THE WOMEN OF MAHABHARATA : The Question of Truth
Published in 2008 by Orient Longman
In the stories where the Mahabharata speaks of life, women occupy a central place. In living what life brings to them, the women of the Mahabharata show, that the truth in which one must live, is however, not a simple thing; nor can there be any one absolute statement about it. Each one of them, in her own way, is a teacher to mankind as to what truth and goodness in their many dimensions are.
The twelve women of the Mahabharata whose life stories make up this book, range from Shakuntala, Savitri and Damayanti who are known only in sketches; from Sulabha, Suvarchala, Uttara Disha, Madhavi and Kapoti who are hardly known, and finally to Draupadi, known widely but frozen in popular culture and writing in two or three standard clichéd images.
The women of the Mahabharata are incarnate in the women of today. To read the stories of their relationships is to read the stories of our relationships. They demand from the men of today the same reflection on their perceptions, attitudes, and pretensions too, as they did from the men in their lives, and equally often from other men full of pretensions, even if they were kings and sages.
THE MAHABHARATA : An Inquiry in the Human Condition
Published in the summer of 2006 by Orient Longman
Chaturvedi Badrinath shows that the Mahabharata is the most systematic inquiry into the human condition. Its principal concern is the relationship of the self with the self and with the other. This book not only proves the universality of the themes explored in the Mahabharata, but also how this great epic provides us with a method to understand the human condition itself. Badrinath shows that the concerns of the Mahabharata are the concerns of everyday life-of dharma, artha, kama and moksha. It is through this everydayness, with its complexities as much as with its simplicity, that the Mahabharata still rings true. This book dispels several false claims about what is today known as 'Hinduism' to show us how individual liberty and knowledge, freedom, equality, and the celebration of love, friendship and relationships are integral to the philosophy of the Mahabharata, because they are integral to human life. Using over 500 shlokas of the original text that he supports with his own lucid translations, Chaturvedi Badrinath's The Mahabharata is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of this epic, not in the least, for his elegant scholarship and humanistic approach.
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA : The Living Vedanta
Published in the Summer of 2006 by Penguin Books
'You don't simply read a man like Vivekananda. In reading him, you meet him. And if you don't meet him and feel him contemporaneously, you can understand little of the meaning of what he is saying.' In the course of a short life of thirty-nine years, Swami Vivekananda came to be regarded as the patriot-saint of modern India. Despite all that has been written about his life and his epoch-making address at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, 1893, Swami Vivekananda remains a paradox: much is known about him, but very little is understood about the man and his relevance to our own troubled times. In Swami Vivekananda: The Living Vedanta, Chaturvedi Badrinath looks behind the iconic façade, seeking to liberate Vivekananda from the confines of the worship room. He examines the various facets of a man who was as much at ease with philosophical discourse as he was with cooking; whose childlike love for ice cream went hand in hand with his stature as a prophet. The author also throws light on the various relationships that shaped Swamiji's philosophy of Vedanta and formed the core of his teaching-with his spiritual guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, his mother Bhubaneswari Devi, and his many followers in the West, mostly women, who became central to his life and work. Well researched and brimming with a wealth of detail, Swami Vivekananda: The Living Vedanta offers an unforgettable insight into the life and times of this renaissance - figure one who was the very embodiment of the Vedanta that he preached.
FINDING JESUS IN DHARMA : Christianity in India
Published in 2000 by Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK), Delhi
Christianity had flourished as an honoured faith in India, in Kerala, for four centuries before the nations of Europe began being Christianized. The Indian Christians have been an integral part of Indian society for as long as Christianity itself. They did not ever believe that there was any conflict between the spiritual environment in which they had their roots and their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. Christian missionaries from Europe and England many centuries later would insist that there was a radical breach between the two. This book is about the history of the issues which western Christianity produced in its encounter with Dharmic civilisation. Missionaries were obliged to re-think Christianity in its relation to non-Christian religions, especially Hinduism. That story is narrated here mostly in the words of missionaries themselves. There is here also an account of Indian Christian thought: its concerns and direction. But above all, beyond history, beyond theology, there is Jesus, as the perfect embodiment of Dharma. Faith, trust, caring, love and truth-these are the meaning of Jesus, as they are of Dharma. In our troubled times, hearts would heal, and bring together what is falsely separated, making a journey towards both.
DHARMA, INDIA AND THE WORLD ORDER : Twenty-one Essays
Published in 1993 by Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, and Pahl-Rugenstein, Bonn.
The key concept which will enable us to grasp the truth about India is the concept of Dharma. Dharma is that which sustains life and order in all their forms, cosmic, human, animal and divine. It is a secular concept in the sense that it arises from no alleged divine revelation but from a study of the human person in all the dimensions of human existence (which are certainly not merely material). The concept of Dharma is not religious or anti-religious; it is secular. But, and here confusion begins to multiply even within India, the word Dharma has been used to embody the western concept of "religion". And therefore secularity has been understood to be anti-Dharmic. But the confusion originates in the West, where the concept of "religion" (from a Christian point of view, a very suspect concept) was used to explain what the invaders found in India.
- THE WOMEN OF THE MAHABHARATA : First City, June 2008
There's one equivocating with death, and there's another one travelling through jungles to meet emperors and claim their rights, there's one wedded to five men... Women we know (and some we don't) as Suvarchala, Damayanthi, Suvarchala, Urvashi. Plus, a pair of love birds. Literally...
There's one equivocating with death, and there's another one travelling through jungles to meet emperors and claim their rights, there's one wedded to five men... Women we know (and some we don't) as Suvarchala, Damayanthi, Suvarchala, Urvashi. Plus, a pair of love birds. Literally.
Breezy reading this one, if you've plodded through The Mahabharata, the author's part 1 efforts of his epic journey with the epic. Focussing and celebrating the storytelling that is inherent to the Mahabharata, vis-à-vis the women that live and breathe in it, The Women of the Mahabharata is a singular read, not just a companion to the epic. Each chapter is titled with thought, associating traits to characters - innocence, love and denial of truth (Shakuntala), the truth of desire (Urvashi, Devayani, Uttara Disha), language, meaning and truth (Suvarchala, Sulabha), the power of the truth of love (Savitri, Damayanti), turning the face upon the selfish world of men (Madhavi). Exploring human nature via dialogue and interior monologue; no authorial god-like voice here. And yet there's that deliberate thought to the writing; its wonderful undertones of a narrative that is not analysing, not judging, treating nothing like a sacred cow. As it should be.
- RATIONAL WOMEN OF THE EPIC AGE : Pamela Philipose, The Little Magazine, Volume VII Issue 5 & 6
The noted Indologist Iravati Karve once termed the Mahabharata as an inexhaustible mine: "There are various ways of making it yield its riches. No one person can encompass it entirely," she wrote in her preface to Yuganta, her seminal interpretation of Sage Vyasa's epic...
The noted Indologist Iravati Karve once termed the Mahabharata as an inexhaustible mine: "There are various ways of making it yield its riches. No one person can encompass it entirely," she wrote in her preface to Yuganta, her seminal interpretation of Sage Vyasa's epic. By profiling some of the Mahabharata's female characters Chaturvedi Badrinath, a religious scholar and former bureaucrat, attempts yet another way to make it yield its riches.
To say something new about figures who have been interpreted a million times over in scripture, folklore, dissertations, novels, poetry, dance, theater and cinema, not to speak of saas-bahu television serials, would appear to be an impossible task. Badrinath does not attempt it. What he does instead is to place them at centre stage. He explains why he believes interpreting or analysing these characters would be a redundant exercise: "What they are saying, the context in which they are saying it, and what they are as human beings, are perfectly clear... the method itself suggests interpretation, of which there can be more than one."
Badrinath also does well to highlight the rare gifts of oratory and logical deduction in Vyasa's women, which militate against later constructions of the feminine. Suvarchala, of whom we don't hear much in popular discourse, had a very modern dilemma: she worried about whether in getting entangled in the humdrum routine of daily existence as a family woman, her "mind was in danger of being clouded and her spirit imprisoned". Anamika, or Everywoman because she has no name, thinks nothing of cutting down to size the arrogant Brahmin Kaushika, Well-versed in the Vedas and the Upanishads, by suggesting that "the mastery of knowledge is nothing if it does not lead to the mastery of the self". Then there is Madhavi, who at her swayamvara tosses her garland in the air and not at the battery of eligible suitors before her, because she preferred to be wedded to Vana-devta, or the forest.
But it is in the figure of Drapudi that the two attributes of moral authority and rationality are best represented. The ultimate tragic hero, Draupadi - nathavati anathavati, 'with husbands yet destitute' - may have emerged from the earth like Sita, but was by no means cast in the mould of the perfect woman like the Ramayana character. For one, unlike Sita, Draupadi was not one to suffer in silence. Her troubles were human, brought on by real people (as is often the case in the real world) by her husbands, in fact, and she responds to them in very human ways.
In the depiction of the innumerable injustices heaped upon Draupadi, the Mahabharata gives no evidence that they are of any consequence to the leading male protagonists, with the partial exception of Bhima. The men in Draupadi's life take a series of decisions that have a direct bearing on her own wellbeing, including the decision to share her as a common wife, without bothering to consult her. Yet, as Badrinath points out, the epic also provides considerable material on Draupadi's own feelings and thoughts. Her voice, filled with moral authority, is allowed to ring out loud and her powers of logic are given unfettered play. Draupadi's question, when she is informed that she is now lost to the Kauravas because of a badly played game of dice, goes to the heart of the issue: whom did Yudhishthira lose first, himself or her? It was a question she raised insistently but she received no straight answers. "Was I won in accordance with dharma?" Draupadi asks the Kaurava assembly. Bhishma dodges the question in his response "Dear daughter-in-law! The nature of dharma being exceedingly subtle, I am not able to examine your question."
