“A Star for Esther: On Sumathy’s “Ingirnithu”, Some Other Interventions and the Relevance of Education” by Vihanga Perera (In Love With a Whale)

“In a recent submission to “Raavaya”, Kumudu Kusum Kumara had attempted a reading of Sumathy’s Ingirinthu as a text of subaltern identity. As implied in that essay — and as it can be conjured from the text itself — the story of Esther Valli is the “silence” of a community that has been the subject of multiple oppression ever since the set up of the Colonial plantation economy. In fact, the very heart of the Hill Country Estate Tamil question was tied up with the case of “legitimacy” as a part of the citizen body: where, in the collective consciousness of Lanka, these marginalized communities were, at best, seen as the vassals of an export economy; while, at the worst, they were condemned to a sub-human status.”

via: http://slwakes.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/the-way-ahead-for-esther-valli-on-sumathys-ingirnithu-and-the-relevance-of-education/

source: www.slwakes.wordpress.com

“Sri Lankan Migrants and Identity in Contemporary British Fiction: Roma Tearne’s Art of Memory” by Marianne Godard

We are pleased to share a link to download the Master thesis of Marianne Godard which deals with “Sri Lankan Migrants and Identity in Contemporary British Fiction: Roma Tearne’s Art of Memory”. This work, headed by Professor Ruth Morse, was realized in the framework of the Master in Anglophones studies at the University Diderot Paris 7.

Master Thesis Marianne Godard

Référence: Godard M., 2011, “Sri Lankan Migrants and Identity in Contemporary British Fiction: Roma Tearne’s Art of Memory”, Master’s thesis in Anglophones studies, Paris, University Diderot Paris 7, p.57

“Une étude novatrice de Delon Madavan sur les minorités tamoules à Colombo, Singapour et Kuala Lumpur” par Éric Meyer

Delon Madavan a soutenu brillamment sa thèse de doctorat en géographie à l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne le 26 septembre 2013.

Le travail de Delon Madavan associe dans une même étude Asie du Sud-Est et du Sud. Cette démarche, trop rare dans l’univers cloisonné des études aréales, est particulièrement pertinente, s’agissant des minorités tamoules établies sur le pourtour du golfe du Bengale, aire de circulation « connectée » bien avant l’impact colonial britannique. La propension spécifique des populations tamoules à émigrer concerne un large spectre sociologique, allant des travailleurs manuels (les coolies) aux marchands et gens de mer, aux artisans, et plus récemment aux professionnels du secteur tertiaire maîtrisant la langue anglaise et les outils informatiques. Delon Madavan analyse parfaitement la complexité de ces populations, et pose d’emblée la question de la création et des limites d’une identité tamoule transcendant cette hétérogénéité. Il conclut à juste titre que « la communauté tamoule est avant tout une agrégation d’expériences individuelles »
Parmi les concepts utilisés, ceux d’appartenance ethnique et de diaspora retiennent l’attention. Delon Madavan, dans le premier chapitre puis dans la dernière partie de sa thèse, montre comment le sentiment d’appartenance se fonde sur l’usage et la célébration de la langue tamoule, sur la large diffusion d’un imaginaire commun par la production cinématographique de ‘Kollywood’, et plus récemment sur le culte de l’héroïsme et sur le rêve d’un État national développés par les militants séparatistes sri lankais. Il évoque aussi la place tenue par les stratégies d’alliance qui maintiennent la cohésion par des mariages croisés (sans toutefois surmonter les segmentations internes de caste en dépit des efforts des militants de la cause tamoule). Le terme de diaspora, tel qu’il est défini comme « applicable à toute communauté post-migratoire caractérisée par une dispersion dans plusieurs pays à partir d’un foyer d’origine », est utilisé à bon escient ; il gagnerait à être mis au pluriel, pour prendre en compte l’importance de la segmentation des communautés tamoules ; à cet égard, la diaspora issue de la ville de Jaffna, qui fonctionne en réseau de Colombo à Kuala Lumpur, Singapour, Londres, Toronto ou Paris, répond mieux à cette définition que les communautés de travailleurs tamouls des plantations de Sri Lanka et de Malaisie, qui ont pourtant des origines communes et des destins parallèles, mais n’ont pas conservé de liens.
L’étude est menée dans une perspective géographique, son objet étant d’analyser l’inscription dans l’espace urbain du fait ethnique. Les terrains choisis sont les quartiers tamouls de Colombo, Kuala Lumpur et Singapour, cités qui ont en commun d’être des créations coloniales mais que distinguent leur composition ethnique et leur évolution politique depuis les indépendances. La méthode comparative est utilisée par Delon Madavan comme un procédé heuristique qui permet de prendre du recul pour mieux comprendre les situations particulières. Le plan qui juxtapose et combine dans des grandes parties thématiques le cas des trois cités permet de mener une véritable comparaison .
En ce qui concerne la ville de Colombo, le travail est totalement novateur, en dépit des difficultés considérables inhérentes à toute recherche sur Sri Lanka, et plus particulièrement sur les Tamouls sri lankais, dans un contexte politique marqué par la guerre opposant le gouvernement aux militants séparatistes des LTTE (Tigres de Libération de l’Eelam Tamoul). Le choix de ne pas traiter de la période postérieure à la défaite militaire des séparatistes (mai 2009) est amplement justifié par l’exigence de sérieux qui distingue le temps du chercheur de celui du publiciste. Il n’existait jusqu’à cette thèse aucune étude sur les minorités tamoules de Colombo, ni même d’étude géographique ou sociologique de qualité scientifique concernant cette cité, sur laquelle l’auteur aurait pu s’appuyer, et les données statistiques au niveau local étaient difficiles d’accès. En outre, le climat de violence urbaine généralisée interdisait à Delon Madavan de mener une enquête ‘au fil des rues’ comme dans les autres capitales, d’autant que ses origines tamoules le rendaient potentiellement suspect aux yeux des autorités en dépit de sa nationalité française, et que sa posture de chercheur ne le mettait pas à l’abri des pressions des militants. L’auteur explicite les moyens qu’il a employés pour surmonter ces obstacles, et la thèse prouve à l’évidence qu’il est parvenu à relever le défi.
Les analyses qu’il propose, illustrées par une cartographie abondante et inédite d’excellente facture, donnent une image précise de ces communautés. Elle révèlent l’existence de deux espaces tamouls géographiquement et sociologiquement séparés, l’un au nord de la capitale (Kotahena) et l’autre au sud (Wellawatte, Dehiwela) ; et la genèse en deux temps de ces quartiers, d’abord à la période coloniale, Kotahena, situé à proximité du port, ayant accueilli les commerçants et les manœuvres indiens, et Wellawatte les fonctionnaires et membres des professons libérales anglophones venus de Jaffna ; puis à partir des années 1970, Kotahena servant de refuge aux ouvriers des plantations chassés par la politique de nationalisation (comme en Malaisie), et Wellawatte de refuge aux Jaffnais chassés du nord de l’île par le conflit. Il en résulte ce qu’on pourrait qualifier de paradoxe de Colombo : « malgré la guerre, Colombo devient [ou plutôt reste] le principal centre de convergence des flux migratoires qui transforment la géographie de la population dans la ville (…) La part des Tamouls y augmente considérablement alors que celle des Cingalais ne cesse de diminuer » – ce qui contribue à la tamoulophobie de la communauté majoritaire. Les interviews menées par l’auteur, dont des extraits bien choisis soutiennent la thèse, montrent que cette nouvelle migration est perçue comme temporaire (« ils sont à Colombo mais pas de Colombo »), que l’espace n’est pas approprié, que « le logement est perçu comme une adresse », et que l’arrivée des nouveaux migrants ne réinjecte pas de particularisme culturel.
Cette situation, qui distingue Colombo des deux autres cités étudiées, est sous-tendue par la politique discriminatoire du gouvernement sri lankais à l’égard des minorités tamoules. Les développements que l’auteur consacre à ce sujet témoignent d’une remarquable exigence d’objectivité scientifique et d’un détachement de tout discours victimaire, sans s’abstraire d’une empathie pour le destin tragique de ces communautés.
Les qualités de chercheur de Delon Madavan, son dynamisme et sa détermination, sont mises en évidence par cette étude, mais aussi par ses travaux antérieurs sur Jaffna, par l’organisation d’un colloque international sur les communautés tamoules et le conflit sri lankais en Sorbonne en février 2010, et par l’animation du présent carnet de recherche sur Sri Lanka et ses diasporas depuis mai 2012.
La nouveauté et la justesse des analyses, la qualité de l’écriture, de la cartographie et des illustrations, font de cette thèse une production scientifique de grande valeur qui mérite une large diffusion.

Eric Meyer, membre du jury de thèse, Professeur émérite, INALCO

PS: Cliquer pour lire le résumé de la thèse

Review by H.L. Seneviratne of “Letters to our Presidents by Sri Lankan and US alumni of the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission 1952-2012, commemorating 60 years of the Fulbright Programme.”

We are very happy to pass on this review by H.L. Seneviratne of “Letters to our Presidents by Sri Lankan and US alumni of the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission 1952-2012, commemorating 60 years of the Fulbright Programme.”  The volume was edited by Tissa Jayatilaka and was published by the US-Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission.

The volume is a fitting tribute to the achievements of the Fulbright program in Sri Lanka generally and it also bears witness to the significance of the program for Sri Lankan studies in the United States, the significance of which all of us connected to AISLS are very, very aware in all of own individual and institutional work.

The review was published in “The Sunday Times”  on 13 October 2013:

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/131013/plus/fulbright-days-and-a-plea-to-leadership-65287.html

It can also be found in “The Colombo Telegraph:”

colombotelegraph.comhttps://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/fulbright-days-and-a-plea-to-leadership-2/

Source: American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies

“Reviews and Responses to The Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice” edited by Asanga Welikala

11th June 2013, Colombo, Sri LankaWe are pleased to note that the two-volume publication, The Sri Lankan Republic at 40: Reflections on Constitutional History, Theory and Practice, edited by Asanga Welikala and published by CPA in December 2012, has been extremely well received by both Sri Lankan scholars and comparative constitutional lawyers.
Reviews of the book by Laksiri Fernando, Kalana Senaratne, Judith Large and Kumudini Samuel have already been published on Groundviews and elsewhere, and are reproduced on the book’s dedicated website.
Shorter responses to the book by a diverse range of distinguished international scholars including Anthony Bradley, Neil DeVotta, Detmar Doering, Harshan Kumarasingham, Nikhil Narayan, Arun Thiruvengadam and Mark Tushnet can also be read on the same webpage.
The Republic at 40 is available to download as complete volumes or individual chapters from here.

“People, Politics and the Constitution: Reading ‘The Sri Lankan Republic at 40′ (edited by Asanga Welikala)” by Kalana Senaratne

Reflections on Sri Lanka’s constitutional history, theory, and practice can be like that. They teach us strange lessons, tickle us in numerous different ways, and we end up with mixed emotions. We are, in a sense, back to square one.

It’s the kind of feeling you might get when thinking about the great hope for constitutional reform we are considered to be having these days. To save us from the Rajapaksas, there comes a familiar figure, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha with a document full of good and beautiful promises. There is light at the end of the tunnel, one tends to think. But sometimes we realize that that’s no light: it could well be another train. And we get the point: there is still the need to meet the Mahanayakas, there is still the need to remain silent about devolution, there is still the need for the robed monk to lead us to political and constitutional liberation. We are just entering the same room through different doors. And there’s your lesson on the constitutional history, theory and practice concerning Sri Lanka, in a nutshell.

We’ve known this for so long, but given our infatuation with drafting constitutional documents, we simply miss the point: what we need is not a new constitution but a new people. Or rather, we need both, but without the latter, nothing will ultimately work out.

Via http://groundviews.org/2013/05/11/people-politics-and-the-constitution-reading-the-sri-lankan-republic-at-40-edited-by-asanga-welikala/

source: Groundviews

“Review of ‘Fire and Storm’ by Michael Roberts” (Groundviews)

Michael Roberts’ book Fire and Storm is an important contribution towards a dialogue on the Sri Lankan polity. It records contrasting views on Eelam and the politics of Eelam. It also provides a basis for clearer understanding of the LTTE terrorism and armed conflict. This book would enrich one’s understanding of recent Sri Lankan history. The perceptive reader would also find ideas for national unity and nation building.

Via http://groundviews.org/2013/04/17/review-of-fire-and-storm-by-michael-roberts/

source: Groundviews

“Ini Avan: Hauntingly beautiful but… ” By Anonymous

Ini Avan reduces social travails in the North to one in which some less powerful but relatively more principled individuals battle others who are either seeking to profit from the former’s predicament or are blinded by hurt and prejudice. The film captures a social context that is fraught with trauma and divided along lines of gender, caste, and class but these cleavages are totally abstracted from the present, thus erasing, albeit very aesthetically, the specificities and embeddness of Tamil society in a highly militarised and undemocratic post-war Northern Sri Lanka. The film combines a construction and focus on the ‘enemy within’ Tamil society with an individuation and abstraction of post-war social dynamics, which the Sinhala-Buddhist state and large sections of the majority are more likely to be comfortable with.
In this sense, for all its aesthetic appeal, Ini Avan, is a film set to a Sinhalese grammar. It is a film in Tamil but the gaze is distinctly Sinhala.
Read full article here.
source: Groundviews

Book review: “Healing the Wounds: Rebuilding Sri Lanka after the War” edited by Dhammika Harath and Kalinga Tudor Silva

We would like to share the review by The Island of the new book edited by Dhammika Harath and Kalinga Tudor Silva, Healing the Wounds: Rebuilding Sri Lanka after the War (Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2012).

http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=71143

source: AISLS

Review by Sasanka Perera of Laksiri Jayasuriya’s “Changing Facets of Electoral Politics in Sri Lanka”

We forward to you here a review by Sasanka Perera of Laksiri Jayasuriya’s timely monograph, “Changing Facets of Electoral Politics in Sri Lanka.”  The review was published yesterday in The Island and is available here:

http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=70444#

Sasanka Perera’s personal website makes available some of his academic essays. It provides other information about his work and bears witness to the range of his interests:

http://sasankaperera.com/

Long-associated with the Department of Sociology at the University of Colombo, Sasanka Perera is now Chair and Founding Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, South Asian University, New Delhi.

source: AISLS

An explanatory note on the Divineguma Bill (CPA)

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has produced a note on the Divineguma Bill, examining key provisions of the Bill and implications if enacted in its present form. The Bill was first tabled in Parliament in August 2012 and subsequently challenged in the Supreme Court. Media reports indicate the Bill is to be taken for a debate and vote in Parliament in January 2013. The note is presently being translated to Sinhala and Tamil and translations will be available shortly.

Download the full document as a PDF from here or view on the web here.

source: Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)

Un recueil de textes sur Sri Lanka soulève des questions fondamentales

Un chercheur américain vient de publier un recueil volumineux de documents et d’études, censé apporter au lecteur une connaissance encyclopédique de l’histoire, de la culture et de la politique de Sri Lanka:

John Clifford Holt: The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011; pp 772 + index, illustrations, $34.95

Gananath Obeyesekere, professeur émérite d’anthropologie à l’Université de Princeton, a publié dans la revue indienne Economic and Political Weekly un compte-rendu très critique de cet ouvrage, dont nous vous conseillons la lecture, sous le titre: ‘Sri Lanka Reader plans to do much and therefore achieves too little’: on le trouve sur le site Transcurrents, qui reprend souvent des notes de lecture et des études importantes concernant Sri Lanka:
http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/7615

Nous aurons l’occasion de revenir ultérieurement sur cette publication et sur d’autres ouvrages récents portant sur l’histoire de Sri Lanka, mais nous encourageons dès à présent nos lecteurs à réagir à la lecture de ce compte-rendu qui soulève une série de questions fondamentales concernant les interprétations de l’histoire de la domination coloniale et de la place de la violence dans la société contemporaine

Book Review: Ronit Ricci’s “Islam Translated: Literature, Conversion, and the Arabic Cosmopolis of South and Southeast Asia″ reviewed by Afsar Mohammad

In this deftly argued and neatly written book, Ronit Ricci offers
fresh insights and tools for the study of various locally produced
Islamic texts and their reception in South and Southeast Asia.
Following the well-discussed paradigm of the “Sanskrit Cosmopolis,”
which was introduced by the Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock, Ricci
develops the idea of the “Arabic Cosmopolis.” Her valuable
contribution lies in its potential to generate a debate about the
trans-local Islamic literary sphere that is constituted and defined
by language, literature, and religion at a broad level, and in South
Asian Islam in particular. According to Ricci, the paradigm of the
“Arabic cosmopolis” includes a large geographic area through South
and Southeast Asia. Focusing specifically on local translations and
transmissions of an Arabic text, _The Book of One Thousand Questions
_(printed in Arabic in 1920), into local languages, such as Javanese,
Tamil, and Malay, Ricci explores the processes of  translation and
conversion in South and Southeast Asia. Although this study is
restricted to specific local languages, her observations and
analytical paths provide tools to comprehend the contours of this
text beyond the limits of the Arabic language or various languages
that she discusses in the book.

The book begins with an introduction that theorizes the concept of
the “Arabic cosmopolis.” Connecting to various discussions on
literary transmission, translation, and religious conversions, Ricci
situates the local languages in a theoretical framework that
circumscribes diverse historical phases, literary networks, and
Islamization in South and Southeast Asia. The comparative study of
India and Indonesia lifts this work to an extremely advantageous
status. In the next key section of the introduction, Ricci expands
this discussion of the literary networks further in theorizing these
textual dynamics, and explains the concept of the “Arabic cosmopolis”
of South and Southeast Asia. She argues that the comprehension of the
processes of conversion and translation remain incomplete if we fail
to consider seriously the role of Arabic. According to the author,
“Arabic’s incorporation–at many levels–into local vernaculars has
brought about profound and long-lasting transformations” (p. 12).

This book has three parts: part 1 discusses translation focusing on
the idea of untranslatability, part 2 examines the intriguing aspect
of conversions, and part 3 offers concluding remarks. In the first
part, Ricci uses three literary texts: _The_ _Book of Samud_ from
Javanese; _Ayira Macala _(A thousand questions_ _[printed 1984]) from
Tamil; and finally _Seribu Masalah _(A thousand questions), the Malay
version of _The Book of One Thousand Questions_. Her exploration
begins with a basic premise that the word “translation” itself is
untranslatable (p. 32). While this idea is intriguing, Ricci expands
the definition of “translation” by examining various translations of
the Arabic texts in local languages. The author discovers a shift in
the approaches toward translation in locally produced texts that
simultaneously effaced the individual translator but boldy and
creatively reworked the text. Beginning with the wide-ranging
transmission of the Arabic language Ricci discusses how the dynamics
of conversion were reflected in_The Book of One Thousand Questions_
in Javanese, Malay, and Tamil texts. In the third part, the
conclusion, Ricci offers fresh insights on her idea of the Arabic
cosmopolis by looking at the role of local communities in “the
formation of a new literary and religious repository that was richly
interconnected both with a distant past and with a local present” (p.
245).

