As a response to evangelical Christianity, I will argue that Hindu reformers of the British Colonial period unified various beliefs and practices that were recognized by Hindus as their common religious property to coalesce the foundation we know today as Hinduism. This paper explores the influence of Christian missionary work and ideology in the large Indian urban centers of Bombay, Calcutta and Pondicherry. I will highlight specific colonial figures such as Rammohun Roy, Vivekanada, Dayananda Saraswati, and Pandita Mary Ramabai who utilized new methods of ideological dissemination—public preaching and debates, journalism, printing books and pamphlets, and organization to integrate, resist and absorb Christianity. Lastly, I will examine its affect on Hindu socio-cultural-religious domains and show how Christian ideology and the advent of competitive proselytism formed an important impetus for Indians to delineate their religious and cultural boundaries, facilitating an internal renewal and transformation of Hinduism into modernity.
In the early 19th Century, Christian missionaries impacted Indian society both religiously and spiritually in a significant and consequential manner (Palsetia 2006:616). Large urban centers such as Bombay and Calcutta exposed Hindus to new and unsettling ideological, social and judicial pressures. In 1813 the British East India Company lifted restraints on Christian missionary work in India, thus setting into motion an aggressive campaign of Christian missionary schools—an important tool for the application of Christianity and imperial ideologies. Through education evangelical Christians hoped to instruct high-caste and well-born urban Hindus in English language, Eurocentric morality and the promotion of Christian conversion (Palsetia 2006:617). Furthermore, missionaries made concentrated efforts to learn Indian languages and investigate Hindu religious traditions to contrast Christian and Indian morality (Palsetia 2006:618). This sparked intense interreligious debates between Christians and Indians and drew considerable attention in the public domain, fueled by the Indian press as aggressive and radicalized Christian polemics clashed with protective Indian retorts (Palsetia 2006:618). It is important to note that print capitalism played a crucial role in the creation of imagined communities through the publications of religio-cultural spokespeople and lay leaders (Metcalf 1992:231). Thus forms of worship and morally sanctioned models of social behaviour became the focus of intense conscious reflection and criticism. This had the affect of fixing standards of ideology and moral behaviour within groups, defining not only who and what they were, but also who and what they were not—that is, to construct themselves, they had to define their opposites (Metcalf 1992:235). This process, whereby groups defined themselves as to what it meant to be a true Hindu, Christian or Muslim, facilitated religious and cultural boundaries in an attempt to create wholly homogenized religious traditions (Metcalf 1992:239).
Religious polemics throughout India manifested in two forms: 1) internal debates between the orthodox, sects and reformists in the religious communities, and 2) external polemics between defenders of one tradition versus all other religions (Jones 1992:52). Emerging from this process of defining religious identity provoked a new kind of religious guru. Claiming moral leadership in their communities, the “lay leader” was a new kind of religious reformer—rational and, in many cases, scientific in their approach to defining the boundaries of Hinduism (Metcalf 1992:232). These innovative people did not receive their knowledge through traditional teachings or initiation by a guru or religious elite. Instead, these lay leaders utilized and exploited print capitalism and became very adept debaters, publicists, and journalists (Metcalf 1992:232). Both sides, Christian and Hindu, were able to reach the population through literature made available on street corners and open public debates, thus forming new voluntary associations. Furthermore, the general public that was once only available to Brahmins and high-caste elites could now access religious texts. Moreover, the large urban centers with their uprooted populations separated from their familial settings, were fertile ground to disseminate ideas, oral and written, for socio-religious reform and recruiting adherents attuned to new cultural identities (Metcalf 1992:233).