Badrinath's re-assemblage of these amazing women should be regarded as a favour to a new generation of readers and it helps that he has done this in remarkably accessible prose. However, for readers looking for something more, his assiduous refusal to make an overall assessment of these characters or bring them up to speed with the great gender debates of contemporary India can be frustrating.
- ROLE MODELS FOR ALL TIME : Prema Nandakumar, The Hindu, August 26, 2008
They have never been far away from us, Savitri, Draupadi, Damayanti and others of their kind. Of course, a veil had fallen between them and the English-educated Indian for a while. Fortunately, before any lasting damage was done, the Indian intellectual went back to the sources and helped the coming generations draw close to the classical heroines...
They have never been far away from us, Savitri, Draupadi, Damayanti and others of their kind. Of course, a veil had fallen between them and the English-educated Indian for a while. Fortunately, before any lasting damage was done, the Indian intellectual went back to the sources and helped the coming generations draw close to the classical heroines. Romesh Chunder Dutt, Subramania Bharati, T.P. Kailasam; by now Raja Ravi Varma's paintings had also begun to tease the imagination of writers all over India.
After the 1950s the 'new' critics took over and feminists bent their eye-brows in irritation at the "Sita-Savitri syndrome" that was keeping Indian womanhood in thrall. No seminar on feminism was free of hot exchanges over the "lakshman rekha" and Indian patriarchy.
Change in perception
As the 20th century was drawing to a close, once again there was a change in perception. With the complete text of the two epics available in literal translations, getting back to the original brought innumerable surprises. Well, Savitri never "tricked" Yama; there was no "rekha" drawn by Lakshmana; nor was there any ring in the tale of Shakuntala. As early as 1899, Sri Aurobindo found that basically the Hindu myths were "straight and sheer."
It is by reading them in the original setting that we can draw strength from the manner in which Damayanthi announced a ruse-swayamvara, the calm with which Savitri questioned Yama, and the derisive way Shakuntala firmly rejected Dushyanta. Critics are increasingly realising that these heroines raise us to higher planes of consciousness. Chaturvedi Badrinath's 12 women prove that one can live in truth with complete dignity and become a role model for all time.
Badrinath has already traversed Vyasa's epic for clues regarding the human condition, and sought other pointers in Vatsyayana, Jesus and Swamy Vivekananda. The Women of the Mahabharata is a breezy retelling of the original tales of the heroines with critical insights sprinkled as obiter dicta.
Shakuntala's story for instance. She had berated Dushyanta for denying their union and said that if he continued to do so, his head would break into hundreds of pieces: "There is no known case in man's history when a liar's head physically broke into a hundred pieces. Neither was she saying that. Shakuntala was saying, metaphorically, but what is manifestly true, that when one takes to untruth and lies, one disintegrates as a person in a hundred ways."
Such linkages make the volume eminently readable. Anamika proves that being an ideal housewife is also tapasya; Urvashi and Devayani belong to an age which did not consider a woman seeking a man's attention to be evil; Suvarchala calmly discourses on semiotics with Shvetaketu; Sulabha ties up King Janaka in epistemological knots; Uttara Disha silently teaches Ashtavakra the impermanence of physical beauty; Madhavi turns away from human suitors with a rare resolution (M.V. Venkatram's brilliant Tamil Novel, Nithyakanni, on her tragic life remains unsurpassed) and we have the dove-couple who sacrificed themselves to uphold "athithi-dharma".
Draupadi is a test case. Her story calls for retelling the complete epic. Since her life touches almost all the major characters, how was Badrinath going to select events? The emphasis placed on Draupadi's refusal to accept Karna as a suitor is well done. Yudhistira does look out of place in the heroic age. No more than a pompous Professor Yudhistira, though Badrinath hastens to add: "I mean no disrespect to professors." The court scene comes through very well and the tragic end: "with husbands, yet destitute."
- TALES OF FORTITUDE : Humra Quraishi, The Tribune, New Delhi, November 9, 2008
Those of you who have read Chaturvedi Badrinath's earlier books - The Mahabharata : An Inquiry In the Human Condition, Finding Jesus in Dharma : Christianity in India - would be well aware of the great flow and that story rendering style of his prose...
Those of you who have read Chaturvedi Badrinath's earlier books - The Mahabharata : An Inquiry In the Human Condition; Finding Jesus in Dharma - Christianity in India - would be well aware of the great flow and that story rendering style of his prose. Yes, he writes in what can be aptly described the 'dastangoi' (story-telling) style. And this is what can be termed as pure bliss for the reader, for one can just about keep reading effortlessly, as though one is in the midst of a story-rendering session.
As with his earlier works he uses simple language with none of those contrived bandobasts. Before I move ahead, it is important to offload more about the author as a lot depends on who is writing. And this alone is much more important then what he or she is writing. And here, in this case, Chaturvedi is one of those civil servants who quit the IAS (after 30 years of service in the Tamil Nadu cadre) and took to writing - writing one volume after another. He also delivered a series of lectures on dharma and its application in our times.
And in between all this writing, he has been shuffling between Tamil Nadu and Gurgaon. At present he is settled in a place midway between Pondicherry and Auroville.
Living far from the maddening crowd, he lives life on his own terms. In fact, much before I'd met him, I had heard all those inputs - he lives life on certain strict and honest terms come what may but he will not compromise whether he has his career or property at stake. In fact, before selling the two houses he'd constructed, his sole condition was that the buyer would pay nothing at all in black. And though initially it was difficult for him to get such a buyer, he didn't budge from that condition. And finally, he did get a buyer who matched his standards of honesty and forthrightness.
And so with that in the foreground or background, he writes in that same strain. A strain streaked with that basic sense of honesty and truth. Coming through each page.
In this particular volume Badrinath focuses on the women of the Mahabharata - Shakuntala, Anamika, Savitri, Damayanthi, Draupadi, Suvarchala, Sulabha, Madhavi, Urvashi, Devayani, Uttara Disha. The story of each one of them is told in a simple and forthright manner but it conveys a lot. Message is relayed very subtly. But since each story revolves around the life and circumstances of a character, so there's an abundance of emotions.
Books are available at: Orient Blackswan Publishers
Read the Reviews:
- HOLISTIC APPROACH TO HUMAN LIFE : A Humanistic Exploration of The Themes in The Epic Showing their Universality and Everyday Concerns, Aloka Parasher-sen, The Hindu, January 2, 2007
At first glance this book, mainly because of its size, leaves the erroneous impression that it is yet again, another abridged and edited translation of one of our most favourite and popular epics, the Mahabharata...
At first glance this book, mainly because of its size, leaves the erroneous impression that it is yet again, another abridged and edited translation of one of our most favourite and popular epics, the Mahabharata. Almost, simultaneously, however, one is struck by its subtitle. Expectedly interest is aroused and as one flips through the four pages of the 'Contents', one finds a stupendous corpus of material on, as the subtitle of the book indicates, 'An inquiry in the human a condition'. This ranges from a discussion of the core but simple questions about the materiality of life and its link to the spiritual, the foundational and organisational linkages of human life, and their intrinsic relation with the universal whole and ends with more complex conceptual issues of Time, human endeavour, causality and the nature of freedom.
For those initiated into ideas about life and the universe emanating from the Indic civilisational ethos and are familiar with terms such as 'dharma', 'karma', 'svartha', 'sukha', 'duhka', 'kama', 'varna', 'ashrama', 'kala', 'svabhava', 'shistachara','moksha' and the like, this book provides a challenging new perspective within which this conceptual world should be read.
For those generally familiar with the terrain but have now begun to want to get to grips with these concepts because of the sudden upsurge in our contemporary world to go back to 'ancient' truisms, this book should be compulsory reading. For both Chaturvedi Badrinath has provided an excellent introduction to set the stage for how he sees the Mahabharata's methodological avenues unfold the complex and varied conditions of human living.
Inherence in life
The author is not taking the Mahabharata as a text located somewhere in the distant past. He continually emphasizes that this text is not so much about abstract ideas as it is about a method inherent in life itself, which it does not see as an artificial construct of the mind. He thus clearly etches out for us how this text should be read as a site where the conceptual burden of contradictions, dilemmas, debates and contestations have been played out and thence graphically narrated. And, these, it is suggested, were not unique to the protagonists of the epic alone but are found symbolically still resounding our sensibilities in all domains of our activity - be it spiritual, economic, social, psychological, political and so forth. He writes: "the concerns of the Mahabharata are the concerns of everyday life everywhere."
Each of the chapters in the book extracts relevant passages presented in original with translation by the author on the 18 or so major areas of inquiry. It is heartening to note that all the chapters begin with introductory remarks on the theme being highlighted and, for both the informed and the novice at the end of the book we have an exhaustive 'Index and Concordance' that helps the reader along.
In this well-presented book two significant points may be critically highlighted suggestive of why Badrinath undertook this mammoth enterprise. One of his serious anxiety, and he is quick to make us acutely aware of it, that as modern social scientists we inherit ways of looking at reality which is flawed as it gives a falsified view of human reality. This is so because most modern philosophic assumptions integrated into the scientific method are built on a logic that understands human reality in polarities, that is, it only enables us construct a binary world view of "either/or". Drawing on the Mahabharata he suggests that attributes of human life cannot be seen in fragments and in fact, this text shows how they form a natural unity and wholeness. In fact, the moment one fragment is disentangled from the other, disorder emerges ('adharma'), which, in turn, gives rise to violence of the 'other'.
