The Pre-Colonial Imagined Boundaries

Abstract:     
This paper is an account of pre-colonial symbolic distributions of imagined boundaries in the geo-political construct called "India" and it is also a response to the Chatterjee-Sen polemic regarding the pre-colonial (non)existence of Indian model.

Chatterjee raised the following question: "If nationalism in the rest of the world have to choose their imagined community from certain modula forms already made available to them by Europe and the Americas, what do they have left to imagine?" (Chatterjee, 1993:5, emphasis added.) The question, raised by Chatterjee may lead us to a reading that as a so-called third world subalterns, we do not have any imagined model and we, as a colonial subject, are only aping the dominant domain. In response to this, Sen commented: "The conceptual forms of the nation as an imagined community, which Anderson peruses, may not have much to commend it" (I personally think that it does — but this is a different issue), but the fear that its western origin would leave us without a model that is our own is a somewhat peculiar concern." (1996: 17-18, fn. 13)

Chatterjee’s question ("…what do they have left to imagine?") inaugurates the question of "rem(a)inder" (in Lacanian sense of the term) in the context of colonial subjectivity, which is, though destroyed by the imposed imagined symbolic order, constructs its imagined “real(-ity) as rem(a)inder through some so-called "mythical," "spiritual" (thus un-"scientific" from the perspective of enlightened gaze) constructions. The author will try to discuss three evidences of pre-colonial imagined boundary-constructions in the context of Southeast Asia in connection with Chatterjee-Sen debate.

(A) Fragmented Body of the Holy Mother: Bharat is a body — a female body — Sati’s (The holy mother goddess, Siva’s wife) body-parts are scattered all over India — these female organs are worshiped in different (almost 51, though numbers differ in different puranas as well as in some marginal printed documents as found in side of different sati-pithas ) Indian tirthas. Thus, we have found Bharat as an imagined integration of corporeal-state (cf. Sarkar, 1948/1973 & 1984). If the different distributions of different scattered body-parts are to be put into the map, that cartographical as well as symbological account of iso-corporeal ( cf. isopleth, isoline, isogram or isorithm) gives us an integrated picture of imagined boundary. The author would not venture to attest empirically the archival values of the "real" documents (as it was investigated by some empirical historians in the case of Ramjanmobhoomi), but the author will try to unfold the discourses of puranas as well as marginal documents. The presence or absence of the Sati’s body-part in the certain part of the territory is not the author’s concern.

(B) The celebration of Mela: Certain Southeast Asian aquatic regions are selected in connection with certain configurations in the celestial sphere (though, one must remember, the placement of constellation does not follow contemporary astronomical account) to celebrate ritualistic fairs. Pilgrims from different part of South-East Asia gather (in which "language" do they communicate?) in the particular region and they are forming certain type of symbolic solidarity. What is noticeable here is the association among geographical region, aquatic region and celestial sphere. The gathering of different margis (< marga or road) or panthis (
(C) Four Mathas of Shankarcharya: It was told that the adi Shankarcharya (8th C.) established four mathas in four different parts of India: (1) the Uttarāmnāya matha, or northern matha at Joshimath; (2) the Pūrvāmnāya matha or eastern matha, the Govardhana matha, at Puri; (3) the Dakshināmnāya matha, or the Sringeri Sharada Peetham, the southern matha, at Shringeri; (4) the Paśchimāmnāya matha, or the Dwaraka Pitha, the western matha, at Dwarka. The cartographical account of such planned distribution of mathas also provides us a concept of imagined boundary, though that is not a mimicry of European nation Statist model.

All these imagined evidences remind us the remainder of pre-colonial genealogy of "our" imagination.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 8

Working Paper Series SSRN-id2039064.pdf

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