the implied author to the “implied authority” as this is a feature that is both constructed and referenced by the narrative to affirm the social importance of the tale being told. It is the authority behind the telling that gives it credibility.

7 These positions are expressed in a variety of works and specific manners by scholars such as H. Porter Abbott, Patrick Colm Hogan, and James Phelan.


toby braden johnson 2) Change the implied reader to “intended audience” because religious narratives are written for specific audiences. These stories are specifically intended to communicate their message in a precise way to a specific community or group.

These two changes will also help distinguish the religious narratives that are the focus of consideration here, from the fictional narratives that Chatman discussed.8 The specifically didactic nature of communicating an authoritative position to an intended audience in need of religious education is at the heart of the pedagogical projects to be examined. In a similar vein, Angela Moger characterized this instructive aspect of narrative9 and asserts that “to tell a story is to do something to the somebody who listens to it, to affect that listener.”10 She contends that this reflects the “ultimate relationship between the process of narration and the process of instruction.”11 We can see this relationship echoed in the model of a text we are creating here. Narrative tales are not simply a manner to convey a chronological ordering of events, but a tool to condition specific responses to those events, to evoke a response in the intended audience. Moger continues, “People often tell stories to persuade others of something; narrative and its techniques are constantly used to impart some form of knowledge.”12 Narratives are not emotionless chronicles; they draw the reader into a world both imaginatively and emotionally. Religious texts like the janam-sakhis demand such instruction. Readers’ eyes are opened to new teachings, new horizons, and readers are led through, often relying on the narrator and the authority on which the narration is based. The text is certainly a discourse, as Chatman described it, and with these modifications we can better see how it is also a significant one, capable of reflecting the instructive quality of the janam-sakhi presentations. All of this provides us with the following structure (Figure 2) onto which we can model our varied interpretive schema. With the structure of a text modeled thusly, we can begin to see how or, more precisely, where interpretation happens and why these hermeneutics are necessary. Traditionally, interpretation is the act by which 8 And this also avoids the confusion of implication and inference on the part of the reader-response positions. 9 Angela S. Moger. “That Obscure Object of Narrative.” Yale French Studies, no. 63 (1982): 129–138. Moger provides an analysis of Maupassant’s “Une Ruse” to demonstrate the didactic quality of writing. 10 Ibid., 129. 11  Ibid., 129. 12 Ibid., 131.

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Figure 2. Modified Model

the real reader ‘moves’ into the text to take up the position of intended audience and make the text relevant or applicable to their life. One builds a relationship not only to the text, but to the implied authority and narrator who are providing the conditions of the narrative which are to be understood as meaningful. This is the first of many hermeneutical circles we shall draw as this study progresses. We can see here (Figure 3)13 the real reader taking the position as the intended audience, and then taking their worldview, or Weltanschauung as Chatman said, from the intended audience and applying it to their lives in the real world. This is the most literal and literary interpretation of a text we shall explore.14 In the case of the janam-sakhis, Sikhs read these accounts as having a special significance to them, as Sikhs, because these are the stories of their founder, Guru Nanak. They traditionally take the narration (which 13 You will notice that the Real Author is marked as “not relevant” in this figure. That is not to say that we should not care about this element, it simply notes that the interpretative model being demonstrated in this figure (and the figures to follow) does not specifically engage or consider the element marked as not relevant. The attention of these models are focused elsewhere as noted in each figure. 14 Pashaura Singh, The Guru Granth Sahib: Canon, Meaning, and Authority. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), 260.


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Figure 3. Traditional Interpretation

bridges the narrator and the narratee) as directed to them (as the intended audience), with lessons to be learned and embraced because they are the important doctrines of Sikhism. The janam-sakhis bear witness to the three primary tenets of Guru Nanak’s teachings: devotion to the Name of God, charity and purity (nam, dan, ishnan). Guru Nanak fulfills two roles in this model. He is implied authority behind these stories, as the janamsakhis are, reportedly, his life story which he first passed on to Sikhs. Guru Nanak is also often the narrator within these stories, as his hymns are an important facet of these stories. Guru Nanak’s teachings are carried on through the examples of his life. These tenets are conveyed through the narration to the reader, who understands the text to be addressing all Sikhs throughout time as Guru Nanak’s message is sustained by the community that holds it dear. Figure 3 illustrates this traditional Sikh interpretation of the janamsakhis. In this case, the specific author who put pen to paper is irrelevant, as the janam-sakhis are acknowledged to be the coalescence of an earlier oral tradition that originated with Guru Nanak himself. So within the janam-sakhis, we can see the Guru acting as both the implied authority and narrator, as the stories he first told to his earliest disciples have been

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passed through the generations to Sikhs in all times. Within the stories, he speaks to those who become his Sikhs, literally ‘learner’ but understood as ‘disciple.’ A common theme in the janam-sakhis is Guru Nanak convincing someone of his superior position, and their conversion to the Guru’s way. This is particularly evident in the tale of “Sajjan, the robber”15 where Guru Nanak convinces a murderous robber to give up his evil ways and follow the true path of charity and devotion. Sajjan goes on to be a good Sikh, and sets an example for readers everywhere, that they too can work towards the good, despite their previous shortcomings. If the murderer Sajjan can be forgiven and accepted by the Guru, so too can the average person for their lesser transgressions. The pedagogical lesson here is aimed at Sajjan in the narration, at the Sikh narratee to whom this story was told by the Guru, at the Sikhs (current and future) who are the intended audience in need of this instruction, and ultimately to the real reader who is one holding the book, or hearing this tale so many years removed from Guru Nanak. It is important to notice how the traditional interpretation of the janam-sakhis is most concerned with features and relationships within our text model. In this way, we can call it an internal hermeneutic model. In this interpretative relationship, the focus is on engaging the elements noted within the narrative text. As demonstrated in the previous example, Sikhs are not generally concerned with who authored these accounts, only the stories matter, because they convey the personality and tradition of the founder through the ages. Yet as we return to our primary concerns of pedagogy and genre in the consideration of the janam-sakhis, we need to be able to account for more than just what is found in the story. Discourses about the janam-sakhis are indicative of an external hermeneutic model that looks to account for the nature of the interpretative relationship that addresses the text as something in the world. An external hermeneutic seeks to posit the relationship between three aspects in our model—the real author and reader as well as the text which connects them. The text is not to be construed as an active participant in this relationship, but as a mediator between the active ends of our model. The text is how the message of the author reaches the reader. External hermeneutics are able to engage contexts of 15 The story of “Sajjan, the Swindler” is presented in Kirpal Singh, Janamsakhi Tradition: An Analytical Study. (Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2004), a modern collection and translation of the janam-sakhis.


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Figure 4. Internal and External Hermeneutics

authorship, dissemination, production and reception. The application of a genre designator is an external hermeneutic, as it defines and conditions a manner to engage the text. We can see the respective foci of these two hermeneutic models in Figure 4. This is not to say that these two methods cannot overlap. A robust examination of any text would consider both internal and external factors, but the limitations of a solely internal interpretation, like that discussed as the traditional view of janam-sakhis, should be obvious. The inability to engage the actual reader and contexts relevant to the not only the story, but its dissemination, production and reception is a severe handicap when trying to make sense of an external hermeneutic investigation. It is no wonder that Sikhs and scholars have been talking past one another in regard to their methods for so long. Now let us examine three genre designators (history, hagiography and homily) to see how these act as external hermeneutic models in order to setup specific foci for the treatment of the janam-sakhis through the discourses that follow from these definitions. By modeling these, we will see how the different discourses about the texts condition the perception and treatment of the internal features of the text model. They structure specific understandings of the internal components as they propose a specific function of the text (externally) as defined by genre assigned to it.

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It is fitting to return to examine McLeod’s critical historical approach that was discussed earlier. Now we can show where his research focus can be seen in relation to the text model we have created here and how this focus then frames his discussion of the janam-sakhis. McLeod’s studies can be seen to employ two distinct approaches to the janam-sakhis. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion focused on the history revealed through the janam-sakhi accounts, while his later volume, Early Sikh Tradition,16 looked to examine the historical contexts of the janam-sakhi literature’s development and how those contexts conditioned the presentation of Guru Nanak’s life and message as conveyed through the janam-sakhi accounts. In terms of the genre designators we have been using, these approaches look to examine the janam-sakhis first as history, then as hagiography. Let me now briefly outline how McLeod’s works fit into the hermeneutic model, so that we can discern a basis for comparison of these genre defined interpretive projects. McLeod’s Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion was most concerned with discerning what viable and verifiable material within these texts could be used to construct a historically accurate biography of Guru Nanak. Not trusting the miraculous material within the janam-sakhis, McLeod sought to place them in a historical context where, All such works will reflect, to some extent, the context in which they evolved, a context which will include not only current beliefs and attitudes but also current needs . . . It can be safely assumed that the Janamsakhis will express in some measure the beliefs of the community during this period, its more insistent needs, and the answers which it was giving to questions which confronted it.17

McLeod was focused on the purposeful nature of these texts, addressing the situations of the authors’ historical community and the structured depictions and intentional imagining of Guru Nanak’s life. In this way he sought to evaluate the traditional Sikh view of the janam-sakhis as the true history of Guru Nanak that originated with the Guru himself. He took to the task of analyzing the corpus of janam-sakhi anecdotes in order to classify their historical content, as he identified five categories of individual sakhis: the established, the probable, the possible, the improbable, or the impossible. McLeod was very clear in identifying the criteria by which he carried out his analysis: 16 W. H. McLeod, Early Sikh Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980). 17 McLeod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, 12.


toby braden johnson 1) McLeod first considered the “the incidence of the miraculous or plainly fantastic”18 within the anecdotes, though he asserted that this need not invalidate the entire sakhi being historically possible. The miraculous, with no grounding in history or science, had to be rejected outright as historically valid. 2) He then turned to external sources to corroborate the claims made within the stories as well as the situations they depicted. He looked to sources outside of the Sikh community for verification. 3) Many sakhis report the instance in which a specific verse or hymn of Guru Nanak was first recited. Therefore, these janam-sakhis must also be in accordance with “Guru Nanak’s own work as recorded in the Adi Granth.”19 4) Consideration was also given to the various janam-sakhi traditions and their record of these sakhis. At times, as McLeod pointed out, the various compilers of the janam-sakhis did not record the same thing. The different views of the janam-sakhi traditions must factor into the analysis. 5) McLeod also called into question the “relative reliability”20 of the various janam-sakhi traditions themselves. Here he addressed the later additions to the tradition of which no earlier record can be found. 6) Family ties are important in the Punjab, and McLeod took this into consideration. He stated that “it is reasonable to assume that at least the immediate family connexions of Guru Nanak would still be known at the time when the older janam-sakhis were committed to writing [midseventeenth century].”21 7) McLeod’s final criterion granted “a greater degree of confidence . . . in details relating to Guru Nanak’s life within the Panjab than to those which concern his travels beyond the province.”22 This clearly follows a similar thought—the Guru’s roots in the Punjab—which is evidenced in his sixth criterion as well.

His categorization of the sakhis led him to dismiss many sakhis held dear by Sikhs. Popular sakhis like “The cobra’s shadow” and “Panja Sahib: the rock stopped”23 were dismissed as impossible due to their being obvious borrowings from popular Hindu and Muslim legends.24 The sakhi “Khara sauda: the feeding of Sant Ren and the faqirs,” popularly known as the “Sacha Sauda or the True Bargain,” is classified by McLeod as improbable due to the fact that this sakhi is first found in the Bala Janam-sakhi tradi18  Ibid., 68. 19  Ibid., 69. 20 Ibid. 21  Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 These specific sakhi titles are given by McLeod, but refer to the popular designators for these accounts of the Guru’s life. 24 Ibid., 77–78.

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tion, which is a later tradition and also displayed a sectarian motive which led McLeod to classify the whole collection as “the least trustworthy of all the janam-sakhi traditions.”25 Ultimately, McLeod considered twenty-eight sakhis (of one hundred and twenty-four) as possible, but he was not inclined to affirm or deny their historical value, because they were “the kind of story which one inevitably finds associated with the person of a famous saint,” and “concerned visits to particular places during the Guru’s travels,”26 though these twenty-eight held a bit too much in common with the Indian milieu to really stand out as trustworthy. This left McLeod with thirty-seven sakhis to consider as probable and established. From this pool of material, McLeod whittled the story of Guru Nanak’s life down to that “which can be affirmed concerning the events of Guru Nanak’s life”27—which he provided to his readers in just under one page. Most individual sakhis are three to four times as long as what McLeod classified as “authentic biographical material”!28 McLeod’s concern can be mapped on our model. While he was not directly examining the context of the real author specifically, he was looking to examine the relationship of the narrative to the real-world historical situations of Guru Nanak’s life the janam-sakhis reported convey. In terms of the interpretative methods described earlier, he clearly engaged in an external hermeneutic, as he considered both internal and external sources. Figure 5 shows how McLeod’s focus on the narration’s historical content is evaluated against external evidence that surrounds the contexts of authorship. This approach works in harmony with McLeod’s continued research in Early Sikh Tradition, in which he examined the history of the janamsakhi literature and the contexts in which the various manuscripts were compiled. The janam-sakhis did not appear in the hands of Sikhs out of thin air. The stories they give account of are derived from an earlier oral tradition about the life of Guru Nanak that was popular throughout the Panjab in late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. McLeod built on a distinction he first delineated in Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion identifying early constituents of the janam-sakhi traditions. He had previously identified the earliest constituents as the “authentic memories

25 Ibid., 22. 26 Ibid., 88. 27 Ibid., 146. 28 Ibid., 147.


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Figure 5. History in the janam-sakhis

concerning actual incidents from the life of Nanak.”29 Obviously, those Sikhs who met Guru Nanak would remember him and tell others about him. These stories are passed along and coalesce into a body of received traditions, which also contributes to the compilation of the janam-sakhis. This combination of the Guru’s verses and his life practices, as passed down, guided the Sikh community, and would have influenced the formation of the janam-sakhis as “received tradition or the impulses derived from Nanak’s own words.”30 To these earlier constituents, McLeod added Bhai Gurdas’ Var I. Bhai Gurdas was a nephew of the third Guru, Amar Das, and was close to the next three Gurus as well. He was the scribe who assisted Guru Arjan in compiling the Adi Granth, in 1604. Bhai Gurdas’ Vars are a record of the Sikh community and tradition unmatched by any other. Var I is a record, albeit a sparse one, of anecdotes giving a brief outline of Guru Nanak’s life. This is not to say that the janam-sakhis are products of these Sikh influences only. McLeod directed readers’ attention to consider the lasting

29 Ibid., 56. 30 Ibid., 57.

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Figure 6. History of the janam-sakhis

impact of the Hindu Epics and Puranas, as well as the ascetic Nath tradition and the more recent influence of Sufis in the Punjab.31 One cannot overlook the influence of the milieu of Indian religious traditions and writings in the production of the janam-sakhis. These contexts were of utmost concern for McLeod in viewing how the janam-sakhis came to be. McLeod’s historical approach sought to discern how the authors’ construction of the life of Guru Nanak (the narration) reflects the concerns of their (the authors’) lives and historical contexts (Figure 6). Two examples of this concern stand out in McLeod’s work here—in his consideration of the Miharban Janam-sakhi, and in that of the Bala Janam-sakhi. These two janam-sakhi collections have dubious origins, to say the least, and McLeod contends that that certainly influences the way we should regard these janam-sakhi traditions. The Miharban Janam-sakhi has ties to the schismatic Mina sect.32 Their reported author, Sodhi Miharban (d. 1640), was the son of Prithi Chand,

31  McLeod, Early Sikh Tradition, 64–56. 32 Ibid., 33–35.


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the elder brother of the fifth Guru, Arjan, who was passed over for the guruship and later contested the decision. The extant manuscript is dated 1828 CE, but was only discovered in 1940. McLeod pointed out that the Minas’ exegesis within the text indicated a strong affiliation for the Khatri (merchant-class) Sikhs, rather than the rising Jat (farmer-class) influence that should be indicated by a text of the early nineteenth century. This contributed to McLeod’s assertion that the Miharban janam-sakhi probably developed much later than the date on the manuscript. McLeod’s analysis of the Bala Janam-sakhi is critical of the traditional claim that this janam-sakhi’s supposed author, Bhai Bala, was a close friend and traveling companion to Guru Nanak and claims to be an eyewitness account of the Guru’s life.33 The text begins by giving the account of Bhai Bala gave this recitation at the behest of Guru Angad, seeking to know more about his predecessor’s life. While there is no external evidence supporting these claims, or even if Bhai Bala existed, this is by far the most popular of the janam-sakhi traditions. This may be due to its plentiful miraculous content reminiscent of the Puranas.34 The earliest manuscripts indicate influence of the Hindali sect, which held that a greater teacher, Baba Hindal, was yet to come and would eclipse Guru Nanak. In later manuscripts and published versions, much of this Hindali material was removed, which may have contributed to its popularity as well. McLeod was concerned with examining the act of creating a text that reflects author’s concerns. He contended that these authors were firmly rooted in the situations of their lives and their received traditions which both influenced how these authors sought to construct their depictions and would be indicated in the depiction of Guru Nanak’s life. His analysis sought to identify the contexts that conditioned the janam-sakhis’ accounts of Guru Nanak in order to portray his message in a very specific manner to address the concerns of those contexts. While McLeod does stand out because he was the first, he is not the only scholar of Sikhism to consider the janam-sakhis in this way. J. S. Grewal’s Guru Nanak in History35 takes a similar approach to the janam-sakhis. 33 Ibid., 15–19. 34 We saw earlier how McLeod was suspect of this miraculous content and “borrowing” from other Indian traditions, so his doubts here are understandable. 35 J. S. Grewal, Guru Nanak in History (Chandigarh: Panjab University Publication Bureau, 1969). Nor is this to say that only McLeod and Grewal are the only two to have taken this approach. See also: Harjot Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994).

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Grewal was keen to point out the importance of the janam-sakhis in the spread of the Sikh message. He said that this project began before the sakhis were even collected into the written traditions we have passed down to us today. They reflect the situations and concerns of these transmitters. Building on this, Grewal asserted, we can discern “the ideals and values of those among whom they were popular.”36 His analysis proceeded through an examination of the aspects of the milieu into which Guru Nanak’s message originated and developed. Grewal considered the politics and society of the Punjab and the religious milieus of Hinduism and Islam in the region during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and then addressed Guru Nanak’s response to these milieus as indicated through his verses and the accounts of his life, the janam-sakhis. It is a well-developed study of Punjabi society in the times of the era and a consideration of Guru Nanak’s place in that society. McLeod saw fit to see that the history and these contexts be examined along with the narratives of the janam-sakhis themselves. He engaged in what was reference before as a robust analysis, considering both the internal and external factors as classified throughout this chapter. The approaches of McLeod and Grewal outlined here evidence a concern, not for the content of message within the text, but for the historical contexts that influenced that message and its representation. After considering the history in and of the janam-sakhi traditions, McLeod sought to consider the janam-sakhis as interpretations of early Sikh history and reflections on the life of Guru Nanak. McLeod looked to examine how the janam-sakhis provided “an interpretation of that life” . . . “springing from piety and commitment of later generations.”37 Here the focus is on the goal of the janam-sakhis—the message of Sikhism these texts present—which can be boiled down to the specific concern of salvation through the teachings of Guru Nanak expressed as devotion, charity and purity. The narration of Guru Nanak’s life and his teachings is the focal point of hagiography. Here it is a message of liberation directed to all Sikhs that McLeod summarized as “the promulgation of a particular way of salvation constitutes their conscious intention . . . through an acceptance of Baba Nanak as Master.”38 An examination of the janam-sakhis as hagiographic

36 Ibid., 305–306. 37 McLeod, Early Sikh Tradition, 8. 38 Ibid., 240.


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Figure 7. Hagiography

texts posits, not only the contexts of the real author constructing the message, but also those of the real readers, who were, at the time of its authorship, the intended audience as well. Hagiography is concerned with the direct presentation of its message to the audience. You can see this clearly illustrated in Figure 7. The specifics of the story being told, in the case of hagiography, is reflective of the historical contexts, as outlined in the historical model, but the focal point for this type of discourse and the inquiries that follow is the intentional application of the teaching to the lives of the audience. This is how Peter Brown’s work39 on Christian saints’ lives sought to consider the hagiography as the means to make present the example of these saints for later generations in a manner that allowed it to be adopted and followed. The exemplary saint is a teacher, both in the narrative, and through it, instructing readers to learn and follow the message of the story. Guru Nanak in the janam-sakhis operates in a similar manner. The janam-sakhis’ message is narrated to have an effect on the lives of readers, to instill faith and teach the principles of devotion, charity and 39 Peter Brown, “The Saint as Exemplar in Late Antiquity.” Representations, no. 2 (1983): 1–25.

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purity via the story of his life, which is then understood to be relevant and applicable to all Sikhs at all times. Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh’s, The Myth of the Founder: The Janamsakhis and Sikh Tradition, focused on the direct presentation of the Guru’s message through the myth of Guru Nanak conveyed by the janam-sakhis.40 While not using the term hagiography, she clearly classifies the janamsakhis in a manner similar to what has been considered here, when she discusses how they “underscore the importance and uniqueness of the birth and life of Guru Nanak in terms of the personal beliefs and proclivities of their authors.”41 Her focus is on the transmission of Guru Nanak’s “vision of Ultimate Reality”42 as presented in, and through, the janamsakhis. She takes this to a new level, by asserting that the experience of Ultimate Reality depicted in the myth of Guru Nanak during his disappearance in the River Being, is actually transmitted through the story to the reader. By Nikky Singh’s view, this is not simply the telling of the story, motivated by all the contextual intentions wrapped up in it that we have seen with the previous examples of hagiography, but it is the actual means to convey the experience of the Ultimate Reality as well. While Nikky Singh’s theological vision of the janam-sakhis as hagiography may not align in many ways with that of the other scholars discussed here, it certainly reflects the understanding of those who first saw value in the continued transmission of these stories. Never more explicit is the focus on the conveyance of not only Guru Nanak’s message, but also his religious experience, to all that hear his story. McLeod often cited the closing declaration of the Adi Sakhis tradition to demonstrate this active role of the janam-sakhis’ message in the lives of Sikhs to which Nikky Singh refers. He who reads or hears this sakhi shall attain supreme rapture. He who hears, sings, or reads this sakhi shall find his highest desirer fulfilled, for through it he shall meet Guru Baba Nanak. He who with love sings of the glory of Baba Nanak or gives ear to it shall obtain joy ineffable in all that he does in this life, and in the life to come salvation.43

A reader is enjoined to live like Guru Nanak and be saved. This is not a passive action. The text both enjoins belief and motivates the reader 40 Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, “The Myth of the Founder: The Janamsakhis and Sikh Tradition.” History of Religions, vol. 31, no. 4 (May, 1992): 329–343. 41  Ibid., 329. 42 Ibid., 334. 43 McLeod, Early Sikh Tradition, 243.


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to action. Use the text to achieve this goal. We are describing an active engagement between people, though one’s presence is manifest as a text. The janam-sakhi authors, in the view of a hagiography designation, wrote the stories this way in order to spur people to action, to act like Sikhs in accordance with Guru Nanak’s teachings. Each of these examples demonstrates how the application of a specific genre designation to the janam-sakhis conditions the focus and attention given to the text as it is considered. These are general examples that show in broad terms how certain elements are scrutinized when the texts are approached in these manners. I do not wish to imply that the models provided are the only ways that these genres can be explored. One can certainly look to examine the theological content from within a Sikh perspective, as these texts serve as instructive homilies. Surjit Hans’ A Reconstruction of Sikh History from Sikh Literature44 approached the janam-sakhis in this way, as he examined how issues of faith were to be accommodated by modern audiences. He sought to examine how the narration is to be applied to the audience’s modern context. His characterization of the janam-sakhi genre describes them as something akin to the Gospel narratives, as he described their purpose “to portray the ‘wonderful exploits’ of the Master who goes about winning ‘spiritual victories’ over potentates, kings, other religious teachers, ascetics, miracle-workers, gods and demons to establish his ‘religious paramountcy’ over this world.”45 The specific accounts of the janam-sakhis’ stories do not necessarily align to the life of Jesus, but the goal to show Guru Nanak as supreme over other religious teachings is an echo of the intention of the “Good News” about the Christ. Hans’ assertion about this function of the janam-sakhis’ rhetoric is a theological position itself, just like that noted within the janamsakhis themselves. The janam-sakhis are the lessons of Guru Nanak, and Hans implies that they should still be used that way. Hans’ task was to present an “understanding the Sikh past with all its complexities and nuances.”46 This meant that he did not dismiss the fantastic elements found in the janam-sakhis as McLeod did. In fact, Hans viewed them as necessary to the project of promoting the Guru’s position. He described how this material fit into the world of the janam-sakhi authors. 44 Surjit Hans, A Reconstruction of Sikh History from Sikh Literature (Jalandhar: ABS Publications, 1988). 45 Ibid., 198. 46 Ibid., viii.

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Figure 8. Homily During the period in question people were universally taught that supranatural events took place. They were more likely to see them. But the supranaturalism of the janamsakhis had a positive function to perform in establishing the spiritual paramountcy of Guru Nanak, and consequently in the task of conversion.47

The janam-sakhis are missionizing texts that reached out to the community of, and around, the Sikhs to convey a new path which Guru Nanak’s glory made clear to his followers. These are homilies using the craft of story to convey the Guru’s teachings and message of liberation. We can see this conception of the janam-sakhis on our model in Figure 8. The authority of Guru Nanak conveys a narrative of his teachings. While Surjit Hans understood that these stories were directed towards Sikhs in a specific historical context (as evidenced by his volume’s title), the message of the text is understood to be timeless and applicable to all people wishing (and needing) to hear the Guru’s message. This two-fold realization is noted by the two arrows bridging from the narration to both the intended audience and real reader. 47 Ibid., 189.


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This chapter has surveyed the most prominent studies of the janamsakhis. We have seen how each approaches the janam-sakhis in a different manner based on their view of this literature. Very specific notions of how the janam-sakhis are to be used and studied are conveyed by the genre designations that frame these discussions. The modified text model provides a means to visualize those differences that arise from the application of a genre designator, such a history, hagiography or homily. These differences then demonstrate the distinct concerns for presenting and examining the janam-sakhis in a certain way by both Sikhs and scholars. My hope is to facilitate a better manner of accommodating and addressing the variety of investigations directed at the janam-sakhis. In this chapter, I have sought to begin a discourse about the discourse about the janam-sakhis. The models presented in this chapter provide a means to visualize how the different approaches, as conditioned by genre definitions, can be examined as part of this larger meta-discourse. Each of these analyses is, to borrow a phrase from David William Cohen, a production of history, the discourse of a moment.48 And none of the studies we have discussed here present the janam-sakhis in the same way. The pursuit of this new re-imagined framework requires that we consider the ways between those various moments of reflection on and analysis of the janam-sakhis. We have, in a sense, mapped the discourse about the janam-sakhis based on genre designation to see how they are being considered. We can see on the models, points of direct engagement between varied approaches. And as we stand outside of the debate, viewing it at this distance, we can see each for its own merits and the goals it pursues. In their own unique ways, each discussion of the janam-sakhis is a teaching text, just as the janam-sakhis are, they each seek to present their view on the literature and engage readers to follow the course they lay out for understanding the texts. Bibliography Brown, Peter. “The Saint as Exemplar in Late Antiquity.” Representations, no. 2 (1983): 1–25. Chatman, Seymour. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1978.

48 David William Cohen, The Combing of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). Cohen sets out a program which clarifies how to examine the process by which history is created.

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Cohen, David William. The Combing of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. Grewal, J. S. Guru Nanak in History. Chandigarh: Panjab University Publication Bureau, 1969. Hans, Surjit. A Reconstruction of Sikh History from Sikh Literature. Jalandhar: ABS Publications, 1988. McLeod, W. H. Early Sikh Tradition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980. ——. Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968. Moger, Angela S. “That Obscure Object of Narrative.” Yale French Studies, no. 63 (1982): 129–138. Oberoi, Harjot. The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994. Singh, Kirpal. Janamsakhi Tradition: An Analytical Study. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 2004. Singh, Nikky-Guninder Kaur. “The Myth of the Founder: The Janamsakhis and Sikh Tradition.” History of Religions, vol. 31, no. 4 (May, 1992): 329–343. Singh, Pashaura. The Guru Granth Sahib: Canon, Meaning, and Authority. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000.

part III

Performance and Memory

Re-imagining Religious History through Women’s Song Performance at the Kāmākhyā Temple Site1 Patricia A. Dold Women residents of the Kāmākhyā temple site in Assam preserve and perform a repertoire of religious songs, Nām, that are an integral part of religious life of residents of this temple and pilgrimage site. Groups of women perform Nām in ritual contexts and receive support for these performances from their neighbors. Nāmatī, the women who lead such groups, are respected for their singing ability, the size of their repertoire, the age of the Nām in their repertoire, and their ability to adapt Nām to specific ritual contexts. Although resident males are often present during a performance, and although men participate enthusiastically in the singing of other religious texts (notably the Mānasā Purāṇa), men do not join in the singing of women’s Nām. Nevertheless, many men acknowledge the importance of the women’s Nām tradition. As one high priest of the main temple of the Goddess2 Kāmākhyā told me, women’s Nām bring the image (rūp) of the divine into one’s heart (a view typical in traditions of devotional song-poems in South Asian religions). Also, male and female residents sponsor women’s Nām performances, sometimes on behalf of a single family, sometimes on behalf of a neighborhood, through donations of food: either the food offerings for the ritual, which the women receive as prasad, the deity’s blessing, or tea and sweets for the women who perform. In this essay I introduce Kāmākhyā women’s Nām performance as a liturgical tradition that functions, I suggest, as a complement to the liturgical traditions of the male priests of the temples of the Kāmākhyā site. I also consider the implications that this women’s liturgical tradition has for the interpretation of the history of the Kāmākhyā site and its presiding deity, the Goddess Kāmākhyā. I indicate the Śākta roots of specific themes in Kāmākhyā women’s Nām to challenge what appears to have become a

1  I thank the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute and Memorial University of Newfoundland for their support of the research for this paper. 2 I use Goddess/God for a deity conceived as supreme. In generic usages or when the referent is clearly a particular form of a deity, I use goddess/god.


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convention in scholarly understandings of religion at the Kāmākhyā site: that bhakti emerged there late, beginning in the sixteenth century and mainly under the influence of the Assamese Vaiṣṇava tradition founded by Śaṅkaradeva (1449–1569). Prior to the sixteenth century, traditions of goddess worship, Śākta practices at Kāmākhyā, were tantric, it is maintained, with influence from indigenous religions.3 It is further implied by Hugh Urban, that the rise of bhakti contributed to an altered theology: Kāmākhyā, like Kālī in Bengal, becomes “softened” or “sweetened,” especially in the modern period.4 Kāmākhyā women’s Nām, however, suggest that scholars need to consider this temple site from a different perspective (figure 1). To be fair, Urban’s study of the religious history of the Kāmākhyā site focuses on Tantra and most of the available data for the site’s history voices the concerns of priests, kings, and tantric adepts. In comparison with the religious belief and practice of the political and religious elites of Kāmākhyā, modern predominantly devotional practice at Kāmākhyā does appear “sanitized,” and its vision of the Goddess Kāmākhyā “sweetened.” The contrast is particularly striking because the elites of the Kāmākhyā site, as Urban shows, engaged in tantric practice for power (śakti), kings for victory over their enemies and tantric adepts (royal and otherwise) for extraordinary personal powers, the “Tantric siddhis or the dangerous powers of the yoginīs” whereas modern devotees still come for “the śakti of the Goddess,” but “they seek the more practical benefits of child-bearing, health, and material well-being through the power of the goddess’s maternal loving grace.”5 There are two questions I will pose in this essay. First, “What were the wives, mothers and daughters of the kings, priests, and tantric adepts of Kāmākhyā doing in centuries past?” Evidence indicates that the present Kāmākhyā site has been known as a powerful site, a center of tantric practice for more than one thousand years. Even so, any male (or female) tantric adept visiting the site likely had a family and/or married life at home. What did their non-initiated relatives believe and practice? 3 See for example, Banikanta Kakati, The Mother Goddess Kamakhya (Gauhati: Publication Board Assam, 1989), 8–9, 21, 38–40; Nihar Rajan Mishra, Kamakhya: A SocioCultural Study (New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2004), 15–17, 28–36; Pranav Jyoti Deka. Nīlācala Kāmākhyā: Her History and Tantra. Guwahati: Panav Jyoti Deka, 2004), 14–17, 27–36; Hugh Urban, The Power of Tantra: Religion, Sexuality, and the Politics of South Asian Studies (London: I.B. Taurus, 2010), 42–46. 4 Urban, The Power of Tantra, 153 and 167–168. 5 Ibid., 168.

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Figure 1. Kāmākhyā temple. Photograph by Patricia A. Dold.



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Furthermore, at some point in Kāmākhyā’s history, a resident community became established at the site, though perhaps not until after the Koch king Nar Narayan ordered the main temple built in the sixteenth century. What did the resident wives, mothers, daughters, and non-initiated men practice and what goals did they seek to achieve? Does the corpus of written texts contain no clues about the practices of the non-elite? Kāmākhyā women’s Nām provide such clues, some of which are preserved in much older texts. Indeed, the mere existence of this Nām tradition points to the possibility that women have for centuries developed and maintained a mode of practice of and for those who are not part of the religious elite. The second question is “How and when did bhakti become part of religious life at Kāmākhyā?” That bhakti is more emphasized in Sanskrit texts of later periods is clear. Bhakti receives some attention in the Kālikā Purāṇa (circa tenth to twelfth centuries) but it is strongly emphasized in the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa, a text that is certainly later than the Kālikā Purāṇa and probably dates to the sixteenth century.6 But even the evidence of the Kālikā Purāṇa suggests that bhakti at Kāmākhyā predates Śaṅkaradeva and has co-existed with or indeed was part of Kāmākhyā tantric practice beginning almost one thousand years ago. First, however, I discuss the Nām performance tradition of women residents of Kāmākhyā and the complexity of the Goddess Kāmākhyā according to these hymns. I then demonstrate that some of these hymns’ themes occur in Śākta texts dated long before Śaṅkaradeva. Thus, Kāmākhyā women’s Nām prompt a re-imagining of the site’s tantric past as one that included Śākta bhakti and, if not a softer, sweeter Goddess, then certainly a more complex, multifaceted deity. “Motherhood,” for example, is linked with the Goddess Kāmākhyā, who is herself linked with the goddess Kālī, already in the Kālikā Purāṇa and also in Nām. Indeed Kāmākhyā Nām (as well as many other sources for goddess-centered traditions of Hinduism) require a re-imagining of motherhood. I must emphasize from the start, however, that the issues I raise using the lens of Kāmākhyā women’s Nām are issues of scholars’ interpretations of historical evidence and processes as well as issues of representation of

6 The Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa’s presentation of the ten Mahāvidyās as a standardized group of goddesses suggests a post-fourteenth century date, and I have argued that portions of the text are contemporary with the rise of Śaṅkaradeva’s Vaiṣṇava movement. See Patricia Dold, “The Religious Vision of the Śākta Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa,” (PhD diss, McMaster University, 2005), 217–218.

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religious or cultural phenomena in the data we access and in our scholarly constructions. I do not deny change in religious history. I agree that there have been shifts through history in representations of the Goddess Kāmākhyā, just as religious belief and practice at Kāmākhyā has changed and continues to change. Also, I am aware of the danger of using modern religious texts and practices for interpreting past history. I realize that religious insiders tend to read their own belief and practice into the past and that these modern readings do not produce verified accounts of a religion’s historical past. I admit I am fascinated by Kāmākhyā Nām and the women who perform and preserve them. My intention is not to impose the hymns on the past but to let them raise questions about scholars’ interpretations of texts and their contexts. On the other hand, I will also emphasize the unique value of Kāmākhyā Nām as a women’s textual tradition currently practiced at Kāmākhyā. As Urban demonstrates effectively, much of the infamous reputation of the site and its Goddess was established by outsiders to the site and its Śāktism.7 While some modern devotees, most notably the modern guru, Shree Maa Kāmākhyā (born between 1938 and 1948), have purged Kāmākhyā of her fierce aspect and transformed her into a “far more benign, loving, and maternal goddess with a universal spiritual message,”8 women of Kāmākhyā sing about Kāmākhyā as a fierce mother, loving, protective and violent. Furthermore, Kāmākhyā women’s Nām afford us more direct access to women’s religious texts and women’s voices than do other genres of texts about Kāmākhyā9 (Tantras, Purāṇas, royal chronicles and inscriptions, and the texts of Assamese Vaiṣṇava tradition). Women were involved in Kāmākhyā’s religious history, as wives and/or co-adepts of tantric adepts,10 as wives and mothers of kings and priests, or as pilgrims or wives of pilgrims. The texts available for reconstructing Kāmākhyā’s religious history do occasionally—but only occasionally—mention specific women’s

7 Urban, The Power of Tantra, 147–164. 8 Ibid., 180. 9 See Rachel Fell McDermott, Mother of My Heart, Daughter of My Dreams (New York: Oxford, 2001), 147–154, on female voices in Bengali Śākta Padavālī, a genre of devotional song poems that has many parallels in Kāmākhyā Nām. McDermott discusses the few female authors whose poetry survives and the historical forces that obscured or prohibited female participation. Their fate underscores the importance of Kāmākhyā women’s roles in Nām preservation and performance. 10 See Urban, 138–140 on female Śāktas of the past and present.


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contributions11 and several texts of and about the site speak of women as tantric partners, adepts and gurus.12 The extent to which these texts’ statements about females, human and/or divine, correspond to any actual practices of women or reverence for real historical women is rightly questioned by scholars, while many acknowledge that scholars should not dismiss the possibility of correspondences between texts’ views and women’s lives and experiences.13 But, even if women’s views and historical practices are preserved to any degree in the mainstream textual traditions, they are filtered through male authorship and/or transmission. Kāmākhyā women do not typically claim outright authorship of Nām, but they do improvise, adapt, and edit them (in a manner that must bear some similarity to processes of puranic composition, for example). Furthermore, women learn Nām from women and some emphasize that correct transmission of Nām is oral. I refer to these Nām as women’s texts in the qualified sense that these hymns are performed, preserved, and edited by women. Who their original authors are remains undetermined. My work on Nām does not yet include interviews with women about their understandings of their Nām. Nevertheless, there is evidence presented here for Kāmākhyā women’s meaningful engagement with these texts.

11  Queen Phuleśvarī Devī, most famously or notoriously, depending on the source. See Loriliai Biernacki, Renowned Goddess of Desire: Women Sex, and Speech in Tantra (New York: Oxford, 2007), 191. 12 See Biernacki’s work on the perspectives on women in Tantras of the northeast dated between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. Several of the texts she discusses speak of wives as tantric partners and two texts (the Gandharva Tantra and the Bṛhannīla Tantra) insist that a male’s tantric partner should be his wife, that a woman other than his wife is not suitable. Biernacki argues convincingly that the preference for the husbandwife partnership in tantric practice of transgressive sexual ritual “offers a view that disrupts normative relations between genders” (Biernacki, 95). Such a relationship provides an opportunity to understand that women “represent not merely objects, property, or the possibility of sexual gratification, but an opening up into the possibility of [woman as] difference as the subjectivity of the other,” which inscribes “woman discursively in the place of the subject” (Biernacki, 109). 13 Both Biernacki and Urban discuss such complexities of women’s roles and status in relation to tantric texts’ discourses about women and goddesses. See Urban, 142–145. Biernacki’s Renowned Goddess of Desire is aptly subtitled, Women, Sex and Speech in Tantra, since the entire book is focused on analyzing tantric texts’ discourses about females for the range of attitudes toward women in the period when these texts were composed. She also shows that these discourses are consistent with much of what we know about status of women in Assam between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries (see especially, Biernacki, 180–192).

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Kāmākhyā Nām as a Women’s Liturgical Tradition Women residents of Kāmākhyā participate in groups in the performance of Nām,14 which name, describe, petition and offer devotion to numerous deities including Śiva, Viṣṇu, Kṛṣṇa, Ganeśa, Kāmākhyā, Durgā, Tārā, Kālī, the Mahāvidyās, Annapurṇā, Mānasā, and Śītalā. Women learn Nām through performance but several told me they learned Nām in childhood when they were taught by their mothers, grandmothers, or other elder women.15 Most of the women who participate are wives and mothers. Some are widows. Some have taken tantric initiation, though no initiation is required for Nām performance or for the position of Nāmatī (Nām performance leader). Many of the younger women are literate and engage with Nām as written as well as oral texts. At least one of the elder Nāmatī, Parvati Devi, had no access to education in her youth but as her brothers learned to read, she made them teach her so that she could access religious texts and she has used this access in her role as Nāmatī. Some express pride in knowing the Sanskrit or vernacular textual background of hymns they sing. Two of the Nāmatī I came to know were clearly interested to be informed about the textual background of the Nām in their repertoires and so identified a Nām’s Sanskrit or vernacular textual source. Parvati Devi composed a Nām to explain a passage from the Kālikā Purāṇa.16 Nani Devi traced a Devī Nām attributed to Rāma to Kṛttibāsa Ojhā’s Bengali Rāmāyaṇa (fifteenth century).17 For many women, including Parvati Devi and Nani Devi, the Nām tradition is a source of pride: women excitedly proclaim some Nām to be very old or clearly local and I met several women who are filling notebooks with handwritten texts of Nām. Women worry about the survival of the hymns because, in their opinion, the younger women are not interested

14 In 2008 and 2009, I lived for three months at the site, recording and translating Nām. My work on these Nām is deeply indebted to Jayashree Athparia, an authority on the folk traditions of Kāmākhyā. Without her local connections, her knowledge of the local dialect of Assamese, I would have extremely limited access to these hymns. All Nām translations in this paper are by Ms Athparia and myself. 15 This would suggest that many Nām go back five or six generations, about 150–200 years. 16 This Nām is presented below (39–40). 17 She was probably referencing one of the many popular editions of this text, which differ from the text preserved in the oldest manuscripts. See W. L. Smith, Rāmāyaṇa Traditions in Eastern India, 2nd rev. ed. (New Delhi: Mushiram Manoharlal, 1995), 6, 30, 134. See also the discussion below (35–37) of a Kālī Nām attributed to Rāma.


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in learning them. A few women have published repertoires of Nām18 and some Nāmatī consult either handwritten or published texts as they prepare for or conduct a performance. However, the use of written texts during a performance meets with the disapproval of some. The women’s concerns about preserving Nām motivated many to cooperate with Ms Athparia and I when we asked permission to record and study their Nām. Such approval was not, however, unanimous. In several instances, women questioned our motives. Nām are not for entertainment nor should they be recorded or published solely for personal benefit. Many women were reassured about my motives when Ms Athparia explained that my own scholarly interest was in the local folk religion rather than Tantra.19 Several Nāmatī and many of their singers were happy to assist us, convinced that our motive was to respect their Nām and to do what we could to help preserve these hymns. Still, we were instructed to “keep the songs ourselves;” to refrain from setting ourselves up as teachers and leave the transmission of Nām to the Nāmatī. These negotiations suggest that the women have a sense of ownership of the Nām and attach religious status to them. Thus, Nām should be used only in religious contexts of ritual and festivals. They should not be casually shared and due credit for them should be acknowledged.20 Several Nāmatī not only gave us permission to use their names and photographs in our scholarly work, they insisted we use their names and encouraged us to show their pictures. Kāmākhyā women do not typically claim authorship of the hymns. Some Nām have signature lines that identify ancient figures or mythic figures, such as Sarasvatī, Rāma or Kālīdāsa as author, but never a woman. Nevertheless, some women have an understanding of legitimate transmission of Nām. To learn orally from a Nāmatī or other woman is legitimate, but, to learn by secretly copying a woman’s written text of a Nām, is “stealing.” Perhaps this is the reason why some women disapprove of the use of hand-written or printed published collections of Nām during a Nām performance; proper oral transmission is important. 18 For example, Annadā Debī Barakatakī, Nāmāñjali (A Collection of Nām). (Gauhati: Jyoti Prahad Barkataki, 1931). 19 Many at Kāmākhyā are suspicious about outsiders’ interest in Tantra. This is not surprising given the sensationalized accounts and condemnations of religious practices of Kāmākhyā documented by Urban (147–164). 20 Ms Athparia and I presented a more detailed argument on this point in “ ‘To Whom do These Songs Belong?’ ” Questions of Ownership among Women Performers of Religious Hymns at the Kāmākhyā Temple Site,” (Paper presented at the International Council for Traditional Music Conference, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL, July 18, 2011).

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Nāmatī typically adapt Nām to suit the performance context, adding, repeating, or dropping verses, changing names, or inserting additional refrains.21 Women newly married to men of Kāmākhyā often bring with them a repertoire of hymns from outside.22 These hymns are altered at Kāmākhyā through incorporation of local idiom and tradition. A Nāmatī’s role as a leader requires her to balance new material from outside Kāmākhyā with the local repertoire and local tradition concerning which Nām are to be performed for specific ritual and festival occasions. In most Nām performances I attended, women appeared to easily accept the leadership of one or two Nāmatī. But sometimes there are discussions and even serious disagreements among the women over leadership issues. I am aware of one setting in which women’s disagreement over which Nām should be performed resulted in the withdrawal of a Nāmatī from Nām performance for the opening ceremony of the Deodhanī festival.23 While there is a lack of strict formality or explicit regulations around matters of composition or improvisation, transmission, and leadership, the very fact that Kāmākhyā women have such discussions indicates that they see themselves as custodians of an important practice and a religiously significant textual tradition. The women who sing are not the only ones who hold these views, for the performance of Nām involves their neighbors. Women’s Nām performances are sponsored by individuals and neighborhoods and take place in the context of a pūjā at a temple, in family homes, or, very typically, at small neighborhood shrines. These pūjās are

21  With few exceptions, Nām structure is a refrain, which all women gathered sing, and verses, usually sung by only a few or by the Nāmatī alone. 22 Gita Das, Taru Devi, and Nani Devi, three of the four Nāmatī with whom I worked, were born outside Kāmākhyā and married into Kāmākhyā families. Both Gita Das and Taru Devi were accepted at Kāmākhyā as Nāmatī and both have brought new Nām into the Kāmākhyā Nām tradition, though to be accepted as Nāmatī they have had to learn old Kāmākhyā Nām, local idiom, and pronunciation. Nani Devi, though originally from outside Kāmākhyā, grew up there and so by the time she married into a Kāmākhyā family, she was already knowledgeable about the Kāmākhyā Nām tradition. The introduction of new Nām to Kāmākhyā and also the constant adaptation of single Nām makes it difficult to determine the size of the Kāmākhyā repertoire. Considering the number of different deities to whom the Nām are dedicated, there are easily a few hundred Nām currently in the performance tradition. 23 The Deodhanī or Debadhanī festival is held during Manasā Pūjā. For details, see Patricia Dold, “Pilgrimage to Kāmākhyā through Text and Lived Religion: Some forms of the Goddess at an Assamese Temple Site,” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, ed. Hillary P. Rodrigues, 46–61. (New York: Routledge, 2011) 53–54 and Mishra, 55–58.


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conducted by the women themselves and typically involve the presentation of food and other offerings to an image of a deity, the singing of Nām, and the distribution of prasād. They do not require any male priest’s participation nor recitation of any official mantras, whether vedic or tantric. Nevertheless, Nām, like other forms of vernacular devotional poetry, resemble mantras in form and function: at Kāmākhyā, Nām performance by women is locally understood to make divine beings present, whether in the heart of the devotee—Nām bring the form (rūp) of the deity into the hearts of those who sing of hear them—or embodied within Deodhās, the "voices of the gods/goddesses," a group of religious specialists who are an important focus of worship during the three days of the Debadhanī festival every August at Kāmākhyā. Indeed until five or six years ago, it was clear that the women’s singing inspired the Deodhās to publicly receive their deity to begin the festival during a ceremony at the Tukreśvara temple, a small temple of Śiva to the west of the main temple.24 The Deodhās would gather there and begin to dance, with the rhythm provided by the clapping of the women as they performed Nām. Afterward, the Deodhās would proceed to the main temple, where they would be received as embodiments of their deities by the large crowds gathered there. But, beginning a few years ago, the festival drummers play during this ceremony and the women’s singing is difficult to hear, even for the Deodhās. Women’s performance of Nām to inspire Deodhās to receive their deity continues but in a different setting. In August of 2009, I witnessed the inspiration of two Deodhās as they received their deities during a Nām performance at a private home, in the

24 Mishra (55) mentions women’s singing at this ceremony. Two Nām performed to bring the deities to the Deodhās have clear parallels in Sanskrit texts. One is a Kālī Nām, which, as the āhbān or invitation to the ceremony, describes the arrival of Kālī and the Śaktis of the male gods to assist the Goddess in her battle with the demons Śumbha and Niśumbha, a battle that is the focus of the third episode of the Devī Māhātmya. The other is a Satī Nām that describes the goddess Satī revealing herself to her husband Śiva as the ten Mahāvidyās when he insults her as they argue about attending a ritual at her father’s home. The Nām describes each Mahāvidyā and Śiva’s fearful flight from each of them. This scene is part of the account of Satī in the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa (chapter 8) and again in the Bṛhaddharma Purāṇa (II.6). I encountered very few people at Kāmākhyā who knew of the Mahābhāgavata and could not find any manuscripts of it at Assamese institutions, whereas many manuscripts exist in Bengal and Bangladesh. The Bṛhaddharma Purāṇa, of which there are many manuscripts in Assam, borrows the scene from the Mahābhāgavata. The scene itself is known locally and depicted in a local lithograph. It is likely that the scene, and the standardized group of ten Mahāvidyās came to Assam and the Kāmākhyā site from Bengal and what is now Bangladesh, brought by priests or by pilgrims or, perhaps, by Bengali women marrying into a Kāmākhyā family.

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āsan (thāpanā), the place of residence and preparation set for each Deodhā for their participation in the festival.25 The Nāmatī on this occasion, Taru Devi, watched carefully the movements of the first Deodhā while she led the women in the singing of a long and complex Nām of Kāmākhyā, and as he bowed before an altar, she switched Nām to one whose refrain invokes the ten main forms of Kāmākhyā, the ten Māhāvidyās.26 As the women sang this Nām, the Deodhā cried out, contorted his body, and finally rose holding the weapons of his deity,27 Chalantā (the form of Kāmākhyā represented in her moveable image) and bowed to the women before leaving the āsan. The same process occurred with the second Deodhā as he received his deity, the goddess Mānasā, though the women sang a Mānasā Nām when he began his transformation. Here, women’s Nām performance seems most clearly parallel to the use of mantras for installing a deity’s presence. Women, as embodiments of śakti, the feminine principle of power, act as the necessary complement to the male Deodhās as they transform from ordinary men to embodiments of their deity. I suggest a similar logic is at work in weekly Nām performances at small neighborhood shrines and also those that take place in the homes of families in celebration of various life cycle rituals (including upanayana initiation, marriage, and prenatal rituals).28 That the community generally contributes food for women’s weekly performances and that families invite women to perform for auspicious life cycle rituals, suggests a broad recognition of the power of women’s singing of Nām. I suggest that there is recognition of the power of the women’s singing to invoke the presence of divine beings for family rituals and to ensure their on-going presence in the neighborhoods of the site. At the same time, Nām and Nām performances are expressions of devotion, bhakti. Many Nām speak directly of bhakti and use devotional idiom common to many lineages of South Asian vernacular devotional poetry. Thus, Nām often express human frailty and humility; they position the

25 See Dold, “Pilgrimage to Kāmākhyā,” (55–57), for a description of this performance. Mishra (57) mentions women’s singing in this context. The Deodhās engage in many preparatory practices prior to the public festival and more than one ritual seems to involve making their deity present (see Mishra, 56). 26 This is the “Jay Kālī, Jay Tārā” refrain (see below, 23). 27 Holding the weapons indicates that his deity is present in him and so, for example, from this point on, a Deodhā will not tolerate any human touch to his head. 28 One of the first performances I attended was led by Parvati Devi in the home of a family celebrating the upanayana of twin boys. Widows, it should be noted, not only participate in these performances, they are sometimes the invited Nāmatī.