Nature of self
This leads on to the second central point highlighted by the author. If inquiry into the human condition is not about fragments of human life or reality, he pertinently brings to the fore the central theme of all Mahabharata conversations, namely, that they are all "an inquiry into the nature of 'self' in relation with the other". Since life, it is expanded upon, is all about a system of relationships, personal, social, political each resting on an ethical ground that was sustained by order or dharma. It is thus pointed out that from this emanate all other conversations exploring the human condition in the Mahabharata revolving around the dichotomy of the particular with the universal, discussion on 'dharma' and truth, the importance of 'vani'(speech) in the search for the truth, the relative notions of fate and freedom, the dilemma of violence and conflict between right and wrong as also between right and right, the necessity of 'Kshama' ( forgiveness) and reconciliation , the issues of social order and bondage, the paradox of self-interest, pleasure, happiness in relation to those of the 'other' and finally, the search for knowledge of reality.
The explanations on 'desha'(place), 'kala'(time), 'patra'(individual concerned) in relation to history , meaning and context, and the highlighting of the intellectual and spiritual presence of woman in exploring the human condition are two aspects of discussion in the book that would be of considerable contemporary interest.
Finally, in all our endeavours Badrinath points out that the Mahabharata provides us a discourse on the "language of experience" but not without this flowing into the "language of transcendence" and it is this message, rising up raw history and empty abstractions, that makes it a must read text; different as it is from others in the tradition and those outside it.
- EPIC SCAPES : First City January 2007
18 chapters about life and living, studied and analysed from several perspectives (all possible perspectives - Food, Death, Pleasure and Pain, Sexual Energy, Social Arrangements, Moksha are just a few chapter Titles), approaching problems and questions through the classic questioning and storytelling method of inquiry...
18 chapters about life and living, studied and analysed from several perspectives (all possible perspectives - Food, Death, Pleasure and Pain, Sexual Energy, Social Arrangements, Moksha are just a few chapter Titles), approaching problems and questions through the classic questioning and storytelling method of inquiry. This would not work in another writer's hands, but with Chaturvedi Badrinath, you're on safe territory, since it's pretty obvious that he's spent a good part of his lifetime studying the epic. It's followed him in his travels, in his dreams, right through his conversations, all states of consciousness, driving home the essentials, the details, the larger picture, the shlokas, the characters, everything. For facts, turn to acknowledgments, wherein he explains his journey and tryst with The Mahabharata, which began with a Homi Bhabha fellowship given to him in the early seventies 'to write on dharma as the key to understanding the history of the Western encounter with Indian civilisation'.
The best method (and "method is everything", says Badri) to read The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the Human Condition would be to turn to 'Index and Concordance' ('a detailed roadmap', which be warned 'is no substitute for traveling on the road'), and pick the idea/story/character/phrase/term that arrests you attention. This method comes author recommended too, by the way; so, feel free to make your own journey, and find your own Mahabharata. Perhaps dharma, conflicts, and other puzzling notions will find clarity in your world and world view.
- THE MAHABHARATA BY CHATURVEDI BADRINATH : Wagish Shukla, Seminar 575, July 2007
Chaturvedi Badrinath has written a monumental study on the Mahabharata, a re-examination for the contemporary concerns. His intentions are good, and the labour he as put in is admirable; it is no mean task, by any standards, to write 592 pages of text supported by 91 pages of notes, index and concordance...
Chaturvedi Badrinath has written a monumental study on the Mahabharata, a re-examination for the contemporary concerns. His intentions are good, and the labour he as put in is admirable; it is no mean task, by any standards, to write 592 pages of text supported by 91 pages of notes, index and concordance. The tone of this re-examination of the Mahabharata is suggested by the follow sentences:
The direction the Mahabharata takes is a continuation of the one that the Upanishads had taken. The latter had broken away from Vedic ritualism and its belief in the magical efficacy of 'acts' and had turned human attention to the inwardness of the self instead... The yajna or sacrificial act is replaced with self-understanding... The Mahabharata radically changes the meaning of yajna, tapas, karma, and tirtha; and in making them relational, it gives them a deeply ethical meaning.
The ideas have been repeated in several places.
One of the deepest revolutions that took place in Indian thought was that of the Upanishads: the second was that of the Mahabharata.
And they were not far apart in time.
The Upanishadic revolution consisted in lifting the human mind form the outward vedic ritualistic acts that had the aim of obtaining, with assumed magical power if practised as prescribed, the things of the world one desired. The Upanishads moved the mind from acts understanding, from rituals to enquiry... The revolution of the Mahabharata... was even a deeper revolution than that of the Upanishads insofar as it rooted itself in the concrete empirical realities of human experience...
Thus it is clear that the reading model is developmental in which, from a world of magic and occult techniques of obtaining worldly wealth, the society moves to the Truth with a capital T through rational, scientific disciplines like ethics - a highly respected discourse in the book.
Such is the route taken by all evangelist enterprises; they all trace a path from the pagan mind to the depaganised belief system, coherent and distinguished from its predecessors by normatively assigning the earlier foundations to the dark world of ignorance. Reading Indian thought in this manner, one gets admitted to the distinguished gallery of enlightened systems like Christianity, Islam, Marxism, and Modernism.
Provoked repeatedly into shame because they did not possess a Book, some Hindus opted for the Vedas as the Canon, maintaining consequentially that the readings and the interpretations by our continued scholarship were in fact 'corruptions' of the original, shining ideas bristling with Purity textualized into the Vedas. So starting from Arya Samaj, we have a stream of opinion-makers emphasizing that there was nothing wrong with our rituals; no-violence-no-sex was the governing principle and our ancestors were in fact Perfect Gentlemen. All stories of violence and sex, which disgusted the Europeans, were in fact inventions of the 'priests', eager to have a share in the meat and hooch, imposed upon the 'cosmological'/introspective' outer/inner voices. Some others, as revolted as the European Sanskritist with the details of Vedic rituals, opted for the Upanishads as the Canon. This was the route taken by the Brahmo Samaj which assigned the Upanishads a prime slot in the revealed texts, after the Bible, naturally.
Detect any 'Plato on Homer' in all this? The ideal Republics of the Reformers of Hinduism have no room for the poet.
'Hindus' do not discourage the addition of new gods and new texts. So each reformer has a following, but this is about all. Anybody with 'solutions to problems' is going to be welcomed by some persons. But all attempts to integrate 'Hinduism' into a genealogy of faith have had incomplete success because if there is one thing which does not fit the 'Hindu' mind, it is the Tyranny of the Truth.
'Hinduism' is not about solutions. It is about problems, but has the candour to point out that in tacking them one is moving into uncharted territory. It is not Science, much less Technology. It is Poetry. 'Hinduism' is a deconstructionist religion. If this is jargon, let it be, because all discourse is jargon.
Our author clearly loves the Mahabharata. But he is also in love with rationality. So we have:
To the pre-eminently rational dharmic mind, the theory of unseen fate was hardly satisfactory. For not only did in constitute no 'explanation' but it also amounted to abandoning oneself to caprice; and caprice was one thing that the dharmic mind, suffused with the ideas of order, had resolutely banished from its scheme of things. So as to bring providence within rational categories of thought, and make it intelligible, it was identified with kala, 'Time'...
It is not man but kala, that determines every human situation. That is the uncompromising view also of Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata. He maintained it from the beginning to the end of that work....
But of course, it is not sustainable. So a little further, we have:
Rejecting predetermination by some mysterious kala, also rejecting face as the decisive factor, Bhisma suggests to Yudhisthira...
Let us take ethics as an illustrator. On pages 517-519 we have a retelling of an episode from the Mahabharata. The war is over and Gandhari, overcome with grief at the loss of her sons, holds Krsna accountable; she curses him that his clan will also be destroyed exactly as her family was. Krsna replies that he knows it. The significance of this reply is not examined by our author. A statement to the effect that the clan of Krsna is so powerful that if Krsna does not destroy it, nobody else can, is completely omitted. What our author has to say is this:
Put aside the knotted question of causality. Put aside the equally knotted question of culpability. Here was the plain requirement of compassion and grace, kindness and gentle speech, to a sorrowing mother, no matter what her sons might have been like. The Mahabharata portrays Krsna having in him none of these towards her. But he had none of these towards the tragic Karna or towards the dying Dyryodhana either.
Sooner after Duryodhana was killed in the last battle between him and Bhimasena in a straight battle by mace, but in a way that was on the part of Bhima in complete violation of a cardinal rule of such contest, Krsna proclaimed his accountability, though not his culpability. Speaking to Yudhisthira, he admitted, but without regret for what he declared was a necessity, that the war could never have been won for the Pandavas except through means that were deceitful.
After this, there is a detailed extract from the Mahabharata supporting the statement made last. Then, without warning, the following is slapped on us:
The entire Mahabharata is about not only that the ends do not justify the means, but also about the nature of the ends themselves, in relation to one's self and the other.
This reviewer fails to understand why anybody should think that the Mahabharata is about things like 'ends and means'. One may choose other texts and other role-models; Mahatma Gandhi for example is far more explicit. But it is hardly digestible that the Mahabharata is something beyond Krsna. If Krsna is not easy to understand through a 'character analysis', surely the methods of literary critics who work hard on 'the character of Ophelia' and 'the character of Hamlet' are inadequate.
'Secular' is a favourite word of the author; indeed, according to him secularism and rationality would seem to be the chief virtues of Mahabharata. This, coupled with the 'radical shift' which supposedly informs the Mahabharata, and the stand that positions of the Mahabharata are not those of 'Hinduism alone', mark his reading. As an illustration, let us look at this version of moksa:
Despite its plainly universal meaning, and its secular nature, the idea of moksa became obscured by the religiosity of theistic practices... Thus moksa has been perceived as a religious idea, and that, too, of the Hindus... there were huge quarrels about moksa, when moksa is freedom from all quarrels... Let us put them aside. For,... the Mahabharata says: Those who are busy memorising the Veda, the sastras, and other texts, but do not understand their true meaning, memorise the text uselessly.