The Christian-Indian debates illuminated both the strength and weakness of the Indian response, which was not only defensive but also chaotic, and signified how far Christian ideology was perceived to have penetrated Indian society (Palestia 2006:621). Christian missionary polemics were designed to directly attack Indian religion and undermine the Hindus self-confident beliefs and taboos. The Indian response was mostly defensive and argued largely from the viewpoint of comparative analogy (Palestia 2006:620). For example, aggressive Christian proselytism in Bombay lead to a precedent setting case in which a Brahmin sixteen-year-old underwent conversion and was baptized in 1843. This created a great deal of concern among the Hindus of Bombay, especially when the boy’s father intervened and attempted to remove his son from the physical custody of a Scottish missionary and was prevented from doing so (Palestia 2006:630). The case went to the Supreme Court and ordered that the boy return to the custody of his father. This eased conversion fears in the Hindu community, but raised central concerns about the boy’s religious and caste status (Palestia 2006:631). Having lived with the British missionaries, thereby breaking caste laws of commensality, Brahmins and Hindus vigorously debated how the boy could be returned, if it was at all possible, to his caste community. The case was precedent setting for it forced Indians to define how to treat Hindus compromised by contact with missionaries and the external environment, and demarcate the subsequent consequences for the caste community (Palestia 2006:631).
This case and the subsequent debates within the Hindu community had significant ramifications for not only the Brahmin caste, but for all the Hindu castes of Bombay, since it would established their fate within the colonial milieu (Palestia 2006:631). As a result, the first item of action was that all school children were removed from mission schools and a general boycott of mission schools, as well as any contact with missionaries. The second item of significance was whether or not readmission was possible and if so, how to reach a consensus as to what rituals were to be performed for Hindus who transgressed caste norms (Palestia 2006:633). It was along this issue of interpreting custom that the community became divided; the Prabhu party, traditionalists composed of Brahmins and Brahmin subcastes, who opposed readmission and the Shastri party, who attracted supporters from across caste and social lines and were progressive thinkers who sought readmission. Although the Christian missionaries had united Hindus in defense of their tradition, the Christians also facilitated a polarization of Hindu conservatives versus the Indian modernizers (Palestia 2006:632). A religious ritual was implemented to cleanse and counteract the effects of missionary contact, which amounted to three sins: eating meat, commensality with non-Hindus, and the consumption of alcohol. An elaborate and comprehensive set of cleansing and penance rituals were enacted, including: fasts, eating specific foods, Brahmin confirmation ceremony, pilgrimage to Kashi and other Hindu holy places by foot, and a final conducting rite to absolve the sin (Palestia 2006:633). The construction of this ritual penance attempted to establish a Hindu precedent for traditional societal contact with British colonialism. This created a schism in the Hindu community whereby orthodox Hindus and the Prabhu party, who were opposed to readmission, claimed there was no scriptural authority for readmission. The readmission schism divided Hindus along religious and cultural lines with the Prabhu party vehemently opposed to the progressive authorities, accusing them of developing convenient rituals for the readmission of Hindus who had breached their caste status, and that these actions only weakened the religious tradition and further exacerbated the problem (Palestia 2006:634). Conversely, the Shastri party believed its progressive stance on readmission would undermine support for missionary conversions and help to modernize the traditional religion’s service (Palestia 2006:634). In favour of the progressives, the ruling from the pandits in 1844 interpreted scripted to allow readmission, however it also obliged them to follow the dictates of the tradition which was administered through imposing penances on all those who implemented the earlier readmission ritual without the consensus of the Hindu community. Thus, the orthodox or traditionalist proponents claimed victory over the progressives. Although the progressives had attempted to address social and religious issues arising in the community by implementing normative and adaptive rules of Hindu caste society, their approach gave orthodox proponents to crystallize public opinion in their favour (Palestia 2006:635). Thus, to meet the challenges of the colonial milieu and circumvent further Christian conversions, the Brahmin convert case of 1843 and the subsequent polemical debates to reconcile Hinduism by an internal modernization of the religious tradition facilitated significant and noteworthy dialogue that further delineated the boundaries of Hindu religious observance, practices and beliefs. Moreover, reformist debates on religious and social change highlighted boundaries between Hindu religion and Christianity, non-Brahmins and Brahmins, and the socioeconomic classes (Palestia 2006:638).
As the British Colonial Government took over India’s civic and public institutions, it had the effect of pushing Hindus to rely on domestic and religious spaces to revise and revive cultural values and practices (Metcalf 1992:231). Furthermore, Indians certainly interpreted the colonial intrusion, whether implemented by government officials or by missionary activities, as a Christian project and responded intellectually in three general ways. First, to aggressively disclaim Christianity, highlighting its short-comings and failures as Swami Dayananda vehemently debated. Second, was to absorb Christianity as part of an imperfect form of the universal spirituality found throughout all religions as Vivekananda proclaimed, and third, to integrate principles of Christianity and Hinduism in one rational universal religion as exemplified by Rammohan Roy and the early Brahmo Samaj (Van der Veer 2001:67).
