AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 610

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Session 610: Speaking of Religion and Politics in South Asia

Organizer: Karen Leonard, University of California, Irvine, USA

Discussant: Suzanne Wertheim, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

This interdisciplinary panel proposes different ways of speaking and thinking about religion and politics in South Asia. Karen Leonard, an anthropologist and historian, invokes translation theory to explore Hindu temples in Hyderabad State as part of the political landscape, part of a distinctively South Asian tradition of secularism or pluralism as implemented by an Indo-Muslim state. Alison Shah, an historian, analyzes the Muharram parade in Hyderabad state as speaking two symbolic languages, one that of a premodern religious commemoration and one that of a modern secular state. Heidi Pauwels, in the languages and literature field, compares discourses in Persian, Old Hindi, and Sanskrit about the destruction of the Krishna Janmabhumi temple in Mathura in the late 17th century to show the complex motives behind this act, to show motives beyond the religious rhetoric of most historiographer. The two discussants, Suzanne Wertheim, a linguistic anthropoligist, and Sumit Guha, an historian, will compare and interrogate these papers.

Indo-Muslim Pluralism: Hindu Temples in Hyderabad State
Karen Leonard, University of California, Irvine, USA

I argue that Hindu temples in Hyderabad, a city in a territory ruled by Muslims from the fourteenth century until the 1948 incorporation of the princely state of Hyderabad into independent India, were resources in a multi-religious landscape, institutions that reflected the political power of their patrons and often performed functions for the state. Temples were built and managed as part of the Indo-Muslim or Mughlai urban court economy in Hyderabad, but I am not defending Hyderabad state's policies and practices with respect to Hindu institutions and events. Rather, I want to show the development and implementation of a distinctively Indo-Muslim ruling tradition, part of a distinctively South Asian tradition of secularism or pluralism (not syncretism or synthesis), and I invoke ideas of “translation” appropriate to the time and place.

Religious Procession and the Languages of Power in Princely Hyderabad
Alison M. Shah, University of Colorado, Denver, USA

The symbolic language of religious rituals in the Islamic world that are performed by state powers, as Paula Sanders (1994) suggests, has multiple levels of meaning, not necessarily understood, or intended to be understood by all observers. Reconstructing the relationship between the ritual language and the language skills of a diverse audience is particularly rich in nineteenth-century Hyderabad, where the most famous state parade of the Princely capital was a Shia procession, performed for a Sunni dynasty by multi-religious elite, with an audience that included prominent official visitors from colonial India. Probing the procession as situated in a complex symbolic language environment, she analyzes the differing descriptions of the parade over time for evidence of how participants in this procession developed a parade that seemingly speaks two languages---the religious language of a pre-modern urban festival and the secular language of a modern state parade. This paper explores the vocabulary and grammar of the nineteenth-century urban procession by close examination of the specific places where different symbolic vocabularies and grammars come together in this parade. Delving into the ways that the parade shows examples of linguistic frameworks of diglossia, bilingualism, and pidgin tongues opens up a discussion about the symbolic languages of this parade that move beyond synthesis and syncretisms and suggest multiple ways of thinking about how power was communicated in a dependent Princely state on the edge of empire.

"A Tale of Two Temples: Keshavadeva in Mathura and Caturbhuja in Orchha."
Heidi Pauwels, University of Washington, USA

This paper focuses on the last grand Krishna Janmabhumi temple in Mathura that was built by the Orchha ruler Vir Singh Dev in the early 17th century and destroyed by Aurangzeb about half a century later. It is informative to study the short life span of this temple in conjunction with another one also built by Vir Singh in his hometown of Orchha and desecrated by Shah Jahan only 3 decades later. In line with recent research, the paper questions the common-place interpretation of temple building and destruction as expressions of religiosity; this investigation of the factors that led to the building reveals a multiplicity of discourses by using not only Persian but also Old Hindi and Sanskrit sources: By comparing these discourses with the ones used used to describe the destruction, the paper shows the complexity of motives beyond the religious rhetorics of some historiographers; including statements of dharmic kingship justifying irregularities of succession and of upward social mobility within the Mughal imperial formation.