This book analyses the articulations of Tamil identity in the period of colonial modernity and beyond. It examines the development of Tamil religion by focusing on the important 19th century Tamil Hindu reformer and saint, Ramalinga Swamigal.
The transformation of Tamil religion is mapped through the examination of specific literary/religious genres – that of hagiographies and sacred biographies.Taking as a starting point Ramalinga’s own writing, the book presents him as inhabiting a "border" zone between early modernity and modernity, tradition and charisma, Hinduism and Christianity, indigenous identity (Dravidian nationalism) and colonialism. Subsequently, these themes are discussed by the author as variously deployed, amplified and contested by the subject’s biographers. Highlighting the influence of Ramalinga Swamigal's teachings on politics, particularly within the context of Dravidian cultural and political nationalism, the author contends that a transformation of the notions of sainthood occurred with the life and person Ramalinga Swamigal.
The book argues that these transformations are one meaningful way for a religious tradition to cope with and come to terms with the implications of historicization and the demands of colonial modernity. It is a valuable contribution to the field of religion, South Asian history and literature and Subaltern studies.
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Srilata Raman is Assistant Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto, Canada. Her previous publications include Self-Surrender (Prapatti) to God in Srīvaiṣṇavism (2007), also published by Routledge.
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