Buddha at the bus stop

Navayana's latest book is Anne Monius' Imagining a place for Buddhism: Literary Culture and Religious Community in Tamil-Speaking South India. An Indian edition of the 2001 OUP monograph, this has a wonderful cover, of a statue of the Buddha at the Paravai bus stop, Perambalur, Tamilnadu. That Buddhism, metaphorically, missed the bus here as almost everywhere in India is only too obvious, but the importance of the Buddhist thought and philosophy all over India, including the south, has been recognised for long.

In this study, Monius, Professor of South Asian Religions at Harvard Divinity School focuses on two extant Buddhist Tamil texts – Maṇimēkalai (a sixth-century poetic narrative) and Vīracōliyam (an eleventh-century treatise on grammar and poetics) to shed light on the role of literature and literary culture in the formation, articulation and evolution of Tamil Buddhist religious identity and community.

"Non-Hindu communities such as Buddhists, Jains and Ājīvakas played such an important role in South Indian literary and religious culture, and in the administration of the state, between the fourth and seventh centuries that the later Saiva traditions labeled this period the Kalabhra interregnum—the interruption of the wicked ones. Despite their presence in Tamil inscriptional, archaeological and literary record, their significance has been undermined in historical narratives that have valorised the triumph of Tamil Śaivism, casting Buddhists and Jains as ‘foreigners’ to be spurned, ridiculed and dismissed as anti-Tamil. "

A review of the book that appeared in The Journal of Religion draws attention to this important and pioneering work. Anne Monius has produced a learned and detailed book on the insufficiently studied subject of Buddhism in South India, which greatly enriches our knowledge of the religious life of the early medieval Tamil-speaking region. . . . Monius’s lucidly written book greatly broadens our understanding of early Tamil Buddhist identity formation and evolution. It is a very welcome and creative addition to Tamil scholarship that sets a high standard for future work in the field and deserves to be widely read.

In our History and Religion sections, Rs 350, ISBN: 9788189059194

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