Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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  • * Nation Work: Asian Elites and National Identities* indicates link to Amazon.com online bookshop

    As increasing attention is drawn to globalization, questions arise about the fate of "the nation," a political and social unit that for centuries has seemed the common-sense way to organize the world. In Nation Work, Timothy Brook and Andr� Schmid draw together eight essays that use historical examples from Asian countries--China, India, Korea, and Japan--to enrich our understandings of the origin and growth of nations.

    Asia provides fertile ground for this inquiry, the volume argues, because in Asia the history of the modern nation has been inseparable from global influences in the form of Western imperialism. Yet, while the impetus for building a modern national identity may have come from the need to fashion a favorable place in a world system dominated by Western nations, those engaged in nationalist enterprises found their particular voices more often in relation to tensions within Asia than in relation to more generic tensions between Asia and the West.

    With topics ranging from public health measures in nineteenth-century Japan through textual scholarship of Tamil intellectuals, the willful division of Korea's history from China's, the development of China's cotton industry, and the meaning of "postnational-ism" for Chinese artists, the essays reveal the fascinating array of sites at which nation work can take place.

    This will be essential reading for historians and social scientists interested in Asia.
    Timothy Brook is Professor of History, Stanford University. Andr� Schmid is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto.

    Excerpt from the Chapter on Discourses of Empowerment: Missionary Orientalism in the Development of Dravidian Nationalism - V.Ravindran, Ph.D. University of Toronto

    'The mental eyes of everyone must be opened not only to see that the present miserable condition of their life has been due to the spell cast on them by Brahmin witchcraft, but also to realise the great truth common to all great religions, that is: all are children of one Heavenly father.' - Maraimalai Adigal, 1923

    " This essay contributes to this revisionist interrogation of the Saidian perspective by analyzing the role that missionary orientalism played in the development of Dravidian nationalism in South India. Through its efforts to subvert the dominant school of orientalism in Hindu India, missionary orientalism affords a particularly illuminating lens through which to observe the dynamics of orientalist knowledge production on India.

    Far from being a hegemonic "colonialist imposition" upon a passive "Orient," European orientalism was dependent upon and responsive to the discourses of locally dominant groups and reflected many of their visions and interests. Similarly, far from being passive victims of orientalism, dominant groups in the colonies actively participated in the construction, maintenance, and propagation of orientalist knowledge (see also Schmitthenner 1991; Trautmann 1997). "Local" power dynamics and struggles, and not only colonial imperatives, must be taken seriously when looking at the production of cultural knowledge, whether that knowledge be European orientalism, "pre-British Orientalism" (Pollock 1993), or even postcolonial scholarship.

    This chapter contends that European orientalism must be viewed as a more complex, multifaceted, and contradictory set of discourses than the Saidian perspective has acknowledged.

    Discovering "Dravidian"

    Dravidian nationalism began gaining momentum in South India at the beginning of the twentieth century in opposition to the dominant discourse of Indian nationalism. Its emergence affords a significant example not only of the complicity of missionary orientalism in the process of identity construction and nationalism in South India but, more importantly, of its role in empowering subordinate groups or communities there. Ideologically, Dravidian nationalism posited a parallel but counter discourse to the dominant "orientalist" construction of India as Aryan and Sanskritic.

    Its ideological origins can be traced not only to the historical tensions that existed between Sanskritic and local vernacular cultures in South India but to the modern reconfigured articulation of these tensions inspired by missionary orientalism (Ravindiran 1996). The missionaries were impelled in this project by their belief that Brahmanism and the caste system posed the greatest obstacles to Christian conversion in South India. They drew both their inspiration and their justification for this project from earlier resistance to Brahmanical culture found in ancient and medieval Tamil literary works.

    Missionary orientalism embraced and supported local vernacular languages and cultures of South India in opposition to those of Sanskrit, inspiring a significant body of scholarship that proposed the existence of an ancient and once "pure" Dravidian culture free from Brahmanism that needed to be recovered and reclaimed. Alleging that the Aryan/Sanskriti culture of the Brahmans had corrupted this Dravidian culture, they called for the recovery of the latter. Many elements that now constitute Dravidian nationalist ideology derived from this anti-Brahman missionary orientalism.

    There were at least two key "moments" in the evolution of Dravidian nationalist ideology.

    Bishop CaldwellThe first consisted of the efforts to present Tamil and other South Indian languages and speakers as having a genealogy distinct from those of the Indo-Aryan linguistic family and its speakers in India. It is exemplified in the pioneering philological work of Rev. Robert Caldwell (1814-91), Comparative Grammar of Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages ( [1856] 1974).

    Caldwell not only coined the word Dravidian to describe the languages and peoples of South India, but he also constructed, with the aid of the modern disciplines of philology, archaeology, and history, a genealogy for Dravidian languages, culture, and people marked by their opposition to their Aryan/Brahman counterparts.

    His work provided a significant "scientific" bulwark against the privileging of a Brahmanical vision of India prevalent in his time. It also provided the rising classes of non-Brahmans in South India with a significant ideological weapon against Brahman sociocultural and intellectual hegemony. His use of the term Dravidian came to have an enormous appeal for these people by providing a single category under which all the linguistically disparate non-Brahman caste groups in South India could unite (Sivathamby 1993, 28).

    Caldwell's work had a phenomenal impact, for aside from laying the ideological foundation for Dravidian nationalism it opened up a whole field of scholarly inquiry into things "Dravidian." After Caldwell's achievement, others launched a search for a distinctly "Dravidian" religion and culture. This was the beginning of the second key moment in the evolution of Dravidian ideology. European scholar-administrators and missionaries were again in the forefront in raising the issue of a distinctly Dravidian religion in the orientalist scholarship of the time.

    Although Caldwell had dismissed the religion of the Dravidians as "demonolatry" overlain with a thin veneer of Brahmanism, other European Christian missionaries and scholar-administrators searched for and found in the ancient Tamil and other vernacular religious and literary works evidence of an ethical and religious system that was in their eyes more compatible with the Christian tradition (Gover [1871] 1959).

    The major impulse in much of the missionary support for a distinctly Dravidian religion, again, was their antipathy toward Brahmanism and what was considered to be its latest manifestation, neo-Vedantism. Neo-Vedantism by the late nineteenth century in South India had come to be considered by many Christian missionaries and Dravidian ideologues as the new liberal face of a resurgent Brahmanism in India. Working against the ascendancy of neo Vedantism among English-educated Hindus that had been in part promoted by orientalist scholarship, some Christian missionary scholars working in South India sought to promote what they considered to be a distinctly Dravidian religious tradition.

    This second key moment involved the identification and resurrection of a Dravidian religion, which came to be identified as Saiva Siddhanta. It is best exemplified in the writings of pioneer revivalists who forged an "inviolable" link between Saivite and Dravidian identity. In the writings of advocates such as the Protestant missionary George Pope, pioneer Tamil ideologues such as P. Sundaram Pillai, J. M. Nallaswami Pillai, and Maraimalai Adigal, Saiva Siddhanta became the original and "true" religion of the Dravidians. In fact, the Dravidian ideology derived much of its indigenous impetus and resonance from its association with a Saivite identity. As most of the early indigenous intellectuals in South India who embraced the Dravidian ideology were Tamil Saivites, the Dravidian movement began largely as an integral part of the Saiva Siddhanta revival movement. These ideologues utilized the Christian missionary vision of a unique Dravidian language, culture, and religion to present Saiva Siddhanta as a distinctly Dravidian religion. In so doing, they clearly disrupted an earlier vision of a less racially defined or caste-bound Saiva Siddhanta tradition."



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