Academic Commons

Theses Doctoral

Foundations of Anti-caste Consciousness: Pandit Iyothee Thass, Tamil Buddhism, and the Marginalized in South India

Ayyathurai, Gajendran

This dissertation is about an anti-caste movement among Dalits (the oppressed as untouchable) in South India, the Parayar. Since the late 19th century, members of this caste, and a few others from Tamil-speaking areas, have been choosing to convert to Buddhism based on conscience and conviction. This phenomenon of religious conversion-social transformation is this study's focus. By combining archival research of Parayar's writings among Tamil Buddhists, as these Parayar, settled in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, are called, I have attempted to understand this movement ethno-historically. In pre-colonial times, though the sub-continent's societies were hierarchical, the hierarchies were fluid and varied: i.e., the high-low or self-other dichotomies were neither fixed nor based on a single principle. The most significant effect of the encounter of British Colonialism and India was to precipitate an unprecedented master-dichotomy of singular and absolute form of self and other, as colonizer and the colonized. This had three consequences. (a) India was itself seen as singular and served as the Self to the colonial Other in an absolute dichotomy; (b) the role of essentializing the Indian Self was assumed by the brahmin; (c) this in turn resulted in an internal dichotomy between the brahmin-essential self and the non-brahmin-non-essential other. The means chosen to fix this dichotomy was to nominate the non-essential other's paradigmatic representation, the Dalit. I intend to read against the grain of the binary logic that was inaugurated at the moment of the colonial encounter by means of Tamil Buddhists' oppositional, reconstructional, and representationaldiscursive practices.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Ayyathurai_columbia_0054D_10271.pdf Ayyathurai_columbia_0054D_10271.pdf application/pdf 1.55 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Dirks, Nicholas B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 28, 2013