[INDOLOGY] Modernity

palaniappa at aol.com palaniappa at aol.com
Sat Mar 23 21:35:51 UTC 2013

In A. K. Ramanujan's essay, "Is there an Indian Way of Thinking? An Informal Essay", (Contributions to Indian Sociology, 1989, pp.23-41), he concludes, "In conclusion, I would like to make a couple of observations about'modernisation'. One might see 'modernisation' in India as a movement from thecontext-sensitive to the context-free in all realms: an erosion of contexts, atleast in principle. Gandhi's watch (with its uniform autonomous time, governinghis punctuality) replaced the almanac. Yet Gandhi quoted Emerson, thatconsistency was the hobgoblin of foolish minds. Print replaced palm-leafmanuscripts, making possible an open and egalitarian access to knowledgeirrespective of caste. The Indian Constitution made the contexts of birth,region, sex and creed irrelevant, overthrowing Manu, though the battle isjoined again and again. The new preferred names give no clue to birth-place,father's name, caste, sub-caste and sect, as all the traditional names did: Ionce found in a Kerala college roster, three 'Joseph Stalins' and one 'Karl Marx'. I have also heard of an Andhranamed 'Bobbili Winston Churchill'."

In other words, Ramanujan seems to equate modernity with the context-free, at least in the Indian context :-) Elsewhere in the paper he also seems to equate modernity with mostly a universalist point of view as opposed to traditional particularist point of view.

This 1989 publication of Ramanujan was based on his keynote address entitled, "Is there an Indian Way of Thinking?", at the 1980 annual conference of the Society for South Indian Studies held at University of Pennsylvania.  In the Q/A session following his talk, I asked him, even though what he said might be applicable to the post-classical Tamil society, how he would reconcile his thesis with the viewpoint expressed in Puṟanāṉūṟu 189. He said he was not familiar with that poem. 

Here is a quick translation of the poem.
"For the rulers who ruled the land surrounded by the clear-watered sea and the unskilled hunter without sleeping in the dead of night as well as daytime in search of fast animals (to kill), needed food measures one nāḻi and needed clothes are two. Other needs are also the same. The fruit of wealth is giving away. If one says he/she will enjoy alone, many things will go wrong."

Tamil literary tradition has classified the poem as belonging to the major category of 'potuviyal' (general nature).

The 1989 article does not seem to address the viewpoint expressed in Puṟanāṉūṟu 189.


-----Original Message-----
From: Harsha Dehejia <harshadehejia at hotmail.com>
To: Indology List <indology at list.indology.info>
Sent: Thu, Mar 14, 2013 3:44 am
Subject: [INDOLOGY] Modernity

I am doing a shsort piece on Modernity and the Hindu Mind. 
Is it right to say that Modernity (as understood as a state of being and not as modernisation) requires  the acceptance of: 
a break in tradition, 
the rise of the individual, 
democracy as a social and political norm,  
the strict separation of state and religion 
and above all the uncertaintly of knowledge.
I would appreciate your thoughts on this.
Prof. Harsha V. Dehejia

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