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deity (or their feet) as refuge of the devotee and usually contrast the awesome qualities of the deity with the devotees’ lack of intelligence, inability to describe or understand the deity, or their vulnerability to danger. The ritual context of simple pūjās too, points to the devotional nature of the Nām. Apart from a mantra-like form and function of the Nām and some of the deities invoked (such as the Mahāvidyās), none of the tools and techniques typical for Tantra are employed during the ritual. Some Nām, however, both by their content and their ritual context, are very similar to dhyānas,29 the visualizations of deities with which one might begin a tantric and/or devotional practice. I will later present exactly such a Nām, the Kāmeśvarī Nām composed by Parvati Devi as her commentary on a dhyāna from the Kālikā Purāṇa. The devotional nature of Kāmākhyā Nām raises the question of the historical relationship between Assamese Śākta traditions and the Vaiṣṇava movement founded by Śaṅkaradeva. Nām performances at Kāmākhyā must have been influenced by the Vaiṣṇava Nām prasaṅgas that arose as a major form of practice within Śaṅkaradeva’s movement and remain popular in Assam today.30 At the Kāmākhyā site itself, there was a Vaiṣṇava Nām Ghar (house) at which prasaṅgas were held until about 100 years ago. Scholarship has tended to speak of the relationship between Assamese Śākta and Vaiṣṇava traditions largely in terms of Vaiṣṇava influence on Śākta traditions. Urban, in his recent study of the site, discusses the relationship primarily in terms of the Śākta adoption of the devotional orientation and its sanitizing of its rituals, especially of its sexual tantric practices and animal sacrifice, in response to Vaiṣṇava criticisms.31 Yet, the early leaders of the Assamese Vaiṣṇava movement lived within a religious milieu in which Śāktism was predominant.32 It is likely then, that Assamese Śāktism influenced the Vaiṣṇava movement even while the Vaiṣṇavas vigorously criticized aspects of Śāktism. Urban suggests the possibility that the Vaiṣṇava movement might have been influenced by Śākta tradition, to likewise emphasize the importance of the guru and the guru’s oneness with the deity.33 He also suggests that Śaṅkaradeva’s attitudes toward women might have been formulated in response to Śākta

29 McDermott describes the influence of Sanskrit dhyānas on Bengali Śākta poetry in (163–165 & 238–239). 30 Urban, 153. 31  Urban, 151–154. 32 See Urban, 149–150; Biernacki, 185–188. Śaṅkaradeva’s family was Śākta, for example. 33 Urban, 151.

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attitudes.34 Biernacki notes that the Vaiṣṇava insistence on initiation is a clear example of Śākta tantric influence.35 I suggest that Śākta Tantra is also a likely source for the Assamese Vaiṣṇava tradition’s beliefs regarding the mantric power of divine names. In the Assamese Vaiṣṇava tradition, Nām are sung expressions of bhakti, but also because they entail singing the deity’s names. The names of God, especially the secret names of God revealed to devotees at their obligatory initiation, are equated with the deity and can effect an experience of union with God.36 The “four realities,” Name, God, Guru, and Devotee, “constitute the essence of the devotional experience [and] are held to be one and indivisible such that each presupposes the existence of the other three.37 Audrey Chantlie discusses in some detail the many uses of mantra—and mantras consisting of divine names—in the rituals of Assamese Vaiṣṇavism.38 Furthermore, she notes the secret character of the Vaiṣṇava initiation and the many levels of initiation available. Of particular interest is her description of the distinction between śaran (a first level initiation entailing taking refuge or shelter) and bhajan, a higher level of initiation wherein the devotee internalizes the deity. Chantlie summarizes the knowledge taught at the level of bhajan, which includes forms of knowledge that also characterize tantric thought, such as “the identity between the macrocosm of the universe and the microcosm of the body [and] the names of the different gods residing in the different bodily centers.”39 While Tantra does not have a monopoly over such notions, in the Assamese context, Śākta Tantra is a likely source for these elements of Assamese Vaiṣṇavism and for its belief in the power and divine character of the names of God.40 34 Urban, 152. 35 Biernacki, 188. 36 Audrey Chantlie, The Assamese: Religion, Caste and Sect, in an Indian Village (London: Curzon, 1984), 259–263. 37 Chantlie, 259. See also, Maheswar Neog, Early History of the Vaiṣṇava Faith and Movement of Assam (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1985 reprint; 1965), 347–350. 38 Chantlie, 157–161. 39 Chantlie, 160 and see Neog, 350–352. 40 David White proposes that Tantra, rather than the Sanskrit textual traditions of the brahmanical elite or the classical bhakti of Vaiṣṇava history, “has been the predominant religious paradigm, for over a millennium, of the great majority of the inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent” (David Gordon White, Kiss of the Yoginī: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 3). In part, he is contrasting bhakti and Tantra, which is “in many ways the antitype of bhakti.” But, he is speaking here of bhakti as “the religion of Indian civilization that has come to be embraced by nineteenth- to twenty-first century reformed Hinduism as normative for all of Indian


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Furthermore, to achieve the kind of widespread popularity that Assamese Vaiṣṇavism has known for four-hundred years, the movement must have built upon existing religious foundations. The ritual practices of the emerging movement as well as the singing of Nām of Viṣṇu/Kṛṣṇa, must have had some form of precedent in Assam.41 Śaṅkaradeva’s natal family was Śākta. What rituals and songs were part of his upbringing and what power was associated with them? What songs did his mother sing? Still, Vaiṣṇava influence on Kāmākhyā Nām is clear, but Kāmākhyā Nām performances have been transformed so that they have become the religious work of women led by women. Both Urban and Biernacki in their respective studies of the site and its textual traditions, note the strong potential for female authority and leadership there in centuries past. The Tantras that are the focus of Biernacki’s study describe women as embodiments of the goddess/śakti and therefore innately capable of mastering mantras and to function as adepts and ideal gurus.42 Furthermore, because the Tantras Biernacki studies allow for or prefer that male adepts partner with their wives for sexual rituals, these texts, Biernacki argues, offer a method for the disruption of normative gender constructions and the recognition of woman as subject. Similarly, Urban discusses the possibility that the Śākta Tantrism of Kāmākhyā enabled women to occupy positions of leadership within Tantra.43 Noting that texts’ expressions of reverence for women and the use of the yoni as the primary symbol of the Goddess and a major focus for male adepts’ sexual rituals are neither inherently empowering nor inherently oppressive for women, Urban states, The very fact that women are imagined as embodiments of the goddess’s divine power also opens a new space of possibility within the construction of gender and some room for a renegotiation of power relations. Despite the extreme essentialism, heteronormativity, and secrecy at work in its ritual and discourse, Śākta Tantra does in fact open the door for at least a few women to assume actual power and communal authority.44 religious history.” Interestingly, Śaṅkaradeva’s Assamese Vaiṣṇavism has some of the same emphases of the reformed Hinduism White identifies here in its monotheism, its opposition to animal sacrifice, tantric sexual ritual, and caste. Perhaps the failure of scholarship to examine carefully Śākta-tantric influences in Assamese Vaiṣṇava tradition is related to the reformist agenda White describes. 41  McDermott (see 176, 232–233, 237–252) identifies several types of compositions and performance genres in the background of some Bengali devotional poets. 42 Biernacki, 39–53. 43 Urban, 138–43. 44 Urban, 139.

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Women of Kāmākhyā have indeed assumed religious power and authority in that they have, for generations, preserved, adapted, and performed the often mantra-like Nām to bring divine beings into residents’ hearts, homes, and neighborhoods. If Biernacki is correct about the kinds of discourses about females available for centuries at the Kāmākhyā site, it is plausible that women and men of Kāmākhyā would recognize women’s singing of Nām as a religiously powerful means to maintain the divine presences and therefore the sacred and powerful character of the site itself.45 I suggest that the Kāmākhyā women’s Nām performance tradition represents a female mode of religious practice at Kāmākhyā that complements the work of the male priests of the temples at the site. This complementarity might be one method for enacting the complementary relationship between the Goddess (as Śakti) and Śiva. Both male and female liturgical specialists make efforts to ensure proper preservation and transmission of the texts, though the women do so in a much more informal manner. Both male priests and female Nām singers use their respective textual performances in part to ensure the ongoing presence of all the deities of the site. The male priests do this work using mainly Sanskrit texts, vedic or tantric, and a great deal of their work is done for the public, in the temples, for pilgrims. The women do similar work, using the Nām they preserve and pass down through the generations, in neighborhood shrines and in their neighbors’ homes, most directly for the benefit of their fellow residents. Clearly, there are differences between male and female liturgical traditions: men’s work is paid and male priestly duties allow many to earn a livelihood; women’s work is rewarded with a small meal at most. Men’s liturgical texts must not be altered while women often edit and adapt Nām. Male priests must invoke deities’ presence each day, while women’s Nām performances typically occur weekly, when a special request is made, or for certain festival and life cycle ritual celebrations. Also, men’s work is often recited before members of the public; thousands of pilgrims, kings in the past and politicians in the present. It is preserved in the historical record while women’s Nām performances are more private and they are not mentioned in texts, not even in modern temple pamphlets or most of the videos sold on video disks. Unless you visit homes, neighborhoods, 45 In fact, the Devī Māhātmya, which is regularly recited at Kāmākhyā, itself offers a Śākta precedent for the notion that a hymn (or a Māhātmya) can function as a mantra in that its recitation brings the deity close to worshippers and makes the deity present at the place of recitation. See Devī Māhātmya 12.6 and 19 and also, on the extensive traditions of reciting this text as mantra, see Coburn, Encountering the Goddess, 100–108.


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or temples in the evenings, when most Nām performances are held, you would likely never hear a Nām performance at Kāmākhyā. Kāmākhyā according to Women’s Nām As already noted, Kāmākhyā women’s Nām describe a number of gods and goddesses including, of course, the Goddess Kāmākhyā. Here, I describe Kāmākhyā and Kālī as portrayed in Nām and trace elements from Nām in Sanskrit texts important for Kāmākhyā religious history (the Kālikā and Mahābhāgavata Purāṇas) and also in older Sanskrit texts that feature a multifaceted Goddess who is the object of devotion (the Devī Māhātmya, and the Mahābhārata hymns to Durgā). In presenting textual parallels to themes in Kāmākhyā Nām, I do not claim that these texts were a direct source for the Nām composers.46 The parallels are presented to show that certain devotional themes found in Nām are neither modern, nor were they necessarily introduced to Kāmākhyā Śākta tradition through the influence of Śaṅkaradeva’s Vaiṣṇava movement. Kāmākhyā women’s Nām envision the Goddess Kāmākhyā as a multifaceted deity who not only has many forms, in many cases she is equated with those forms. One of these that I will highlight is the identity of Kāmākhyā and Kālī. Indeed, one high priest of the Kāmākhyā temple told me, “Kāmākhyā is Kālī, Kālī is Kāmākhyā,” suggesting that Kālī is more than a manifestation of the Goddess: Kāmākhyā herself is none other than Kālī. A passage from the Kālikā Purāṇa, a text that presents extremely complex Śākta theologies, explains the apparently duality of the Goddess as her adoption of the appropriate accoutrements for different activities: For just as a man is a parasol bearer on account of taking a parasol, and a bather at the time he takes a bath, in the same way Mahāmāyā’s body when prepared for sexual enjoyment (kāma) coloured reddish yellow by the red saffron applied for the sake of sexual excitement, is called Kāmākhyā. After abandoning her sword when it is time for love (kāma), she spontaneously seizes her garland; when she has abandoned love, she holds her sword. . . . She is one and she is everything together.47

Yet, at the same time, Kālī and Kāmākhyā are separate. At the Kāmākhyā site, each has her own Deodhā(s) and Kālī has three temples separate 46 The one exception is Parvati Devi’s Kāmeśvarī Nām (see below, 39–40), which she described as her explanation of a passage from the Kālikā Purāṇa. 47 Kālikā Purāṇa 60. 55–56 & 64–65 in Van Kooij, 167–168.

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from Kāmākhyā’s temple. In the Kālikā Purāṇa, Kālī is frequently named as one of the Goddess’s many attendants but in some of this text’s narratives, she is a form of or identical with the Goddess. Nām of Kāmākhyā describe the Goddess as a multifaceted, protean divine being “who takes whatever form is desired” (a popular rendering of a name of the site, Kāmarūpa, and its feminine nominal forms like Kāmarūpā and Kāmarūpinī). It is therefore not surprising that Kāmākhyā is described and visually represented in multifaceted forms such as the six headed, twelve armed form of Kāmeśvarī, (Queen of Kāma, figure 2),48 or a ten fold representation as Kālī and the Mahāvidyās. In Nām, Kāmākhyā is very typically and often simultaneously identified as the demon-slaying warrior goddess, as the daughter of the mountain and wife of Śiva, as the dark goddess Kālī who stands on her husband’s chest, as a mother, and as the supreme deity who is the source of all, who provides all benefit and rescues from all dangers. She inhabits Nīlachal, the battle-field, the cremation ground, and the heart of the devotee. Most of these threads are present in the following Nām,49 which suggests a link between motherhood, the Goddess’s status as a worshipped deity, and her fierce beauty: O goddess Bhavanī, goddess Kāmākhyā, you are the goddess Mahāmāyā Trident bearing, demon slayer, Wife of Śiva, be kind to us. (the refrain) he devī bhavanī kāmākhyā gosanī tumi devī mahāmāyā triśuladharinī asuraghātinī kṛpa kara harajāyā Goddess Kāmākhyā is sitting at Kāmākhyā People offer pūjā saying, “Kāmākhyā is Mother.” kāmākhyate bohi accha kāmākhyā gosanī naraloke pūjā kare kāmākhyā ma buli (refrain) At Kāmākhyā Mandir, a group of lady devotees offer kṛtañjali Now, as we touch your feet, protect us, Goddess Kāmākhyā

48 There is no adequate English equivalent for kāma. As Urban discusses, kāma at Kāmākhyā means more than all forms of desire and pleasure; it is also power (śakti) (Urban, 19–22). I suggest that kāma in this context also has the connotation of life force, the power of creation, procreation, sustenance, and destruction. As such, it provides a possible key for a comprehensive understanding of the complex nature of the Goddess Kāmākhyā, “she whose name is Kāma,” and “name” is itself a pregnant term here. 49 Recorded on April 12, 2008, during an evening Nām performance beside the main temple led by Nani Devi.


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Figure 2. Kāmeśvarī, Queen of Kāma. Photograph by Patricia A. Dold.

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kāmākhyāmār mandirate gopinī sakale achhe kṛtāñjali kari eibar rakha kari kāmākhyā gosanī achho charanate dhari (refrain) You are black, you are transgressive (vāmā),50 the daughter of the Mountain. Beautiful Fierce Goddess, worshipped in the world as Mother. tumi śyāmā tumi vāmā tumi giri sūtā sundarī bhairavī mātā jagate pujitā (refrain) If you do not save us, Mother, no one will We offer ourselves at your feet, Mother. tumi narakhile matrī rakha ota je nai tomar charane matrī loilo harana he (refrain)

The following Nām presents Kāmākhyā’s motherhood in the sense of source: of the world, wealth, children, life-saving rain. The reference to the Goddess’s nudity subtly hints that Kāmākhyā is Kālī, who, as other Nām make clear, is typically naked: Kāmākhyā, Giver of boons, Goddess, O Mother who dwells on the mountain, You are the Goddess, Mother of the world, Mother of the universe. kāmākhyā varadā devī e o mai parvatavahinī / tumi devī jaganmatā jagatajānani e kāmākhyā varadā devī e (the refrain) If you call, “Kāmākhyā! Kāmākhyā!” then, she, the naked one, gives all wealth, and sons and daughters. kāmākhyā kāmākhyā bulī jhitui pare geri dhandhanya putra kanyā denta digambarī (refrain) If you call, “Kāmākhyā, Kāmākhyā!” She will give nectar-like rain to save us. kāmākhyā kāmākhyā bulī jhitui pare dak amrit barahi rakha kari phure tak e (refrain)

Some Kāmākhyā Nām contain allusions to Tantra in that they refer to classes of female beings that figure with some prominence in tantric ritual practices of Kāmākhyā and elsewhere. The ten Mahāvidyās, for example, are a complex group of goddesses often worshipped through tantric rituals to defeat and/or destroy enemies.51 At Kāmākhyā, they are also part 50 Vāmā can also mean “woman” and given its context here, it could be read either way, perhaps even with a double meaning. 51  On the Mahāvidyās, see David Kinsley, Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahāvidyās (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). Worship of the Mahāvidyās


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Figure 3. Bhairavī temple. Photograph by Patricia A. Dold.

of exoteric religious practice: they are enshrined and worshipped in temples (figure 3), represented on lithographs, in temple pamphlets, and on video disks. Several people at Kāmākhyā told me that the reason why the Kāmākhyā site is such a powerful pīṭha is because the Goddess is present here in all ten of her forms, as the ten Mahāvidyās.52 A Nām refrain (pada) that I heard in several different ritual contexts and in different Nām indicates this connection between Kāmākhyā and the Mahāvidyās: Jay Kālī Jay Tārā Chinnamastā Bagalā Bhuvaneśvarī Bhairavī Dhūmavatī Kāmalā53

as a standardized group of ten specific goddesses at Kāmākhyā does not appear to be older than the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa, which knows the group of ten and locates them at Kāmākhyā. The Kālikā Purāṇa and the Yoginī Tantra use the names of some of these goddesses and use the term mahāvidyā, but do not yet speak of a standardized group. 52 Seven temples at the site are dedicated to one of the Mahāvidyās, with the remaining three said to be represented in the pīṭha of the main temple. Images of all ten are sculpted across the modern archway at the bottom of Nilachal, the site of Kāmākhyā temples. 53 The first two lines simply list the names presented here.

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Lakṣmī, Sarasvatī, in the middle, Bhāgirathī54 Goddess Kāmākhyā, beloved of Śiva who is Hara. lakṣmī sarasvatī madhye bhāgīrathī kāmākhyā devī śiva hara priyā

One of the Nām that uses this refrain has verses focused on Kālī because she is the primary Mahāvidyā. Here, she is asked for protection, while much of the hymn focuses on her appearance and behavior on the battlefield and on her husband’s chest:55 Jayantī, Joy inspiring Kālī, Gentle Kālī is her name. Remembering these, we will get dharma, wealth, and pleasure. jayantī maṅgalakālī bhadrakālī nāma tāhāka chintile hoi dharma artha kāma (refrain) Kālī Kāli, Great Kālī, Terrible Kālī is her name. Under her feet, Sadāśiva meditates. kālī kālī mahākālī ugrakālī nāma sadāśiva padatale kari achhe dhyāna (refrain) Jayantī, Joy inspiring Kālī, whose face is terrible. She flicks her tongue, this killer of demons. jayantī maṅgalakālī karālavadanī laha laha kare jihvā asūra ghātinī (refrain) With a lolling tongue, this fierce image seen, brings fear. What are you doing Jayadurgā, on the heart of Śiva? lolla jihvā ghoramūrti dehi lāge bhaya ki korisā jayadurgā harara hṛdaya (refrain) Body black like a cloud, naked, Hair hanging loose down your back, flying wildly meghar baran śyāma tanu digambarī beśa pithit pariyā achhe āulājaulā keśa (refrain) Jayantī, Vijayā, Jayā is wife of Paśupati I take refuge at your feet, protect [me] Mahāmāyā.

54 Bhāgirathī, Gaṅgā, is atypical as one of the ten Mahāvidyās, and is in any case the eleventh goddess listed here. Ṣoḍaśī is missing from this list. For more on the Mahāvidyās at Kāmākhyā, see Patricia Dold, “The Mahavidyas at Kamarupa: Dynamics of Transformation in Hinduism,” Religious Studies and Theology 23, no. 1 (2004) 89–122; and “Pilgrimage to Kāmākhyā,” 57–60. 55 Recorded on January 31, 2008, at the Śītalā shrine during the weekly Nām performance led by Gita Das.


patricia a. dold jayantī vijayā jayā paśupati jāyā charane haran loilo rākhā mahāmāyā (refrain) On the battlefield, Durgā the victorious is fierce;56 she is the Fierce Queen. Śaṅkarī always keeps her feet on her husband’s heart. jayadurgā rana chaṇḍī rane chaṇḍeśvarī svāmira hṛdaye pāve di achhā śaṅkarī (refrain) Sadaśiva lay on the road path as a corpse Unknowingly, Mahāmayā put her feet on his heart. śava rūpe sadāśibe bāṭot achhil pari nājāniyā mahāmāyai hṛde dilā bhari (refrain) Lolling tongue, covered in streams of blood, you are splendid and fearsome. With loose hair, naked: I feel fear before you. lollajihvā raktadhārā śobhe atībhaya muktakeśī digambarī dehi lāge bhaya (refrain) The pearls on [your] the head are touching the zenith of the sky On the battlefield, Mahākālī is dancing naked. māthāye mūkatār mani gagane lāgichhe ranor mādhye mahākālī ulaṅge nāchichhe (refrain)

Despite the importance of the goddess Kālī in Hindu Tantra and for Tantra at Kāmākhyā, most Nām do not connect Kālī with any overtly or distinctly tantric practices or goals. As in the Nām above, Kālī and (or, as) Kāmākhyā is asked to give dharma, wealth, and pleasure, and protection from danger. Furthermore, Nām display a range of attitudes toward those characteristics of Kālī that are often attributed tantric symbolic meaning: her nudity, her transgressive appearance, her position on Śiva’s chest, for example, are variously celebrated, questioned, and feared in Nām. On the other hand, Kāmākhyā Nām often explicitly assert the identity of Kālī and the presiding Goddess of the Kāmākhyā site, which various sources describe as a center of tantric tradition over the course of more than one thousand years.57 Their identity is clear in the following verses from a

56 Or simply, is Chaṇḍī (Caṇḍī), a commonly used name for the Goddess of the Devī Māhātmya as in the Candīśataka, or “One Hundred Verses on Caṇḍī” attributed to the court poet, Bāṇa (7th century). 57 See Urban (37–39 and 39–42) on the possibility that the site was an early center for the Yoginī Kaula school and/or that there was a Yoginī temple there.

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Nām whose refrain entreats “Mother Kālī/Kāmākhyā” to put on some clothes, as the gods are embarrassed to see her naked:58 We are powerless, without intelligence, When there is a crisis you save us, goddess Kālī. śaktihīnā buddhihīnā alpa moti āmi vipadate rakhā karā kālikā gohānī We pray at the feet of mother Kālī seeking forgiveness for our faults. kālī mār charanote sevāhe janālo bhul krūti yata dokh khemā bichārilo Now Sarasvatī [says]: enough with other work! All remember Mother Kāmākhyā [and] say “Rām, Rām.”59 ehimāne sarasvatī erā ānakām kāmākhyā māk smari save bolā rāma rāma

The identification of Kālī and Kāmākhyā is explicit in many Nām as is the further identification of Kālī/Kāmākhyā with Durgā/Chaṇḍī, the Goddess of the Devī Māhātmya. For example, in one Nām, the Goddess Kāmākhyā, who “sits at Kāmākhyā,” is called Rakhakālī (Protective Kālī), Rakhachaṇḍī, Rakhadurgā, and asked her for protection (rakha):60 Explorations of the relationship between the goddess Kālī (among other goddesses) and the multifaceted, all-powerful, demon-slaying Goddess have been developed in Śākta Sanskrit texts for more than one thousand years. In the Devī Māhātmya, Kālī seems at least a separable goddess for she emerges from the Goddess, as an embodiment of her rage: From the knitted brows of her forehead’s surface, came forth Kālī, with her dreadful face [karālavadanā], carrying sword and noose. She carried a strange skull topped staff, and wore a garland of human heads. She was shrouded in a tiger skin, and looked utterly gruesome with her emaciated skin. Her widely gapping mouth [was] terrifying with its lolling tongue. With

58 Recorded during the same January 31, 2008 performance and immediately following the Mahāvidyā Nām above. Gita Das explained that since Kālī is the primary Mahāvidyā, a Kālī Nām must always follow that of the Mahāvidyās. 59 For some, this usage of the name Rāma is a generic and such usage is known from vernacular devotional song-poems. Nevertheless, its use here does suggest Vaiṣṇava influence. 60 Recorded from a Nām performance led by Nani Devi at the main temple, on April 12, 2008.


patricia a. dold sunken, reddened eyes and a mouth that filled the directions with roars, she fell upon the great Asuras in that army, slaying them immediately.61

Yet, while the Devī Māhātmya uses the name Kālī for this separate goddess, it also uses the name Bhadrakālī three times for the Goddess herself 62 and the form the Goddess adopts for universal dissolution is called Mahākālī.63 Also, like the Mātṛkās (Mothers), a group of fierce warriors who initially emerge from the bodies of the male gods as their śaktis, Kālī is reabsorbed into the Goddess herself. Accused by her demon enemies of relying on the strength of others in battle, the Goddess says, “I alone exist here in the world; what second, other than I, is there? O wicked one, behold these my manifestations of power entering back into me!” They do and then “there was just Ambikā (Mother), alone.”64 While Kālī seems both separate from and one with the Goddess in the Devī Māhātmya, two hymns from the Mahābhārata, the Durgā Stava offered by Yudhiṣṭhira and the Durgā Stotra by Arjuna,65 provide evidence that Kālī was, for some people, the very Goddess who killed the demon Mahiṣa and the other demons slain by the Goddess herself in the Devī Māhātmya. The name Kālī, for example, alternates with the name, Durgā, in this passage from Yudhiṣṭhira’s hymn: O Kālī, Kālī, O great Kālī, fond of liquor, flesh, and beasts, Wandering where you wish, of spirits is your retinue composed, you a giver of boons. Those men who call upon you for the removal of burdens, And those men on earth who honor you at daybreak, For them nothing is hard to obtain, even regarding sons or wealth. O Durgā, you cause (people) to cross from difficulty (durgāt) (to safety); therefore are you know to the world as Durgā.66

The Durgā Stotra, sung by Arjuna also praises a Goddess credited with slaying the demons whom the Goddess battles in the Devī Māhātmya.

61  Devī Māhātmya 7.5–7.8a, Coburn, trans., Encountering the Goddess, 61. 62 At Devī Māhātmyā 3.8, 4.33 and 11.25. 63 See Devī Māhātmya 12.35–36 Coburn, trans., Encountering the Goddess, 82. 64 Devī Māhātmya 10.3–4 Coburn, trans., Encountering the Goddess, 71. 65 Both hymns are attested in manuscripts from the northwest to northeast of the subcontinent. They were excluded from the critically edited text, but appear in appendices in the volumes of the critical edition (the Virāṭa and Bhīṣma Parvans). They are discussed and translated in full in Thomas Coburn, Devī Māhātmya The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984), 267–275. Coburn also indicates all the parallels between these hymns and the Devī Māhātmya. 66 Coburn, Devī Māhātmya, 270.

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Like the Durgā Stava, Arjuna’s hymn names this Goddess Kālī, Bhadrakālī, Mahākālī, Caṇḍī, Kātyāyanī, Umā, mother of Skanda, and Durgā, among others. Her multifaceted nature is suggested in other ways as well: she seems to simultaneously possess bodies of different colors (black and white, according to one verse), she is described as a great demon slayer, “eternally fond of Mahiṣa’s blood,” the leader of an army of Siddhas, the mother and end of the Vedas; and she is adorned with skulls, a peacock plume, and an array of ornaments and weapons.67 This demon-slaying Goddess is asked for and/or promises protection from a wide range of dangers; from to famine to rebirth in saṃsāra in the Devī Māhātmya,68 from thieves, tigers, dark forests, and so on in the Mahābhārata hymns. In fact, those who offer the hymns either face imminent danger or have just been rescued from danger by the Goddess.69 In the hymns of the Devī Māhātmya, the Goddess’s role as protector of her worshippers from all manner of worldly danger is repeatedly praised with devotion (bhakti). The first hymn of this text, offered devoutly by the gods who bow in reverence and shudder in ecstasy as they sing, asks the Goddess to protect the whole world, to destroy fear of evil, to protect from the four directions, to use her various weapons to protect her worshippers, and to protect with both her gentle and exceedingly terrible forms. It declares her to be the cause of mokṣa and of inconceivable austerities, the destroyer of pain, poverty, and misery. Though severe in battle as she destroys the gods’ enemies, she compassionately allows them to reach heaven. The Goddess, once praised with this hymn, agrees that she will attend to the needs of any mortal who sings the hymn and will ensure their wealth and success.70 More examples are not difficult to find in the Devī Māhātmya; in the hymn the gods offer after the Goddess together with the Mātṛkās and Kālī defeat a host of demons,71 in the Goddess’s promises to take birth in the future to rescue the world from a series of dangers,72 in her promises to protect and shower benefits upon her those

67 Coburn, Devī Māhātmya, 273–274. 68 The Goddess promises to take birth in the future to rescue the world from a series of dangers (11.37–51) and promises to protect her worshippers from all kinds of danger (12.1–29). 69 In the Devī Māhātmya, the gods are threatened by or rescued from demons. Yudhiṣṭhīra offers his hymn just prior to the and final thirteenth year of his and his brothers’ forest exile and Arjuna offers his just prior to the epic’s great battle. 70 Devī Māhātmya 4.1–33 in Coburn, Encountering the Goddess, 48–52. 71  See Devī Māhātmya 11.1–4, 11, 23–34. 72 See Devī Māhātmya 11.37–51.


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who devoutly worship her or hear her Māhātmya,73 and in the benefits she awards to the king and merchant who hear the Māhātmyā and afterward conduct worship her in which they offer flowers, incense, water, their own blood, and recite a hymn (the Devī Sūkta) before an earthen image of the Goddess.74 Clearly, the Goddess’s role as protector of ordinary people from ordinary to extraordinary dangers is an important one according the Devī Māhātmya, the Mahābhārata hymns, as it is also a recurring aspect of the Goddess described in Kāmākhyā Nām. This thread then, that of a devotion inspiring, multifaceted Goddess who is a protector from dangers of all kinds and one who further provides a wide range of benefits to worshippers, is one that carries through more than one thousand years of the history of worship of a Goddess whose multifaceted nature and many names include Kālī’s. Furthermore, already in the Devī Māhātmya, the Goddess is called Mother. Indeed Ambikā (Mother) is one of the two most frequently employed names for the Goddess in this text, the other being Caṇḍikā (Fierce).75 Nor is the name Ambikā used only for the Goddess’s pleasant, gentle aspect or her nurturing side. Ambikā appears on the battlefield, as does that group of fierce warriors, the Mātṛkās. Perhaps then, the fact that Kāmākhyā Nām also frequently call the Goddess “Mother” even as they place her on the battlefield or position her on her husband’s chest, means we need to rethink our limited notions of motherhood rather than assume that goddesses are softened or sweetened by their “maternity.” A Nām of the “mother” Kālī performed by Parvati Devi,76 presents her as a terrifying, playful, dark, and protective goddess, who resides at the dark hill, Nilachal, in the company of tantric figures (Yoginīs, Ḍākinīs, and Śiva), and who is a focus for bhakti: Kālī, with a terrible face; Black Mother, with a terrible face. kālī karālavadanī / śyāmā māv karālavadanī (the refrain) Mother, the killer of demons, with a lolling tongue. Her hair loose, naked, Mother has a garland of heads around her neck. lahā lahā kare jihvā māu /asura dalanī (repeat) muktākeśī digambarī māv / gale muṇḍamalā (repeat)

73 See Devī Māhātmya 12.1–29. 74 See Devī Māhātmya 13.5–11. 75 See Coburn, Devī Māhātmya, 94–100. 76 Performed in private on August 16, 2009, in her home at Nilachal.

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Mother keeps company of Ḍākinīs and Yoginīs, Mother, with Ḍākinīs, Yoginīs and Hara; happily playful is she, Kālī, with a terrible face . . . ḍākinī yoginī saṅge māv /ḍākinī yoginī hare māv /līlāvatīr khelā kālī karālavadanī . . . (refrain) On her hand, Mother has a bracelet, a conch, and the luster of blood. With the luster of a pearl, Mother is a [beautifying] jewel in the middle of the Dark Hill.77 hātote balaya śaṅkha māv/ rudhirore chhaṭā (repeat) nīlgirīr madhye yene māv/ ratanere chhaṭā (repeat and refrain) With pearl earrings on her ears, Mother is most beautiful. Together with Ḍākinīs and Yoginīs; Mother is with Ḍākinīs, Yoginīs, and Hara They sing “ulululu.”78 savaira kuṇḍala karṇe māv /āti bitopān (repeat) ḍākinī yoginī saṅge māv/ ḍākinī yoginī hare māv/ chauḍiśer jokār kālī (refrain) Rāma says, There is such pain! O Mother. Stay under Kālikā’s feet; She is Mother Stay under Chaṇḍikā’s feet; She is Mother. śrī rāghunandana kahe / māv ehise bedanā (repeat) kālīkār charane rākha māv/ chandikār charane rākha māu Show us kindness, you with a terrible face, Black Mother Kālī, with a terrible face. kari hauka dayā / kālī karālavadanī śyāmā māu / karālavadanī

This black mother-warrior goddess, with a terrible or blood-smeared face (karālavadanī),79 whose companions are Yoginī’s and Ḍākiṇīs, inspires bhakti. Rāma, no less, says that to lie under her feet is the solution to the pain of existence. The attribution of this Kālī Karālavadanī Nām to Rāma could easily have come to Kāmākhyā Nām from Śākta sources since there is a rich

77 According to Ms Athparia, this is to be taken together with the next line, with the sense in each case that the simple small jewel beautifies the whole: the pearl that is the Goddess beautifies the whole of Nilachal just as the earrings beautify the Goddess. 78 That is, they ululate, with that piercing, reverberating cry that women achieve by rapidly striking the sides of their open lips with their tongue. The cry expresses intense emotion, sometimes joy, sometimes grief, often exultation. 79 The later rendering is local and describes the red ring of blood around the mouth on images of Tārā and Kālī, such as those on lithographs of the pair available at Kāmākhyā. This descriptive compound is used for Kālī already in the Devī Māhātmya (7.5).


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written and oral Rāmāyaṇa tradition throughout the northeast, which includes many Śākta compositions such as Kṛttivāsa’s Bengali Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa’s account of Rāma.80 The Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa, a Śākta Sanskrit text infused with Śākta bhakti, portrays both Rāma and Rāvaṇa as devotees of the Goddess and its Goddess is called Kāmarūpiṇī, which, given this text’s religious vision, can refer both to her position as the presiding Goddess of Kāmākhyā and her protean nature, for she repeatedly adopts the forms desired either by herself or her devotees. Prominent among those forms and the names used for the Goddess are those of Kālī, Durgā, Caṇḍikā, and so on. The Goddess here is also called Goddess of Laṅka, for she dwells in a temple in Rāvaṇa’s kingdom, where she dances with Yoginīs until she is visited there by Śiva, embodied as Hanumān.81 Throughout this text’s account, Rāma succumbs again and again to overwhelming fear over his coming battle with Rāvaṇa until he is reassured of the Goddess’s assistance. As he prepares to worship her, setting a precedent for her autumn festival, he offers to her the following hymn: Honor to you who are worthy of praise from the whole triple world, the bestower of victory in battle. Be gracious! Give me victory! O Kātyāyanī, honor to you! You consist of the power (śakti) of everything, you are the cause of the defeat of evil enemies. Give victory in battle, you who blasts villains! You are the one supreme power abiding in all beings! Kill the villain! Give victory in battle, honor to you! You who love battle, who quaffs blood and consumes flesh, O destroyer of devotees’ pains, give victory in battle! Honor to you! Whose hands hold a sword and a skull-topped staff, whose body is adorned with a garland of heads (muṇḍamālā), be the destroyer of the suffering of those who remember you in adversities! Honor to you, beloved refuge, apart from your lotus feet there is misery, O you who destroys enemies in battle, give victory! O you whose power is inconceivable, you possessing the beauty of your inconceivable form, you of inconceivable deeds, O inconceivable one, give victory! Honor to you! Those in adversity who remember you, the Goddess who destroys adversity, they do not perish. Give victory in adversity! Honor to you! O you who are fond of the blood of Mahiṣa, who are called the slayer of the demon Mahiṣa,

80 See Smith, Ramayana Traditions, 131–139; B. K. Deva Goswami, A Critical Study of the Rāmāyaṇa Tradition of Assam (Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1994), 2, 25–26, 104, 152 on Kṛttivāsa in Assamese Rāmāyaṇa tradition; June McDaniel, Offering Flowers and Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal (New York: Oxford: 2004), 221–222 on the Mahābhāgavata’s account of Rāma within Bengali tradition. 81  See Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa 39.19–20 (and chapters 36–48 for the entire account of Rāma) and Dold, “Religious Vision,” 63–65, 81–83.

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O refuge, daughter of the mountain, give me victory! Honor to you! O you of the lovely face, Caṇḍī, O slayer of the demon Caṇḍa, give victory over enemies in battle! Honor to you! O you of bloody eyes, you of bloody teeth, you whose body is smeared with blood, O killer of Raktabīja, give victory! Honor to you! O slayer of Niśumbha and Śumbha, O maker of all, O queen of gods, kill the enemies in battle! Always give victory! Honor to you! O Bhavānī, you protect this whole world in every way. Protect all this, Mother, having killed these evil Rākṣasas! You are indeed the all pervasive Śakti, the cause of death to the evil. Be pleased, Mother of the worlds, give victory. Honor to you! O you who subdue hosts of villains, O protector of the righteous, fell enemies in battle, give victory! Honor to you! O Kātyāyanī, Mother of the world, O you who removes the pains of supplicants, O Śivā, give victory in battle! Save from fears always!82

Clearly, the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa knows the mythology of the Devī Māhātmya’s Goddess. However, while the Devī Māhātmya describes (the goddess) Kālī as the killer the demons Caṇḍa and Raktabīja, here their deaths are credited to the slayer of the demons Mahiṣa, Śumbha and Niśumbha, who, in the Devī Māhātmya, are killed by the Goddess herself. As also in the Mahābhārata hymns to Durgā, the Goddess worshipped by Rāma in the Mahābhāgavata’s hymn, and the Goddess as understood in many Kāmākhyā Nām, is Kālī, Caṇḍikā (Chaṇḍikā), Mother, Durgā, and so on. Furthermore, Rāma’s Mahābhāgavata hymn, like many Kāmākhyā Nām, the Devī Māhātmya, and the Mahābhārata hymns, emphasizes the Goddess’s ability to save her devotees from adversity. Even if Rāma’s devotional attitude (for example, the notion of the Goddess’s feet as refuge) in either the Mahābhāgavata’s hymn or the Kālī Kāralavadanī Nām, has its historical origin in Śaṅkaradeva’s Assamese Vaiṣṇava tradition, these two hymns nevertheless represent a Śākta response to Vaiṣṇavism: your own heroic warrior Rāma relied on our Goddess. The Kālī Karālavadanī Nām and this next Nām seem to delight in the juxtaposition of the Kālī’s contrasting qualities. At the same time, this next Nām also questions Kālī’s mysterious and perhaps mystifying ways:83 O Black84 Mother, Why are you as you are?

82 Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa 44.1–16, my translation. All references to this text are based on my translations of the Sanskrit edition in Pushpendra Kumar, The Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa: Ancient Treatise on Śakti Cult (Delhi: Eastern Book Linkers, 1983). 83 Performed in private by Parvati Devi, on August 16, 2009, in her home at Nilachal. 84 Śyāmā is used at Kāmākhyā as an alternate name of Kālī and both the masculine and feminine forms are likewise used in Bengali tradition for Kṛṣṇa (which means “black”)


patricia a. dold Why are you like this? O Mother, why? go śyāmā mā tumi emon kenevā bhaila e (repeat) emon kene emon kene māgo (repeat) emon kene bhaila (refrain) She leaves Mount Kailaśa Mother! She dwells in the cremation ground chario kailaśogiri māgo (repeat) śaśāne rahilā (refrain) O Mother! Always wearing a garland of white flowers. O Black Mother! She goes to the battlefield wearing her garland. drona puṣpera mālā māgo aṅge roila pari (repeat) ehi mālā loi śyāmā māgo (repeat) ranoke chalila (refrain) O Mother, always wearing red hibiscus, As if her body is smeared with sindur. Naked in the middle of a battle, O Mother! Dancing as Gentle Kālī. sindura mardita jābā māgo aṅge roila pari (repeat) ranor madhye ulaṅgata māgo (repeat) nache bhadrakālī (refrain) O Mother! Cutting off the demons’ heads For the garland she wears around her neck. In the middle of battle, the garland sways and spreads O Mother, showing her lovely neck. asurar muṇḍakāti māgo mālā loila gale e (repeat) ranor madhye pesān dhare māgo hobhā kare gale (repeat) O Mother, wearing on her body A garland of red hibiscus. In the middle of battle, O Mother! She is naked, Drinking blood. rakta jābāra mālā māgo aṅge roila pari (repeat)

and Kālī. No doubt the Nām is playing on these masculine and feminine referents, since it declares the identity of Kālī and Kṛṣṇa in its final verse.

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ranor madhye ulangat māgo (repeat) piyanta rudhuri (refrain) A Yoginī serves [you], O Mother, A coconut shell overflowing with nectar. O Mother! The destroyer of demons, Feasting on abundant pūjā offerings, at her leisure. kotorā bhariā sudhā māgo yugave e yoginī (repeat) rahi rahi pūjahai māgo (repeat) asura dalanī (refrain) A Brahmin named Raṅganath85 wrote As he imagined [you] to be, O Mother. Kālī and Kṛṣṇa are one. O Mother! Victorious in battle. kahe dvija raṅganathe māgo bhabe rachi rachi (repeat) kālī kanu eketanu māgo (repeat) ranor madhye jinī (refrain)

This Śyāmā Nām celebrates Kālī as a mother who dances naked in battle with demons as her spreading garland shows off her beauty, who consumes rather than provides food since she drinks blood and nectar and feasts on offerings. Whether euphemizing or encoding in non-transgressive language, the hymn also hints that she participates in tantric ritual, since a Yoginī serves her “nectar in a coconut shell.” That this “mother” inspires bhakti is clear, but apparently she does so for reasons other than or in addition to any loving, nurturing maternal qualities she possesses. Once again, as in the Kālī Karālavadanī Nām, the Śyāma Nām refers to Vaiṣṇava tradition, and indeed to the deity most favored in Śaṅkaradeva’s movement: Kṛṣṇa, who is here given a Śākta identity as Kālī. But, as in the case of Rāma’s hymns, discussed above, if Vaiṣṇava influence inspired this equation, then it inspired a Śākta response to Vaiṣṇavism. Furthermore, the Śyāmā Nām does not express intense emotion akin to the devotional attitudes most common in Assamese and Bengali Vaiṣṇava traditions, which emphasize the parent-child (vātsalya) and lover-beloved moods (bhāvas) and the sweetness (mādhurya) of emotion these moods can convey.86 Here, Kṛṣṇa, like and as Kālī, is victorious in battle. Vaiṣṇava 85 I have not been able to identify this individual. 86 See McDermott, 172. On the Bhagavata Purāṇa’s importance for Assamese Vaiṣṇava tradition, see Neog, 156–162 & 350.


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traditions place Kṛṣṇa on the battlefield and in battles with demons (in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, for example). But to declare the identity of these two deities in a battle context has a precedent in Śākta tradition: in the “Mahā” (Great) Bhāgavata Purāṇa, whose hymn and account of Rāma is discussed above. In the Mahābhāgavata’s narration of Kṛṣṇa’s life, the Goddess Kālī becomes embodied in male form and reveals herself as Kālī at decisive moments in Kṛṣṇa’s battles against demons and his murderous uncle Kaṃsa.87 In fact, she delivers the fatal blows. I have argued elsewhere that the Mahābhāgavata uses this identification as part of its strategy to situate the Goddess Kālī an object of devotion, but also to defend the shedding of blood in Śākta ritual against Vaiṣṇava criticism and indeed to criticize the Vaiṣṇavas for their inability to handle bloodshed.88 Perhaps the Śyāmā Nām does as well. Kāmākhyā/Kālī is frequently envisioned as beloved and loving. Nām sometimes simultaneously assert Kālī’s compassionate and incomprehensible character. Kālī, as Śiva’s beloved (kālarā kāminī), whose feet he contemplates (padartale kori acche dhyāne) as she rests after ceaselessly wandering (bhramante bhramante kālī korila biśram he), has a lolling tongue and streams of blood running from her mouth (lollajihvā raktadharā/ mukhor dui pakhe he), is praised in one’s Nām’s refrain thus: “Kālī, you are compassionate! Who knows your greatness?” (kālī karunamoī/ kone jāne tomār mahimā).89 Similarly, the goddess who dwells at Kāmākhyā in a ten-armed form (kāmākhyate bohi accha daśabhujā rūpe), and as Kālī is the Mother in the heart of living beings (kālīrūpe tumi matri jivar hṛdaye) as Śiva meditates on her feet, is again declared compassionate and incomprehensibly great: “Knowing your great compassion, Mother Bhavani, we cannot understand your greatness” ( jānilu bhavanimau tumarbar daya he/ bujite na paro devi tumar mahimā).90 A final example is the Nām composed by Parvati Devi to explain a dhyāna of Kāmeśvarī in the Kālikā Purāṇa, one that informs representations of Kāmeśvari at Kāmākhyā including, importantly, the moveable image (chalantā) of her housed in the main temple. Here is the Kālikā Purāṇa’s dhyānā:

87 See Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa 50–54 and Dold, “Religious Vision,” 72–80. 88 See Dold, “Religious Vision,” 75–80 & 223–224. 89 Performed at the main temple led by Nani Devi, on April 12, 2008. 90 Performed at the main temple led by Nani Devi, on April 12, 2008.

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One should meditate upon the lovely figure of the Goddess Kāmeśvarī: she resembles mixed collyrium, her hair is dark blue and glossy; she has six faces, twelve arms and eighteen eyes; on each one of her heads is a diadem, made of the half moon, she always wears a wreath made of jewels such as rubies and pearls around her neck; she is adorned with all the auspicious signs; with her right hands she bears a book, the cord of the Siddhas, the five arrows and a sword, spear and a trident, with her left hands bearing a rosary, a great lotus, a bow and the gesture that grants security [the “fear not” mudrā], and at last a hide and (Śiva’s) bow . . . . the white face is said to be that of Maheśvarī, the red one that of Kāmākhyā, Tripurā has a yellow luster, and Śāradā is green; the black face is that of Kāmeśvarī and the variegated one is said to be (the head) of Caṇḍikā . . .[there is] a white ghost on a lion, and on this a red lotus, (and) upon the latter stands Kāmeśvarī,91 with a little smile on her face, covered with many a fine coloured cloth, and having a tiger’s skin for a garment. One should meditate upon Kāmeśvarī in this way in order to obtain dharma, kāma and artha.92

Whereas the original dhyāna does not mention bhakti, Parvati Devi’s Nām is not only devotional, it expresses intense emotion. Indeed, a loving emotion is conveyed by the melody of this Nām and the softness of Parvati Devi’s voice as she sang it, especially when compared to the quick rhythm and the harsh vocal quality she used for the Kālī Karālavadanī Nām. McDermott’s careful analysis of Bengali Śākta Padavālī identifies Vaiṣṇava bhakti as the source of such emotional bhakti while Śākta tradition is identified as the other major source for the content of the Bengali poems.93 A similar dual derivation is possible for Kāmākhyā Nām: the modes of emotional expression for bhakti were adopted from Assamese (and/or Bengali) Vaiṣṇavism but Śākta tantric and puranic sources provide much of the rest of the content. Parvati Devi’s Kāmeśvarī Nām provides a good example here since it expresses intense emotion for the Mother (the prati-vātsalya bhāva),94 but also adds to the Kālikā Purāṇa’s dhyāna elements often associated with Kālī in Nām and other Śākta texts (such as the lolling tongue, free flying hair, and a corpse as her seat) as well as a possible allusion to the tantric meditation on a seat of five skulls95 in the Nām’s reference to the Goddess sitting on five ghosts. 91  This “seat” occurs in a number of descriptions of goddesses in the Kālikā Purāṇa and the text explains that the “white ghost” (sita-preta) is Śiva, the lion is Viṣṇu and the lotus is Brahmā. Kālikā Purāṇa 60. 64–66 in Van Kooij, trans., 97. 92 Kālikā Purāṇa 68.16–20, 23–24 & 25–27 in Van Kooij, trans., 167–168. 93 McDermott, 172. 94 See McDermott, 170. 95 I was told there is a meditation seat in the Bhairavī and Rājrājeśvarī temple at the Kāmākhyā site under which five skulls are buried. See also McDaniel, 127 & 137 on similar


patricia a. dold Come Mother, Goddess Kamakhya to the temple that is my heart I offer to your feet the tears of my eyes and these fragrant flowers. Whose Beauty are you, Mother, whose color is red? ā mā kāmākhyā debī hṛdaya mandire he mā prema bhūle nayana jale pujibo charane he mā kāhāra ramanī tumi rangai varana tumi You are sitting on a lion upon which there is a red lotus; Six-faced, 12 armed, with 18 eyes. Whose Beauty are you, whose own throne is Narayana Whose Beauty are you, who sits on a red lotus Under whose feet is Śiva in the form of a corpse? siṅghata bahi iyā achhā tate raṅgā padma he mā chhaya vakra dbādaśa bhūjā aṣṭādaśa netra he mā danuja svarājāsane ramanīti kāra he mā rakta padmāsane basi ramanīti kāra he mā śavarūpe achhe śiva padatale yār he mā Adorned with red kumkum, of golden color, you enchant the minds of the sages. O Mother, with her four hand she bears the Rudrakṣa, the fear not and boon granting gestures. kumkum pītavarna munimanoharā he mā taruna aruna sama vahanaya parā he mā varābhai akṣachutra karā charikare he mā O Mother, your hair lying free, your smile gentle, with a sweet lower lip, a lolling tongue, and three eyes; you are to be worshipped by all. The sun and moon are hiding the ears of Vāmā, the transgressive one, O Mother, with five-faces and five forms. muktakeśī mṛduhāśī madhura adhare he mā lollajihvā trinayanī ārādhya savāra he rabiśaśī karṇayuge lukaichhe vāmara he mā pañcama vadanī tumi pañcarūpa dhari he mā She sits upon five ghosts, O Mother, always sitting [there], she is happy. Kāmākhyā is the supreme Queen (parameśvarī); the Supreme Prakṛti Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva do not know her real form, O Mother. She who takes whatever form is desired, she is Kāmeśvarī, Queen of Eros Desired and inspiring desire, O Mother.

practices in the context of West Bengal. Five skulls or five ghosts (pretas) can serve as the seat, and the ghosts are identified as five gods who are dead because they are separate from Śakti, the Goddess.

