Ramana Maharshi and the Colonial Encounter
Recent scholarship on Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) follows the romanticism of hagiographical literature, presenting him as a purely spiritual and timeless figure, thus ignoring the political contours of colonial India. Scholarly literature, then, has effectively deracinated this internationally acclaimed figure from one of the most fascinating and transformative historical periods of the modern era. The current study seeks to correct ahistorical representations of Ramana Maharshi by considering the historical processes that determined his status as a Maharshi (Great Vedic Seer) and Advaitin. I aim to show that Ramana Maharshi's image as a timeless and purely spiritual figure actually locates him in his historical situation, and further, that his status as a Maharshi (Maharṣi) and Advaitin reflects the ways in which "the political‟ and "the spiritual‟ interacted during colonial India. This thesis will delineate the process by which Ramana's status as a Maharshi allowed his religious identity to shift from an unorthodox, localised, and ethnic-sectarian form to one in which he symbolised a religious authority in an orthodox and pan-Hindu way. In a broader context, then, this thesis seeks to address the following question: how, and to what extent, did colonial dynamics affect the ways that Hindus interpreted and represented their religious figures during the nationalist period? Here I will demonstrate that Ramana Maharshi represents a compelling case study in the ways in which Orientalist stereotypes about a "mystical East‟ affected the intersection of politics and religion in colonial India.