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Does Dissent Endure?


Amiya P. Sen

DEVOTION AND DISSENT IN INDIAN HISTORY
Edited by Vijaya Ramaswamy
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2014, pp.379, Rs. 895.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 6 June 2014

For someone not adequately apprised of the scholarly interests of its editor, the title given to this volume may prove somewhat ambivalent and open ended. After all, ‘devotion’ and ‘dissent’ are also broad sociological responses that could be revealed and read outside the domain of religion, as say in politics or everyday social relationships. On the other hand, I trust that within the world of Indian scholarship, Vijaya Rama-swamy is much too familiar a name to induce such errors of judgement. The present work is a collection of 17 essays and but for one (Essay #3), were all originally presented at an international conference convened at JNU, New Delhi, between 11th and 13th March, 2010. It is only fair to confess at the outset that with my limited knowledge of pre-modern religious traditions in India or of the vast variety of social concerns that surface within these, I could possibly comment only on some of the essays put together.   Between them, these essays cover much geographical space and thematic variations. Four of these relate to devotional movements (both Vaishnava and Saiva) in medieval south India (Vijaya Ramaswamy, T.S. Satyanath, Ranjeeta Dutta, S. Gunasekaran), there are two on Narayana Guru in modern Kerala (S. Omana and Udaya Kumar); an essay on dissensions within the Catholic Church, also in early modern Kerala (Pius Malekandathil), three on the Punjab, stretching from the medieval to contemporary times (Mahesh Sharma, Yogesh Snehi and Raj Kumar Hans), two on modern Bengal (G. Gispert-Sauch, and the team of Sumanta Banerjee & Surojit Sen), one each on early Buddhism (K.T.S. Sarao), the Varkari movement in Maharashtra (Rohini Mokashi-Punekar), the functions of music in the Chishti silsila of upper India (Raziuddin Aquil) and the historiography of Kabir Panthis (David Lorenzen). The first essay by Arvind Sharma theorizes the concepts of devotion and dissent and is best read together with the foreword by Goldman and the editorial introduction. At places, good use has been made of tables and illustrations which serve to visually enliven a text. As is often the case with such collections, the essays included here are of somewhat uneven depth or quality. Not all essays are able to meaningfully relate doctrines to praxis or even more generally, raise interesting and relevant questions. More disappointing though is the somewhat commonplace treatment of subjects or themes which could have been meaningfully problematized. Thus, Gispert-Sauch’s essay on the Catholic-Vedantin, Bhavanicharan ...


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