The ‘traditional’ worldview: Critiques and personal positions
The ‘traditional’ worldview — as constructed during the colonial and nationalist periods — have been problematised for valorizing and glorifying the Vedic era and privileging Sanskrit and high-classical texts. Ananda Coomaraswamy's work and the work of other traditional scholars have also been critiqued for over emphasising the spiritual, mystical and metaphysical of Indian art and aesthetics without substantially acknowledging non-spiritual, secular, and socio-political frameworks, which are equally critical (Raphael,1977). Oral traditions, folk, and tribal narratives, while acknowledged by some scholars, have not been given equal importance and have been subsumed within the larger ‘Hindu’ tradition, imbuing these works with elitism. The revivalist movements also favoured classical traditions and knowledge systems, thereby privileging certain forms of arts and crafts over others.
Overlaid with a nationalist agenda to rediscover identity and pride in a historic glorious past, narratives of a monolithic religious identity have also been constructed, without recognising plurality among diverse peoples who identify themselves as Hindu or who follow a tribal faith. In the vein of nationalist movements that evoked patriotic sentiment calling to common Hindu mythologies, gods and goddesses, and shared worldviews across the country, a politicising of the religion has continued to evolve.
The issue of caste and the challenges faced by lower castes due to oppression by upper castes is also at the heart of a very strong critique against traditional frameworks, as the lower castes over a period of time were denied access to these knowledge frameworks or even sacred places of worship.
In the current global climate, as several practices long-recognised within the Hindu tradition have been adapted across cultures, there is also a political promotion of yoga.
Classical traditional knowledge frameworks and aesthetics have been mobilised to construct a unified idea of the past during the nationalist and revivalist periods, as well as forming part of the political religion's ideologies, discarding plurality.
Each of these positions require a longer engagement to more fully acknowledge, counter, debate, and discuss, yet this is beyond the scope of the current exposition.
I have considered the ‘traditional’ worldview (which includes Vedic, Brahmanical, Bhakti, and Shaivite traditions from the north and the south, as well as a combination of other systems that include the aesthetic traditions) from the lived practice and heritage in relation to my own upbringing and experience. This voice is also one of many voices that have been impacted by colonialism and socio-political arguments, where the epistemological and ontological questions that arise within these traditions are devalued or countered. My work takes the position that these traditions are continuous living heritages for many people, and are in themselves also native voices of India. They are thus one of the plurality of voices that must be considered for their epistemic and ontic value as knowledge traditions and not always/only in relation to socio-political critique. Narratives of power, privilege, supremacy, appropriation, and injustice are integral to the human condition and diverse cultural groups and religions/subsects of religions at all points through history.
I acknowledge this and the importance of reading traditional texts and considering the privileges at work while doing so. However, I am cautious in reading an entire body of work evolved over millennia only through such a lens, as diverse people have contributed to many of these texts, including people from lower castes. Also, the socio-political lens of privilege removes the opportunity to read the text through the lens of the mystic-philosophical, where distinctly different meanings emerge. Even within the ‘traditional voice’ are multiple voices, constantly in debate and discussion, deliberating upon their own respective ontology and epistemology. I therefore find it rather presumptuous to group these multiple voices under the larger umbrella of a singular ‘traditional’ frame. I choose instead to trace my own cultural positions through my intuitions and my exposure to lived practice, acknowledging the limitations of the same, while also pointing out that such work adds one more voice to the plurality.