The advent of aggressive Christian conversion campaigns polarized exponents of Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism in their various camps against the missionaries who were proclaiming the superiority of Christianity. This religious backdrop facilitated new forms of organizational structures and highlighted the usefulness of the printing press and paid missionaries as a vehicle for defending their religions and sectarian ideologies (Jones 1992:53). Out of this milieu emerged the Arya Samaj, a sectarian division of Hinduism. Its dynamic, anti-Christian leader, Swami Dayananda Saraswati promoted Vedic Hinduism, which garnered wide appeal throughout Punjab and northern India, with adherents as far south as Madras (Jones 1992:53). Dayananda’s restructured Hinduism was based on the Vedas and expunged all other elements, such as idols, Brahman priests, deities, pilgrimages, various socio-religious customs and all scripture that did not comply with the Vedas. Dayananda’s strategic use of his basic statement of beliefs, the Satyarth Prakash—which he wrote and disseminated via the printing press throughout the Arya Samaj chapters—enabled him to not only imagine his Vedic Hinduism with its delineated boundaries, but also to construct and delineate the boundaries of his opposites, particularly Christianity and Islam (Metcalf 1992:236). Chapter 13 of Dayananda’s Satyarth Prakash is a definitive criticism of Christianity and posits the key differences with Hinduism. Dayananda highlights and targets the serious defects of Muslim and Christian practices, such as eating meat (particularly cow flesh), animal sacrifice, circumcision and burying the dead (Metcalf 1992:236). In his desire to discredit Christianity rather than understand it, Dayananda’s polemics were not only a scathing theological attack on the validity of Christian scripture and its inferior teachings, it was also an opportunity to emphasize his own doctrine of Vedic Hinduism and the superiority of the Vedas (Jones 1992:64).
Hindu national revivalist Swami Vivekananda sought to absorb Christianity as part of an imperfect form of the universal spirituality found throughout all religions. For Vivekananda, Christianity and Islam were dualistic faiths—an expression of Vedantic truth constructed by specific cultures in historic times (Raychaudhuri 1998:3). In reaction to Christianity, Vedanta, for Vivekananda was the one universal religion—the ultimate expression of Hindu spiritual supremacy over all religions (Jones 1989:46). An opponent of all religious conversion, Vivekananda asserted that Indian conversions to Christianity were a based on the Christian exploitation of the poor and downtrodden (Raychaudhuri 1998:7). Furthermore, Vivekananda thought that Christian conversions were understandable because of higher literacy rates among Christians and that conversion offered a means of escape for low caste Hindus out of oppression (Beckerlegge 1998:168). Vivekananda was also critical of Christianity as being corrupted by materialism, believing that those who converted could only be redeemed through revelation of ancient Hindu spirituality (Van der Veer 2001:68). Vivekananda’s religious concern and inspiration was Advaita Vedanta, the notion of non-duality, monistic eternal consciousness. In 1896, Vivekananda gave a series of lectures entitled “Practical Vedanta” that discussed the “practical relevance and the ethical and social applicability of Vedantic metaphysics and nondualism” (Halbfass 1995:211). Vivekananda emphasized that Vedanta teaches oneness and using the Upanisadic formula, tat tvam asi—”thou are that” numerous times, and attempts to put this expression of unity and togethernesss into practice (Halbfass 1995:212). Vivekananda claims that every person feels at one with the universe at some moment in their life and expresses it as love and sympathy—the basis of all our ethics and morality. The idea of practical Vedanta is considered one of the benchmarks of modern Hinduism. Hundreds of statements can be found asserting that Advaita Vedanta has practical, ethical, social and political relevance for India and the whole world (Halbfass 1995:212). Vivekananda was the first significant Indian figure to promote Hindu spirituality, owing some influence to Western notions of Orientalism and the anticlerical and anticolonial polemics of Theosophy (Van der Veer 2001:73). Furthermore, it is important to note that Vivekananda emphasized that Hindu spirituality was consistence with science and many of the recent discoveries in the West were already prefigured in the Vedas (Van der Veer 