Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Just as Sri Ramakrishna had been a living epitome of the Vedanta, so was Vivekananda of the national life

Sumit Sarkar raises an important question about the constructed nature of Vivekananda's nationalism. 'Vivekananda', argues Sarkar, 'then was not quite the 'patriot-prophet' who would soon be revered as patron saint by a whole generation of Swadeshi enthusiasts, revolutionary terrorists, and nationalists in general. Nivedita, who perhaps did more than anyone else, to promote this image of Vivekananda, herself recognized its partially constructed character: 'Just as Shri Ramakrishna, in fact without knowing any books, had been a living epitome of the Vedanta, so was Vivekananda of the national life. But of the theory of this he was unconscious. This interpretation however begs the all important question about the horizon of possibilities that was embedded within Vivekananda's thought which would make such constructions possible. […]

Before Vivekananda there were hesitant and indeterminate moves in this attempt at self-description. The subsequent chapters read the text of Vivekananda's neo-Hinduism as an attempt to construct the unity, history, morals, and the destiny of this national self. In the Conclusion, the question that is raised is in what sense could Vivekananda be regarded as a nationalist, i.e. what form of Hinduism needed to be preached so that a religious ideologue what from of Hinduism needed to be preached so that a religious ideologue like Vivekananda could find a place of pre-eminence in the annals of history as a nationalist and in what way could his religion become relevant in modern India.

I refer to the discourses of this outstanding commentator of neo-Hinduism as the principal text of this study, placing it in conjunction with the vast array of other writings on the subject of Hinduism. For the purpose of delimiting the object of enquiry, I have identified from the vast range of primary source materials only those writings that fall within the genre of commentaries and discourses, particularly essays and articles by both minor and major writers that appeared in the vernacular tracts, newspapers, and journals of Nineteenth-century Bengal. I have also concentrated more on the history of Vivekananda's life prior to his arrival at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago as , to my mind, it provides the context of Vivekananda's conversion from a Brahmo rationalist to a Hindu nationalist.

What he went on to proclaim at Chicago from 1893 was part of his articulation of nationalist ideology. His commentaries on Hinduism, which I have sought to study as part of the history of thought, are treated as a document, and his appearance in America as a form of performative utterance: an event in the history of the genesis of nationalism in nineteenth-century Bengal. The events prior to this appearance are treated as a foundation, an anterior condition for the appearance of neo-Hinduism. It also needs to be clarified that this is not a work that falls within the category of Indological studies as it does not attempt to say anything meaningful about the authenticity of Vivekananda's Hinduism, or to the extent that he followed classical texts, treatises, and doctrines. Questions pertaining to philology are omitted from the scope of the present study. For a work within the history of ideas it is a heuristic requirement to treat the discourse being analysed as a reasonably coherent set of ideas. For the sake of coherence whenever questions pertaining to philology or doxology have been raised, the study has confined itself only to materials available within the secondary literature.

Having undertaken a textual study I have sought to refer to memoirs, reminiscences, and biographies to provide the ground of interpretation and analysis of Vivekananda's texts. Particularly useful have been the autobiographies and biographies of Brahmo leaders and the monks of the Ramakrishna order, and the annals of Brahmo history, along with the historical documents of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, which provide useful insights into the formation of discursive strategies, enunciative modalities, and the formation of concepts within the religious discourses of the nineteenth century. For conceptual characterization I have relied on the secondary literature on ethnography, historical sociology, and political philosophy. For the vernacular tracts, I have chosen a method of transliteration from Bengali to English that has become an accepted method among social scientists. Diacritical marks have not been used. Sometimes I have had to use different editions of an author's work for his various writings because the relevant volumes in one standard edition were not readily accessible.

From the Jacket:
The birth and development of the Ramakrishna and Vivekananda reform movement was intimately associated with the growth of Indian nationalism…The Modernity which entered the cultural space of the colonial world recast old Hinduism in the form of the Brahmo Samaj movement. However, this modern reform agenda provoked opposition from conservative Hindus. It found wider acceptance only when it recast itself as part of Vivekananda's nationalist discours. This new nationalist idiom provided the forum for the reconciliation of the conservative and radical reformers. It also permitted the accommodation of the European Enlightenment values of rationality but without disturbing the ancient spirit of Hinduism.

This intellectual history will interest scholars of modern Indian history, religious studies, and cultural studies. About The Author: Shamita Basu teaches political science at the Vivekananda College for Women, Calcutta University. Religious Revivalism as Nationalist Discourse: Swami Vivekananda and New Hinduism in Nineteenth-Century Bengal by Shamita Basu (Oxford University Press: 2002); An exploration of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda tradition (Occasional paper) Sumit Sarkar

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