From Yaska, the author of the Nirukta, on which the 'ritualistic' exegesis on the Veda by Sayana is based, to Kabir, the 'rebel; Bhakti poet and saint, there is hardly a thinker in India's multicoloured history of ideas in 'religion' who has not maintained that, 'those who are busy memorising the Veda, the sastras, and other texts, but do not understand their true meaning, memorise the text uselessly.' The 'radicalism' hoisted onto the Mahabharata is in fact a basic premise of the Indian thought process. If there are 'quarrels', these are at the level of the actual technicalities of the analysis of the 'true meaning'. In any case, they are 'quarrels' only in the sense there are 'quarrels' amongst various cosmological theories in contemporary physics.
'Secularism' is a dangerous word, whether applied as in the traditional sense of 'opposition to Church', or as in the muddled political usage fashionable in the contemporary Indian intellectualese. 'Hinduism' has no Book, no Church, no excommmunication rules, no fixed interpretations, no 'theism' and hence, no 'atheism'. Like all pagan systems - incidentally, it is the only surviving example which is still functional - it has local 'rites and rituals'; neither adherence nor nonadherence to any one or more of these makes or unmakes a Hindu. Let it never be forgotten that the Hindus never created an identity for themselves, that 'Hindu' is simply a Persian word meaning 'the contemptible Indian', and that this does not differ semantically from the 'Gentoo' coined by the European visitors for the native heathens who could not be classified as 'Moors'. The word 'secular' is simply not applicable to any of the ideas in the Hindu thought corpus.
Indeed, moksa may not be a religious idea since the Hindus have no 'religious' ideas, but if it is not an idea of the Hindus, whose idea is it? Do we have any other system, 'religious' or not, which has any idea approximating moksa?
There is always a pat reply, 'What about Buddhism'? Did Buddha say he is not a Hindu? Beyond criticism of certain practices such as the 'Vedic sacrifice', deemed to be abhorrent by him, did he challenge anything associated with 'Hinduism' today except the philosophical positions taken by various other schools? Why did Kabir and many other saints of medieval India claim they were talking about sucham Beda, the 'microkernal Veda, in their teachings? Must the confrontational model of Jews versus Gentiles, repeatedly invoked in Christians versus Pagans, Catholics versus Protestants, Progressives versus Reactionaries, be regarded as the sole instrument of understanding a people's articulation?
One would like to ask: How is it that Bhagavatpada Adi Sankaracarya and Ramanujacarya, to name only two of our thinkers who 'quarrelled' about moksa, did not know that 'moksa is freedom from all quarrels', but Chaturvedi Badrinatha does? Is our author seriously suggesting that Abhinavagupta was merely quarrelling when he set out his Svatantrya theory of moksa against other theories? Will he say, for example, that Jacques Darrida was quarrelsome? Why this special treatment to our thinkers?
This special treatment originates from a very simple premise: Indian thinkers dealt with the same questions that the postpagan West took up. Since the answers are already spelt out by the great minds of the postpagan West, any statements that Indian thinkers make about life, nature, human race, and social functioning, must be in concordance with the current notion of what is politically correct. Anything deemed 'primitive' by the EuroAmerican thinker is either not part of the 'true Hindu thought', or is best relegated to a distant past superseded by later Hindu minds. Hinduism is an 'advanced religion'; if some odd corners come up, they have to be smoothened so that Hinduism can be fitted into the procrustean bed. But this premise is wrong.
Every rationalist enquiry must have an enemy and Chaturvedi Badrinath also has one; it is the dharmasastras which he calls 'adharmasastras, that is the codes in injustice, inequity, and violence.' This is strange, to say the least, since the dharmasastras accept the Mahabharata as one of their most authoritative sourcebooks. Further, there is nothing in the Mahabharata to suggest that it is even remotely opposed to any statements of the dharmasastars; to the extent that any quote can be extracted from the Mahabharata to contradict some quote from a dharmasastra, a quote to that effect can almost certainly be extracted from that particular dharmasastra itself.
No modern scholar tries to ask why the contradictory statements, let us say on caste or on women were not regarded as contradictory statements by our writers not familiar with western scholarship. One simply assumes they were naive at best, too weak to offend the 'hardliners' in the dharmasastra industry.
Our author does the same. This makes him naturally quite uncomfortable when questions of the caste system and the status of women come up. We have only explanations of the following kind:
When varna and jati were presented in the later dharmasastras and absolute social theory, they were at complete variance with the pluralistic facts of Indian life. They were at complete variance too with the ethical foundations of social relationships, without which nothing that is sane and moral can ever survive anywhere. The Mahabharata is concerned with the foundations, with the dharma, of all social arrangements everywhere. But it was the dharmasastra and their literal exponents, the sastri and not the Mahabharata, that came to dominate the social structure in India. They laid the foundations of the social system that could produce only social conflict and human degradation. The Mahabharata is saying in a voice impassioned, often even anguished, that should any social arrangement degrade and debase human worth, it would be adharma and will produce only violence.
The Mahabharata apparently speaks not with anguish alone, it also speaks with 'a hidden sense of laughter'. Why can't this benefit of reading be extended to the dharmasastras? Actually both the dharmasastras and the Mahabharata are in tune, and to the extent that the dharmasastras dominated Indian life, the Mahabharata also did. Neither the Mahabharata nor the dharmasastras stand in need of a 'benefit of reading'; it is only required that one approaches these texts with the same sense of humility that one does when reading a text from the postpagan West. Let it remain the privilege of the postpagan West to discuss exactly at what stage of progress the religion of the Greek and the religion of the Romans were when Christianity dawned on them. Let us not invent an 'age of darkness', an 'age of ignorance', a daur-e-jahiliyya into our past simply to be at par with other advanced religions and other advanced civilizations.
The facts of a social situation vary from one place and one time to another place and another time. The ancient Egyptian royal line is supposed to have encouraged incestuous marriages; this is not acceptable to many societies including the modern Egyptian society. Does that make the ancient Egyptians worthy of contempt? Should we regard this custom as an 'aberration' in the otherwise great ancient Egyptian civilization? Do we have the right to be judgmental about people who refuse to be drawn into moral courts that we have set up in our wisdom?
Chaturvedi Badrinath in his Introduction says that he is not a Sanskrit pandit and apologises for any possible errors in the translations for which he takes full responsibility. He is in good company here, for we have many experts on Ancient India who have no knowledge of Sanskrit. They, however, are far less candid than he is in admitting this. The translations, while they can be improved, are not always the problem, except at times. One instance is the following: on pages 455-458, there is a discussion beginning with, 'Perhaps for the first time anywhere, it is in the Mahabharata that an argument against capital punishment was advanced.' It ends with the quoted verse:
vitrasyamanah sukrto na kamad ghnanti duskrtin sukrtenaiva rajano bhuyistham sasate prajah
which has been translated thus:
The purpose of governance is not to kill the wicked, but to create conditions in which people can be good.
The sentence that appears as translation is a nice instruction but that is not what the verse says. The verse says:
When terrorised, the doers of good do not whimsically kill the doers of evil. The kings rule their subjects only by good acts (and hence should not punish by death whimsically).
This simply says that capital punishment is to be awarded only in the rarest of rare cases: a maxim of contemporary law also. This is hardly an argument against capital punishment. That capital punishment, whimsically awarded, is an evil act by the king for which he must pay is a recurring theme in Indian literature. To quote an example, in the Cilappadhikaram, the famous Tamil epic, the king hastily puts to death Kannaki's husband believing him to be a thief without full investigation; as a result not only the king but his kingdom as well are destroyed by Kannaki's curse. You do not need the Mahabharata to argue that capital punishment should be awarded only after all options are exhausted and there is no hope that the culprit will not repeat the crime if released. To give another example, on page 311 the quoted verse
striyastu yad bhaved vittam pitra dattam yudhisthira brahmanyastaddharet kanya yatha putrastatha hi sa sa hi putrasama rajan vihita kurunandana
has been translated thus:
In the money and property of a woman inherited from her father, the daughter has a right as the son has, because as the son the daughter. Daughter is like son -this is the established principle.
But the verse talks about the money given to a woman, not inherited by her. This verse merely says that a woman has full control over stri-dhana, which includes but does not consist entirely of the money given to her by her father. The right of control by a woman over her stri-dhana is repeatedly emphasized by all the dharmasastras, and was part of the law even before the various modifications by the Indian state after independence.
One more example and I stop the enumeration. On page 528, the Yogavasistha verse
jirnam bhinnam slatham ksinam kusbdham ksunnam ksayam gatam
pasyami navavatsarvam tena jivamyanamayah
has been translated thus:
What is worn out, broken, loosened, powerless, disturbed, crushed, or destroyed, consider that a new beginning.
The actual translation is not what the verse says: What is worn out, broken, loosened, powerless, disturbed, crushed, or destroyed, I regard as only new; and that is how I live disease free.
There is a lot of difference between 'a new beginning', which is an optimistic missive to be never defeated, and 'regarded as new' which denies that any decay took place. The first version believes in change, the second regards change as hallucination. The Yogavasistha, an extreme text in Vedanta of which even the Advaita scholars are bit wary, regards change as hallucination; its (no) position is known as ajatavada, the view that 'nothing ever happens'.
However, as I said above, the translations are not always the problem. The problem is that our scholars in general work on the translations, and not on the text. This helps in directing a text towards one's desired interpretation.
I consider it important to record explicitly that I defend to the hilt the right of Chaturvedi Badrinath to read the Mahabharata as he deems fit and to put this reading in the public sphere. Further, I do not think that any harm is done if his readers agree that the Mahabharata is a document from which a great many values, acceptable to our social planners, can be derived. Having said that, I think there is a real danger that if this kind of reading goes unchallenged, the net outcome will be not that people will read the Mahabharata to get some benefit, but that they will desist from reading the Vedas under the belief that these are merely sets of tricks by charlatans and desist from reading the dharmasastras under the belief that these merely constitute instruments of an oppression chamber.
