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Hindu Iconoclasts

Rammohun Roy, Dayananda Sarasvati, and Nineteenth-Century Polemics against Idolatry

By Noel Salmond
Subjects Religion, History
Series Editions SR Hide Details
Hardcover : 9780889204195, 192 pages, May 2004

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Hindu Iconoclasts: Rammohun Roy, Dayananda Sarasvati, and Nineteenth-Century Polemins against Idolatry by Noel Salmond
Note on Orthography
Introduction: Hindu Iconoclasts: An Anomaly?
The Terminology of Images and Image-Rejection
Theoretical Considerations
One: History of Image-Worship in India
History of Images in India: Pre-Vedic, Vedic, and Post-Vedic
The Great Medieval Theologians: Sankara and Ramanuja on Devotion and Image-Worship
Precedents for Aniconism in Indian History
Two: Rammohun Roy
The Life of Rammohun Roy
The Writings of Rammohun Roy
The Legacy
Three: Dayananda Sarasvati
The Life of Dayananda Sarasvati
The Writings: Satyarth Prakash
Dayananda on Non-Arya Religions
Aniconism and the Nation
Four: Rammohun and Dayananda
Possible Psychological Factors
Historical and Social Influences on Rammohun and Dayananda
Rammohun and Dayananda Compared
Five: Hindu Iconoclasm: Cross-Cultural Dimensions?
Universal Aspects of the Refusal of Images
Image-Rejection, Religious Rationalization, and Modernization
The Impact of Rammohun and Dayananda’s Iconoclastic Call


Why, Salmond asks, would nineteenth-century Hindus who come from an iconic religious tradition voice a kind of invective one might expect from Hebrew prophets, Muslim iconoclasts, or Calvinists?
Rammohun was a wealthy Bengali, intimately associated with the British Raj and familiar with European languages, religion, and currents of thought. Dayananda was an itinerant Gujarati ascetic who did not speak English and was not integrated into the culture of the colonizers. Salmond’s examination of Dayananda after Rammohun complicates the easy assumption that nineteenth-century Hindu iconoclasm is simply a case of borrowing an attitude from Muslim or Protestant traditions.
Salmond examines the origins of these reformers’ ideas by considering the process of diffusion and independent invention—that is, whether ideas are borrowed from other cultures, or arise spontaneously and without influence from external sources. Examining their writings from multiple perspectives, Salmond suggests that Hindu iconoclasm was a complex movement whose attitudes may have arisen from independent invention and were then reinforced by diffusion.
Although idolatry became the symbolic marker of their reformist programs, Rammohun’s and Dayananda’s agendas were broader than the elimination of image-worship. These Hindu reformers perceived a link between image-rejection in religion and the unification and modernization of society, part of a process that Max Weber called the “disenchantment of the world.” Focusing on idolatry in nineteenth-century India, Hindu Iconoclasts investigates the encounter of civilizations, an encounter that continues to resonate today.


Hindu Iconoclasts stretches further beyond the initial scope of its premise, contemplating a link between religious image-rejection and the unification and modernization of society in a process Max Weber has termed 'disenchantment of the world', in a seminal discourse highly recommended for religious history and studies shelves.

- Margaret Lane, The Midwest Book Review, 2005 February

Graduate students and advanced undergraduate students will find considerable food for thought in Salmond's book....Salmond covers with admirable concision a range of topics critical to the study of modern India as well as to the history of religions in general.

- Herman Tull, Princeton University, Religious Studies Review, Vol 35, no 1, 2006 January

[Salmond] engages in a nuanced analysis...paying detailed attention to social, historical, and political contexts....Insightful and engaging work.

- Chandrima Chakraborty, University of Toronto Quarterly, Letters in Canada, 2006 October