Turbulent Transformations: Non-Brahmin Srivaisnavas on Religion, Caste and Politics in Tamil Nadu
Katherine Young
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

This book studies the interlinking of religious, social and political identities in modern Tamil Nadu. Through interviews with non-Brahmin Srivaisnavas of many castes, but especially belonging to the lower-caste groups, it analyses their histories of discrimination, their negotiation of lived realities, and hopes for the future. The interviews all refer to the history of Srivaisnavism, an historically important Hindu sect in the region, the religion’s theology of caste inclusiveness, and history of Brahmin leadership exclusiveness.

In addition, the author also addresses colonial changes, Telugu connections, the non-Brahmin movement, Dalit mobilisation, post-Independence caste hierarchies, government policies, party politics, Brahmin reactions, court cases, and inter-religious competition.

Turbulent Transformations breaks new ground by highlighting radical non-Brahmin leaders in the colonial period. It probes the Srivaisnava connections of prominent political figures such as Periyar and Jayalalithaa. And it explores the relation of the temples, the state, and the Supreme Court over questions such as ‘who is allowed to be a priest’.

This book provides insights into new configurations of democracy, caste and modern lived Hinduism. It fills the lacunae created by Brahmin narratives, scholarly studies focused on Tamil Saivism or Christianity, and political and sociological analyses removed from the dynamic pulse of religion in interaction with the non-Brahmin movement over the past century.

Katherine Young has held the James McGill Chair in the Asian Studies Department of the School of Religious Studies at McGill University, Montreal. Now Professor Emeritus, she lives in Victoria, British Columbia, and is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria.

List of Images and Map
The Namam: A Note

  1. Introduction: Setting the Stage
  2. Traces of Non-Brahmin Srivaisnava Leaders
  3. Stories from Chennai and Beyond
  4. Oral Histories from Puducherry and Beyond
  5. Tales from Srirangam, Tanjavur and Beyond
  6. Srivaisnava Brahmin Voices
  7. Temple Politics and the Courts
  8. Thinking about the Big Picture

Appendix 1: Location of Places Mentioned in Interviews
Appendix 2: Alvars and Early Acaryas
Appendix 3: Changing Definitions of Caste
Appendix 4: The Colonial Cauldron of Anti-Brahmanism


1. Review published in the Bhartiya Samajshastra Sameeksha an international journal in Hindi by the Indian Sociological Society (ISS), Volume 8, Issue 2, December 2021.
2. Revival amidst Challenge? | Published in the The Economic and Political Weekly, 27 November, 2021.
3. Review by Katherine Young | Published in the Seminar magazine, June 2021.
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