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By William R. Pinch

During this compelling social heritage, William R. Pinch tackles probably the most very important yet so much overlooked fields of the colonial historical past of India: the relation among monasticism and caste. The hugely unique inquiry yields wealthy insights into the crucial constitution and dynamics of Hindu society--insights that aren't simply of scholarly but additionally of significant political significance.Perhaps no pictures are extra linked to rural India than the peasant who labors in an oppressive, rigid social constitution and the ascetic monk who denounces worldly matters. Pinch argues that, opposite to those stereotypes, North India's priests and peasants haven't been passive observers of background; they've got frequently been engaged with questions of identification, prestige, and hierarchy--particularly in the course of the British interval. Pinch's paintings is principally fascinated with the methods every one workforce manipulated the rhetoric of non secular devotion and caste to extra its personal schedule for social reform. even supposing their goals could have been rather different--Ramanandi monastics labored for social fairness, whereas peasants agitated for greater social status--the thoughts hired by means of those groups formed the preferred political tradition of Gangetic north India in the course of and after the fight for independence from the British.

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This choice of names could not have failed to irritate those radical Ramanandis who had begun associating the elitist elements in the sampraday with the figure of the south Indian theologian, Ramanujacharya. However, the use of "das" as a suffix suggests as well that the Ramanuji-Ramanandi battle lines were not firmly marked out at that time (1918), and that many Rarnanandis accepted a servile position with respect to the acharyas in the order. 67 Both were devoted, ultimately, to purging the sampraday of Ramanuji elements.

A product of the constantly shifting fortunes of powerful monasteries in local settings, this diffuse populism meant that the only opportunity for reconciliation of ideological differences (and perhaps the only occasion that required any reconciliation) in the sampraday occurred approximately once every three years on the occasion of the kumbh mela (held by turns in Nasik, Ujjain, Allahabad, or Haridwar)and then only among those sadhus who chose to attend. The Rise of Radical Ramanandis The quest for power and influence in the Ramanandi sampraday took place on the ground of the past, and those best able to ne page_61 Page 62 gotiate that ground ultimately dictated the immediate social and political dimensions of the monastic community.

Though Ravidas did not utilize invective and shock tactics to make his point, he nonetheless urged his listeners, in a passage reminiscent of Ramanand's couplet, to "ask not about caste,. . What is there in clan or caste? "14 The followers of Kabir and Ravidas who do not consider themselves Ramanandis have used varying strategies to pursue their goal of a more equal and just society. For example, there is the wide discrepancy between the original message of Kabir and the methods of his present-day devotees, noted by David Lorenzen: "The songs of Kabir himself display such a militant iconoclasm that it is quite consistent to assume that page_51 Page 52 he meant to break with both Islam and Hinduism and establish an independent religious tradition.

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