“india's Darkest Heart”

Rachel Fell McDermott and Jeffrey J. Kripal

in Encountering Kālī

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2003 | ISBN: 9780520232396
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928176 | DOI:
“india's Darkest Heart”

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Since the beginnings of Western scholarship in India, the figure of the blood-thirsty, violent, and explicitly sexual goddess Kālī appears to have held an especially central, but also ambivalent and disturbing, place in the colonial imagination. In the eyes of the early British colonial authorities, missionaries, and scholars, Kālī was identified as the most depraved of all forms of modern popular Hinduism, the quintessence of the licentiousness and idolatry that had destroyed the noble, monotheistic spirit of the Vedas and Vedānta. This chapter argues that Kālī was conceived by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century colonialists as the worst example of irrational Indian savagery. Such a reading of Kālī as the quintessential Other and the “extreme Orient” influenced Britons' dealings with the “Thugs” and led to the creation of a genre of Victorian novels centered on the lurid East. The chapter also discusses the strategies of appropriation and subversion used by Indian nationalists, who turned this Orientalist Kālī against her colonial creators in their own literatures and actions.

Keywords: India; Kālī; Hinduism; idolatry; savagery; Victorian novels; nationalists; colonialists; Vedas

Chapter.  11875 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Hinduism

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