From 'Brahmanism9 to 'Hinduism9: Negotiating the Myth of the Great Tradition'
I am indeed extremely grateful to the executive committee of the Indian History Congress for the great honour they have done me by asking me to preside over the Ancient Indian History section of the present session of the Congress. This position has been occupied by some of the most distinguished historians of our times and I am only too conscious of my limitations. I consider this honour to be a recognition of the little work I have done in this field and earnestly hope that I will be able to prove worthy of the trust reposed in me.
In this address I intend to focus upon a subject on which I have been working for the last so many years. A part of my findings have just been published in the form of a book called Pur anas and Acculturation: A Historico-Anthropological Perspective. As can be inferred from the title itself, my study reveals some linkage between the forces of acculturation, which due to the demands and pressures of an expanding agrarian order, had gained unprecedented momentum during Gupta/post-Gupta times, and the more or less parallel phenomenon of composition of the Puranas. The latter appear to have been composed for a very specific purpose, that of serving as instruments of dissemination of mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation.
A careful scrutiny of the Puranic content, moreover, shows that Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the Smrtis underwent a complete transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, so that it came to acquire wholly new aspect, which can best be described as Puranic Hinduism. I would like to seize this opportunity so graciously offered to me by the organizers of the Indian History
Jankidevi College, University of Delhi, Delhi.
Presidential Address for Ancient India Section of the 61st Session of the Indian History Congress, Calcutta.
Social Scientist, Vol. 29, Nos. 3 - 4, March-April 2001