Panikkar was born in the progressive state of Kerala in Southern India and educated at Government Victoria College. He went on from there to the University of Rajasthan for a doctorate. He taught at a number of Indian universities and serves as Dean of Social Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He has been a Visiting Professor or a Fellow at institutions in Paris, Berlin, and London. His chosen specialty is the cultural and intellectual history of India, ﬁelds in which he is a leading authority. One of his themes is the uniqueness of cultural identity even if
nations share the same types of political and economic organization. A second is the damage wrought to cultural identity by a policy of exclusion instead of inclusion, for national identity is tied to a varied cultural past, which Panikkar expresses in the plural as “pasts.” His reputation as author and academic has been supplemented by political activism on behalf of human rights in India, which has not always endeared him to the Hindu national government because of evenhandedness with Muslims and other minorities and rejection of caste as a standard for identity. He is a progressive secularist in a country with ongoing religious
and communal tensions. Critics on the far right of the Hindu social and political spectrum are especially annoyed when he reminds them of a diﬀerence between religious mythology and history. He is blunt about the status of Hinduism in the nineteenth century: “Undoubtedly, Hinduism was beset with idolatry, polytheism, and superstition” (4). He qualiﬁes this observation with a reminder that reform and change were in the air through the latter half of the eighteenth century and was stiﬂed by the time the British East India Company locked up India in the mid-nineteenth century. While an undergraduate, he worked for the Malabar Student
Federation, aﬃliated with the Communist Party of India. A party leader, also a relative, became his mentor, imparting the Marxist analysis of poverty, inequality, and injustice as a result of class struggle. The word “ideology” in the title of his book is classically Marxist in meanings and overtones: “Ideologies being material and not ideal in their origin and existence, changes in the inﬂuence of the dominant ideology are related to changes in the material conditions of existence. The nature, direction and momentum of these changes as well as the ideological forms in which men become conscious of
these changes, constitute the basis for the creation or adoption of an alternative system of beliefs” (176). Culture, Ideology, Hegemony is about the conﬂict of colonialism,
modernism, and tradition in the minds and ideals of nineteenth-century Indian intellectuals, Hindu and Muslim. It attempts to explain why they failed to understand their situation in a Western colonial empire and were unable to implement reforms on a Western or a traditional Indian model: “Who constituted intellectuals in colonial India? How did they come into being … and what function did they perform in the given social and political situation? … Basically they were nonconformists, critical of existing social conditions and performing the social function of generation or adoption and propagation of ideas with a view to ushering in socio-political progress … ” (63). The eight interlocking essays, delivered at various institutions, are
carefully and heavily documented. Often half a page is given to notes. It is doubtful that any author or thinker of importance in Indian intellectual life is overlooked, including views of some westerners. With the help of colleagues and students, Panikkar ransacked libraries, archives, and private collections for books, journals, newspapers, tracts, and pamphlets. Outside of India he searched the India Oﬃce Library in London, the London School of Oriental and African Studies Library, the British Museum Library, Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the National Library in Paris, and other collections. After an overview of his subject, Panikkar discusses cultural trends in pre-colonial India, conceptual and historiographic issues, the relation of culture to ideology, the quest for alternative meanings in British India, cultivation of new cultural interests, the relation of medicine to cultural hegemony, and the ideological background of marriage reform in Malabar. Nineteenth-century intellectuals viewed culture in a way at cross
purposes with their colonial masters. For Panikkar, the explanation of failure by well meaning, intelligent men is clear: “Marxist historiography has primarily attempted to demonstrate how politico-economic structures warped intellectual development in nineteenth-century India. Though tending towards reductionism and determinism at times, it does deﬁne … why intellectuals in the nineteenth century had to face certain defeat and tragedy in their socio-cultural eﬀorts” (62). A major reason was an ideological mistake: “The political perspective and activities in colonial India were based on the ideal of gradual realization of a bourgeois-democratic order” (94). The missing insight was what happened in the material base of existence-the British expropriated the fruits of Indian labor in a capitalist framework.