Volume: IV, Issue: II, July-December 2013
Birendra Nath Prasad (ed.), Monasteries, Shrines and Society Buddhist and Brahmanical Religious Institutions in India in their Socio-Economic Context, First Edition, Manak Publications Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 2011, pp. X 345, ISBN 978-81-7831-231-6.
Book review by Krishnendu Ray
The title of the present book under review suggests that the book is concerned with an understanding of the socio-economic contexts of Buddhist monasteries and Brahmanical religious institutions in India. The reader is, thus, drawn to the scope of the book. The Introduction with notes and references by the editor is excellent. Here, the reader finds a brief, but good account of ‘the historical reconstructions of the patterns of interactions—Buddhist monasteries and stūpas, and Brahmanical temples—with other societal institutions.’ One finds that Indian religious institutions survived not only by receiving political patronage, but, also by maintaining ‘intricate linkages with the society’. The reader finds that archaeological data are also considerably important for an understanding of the socio-economic interactions of Indian religious institutions with their surroundings. Along with Introduction the reader gets nine articles in two sections of the book. The reader is introduced to the thrust area of each article in the Introduction. This is helpful for a better understanding of each article in detail of the book under review. The reader finds the first Section dealing with ‘Buddhist monasteries and stūpas in interaction with other societal institutions and processes’. The Section contains four articles. These are ‘Studies in the Socio-Economic History of Indian Monastic Buddhism in Past One Hundred Years: A Historiographical Survey’ by Birendra Nath Prasad; ‘Buddhism in Regional Perspective: A Glance in Early Historic Vidarbha’ by Reshma Sawant; ‘Monarchs, Monasteries and Trade on an ‘Agrarian Frontier’: Early Medieval Samataṭa-Harikela, Bangladesh, c. 400 CE-1250CE’ by Birendra Nath Prasad and ‘Vajrayāna as a Religion of the Laity in Early Medieval Orissa (India) by Umakanta Mishra. As per the title of the book, the second Section is concerned with ‘Brahmanical temples in interaction with other societal institutions and processes’. This Section contains five articles. The essays placed in this Section are ‘Temples in their Wider Context: A Study of Pre-Ahom Temples of Assam’ by Sudarshan Gupta; ‘Śaiva Temples in the early Chola Period: Syncretism, Religious trends and Tamil forms of Worships, c. 850 CE - 985 CE’ by M. N. Rajesh; ‘The Sacred Geography of Medieval Tamilakam: A Study of Distribution Pattern of Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava Temples’ by S. Jeevanandam; ‘The Temple and the Temple Dancing Girls of Medieval Deccan’ by Rekha Pandey and ‘Survival of the Liṅgarāja Temple: A Study of Spatial Context, Linkage and Patronage’ by Subash Khamari. Thus the present book is constituted by the Introduction, two Sections, a good Bibliography containing recent works and an Index. The articles are based on literary, epigraphic as well as archaeological materials. The tables, figures etc. given in the book are useful. The authors have successfully dished out valuable insights into the multiple roles of Indian religious institutions, Buddhist and Brahmanical and their ‘patterns of interaction with societal processes’. The present book is written from this point of view. The editor’s own article‘Socio-Economic History of Indian Monastic Buddhism’ in Section one provides the reader with essentially a good historiographical survey of the scholarly ‘studies in the functional dimensions of Indian monastic Buddhism in the past one hundred years’. This helps the reader to get the background of the rest three essays of the Section one. The reader gets more information from the relevant references provided in the NOTES of many of the articles.
However, Jainism is omitted. One finds that the title of Sudarshan Gupta’s essay (p.181) is a little different from that in the contents of the book. One sees a few printing mistakes ‘on the other hands’ (p.15); ‘All the issues discussed here points’ - (p.213). Barring these the book is useful both for general readers and scholars.