2001:81). Vivekananda’s creation of Yoga as an Indian science of supraconsciousness united Hindus in one nation, making the ancient wisdom of Yoga a discipline not only for the entire Indian nation and for all humankind (Van der Veer 2001:73). Vivekananda’s decision to incorporate yoga as central to Hindu spirituality would prove to have wide appeal. Devoid of any denominational or sectarian devotional content that would require temple worship and subsequently theological and ritual debates amongst sectarian proponents, Vivekananda’s hatha yoga and its metaphysics of mind-body unity impacted a wide range of thinkers and movements including Savarkar, Autobindo, Gandhi and Nehru (Van der Veer 2001:74). Furthermore, because it lacked any sectarian impediments, it has been accepted into the American health industry for its healing efficacy and has also been incorporated into many New Age movements throughout the West, as well as being received throughout India (Van der Veer 2001:74). Thus, Vivekanada concern for Indian unity, coupled with his scientific rationalism and social activism in a backdrop of anti-colonial, anti-Christian sentiments, provided the necessary impetus to focus his socio-religious thoughts into a universal Hindu spirituality that continues to be one of hallmarks of Hinduism today.
Rammohun Roy, a Brahman who initiated the acculturative movement amongst the Bengali Hindus, questioned the orthodox beliefs of his family and made public his criticisms of idolatry and polytheism (Jones 1989:31). He retired from working for the East India Company in 1814 and turns his attention to issues of social custom and religious belief (Jones 1989:30). One issue that was deeply upsetting to Roy was the custom of sati. In his treatise “A Conference between an Advocate for and an Opponent Of the Practice of Burning Widows Alive,” Roy relied on scriptural sources to posit that sati was not a requirement Hindu law, but an example of degenerate Hinduism. Shocking Orthodox Hindus, who were aghast by his criticisms and claiming it was a sanctioned ritual, Roy was joined in his debate by Christian missionaries and the English in general who called for the elimination of sati (Jones 1989:31). It was Roy’s interest in reform, especially with respect to women’s rights, such as the banning of sati and their access to education, that would rework his thinking and delineate the boundaries of correct Hindu belief (Jones 1989:31).
Imagining God as an “almighty superintendent of the universe,” Roy restructured his notion of Hinduism based on his adherence to theism along with his interpretation of the Vedas, Upanishads and the Vedanta-Sutra. Roy denounced idolatry and dismissed the Brahman priests and their rituals as futile. Roy’s mandate would be to return Hinduism back to its original, pure, rational and ethical version, which had gone astray due to the influences of Brahman priests (Jones 1989:31). Roy thought once Hinduism had be restored to its past purity, false customs such as sati, subjugation of women’s right to education, idolatry and polytheism, along with useless rituals, would fade away. Rammohun was perceived by Hindu Dharma Sabha and its orthodox pundits as too willing to accept Christian concepts, but Roy’s sense of humanitarian morality and his desire for social reform fostered a great respect for ethical Christianity, once it was removed of its absurdities and its simple code of religion and morality revealed, but he rejected missionary claims that Christianity was superior (Jones 1992:32). Taking the acculturative approach, Rammohun’s publications printed in Persian, Sanskrit, Bengali and English highlight his strategic attempts to place his religious ideology within both the linguistic and cultural domains of Muslim, Hindu and Christian audiences (Zastoupil 2002:222). His declaration that his morality was equivalent to the gospel (Christian) was a sincere attempt to speak from within the Christian tradition without compromising his Vedanta beliefs (Zastoupil 2002:222). Furthermore, important to the successes of his debates was Rammohun’s ability to confidently write and publish within the radical Christian tradition. His publication the Precepts, used the language of Unitarianism to present Christianity’s simple religious moral code by highlighting selected New Testament passages (Zastoupil 2002:225). Rammohun’s acculturative response demonstrates a permeable frontier between Hinduism and Christianity, which opened inclusive rational and liberal-minded discourses, interpretations and alliances rather than established sectarian ideologies and creeds.
