Category Archives: Indian religions

Revelations: Oppression of the Dalits in India via A Family History

Tariq  Ali’s essay entitled THE UNSEEABLES  in the London Review of Books Vol. 40 No. 16 · 30 August 2018   …. reviewing  Ants among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla Daunt, 341 pp, £14.99, May, ISBN 978 1 911547 20 4

  

This is a family biography that encompasses a history rarely told: despite its longevity, caste, and caste oppression, is not a popular theme in India. Sujatha Gidla writes of poisoned lives, of disillusionment, betrayed hopes, unrequited loves, attempted escapes through alcohol and sex. What distinguishes her book is its rich mix of sociology, anthropology, history, literature and politics.

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Amer in India

Amer Fort in Amer, Rajasthan, India

On top of the Cheel ka Teela (or Hill of Eagles) in India’s Rajasthan state is the Amer Fort, a princely marble and red sandstone structure of immense beauty. Roughly four centuries old, the fort was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 along with five other Hill Forts of Rajasthan. Amer Fort is a great attraction for sightseers, and it welcomes thousands of visitors each day during the peak season. The treasures within include doors sheathed in panels of raised silver reliefs (or repoussé), marble carved with botanical motifs, and fantastic ceiling tiles inlaid with thousands of small, glimmering mirrors. A fortress palace fit for a Maharaja, indeed.

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Dharmapāla’s Seminal Moment at Buddha Gāya in 1891: An Anagārika for the Universe

 Michael Roberts, courtesy of  The Island and Sunday Times and with thanks to Sasanka Perera & Steve Kemper

Sasanka Perera has recently introduced readers to a new book by Steven Kemper entitled Rescuing Dharmapala from the Nation (University of Chicago Press, 2015) – a book which surveys the socio-political activities of the Anagarika Dharmapala in a refreshing manner. I have yet to get hold of the book, but Sasanka provides enough commentary to provoke a discussion.

 Dharmapala in USA –probably at the World Congress of Religions 1893

Within a context where Dharmapala aka Don David Hewavitarne is regarded as an influential Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist by many social scientists analysing Sri Lankan history and politics, Perera indicates that Kemper provides broader dimensions by re-situating Dharmapala “within the Buddhist world of his time by … focusing on his international activities in aid of Buddhist causes and cross-faith discussions.” Kemper’s new work, therefore, is a modification of the Protestant Buddhist thesis popularized in social science circles by Gananath Obeyesekere’s writings in particular. Continue reading

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Anagarika Dharmapala in Ceylon and the World: Missing Dimensions highlighted by Kemper

Sasanka Perera, in The Island, 8 August 2018, where the title is “Rescuing Dharmapala from the ‘Nation’,” …. with emphasis via highlighting in this version being an imposition by The Editor, Thuppahi

I was intrigued to see the worlds of knowledge of the past that were opened up when reading Steven Kemper’s 2015 book, ‘Rescued from the Nation: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist World’ published by the University of Chicago Press. Growing up Sinhala Buddhist in Sri Lanka, Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) would easily be one of the most important historical characters from the recent past, we had become familiar with early in our lives. This was certainly so for my generation. As we know from that experience, Dharmapala was closely and intimately linked to the country’s Buddhist revivalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Precisely due to this reason, he was the most iconic culture hero of the Sinhala Buddhists in the modern period.

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Spiritual Amity and Reconciliation: The Way Forward

Courtesy of Mervyn de Silva

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The Roots of Kandyan Dancing

DBT Kappagoda, in Daily News, 4 April 2018, where the title reads thus How Kandyan dancing began”

Kandyan dancing is popularly known as Udarata Natum derived its name from the traditional dance forms peculiar to the central region of Sri Lanka. The origin of Kandyan dancing can be traced back to the time of the Nayakkar rulers who ascended the throne of the Kandyan Kingdom 300 years ago.

In Kandyan dancing Vannam forms as a special  feature. In Tamil and Telegu Vannam means a description. When the dancer performs he recites the Vannama and according to the description when he has recited and begins to dance displaying a Tandava style of dancing. The dancing is done in a rigorous way while describing the movement of the cobra (Naiyandi), elephant (Gajaga), peacock (Monera), eagle (Ukussa) showing the onlookers a description of the animal. In the course of the recitation, adoration to the Buddha and the great qualities he had possessed is highlighted.

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The History of Caste in South Asia via a Work on the Rise of the Karava in Ceylon

Susan Bayly  in 1983, reviewing  Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 by Michael Roberts Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1982.

The literature on the south Asian caste system is vast and contentious and the current war of words shows no sign of abating. This book conforms to current trends both in focusing on the experience of a single caste group under colonial rule, and also in adopting a polemical tone towards other historians. Roberts’ subject is the Karava population of Sri Lanka and his first aim is to explain why this group of poor fishermen and artisans managed to throw up a disproportionately large elite of businessmen, lawyers and other western-educated professional men by the end of the nineteenth-century. The discussion is set against the background of works on comparable Asian business communities such as the Marwaris and Parsis. An important theme, then, is the relationship between individual enterprise and the corporate structure of caste: did the Karava magnate class emerge because of, or in spite of, their roots in a hierarchical caste order? Continue reading

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