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pañcapretupāre basi thākā raṅga kari he mā kāmākhyā parameśvarī parama prakṛti he mā brahmā viṣṇu śive yāra nāpāi ākṛti he mā kāmārūpā kāmeśvarī kāminī kāmadā he mā O Mother: The Goddess loves her devotees tenderly, She offers fearlessness and gives boons [in her gestures]. O Mother, your form is peaceful, your greatness unsurpassed O Mother, you are endless, the Vedas do not know you full nature. bhakata vatsalā devī abhayā varadā he mā achita tomāra rūpa apāra mahimā he mā ananta na apāi anta vede nāpāi sīmā he mā O Mother, Kāmākhyā, you sit on the mountain that is the Dark Hill Your feet give fearlessness, rescue all, O Mother. O Mother, we, with so little intelligence, do not know [how to offer] devotion! nīlāchala parvate basi achhā mā kāmākhyā he mā abhaya charana diyā sabāika rakhā karā he mā āmi ati hinamati nājāno bhakati he mā O Mother, we do not have the ability to sing about your greatness. In our ignorance, we have sung your Nām, O Mother, do not blame us for our [inevitable] flaws. At the moment of death, give me a place under your feet, O Mother. tomāra mahimā gāivar nāikā śakati he mā nājāni gāilo pada nadharibā dāiya he mā antima samaye mātā pade dibā tai he mā

Although Vaiṣṇava tradition is the likely source for the precise emotional modes (bhāvas) of expression for bhakti in Kāmākhyā Nām, Kāmākhyā Sanskrit texts also develop Śākta devotional bhāvas. Significantly, much of this development occurs in the context of narrative accounts of the origin of the pīṭhas, including the Kāmākhyā site itself. Already in the Kālikā Purāṇa we have depictions of Kāmākhyā/Kālī as an object of devotion and compassionate deity who agrees to become the goddess Satī, daughter of Dakṣa and wife of Śiva. In the Kālikā Purāṇa’s telling of the account of Satī, it is Kālī who, in response to requests from the gods and Dakṣa, becomes Satī, Dakṣa daughter. It is then the pieces of the corpse of this Satī that create the sacred sites called pīṭhas. The site where her vulva ( yoni) falls becomes the pīṭha called Kāmākhyā or Kāmarūpa. As the one who assists the gods and also as the beloved wife of Śiva, this Kālī who became Satī, inspires love and devotion. For example, the god Brahmā with devotion (bhakti) sings a long hymn to the goddess whom he calls by many names


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including Lakṣmī, Sarasvatī, and Kālī, and Mother of all.96 Kālī appears before him and promises to save creation by enchanting Śiva in the form of the lovely Satī. Dakṣa also worships the Goddess with supreme love (prityā paramayā) and Kālī appears before him to grant him his wish that she become his daughter.97 These plot lines of the Goddess’s response to bhakti and her underlying character as Kālī are extensively developed in the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa where Śiva and Dakṣa (and the Goddess’s other parents) are the Goddess’s devotees who enjoy the bliss of her presence and suffer terribly when separated from her.98 Indeed, when Śiva struggles to reconcile his love for his beautiful wife Satī with her cosmic manifestation as Kālī, he is prevented from fleeing from Satī/Kālī by the Goddess in the form of the ten Mahāvidyās.99 He suffers the pain of separation from his beloved when Satī dies but is joyously reunited with her in meditation at Kāmākhyā and again later when the Goddess takes birth as Pārvatī. When Pārvatī, at Śiva’s request, proves her identity as the Goddess by revealing herself to him as Kālī, he devoutly sings to her a hymn of one-thousand names, and, placing her feet on his heart, cools the burning pain of his separation from her. He asks the boon to always lie beneath her feet in the form of a corpse, wherever she appears in the world.100 It is not narrative alone that calls for bhakti to Kāmākhyā/Kālī in the Śākta Purāṇas of the Kāmākhyā site. Consider, for example, a set of six verses from the Kālikā Purāṇa. The verses are described as “great mantras” that please Mahāmāyā, a name frequently used for Kāmākhyā in this text, and prompt her to provide all manner of reward including kāma, artha, dharma, and mokṣa. What has been given with complete devotion, the leaf, the flower, the fruit, the water and the eatables presented, do accept these out of compassion (for me). I do not know how to perform an invocation; I do not know how to invite the deity to depart; the very nature of the worship I do not know;

96 See Kālikā Purāṇa 5.15–71, in Biswanarayan Shastri, trans., The Kālikā Purāṇa Vol 1 (Delhi: Nag, 1991). 97 See Kālikā Purāṇa 8.9–11. 98 See Dold, “Religious Vision,” 90–137 and Patricia Dold, Kālī the Terrific and Her Tests: The Śākta Devotionalism of the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa, in Encountering Kālī in the Margins, at the Center, in the West, edited by Rachel Fell McDermott and Jeffery Kripal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) 39–59. 99 See Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa 8.45–92. As noted above, Kāmākhyā women sing a Nām that tells this story. 100 See Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa 11 and 23 and Dold, “Religious Vision,” 114–119.

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thou, O supreme Lady, are my refuge. In action, thought and word I have no other refuge than you; you, O supreme Lady, are my refuge, as I go from one body to the next. In the thousands of wombs in which I am wandering, in all these, O unwavering one, my unwavering devotion must always be directed to you. The Goddess is giver and enjoyer; the Goddess is this whole world; the Goddess is victorious on every occasion; the Goddess that is me. If a syllable is lacking in something . . . be pleased to forgive me, O Goddess; whose mind is not stumbling? When these mantras have been recited, the Goddess will be pleased to give spontaneously the four aims of life within a short time.101

The emphases in this Kālikā Purāṇa passage upon the failings and ignorance of the humble devotee, the devotee’s unwavering devotion, the request for forgiveness and compassion from the Goddess, also characterize Parvati Devi’s Kāmeśvarī Nām and occur frequently in Kāmākhyā Nām. Conclusion Admittedly, the Goddess portrayed in the Nām of Kāmākhyā women is different from the Goddess of the Kālikā Purāṇa and the many Tantras of and about the Kāmākhyā site. Women’s Nām strongly emphasize bhakti and they ignore the Goddess’s sexual nature. Admittedly, both religious practice at the site and its chief Goddess as depicted in Tantras differs considerably from the practices and the Goddess known to modern women and their Nām. No doubt Urban is correct to attribute some of the historical changes to the influence of Assamese Vaiṣṇavism, colonial powers, and Christian missionaries. But there are other factors at work in this history. Urban assumes that that pre-colonial Sanskrit sources comprehensively represent the perspectives of all worshippers of Kāmākhyā of those texts’ historical contexts. He does not consider the possibility that the texts we can access for modern religious belief and practice are often fundamentally different than those we possess for pre-modern and also pre-colonial periods. The community that worshipped Kāmākhyā in pre-modern times changed in ways that help account for changes in their representations of 101 Kālikā Purāṇa 59. 161–167 in Van Kooij trans., 87–88. The context of these verses is ritual worship of the Goddess that includes blood sacrifice, tantric techniques, and pūjā. In the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa’s Bhagavatī Gītā (chapters 15–19), bhakti is enjoined toward the Goddess and the Mahāvidyās, and in one verse in this text (chapter 8.82), Vaiṣṇavas are specifically instructed to do so. Again, this text appears to have formulated Śākta responses to Assamese Vaiṣṇavism.


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Kāmākhyā and their modes of religious practice. I suspect that the rule of kings like Nar Narayan (sixteenth century) and the Ahoms not only resulted in the temple construction and immigration of priests from Bengal, but also played a crucial role in the development of a resident community at the site as well as a lay pilgrimage tradition. Such urbanization must have been accompanied by relatively exoteric, non-specialist forms of religion. We might call this exoterization, as Urban does in speaking of modern developments,102 except that there was not necessarily only a process of rendering exoteric that which was the esoteric practice of tantric adepts or other kinds of religious virtuosi. Instead, we might be more correct to envision the esotericism of tantric adepts as one religious form that exists along side and with mutual influence from and upon the religious forms of uninitiated lay people in certain social contexts, such as the communities of pilgrims and residents at the Kāmākhyā site comprised of lay men and women and children, priests, kings, and tantric adepts. The Vaiṣṇava movement of Assam did not create Śākta bhakti and it is implausible that Vaisnava traditions of devotional hymn singing entirely created Śākta song traditions. In the case of Kāmākhyā and its texts, bhakti to Kālī/Kāmākhyā is already present the Kālkiā Purāṇa. It is developed extensively in the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa. Śākta Sanskrit hymns from as early as the sixth century approach a multifaceted warrior/mother Goddess through bhakti. For Kāmākhyā Sanskrit sources, including the clearly pre-colonial Kālikā Purāṇa, and for the Nām preserved and performed by women of Kāmākhyā to this day, the Goddess Kāmākhyā is a complex, multifaceted goddess who is, among her seemingly infinite and ever-shifting identities and characteristics, a black, naked, compassionate, protective, demon-slaying Mother. Why does the Goddess Kāmākhyā of the Nām sung by Kāmākhyā women not look or behave exactly as Kāmākhyā or Kālī of centuries old Purāṇas and Tantras? The Goddess is different in part because these Nām have been performed, preserved, transmitted, adjusted and even composed not by Tantric adepts or renouncers, but by women who were and are wives, mothers, and widows. And more: Nām are composed, performed, and preserved not for Tantric adepts specifically, nor for renouncers and not even for priests or kings, but for the men, women, and children who are the neighbors and families of the women who sing.

102 Urban, 166.

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So, re-imagine Kāmākhyā religious history as one that involved tantric adepts, priest, and kings and their wives, mothers, and daughters. Wonder if women residents, worshippers, adepts, and/or pilgrims were singing hymns five hundred years ago. Given the kinds of oral and written textual evidence we now have, what kinds of hymns might women have sung? Further, if women were singing hymns, would those hymns have been sung without leaving any trace in Sanskrit texts? Would women hymn singers borrow from the Sanskrit texts used by the men around them as indeed Kāmākhyā Nām do? If it is not plausible that the hymns would leave no traces in Sanskrit, then what kinds of traces would we expect to find of women’s hymns in texts preserved by men? Wonder too what conceptions of motherhood can be. Can they be more than conceptions of a loving maternal nature that generously provides wealth, health and other worldly needs? Wonder why it is that modern scholars, some modern devotees, or popular cultural conceptions of motherhood have difficulty recognizing a mother as a multifaceted being like the “Mother Goddess” of Kāmākhyā Nām: a mysterious, terrifying, sometimes naked, powerful, changeable, loving, consuming, generous protector. Bibliography Athparia, Jayashree and Patricia Dold. “ ‘To Whom do These Songs Belong?’ ” Questions of Ownership among Women Performers of Religious Hymns at the Kāmākhyā Temple Site.” Paper presented at the International Council for Traditional Music Conference, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL, July 18, 2011. Annadā Debī Barakatakī, Annadā Debī. Nāmāñjali (A Collection of Nām). (Gauhati: Jyoti Prahad Barkataki, 1931. Biernacki, Loriliai. Renowned Goddess of Desire: Women, Sex, and Speech in Tantra. New York: Oxford, 2007. Cantlie, Audrey. The Assamese: Religion, Caste, and Sect in an Indian Village. London: Curzon, 1984. Coburn, Thomas. Devī-Māhātmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1984. ——. Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devī-Māhātmya and A Study of Its Interpretation. Delhi: Sri Satguru, 1991/1992. Deka, Pranav Jyoti. Nīlācala Kāmākhyā: Her History and Tantra. Guwahati: Panav Jyoti Deka, 2004. Dold, Patricia. Kālī the Terrific and Her Tests: The Śākta Devotionalism of the Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa. In Encountering Kālī in the Margins, at the Center, in the West, edited by Rachel Fell McDermott and Jeffery Kripal, 39–59. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. ——. The Mahavidyas at Kamarupa: Dynamics of Transformation in Hinduism. Religious Studies and Theology 23 (2004): 1:89–122. ——. Pilgrimage to Kāmākhyā through Text and Lived Religion: Some form of the Goddess at an Assamese Temple Site. In Studying Hinduism in Practice, edited by Hillary P. Rodrigues, 46–61. New York: Routledge, 2011.


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——. “The Religious Vision of the Śākta Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa.” PhD diss., McMaster University, 2005. Gait, Sir Edward. A History of Assam. Gauhati: Lawyer’s Book Stall, 1990, 1905. Goswami, B. K. Deva. A Critical Study of the Rāmāyaṇa Tradition of Assam. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1994. Kakati, Banikanta. The Mother Goddess Kamakhya. Gauhati: Publication Board Assam, 1989. Kinsley, David. Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahāvidyās. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Kumar, Pushendra. The Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa: Ancient Treatise on Śakti Cult. Delhi: Eastern Book Linkers, 1983. McDaniel, June. Offering Flowers and Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. New York: Oxford: 2004. McDermott, Rachel Fell. Mother of My Heart, Daughter of My Dreams: Kālī and Umā in the Devotional Poetry of Bengal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Mishra, Nihar Rajan. Kamakhya: A Socio-Cultural Study. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2004. Shastri, Biswanarayan. Ed. and Trans. The Kālikā Purāṇa. 3 Volumes. Delhi: Nag, 1991. Smith, W. L. Rāmāyaṇa Traditions in Eastern India. New Delhi: Mushiram Manoharlal, 1995. Urban, Hugh. The Power of Tantra: Religion, Sexuality, and the Politics of South Asian Studies. London: I.B. Taurus, 2010. Van Kooij, K. R. Worship of the Goddess According to the Kālikāpurāṇa. Leiden: E. Brill, 1972. White, David Gordon. Kiss of the Yoginī: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Tibetan Buddhist Monastic Performance: Ritual Practice and Cultural Preservation in the Tibetan Diaspora Sarah F. Haynes Filing into the theatre the audience passes a merchandise table where everything from incense to CDs to jewelry is sold. Inside the theatre the stage is minimally decorated. On stage left is a podium and microphone. Centre stage and towards the rear is a table adorned with colorful brocades topped with several torma (ritual offerings traditionally made of butter and flour) and most prominently a larger photo of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The photo is draped in a traditional white silk ceremonial scarf or khata that is symbolic of compassion and purity. The backdrop to this scene is a large mural of the red and white Potala Palace, the former winter palace of the Dalai Lama and now a symbolic representation of his homeland. In the upper corners of the mural are two flags: the ‘snow lion flag’ of Tibet, with its rising golden sun surrounded by blue and red rays, emblematic of the Free Tibet Movement. In the other corner hangs the five-colored striped Buddhist flag. As the audience settles the host for the evening crosses the stage in front of a set of instruments: cymbals, drums, and horns. The show commences with the host detailing the current political situation facing Tibetans, nine young monks, clothed in the recognizable maroon and golden robes of Tibetan Buddhist monastics, walk single file onto the stage. The monks begin with an invocation and blessing, followed by two hours of ‘traditional’ monastic song and dance.

The 2,500 year history and growth of Buddhism is often attributed to its inherent flexibility. As Buddhism moved beyond the borders of India into Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Tibet, and finally North America the successful adoption of the religion by these places is linked to the willingness of Buddhist practitioners to adapt the teachings and practices to the indigenous cultural traditions. What follows is an examination of the adaptation of Tibetan Buddhist ritual in its diasporic contexts. The focus here is on Tibetan Buddhist monks who tour North America performing the religious and cultural arts of Tibet. Specifically, this chapter is concerned with the encounter between Tibetan Buddhism and modernity, particularly how Tibetan Buddhist ritual is adapted in its diasporic context. Much has been written separately about Tibetan Buddhist monastic dance and the Tibetan diaspora, but little attention has been paid to how Tibetan Buddhist ritual has been impacted by the diaspora. By way of introduction,


sarah f. haynes

an overview of ‘chams (monastic dance) and the North American monastic road shows will be provided; followed by a consideration of the process of ritual adaptation that occurs in the Tibetan diaspora. The questions addressed in this chapter revolve around the reasons behind the process of adaptation and what this process ultimately means for Tibetan Buddhism. The argument presented here is based on the fact that there are distinctions between the ritual performances in the exile communities of North America and those performed in India and Tibet. This chapter investigates these distinctions under the notion that they exist as a result of the diasporic process, interaction with the west, and the need to preserve Tibetan culture. The process of adaptation the rituals undergo as they manifest in diasporic communities is based on the need to promote awareness of the Tibetan political situation and the desire to preserve the cultural traditions of Tibet. Furthermore, this process of adaptation is largely influenced by the dynamics of the audience. That is, these rituals are removed from their religious and cultural context and performed as both a form of entertainment for North American audiences and a way to generate revenue. In the process, these rituals undergo a shift in manner and purpose of performance. This shift results from a diasporic re-imagining of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. The re-imagining process instituted by the monks occurs on the stage and through the rituals they perform. Through the re-imagining process that plays out in the ritual performances an intentional re-exoticization of Tibet occurs. The intention of this investigation is not to devalue the monastic performances, but to highlight: the ways that rituals are adapted in the diaspora; the methods utilized by diasporic communities to preserve identity and culture; and how within the diaspora exists the potential for innovation. Monastic Dance (‘chams) Tibetan monastic dance (‘chams) has a long history in Tibetan Buddhism and is traced back to the legendary figure Padmasambhava in 8th century Tibet. Tibetan history details the powers of Padmasambhava in the overcoming of deities, thus allowing for the building of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet. It is said that through the performance of a dance to Vajrakilaya, Padmasambhava was able to pacify the malevolent forces obstructing the completion of the monastery.1 This occurrence of ‘chams 1 See Ellen Pearlman, Tibetan Sacred Dance: A Journey into the Religious and Folk Traditions (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2002), 18 and 94.

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at the building of the first monastery in Tibet cemented its importance in Tibetan Buddhist ritual practice. It is this type of ritual dance that is credited with allowing for the successful dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet. Although, as Kohn notes, the exact origins and systematization of monastic dance in this early period is difficult to piece together. He suggests that the first school to perform the dances were the Nyingma, which makes sense because of their connection to Padamsambhava, and that “[p]erhaps the earliest performance of a ‘chams dated by Tibetan historians was that of the monk Lhalung Pelki Dorje, who was disguised as a lay tantric (sngags pa) in 842 C.E. This occasion is remembered not for its importance in the history of Tibetan dance, but because Pelki Dorje used his performance of the black hat dance as a ruse to assassinate the apostate King Langdarma.”2 The importance of ‘chams was reinforced further when the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617–1682), considered to be the “Great Fifth,” composed a ‘chams yig or dance manual.3 Furthermore, one sees mention of monastic dance throughout the travel writings of people like Marco Polo (14th century) and missionaries who journeyed to Tibet through the 20th century.4 The prominence of theatrical styles in Tibetan culture, both lay and monastic cannot be over-emphasized. Monastic dance is closely intertwined with other dance and singing styles of Tibet, such as Tibetan Opera.5 In fact, it’s quite difficult to separate the religious from the secular in lay and monastic performances. Non-monastic performances typically deal with sacred matters and monastic performances often include the socalled cultural songs and dances. Tibetan monastic dances were typically created due to meditative visionary experiences.6 Traditionally, ‘chams performances are set according to astrological calendars, performed within monastic settings, for specific initiations (dbang), and often last for several days. They are public dances often centered around a particular deity. There also exists a type of monastic dance that is performed only in

2 Richard J. Kohn, Lord of the Dance: The Mani Rimdu Festival in Tibet and Nepal (Albany: SUNY Press, 2001), 56. 3 It is possible that the ‘chams yig attributed to the Fifth Dalai Lama was actually written by ‘gyur med rdo rje. See Kohn, 56. Nevertheless, the ‘Great Fifth’ was a proponent of monastic dance. 4 See the work of Antonio Attisani for details regarding early accounts of Tibetan performing arts in Western writings. 5 There are various terms for Tibetan Opera and the folk traditions of Tibet. The most common terms are: a che lha mo and zlos gar. 6 Matthieu Ricard, Monk Dancers of Tibet (Boston: Shambhala, 2003), 16 and 20.


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secret for the lamas themselves (‘chams gar).7 These are all elements that have been adapted in their new diasporic forms. A ‘chams dancer is a monk who has been initiated into the practices, just as one is initiated into different meditative practices in Tibetan Buddhism. As Schrempf notes, “ ‘Cham is not just one ritual, but builds on a complex ensemble of different ritual types, including purification, invocation, praising, offering and subjugation. Music, chanted mantra and sadhana, costumed dance with masks, ritual objects and gestures (mudra) combine to form an elaborate performance of gods dancing on earth.”8 Traditionally, a ‘chams performance has three main phases: introduction and preparation, generation and fulfillment, and a conclusion. These stages clearly mirror meditative techniques in the tantric practices of Tibetan Buddhism. During the introduction and following the dance’s conclusion, the dancers practice meditation and invoke the wish to benefit all sentient beings. In the setting up of the dance, and in the slow dancing used to enter and consecrate the mandala, the distinction between meditation and the postmeditation experience blurs. . . . If the dancers do not meditate for the good of others, the dance becomes just common play and not a transformative meditation practice.9

The main section of a traditional ‘chams performance is the generation and fulfillment stage when the dancers engage in visualizations where the creation and perfection of deities ( yidams) occurs. Wisdom beings descend upon the dancer during the creation stage, as the dancer generates the yidam from his stability of mind, and then visualizes his body as the yidam, his speech as mantra, and his mind as clarity, emptiness and luminosity. After the dancer visualizes himself as the yidam, he visualizes the yidam in front, looking back at him. During the phase of the dance when the yidam is invoked, practitioners assume the disposition of the deity, whether wrathful, semi-wrathful, or peaceful.10

‘Chams dancers train extensively in performance styles that are exacting in the detail of each body posture, movement and ritual adornments. “. . . all foot, hand, and body movements represent qualities of deities ( yidams).”11

7 Pearlman, Tibetan Sacrted Dance, 54. 8 Mona Schrempf, “Tibetan Ritual Dances and the Transformation of Space.” Tibet Journal 2, (Summer 1994): 96. 9 Pearlman, 57–58. 10 Pearlman, 59. 11  Pearlman, 63.

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The purpose of such exacting detail is the meditative reality that the dancers are creating during the performance. Dorjee notes that not only is it the movements that distinguish ‘chams from other Tibetan dance styles but also the attitude of the mind.12 ‘Chams falls into the category of tantric practice done for spiritual purposes,13 thus should not be treated simply as a form of entertainment, but as meditative exercises.14 The dance movements in combination with meditative visualization transform both ritual space and ritual dancer.15 Western Encounters with Monastic Dance While the focus here is on ‘chams as it manifests in the diaspora, monastic dance was known in the West before Tibetans fled to exile in 1959. As mentioned earlier, there are many accounts of Tibetan cultural and religious performances in the surviving writings of explorers and missionaries to Tibet starting in the 14th century. In the 1920s, as Tibet still remained a mysterious, exotic, and closed off country, a group of British explorers and filmmakers brought monastic dancers to the West.16 In 1924–1925 on the wave of interest in Mt. Everest a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks traveled to Europe to perform dances like those filmed by the Everest explorers. These monks were promoted as the “dancing lamas”.17 Hansen, in quoting the official program, writes: The official program claimed this was “the first time in history that real Tibetan Lamas have come to Europe” and added, The ceremonies of the lamas, their deep chanting, the blasts of their great trumpets, the beat of their drums and the clashing of their cymbals in the weird and fantastic music will convey to the people in England a feeling of the mysticism and romance of Tibet.18

The monks received a lot of attention from the media as they were shuttled around England to various tourist attractions and important sites, 12 Lobsang Dorjee, “Lhamo: The Folk Opera of Tibet.” The Tibet Journal 9, no. 2 (1984): 14. 13 Pearlman, 101. 14 See Ricard 50–51 for a discussion of the meditative process of chams. 15 Schrempf, 108. 16 See Peter H. Hansen, “The Dancing Lamas of Everest: Cinema, Orientalism, and Anglo-Tibetan Relations in the 1920s.” American Historical Review (June 1996): 712–747 for an in-depth discussion of these events. 17 Ibid., 712. 18 Ibid.


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danced at the screening of the film The Epic Everest, and later toured Europe. As Hansen notes, the significance of this event was increased because of the involvement of mass media. What was envisioned as a way to bring authenticity to the film had huge political implications for the Anglo-Tibetan relationship. This event is discussed here not just for its importance as an historical event but because of the reactions of those involved. The British media responded to the dancing monks as one would imagine in the early 20th century, with a thoroughly Orientalist perspective. The film presented objectionable portrayals of Tibetans while the British media engaged in the romanticization of Tibet. The one thing the British did not count on was the media footage of the monks’ tour making its way back to Tibet. The 13th Dalai Lama “. . . saw pictures of the ‘dancing lamas’ in the weekly picture papers and reportedly looked ‘on the whole affair as a direct affront to the religion of which he is the head.’ ”19 While material presented in the film and media was deemed offensive, the Tibetan authorities seemed to have found it more problematic that the monks were whisked away to Europe without permission. “While it is unclear why the dancing lamas agreed to go to London, it is possible that they intended to be Buddhist ‘missionaries’ or cultural ambassadors. Whatever their intentions, the few dancing lamas who returned to Tibet were severely punished. Most chose to remain exiles in Darjeeling.”20 Clearly, the consequences for the monks’ European tour were severe enough that many chose exile in Darjeeling, then a British hill station, over returning to Tibet. The penalties incurred by the British included the denial of access to Everest until 1932 and tense relationships with the Tibetans until the Chinese became a threat in the 1930s. Monastic Dance in the Diaspora North American monastic performances are a combination of religious practices and rituals, sacred dance and music, and what can be called folk traditions of Tibet.21 From my own observation of different monastic

19  Ibid., 737. 20 Ibid., 738. 21  Granted it is near impossible to tease the sacred from the non-sacred in Tibetan Buddhism, especially in its artistic styles. And one can certainly argue where and if a line exists between cultural and religious traditions in Tibet.

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groups it can be concluded that most performances are similar in content. For instance, performances include the yak dance, the black hat dance, invocations of various beings, etc. One distinction of significance is the inclusion of Tibetan Buddhist monastic debate by some groups. The inclusion of monastic debate is an interesting choice because it is performed in Tibetan with very little explanation given about what is being said. Even though Tibetan monastic debate is highly stylized, it is highly philosophical, and a curious addition to the performance program. However, for the most part, the performance focuses on traditional monastic dance (‘chams) and folk practices (a che lha mo, inclusive of opera) of Tibet. The most active group of monks is The Mystical Arts of Tibet based out of Atlanta and affiliated with Drepung Loseling monastery in southern India. Ironically, the Drepung monks are in a fortuitous place that could only be a result of the diaspora. They perform around North America raising funds for their non-profit organization and raising awareness of Tibet’s political situation, with the support of Richard Gere’s production company.22 Before each performance the audience is ushered through the theatre lobby that has merchandise tables set up selling everything from CDs, incense, jewellery, purses, and Free Tibet materials. A typical evening of Tibetan monastic performance begins with an emcee introducing the performance, but also introducing the audience to the current political situation facing Tibetans. The performance proper begins with a preliminary ritual and an invocation or blessing to “set the stage” so to speak.23 The performance continues with a mixture of sacred songs and dances that highlight Buddhist concepts of emptiness and impermanence.24 The program always includes more playful cultural dances such as the yak dance and dance of the snow lion. It is these dances that tend to engage the audience the most. The evening moves quickly as each piece lasts no longer than ten minutes. The monks are adept at switching between multi-phonic singing to instrument playing to monastic debate, all while supposedly engaged in a meditation or visualization. From observing these performances, it is clear that they are hybrid in nature. Similarly, in response to a group of nuns performing ‘chams in New York City, Orenstein writes, “The performance itself revealed the hybrid 22 It is worth noting that the Drepung monks, along with the Dalai Lama, have established an academic relationship with Emory University that has been beneficial to both sides. 23 See Schrempf for a detailed discussion of ritual space and ‘chams. 24 See Ricard (35) for a discussion of the symbolism behind the dances.


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nature of this event: partly educational, partly aesthetic, partly spiritual, partly fund-raising.”25 The performance of ‘chams in North America allows for creativity and innovation in ways not possible in pre-diaspora Tibetan communities or communities in Tibet and India. Tibetan Diaspora Without dwelling on the history and politics of Tibet, let me highlight some relevant issues. Since 1959 over 100,000 Tibetans have fled Tibet and formed exile communities, primarily in India, North America and Europe.26 Once the government-in-exile was established in Dharamsala, India the first institution the Dalai Lama chose to set up was the Tibetan Dance and Drama Society, now called the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). From the outset of his life in exile the Dalai Lama has pushed for the preservation of Tibetan cultural and religious arts. In response to the ongoing political situation there has been a push by influential Tibetan Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, to adapt the teachings to foreign audiences. Ultimately, the adaptation of Tibetan Buddhist ritual is motivated by the need to preserve cultural and religious traditions.27 While the majority of the Tibetan diasporic community has settled in India, large Tibetan populations are found scattered amongst the cities of North America. Thus, since 1959 Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, both monastic and lay, have found themselves in a new situation, having to adapt their ritual practices and performances to their new surroundings. Compounding this experience is the undeniable attraction that Westerners have toward the “exotic” culture of Tibet. In other words, exiled Tibetans and their religious specialists are facing the circumstances of adapting their own religious rituals and performances in non-Buddhist countries in ways that preserve their culture and are inclusive of nonethnic practitioners, i.e., Westerners who have developed a strong interest in or have converted to Tibetan Buddhism.28 Therefore, Tibetans

25 Claudia Orenstein, “A Taste of Tibet: The Nuns of Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery and the Theatre du Soleil.” Asian Theatre Journal 19, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 217. 26 Syed Jamil Ahmed, “Tibetan Folk Opera: Lhamo in Contemporary Cultural Politics.” Asian Theatre Journal 23, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 150. 27 28 See Donald S. Lopez Jr. Prisoners of Shangri-la Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. For a discussion of the romanticization of Tibet.

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are29 not only adapting their local forms in immigrant communities but are also adapting them for Western consumption with the goal of cultural preservation in mind. It is here that the dynamics of the audience comes into play. Here the audience includes not just the audience sitting in the theatre, but also the larger North American arena. With the Dalai Lama’s creation of what is now the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) the adaptation of traditional dances and musical styles began,30 shortly thereafter the performing arts of Tibet were chosen by exiled Tibetans as a tool of resistance.31 Those living and experiencing the diaspora began utilizing traditional performance styles as a method of asserting their Tibetan identity. In the fifty years since exile, the diasporic process and the host community has continued to impact the ritual practices of Tibetan Buddhists. The Dalai Lama has served as political and religious leader, but also cultural ambassador, whereby he has shaped an image of Tibet and what it means to be a Tibetan Buddhist. “. . . the Dalai Lama embodies Tibetan culture. He creates images of Tibet, builds community through alliances among resident and exiled Tibetan populations, sustains non-Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhist believers, works toward Tibetan self-determination and functions as the central locus of power and identity within the Tibetan diaspora.”32 As a result of the diaspora the Dalai Lama and the government in exile have quite astutely shaped an image of Tibetan that connects with the popularity of Tibetan Buddhism amongst Westerners. This is no better evidenced than in the traveling monastic performances. Taming the Diaspora The monastic performances present a homogenous view of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism through a process of strategic essentializing33 or what 29 The audience can be extended to include the global audience because of the technological and transnational world in which we live. One can view these performances on the Internet, therefore, the performances extend beyond those in the room and the country through which the monks are touring. 30 Questions of authenticity can be raised here, because adaptation begins almost immediately when TIPA is instituted. So, what is “authentic” Tibetan Buddhist ritual performance? 31  Ahmed, 151. 32 Serin Houston and Richard Wright. “Making and Remaking Tibetan Diasporic Identities.” SocialCultural Geography 4, no. 2 (June 2003): 218. 33 For more on the idea of ‘strategic essentialism’ see Gayatri Spivak Spivak and Sarah Harasym. The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. New York: Routledge, 1990.


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some scholars have called “New Age or Neo-Orientalist” strategies.34 In reinventing tradition, the monastic dances are articulating a particular identity that is influenced by the long-held Western fascination with Tibet and the current political situation, reflective of what the government in exile is promoting. Ultimately, the North American monastic performances are influenced by their two audiences: first, the audience in the theatre, and second, the larger community around them. The performances are involved in a process of creating a ‘third-space’.35 The performance of ‘chams involves the creation of ritual and mythic space. The North American performances dwell in a ‘third-space’ where a diasporic group, i.e., the monks, are allowed to innovate, create realities, and exist in a liminal state. ‘Chams, as a meditative exercise, aims to create a new reality within the minds of the performers. The likelihood of the monks being fully engaged in visualization during these hybrid North American performances is questionable. However, the monks are definitely creating a reality that extends beyond them. The stage becomes a ‘third-space,’ that is an active performance site. The monks are involved in strategically essentializing themselves as they are actively creating an image of Tibet that harkens back to Orientalist perspectives. The adaptation of ‘chams allows for the production of a romanticized image of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism that is then presented to North American audiences. The rituals of the ‘third-space’ are actively creating a new identity in response to the larger audience: the theatre, North America, and by extension, the globe. Of course, this is in response to the political situation facing Tibetans and the need to preserve cultural traditions, but what is occurring is an ‘inverted Orientalism’ or the so-called ‘pizza effect’.36 The strategic essentializing occurring today is re-mystifying, re-mythologizing, and reOrientalizing Tibet, in ways that upset the 13th Dalai Lama in the 1920s. Now, in the 21st century, in response to the diaspora, the Dalai Lama and

34 See Anand. 35 For further discussion of ‘third-space’ in relationship to diasporic communities see Luisa Veronis, “Strategic Spatial Essentialism: Latin Americans’ Real and Imagined Geographies of Belonging in Toronto.” Social & Cultural Geography 8, no. 3 (June 2007): 456–473. 36 For a discussion of these ideas, see Agehananda Bharati, “The Hindu Renaissance and its Apologetic Patterns.” The Journal of Asian Studies (Association for Asian Studies) 29, no. 2 (1970): 267–287 and Jorn Borup, “Zen and the Art of Inverting Orientalism: Buddhism, Religious Studies and Interrelated Networks.” In New Approaches to the Study of Religion: Vol. 1 Regional, Critical, and Historical Approaches, edited by Peter Antes, Armin W. Geertz, and Randi R. Warne, 451–488. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2004.

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the Tibetan diasporic community is clearly seeing the use in adapting traditional rituals and re-imaging culture to help his community.37 It is important to note that these adaptations do not devalue the rituals. As mentioned above, Buddhism has always possessed an inherent flexibility, and here we see Tibetan Buddhism responding to its current situation. Tibetan Buddhism is re-imagining itself in light of the diaspora and the need to preserve culture. The creation of a ‘third-space’ allows for a creative power and control that aims to ‘tame’ the difficulties of life in exile. Truths and Consequences Are there consequences to engaging in this process of re-imaging? This question needs to be addressed in relationship to four different perspectives. First, from the perspective of the Tibetan exile community, the representation of Tibetan Buddhism that plays off of the attraction of its North American audience by re-exoticizing it is in danger of putting forth a homogenous image of Tibetans. It is clear that Tibetans do not hold a unified position about the diaspora, politics, other Tibetans, etc. In her own examination of different Tibetan cultural performances, Yeh notes that the “. . . staged performances of ‘Tibetan culture’, . . . fracture the imagined unity of a seamless diasporic community.”38 The monastic performances create a new, collective identity for Tibetans, one that doesn’t always hold up. The creation of a collective identity and an idealized homeland negates the heterogeneity of the Tibetan communities. Yeh astutely details the differences that exist within the Tibetan diasporic community and the variety of perspectives they hold. For instance, vast differences are apparent between the Tibetan-exile born in India versus the Tibetan-exile born in Tibet. Or what about the second generation Tibetan-Americans? Yeh recounts at length her experiences of this heterogeneity at a San Francisco Bay Area event in 2002: An official Tibetan song and dance troupe from Lhasa had been invited to California as part of a larger cultural exhibition and exchange program. . . . For most of the show, I sat listening with several former new arrivals and a few

37 One sees this in the Kalachakra ceremonies that the Dalai Lama now performs in North America. These ten day ceremonies were once considered esoteric, but now one finds celebrities emceeing the event (see 38 Emily T. Yeh, “Exile Meets Homeland: Politics, Performance, and Authenticity in the Tibetan Diaspora.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25 (2007): 649.


sarah f. haynes other Tibetan who had arrived in California from Lhasa. They appeared to be having a tremendously good time, singing along, clapping frequently, and making remarks such as ‘Today is just like being at the Norbulingka’ . . . One woman, who had just received political asylum in the USA, exclaimed to me that this was her happiest day since she had arrived in the United States two year earlier, because ‘it’s just like being back in Lhasa.’ . . . I assumed that everyone present was enjoying the music. . . . A mother and daughter . . . complained to each other about the way the performers sang in such a strangely un-Tibetan way, their tones too high, and their smiles and gestures too perfect and too dramatic. The daughter then said that she had had enough of this, and suggested, ‘let’s go watch a Hindi movie’. When I later asked other long-time exiles about their reactions, some said they ‘didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, whether to be happy or sad’.39

One can conclude that the North American ‘chams performances don’t present a full and accurate image of Tibet, Tibetans, and their culture. The Tibetan diasporic community does not put forward a homogenous understanding of who they are and what is ‘authentically’ Tibetan. The issue of homogeneity points towards the second perspective regarding the consequences of the re-imagining process. Ultimately, the audience within the theatre is misled about the traditions behind the rituals. Taken out of context, performed in a shortened timeframe, and without much explanation, these performances leave the audience entertained, but perhaps not benefiting from the ritual performance as traditionally expected. The performance continues to present Tibet and Tibetans in such a romanticized manner that reifies this image. Further complicating the issue is the third perspective: the way in which cultural forms, such as a che lha mo (folk dances/opera) and monastic dance (‘chams) are being utilized by the Chinese government in their rhetoric and display of what is truly “authentic” Tibetan (or Chinese) artistic styles. What is seen when one examines both sides of the political situation is that Tibetan cultural traditions are being adapted from both ends and used as markers of authenticity and presenting a certain image. Yet in claiming a “pure” or “authentic” Tibetan Buddhism, both sides are adapting the ritual practices, and cultural traditions.40 (One can be directed towards the youtube channel TalkTibetV to see Chinese adaptations of Tibet song and dance styles.) In their presentation of a homogeneous Tibet, both sides are clearly using cultural forms and religious 39 Ibid., 659–660. 40 See Marcia Calkowski, “A Day at the Tibetan Opera: Actualized Performance and Spectacular Discourse.” American Ethnologist 18, no. 4 (November 1991): 643–657.

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rituals as rhetorical devices in their construction of Tibetan identity. And as noted above by Yeh, these constructions are not always recognizable by all diasporic Tibetans. The final perspective to examine relates to the consequences for the performers. Taking ‘chams out of its original context has clearly altered how it is performed. It is now performed as entertainment for audiences that are largely unaware of the meaning of the dances. The Dalai Lama, aware of this, notes: Before the public performance of these rites, some people may say “Why are they performing publicly what should be esoteric rites?” Perhaps these people feel that secret teachings should not be turned into a theatrical spectacle. But they needn’tbe concerned. The secret interior path and its processes are things which the ordinary cannot perceive. What is seen outside is totally different. Based on their inner achievement, the Yogis can unfold energies which can serve the benefit of the entire country, such as in ceremonies which consecrate images and icons, exorcise negative forces, prevent natural disasters and epidemics, and uplift the spirit of the times. Thus, from a certain point of view, these ceremonies have a great benefit for the whole society, though there is a valid point in reserving certain ceremonies from public performance. . . . Although it is not possible to witness the interior processes that are the substantial realities underlying these rites, or the clairvoyant visions that occur during the subsequent contemplative practices, one can observe the exterior aspects of the rites associated with the inner practices, aspects such as those of the Mandalas. We feel there is a beneficial result from seeing these creations, since they create a subconscious affinity with the practices and they purify one’s instincts.41

Here, the concern is not whether esoteric rituals are being made public, but whether the adaptations have lasting consequences. From the point of view of the monk, condensing the ritual dances from several hours or days into a two-hour show could greatly impact the intended outcome. A ‘chams dancer is supposed to spend many years in training to be able to complete the necessary meditative techniques and visualizations (not to mention the steps) that accompany the dances, however, when shortened substantially, the monk must be even more adept at his visualization techniques. Therefore, it is possible that a monk who is highly skilled at meditation can complete the requisite contemplation techniques in the short ten-minute performance, to be able to engage in the creation of the meditative reality is possible. However, the actualization that is aimed for 41 His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Collected Statements, Interviews and Articles. Dharmasala, 1982.


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by these monks as traditionally detailed in ‘chams is greatly hindered by the shortened time frame.42 Consider that each ten-minute dance or song is often missing preliminary and concluding rituals, not to mention the omission of larger sections of the main ritual. The purpose of the process of actualization or embodiment is to decondition or strip away inappropriate conditioning that blocks the mind from responding appropriately in the creative process.43 This is the model on which the monastic dances were traditionally developed, that is, through these dances the monks are meant to decondition their minds from conventional understandings of reality. Therefore, there are likely ramifications for meditative awareness in that the monks are unable to fully engage in the meditative process that leads to the direct experience of an Ultimate Reality.44 The monastic dances as presented in their diasporic contexts are no longer performed for their original purpose. There is a clear shift in the manner and purpose of ‘chams. The dances are now performed to raise awareness of the political situation and the need to preserve Tibetan culture.45 The way in which the performances take shape is largely influenced by the audience who is seeking entertainment rather than to support the cause or to benefit from the merit produced by the dances. In adapting the ritual dances their purpose has not only shifted towards entertainment and commodification (one only needs to look at the merchandise tables in the lobby) but in seeking to raise awareness and preserve their cultural traditions an “essentialized” Tibet has been presented. These performances perpetuate the romanticized notions of Tibet and articulate a Tibetan identity that fails to recognize the heterogeneous nature of Tibet and Tibetans. The process of adaptation does not negate all benefits of the North American monastic performances and one needs to remember that adaptation is only natural in Buddhism. What this process does point to is the need to reassess the way in which ritual and cultural traditions are disseminated in the diaspora.

42 Curious about the young age of the performers, I once asked how one is chosen to come to North America to join a monastic performance troupe. I was told it was more about dance and musical talent, than about those who had the meditative ability to fully engage in the dances. 43 Phillip Zarrilli, “Negotiating Performance Epistemologies: Knowledge ‘about’, ‘in’ and ‘for’ ” Studies in Theatre and Performance 21, no. 1 (2001): 40. 44 For a discussion of ‘chams as a creation of Ultimate Reality see Ricard. 45 See Anand for a discussion of the problems that arise when one attempts to preserve a culture, i.e., is culture something that can be identified, mapped, practiced and preserved.

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Bibliography Ahmed, Syed Jamil. “Tibetan Folk Opera: Lhamo in Contemporary Cultural Politics.” Asian Theatre Journal 23, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 149–178. Alasuutari, Pertti and Maarit. “Narration and Ritual Formation of Diasporic Identity: The Case of Second Generation Karelian Evacuees.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 16 (2009): 321–341. Anand, Dibyesh. “(Re)imagining Nationalism: Identity and representation in the Tibetan Diaspora of South Asia.” Contemporary South Asia 9, no. 2 (2000): 271–287. Attisani, Antonio. Trans. Guido Vogliotti. “Aspects of the Tibetan Theatre II: Western Views on Tibetan Performing Arts.” Tibet Journal 31, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 3–48. ——. “Aspects of the Tibetan Theatre Question.” Tibet Journal 30, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 3–58. ——. Trans. Geraldine Ludbrook. “Tibetan Secular Theatre: The Sacred and the Profane.” PAJ 63 (1999): 1–12. Bharati, Agehananda. “The Hindu Renaissance and its Apologetic Patterns.” The Journal of Asian Studies (Association for Asian Studies) 29, no. 2 (1970): 267–287. Borup, Jorn. “Zen and the Art of Inverting Orientalism: Buddhism, Religious Studies and Interrelated Networks.” In New Approaches to the Study of Religion: Vol. 1 Regional, Critical, and Historical Approaches, edited by Peter Antes, Armin W. Geertz, and Randi R. Warne, 451–488. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2004. Calkowski, Marcia. “A Day at the Tibetan Opera: Actualized Performance and Spectacular Discourse.” American Ethnologist 18, no. 4 (November 1991): 643–657. Dorjee, Tenzin and Howard Giles. “Cultural Identity in Tibetan Diaspora.” Journal of Multilinguial and Multicultural Development 26, no. 2 (2005): 138–157. Fischer-Lichte, Erika. “Culture as Performance.” Modern Austrian Literature 42, no. 3 (2009): 1–10. Gyatso, Tenzin (His Holiness the Dalai Lama). Collected Statements, Interviews and Articles. Dharmasala, 1982. Dorjee, Lobsang. “Lhamo: The Folk Opera of Tibet.” The Tibet Journal 9, no. 2 (1984): 13–22. Hansen, Peter H. “The Dancing Lamas of Everest: Cinema, Orientalism, and Anglo-Tibetan Relations in the 1920s.” American Historical Review (June 1996): 712–747. Harris, Clare. “The Buddha Goes Global: Some Thoughts Towards a Transnational Art History.” Art History 29, no. 4 (September 2006): 698–720. Houston, Serin and Richard Wright. “Making and Remaking Tibetan Diasporic Identities.” Social Cultural Geography 4, no. 2 (June 2003): 217–232. Kohn, Richard J. Lord of the Dance: The Mani Rimdu Festival in Tibet and Nepal. Albany: SUNY Press, 2001. Kolas, Ashild. “Tibetan Nationalism: The Politics of Religion.” Journal of Peace Research 33, no. 1 (Feb. 1996): 51–66. Lopez Jr., Donald S. Prisoners of Shangri-la. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Orenstein, Claudia. “A Taste of Tibet: The Nuns of Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery and the Theatre du Soleil.” Asian Theatre Journal 19, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 212–230. Pearlman, Ellen. Tibetan Sacred Dance: A Journey into the Religious and Folk Traditions. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2002. Ricard, Matthieu. Monk Dancers of Tibet. Boston: Shambhala, 2003. Schrempf, Mona. “Tibetan Ritual Dances and the Transformation of Space.” Tibet Journal 2, (Summer 1994): 95–120. Spivak, Gayatri and Sarah Harasym. The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. New York: Routledge, 1990. Veronis, Luisa. “Strategic Spatial Essentialism: Latin Americans’ Real and Imagined Geographies of Belonging in Toronto.” Social & Cultural Geography 8, no. 3 (June 2007): 456–473.


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Yeh, Emily T. “Exile Meets Homeland: Politics, Performance, and Authenticity in the Tibetan Diaspora.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25 (2007): 648–667. Yeshe Tsogyel, The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, 2 vols., trans. Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1978. Zarrilli, Phillip. “Negotiating Performance Epistemologies: Knowledge ‘about’, ‘in’ and ‘for’.” Studies in Theatre and Performance 21, no. 1 (2001): 31–46.

‘Performance’ and ‘Lived Religion’ Approaches as New Ways of ‘Re-imagining’ Sikh Studies Charles M. Townsend The field of Sikh studies is still in a relatively young and rapidly growing stage. Only in the past few decades has Sikhism begun to appear within ‘world religions’ textbooks and the curricula of departments of religious studies as a distinct religious tradition. Due to Sikh studies emerging predominantly from the work of historians, textualists, and south Asianists, most of its foundational scholarly literature to date has focused on Sikh history, texts, and doctrines, and relatively less scholarship is available which focuses on living Sikh practices. The situation is similar within the available scholarly literature on other Asian religions as well. There are between 250,000 and 650,000 Sikh Americans in the United States, as many as half of whom live in the state of California (total estimates vary widely partly because the U.S. census does not gather data about religious affiliation). Although Sikhs have a history in the U.S. dating back to the 1890s, most of the currently available scholarly literature on Sikhism has focused on Sikh history within India, and very little research has been done focusing on Sikhism as a living religion in the U.S. The small amount of existing research has largely focused on the comparatively tiny population of Sikhs that existed in the U.S. prior to the 1965 relaxation of anti-Asian immigration policies, and—having been conducted primarily by anthropologists—often does not take Sikh religion as its central focus. So the field of Sikh Studies generally, and the field of Sikhism in the U.S. in particular, are ripe for re-imagining and further study, utilizing new approaches. In my own ongoing research, I am seeking to explore and to bridge these gaps in the available literature through an ethnographic and historical study of American Sikhs’ own understandings of their religious beliefs, identities, and practices. I take as an entry point and focal lens into studying these topics among American Sikhs the central Sikh worship act and community religious practice: musical performances of the most sacred Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. The performance of religious music has been central to Sikh identity and practice since the beginning of Sikhism as a distinct religious tradition in India in the 15th century,


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and the performance of the hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib remains the central religious practice of Sikhs in the United States today. As Sikhs have migrated to places around the world, they have demonstrated remarkable abilities to adapt and thrive within diverse global situations, while sustaining and continuously re/interpreting Sikhism within new contexts, and I argue that one of the primary ways that Sikhs have carried Sikh ways of being and knowing with them has been through these sacred musical and performative practices. For the purposes of this paper, I will discuss how I am employing two increasingly prominent theoretical and methodological approaches which both bring a focused awareness to practice: ‘lived religion’ and ‘performance’ theory. Both of these approaches are informing and challenging me in the ways that I am currently thinking about Sikhism in the U.S., and about Religious Studies in general. ‘Lived Religion’ Approaches as a New Way of Re-imagining Sikh Studies ‘Lived religion’ is a still emerging (sub)field and methodological and theoretical orientation within the academic study of religion, and I think there is still much work that will be done in shaping and charting the concerns, theories, and approaches associated with it. At the same time, there are some factors pointing to the relative maturity of the field, including a monograph dedicated specifically to describing the emerging field (Meredith McGuire’s Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life), and an ongoing series of books on ‘Lived Religions’ from Johns Hopkins University Press1 (edited by David Hall, and Robert Orsi). Discourse on ‘lived religion’ emerged out of the work of Harvard Divinity School scholars Robert Orsi and David Hall, particularly beginning (in somewhat preliminary form) with Orsi’s The Madonna of 115th Street

1 Thus far, there are five books in this ‘Lived Religion’ series: Matovina, Timothy, Guadalupe and Her Faithful: Latino Catholics in San Antonio, from Colonial Origins to the Present, (Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). Practicing Protestants: Histories of Christian Life in America, 1630–1965, Edited by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Leigh E. Schmidt, and Mark Valeri, (Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance, Edited by R. Marie Griffith and Barbara Dianne Savage, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Ketchell, Aaron K., Holy Hills of the Ozarks: Religion and Tourism in Branson, Missouri, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007). Curtis, Heather D., Faith in the Great Physician: Suffering and Divine Healing in American Culture, 1860– 1900, (Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

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(1985), and being further framed and delineated by both Hall and Orsi in Hall’s edited volume Lived Religion in America (1997). Their discourse on ‘lived religion’ itself emerges from earlier scholarly discourse on ‘popular religion,’ an approach which had been primarily concerned with studying the religious beliefs, practices, and identities of ‘everyday folks.’ The main critique that Hall, Orsi, and others have laid against much of the scholarship of the ‘popular religion’ paradigm is that in (rightfully) emphasizing the agency of ‘everyday folks’ and focusing the study of religion on them as a remedy to previous inattentiveness to anything outside of ‘grand’/‘high’/‘elite’ ‘traditions,’ many scholars of ‘popular religion’ in turn vilified ‘elite’ perspectives and practices, and valorized the beliefs and practices of ‘everyday folks’ as more ‘authentic’ expressions of religion. On this subject, David Hall has described how ‘lived religion’ approaches depart from earlier discourse on ‘popular religion’: Lived Religion is an effort to shift historians’ attention away from say the great institutions simply as institutions, or the great theologians simply as theologians, and to ask how all kinds of people, great people, small people, ordinary people, prominent people, engage with and work through the inevitable contradictions of religion in life . . . . Lived religion is an effort to step outside of the categories of high and low, that are necessarily part of the problematic of popular religion.2

Discourse on ‘lived religions’ has largely inherited from ‘popular religion’ an emphasis on the ‘everyday’-ness of religious practice, but not preserved the bifurcation of ‘high’ and ‘low’ religion, instead attending to the religious beliefs, practices, and identities of both social ‘elites’ and ‘folks’ as equally ‘everyday’ parts of religion as lived. I find that this break with bifurcating religion into ‘elite’ and ‘popular’ forms makes sense especially well with the study of Sikhism, which is de jure non-hierarchical in many respects (despite the de facto realities), having no priesthood or official higher office beyond democratically chosen local leadership. Sikhs speak with pride about the universality of guru panth, the ‘priesthood of all believers’ (to put it in outsider’s terms) in which religious authority is vested in the worldwide Sikh community. However, as a better example of how a ‘lived religion’ approach’s breakdown of the elite/popular bifurcation informs my own ethnographic research on Sikh

2 David Hall, “Lived Religion.”, The Spirit of Things with Rachel Kohn, Radio Broadcast, February 7th, 2000, (Transcript accessed from: stories/s103914.htm).


