Modern sannyasins, parallel society and Hindu replications: A study of the Protestant contribution to Tamil culture in nineteenth century Sri Lanka against a historical background

Charles R.A. Hoole


This thesis is a study of the patterns of change within Sri Lankan Tamil tradition, with a particular focus on the nineteenth century. It endeavours to accomplish two things. First, by the examination of colonial Sri Lanka against a detailed consideration of the pre-existins society and culture, the thesis shows that the colonial period, far from being one of great change and disjunction with the past, in fact experienced a very gradual course of social change which was facilitated by the widespread incorporation of traditional structures that gave colonial society a much needed stability and a peaceful environment where trade and commerce could prosper. Secondly, by taking this approach, the thesis demonstrates that the nineteenth century Anglo-Saxon Protestant missionaries eventually fell into the traditional role of sannyasins, a role, as this work shows, that had been adopted by the Jain mendicants and the Buddhist bhikkhus who had preceded them. The thesis first demonstrates that the sannyasin, although in a fundamental sense an enemy of caste, having turned his or her back on caste society, has nevertheless deeply influenced Hindu society, particularly when organized as a community of renouncers. The thesis then goes on to argue that the Protestant sannyasins likewise, in the establishment of male and female boarding schools, advocated a form of communal renunciation, which contributed to the formation of a parallel society alongside the caste society, and which became instrumental in initiating many changes within Tamil culture in Sri Lanka.