Polymorphic Nature, Polytheistic Culture, and the Orientalist Imaginaire

Brian K. Pennington

in Was Hinduism Invented?

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195166552
Published online July 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835690 | DOI:
Polymorphic Nature, Polytheistic Culture, and the Orientalist Imaginaire

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Alongside the development of missionary discourses about Hinduism, Orientalists in the employ of the East India Company derived their own sets of idioms and tropes to represent Hindu traditions. Founded by Sir William Jones as an advertisement for the beauty and antiquity of Indian civilizations, and later headed by such eminent scholars as Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Horace Hayman Wilson, the Asiatic Society and its journal the Asiatic Researches displayed from their beginning a close alliance with the designs of the colonial state. As the evolving state discarded Orientalist policies that sought rapprochement with and accommodation of Indian traditions, the journal itself came to reflect a colder conquest of the minds and territories of Indian subjects. A conceptual systematization of Hinduism parallel to that seen among evangelical missionaries is evident in this journal, but what distinguishes the imagination of British Orientalism is an enchantment with the natural world of India, whose profuse and lush flora and fauna functioned as tropes for religion in India as well. An initial fascination with the apparently self-multiplying, polymorphic pantheon and mythology of Hindu India reflected a similar scientific wonder among the Society’s naturalists. Just as that wonder would give way to a quest for mastery, the officials of the colonial state who authored the articles for the Researches demonstrated their own growing sense of intellectual command and moral superiority over what they came increasingly to identify as Hinduism.

Keywords: Asiatic Society; Asiatic Researches; Orientalism; Sir William Jones; colonialism; Hinduism; East India Company; early Indology; Henry Thomas Colebrooke; Horace Hayman Wilson

Chapter.  17536 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Hinduism

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