Revisiting Vaishnavism


A meticulous study of the evolution of religion, caste and gender.

PROFESSOR Suvira Jaiswal’s magnum opus, The Origin and Development of Vaishnavism, published more than half a century ago, broke new ground in the study not only of Vaishnavism but also of religious history as a whole in the country. It had brought out, within the framework of a materialist philosophy and with extreme fidelity to both sources and the method with which to analyse them, the way in which many cults and practices got coalesced and were appropriated in the making of a single faith. Suvira Jaiswal has since broadened the area of her inquiry to include problems such as caste and gender, staying firmly within the articles of faith that she adopted in her magnum opus.

The essays in the book under review are those that she has been publishing on these questions for the past four decades and more. The three factors that Suvira Jaiswal takes up—religion, caste and gender—are of particular relevance in our society today, what with the kind of obscurantism of some sections in trying to present a Hindu religion of a monolithic nature and seeking to wish away the tensions, contradictions and even outright violence within. The book is welcome for that reason as well, apart from for the substantial research that has gone into its making.

Suvira Jaiswal opens the book with a regulation survey of previous research on the subject of caste in its relation with class, ethnicity and power. Colonial understanding and its neocolonial glosses receive their attention and are promptly exposed. She examines the bases of such assumptions and shows that they are not valid going by the canons of historical research: neither do the sources warrant nor does sound methodology allow such formulations. The sinister and not-so-sinister implications of these are brought out well.

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