I hope the time never comes when there is no courage left in us to approach our texts and our people without the blinkers acquired in the nineteenth century. I hope the time never comes when we think that before the Hindu College and Raja Ram Mohan Roy, this country had no means of understanding what we are, were, or will be. But given the increasing dominance of contemporary depaganization drives, one can't be to sure either.
Let me close with a glimpse of how our people have been reading the Mahabharata by quoting a popular verse:
kaninasya muneh svabandhavavadhuvaidhavya-vidhavamsion / naptarah khalu golakasya tanayah kundah svayam pandavah / temi panca samanayoniratayastesam gunotkirtana-/daksayyam sukrtam bhavedavikalam dharmasya suksma gatih
The muni (=Vyasa, the 'author' of the Mahabharata) is a child of a premarital union, he defiles the widows of his brothers and thus his grandsons are children of the golakas (=children born out of a union with a paramour to a widow). Out of them, the Pandavas are kundas (=children born out of a union with a paramour to a woman whose husband is still alive). Further, these five Pandavas share a single woman as their bed partner. And yet, by singing their praise (this is, by reading the Mahabharata) imperishable and irreducible good deed is done.
- RE-READING A TEXT: Arshia Sattar, The Book Review, April 2007
Chaturvedi Badrinath's The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the Human Condition does what it promises in that it enquires into who we are and elicits ways in which the Mahabharata suggests that we might be better or, understand ourselves and our place in this world better...
Chaturvedi Badrinath's The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the Human Condition does what it promises in that it enquires into who we are and elicits ways in which the Mahabharata suggests that we might be better or, understand ourselves and our place in this world better. This massive tome functions as a commentary on the Mahabharata, and in doing so, falls within classical traditions of commentary as an Indian Literary and philosophical genre. Important texts were always parsed in great detail by later scholars in order for the lay reader to gain access to the material therein, like, for example, the commentaries of Sankaracharya, Madhava and more recently, S. Radhakrishnan, on the meaning and content of the Bhagavad Gita.
Moreover, Badrinath treats the Mahabharata as a sastra, recalling a traditional taxonomy that names it the 'fifth Veda' and which elevates it well beyond its self-definition as itihasa and more general definitions that classify it as an epic. To emphasize the Mahabharata's sastraic nature, Badrinath foregoes the immense pleasures of the text's complex and compelling narrative to seek out its position on philosophical imperatives, such as they are. His emphasis is on samvada, the philosophical discourses that punctuate the narrative as it moves towards the apocalyptic war and its aftermath of destruction and despair.
Badrinath is a philosopher as well as a (now) retired civil servent and he brings both his interest and his profession together in his analysis of the Mahabharata. His book contains eighteen chapters (the preferred number for works related to the Mahabharata and the Gita), each of which examines a particular idea, such as 'the self,. 'the other,' 'dharma,' as well as perception, knowledge and proof, among other discursive categories. Badrinath extracts an epistemology and an ontology from the Mahabharata. His system for making his arguments gleaned from the text is quite simple: he chooses the big idea that he wishes to explore and which has a resonance across other Indian texts. Then he mines the text of the Sanskrit Mahabharata, excavates the appropriate verses, translates them and ends each chapter with a statement of what he believes is the Mahabharata's position on these ideas and concepts. Badrinath sets the context for his discussion by acknowledging that there are western paradigms for the examination of these metaphysical categories, but then confines himself to exploring them through other Indian ideas and belief systems. Which, I believe, is a completely appropriate and persuasively developed position within this book, especially given the fact that Badrinath is an active participant in various kinds of inter and intra-religious dialogue.
Badrinath places the Mahabharata within its contemporaneous philosophical milieu, locating the text in a conscious and active conversation with the Upanisads as well as with Samkhya and other schools of Indian philosophy. His central thesis is that the Mahabharata presents a radical shift in the thinking of the time which is why it is important that he place the text in the company of its peers, as it were so that we can take notice of this shift under Badrinath's able guidance.
The most interesting statement that Badrinath makes about the Mahabharata is that he sees it as a text which talks about the self in relation to the other. This presupposes the text as unitary, with a dominant (if not single), intelligence that gives it its colour and one as well as its philosophical centre. In the opening pages, Badrinath endorses the idea of Vyasa as the text's 'author' but begs the obvious question of whether there ever was a historical (as against a mythical) Vyasa, a unique literary genius who forged this amazing amalgam of myth, lore and sage advice that we have inherited as the Mahabharata, one hundred thousand verses long and seven times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey put together. Badrinath sees Vyasa very much as one of the great sages in the story, even as he separates Vyasa's voice from the voice of the text itself. One must surmise, therefore, that in this commentary, there appears to be a Vyasa that is a thinker and a Vyasa who is a chronicler of events who are somehow conflated in the construct of the 'author'.
Be that as it may, let us look a little more closely at some of these radical shifts that Badrinath sees in the metaphysical positions of the Mahabharata. To begin with, he says that the Mahabharata makes truth and dharma conditional upon place and time (desa and kala), which relieves the text from suggesting a categorical imperative as the basis of ethics, which might be likened to the Kantian formulation. Something very similar was suggested by A.K. Ramanujan in the essay 'Is There an Indian Way of Thinking' where he argues that 'Indian' behaviour and thought are 'context sensitive', depending on who the individual is and which of his/her many social roles might be embodied at that movement. Ramanujan may also have gleaned this insight from the Mahabharata, where it is mostly clearly demonstrated, if not stated. Though of course, it is possible to read the early chapters of the Gita as precisely an elucidation of this context sensitive doctrine-that Arjuna has now to act from within his dharma as a ksatriya rather than his compelling dharma as a nephew, a student and a grandson. It is also a persuasive argument that this relativism constitutes a break from the other philosophical discourse that surround the Mahabharata, but the fact remains that the absence of categorical imperatives in Indian thought is a well-known and pretty well documented fact.
This is not to deny that Badrinath has introduced rather wonderful nuances into many of the concepts and constructs of Indian thought that have been discussed almost threadbare over the centuries. For example, when he speaks of relativism, he reads his text such that he finds a relativism that is one of wisdom, of circumspection and prudence, rather than one that paralyses or destroys the individual's capacity to act with conviction and belief. So also, when he discusses the valorization of pleasure (kama) in Indian thought with the simultaneous exaltation of moksa as the ultimate ideal, he reads the unresolved tension between these two as resulting, inevitably, in violence. But, in the latter instance, he does not acknowledge that many of these ideas, indeed many of the ideas that fuel the divine discourse of the Gita, are, in fact, ideas that were first most clearly articulated within Buddhism. Equally oddly, the Gita itself which is seen by many as the distillation of the Mahabharata's philosophy, has one passing reference in Badrinath's hefty text of just under 700 pages. This too, need not be a point of criticism for Badrinath's enterprise, but the suppression of such major samvada surely calls for an explanation or an aside in an Introduction or Notes.
Further, I believe that the emphasis on the philosophical dimensions of the Mahabharata to the exclusion of the narrative can lead to unfortunate and avoidable contentions. Much of Badrinath's exposition of the Mahabharata's attitudes to women come from Bhishma. Surely, here, the story and Bhishma's terrible vow of celibacy has to be taken into account-what validity could this man's views on women possibly have? Even the great Sankara, when challenged by Amaru's queen about what might be ananda, the ultimate bliss, had to reconsider his celibate position. What then of Bhishma, whose obdurate abjuring of all women at all times might well have caused the fratricidal conflict? Badrinath could have chosen to look at the larger context of Bhishma's pronouncements, given that he has been felled by the arrows of a woman, that he rejected on principle a lifetime ago. To return to a point made earlier with regard to Vyasa, here, the voice of a (literaty) character and the voice of the text are blurred. And most certainly to the detriment of Badrinath's nuanced and subtle interpretations of philosophical categories upto this point.
As with any compendium of quotations, what one leaves out is as important as what one leaves in. In his determined quest for relativism as the lens that the Mahabharata provides to view the world. Badrinath claims that even varna and its attendant duties is relative. I am a little hard-pressed to support this argument precisely because the Mahabharata, at regular intervals, displays a morbid fear of miscegenation. The mixing of castes could only lead to a destruction of the social order. This is why the great war is being fought: to hold off the forces and the developments that might end the world as we know it. The world as we know it in the Mahabharata is a world made stable (and one must believe, right) by the understanding and the pursuance of caste duty, of varna-dharma.
Every interpreter of a text and every commentator on a tradition has the right to see the text in the way that s/he wants. For example, we receive Sankara's commentary on the Gita as the advaita reading of the text just as we receive Madhava's as the dvaita interpretation of the same text, one profoundly monist and the other deter-minedly dualist in its interpretation of the relationship between the human soul and the diving/absolute. Neither of these affects the text itself and each of us is free to come to the Gita from our own position. Sankara and Madhava may be kindly guides as we struggle for a path to understanding the nature of the ultimate reality. The text itself remains immutable and magnetic, calling generations of seekers and thinkers to itself.
What we have here is Badrinath's reading of the Mahabharata. We do not have to agree with his starting point and his quotations in support of what is clearly a well-articulated and coherent worldview rooted in Hinduism. What we can celebrate is the fact that the Mahabharata continues to produce compelling interpretations of life and love and the purpose of existence: in philosophy, literature and performance and that each one of these remains an inquiry into the human condition.
- ELUSIVE TRUTH - An Informed Inquiry But Incomplete : Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The New Sunday Express, December 24, 2006
Can the truth of the Mahabharata, be possessed without a deep understanding of the narrative structure through which it emerges? Is a sense of self awareness, a flash of insight into truth, a reckoning with the dilemmas of existence, perhaps enlightenment possible without the stories from which these emerge?
