Social Scientist. v 18, no. 205-06 (June-July 1990) p. 1.


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K.N. PANIKKAR*

Introduction

The complex character of communalism and the myriad ways in which communal ideology influences the social, cultural and political behaviour in contemporary India were the main concerns of a seminar organised by Social Scientist in March 1990. An important dimension of present-day communal mobilisation is the sustenance it derives from the interpretation and selective appropriation of the past. To this end, the past is viewed in a particularistic religious perspective, overlooking the composite character of Indian culture. Interest in this interpretation is the communal objective and so history becomes a terrain for struggle against communalism. Three presentations in the seminar—Romila Thapar, 'Communalism and the Historical Legacy';

Suranjan Das, 'Communal Violence in Twentieth Century Colonial Bengal'; and P.K. Dutta, 'War Over Music'—published here draw attention t^ the interlinking of the interpretation of history and the construction and dissemination of communal ideologies.

Taking a synoptic view of religion, communities and community relations, Romila Thapar underlines the subtle ways in which communalism seeks legitimacy from history in order to justify the present. The notion that Hindu religion and Hindu community went back to the earliest times is an example. The contraction of Hinduism as a coherent religion and as a rational faith was largely a nineteenth century phenomenon, an endeavour in which the Orientalists played an important role. Earlier, Hinduism was a series of parallel systems, the two major religious groups referred to in early sources being Brahmanism and Shramanism. Unlike Semitic religions, these religious systems did not constitute a single historically evolved religion. The sects within Hinduism developed independently. Whether these sects can be given a Hindu label and a single source of origin is very doubtful. They had not branched off from Hinduism, instead they had come together in a kind of mosaic of distinct cults, deities and sects, often as a response to social needs. While it is possible to trace the historicity of these cults, Hinduism cannot be described as a historically evolved religion with a founder and an ecc-

* Dept. of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 6-7, June-July 1990



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