Socioreligious reformer Pandiat (Mary) Ramabai was a Brahmin widow who converted to Christianity in 1883—a decision which enabled her to circumvent many of the social and caste restrictions due to widowhood and allow her to not only question certain practices of her new religion, but also criticize upper-caste patriarchal constraints placed upon women and initiate new forms of femininity (Sheety 2012:25). Christian proselytism provided Ramabai with a liminal position that prevented her from being placed in any religious or gender frame, thus straddling new spaces in which women could more freely dwell. Taking an acculturative approach, Ramabai combined her newly acquire Christian identity with Hindu practices confessing that she still liked to be called Hindoo and freely admitted that she was not free from all her caste biases and questioned the racism, dogmatism, superstitions and supposed superior rationality of Christianity in the same manner that the Christians had questioned Hinduism (Sheety 2012:32). However, it was through Christianity that Ramabai saw a new way of reconfiguring women’s bodies. Using the scriptural authority of the Bible and structuring her institutions on English and American convent and educational models, Ramabai organized safe places for not only high-caste Hindu widows, but other groups of women as well who could be free from traditional and oppressive Hindu hierarchies (Sheety 2012:36). In these places, the bodies and minds of widows were respected and acknowledged as worthy with the right to nurture and care (Sheety 2012:37). Thus, Ramabai, by initiating Christian egalitarian practices, not only reorganized spaces occupied by women, she also reorganized the female body so that oppressive caste and gender no longer applied. Ramabai used her status as a genuine Brahman and conversion to Christianity to critique the oppressive Brahmanical tradition, its texts and the Manu Dharma Shastra showing how women having no right to study the Vedas and the Vedanta could not hope for liberation through Moksha—that instead, her life would be one of slavery. Ramabai underlined that a woman’s only hope would be to earn enough merit to escape her oppression by being reincarnated into a higher caste as a Brahman male, learn the Vedas and Vedantas, acquire the knowledge of Brahma and achieve final liberation (Sheety 2012:30). Ramabai’s radical critiques not only exposed the unfairness of the Brahmanical religion, but also through Christianity’s tenets of casteless, genderless egalitarianism, opened the doors to social reform for men and women of lower castes. Ramabai’s liminally occupied position that embraced her Hinduism while espousing the tenets of Christianity, enabled her to challenge the patriarchies of her time, organize new institutions for the care and nurture of oppressed groups, and exemplify the power of female agency to achieve a higher measure of egalitarian living.
Rammonhun’s acculturative response to Unitarian ideology and Ramabai’s example dispels the notion of bounded and enclosed religious identities, and instead indicates an aggregation of identities where the convert retains elements of the previous religiocultural traits while incorporating the new conversion identity—neither abandoning the old identity for the new, but reconfiguring the Indian notion of religious plurality as an embodiment of conjoined identities (Sarkar 2002:123).
Christian proselytization, as in the case of Hindu-Christian interaction in Pondicherry in the 18th and 19th centuries, teases out some of the tensions and circumstances that initiated conversions as well as the cultural, moral and social aspects of Hinduism that made Christian conversion problematic. Prior to the arrival of the French in 1674, there were no Christians in Pondicherry. By 1725, the population of Pondicherry numbered 30,000 and there were some 3000 Indian Christian converts (More 1998:99). Motivations for conversion included employment and economic gains, such as trade contracts granted by the French power in Pondicherry to convert high-caste men and their families to Christianity. Another cause for conversion to Christianity were famines and epidemics—when conversion for low-caste Hindus were most in need to access physical and psychological comforts (More 1998:104). However, after the famine or epidemic, conversions diminished considerably. Unfortunately, Hindus who had converted were ostracized from their ancestral religious, cultural, moral and social customs and beliefs, including their Hindu names (More 1998:106).
Christian missionaries encountered no real opposition from the local Hindu population, perhaps because the Hindu religious landscape was a pluralistic one and thus a more accepting culture towards various customs and beliefs. Unlike Hinduism and its tolerance for religious plurality, Christian proselytization and its egalitarian ideology demonstrated little acceptance of religious diversity—Hindus were fit only for conversion (More 1998:107). As a result, in 1701, Muslims and Hindus were prohibited from engaging in their religious ceremonies during Easter and on Sunday. Furthermore, attempts by Jesuit missionaries to destroy Shiva temples were met with resistance initiated by every caste headsman in charge of the Hindu community who threatened a non-violent exodus out of Pondicherry as social boycott of the French and the missionaries. Since the French were dependent on the Hindus, destruction of the temples was called off. Eventually the French authorities won out with the conversions of many low and high caste Hindus through economic incentives (More 1998:110).
