Change and Continuity in Brahmanical Religion with Particular Reference to Vaisnava Bhakti
It is remarked that in India all that appears to be social is in fact religious and all that appears to be religious is in fact social.1 The intricate intertwining of the religious and social in the Indian mosaic does not necessarily imply a static society, but it does define its parameters of change with changes in one sphere impacting on the other. This is as true of religious ideology and rituals as of social structure and norms. Thus attempts at locating a distinctive kind of 'internal consistency' or 'essence' of religion from Vedic times to present day Hinduism do not go beyond vague generalities despite the claims of the protagonists of Hindutva that the Vedas enshrine the 'eternal values' of the 'Hindu way of life' and essentials of the present day Hinduism are rooted in the beliefs of the Vedic Aryans. Such essentialization of religious or cultural history may be a useful political tool for creating a homogenized Hindu identity, but as we shall see in the present essay, even within the brahmanical framework there have been fundamental changes and new inventions both in the realm of thought as well as ritual necessitated by the changing sociopolitical scenario.2
One may not quite agree with the view that it is ahistorical and unscientific to speak of the existence of Aryan tribes in any period anywhere in the world. A scientific and unbiased reassessment of the available evidence on the Aryan problem has become difficult because of the fascist appropriation of the term and its use in the politics of racial hate, particularly as this continues to provide grist to the mill of those who wish to construct an argument for the politics of exclusion of non-Hindu minorities by arguing that 'Hindu' culture is 'Aryan' culture which is of indigenous origin and the minority religions
* Formerly Professor of History at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 29, Nos. 5 - 6, May - June 2000