Rafael Klöber, Department of History, South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University
Beyond Dominant Hinduism: Saiva Siddhanta Institutions in Coimabatore and Tamil Nadu
The Hindu philosophy of Tamil Saiva Siddhanta has been widely neglected in scholarship on South India, even though the exponents of the Saiva Siddhanta Revival movement of the late 19th and early 20th century had a considerable impact on the discourses on religion in Tamil Nadu. Their initiatives were forgotten, especially since the scholarly perspectives focused on the following political developments of the Dravidian Movement, Justice Party, Self-Respecters and the like. The Saiva Siddhanta Revival with its journals and societies was a particularly Vellalar centered issue of urban elites, trying to popularize the “original” Tamil religion which has been kept at the hands of traditional Maths and Adhinams for a long time. However, Saiva Siddhanta has to be considered as a “loser of religious history”, since the Siddhantins failed to counter the universal claims of North Indian, Vedanta centered Hinduism, and consequently disappeared from public discourse to some extent.
In the last 20 years, several Saiva Siddhanta organizations were established, who are actively involved in the promotion of the religion. In a case study, the paper presents mainly two different representatives of these new forms of modern religious organizations: namely the wide-ranging network of Saiva Siddhanta trainings centers initiated by the old and influential Thiruvavaduthurai Adhinam in more than 60 towns and cities of Tamil Nadu, and the “Centre for Divine Tamil Studies” at Coimbatore which was established independently in the mid-1990s. Both forms of organizations have adapted the modern/postmodern global discourses on spirituality and religion to a great extent, and try by there own means to propagate the “original” religion among Tamils, and even beyond. Evidently, such a discourse is especially vivid in urban centers by still focusing on Vellalar elites. Urbanity, in that sense, seems to be a necessary and structural basis for these kinds of organizations. Since there is a strong emphasis in Saiva Siddhanta on Tamil as a language, it is – and has been since the late 19th century – a particularly Tamil phenomenon. The vernacular, of course, is a curse and a blessing really, depending on the various goals the different organizations have in the propagation of Saiva Siddhanta. The modes of this mission appear to be a particular expression of urbanism in South India.