Divya CherianMay 18, 2023
Merchants of Virtue
Hindus, Muslims, and Untouchables in Eighteenth-Century South Asia
University of California Press 2023
Merchants of Virtue: Hindus, Muslims, and Untouchables in Eighteenth-Century South Asia (U California Press, 2023) explores the question of what it meant to be Hindu in precolonial South Asia. Divya Cherian presents a fine-grained study of everyday life and local politics in the kingdom of Marwar in eighteenth-century western India to uncover how merchants enforced their caste ideals of vegetarianism and bodily austerity as universal markers of Hindu identity. Using legal strategies and alliances with elites, these merchants successfully remade the category of "Hindu," setting it in contrast to "Untouchable" in a process that reconfigured Hinduism in caste terms. In a history pertinent to understanding India today, Cherian establishes the centrality of caste to the early-modern Hindu self and to its imagination of inadmissible others.
This book is available open access here.
Raj Balkaran is a scholar of Sanskrit narrative texts. He teaches at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and at his own virtual School of Indian Wisdom. For information see rajbalkaran.com.