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identities and Sikh performative practices, I am deliberately seeking to interview Sikhs with a broad range of perspectives: from those who profess to know very little about Sikhism or Sikh religious music, to raagis and kirtaniyas who are the ‘ritual expert’ musical performers of the sacred hymns; from young second and third generation Sikhs born in the U.S. who speak no Punjabi and do not understand the language of the Guru Granth Sahib, to recently immigrated granthis trained in Gurbani recititation and interpretation. A couple of years ago, when I first presented a paper based on my initial set of research observations drawn from interviews with American Sikhs, a few people in the audience spoke to me afterward and suggested that my “sampling was biased” because up to that point I had mostly spoken to young Sikhs who were not experts in performing kirtan. However, from a ‘lived religions’ perspective, my sampling of interviewees would be equally if not more biased if I only spoke to ritual ‘experts’ about a performative practice that is central to all Sikhs. In my opinion, ‘lived religion’ as an approach to the academic study of religion has been most fully expounded and theorized within the work of Robert Orsi, especially his 2006 book Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them. Meredith McGuire’s 2008 book Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life extends from the work of Orsi, and seeks to further clarify the methodological and theoretical concerns of a ‘lived religions’ approach. For the purposes of this first section of this paper, I will be referring most extensively to both Orsi and McGuire’s work in characterizing ‘lived religion’ approaches, but also to the writings of other scholars who overtly place their work as coming from within a ‘lived religion’ approach. I will discuss four common features of ‘lived religion/s’ approaches, specifically that scholarly discourse on ‘lived religion’ tends to: i). view religion/s as always local, non-static, always in-process, and constantly being reinterpreted; ii) focus on embodied practice and performance; iii) adopt methodological and theoretical approaches from Anthropology and other ‘cultural’ approaches, and reflect the ‘reflexive turn’ within Anthropology and other disciplines; and iv) be accepting of the reality of sacred presence for religious practitioners and of ‘multiple ways of being in the world’. Related to this last point, I will discuss Orsi’s locating of ‘lived religion’ approaches as a “third way” between radically ‘secular’ (or perhaps ‘scientistic’ or ‘empiricist’) approaches on one hand, and ‘confessional’ or theological approaches on the other. With each of these points I will give examples of how they overlap with the ways I am thinking about Sikhism in my current research.

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Lived religion approaches tend to: i) view religion/s as ‘local,’ non-static, always in-process, and constantly being re-interpreted. Scholars utilizing ‘lived religion’ approaches often note that religion/s and religious identities are ‘messy.’ They warn of the tendency for scholars of religion to follow with much of the dominant public discourse on religion, which tends to idealize ‘religions’ as ‘things’ that are ‘pure,’ ‘unambiguous,’ ‘sanitary,’ and ‘smooth.’ Orsi argues that scholars of religion must allow for the ambivalence and multiplicity of religious phenomena, stating that, “the central methodological commitment [of a ‘lived religion’ approach] is to avoid conclusions that impose univocality on practices that are multifarious”.3 From a ‘lived religions’ perspective, ‘religions’ are never ‘static,’ unchanging, or monolithic—they are not even ‘things’—and the local and particular cannot always be extrapolated to grand ‘traditions,’ and vice versa. To give an example drawn from South Asian religions just within the U.S.: a khatri (‘high’ caste) Sikh living in southern California, having migrated from Punjab after the crisis of 1984, cannot have had the same life experiences as a jat (agriculturalist caste) Sikh living in Michigan, having come to the U.S. via South Africa, and yet the experiences of these two are often extrapolated within scholarly discourse to talk about something called ‘Sikhism’ (or perhaps particularized slightly more as ‘American Sikhism’). Likewise, the histories, experiences, beliefs, and practices of low caste Tamil Śaivas in London, will not be the same as those of high caste Gujarati Vaishnavas in Los Angeles, yet both may be invoked in talking about something called ‘Hinduism’ or a ‘Hindu diaspora.’ Although, for purposes of concision, there may be no way around speaking of religion/s and religious identities under such blanket language of ‘traditions,’ ‘lived religions’ approaches call for scholars to be critically attentive to the vast plurality of experiences, beliefs, practices, and identities that such terms point to. The academic study of religion cannot be an uncritical, oversimplified study of grand ‘traditions’ or ‘isms’. Echoing Orsi’s call for scholars of religion to avoid imposing univocality on multifarious religious phenomena, Meredith McGuire posits that “at

3 Robert Orsi, “Everyday Miracles: the Study of Lived Religion” in Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice, Edited by David Hall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 11.


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the level of the individual, religion is not fixed, unitary, or even coherent. We should expect that all persons’ religious practices and stories with which they make sense of their lives are always changing, adapting, and growing”.4 Adopting Michel de Certeau’s usage of the concept, McGuire discusses religious identities in terms of “bricolage,” the creative combination of disparate elements: Bricolage is a social practice by which an individual constructs a creative assembly by eclectically pasting together seemingly disparate, preexisting bits and pieces of meaning and practice. The pieces may appear disparate to the outside observer, but they are not nonsensical to the person engaging in such creative synthesis, which make sense and are effective in his or her world of meaning and experience.5

On the subject of such ‘placing together of elements’, Orsi comments: Men and women do not merely inherit religious idioms, nor is religion a fixed dimension of one’s being, permanent attainment or a stable self. People appropriate religious idioms as they need them, in response to particular circumstances. All religious ideas and impulses are of the moment, invented, taken, borrowed, and improvised at the intersections of life.6

Both McGuire and Orsi point out frequent implicit (or explicit) repugnance toward religious ‘bricolage’ or ‘syncretism’ in the work of scholars of religion, which, they argue, arises out of a desire to see religions as ‘pure’ ‘static’ ‘traditions.’ However, in addition to religious identities not being ‘static,’ or ‘pure,’ and being constituted in bricolage, ‘lived religion’ approaches tend to see religions themselves as non-static, always being interpreted, and constituted in bricolage. In this light, Catherine Albanese (who I would otherwise not readily associate with a lived religion approach) writes that: “lived religions are always combinations and recombinations in which ‘official’ traditions are sanded down and glued on, so to speak, to create a customized religious structure that fits the overall context of a life”.7 This understanding of all religious identities, and indeed all religions as being constituted through recombination and bricolage 4 Meredith McGuire, Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life, (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 12. 5 Ibid., 195. 6 Robert Orsi, “Everyday Miracles: the Study of Lived Religion”, 8. 7 Catherine Albanese, “Exchanging Selves, Exchanging Souls: Contact, Combination and American Religious History” in Retelling U.S. religious history, edited by Thomas A. Tweed, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) 225.

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speaks directly to an issue that continues to vex Sikhs and scholars of Sikh Studies alike: the long standing and still repeated charge, appearing especially within many introductory level textbooks, that Sikhism is a (mere) ‘syncretism’ of Hinduism and Islam. From a ‘lived religions’ perspective, Sikhism, like all religions, did not emerge in a vacuum, but neither is it merely a ‘recombination’ of pre-existing elements in any way that would make it distinct from any other religion. Also, in strong agreement with a theme of Pashaura Singh’s paper in this volume, from a ‘lived religion’ approach’s understanding of religions as non-static, always being interpreted, and constituted in bricolage, Sikhism is not ‘one thing’, but a multiplicity of voices, a living nexus of intertwining threads of influences, beliefs, practices and identities. ii) focus on embodied practice and performance. I have already mentioned the dearth of available scholarly literature within Sikh studies that focuses on practice and how my research seeks to be part of a ‘re-imagining’ of Sikh studies by turning a focused awareness to practice. This is one of the ways that lived religion approaches resonate most with my research. Scholars of ‘lived religion/s’ tend to assert the central importance of attending to practice, performance, and the body—in contrast to many dominant approaches to the study of religion/s which often focus on texts, and, especially, on belief as the central category of religion. Orsi argues that this understanding of belief as the central category of ‘religions’ is based on Protestant-normative biases and presuppositions about what gets counted as ‘religion’ that have been present since the foundations of Religious Studies as a discipline. A theme that appears in the work of scholars of lived religion, but especially in Robert Orsi’s work, is that scholars of religion need to recognize and critically assess the Protestant-normative and ‘secular’ biases that remain entrenched in Religious Studies. In Between Heaven and Earth, Orsi narrates in detail how, especially among American scholars of religion, the discipline of Religious Studies emerged into the ‘secular academy’ with distinctly Protestant presuppositions about what ‘religion’—or at least ‘good religion’—was/ is. On this secularized but Protestant-normative model, ‘good’ religion is based on belief and faith, it should be private, and focused on personal experience, especially of quiet contemplation, individual scriptural study, etc.—and ‘bad’ religion is emotional, demonstrative, ritualistic, noisy, overfocused on veneration of objects or devotion to people, etc. The often more holistic and embodied approaches to religion outside of the


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Protestant belief/faith-centric focus, especially Islam and Asian religions including Sikhism, have often confounded scholars throughout the history of the study of religions. This has led them to question aspects of the lives of religio-cultural ‘others’: is this religion? Culture? Ethnicity? (etc.) From a ‘lived religion/s’ perspective, ‘religions’ are also about the things that people do, not just what they believe, or what is contained in their Scriptures or doctrines. To give an example from Sikh studies of why taking beliefs/doctrines or Scripture as the central categories of ‘religions’ can be problematic: most Sikhs (especially in the U.S.) do not fully understand the language of the Guru Granth Sahib, but even if they do not, they relate with the scripture on the level of practice. For instance, in my interviews with Sikhs, it is common for them to state that one receives benefit from hearing the Guru Granth Sahib recited, even if they do not understand its words. Even beyond this, one receives benefit from simply being in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib, and by observing the proper body postures of respect and reverence of the Guru, and also by being in the presence of the guru panth, the Sikh community. I will address the issue of sacred presence for religious practitioners in more detail below. iii) adopt methodological and theoretical approaches from Anthropology and other ‘cultural’ approaches, and reflect the ‘reflexive turn’ within Anthropology and other disciplines. I have already pointed out that the handful of scholars who have written about Sikhism in the U.S. to date have been anthropologists,8 but that much of their work has not focused on Sikh religious practice. Several scholars of Sikh studies, including Bruce La Brack and Tony Ballantyne, have also pointed to the dearth of ethnographic and interview-based studies of Sikhs, and have suggested that this is a next step in advancing and ‘re-imagining’ the field. The need for qualitative, interview-based research on Sikhism in the U.S. is another reason why ‘lived religion’ approaches resonate with my research. Most of the work by scholars of lived religion to date has tended to adopt methods and theories from Anthropology and other ‘cultural’ approaches to the study of religion. David Hall writes in his “Introduction” to Lived Religion in America that ‘lived religion’ approaches are “. . . rooted . . . in

8 Bruce LaBrack, Karen Leonard, and Verne Dusenbery have made the most sustained contributions in this respect.

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cultural and ethnographic approaches to the study of religion . . .”.9 However, Hall also asserts later in the same chapter that “. . . the study of lived religion does not depend on any single method or discipline”.10 This is reflected in the fact that much of the available literature coming from a ‘lived religions’ approach has been a blending of historical and ethnographic research methods. What is known as ‘the reflexive turn’ in Anthropology is a now nearly twenty years old shift in paradigms, toward scholars who study cultural (and religious) ‘others’ being more aware of, and forthcoming about the ways their own life stories and experiences bias and inflect their interactions with, and writings about, their human subjects. This began with an awareness among anthropologists of the impossibility of being an ‘unbiased observer’. Reflexivity also calls for researchers to maintain a disciplined methodological humility about the limits of their own subjectivity and scholarly ‘gaze’. In its adoption of anthropological methods and theories, ‘lived religion’ approaches also reflect this ‘reflexive turn’ and this leads me to my final point about ‘lived religion’ approaches. iv) be accepting of the reality of ‘sacred presence’ for practitioners of religions and of ‘multiple ways of being in the world’ (Lived Religion as a ‘third way’). Finally—and I think this is Orsi’s most provocative contribution to critically assessing the work of scholars of religion—Orsi describes a ‘lived religion’ approach as a ‘third way’, one set between ‘radically empiricist’ ‘secular’ scholarship and ‘confessional’ or theological approaches. He writes that this ‘third way’: . . . is characterized by a disciplined suspension of the impulse to locate the other . . . securely in relation to one’s own cosmos. It has no need to fortify the self in relation to the other . . . an in-between orientation, located at the intersection of self and other, at the boundary between one’s own moral universe and the moral world of the other . . . this in-between ground upon which a researcher in this third way stands belongs neither to herself nor to the other but has come into being between them, precisely because of the meeting of the two.11

9 David Hall, “Introduction” in Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice, edited by David Hall, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), vii. 10 Ibid., x. 11  Robert Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth, 198–199.


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I have already discussed Orsi’s urging for scholars of religion to uncover the Protestant-normative biases in the history of the academic study of religion, and the implicit Protestant normativity underlying the ‘secular’ study of religion. Orsi narrates how this nominally ‘secular’ study of religion comes to see religious practitioners’ claims of sacred presence as a ‘problem’ for scholarly scrutiny. How are scholars to assess the experiences of their human subjects which they are themselves unable to experience subjectively, or which may be beyond ‘objective’ empirical assessment, but are nonetheless central to the lives and identities of religious practitioners? In answer to this, Orsi offers that if sacred presence is ‘real’ in the beliefs and practices of the religious practitioners who he studies and interacts with, that that is “real enough” for him.12 Coming to this standpoint though, requires that scholars of ‘lived religion’ are willing to recognize their own imperfect subjectivity and the limits of their own (perhaps ‘rational’/‘scientific’) scholarly ‘gaze.’ Yet Orsi argues that this can be done without being ‘uncritical.’ Again, reflecting the ‘reflexive turn’ in Anthropology, what Orsi is advocating is a disciplined methodological humility. Orsi describes ethnographic fieldwork as “comparing notes” on multiple ways of being in the world.13 Orsi is not advocating an ‘unscientific’ or ‘irrational’ approach to studying religion, but an approach that does not ‘irrationalize’ the practices and ways of being in the world of ‘others’ (i.e. the human subjects of scholarly research on religion), for whom there may be ways of knowing and being which take primacy other than the ‘radically empirical’ or ‘scientific’. I think that this is the central challenge of ‘lived religion’ as an emerging (sub)field, at least as it is framed by Robert Orsi. Orsi is ‘calling out’ scholars of Religious Studies toward a new methodological stance from which to view the human ‘subjects’ of our research. What Orsi calls for is, in my reading, an eminently empathetic approach, one which allows for ‘multiple ways of being in the world’—perhaps something similar to the anekantwad idea of Tinu Ruparell’s paper. This approach aims to achieve the ‘fusing of horizons’ between researchers and the people that they study, by humbly setting the ‘way of being in the world’ of the researcher alongside the ‘ways of being’ of those being studied. From this methodological standpoint, both fieldwork and historical study can be described as ‘comparing notes’ on ‘ways of being in the

12 Ibid., 18. 13 Ibid., 174.

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world’, rather than scholars of religion providing constant disclaimers or distancing themselves from the worldviews of their human subjects with ‘but this is what they believe . . . but this is what they believe” formulations. In line with this, Orsi writes: “. . . Scholarship on other worlds, other times, is always chastened by a sense of difference and exhilarated by the experience of recognition”.14 Personally, I hope that this type of disciplined ‘in-between-ness’—empathetically finding connections with religiocultural others while also critically understanding the sources of differences and conflicts between worldviews—is what scholars of Religious Studies are trying to generate in the learning experiences of their students. I think that Orsi’s ‘third way’ resonates for me as the ‘way’ that I have approached the academic study of religion since I took my first class in Religious Studies years ago, maybe especially because of the ethnographic nature of most of my research. Some might ask if Orsi’s questioning of the ‘secular’ study of religion is not a regression of sorts. Is the separation of the study of religion from ecclesiastical power and from questions of faith not foundational to Religious Studies as a discipline? I do not think that Orsi would deny this, his critique is more that we as scholars of religion have to be clear what we mean when we use the term ‘secular’, and more importantly, what we mean when we use the term ‘religion’. The purpose of Religious Studies, in the least, cannot be to smugly ‘know better’ than the religious practitioners we study, or to desire or attempt to ‘disabuse’ them of their ‘flawed perceptions of reality’. At least this is the case if the sometimes antipathetic relationship between religious practitioners and scholars of Religious Studies is to be improved on. There has been a significant amount of such antipathy toward scholarship on Sikhism from a vocal minority among Sikhs, and I will return to this issue in my conclusion. ‘Performance’ Approaches as a New Way of ‘Re-imagining’ Sikh Studies The use of ‘performance’ terminology and performance theory in the study of religion draw attention to the ways in which not just religious rituals, but other behaviors, as well as identity, can be understood as both ‘scripted,’ in the sense of being socially influenced and informed, but also

14 Ibid., 161.


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‘ad-libbed,’ in the sense that human ‘actors’ are continuously creating and re-creating their identities through their performances of ‘self ’ and ‘community.’ Beyond theatrical metaphors, ‘performance’ terminology calls attention to the constructed nature of seemingly ‘natural’ ways of doing things, and analyzes performances as points of breakdown in mind/body, text/practice dualisms. In this light, Bruce Kapferer has discussed ‘performance’ as a “unity of text and enactment”.15 Performance Studies as an interdisciplinary field unto itself began with a set of scholarly collaborations between Victor Turner and Richard Schechner. Other scholars though, including scholars of religion, have utilized this category of ‘performance’, if only for its utility as a broader interpretive category than ritual, one which encompasses such activities as: sport, play, theater, social drama, and (of course) ritual itself, etc. In fact, not knowing what is not ‘performance’ can be a bit of an issue for the usefulness of ‘performance’ as an interpretive category, but this is no less of an issue with other broad interpretive categories that we seem mostly stuck with, such as: ‘ethnicity,’ ‘culture,’ and, of course, ‘religion.’ But to give us an entry into ‘performance’ as an interpretive category, here is a key passage from Victor Turner’s writings on the term: Cultures are most fully expressed in and made conscious of themselves in their ritual and theatrical performances (. . .) A performance is a dialectic of ‘flow,’ that is, spontaneous movement in which action and awareness are one, and ‘reflexivity,’ in which the central meanings, values and goals of a culture are seen ‘in action,’ as they shape and explain behavior. A performance is declarative of our shared humanity, yet it utters the uniqueness of particular cultures. We will know one another better by entering one another’s performances and learning their grammars and vocabularies.16

Elsewhere, in a related chapter, Turner interprets ‘performances’ as “. . . dramatic episodes which vividly manifest the key values of specific cultures”.17 In my reading of Turner’s writings from this era of his work, he seems to portray structuralist hopes of ‘cracking the code’ of religio-cultural performances, and intimates that by understanding a central performance, we 15 Bruce Kapferer, “Performance and the Structuring of Meaning and Experience” in The Anthropology of Experience, edited by Victor Turner, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986). 16 Quoted in Richard Schechner and Willa Appell, “Introduction” in By Means of Performance: Intercultural Studies of Theatre and Ritual, edited by Richard Schechner, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 1, italics mine. 17 Victor Turner and Edith Turner, “Performing Ethnography” in The Anthropology of Performance, (New York: PAJ Publications, 1988), 139.

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might be able to understand an entire religion and/or culture. I do not quite share this hope, and I do not think this was/is true even of small and fairly insular ‘pre-modern’ societies. However, I do think that much can be known about a religion or culture when one particular performative practice is especially central to a religion or culture’s lifeworld. James Livingston has written that a central ritual within a religion can serve as a condensed symbol for an entire religio-cultural world,18 and here I think he is invoking scholars such as Clifford Geertz, who famously opined in “Notes On a Balinese Cockfight” that the cockfight is just such a condensed symbol for knowing about the Balinese way of life.19 The Catholic Eucharist comes to mind as another example of a ritual and performative practice that is so central to a particular religion, that understanding it reveals much about Catholic identity, belief, and practice. Robert Orsi also shares the view that central ritual performances can reveal much about people’s religio-cultural worlds as a site in which they ‘perform’ their identities. In his work on Catholics in Italian Harlem in The Madonna of 115th Street, Orsi writes about the annual festa of the Madonna, arguing that “. . . people reveal who they are and the qualities they value in religious celebrations”.20 Later, he continues, . . . the annual festa [of the Madonna of 115th street] allows us to observe how popular religion serves as . . . sacred theater . . . the streets became a stage and the people revealed themselves to themselves. The immigrants’ deepest values, their understandings of the truly human, their perceptions of the nature of reality were acted out; the hidden structures of power and authority were revealed.21

Though perhaps it is not appropriate for central rituals and performative practices within every religion or culture, I agree with Turner, Livingston, Geertz, and Orsi that a lot can be learned about particular religious or cultural groups by approaching central religio-cultural rituals as sites for the performance and re/interpretation of identity. It is from this standpoint that I initially began studying Sikhs’ views on musical performances of the Guru Granth Sahib.

18  James Livingston, Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion, Fifth Edition, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005), 81. 19  Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” in Readings in Ritual Studies, edited by Ronald L. Grimes, (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996). 20 Robert Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), xiv. 21  Ibid., xxii–xxiii, italics mine.


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My own views on the contributions a Performance Studies theoretical lens can bring to studying Sikh kirtan (and to Religious Studies in general), have been influenced by scholars such as Catherine Bell, who writes: Performance approaches [in Religious Studies] seek to explore how activities create culture, authority, transcendence, and whatever forms of holistic ordering are required for people to act in meaningful and effective ways . . . performance terminology analyzes . . . rituals as orchestrated events that construct people’s perceptions and interpretations.22

My ongoing research is seeking to understand the ways that Sikhs in the U.S. create and re-create their religio-cultural identities, and how the performance of Gurbani kirtan is connected to the construction of these identities. For the remainder of this chapter, I address three inter-related ways that theorizing about ‘performance’ and using it as an interpretive category are informing my research on Sikh kirtan performances in the U.S.: a) individual and social/cultural identities as performance/s; b) performances as providing heightened/shared experiences; and c) performances as ‘doing things with words’ (in the Austinian sense), and making sacred presence real for religious practitioners. a) Individual Identity and Social/Cultural Identity as ‘Performance’ Erving Goffman wrote: “all the world is not, of course, a stage, but the crucial ways in which it isn’t are not easy to specify”.23 I find this particularly compelling, in that I tend to think of individual ‘identity’ as being made up of multiple performance media, multiple ‘characters’ or ‘roles’ that people ‘play’ within different socio-cultural contexts. Scholars of performance utilize concepts such as habitus, in Pierre Bourdieu’s usage of the term, to point to the ways in which we are often mostly not even aware of the ‘performance media’ we use, or how we ‘get in character’ for the ‘roles’ we play. On the other hand, Richard Schechner has coined the term “restored behavior” (also calling this “twice-behaved behavior”) to point to the ways that within some performances, the ‘actors’ give attention to (or,

22 Catherine Bell, ‘Performance’, in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, edited by Mark C. Taylor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 208, italics mine. 23 Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, (New York: Anchor Books, 1959), 72.

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sometimes, are very much aware of ) doing things in ‘the right way’.24 As stated above, performance approaches view identities (religious and otherwise) as both ‘scripted,’ in the sense that they are socially informed and influenced, and also ‘ad-libbed,’ in the sense that human ‘actors’ are continuously in the process of actively creating and re-creating their identities through their performances. It is through this creativity that the ‘scripts’ of practitioner’s religious performances are themselves constantly evolving. Performances, through their constant re-interpretation, re-living, and active re-creation in religious communities, become a primary locus for the creation and re-creation of religious identities. Thus, performance, in this understanding, is the means by which living religions live. In her work on Laotian American identity, Penny Van Esterik argues that a central Lao ritual and performative practice, known as the Soukhouan, is a primary site for the performance of Lao identity, and one that is especially crucial to performing and re-interpreting Lao identity within the American context: The Lao face particularly difficult problems resolving the meaning of Lao cultural identity outside of Laos. Rituals such as Soukhouan . . . provide raw materials from which individual Lao can begin to structure a new identity in North America . . . . rituals performed in new lands remain an important part of reconstituting identity.25

Although Van Esterik’s article is not highly theoretical as a piece on performance studies, I think her reconfiguration of ritual as ‘performance’ of the self and religio-cultural identity reflects one of the ways that I have found ‘performance’ terminology to be most useful, especially for understanding central performative practices within transnational communities. In my own work to date on Sikhism in the U.S., I have argued that Sikh Gurbani kirtan, as the central performative practice within Sikhism, is a site in which Sikhs ‘perform’ Sikh identity/ies, and that through such performances—especially in the U.S., and elsewhere in the Sikh diaspora—Sikhs are engaged in interpreting and re-interpreting Sikh identity/ies within new contexts. I have based this, in part, on my many Sikh interviewees who have spoken to me about “feeling Sikh” or “feeling 24 Richard Schechner, Between Theater and Anthropology, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 35–36. 25 Penny Van Esterik, “Ritual and the Performance of Buddhist Identity among Lao Buddhists in North America” in American Buddhism: Methods and Findings in Recent Scholarship, edited by Duncan Ryūken Williams and Christopher S. Queen. (Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999), 65–66.


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more Sikh” when they spend time listening to kirtan, or about feeling that it is “the right thing to do as a Sikh.” Paul Christopher Johnson argues that performances are creative and re-creative of religious identities and religious lifeworlds. He writes: In ritual performance, diasporic religious actors ‘make history’ as they project present events, and their present selves, against the horizon of another territory and time, a horizon that is itself also in motion.26

Following from such an understanding, I suggest that through their performances of Gurbani kirtan, Sikhs in diaspora ‘negotiate’ their places ‘between’ multiple religio-cultural territories. To borrow some of Johnson’s language, without “collective memories” and remembrances of a shared past, coupled with a “double consciousness”—an awareness of differences with the current “host” culture in the U.S.—the American Sikh community would cease to be “in diaspora”.27 A “diaspora,” by Johnson’s definition, is a people living in dispersion from their “homeland” who are united by a “sustained collective memory” of this “homeland”.28 Following from Johnson’s definition, without the continuous opportunities for re-enactment, re-living, and “self-commemoration” provided by central performances like Gurbani kirtan—without the Sikh community’s active engagement in remembering—a Sikh “diaspora” would cease to be.29 I contend that central performances like Gurbani kirtan are primary loci which make possible Sikh communities’ “self-commemoration,” sustaining of “collective memories,” and the transmission of religio-cultural meaning, feeling/s, and ways of being. Thus, in this way, such a central religio-cultural performance makes a religion or culture ‘portable’, as has been the case with Sikhism as it has been carried around the world. Chiefly, performances do this by providing a space where people perform themselves, for themselves. In this way, performances insure the passing on and continuing re-interpretation and re-living of religio-cultural practices and ethos from generation to generation, from social groups to individuals, etc.

26 Paul Christopher Johnson, Diaspora Conversions: Black Carib Religion and the Recovery of Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 2. Here Johnson is partly referencing Hans Gadamer’s concept of “horizons”. 27 Ibid., 31. 28 Ibid., 32. 29 Ibid., 37.

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b) Performances as Providing for ‘Heightened/Shared Experience/s’ Continuing with the question of why performances are effective—Bruce Kapferer, in his chapter titled “Performance and the Structuring of Meaning and Experience”, argues that ritual performances are effective in transferring religious and cultural meaning because of their capacity to draw both ‘performers’ and ‘audiences’ into an ‘intensive’ or ‘heightened’ experience. Here, Kapferer is invoking one of Stanley Tambiah’s usages of the term ‘performance’ to describe ritual, in the “. . . sense of a staged performance that uses multiple media by which participants experience the event intensively . . .”.30 Within a religio-cultural performance, both ‘performers’ and ‘audience members’ are isolated from the ‘ordinary world’ as they are caught up in the shared ‘experience’ of the performance. In this type of performance, people are aware of relating to one another under the parameters of the performance (attention is paid to doing things ‘the right way’), and that as a performance begins they have stepped into what scholars of performance call a performative ‘frame.’ Multiple people sharing in a heightened experience or event brings the possibility of intersubjectivity, as an aligning of multiple subjectivities takes place toward the same point of focus: i.e., the heightened elements of the performance. This is similar to Erving Goffman’s concept of the ‘focused gathering’ in which a ‘performance’ is a group of people gathered together to participate in meaning making, relating with one another in terms of that agreed upon meaning.31 According to Kapferer, “. . . the possibility of mutual experience in the sense of experiencing together the one experience”—in other words, that multiple people’s individual subjective ‘experiences’ are drawn into the sharing of ‘an experience’—lies in ritual performance: Such a possibility is present in many of the cultural performances we and those in other cultures recognize as art and ritual. Art and ritual share potentially one fundamental quality in common: the Particular and the Universal are brought together and are transformed in the process . . . the process that is actualized and revealed in art and ritual as performance, the universalizing of the particular and the particularizing of the universal, is one of the factors accounting for the frequently observed close connection between art and ritual . . . [as rituals provide opportunities for shared experience] we

30 Stanley Jeyarajah Tambiah, “A Performative Approach to Ritual” in Culture, Thought, and Social Action: An Anthropological Approach, (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1985), 128. 31  Erving Goffman, Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction, (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Meryl Company, Inc., 1961) 9–10.


charles m. townsend find the possibility for those organized in relation to them to commune in the one experience.32

Kapferer’s central argument is that it is because rituals are ‘performances’— involving both those ‘at center stage’ and those in the ‘audience’ through intensive media (dance, music, drama, etc.)—that they create a shared experience—in other words, a ‘heightened experience’ shared mutually— of meaning-making for all participants. Especially through the media of music and dance, members of performative gatherings are further impelled in the direction of the central actors of the performance.33 Both music and dance catch people in experiences of ‘flow,’ since music and dance are temporal: in the sense of making use of time within their performance, of providing an experience of a temporary ‘break’ in ‘ordinary’ time, and in the sense of only allowing for this ‘break’ for a fleeting period of time (they do not last forever, or they would not be distinct from ‘ordinary’ experience). It is these performed aspects that shape the shared experience of all involved. In my understanding of Sikh performances of Gurbani kirtan, both ‘performers’ and ‘audience’ are engaged in enacting a religio-cultural ethos, and also in (re)interpreting that ethos. There are no ‘passive observers’ in this understanding of ‘performance,’ since even sitting, watching, and listening do not constitute a ‘passive’ experience, as no ‘audience’ member is a blank slate. Rather, each person brings their own aesthetic evaluations and subjectivity to interpreting the performance. Sikh performances of Gurbani kirtan are an observable, outward enactment of internal religiocultural meaning, and, simultaneously, a means by which religio-cultural meaning is created, (re)interpreted, and ‘internalized’ by ‘insiders’ of the religion. Wherever Sikhs have traveled and settled globally, they have brought their performative practices with them. Through experiencing sacred music socially, Sikhs are drawn into a heightened experience of Sikh-ness, a shared experience of Sikh ethos and of connection with the worldwide panth. In Sikhs’ own articulation, the underlying power of this experience is generated by the presence of the Living Eternal Guru wherever the Guru Granth Sahib is performed. This brings me to my final point. Other than the power of music on people’s consciousness—especially religious music experienced socially—what is it about Sikh kirtan per-

32 Bruce Kapferer, “Performance and the Structuring of Meaning and Experience”, 191. 33 Ibid.

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formances (and other central religio-cultural performances) that makes them ‘heightened’, effective, and central? c) Performances as ‘Doing Things with Words’ and Making Sacred Presence Real for Religious Practitioners Stanley Tambiah has discussed how ‘performances’ “do things with words” in an Austinian sense of “performative utterances”.34 In J. L. Austin’s seminal 1962 work on philosophy of language How To Do Things With Words,35 he employs the classic example of christening a ship as an instance when speaking words is not simply speaking words, but ‘doing something with words’. When a ship is christened, something more happens than just the words “I name this ship the Titanic” being spoken—a change has occurred, if only in the consciousness of those present, and those who will encounter or hear of this ship from this day forward. The ship has become something new: the name it has been given. Similarly when a ruler knights someone, saying “I dub thee, Sir Elton Hercules John”, a change has been effected, the person is not socially understood to be who they were before. Some religious examples of ‘doing things with words’ could include the bread and wine actually becoming the body and blood of Christ in the Catholic Eucharist, and Hindu rituals of prāṇa pratiṣṭha (installing or establishing the breath/life) and āvāhana (invocation) actually making the deity present within its image. The example of this in Sikhism that I have already mentioned is the way that performing the Word of the Gurus in the Guru Granth Sahib actually makes the Living Eternal Guru present. Any building in which the Guru Granth Sahib resides is a Gurdwara, and when the Guru Granth Sahib is performed orally and musically by Sikhs, all present are actually in the presence of the Guru—both literally and metaphorically— through the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, and through the vibrations of the Eternal Word of the Gurus. Revealing Sikhism’s sharing of some key pan-Indian concepts about the nature of Scriptural sound, Sikhs have viewed the Guru Granth Sahib as Naad (the Divine Word), an embodiment of the eternally sounding vibration which underlies all of existence (this is similar to the way shruti—“that which was heard”—Scriptures, such as the Vedas, are viewed by many Hindus). This concept is elucidated within

34 Stanley Jeyarajah Tambiah, “A Performative Approach to Ritual” in Culture, Thought, and Social Action: An Anthropological Approach. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1985. 35 J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.


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the Guru Granth Sahib by Guru Nanak: “The Guru’s Word is the Soundcurrent of the Naad; the Guru’s Word is the Wisdom of the Vedas; the Guru’s Word is all-pervading”.36 Thus, the performance of Gurbani kirtan, makes the Divine resplendence and consciousness-transforming power of the eternal Naad present. Such an understanding of Gurbani kirtan as ‘tapping into’ the eternally sounding vibration which underlies existence (which was made known through the Gurus by the Grace of Akāl Purakh) points to an underlying Sikh understanding of the nature of Gurbani: that speaking or singing the hymns of the Guru Granth Sahib is not merely speaking, but ‘doing things with words’. In this Sikh instance, as in the other examples mentioned (and many other examples we could address), performances making sacred presence real is the reason that they are seen as central, authentic, and effective by religious practitioners. Coda This brings us back to Orsi’s ‘third way’ and his challenge for scholars of religion to accept the realness of sacred presence for religious practitioners. Insofar as a minority of people within Sikh communities have greeted the academic study of Sikhism with hostility or suspicion, some of these negative reactions have seemingly rested on assertions that everyday Sikhs ‘have not been consulted’ by scholars of Sikhism, or that scholars writing about Sikhism are ‘disconnected’ from Sikh communities and the effects that their writings may have on them. My own concern for letting Sikhs ‘speak for themselves’ motivates my ethnographic and ‘lived religion’ approaches to my research. It is my hope that further use of ethnographic and other interview-based research methods—methods that are inherently dependent on cooperation and interaction with, and collaborative input from Sikh communities—might make some contribution toward easing apprehension about research on Sikhism. An approach open to representing Sikhs in a way they themselves will recognize themselves in, that seeks to interpret and understand Sikh beliefs and practices without ‘explaining them away’ will be key to achieving this goal and to a re-imagining of Sikh Studies.

36 M1, Japu (4), AG, 2.

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Bibliography Albanese, Catherine. “Exchanging Selves, Exchanging Souls: Contact, Combination and American Religious History” in Retelling U.S. Religious History. Edited by Thomas A. Tweed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962. Bell, Catherine. “Performance”, in Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Edited by Mark C. Taylor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. Geertz, Clifford. “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” in Readings in Ritual Studies. Edited by Ronald L. Grimes. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1996. Goffman, Erving. Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction. Indianapolis: The Bobbs- Meryl Company, Inc., 1961. ——. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1959. David Hall. “Lived Religion”, The Spirit of Things with Rachel Kohn, Radio Broadcast, February 7th, 2000. (Transcript accessed from: s103914.htm). ——. “Introduction” in Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice. Edited by David Hall. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997. Johnson, Paul Christopher. Diaspora Conversions: Black Carib Religion and the Recovery of Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. Kapferer, Bruce. “Performance and the Structuring of Meaning and Experience” in The Anthropology of Experience. Edited by Victor Turner. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986. Livingston, James. Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion. Fifth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005. Meredith McGuire. Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Orsi, Robert. Between Heaven and Earth: the Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005. ——. “Everyday Miracles: the Study of Lived Religion” in Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice. Edited by David Hall. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). ——. The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. Schechner, Richard. Between Theater and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985. Schechner, Richard and Willa Appell. “Introduction” in By Means of Performance: Intercultural Studies of Theatre and Ritual. Edited by Richard Schechner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Tambiah, Stanley Jeyarajah. “A Performative Approach to Ritual” in Culture, Thought, and Social Action: An Anthropological Approach. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1985. Turner, Victor and Edith Turner. “Performing Ethnography” in The Anthropology of Performance. New York: PAJ Publications, 1988. Van Esterik, Penny. “Ritual and the Performance of Buddhist Identity among Lao Buddhists in North America” in American Buddhism: Methods and Findings in Recent Scholarship. Edited by Duncan Ryūken Williams and Christopher S. Queen. Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999.

Part IV

History, Encounter, and Exchange

Re-Imagining Theosophy through Canadian Art: Theosophical Influences on the Painting and Writing of Lawren Harris Michael Stoeber Theosophical Influence Lawren Harris (1885–1970) is a widely known and highly respected Canadian artist and writer whose paintings can currently sell for millions of dollars. His work was influential in the development of a specifically Canadian art scene in the twentieth century, which he ardently supported throughout his life. Although his prominent and wealthy family background was piously Presbyterian and Baptist, and his mother joined the Church of Christ, Scientist at about 1910, Harris was a devoted and active theosophist for much of his adult life. He probably came into contact with theosophy in 1909, at about the age of twenty-five. He became associated with the Theosophical Society in around 1920, at the age of about thirty-five, and became a formal member of the Toronto Lodge of the International Theosophical Society in 1924.1 His active involvement with the society occurred after the forming of the Canadian Group of

1 The International Society was founded in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Henry Steel Olcott, and William Quan Judge. The first Canadian theosophical lodge was chartered in Toronto in 1891, when Harris would have been about six years old. In 1920 there were eighteen Canadian lodges, and that year the monthly The Canadian Theosophist began publication. In 1922 there were 962 theosophists associated with the Canadian branch of the society (established in 1920) and three lodges located in the Toronto area. The Toronto Theosophical Society had some prominent members, including Frederick Banting, Arthur Lismer, Flora MacDonald Denison, J. E. H. MacDonald, Roy Mitchell, Albert Smythe, and A. D. Watson. In the 1920s, the United States had about seven thousand members, and in 1927 there were an estimated forty to forty-five thousand members worldwide. In 1998 the International Theosophical Society had about five thousand members in the United States and about thirty thousand worldwide. See, Na_629.html; Bruce F. Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), esp. 176; Ann Davis, The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting 1920–1940 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 21, 97; Peter Larisey, Light for a Cold Land: Lawren Harris’s Work and Life—An Interpretation (Toronto: Dundurn, 1992), 20, 46; and Dennis Reid, Atma Buddhi Manas: The Later Work of Lawren S. Harris (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1985), 12.


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Seven2—landscape painters who introduced in the 1920s what came to be an influential Canadian art movement with a strong nationalistic focus. In 1933 Harris helped to organize the Canadian Group of Painters, and in 1938 he contributed to the founding of the Transcendental Painting Group in New Mexico.3 Throughout this period he was a committed and active theosophist, and he published essays and contributed to radio broadcasts on the topic.4 This faith orientation towards the theosophical tradition continued for the rest of his life. Scholars agree that some of the theosophical influences on Harris’s view were books by Annie Besant, Curupumullage Jinarajadasa, William Quan Judge, and Charles Webster Leadbeater. Besant, Jinarajadas, and Leadbeater, who were leading figures in Indian theosophy, visited and lectured in Toronto in 1897 and 1926; 1924; and 1900 and 1904, respectively. Indian membership always constituted the largest section of the Theosophical Society, which was centred in Adyar, Chennai, India, in 1882. Key beliefs and ideas were developed by some members of the Adyar group, who contributed to the wide-ranging influence that the society gained internationally in the early twentieth century.5 In the area of the visual arts, the 2 Other members, whom Harris met between 1910 and 1912, were Franklin Carmichael, A. Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. Macdonald, and Frederick Varley. Their first exhibition was in 1920 and their last in 1931. 3 This group—including Emil Bisttram, Raymond Jonson, and Agnes Pelton—embraced a form of spiritual abstraction. Joseph Wolin suggests that through his work in New Mexico, Lawren Harris played “an important role in the history of modernism in the United States.” Andrew Hunter, Lawren Stewart Harris: A Painter’s Progress (New York: Americas Society, 2000), 8. 4 Harris published a number of essays in The Canadian Theosophist: “Revelation of Art in Canada,” 7, no. 5 (1926): 85–88; “Strength,” 8, no. 5 (1927): 104; “Science and the Soul,” 12, no. 10 (1931): 298–300; “Theosophy and Art,” 14, nos. 5–6 (1933): 129–132, 161–166; and “Theosophy and the Modern World: War and Europe,” 14, no. 9 (1933): 281–288. Also in December 1933 he organized a series of radio broadcasts in Toronto on topics in theosophy, including one on karma and reincarnation, another on basic theosophical principles, and one on justice, which he himself broadcast. In 1949, he also published Abstract Painting: A Disquisition (1949; Toronto: Rous & Mann, 1954). 5 Led by Albert Smythe, a leading figure of theosophy in Canada, some Canadian theosophists privately and publicly criticized the Adyar group on certain controversial issues, including the latter’s support of Co-Freemasonry, the Liberal Catholic Church, and the Order of the Star of the East, as well as their defence of Leadbeater following criticisms of his teachings on masturbation and accusations of inappropriate relations with boys under his care. Nevertheless, Jinarajadasa and Besant were well received by Canadian theosophists during their visits to Toronto in the 1920s. This essay will clarify some of the influences of the thought of Besant, Leadbeater, and Jinarajadas on Lawren Harris’s view of art. I do not know where Harris stood on the internal issues facing the International Theosophical Society of his day, nor the extent to which he embraced certain theosophical claims and views that he does not mention in his writings. For a detailed discussion of

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society influenced Paul Gauguin, Lawren Harris, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Arthur Lismer, and Piet Mondrian. Theosophy provided a religious framework within which these artists could understand their own spiritual experiences and aspirations. In his 1931 essay “Science and the Soul,” Harris acknowledged the great advances of the physical sciences in many areas of life but noted its limitations in the area of spiritual consciousness. He felt that theosophy had provided this “science of consciousness” that follows laws of movement and transformation that are beyond the ken of the physical sciences.6 In his writings Harris was specially interested in the significance of theosophy for art, and it is clear that certain themes of theosophy substantially influenced his paintings. This paper illustrates significant ways that Lawren Harris re-imagined theosophy in his thoughts about art and in the colours and compositions of some of his painting. To highlight this influence, it focuses on four of Harris’s paintings, in drawing them into comparative study with certain core claims, images, and colours given in theosophical aesthetics. Although these paintings are not among his most famous, they are interesting pieces that represent different stylistic periods or phases of his career. The paper also reflects in the conclusion on the nature and significance of Harris’s thought and painting as a possible response or option to contemporary materialist theories of art, drawing briefly on related ideas espoused by Wassily Kandinsky and proposed in modern art therapy and practical theology. Key Theosophical Ideas In this section of this essay I will outline and analyze some theosophical ideas that are key in understanding and appreciating the theosophical view of art and spirituality. This will provide the context for a critical

the Canadian responses to internal issues of the International Theosophical Society, see Gillian McCann, “A New Dharma for the Nation: The Toronto Theosophical Society and Albert Smythe 1891–1945” (PhD diss., University of Toronto, 2002), 188–239. McCann cites the dates for the Toronto visits of Besant, Leadbeater, and Jinarajadas (139, 234–237), and she provides interesting discussions of the Leadbeater controversy (136–152) and of the general influence of theosophy on the Canadian Group of Seven (244–254). See also her new book, Gillian McCann, Vanguard of the New Age: The Toronto Theosophical Society, 1891–1945 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012). 6 Lawren Harris, “Science and the Soul,” 299.


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exploration in later sections of the ways in which Harris re-imagined the theosophical perspective through his writing and painting. In developing their spiritual perspective, theosophists are influenced by a wide variety of Hindu, Buddhist, Neoplatonic, and Western esoteric ideas. They make claims about the natural and spiritual worlds, evolutionary change and transformation, life after death, and the religious ideal. In metaphysics and anthropology, for example, theosophists understand reality to consist of seven planes or levels of existence: the divine world or Source (Adi); the monadic plane of the creative Logos (Anupadaka); the spiritual plane of individuated souls (Atma-Nirvāṇa); the intuitive world of archetypal forms (Buddhi); the level of sensory and purely intellectual thought forms (Mental); the plane of vital life force, desires, feelings, and emotions (Astral); and the realm of matter (Physical).7 The creation of spiritual and natural worlds and human beings occurs through the emanation of the divine Logos. In this rather complex cosmological picture, the essential aspect of human beings is their individuated soul or cosmic self, which becomes embodied in each reincarnation by the various elements of the first four levels of reality. In this view, human beings consist of inter-blended physical, astral, mental, and causal bodies that correspond to aspects of the five created realms and that allow them to participate in these planes or levels of being. Each realm of existence consists of finer or more subtle material substance, and functions within its own set of distinct laws. So those aspects of human beings that correspond to these specific levels of being participate in these planes: the physical body enables a person to act in the material world, the astral body enables a person to feel and desire emotional experiences, and the mental body enables a person to think. The causal body connects a person with the higher spiritual worlds and enables one to grow morally and spiritually in line with this transcendent nature.8 Normally these bodies are combined in a person’s being, so remain largely indistinguishable, though their various functions can be clearly differentiated. The ideal of theosophy is referred to as self-realization or self-knowledge, as the embodied soul is gradually transformed through its various life 7 C. W. Leadbeater, Man Visible and Invisible (1902; Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1971), see esp. plate 4. 8 Leadbeater writes, “The causal body is, so to speak, the ‘home’ of the [higher Self ]. It serves as a vehicle of abstract thought and as a storehouse for the essence of all experience gained through the various incarnations.” It is “a complex of vibratory possibilities which will influence future actions and experiences; it is termed ‘causal’ because, in this sense, it is the realm of causes.” Man Visible and Invisible, 126.

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experiences and its opening to immanent divine spirit. The goal is for a person to integrate her spiritual self with the realities of her personal empirical existence. In a specific reincarnation, the higher spiritual self of the person enters into these interconnected mental, astral, and physical bodies in order to participate in these levels of life. The higher self thus comes under the influence of the diverse emotional and intellectual functions and needs of the individual, and the person finds herself immersed in a battlefield of conflicting desires and interests. A person possesses certain ego-oriented instincts and desires associated with one’s physical body-consciousness, as well as the emotional vitality of the astral body and the innate curiosity of one’s mental body. Referring to these basic feelings and impulses as “elementals,” C. Jinarajadasa claims, “Each of these three bodies has a life and a consciousness of its own, quite distinct from the life and consciousness of the Personality who uses them. This ‘body consciousness’ of each vehicle is known as the ‘mental elemental’ of the mind body, the ‘desire elemental’ of the astral body, and the ‘physical elemental’ of the physical body.” These elementals are involved in a dynamic process, continuously seeking sensory-mental experiences.9 Within this rather complicated theological anthropology, the spiritual/ existential problem of life is clear: a person is easily and naturally carried away by the primary instincts and desires of her or his physical, astral, and mental selves. The source of evil in the world is the inability of the higher self to control the selfish impulses and desires of the physical, astral, and mental bodies, and to bring them in line with the divine wisdom and ideal of life.10 On the contrary, people are called to seek out and nourish attitudes and functions that are useful to the awakening and transformation of one’s higher self in relation to one’s embodied personality. The spiritual ideal is to become aware of one’s higher self and to bring one’s mind, emotional desires, and physicality into the service of these

9 C. Jinarajadasa, First Principles of Theosophy (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1921), 98–99. He also comments, “The desire elemental likes the astral body to be roused, to have in fact ‘a rousing time’; variety, novelty, excitement are what it wants on its downward arc of life. The mental elemental does not like the mind to be held to one thought, and it is restless, and craves as many thought vibrations as it can induce its owner to give; . . . [the spiritual Self is] the owner of the astral and mental bodies” (101). 10 As Jinarajadasa describes the dynamic, “The Higher Self ‘puts down’ a part of himself into incarnation, for the work of transforming experience into faculty.” He also writes, “The wicked man is not a wicked soul; he is but the representative in an earthly body of an undeveloped soul, whose energies are too feeble as yet to control his physical agent.” First Principles, 102, 64.


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spiritual levels of being.11 The spiritual goal—what is called “nirvana”—is the full realization or actualization of the soul in its current embodiment. It is the perfect manifestation of the higher self in the physical, astral, and mental planes, free of ego impulses and desires associated with these lower levels of being. All life experiences are then transformed into faculties that “reflect” a person’s “hidden Divine Nature.”12 A person’s spiritual consciousness becomes wholly integrated with these lower levels of being, which means she or he becomes free of individuated selfish desires. Then the embodied person becomes an extension or conduit of the divine source. The Role of Art and Beauty in Theosophy In this theosophical view of the cosmos and human nature and spiritual transformation, the role of art and beauty is quite significant. People exist at different levels of moral and spiritual development, depending upon the degree to which they have integrated aspects of their higher spiritual self with other levels of their being. Higher developed people—the highest of whom theosophists call adepts or masters—have extraordinary insight and wisdom and are thus specially able to help others to grow morally and spiritually. Artists are thought to possess unusual potential in intuiting spiritual truths and giving it expression through artistic mediums. According to theosophy, the higher planes of the cosmos contain various beings and realities, including elemental thought forms and vital energy, disembodied human beings, fairies or nature spirits, and angels or devas (celestial beings), both good and evil. These higher levels also include the creative principles and universal laws or thoughts that underlie and structure our differentiated material world—what Plato and Neoplatonists called the ideal forms or archetypes of the phenomenal world. Theosophists speak of “universal thought-feelings” of the buddhic realm or plane mentioned in the last section—the realities of which are very powerful and stimulating and can be experienced intuitively as profound emotion or intellectual truth.13 The best artistic works represent and reveal these ideal forms and archetypes in exceptional ways. They send

11  Ibid., 102–103. 12 Ibid., 106. 13 C. Jinarajadasa, Art as Will and Idea (1927; Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1954), 68.

