Popular and Folk Hinduism

Frank Korom

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:
Popular and Folk Hinduism

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As a number of scholars have noted, Hinduism is difficult to define because people tend to see it as one religion. It is better, however, to see it as a plurality of practices within a larger civilizational complex (see General Overviews). “Hindu” is a Persian variant of Sanskrit Sindhu, the Indus River, so by extension it applies to the people of India as well. For more than one thousand years, Hindu simply meant “Indian,” but after 712 ce it was used to distinguish Indians who were not Muslims, among whom many religions were recognized as being practiced. Europeans, however, used it for all Indians practicing a common faith, not simply to mean “Indian.” Thus, the Europeans (i.e., British) added the “ism” to Hindu to imagine a common religion that never existed as a single “religion” in the minds of the Indian people until relatively recently. In the medieval period, from 1548 ce onward, the Portuguese gentio, corrupted as gentoo in English, was used to refer to “heathens” (meaning Hindus)—that is, non-Christians. In other words, anyone who was not “Abrahamic” (that is, “people of the book”) was seen as a Gentoo of one form or another. Hindus were, therefore, an Indian “sect” of heathens. “Hindu” came to replace Gentoo by the 18th century, but the implication was the same: one heathen religion. Nineteenth-century scholars divided Hinduism and Brahmanism, where Brahmanism was associated with an “intellectual,” classical tradition, while Hinduism was associated with superstitious, “folk” traditions. The object here is to focus on the layers of Hinduism sometimes overlooked by Indologists, namely those that have been labeled “folk” and “popular.” These two terms are elaborated and problematized here, but they generally refer to those aspects of the Hindu tradition that exist in dynamic tension with the so-called Sanskritic traditions based on textual authority.

Article.  9719 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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