Current research on the production and transmission of premodern
South Asian literature focuses heavily on Sanskrit texts or
Sanskrit-related materials. Although we have a few studies concerned
with non-Sanskrit languages and literature, they too mostly focus on
non-Islamic writing. Studies on Islamic literary materials remain
unexplored. Undoubtedly, Ricci’s book fills this void while
successfully analyzing an Islamic narrative that blends local and
global Islamic cultural and social aspects. In this case, this work
is more about the literary networks of South and Southeast Muslim
communities than South and Southeast Asia as such. Ricci uses the
term “literary networks” in a specific way as it represents “shared
texts, including stories, poems, genealogies, histories, and
treatises on a broad range of topics, as well as the readers,
listeners, authors, patrons, translators, and scribes  who created,
translated, supported, and transmitted them” (p. 2). For a student of
literary and cultural studies, this idea of literary networks opens
up a wide array of research options and provides a wealth of
materials and their uses in the literary cultures of South Indian
Islam. This entire discussion on literary networks takes on a
fascinating turn when Ricci uses the concept of “prior texts” as
proposed by A. L. Becker about the uses of old texts and their
reformulations in modern times. This observation parallels neatly the
debate on various Muslim texts now being circulated in South Asia in
general, and South India in particular.

Ricci’s work prioritizes the uses of diverse genres of literary texts
both in manuscript and printed  books, mainly shaped by the influx of
Arabic. The examples she presents clearly demonstrate that they were
shaped by an Arabic model, which fits comfortably into her
proposition about the Arabic cosmopolis. However, the use of Arabic
as a religious language and its vocabulary has a certain hierarchy,
which in some contexts equals a “normative” Islam. Although many
textual materials within the religious sphere of Islam remain fixed
to an Arabic paradigm, it is imperative to recognize the popularity
of Sufi materials that borrow heavily from Persian-language sources.
In the realm of popular Islam and Sufi devotional materials, either
oral or written, we find an equally significant network that is
equivalent to the Arabic cosmopolis. Although Ricci refers to a few
aspects of the Persian narrative in her book, she does so in relation
to the Arabic cosmopolis. How could we make use of her valuable tools
in the context of Persianate Islamic literary networks? Even in the
case of the conversions that occupied a significant place in Ricci’s
analysis, the networks of Persian literary texts have a crucial role
as many Sufi schools in South Asia adapted and appropriated Persian
Sufi texts to “convert” non-Muslims into Muslims. Ricci’s work opens
up the possibility for developing a different study using Persian
narratives.

Citation: Afsar Mohammad. Review of Ricci, Ronit, _Islam Translated:
Literature, Conversion, and the Arabic Cosmopolis of South and
Southeast Asia_. H-Asia, H-Net Reviews. November, 2012.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=34595

Ronit Ricci.  Islam Translated: Literature, Conversion, and the
Arabic Cosmopolis of South and Southeast Asia.  Chicago  University
of Chicago Press, 2011.  336 pp.  $45.00 (cloth), ISBN
978-0-226-71088-4.

Book Review: Richard Hughes Seager’s “The World’s Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893” reviewed by Richard Davis

We republish here a review of Richard Hughes Seager’s “The World’s Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893” that was written by Richard Davis and which appeared on H-Asia (October, 2012).

Parliament of Religions

For those of us who study the history of Hinduism, the World’s Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 is important as the event where Swami Vivekananda made his first dramatic appearance before an American audience and initiated his international mission on behalf of the Ramakrishna Order. For Buddhologists, the parliament is the place where Shaku Soen spoke, the first Zen master to travel to the United States. His young pupil D. T. Suzuki translated Soen’s talk into English. The parliament also gave prominence to Anagarika Dharmapala, who would go on to become a leading figure in the reformation of Sinhalese Buddhism. For students of Jainism, the parliament is significant for the appearance of Virchand Gandhi, the first prominent Jain spokesman to appear in the United States. These men would all have profound effects on religious developments in their own countries and on the global reach of their Asian religions in the twentieth century.