The biggest obstacle the French missionaries encountered in their desire for Christian conversions was that of caste. Christian converts were ostracized by their families, the caste and Brahman priests. Furthermore, caste marriage was endogamous, making it very difficult for a Christian convert to find bride in the same caste (More 1998:115). Another serious impediment to conversion was the fact the many converts were pariahs and high-caste Hindus believed Christian conversion was equivalent to parianism. Moreover, the missionaries themselves were indentified as pariahs by high-caste Hindus, making conversion unappealing (More 1998:116). Thus, unlike egalitarian Christianity, with its competitive need to dominate and convert all non-believers, peacefully, persuasively or by coercion, traditional Hinduism, tolerant and respectful view of non-Hindu to engage in their customs and beliefs, preserved a cultural and religious diversity without need to proselytise in an effort to establish a homogenous society.
The abolition of sahamarana was a defining moment in the construction of modern Hinduism for it compelled Indians to debate not only on what defines the Hindu Tradition, but also to debate what alterations to the tradition would be required to traverse the modern world (Pennington 2001:596). An important catalyst for the debates on Hinduism and social reform were aggressive evangelical proselytizing Christians. Rather than taking the stance of promoting specific texts and doctrines of authority—an approach taken by Hindu rationalist reformers such as Rammonhun Roy, Vivekananda, and Dayananda—the architects of modern Hinduism did not highlight specific deities, texts, doctrines or sectarian traditions, they instead endorsed a set of norms for Hindu practice (Pennington 2001:578). Delineating the boundaries and contours of a modern Hindu identity were expressed in Samacar Candrika, the Bengali newspaper, which helped to forge Bengali literature and spearhead the Bengal Renaissance. Its editor, Bhabanicaran Bandyopadhyaya, parted company as a journalist with reformer Rammohun Roy in 1822 over Roy’s opposition to sahamarana. From 1830-1831, the Bengali newspaper Samacar Candrika provides a snapshot of emerging popular Hinduism now embodied by modern national Hinduism (Pennington 2001:577). This would have significant political, religious and social consequences for Bengal as Bhabanicaran’s strategy would be to promote Indian unity and identity, and forge a public image of Hinduism (Pennington 2001:581). Furthermore, the paper’s mandate would be to configure religious activity for Hindus while displacing discordant Hindu issues of beliefs and sectarian ideology (Pennington 2001:581). Moreover, the Candrika focused on the morphology of Hindu ritual, caste and gender relations, attempting to nuture normative and unified Hindu practices, and by using the power of print, exert the pressure and authority of various authors and editors from the political and counterrepresenation arenas in the temple and homes of Hindu families—in all places where Hindus practiced and interpreted religion for themselves and others (Pennington 2001:581). As the voice of steadfast religious conservatism, the Candrika would become a consistent advocate of Hindu orthodoxy.
The iconographic status of sati for both Chrisitans and Hindus acted as a fulcrum with the banning of sahamarana in 1829—a move that was vehemently urged by Christians in Britain and India and feared by orthodox Hindu community, and served to shape new forms of engagement with the colonial government and the Hindu populace. The advent of new associations and the publishing of newspapers not only presented the issues from their own standpoint, but also applied pressure on the government (Pennington 2001:580). Out of this milieu came the creation of the Dharma Sabha (Society for Religion) as a rebuttal to interference by British rule in Hindu religious affairs and the overly aggressive Christian proselytization of Hindus (Pennington 2001:580). Together, the Dharma Sabha and the Candrika would forge a link between the past and modernity, giving Hindus a transition ideology that would not only allow Hindus to thrive in the new social and economic order, and also remain faithful to traditional Hinduism (Pennington 2001:581).
