Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wendy Doniger & William Dalrymple; The Mother & Sri Aurobindo

From the time of William Jones, who is justifiably called the father of (modern) Indology right up to the likes of Wendy Doniger and Michael Witzel, the research, narrative, and interpretation was, unsurprisingly, colonial in both colour and flavour–Eurocentric, if you will. It was not so much from a spirit of free and objective inquiry that research in Indology progressed but more to meet political and missionary ends. This trend continues today where new scholarly papers and books are written with an express intent to “reinterpret” or provide an “alternative interpretation” of Indian mythology, the Vedas, Puranas, symbolism, sages, Gods, and Goddesses.
It is therefore no coincidence–or any sinister cabal at work–that almost all of these scholarly works meet with such intense criticism by not just scholars but by practicing Hindus. The answer to that is found in Aurobindo’s caution: in his time, he said that these [scholars] lacked the background necessary to properly read this largely spiritual literature [Vedas]. Aurobindo spoke on the authority of the native Indian tradition, which prescribes the prerequisites to understand and interpret these texts.
Radha Rajan November 25, 2009 at 4:47 PM
You see Sandeep you always find something in the panchatantra when confronted by oddities like dear Wendy. Of course we may take a Freudian approach to Wendy and we would all be right on target. But I prefer your analogy that what you envy and cannot have, you demean and diminish. Remember the good old tale about the fox and the grapes? Perhaps Wendy wishes she were on the pillars of Khajuraho, who knows?
Druva November 26, 2009 at 9:33 PM
For one, I am very skeptical about scholars of lazy-arm-chair-professor variety, be they are from west or east to do research on indology. Only a spiritually(dharmically) awakened person can understand our scriptures to be able to produce any scholarly work. Aurobindo is one very fine example. Scholars like Wendy doesn’t even deserve any attention. It’s a pity that they get so much of attention and also make a living out it.
larissa November 26, 2009 at 6:19 AM
"that scholarship was more or less familiar to the West in terms of cultural proximity and involved none of the rigorous prerequisites that Indian scholarship demands.”
This is not wholly true. The West is also divorced from understanding its Greco-Roman heritage because it has adopted Christianity and measures all religious attitudes in terms of the Christian view point–. Many great Western classicists have made this observation.
I do not think Wendy is dishonest in that she writes about what she is interested in (namely subjects feminists are interested in and those who like to write “alternative” histories as the real history is not much to their liking)–she just exemplifies fads that are current today –I think she would distort the Greeks as much as the ancient Indians, if she were to write about them.
“Who even reads Max Mueller, despite his amazing 50 volumed SBE?”
Well just as who reads great Western classical scholars today? Today classics is in decline, whether it be in the West or East. How many people study the classics in Greek and Latin in the West? Education has come to mean acquiring practical skills to survive in the modern world.If India were a strong nation and self sufficient, it would not need to care what Westerners think of it. It is important for ideas to impact those in power, otherwise they do not exert much influence.
Beyond boundaries
UAE / Friday, November 27, 2009 Abu Dhabi
Though identified with the Vedas and other scriptures in Sanskrit, Hinduism in practice contains a baffling diversity of religious ideas, extending from the worship of trees and abstract monism to atheism – alone among major world religions, Hinduism continues to expand its pantheon with new divinities. [...]
In many parts of the country, the Hindu nationalists tried to supplant folk deities and local traditions with their own versions of a hyper-masculine Lord Rama. But popular Hinduism continues to develop, with new divinities and pilgrimages. There are fewer private recitals of the Ramayana of the kind I grew up with in small cities and towns; there are more collective displays of religiosity, such as large Maha-Aaartis (mega-prayers) organised by Hindu nationalists at major temples.
Wealthy gurus, such as Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, have proliferated, and provide material and psychological support as well as spiritual guidance to their mostly middle-class followers. Large ashrams, such as Puttaparthi near Bangalore, Gayatri Teerth Shantikunj in Hardwar, and Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry, contain large communities of affluent Indians. And members of the politically ambitious global Indian diaspora, who are also the most fervent supporters of Hindu nationalism, construct lavish temples in places as unlikely as Louisiana.
Yet the true vitality and continuity of Indian religions is still to be found where most of India’s one-billion-plus population lives. Still widely practised, folk religions and pluralist traditions constitute the norm rather than the exception, even if press and television coverage of India makes religion mostly seem a nasty political obstacle to the country’s modernisation and economic growth. [...]
It may be useful to contrast India’s lived experience of pluralism with contemporary Europe, especially as the latter tries to renovate its faded ideals of secular citizenship while longing for its old cultural uniformity. The secular liberalism of the nation-state has demanded conformity and obedience from Europe’s citizens. Upholding an abstract idea of the individual citizen divested of his religious and ethnic identity, this liberalism has not had an easy relationship with Europe’s ethnic and religious minorities, to put it mildly; the current obsession with Muslims, for instance, betrays a deep unease with expressions of cultural distinctiveness (previously exemplified in Western Europe by Jews).
The rise of right-wing parties across Europe shows that masses as well as elites are embracing majoritarian nationalism, recoiling from what, by Indian standards, seems a very limited experience of immigration, social diversity and political extremism. India’s example suggests that Europe may have to broaden and deepen its understanding of religion and tradition rather than expect its immigrants to abandon them.
As Dalrymple’s book vividly illustrates, the country’s heterodox religious and philosophical traditions remain stronger than the imported idea of the homogenous nation-state, and have survived much of its immense violence. By ensuring a degree of collective and individual continuity, these traditions have avoided the traumatic breaks with the past that have occurred in the West, and even in older civilisations like China. Certainly, the subcontinent’s antique and enduring pluralism, its respect for minority identity and community belonging, could not have been possible without the moral and spiritual core of traditional religions, which will continue to provide essential bearings to many in our increasingly crowded and confused future. Pankaj Mishra, a frequent contributor to the Review, is the author of four books, most recently The Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond.

DB: I've always enjoyed reading Dalrymple for the historical density in his writing. Of the novelists, Amitava Ghosh has this sense of history and civilization, the rest are good but are mostly focused on contemporary social phenomenology. Of course, Rushdie is the granddaddy of Indian magic realism and one does get some sense of India as a civiliization in his work, but overall I feel India has still to produce its Orhan Pamuk. I like Pankaj Mishra's essays very much but couldn't get myself to like his take on the Buddha.
TC: I agree with your take on Amitav Ghosh -his last Sea of Poppies was outstanding IMO- Although I really just skimmed PM's Buddha book, as an essayist and critic he is an excellent writer with a penetrating insight into contemporary socio-political issues. His last article in the New York Review on Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali is indicative of his excellent stylistic touch: Science, Culture and Integral Yoga
Re: : The Hindus: An Alternative History (contemporary Indian authors) Debashish Tue 24 Nov 2009 Great quote. I quite agree, Pankaj Mishra is undoubtedly among the best essayists of our times.

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