Chaturvedi Badrinath has made an eminently commendable effort to produce a compendium of mahavakyas-cum-tika that makes Mahabharata usable for modern readers. It is conveniently divided into eighteen chapters, each of which covers a vital aspect of the human condition: from food, water and life to death and rajdharma; from ahimsa to artha from dharma to moksha. Each of the chapters distills the essential quotations on the topics and provides an agreeable and accessible gloss on the various claims made in the text. The selections and helpful commentary will be a useful starting point for those uninitiated in the text. This digest is by someone who clearly knows the text. But in the end you cannot help feeling that this book runs the risk of simply being "quotable" Mahabharata. This is not meant tobelittle Badrinath's extraordinary labor, scholarship or clarity. As the introduction will demonstrate, Badrinath's understanding of the Mahabharata can be quite supple.
But as edifying as the extracts and commentary are there is a sense in which this digest some times misses the forest for the trees. Take for instance, the chapter on ahimsa, which collects most of the relevant quotations. Badrinath rightly points out that ahimsa is rooted in a psychological propensity, abhaya (a point Gandhi never tired of making), and a metaphysical claim that the Self and other are not distinct, so violence to others is really violence to oneself. But presented as a monumental truth of this kind detached from an intimate relationship to the existential predicament of real characters, the effects of the doctrine of ahimsa is to leave you cold rather than enlightened. The real pathos and edification of the Mahabharata does not come through the didactic declaration about ahimsa but by working through the existential predicament strict adherence to this doctrine generates. Indeed, even in technical terms Badrinath glosses over a key distinction between ahimsa (non-violence) and anrsamsya(non cruelty). Both these terms have different implications and the text and its characters struggle through to settle on what is the real ideal.
Badrinath has a useful discussion of key aspects of our condition: kala and daiva. But the underlying unity of the text and argument is dissipated in pearls of wisdom. For the real fun of the Mahabharata are not the authoritative sayings, but the fact that is it a funning argument with "God." For the Mahabharata is ultimate anti-theodicy. Even seemingly unsympathetic characters like Sisupala and Duryodhana grow in sympathy as they mock at Krishna's effects to render the world into a an ethically rational and ordered totality. Badrinath often gets the artha (meaning) right, but the rasa is missing.
There is an obvious sense in which the Mahabharata is open to multiple interpretations and subverts any sense of certainty. But this has often, in contemporary discussions of the text become an excuse to not attend to the precision of its vocabulary or the logic of the narrative. Modern readers find it incredible that Anand Vardhana could claim the Mahabharata has only one dominant rasa: shanti rasa. Any account of the Mahabharata's inquiry into the human condition would be worth its weight in gold, if it could appreciate the profundity of that reading and unlock the reasons behind it.
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- SWAMI VIVEKANANDA - The Living Vedanta : Saroj Butani, Samvid
In the history of modern India, there is perhaps no other great personality, with the exception undoubtedly of Mahatma Gandhi, whose life, work and relationships have been so extensively documented as those of Swami Vivekananda. The major part of the works on this towering personality, or even those by him, have however come to us so far from the Ramakrishna Mission publications themselves. That a popular publishing house such as Penguin Books should have turned its attention to having us meet and know more of this gigantic figure is a fitting tribute to his colossal personality.
When thinking of Swami Vivekananda, most people see in him the person who held thousands in thrall at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, where he stood up in defence of the Hindu religion and of Indian culture and spirituality. He is also known by and large, as a patriot whose love for this motherland and his deep involvement in improving the lot of her suffering millions led him to set up the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission with its numerous educational and health service institutions and other works for the needy and the underprivileged. The author of the present work, Chaturvedi Badrinath, has chosen however to present to us a lesser known facet of the Swami. He has laid bare before us Vivekananda, the man, rather than Swami Vivekananda, the spiritual teacher.
Chaturvedi Badrinath leads us therefore, through the course of this work, to follow the evolution of the personality of Vivekananda through the three great influences on his life, the three 'inheritances' as he calls them. The first was his very liberal family background, with a highly intellectual, open-minded, overly generous and compassionate father and a loving mother imbued with inner strength and spiritual character. These traits, inherited by him, along with a questioning mind, remained with him throughout his life. His next 'inheritance' was the 'wonderful light' that he received from his meeting with his Master, Sri Ramakrishna from whose life he learnt that the Vedanta of the forest can be brought to human habitation and can be put into application in our daily life. The third great inheritance was from the dust of India, the dust through which he trod during his three or four years as a parivrajaka or wandering monk through the length and breadth of the land. He experienced with anguish, during these wanderings, the poverty and ignorance of the toiling masses and he shared with them the pain and suffering of their hunger. This pain bred in him the determination to work for the regeneration of his country.
In the latter part of the biography, dealing with Vivekananda's years in the West and the web of relationships that were woven around him there, the author brings out vividly the charm of his magnetic personality which attracted towards him not only admiration, respect and unbounded devotion, but also hostility arising out of jealousy from the petty-minded. He tells us of some soured relationships but also of many rooted in utmost esteem and even veneration from people, most of them American women, who remained loyal and dedicated to him and his work for as long as they lived.
The only reproach, if it can be called a reproach, on this otherwise most appealing work is that it contains too many quotations from other works on Swami Vivekananda, or from letters or reminiscences of those who knew him. Not that these are not interesting. On the contrary, they are most apt and are used to fortify the author's views on matters. But perhaps, summarizing these appropriately and drawing out their essence would make for easier and more connected reading. But then to each his own style! All in all, a worthy addition to existing Vivekananda literature.
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA - The Living Vedanta : The Telegraph, April 27, 2007
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA: THE LIVING LEGEND (Penguin, Rs 375) by Chaturvedi Badrinath startles the reader in the very first line of the Acknowledgments by stating that "Woman had a central place in the life and work of Swami Vivekananda". The line sets the tone of the work which, to its credit, is the very opposite of a hagiography. It is an exploration of the man behind the iconic image, the man who could serve delectable dishes and deliver lectures on the most abstruse philosophical topics with equal ease. One of Vivekananda's letters to Mrs Hale, his 'Mother Church', quoted here, ends with "This nonsense of the world. Shiva, Shiva, Shiva". It seems uncannily close to the "Shantih, shantih, shantih", coming after "Hieronymo's mad againe" in T.S Eliot's The Waste Land.
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- FINDING JESUS IN DHARMA : R M Singh, The Statesman
The book on Jesus is not an attempt to advocate Christianity, but help better understand the religion, says R M Singh.
It is said that God is very simple but we have made him very complicated. Therefore whenever God marched on earth in human form his aim was to remove the complications and enlighten the humanity with the ultimate truth in which lies the universal 'Dharma'. One such incarnation was Jesus Christ.
He sacrificed his human form for humankind and this became the very source of power for his disciples to be able to sacrifice their own life for the sake of others. There are so many people who aspire to be leaders ostensibly to serve others but end up by getting others to serve them. For such Jesus' teachings for people to people relationship is amply relevant.
Jesus broke tradition, cast aside social barriers only to nurture and enhance all living beings. For Chaturvedi Badrinath, Jesus Christ is a perfect embodiment of "Dharma". In his latest book "Finding Jesus in Dharma-Christianity in India" Badrinath has traced the history of the issues which western Christianity produced in its encounter with Dharmic civilisation. He has highlighted how missionaries were obliged to rethink Christianity in its relation to non-Christian religions especially Hinduism. There is also an account of Indian Christian thought, its concerns and direction.
Badrinath belongs to an orthodox Brahmin family of Mainpuri in UP. He was also a member of the Indian Administrative Service and served in Tamil Nadu, from 1958 to 89. He was a Homi Bhabha fellow in 1971-73. As a Visiting Professor in 1971 at Heidelberg University, he gave a service of four seminars on Dharma. In 1999, at Weimar, he gave a talk on Goethe and the Indian philosophy of nature and contributed to an inter-religious conference at Jerusalem, with the Dalai Lama.
His book reflects how Christianity had flourished as an honoured faith in Kerala for four centuries before the European nations began being Christianised. It says the Indian Christians have been an integral part of Indian society.
They did not ever believe that there was any conflict between the spiritual environment in which they had their roots and their faith in Jesus Christ as saviour. However, Christian missionaries from Europe and England many centuries later would insist that there was a radical breach between the two. Dharmic encounters are narrated in the book mostly in the words of missionaries themselves.
The logic of Christian monism and the plurality of ways in Hinduism as depicted in the book provides better understanding of the both religions. Negation of the concept of minority and majority on the basis of religious belief is the need of the hour because a great many conflicts in the world today have their origin in that feeling. People find it difficult to believe that a person counts as a person.
Significantly the author has pointed out that Christianity was not Christian theology alone. It never was. Considered even in its own terms, Christian theology was mostly an elaboration of church doctrines. It had little to do with life and its concrete existential problems, and therefore, it had little to do with Jesus for the meaning of Jesus was always concerned with the freedom of life and not with the prison of doctrines as he expressed it both in the life and in his teachings, that it is love and not the laws, that has the power to redeem and to save.
Seen in this light, the meaning of Jesus is the meaning also of Dharma.
The former Union Minister, Dr Karan Singh, while releasing the book last week rightly advocated the need of inter-faith dialogue as it fostered better understanding among different religions. He also recalled how various religions in India, at times, interacted and said much of what Jesus taught was universal in nature and echoes of that can be found in the "Upnishads".
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- HISTORY OF IDEAS : N S Jagannathan, Indian Review of Books, Oct - Dec 1994
This is a richly textured book, drawing upon an astonishing range of scholarship of Eastern and Western ideas to establish its central argument. It is worth reading, irrespective of one's view of this central thesis for the stimulation provided by...
