Re: [INDOLOGY] Re : Re: crossing oceans?

dermot at dermot at
Fri Oct 14 09:34:05 UTC 2016

Sea voyage became an issue in the 19th century, especially in Kolkata, due to a number of 
factors. There were increased facilities for travel, and also increased incentives: the wish to 
meet people one had corresponded with (e.g. Rammohun Roy), the wish to spread one's 
own version of the "spiritual" Hindu tradition in the "materialist"  West (e.g. Keshub Chunder 
Sen, Vivekananda), employment, and study. 

There was also the rise, in early 19th-century Kolkata, of a newly rich class, some of whose 
members sought to legitimate its status by appeal to tradition, while at the same time 
constructing that tradition through elaborate expenditure on shraddhs (rites for the dead), 
pilgrimages, Durga puja, and other rituals, together with elaborate measures to maintain 
purity and avoid pollution (brief account, with refs, in my Rammohun Roy in Hindu and 
Christian Tradition, pp. 27-29). Other members of the same class (including those known as 
"Young Bengal") repudiated Hindu tradition, or those parts of it they considered degenerate, 
and became atheists, Christians, Brahmos, or (later in the 19th century) Theosophists. I must 
add, though it is often not mentioned, that those who publicly took either of these stances 
were predominantly, and for much of the nineteenth century exclusively, male. This class 
consisted mainly of three hereditary groups: brahmins, kayasthas and vaidyas; the latter two 
claimed dvija status which was disputed by others.

As Catherine Clémentin-Ojha points out, sea travel becomes an issue on return from 
overseas. The question arose whether to capitulate to tradition by performing prayascitta 
(involving the ingestion of the five products of the cow) or to assert one's independence and 
modernity by refusing it.

Dermot Killingley

On 13 Oct 2016 at 15:19, Robert Goldman wrote:

I believe that Clementin is no doubt correct in seeing the issue as connected with taboos on 
diet (and alsomingling with outsiders and their custom). Perhaps it originates with the old 
notions such as that of Manusmti 2.22 etc. of the Aryavarta bounded east and west by the 
oceans as the (only) suitable homeland for the "Aryas." Then too one sees in the 19th 
century such issues as Indian troops in the company army, many of whom were brahmans, 
being aggrieved at being made to fight in Burma. But this issue also affected non-brahman 
higher caste groups as we see from Gandhi's account of the concern of his caste fellows 
about his voyage to England and the "´suddhi" he had to undergo on his return.
Dr. R. P. Goldman
Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor in South and Southeast Asian Studies
Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies MC # 2540
The University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-2540
Tel: 510-642-4089
Fax: 510-642-2409

    On Oct 13, 2016, at 10:10 AM, Clementin Catherine 
    <catherine.clementin-ojha at> wrote:

    Dear Dr Wujastyk, 
    The taboo on crossing the ocean was essentially a 19th century social issue, but 
    it does not mean it was not found earlier. The main problem was not so much 
    the crossing per se but the fact that on board one could not follow food 
    regulations. By crossing the sea therefore, one ran the risk of losing one's caste. 
    But again this was an issue only for those who came back  to India, not for 
    those who stayed abroad and outside Hindu society.
    I have attempted to synthetize the main aspects of the question of sea travel for 
    the Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism (Catherine Clémentin-Ojha, "Travel 
    Regulations", in: Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Edited by: Knut A. 
    Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, Vasudha Narayanan. Consulted 
    online on 13 October 2016 
    <> First 
    published online: 2012). I can also send a pdf of the same.
    As for the ocean itself, we might also recall that according to ancient Indian 
    cosmology the "Indian space" is entirely surrounded by sea.
    Best wishes,
    Catherine Clémentin-Ojha, Paris

    ----- Mail d'origine -----
    De: alakendu das <mailmealakendudas at>
    À:  wujastyk at
    Cc: indology at
    Envoyé: Thu, 13 Oct 2016 18:17:53 +0200 (CEST)
    Objet: Re: [INDOLOGY] crossing oceans?


    Yes, 'Ocean' has often been used in Ancient Indian texts. The probable reason 
    may be to relate the vastness of our life ,with its myriad of complexities. to the 
    vastness of an ocean. This perhaps is relevant, since the ultimate aim of our 
    life,according to our ancient Indian philosophy ,is to attain enlightenment in 
    life,and thereby bypass all mundane problems ,by way of Realisation of our Self 
    ( i.e.Atmana) .

    A quote from Shankaracharya's Vivekchuramani- 

    Uddharen Atmanam Atmana Magnau Samsar Baridah .

    Here the word'Samsar Baridah'implies THIS LIFE-OCEAN depicting the 
    various shades, Crest-nadir,the tumultous multititude of our life-cycle 


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Dermot Killingley
9, Rectory Drive,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 1XT
Phone (0191) 285 8053

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