The sociological study of contemporary Hindu society has suffered from many con¬straints, some of which—most notably, borrowed para¬digms of social order and social change—have been by now widely recognized; others have received less attention. Thus the implica¬tions of the fact that most sociologists and social anthro¬pologists of the last fifty years have been high caste Hindus of middle or upper-middle class urban background have not been examined. This is, of course, true of all social scientists including econo¬mists; but unlike in, say, eco¬nomics, where progressive quantification of data and major advances in theory-building have to a large extent curbed subjective judgments, in sociology the narrative literary mode and theoretic uncertainty have remained pervasive. This is also true of history; we all remember the furious controversies of recent years about history text-books which, alleging ideological biases in historiography, underscored the importance of the socio-cultural background and ideological commitment of the historian. The existence of similar biases in the choice and exposition of sociological themes has not received comparable attention. There have been a few scholars though who have focused attention on this methodological problem. One of them is K. Ishwaran, one-time professor of social anthropology at Karnataka University, and currently professor of sociology at York University, Toronto.
Ishwaran is a Lingayat of lower-middle class rural back¬ground, and studied social anthropology and sociology at Oxford and Leiden uni¬versities and at The Hague. In the early 1960s he com¬menced fieldwork in a multi-caste village near the city of Dharwar and has by now published three books on it: Tradition and Economy in Village India (1966), Shivapur, A South Indian Village (1968), and A Populistic Community and Modernization in India (1977). From the very begin¬ning, he has questioned the prevailing paradigms of social change. Thus, he wrote in the second book:
Shivapur is becoming neither ‘sanskritized’ nor ‘westernized,’ but is adapt¬ing its traditional order to meet the exigencies of modern living without abandoning or changing its traditional character in any essential aspect.
It may be recalled here that the leading Indian sociologist of the 1950s and 1960s, M.N. Srinivas, had published a book in 1966 entitled Social Change in Modern India, in which he had discussed sanskritization (a term coined by him) and westernization as two notable processes of upward social mobility in Hindu society.
In his third book, Ishwaran put forward the notions of populistic community and populistic modernization. He wrote:
The chief characteristic of this kind of modernization is that in it modern things are absorbed by the populi¬stic community through the mechanism of institutional adaptation in a way that enables the community to continue to preserve its core culture.
These perspectives and ideas inform the book under review which is based on published materials and is described as the first of another trilogy, the focus this time being on the Lingayat community rather than on a village.
Ishwaran says that this new study signifies a special phase in the intersection of his per¬sonal life and his life as a sociologist. He proceeds to recall how his fieldwork in Shivapur produced in him a strong feeling of the inade¬quacy of the prevailing para¬digms of Robert Redfield (Great and Little Traditions) and M.N. Srinivas (Sanskritization and westernization):
The conceptual break¬through came to me as I became more and more aware that the Shivapur situation represents neither the acceptance of the Sans-kritic Tradition in any wholesale fashion nor the acceptance of the Local Traditions in a similar fashion. In the Karnataka context, I generalized the concept of Sanskritic Tradi¬tion as the Marga Tradition, and the Local Traditions as the Desi Traditions. I found that the Shivapur society had rejected the basic con¬cepts of hierarchy and elit¬ism entailed by the Marga Tradition, and also the intel¬lectual naivete of the Desi Traditions. Consequently, I had to look for a third model to correspond with the facts of social life in Shivapur. The concept of Janapada Samashti, which I translated as ‘populistic tradition’, seemed to suggest a satisfactory way out of my problems.
We must pause here to com¬ment, and what seems most striking is that after having laid his finger on a crucial pro-blem, Ishwaran is very easily satisfied. One wonders, in the first place, what we gain by substituting the terms ‘Marga’ and ‘Desi’ for Great and Little Traditions, or for brahmanical (Sanskritic) and Local Tradi¬tions. He does not mention ‘universalization’, a term coin¬ed long ago by McKim Marriott, which would seem to include the process of sanskritization, and is coupled with ‘parochialization’. Either Ishwaran considers Marriott’s model utterly worthless or he does not know about it. The point I want to stress, however, is that we do not move for¬wards simply by using a new set of terms for those proposed earlier and by now in use. In fact it is rather ironic that Ishwaran should prefer the terms he proposes, for these too belong to the very same Sanskritic tradition, derived from the domain of the arts. More importantly, what do we gain by finally opting for the notion of populistic tradition? I think we gain very little, for all that it offers us is the con¬solation of settling for eclecti¬cism in theory as a true reflec¬tion of the pragmatism of people. Surely the task of the sociologist is to go beyond describing what people believe and do, to formulate in general terms what is given to us in specific situations. While the democratic ring of the phrases populistic community/tradition/modernization sounds good, it does not deepen our understanding of the social reality under examination. I will not say more about the author’s theoretical formula¬tions: his strength seems to lie rather in the presentation of empirical data.