This is a richly textured book, drawing upon an astonishing range of scholarship of Eastern and Western ideas to establish its central argument. It is worth reading, irrespective of one's view of this central thesis for the stimulation provided by its ably capsulised history of ideas, East and West. The book's substantial part is the last three essays. The first of these is a critique of Max Weber's celebrated view of Hinduism as embodying a static weltanschauung, subversive of this-worldly innovativeness and enterprise, in sharp contrast to the 'protestant ethic' he has identified and elaborated elsewhere as the provider of the psychological kinetics of European capitalism. The second is contrast between the Western and the dharmic epistemological methodologies and ethical imperatives on man in society. The third and longest-and in my view, the most useful-essay in an extensive critique of the thinking of some of the most influential Indian minds of the last two centuries caught up in the decisive encounter and even confrontation between two radically different civilisations, each with fully developed theories of knowledge and understanding of man's place in the universe and human relationships.
Badrinath sees modern Indian history starting with the establishment of British rule in Indian as basically a three cornered contest for Indian minds between what he calls the dharmic approach to life embedded in ancient Indian thinking on the one hand and on the other the Christian-read missionary-way of thinking and the ascendant 'secular-scientific' philosophy of enlightenment of 18th century Europe built on the Aristotlean-Cartesian foundations of verifiable truth. The missionary combatants soon fell by the wayside in India as they did in Europe, losing out to the puissant Cartesians. In India these latter won a double victory over the dharmic world view because of the willing and even eager converts to their creed by the native intelligentsia, though this conversion was full of mental reservations, ambiguities, equivocations and hypocrisies.
The key concept, of course, is dharma. Arguing that there is no such thing as Hinduism and indeed as a religion that can be associated with the people known today as Hindus, Badrinath asserts that the body of ancient doctrine wrongly designated Hindu is dharma. This misnomer is the source of endless error, committed both by those who fiercely profess Hindutva and by those who denounced it with equal ferocity. For Hindutva is a latter day construct founded on the notion of a religion called Hinduism. Indeed, according to Badrinath, dharma is, contrary to the general impression, both secular and empirical, in that it is agnostic and founded on verified experience (though not necessarily facts). God, which in one form or another is a religious concept and is integral to both Christianity and Islam, (which are indubitably religions) is wholly expendable in dharma.
If in its epistomological approach dharma does not, in sharp contrast to empiricist rationality, consider reason as the sole instrument available to man for ascertaining the truth about the universe, in its societal aspect, dharma does not place man at the centre of the universe just as in its epistomological approach it does not consider reason as the sole instrument available to man for ascertaining the truth about the universe. Unlike the West, it does not pit man against society in an uneasy social contract that is forever under litigation with, in fairness to liberal democracies, the individual getting the better lawyers. Under the dharmic dispensation, it is Man in society, in eternal and inseparable tandem, that is the core paradigm. Both have well-defined and codified-indead overcodified-mutual obligations to each other. Even more importantly, there are unambiguous limits set both to the freedom for the individual and for the exercise of power by authority. It is dharma that is supreme and the ultimate arbiter, rather in the manner of the 'basic structure' of modern constitutions and natural justice of universal jurisprudence of modern times. The only difference is that the basic assumptions of these latter is man's centrality in the scheme of things in contrast to dharma in which principles of conduct conducive to the realisation of the only worth-while goal of life-moksha or liberation-are by implication supreme.
In Badrinath's view, there is a historic opportunity for both India and the world to re-think the basic assumptions behind their current social and political structures and their philosophical foundations. In the case of India, this exercise is necessary because with every passing day its hybrid system is visibly collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. A formal structure based on Western values is barely functioning in a chaotic, informal political and social space in which dharmic categories such as caste, once viable but which have since become deeply flawed and decadent, but yet possess enough vitality to tear the system apart by the conflicts they generate.
In the case of the West, the feeling is growing among its more thoughtful sections that the basic tenets of its empiricist rationality and its individual-centered political and social philosophies are visibly breaking down. Laplacian certitudes about the limitless reach of empiricism are yielding place, at least at the frontiers of science, to a certain tentativeness about what is knowable. In moral philosophy, in the view of philosophers like Alistair MacIntyre, the West is facing a grave disorder. In his influential book After Virtue quoted by Badrinath, he talks about the tendency even among philosophers,
to think atomistically about human action and to analyse complex actions and transactions in terms of simple components and to make sharp separation between the individual and the roles he or she plays, or between different role-enactments of an individual life so that life comes to appear as nothing but a series of unconnected episodes.
This is not a unique failure of the liberal democracies. Marxism which might be said to have asserted the claims of society over the individual's is merely the mirror image of liberal individualism in its essential aspirations for 'modernism'. As MacIntyre puts it,
Marxism's moral defects and failures arise from the extent to which it, like liberal individualism, embodies the ethos of the distinctively modern and modernising world, and that nothing less than a rejection of a large part of that ethos will provide us with a rationally and morally defensible standpoint from which to judge and act.
Badrinath argues that this alternative ethos can be built up on the dharmic paradigm of man-in-society governed by its associated ethical principles.
This somewhat selective summary of the argument of the book does not do full justice to the closely textured argument of the three essays. In themselves Badrinath's basic formulations on the sharp contrast between the Indian and Western way of life, their bases in their respective theories of knowledge and societal aspirations as crystallised over the centuries are not new. Nor are the dilemmas of a modern Indian in at once coming to terms with both. But these have been so far perceived impressionistically and anecdotally. What Badrinath has done is to document the history of the discourse on these questions and the evolution of the related ideas. He has also exposed, again by documentation from the speeches and writings of great men like Ranade, Tilak, Vivekananda, Gandhi, Nehru, Golwalkar, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, M N Roy, Kosambi, Debi Prasad Chattopadhyaya and others, the manifest contradictions and agonies of choice involved and the confusion, contradictions and-sometimes, comical-compromises that even sensitive Indians have had to make in accommodating within themselves both world views.
However, one cannot escape the feeling that in arguing his case, Badrinath is somewhat arbitrary in his evidence and, prefers theory to praxis in his exposition of the history of the idea of dharma. In fact he is quite unhistorical positioning dharma as a set of abstract principles, ignoring a good deal of not only proven facts but authoritative latterday exposition of the concept made long after the Mahabharata from which he quotes extensively to make his point. Secondly, at the conceptual level, to claim that dharma is agnostic, even if only to hoist Godless secularists with their own petard, is a tendentious and selective use of Indian philosophical traditions. It is to concentrate on one crypto-Buddhist version of ancient speculations and to ignore the fact that there were other theist philosophic schools that firmly believed in dharma and derived the sanction for it from God. The fact that karmic law that is part of the doctrine of dharma could plausibly be considered as capable of working out its logic without the aid of a hypothetical god does not alter the fact that most Indian philosophical schools saw dharma as a species of theodicy.
In fact,in his essay on Max Weber, Bardinath enters a caveat emptor that shut out all arguments on this kind of thing. In what he calls a 'salutary warning' to those aspiring to work on Indian subjects, he says:
All manner of things could be said about Indian civilisation: but nothing that could be said of it will be the whole truth. All descriptions of Indian civilization must be qualified, often by their opposite...This puts the most severe pressure on language under which it distorts and breaks. A sentence which asserts something as well denying (sic) it, is literally meaningless; and a sentence which qualifies an assertion no sooner than it is made is tiresome. Yet in order to describe Indian civilisation as a whole, precisely such sentences will have to be used. This is necessitated, as it always has been in the history of Indian thought, by the irrefutable evidence that human reality is so complex and varied that every definite statement about it must leave out its contradictory side, which if it serves the cause of clarity, does so at the expense of truth.
After such a disarmed 'warning', whose purport is in all candour obscure, there is little room for discussion.
Badrinath is also unhistorical in ignoring actual practices in latter-day Indian society that were then universally considered dharmic conduct and so proclaimed by exegetists of the times. When for example he says that Ambedkar was attacking a non-existent enemy when he assails Hinduism, for there is no such thing as Hinduism, he is merely quibbling. What Ambedkar attacked, call it what you will, did exist and was considered in its time as dharmic conduct. Badrinath himself concedes what he calls 'reversals of dharma' in Indian history, mentioning three of them in particular: the conversion of the functional division of labour under the varna system into a species of rigid hierarchy, destroying thereby its functional rationale and ignoring the obligatory collateral discipline; the abandoning of plurality of sanction for valid knowledge in favour of making the sole criterion of truth the authority of the guru or custom-and later-of the king himself; and the usurpation, by imperceptible degrees, of the supremacy of dharma as law by the authority designated to uphold it and thereby putting himself above the law. Badrinath also concedes that Indian society has had a long history of disorder recognised by the dharmic tradition itself 'such as ati or lack of balance, both of thought and act'. But the supposed self-corrective mechanism of that tradition has not been able to reverse or even moderate this disorder.
Finally, while Batrinath has given a lucid and sustained analysis of the history of ideas both Indian and Western, he is pretty vague about the design of his preferred philosophy for the future and an agenda for action consistent with this preference. Obviously a complete displacement of one by the other of the two value systems discussed in the book is neither possible nor even desirable. What would be the dharmic ingredient and the Western input in both the design and the agenda? How would the gritty differences between the two traditions get accommodated in them? On all this we have to await the book he says he is still working on.
- UNDERSTANDING INDIA : Ramaswamy Iyer, The Book Review, October 1994
This is a work of great importance and needs to be widely read and discussed. While this is a collection of essays (18 newspaper articles and there more formal papers) and not a structured book, there is a powerful unity of thought and argument which welds into a whole. The occasional references to a larger unpublished work give us tantalising glimpses into what promises to be a monumental book of formidable scholarship and rare intellectual distinction...