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impressions through the senses, emotions, and intellect that can intuitively awaken one’s perception to the higher spiritual realities that the work conveys in the physical plane. Jinarajadasa describes this aesthetic dynamic: “Whenever there is a soaring to the Buddhic plane, there is at once a return, and a flood of Buddhi descends on the consciousness. It is this descent which always characterises art in its true manifestations.”14 Exceptional art in our physical world can stimulate in people the realization of these higher spiritual truths of the buddhic plane. One is led by great art to intuit the ideal forms that underlie the phenomenal material world and actually give it its aesthetic structure and coherence. Extraordinary art is uplifting and inspiring. It contains and expresses this ideal beauty in greater measure than other natural or created phenomena, and advanced and insightful artists are able to perceive this underlying reality and draw this out in their work. In his 1933 essay “Theosophy and Art,” Harris argues along these lines, in associating beauty with a higher plane of being that underlies material creation, vital life energy, and the senses and the mind. Beauty, he writes, is “the underlying, informing spirit of the universe . . . . It is primarily, an elevating, transforming and unifying power, perhaps the greatest there is.”15 It is associated with the universal principles and ultimate values to which a person is called to bring her life and work in harmony. Manifested in the natural world and especially in artistic creations, it is a power at work in the human movement toward moral and spiritual evolution and fulfillment. The witness and contemplation of the beauty in artistic works stimulates a person in positive ways. The arts, Harris writes, are “a high training of the soul, essential to the soul’s growth, to its unfoldment . . . they mirror for us, in some degree, the essential order, the dynamic harmony, the ultimate beauty, that we are all in search of, whether consciously or not.”16

14 Ibid., 73. Also, he writes, “If the thought produced there is of such a nature that it does not rest in the lower mental plane, then it plunges, as it were, upwards, and makes a hole, so to say, in the division between the higher mental and the lower. Through this aperture, the mind, looking upwards, sees a universal thought of the higher mental plane” (72). Another form of aesthetic intuition described by Jinarajadasa occurs when the emotions and desires associated with the astral body are stimulated by the impression of the artistic work into a state of purified tranquility, which then can perfectly mirror the truths of the Buddhi plane (74–75). 15 Harris, “Theosophy and Art,” 130, 131. 16 Ibid., 130.


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Harris’s view of aesthetic experience was influenced by ideas espoused by contemporary Bloomsbury group members Clive Bell and Roger Fry concerning what they called “aesthetic emotion.” This unique experience is conveyed solely by the “significant form” of an art object, which provides its aesthetic significance or power.17 Bell claims generally that the source of great art is the “religious spirit,” while Fry speaks of it as “the depths of mysticism.”18 Harris goes into much more specific detail in clarifying the nature of the spiritual in art. He claims that aesthetics involves an intuitive faculty related to one’s higher self or soul. It is “an attitude which discloses the memory of the divine in us. It is intrinsic and the source of all harmony in life and is essentially creative.” It “implies a divine being within each one of us and to be disclosed over the ages by self-devised, creative effort and experience.” This aesthetic attitude transcends and determines the nature of ethical and mental aspects of life, as well as constituting the core and inspiring element of religion and morality. “It dictates conduct in terms of the universality of the higher self, . . .  It is inspired by, and aims at divine identity, because that again is alone appropriate to the soul.”19 About fifteen years later, in 1949, Harris writes on the special significance of abstract art in representing inner ideas, perceptions, thoughts, and emotions. Abstraction has extricated “art from imitation or representation of nature,”20 in opening one more directly to the higher spiritual world underlying and transcending phenomenal existence. Abstract art has allowed painting to become “self-contained and self-expressive,” in moving more directly to the spiritual ideas and energies that inspire and support the natural world. Shapes and colour combinations and varied gradations evoke different but specific responses in people, who can learn to appreciate the insight and meaning that abstract compositions convey. The true artist is involved in a universal language with which she can convey moral and spiritual truths according to her level of sensitivity, wisdom, and artistic skill. Harris writes, “Every great work in every one of 17 See, for example, Clive Bell, Art (1914; New York: Capricorn Books, G. P. Putnam Sons, 1957), 43–55; and Roger Fry, Vision and Design (1920; Harmondsworth, uk: Penguin Books, 1961), 231. Peter Larisey mentions this influence on Harris by Fry and Bell in Light for a Cold Land, 55, 57. 18 Bell, Art, 63; Fry, Vision and Design, 237. 19 Harris, “Theosophy and Art,” 161, 163, 164. 20 Harris, Abstract Painting, 7. William Hart comments, “Without doubt, the essay is the outstanding Canadian theoretical document on modern art.” William Hart, Lawren Harris: Theory and Practice of Abstract Art, 1932–1948 (Vancouver: Seymour, 1963), 3.

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the arts is pervaded by a ‘presence’, an inner life, informing its medium, its design, order and rhythm. . . .  While every art differs in its approach and medium and thus evokes a somewhat different response, the ‘presence’ when it pervades the performance or the work of art is the same informing spirit that creates all our values and qualities . . . , and that points to the spiritual solidarity of mankind.” It is this “presence” in an artist’s work that gives the work its “enduring ‘meaning’.”21 Abstract Art and Theosophical Ideas Harris’s turn to abstract painting came only later in his career. His earlier work focused on urban and natural landscapes of Toronto, including attention to impoverished neighbourhoods. In 1930, at the age of forty-five, he still maintained that representational art had “greater possibilities of depth and meaning” than abstract art, insofar as it might provide a “home for the spirit.” Canadians, he argued in a letter to Emily Carr, “sensed the spirit first and always through the life and forms of nature.” “Profundity to me is the interplay in unity of the resonance of mother earth and the spirit of eternity. Which, though it sounds incongruous means nature and the abstract qualities fused in one work.”22 This fusing of abstract and representational art can be seen within the evolution of his work. William Hart notes three phases in Harris’s shift from representational art to pure abstract expressionism: the introduction of abstract elements into mainly figurative works, the shift to minimalist figuration, and finally his work in pure abstraction. The first phase, leading up to the 1930s, involves Harris beginning to abstract elements in his Canadian urban and landscape paintings. Painted sometime between 1925 and 1930, Red House in Winter (figure 1) is a layered composition that captures in quite simple form and colour a house and yard in Canadian

21 Harris, Abstract Painting, 13, 15–16. 22 1930 letter to Emily Carr, 1930, qtd. by Peter Larisey, Light for a Cold Land, 51. Also, Hart quotes from “Revelation of Art in Canada,” 85–86, in illustrating Harris’s nationalist spirit of that period: “We are in the fringe of the great North and its living whiteness, its loneliness and replenishment, its resignations and release, its call and answer—its cleansing rhythms. It seems that the top of the continent is a source of spiritual flow that will ever shed clarity into the growing race of America, and we Canadians being closest to this source seem destined to produce an art somewhat different from our Southern fellows— an art more spacious, of a greater living quiet, perhaps of a more certain conviction of eternal values.” Hart, Lawren Harris, 9. Harris was also influenced by Scandinavian painters E. Munch, G. Fjastad, and H. Sohlberg in this shift of focus.


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Figure 1. Lawren Harris, Red House, Winter, ca. 1925, 88 × 103 cm, Hart House Permanent Collection, University of Toronto

winter following a heavy snow, with a tenement outlined faintly in the background. Harris was seeking to uncover the key elements of a scene in order to express the universal experience it represents—so that all observers of the painting could share in the underlying essence of its nature that he was appreciating. Harris writes at the time on his method, “the more direct my experience of that is, the more I permit that house to dictate to me how I shall paint it and the more certain I am to arrive at pure experience in my art and to create an intense equivalent in terms of my art of my first hand experience. If my experience is clear and deep enough, the life I get into my picture of that house and the formal relations it dictates for its own expression will become universal.”23 23 Larisey, Light for a Cold Land, 75. Both Clive Bell and Roger Fry also stressed the universal form in their theories of art. Roger Fry writes, for example, “the greatest art seems to concern itself most with the universal aspects of natural form, to be the least preoc-

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This endeavour to discover and reveal the universal in the particular was also applied to his landscape painting. Compositionally, Harris’s nature scenes become gradually less detailed and more simple, where particulars give way to universal shapes of geometric form that are often depicted in a stark stillness and with a limited palette and tonal range. In the 1920s, Harris’s series of Lake Superior paintings evidence clearly the shift toward the abstract. Ian Thom writes, “The forms of the landscapes pared down and simplified, the rhythms seem generalized rather than specific; a strong spiritual feeling permeates all of these works.”24 Later, a series of arctic paintings constitute the most abstracted of his landscapes and perhaps the most spiritual of his landscape works. William Hart speaks of a more formal spirit to these paintings, in noting a decorative arabesques motif running through them, where geometric forms are used to “impose strict compositional control upon the majestic landscape.”25 We can see this tendency clearly in Isolation Peak (figure 2). Peter Larisey notes how the pencil drawings and painting sketches Harris did in preparation for Isolation Peak, which was shown first in 1930, are much more realistic and detailed, and how this painting does not represent any individual mountain. Harris, Larisey writes, was simplifying “nature so that almost all elements natural to the scene are sacrificed to the spiritualizing vision.”26 Harris himself acknowledges this seeking for the spiritual truths that underlie “the confusing, shifting and ephemeral veils of nature,” in order to penetrate to the “great simplicity and grandeur of her eternal forms.” He attempts to represent the essence of the Canadian landscape—the underlying principles or forms of the natural phenomena—her “aspect, moods and spirit.”27 The second phase in abstraction occurred when Harris stopped using figurative subjects altogether or only in a most minimalistic manner. He began this form of non-objective abstraction around 1940, about the same time as he co-founded the Transcendental Group of Painters in Santa Fe.

cupied with particulars. The greatest artists appear to be most sensitive to those qualities of natural objects which are the least obvious in ordinary life precisely because, being common to all visible objects, they do not serve as marks of distinction and recognition.” Fry, Vision and Design, 231. 24 Hunter, Lawren Stewart Harris, 29, 38. 25 Hart, Lawren Harris, 8. 26 Larisey, Light for a Cold Land, 103. 27 Harris, “Art Is the Distillate of Life,” 21, unpublished paper, and “Creative Art in Canada” The McGill News (Supplement) 10, no. 1 (December 1928) 10–11, qtd. by Larisey, Light for a Cold Land, 103, 112.


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Figure 2. Lawren Harris, Isolation Peak, ca. 1929, 107.3 × 128 cm, Hart House Permanent Collection, University of Toronto

It is in this phase that we can begin to see more clearly how lines, shapes, and colours that are brought together compositionally evoke specific feelings and ideas according to the spiritual principles of theosophy. It begins with his turn to geometric abstractions. In their book Thought-Forms (1901) Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater proposed a system that explored correspondences of colours, lines, and shapes with certain feelings and ideas, claiming that clairvoyant mediums have recognized and confirmed these associations. As I mentioned in a previous section, all life is “vivified” or brought alive by what theosophists called an elemental essence—a subtle energy that surrounds and stimulates objects. In that regard, human beings are said to have an aura, which is the elemental essence of their astral and mental bodies. Emotions and thoughts stimulate vibrations in one’s aura, which vivifies its subtle or etheric matter according to the nature of the emotions or thoughts. Specific emotional and mental thought-forms thus radiate out as subtle matter from the subject to affect and influence other people who are open, vulnerable, or attracted to them, often unconsciously.

re-imagining theosophy through canadian art


Annie Besant gives a positive example, providing a theoretical account of the dynamics of prayers of protection: “A thought of love and of desire to protect, directed strongly towards some beloved object, creates a form which goes to the person thought of, and remains in his aura as a shielding and protecting agent; it will seek all opportunities to serve, and all opportunities to defend, not by a conscious and deliberate action, but by a blind following out of the impulse impressed upon it, and it will strengthen friendly forces that impinge on the aura and weaken unfriendly ones.”28 The level of influence of both positive and negative thought-energies depends on the strength and clarity of the original thought or passion and the receptive openness of the affected person. From a moral-spiritual standpoint, people are to strive to rid themselves of all destructive feelings and impulses that direct and attract negative and distorted energy. According to theosophists, these vibrations of subtle matter have a particular form and colour that people with clairvoyant abilities can see and describe.29 They believe that certain physical colours and shapes are associated with and will stimulate particular emotions and thoughts in the viewer. In Thought-Forms, Besant and Leadbeater provide a detailed colour chart indicating some of these correspondences (figure 3), and they also give an extensive series of thought-form vibrations that they claim to have clairvoyantly perceived. These images were illustrated by certain friends: a “Mr John Varley, Mr Prince, and Miss Macfarlane.” F. Bligh Bond and an anonymous friend also contributed some of their own clairvoyant drawings to the collection.30 As one can see by the chart, colours are associated with specific affections and passions, both negative and positive. For example, Besant writes, “Red, of all shades from lurid brick-red to brilliant scarlet, indicates anger;” while positive “[a]ffection expresses itself in all shades of crimson and rose” and “pure pale rose marks that absolutely unselfish love which is possible only to higher natures.”31 A narcissistic devotion is indicated by a dark brown blue, while deep clear blue or violet corresponds to genuinely heartfelt spiritual adoration. Note, for example, the apparently spiritual shades of blue in Isolation Peak (figure 2). Shapes, such as the pyramidal 28 Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater, Thought-Forms (1902; Wheaton, il: Theosophical Publishing House, 1971), 23. 29 C. W. Leadbeater writes, “Every time that we think, we set in motion the mental matter within us, and a thought is clearly visible to a clairvoyant as a vibration in that matter, set up first of all within the man, and then affecting matter of the same degree of density in the world around him.” Man Visible and Invisible, 11. 30 Besant and Leadbeater, Thought-Forms, foreword. 31  Ibid., 19.


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Figure 3. Theosophical Key to the Meanings of Colours, from Thought-Forms, frontispiece

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shape of the mountain of Isolation Peak, also reflect and evoke specific thoughts and passions, according to theosophical theory, as I will illustrate in my analysis of an abstract painting that has come to be called War Painting (figure 4). In reflecting on Harris’s War Painting (1943), we find a predominantly pallid grey-blue background, which in the theosophy colour scheme indicates a form of fetish worship that is motivated by fear. Certain kinds of yellow-browns denote for theosophists an intellectual selfishness, and the grey-brown-yellow triangular figures jutting up from the base confirm this sense of distorted religiousness, in that they are similar to the form of an Upward Rush of Devotion, which is a highly spiritualized blue-white colour (figure 5). This blue-white triangle or pyramid is thought by theosophists to model purely altruistic human devotion, as it has been drawn and coloured by theosophists in this image of Upward Rush of Devotion. In War Painting (figure 4), these triangular-pyramid shapes representing devotion are a rather harsh grey-brown colour with supporting beams of scarlet red, symbolizing avarice and anger respectively. Also the tips of these upwardthrusting triangles in War Painting flatten out or are broken off, indicating a twisted or broken sense of devotion—perhaps signifying perverted nationalistic attitudes and distorted socio-cultural ideals associated with the fascist movements of that period during the Second World War when this picture was painted. The theosophical reading of this painting is further confirmed in its relation to the shapes in the idealized theosophical Response to Devotion (figure 6). In the ideal image that theosophists give of this form, the intensely spiritualized white-blue triangular waves of the higher Buddhi plane of reality descend gracefully toward the up-reach of what Annie Besant calls “the splendid spire of highly developed devotion.” She writes that selfless devotional thought and feeling hold “open a door (to speak symbolically) of dimension equivalent to its own diameter, and thus furnishes the requisite channel through which the divine force appropriate to the higher plane can pour itself into the lower with marvellous results, not only for the thinker but for others.”32 In the case of War Painting (figure 4), the very negative ascending emotional-thought severely restricts the descent of the light and power from the higher plane. The spires at the top of the painting remain frozen above in horizontal conditions, blocking the space 32 Ibid., 33, 36.


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Figure 4. Lawren Harris, Abstract (War Painting), 1943, 107 × 77 cm, Hart House Permanent Collection, University of Toronto

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Figure 5. Upward Rush of Devotion, from Thought-Forms, fig. 15



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Figure 6. The Response to Devotion, from Thought-Forms, fig. 17

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from any significant downward spiritual movement. The white circle at the base perhaps represents the underlying spiritual self of a person being held in a kind of static constriction by negative enclosing forms, which severely limit the downward stream of spiritual blue-white light that just barely illuminates the higher self and the scene as a whole. The greyblack colours of the ceiling might represent an enclosing and restricting malice, and, as I said, the flaring strips of lurid red suggest brutish anger. War Painting is a vivid illustration of theosophical ideas, in the way in which it contrasts directly with colours and figurative shapes that theosophists associate with their sense of ideal spiritual devotion. Together, these colours and shapes give an ominous and even menacing mood to the work, though the descending light brings a penetrating calmness or relief or hope to the painting. Apart from this influence of theosophy on Harris’s abstract paintings, it is interesting to note that the painted illustrations of forms throughout Thought-Forms constitute the first abstract works of modern time. Sixten Ringbom notes the observation of Robsjohn-Gibbings in 1947 “that these theosophical artists ‘had produced the first purely abstract paintings’ ” a decade before Kandinsky introduced pure abstraction to the European art world.33 Ringbom’s work illustrates some of the theosophical influences of this book on Kandinsky’s work. Both Kandinsky and Harris felt that their abstract paintings were creatively representing factual spiritual realities. War Painting seems a strikingly straightforward and vivid illustration of how Harris re-imagined theosophical theory, colour, and form in his creative abstract work. From a moral-spiritual perspective, it might be read as a powerful visual statement on the severe distortions and horrors that had entered the cultural subconscious of the Western world and were manipulating masses of people—one that might help to break the spell that fascism held for so many of that period, in freeing people from the subliminal manipulation of this dark elemental energy and moving them forward spiritually. In the last phase of Harris’s evolution to abstraction, he shifted from a focus on geometric abstraction to an abstraction that was more spontaneous and moving. He himself wrote in 1949 of approaching abstract painting with an openness to various methods, styles, subjects, and visions.

33 Sixten Ringbom, “Art in ‘The Epoch of the Great Spiritual’: Occult Elements in the Early Theory of Abstract Painting,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 29 (1966): 405n103.


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Figure 7. Abstraction 103, L.S.H. Holdings, Vancouver

Abstraction 103 (figure 7) from 1964 contains a striking motif of mystical union along the lines of theosophical spirituality. Peter Larisey observes a rather surprising “erotic quality” to the painting, given Harris’s own commitment to celibacy for much of his later life, and Larisey aptly calls the painting “The Eros of Light.”34 Reflecting also the ideal symbol of Upward Rush of Devotion (figure 5), the ascending blue pyramid of Abstraction 103 transforms into a half-moon image in its unifying conjunction with or penetration of the divine Logos. This divine emanative source is perhaps depicted in the spiralling golden-yellow mandala that underlies and warmly supports the whole painting and extends beyond it. According to theosophical theory, this mandala seems to symbolize the light of the divine wisdom or intellect, while the pale blue ascending disc represents the idealistic devotion and high spirituality of the self, in movement toward mystical union. Abstraction 103 is another strong example of how theosophical mysticism and theology continued to influence 34 Larisey, Light for a Cold Land, 177.

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Harris’s abstract painting very late in his career. It visualizes the feelings of spiritual connection that underlies differentiated phenomenal reality, in directing and stimulating a person toward an ideal of ecstatic mystical communion with spiritual truth and realities. Despite this theosophical stress on a rather radical soul/body dualism that aspired to an ultimate transcendence of the body in mystical union, there is also the goal in theosophy of integrating spirit with other levels of being, which I mentioned in a previous section. Harris himself remained a remarkably active and social person for most of his life. His commitment to and involvement with collective art groups are well documented. Dennis Reid notes that Harris was seriously concerned for the “general conditions for cultural activity in Canada” and “the most energetic and imaginative spokesman in Canada for art and the interests of artists.”35 Indian theosophy, which has a rich history of social concern and action,36 provided inspiration for such socio-political involvement. It also formed the framework within which Harris could understand his artistic work as much more than a form of human enjoyment or as a simple means of representing nature. For Harris, art was a creative activity that possessed profound spiritual meaning and significance, which he understood in terms of theosophical concepts and beliefs that entered into and deeply coloured his artistic work. Concluding Remarks: On the Spiritual in Art What is the possible relevance of theosophy for art in the twenty-first century as it has been re-imagined through the visual art and theory of Lawren Harris? Harris’s paintings are currently very popular and valuable and are highly regarded by art experts. His significant status as artist and Canadian cultural figure gives his claims about spirituality in relation to art some initial credibility. Still, the evaluation of his beliefs needs to be 35 Reid, Atma Buddhi Manas, 41. 36 Members from the Theosophical Society of Adyar were active in the founding of the Indian National Congress and in consolidating the Indian independence movement, as well as very involved in improving the living conditions of women and outcastes in India, and in reviving Buddhism in Ceylon. See Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived, esp. 81–84, 122–125, 171–173. Also, prior to her conversion to theosophy, Annie Besant had extensive experience in socio-political activism in Great Britain through her work with the National Secularist Society and the secularist newspaper the National Reformer, and as a member of the socialist Fabian Society, the Social Democratic Federation, and the London School Board.


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set against the facts that theosophy came under serious charges of fraud with respect to paranormal phenomena associated with the early movement, and that Madame Blavatsky—a co-founder of the group—plagiarized in some of her writings. Moreover, serious concerns have been raised about the methodological orientation of the movement: a great many of its claims are not publicly verifiable, and its penchant for special inner knowledge and secrecy made it extremely vulnerable to speculative fantasy and false or deluded claims by some of those thought to be in communication with advanced or enlightened beings. Despite these major issues and other controversies surrounding the movement, it seems to me that some aspects of the writings of Besant, Leadbeater, and Jinarajadasa are quite thoughtful and interesting. Theosophy is a highly syncretic and speculative tradition that draws ideas from many religious traditions. While many of the metaphysical and anthropological details might be a kind of visionary conjecture—what one early commentator praised as “a wonderful fairytale”37—some of the more general claims about an inner essential self, a spiritual world and divine reality, and moral and spiritual integration and transformation, might be at least partially true. Perhaps one could draw more generally on Harris’s thought and painting in support of the claim that there are significant spiritual facets at the core of certain kinds of artistic expressions and objects—a claim that is at odds with most modern and postmodern views of art. On this issue, Harris himself was critical of artists who did not strive to illuminate “the divine aesthetic” or to serve “the urgent needs of . . . souls.” He disagreed with people who used art as a purely subjective form of sensual excitement, comfort, or entertainment, or as a mere medium of financial gain or propaganda.38 Harris’s critical evaluation of modern materialist views of art was influenced by Wassily Kandinsky’s analysis in Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1912)—the leading apology for spirituality in the arts in the early twentieth century. In a 2003 essay, “Reconsidering the Spiritual in Art,” Donald Kuspit claims that the spiritual crisis that Kandinsky observed in Western art is even more comprehensive today.

37 As observed by Beatrice Webb, a friend of Annie Besant, who also “saw value in” theosophy. Qtd by Anne Taylor, Annie Besant: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) 221. From Beatrice Webb, The Diary of Beatrice Webb, Vol ii, All the Good Things in Life, 1892–1905, eds. Norman and Jeanne Mackenzie (London: Virago, in association with the London School of Economics and Political Science, 1982) 322. 38 Harris, “Theosophy and Art,” 162, 129.

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Kuspit observes that we have entered the final stages of what he calls the “commodification,” “mediafication,” and “de-spiritualization” of art—a shifting to materialism that was influenced especially by art historian and critic Clement Greenberg.39 In the early 1940s, Greenberg declared there to be no inner life that might be mediated by art and no internal necessity to art. Art has to do solely with material phenomena—be it artistic mediums or social matter—that a person masters in a way that allows it to function as art. Greenberg claimed that modern abstract artists such as Kandinsky, Klee, Picasso, and others “derive their chief inspiration from the medium they work in. The excitement of their art seems to lie most of all in its pure preoccupation with the invention and arrangement of spaces, surfaces, shapes, colors, etc., to the exclusion of whatever is not necessarily implicated in these factors.”40 There is no trans-subjective spiritual source that is stimulated and manifested in an artist’s work—no underlying reality or truths apart from the subject and material mediums that might contribute to a transformative dynamic of the aesthetic process. Greenberg writes, “The very values in the name of which [the abstract artist] invokes the absolute are relative values, the values of aesthetics. And so he turns out to be imitating, not God—and here I use ‘imitate’ in its Aristotelian sense—but the disciplines and processes of art and literature themselves. This is the genesis of the ‘abstract.’ ”41 In contrast, artists like Harris and Kandinsky actually claim through their paintings to convey spiritual realities and mystical experience that transcend the distortions and necessities of the social and material worlds. Both artists thought that significant art is not determined by its social and natural mediums—that is, by the socio-political or philosophical statements it makes and the materials by which it is produced. Rather, it conveys an underlying internal creativity and freedom that has the power to reflect and stimulate transcendent spiritual experience and personal transformation. Both artists insisted that certain art has a spiritual power that enables the transcendence of social distortions and the constrictions of the narcissistic ego, uncovers a subjective freedom, and stimulates mystical experiences of underlying spiritual reality. Both agreed generally 39 Donald Kuspit, “Reconsidering the Spiritual in Art,” Blackbird 2, no. 1 (2003): 6–7. 40 Clement Greenberg, “Avante-Garde and Kitsch,” in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume I, Perceptions and Judgments, 1939–1944, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986) 9. 41  Greenberg, “Avante-Garde and Kitsch,” 8.


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that abstract art at its best represents spiritual truths or transformative experiences that lie dormant or exist potentially for the artist and the art aficionado. Art can help to awaken a person to her or his underlying inner self—to a trans-subjective presence—that draws the person into a transformative dynamic that moves her or him to a more insightful, creative, integrated, and contented sense of being. Their general view of the spiritual in art can be related to some modern theories of art therapy and contemporary pastoral theology. Art therapy is a process that encourages the discovery, exploration, and expression of images that represent one’s inner imagination and subconscious feelings, instincts, and thoughts.42 In the twentieth century, therapists discovered that the artistic process can help to stimulate restorative insights and bring cathartic relief from severe emotional conflict, distress, and disability for some patients. Art therapy can provide life-affirming meaning, personal transformation, and even existential fulfillment, individuation, or self-integration. It can stimulate emotional, physical, and spiritual healing that is also sometimes indirectly and directly related to pastoral theology.43 Some recent proposals from contemporary Christian theologians include art more formally within the category of practical theology, where it can serve a sacramental function in manifesting aspects of the Divine within the context of spiritual devotion and worship. Some theologians claim that sacred art traditionally has functioned this way in Christianity. For example, Karen Stone connects some art with the inspiring and empowering movements of the Holy Spirit, in emphasizing the capacities of art to deepen one’s spiritual sensibilities and to draw one into an inner awareness of profound depth and mystery.44 Traditionally thought to assist and even to stimulate religious meditation and contemplation, some art is regarded today by some theologians as a form of non-verbal prayer that involves an immediate emphasis on embodied tactile sensation and intuitive creativity that goes well beyond the parameters of traditional vocal and contemplative prayer. For many people, this intentional 42 For an outline of key features of art therapy and its historical development, see Cathy Malchiodi, Art Therapy Sourcebook, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2007) esp. 1–62. 43 See, for example, Mimi Farelly-Hansen, ed., Spirituality and Art Therapy: Living the Connection (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley, 2001). 44 Stone writes, “In the materials and the structure of art, humans can see and be grasped by the inner working of the Spirit, sense it through space and movement, hear in its silence the soul’s song.” Karen Stone, Image and Spirit: Finding Meaning in Visual Art (Minneapolis: Augsberg, 2003), 15. See esp. 2–43.

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acknowledgement of artistic creativity as an action of prayer has opened up a meaningful and powerful religious resource.45 These contemporary approaches of art therapy and art theology parallel and to some extent echo the broad views of the spiritual in art put forward by Harris and Kandinsky. Against postmodern materialist perspectives, these writers agree generally that there is an underlying spiritual source of wisdom and strength to which a person can relate or connect through processes of artistic creativity and can express through diverse creative mediums. The affect of this movement can involve healing energy, meaningful insight, and positive moral-spiritual surrender, integration, and transformation. However, in affirming the nature and significance of the spiritual in art, Harris and Kandinsky did not appear to provide actual arguments in support of their stances against materialistic perspectives. What they did was paint pictures, so to speak, of art and the processes of art—written and visual images—that opposed the materialist point of view. As Patrick Beldio observes, “Modernist artists are more about providing manifestos than arguments”46—more about making declarations that announce the kind of vision and art they advocate than about developing systematic reasons in support of their claims. As such, I doubt that the views of Kandinsky and Harris have had, or will have, much impact upon the modern and postmodern opposition to the spiritual in art, though they might give some comfort and inspiration to people whose aesthetic experience corresponds roughly or even vaguely with the general views of Harris and Kandinsky on the spiritual in art. The problem is that both sides of the debate seem to function from the perspective of basic dogmas unsupported by external evidence, where one side claims that only material and solely subjective elements enter into the artist’s world, while the other maintains that the artist’s vision is constituted by spiritual truths and realities as well as material and subjective elements. The basic issue is that we are not able to adjudicate this debate from a neutral position outside of the subjective experience of the claims, so we are left with the ambiguity of this postmodern debate between materialist and spiritually minded artists and art aficionados. Still, by engaging a theosophical framework in understanding and practising his art, Lawren Harris not only re-imagined and extended 45 See, for example, Catherine Moon, “Prayer, Sacraments, Grace,” in Spirituality and Art Therapy: Living the Connection, ed. Mimi Farelly-Hansen (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley, 2001), 29–51. 46 Patrick Beldio to author, June 23, 2011.


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theosophy in interesting and notable ways through his writing and painting, he also made an intriguing case in support of an essential spiritual core and context for art, in contrast to contemporary materialist perspectives. Furthermore, although his work is not sufficient to resolve the disagreement between materialist and spiritual views of art, this conflict itself and the uncertainty of the debate are quite intelligible within the framework of the metaphysics, anthropology, and spiritual ideals of theosophy.47

47 This paper was first published in Toronto Journal of Theology 28, No. 1 (2012) 81–104. My thanks to Abrahim Khan, editor of TJT, and to Anne Marie Corrigan, Vice President, Journals, University of Toronto Press, for permission to republish this paper here. This paper is dedicated to Professors Harold Coward and Ronald Neufeldt, who have been very supportive of my academic work, especially as a student and post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Religious Studies, University of Calgary. The topic of this paper was inspired by the work on Lawren Harris by my colleague and friend at Regis College, Peter Larisey, SJ. He provided helpful guidance. I also thank Patrick Beldio and Gillian McCann for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Special thanks are due to Susan Harris Ritchie—granddaughter of Lawren Harris—and to the Justine M. Barnicke Gallery of Hart House, University of Toronto, for permission to use images of Lawren Harris’s paintings in this essay. Denise Ryner of the Gallery and Peter Larisey provided hi-res files of these images.

Re-imagining Hindu Beginnings in Canada Paul Younger Indian immigrants began to flood into Canada in the 1960s and 1970s, and a decade or so later temple communities began to develop wherever the immigrants had settled. Most observers thought that this was a natural sequence of events and gave it little thought before offering one or another of the standard explanations that one hears today. I watched these events closely at the time and have long felt that there was something lacking in the standard explanations, but until now had not had time to re-imagine what it was that I found missing. In this essay I will try to belatedly offer a re-imagination of those events. I will begin by citing the standard explanations and suggesting why each seems inadequate to me. The Standard Explanations The most common explanation of Hindu beginnings in Canada is that Indian immigrants arrived and with each of them came a package of Hindu practices. Anthropologists have long objected to treating culture as a ‘package’ of ideas and practices associated with a given population and have tried to teach observers to look for the processes of thought and action as people work through their life choices. Unfortunately, in the study of religion recent excitement has focussed on the ‘diaspora’ forms of religion associated with the phenomenal increase in human migration during the last half century, and this focus included a careless return to the language of ‘packaging’ as people hurriedly noted the arrival of Hindu practice in a place such as Canada. From a considerable distance it might seem adequate to imagine that the Indian immigrants of Canada opened a generic package of Hindu practices appropriate to the diaspora anywhere in the world, but to those of us on the ground in Canada that seems not only inadequate but totally contrary to what happened. As we will try to show later in this essay, Hindu immigrants in Canada hesitated for some time before forming temple communities, and they learned a great deal during that time about other communities of Canada and especially about the Sikh community that was already established. The story of the establishing of the first Hindu temple communities of Canada only makes sense when told within the context of that time of reflexion.


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A second explanation of the beginnings of Hindu life in Canada starts with the history of the Canadian link with colonial Britain and assumes that in Canada there might be some continuation of the demeaning ‘orientalist’ perspective in the way conversations between colonial-minded Europeans and Hindus take place. The earliest of the Hindu immigrants to Canada were indeed prepared for some of that demeaning perspective, and the doctors and university professors who arrived in that era either recruited Vedanta speakers to speak on Hinduism and Science or themselves read up on Vivekananada’s ‘counter-orientalist’ style of argument. This brief era came and went, however, without any interest on the part of older Canadians, and Indians soon learned that their earlier contact with English-medium schools had left them more British than anyone they would meet in Canada. Canadian nationalism was indeed a surprising discovery for the immigrants, and with George Grant and Pierre Elliot Trudeau asserting it so vigorously in the 1960s and 70s the central question for the Hindu immigrants was not how to deal with demeaning ‘orientalist’ questions but how they should go about bringing the Hindu community into the heart of the new multi-cultural Canada just taking form. Among U.S. based scholars of Hinduism, a third explanation of Hindu beginnings prevails that argues that there is little to study in Canada because Canadian Hindus and U.S. Hindus arrived at about the same time and must have developed in much the same way. There are perhaps a few ways in which this imagined similarity is the case, but early concern about building ‘show’ temples for the U.S. public, and the, somewhat later, bitter disputes about the content of university and school book descriptions of Hinduism in the U.S. are unknown in Canada. Learning to speak up at what has been described as ‘the multi-cultural table’ was central to the life of Hindus in the U.S., while Hindus in Canada set about developing hundreds of quiet community enclaves where they could worship as they chose. Finally, for both scholars and the public within Canada the simplest explanation of the beginnings of Hinduism took them back to the sudden arrival on the west coast of British Columbia of five thousand Indian immigrants in 1905. Although these immigrants were called ‘Hindu’ by the uninformed public at the time, they were actually Sikh, and the dramatic story of their unsuccessful effort to expand their number at the time led both those who remained in their community and the textbooks of Canada to believe that the Sikhs were the ‘leaders’ of a major South Asian immigration to Canada. The actual situation was much more complex than that. For the Sikh community of Canada, this bitter early experience meant that when the wider immigration did occur a half century later

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they would fight both for their political rights within the constitutional framework of Canada and for their cultural right to be distinguished from the Hindu and Muslim immigrants arriving at that time. The separate development of the Sikh and Hindu communities within Canada was obvious in British Columbia from the early 1960s, but it took some time to become clear to Hindus in central Canada. By the mid 1980s, the Sikh community’s wish in this regard was, however, clear, and Hindus began actively developing their own distinctive sense of identity. Because this major difference between the way the Sikhs and Hindus have experienced Canada has not been clearly recognized in the scholarly literature, the distinctive features of the Hindu experience are often blurred.1 Re-imagining the Canada of the 1960s Canada evolved relatively slowly. Unlike the United States that started its history with an early Declaration of Independence, a Frontier that marched across the continent and a Civil War, in Canada a variety of settlers found niches along the northern fringe of the continent where they could survive the harsh winter and live quietly in their chosen way.2 By the mid-nineteenth century these different groups of settlers realized that they needed to support one another, and they began to develop some federal forms of government in 1867. Soon they hesitantly linked themselves together with railways, and called for immigrants to help them with the labour needed on every hand. On the other hand, the federal political forms emphasized the cultural autonomy of the different regions and it was not yet clear what a national identity would look like. As we have already mentioned, a number of Indian immigrants arrived in Canada in 1905 and were caught in the most indecisive moment in the development of a Canadian identity. Thousands of Chinese had been

1 While it seems out-of-date now, the book Continuous Journey: A Social History of South Asians in Canada written in 1985 for the Multiculturalism Directorate by Norman Buchignani, Doreen M. Indra and Ram Srivastava is the most thorough overview of the arrival of Hindus on the Canadian scene. (This is the book that also established the scholarly pattern of treating the arrival of Hindus in the shadow of the earlier arrival of Sikhs.) In 1994 Milton Israel added In Further Soil: A Social History of Indo-Canadians in Ontario; in 2000 The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada and the United States appeared, edited by Harold Coward, John R. Hinnells and Raymond Brady Williams; and in 2005 Religion and Ethnicity in Canada edited by Paul Bramadat and David Seljak added to the story. 2 See Northrop Frye Divisions on the Ground: Essays on Canadian Culture Toronto: Anansi, 1982 for discussions of this history.


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employed in the finishing of the railways to the west coast, and while some had worked in the gold rush and others had gone on to work in longer-term industries such as logging, the British settlers running the local government feared they would soon be outnumbered in the region and insisted on using the ‘head tax’ to cut off the stream of Chinese immigration. The 5,000 Indian immigrants who arrived in 1905 were quickly employed in the logging industry, but a general sense of panic had already developed among the older British settlers and in 1907 anti-Asian riots broke out across the region.3 The British Columbia government was particularly worried about the people from India because they seemed to assume that their colonial status back home gave them some kind of political rights in Canada. The government quickly passed legislation taking away the presumed Indian right to vote and forbidding any further Indian immigration by invoking regulations saying immigrants needed ‘continuous journey’ tickets from their country of birth (there were no such tickets available between India and Canada) and $200 cash in hand. In 1914 a group of Indians leased the Japanese ship Komagata Maru4 and 376 would-be immigrants waited for months in Vancouver harbor while officials of the British Columbia government scrambled to interpret their regulations to the courts. In the end the ship was forced to sail away with its passengers aboard, and that event came to be treated in the school books of Canada as a matter of great shame.5 By the 1960s a wave of national pride was sweeping across Canada. Everyone had an anecdotal theory about when Canada became a nation. Some cited the arrival of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) under Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan in 1944 and the subsequent spread of national health care across the country. Others cited the Second World War, and others the Quebec Revolution of 1960 that set aside the medieval style of church-dominated politics pursued by the Union Nationale in Quebec. More directly relevant to the issue of immigration and new Canadians was the election in 1958 of John Diefenbaker, himself a second 3 The best social history of British Columbia is Hugh Johnston, ed. The Pacific Province: A History of British Columbia. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1996. 4 The best history of this incident is by Hugh Johnston. 5 This fact was first brought to my attention by our children who were attending grade school in Ontario in the late 1960s. More recently I found it in numerous textbooks from the 60s on in the library of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and note that it is still used in The History of Canada published for high school students in 2007. And it still provided a mythic dropback for a discussion of the boatloads of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka that arrived in Canada in recent years at a panel of the Tamil Studies Conference, Toronto, May 2011.

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generation Ukrainian immigrant, who pushed aside the colonial heritage, insisted on passing human rights legislation, and fought furiously against the U.S. insistance that they should be able to determine whether planes flying in defense over Canada would carry nuclear arms. Canada at the time was recruiting doctors and professors of all kinds from all over the world, and when many of them turned out to be of Indian background the government proclaimed in 1962 that immigrants would no longer be considered on the basis of quotas defined by race and national origin. In 1965 George Grant published a passionately written philosophical manifesto for Canadian nationalism entitled, somewhat ironically, Lament for a Nation. Grant recognized the clumsy political style of Diefenbaker, but he was bitter that in turning to Lester Pearson in 1963 the Canadian public had not recognized the longer term danger of being absorbed by the technological empire to the south that was so impatient with Diefenbaker’s nationalism. Grant argued, following Plato, that human beings have an understanding of the Eternal and the Good, and that in the political arena they express that understanding by developing a ‘love of their own’ in the institutions of family and community. In Grant’s view both of these institutions, and the deeper understanding they seek to express, are protected by the plurality of peoples a nation such as Canada was developing, but they are trampled by the homogenizing and universalizing style of the United States. While the irony of the title he chose was lost on some who did not read the book and thought he was lamenting the loss of some quaint colonially-influenced features of Canada’s early years, others saw him as a hero fighting for a philosophically defensible form of nationalism and against things like the Viet Nam war. Somewhat lost in the controversy his political views stirred up was his important academic role as a professor of Religious Studies in assisting new Canadians, such as those from India and China, in giving expression to their understanding of the Eternal. The full articulation of the federal constitutional guarantees that Grant and others hoped to see came from the constitutional lawyer Pierre Trudeau who became Prime Minister in 1967. Trudeau was forced by the circumstances of his youth growing up under the Union Nationale regime in Quebec to work out precisely how religious freedom, community rights and national rights interacted with one another in a federal system.6 While Grant could rail against the threats from an imperialist neighbour, 6 The best collection of his essays is Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Federalism and the French Canadians. Toronto: Macmillan, 1968.


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Trudeau was more worried about the tyranny that was implicit in the blind obedience to ethnic identity within the Quebec system. In his view the federal system when operating correctly as a multi-layered system protected the liberty of the individual, the communities people identified with at the local and provincial levels, and the national structure with its constitutional provisions. Grant and Trudeau together defined the Canadian vision of a community of communities where people expressed their cultural identity in a variety of ways and religious and cultural freedom was protected with federal political agreements. In the late 1960s Trudeau as Prime Minister was the one that made this protection clear as he welcomed immigrants into what he dubbed the ‘multi-cultural’ Canada. By the 1980s he had the constitution repatriated and the courts given formal responsibility for the protection of religious freedom, and in 1988 his successors gave formal approval to the Multicultural Act. Starting in the 1960s, many Hindus were among the new immigrant groups arriving in Canada and joining in this newly defined ‘multi-cultural’ society. The process of redefining Canadian society over the next fifty years proceeded very rapidly, and in the mini-census of 2006 the ‘visible minority’ sectors of society constituted 16% of the total and over 40% in the cities of Toronto and Vancouver. People with South Asian backgrounds were by that time over a million and the largest subgroup within the ‘visible minority’ category. The ‘welcome’ offered to these immigrants by Canada in the 1960s was deeply rooted in the agreements made between the French and British settlers a century earlier when it was recognized that Canada was made up of a community of neighbours struggling to survive and that each followed its own religion and culture. When, in due time, a federal system of governance was agreed upon in order to regulate the interaction of the various groups, people began to learn more about one another and the courts were sometimes needed in order to ensure the freedom of religion and culture. Because the Canadian system did not involve a ‘host’ culture or an effort to form an ‘amalgam’ of citizens with common values, as the system in the United States does,7 the ‘welcome’ offered to immigrants has a respectfully passive character that allows the immigrant groups great latitude in defining their identity.

7 Prema Kurien’s A Place at the Multicultural Table: the Development of an American Hinduism is the most thorough sociological analysis of Hindu communities in the United States. The numerous writings of Rajiv Malhotra controversially challenge the way Hindus are portrayed by Western scholarship in the U.S.A.

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Defining a Hindu Identity in Canada Step One: Discerning the Sikh Separation Sikhs constitute only about two per cent of the population in India, and the vast majority of them live in the rich agricultural region of central Punjab. For a variety of reasons the tranquility of their rural lifestyle was considerably disturbed by British colonialism. Although they were not able to defend their short-lived Sikh kingdom, the British military was appreciative of their help against the mutiny by Muslim and Hindu troops in 1857 and thereafter used Sikh officers and troops in their ranks wherever they could. In 1905 when the British decided that they needed to recruit outsiders to build them a railway through Kenya and Uganda they contracted with 37,000 Ramgarhi Sikhs and others from the craft castes of the Punjab to build it for them, and it was not long before Punjabis with all types of religious and caste backgrounds became a permanent part of East African society.8 Through Jat Sikh police and military units posted in Singapore and Hong Kong the word spread that there were also opportunities for employment in the logging industry of British Columbia, and at much the same time 5,000 young Punjabis, who were mostly Sikh, arrived there. In nineteenth century Punjab the numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs varied from region to region, but there were large numbers of each community in most districts and they were well acquainted with one another’s religious practices. Especially between Hindus and Sikhs there was a shared pattern of religious practice and many examples of intermarriage. The colonial critique of popular religious practice gradually began to influence those who worked most closely with the British in the army or the schools, however, and in all three religious communities reformers tried to draw people away from popular practice and develop a core of more sophisticated beliefs. Initially the Arya Samaj movement among the Hindus drew the most attention because it copied some of the recruitment practices of Christian missions and militantly condemned image worship, started schools to teach its ideas, and re-initiated (śuddhi) those raised as Muslims, Christians or Sikhs. The Sikh reforms of the Singh Sabha were led primarily by ex-army officers. They concentrated on the 8 Gregory’s Quest for Equality and Salvadori’s Through Open Doors provide excellent accounts of these developments in East Africa. And Bhachu’s studies of the later history of these Sikh migrants carries the story on to their secondary migrations.


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internal organization of the community and insisted on taking over the management of the gurudwaras and establishing central administrative procedures with government support.9 With Punjabi communities being formed in different parts of the world by the beginning of the twentieth century, these different reform movements were active trying to discover the organizational forms that would give their religious practices the characteristics of a ‘world religion’ in a variety of new settings. In British Columbia the first 5,000 Indian immigrants came from a variety of religious backgrounds, but most were clearly Sikh. On the other hand some of the leading political figures in the group were Bengali Hindus (one of whom adopted the Muslim name Husain Rahim) tied to a widespread anti-colonial movement. In the context of British Columbia, however, even these leaders accepted the idea of organizing the community from the Khalsa Dewan Society temple and gave the Sikh priests Bal Singh and Balwant Singh central roles in bringing their families to Canada and forming the foundation for a permanent community. With the failure of the Komagata Maru plan and the virtual freeze on immigration, the numbers in the community were reduced and those that remained were probably all Sikhs with very few wives among them.10 In California the Sikh men in this circumstance married Mexican migrant worker women, and a new kind of community life developed there.11 In British Columbia, the Sikh community decided to renew its numbers internally and bring Sikh wives from India whenever they had an opportunity to do so. This decision to remain a pure ethnic community even when the opportunities for contact with others through employment and schooling were abundant was destined to have a long term effect on the life of the community. For a full generation the community grew only when the courts allowed for rare examples of family reunification or people were able to enter the country as fictive children or temporary travelers, but after 1947 Canada provided a small quota for Indian immigrants and almost all of these

9 Oberoi treats these developments in Sikhism in The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1994. 10 The pictures and testimonies in Jagpal’s Becoming Canadian, Vancouver, 1994 provide an intimate glimpse of this time. 11  See La Brack, Bruce. “The Reconstitution of Sikh Society in Rural California,” pp. 215–40 in George Kurian and Ram P. Srivastava eds. Overseas Indians: A Study in Adaptation. New Delhi: Vikas, 1983. Leonard, Karen. “Ethnicity Confounded: Punjabi Pioneers in California,” pp. 314–333 in Joseph T. O’Connell et al. (eds.) Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1988.

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spaces went at first to those linked to Sikh families already in Canada.12 By the 1960s the Sikh community in British Columbia was growing rapidly and other Sikhs were beginning to arrive in Toronto from Britain and East Africa as well as from the Punjab. The first wave of professional Indian immigrants to Ontario included what appeared at the time to be fairly equal numbers of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Syrian Christians, and they worked closely together in forming the early Indo-Canadian friendship societies. All four groups joined eagerly at first in inviting Vedanta speakers or in some other way indicating that sophisticated Indians held that all religions were one. Members of all four communities continued to find it acceptable when meetings sometimes ended with an improvised religious ceremony in which all bowed respectfully or waved a camphor light or ārati before a poster image of a goddess such as Lakṣmi. What surprised the members of the other Indian immigrant communities was that by the mid-1970s, when the immigration law was modified once again to give preference to family reunification and refugees, Sikhs were flooding into Canada in increasingly large numbers and their leadership insisted that they be treated as a distinct ethnic community. Events within the Sikh communities of India and of Canada in the 1960s and 1970s were not exactly in harmony, but they worked in a kind of tagteam tandem to heighten the anxiety of the community and push it hastily toward separation from its Hindu neighbours and into the formation of a distinct ethnic identity.13 In India the bitter experience of Partition that had seen most Sikhs flee areas that would become Pakistan was soon followed by the new situation where Sikhs became part of a state with a two thirds Hindu and Hindi-speaking majority. In 1966 that arrangement was changed, and the Sikh-majority (actually Punjabi-speakingmajority) state of Punjab came into being, but initially it was politically unstable. In 1973 the Akali Party passed the Anandapur Sahib Resolution calling for more autonomy and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a religious teacher occupying the ancient Akhal Takht within the Golden Temple of Amritsar, became the de facto political leader of the Sikh masses.14 Sikhs living abroad found it easier to identify with the aspirations of their people by calling for a ‘homeland’ modelled in some way on the experience of 12 Johnston (1995) provides a helpful biography of a Sikh immigrant of this era. 13 See the studies of Chadney and Dusenbery for detail on the Sikhs of British Columbia. 14 See Ramachandra Guha, India After Gandhi, New York: Harper, 2007 for a masterful account of these issues.


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Israel, and in 1980 they began calling for the formation of Khalistan. Back in India, Punjab had become an armed camp and in 1984 Mrs. Gandhi as Prime Minister ordered the army to capture Bhindrawale and his armed supporters within the Golden Temple. A few months later she was gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards, and in the riots that followed in Delhi many Sikhs were massacred. Canada was once again directly involved when in 1985 an Air India plane from Canada exploded over the Atlantic. While the cause of this event has never been fully explained, the investigation has focussed on the Sikh community of British Columbia. Most Hindu immigrants in Canada have learned much of what they know about Sikhs in Canada from the newspapers. The visibility of the large number of Sikhs made a big impression on them. The establishment of gurudwaras as early as 1969 in the Toronto area complemented those long established in British Columbia. A number of court challenges for the right to wear the turban and carry the kirpan showed that Sikhs already had a knowledge of the Canadian constitutional system that other immigrants had not yet given much thought to. On the other hand the reports of violence in the Punjab were troubling, and the Air India disaster forced Hindus in Canada to recognize the degree of separation that had been growing between them and their Sikh neighbours in Canada.15 Sikhs occasionally still visited Hindu temples on Diwali or some other holiday, but they were now expected to celebrate a host of exclusively Sikh holidays as well. Hindu/Sikh weddings were becoming rarer, and Sikh identity was being presented to the Canadian public as an exclusive religious phenomena that had little or no connection with Hindu popular religion. Capitalizing on their distinct identity, Sikhs went into politics in a big way after 1985, and forced all three of the major political parties to recognize that they could deliver their vote banks and should not be overlooked in the nomination process. While this kind of ‘ethnic politics’ has seen the nomination of significant numbers of Sikhs in both British Columbia and Ontario, the ‘South Asian’ vote the parties would like to see follow has often not been as large as expected. In some ways the Sikhs’ political dilemma is similar to that of the separatists in Quebec in that a virulent ethnic identity produces passion and loyalty within a core group, but in 15 I do not subscribe to the anti-Sikh prejudice that one finds in Bharati Mukherji’s writings on the sociological separation that occurred between Sikhs and Hindus in Canada. I think Tatla is correct in challenging her account, but it is important to recognize that the two communities did move apart and did use different political styles in finding their place in Canadian society.

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a federal system it has difficulty recognizing the complimentary rights of others and hence the wisdom of expanding its base through alliances. By 1985 it was obvious to Hindus in Canada that their Sikh neighbours wanted to go their own way. By that point Hindus too were in touch with government about forming their own organizations, and in a few years there would be scores of temples spread right across the country. Partly because the Sikh effort to form a single community and aggressively demand their rights had led to so much controversy, the Hindus chose to follow a very different path. Step Two: Establishing Local Temple Communities In contrast to the high public profile of the Sikhs, the similar number of Hindus largely remained invisible during their early years in Canada. There were two related reasons for this style. The first was sociological. Hindus in Canada came from a wide range of different social backgrounds. Many early professionals came from the Brahman community of South India or the Brahman and Kayastha communities of Bengal, while others were Syrian Christians from Kerala, Muslims from North India or Pakistan, and a few came along with the early entrants in the larger groups from Guyana or Gujarat via East Africa. Even among those interested in religion in this early group each had a different idea of what religious practice should look like. Scattered as they were for employment, even the variety of religious ideas was hard to discuss because there was seldom a forum where people naturally came together to discuss their future. A second reason for the low profile of the Hindus is that the Canadian public generally presented the immigrants with a soft openness, and Hindus saw no need to address controversial questions of cultural rights when their Canadian neighbours were not doing so. The neighbours were mildly interested in information about Indian culture, but they made it clear from the outset that they respected the Hindus’ right to their own cultural and religious practices. To most Hindus in Canada the assertive visibility of their Sikh neighbours made them feel uncomfortable, but for a time they were not sure what the implications of that feeling were for their own religious practice. During the 1960s and 1970s, at least, it meant that most Hindus worshipped at home and the only religious ritual most shared with their neighbours was when they invited them to the Indo-Canadian friendship society for a generic celebration of a Diwali festival. During these early decades of immigrant life in Canada, there were occasional voices eager to be the first to speak out on behalf of Hinduism.


