Monday, April 23, 2018 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm
Uris Hall, G08
The Jaffna Peninsula in northern Sri Lanka experienced one of the longest periods of sustained colonial rule in South Asia. In the 19th century Congregationalist missionaries from the United States introduced new forms of knowledge, learning and institutions with the aim of converting Tamil Saivites. Arumuga Navalar articulated an intellectual response that defended and re-articulated a Tamil Saiva Siddhanta world view through a sustained rebuttal of Protestant theology. His project included adaptation of many features of Christian missionary modernity, reshaping Saiva textual and devotional culture. His Saiva public was built around the hegemony of the locally dominant Vellala caste. This paper examines the critical features of Navalar’s work to create a Saiva public and in doing so engages debates around the problem of colonial modernity and the possibilities of a re-articulation of local religious traditions, including their capacity to interpret their own history.
Darshan Ambalavanar is a visiting scholar at Cornell University. He completed his doctorate at Harvard University in the Study of Religion with a thesis on “Arumuga Navalar and the Construction of a Saiva Public.” He currently works in community education programs in war affected regions of northeast Sri Lanka.