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Conquering the quarters: Religion and politics in Hinduism

Conclusion

Our understanding of South Asian society and history is sometimes muddled by the rigid distinctions we make between ‘religion’ and ‘politics.’ The resurgent appeal of Hindu nationalism, the involvement of Hindu renouncers in contemporary Indian politics, and the continuing relevance of religious issues to political discourse throughout South Asia, show that such a distinction is of limited utility. In this essay, I have examined the notion of digvijaya in some detail, in an attempt to show that this ‘most important Indian concept with regard to sovereignty’ was always both a ‘religious’ and a ‘political’ phenomenon. When it was performed by Hindu kings in the classical period, the ‘political’ dimension of digvijaya was foregrounded, while in the medieval and modern periods, when it was associated primarily with Hindu renouncers, its ‘religious’ aspects were paramount. But neither ‘political’ nor ‘religious’ aspects were ever absent from any of the digvijayas discussed here because religion and politics were mutually entailed in the digvijaya at all times, just as kings and renouncers were—and still are—alter-egos of each other. I am tempted to conclude that the digvijaya melded religious and political domains. Yet perhaps even to speak of ‘melding’ religion and politics is a peculiarly modern kind of discourse. Perhaps we need to rethink our categories and recognize that politics always has a religious element, while religion is always a political force.

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Sax, W.S. Conquering the quarters: Religion and politics in Hinduism. Hindu Studies 4, 39–60 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11407-000-0002-9

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Keywords

  • Indian History
  • Hindu Tradition
  • Rigid Distinction
  • Hindu Nationalism
  • Freedom Struggle