Vishnu's Crowded Temple

India since the Great Rebellion

Maria Misra

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October 6, 2009
592 pages, 5 13/16 x 9
32 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300151428
Paper

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As it enters its sixtieth year of independence, India stands on the threshold of superpower status. Yet India is strikingly different from all other global colossi. While it is the world’s most populous democracy and enjoys the benefits of its internationally competitive high-tech and software industries, India also contends with extremes of poverty, inequality, and political and religious violence.

 

This accessible and vividly written book presents a new interpretation of India’s history, focusing particular attention on the impact of British imperialism on Independent India. Maria Misra begins with the rebellion against the British in 1857 and tracks the country’s advance to the present day. India’s extremes persist, the author argues, because its politics rest upon a peculiar foundation in which traditional ideas of hierarchy, difference, and privilege coexist to a remarkable degree with modern notions of equality and democracy. The challenge of India’s leaders today, as in the last sixty years, is to weave together the disparate threads of the nation’s ancient culture, colonial legacy, and modern experience.

Maria Misra is university lecturer in modern history and fellow of Keble College, Oxford University. She is the author of Business, Race, and Politics in British India. She lives in Oxford.

"An accessible account of the history of India that brings the story right up to date. . . . To write a history in one volume on how modern India has evolved is a daunting task but one Misra has skillfully executed. . . . This is a very informative and accessible historical account of the emergence of modern India. It will prove useful for serious students who are approaching Indian history for the first time and for the lay reader who wishes to understand something of India's past."—Talat Ahmed, BBC History Magazine

"Maria Misra's remarkable achievement in Vishnu's Crowded Temple is to have produced a book that . . . is wholly about India and Indians, not India-as-ruled-by-Britain. For once, this is a book about them, not us. . . . In this thought-provoking book, Misra shows with an impressive combination of scholarship and verve just how India is learning to make a virtue of its astonishing diversity and developing 'its own peculiar form of modernity'."—Lucy Moore, Daily Telegraph

"Building on recent specialist research, [Misra] shows how the British passion to classify and analyse Indian society led to the formulation of rigid concepts of caste, often on the basis of pretty dodgy information. Once set in stone, the different castes turned into interest groups that the British—and later, the democratic politicians of independent India—could manipulate. This is not the kind of legacy the champions of the Raj tend to talk about and Misra's debunking analysis comes like a breath of fresh air. . . . A very readable work, packed with information, engagingly written and often bracingly maverick in its interpretations. It is not only worth reading, but worth arguing about."—Chandak Sengoopta, The Independent

"An ambitious project. . . . Misra reveals how India has drawn most sustenance from its diversity and plurality."—Soumya Bhattacharya, Observer

"A rich analysis of the process by which British and then Indian governments contributed to the politicisation of religious and caste identities and to the fragmentation of national politics. . . . Misra writes with a light touch . . . covering 150 years in less than 600 pages is good going."—Jo Johnson, Financial Times (London)

"An enlightening and witty portrait of a lively democracy, peopled with fascinating characters. There could be no better introduction for anyone wishing to find out about modern India."—Septimus Waugh, American Conservative

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