The Faculty of Arts in association with UGC-STRIDE Scheme organised a public lecture on the topic “Bhakti and the Culture of Indian Modernity” on 13 March, 2023 in honour of the late Dr Norbert Lobo, Former Director of Admin Block of the College.
Dr Ritu Lamba, Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, NSLU, Bengaluru was the guest speaker. Prof. Valerian Rodrigues, Former Professor at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi was the moderator of the session.
Dr Lamba began her talk by giving an idea of the Bhakti Movement and addressing different aspects associated with the Movement. She then spoke on the culture of modernity, its meaning and how we can understand it in the Indian context. Dr Lamba pointed out the distinction between pre-modern and modern periods. She drew a parallel between how the concept of meaning of life was understood in the pre-modern and modern Western perspectives.
She made a reference to Prof. Sudipta Kaviraj’s perspective on Indian modernity. She said how there’s a statist orientation when we think of Indian modernity. Dr Lamba said Bhakti marked the transition from pre-modern to modern, foregrounding the issue of inclusion. She made references to Ranade and Tagore with respect to understanding the Bhakti practices, spreading the concept of unity amid diversity or heterogeneity. According to Ranade, the old tendency of the Indian mind changed to a merger of different ways of worshipping into one, leading to an inclusive monotheism. The ability of seeing “many as one” developed as people felt the god of their sect was akin to that of another. Dr Lamba mentions how Tagore recollected that the Bhakti poets and prophets weaved the differences into a complex oneness.
She also made an interesting reference to John S Hawley’s opinion on how Bhakti was rather a network than a movement. The members of Bhakti were in no proper organisation, but were united in their commitment to devotion. Dr Lamba made a mention of Prof. Romila Thapar’s view on the spread of the Bhakti tradition. Emphasis was also laid on parallels with Christianity, Bhakti members’ opposition to Vedic religions, and temptations to see Bhakti as mysticism. She proceeded to tell how some scholars argue that Bhakti was not about emancipation, but was about sharing, as its root ‘bhaj’ suggests.
Dr Lamba further spoke on persuasion, rhetoric and judgement in Kabir’s verses. His poems unsettled the conventional normative orders of the time; they were a call to listen and they contextualised Kabir’s poetry. The theme that runs through his poems is unity, as opposed to separation, difference and distinction.
On a concluding note Dr Lamba alluded to Tagore’s and Ranade’s desire to revive intersubjective spaces that facilitate asking questions and having discourses. She pointed out that it’s difficult to move towards such spaces in light of more statist orientations. She concluded by making mention of the issue of heterogeneity and the question of including differences.
Following Dr Lamba’s lecture, the Moderator Prof. Rodrigues made his remarks on the talk. The floor was then thrown open for questions and discussions. After the Q & A session, Dr Rinku Lamba, a trained Dagarvani Dhrupad vocalist, rendered a Dhrupad performance to the audience.
The programme was compered by Miss Leticia D’Costa. Dr. Alwyn D’Sa, the Registrar, welcomed the gathering. Dr Rose Veera D’Souza, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, introduced the guest speaker and the Moderator to the audience. Dr Priya Shetty, the Head of the Department of Economics, delivered the Vote of Thanks.