Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

Seminar Series: Srilata Raman on "Crypto-Christian and Atheist – The Westward Journey of the 17th century Śaivite Poet Tāyumāṉavar"

Thu, January 25, 2018 | Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118), UT Austin Campus

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Seminar Series: Srilata Raman on

Srilata Raman, University of Toronto, will speak on "Crypto-Christian and Atheist – The Westward Journey of the 17th century Śaivite Poet Tāyumāṉavar" as part of the Spring South Asia Seminar Series. 

The 19th century saw intensive missionary activity in the Tamil region of South India. Particularly enduring proved to be the work of the Scudder family, evangelical Christians preachers from the Dutch Reformed Church of North America, who lived and preached in the North Arcot area of the Madras Presidency from the early 19th – 21st century. Prominent among this family was Henry Martyn Scudder (1822-1895), a fine Tamil scholar who wrote a compilation of preaching tracts called The Bazaar Book or the Vernacular Preacher’s Companion published in 1865. Contemporaneously, the 19th century also saw the founding, in Madras, of the Hindu Free Thought Union which was renamed the Madras Secular Society in 1886. The organization arose obviously in response to scientific and rationalist movements in the “metropole” of England.

Influential in its formation were the writings of Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1981), the National Secular Society he founded in 1866, and the mouthpiece of the secularist position, the National Reformer, of which Bradlaugh became the editor in 1860. It was the direct inspiration of the National Secular Society that lay behind the founding the Hindu Free Thought Union and the subsequent publication of its Tamil journal, The Discrimination of Realities (Tattuvavivēciṉi) from 1878. Both these works dealt, either extensively or briefly with the poetry of the Śaivite poet of the 17th century, Tāyumāṉavar, whose works endured and were immensely popular as part of the oral Tamil tradition in the 19th century. Yet, in their understanding of him they come to opposite conclusions – The Bazaar Book sees Tāyumāṉavar as a Crypto-Christian while The Discrimination of Realities sees him as an atheist. This paper discusses this widely disparate view of Tāyumāṉavar in the light of the cleavage of the Tamil, literary canon into a dichotomy of “religious” and “secular” as it emerged within the context of the formation of Tamil Christianity and Tamil Rationalism in the 19th century.

The seminar series theme is "Musth: Somatic States in South Asia," convened by Martha Ann Selby, Department of Asian Studies. A light reception will precede the event at 3pm.

This talk is FREE! and open to the public.

Sponsored by: South Asia Institute

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