Saturday, January 3, 2009

Stein, Burton. “The Politicized Temples of Southern India”

Stein, Burton. “The Politicized Temples of Southern India” in The Sacred Centre as the Focus of Political Interest. Ed. Hans Bakker 1992, pp. 163-177

SUMMARY: Burton asserts that the common functionalist view of temples in Southern India’s history distorts understandings by separating politics from religion; he looks at how societies are wholes, in which temples are a part that cannot be separated from politics and larger forces. In particular, they are constrained by agrarian and economic conditions.

163-“Temples of the Tamil Cola kingdom were seen by historians from the 1930s onward as institutions through whose relational networks major economic processes of resource pooling and redistribution were accomplished by means of various forms of productive investment. At first, this was deploying cattle and sheep which had been donated to temples among herdsmen associated with the temple in return for which ghee and other products were obtained for use in ritual; later money endowments were deployed among merchant and banking groups in return for a portion of the stream of interest being given to the temple. In Vijayanagara times, money endowments were often deployed in irrigation investments and the enhanced income from the land used for ritual purposes.”

-“there were no—or few—records on medieval political relations and institutions that did not come from temples,” and in early Western study of that era, “sacred centres were seen to exist among a constellation of institutions around some imagined sun called, ‘the state,’” and (164) this was supported by “the presumed invariant operation of sacred socio-cultural principles embodied in vanasramadharma, according to which all groups fulfilled divinely designed purposes, seemingly innocent of political intent and participation.”, As well as the competing monarchies of the time—“Each of these forces were seen as autonomously conditioned by the presumed dynamics arising from, on the one hand, the ‘natural’ character of politics worked upon Indian monarchies in the same ways as politics worked in contemporary, medieval Europe, but, on the other hand, there were uniquely Indian forces that arose from the immemorial usages and principles of a ‘Hindu’ society. That the social standing and wealth of some individuals and groups were systematically enhanced as a result of such transactions was rarely commented upon, much less explained.”

164-most social scientists, especially those who look at India, take for granted the “enlightenment distinction between ‘civil society’ and ‘the state.’”—but Stein wants to treat societies as wholes

-stein looks at the more recent work of Champakalakshmi and Karashima; (165) with the first mistakenly identifying Brahmin settlements as urbanized, downplaying the authority of political agents; while Karashima thinks foreign rulers came into the area, but their oppressive rule caused rebellion in 15th century so they intentionally changed their tactics and started supporting temples to gain legitimacy—an (166) idea that Appadurai agreed with in 1981 and made “our clearest understanding” of power in medieval India: political constituencies were captured by taking over religious institutions, placing their own people as heads (“mahants”) of non-temple institutions (“mathas”), then having them take over temples and/or channel lords’ money into the temples—which helped both the lords and mahants gain status and so “by the later Vijayanagara age [17th ce]…distinguishing secular from sacred authority becomes meaningless,”—(167) and we must look at how and why this was necessary to gain lordship

167-Champakalakshmi is wrong in her analysis of how Indian communities were constituted

--“community is to be understood as janapada, or the Tamil nadu, not jati or sampradaya.”, “simultaneously a people and place,” “However, in addition to the sharing of sentiments and values, community is also about shared rights or entitlements over human and material resources. Thus…community pertains [in pre-modern times] to smaller, local spatial entities.” With “cultural, social, and political means for defending them”, and they continued into the 19th century; though champakalakshmi and others see community as referring to “specific religious and caste groups” and that these groups are what should be molded into civil society

168-recent scholarship on South India has shown that the “temples defined communities”, many think that bhakti ideology preserves idea of monarchy and “flourishes as much as ever as a prime ordering agency for the standing of the people—individual and collective”-- that (170) persisted “long after” kings were divested by colonial governments; Dirks 1987 pointed out that kings in Pudukkottai made gifts (“inams”) to the Kallar and non-kallar people: land, and “privileged forms of social precedence and immunities from revenue liabilities”—and this was done to reaffirm public loyalty

170-Stein’s own thesis: “…the numerous political centres of the polity appeared to be based upon internally localized social structures, usually designated as nadu during the Cola period. These were stratified and ranked, occupationally diverse, and culturally varied territories whose constituent groupings were structured according to complementary oppositions…lineage and other kinship-based affinities were internally opposed and also balanced by occupational and sectarian principles of affiliation; the interests of peasant groups were opposed and again, balanced, by the interests of herdsmen or artisanal producers; [etc.]…Moreover, the (171) enstructuration of localized, pyramidally-organized segments was obedient to and fundamentally shaped by varied social, political and cultural developments as well as by ecological, or ecotypic, conditions.”—and this conception of kingdoms should be used to understand relationship of secular and sacred authority and centres

171-In Cola times (late 10th to 13th centuries) power came mostly from agricultural production control of Brahmins and Vellalas (whose organizational structure was hierarchical); in Vijayanagara times (14th-17th centuries), power was more from wealth from trade because their land (the upper part of southern india) was drier; by the 13th century, increased urbanization and commercialization forced new groups to assert their standing and widespread social conflict ensured; (172) military organization also began growing—Cola only had small local militias and a small standing army; Vijayanagaras felt pressure to imitate 14th century Muslim invaders “and adopted firearms and imported war-horses and came to maintain larger standing forces than ever before” and so commanders got more important political roles and generalissimos sometimes took control of the kingdom; and the expanding commerce and urbanization of the time also led to increasing power for temples and they “became centres of political, administrative and commercial activities and were among the most important civil institutions of that later society.”

172-riverine kingdoms, like the Colas (and their predecessors, the Pallavas, and successors, the Pandyas) donated to “landed brahmin settlements with prestige to match their wealth”; “Later kingdoms of the dry upland region” were different, with bhakti temple religion in which (173) “local fold deities came to be transformed into major temple gods through the largesse” of kinds and chiefdoms with Brahmin communites being more rare; both eras were of segmentary states, not really centralized; though some attempts were made in Vijayanagara times to centralize the military; and Krishnadevaraya made vigorous reforms to centralize the governemtn by making Brahmins (174) administrators and fortress commanders, increasing the importance of temples and decreasing importance of Brahmin settlements as “locus of brahmin influence and culture”; but generally centralization didn’t happen and so temple entitlements were used to consolidate local power in the segmentary society

175-the British encountered entitlements early on, especially when trying to reduce their number of chiefdoms in India. Eg, Thomas Munro (c. 1800) “put his own administration in place of the chiefs whom he had extirpated as guarantor of communal rights, or inams.”, and these inams show how institutional rights were defined: in 1805 Munro saw that “over half the arable land of the Ceded Districts was” inam land and “the average rates of revenue demanded was less than one-tenth of regular land revenue values” and there were many beneficiaries from several classes, but most were religious personages, hindu and muslim, and their institutions—they got about ¼ of all inamdars—with other large groups of beneficiaries being those at the lowest end of society; “but only a few could produce documentary proof of this,” about 1/20 actually got it from “royal” authority, most got it from lesser leaders (eg village headmen) who also had inam rights

176-the common functionalist view distorts understandings by separating politics from religion; he looks at how societies were wholes, constrained by agrarian and economic conditions

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