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Contentious Issues

L.R.S. Lakshmi

Edited by Michael Bergunder , Heiko Frese and Ulrike Schroder
Primus Books, Delhi, 2012, pp.386, Rs.1095.00


Historical writings on colonial South India are still fewer compared to the elaborate bibliography available on the history of colonial North India. This book is an important addition to bridging that lacuna. Based on Tamil and Telugu sources the thirteen contributors have written on different and sometimes interrelated topics. Although the main geographical context is South India, a couple of chapters have also dealt with other geographical regions such as Sri Lanka and South East Asia. In Tamilnadu, caste has always been a contentious issue and this had eventually led to caste movements in the colonial period. Four chapters of the book deal with Saiva Sidhhanta. Andreas Nehring has evaluated the encounter between the Saiva Siddhanta Samaj and the protestant missionaries in the first decade of the twentieth century. A noted Tamil anti-brahman reformer, Maraimalai Adigal, recommended social service and the opening of temples to lower castes. He also stood for the purity of Tamil language and culture. The Saiva Siddhanta Samaj expressed positive sentiments towards Christianity. The next chapter is about continuation of the Saiva Siddhanta religion under a different influential propagator, J.M. Nallasvami Pillai. As Michael Bergunder says, Nallasvami, who represented an English educated Vellalar elite, was the main coordinator of Saiva Siddhanta organizations all over South India and Ceylon. Ravi Vaitheespara has also attempted to throw some more light on Maraimalai Adigal’s discourse on caste and ritual. He argues that caste was an important vehicle for Maraimalai to challenge the rising hegemony of the Sanskrit-brahmanical tradition in the Tamil land in the late 19th century. Peter Schalk presents the major figures of Saivism in Jaffna in the nineteenth century. The rituals of the Vellalars in some of the Jaffna temples have been discussed in some detail. The Saiva Siddhanta leader, Arumuga Pillai, represented the interests of the Vellalars in Jaffna. This chapter is very well written in lucid language and draws comparisons with the present-day problems of the LTTE, the Tamil Left, the dalit movement and the democratic forces in Jaffna. After four chapters dedicated to the Vellalars, Ulrike Schroder has evaluated a book written by an Anglican missionary, Robert Caldwell, on the Shanars/Nadars (originally toddy tappers) of Tirunelveli. In the early nineteenth century, the presence of a large number of missionaries in the Tirunelveli district led to the conversion of several Shanars/Nadars, including whole families and villages. The Hindu organizations, threatened by ...

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