Hinduism and Colonialism

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann reimann at UCLINK4.BERKELEY.EDU
Thu Aug 17 19:25:06 UTC 2000

At 07:18 PM 08/15/2000 +0000, Vidyasankar Sundaresan wrote:

Re Lorenzen's quote that:

>>"...the poems of virtually all nirguNI saints beginning with Kabir and Guru
>>Nanak repeatedly refer to 'Hindus and Turks' and 'Hindus and Muslims
>>[musulaman]' in contexts that clearly show that the authors had in mind
>>religious, and not ethnogeographical, communities."

VS asks:
>Does Hindu vs. Turk convey no ethnogeographical meaning to you?

It is not a question of what it conveys to me (or to you).  Lorenzen refers
to the contexts in which these terms are used by the bhakti poets themselves.

> Binary logic, that
>thinks primarily in terms of X vs. not-X fails miserably in understanding
>things Indian.

Here I disagree.  In some cases it can be very helpful.  The best example
is the god-antigod polarity:  deva vs. asura/dAnava/daitya/rAkSasa ( even a
new term, sura, was probably coined to stress the oppositional character of
the sura (i.e. deva) vs. asura relationship).  This polarity, made manifest
in constant battles between gods and demons, is very useful in
understanding Epic and Puranic mythology, where it is a recurring theme, a
theme carried over from Vedic mythology.
This same polarity is often used for identifying nAstikas (those who
disagree with 'us') as asuras.
See, for instance, the MaitrAyaNIya UpaniSad 7.8-10, where the terms
svargya and asvargya are used as well as deva and asura.  And also the
ViSNu PurANa (from 3.17.35 up to the end of 3.18) which gives a detailed
description of different heretics, including Buddhists, and identifies them
as demons.  For more, see the Ziva PurANa, and the BhAgavata
PurANa 1.3.24, 10.40.22, 11.4.22.  ViSNu's purpose for being born as the
Buddha was to delude those unfit for celebrating sacrifices, i.e. demons.
But then, demonizing foreigners and dissenters is a pretty universal practice.

All of this, of course, is not to say that Hinduism can be defined purely
by a "binary logic," to use your words.

Much of the current angry criticisms against Western Indologists, on the
other hand, IS portrayed in a binary mode (East vs. West).  As if there
were a need to insist on whether someone is Western or Indian.  This leads
us nowhere.  If there are specific things to be pointed out in specific
cases that can help, but broad generalizations based on an East-West divide

>That most of the bhakti poets rejected varNAzrama distinctions is just a
>symptom of this. But if one thinks that this rejection was somehow
>egalitarian or socialistic or democratic or any other modern category of
>Western origin, one is very much mistaken.

I never brought socialism or democracy into the picture.  If you assume I
was thinking about that, it is a mistaken assumption.
But, again, why the need to add that these are of "Western origin"?

> ask yourself if varNa and Azrama (as
>described by most Indologists, and based primarily on the texts) was all
>that pivotal to a "Hindu"-ism that made room for those who rejected varNa
>and Azrama.

You might remember I mentioned Doniger's suggestion that the acceptance of
the Vedas and of reincarnation seemed to be the only elements that could be
used to determine whether a tradition was Hindu or not in the Gupta period.
 VarNAzrama is not one of these elements.  This means many who reject
varNAzrama are included.
So, where is your remark coming from?


Luis Gonzalez-Reimann
University of California, Berkeley

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