Category Archives: Indian religions

Religious Dispensations and the Subordination of Women

Upul Wijayawardhana, courtesy of Daily News

The systematic suppression of women, persisting over centuries, has been legitimised, largely by religions and is an art-form mastered by ‘Men in Robes’. At the dawn of civilisation, women were considered superior for the simple reason that only they could produce an offspring for the continuation of the species. There is evidence to show that in Mesopotamia, one of the cradles of civilisation, if not ‘The Cradle of Civilisation’, there was equality. In the early Sumerian period, “a council of elders”, represented equally by men and women, ruled the population but gradually a patriarchal society emerged.

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Filed under accountability, Buddhism, cultural transmission, discrimination, education policy, female empowerment, fundamentalism, gender norms, heritage, Hinduism, historical interpretation, Indian religions, Indian traditions, legal issues, life stories, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes

John Holt rebuts Gerald Peiris: A Focus on Buddhist Extremism

John Holt, A Short Memorandum addressing Gerald Peiris, 28 September 2017

It is 3 years since I gave the keynote address at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (Kandy) conference on Buddhism in relation to other religions.  My presentation was revised an subsequently published as the lead article in the book that was a by-product of the conference.  My thesis was simple:  to illustrate how recent social, economic and political changes in Theravada-dominated countries have had an effect on their respective religious cultures.  My argument about Sri Lanka was also quite simple:  that 26 years of civil war had contributed to the emergence of Buddhist militancy–the BBS being the classic example.  Immediately following that conference, Gerry Peiris sent out sharply critical e-mails about my presentation to an extended group of his like-minded friends.  When I came to know about his rather personal attacks through some of my own Sri Lankan friends, I quietly exchanged several detailed e-mails with Peiris engaging him quite thoroughly and, as I thought at the time, putting the matters to rest in a civil manner.

Muslims stand next to a burnt shop after a clash between Buddhists and Muslims in Aluthgama June 16, 2014. At least three Muslims were killed and 75 people seriously injured in violence between Buddhists and Muslims in southern Sri Lankan coastal towns best known as tourist draws, with Muslim homes set ablaze, officials and residents said on Monday. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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The Rohingya Issue: Bangladeshi Diplomat in Q and A with Ratnawalli

Darshanie Ratnawalli,  from The Island, 23 September 2017, where the title reads “The Rohingya future generations in danger of radicalization”

When the attractive and affable High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, called the editor of this newspaper to discuss the Rohingya issue, he was engaging with the people of Sri Lanka in a refreshing act of non-traditional diplomacy.  He was doing for Sri Lanka what the Kofi Annan Report was urging Myanmar and Bangladesh to do, engaging in “dialogue that promotes better mutual understanding, both at the level of the country’s leaders and people-to people ties” because “Myanmar and Bangladesh have different narratives on the challenges along their shared border. Despite the large numbers who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh, the popular perception in Myanmar is that the problem is illegal immigration into Myanmar. There are also different historical narratives about the origin of communities and their population growth. These differences can only be narrowed by dialogue.”

 High Commissioner Riaz Hamidulla

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Steven Kemper on Anagarika Dharmapala: A New Study

Steven Kemper: Rescued from the Nation: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist World, University of Chicago Press,  2015

Anagarika Dharmapala is one of the most galvanizing figures in Sri Lanka’s recent turbulent history. He is widely regarded as the nationalist hero who saved the Sinhala people from cultural collapse and whose “protestant” reformation of Buddhism drove monks toward increased political involvement and ethnic confrontation. Yet as tied to Sri Lankan nationalism as Dharmapala is in popular memory, he spent the vast majority of his life abroad, engaging other concerns. In Rescued from the Nation, Steven Kemper reevaluates this important figure in the light of an unprecedented number of his writings, ones that paint a picture not of a nationalist zealot but of a spiritual seeker earnest in his pursuit of salvation.