While in the Shivapur books Ishwaran presented data result¬ing from fieldwork, the present work is based on published secondary sources. He gives a historical descriptive account of Lingayat religion, ethics and behaviour, examines the inter¬nal structure of the community, and finally suggests that the Lingayat style of moderniza¬tion has lessons of general import. The historical-descrip¬tive materials in chapters I to IV cover the following topics: Lingayat people and culture; the birth of Lingayat religion; the life and work of Basavanna, the chief founder of Lingayatism; and the ideals and institu¬tions of the Lingayat way of life. It is in chapters V, VI and VII (‘Religion, Ethics and Behaviour’; ‘Religion and the Social Structure’; ‘Lingayat Religion and Modernization’) that he turns to certain general issues of theoretical import. These turn out to be related to the search for an adequate paradigm of social change.
Having opened the book with the emphatic assertion that the Lingayats are not merely non-Brahman but anti-brahman, with a this worldly and moder¬nizing culture, Ishwaran has to face the interesting problem of Hindu brahmanical elements in Lingayatism. He does this by maintaining that Lingayat theology and praxis have trans-formed functionally and quali¬tatively whatever they have borrowed. This is not very enlightening because we are neither told what Lingayats have done with their cultural roots (to term all such elements as instances of borrowing does not do justice to history), nor what functional and qualitative transformations mean, besides the invoking of functional integration. Morphological similarities between brahmanical and Lingayat cultures—e.g., the presence of caste struc¬ture—are acknowledged, but the two traditions are held out as being mutually antithetical. The Lingayats, Ishwaran writes,
have rejected up to a point both the Marga and the Desi, but have borrowed and indigenized elements from both of them in order to generate a distinctive third tradition, the populistic reli¬gious tradition in the form of the Lingayat socio-religious movement (emphasis added).
The only advance that this formulation registers over his earlier statements on the sub¬ject in this and an earlier book is contained in the itali¬cized words, but we are kept in the dark about the location of this point. Even the statement that, while the ‘Desi’ tradition represents ‘merely a counter-structure’ vis-a-vis the Sanskritic tradition, the Lingayat culture is the ‘anti-structure’, does not help us much. The author, however, emphasizes that ‘the concept of anti-structure … alone can explain the historical and theoretical uniqueness of the Lingayat religious movement’. We must work this out ourselves as best we can.
This uniqueness does not, however, stand in the way of the Lingayat mode of modernization being considered as universalisable. ‘We believe’, Ishwaran writes,
that, in the case of India, the endogenous potentiality for, and drive towards, modernization should be located in the indigenous populistic tradition.
Further on we are told:
The essence of this (Linga¬yat) paradigm (of moderni¬zation) is the compatibility between the populistic com¬munity tradition of peasant India and the universalistic model of modernization.
The moral is clear: if all Indians could be like the Lingayats, all would be well with their modernization hopes; and perhaps the great mass of the common people of India—the peasants—are like Lingayats. So there, is hope. Appropriately, the con¬cluding paragraph of the book contains a rebuke addressed to the pessimistic Gunnar Myrdal, for
the most important source of…optimism is the survival and self-renewing strength of such populistic communi¬ties as the Lingayats.
The book is a mixture of information and assertion. While the former is useful as an introduction to the Linga¬yat community, the latter is at best suggestive in places. The author is a crusader and his shafts and slings are aimed at certain prevailing ideas, parti¬cularly those of M.N. Srinivas. It is, therefore, rather surpris¬ing that Ishwaran does not seem to be thoroughly familiar with Srinivas’s work. (Thus he is wrong in asserting that Srinivas’s first published book was the one on Coorgs; it came ten years after a book on Karnataka itself.) As an introduction to the Lingayat community, the usefulness of the book would have been enhanced if the author had used diacritical marks in the transliteration of Sanskrit and Kannada terms.
Ishwaran promises two more books on Lingayat, tentatively titled The Bhakti Movement in Karnataka and Monks, Mathas and Modernization; the former will deal with the ideology and value system as exemplified by Lingayat saints, and the latter will shift the focus to ‘institu¬tions and praxis’. Altogether, the author has shown com¬mendable devotion to his scholarly pursuits and has, in his own way, affirmed the validity of Louis Dumont’s well-known exhortation that the sociology of India lies at the confluence of socio¬logy and indology. His three fieldwork-based volumes filled some gaps in our know¬ledge of rural life in South India. If the new trilogy achieves as much by way of conveying information, we should be satisfied. It is likely that the strengths of our author will come into their own in the final volume on monas¬teries, for in dealing with them he would again be relying upon both primary and secon¬dary data.
T.N. Madan is Professor of Sociology, Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi.