ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revival amidst Challenge?

Turbulent Transformations: Non-Brahmin Śrīvaiṣṇavas on Religion, Caste and Politics in Tamil Nadu by Katherine Young, Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2021; pp 399, 736.


In the past two centuries, Tamil Nadu has witnessed tumultuous religious, social, and political changes that influenced the political understanding and cultural preferences of the Tamil-speaking people.

Beginning from the late 1910s, some of the articulate sections of the non-Brahmin community with the covert support of the colonial bureaucracy had constructed a non-Brahmin identity aimed towards gaining equality with the Brahmins. This non-Brahminism was propelled by the Brahmin cultural supre­macy and dominance in the middle and lower ranks of the colonial administrative machinery. The majority of the non-Brahmin leadership comprised of the landed elite and a vast number of their followers were from the peasant castes. In the 1920s and 1930s, however, this constructed homogeneous non-Brahmin identity showed signs of whittling down because of the competition within the non-Brahmin communities, fuelled largely by their social and political aspirations. In this jostling for power and status, “non-Brahmin” identity gave way to caste-based generic identities. In this situation, sometimes different castes came together, but more often they were engaged in rivalries that were conditioned by the changing power equation in the society. The Hindu castes, whether “high” or “low,” on many occasions were drawn towards Shaiva and Vaishnava affiliations. The millennial-old traditions of devotion certainly made this affiliation to one god somewhat of a common cultural experience throughout large parts of South India.

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Updated On : 28th Nov, 2021
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