Saints, Goddesses and Kings

Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society, 1700–1900

Saints, Goddesses and Kings

South India is often portrayed as a land of Hindu orthodoxy, yet in fact three great "world religions" have interacted in the region over many centuries. This book uses a powerful combination of oral, literary, and architectural evidence to investigate the social and religious world of those large and influential groups of South Indians who came to identify themselves as Christians and Muslims, while retaining powerful links with the religion and culture of the wider society. The author shows how Christianity and Islam spread along the military and agricultural frontiers of southern India, and how certain beliefs and practices derived local force from an ambiguous relationship with the worship of existing Hindu goddesses. The book illuminates not only the meaning and history of religious conversion and the nature of community, but wider processes of social and political change within the sub-continent and colonial societies in general.


"In this wide-reaching study, Susan Bayly describes the varied historical experience of converts to two West Asian monotheisms, Islam and Christianity, in predominantly Hindu India...While describing in admirable detail the diverse histories of these different communities, Bayly also traces out an underlying collective narrative of conversion, integration, disruption, and communal rigidification." Journal of the American Oriental Society

"Her work unearths and analyses a marvellous range of materials to describe the texture of the lived, everyday religion of south India's Christians and Muslims." Times Literary Supplement

"...a landmark in the understanding of the historical changes in South India during the rise of East India Company dominion.... This is a truly magnificent study. Well written, it places South Indian history in proper perspective and is guaranteed to stimulate much new thinking." Choice

"In this monumental study of an important period in South Indian history, Susan Bayly has begun to rewrite how we look at Indian religions historically, socially and culturally, both those traditions indigenous to India and those having their origins outside India, i.e. Islam and Christianity....One cannot but express a profound appreciation to the author for her contribution to an understanding of the history of South India and the new avenues of interpretation which have been opened up by this book." J. Daniel White, Journal of Asian and African Studies

"This book breaks new ground in understanding the history of Christianity in India. Bayly's perspective, insights, and conclusions are of great importance." John C. B. Webster, Church History


Choice Outstanding Academic Books 1990/91