GURU ENGLISH — South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language: Srinivas Aravamudan; Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 395.
Heavily grounded in contemporary theory, the study (part linguistics, part history, part sociology of religion,) takes the reader through not only the different phases listed above but describes eloquently and critically the personalities who “created”, reformed, adapted, universalised Hindu thought and myth, spreading it abroad, very differently from the proselytisers of the Semitic faiths, but popularising it nevertheless, claiming a special standing for this ‘religion’ (which is no religion in any revealed sense), an applicability and relevance that can withstand the onslaughts of science, that is itself somehow scientific, has contained the germs of scientific thought from the very beginning. Hinduism takes scientific progress on board for the simple reason that it offers no belief system that can be disproved. Thus, in contexts where the belief system stands discredited, the heady mix of the philosophical, psychological and spiritual offered by charismatic gurus through yoga and meditation has proved to be a powerful draw.
Raja Rammohun Roy, Keshub Chandra Sen, Vivekananda, Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant, Gandhiji, Tagore, Aurobindo, J. Krishanmurti, Mahesh Yogi, and Rajneesh are only some of the many figures whose influence is discussed. Each chapter also has a section analysing chosen literary texts that bear witness to the melding of East and West through this ‘cosmopolitan’ South Asian religion. A first chapter gives us Orientalists and Vedantists; the second walks us through Bankim Chandra’s literary works, Kipling’s Kim (an odd inclusion, one thinks, but he makes a convincing case) and Aurobindo’s dream of a mystic fellowship. The third chapter is a study of theosophy and theosophists; the fourth of a Hindu Sublime with Gandhiji and Tilak and what the Gita had to say to the genocide of the 1940s...
What Srinivas Aravamudam gives us is the way in which Hindu thought can be harnessed to the creation of “a quasi-religious awe around nuclear power.” This book, despite my reservations about the title, is penetrating, relevant and interesting. I recommend it strongly to serious readers but warn them not to be discouraged by the wordiness of the Introduction.