The parliament was also a consequential event in the religious and cultural history of the United States. As an auxiliary of the great Columbian Exposition of 1893, it embodied many of the nationalist and imperialist themes of the exposition. In the exposition, America was represented as the new Greece or Rome, the most highly evolved and enlightened civilization in history, hosting the full panoply of the world’s cultures. The World’s Parliament of Religions likewise brought together, on a single platform, representative leaders of all the world’s major faiths. But the platform distinctly favored the premises and values of the America Protestant organizers.

Richard Hughes Seager’s valuable 1995 work, now available in paperback, aims to study the “East/West encounter” that occurred at the World’s Parliament of Religions. Seager is an expert on American religious history, and the virtue of this work for students of Asian religion and history is that it enables us to locate figures like Vivekananda, Soen, Dharmapala, and Gandhi as actors in a social drama taking place in a cultural field where the most explicit issues were internal to the American religious scene. Seager surveys the various agendas that collided in Chicago, from the liberal and inclusivist to the conservative and xenophobic among the Christian denominations. The parliament organizers may have proclaimed the fundamental unity of all religions, but the foundation of this unity was laid on Christian theological ground. Seager demonstrates vividly the contradictory impulses within the parliament’s plan. As Seager shows, the World’s Parliament of Religions was a liberal American quest for religious unity that failed, due to underlying ethnocentrism and imperialism.

This was by no means a parliament based on proportional representation. The 12 speakers on Buddhism, 8 on Hinduism, and just 2 on Islam were overwhelmed by the 113 delegates representing various shades of Protestant Christianity, with another 18 speaking on Catholicism. Arriving as marginal figures, the Asian delegates were nevertheless able to get their messages across. Newspapers reported extraordinary responses among the audiences for several of the delegates from Asia. Their success points both to the individual rhetorical adeptness of the Asian speakers, and also to the theological and cultural receptivity of a segment of the audience in late nineteenth-century America. Yet it was a complicated encounter. How much of the enthusiasm was the result of genuine religious communication, and how much the titillation of the exotic? Vivekananda came to see himself as part of a “heathen show,” uncomfortably similar to the ethnographic exhibitions of living savages he had observed on the midway of the Columbian Exposition.

The new scientific discipline, the comparative study of religion, put in an appearance at the parliament, represented by papers from distinguished scholars, like F. Max Muller of Oxford and Jean Reville of the Sorbonne. Their pronouncements, Seager shows, tended to echo the same premises as the Christian theologians. These early comparativists adopted an evolutionary model to comprehend the variety of world religious forms, and assumed that ethical monotheism, preferably in its liberal Protestant form, was the highest stage of human religiosity. Best known for assembling the fifty volumes of the Sacred Books of the East, Muller here did not address the religions of the world at all, but called for a revival of Christian religion based on its early forms.

Seager describes well the intellectual and theological context in which the Asian delegates spoke, and provides a good sense of the rhetoric that they deployed successfully at the parliament. They also became involved in one of the key controversies of the parliament. Among the Christian participants, the philosophy and methods of missionary work in the non-Western world was a topic of much debate. Many of the Asian delegates vigorously and heatedly challenged the fundamental purpose of missionary work. Christian mission was rooted, they argued, in assumptions of racism and imperialist politics of the Western nations that were incompatible with the liberal values proclaimed by the parliament organizers.

As a historian of American religion, Seager effectively demonstrates how the Asian participants helped unsettle the confident “Columbian” myth of Gilded Age America. This encounter did have profound effects, as he shows, on the subsequent directions of American religion. Historians of Asian religions can find much value in Seager’s exploration of the American side of this dramatic East/West religious encounter.

But the parliament also had important consequences for developments within the Asian religions themselves, and for the worldwide spread of these religions. Seager recognizes these topics, but he does not follow out fully the implications of his theme of East/West encounter. How were the Asian delegates selected? How did this affect the internal hierarchies within their religious communities? How did they manage to get to Chicago? From whom and where did the necessary funds come? How did the experience of speaking at the parliament change the participants? How did their participation play back in their Asian homelands? Why did these speakers, in several key cases, become exemplars of modernizing or reformist versions of their religions? Seager gives only brief attention to these questions. It would take another book to explore properly and fully the Asian side of this encounter.

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.

Citation: Richard Davis. Review of Seager, Richard Hughes, The World’s Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893. H-Asia, H-Net Reviews. October, 2012.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=32292

Book Review: Peterson Indira and Soneji Devesh (eds.)’s “Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India” Reviewed by Archana Venkatesan

We republish here a review of Peterson Indira and Soneji Devesh (eds.)’s “Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India” that was written by Archana Venkatesan and which appeared on H-Asia (April, 2011).

