REVIEW ESSAY/NILANJAN SARKAR* New Perspectives on Women's Role
Vijaya Ramaswamy, Divinity and Deviance: Women in Virasaivism, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1996, hardback, Rs. 325, pp. xxiv + 137.
Vijaya Ramaswamy, Walking Naked: Women, Society, Spirituality in South India, Shimla, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1997, hardback, price not mentioned, pp. xii + 257.
The two books which comprise this review essay are the result of Vijaya Ramaswamy's sustained interest and involvement in spiritualism, and the position and role occupied by women over the last ten centuries and more. Concentrating primarily in and around central and south India, the author analyses devotional literatures in Sanskrit, Tamil, Kannada and Marathi, 'coursing [her] way through the Bhagvata movement in Tamil Nadu, the Virasaivite movement in Karnataka and the role of women within the Mahanubhava, Warkari and Ramdasi panths in the Deccan' (1997: ix). She weaves a complex fabric - undoubtedly a result of her earlier interest in medieval textiles
-contextualising these literatures, movements and its participants within the contemporary socio-politico-cultural matrix with enviable fineness; in her own words, *[t]he study is grounded in social realities and seeks to analyse the morphology of female spirituality in terms of the social structure of particular societies whether it be feudalism, quasi-feudalism, or colonialism' - a task she achieves enviably well. Divinity and Deviance concentrates on women spiritualists within the Virasaivite movement. This extremely reader-friendly book has eleven short chapters which, between them, not only give an impressive account of the beginning and development of Virasaivism in the region of Kalyana, up to its eventual decline (in and around Kalyana) and simultaneous spread to other parts of south India in later centuries,
* Editor, Sage Publications India, New Delhi
Social Scientist, Vol. 28, Nos. 11-12 Nov. - Dec. 1998