Masculinity, Asceticism, Hinduism (Past and Present Imaginings of India)

Item Code: NAH135
Author: Chandrima Chakraborty
Publisher: Permanent Black
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9788178242989
Pages: 276
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 510 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Over the colonial period Indian leaders and the literati were impelled to contests colonialists views of Hindu effeminacy. In the process asceticism became a critical site for notions of masculinity. This book analyses the links between religion masculinity and asceticism in Indian political and cultural history


Chakraborty reveals through an examination of nationalist discourse how ideas about masculinity and Hindu asceticism came to be reworked for cultural and politics of the contemporary Hindu Right relies on manipulated images of hindu asceticism and manliness drawn selectively from writers such as Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay Rabindranath Tagore Mahatma Gandhi Raja Rao V.D. Savarkar M.S. Golwalkar and others. Inaccuracies and distortions within Hindu Right politics are shown up by careful analysis of the many different ways in which masculine asceticism was actually imagined and written about.


Ignoring disciplinary divisions this book cuts through politics history cultural studies and literary analysis to offer an original and perceptive view of concepts such as aggression effeminacy manliness spirituality asceticism and nationalist virtue as these have been configured and reconfigured over the past century and a half.


About the Author


Chandrima Chakraborty is Associate Professor Department of English and Cultural Studies McMaster University Canada. Her research is on South Asia postcolonial studies and cultural Studies.




Indian asceticism held a central place in the imperial imagination of Britain. Explorers travel writers and scholars had long equated India with a religion “Hinduism” and asserted that world renunciation was a defining feature of Indian society. 1 This emphasis on me purported renunciation of sociopolitical realities within Hinduism was associated with the Indian populace's moral degradation physical weakness and political apathy. With the rise of Britain's colonizing ambitions Indians came to be increasingly represented as awaiting the restorative attentions of a “secular” and “modern” Britain in the form of the philanthropic white man as scholar administrator or missionary.


While echoing the historical association of Indian asceticism with wilful idleness and mendacity later officials of the East India Company specifically shaped an imperial vision of Indian asceticism as a social and political obstacle to Britain's “humane imperialism.” British attempts to contain the moral authority of the ascetic focused their imperial gaze on wandering holy men warrior ascetics and powerful landowning families of hereditary monks. Wandering was detached by the British from its spiritual significance alongside begging or collecting alms from landowners. The administrative concern with establishing a sedentary population of identifiable tribes and castes led to the merging of the figure of the ascetic with “powerful wandering and/ or predatoty groups” that expressed authority “through plunder or by collecting tribute” (Freitag 235). Colonel William Henry Sleemans sensational history of thuggee/thagi (banditry)-”that extraordinary fraternity of assassins” (297) in The Thugs or Phansigars of India-is an excellent illustration of the British claim that Hindu asceticism produced criminals in ochre robes who raided and murdered the local populace.? Sleeman's representation of Indian ascetics both Hindu and Muslim as a threat to the native populace and to Company rule served to legitimize his armed interventions to free the indigene from the “scourge” of religion-inspired criminality (Mill 2: 302 281). Further it provided a rationale for the emerging colonial state's criminalization of militant wandering Muslim and Hindu ascetics as well as other nomadic groups through legislations such as the Penal Code (1833) the Thagi Act (1836) and the Criminal Tribes Act (1872).


By the mid-nineteenth century the indigenous agrarian elite came to share the East India Company's and the British colonial state's suspicion of holy men as rogues in disguise (for details see Freitag 235 242).3 This suspicion was bolstered over time by the historical examples of ascetics who exhorted (and in some cases led) the rural populace to resist feudal and colonial oppression. These include Baba Ramchandra of Oudh Rahul Sanskrityayana of Bihar Vijay Singh Pathik of Rajas than Janardan Sharma of Gujarat and scores of others. Many Indians also accepted the dominant discourse that viewed the Hindu ascetic or sannyasi as having formally renounced his social world in order to achieve personal liberation (moksha). Yet eminent Hindu ascetics such as Swami Dayananda Sarasvati Shri Anandamurti Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo not only actively engaged with their sociopolitical realities they also founded organizations for ascetics to serve the community and the nation.