Arts in South India

The edited volume Performing Pasts by Indira Viswanathan Peterson and Davesh Soneji concerns the place of the performing arts in the history of modern South India. It takes as its central argument that the invention and classicizing of the performing arts (specifically music and dance) was forged in the nexus of colonialism, nationalism, and regionalism and that an examination of the elite metropolitan discourses surrounding the performing arts reveals something significant about the workings of modernity in South Asia in general and South India in particular. Performing Pasts has a two-fold aim: to explore the interface between modernity and the performing arts in South India (p. 1), and in doing so, to fill the lacuna regarding a cultural and social history of South Indian music and dance. The ten essays in this volume engage with the complex manner in which issues both local (regionalism, language politics, caste) and national (gender, Victorian morality) were refracted in the remaking and reinvention of South Indian music and dance. While these essays center primarily on the elite, metropolitan discourses that emerged between the nineteenth until the mid-twentieth centuries from cultural hubs like Tanjavur and Madras, they successfully demonstrate the hybridity of traditions, performers, and pedagogical practices. Furthermore, the interpretive perspectives–textual, anthropological, historical–amply demonstrate the very hybridity that the authors seek to highlight. They enable the essays to “connect with each other in fruitful ways, and to illuminate issues related to the performing arts as ‘cultural performance’ in its multiple dimensions” (p. 4).

The volume’s comprehensive introduction jointly authored by Peterson and Soneji does more than just offer summaries of the articles or their methodological orientations. Rather, this introductory essay provides richly textured historical background and traverses the essays’ most significant arguments about the development of the performing arts in India. The brief stories of music and dance cultures are recounted against the backdrop of nationalist, Orientalist, and colonial impulses, and elegantly articulate how issues of identity, linguistic and caste politics, female sexuality, and the emergence of new centers of cultural, economic and political power, came together in the efforts to classicize, standardize, and sacralize South Indian music and dance. For instance, the nationalist project of Karnatak music was one which brought together Tamil and Telugu Brahmins of the new middle class, Orientalist scholars, and Theosophists. The impulses of the Dravidian movement and the push towards formulating a Tamil music, embodied in the Tamil Isai Sangam, occurred simultaneously. However, as the volume’s editors point out, the invention of Karnatak music was not solely a Brahmin project, patronized as it was (and continues to be) by the non-Brahmin elite. Similarly, music composition in Tamil was taken up Brahmins, non-Brahmins, Christians, and Muslims alike, while each claimed for themselves a distinctly Tamil identity. Claims such as the ones above are borne out by a number of essays in the volume, but two widely different ones suffice to make the point. Zoe Sherinian explores Tamil Protestant indigenization of thekirttanai form to resist the very elite structures of power that produced it. Matthew Allen Harp’s article examines the work of the Madras Music Academy in standardizing and textualizing music, particularly in its desire to articulate the structures of ragas and talas scientifically.

While literature on the history of music in India from the nineteenth century is just emerging, there is a huge amount of wide-ranging scholarship on the interventions and experiments with dance in the same period. Many of the articles in this volume build on this already existent scholarship–indeed many of the contributors have been instrumental in forging this body of research work–but do so in new and interesting ways. The essays on dance, specifically, Bharatanatyam, in this volume therefore do not simply rehearse the old arguments about the de-eroticizing of dance and the gradual erosion of ritual, economic, and performance rights of thedevadasi. Instead, the essays by Hari Krishnan, Janet O’Shea, Peterson, and Soneji offer us something new. Krishnan traces the textualization of dance repertoire and practice, exemplified by the innovations introduced by the Tanjavur Quartet (nineteenth century) in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, identifying said impulse as a response to the potential loss of the repertoire by hereditary performers on account of the pressures of social reform. By taking up contemporary dance and choreographic practice in Chennai and Sri Lanka, particularly as it pertains to Tamil identity, O’Shea’s essay tackles the very manner in which dance is employed to reimagine a specific past for a specific (if global) community. Similarly, both Peterson’s essay and Soneji’s article concentrate on the central role of nostalgia and memory in constructing the past. While Peterson takes up the famous serialized Tamil novel Tillana Mohanambal (1956-57) by Kalaimani Kothamangalam Subbu to argue that the novel’s nostalgic celebration of the hereditary performance traditions of the temple-city of Tiruvarur offers an version of these traditions that stands in opposition to the elite or regionalist, Soneji plumbs his rich ethnographic work with the devadasis of coastal Andhra to demonstrate the key place of memory and performance in maintaining their identity. He takes us behind their closed-door private performances, undertaken solely for their pleasure, and in doing so allows the voices of these women to embody the very arguments that Kalaimani seeks to make in Tillana Mohanambal. This penultimate essay brings a number of the volume’s themes together and acts as a fitting and thought-provoking conclusion.