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As we have already suggested above, the earliest rallying point for the first professionals had been to repeat the pseudo-science and rationality of Vivekanada’s Vedantic arguments from more than half a century earlier. Immigrants in the 1960s were themselves only loosely acquainted with these arguments, however, and when they discovered that the Canadian public was totally unimpressed by that kind of argumentation they quickly dropped it. Then for a brief moment radical guru-teachers stepped forward and offered Canadian youth a chance to meditate with the Transcendental Meditation of Maharishi or to chant on the street corners with the Hari Krishnas. This time immigrant Indians themselves were so embarrassed by the odd publicity these movements generated that they quickly explained to their neighbours that they had nothing to do with these religious practices. A more thoughtful leadership effort started in the 1970s when a group in Toronto copied the logic of the Hindu Temple Society of North America based in New York and began to plan an impressive ‘show’ temple for the Richmond Hill section of the city. The plan here was to bring in a dozen priests from South India and to present an ‘authentic’ example of an elaborate ritual tradition. That plan, however, got off to a rocky start when the North Indian members pulled out, and by the time the project was nearing completion in 1988 as the Ganesha Temple the flood of Sri Lankan refugees was at its peak and, as we will describe later, they took over the temple and turned it into an ‘ethnic’ Sri Lankan temple. Finally, a fourth leadership effort developed when an ambitious pandit from Guyana began to speak for ‘Hinduism’ in a variety of forums. Dr. Bhupendranath Doobay arrived in Canada in 1975 to work as a heart surgeon and by 1976 had initiated a television programme entitled The Voice of the Vedas and began to develop the Vishnu Mandir temple. In 1987 he led a public march to demand that the Toronto school board name a school after Mahatma Gandhi, but the larger Hindu community found this initiative too confrontational and made clear that they did not support it. Even as each of these voices offered a way for the Hindu community to become more visible, the first generation of Hindus chose to keep a low profile. The real beginnings of concrete steps to form Hindu communities came about when requests began to be made for Hindu weddings and it became clear that in Canada licensed practitioners were needed to perform weddings. Government officials explained to those who asked that this matter need not wait for major religious developments, and that local groups of persons could write out their plans to function as a religious community and appoint one of their number to become the person licensed to perform

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weddings. Within a short time dozens of such religious communities were formed among the Hindu immigrants of Canada, and each became in effect a legally constituted religion free to decide on its own set of beliefs and religious practices. When these sociologically diverse communities with no sectarian affiliation whatsoever sat down to discuss what kind of ritual life they would like to practice, the discussions quickly entered into complicated social and theological domains. In the smaller centres such as Halifax, Winnipeg, Regina and even Vancouver, the idea of hiring a priest was out of the question and the long term commitment was to form an ‘ecumenical’ community and find a location for a representative set of deity images. Where there were somewhat larger concentrations of population in Hamilton and Ottawa, the plan from the beginning included hiring priests from India. In those settings the discussion was more like a theological debate and a choice between the southern Indian worship style that emphasized the care of the living deity in the black granite image and the more general devotional style of people from northern India and the Caribbean. In Hamilton, the theological debates continue and the ritual practice goes back and forth between the southern Indian and northern Indian styles, while in Ottawa the founding committee opted for a kind of ‘Vedanta’ style where the deity images are the center of a meticulous ritual practice but the theological interpretation tends to say that they are only ‘symbols’ of the universal Brahman. In all these cases what is most interesting is that the original ecumenical composition of the membership remains the dominant consideration, and each of these temple communities has invented a ritual form that reflects that community. In the major population center of Toronto the circumstances surrounding the establishment of temple communities was initially much the same, but in those cases the original plans unravelled as one or another sociological group became dominant in the membership and that led to a rethinking of the original plans. We will say more in the next section about the emergence of temple communities based on ethnic or regional sub-groups, but it is important in the present context to recognize that most of the ‘ethnic’ temples one sees today started as ‘ecumenical’ temple communities in the 1970s and 80s. Because of that heritage, they still uphold the sense that they are an autonomous religious community legally free to follow the theological interests of its membership, and they offer to the Canadian public the general Canadian Hindu sense that they are a local community of persons exercising their right to worship as they choose.


paul younger Step Three: The Emergence of Ethnic Hindu Identities

In general the ‘local temple community’ style described in the previous section was characteristic of all Hindu temples of Canada through the final quarter of the twentieth century. That made the community largely invisible to the Canadian public, but it did provide the members in the various locales an opportunity for creative thinking about ritual style and in general produced strong local communities. Although this style of temple community would continue, the social structure of the South Asian community in the greater Toronto area was changing rapidly as the numbers of immigrants increased toward the end of the century. The new Immigration Act of 1976 strongly favoured the reunification of families already in Canada and the acceptance of refugees from situations of political unrest. These two changes immediately altered the composition of subgroups within the South Asian community of Canada. The wide diversity found among the earlier immigrants quickly disappeared and immigration was soon concentrated in the four already established communities of Sikhs, Guyanese, Gujaratis from East Africa and Tamils from Sri Lanka. By this time the leaders in these communities had absorbed the fact that unlike the United States Canada was not interested in the quick integration of individual immigrants but preferred to see groups develop their own culture and identity. By the 1990s it was clear that each of these four groups was not only growing rapidly but was eager to form their group into an ethnic community. For the Sikhs, who as we have seen, were already a distinct community, this period involved a headlong plunge into politics. For the other three communities, internal cultural adjustments were still to be worked out and one of the important steps in that process was the development of the new ‘ethnic-group’ temple style. Guyanese In Canada the ‘ethnic-group’ style temple developed first among the immigrants from Guyana. This seems surprising in some ways because ethnicity is often associated with language, and while the first immigrants from Guyana were sometimes nostalgic for their creole dialect in informal settings, they were essentially English speakers. In the sociological shuffles of the 1960s and 70s, however, they were the largest single community of South Asian background, and at 50,000 they were a large enough community that they could not be ignored either by the government and the public or by the other Hindus planning ‘ecumenical’ temples. Because their education had all been in English and they were willing to work at

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any task, they quickly made a good impression in society, but in the context of temple planning, immigrants who had come directly from India were uncomfortable about accepting their suggestions for ‘ecumenical’ Hindu worship. Indian indentured workers had first gone to Guyana in 1838. There they had been settled in the old slave quarters on the hundred or so plantations spread up and down the coast, and they worked side by side with the former slaves who had by then developed small settlements near the railway stop for each plantation. When Indians moved into the settlements a generation later, they set up both North Indian style mandirs and South Indian style temple compounds at the edge of each plantation. After three generations, these worship traditions were well developed.16 When Guyanese Hindu immigrants first began coming to Canada, however, they, like most immigrants, did not think of bringing their worship traditions with them. Ganesh Persaud, one of the early immigrants in Hamilton, told me that when he came to Canada he expected most Guyanese would be absorbed into the local religious customs and he himself was fascinated by the worship style of the Roman Catholic cathedral. He indicated that he had been uncomfortable at the ‘ecumenical’ temple discussions of Hamilton, and when twenty years later he moved to a bigger house in Cambridge he was surprised to find Caribbean neighbours still interested in the old Guyana style of worship. His basement soon became the gathering place for weekly sat sang hymn singing, and it was not long before that sat sang group become a local temple community. In 1990 the sat sang group bought an old church building and started regular services as the Radha Krishna Mandir, and Ganesh Persaud was designated as their pandit. In most ways this temple community was in the tradition of ‘local temples’, but it was different in that it included only Caribbean Hindus and came to function as an ethnic community as well as a religious one.17 We have already referred to Dr. Bhupendranath Doobay whose original vision went far beyond the Guyanese ethnic community, but when his effort to create a national sense of Hindu identity was rebuffed by other Hindus, he carried on with the Vishnu Mandir temple as it became an ‘ethnic-group’ temple for the Caribbean Hindus of Toronto. And a few 16 See Paul Younger, New Homelands: Hindu Communities in Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Fiji and East Africa New York: Oxford University Press, 2010 for more detail on Guyana religious practice. 17 Albert K. Wuaku The Radha Krishna Temple Tradition: a Guyanese Hindu Community in Cambridge, Ontario, MA thesis, McMaster University, 1995.


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years later in the well-off suburbs of Pickering and Mississauga respectively the impressive Devi Mandir and Ram Mandir temples were built with clear mandates as Caribbean Hindu temples. While the aggressive style of ethnicity practiced by the Sikhs led to chauvinism within and high visibility abroad, the Caribbean style is a kind of dispersed form with very little visibility as far as the Canadian public is concerned. All four of the Caribbean pandits are popular speakers at inter-faith events, but they speak largely as spokesmen for their own temple and accept the general Canadian emphasis on the ‘local’ and decentralized nature of cultural choice. They speak for an ethnic community only in the minimalist Canadian sense that in a federally structured society the overlapping of groups variously identified as ‘Guyana’, ‘Hindu’, ‘Caribbean’, and ‘Canadian’ is considered a good thing. Gujarati When Idi Amin ordered all Asians out of Uganda in 1972, the government of Canada sponsored a number of them as a humanitarian gesture and brought them to Canada. There were already a great many Gujaratis among the early immigrants and they were usually active in the foundation of the ‘ecumenical’ temples. As numbers increased dramatically in the 1980s and 90s most Gujaratis could afford to live in the suburb of Markham north of Toronto and a classic style of ethnic community formed with business and culture both concentrated in the loosely defined Gujaratispeaking leadership group. By 1995 the community was dramatically refocussed when the Sanatana Mandir opened in the heart of Markham and included both a temple and a vast array of meeting rooms and convention halls. Even before that temple complex opened, the ritual focus of the community had been developing around the Navaratri stick dance which draws thousands in traditional Gujarati costumes every Fall. In the case of Gujarati speakers, language-based ethnic solidarity is often challenged by fissures along the lines of caste and sectarian affiliation. In East Africa the caste fissures were strongest because each caste had developed its own economic niche and then built temples and community centres that supported those economic interests. In Canada, caste proved less important, but the strong sectarian initiative of the BAPS branch of the Swaminarayana sectarian movement split the Gujarati ethnic community into two segments. For many years those affiliated with the Swaminarayana sect met in a warehouse on the western edge of Toronto, but in the first decade of the present century they began to develop their property beside highway number 427, one of the major

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north/south highways out of the city. In 2008 the gem-like marble temple attached to their vast haveli or worship hall opened, and it soon came to serve as the showiest of ‘show’ temples that millions see every day, even though only determined members of the Gujarati community are able to make it through the labyrinth of access roads that lead to this distinctly sectarian form of Hindu worship. Sri Lankan Tamil In 1983 Tamil protests against the unfavourable treatment they were receiving from the Sri Lankan government led to retaliation from the Singhala majority and the beginning of what amounted to a civil war in Sri Lanka. The Tamil minority were mostly Hindu and devout temple goers. When Canada, following its new policy on refugees, began to admit large numbers fleeing this war setting, Sri Lankan Tamils suddenly became the largest single group of Hindus in Canada and their numbers continue to grow. As it turned out, the major effort to construct a ‘show’ temple in Richmond Hill, a project we described earlier, was reaching completion in 1988 just as this flood of refugees arrived, and it quickly became their religious home. This development led to major struggles within the temple Board. The South Indian ritual tradition brought prestige to the temple, but the Sri Lankan members quickly dominated the elected Board and they wanted to put their mark on every aspect of temple life. Although some of the struggles within the Board sounded bitter as reported in the press, reasonable compromises seem to have been achieved. The Ganesha Temple is still recognized as having a distinctive Brahmanical ritual style even though the Board is under Sri Lankan Tamil management and Sri Lankan ritual preferences have been woven into the ritual system.18 In the 1990s the housing around the Ganesha Temple at the northern edge of Toronto was considered expensive and the Sri LankanTamils could not afford to live there. They chose to settle in the densely populated area of Scarborough a twenty minute car ride away. When they heard that only twenty-five signatures were needed in order to get permission to start a temple, small store-fronts were rented out and it was not long before

18 An early example of this struggle is described in Younger “A Bath for Sivan in the Cold of Canada: Adapting a Festival to a New Environment” in Playing Host to Deity: Festival Religion in the South Indian Tradition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.


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there were dozens of small temples in Scarborough as well. By 2001 the somewhat larger Durka Temple also opened within Scarborough, and in 2008 the even larger Ayyappan Temple was constructed there. What is most interesting about the Sri Lankan Tamil form of ethnicity, however, is that in spite of the large number of temples the community supports there is a wider sense of ethnic identity as well. Because this community was formed largely within the shadow of the civil war in Sri Lanka, its ethnic character from the beginning had a political edge to it and Christian and Muslim leaders were often prominent as the community sought to be inclusive in organizing its political meetings. This inclusive note was especially prominent in the major rallies that gave expression to the community’s anguish as the genocide-like war came to an end in 2009. In the aftermath of the war this inclusiveness has continued as the large Tamil community of Toronto moved quickly to give itself a cultural core through dance dramas, and a political voice by electing one of its number to be the first Tamil to sit in the national parliament. Although the emergence of the ‘ethnic-group’ temple brings the social formation of the Hindu community a bit closer to that of the Sikh, important differences remain. The Sikh community seems to have determined that it would develop as an exclusive community with an aggressive insistence on its cultural rights when it was still a tiny community early in the twentieth century. Its growth in the 60s and events in the 80s affected that determination in important ways, but the style has remained largely defined by the internal dynamics of the community, and even participation in national politics has not changed that determination in a major way. Guyanese ethnicity is at the opposite end of that spectrum in that the community has no predetermined social characteristics and is in most ways already absorbed into the mainstream of Canadian society, but it has learned while in Canada about the respect accorded to community life and finds that the maintenance of its own thriving temple communities brings it welcome respect in the Canadian context. The experience of the Gujaratis and Sri Lankan Tamils seems to be somewhere between these two poles. The Gujaratis, like the Sikhs, have an old tradition of exclusivity, but they have never had an interest in political power and it took them some time to figure out that there was some advantage in showing the Canadian public that they were a strong community with impressive temple institutions. The Sri Lankan Tamils, like the Guyanese, mostly came from modest backgrounds and in many ways they were just pleased to be able to fit into Canadian society and find employment and some political security. As their numbers grew, however, they realized that, like

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the Sikhs, they could get their own people elected if they cared to, and just maybe in the federal system of Canada that might be one of the best ways to ‘fit in’. It is probably the case that the more aggressive side of the still rapidly growing Tamil community will develop further. Conclusion When Indians began migrating to live and work in other parts of the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they developed Hindu religious communities in those places. Scholars eventually began to describe the religious practices of these many different communities as ‘diaspora Hinduism’. This scholarly shortcut was unhelpful in a variety of ways. For one thing the term ‘diaspora’ did not clearly describe the many different kinds of relations these migrants had with the Indian homeland. In the nineteenth century, migrants to Mauritius, Guyana and other places had contracted as indentured workers for five years, but when they later chose to stay in the new homeland they had little choice but to largely invent a pattern of religious practice for the succeeding generations. Many migrants to East Africa, on the other hand, were able to return to India for marriages and other cultural needs so that they were more like colonists maintaining the cultural life of their homeland in the new setting. Migrants to North America late in the twentieth century were like indentured workers in that they concentrated first on issues of employment. When they turned their attention to the development of their religion and culture they had more resources and more choices than the indentured workers had had, and their construction of a Hindu identity was a somewhat more complicated process. The term ‘diaspora’ does not begin to accurately describe these many different situations. Even more troubling than the ambiguity associated with the term ‘diaspora’, is the fact that the term ‘diaspora Hinduism’ posits an essentialized religious reality that is the product of a scholar’s imagination but is removed from the life and action of people in any one specific place. Students of ‘diaspora Hinduism’ tend to look for common characteristics in the dozen or so communities where this new religious reality is supposedly practiced, but they give almost no attention to the social characteristics of the local society in which the migrants live. In re-imagining the early development of Hindu communities in Canada, I have tried to avoid that trap. I have instead concentrated on discovering the central features of Canadian society as the Hindu immigrants have experienced


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them, and then have shown how the choices the immigrants made with regard to community formation and worship fit into their understanding of Canada. Immigrants learn about their new social setting both from the pronouncements the government makes in welcoming them and from the attitudes that they see when interacting with their neighbours. Fortunately, just as the early Hindu immigrants arrived in the 1960s Canada was engaged in an open discussion of its bi-cultural past and the federal constitutional guarantees of its cultural diversity. When Pierre Elliot Trudeau welcomed new immigrants by insisting that the guarantee of cultural diversity applied most directly to them, he came to be a kind of hero within the Indian community. While immigrants were thrilled with the warm welcome and brilliant explanation of constitutional guarantees that Trudeau offered, they found that it took longer for them to be sure about how they should interpret the respectful reserve they felt in the initial greeting of their neighbours. For ordinary Canadians cultural diversity was an important part of their history, and they were proud that it was now going to be given constitutional guarantees and be the foundation of the story of how they would share this space with their Hindu neighbours. On the other hand they had seldom lived next door to the French or the First Nations people, and they were not sure how to show that they were open to cultural diversity. Only slowly did Hindu immigrants realize that their neighbours were almost as thrilled as they were when they were able to establish their first temple community and the dream of cultural diversity and a community of communities became a lived reality for all concerned. Having learned what they needed to know about the patterns of Canadian society, Hindu immigrants turned their attention to the complex question of building a community among themselves. Their first inclination was to follow the lead of the Sikhs who seemed to have deep roots in Canada. In smaller centers such as Hamilton Sikhs and Hindus worked closely together in developing the Canadian Indian Friendship Society, and the first Indian wedding in Hamilton was between a Brahman woman and a Sikh man. Sikhs in the established centers of Vancouver and later Toronto were, however, already busy trying to establish a culturally and religiously distinct community following Jat Sikh characteristics of dress, language and worship. Their ancestors’ experience of being marginalized in Canadian society in the early twentieth century deeply influenced their approach to the new situation, and they assumed that in the ‘community of communities’ they would have to cultivate a very distinctive identity and look out for themselves. In contrast to their Sikh neighbours, Hindu

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immigrants of the 1960s were inclined to create for themselves a general ‘Indian’ identity that would allow them to share their popular culture with the diverse community of other Indians and even with their Canadian neighbours. The minimalist approach of the first wave of Hindu immigrants was suddenly modified in the 1970s when government officials insisted that at least a temple board of some kind would be necessary in order to appoint a person to conduct marriages. In India marriage could be considered as much a matter of culture as religion, and most castes had at least some ritual unique to their sub-community. In Canada government officials explained that marriage was either ‘secular’ and performed by a government official, or ‘religious’ and performed by a person authorized by a religious community. The key here was that in Canada religion was defined in terms of a community of persons that specifically asked to be able to function as a religious community. For Hindus that definition was new and they would have to figure out if they would be comfortable making that form of commitment. The central argument of this paper is that when the Canadian government insisted that Hindus form themselves into religious communities in order to apply for certain rights within society they were asking Hindus to become religious in a way they had not been accustomed to in the past. The result was positive in that Hindus in every corner of the country found the concrete task of meeting with others and defining the religious practices they would agree to join in an exhilarating challenge. This finite task gave form to the distant dream of fitting into a ‘community of communities’, and it gave individuals specific issues to talk about with their fellow worshipers and with their Canadian neighbours. With a couple hundred separate temple communities established by the end of the century, Canadian Hindus became a widely dispersed community of communities that was confident in the uncontroversial place it had found in the heart of Canadian religious practice. While the rules on operating a tax-exempt temple community with authority to conduct marriages allowed Hindus to develop a host of local institutions almost identical in function to the traditional church institutions of Canada, the question of who speaks for Hinduism remains. Those who have offered to play this role have either been ignored or even rebuffed by Hindus themselves, who clearly like the idea of making their primary identification with their local temple community. Nevertheless, those in larger ethnic units have been inclined to move beyond their temple communities and try to develop forms of cultural and political


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expression as well. For the Guyanese and Gujaratis the temple communities remain the most effective form of self expression, and they have tried to gain a wider voice primarily by backing a Federation of Hindu Temples. Among the Tamils from Sri Lanka a variety of cultural and political organizations have sprung up, and they find themselves compared with the Sikhs in the public press where the focus is strictly on politics, but they are deeply religious and are trying to find a way in which their temple communities can lend support to their wider ethnic ambitions. Canada’s traditional cultural and political traditions have had an important role in forming the way in which Hindu religious practice developed in Canada. Hindus themselves have been the actors as they developed a host of institutions for worship and a sense of community for their wider participation within the political arena, but in these developments they were operating within social structures that were already established. This arrangement appears to have worked well in that the many institutions established have quietly taken their place within the society and at the same time have been able to give expression to their wider political ambitions. What remains to be seen is how creative the succeeding generations will prove to be in moving from this base to a vision of what it means to be a Canadian Hindu. Bibliography Atwood, Margaret. Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. Toronto: Anansi, 1972. Barrier, N. G. and Pashaura Singh. Sikhism and History. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. Barrier, N. G. and Verne A. Dusenbery. The Sikh Diaspora. Delhi: Chanakya, 1988. Bhachu, Parminder K. Twice Migrants: East African Sikh Settlers in Britain. London: Tavistock, 1985. ——. “The East African Sikh Diaspora”, in N. G. Barrier and Verne A. Dusenbery, The Sikh Diaspora. Delhi: Chanakya, 1988. Bramadat, Paul and David Seljak. Religion and Ethnicity in Canada. Toronto: Pearson, Longman, 2005. Buchignani, Norman. “Immigration, Adaptation, and the Management of Ethnic Identity: An Examination of Fijian East Indians in British Columbia,” PhD thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1977. Buchignani, Norman and Doreen M. Indra. 1981. “ Intergroup Conflict and Community Solidarity: Sikhs and South Asian Fijians in Vancouver” Canadian Journal of Anthropology, 1,2 pp. 149–57, 1981. Buchignani, Norman, Doreen M. Indra, and Ram P. Srivastava. Continuous Journey: A Social History of South Asians in Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart (for the Multicultural Directorate), 1985. Chadney, James G. “The Vancouver Sikhs: An Ethnic Community in Canada,” PhD thesis, Michigan State University, 1976.

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Coward, Harold and John R. Hinnells and Raymond Brady Williams. The South Asian Religious Diaspora in Britain, Canada and the United States. Albany, New York: State University of New York, 2000. Dusenbery, Verne. 2008. “Canadian Ideology and Public Policy: Impact on Vancouver Sikh Ethnic and Religious Adaptation” in Verne Dusenbery ed. Sikhs at Large: Religion, Culture and Politics in Global Perspective, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008. —— (ed.) Sikhs at Large: Religion, Culture and Politics in Global Perspective, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008. Frye, Northrop. Divisions on a Ground: Essays on Canadian Culture. Toronto: Anansi, 1982. Gregory, Robert G. Quest for Equality: Asian Politics in East Africa, 1900–1967. New Delhi: Orient Longmans, 1993. Guha, Ramachandra. India After Gandhi. New York: Harper, 2007. Israel, Milton. In the Further Soil: A Social History of Indo-Canadians in Ontario. Toronto: Organization for the Promotion of Indian Culture, 1994. Jagpal, Sarjeet Singh. Becoming Canadian. Vancouver, 1994. Johnston, Hugh. The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar. Vancouver: U.B.C. Press, 1989. ——. The Four Quarters of the Night: The Life Journey of an Emigrant Sikh. Montreal: McGill-Queens, 1995. —— (ed.) The Pacific Province: A History of British Columbia. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1996. Kurian, George and Ram P. Srivastava. Overseas Indians: a Study in Adaptation. New Delhi: Vikas, 1983. Kurien, Prema. A Place at the Multicultural Table: the Development of an American Hinduism. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2007. La Brack, Bruce. “The Reconstitution of Sikh Society in Rural California,” pp. 215–40 in George Kurian and Ram P. Srivastava eds. Overseas Indians: A Study in Adaptation. New Delhi: Vikas, 1983. Leonard, Karen. “Ethnicity Confounded: Punjabi Pioneers in California,” pp. 314–333 in Joseph T. O’Connell et al. (eds.) Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1988. Oberoi, H. The Constructions of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Division in the Sikh Community. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1994. O’Connell, Joseph T. Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1988. Salvadori, Cynthia. Through Open Doors: A View of Asian Cultures in Kenya. Nairobi: Kenway Publication, 1983. Singh, Nikky Guninder Kaur. “The Mirror and the Sikh: The Transformation of Ondaatjee’s Kip”, in Shackle, et al. Sikh Religion, Culture and Ethnicity. London: Curzon, 2001. Tatla, Darshan S. “Writing Prejudice: Images of Sikhs in Bharati Mukherji’s Writings”, in N. G. Barrier and P. Singh, Sikhism and History. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. Trudeau, Pierre Elliott. Federalism and the French Canadians. Toronto: Macmillan, 1968. Wood, John. “East Indians and Canada’s New Immigration Policy,” pp. 3–29 in George Kurian and Ram P. Srivastava, Overseas Indians. NewDelhi: Vikas, 1983. Wuaku, Albert. The Radha Krishna Temple Tradition: a Guyanese Hindu Community in Cambridge, Ontario. M.A. thesis, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, 1995. Younger, Paul. “A Bath for Dancing Sivan in the Cold of Canada: Adapting a Festival to a New Environment” in Playing Host to Deity: Festival Religion in the South Indian Tradition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. ——. New Homelands: Hindu Communities in Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Fiji and East Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. ——. “Hindus,” pp. 219–260 in Jamie S. Scott, ed. The Religions of Canadians. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012.

The Indianness of Christianity: The Task of Re-imagination Dyron B. Daughrity An important book was recently published with the title India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding.1 This volume is a festschrift honouring the work of Robert Eric Frykenberg who taught South Asian History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison for many years beginning in 1962. Frykenberg served as the external examiner on my PhD dissertation committee with Professor Ron Neufeldt and others in 2004. Like the other contributors to this volume, I benefited tremendously from Dr. Neufeldt being a part of my academic training. It is a privilege to participate in this writing festival partially in honour of this respected scholar and truly admirable person. However, the last time I presented research to Dr. Neufeldt, I was in drastically different, and far more vulnerable, circumstances. I remain hopeful Ron will approve of the few thoughts I have prepared for this festschrift. This chapter is in response to a question asked in the introductory chapter of the Frykenberg festschrift: “Is Christianity an Indian religion?”2 This question was also posed by the University of Edinburgh historian Brian Stanley in his substantive review of Bob Frykenberg’s sweeping Christianity in India for the Times Literary Supplement.3 After asking the question, Stanley makes the provocative comment, “Read this book and you may change your mind.” So I begin by asking that question, Is Christianity an Indian religion? Myriad problems arise with the question because there is no definitive way to determine whether or not a religion “is” a national religion, as for example in the case of India. Most Indians are Hindu, but by no means

1 Richard Fox Young, ed., India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding—Historical, Theological, and Bibliographical—in Honor of Robert Eric Frykenberg (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009). 2 Richard Fox Young, “The Frykenberg Vamsavali: A South Asia Historian’s Genealogy, Personal and Academic, with a Bibliography of His Works,” in India and the Indianness of Christianity, 12. 3 Brian Stanley, “Thomas’s Tribes,” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5524 (February 13, 2009): 24.


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does this imply that Indian Christians, Sikhs, or Muslims are not somehow equally Indian. The distinguished Yale historian Lamin Sanneh explored similar themes in his 2003 book Whose Religion is Christianity? 4 Is Christianity a British religion, as many colonial subjects seem to have thought during the high tide of British Empire? Is it an American religion? After all, there are more Christians in the USA than in any other nation in the world. Is Christianity an Israeli or Palestinian religion, since that is where it began? Is it a Turkish religion, since that is the country where the term “Christian” originated and was the heart of Christianity for centuries? So where does that leave us with this religion today? Where is Christianity to be really and truly found? By what scale may we determine authentic Christianity? The answer to the question, “Whose religion is Christianity?,” is very complicated. Christianity has shifted throughout the ages, pulsating back and forth in various epochs, geographic regions, and cultures. Today, Christianity is recognized as the largest and most global religion in the world. Around 33 percent of the world’s population claims to be Christian. It thrives in places and dies in others. Turkey is a fitting example of how Christianity’s epicentre can change throughout time. When Constantine relocated his empire there from Rome in the 300s, Turkey quickly Christianized. However, statistical data today shows that Christianity is essentially gone from Turkey; according to the CIA, 99.8% of that nation is Islamic.5 So what has this to do with the Indianness of Christianity? Actually quite a lot. The changing demographics of Christianity are not just about Christianity moving out of one nation and into another. Christianity’s overall ethos is changing, and it is linked to the shifting center of gravity of the faith. At this moment, the study of Christianity is an exciting and unpredictable field to be working in. Tables are being turned, empires are striking back, stereotypes are being shattered, and no one really knows where all of this is headed. What we do know is that the era of Western hegemony in Christianity is receding.6

4 Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel beyond the West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003). 5 CIA World Factbook, “Turkey,” located at: the-world-factbook/geos/tu.html. 6 On overall trends of a shifting Christianity, see Dyron Daughrity, The Changing World of Christianity: The Global History of a Borderless Religion (New York: Peter Lang, 2010).

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However, while larger trends in religion are helpful, religion is, at its most basic level, an individual phenomenon. Religion cannot be adequately separated from the experience of the woman or man. Religiosity is interlaced with all kinds of identity issues, which is another angle this chapter attempts to take while considering the Indianness of Christianity. Christianity is the third largest religion in India after Hinduism (81%) and Islam (13%), ranking just above Sikhism (2%) and Buddhism (.8%).7 The history of Christianity in India is very complex. Essentially there have been four major waves of Christianity in India: the early era—which may have occurred as early as the first century AD, resulting in what is usually known as the Saint Thomas Christian community. The second era was the Roman Catholic era—which began in 1498 when “three small ships of Vasco da Gama cast anchor off a small village about eight miles north of Calicut on the south-west coast of India.”8 Third was the Protestant era, beginning when two German missionaries, employed by the King of Denmark, arrived to South India in 1706. Some historians are now arguing for a fourth era that is linked with the life of Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922), a Brahmin woman who converted to Christianity in the late 1800s and sparked an Indian Pentecostal-like revival in 1905.9 It is important to note that none of these Christian movements in India were displaced by the later ones. The various forms of Christianity that went into India or arose within India were added to the already existing forms, resulting in an array of Christianities that continue to exist side by side. It is estimated that around two-thirds of India’s Christians are Protestant—which includes indigenous and Pentecostal expressions of the faith. Approximately a third of India’s Christians are Catholic. And there are small numbers, around five percent of the total Christian population, that are Orthodox, connecting themselves to the Judeo-Syrian tradition supposedly brought by the apostle Thomas in the year 52.10 Just 7 These statistics come from the Government of India 2001 Census, located at: http:// 8 Stephen Neill, A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 87. Calicut is today known as Kozhikode, in the state of Kerala. 9 Robert Eric Frykenberg, Christianity in India: From Beginnings to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 408. 10 These statistics are from the World Christian Database published by Brill. By no means are these statistics consistent across the discipline, however. For example, Rowena Robinson claims nearly half of India’s Christians are Roman Catholic, 40% are Protestant, 7% are Orthodox, and 6% are “indigenous sects.” See Robinson, Christians of India (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2003), 28.


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over 50% of India’s Christians are from the Untouchable castes. About 15–20% of Christians are from tribal backgrounds, and about a quarter are from the upper castes.11 Whatever date a historian might entertain for the entrance of Christianity into India, the Thomas Christians have an established presence since, at the latest, the mid-300s.12 Some scholars argue that coin evidence linked to a Parthian-Indian King Gundaphar lends credibility to the fanciful story of Thomas evangelizing India in The Acts of Thomas.13 Other scholars argue this to be unlikely. The possibility is there. Trade between the Middle East and south Asia, as well as an ancient Jewish presence in India, means there certainly could have been Christians in India very early on. Thus, if we were to answer the question “Is Christianity an Indian Religion?” in the affirmative, we might say, “Well, Christianity is at least as Indian as is Islam, predating it by centuries.” However, one might retort that the ancient Orthodox Thomas Christians are only a tiny minority and thus the vast majority of Christians in India do not share the ancient heritage. The problem with this line of reasoning is that there are today many Christian traditions that connect themselves to the Thomas tradition, but have moved to other denominations for various reasons.14 For example, when the Portuguese arrived to India, they managed to snatch some flocks from the ancient Orthodox Thomas Christians, but those new Catholics maintained their ancient Syrian liturgy and continued to esteem their Thomasite history and roots. Still other Christians in India have left the Orthodoxy of their youth to join up with Protestant or Independent— often Pentecostal—forms of faith without cutting ties completely with their ancient roots. For instance, V. V. Thomas, a friend of mine who is 11  Robinson, Christians of India, 29. 12 Frykenberg writes, “Solid historical evidence of formal church life in India, albeit tenuous, dates from the year AD 345.” Frykenberg, Christianity in India, 107. 13 Frykenberg owns a coin with Gundaphar’s name on it, dated AD 30 to 55. The Gundaphar coins are important because this king was unknown until the last two centuries. Historically, the Acts of Thomas were considered suspect because of no known historical corroboration of Gundaphar. However, the troves of coin discoveries with Gundaphar’s name have put the matter to rest. Gundaphar did exist, forcing scholars to reconsider the basic historical background of the Acts of Thomas. See Frykenberg, Christianity in India, 98. Stephen Neill provides a helpful discussion of Charles Masson, “The wizard who performed the remarkable feat of bringing Gondopharnes [Gundaphar] back to life” through his coin discoveries in the 1830s. See Stephen Neill, A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 27. 14 See Michael Bergunder, The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 15.

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a church history professor in Pune, is from a Thomasite Orthodox family but he is Pentecostal. While he identifies himself with the larger Thomas Christians community, he is not formally connected to any of the Orthodox families of faith. Here is a Pentecostal Christian with a Thomasite heritage. These issues of identity are important for Indian Christians because more outspoken voices of the Hindutva conception of Indianness generally have few qualms with the ancient Thomasite Christians of the Syrian Orthodox variety. These ancient communities observe Indian norms of pollution and caste and are classified within the upper echelons of Indian society. They tend not to proselytize and therefore “are neither at the centre of scholarly controversy over the place of Christianity in modern India nor in the primary line of fire of the champions of Hindu consciousness.”15 Judith Brown has written that “The Syrian Christians had an honoured place in their own localities, long accepted and integrated among Hindus and Muslims.”16 We must caution here, however, that Stephen Neill, the eminent historian of Christianity in India, points out that as late as AD 800 the Thomas Christians were “still retaining something of a foreign impress” in India despite the fact their communities had been long-established.17 The arrival of Vasco da Gama and his ships to Calicut on May 20, 1498 represents an unmistakeably foreign Christian presence in India, what we could call the second wave of Christianity in India. The Portuguese established their first trading station that very year and profited fabulously in the pepper trade with their base at Calicut.18 Indians referred to these Portuguese voyagers and traders as Farangi—a term rooted in the Muslim word for the “Franks” but widely adopted as the preferred term for Europeans.19 These Catholics were alarmed by the presence of Moors in the region. It is vital to understand the Portuguese landing on the Malabar

15 Brian Stanley, “Thomas’s Tribes,” 24. 16 Judith Brown, “Who is an Indian? Dilemmas of National Identity at the End of the British Raj in India,” in Brian Stanley, ed., Missions, Nationalism, and the End of Empire (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 113–114. 17 Stephen Neill, Christianity in India, vol. 1, 68. 18 Susan Bayly, Saints, Goddesses, and Kings: Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society, 1700–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 257. 19 Frykenberg, Christianity in India, p. 119. See also Ines G. Zupanov, Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth-century India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 5. Zupanov writes, “Parangui is a generic, xenophobic term for a European. In its many regional phonetic, semantic, and spelling variants . . . it was used throughout Asia and the Middle East from the medieval period (designating Franks, ‘European Christians’, crusaders, etc.) until today.”


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Coast (modern-day state of Kerala) with the backdrop of Ferdinand and Isabella’s Iberian reconquista in mind—a task that had been completed only six years prior, in 1492. The Catholic attempt to reach Indians for Christ was spearheaded by Francis Xavier, one of the cofounders of the Society of Jesus, known better as the Jesuits. Xavier had remarkable success in missionary work among the seafaring Paravars of coastal south India in the 1540s. In time, however, the Jesuits divided over how best to evangelize India. Robert de Nobili and Goncalo Fernandes, two prominent Jesuits in the early 1600s, struggled mightily with each other over the issue of “going native.” In missiological parlance, their debate centered on the issue of accommodation—how far should the missionary go in adapting Christian teachings for the sake of attracting the host culture? The debate “. . . provoked at least two centuries of disputes between the Jesuits and other missionary orders and church hierarchy . . . [A]lmost every Jesuit in India chose one or the other side.”20 There were other sources of turbulence during the early years of Roman Catholic and Indian contact. When the Portuguese first arrived they viewed the Thomas Christian communities, who were of high caste and very well respected in south India, as allies in their quest to establish trading ports and challenge Arab-Islamic dominance in the spice trade. Susan Bayly writes, Portugal’s aim was to seize control of these great international commercial networks, to expel the hated “Moor”, and to channel all sea-going vessels on the Indian Ocean spice trading routes through Portuguese customs posts under what was known as the cartaz or pass system. This dream of monopoly and extirpation was never fully realised, but the power of the Calicut Muslims was eventually cut back as the Portuguese built up the chain of settlements and fortified enclaves which came to constitute the Estado da India.21

For a time, the Portuguese friendship with the ruling Hindu Zamorins and influential Syrian Christians worked marvellously for the Farangis. Indeed they temporarily stemmed Arab-Islamic influence radiating southward from the Turkic Delhi Sultanates and after 1526 from the powerful Mughal Empire.22 The Padroado Real (Royal Patronage) went to great 20 Zupanov, Disputed Mission, 5. 21  Bayly, Saints, Goddesses, and Kings, 258. 22 The Zamorins were based at Calicut and ruled from the twelfth to eighteenth centuries. Stephen Dale writes “No South Asian government prior to the British Raj was capable of eradicating the many autonomous or independent rulers and effectively disarming the

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lengths to please the well-connected Syrian Christian communities by spending large sums of money expanding and renovating their churches.23 Eventually, however, it was a relationship doomed to failure given the theological climate of the late fifteenth century and the rising ambitions of an expanding Portuguese trading empire with stations in India, Japan, and the African kingdom of the Kongo. In addition, the Mughal Empire was on the ascent in the early 1500s, peaking in 1707 (the death of Aurangzeb) with the entire Indian subcontinent minus the Malabar Coast, Tamil Nadu, and Sri Lanka. In spite of the rise of the Mughals, the Portuguese maintained superiority at sea and managed to protect their trading ports. These European bridgeheads were later inherited by Dutch and British competitors.24 The Catholic and Syrian Orthodox falling-out was remarkably similar to Catholic-Orthodox theological schisms throughout church history. While some of the surface issues were priestly marriage, eating beef, drinking alcohol, the Theotokos (Virgin Mary as Mother of God), and the veneration of images, the deeper issue was ecclesiastical authority. The Goa Inquisition, established in 1560, debilitated the leadership of the Syrian church, weakening it to the point of crisis. Eventually the Thomas Christians split over loyalty to Rome, which was becoming increasingly inevitable. Those who resisted “gathered at Matancherry in 1653 and took a solemn oath before a cross never to obey the Paulist Fathers or recognize the authority of the Latin bishops.”25 This incident came to be known as the “Coonan Cross Oath” and has plagued the south Indian Christian context to this day. For this reason it has been said that Syrian Christians are on better terms with Hindus and Muslims than with Catholics

Indian countryside. Both Delhi Sultans and their Mughal successors had to make innumerable compromises in order to dominate north India, or at least to control the cities and the major transportation arteries and overawe rulers in the countryside. Predominantly Hindu India was never overrun and overwhelmed by masses of Muslims.” See Stephen Dale, The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 25. 23 Bayly, Saints, Goddesses, and Kings, 259. The Padroado was a form of Portuguese jurisdiction dating to a series of papal bulls in the mid-fifteenth century whereby the king and Papacy ruled concomitantly. The system faded with the decline of Portuguese colonialism but lasted until Portuguese control of Macau ceased in 1999. 24 Stephen Dale, The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals, 266 (Aurangzeb) and p. 185 (rise of Portuguese in south Indian commerce). 25 Leonard Fernando and G. Gispert-Sauch, Christianity In India: Two Thousand Years of Faith (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2004), 78.


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and Protestants.26 This is not altogether surprising. The Orthodox Christians have an ancient presence on the subcontinent; they indigenized the Christian faith and worked hard for well over a thousand years to win the respectability of their compatriots. Yet their flock was relentlessly pilfered for five centuries by other Christians. The Protestant missionary presence is generally dated to the year 1706 when Bartholomaeus Zigenbalg and Heinrich Pluetschau established a Lutheran congregation of the Pietist variety in Tranquebar, a Danish port located in modern-day Tamil Nadu. These young men, aged 24 and 29, were quickly rejected by Danish East India Company merchants but persevered to eventually gain a foothold. After learning Tamil, they taught a form of bhakti Christianity that resonated with local people. They were Pietist Christians to the core, emphasizing the basic facts of the gospel and how these facts should change the heart of the individual, motivating him or her to lead a life of holiness.27 A core value of these Protestant missionaries was literacy. They set up a printing press and quickly began disseminating questionnaires, tracts, pamphlets, and books in the Tamil language. The first responders to the evangelistic efforts were pariah soldiers.28 Europeans planted the seeds of Protestant Christianity, but Indian converts took it from there. While Zieganbalg’s many publications were disseminated far and wide, Indians— not Europeans—were by far the primary agents for Christian conversion in south India. When British missionaries arrived in the late 1700s, they generally worked to counter this Pietistic, “free-wheeling” zeal in favour of a more sober religion of propriety.29 Catholics also had misgivings with this loosely organized Pietism, particularly when Catholics became targets

26 Charlie Pye-Smith, Rebels and Outcasts: A Journey Through Christian India (London: Viking, 1997), 155. 27 D. Dennis Hudson, Protestant Origins in India: Tamil Evangelical Christians, 1706–1835 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 1 (for the reference to the age of the missionaries) and 39–40. 28 Hudson, Protestant Origins in India, 41. 29 This tendency is brought into relief by the “Rhenius affair” wherein C. T. E. Rhenius, a Prussian Pietist who happened to be the first CMS (Church Missionary Society) missionary, was the center of a major crisis involving whether an Anglican bishop had to be present for an ordination. Rhenius, being Lutheran, saw little problem in ordaining someone without a bishop when the need was evident. He was promptly dismissed from the CMS for insubordination to Anglican protocol. On the Rhenius affair, see Frykenberg, Christianity in India, 249–257 (for “free-wheeling” see 249) and Neill, History of Christianity in India, vol. 2, 218–222 and 454–455.

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for conversion. Catholic defections caused alarm. The pariah evangelists Rajanayakan and Sattianadan were two ex-Catholics who took leading roles in the effort to Protestantize Tranquebar and Tanjore in the 1700s. New problems emerged, however, when it was realized that higher castes were not comfortable receiving the sacraments from outcastes.30 In Indian Christian historiography, there is a fourth phase emerging among historians. One of the formative thinkers in this shift has been Michael Bergunder, who focuses on Indian Pentecostal history.31 Bergunder and others point to the Mukti mission near Pune in Maharashtra as the epicenter of Pentecostal origins in India. The impressive leader of the revival there, Pandita Ramabai, was a Marathi Brahmin convert who, with Western aid, led a vibrant ministry for single women that thrives to this day.32 The South Indian Revival began right around the same time as the famous Azusa Street Revival of 1906 although independently of it. Ramabai would eventually distance herself from the Pentecostal movement that began to spread all over the globe after 1906, but in reality the revival that took place in her mission had much in common with larger Pentecostal trends at the time. The Pentecostal awakening that originated with a “prayer circle” she started in 1905 has become a major movement in the south Indian Christian scene.33 While half the Christian population in

30 For the discussion of Rajanayakan and Sattianadan see Hudson, Protestant Origins in India, 42–48. 31  See Michael Bergunder, The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth Century. 32 Ramabai has received significant scholarly treatment in recent years, notably by Frykenberg and Edith Blumhofer. See Robert Eric Frykenberg, ed., Pandita Ramabai’s America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003). Frykenberg wrote the 54–page biographical introduction to this work which is a translation of Ramabai’s description and analysis of the United States of America. Kshitija Gomes translated the work into English. See also Edith Blumhofer, “Consuming Fire: Pandita Ramabai and the Global Pentecostal Impulse,” in Interpreting Contemporary Christianity: Global Processes and Identities (Pretoria: University of Pretoria, Currents in World Christianity Conference Paper, 3–7 July 2001). See also Edith Blumhofer, “From India’s Coral Strand: Pandita Ramabai and U.S. Support for Foreign Missions,” in The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History, ed. by Daniel Bays and Grant Wacker (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 2003), 152–170. Eliza Kent’s otherwise excellent work Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) conspicuously leaves Ramabai’s story out. 33 Ramabai’s prayer circle was probably due to Keswick influence that was strong in British realms of influence at the time. See Orr, Evangelical Awakenings in India (New Delhi: Masihi Sahitya Sanstha, 1970), 62.


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South India is Catholic, Pentecostals account for around 20% of the total Protestant population, and they are growing.34 Reflecting back on this lively history, as well as on the current situation, is it possible to assert the Indianness of Christian faith? Several historians are saying yes. Their larger motive seems to be disentangling Indian Christianity from Westernization, arguing that Christianity in India is also an Indian religion, not exclusively a European one. And historians who enter the field today would do well to avoid repeating that interpretive mistake. Most Indian Christians today have no connection to missionaries from the West and little reason to assume their faith is anything but Indian. European missionaries are part of the history, but not nearly as central as previous historiography has suggested. Thus, the process of discovering local voices that were muted in the historical record has become a priority in documenting Indian Christianity. There is a new emphasis on Indian agency in the process of faith transmission.35 These corrections are part of a wider mood in post-colonial history that tends to favour marginalized voices.36 And in the case of Indian Christianity the stakes can be high, making the program to re-imagine and to reassert the Indianness of Christianity an urgent matter. It is critical that Indian Christians gain religious legitimacy in a context that can be quite unfavourable and even hostile toward their basic freedoms and human rights. Anti-Christian violence since the late 1990s—in Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Kashmir, Gujarat, and most notably in Orissa—has escalated Hindu-Christian tension.37 There is a sense of urgency surrounding this discussion. The task of re-imagination— the task that brought this book into being—should be compulsory.

34 Bergunder, The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth Century, 14–17. For “prayer circle” see 23. For Ramabai distancing herself from Pentecostalism, Bergunder (24) cites J. Edwin Orr as having “shown” this to be the case but he does not provide a precise source for the claim. 35 One notable example is Tirunelveli’s Evangelical Christians: Two Centuries of Family Vamsavashi Traditions (Bangalore: SAIACS Press, 2003), ed by Robert Frykenberg, Chris Barriger, David Packiamuthu, and Sarojini Packiamuthu. Another example is B. Sobhanan, ed., A History of the Christian Missions in South India (Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Historical Society, 1996). 36 The examples of this are numerous and of course not limited to India. See for example Casely Essamuah, Genuinely Ghanian: A History of the Methodist Church Ghana, 1961–2000 (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2011). 37 See Chad Bauman, “Identity, Conversion and Violence: Dalits, Adivasis and the 2007– 2008 Riots in Orissa,” chapter 12 in Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India, ed. by Rowena Robinson and Joseph Marianus Kujur (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2010), 263–265. In the same volume, see Peggy Froerer, “Christian Piety and the Emergence of Hindu Nationalism in Central India,” (chapter 6).

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Christianity in India has indigenized, and the seminary faculties, publications, charities, clergy, and ethos all reflect that fact. This is obvious on numerous levels, from small village ministries to megachurches. The megachurch phenomenon, so common in American Christianity, is also prominent in India. For instance, the Mark Buntain Memorial Assembly of God Church in Kolkata holds services in eight languages: English, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, Nepali, Oriya, Tamil, and Telugu. The Full Gospel Assembly of God Church in Bangalore, founded by Paul Thangiah, a theologically trained Indian, claims seventeen thousand attendees each Sunday and a television viewership of 300 million per week.38 Another Bangalore megachurch, the Bethel Assembly of God Church, has an impressive media ministry—Twitter and all—that rivals its American counterparts. The pastor, Rev. Varughese, is a former air force scientist and former Mar Thoma Orthodox Christian; however, today he is a highly successful Pentecostal entrepreneur who oversees 70 church-related meetings weekly.39 One of the more remarkable Indian ministries is Gospel for Asia, led by former St. Thomas Syrian Christian K. P. Yohannan. Raised in India and theologically educated in the United States’ Southern Baptist realm of influence, Yohannan has authored over 150 books and launched ministries in several Asian nations. His ministry claims 21,000 churches or missions, 13,500 missionaries, and 133 Bible Schools with 7000 students enrolled.40 Founded in 1979, his annual operating budget is today around sixty million U.S. dollars.41 Thus, we might ask, why do many—alas, even in India—continue to associate Christianity in India with Western nations? Oxford historian Judith Brown has addressed this topic from a slightly different angle.42 In her article “Who is an Indian?” she discusses those voices that identify Indianness with Hinduism. Critical to Brown’s thinking are dilemmas that

38 For the two previous churches, see Imchen K. Sungjemmeren, “Indian Megachurches’ Centripetal Mission,” Lausanne World Pulse (January/February 2011 issue). Article located at: 39 See the church history section of their website: history.php. 40 See the Gospel for Asia website at: The Gospel for Asia web presence is huge, making it difficult to find a balanced perspective on their ministry. 41  See their financial statement located at: .aspx?ID=5294. 42 Brown addresses this and related issues in “Who Is an Indian? Dilemmas of National Identity at the End of the British Raj in India,” in Brian Stanley, ed., Missions, Nationalism, and the End of Empire, and in “Indian Christians and Nehru’s Nation-State,” in Richard Fox Young, ed., India and the Indianness of Christianity.


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have emerged in the lives of non-Hindu Indians, notably in the twentieth century when literacy rates began to soar. Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, tribal groups, and mixed race peoples often “faced questions about whether they were ‘really Indian’ or not, and what their position would be in a nation predicated on Brahmanical ideals, where the successful nationalist party, the Indian National Congress, was largely composed of higher caste Hindus.”43 In Brown’s view, similar dilemmas were faced by low-caste Hindus who shared the same questions but formulated different responses. Untouchable Hindus often re-imagined the history of Hinduism, claiming the caste system was a superimposition by Aryan invaders. Some Hindus reinterpreted their texts in order to “redefine and reinvent themselves,” which occasionally resulted in Untouchables claiming an ancient Kshatriya ancestry.44 Still others created a new identity for themselves by converting to Christianity, or, under the influence of B. R. Ambedkar, to Buddhism. Nehru and Gandhi were of course two prominent voices in discussions of India and Indianness, but they came to differing conclusions. While Nehru had in mind a “radical secular state . . . regardless of religious or social status,” Gandhi saw India’s pluralistically religious heritage as an asset in defining Indianness, but, according to Brown, “deep down it was a Hindu spirituality and culture” that Gandhi had in mind.45 It was in this context that V. D. Savarkar and M. S. Golwalkar emerged as chief proponents of Hindutva, arguing that “those who did not comply with Hindu culture and standards should not even have citizens’ rights in an independent India.”46 Both Nehru and Gandhi were loath to harassment of Christians but could do little to curb the equation of Indianness with Hinduism. Independence and partition may have had the effect of making Christians even more suspect. The new nation-state “posed critical problems for Indian Christians, problems that half a century on still remain.”47 In her important work Saints, Goddesses, and Kings, Susan Bayly argues that while Thomas (or Syrian) Christians in India enjoy a prestigiously high status, those who converted to Christianity through the years due to 43 Judith Brown, “Who Is an Indian?,” 112. 44 Ibid., 117. 45 Ibid., 123–124. 46 Ibid., 124. Savarkar published Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? in 1923 and Golwalkar published We, or Our Nationhood Defined in 1939. 47 Judith Brown, “Who Is an Indian?,” 131. Brown writes, “Christians and Muslims, however long their families had lived in the subcontinent, were not secure in their Indianness in the eyes of their neighbours, and in their own sense of identity.”

