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Reviewed by:
  • Intersections: Socio-Cultural Trends in Maharashtra
  • Lynn Zastoupil
Meera Kosambi, ed., Intersections: Socio-Cultural Trends in Maharashtra (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2000)

This is a collection of conference papers from an international group of scholars devoted to the study of the region of Maharashtra in India. The group has held a series of conferences over the past seventeen years in North America, Europe, Australia and Maharashtra. Participants have been drawn from diverse fields of scholarship, including religious studies, sociology, history, anthropology, political science, art history and economics. The volume under review is the ninth to appear from these conferences and is comprised of revised versions of papers read at the Bombay (Mumbai) conference of 1992.

This volume shares the usual problems of published proceedings, including uneven quality of individual contributions. But it has compensating virtues. Kosambi’s introduction makes a solid case for a regional studies approach to Maharashtra; it also nicely weaves together the individual essays into a coherent introduction to some of the leading religious, social, historical and cultural issues of the region. Several essays make significant contributions to issues of interest to the general scholarly community. Many readers of this journal, for example, will surely find valuable Jim Masselos’ “Bombay Time,” a fascinating examination of how Bombay — and India in general — were situated in a global system of time made necessary by the communication and transport changes of the colonial era. Masselos details the negotiations and compromises that took place between colonial authorities and the local population, which resulted in India’s peculiar modern time (five and one-half hours ahead of G.M.T.) as well as in the enduring legacy of “Bombay time,” now a euphemism for being one-half hour late but originally a refusal to accept a time change imposed by the British.

Another virtue of this volume is the presentation of on-going work by leading scholars in different disciplines. Anne Feldhaus’s “Mountains, Rivers and Shiva” uses religious architecture, published texts and water-carrying rituals to explore the connection between mountains, rivers and the god Shiva, anticipating (in the conference paper) and expanding upon (in the published version) intriguing ideas about the complex relationship between religious and physical geography that she developed in her valuable book, Water and Womanhood: Religious Meaning of Rivers in Maharashtra (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). James Laine’s essay on the seventeenth-century warrior-king Shivaji is part of his growing body of crucial work on the various ways in which Maharashtrians have interpreted the hero that many see as the father of Maharashtra. Here Laine draws upon postmodernist theory to explore shifting interpretations of Shivaji’s religious identity, noting how in the colonial era western religious definitions and secular nationalists’ needs overshadowed regional interpretations that linked Shivaji to the bhakti religious tradition.

Kosambi, who recently retired as director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies at S.N.D.T. University in Mumbai, presents here another of her many valuable contributions to the study of women and social reform in the colonial era. Using two sisters — Anandibai Karve and Parvatibai Athavale — as case studies, Kosambi cogently examines the two options for life after widowhood that Indian reformers helped develop in the late nineteenth century, namely widow-remarriage (available only for child-widows) and teaching or public service. A. R. Kulkarni employs his expertise on precolonial village life to study the economic rights and privileges of Mahars, ones which he claims helped integrate them into village society; while a useful attempt to situate an untouchable community in the complex socio-economic context of precolonial village life, many readers will find that Kulkarni devotes insufficient attention to the manifold ways in which Mahars were exploited, abused and discriminated against. Eleanor Zelliot, the dean of Mahar studies, adds here to her extensive list of publications on this ex-untouchable community with an unfortunately too-brief examination of how the modern Mahar movement drew inspiration from the medieval poet-saint Chokhamela. Also welcome to the English-reading world is a fine essay by Y. D. Phadke based on his many previous publications in Marathi on the impact of the great depression and the second world...

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