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Changing Landscapes of Saiva Siddhanta: Transforming Tradition through Innovation - Historical Perspectives (1/2)

Panel Chair: Ulrike Schröder | Monday, August 24, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

India’s religious traditions are subject to processes of constant innovation and transformation. Saiva Siddhanta, one of the traditional philosophical systems in Saivism which is especially popular among Tamils in South India, has undergone significant changes from the 19th century onwards. The panel focuses on the analysis of the modern transformation of Tamil Saiva Siddhanta and its religious practice as a consequence of global discourses on religion. It discusses the standardization of Tamil Saiva Siddhanta and the significant modifications that its teachings and religious practices have been undergoing vis-a-vis the unifying forces of modern Hinduism in India and the spread of South Asians as a global diaspora. This encompasses the entanglement of traditional Saiva institutions with modern lay organizations as well as the re-reading of Saiva Siddhanta as the original religion of all Tamils. Thus, Tamil Saiva Siddhanta provides a paradigmatic case for the discursive dynamics of religion past and present.

Srilata Raman

The Evasive Guru and the Errant Wife: Anti-Hagiography, Śaivism and Anxiety in Colonial South India

The genre of polemical literature (khaṇḍanas) has a long history in both Sanskrit and Tamil literature. Nevertheless, polemical positions long rehearsed and anticipated were crafted anew with the emergence of Christianity in the Tamil literary scene, both in Jaffna and Southern India, from the 17th century. In this paper I discuss one such work I label an anti-hagiography, repudiating, through savage polemics the genre of hagiography, as practiced in the Tamil religious context. The text by Ārumuka Nāvalar of Jaffna (1822-1879) is an indictment of his contemporary and popular Śaivite religious poet Ramalinga Swamigal (1823-1874). Examining this text will also address issues of Śaivite religious authority and canonicity, the nature of scandal and the anxiety of authorship, issues which begin to emerge in the context of the printing of religious literature in colonial South India.

Eric Steinschneider

True Religion in an Uncertain Age: Comacuntara Nayakar and Nineteenth-Century Saiva Hermeneutics

The dominant vernacular theology in South India, known as Saiva Siddhanta, was reconfigured at the turn of the twentieth century in response to the new demands posed by colonial modernity. Recent scholarship has explored the role of Orientalist discourse in prompting the colonial reevaluation of Saiva Siddhanta as “Tamil religion.” Yet the internal vernacular dynamics of Saiva reform in this period have received significantly less attention. My paper addresses this issue by examining the writings of Comacuntara Nayakar (1846-1901), a highly influential Saiva Siddhanta polemicist. I consider how Nayakar’s attempt to distinguish his tradition from the rival school of Advaita Vedanta was mediated by his reception of precolonial Saiva literature. I argue that Nayakar’s concern to establish the sectarian affiliation of this literature signals a new hermeneutics of the Saiva text. My paper thus seeks to locate Nayakar’s religious innovation within a much longer conversation about Saivism in South India.

V. Ravi Vaithees

Between Reform and Revival: Somasundara Nayakar and the Construction of Saiva Siddhanta as ‘Tamil-Religion’

This paper will explore the critical role played by Somasundara Nayakar (1846-1901) in the ‘revival’ of Saiva Siddhanta in the form of a distinctive 'Tamil- religion' in light of the colonial and missionary impact and in the context a range of contenting 'religious' currents struggling for hegemony in colonial South India. Nayakar propagated Saiva Siddhanta at a time when Neo-Vedantic and Vaishnavite revivalist currents including the efforts of Brahmo-Samaj and Arya-Samaj were clearly gaining traction at the All-India level including colonial South India. Since, Naykar's articulation of Saiva Siddhatna as a ‘Tamil- religion’ helped provide a crucial ideological and discursive foundation for Tamil modernity, nationalism and the Dravidian movement, this critical exploration of Nayakar’s intervention seeks to shed light on the much neglected ‘religious’ history of the period but also on the early ideological and discursive roots of Tamil nationalism and the Dravidian movement.


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