April 05, 2018

Gurus and Gifting: Dana, the math reform campaign, and competing visions of Hindu sangathan in twentieth-century India

Modern Asian Studies
Volume 52, Special Issue 1 (Charity and Philanthropy in South Asia)
January 2018 , pp. 99-131

Gurus and Gifting: Dana, the math reform campaign, and competing visions of Hindu sangathan in twentieth-century India

Published online: 16 March 2018


From the early twentieth century, Hindu socio-religious and political bodies debated the use that maths (monastic establishments) made of their wealth, amassed in large part through dana (socio religious gifts). From the early nineteenth century, Anglo Hindu law on inheritance, and thereafter the Religious and Charitable Endowments Acts, had enabled the autonomy of maths by classifying them as private religious corporations, not charitable endowments. This article suggests that the math reform campaign between 1920 and 1940 in north India was impelled by the preoccupations of heterogeneous Hindu political and socio-religious organizations with dana and its potential to fund cultural and political projects regenerating an imagined Hindu socio-religious community. Specifically, the Hindu Mahasabha yoked dana to its Hindu sangathan (unity) campaign to strategically craft an integrated ‘Hindu public’ transcending sampraday (religious traditions) to protect its interests from ‘external enemies’. My discussion probes how the Hindu Mahasabha and its ‘reformist’ allies urged the conversion of maths into public charitable trusts, or endowments accountable to an ephemeral ‘Hindu public’ and the regulation of their expenditure. Monastic orders, guru-based associations like the Bharat Dharma Mahamandala, and the majority of orthodox Hindus successfully opposed this campaign, defending the interests of maths and sampraday before and after independence. In so doing, they challenged Hindu sangathan by articulating alternative visions of the socio-religious publics and communities to be revitalized through philanthropy. Through this discussion, the article charts the uneasy relationship between monasticism and an emerging Hindu nationalist cultural and political consciousness that remained fractured and internally contested.