How British Colonization Affected Hinduism

How British Colonization Affected Hinduism

It had an influence on an entire tradition, as well as a system of values.
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Although this may seem and random, I like history and here I am trying to bring some different articles to everyone.

The subcontinent of India- now a large country was once a colony possession of the British Empire. The main religion practiced in India is Hinduism, which is comprised of many different aspects and customs. The British Colonization of India had many effects on these beliefs. These effects ranged from a different use of the Caste System and how it was practiced, or, on a larger scale where many Hindus converted due to the many circumstances surrounding the conversion. The British Raj lasted from 1848 to 1947, however the effects of the colonization deeply impacted Hinduism. The British rule of India truly first impacted the Caste System when many British working for the British East India Trading Company started to assimilate into the native Indian society. This process also known as sankritization- where people of a lower class emulate the behaviors of an upper class in order to assimilate. This was specifically evident with the British for they were foreign to the system as they underwent kshatriayazation- this was assimilation into the warrior and noble class of people.

The Hindu tradition in this instance was forever changed because now the Caste System which was a traditional and vital part of the culture was swiftly changed by the British by reasons of economic and political power. The British however thought of themselves in a higher manner than that of even their native Kshatriyas. Traditionally however, the Brahmin who were the highest class in the caste typically, were held in a lower regard than the Kshatriyas because the British valued royalty over the actual religious and cultural aspects of the Caste System. Moreover, typically within the Caste System, marriage was between those in the same class. However, the British who worked for the East India Trading Company were basically given a wife and many mistresses, yet this violated typical marriage arrangements because although the marriages were arranged they were within the same class. In the case of the British, they married women regardless of class further disrupting the traditional Caste. The lack of the regard of the Hindu tradition is evident since “ones obligation (dharma) with regard to one’s position in society, that is, class (varna), and obligation to one’s stage of life (asrama). This model of living in this Hindu model is commonly referred to as varnasrama-dharma, which under traditional Hindus is the essential way to live.

The British colonization of the Indian Hindu culture abruptly stopped the pure tradition which happened on a daily basis. Another effect of said colonization by the British had an unexpected positive byproduct. A rather new, modern Hindu movement is the women’s voice within the Hindu culture is finally being heard as a means to reach equality on that level. Many have felt that Hinduism is inherently patriarchal although not lacking female gods, because of their typically passive and nurturing characteristics. However, in the time of early British rule in India, when the British men married native women they treated them with respect as well as considering their children and marriages legitimate although they were native. The British men with these wives and children would go as far as to leave their property and possessions to their native spouses and children. Women were held in regard in Hinduism in terms of motherhood, giving birth, and many other aspects, however these early British workers simply sped up the process for women to be more equal to men. The British Colonization of India was mostly negative to the traditional way of Hindu living, however there is an indirect positive which was the reinforcement of having respect for women.

There were many effects of the British Colonization, these effects weren’t always necessarily a change in the belief system, rather a challenge of those beliefs in the modern world. An instance of this was in the middle of the nineteenth century the British Empire imported bullet cartridges which were greased in both cow and pork fat. Forcing the Hindu soldiers, formerly known as sepoys, to touch these cartridges would’ve been sacrilegious. In the traditional Hindu culture, it was considered vile to even touch a pig or anything which may come from it because it is dirty and impure. In order to give perspective of this belief, the colors associated with the highest caste and the lowest class is in the Brahmin class the color is white, for its pureness, and in the Sudra class, the color is black, for its clear impurity The cow is sacred in the Hindu tradition for its association with being a provider and a peaceful animal as well as its associated with the lord Krishna. People in the Hindu tradition should treat the cow with respect and using it for cartridge grease is inherently disrespectful. Ultimately there was the Sepoy Rebellion which was abruptly quelled by the ruling British government.

These events didn’t necessarily change the Hindu tradition, they merely cemented the idea that although the world was modernizing, many core beliefs of Hindus were not going to change with the world. As previously mentioned, the British colonization of India had severe effects on the Hindu tradition. First Off, the British arriving in India thought of most Indians as uncivilized savages who needed the British. Some lower class Hindus converted to Christianity in order to prevent being an outcast in the modern British Raj, simply out of fear. Other lower class. Hindus converted for the comfort of the soup kitchens in order to be fed. Although the lower class Hindus had the most to gain on the short term end of conversion, “Hindus of all castes converted as a result of their involvement in government and administration, intermarriage, and change of heart”.

The conversion from Hindu to Christianity signaled a shift in the value system of the people of India. They no longer cared about their dharma to follow their caste, to be reincarnated and eventually reach moksha, they cared about personal gain. This chain reaction would not have been caused without the infiltration of Western ideas provided by the British colonization of India. Sometimes however, usually sepoys (soldiers) who had crossed the Indian border to go fight which was against Caste rule were reconverted by giving the priests silver from the spoils of war, essentially bribing them to be Hindu once more The British in an attempt to reinforce social structure, would take a census of all their provinces as well as the caste of each individual. If the person was unhappy with their caste, they could challenge it with a local ruler. Regardless of approval of a caste change, the principle that a Hindu would challenge their current caste to move up without being reincarnated which is a core Hindu belief cements the idea that British colonization affected not only the Hindu tradition as a whole, but also the value system of those who practiced.

BAM- an article that could possibly have some objectivity to it, just to try it out.

Cover Image Credit: Chee Huey Wong

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Cover Image Credit: Facebook

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