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Understanding A Religion, A Way of Life

Krishna Swamy Dara

Edited by Amiya P. Sen
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2011, pp. 392, Rs. 795.00


The colonial encounter has thrown up a serious existential and intellectual challenge to the traditional Hindu in the nineteenth century. Some were enamoured by the achievements of western modernity, while some displayed an anxiety in assessing its claims on the finality of truth, progress and reason. Ram Mohan Roy would come under the former and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay would fall under the latter category. However, both of them made an earnest attempt to understand Hindu religion, its way of life and philosophy. They also felt obliged to defend Hinduism against the onslaught of modern appeals to reason and progress. Interestingly the defence of Hinduism was not done in the conservative strain of developing a critique of reason and progress but more in an apologetic tone. This apologetic Hinduism is a growing concern to contemporary research on Indian political thought.   The book under review brings together a selection of writings by Bankim that deal with his concern with Hinduism and its philosophy. The editor Amiya P. Sen has carefully chosen texts and some new texts translated to give a faithful representation of Bankim’s thought process. The editor also gives an excellent introduction both to the general thought and the particular religious thinking of Bankim to orient the reader to the selection. The pieces in the volume are also arranged together and divided in a manner that does not distort the intent of Bankim. Firstly, writings with an anthropological perspective on religion are offered. In this sub-section, the pieces titled ‘The Essence of God hood’, ‘The Evolution of Vedic religion’, ‘Savita and Gayatri’ are particularly interesting writings. In them Bankim attempts to construct an anthropological apologetic of religion in general and Hinduism in particular. Bankim’s widepread knowledge of history of both the West and India clearly emerges. The image of Bankim as a literary figure gives way to that of a historical anthropologist.   In this collection it clearly emerges that Bankim was preoccupied with developing a defence of ‘Hinduism’. Bankim develops an interesting argument that in ‘pre-Mohamedan India’ there was no unified entity called the ‘Hindu religion’. He writes, Is there not then such a thing as Hindu religion? Search through all the vast written literature of India, and you will not, except in modern writings where the Hindu has sought obsequiously to translate the phraseology of his conquerors, meet with any mention of such a thing as the Hindu ...

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