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It is not surprising that this tension has influenced the model of political leadership in India - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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Historically there has been a tension in Indian society between these two ideals: being part of the society (and therefore being a part of a network of relations) or being an “individual”, seeking for his own salvation “Secular” Hinduism is the result of this tension

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slide1

Historically there has been a tension in Indian society between these two ideals: being part of the society (and therefore being a part of a network of relations) or being an “individual”, seeking for his own salvation

  • “Secular” Hinduism is the result of this tension
  • In fact the tension between doing his own duty and seeking salvation has been felt particularly in the political field (the ksatriya)
slide2

It is not surprising that this tension has influenced the model of political leadership in India

  • In fact, many popular political leaders at national level in India were popular exactly because they incarnated this dual tension: living in the society, being active in this world, while at the same time seeking to reach an “outer-world” dimension
  • One example of course is M. K. Gandhi (the Mahatma) who very often defined himself as a “practical idealist” or, in other words, as a “saint”, a renouncer who actually seeks salvation not by abandoning the world, rather through the action in this world.
slide3

In fact, all the main developments in Indian religious and philosophical thought come out of this tension

  • There has been the tendency to find other ways to salvation without leaving the world
  • The institute of renunciation was obviously a very difficult path, not open to everyone: first, only the “twice-born” could become sannyasin, and secondly, leaving the world was not an easy choice
slide4

That is the basic reason for the development of new movements that tried to “democratize” the path to salvation

  • Two examples are
  • a) the Bhakti movement
  • B) the Shakti (Tantric) movement
slide5

The Bhakti (“devotion”) movement (based on the BhagavadGita, which is a part of a famous Indian epic text, the Mahabarata) is based on the simple idea that it is possible to become a renouncer (a sannyasin) without abandoning the society

  • If Karma (action) is the source of every attachment to the world, it is not necessary to stop acting: it is sufficient to act without the desire to acquire the fruits of the action itself
  • The result of the action is offered by the believer to God
slide6

Therefore, according to the Bhakti movement, everyone can become a “saint”, a renouncer, and therefore seek salvation, without leaving the society

  • This movement opened a whole range of possibilities, and had a “democratic” influx on Indian society (everyone can reach liberation through Bhakti: shudras, women, young people)
slide7

moreover, this movement created a direct relationship between man and one particular God (usually Krishna), therefore a sort of “monotheistic” Hinduism (a bridge between Hinduism and Islam: Sufism, Sikhism)

  • This in turn created the devotional cults and the great religious pilgrimages, which previously were little known in India
  • These cults used the vernacular languages, therefore emphasised the importance of the local dimension
  • More important, it also challenged the leadership of the Brahmans: for the Bhakti mediation between man and God was no longer necessary: every person could create his/her own relationship with God
slide8

The second movement, called Shakti (also Tantric movement), is an heterodox religious movement that emphasises the role of the force of the nature, which is believed to be a feminine energy, as a path to salvation

  • Indian religious tradition tends to see the feminine in every manifestation of the natural forces (the earth, the rivers, the rain, etc.)
  • These forces are normally conceived as the necessary complement of the masculine force; when this union of the feminine and the masculine is accomplished, the feminine has a positive, a creative influx on the world
  • This necessary union of male and female is symbolized by the fact that all major Indian deities have a wife or a female companion (Shiva and Parvati, Vishnu and Lakshmi)
slide9

When, however, the feminine is separated by the masculine, then the former can become aggressive, violent, even destructive (all the violent natural phenomena)

  • This feminine force, when isolated, is called the Devi, the Goddess (sometimes also called Durga or Kali), which is often represented with gruesome details (blood, skulls)
  • The Goddes is at the centre of non-vegetarian cults, that in some cases may be centred on blood and animal sacrifice
slide10

The Tantric movement is a movement that gives paramount importance to the role of Shakti

  • It is based on the Tantra, that is a group of texts which are part of the Vedas, although it leads to a reversal of the traditional values
  • It is based on an emphasis on the feminine as the central concept, and the main path to salvation
  • In this dimension what in orthodox Hinduism is conceptualized as ritually “impure” (blood, death, the organic side of life) is emphasised as a vehicle to salvation
slide11

Sexual relationship is also emphasised as the symbol of the union of the masculine and the feminine force, and has therefore the power to bring liberation (moksa); in particular the union between the male Deity and the Shakti, the Goddess

  • Currently in most of the Tantric schools the internal process of meditation is more emphasised, and the sexual relationship is just symbolically performed
  • However some of the more radical schools of Tantrism (often called “left handed”) maintain the traditional ritual, which involves wine, meat, fish and sexual relationship
slide12

Although Indian society may seem rigidly hierarchical and stable, in fact it has seen a tendency towards the opening of new interpretations where the individual could find more space, and that challenged the rigid hierarchy commanded by the brahmins

  • More challenges to orthodox Hinduism will be offered by “heresies” such as Buddhism and Jainism
slide13

It is significant, however, that all these currents have lived together in India for centuries, influencing each other, with none of them in fact prevailing

  • The net result was that of a tolerant, complex, and plural religious environment, where every individual could find his/her own religious interpretation
  • Orthodox Brahmins lived side by side renouncers or sectarian movements, with none of them trying to cancel the others
  • All of this create a particular kind of society which also extended to politics
slide14

In order to understand this link we have to shift to the concept of caste (or jati)

  • Why is jati a more precise term than caste?
  • Caste is a European term and emphasises separation, division (Western view), while jati is based on the concept of birth (jan); moreover jatisare based on the idea of complementarity, not separation
  • The relationship between varna and jati: not an easy one
slide15

Varna is the theoretical model, while jati is the anthropological group

  • There has been historically an osmosis between the two concepts: none of them can be conceived without reference to the other
  • Jati can be defined as an endogamous, hierarchical group based on birth, with a particularly strong link with occupation, and linked to ideas of purity and pollution
slide16

There is not a single criterion for the ordering of jatis, however, the most important one is the polarity between purity and impurity

  • This idea shapes the whole system, affecting the position of a caste, and in turn influencing the other sub-criteria (like diet, marriage, profession)
  • What is the origin of the idea of impurity?
slide17

Birth and death:

  • moments of transition in life
  • Symbols of the organic aspect of life
  • Pollution as a physiological element of life
  • “untouchability” as an extreme case of impurity