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European contact “have been thought of as being less authentically ‘Indian’ than other south Indians.”48 She places blame for this misconception on the fact that the preponderance of historical material for understanding Indian Christianity derives from Europeans, thus there is a tendency to conflate the faith with the foreigner, the Farangi. Bayly argues that the same problems vex Muslim communities. Rowena Robinson cites the so-called “Hindu Code Bill” of 1955–56 as severely damaging the perceived Indianness of all non-Hindus in India because it divided the nation religiously.49 She takes particular issue with the understanding of the term “Hindu” in the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act: 1) A person who is Hindu by religion in any of its forms or developments including Virashaiva, Lingayat or a follower of Brahman, Prarthana or Arya Samaj. 2) Any person who is Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion. 3) Any other person domiciled in territories to which this Act extends who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion unless it is proved that any such person would not have been governed by Hindu law or custom. In other words, according to this definition, “All Indians are ‘Hindu’ other than those belonging to religions originating outside India.”50 In her view, the implications on Indian identity for non-Hindus are profoundly damaging, and they cause unnecessary divisions among members of different religions. She argues that Christians and other religious minorities get slighted in almost every sphere of civil law and their rights become restricted in areas such as marriage, divorce, and the freedom of religion. Robinson declares the laws “extremely dubious” because they seem to be “exclusively directed to conversion from one of the indigenous religions to ‘alien’ religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Zoroastrianism.”51 Robinson argues that Christians in India have historically struggled with acceptance from Christians outside of India (illustrated most formidably

48 Bayly, Saints, Goddesses, and Kings, 243. 49 She refers to the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act. See Robinson, Christians of India, 18–19. 50 Ibid., 19. Italics are hers. 51  Ibid.


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in the early Portuguese years) because of some of their practices being so clearly Indian, notably in their caste distinctions. What arises is a situation of: damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Indian Christians are denigrated by Indian law for being somehow alien, yet critiqued by Christians outside India for being “somehow not quite authentic.”52 Many of these tensions continue today, most conspicuously issues surrounding religious conversion. In a case study of religious conversions in court cases in the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Arunachal Pradesh, Ronald Neufeldt observes “conversion has been and continues to be a thorny issue for governments and legislators in India.”53 He concludes that the original framers of the Indian Constitution did not include clauses dealing specifically with conversions that may include coercion, improper inducement, fraud, or the case of “undue influence” over minors because, they reasoned, existing laws were adequate. There was considerable debate, however, about whether these clauses should be included, and “The dropped clauses do not fade from memory.”54 However, independent India has seen such clauses introduced on the state level, leading Neufeldt to remark, “Apparently, what is good for the States is not good for the whole of the country.”55 Neufeldt lists several misgivings with the outcomes of these laws, stemming largely from the confusion over the purpose of propagating one’s faith. Some believe the intent of propagation is to edify while others believe the purpose is to lure someone to change faiths. Several problems arise here such as whether a person has the right to convert to another faith. The state courts have argued that it depends on the motives of the one propagating. And this is where problems proliferate. It is not at all uncommon in India for Hindu missionaries to propagate among non-Hindus, appealing to an indigenous sensibility or a nationalistic fervour that might attract a member of a minority, nonindigenous religion. Thus, the laws get interpreted in different directions depending upon several factors: the religion of the missionary under consideration, the socio-political context, or the governing body executing the decision. In this context there runs the risk of minority religions getting short-changed. In his conclusion, Neufeldt reasons:

52 Ibid., 22. 53 See 382 in Ronald Neufeldt, “To Convert or Not to Convert: Legal and Political Dimensions of Conversion in Independent India,” in Religion and Law in Independent India, Second Edition (New Delhi: Manohar, 2005), ed. by Robert Baird. 54 Ibid., 389. 55 Ibid., 398.

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The majority commonly enjoys rights not accorded to the minorities . . . there appear to be no limitations placed on reconversion to Hinduism or on Hindu missionary activity. . . . Inducement may be available to reconversion to Hinduism, but not to conversion from Hinduism.56

At times the implications can be obvious: “Non-indigenous faiths are regarded as alien and therefore as endangering national interests. . . . Indigenous faith and nationalism are in some respects then to be seen as synonymous.”57 Nationalism and Hinduism have been linked for generations in India, but became more fervent in the years leading up to Indian independence, notably in the rhetoric of Hindutva—a cultural identity and political posture in India that is often linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Hindutva is nostalgic; it unrealistically pines for an unfettered, unpolluted India, shorn of its foreigners who have invaded through the years. It longs for a Hindustan where religious minorities are less than equals. In the preIndependent era, it was the antithesis to Gandhi’s multiethnic vision “that would recognize the multiple diversities and identities, and in which these diversities would somehow be united in a larger cause.”58 In Hindutva conceptions of India, however, there is no room for dual loyalties. If one is loyal to India, one must be loyal to Hinduism. Savarkar’s theories might be dismissed as idiosyncratic or innocuous were it not for their popularity in India; the BJP party is India’s second largest political party and was in power from 1998 to 2004. Ronald Neufeldt critiques the Hindutva conception of India as something to be taken much more seriously than conservative rancour: “It is a kind of language that is used, and has been used, to support violence of one religious group against another, of one cultural group against another.”59 It has been linked to violence against Christians in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa. It has also fuelled fires of violence between Hindus and Muslims. When asking “Is Christianity an Indian religion?,” we must realize the complicated, layered history involved. We must understand the peripheral role that non-Indians really have in offering up answers. John Carman asks, “What can scholars outside of India contribute to Christian 56 Ibid., 399. 57 Ibid., 391. 58 See 170 in Ronald Neufeldt, “Hindutva and the Rhetoric of Violence: Interpreting the Past, Designing the Future,” in The Twenty-first Century Confronts Its Gods: Globalization, Technology, and War (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2004), ed. by David Hawkin. 59 Ibid., 170.


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interpretations of Hindu traditions?”60 I think Carman’s question can apply to Christianity as well, since Christianity is an Indian—and perhaps Hindu—religion on some level, depending on how one defines the word Hindu. Carman argues that “outside scholars can bring a useful perspective” but ultimately Indians have the greater right to speak to these issues because there is so much more at stake for them. This applies equally to Christians and Hindus. Indeed there is much at stake. In September 2010, Terry Jones, a selfproclaimed pastor of a few dozen souls in Gainesville, Florida, announced he would burn a Quran in his small, bizarre church.61 The outrage in India was intense, although few in the Western media realized the incident’s seriousness on the other side of the globe. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Indonesia, and India there were riots and protests. Many people were killed.62 How could Christians in the Kashmir get linked to this bizarre preacher in Florida? The answer is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity in India—that it is Western, colonial, and, ultimately, a foreigner’s religion. As this strange episode reveals, associating Christianity with the West is gravely problematic on a number of levels. More importantly, it serves as a caution to Westerners who have little knowledge of the sensitivity of religious conviction in the world, and no connection to the repercussions such ignorance might instigate. Eliza Kent is one who understands why Indian Christians must take the central role—and Westerners must take a peripheral role—in interpreting Christianity in India. In her well researched book Converting Women, she lays out a nuanced and convincing argument that during colonial India, conversion to Christianity meant something very different to Indians than it did to Westerners. Indians tended not to share the intensely 60 John Carman, “Christian Interpretation of ‘Hinduism’: Between Understanding and Theological Judgment,” in India and the Indianness of Christianity, 235–237. 61 See Nirmala Carvalho, “Christian church and school set on fire in Punjab because of the ‘Burn-the-Qur’an’ proposal,”, September 13, 2010, located at: http://www See also “Quran-Burn Reports Spark Kashmir Clashes, 15 Die,” CBS News World, September 13, 2010, located at: See also: “15 killed in disputed Kashmir in deadly protests,” MSNBC, September 13, 2010, located at: 62 See “Quran burning threat fuels protests,” AlJazeera, September 10, 2010, located at: See also Nick Schifrin, “U.N. Staffers Killed in Afghanistan Over Terry Jones Koran Burning, Police Say,” ABC World News, April 1, 2011, located at:

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personal, deeply experiential conversion common in evangelical Christianity. Rather, Kent emphasizes the social critique that conversion to Christianity implied. She describes this phenomenon as the “critique of prevailing local hegemonies,” accompanied by “the tendency to indigenize Christianity.”63 Indians often converted to Christianity in order to subvert and openly critique their own Hindu cultural context. Kent challenges those critiques which assert that Indians only converted to Christianity to receive a better living and increase their social status. Yes, that happened, but there were often much larger motives at play. For example, through conversion, low caste women could demonstrate their dissatisfaction with their own society’s “patriarchal or hierarchal tendencies.”64 Whether or not conversion to Christianity actually made a positive difference in the lives of these Christians is debatable. For by fleeing one set of problems, a convert might find herself saddled with new problems, such as not being recognized as legitimately Indian. Each person would thus be forced to somehow gauge the cost-benefit. Would conversion to Christianity equate to less patriarchy? If so, then can it be assumed that less patriarchy would translate to a better life? Studies of conversion to Christianity in India can make for riveting reading, but can also provide justifications for why Christianity is often understood with a measure of suspicion. Jesse Palsetia has documented two high profile cases of young Indians who converted to Christianity in Bombay in the 1830s and 1840s.65 His research of a Parsi teenager and a later case involving two Hindu brothers is extremely helpful in understanding how Indians responded to Christianity and colonialism, particularly in Bombay. First, he discusses Dhanjibhai Nauroji, a sixteen-year-old Parsi who was converted by a zealously evangelical Scottish missionary named Dr. John Wilson in 1839. Dhanjibhai’s father had died, placing a heavy burden on his mother to take care of him in addition to four sisters. Dhanjibhai was placed in the care of Wilson who, only two weeks later, converted the teenager to Christianity. Another Parsi friend received Christian baptism the following day. This attracted the Parsi community’s attention to the point that they took legal action against Wilson. They claimed Dhanjibhai’s conversion had been coerced and was improper. The influential Parsi 63 Eliza Kent, Converting Women, 240. 64 Ibid., 239. 65 Jesse Palsetia, “Parsi and Hindu Traditional and Nontraditional Responses to Christian Conversion in Bombay,” 1839–45, in Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74:3 (September 2006).


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Panchayat—the internal government of Parsis in Bombay recognized by the British since 1787—took up the case in the Supreme Court of Bombay. The Parsis lost the case, mainly because Dhanjibhai was sixteen years old and, it was viewed, able to discern which religion he wanted to follow. The Parsi community ostracized the teenager and threatened violence against Dr. Wilson. Eventually they began bribing Dhanjibhai to come back to the community. They did not succeed. They did, however, argue forcefully that they had placed their children in the care of British educators with the understanding that their children would not be evangelized or pressured to become Christian. Thus, they felt betrayed by Dr. Wilson’s act and by the British government’s decision. This case was the first of its kind to come before a court in western India.66 And it set a standard for many more court cases thereafter. The entire Indian community in Bombay responded by joining together for a “three-pronged” response: political agitation, interreligious (non-Christian) cooperation, and educational reform.67 Leading Parsis, Hindus, and Muslims together drafted the “AntiConversion Memorial” to ban Christian missionary activity in all of India and fix the age of accountability at twenty-one so that teenagers could no longer decide their own religious affiliation. The impact was immediate and Indian pupils in Christian-affiliated schools declined dramatically.68 The second case involved two Hindu brothers, sixteen-year-old Narayan Sheshadri Parlikar and his ten-year-old brother Shripat Parlikar. They were from the Desastha Brahmin caste. The two brothers lived with Scottish missionary Robert Nesbit, a good friend to Dr. John Wilson. The older brother became baptized a Christian in 1843, leading to distress among the Hindu community in Bombay. Prominent Hindu leaders went to the Supreme Court of Bombay to get the younger boy, Shripat, returned to his father’s custody. In this case the Supreme Court ruled against the missionaries, arguing that the ten-year-old was simply too young to make decisions for himself. Prominent Hindu leaders reacted strongly to the entire situation, declaring “All Hindus were forbidden to send their children to mission schools.”69 Shripat’s reinstatement into the Hindu community was fraught with difficulties due to issues regarding pollution. Eighty one pandits in Pune concluded that a penalty of 18 years of penance would be handed to 66 Ibid., 627. 67 Ibid., 628. 68 Palsetia writes that the General Assembly Institution’s Indian enrollment dropped from 500 to between 60 and 70. 69 Palsetia, 631.

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Shripat. He would undergo comprehensive purification rituals involving sacred cow products milk, curd, ghee, urine, and dung. He was to receive the sacred thread ceremony (upanayana), take a pilgrimage to Benares, and endure “several years of enforced isolation from the Brahmins.”70 Reactions, however, were mixed as many Hindus thought the boy should be outcasted, that he had been compromised beyond repair. Among those who thought he should be readmitted there was a broad range of perspectives. Some thought he should have been punished a lot harder than he was. The fact of the matter was that he was readmitted, albeit after a very heated and public discussion in the Hindu community. Palsetia’s article is seminal in that it points to larger developments that arose from these two cases. First, he argues that what actually resulted from these two scandals was a modernization of Indian law. Both Parsi and Hindu communities were forced to standardize their responses to a colonial government. While they both continued to oppose Christian conversion, they were compelled to learn how to present their arguments within the British court system. Palsetia writes, The Parsi and Brahmin conversion cases contributed to a process of selfinquiry and introspection taking place among Indians in the nineteenth century. Indians’ use of traditional norms and the mechanisms of the colonial environment in defense of their interests were indicative of Indians’ vigorous and creative engagement of western ideologies.71

We could add that by self-reflecting and adapting, Parsis and Hindus took a great leap forward in their quest for legitimacy and autonomy that would end in independence a century later. The British courts had the effect of galvanizing an Indian population, equipping them for larger battles down the road. Parsis and Hindus in 1840s India were thrust into a situation where they had to craft arguments and defenses for their way of life. They had to justify their beliefs in a system that operated on assumptions very different from their own, particularly on issues related to identity. Whereas Western thinking was based on the individual and his or her rights, among Indians the “foundational assumption was the concern for the community.”72 The Indian voices involved in these cases were pressed to rethink their

70 Ibid., 635. It should be pointed out that Shripat married a Brahmin girl when he grew up, indicating a measure of acceptance and respectability. 71  Ibid., 638. 72 Ibid., 627.


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convictions in a way that preserved the integrity of the past without failing to recognize the reality of living under foreign rule, and adjusting creatively to that reality. It is here I think parallels can be made between the Hindus and Parsis of the 1840s and Indian Christians of today. Both represent the weaker partner in a power-relationship. Christians in India today are a very small minority and must remain flexible, continuously adapting to a changing context. They are part of the system—the nation of India—yet they are outsiders in ways. Christians in India are mainly Untouchables and Adivasis. They often describe themselves as Dalits, or, crushed people. This is not altogether different from Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Parsis living under the powerful Raj—part of the system, yet somehow not an equal stakeholder. So we return to the fundamental question of this chapter: Is Christianity an Indian religion? It is important for Indian Christians to decide this, since they have much more at stake than those outside of India. Indians who have converted to Christianity through the years have done so at a great personal price. John Carman writes, Even today, the decision to be an active member of a small Christian minority can prove costly. It is this potentially risky involvement with the Christian community that gives Indian Christians a greater right to speak than less involved outsiders. Nevertheless, there are good reasons for keeping Christian theological interpretations international. It is the genius of Christianity to be local and to express its universal character in terms intelligible to every “family, tribe, and nation.”73

Thus, while many Christians in India will identify with the voice of the Dalit, others may, and do, choose to identify with a high caste, or with Indian nationalism. It was a similar situation with Hindus and Parsis in the 1840s. Many chose to react against Britain, while some, especially Parsis, saw the benefit of nurturing good relations with Britain for the sake of their own communities. However, responses were always mixed. A similar phenomenon is happening today within Indian Christianity. All voices at the table will collectively shape the larger Indian consciousness of Christianity. And this emphasizes the point that while Western voices need to be heard, since they are outsiders, they are unable to identify with fundamental questions regarding Indian identity. Indian Christians must re-imagine fresh responses that preserve the integrity of Christian faith, 73 Carman, 237.

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yet also redefine Christian faith over against the backdrop of a colonial past. Outsiders have less need for solidarity within the complex tapestry of India and therefore have less direct accountability for the consequences of their actions. The new historiography of Indian Christianity is having an impact on the entire discipline. The Indianness of Christianity is both a reality and a pressing need. The myth of Christianity being exclusively a foreigner’s religion has been dispelled. Christianity has long indigenized in India. To understand it as a European faith is to prolong a distorted stereotype that may foster hazardous implications and stifle interreligious harmony in the region. It is also unfair to Indian theologians and historians who will always remain the real experts on the topic. It will be their task to lead the re-imagination of Christianity in India, from an Indian perspective. In conclusion, I will remark on the task of the non-Indian, Christian perspective. If Christianity is an Indian religion, and if it is the duty of Indian Christians to take the lead in re-imagining Christianity in India, then what role is left to play by a Westerner like myself ? Harold Coward published a fascinating article in 1994 that I believe sheds tremendous light on what kinds of responses are appropriate for a Western Christian. In “Hindu-Christian Dialogue as ‘Mutual Conversation’,” he argues against a “mutual evangelization” model of interreligious dialogue in favour of what he believes to be something that is “more open in nature.”74 Coward’s paper is a fitting conclusion to this chapter because it offers a way forward for the non-Indian who happens to research Indian religion. Coward’s paper begins by emphasizing that interreligious dialogue must always be a conversation rather than a monologue. As an example, he uses the cooperative Bible translation efforts of William Carey (1761–1834) and Ram Mohun Roy (1772–1833) in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, arguing they were faithful to a “conversation” model in their work together. Coward also discusses the shining example of Madras Christian College (MCC), founded in 1837 by the Church of Scotland. The college produced exemplary graduates such as Oxford University professor and president of India Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975), and helped spawn the “Hindu Renaissance” in South India.75 This Coward

74 Harold Coward, “Hindu-Christian Dialogue as ‘Mutual Conversation’,” in Studia Missionalia 43 (1994): 177–192. For the quotation see 178. Coward draws deeply from the work of Francis Clooney in his paper. 75 Ibid., 181.


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refers to as a “golden era” preceding the age of the Orientalists who “established a program of one-sided acculturation which insisted that Indians completely assimilate themselves to British culture.”76 Coward believes the success of Madras Christian College had everything to do with the mutual conversation approach exemplified by the Scottish missionary teachers, most notably A. G. Hogg (1875–1954) who was at MCC from 1903 to 1938, serving as principal from 1928 until retirement to parish ministry in Scotland.77 Hogg had a deep reverence for Hinduism and made a profound impact on his students, most notably Radhakrishnan. Hogg and Radhakrishnan’s dialogical relationship enriched both of them, and Radhakrishnan instilled this same method into his own students, especially T. R. V. Murti. Radhakrishnan appointed Murti to take over the Spaulding Professorship of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford when he vacated in order to serve as President of India from 1962 to 1967.78 Later, Murti became Coward’s PhD supervisor and taught him this method through lengthy, challenging, and ultimately transforming conversations that lasted to the end of Murti’s life.79 Thus, in Harold Coward, one can still find the “mutual conversation” approach of A. G. Hogg in the unbroken thread running through Radhakrishnan and Murti. When considering the Indianness of Christianity—whether Christianity can be considered Indian or not—I would like to emphasize two modi operandi: 1) Indian Christians must take the lead in the conversation— and increasingly they are; and 2) when the Westerner enters the conversation, he or she must function from a conversational approach. This is critical to the task of dealing with such a loaded subject fraught with a turbulent history. Christianity often conjures up thoughts in the Indian mind that are not nearly as pronounced in the Western mind: colonization, subjugation, imperialism, foreignness, intolerance, or elitism. Indian Christians however must teach Western Christians how to handle these matters sensitively, in a context of mutual conversation. There is no question that as Christianity has interacted with Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, and other religions in India, it has been changed. Thus, the Christianities found in India can appear quite foreign to the

76 Ibid., 180. 77 See Eric J. Sharpe, “Hogg, Alfred George,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. by Gerald Anderson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). 78 Coward, 189. See also Michael Hawley, “Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975),” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, located at: 79 Coward, 189.

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Westerner. Christians in India must take the lead here, as on a trek, leading and pointing the way, shining a light when necessary. The Indianness of Christianity is a reality for many Indians. Some Indians, however, feel that they are members of a foreign religion. This, however, is unnecessary. Westerners and Indians alike must learn to rethink their own conceptions of Christianity in the light of millennia of south Asian thinking. It promises to be a project of profound re-imagination. Like William Carey, Ram Mohun Roy, Alfred Hogg, and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, professors Ronald Neufeldt and Harold Coward are “paradigm examples” of Hindu-Christian dialogue.80 Both of these men represent an admirable posture towards re-imagining Indian religion. However, my suggestion is that scholars incorporate the mutual conversation method they admirably manifested throughout their careers into the study and practice of Christianity in India. In other words, the method which they showed their students—the contributors to this festschrift—serves as a commendable example for Western Christian/Indian Christian dialogue. It is only through openness and receptivity that Christianity can ever become Indian. And intuition tells me that when Christianity enters the realm of mutuality and openness, it will not only improve the faith, it will bring out the best in a faith that was hardwired for adaptation. Bibliography “15 killed in disputed Kashmir in deadly protests.” MSNBC, September 13, 2010. http://www Bauman, Chad. “Identity, Conversion and Violence: Dalits, Adivasis and the 2007–2008 Riots in Orissa.” In Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India, edited by Rowena Robinson and Joseph Marianus Kujur. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010. Bayly, Susan. Saints, Goddesses, and Kings: Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society, 1700–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Bergunder, Michael. The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008. Blumhofer, Edith. “Consuming Fire: Pandita Ramabai and the Global Pentecostal Impulse.” In Interpreting Contemporary Christianity: Global Processes and Identities, edited by Alaine Low and Ogbu U. Kalu. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008. ——. “From India’s Coral Strand: Pandita Ramabai and U.S. Support for Foreign Missions.” In The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History, edited by Daniel Bays and Grant Wacker. Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 2003.

80 Coward, p. 192.


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Brown, Judith. “Indian Christians and Nehru’s Nation-State.” In India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding—Historical, Theological, and Bibliographical— in Honor of Robert Eric Frykenberg, edited by Richard Fox Young. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009. ——. “Who is an Indian? Dilemmas of National Identity at the End of the British Raj in India.” In Missions, Nationalism, and the End of Empire, edited by Brian Stanley. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003. Carman, John. “Christian Interpretation of “Hinduism”: Between Understanding and Theological Judgment.” In India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding— Historical, Theological, and Bibliographical—in Honor of Robert Eric Frykenberg, edited by Richard Fox Young. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009. Carvalho, Nirmala. “Christian church and school set on fire in Punjab because of the ‘Burn— the—Qur’an’ proposal.”, September 13, 2010. Christian-church-and-school-set-on-fire-in-Punjab-because-of-the-%E2%80%98Burnthe-Qur%E2%80%98an%E2%80%99-proposal-19445.html. Coward, Harold. “Hindu-Christian Dialogue as ‘Mutual Conversation’.” In Studia Missionalia 43 (1994): 177–192. Dale, Stephen. The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Daughrity, Dyron. The Changing World of Christianity: The Global History of a Borderless Religion. New York: Peter Lang, 2010. Essamuah, Casely. Genuinely Ghanian: A History of the Methodist Church Ghana, 1961–2000. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2011. Fernando, Leonard, and G. Gispert-Sauch. Christianity In India: Two Thousand Years of Faith. New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2004. Froerer, Peggy. “Christian Piety and the Emergence of Hindu Nationalism in Central India.” In Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India, edited by Rowena Robinson and Joseph Marianus Kujur. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010. Frykenberg, Robert Eric. Christianity in India: From Beginnings to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. —— (ed.) Pandita Ramabai’s America. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003. Frykenberg, Robert Eric, Chris Barriger, David Packiamuthu, and Sarojini Packiamuthu, (eds.) Tirunelveli’s Evangelical Christians: Two Centuries of Family Vamsavashi Traditions. Bangalore: SAIACS Press, 2003. Golwalkar, Madhav Sadashiv. We, or Our Nationhood Defined. Publisher unknown, 1938. Government of India 2001 Census. New Delhi: Office of the Registrar General, 2001. http:// Hawley, Michael. “Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888–1975).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Hudson, D. Dennis. Protestant Origins in India: Tamil Evangelical Christians, 1706–1835. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000. Kent, Eliza. Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Neill, Stephen. A History of Christianity in India: The Beginnings to AD 1707. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Neufeldt, Ronald. “Hindutva and the Rhetoric of Violence: Interpreting the Past, Designing the Future.” In The Twenty-first Century Confronts Its Gods: Globalization, Technology, and War, edited by David Hawkin. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004. ——. “To Convert or Not to Convert: Legal and Political Dimensions of Conversion in Independent India.” In Religion and Law in Independent India, second edition, edited by Robert Baird. New Delhi: Manohar, 2005. Orr, J. Edwin. Evangelical Awakenings in India. New Delhi: Masihi Sahitya Sanstha, 1970.

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Palsetia, Jesse. “Parsi and Hindu Traditional and Nontraditional Responses to Christian Conversion in Bombay, 1839–45.” In Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74.3 (2006): 615–645. Pye-Smith, Charlie. Rebels and Outcasts: A Journey Through Christian India. London: Viking, 1997. “Quran burning threat fuels protests.” AlJazeera, September 10, 2010. http://english “Quran-Burn Reports Spark Kashmir Clashes, 15 Die.” CBS News World, September 13, 2010. Robinson, Rowena. Christians of India. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2003. Sanneh, Lamin. Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel beyond the West. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003. Savarkar, Vinayak Damodar. Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? Publisher unknown, 1923. Schifrin, Nick. “U.N. Staffers Killed in Afghanistan Over Terry Jones Koran Burning, Police Say.” ABC World News, April 1, 2011. Sharpe, Eric J. “Hogg, Alfred George.” In Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. By Gerald Anderson. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998. Sobhanan, B., ed. A History of the Christian Missions in South India. Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Historical Society, 1996. Stanley, Brian. “Thomas’s Tribes.” Times Literary Supplement, February 13, 2009. Sungjemmeren, Imchen K. “Indian Megachurches’ Centripetal Mission.” In Lausanne World Pulse, January/February 2011. The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009. https:// World Christian Database. Leiden: Brill, 2009. wcd/. Young, Richard Fox. “The Frykenberg Vamsavali: A South Asia Historian’s Genealogy, Personal and Academic, with a Bibliography of His Works.” In India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding—Historical, Theological, and Bibliographical— in Honor of Robert Eric Frykenberg, edited by Richard Fox Young. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009. Zupanov, Ines G. Disputed Mission: Jesuit Experiments and Brahmanical Knowledge in Seventeenth-century India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

M. K. Gandhi and the Sikhs: Violence, Religious Identity, and Competing Modernities Michael Hawley If you want to play the game of love approach me with your head on the palm of your hand. Place your feet on this path and give your head without regard to the opinion of others. Guru Nanak Reverently I salute the Sword with affection and devotion. Grant, I pray, your divine assistance that this book [the Bachitra Natak] may be brought to completion. Thee I invoke, All-conquering Sword, Destroyer of evil, Ornament of the brave. Powerful your arm and radiant your glory, your splendor as dazzling as the brightness of the sun. Joy of the devout and scourge of the wicked, Vanquisher of sin, I seek your protection. Hail to the world’s Creator and Sustainer, my invincible Protector the Sword. Guru Gobind Singh I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills. M. K. Gandhi . . . it was a habit with me to forget what I did not like, and to carry out in practice whatever I liked. M. K. Gandhi

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1947) is perhaps one of the most recognized figures of the 20th century. Sikh tradition by contrast has been until relatively recently the ‘forgotten tradition’.1 Nevertheless, there has been some scholarship on Sikh perceptions of Gandhi. These Sikh impressions of Gandhi have however been mixed, from admiration and empathy to vigorous critique and indeed enmity. While there appears to be little consensus among Sikhs with regard to Gandhi, precious little has been done to unpack Gandhi’s perceptions of the Sikhs. Gandhi has been hailed by his admirers as an ecumenical and non-violent saint occupied with the task of recalling the world’s religious communities (religions) back to their shared, ethical core (religion). And much of Gandhi’s attention and 1 Mark Juergensmeyer, “The Forgotten tradition: Sikhism in the Study of World Religions” in Mark Juergensmeyer and N. Gerald Barrier (eds.) Sikh Studies: Comparative Perspectives on a Changing Tradition. Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union, 1979.


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the subsequent scholarship in this area has focused on Hindu—Muslim relations. Little attention has been given to the Sikhs who have tended to remain forgotten in Gandhi studies. This chapter serves as a modest corrective to this paucity of scholarly attention regarding Gandhi and the Sikhs. It attempts to offer a glimpse into the complex and often ambiguous relationship Gandhi had with India’s Sikh community. This chapter argues modernity is the nexus and point of emnity between Gandhi and the Sikhs. Both Gandhi and the Sikhs were deeply rooted in the modernity of colonial South Asia, but whereas Gandhi’s modernity is expressed in terms of orthopraxy, Sikh modernity is expressed in terms of orthodoxy. In developing this position, this chapter will highlight two key fundamental yet contentious issues—violence and religious identity—that constitute both the bridge and the abyss across which Gandhi and the Sikhs (dis)engaged. Sifting Out and Circumscribing the Topic There is at least one thing Gandhi and the Sikhs have in common: their ‘religious’ visions often challenge and conflate established, modern (i.e. western / European), analytic categories. This is perhaps ironic since the present discussion will highlight their modernist proclivities. Nonetheless, this observation must be made at the outset because this paper deals with ‘religion’, itself a modernist analytic category. It is difficult, at best, to sift out the ‘religious’, the ‘cultural’, the ‘social’, and the ‘political’ from one another when speaking of Sikh tradition. Indeed, it has been asserted that Sikhs “constitute a distinct religious-cum-social-cum-political-cum-cultural community and that it is either impossible, unwarranted, or ill-advised to attempt to delineate components of this unique Sikh identity.”2 Similarly, Gandhi frequently and with seemingly unreflective ease employed interchangeably the terms ‘God’, ‘truth’, ‘dharma’, ‘ahiṃsā’, and ‘religion’. Moreover, svarāj (self-rule), svadeśi (of one’s own country), sarvodaya (‘welfare’ of all), and satyagraha (holding fast to truth) are as social and political as they are religious in Gandhi’s writings. That we are justified at all in using the term ‘religion’ in this discussion is the fact it is employed freely by both Gandhi and the Sikhs. The same 2 Verne Dusenbery, “Canadian Ideology and Public Policy: The Impact on Vancouver Sikh Ethnic and Religious Adaptation” in Verne A. Dusenbery, Sikhs at Large: Religion, Culture, and Politics in Global Perspective (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008), 168.

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is true of the equally problematic labels ‘Hindu(ism)’ and ‘Sikh(ism)’ that are employed to describe themselves and each other. Because of this, it seems appropriate to use these (and related) terms to speak of the relationship between violence and religion, and of religious identity as they are envisioned by Gandhi and the Sikhs. This chapter is limited in its scope in that it deals with two key issues: violence and religious identity. 3 These issues have been chosen because they occupy perennially the religious thought and rhetoric of both Gandhi and the Sikhs. Violence and identity are the issues that best highlight the lacuna between Gandhi and the Sikhs. Moreover, the disengagement between Gandhi and the Sikhs concerning violence and identity captures well the ubiquitous, albeit uneven, modernity informing their respective understandings of religion. While this discussion is an historical one, it will not address the question of Gandhi’s changing perceptions of the Sikhs over time, nor the changing response that he received from Sikhs.4 Rather, the historical scope will be largely confined to historical landscape of 1920’s Punjab. It is in this period that the exchange between Gandhi and the Sikhs is at its most robust in terms of the number of times that Gandhi addresses the Sikhs concerning the issues of violence and identity. The recorded Sikh response is peripheral to the present paper. Instead, the discussion focuses on Gandhi, his writing, and his (mis)perception(s) / (mis)characterization(s) of the Sikhs. At the same time, one must recognize that in order to understand Gandhi is one needs to have an appreciation and understanding of those to and about whom he spoke, namely the Sikhs. Therefore, it will be necessary periodically to bring in Sikh viewpoint(s) about Gandhi’s (mis)perceptions pertaining to violence and identity as they relate to Sikhs.5 Finally, and perhaps most importantly, one must also recognize the Sikh panth is not an homogenous, unified, monolith. It was not unified after the passing of Guru Nanak, nor was it so at the turn of the twentieth 3 The presentation will not take on the issue of communal politics, the proposal for Sikhistan, or the impending partition of the subcontinent that occupied the attention of many south Asians in the 1930s and 1940s. See for example S. L. Malhotra’s Gandhi: An Experiment with Communal Politics (1975). Nor will this discussion deal with caste / untouchability, education, conversion, etc. 4 Some of this is dealt with in Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, “The Mahatma and the Sikhs” in Harold G. Coward (ed.) Indian Critiques of Gandhi (Albany: SUNY, 2003), 171–191. 5 See Ibid. The present discussion however will suggest a re-imagining of the GandhiSikh impasse to the one that Singh postulates.


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century, nor is it today. However, beginning with the Singh Sabhas in the 1870s, and the establishment of its subsequent institutions, most notably the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), there emerged an influential, normative, khalsa-oriented tradition (Tat Khalsa) that sought to unify the broader panth under its umbrella. In the 1920s, it was with such Sikhs—and notably the ‘politically’ engaged and highly active Akali Sikhs—that Gandhi concerned himself and with whom he spoke in speeches and in letters, both public and private. This discussion concerns itself with Gandhi’s engagement with these influential, khalsa-oriented Sikhs. It is from the Tat khalsa-oriented Sikhs and from those involved with, or at least sympathetic to, the Akali movement that we have the most sustained dialogue with Gandhi on the issues of violence and identity. This is not to say that other Sikh groups such as the Namdharis or the Nirankaris were unimportant to the panth or to Gandhi. Indeed, panthic boundaries and identity politics were, and continue to be, a fluid business. Indeed, in some instances members of these groups also aligned themselves with the Akali cause. Thus, this paper focuses on Gandhi’s engagement with Tat khalsa-oriented Sikhs during the 1920s concerning the issues of violence and identity vis-à-vis religion. The following presentation is divided into three main parts. Drawing from the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Part I identifies, documents, and clarifies Gandhi’s views regarding violence (with particular attention to the kirpan), followed by Gandhi’s views concerning religious identity with an eye to discerning the relationship he sees between Hindu and Sikh identity. Part II reads Gandhi’s views concerning violence and identity with regard to the Sikhs in the framework of colonialism and modernity. Here, Gandhi’s views are set alongside Sikh views on these same issues in order to sharpen and to contrast the competing modernities informing the two perspectives. Finally, Part III offers some brief concluding reflections on the ubiquitous, yet heterogeneous character of modernity in the Gandhi-Sikh relationship. Part I: Gandhi on Violence and Religious Identity in Relation to the Sikhs Violence Gandhi dedicated his life to the pursuit and realization of non-violence (ahiṃsā). In fact, he regularly refers to ahiṃsā as his religion. The identity of religion and ahiṃsā underlies the Gandhian conviction that religion is

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an entirely practical matter. Ahiṃsā is the expression of, the means to, and the ultimate goal. For Gandhi, non-violence was one’s universal sva­ dharma. Ahiṃsā in the Gandhian scheme required svadeśi (self-reliance), svarāj (self control, self-discipline, sovereignty over one’s own agency), self-sacrifice, a capacity for suffering, and the securing of justice through ethical means. There was nothing theoretical, abstract, doctrinal, or creedal about religion in Gandhi’s mind. It is not surprising then that the issue of non-violence and its antithesis, violence (and thus for Gandhi the irreligious, immoral, unjust, cowardly, undisciplined action) pervades Gandhi’s writings. When Gandhi did take up the issue of violence with regard to the Sikhs, the discussion is inextricably linked to the kirpan, widely accepted as one of the Five Ks introduced by the tenth human Guru, Gobind Singh, on Baishaki 1699 and worn by amritdhari (‘baptized’) or fully khalsa Sikhs as a mark of distinct identity, truth, ethical conduct (dharam), fearlessness, sovereignty, bravery, sacrifice, justice, and indeed, of the Sat Guru. Much of what Gandhi had to say about violence vis-à-vis Sikhs is framed in terms of the kirpan and the ethical character of those who both wear it and wield it. Gandhi approached the kirpan / violence issue in two ways: directly and indirectly. When speaking of the kirpan directly, Gandhi did not speak with a consistent voice. He struggled with the kirpan because on the one hand he saw it as an implement of violence and thus antithetical to religion. On the other hand he recognized and acknowledged it as a sacred accoutrement for the Sikhs. To reconcile this tension, Gandhi distinguished between the value of the kirpan in principle, and the value of the kirpan in practice. In a 1921 note simply called “Kirpan”, Gandhi wrote: The kirpan—the Sikh scimitar—is for the Sikh, “what”, says the Secretary of the Sikh Young Men’s Association, “the sacred thread is to the Brahmin.” And now the Punjab Government is trying to divest Sikhs of their ‘sacred thread’ by restricting its length and breadth. As much as I abhor the possession or use of arms, I cannot reconcile myself to forcible prohibition. As I said three years ago, this forcible disarmament of a people will be regarded by history as one of the blackest sins committed by the British Government against India. If people want to possess arms, they ought to have them without ado. But, in the case of the Sikhs, who have held kirpans without let or hindrance all these years, the crime is worse. The Secretary has no difficulty proving that this war against the kirpan has synchronized with repressive measures against this brave community. The reason too is obvious. The Sikhs have attained political consciousness. They are not content merely to


michael hawley kill at the bidding of their officers. They want to weigh the pros and cons of a cause in which they are called upon to fight. Above all, they want to know where they ‘come in’. They want to become equal partners. This is intolerable, and they must be put down. The bravest among them have, as the Government imagine, been silenced. I can only hope that, rather than surrender their sacred weapon, the Sikhs will court imprisonment. We cannot learn discipline by compulsion. We must learn not to use arms or to use them with responsibility and self-restraint, notwithstanding the right to possess them.6

But speaking of the use of the sword in a 1921 article published in Young India, Gandhi argued: I believe in non-violence as the only remedy open to the Hindus, Mussulmans, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Jews of India. . . . Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism—in fact religion is on its trial. . . . Islam has not spread by the power of the sword but by the prayerful love of an unbroken line of its saints and fakirs. Warrant there is in Islam for drawing the sword; but the conditions laid down are so strict that they are not capable of being fulfilled by everybody. Where is the unerring general to order jehad? Where is the suffering, the love and the purification that must precede the very idea of drawing the sword? Hindus are at least as much bound by similar restrictions as the Mussulmans of India. The Sikhs have their recent proud history to warn them against the use of force. We are too imperfect, too impure and too selfish as yet to resort to armed conflict in the cause of God as Shaukat Ali would say. Will a purified India ever need to draw the sword?7

These two lengthy passages capture well Gandhi’s ambiguity and unease about the kirpan. It is clear that Gandhi recognized that to possess and to carry the kirpan was the sacred right of Sikhs. In this sense, he seemed unequivocally to support the Sikh position, at least in principle. However, when it comes to the use of the kirpan, Gandhi was more cautious in his language. He was careful to remind Sikhs that possessing the kirpan, while a right, carries with it a high moral obligation and responsibility. Indeed, Gandhi went so far as to suggest that no person possessed the moral (and thus for Gandhi the religious) character to wield the kirpan justly. Additionally, he believed the risks of misusing the kirpan would result in violence against others and/or oneself. Moreover, to wield the sword at the bidding of the British government would be yet another form of self-enslavement. For Gandhi, such a result would be tantamount 6 CWMG 23:465–466. 7 CWMG 25:219.

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to a loss of svadeśi and svarāj. Finally, Gandhi questioned whether the kirpan would even have a use in a free India. So while he recognized religious symbolism of the kirpan, he was ultimately opposed to its use. In other words, Gandhi’s concern with the kirpan had to do not with its possession per se, nor the fact that it is a religious requirement, nor that it is a mark of religious distinction (the equivalent to the sacred thread), but rather with its application. For Gandhi, it is what one does with the kirpan that matters. Thus, Gandhi was vocal in his support of the kirpan in principle, but is less supportive when it came to its actual use. For Gandhi, it seems, the kirpan was sacred so long as it was not used. The reason for Gandhi’s mixed assessment of the kirpan is that he understood the religious value of the kirpan through his increasingly rigorous hermeneutic of non-violence. If “religion is on its trial” as Gandhi claimed, any action outside the scope of the first principle of non-violence did not meet the test of religion. But when speaking of the kirpan indirectly, Gandhi did so by lauding the religious qualities that he embraced and the positive characteristics Sikhs themselves appeared to associate with the kirpan. In these cases, Gandhi downplayed what he saw as the negative dimensions of the kirpan (i.e. violence and irreligion), choosing instead to focus on the noble character traits he wished to instill in his listeners. In this context, one cannot help but notice a terminological convergence of Gandhian and Sikh religious values. Gandhi spoke of fearlessness, heroism, bravery, martyrdom, and self-sacrifice of those who have wielded the sword, and of those who have been the victims of violence. These are precisely those values that Sikhs associated with the kirpan. In this context, Gandhi focused his attention on two tragic events fresh in Sikh consciousness: the massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh and the violence suffered at Nankana Sahib. The victims of General Dyer in Jallianwalla Bagh were for Gandhi models of fearlessness. They did not flee, nor did they fight back. For Gandhi, while they died against their will, they did so without resorting to violence themselves. If they had died knowingly and willingly . . . they would have gone down in his-tory [sic] as saints, heroes and patriots.8

8 CWMG 19:410.


michael hawley The men and women who died in Jallianwalla Bagh were not martyrs or heroes. Had they been heroes . . . they would have fought with swords or sticks or would have stood up before [General Dyer] and faced death. There are no Sikhs in the country today who resort to hijrat . . .9

However, one detects a degree of ambiguity here as Gandhi seemed to endorse fighting back with “swords or sticks”. However, one ought to keep in mind the broader picture. Here, Gandhi hailed the resolve of the victims to stand firm in the face of violence and injustice. It seems that because they did not anticipate the violence brought on by General Dyer and his troops, Gandhi was reluctant to see them as “saints, heroes, and patriots” since their deaths were not met in the spirit of satyāgraha. But those massacred at Nankana Sahib, particularly the leaders of the Akali contingent—Lachhman Singh and Dulip Singh—were in Gandhi’s assessment the epitome of bravery. Indeed, Lachhman Singh and Dulip Singh are exemplars of bravery in many of Gandhi’s speeches. For example, speaking to an audience in Simla, Gandhi called upon “you six-foot tall Paunjabis . . . learn the lesson which our Sikh brethren have taught. Be ready, like them [Lachhman Singh and Dulip Singh] to stake your head in a righteous cause.” Likewise in Andhra Pradesh: My conviction remains that even if the so-called major provinces fall, in the event of terrorism (as distinguished from repression) commencing, Bihar and Andhra will save the situation by outdoing the Sikhs in bravery of the soul i.e. suffering. I may be wrong in my estimate. Let us all strive to outdo the rest. It is a race in which competition is not only a virtue, it is a duty.10

But Gandhi cautioned that such bravery must be directed to moral ends. In particular, Gandhi pleaded with the Sikhs not to be further co-opted into the further enslavement of themselves, Indians, and others by doing the bidding of the British government. I called the Sikhs brave. They have shed their own blood for the sake of this Government. Other races are brought into submission with their help. It is due to them that hundreds of Arabs and Egyptians have been cut down. And today how are the Sikhs rewarded for all their bravery? . . . If the Sikhs would do their duty by their Hindu and Mohammedan bretheren, they would surely bring about . . . swaraj.11

9 CWMG 21:346. 10 CWMG 23:39–40. 11  CWMG 21:520.

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Bravery then for Gandhi was the practice of willingly undergoing suffering and even death so as to holdfast to truth (satyāgraha), a practice that required svarāj (self rule) and svadeśi (self reliance), and thus exemplified religion / truth (ahiṃsā). All of the examples of Sikh bravery, Gandhi saw in this light. And those who ‘fight back’ (through violence) are discouraged from doing so by Gandhi. For Sikhs, bravery was the defense of the Guru (both guru-granth and guru-panth) and the weak through the wielding of ‘truth’ (sword). Both Gandhi and the Sikhs spoke of wielding truth, but were at times categorically opposed as to the content of that truth, and under what conditions it might be asserted. The tension between Gandhi and the Sikhs concerning the kirpan / violence also betrays a gendered dimension. In 1920, Gandhi received a letter signed by a woman advocating the use of steel to free India. Gandhi’s response is interesting for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that he doubted the letter was actually written by a woman since: The women of India are infinitely braver than the letter would make them out to be. . . . The writer . . . would therefore gladly make use of the Sikh and Gurkha steel. He has ill-digested the gospel of non-cooperation. . . . And if it is steel that is to decide the issue, it must not be Sikh or Gurkha steel, it must be all-India steel. . . . The . . . Sikhs . . . and other martial races . . . we do want, not for the purpose of giving battle to the British soldier, but for the purpose of refraining from helping the British soldier to subjugate us. We want out military classes to realize that they only perpetuate their own slavery by wielding the sword at the dictation of a British officer.12

The association Gandhi made between bravery (i.e. religious character and moral virtue) and women is telling. Gandhi rejected what he saw as the machismo of brute force and the undisciplined and ‘sectarian’ use of the sword. Rather, true bravery was exemplified by women, the feminine, and the female body. Gandhi associated religious character and moral virtue with women and what he believed to be feminine traits. Women, Gandhi affirmed, had an innate capacity for suffering, self-sacrifice, selfrestraint, selfless service, and infinite love. Such ‘qualities of the soul’, Gandhi believed, would undoubtedly prevail over the undisciplined brute force of masculine steel. Finally, Gandhi evoked the language of martyrdom in connection with the Sikhs. He called those who died at the Nankana Sahib tragedy

12 CWMG 22:41.


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‘martyrs’. In a speech at a Sikh Conference at Shri in February 1921, Gandhi expressed his grief “of those who died as martyrs”, taking blows on the chest and meeting death with courage, resolve, and self-sacrifice.13 Later that same year, Gandhi connected explicitly the idea of self-sacrifice on the part of the Sikhs to religion and faith. The Sikh countrymen are solving their own and India’s problem. All their best men are offering themselves as sacrifice for the sake of their faith. In soldiery fashion one after another they are seeking imprisonment without fuss and flutter and without the slightest violence. If the same calm courage continues, they will without a shadow of a doubt solve their own and with it also solving India’s problem. All India is watching with eager expectation this religious manifestation among the Sikhs.14

The connection between religion and non-violence could not be clearer. Indeed, it is more than that. The fact that Gandhi called this a ‘religious manifestation’ seems to suggest a turn away from violence (irreligion) and a turn toward non-violence (religion). Gandhi seems to be saying here that the Sikhs were becoming ‘true Sikhs’ by disavowing their association with violence and the kirpan. The unwavering Gandhian subtext here is that practice determines religiosity. But, what Gandhi said is not what Sikhs heard. When Gandhi spoke of bravery or of martyrdom, he had in mind a non-violent, feminine, inner resolve and capacity for suffering that has the power to engender a moral change in one’s opponent. By contrast, when Sikhs heard of bravery or martyrdom, they envisioned an inherently violent (whether metaphorical or physical),15 masculine engagement embodied in the khalsa’s sant sapahi (soldier saint). Speaking of the kirpan, whether directly or indirectly, Gandhi attempted to appeal to Sikh sensibilities. To do so, he appealed to the language and to the imagery ingrained in popular Sikh imagination:16 he hailed the virtues of self-sacrifice, of bravery, of martyrdom, and of justice. Though there may be a tenuous terminological bridge between Gandhi and the Sikhs, there remains a chasm between them. Gandhi had very different values in mind when he spoke of these virtues than did the Sikhs. Whereas Gandhi had in mind an inner, feminine, nonviolent, svarāj and 13 CWMG 22:370. 14 CWMG 25:199–200. 15 This issue will be taken up below. 16 Hew McLeod, “The Sikh Struggle in the Eighteenth Century and Its Relevance for Today” in History of Religions. Vol. 31, No. 4, (May 1992): 344–362.

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svadeśi, Sikhs envisioned an outer, masculine, devotion (bhagati) and dharam yudh. In other words, Gandhi avoided speaking directly about the kirpan, preferring instead to applaud what he believed the kirpan evoked. In this way, Gandhi appeared to speak to Sikhs on their own terms. Moreover, the gap between Gandhi and the Sikhs is also a gendered one. Gandhi could appeal to the noble and highly masculinized amritdhari virtues17 of heroism, fearlessness, protection (of the weak), exemplars of genuine faith, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom while at the same time holding fast to the practice of ahiṃsā that he identified with the female capacity for suffering and service. Throughout his rhetoric on the kirpan and its affiliated virtues, Gandhi unwaveringly emphasized praxis over belief, doctrine, and creed. The rationale and justification for religious activity was less important in Gandhi’s mind than the activity itself. For Gandhi, the means justified the end. Because Gandhi categorically rejected the conjunction of religion and violence, a goal achieved through violence was neither moral nor religious and was ultimately without value. Religious Identity For Gandhi, the question of religious identity was secondary to religious praxis. All religions taught the universal and essential message of nonviolence. All other forms of religious expression were, in Gandhi’s view, either specific expressions of ahiṃsā, or divisive and non-religious. For Gandhi, the religions were different roads leading to the same goal.18 Moreover, Gandhi held that the Bhagavad Gītā was the clearest expression of non-violence and as such was the religious text par excellence. Because of this, Gandhi very often spoke as though the various religions expressed at their core the Hindu truth of ahiṃsā. It is because of this that Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh has called Gandhi a religious inclusivist.19 All other religious traditions are expressions of and are absorbed into Gandhi’s Hinduism.

17 For a lengthy and detailed analysis of the amritdhari body, see Brian Keith Axel, The Nation’s Tortured Body: Violence, Representation, and the Formation of a Sikh “Diaspora” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001). 18 CWMG 10:271. (Hind Swaraj) 19 Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, “The Mahatma and the Sikhs” in Harold G. Coward (ed.) Indian Critiques of Gandhi. (Albany: SUNY, 2003), 171–191.