As the editors Soneji and Peterson mention in their substantial introduction, the ten essays are divided thematically into four major sections. The first section of three essays, Lakshmi Subramanian, Krishnan, and Harp, reflects on the problematic issue of canons and canonization. As such, these three essays take up the process of textualization and standardization, with two of the essays specifically focused on music and the work of the Music Academy (Subramanian and Harp) that was founded in Chennai in 1928. The second section, “The Local and Global: Regional and National Pasts,” consists of two essays by Avanti Meduri and O’Shea. Meduri takes up the crucial work of Rukmini Arundale as “dance-historian” whose influential re-imagining of the stage as a visual representation of the triangular, symbiotic relationship between god, guru, and temple, enabled her to simultaneously historicize and spiritualize Bharatanatyam. Not coincidentally, her re-imaginings of stage and of dance took place at the same time as the scientific standardization projects undertaken by the members of the Madras Music Academy. By focusing on Chennai and Sri Lanka, and Bharatanatyam’s key role in expressing different pasts in India and in Sri Lanka, O’Shea explicates the local and global appeal of Bharatanatyam, and in particular its fluid and chimerical character. The three essays of Saskia Kersenboom, Amanda Weidman, and Peterson constitute the third section, entitled “Views from Within: Self Conscious Reflections on Tradition.” While Peterson’s essay’s centerpiece is a Tamil novel, Weidman examines the interventions of new technologies, particularly the phonograph and radio broadcasts, in reshaping musical pedagogical practices, and notions of the authentic transmission of repertoire from teacher to disciple. Kersenboom applies the emic Tamil categories of grammar and form to an analysis of the seminal Bhairavi varnam “Mohamana” to argue for the flexible, ever-changing nature of marabu (tradition). In particular, she argues that the text, particularly one such as “Mohamana,” constantly changes as it finds form and expression through embodied practice. The final section, “Identity, Community and Resistance: Imagining Alternatives to Tradition,” offers two essays by Soneji and Zoe Sherinian that take up the central place of performance in forging caste/gender identities, and as a means of articulating resistance to the dominant elite narratives.

One of Performing Pasts’ great strength is that it draws the reader’s attention both to important commonalities and divergences within South Asia and particularly with the traditions that concern the volume’s authors. Thus, for instance, we are drawn to attend to the difference in the interventions in the cultural spheres of literature and the visual arts and the performing arts. Whereas the former was directed more towards innovation and novelty, the thrust of the discourse surrounding the performing arts had to do with its antiquity and classicism (p. 5). Even so, the authors and the accompanying essays amply demonstrate that the reinvention of the performing arts in South India beginning in the nineteenth century was marked by adaptations and borrowing from Western practices and the introduction of all kinds of innovations. As Krishnan argues in his essay, these might take the shape of the move to standardize and textualize embodied practices as early as the late eighteenth century. In still other cases, it occurs under the influence of new instruments such as the violin or new technologies such as radio and phonograph (Weidman). Peterson and Soneji have organized the essays along four specific themes, but since these essays are so rich and textured, they lend themselves to being read with and against each other. For example, reading the essays on Bharatanatyam (or Karnatak music) together offers a nuanced portrait of the difficult and oftentimes painful history of Bharatanatyam, India’s iconic dance form. Similarly, one could read these essays with particular attention to sites of production, which are as varied as institutions like the Music Academy, cities such as Chennai, or erstwhile cultural centers such as Tanjavur, Tiruvarur, and coastal Andhra Pradesh. This last would be a particularly fruitful way of reading the essays in this volume, as one of its central arguments concerns the production and consumption of performance in multiple venues in multiple contexts–in temple, in courts, and in salons, suggesting a multiplicity and cosmopolitanism that was erased by nationalist discourses that located music and dance in the temple, thereby ensuring their persistent identification with the sacred.

Although the book title marks its territory as South India, the majority of the essays focus on Tamil Nadu and elite Hindu culture. Nonetheless the themes, theoretical approaches, work with multiple language sources (Tamil, Telugu, and Sanskrit, for example), and arguments about the manner in which texts and performance cultures travel (for instance from Tanjavur to coastal Andhra, or from Chennai to Sri Lanka), open up new avenues for consideration. Rather than an assemblage of essays representing various linguistic traditions of South India, the book is attentive to the significance of place (performance practices in Tanjavur may not be shared in Pudukkotai, although repertoires clearly traveled) and of the polyglot, cosmopolitan quality of various cultural centers such as Tanjavur, coastal Andhra Pradesh, or Chennai. For its ability to inspire discussion and further investigation, this thoroughly researched and cleanly edited volume is ideal for use in courses on Indian social and cultural history at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, and is a welcome and important addition to the slow-growing resources on the important place of the performing arts in the Indian nationalist project.

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.

 

Indira Peterson, Devesh Soneji, eds. Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008. xi + 356 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-569084-2.

 

Citation: Archana Venkatesan. Review of Peterson, Indira; Soneji, Devesh, eds., Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India. H-Asia, H-Net Reviews. April, 2011.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=29626