South Asia Seminar Series

South Asia Seminar: Brahmins Tryst With Brahminism

Suraj Yengde, Shorenstein Center Post-Doctoral Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School

Can Brahmins participate in the anti-caste struggle? Has there been any history of Brahmins taking upon the Brahmin community to fight bigotry and oppression? History is laden with such examples albeit miniscule.

Brahmins in the caste system enjoy unaccountable privilege and control over the 'lower' declared bodies. Due to their absolute command on power distribution and control, Brahmins become default power-brokers who negotiate unequal relations to their advantage. This can be seen with the overwhelming representation of Brahmins in all the positions of power in India. Be it politics, media, bureaucracy, judiciary and religious institutions, Brahmins continue to remain key players.

This definite control on the resources give the minority Brahmin community an added advantage to reproduce oppressions on each level of operation. In the gamut of anti-caste struggle, Dalit discourse is prominently targeted against Brahminical values of the Brahmin community. This remained a remarkable success of the Brahminical project in India. However, there were few notable exceptions among Brahmins who defied the regularity of Brahminness and instead took intellectual arms against fellow orthodox Brahmins who wanted to reproduce caste oppressions. In this talk we will deal with the questions of right to agency among the oppressors to engage with unequal sociological relations of oppression by looking at Brahmins participation in the anti-caste struggle.

Dates: 
Thursday, November 14, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar: 'We Were Always Buddhist:’ Dalit Historiography and the Temporality of Caste

Lucinda Ramberg, Professor in Anthropology, Cornell University

In 1956 anti-caste philosopher and statesman Dr. B.R. Ambedkar called upon his followers to convert to Buddhism as the equalitarian religion of the original inhabitants of the subcontinent. Drawing on ethnographic research, I reflect on the relationship present day Ambedkarites have to the history of ancient Buddhism. I elaborate the implications of statements by Ambedkarite Buddhists such as “we are remembering who we are” and we are reclaiming “our forbidden history” for the temporality of caste in relation to the politics of archaeology, gender, and history.

Dates: 
Thursday, November 7, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

South Asia Seminar: An Evening with Anand Venkatkrishnan and Sarah P. Taylor

Join us as we kick off this quarter's TAPSAs and South Asia Seminars with a discussion led by Dr. Anand Venkatkrishnan, Assistant Professor, History of Religions, and Sarah Pierce Taylor, Assistant Professor, Literature and Visual Culture, of University of Chicago Divinity School.

Dates: 
Thursday, October 3, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Chicago Tamil Forum Keynote: “The Language of Christians and Christian-Tamil – The Peculiar Journey of the 17th century Śaivite Poet Tāyumāṉavar”

South Asia Seminar and keynote speaker for Chicago Tamil Forum: Srilata Raman, Department of Study of Religion, University of Toronto

The 19th century saw intensive missionary activity in the Tamil region of South India. Particularly enduring proved to be the work of the Scudder family, evangelical Christians preachers from the Dutch Reformed Church of North America, who lived and preached in the North Arcot area of the Madras Presidency from the early 19th – 21st century. Prominent among this family was Henry Martyn Scudder (1822-1895), a fine Tamil scholar who wrote a compilation of preaching tracts called The Bazaar Book or the Vernacular Preacher’s Companion published in 1865. This work dealt extensively with the poetry of the Śaivite poet of the 17th century, Tāyumāṉavar, whose works endured and were immensely popular as part of the oral Tamil tradition in the 19th century. The Bazaar Book sees Tāyumāṉavar as a Crupto-Christian whose religious views are nothing other than Christian truths. This paper discusses the appropriation
of Tāyumāṉavar in the context of the emergence and consolidation of Christian-Tamil as a unique form of Tamil with its own conceptual vocabulary, thus also exploring what this language and the literature that it is embedded in might say about what is to be considered “Tamil” both linguistically and culturally in the second half of the second millennium.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 23, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The People Follow the Faith of the Ruler: Sovereignty and Popular Politics in Late Mughal Delhi

