THE ROLE OF RELIGION AND IDEOLOGY

Hinduism and caste relations must be situated within some general social context to provide them with useful ideological content rather than an unde- fined and vague global explanatory privilege. Caste, religion and values were defined by and to a degree fell under the custodianship of India’s massive petty bourgeoisie, and caste and Hinduism were adopted by the colonial regime as a useful sociological analysis to support their subjugation of India. Eventually this handy structure of meaning was passed intact to the successor regime of independent India as well as to the normal social science of our own era.

State ideology during the eighteenth century was in most cases not very different from what it had been in medieval times. In the states ruled  by Hindus, the state was the monarch, and his duty (rajadharma) was to maintain something called varnashramadharma; that is, the proper order of castes and the protection of the places in which Vishnu and Shiva were  worshipped. Hindu rulers continued to celebrate their sovereignty with rituals dating from earlier times, such as the mahanavami in south India and dasara elsewhere. On the other hand, the militarized rule of Muslims, which was founded on patrimonial forms of sultanism developed in northern India from the four- teenth century, proliferated over most the subcontinent. Muslim rulers both- ered less than Hindus about locating the source of their legitimacy; they did   not even seek any sort of legitimating installation from whoever stood  as Caliph in the Islamic world. The ideological poverty of eighteenth-century Indian states partly accounts for their fragility before the modest  military  threat of Europeans, including the English East India Company.

However, ideology flourished below the state level. In both Muslim and Hindu communities of the time, there were vigorous cultural movements of reform, synthesis and ideological reconstitution, and the main purveyors and foci of these movements were priests and mullahs, the intellectual guides of bazaar men, middle peasants and other refined and less-refined sections of both urban and rural society. The cultural politics in which they engaged was reflected in the urban disorder fomented in south India by the dual division of left and right castes and the proliferation of goddess shrines representing the tutelary deities of countrymen and townsmen in southern India, and it seems not to have been otherwise in the north as well.

Transformation and competition in localistic, communitarian groups during the colonial period continue to await investigation, especially the link between eighteenth-century communitarian self-consciousness, or ‘commu- nalism’, and what are seen as ‘communalist’ mobilizations of later times. From the early decades of the nineteenth century, the colonial regime was

determined to displace all foci of political loyalty that might endanger or merely limit the Raj; many institutions and individuals within community structures that refused subordination by the East India Company were laid waste. This included most of the ‘poligars’ in southern India and numerous ‘recalcitrant’ chiefs and rajas elsewhere. During the early nineteenth century, colonial ‘founders’ such as John Malcolm and Thomas Munro attended with care the way in which regional Indian authorities based their rule upon a variety of local authorities and hierarchies whose legitimacy, in turn, arose from linkages with dominant landed castes and important cultural institutions like temples, mosques, schools and seminaries.

Hinduism and caste relations must be situated within some general social context to provide them with useful ideological content rather than an unde- fined and vague global explanatory privilege. Caste, religion and values were defined by and to a degree fell under the custodianship of India’s massive petty bourgeoisie, and caste and Hinduism were adopted by the colonial regime as a useful sociological analysis to support their subjugation of India. Eventually this handy structure of meaning was passed intact to the successor regime of independent India as well as to the normal social science of our own era.

State ideology during the eighteenth century was in most cases not very different from what it had been in medieval times. In the states ruled  by Hindus, the state was the monarch, and his duty (rajadharma) was to maintain something called varnashramadharma; that is, the proper order of castes and the protection of the places in which Vishnu and Shiva were  worshipped. Hindu rulers continued to celebrate their sovereignty with rituals dating from earlier times, such as the mahanavami in south India and dasara elsewhere. On the other hand, the militarized rule of Muslims, which was founded on patrimonial forms of sultanism developed in northern India from the four- teenth century, proliferated over most the subcontinent. Muslim rulers both- ered less than Hindus about locating the source of their legitimacy; they did   not even seek any sort of legitimating installation from whoever stood  as Caliph in the Islamic world. The ideological poverty of eighteenth-century Indian states partly accounts for their fragility before the modest  military  threat of Europeans, including the English East India Company.

However, ideology flourished below the state level. In both Muslim and Hindu communities of the time, there were vigorous cultural movements of reform, synthesis and ideological reconstitution, and the main purveyors and foci of these movements were priests and mullahs, the intellectual guides of bazaar men, middle peasants and other refined and less-refined sections of both urban and rural society. The cultural politics in which they engaged was reflected in the urban disorder fomented in south India by the dual division of left and right castes and the proliferation of goddess shrines representing the tutelary deities of countrymen and townsmen in southern India, and it seems not to have been otherwise in the north as well.

Transformation and competition in localistic, communitarian groups during the colonial period continue to await investigation, especially the link between eighteenth-century communitarian self-consciousness, or ‘commu- nalism’, and what are seen as ‘communalist’ mobilizations of later times. From the early decades of the nineteenth century, the colonial regime was

determined to displace all foci of political loyalty that might endanger or merely limit the Raj; many institutions and individuals within community structures that refused subordination by the East India Company were laid waste. This included most of the ‘poligars’ in southern India and numerous ‘recalcitrant’ chiefs and rajas elsewhere. During the early nineteenth century, colonial ‘founders’ such as John Malcolm and Thomas Munro attended with care the way in which regional Indian authorities based their rule upon a variety of local authorities and hierarchies whose legitimacy, in turn, arose from linkages with dominant landed castes and important cultural institutions like temples, mosques, schools and seminaries.

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