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Speaking of the Self: Gender Issues in South Asia

Niroshini Somasundaram, in IIAS Newsletter, reviewing A. Malhotra & S. Lambert-Hurley. 2015. Speaking of the self: gender, performance, and autobiography in South Asia. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822359838

In the last few decades, scholars of South Asian history have disputed the notion that South Asian cultures do not possess the autonomous representation of the individual, particularly in documenting histories, compared to their European counterparts. To that end, the numerous ways in which self-representation has been practiced in this region in different forms and time periods have been increasingly explored in scholarship. The rich collection of essays in this volume, edited by Anshu Malhotra and Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, challenge the existing boundaries and discourses surrounding autobiography, performance and gender in South Asian history by presenting a varied and fresh selection of women’s autobiographical writing and practices from the seventeenth to mid-twentieth centuries. The compelling choice of authors explored in the essays include Urdu novelists, a Muslim prostitute in nineteenth century Punjab, a Mughal princess, a courtesan in the Hyderabad court and male actors who perform as female characters. It moreover challenges conventional narratives in the field of autobiographical studies by relaying in careful detail the different forms which ought to be encompassed within the genre of autobiography such as poetry, patronage of architecture and fiction. Continue reading

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Reviewing “Ports of the Ancient Indian Ocean”

Richard Fynes,  reviewing Marie-Françoise Boussac, Jean- Françoise Salles & Jean-Baptiste (eds.) Ports of the Ancient Indian Ocean,  Delhi: Primus Books. 2016. ISBN 97893840820792  …………… in IIAS Newsletter,  Summer 2017

This edited volume delivers much more than is suggested by its title, since it includes discussions of emporia as far inland as Delhi, the time-scale covered by its articles extends from the 20th century BC to the 18th century AD, and since not only the Indian Ocean, but also the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea are discussed by the various authors. Given the wide range and disparate nature of the twenty-four papers in the volume, how should one orient oneself among them? Best to begin with Elizabeth Lambourn’s ‘Describing a Lost Camel’ – Clues for a West Asian Mercantile Networks in South Asian Maritime Trade (Tenth-Twelfth Centuries AD). The volume taken as a whole forms a contribution to the genre of world history and Lambourn provides a clear-eyed assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of that genre. Although Lambourn’s paper is primarily concerned with the two hundred years from the tenth- to the twelfth centuries AD, her masterly analysis of the sources and criticism of the various methodologies in which they are employed provide the reader with a prism with which to view the remaining papers in the volume. Lambourn begins her account with a review of the relevant archaeological and documentary evidence. It is salutary to learn just how insecure is the dating of many South Asian ceramic types and consequently of the archaeological sites whose dating has been largely derived from ceramic evidence. Lambourn notes the problems posed by pluridisciplinary character of the sources and their simultaneous use. Her paper focuses on the port of Sanjan, in the domain of the western Indian dynasty of the Rastrakuta, where, for the tenth century there is rare conjunction of evidence from archaeology, Arabic geographical writings and Indian epigraphy. Her discussion is rich both in evidence and insight, and she gives due acknowledgment to the work of Ranabir Chakravarti, whose work has led scholars to reformulate the questions they ask of the sources. Lambourn’s findings lead her to speculate on the nature of world history and the relationship between micro- and macro history, as she expresses dissatisfaction that she is “left with an eclectic collection of small insights and few satisfactory larger narratives.” Such honest appraisals of the conclusions of one’s research invite further questions and are thus a stimulant to further research. Continue reading

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The Karāva People in Fable and Tale

S. N. Arseculeratne

The Karāva people of Ceylon claim to be descended from the Kuru refugees, who scattered after their defeat in the Great War between the Pandavas  and the Kauravas1 or Kurus, related in the Mahabharata. The Kauravas settled in many parts of India, Bengal and in Ceylon. In Ceylon, the recorded descriptions of the Kauravas have been few, but mention has been made from around the 11th century to the 15th century due mainly to the military involvements of the Kauravas (now called the Karavas).

 A flag which belonged to Don Pedro Arsecularatna of Maggona, depicting the arrival of a group of Karāva chiefs and retainers …. The square towards the bottom has the peacock with 3 people on it. (a) King Rajasinghe II; (b) The Dutch ship’s captain [off Negombo]; (c)  Mudaliyar  Arseculeratne of Negombo

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