South Asia Seminar: Abhishek Kaicker, Department of History, UC Berkeley

A long-held preconception in the study of premodern South Asia has been that ordinary people were the passive objects of imperial sovereignty. By contrast, this talk will make the case that by the late seventeenth century, a distinct politics of the people in relation to kingship had become manifest in the cities of the Mughal empire, and particularly its capital Shahjahanabad. Such a popular politics, however, cannot come into view until we both rethink our conceptions of both sovereignty and politics before colonialism.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

The People Follow the Faith of the Ruler: Sovereignty and Popular Politics in Late Mughal Delhi

South Asia Seminar: Abhishek Kaicker, Department of History, UC Berkeley

A long-held preconception in the study of premodern South Asia has been that ordinary people were the passive objects of imperial sovereignty. By contrast, this talk will make the case that by the late seventeenth century, a distinct politics of the people in relation to kingship had become manifest in the cities of the Mughal empire, and particularly its capital Shahjahanabad. Such a popular politics, however, cannot come into view until we both rethink our conceptions of both sovereignty and politics before colonialism.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Technologies of Sexuality in Tibetan Buddhism

South Asia Seminar: Sarah Jacoby, Department of Religious Studies, Northwestern University

In the past year, sex abuse allegations have scandalized some of the most prominent global Tibetan Buddhist communities, raising pressing questions about the role of sexuality in Tibetan Buddhist practice. As a way of shedding light on this too often secretive subject, this talk will examine key Tibetan autobiographical narratives as lenses for better understanding how historical Tibetan figures, namely Sera Khandro Dewé Dorjé (1892-1940) and Lelung Zhedpai Dorjé (1697-1740), negotiated between the at times competing religious dictums of celibacy and ritualized forms of sexuality in Tibetan Buddhism.

Dates: 
Thursday, May 2, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Syllable Scrambling in Dhivehi Poetry of the Maldives

South Asia Seminar: Garrett Field, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and School of Music, Ohio University

The official language of the Maldives is Dhivehi, an Indo-Aryan language. Prior to the twentieth century the most popular form of Dhivehi poetry was known as raivaru. To create raivaru Maldivians utilized a poetic device termed bas olhuvun. Bas olhuvun literally means “word scrambling” and it refers to the scrambling of syllables. This presentation consists of three parts. Part 1 offers a brief social history of raivaru. Part 2 centers attention on six formal features that function as the playground where syllable scrambling occurs. Part 3 analyzes types of syllable scrambling in raivaru and identifies binary principles that raivaru poets internalized to help them quickly scramble syllables.

Dates: 
Thursday, April 18, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

“A vast sea of slums”: From chawls and “insanitary villages” to zopadpattis in 20th century Bombay

South Asia Seminar: Nikhil Rao, Department of History, Wellesley College

Over the course of the middle decades of the 20th century, the category “slum” underwent important changes in large, fast-growing cities like Bombay. From a descriptive term used to characterize dwellings such as chawls (tenements) or villages on the urban fringe that did not measure up to sanitary standards, “slum” in post-Independence India became a bureaucratic category that invoked the uncertain tenurial status of more makeshift forms such as the zopadpattis of Bombay. This paper traces aspects of this change in meaning, before moving to consider the implications of this change for the pattern of urban expansion in Indian cities.

Dates: 
Thursday, April 4, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

Reason and the Image: On Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players)

South Asia Seminar: Keya Ganguly, College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota

This talk focuses on Satyajit Ray’s cinematic treatment of an episode from India’s late colonial history in Shatranj Ke Khilari (“The Chess Players,” 1977). I suggest that through his portrait of the betrayal of reason under the pretext of law, Ray makes an appeal on behalf of the visual image as a critique of reason (rather than its lure).

Dates: 
Thursday, March 21, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103

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