Since the late 1980s the ascendance of the Hindu Right (or Sangh Parivar) in India has facilitated a remarkable public resurgence of Hindu ascetics visible to the world-at-large who claim to be reformers of society and leaders of the nation. An even more recent phenomenon is of Hindu ascetics giving religious moral and fitness lessons on spiritual channels on Indian television-notably Swami Ramdev in Aastha Shri Sudhanshuji Maharaj in Sanskar and Swami Subhadran and in Sadhna. These developments have generated intense anxiety among Indian intellectuals many of whom view the participation of ascetics in politics with fear disdain and even shame. Images of armed ascetics shouting political slogans marching in rallies making hate speeches and engaging in violent street fights are viewed as signs of primordial urges of the premodern surmounting the secular and the modern. Such evidence of the violent entanglement of religion and the nation in contemporary India has led to a rallying of the forces or liberal secularism against the expanding role of religion in Indian political culture. Yet despite the intense debates on Hindu nationalism masculinity and religion in recent years inadequate attention has been paid to the conjunctural alignment of ascetics and masculinity in Indian political history. The Hindu Right's configuration of nationalist ascetics in India on the other hand has relied on rearticulated notions of asceticism and masculinity that effectively employ the nationalist past as a condition and trope and on contemporary experiences that have been imbued with specific meanings.


This book argues that Western notions of Indian ascetic practices as otherworldly bequeathed an enduring tension between asceticism and nationalist politics which continues to haunt the present. Whereas the existing scholarly literature does not give sufficient attention to the importance of asceticism in Indian nationalist discourse Masculinity. Asceticism Hinduism places it at the centre of the ongoing struggle to reclaim and reimagine Indian men and the Indian nation. My attempt is not to provide a comprehensive account of the history and sociology of the figure of the Hindu ascetic but rather to suggest a point of entry into exploring the complex relation between asceticism and masculinity in Indian nationalism. Indian asceticism has been studied either in the context of the private sphere or as a form of disinterested practice in the public sphere. 5 It is rarely evaluated as an interested intentional practice or viewed as temporal shifting contested and multiple (some exceptions include Alter; Pinch; van der Veer). This book contests the orientalist notion that Indian society has always been otherworldly because of the appeal of renunciation. Drawing attention to the “many dimensions to the role of the renouncer in [Indian] society” (Thapar “Cultural” 13) exposes the fallacy of assuming the existence of Hindu ascetics as already-constituted groups and helps to develop a novel account of the emergence trajectory and contradictory character of nationalist ascetics. A more accurate and nuanced view of ascetics provides space for a detailed historicized analysis of the transformation of the popular historical and religious figure of the male Hindu ascetic into a nationalist symbol in the writings of the Indian literati and nationalists. Through examining expressions of what I call ascetic nationalist masculinity this study illustrates that the nationalist focus on Hindu ascetics and associated practices in colonial India regardless of divergent political ramifications offered a telos of selfhood and nationhood. Ascetic nationalist masculiniries were constructed reiterated contested and adapted by preachers the literati and nationalist leaders who sought to contest and alter colonialist views of Hindu masculinity and religion as weak and degenerate.








Introduction: Imagining Asceticism Discovering Masculinity



The Otherworldly Hindu



The Effeminate Indian



Male Bodies and the Body Politic



Narration and the Nation



Ascetic Martiality as Nationalist Praxis: Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay



The Effeminate Bengali in British Discourse



Reconceptualizing Effeminacy Contesting Colonial Discourse



From Male Renunciates to Martial Nationalists



Imagining History Offering Resistance



Remasculinizing through Bodily Disciplines



Maximizing Gender Difference Othering Women



Manufacturing Ascetic Nationalist Norms Normalizing Privilege



Friendship as Ethical Manliness: Rabindranath Tagore



Tagore's Trajectory: Swadeshi to Man



Rethinking Friendship Contesting Nationalist






Disciplining Femininity



Public Acts and Private Practices of Self Formation



Producing India



Embodied Nationalism: Gandhi and Gandhism



Scripting the Self through Experiments



The Female Body in Gandhian Ascetics



Satyagraha: Gandhi's Political Praxis



Gandhian Ascetics and the Masses



Gandhism in Kanthapura



Gandhi as Mahatma



Speaking through Bodies Exhibiting the Limits



Hindutva's ''Angry Hindu” and the Rewriting



of Histories



Hindu India and its Others



The RSS Mission: Moulding Men with Capital “M”



Women as Catalysts



Mapping the ''Angry Hindu” Tracing Presences of



the Past



Conclusion: Asceticism and Masculinities in



Contemporary Tunes









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