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However, Gandhi’s understanding religious identity conveys an ambiguous message in terms of the relationship between Hinduism and Sikhism. On the one hand, Gandhi’s rhetoric is replete with references to the “Hindu, Mussulman, Sikh, Christian, Jew” and to their respective faiths. This careful cataloging may simply be rhetorical on Gandhi’s part. But it may also suggest that Gandhi understood Hinduism and Sikhism to be separate religions. Indeed, his rhetoric seems to clearly indicate a conviction that Sikhs and Sikhism possess distinctive social, cultural, and political dimensions. On the other hand, Gandhi was equally insistent that Sikhism was not a separate and distinct religion from Hinduism. Here, Gandhi was not speaking simply theoretically in terms of what he saw as the shared core of non-violence. Instead, Gandhi made repeated references to the fact that Guru Nanak was Hindu and that Guru Nanak called himself Hindu. In the course of his writings, Gandhi not only considered himself a follower of the Guru (i.e. a Sikh),20 but the heir to Guru Nanak and to Guru Gobind Singh.21 Gandhi attempted to narrow the hiatus between himself and the Sikhs by lauding the virtue and character of the Gurus, and by aligning himself with what he saw as the noble and ethical tradition of the Sikhs.22 It is important to note here that when Gandhi does associate Hinduism and Sikhism, or when he attempts to show his ‘Sikh side’, he does so with the sole intention of calling one’s attention to the Guru’s practice. It is what the Gurus did; it is their ethical precept that Gandhi endorses. Nowhere did Gandhi draw upon the gurmat in a way that would appeal to Sikh belief, doctrine, or creedal statements.23 Gandhi did not retreat into the ontological or metaphysical speculation of the Gurus. Instead, he saw himself as sharing in the ethical legacy of the Guru’s praxis. In the same way, Gandhi was unmoved by doctrinal or creedal statements by Sikhs about a distinct Sikh identity grounded outside of praxis and separate from Hindu identity. Gandhi recognized various ways of 20 CWMG 88:21. “The Granth Saheb and the Guru are as much mine as theirs.” 21 CWMG 87:201. Gandhi records that Master Tara Singh asked him why Gandhi had said “I was the true heir of Guru Govind Singh and not he.” 22 While not speaking to Sikhs directly, Gandhi insisted In the highly public and politicized context of the 1931 Roundtable Conference in London, that the Hindu-dominated Congress Party was the sole representative of Indians, though he did reluctantly accept the notion (indeed, he called it a “necessary evil”) that Muslims and Sikhs had a special minority status within India. 23 Nikky Singh laments Gandhi’s reluctance (or perhaps lack of familiarity) to quote from the verses of the Gurus, noting that Gandhi cites but one short verse from Guru Arjan. Nikky Singh, “The Mahatma and the Sikhs” in Indian Critiques of Gandhi, 188.

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being religious, but he did not concern himself with various ways of believing. As the epigram from Gandhi at the beginning of this chapter confessed: . . . it was a habit with me to forget what I did not like, and to carry out in practice whatever I liked. In fact, there was nothing new to be taught as far as belief and doctrine are concerned: “Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills”. Polemical sensibilities such as those epitomized by Kahn Singh Nabha’s 1899 Ham Hindu Nahin were not merely intellectual distractions from religious and ethical praxis for Gandhi, but were divisive in their intent and irreligious in their effects. Conflicting assertions of religious identity, and specifically the authority on which that identity rests, whether it be belief or practice, created an abyss across which Gandhi and the Sikhs continually (dis)engaged. Part II: Colonialism and Competing Modernities Colonialism and Religion Any discussion of Gandhi-Sikh relations cannot be divorced from the modern colonial context of their engagement. The scientific revolution and the Enlightenment in Europe radically informed a way of thinking that postulated a fundamental division between religion and the secular. Accompanying this division were a series of related dichotomies. The religious was understood as a private, individualistic affair that concerned itself with a pacific morality and love. The secular by contrast constituted that domain of public and political life that was the theatre of violence and non-moral, scientific inquiry. Richard King’s work on the power of definitions expands on this inventory of dichotomies: the religious and the secular find correspondence in terms of personal religion / institutional religion, irrational (non-rational) / rational, female / male, subjective / objective.24 Importantly, such constructions of self and Other permeated and served to justify (at least in the minds of many Europeans) colonial ideologies of power and of empire. East and West were similarly constructed such that India and West reflected the binaries of stagnation / progress, superstitious / rational, barbaric / civilized, child / parent, disloyal / loyal, cowardly / brave, and lazy / industrious, just to name a few.25 24 Richard King, Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India, and ‘The Mystic East’ (London: Routledge, 1999), 13. 25 For a sustained treatment of this issue, see Thomas R. Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).


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Running parallel to but inextricably joined to the modern colonial enterprise in India was a theory of religion that provided a blueprint for defining, administrating, and controlling various groups in the subcontinent. Under this model, religion was circumscribed in terms of belief, doctrine, and exclusivity. This understanding of religion can be traced back, and indeed firmly tethered to, the Hellenistic construction of Christian identity by Lactantius in the 3th century. Tracing the etymology of religio to re-ligare, Lactantius framed (Christian) religion in terms of what ‘binds together or links’ a group together through ‘worship of the true’. And it is important, really, why you worship, not how you worship, or what you pray for . . . They are superstitious who worship many false gods; but we, who supplicate the one true God, are religious.26

Lactantius’ religion is exclusive and grounded in a doctrine of antiquity. It is, in short, a definition of religion that is articulated in terms of true belief (monotheism), true doctrine (ancient teachings / written word), and exclusivity (the true group). By contrast, as Richard King notes, “in the pre-Christian era Cicero provides an etymology of [religio] relating it to relegere—to re-trace or reread. Thus, religio involves the re-tracing of ‘the lore of the ritual’ of one’s ancestors . . . and made religio virtually synonymous with tradition . . .”27 Relegere was thus tied first and foremost to practice, the performance of traditions. It recognized, by definition, a plurality of practices across various groups. Thus, what was in pre-Christian times a conception of religion grounded in praxis and plurality becomes via Lactantius an institution based on belief, doctrine, and exclusivity. This systemization and arguably reification of (Christian) religion was the normative paradigm operative in modern, colonial India. Both Gandhi and the Sikhs were deeply rooted, though in different ways, in a modernity that was synonymous with British colonialism. Likewise, Gandhi and the Sikhs were also influenced to varying degrees by the theories of religion that informed Christian, European consciousness, theories that informed the construction of colonial categories about ‘religious groups’ in the sub-continent. As we shall see, whereas Gandhi’s modernism is disclosed in his praxis, the modernity of the Sikhs is revealed in their doxa. It is this disjunction of practice and belief that constitutes both the

26 King, Orientalism and Religion, 36. 27 Ibid., 34–35.

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bridge and the abyss across which Gandhi and the Sikhs (dis)engaged. Put differently, while both of their religious sensibilities are firmly entrenched in the modernity of early 20th century India, it is the priority that Gandhi places on (modern religious) practice that repels the primacy that the Sikhs attribute to (modern religious) belief. Competing Modernities: Violence Modernity postulates a division between religion and violence. This is a modernity that Gandhi readily accepted, and is, indeed, the very basis of his body of his religious experiments. For Gandhi, an act of violence— mental or physical—was antithetical to both religion and ethics. It compromised the integrity of oneself and rendered one less capable, if not incapable, of serving others. This hiatus between religion and violence is alien to the pre-modern conception of religion inherited from Cicero. Speaking of the ‘new’ Christian understanding of religion as re-ligare, Richard King speculates: Not surprisingly, contemporaneous pagans found the Christian understanding of religio rather confusing. Why did this new religious movement not acknowledge the gods and traditions of other movements, sometimes to the point of death (martyrdom)? Why were Christian writings so concerned with matters of belief (orthodoxy) rather than faithful adherence to ancestral practices (orthopraxy)?28

King’s observation resonates with pre-colonial Sikh tradition. Balbinder Bhogal has observed that the modernist “dichotomy between religion (as an apolitical spirituality) and violence is foreign to pre-colonial Sikh tradition . . .”29 Bhogal’s argument is that in the pre-colonial, and thus pre-modern and pre-Christianized, Sikh tradition “. . . defending the self violently (if need be), as well as non-violently in acts of passive resistance, both conducted to the point of physical death, is not separated from the ‘killing-the-ego-self ’ metaphorically, emotionally and mentally through bhagati.”30 Likewise, Robin Rinehart has noted to etymological roots of bhagati [bhagauti] as “possessing good fortune or prosperity and thus

28 Ibid., 38. 29 Balbinder Singh Bhogal. “Text as Sword: Sikh religious violence taken for wonder” in John R. Hinnells and Richard King (eds.) Religion and Violence in South Asia: Theory and Practice. (London: Routledge, 2007), 111. 30 Ibid.


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holy.”31 Hence, the oft quoted epigram from Nanak asking those wishing to “play the game of love” to approach the Guru “with your head on the palm of your hand . . . without regard to the opinion of others” is but a precolonial expose of a Sikh self-sacrificing, violent love. Gandhi’s modernism prevented him from seeing the pre-colonial (Sikh) conception of violent-love as denoted by bhagati. Importantly, Bhogal rightly points out that bhagati includes non-violent acts of self defense conducted to the point of death. Such an interpretation resonates beautifully with Gandhi’s method of satyāgraha. Because of this, Gandhi’s plea for non-violent resistance appealed to some Sikhs, in some places, and in some circumstances. But bhagati is not limited to a non-violent programme of resistance. And it is this pre-modern interpretation and its Sikh advocates with whom Gandhi took issue. In this sense, the Sikhs with whom Gandhi struggled were not modernists in terms of the religion / violence dichotomy. While the religion / violence dichotomy can be reflected in Sikh practice, it need not be. There is nothing inherent in Sikh (religious) identity that would demand the disavowal of violent love, of bhagati. Because of his modernity that dichotomizes religion and violence by privatizing and interiorizing them (and perhaps because of his own personal experiences and sensibilities), Gandhi failed to see bond between violence and religion, not only within the gurmat, but within his own tradition. Thus, Gandhi is very much the modernist when it comes to religious praxis, and particularly as that praxis is produced under the modernist bifurcation of religion and violence. Competing Modernities: Religious Identity Gandhi’s proclivities concerning religious identity are notably pre-modern in their orientation. For Gandhi, religious identity mimics Cicero’s interpretation of religio as relegare. And like relegare, Gandhi’s understanding of religious identity was tied first and foremost to practice, the performance of traditions. Granted, his was a modern interpretation of religious practice as non-violence. But the fact remains that he emphasized practice over belief. Moreover, he recognized a plurality of traditions in which that ethic of non-violence was expressed. What made one religious for Gandhi 31 Robin Rinehart, Debating the Dasam Granth (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 106. For an innovative and insightful analysis of bhagauti and its place in the Dasam Granth, see Rinehart’s discussion on pages 106–108.

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was whether one strove to uphold ahiṃsā. It was incidental, indeed it was irrelevant, to Gandhi whether that was Hindu ahiṃsā, Muslim ahiṃsā, Sikh ahiṃsā, or the ahiṃsā of any other religious tradition. The marker of religious identity was non-violence, not whether one professed some doctrinal conception of what it was to be Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh. One implication here is that Gandhi recognized a plurality of religious expressions, or as he might put it, ahiṃsā traditions. Like Cicero before him, Gandhi was pre-modern / pre-Christian when it came to religious identity. He believed that the religions were practiced and plural. By contrast, and perhaps ironically, it is the Sikh appropriation of a modern, normative orthodoxy and exclusivity which mimics the conception of religion of their Christian colonizers that allows them to affirm the pre-modern bond between violence and religion as bhagati. The transformation of Sikh tradition under the auspices of the Singh Sabhas, and specifically those who aligned themselves with the Lahore / Tat Khalsa Sabhas, and later the Akali movement and SGPC, conceived and articulated a Sikh identity in highly modernist terms.32 Often deeply immersed in the colonial project, Sikhs had imbibed a colonial, Christian, and modernized theory of religion. They began to propagate a normative identity that was founded on belief, doctrine, and exclusivity. For the Sikhs, this orthodoxy rested on the pillars of Guru, Granth, and Gurdwara. It articulated a philosophy of difference between itself and Hinduism, and supported an identity that was crystallized in the image of the amritdhari (khalsa) male and the panch kakkars.33 Indeed the term ‘Sikh’ as a primary marker of identity is itself modernist. As Harjot Oberoi has argued, the rise of an orthodox, normative Sikh tradition was the catalyst for the transition from caste to religion as the primary marker of identity in colonial Punjab.34 It was a shift that marginalized the practice of one’s ancestors (caste) in order to prioritize the intellectual acceptance of an alien and reified systematization of true 32 See for example, N. G. Barrier, “The Singh Sabhas and the Evolution of Modern Sikhism, 1875–1925” in Robert D. Baird (ed.) Religion in Modern India. Fourth edition. (New Delhi: Manohar, 2001), 192–223. 33 Five Ks: kesh, khanga, kara, kachha, kirpan. 34 For a detailed historical-cultural analysis of the dynamics of the Sikh panth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Harjot Oberoi, “From Ritual to Counter-Ritual: Rethinking the Hindu-Sikh Question: 1884–1915.” in Joseph T. O’Connell, Milton Israel, and Willard Oxtoby (eds.), Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century. (Toronto: University of Toronto Centre for South Asian Studies, 1988), 136–158, as well as his longer monograph The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994).


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belief (religion). A similar point is made by Arvind Mandair. When examining the process of transformation from pre-modern to modern Sikh identity, Mandair has suggested that even the utterance “I am Sikh” (or “I am Hindu”) discloses a latent and often unexamined violent intrusion of a linguistic, hegemonic, colonial (i.e. modern) idiom.35 The parallels between the shift from pre-modern to modern Sikh identity and the shift that occurred between Cicero and Lactantius’ etymologies of religio are hard to miss. Sikh-ism became a ‘religion’ articulated in terms of true belief (monotheism), true doctrine (written word), and exclusivity (the true group). Whereas Gandhi’s modernity was expressed in terms of orthopraxy (ahiṃsā, svarāj, svadeśi, satyāgraha), Sikh modernity was expressed in terms of orthodoxy (belief, doctrinal statements, exclusivity, and khalsa normativity). Indeed, the work of the Tat Khalsa Sikhs and their endeavor to express in terms of belief an homogenous Sikh ideal, if not tradition as a whole, finds full expression in the Rahit Maryada: Any human being who faithfully believes36 in i. One Immortal being ii. Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Sahib to Guru Gobind Singh Sahib iii. The Guru Granth Sahib iv. The utterances and teaching of the ten Gurus and v. The baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh.37

One could hardly ask for a clearer statement of modern religious identity— an identity that is unambiguously articulated in terms of belief, doctrine, and exclusivity.38 Indeed, echoing the seminal work of Harjot Oberoi, Giorgio Shani has observed that the late nineteenth and early twentieth century:

35 For a concise treatment of this issue, see Arvind Mandair’s article “The Global Fiduciary: Mediating the violence of religion” in John R. Hinnells and Richard King (eds.) Religion and Violence in South Asia: Theory and Practice. (London: Routledge, 2007), 211–225. A fuller, more robust account can be found in his monograph Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009). 36 The emphasis is mine. 37 SGPC 1994, quoted in Giorgio Shani, Sikh Nationalism and Identity in a Global Age (London: Routledge, 2008), 38. 38 Those who wished to be considered proper Sikhs had to conform to the Rahit Mar­ yada and participate in SGPC elections. See Shani, Sikh Nationalism, 2008, 38.

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saw a redefinition and reinterpretation of what it meant to be Sikh. Whereas, at the onset of colonial rule, multiple ‘religious’ (scare quotes mine) identities in the Punjab were possible, there existed by the end of the nineteenth century a more homogenous, modern conception of Sikh identity, as internal religious boundaries between Kes-dhari and Sahajdhari Sikhs and external boundaries between Sikhs and other religious communities, in particular the Hindu community, had become progressively less ‘fuzzy’ and more clearly demarcated.39

The transformation of modern Sikh identity seems to mimic the shift evident from Cicero to Lactanius. Modern (Tat Khalsa) Sikh identity marginalized the plurality of practice and established convention indicative of the panth in pre-colonial Punjab and gave priority to belief, doctrine, and exclusivity. This should in no way be read to say that practice is unimportant for the Sikhs (or, conversely, that belief is unimportant to Gandhi). Not at all. The Gurus consistently and emphatically preached and valued daily labour, ethical relations, and service to the community (seva). These values are deeply entrenched in Sikh consciousness—pre-modern, modern, post-modern—and ‘good Sikh behavior’ continues to be a point of honour and integrity among Sikhs. Rather, the suggestion is that in the colonial context of the Gandhi-Sikh encounter the marker of panthic belonging for Sikhs is belief. What separates one kind of Sikh from another kind of Sikh is practice (e.g dress/colour, chanting, diet, etc.), not belief. This not only separates the Sikhs from Gandhi, but serves to distinguish normative Tat Khalsa Sikhism from other groups in the broader panth (e.g. the Nirankaris, Namdharis, Akhand Kirtani Jatha, or even patit Sikhs).40 To put it comparatively, religious identity (the existential claim) is constituted by praxis for Gandhi and by doxa for Sikhs.

39 Ibid., 39. This argument is also made by Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries, 1994. 40 A distinction can be made here between ‘heretical’ and ‘patit’. The term ‘heretical’ is connected intimately with the notion of ‘belief ’, thought, and cognitive processes (free thinking, orthodox, revisionist, etc.) ‘Patit’ is a keshdhari who has cut / trimmed hair or an amritdhari who has committed one of the four kurahits (W. H. McLeod’s Dictionary of Sikhism) Being patit, then, is closer to the western notion of ‘apostate’ and carries with it the implication of having been faulty in one’s practice. One who is patit is Sikh by definition. This is important because being patit refers to the quality of one’s Sikh-ness, but does not question whether or not one is Sikh (believer).


michael hawley Part III: Re-imagining the Gandhi-Sikh Relationship

The Gandhi-Sikh relationship is complex and ambiguous. Lurking beneath the periodic points of productive engagement between Gandhi and the Sikhs was an abyss neither was able to cross. Gandhi could not come to terms with the physical use of the kirpan as a religious act. Nor could he be dissuaded from his view that Sikhs constituted a religious community separate and distinct from his Hinduism. Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh has characterized the Gandhian and Sikh positions regarding religious identity as inclusivist and pluralist respectively. Singh claims Gandhi is an inclusivist because he assimilates all religions traditions under the umbrella of his Hinduism. By contrast, Singh argues Sikhs are pluralist because they recognize the multitude of religious traditions while at the same time respecting that diversity. Singh’s analysis is persuasive, but only to the extent that it accounts for the effects of the Gandhi-Sikh disjuncture. It does not sufficiently take stock of the contextual and hermeneutic causes that have produced those effects. Debates between Gandhi and the Sikhs surrounding the kirpan and religious identity are symptomatic of a more deep-rooted lacuna concerning the nature of ‘religion’ that is rooted in their competing forms of modernity. Gandhi is a modernist when it comes to praxis; the Sikhs are modernists in terms of belief. Gandhi affirms a modernist antithesis between religion and violence. Sikhs articulate their identity under the modern, Christian rubric of belief, doctrines, and exclusivity. Framed in this way, Gandhi’s religion is more akin to the pre-modern pluralism of Cicero’s etymology of religio as relegare. Gandhi affirms a plurality of modes and manifestations (i.e. religions) of ahiṃsā (i.e. religion). The colonial Sikh position, by contrast, reflects with little ambiguity the modernist exclusivity of Lactantius’ re-ligare. Rather than locating the disjuncture between Gandhi and the Sikhs as between an inclusivism and pluralism as Singh does, an analysis that considers the colonial context of this engagement calls for a re-imagining of the Gandhi-Sikh relationship. Such a re-imagining discloses the ubiquitous, yet uneven, effects of (post) modernity and (post)colonialism in South Asian ‘religion’.

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Bibliography Axel, Brian Keith. The Nation’s Tortured Body: Violence, Representation, and the Formation of a Sikh “Diaspora”. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. Barrier, N. G. “The Singh Sabhas and the Evolution of Modern Sikhism, 1875–1925” in Robert D. Baird (ed.) Religion in Modern India. Fourth Revised Edition. Delhi: Manohar, 2001. Bhogal, Balbinder Singh. “Text as Sword: Sikh religious violence taken for wonder” in John R. Hinnells and Richard King (eds.) Religion and Violence in South Asia: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, 2007. Dusenbery, Verne. “Canadian Ideology and Public Policy: The Impact on Vancouver Sikh Ethnic and Religious Adaptation” in Verne Dusenbery, Sikhs at Large: Religion, Culture, and Politics in Global Perspective. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008. Juergensmeyer, Mark. “The Forgotten tradition: Sikhism in the Study of World Religions” in Mark Juergensmeyer and N. Gerald barrier (eds.) Sikh Studies: Comparative Perspectives on a Changing Tradition. Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union, 1979. King, Richard. Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India, and ‘The Mystic East’. London: Routledge, 1999. Mandair, Arvind-pal Singh. “The Global Fiduciary: Mediating the violence of religion” in John R. Hinnells and Richard King (eds.) Religion and Violence in South Asia: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, 2007. ——. Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Translation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. McLeod, W. H. “The Sikh Struggle in the Eighteenth Century and Its Relevance for Today” in History of Religions. Vol. 31, No. 4, (May 1992): 344–362. Metcalf, Thomas R. Ideologies of the Raj. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Oberoi, Harjot. “From Ritual to Counter-Ritual: Rethinking the Hindu-Sikh Question: 1884–1915.” in Joseph T. O’Connell, Milton Israel, and Willard Oxtoby (eds.), Sikh History and Religion in the Twentieth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Centre for South Asian Studies, 1988. ——. The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994. Shani, Giorgio. Sikh Nationalism and Identity in a Global Age. London: Routledge, 2008. Singh, Nikky. “The Mahatma and the Sikhs” in Harold G. Coward (ed.) Indian Critiques of Gandhi. Albany: SUNY, 2003. pp. 171–191. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. (cited in the footnotes as CWMG).

Index Adi Sakhis tradition, closing declaration 107–108 aesthetic emotion 202 ahiṃsā (non-violence) 272, 274–275, 279, 281, 286–287 as religious identity 286–287 Air India disaster 230 Akali Dal 31 Akal Takhat (‘Immortal Throne’) 32 Akhand Kirtani Jatha 34–37, 43 Albanese, Catherine 176 Ambedkar, B. R. 256 American Academy of Religion (AAR) xxi Buddhism Section 20–21 development of South Asian Studies at  19–21 Hinduism Group 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 Jain Consultation 20 range of approaches and lenses 21–22 Religion in Modern India Group 18 Religion in South Asia (RISA) 18–19, 21, 22 Sikh Studies Consultation 20 Amin, Idi 236 amrit ceremony 35, 38–39 Ananda Marriage Act 30, 40 Anandapur Sahib Resolution 229 anekāntavāda (‘no one view’) 50, 59, 60–61, 64 as counteranthropologising strategy  60–65 ironising critique of 64–65 as perspectivalism 61–63 Angkor Wat (Cambodia) 68, 79–81 bas refliefs 80–81 Churning of the Ocean of Milk bas relief 68, 81–82 replica in India 86 anthropology 58 reflexive turn in 179, 180 art abstract 202, 217 Harris on 202–203 materialism in 217, 219 sacred 218 spirituality in 202, 217–218, 219 art theology 218–219 art therapy 218, 219

Asad, Talal 59 Assamese Vaiṣṇava tradition 116, 126–127, 152 in Kāmākhyā Nām 145–146 Nām in 126–127 Śākta Tantra in 127–128 use of mantra in 127 Austin, J. L. How To Do Things With Words 189 avaktavya (‘yes no’ or ‘true false’) 63–64 Ayyappan Temple 238 Azusa Street Revival 253 Baba Dayal 39–40 Hukam-nama (‘Book of Ordinances’)  39 Baba Hindal 104 Babbar Khalsa 36 Babha, Homi 56 Baird, Robert 16, 17, 18 Bakheng (Cambodia) 79 Bala Janam-Sakhi 103, 104 Balak Singh, Baba 40 Ballantyne, Tony 178 Bayly, Susan 250 Saints, Goddesses, and Kings 256–257 beauty in theosophy 201 Beldio, Patrick 219 Bell, Catherine 184 Bell, Clive 202 Bergunder, Michael 253 Besant, Annie 196, 196n5 Besant, Annie and Charles W. Leadbeater Thought-Forms 206–207, 209 Bethel Assembly of God Church 255 bhagati 286, 287 Bhagavad Gita 84 Gandhi and Sikhs on 281 Bhai Bala Bala Janam-Sakhi 104 Bhai Gurdas Vars 102 Bhairavī temple 134 bhakti at Kāmākhyā site 116, 118 in Kāmākhyā women’s Nām ­performances 125–126, 127, 147



Bhaktivedanta Swami, Prabhupada A. C. 83 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 259 Bhartṛhari Sphota theory of language 9, 13 Vakyapadiya 8 Bhindran Taksal 38 Bhindranwale, Jarnail Singh 38, 229, 230 Bhogal, Balbinder 285 Biernacki, Loriliai 127, 128, 129 Bilimoria, Purushottama 57 Blavatsky, Madame 216 Bloomsbury group 202 Bourdieu, Pierre 184 bricolage 176 Brown, Judith 249 “Who is an Indian?” 255–256 Brown, Peter 106 Buddha 61 Buddhism in India 247 logic 63–64 Buddhism (Tibetan) adaptation of 155, 156 Western interest in 162–163 Cambodia Hindu architectural traditions in 70, 79 Hindu law in 71 Hindu names in 74–75 Hindu temple on flag of 68 Hindu tradition in 74–75, 76 matrilinear culture in 76–77 Canada evolution of 223 federal system 225–226, 231, 239 immigration policy 224, 228, 234 nationalism in 224–225 Canadian Group of Painters 196 Canadian Indian Friendship Society 240 Carey, William 265 Caribbean 75 Hindu traditions of 76, 235, 236 Carman, John 259–260, 264 Catholic Christianity in India 249–252 Certeau, Michel de 176 ‘chams (Tibetan monastic dance) xxiii, 156–159, 166 adaptations of 167–168 audience and 166 creation of ‘third-space’ 164, 165 dancing lamas 159–160 detail in 158–159

in diaspora 160–162 monastic debate in 161 performers of 167–168 political issues and 168 strategic essentializing and 163–164 three main phases of 158 in Tibetan culture 157–158 typical performance 161 Western awareness of 159–160 Chantlie, Audrey 127 Chardi Kala Kirtan Jatha 43–44 Chatman, Seymour caveats of theories of 92 model of a text 91–92, 93 Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film 91–92 Chinese immigrants, to Canada 223–224 Christianity 246 changes in 246 in India 247–248, 254, 260, 264–265 Indian conversions 256–257, 258, 260–263, 264 Indianness of xxv, 265, 266–267 interreligious dialogue 265–267 megachurch phenomenon 255 Thomas (Syrian) 247, 248–249, 250, 251–252, 256 Churning of the Ocean of Milk bas relief 68, 81–82 Cicero 285, 287, 288, 290 Coedes, George 70 Cohen, David William 110 Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi 274 colonialism 75, 227, 261, 283, 283–285 Coonan Cross Oath 251 counteranthropology 50, 57, 58–60 measuring success of techniques 59 position of 58–59 practical methods of 60n16 Coward, Harold G. ix, xvii, xix, xx, xxi, 17, 265–266, 266, 267 guru-śiṣya training with Murti 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 legacy of relationship with Murti 11–14 meeting Murti 3–4 Neufelft and 16 oral tradition in teaching of 12–13 The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought 10 Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions 10 Sacred Word and Sacred Text 10 Sin and Salvation in the World Religions 10 The Sphota Theory of Language 9–10


study of Bhartrharī’s Vakyapadiya 8, 9 study of Maṇḍana Misra’s Ṣphotasiddhi 8, 9 study of Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali 7, 9 study with Murti in India 8 teaching style of 11 traditional and modern scholarship in thesis 9–11 Cullenberg, Stephen xvii daivi vak 13 Dalai Lama 157, 163, 164 Dalits 264 Damdami Taksal 36, 38–39 dancing lamas (Tibetan monks) 159–160 Daughrity, Dyron B. ix, xxv Deodhanī (Debadhanī) festival 123n23, 124 Deodhās 124, 125 Devi, Nani 121, 123n22 Devi, Parvati 121, 126, 140 Devi, Taru 125 Devī Māhātmya 143 Goddess in 139–140 Kālī in 137–138 Dharma Academy of North America (DANAM) 21 dhyānas 126 diaspora 186 Hindus in 239 Sikhs in 46, 186, 227 Tibetan monks in 162–163, 165–166 dichotomies 283 Diefenbaker, John 224–225 discourse anti-representationality of 52 Other and 51–52 Do Couto, Diogo 68 ‘doing things with words’ 189–190 Dold, Patricia A. x, xxiii Doobay, Bhupendranath 232 Dorjee, Lobsang 158 Durka Temple 238 Dyer, General 277, 278 Emerson, Ralph Waldo ‘Brahma’ 84 Epic Everest, The (film) 160 European exploration 53 Portuguese in India 249–251 Farangi (Portuguese voyagers and ­traders) 249, 250, 257 Federation of Hindu Temples 242 Fenech, Louis xix


Fernandes, Goncalo 250 focused gathering 187 Foucault, Michel anti-representationalism 51–52 Archaeology of Knowledge 52 influence on Said 56 Freedom of Religion Acts (India) 17 Fry, Roger 202, 204–205n23 Frykenberg, Robert Eric 245 Christianity in India 245 Full Gospel Assembly of God Church (Bangalore) 255 Gama, Vasco de 249 Gandhi, M. K. 256, 259, 271, 283 on ahiṃsā (non-violence) 274–275, 276, 281, 286–287 on Bhagavad Gita 281 on bravery of Sikhs 278–279 on bravery of women 279 “Kirpan” 275–276 on the kirpan 275–277, 280, 281, 290 on martyrdom of Sikhs 279–280 modernity of 272, 284, 285, 288, 290 on religious identity 281–283, 286 on religious practice 282–283, 286, 290 on Sikh-Hindu distinction 290 on Sikhs and violence 274–281 on Sikh values 277 on truth 279, 286 on violence and religion 285–286 Gandhi, Indira 230 Geertz, Clifford “Notes on a Balinese Cockfight” 183 Goa Inquisition 251 Goffman, Erving 184, 187 Golden Temple massacre 38 Golwalkar, M. S. 256 Gospel for Asia 255 Grant, George 3, 222, 226 Lament for a Nation 225 Greenberg, Clement 217 Grewal, J. S. 29 Guru Nanak in History 104–105 Group of Seven 196n2 Harris and 195–196 Gujarati immigrants 236–237, 238, 242 Gurbachan Singh, Baba 36, 38 Gurbani kirtan (‘devotional singing’) 36 ‘doing things with words’ 189–190 performance in diaspora 186 as ‘performance’ of identity 185–186 performance theory and terminology and 184 performers and audience of 188



as shared experience in guru panth 188 Sikh diasporic communities and 186 Gurdwara Gurdarshan Parkash 38 Gurmat Bibek 35 Gurmat Rahit Maryada 38, 39 gurmat (‘Teachings of the Gurus’) 33 Gurmukh Singh 29–30 Guru Gobind Singh 39, 40, 41, 271 Guru Granth Sahib 29, 31, 35, 40, 282 ‘doing things with words’ 189–190 musical performances of 171–172, 188 Nanaksar and 37–38 as word 190 Guru Nanak 33, 39, 40, 271, 282, 286 in traditional interpretation of ­janam-sakhis 96–97 guru-śiṣya relationship 6–7 Guyanese immigrants 234–236, 238, 242 Habermas, Jürgen 49 habitus 184 Hall, David 172, 173 Lived Religion in America 173, 178–179 Hans, Surjit A Reconstruction of Sikh History from Sikh Literature 108–109 Hansen, Peter H. 159, 160 Harbhajan Singh Puri (Yogi Bhajan) 43 Haribadhra 62, 63 Hari Krishnas 232 Harris, Lawren 215 abstract and representational in art of 203 Abstraction 103, 214–215 Abstract (War Painting) 209, 210, 213 on art 202–203 on art and beauty in theosophy  201–202 biography 195, 215 earlier work 203 Isolation Peak 205, 206, 207–209 nature scenes of 205 Red House, Winter 203–204 “Science and the Soul” 197 shift to more spontaneous and moving art 213–215 spirituality in art 202, 217–218, 219 theosophical influences on xxiv, 196, 197, 215, 219–220 “Theosophy and Art” 201 Hart, William 203, 205 Hawley, Michael x, xviii, xx, xxv Haynes, Sarah F. xi, xxiii, xxiv

Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (‘3HO’) 43 hermeneutics, internal and external  97–98 Hindu (term) 67–68, 71 Hindu Code Bill (1955–56) 257 Hindu immigrants, in Canada 77, 231–233 counter-orientalist arguments 222 explanations for beginnings 221–223 leadership efforts 231–233 license to perform weddings 232–233, 241 low profile of 231, 232 multiculturalism and 226 orientalist perspective of 222 Sikhs and 222–223, 230 welcome to 226, 240 Hindu immigrants, in United States 72, 75, 77, 222, 85–86 temple-building 82 Hinduism and Hindus Arya Samaj movement 227 caste system outside of India 76 deities of 77 diaspora 239 global xxii, 70, 71–73 global population 72 in India 247, 259 Indianness and 255–256 influence of texts 84 as label 273 migration outside of India 73–75 sacralizing landscapes 78 secularization of 83–84 social divisions 76–77 travelling abroad 72–73 universal messages of 72, 83–84, 85 Vedas and 67 in United States 72, 75, 82 Hindu Renaissance 265 Hindu temple communities 78, 79–83, 221, 240–241, 241–242 Caribbean 235–236 “community of communities” 240, 241 ecumenical 233, 234, 235, 236 local temple community style 234, 235 Hindu temples 69 deities of 77 Devi Mandir temple 236 focus on devotional practices 82 Ganesha Temple 232, 237 Indian dance in 82–83


Mi Son temple in Champa (Vietnam) 79 Prambanan temples of Java (Indonesia) 79 Radha Krishna Mandir temple 235 Ram Mandir temple 236 Sanatana Mandir temple 236 in Southeast Asia 79, 82 in United States 82 Vaikuntha Perumal temple (Kanchipuram) 80 Vishnu Mandir temple 232, 235 Hindu Temple Society 232 Hindu traditions global 67, 69, 83–84, 84–86 in Khmer culture 82 in Southeast Asia 73–75, 79 in Unites States 85–86 in Western countries 83 Hindutva 249, 256, 259 Hogg, A. G. 266 identity as scripted and ad-libbed 185 performance and 184–186 religious 272, 281–283, 286–288, 290 Immigration Act (1976) 234 immigration policy 224, 228, 234 India anti-Christian violence in 254 Catholicism in 249–252 Christianity in 254, 260 debates over religious freedom in 17 deities of 77 Hinduism and nationalism in 259 opposing conversion to Christianity  261–264 Partition 229 Pentecostal tradition in 253–254 Portuguese in 249–251 Protestantism in 252–253 question of national religion of 245–246 religions in 247 India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding 245 Indian Christians acceptance from Christians outside of India 257–258 conversion 261–264 responses from Western ­Christianity 265 Indian dance, classical 82–83 Indian immigrants, in Canada 221, 223, 224, 239


in British Columbia 224, 228 in Ontario 229 Indianization 70 Indian National Congress 256 Indianness xxv, 255–258 of Christianity 265, 266–267 Hinduism and 255–256, 257–258 International Seminar on T. R. V. Murti and the Indian Philosophical ­Tradition 10–11 International Theosophical Society 195, 195n1, 196–197 irony 64 Irvine, Andrew 57 Ishar Singh, Sant 37 ISKCON 82, 83, 85 Islam in India 247 in Turkey 246 Jackson, Ruth xix Jagjit Singh, Baba 41, 42 Jainism anekantavada (‘no one view’) 50, 60–61 avaktavya (‘yesno’ or ‘truefalse’) 63–64 logic of 62, 63–64 Jakobsh, Doris 36–37 Jallianwalla Bagh massacre 36, 277–278 janam-sakhis xxiii categorical definitions of 90 earlier constituents of 101–104 external hermeneutic model 97–98, 101 of Guru Nanak 89, 96 as hagiography 90, 105–108, 106, 110 as history 90, 99–105, 110 history in 99–101, 102 history of 101–105 as homily 90, 108–109, 110 internal hermeneutic model 97 McLeod’s five categories of individual 99–101 in Sikh tradition 91, 95–96 study of 89–91, 91 tale of “Sajjan, the robber” 97 traditional interpretation of 96–97, 98 Jesuits 250 Jinarajadasa, Curupumullage 196, 196n5, 199, 199n10, 201 Johnson, Paul Christopher 186 Johnson, Toby Braden xi, xxiii Jones, Terry 260 Judge, William Quan 196



Kālī depicted in Nām 140–141, 143–145, 146 in Devī Māhātmya 137–138 equated with Goddess Kāmākhyā  130–131 in Mahāvidyās 135–137 Kālikā Purāṇa 118, 121, 126, 130, 131, 147–149, 150–151, 152 dhyānā 146–150 Satī in 149–150 Kāmākhyā (Goddess) bhakti and 149–150, 150–151 in Devī Māhātmya 139–140 equated with Kālī 130–131, 133, 146 in Māhabhāgavata Purāṇa 142–143 Mahāvidyās and 134–135 as mother 133, 140 multifaceted nature of 118, 130, 131–133, 152, 153 as protector 139–140 in women’s Nām 130–151, 152 Kāmākhyā Nām 115 Assamese Vaiṣṇava tradition and  126–128, 145–146 Goddess in 130–151, 152 Kālī Karālavadanī Nām 141, 143, 147 Kāmesvarī Nām 126, 147 Kṛṣṇa in 145–146 preserving 122 Śākta sources in 141–142, 146 Śyāma Nām 143–145, 146 Tantra and 128, 133–137 Kāmākhyā temple 116–118 bhakti in xxiii, 116, 118 male and female liturgical practices at 129–130 Vaiṣṇava Nām Ghar at 126 women in religious history of 119–120 Kāmākhyā women’s Nām performance  115, 118, 119 bhakti in 116, 125–126, 147, 149 changes over time 151–152 leadership issues 123 led by Gita Das 135–136, 137 led by Nani Devi 131–133 led by Parvati Devi 140–141, 143–145, 146–150 making divine beings present 124–125 ownership and transmission of 120, 122 preserving Nām 122 sources of 152–153 sponsorship of 123–124 as women’s liturgical tradition 121–130, 129

Kāmesvarī, Queen of Kāma 130, 131, 132, 146–147 Kandinsky, Wassily 213 Concerning the Spiritual in Art 216 on spirituality in art 217–218, 219 Kapferer, Bruce 187–188 Kartar Singh, Sant 38 Kaur Singh, Nikky-Guninder 281, 290 The Myth of the Founder 107 Kent, Eliza Converting Women 260–261 Khalistan 230 Khalsa 27, 28, 29 see also Tat Khalsa Khalsa Dewan Society temple 228 Khem Singh Bedi 29 Khmer empire Hindu traditions in 74 Kierkegaard, Søren on irony 64 King, Richard 283, 284, 285 kirpan 275 Gandhi on 275–277, 280, 281, 290 kirtan (‘devotional singing’) See Gurbani kirtan Kohn, Richard J. 157 Komagata Maru 224, 228 Kopf, David 55 Kṛṣṇa in Kāmākhyā Nām 145–146 Kuspit, Donald “Reconsidering the Spiritual in Art”  216–217 La Brack, Bruce 178 Lactantius 284, 288, 290 Larisey Peter 205, 214 Leadbeater, Charles Webster 196, 196n5, 198n8 Lipner, Julius 14 lived religion 172–173, 173–174 anthropological reflexive turn and 179, 180 methodology of 180–181 as third way 179–180, 181 lived religion approaches accepting reality of sacred presence  179–181 focus on embodied practice and performance 177–178 focus on religions as non-static 175–177 influence of anthropology and other disciplines 178–179 ‘Lived Religions’ series, Johns Hopkins University Press 172, 172n1


Livingston, James 183 Loro Jonggrang at Prambanan 74 Mabbett, Ian 76 Mādhyamikas 63 Madras Christian College (MCC) 265, 266 Mahābhāgavata Purāṇa 118, 142–143, 146, 152 bhakti in 150 Mahābhārata 139 Durgā Stava in 138–139 Durgā Stotra in 138–139 Goddess in 140, 143 “Mahā” (Great) Bhāgavata Purāṇa 146 Mahāvidyās 133–134 Kālī in 135–137 Mānasā Purāṇa 115 Mandair, Arvind 288 Manusmṛti 72 Mark Buntain Memorial Assembly of God Church (Kolkata) 255 Matilal, Bimal Krishna 60, 62, 63 Mātṛkās (Mothers) 138, 140 McGuire, Meredith 175–176 Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life 172, 174 McLeod, W. H. xix, 30, 44, 91, 105, 107 Early Sikh Tradition 99, 101 five categories of individual janam-sakhis 99–101 Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion 89, 90, 99, 101 McLeod library collection, UC Riverside xix–xx meditation practices 13–14 Miharban, Sodhi Miharban Janam-Sakhi 103–104 Mill, J. S. 63 Mi Son temple in Champa (Vietnam) 79 modernity colonialism and 284 of Gandhi 272, 284, 285, 288, 290 religion and violence and 285–286 of Sikhs 272, 284, 287–289, 290 Moger, Angela 94 Mohan Singh, Giani 38 Mughal Empire 251 Muller, Max 55 Mul Mantar 39 Multicultural Act 226 multiculturalism 226, 240 Murray, Les 65 Murti, T. R. V. xxi, 3–4, 266 The Central Philosophy of Buddhism 5


Collected Works 5, 10 death of 10 on Gandhi 8 oral tradition of 5–6 teaching style of 4–6 Mystical Arts of Tibet, The 161 Nabha, Kahn Singh Ham Hindu Nahin 283 Nāmatis 115, 121–122, 123, 123n22 Namdharis 39, 40–42, 43 Nanaksar gurdwara 37 Nanaksar Gurdwara 37–38 Nankana Sahib massacre 277, 278, 279–280 Narayanan, Vasudha xi, xxii Nar Narayan, Koch king 118 Nauroji, Dhanjibhai 261–262 Nehru, Jawaharlal 256 Neill, Stephen 249 Nesbit, Robert 262 Neufeldt, Ronald W. xi–xii, xvii, xviii, xx, xxi–xxii, 245, 258–259, 267 career of 15–16, 17 involvement with AAR 17, 18 New England Transcendentalism 84 Nihangs 33–34 Nirankari, Man Singh 40 Nirankaris 39–40 Nobili, Robert de 250 Nussbaum, Martha 49, 50 Oberoi, Harjot 30, 32, 288 The Construction of Religious ­Boundaries 28–29 O’Connor, June xvii Orenstein, Claudia 161–162 Orientalism 49, 51–57 accumulation and 54 classification and 54 critiques of 54–57 expansion and 53 historical confrontation and 53 Said’s four characteristics of 52–54 subaltern collective on 56–57 sympathy and 53–54 Orsi, Robert 172, 175, 176, 177, 179–180, 183 Between Heaven and Earth 174, 177 The Madonna of 115th Street 172, 183 third way of 174, 179, 181, 190 Other, the 51–52 versus self 283 Padmasambhava 156 Palsetia, Jesse 261–263



Parlikar, Narayan Sheshadri 262–263 Parlikar, Shripat 262 Pearson, Lester 225 Pelki Dorje, Lhalung 157 Pentecostal Church in India 253–254 Performance Studies 182, 184 performance theory and terminology  181–182 Catholicism and 183 identity and 184–186 Religious Studies and 181–182 usefulness of 182–183 Persaud, Ganesh 235 perspectivalism 61–63 see also anekāntavāda Pluetschau, Heinrich 252 Pollock, Sheldon 54–55 Portuguese explorers in India 249–251 Pradesh, Andhra 278 protection, prayers of 207 Protestants in India 252–253 pūjās 123–124 Purāṇas Kālikā 118, 121, 126, 130, 131, 146–150, 150–151, 152 Māhabhāgavata 142–143 Mahābhāgavata 118, 142–143, 146, 150, 152 “Mahā” (Great) Bhāgavata 146 Mānasā 115 Viṣṇu 84 Punjab 36, 37, 40, 42, 43, 105, 175, 229, 230 Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli 5, 265, 266 Ragamala, recitation of opposition to 35, 36 Rahit Bibek 35 Rahit Maryada 288 Ramabai, Pandita 247, 253, 253n32 Ram Singh, Baba 35, 40, 41 Randhir Singh, Bhai 34, 35–36 Jel Chitthian (Autobiography of Bhai Randhir Singh) 34 Ranjit Singh, Bhai 28, 36 Reid, Dennis 215 re-imagining, theme of xviii, xxv, 15, 49 ‘Re-Imagining South Asian Religions’ conference xvii–xxi religion 247 as belief 285

dichotomies 283 ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ 177 ‘high’/‘elite’ and ‘low’/‘popular’ 173 as label 272 as relegare (practice) 284, 286, 290 as re-ligare (belief) 284, 285, 290 versus secular 283 Religious Studies 177, 181 implicit Protestant normality in 177, 180 interdisciplinarity of 23 performance theory and terminology 181–182 Rescher, Nicholas 49 ‘restored (twice-behaved) behaviour’  184–185 Rhenius, C. T. E. 252n29 Rigbom, Sixten 213 Rinehart, Robin 285–286 ritual as performance 187–188 Robinson, Rowena 257–258 Roy, Ram Mohun 265 Ruparell, Tinu xii, xxii, 180 Said, Edward critiques of 54–57 Foucault’s influence on 56 Orientalism 56 Orientalism of 49, 51, 52–54 śakti 116, 125, 128, 131n48 San Francisco Bay Area Tibetan diasporic community in  165–166 Śaṅkaradeva 116, 126, 128 Sanneh, Lamin Whose Religion is Christianity? 246 Sanskrit oral tradition, of teaching 9, 11, 12–13 satyagraha (truth) 279, 286 Savarkar, V. D. 256, 259 Schechner, Richard 182, 184–185 Sdok kok thom (Sanskrit inscription) 69, 76 Second Lahore Conspiracy case 34 self versus Other 283 Sen, Amartya 50 Shani, Giorgio 288–289 Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak ­Committee (SGPC) 31, 32, 274, 287 Sikh Rahit Maryada 31–32, 33, 36, 39 Shree Maa Kāmākhyā 119 Sikh Dharma 43 Sikh Gurdwara Act 31


Sikh immigrants, in Canada 222–223, 238, 240, 242 in British Columbia 228–229 in politics 230–231, 234 separation from Hindus 230 sikhi (‘Sikh-ness’ or ‘being Sikh’) xxii, 33, 44 Sikhism and Sikhs Akali xxv, 31, 229, 274, 278, 287 Akhand Kirtani Jatha 34–37, 43 amrit-dharis (‘initiated’) 45 belief in Akal Purakh (‘Timeless One’, God) 31 bhagati and 286, 287 Bhindran Taksal 38 in diaspora 46, 186, 227 Five Ks 27, 31 gurdwaras 31, 37, 38, 45 guru panth 173, 178 heterogeneity of 44–46, 46–47, 273–274 ichha-dharis (those who follow own desire or free choice) 45, 46 identity and 27–28, 29, 272, 287–288 in India 227, 247 kes-dharis (‘retain their hair’) 45, 46 as label 272 modernity of 272, 284, 288–289, 290 Namdharis 39, 40–42, 43 Nanaksar 37–38 neo- 30 Nihangs 33–34 Nirankaris 39–40 patit Sikhs (‘apostates’) 45 political changes in India and 229–230 practice and belief and 289, 290 Sanatana 28, 29 sehaj-dharis (‘gradualists’) 31, 45–46 on truth 279 in United States 171 wedding ritual 30 ‘White’ (Gora) 43–44 Sikh Rahit Maryada 31–32, 33, 36, 39 Sikh Studies 27, 46, 171 need for qualitative, interview-based research 178, 190 performance theory and terminology and 184 Singh, Dulip 278 Singh, Lachhman 278 Singh, Pashaura xii, xviii, xix, xxii, 177 Singh Sabha (‘Society of the Singhs’) 27–28, 30, 274, 287 reforms 30–31, 32–33, 227–228


Smith, Wilfred Cantwell 33 Smythe, Albert 196n5 Society for Hindu—Christian Studies 21 Society of Jesus (Jesuits) 250 Soskice, Janet 61 Soukh-ouan 185 South Asian religions complexity in studies of 22–23 South Indian Revival 253 Spivak, Gayatri 56 Sri Lankan refugees 232, 237 Sri Lankan Tamil immigrants 237–238, 238–239, 242 Srivijaya kingdom Hindu traditions in 74 Stanley, Brian 245 Stoeber, Michael xiii, xxiv Stone, Karen 218 strategic essentializing 163–164 Strenski, Ivan xx Suryavarman II, Khmer king 68, 79, 272 svadeśi (self-reliance) 275, 279 svarāj (self-control) 272, 275, 279 Takhat Sri Hazoor Sahib (Nanded) 42–43 Takhat Sri Patna Sahib (Bihar) 42–43 TalkTibetTV 166 Tambiah, Stanley 187 Tantra 127n40 in Kāmākhyā Nām 133–137 Tat Khalsa 28–29, 47, 288, 289 legal changes 30–31 reformers 30, 32–33, 44, 47, 274, 287, 288, 289 Teja Singh 29, 34 texts, narrative Chatman’s model of 91–92, 93 instructive nature of 94 internal and external hermeneutics of 97–98 interpretation of 94–95 janam-sakhis and 110 as mediated narration 92 modified model 93–94, 95 reader-response view of 93 Thangiah, Paul 255 theosophy adepts or masters 200 art and beauty in 200–203 controversies of 216 cosmology of 198, 200 elemental essences in 206 elementals in 199 human beings in 198, 206



influences on 198 key ideas 197–200 nirvana in 200 spiritual ideal in 198–199, 199–200 as syncretic tradition 216 universal thought-feelings 200–201 Theospohical Society of Adyar 196, 196n5, 215n36 third-space in Tibetan monastic dance 164, 165 third way, Orsi’s 174, 179, 181, 190 Thom, Ian 205 Thomas, V. V. 248–249 Thomas Aquinas 61 Thomas (Syrian) Christians in India 247, 248–249, 250, 251–252, 256 split from Catholic Church 251–252 Thoreau, William D. 85–86 Thought-Forms (Besant and Leadbeater) 206–207, 209, 213 colour chart 207, 208 Response to Devotion 209, 212 Upward Rush of Devotion 209, 211, 214 Tibetan Buddhism adaptation of 155, 156 Western interest in 162–163 Tibetan culture a che lha mo (folk practices) 161, 166 Dalai Lama in 163 non-monastic performances 157 utilized by Chinese government  166–167 Tibetan Dance and Drama Society 162 Tibetan diaspora 162–163 diversity of 165 government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India 162 in San Francisco Bay Area 165–166 Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) 162, 163 Townsend, Charles M. xiii, xx, xxiii–xxiv Transcendental Meditation 232 Transcendental Painting Group 196, 196n3, 205

Trudeau, Pierre Elliot 222, 225–226, 240 Turkey Christianity in 246 Islam in 246 Turner, Victor 182 United States evolution of 223 immigration to 73 Indian immigrants in 78 Urban, Hugh 116, 119, 126–127, 128, 151, 152 Vakyapadiya 9 Van Esterik, Penny 185 Varughese, Rev. 255 Vedas 67 violence religious identity and 272, 285–286 Vir Singh, Bhai 34 Viṣṇu Purāṇa 84 Vivekananda 83, 222, 232 Voice of the Vedas, The (television programme) 232 Weltanschauung 92, 95 Wilkins, Charles 84 Wilson, John, Dr. 261, 262 women as Tantric partners 120, 120n12, 120n13, 128 see also Kāmākhyā women’s Nām performance Xavier, Francis 250 Yeh, Emily T. 165–166 Yoga 83–84 Yogananda 83 Yohannan, K. P. 255 Younger, Paul xiii, xxiv, 17, 76 Zamorins 250, 250n22 Zigenbalg, Bartholomaeus 252