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Book Reviews : KATHLEEN TAYLOR, Sir John Woodroffe, Tantra and Bengal: 'An Indian Soul in a European Body', Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2001, pp. 319
Gautam Chakravarty Indian Economic Social History Review 2003 40: 373 DOI: 10.1177/001946460304000307 The online version of this article can be found at:

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126-29) while there is no attempt to reconstruct quotidian practices of subordinating labour under pre-colonial regimes-admittedly a difficult task that would require a thorough analysis of pre-colonial documents (Sumit Guha’s essay on the Marathas’ penal regime hints at the possibilities: Past & Present the fortified strongholds of palaiyakkarar.’ (p. Tipu Sultan. The results of such enquiries may well disappoint the seekers of ’pre-colonial innocence’. and in Downloaded from ier. 1995). Hence. Tantra and Bengal: ’An Indian Soul in a European Body’. a little about the official career of the subject of this remarkable biography: John Woodroffe (1865-1936) was bom in Calcutta. it is argued that it was only the Company state who ’merge[d] merchant and political power’ (p. Sir John Woodroffe. Elsewhere. Surrey: Curzon Press. Florence Hume. apparently settled often in palaiyams. Textile artisans. 121 and passim). Hence local power-holders like the nattar.O. Ravi Ahuja South Asia Institute Heidelberg KATHLEEN TAYLOR. Richmond. that is. that there is much scope for further research on the ’transition to a colonial economy’. and that ’there was no such tradition of state interference in or regulation of labour or the labour &dquo. pp. 97). With regard to the latter. however. even colonial sources indicate that they had some impact on the organisation of commercial manufacture in the period covered by the book. on which Mizushima has focused his at Seeley Historical Library on September 2.sagepub. despite the work of Subrahmanyarr and others on pre-colonial ’portfolio capitalists’. 2001. Hume. Moreover. it is proposed that ’coercion and disciplinary authority exercised by the Company were not seen as a legitimate use of powers of kingship’ in South India. tracts on statecraft: pp. or the palaiyakkarar (poligars) are not considered as potential agencies of subordinating labour. came from an old Anglo-Indian family. The good news is. for pre-colonial and colonial polities. These bold hypotheses are based on a few top-level statements of pre-colonial authorities (the Nawab of Arcot. One would have to look closely at quotidian practices of domination not only of regional but also of local south Indian authorities in order to reconstruct ancien regime state attitudes towards labour. His mother. First. son of a prominent Calcutta High Court barrister who later became Advocate General of the Bengal government. especially those producing high-value fabrics. we find that palaiyakkarar were also concerned with protecting property and were the agents of a regional penal regime. Parthasarathi’s tendency to imagine the state as a structure detached from society is reflected by the fact that the crucial local levels of political organisation have not caught his attention. and her father was the cousin of A. 319. Johrr Woodroffe took the Bachelor’s Degree in Law from University College Oxford (1884-88). 2013 . the general secretary of the Indian National Congress for its first 22 years and a prominent Theosophist.373 .

architecture and design. along with the Tagores. As Bharata Shakti. The Indian press and Indian lawyers. The Society saw more merit in Indian designs and art forms than the Arts and Crafts folks allowed. the staple of orientalist Indology and Hindu cultural nationalism. formed the Indian Society of Oriental Art in 1907. the nucleus for what became the Bengal School of painting. the defence of those peculiarities of style that seemed an affront to Anglo-Latin taste rested on the view that these could not be appreciated without a philosophical anthropology of Hindu art. however. Woodroffe. Havell and Ananda Coomaraswamy. A class of Indians who were the products of British education policy had. Downloaded from ier. E. The first and the third books were theoretical elaborations of Woodroffe’s rejection of the Archer thesis. But unlike the social evolutionism of the high imperial years where racial hierarchies placed Indians somewhere at the bottom of the pile. The second book was a refutation of India and the Future. set out to erase the ’idea’ in a bid to leap-frog into European modernity. found Woodroffe fair-minded in judging cases with a nationalist slant. as evident in the three books he wrote under his own name: Bharata Shakti ( 1917). a collection of his public addresses and articles explained. the ’idea’ was identical with race. who roundly pronounced the land uncivilised after a six-w-ek tour. rather. India was an ’idea’ representing a ’particular Shakti’.B. As The Seeds of Race explained. Woodroffe was a judge in Calcutta at a time when judges. however. Hindu iconicity was not assessable through European criteria. this time as Reader in Indian law. which did no more than recycle the common places of missionary and liberal-reformist prejudice. This theophanic Hindu imagining of the nation as mother goddess shared a good deal with the symbolic idiom of popular Swadeshi nationalism. and retired from the High Court in 1922 to return to University College. the rediscovery of this racial essence was the high road to national rejuvenation for Woodroffe. Woodroffe’s second persona as sympathiser of Indian nationalism dovetailed with his championing of ’Swadeshi art’. Woodroffe proposed the lasting and often simplistic opposition between a ’materialist’ West and a ’spiritual’ East. 2013 . and part of the pathology of this new India was the compulsion to disown and sneer at all things Indian. nor was it autotelic.374 1890 joined his father at the Calcutta High Court. as with versions of revolutionary terrorism. it was the materialising of philosophical and psychological insights and of religious experience. For the Society. and they defended these forms and designs against art historians and critics such as James Fergusson and George Birdwood who found Indian art inferior when judged by the norms of classical and neoclassical European painting. though he lost favour briefly during the Midnapore Appeal Case of at Seeley Historical Library on September 2. He was promoted to the Indian judiciary in 1904. Instead of a facile imitative modernity.sagepub. police officers and informers were targets of extremist violence. Is India Civilized ( 1918) and The Seeds of Race ( 1919). an uncharitable view of India by the theatre critic William Archer. For Havell and Coomaraswamy. knighted in 1915. a goal that for the Society could be reached by the revival of indigenous art.

