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World Renouncers and Men of the World

Amiya P. Sen

Edited by Antony Copley
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 303, Rs. 595.00


The present work, as per the editor’s own admission, is a companion volume to the one brought out in 2000 under the name Gurus and Their Followers. Apart from including some common authors, the two volumes also reveal strong thematic continuities. Thus in both cases, Gwilym Beckerlegge writes on the ideal of seva [selfless social service], Hiltred Rustau on the emergence of female ascetics within contemporary Hinduism, Harald Fischer-Tine on the Arya Samaj and eminent Arya leaders and Peter Heehs on Sri Aurobindo. Happily, there are also essays that are entirely new such as the two contributions on Mahima Dharma in Orissa, by Lidia Julianna Guzy and Johannes Beltz; the Vaishnav revival in 19th century Bengal by Jason D. Fuller; on the fate of the cow-protection movement in contemporary India by Therese O’Toole and on the Mata Amritanandamayi Mission by Maya Warrier. What is also bound to be of some interest to the reader is the attempt made in several essays to explore the possible linkages between religious reform in the 19th century and the ideology of contemporary Hindutva.   In the present collection, essayists who do examine this problem at any length unanimously conclude that linkages of this kind have been constructed only retrospectively and rest upon a gross misreading and misappropriation of the lives and work of eminent public figures of colonial India. Thus Beckerlegge and Rustau firmly deny the possibility of men like Vivekananda and Aurobindo being forerunners in the revanchist persecution now unleashed upon non-Hindus. Maya Warrier’s essay, which I personally liked very much, demonstrates how many Hindus who now associate themselves with urban, guru-based movements, are not necessarily drawn to the ideology of Hindutva and reveal significantly different perceptions about the social and cultural world of Hinduism.   Limitations of space will permit me to comment only briefly and selectively on the very useful essays put together in this volume. My one major complaint against some of the essayists is that they push their generalizations much too far, even for the sake of theory. Thus Guzi’s claim [p.212] that her study of Mahima Dharma asceticism in rural Orissa made way ‘to the conclusion that the Hindu tradition of renouncing the world is to be analysed in relation to local powers’ is prima facie quite unconvincing . To conflate the structure of everyday relationships between world-renouncers and men of the world with the ideological impulse that ...

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