As Calcutta’s population experienced an influx of various rural communities, the Candrika would serve as a pandit and mediate questions concerning ritual throughout Bengal, especially in counteracting antiritual stance of Rammohnan Roy, student radicals and Christian missionaries, by emphasizing ritual as being central to Hinduism and Hindu identity (Pennington 2001:586). Thus, the Candrika declared ritual as an essential part of modern Hinduism and with the adoption of a uniform ritual code and unifed and coherent Hinduism would emerge. Deciding questions of authority and performance in ritual matters such as funeral rites, marriage and education of shudras and whether or not they should speak and learn Sanskrit, the Candrika embodied the role of hermeneut (Pennington 2001:586). The results were innovative constructions of tradition by ritual and religious specialists that connected historical practice to timeless ideal in a new and modern context. Issues such as how was the divisive notion of caste in the growing urban, mercantile environment of Bengal was to be handled. Questions pertaining to status relative to other castes, roles in particular rituals, permission to attend certain ceremonies, and approval of marriage partners needed to be clarified (Pennington 2001:587). Through the power print and the new rules of exclusion, locuses of authroity and emerging hierachies, the Candrika published many provocative letters confronting these questions of social orderings and ritual traditions (Pennington 2001:587). Furthermore, the Candrika asserted that caste was commensurable with modern religious identity and by positioning itself as not only an arbiter of caste, but a recognized authority on caste questions, it was able to construct a centralized and rationalized Hinduism that continued to embrace caste orderings and strong ritual practice (Pennington 2001:588). Lastly, it was Bhabanicaran’s policy not to criticize other religions nor respond directly to attacks on Hinduism (Pennington 2001:592). Instead, Bhabanicaran initiated a theme of “tolerance,” establishing yet another signifying characteristic of Hinduism. Furthermore, Hindu faith did not harm other religions or cultures as did the aggessive proselytizing tactics of the Christian missionaries (Pennington 2001:592). The Candrika authors understood the complex connections between religion, knowledge and power, and were adept as distinguishing them in respect to Hindu as well as Christian beliefs and practices (Pennington 2001:597). It is the legacy of the Candrika, in its vigorous print approach to the recovery of Hindu beliefs and practices on poverty, caste, and ritual that not only instilled Hindu self-confidence and created an institutional and centralized practice of Hinduism (Pennington 2001:598).
In summary, by outlining the influence of Christian missionary work and ideology in the large Indian urban centers of Bombay, Calcutta and Pondicherry, I have, through specific colonial figures such as Rammohun Roy, Vivekanada, Dayananda Saraswati, and Pandita Mary Ramabai, shown how new methods of ideological dissemination—public preaching and debates, journalism, printing books and pamphlets, and organizations were employed to integrate, resist and absorb Christianity. Rammohn Roy sought an inculturative, unitarian approach to reforming the social landscape of Hinduism. Roy’s adherence to theism and his re-interpretation of the Vedas, Upanishads and the Vedanta-Sutra, not only highlighted signifying texts of Hindu thought and practice, but also his denouncement of idolatry and dismissal of the Brahman priests and their rituals as futile, emphasizing a return to Hinduism’s original, pure, rational and ethical foundation and need for social reform. Vivekanada’s concern for Indian unity, coupled with his scientific rationalism and social activism in a backdrop of anti-colonial, anti-Chrisitian sentiments, provided the necessary impetus to focus his socio-religious thoughts into a universal Hindu spirituality, that continues to be one of the hallmarks of Hinduism today. Dayananda’s polemics attacked the validity of Christian scripture, highlighting its inferior teachings and emphasizing his own doctrine of Vedic Hinduism and the superiority, while Ramabai, whose liminal position as a Christian convert, permitted her to embrace Hinduism and propose Christian tenets of social reform, challenged the partriarchies of her time, organized new institutions for the care and nuture of oppressed groups, and underscored the power of female agency to achieve a higher measure of egalitarian living in mondern India. Lastly, Christianity’s affect on Hindu socio-cultural-religious domains of caste, ritual and gender have shown how Christian ideology and the advent of competitive proselytism formed a needed impetus for Hindus to delineate their religious and cultural boundaries by examining their significant texts, practices and beliefs, and their place in the colonial milieu, thus facilitating an internal renewal and transformation of Hinduism into modernity.
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