This is a work of great importance and needs to be widely read and discussed. While this is a collection of essays (18 newspaper articles and there more formal papers) and not a structured book, there is a powerful unity of thought and argument which welds into a whole. The occasional references to a larger unpublished work give us tantalising glimpses into what promises to be a monumental book of formidable scholarship and rare intellectual distinction.
The first 10 essays make a wide range of points in relatively simple terms (the dharmic identity of Indian civilisation; the dharmic acknowledgment of human life as composed of opposites; the dharmic method of dealing with conflicts; the dharmic method of dealing with conflicts; and so on) Essay 11 to 15 deal at some length with the problems of regionalism, nationalism and the world Essay 16 explains the dharmic understanding of truth ("relative to time and place and the person concerned and at the same time" the greatest force"). Essay 17 is an explication of the fallacies of the Mandal Commission's Report. Essay 18 deals with the wrong application of western definitions of 'nation' and 'nationalism' to Indian society and the consequences. Of the three more formal papers, Essay 19 is a powerful (and, to the reviewer, definitive) critique of Max Weber's work on India. Essay 20 entitled 'Two Methods of Understanding, Western and Dharmic" distinguishes between the idea of rationality propogated by the thinkers of the Enlightenment and the dharmic idea of it. Essay 21 is the longest in the book-it accounts for half the length of the book-and is its piece de resistance. It starts with an account of British attitudes to India (including some caustic comments on John Stuart Mill) and proceeds to a discussion of a wide range of modern Indian perceptions of India and the West, arranged partly under eminent names and partly under categories. It is an impressive survey and a brilliant piece of writing. The critiques of Ranade, Gokhale, Ambedkar, M.N. Roy and Golwalkar are particularly powerful. The brief references to Marx show him as sharing the prevalent ignorances and prejudices.
The contrast between Western thinking, rooted in Aristotelian logic, influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment, characterised by dualisms (either/or, subjective/objective, secular/religious, individual/society, and so on), and tending to elevate partial truths into absolutes, and dharmic thought which encompasses opposites, recognises the many-sideness of reality and tends to "see the human condition with many eyes and speak about it with many tongues", is at the heart of this book and is a recurring theme in several of the essays. This is a seminal contribution.
There can be no disagreement with the author's basic propositions about the centrality of dharma as that from which everything in Indian thought flowed; the egregious Western misunderstandings of Indian Society and civilisation; the errors of understanding on the part of Indians themselves; and the disorders in Indian society caused by the adoption of Western definitions and formulations far removed from traditional Indian thinking And yet one's assent falters from time to time. For instance, granting that 'Hindu' is a foreign word of relatively recent origin and that in its initial use it had only a geographical significance, what follows? If we wish to eschew the word 'Hindu', we shall have to find a new word to describe the millions to whom that name now applies; we might as well retain the word which is in common use. The author might not have strong objections to that; what he objects to is the fact that the word 'Hindu' has led to the formation 'Hinduism'. He argues that there is no such thing and that it is not a 'religion'. When he says that there is no such thing he obviously does not imply that there is nothing which unites the millions whom we call Hindus; he is only saying that what unites is not a 'religion' called 'Hinduism'. True, what we call 'Hinduism' does not have many of the characteristics of Christianity or Islam or Judaism. There is no single 'holy book', no established Church, no official clergy; no requirement of subscription to a set of dogmas or beliefs, or even a belief in God; no concept of 'heresy'; no tradition of martyrdom; no proselytisation: no claim to the exclusive possession of truth; no division of humanity into 'true believers' and 'infidels'. But does it follow from all this that Hindism or dharma is not a religion? If we say so, are we not defining 'religion' by the characteristics of Christianity or Islam? The author does not seem to consider the possibility that there can be a religion which is very different from Christianity and Islam.
He may answer that if that be so, it would be better not to describe it as ' religion', because in the English language that word carries associations with the religion known in English or Western society, and its use in the context of Indian society is liable to cause confusion and misunderstanding. But that can be said about many other English words. A language is the reflection and embodiment of certain ways of living; that is way translation from the one language into another is enormously difficult, and particularly so when the two languages belong to two very different civilisations. And yet we cannot adopt the extreme position that we can never talk about one civilisation in the language of another; we do it all the time. Badrinath's essays and lectures, and the book under review, are in English. If we can talk about Indian society and civilisation in English it should be possible for us to use the word 'religion' without distorting and misrepresenting Indian reality.
It is a necessary word. When people pray or worship or visit temples or go on pilgrimages or perform rituals or undertake austerities, would it be wrong to say that they are engaged in religious activities in one of the ordinary senses of that term? It is not being suggested that such practices and rituals are the essential characteristics of being religious, any more than subscription to certain Church or its equivalent. In the most general terms, one can say that religion is an attempt to come to terms with the mystery of life. Badrinath himself refers to "that unceasing search for the meaning of life which is what the religious truly is" (p.87). In this sense can one say that Hinduism (or dharma) is not a religion? It is as misleading to say that dharma is not a religion as to say that it is. Similarly, karma may not be a theodicy, but it is part of an attemption to come to terms with the mystery of life: moksha can doubtless be talked about entirely in human terms, but in so far as it means also a liberation from the cycle of birth, death and re-birth, it does have a transcedental dimension. To say that karma and moksha are not religious ideas at all is an overstatement of a valid point.
Again, Badrinath is entirely right in saying that the secular/religious distinction is a Wester polarity which is inapplicable to Indian civilisation, and that dharma transcends that polarity. But if that be so, how can dharma be described as secular? What the author means of course is that it arises from no alleged divine revelation but from a study of human existence in all its aspects, relationships and dimensions. However, as he himself states, dharma cannot be reduced to humanism. He refers to the "interdependence of life" and says also that there is no dichotomy of 'rational' and 'spiritual'. That is profoundly true. In describing dharma as secular the author seems to adopt the very plarity which he rejected. He sees this danger and tries to avoid it by drawing a distinction between 'dharmic secularity' and 'Western secularity' (p128); but the potential for confusion remains.
Let us, however, move on to another point. There is sickness and disorder throughtout the world, and India is no exception. The author recognises this; but while he ascribes the disorder of other societies to the central tenets or characteristics of their governing philosophies (Aristotelian logic; Cartesian dualism; Christianity; Islam; Marxism) he regards the evils of Indian society as the result of human imperfection and deviations from dharma. He proceeds to say that "it will be in the midst of adharma that dharma will remain the sustaining force of all life" (p.58). That may be so, but why did our perfect all-embracing order (dharma) fail to give us greater protection from sickness and disorder than other imperfect philosophies and worldviews? That is a question which has not been adequately examined in the book.
There are may other points which need discussion, but with the space available it is possible to put down only a few of them, in a brief and compressed form:
- There has been in India not only a non-theistic (or not necessarily theistic) dharmic tradition which is concerned with both the material aspects of life (pleasure, wealth, etc.) and the spiritual, but also (as the author himself points out) a theistic, God-centred, other-worldly tradition, which can hardly be dismissed as secondary or peripheral. If so, how can we say categorically that Indian civilisation was not God- centred and other-worldly? This again seems an overstatement.
- Hindu- Muslim conflict and the emergence of Pakistan did not arise because of Hindu nationalism as the book suggests; the emergence of Hindu nationalism was itself part of the history of that conflict, and might in turn have aggravated it. The conflict might well have arisen even if dharmic civilisation in a pristine form had prevailed in the subcontinent. The advent of a tightly-knit highly diversified, non-dogmatic, inclusive civilisation (whether we call it dharmic or Hindu, and whether it was a religion or not) was bounder to have a disruptive effect. Contrariwise, even with the prevalence of 'wrong' notions such as 'Hindu' and 'Hinduism' the conflict could perhaps have still been dealt with better than we have managed to do,
- It seems to this reviewer that Gandhi deserved more extensive discussion. Essay 21 disposes of him in barely over a page. In the section on M.N. Roy, the author says "Gandhi's voice is not heard in India in Transition": it is heard only to a limited extent in this book. Further, the statement that Gandhi had no deep understanding of the intellectual history of Western civilisation (p.335), and the bracketing of Gandhi and Golwalkar as maintaining that India has nothing to learn from the West (p.337), are debatable: they need some elaboration.
- References to Western disquiet and loss of certainty and to dharma as holding the answer make this reviewer somewhat uncomfortable. The point is not merely that there is plenty of sickness and disorder to be dealt with in India before we offer wisdom to the world; it is also that the putative doubt and uncertainty in the West seem to be confined to some groups and categories: scientists, philosophers, artists and so on, as also young people afflicted with a vague discontent. On the other hand there seems to be a new and aggressive certainty on the part of some other categories: politicians, economists, government people and their academic advisers. There is a strident re-affirmation of capitalism and a proselytising fervour on behalf of that faith; and a renewed assertion of Western dominance and an attempt to subordinate the rest of the world to that dominance. These forces are not plagued by any uncertainties, nor are they seeking any wisdom from the East. It would have been interesting to have Badrinath's analysis of these trends.
In conclusion one may say that many of the points made in this review amount to a questioning of overstatements rather than basic disagreements with the author. When an author embarks on a pioneering venture of removing long-standing errors of understanding and bringing about a transformation of thought, some vehement emphases and overstatements on his part are understandable. However, when they come from an author of Badrinath's general perspicacity, one may perhaps take the liberty of respectfully reminding him of his own warnings against excess (ati) and his salutary observation that every statement about India can be matched by its opposite. This does not detract from the honour that is due to a path-breaking endeavour.
It must be added that the whole book is eminently readable, and the style (despite some very occasional infelicity) lucid and fluent, rising from time to time to eloquence. There is an excellent index, quite clearly prepared by the author himself. The reviewer wishes that he could communicate to the readers of this review the sense of excitement and exhilaration with which he read much of the book, and in particular the analytical survey in the last essay. He looks forward eagerly to the publication of the larger work: will some intrepid publisher come forward?
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