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Kalapani: Zum Streit uber die Zulassigkeit von Seereisen im kolonialzeitlichen Indien.

Kalapani: Zum Streit uber die Zulassigkeit von Seereisen im kolonialzeitlichen Indien. By SUSMITA ARP. Alt-und Neu-Indische Studien, vol. 52. Stuttgart: FRANZ STEINER VERLAG, 2000. Pp. [iii +]258.

Susmita Arp's doctoral dissertation at the University of Hamburg takes its title from a Bengali play that was first performed in Calcutta in December 1892, at the height of the Sea-Voyage Movement. At a time when Indians were increasingly traveling to Britain after the opening of the Suez Canal, a vigorous public debate took place: were voyages over "the black water" permissible for Hindus or did they necessarily entail a loss of caste? Not only did families--such as Gandhi's--agonize over this issue, public polemics were rife. For associations that took up the issue, the primary concern had less to do with those who departed than with those who returned from voyages overseas. Arp sets about investigating the Sanskrit textual sources to which reference was made, and documents in Sanskrit, Bengali, and English in which opinions were expressed and campaigns launched.

Following a brief introduction, chapter 2 focuses on passages, altogether few, scattered in ancient dharmasastra literature, that condemn sea voyages for highcaste Hindus, brahmans in particular. Reasons for a ban are not explicitly stated, but presumably stemmed from concerns about maintenance of rules of commensality and ritual purity in the confines of a ship. Although pollution attendant to residence abroad is likely to have been a concomitant worry, Arp points to the curious fact that condemnations of travel to foreign countries do not occur in the same contexts.

Chapter 3 introduces the reader to the controversy that arose in the colonial period, and which was intimately bound with rising national sentiment. At the heart of the discussion was less the ritual status of the England-returned than issues of westernization and progress. In this instance as in many others, nationalism and Hindu traditionalism were intertwined.

Arp deals primarily with the controversy that evolved in Bengal. Sources in Sanskrit, Bengali, and English (and a few in other Indian languages, which were not used in this study) are listed in chapter 4 chronologically by language. The reader might have been better served by an integrated chronological list. In chapters 5 and 6 the focus is on texts by pandits, in particular the Sanskrit Samudrayanagamanadosamimamsa (1870) by Taranatha Tarkavacaspati, head of Calcutta's Sanskrit College, and the Bengali Bilat 'yatra-pratisedh (1894) by Saradaprasada Smrtitirtha, for both of which Arp gives a full text and translation. The juxtaposition of these two texts belies any presumption that treatises in Sanskrit might represent a more conservative viewpoint than those to be found in modern-language texts. Whereas, in his section of a published debate with another pandit, Saradaprasada held the prohibition of sea voyages to be absolute, Taranatha contended in his brief and influential tract that they are not inherently polluting, but are permissible if rules governing ritual purity are observed. References to pandits' voices from other parts of India and to P. V. Kane's work show that Taranatha's position was considered representative of Bengali and/or of enlightened opinion.

Chapter 7 in turn analyzes two publications issued from what came to be known as "the Sea-Voyage Movement": a report of a large meeting of members of the Bengali intelligentsia who supported sea voyages, convened in 1892 by the Raja of Sobhabazar, and a collection entitled The Hindu Sea-Voyage Movement in Bengal, produced in 1894 by a committee appointed on that occasion to further investigate the issue. Most of the documents (articles, speeches, letters, and pandits' vyavasthas) in the latter volume demonstrated both respect for Hindu traditions and a commitment to progress. Sea voyages were deemed not to be inconsistent with sacred texts, and were viewed as necessary for the nation's economic and political progress. Finally, in chapter 8, Arp comes to the play by Amritalal Basu that gives the volume its title, and which constitutes a biting satire of the proponents of sea voyages as hypocrites who give lip service to tradition and are more concerned with their own fortunes and pleasure than with public welfare. At issue here, as in a letter by Bankim Chandra Chatterji and even in frequent traveler Rabindranath Tagore's short story Prayascitta (1894), is the arrogance and selfishness of Indians who succumbed to Anglicization.

This is a fascinating story, which Arp handles with sensitivity, in a way that leads to the conclusion, as recapped in the English abstract, that there was "no clear-cut borderline but rather fluid transitions between supporters and opponents" and that "[n]either the supporters nor the opponents formed a homogenous group" (p. 258). This is history at its best, based on a close and dispassionate reading of original sources. Regrettably, the volume lacks an index.


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Author:Rocher, Rosane
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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