The neglect on the part of Indologists was partly because Tantra was seen as a corruption of the Aryan-Vaidika-Brahmana canon. Downloaded from at Seeley Historical Library on September 2. Sat-chakra-nirupana. not coincidentally the man who shaped the iconology of Havell and Coomaraswamy. and the Indological resurrection of Sakta-Tantra with comparative discussion of the doctrinal and devotional content of other Tantrik schools. Taylor introduces several arresting sub-plots. which invented a ’rational’ Hinduism cleansed of Tantrik accretions to make it acceptable to the western-educated Indian. Anandalahari.375 Taylor uses Woodroffe’s association with the defenders of Hindu art. He was the general editor of the 21-volume Tantrik Texts series for which he wrote introductions and technical glossaries. Like the tenth-century Kashmir Shaiva philosopher Abinavagupta. Woodroffe/Avalon’s work as the pioneering European scholar and editor of the Sakta-Tantra corpus appeared mainly between 1913-23. besides translating and writing commentaries on the Mahanirvanatantra. braiding orientalist research with colonial history. Sanskrit and the but had generally overlooked the vast Tantra or Agama corpus. and respectable before a western audience. and partly because of the moral opprobrium that popular imagination attached to certain Tantrik doctrines and rituals. From around 1904. 2013 . While Bharata Shakti took issue with the deracin6 Indian. an inclination formalised after his meeting with the Sanskrit scholar and Tantrik guru. Woodroffe took to the study and practice of Sakta-Tantra. which stretched roughly from the Manjushri-mulakalpa of the first century AD to the Mahan irvanatan tra of the eighteenth century. Kathleen Taylor’s reconstruction of Woodroffe’s life and career makes an exemplary intellectual biography. Along the way. Woodroffe’s lifelong though private association with Sivacandra and with Atal Behari Ghosh-a disciple of the former-led to the making of the public image of the magisterial Sanskrit scholar Arthur Avalon. Woodroffe/Avalon’s expositions of Tantra texts were responses to the criticism of Bengal Tantra by the neo-Vedanta of the Ramakrishna movement.sagepub. while among European orientalists he acquired fame as a hugely learned Sanskritist. his expository work on the Tantra corpus is soteriological. and his lectures in Calcutta on the theme of ’Bharata Shakti’ to unveil his two remaining and shadowy personae as orientalist scholar and as Tantrik sadhaka. the pseudonym Woodroffe used for his orientalist persona. Tantra iconography and rituals were ways toward a spiritual goal akin to that of Sankara’s European Indology had worked on the Vedic-classical Pali canons through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Swadeshi art with nationalist cultural politics and government educational policy. without either the academic distance of European orientalism or the then-trendy mix of occultism and Theosophy. Sivacandra Vidyarnava. Woodroffe/ Avalon defended Tantra by calling attention to its non-dualist core. with Indians marvelling at a British judge with a deep interest in Tantra. Interestingly. Woodroffee/Avalon became famous with his first publications. and writing expository texts on Tantrashastra and Tantrarajatantra.

which hardened missionary prejudices against Hinduism. Avalon the other. The plan was simple and effective: the scholarship of an obscure Bengali would count for little in restoring Tantra. the subtitle of the biography hints at the fertile intellectual exchange between the two disciples of Sivacandra Vidyamava. There is one last mystery that Taylor unravels at the end of her riveting biography. Woodroffe/Avalon attempts to resolve the historic quarrel between the non-dualism of Vedanta on the one hand and dualist philosophical schools and the practices of ritual worship Vedanta. even as it provides the key to the symbolic grammar of Hindu iconography. ’Arthur Avalon’ was an artfully constructed device concealing the teamwork of Woodroffe and Atal Behari Ghose. on Gautam Chakravarty Department of English University of Delhi Downloaded from ier. Moreover. but when combined with the former’s status as a British judge in colonial India. and should attract readers interested in the historical and soteriological aspects of Tantra. and European orientalists from the early days of Fort William College. something that would make the book accessible to the informed general reader. Tantra and Bengal is an admirable work that should interest historians of modem Bengal and Indian art. with the latter providing translations of texts and philosohpical expositions of Tantra Shastra that Woodroffe/ Avalon used in his books. 2013 .376 By declaring Tantra ’the Sadhana Shastra of Advaitavada’. It recalls the long and extensive tradition of collaboration between Indian pundits and munshis. But as Taylor’s indefatigable investigation shows. Sir John Woodroffe. their project was assured of success. Woodroffe/Avalon’s sudden appearance as an erudite Sanskritist impressed many and brought Tantra to the notice of Indologists. and embarrassed middle-class Bengali neo-Vedanta.sagepub. Woodroffe/ attempted an apologia for the antinomian aspects of Tantra. The insistence on Shakti as the intermediate term between Brahmanthe transcendental apex of the Vedanta system-and the world of existence brings a new resonance to his earlier view of India as ’idea’ or at Seeley Historical Library on September 2. or at least as a complex and philosophically coherent system. By repositioning Tantra as part of the Hindu high tradition. Taylor’s wideranging research and scholarship hardly ever impedes her very readable narrative. More than an evocative way of calling attention to a European with orientalist interests.

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