All posts filed under: Perspective

Dharmashastras

Dharmashastras and Customs As Valid Sources For Modern Law

The sacred temple of Swami Ayyappa at Sabarimala is under the danger of defilement due to the over-eagerness of a ‘secular’ State to impose its ‘Constitutional Morality’. The fundamental rights of millions of women devotees of the shrine have been ignored to facilitate the entry of a few non-believers. While the instruments of ‘Constitutional Morality’, ‘discrimination’ and ‘equality’ have been used in arguing against the practice of not allowing women aged 10-50 to enter the temple, the arguments about the traditional and ancient customs and rituals of the place have been completely ignored. This brings forth an important question. What should be the law on the issue of customs and tradition in religious practices? Increasingly, the judiciary is taking a stance that only those practices that are ‘essential’ to a religion shall be offered protection. And the definition of what is essential is left to the judiciary itself! The current interpretation is that, at the minimum, the practice in question must be defined (written/codified) in the key doctrinal texts of the religion. It takes very …

The Lost Goddess – Devi Sharada

The mythology of Daksha Yagya remains central to the origin and the substanance of the Shakta form of worship and particularly to the establishment of the Shakti Peethas across the sub-continent. It is believed that when a distraught Mahadeva performed the Rudra Tandava with the corpse of his wife Sati on his shoulders, her body disintegrated and fell across the Indian subcontinent. Each area in which a part of her body fell, became a Shakti Peetha where the Devi was consecrated in some form. The number of Shakti Peethas in India are often a topic of contention, but there is no ambiguity about the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas where the divine mother is worshipped in her various forms. Adi Shankaracharya in his Ashta Dasa Shakti Peetha Strotam laid down the names of the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas spread across multiple states of India and Sri Lanka. Each of these deities including the Ma Biraja in Odisha, Ma Kamarupa in Gauhati, Ma Jwalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh and Ma Shankari Devi in Sri Lanka are still worshipped …

Indology: The Origins of Racism in the Humanities – Part 1

Review of Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn, Archives of Origins: Sanskrit, Philology, Anthropology in 19th Century Germany. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013. Introduction Archives of Origins traces the establishment and expansion of Sanskrit studies in Wilhelmine-era Germany. Rich in archival materials, it is a valuable reference work for scholars of nineteenth-century German Indology. In the first part, titled “Sanskrit and Philological Tradition in Germany,” Rabault-Feuerhahn (hereafter R-F) traces the beginnings of Sanskrit studies in Germany, focusing on Friedrich Schlegel, Franz Bopp, A. W. Schlegel, and Schlegel’s student Christian Lassen. In the second, “The Hegemony of Comparativism,” she focuses on Vedic studies in Germany, especially as they engendered a search for characteristically “Indo-European” forms of religiosity, myth, and historical development. Here her primary interlocutors are August Schleicher, Adalbert Kuhn, Friedrich Max Müller, and Rudolf von Roth. In the third, “The Challenges of Anthropology,” R-F addresses the emergence of a science of race from Indology. Tying the interest in the “Aryan” concept to wider developments in German politics and society (the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck’s anti-Catholic policies, and the rise of German nationalism), …

Female Deities In Vajrayana Buddhism

The primordial cosmic energy that pervades the universe is symbolised in feminine form as Shakti in Hinduism. Worshipping Shakti is integral to Hinduism. Shakti manifests herself in myriad forms. Though Buddhism emerged as breaking away from the tenets of Hinduism as practised then, one can see the influence of Hindu traditions in the forms that evolved later. This essay attempts to review all the female deities worshipped in Vajrayana Buddhism. In the earliest form of Buddhism, the Hinayana, Buddha’s teachings explained the path to liberation of the individual self. In the later form, the Mahayana, Buddha’s teachings explained how to attain complete enlightenment, or the Buddhahood for the sake of others. The Mahayana incorporated novel and complex systems and practices under the influence of Hinduism. Both these traditions flourished in India and later spread to other countries in Asia, including Tibet. Vajrayana evolved from Mahayana Buddhism and was prevalent in India. Popularised by the 84 Mahasiddhas who travelled around India Vajrayana flourished between the 9th and 12th centuries. Belonging neither to any specific monastic traditions …

Indology: The Origins of Racism in the Humanities – Part 2

Review of Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn, Archives of Origins: Sanskrit, Philology, Anthropology in 19th Century Germany. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013. Read part 1 here The Attempted Rehabilitation of Indology In The Aryan Myth (1971), Léon Poliakov famously claimed that “the division of the European population into Aryans and Semites was originally based on a confusion about the nature of men (races) and their culture (languages)” (Poliakov 1996 [1971]: 2). He argued that, mediated via comparative philology and Indology, German strivings for nationhood and the Enlightenment’s anthropological discourse had led to the Holocaust. With Archives, R-F has provided the anti-Poliakov, apologetic response. Although she does not cite Poliakov, her book clearly has him in view: “The core of the questioning is the link from Indological philology to anthropology. In the discriminating [sic], lethal uses that have been made of the terms ‘Aryan’ and ‘Indo-Germanic’, what is at stake is indeed the collusion of linguistic and racial typologies” (23). Not only does R-F argue, against Poliakov, that “the link between Indological philology and anthropology does not necessarily take on the …

A Fulfilling Journey To Kailash Manasarovar

दानतीर्थतपोयज्ञपूर्वाः सर्वेऽपि सर्वदा | अङ्गानिहरिसेवायां भक्तिस्त्वेका विमुक्तये || Daana, teerthayatra, tapas and yajna are all instruments to perform constant service of sri hari; (They lead to bhakti) Bhakti is the chief instrument for mukti” – Sri Madhwacharya, Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya, Adhyaya 1, Shloka 98 It was a typical March morning. Bangalore’s fine weather and comparatively mild traffic meant I was early in office. The phone started ringing. It was, unusually at this time of the day, my chikappa (paternal uncle) Girish calling. “Hari I’ll speak to you about other stuff later. I called to check one important thing. Abhijeet and I are planning a trip to Kailash and Manasarovar in May. He says he can take one more person. We want you to join. Can you?” It was a complete surprise. Completely unexpected. Although I was jumping to say “Of course!” I played it safe and told him I’d call back in a short while to confirm. A call home to ensure there was nothing else planned in May and a quick check on my …

Discovering Life’s Purpose

In this journey called life, every person encounters these questions at some point: What is Life? Is Life merely a journey from birth to death? Does Life end with Death? Is there more to Life than just a mechanical process? Is there a purpose and meaning to Life? While the modern worldview owing to its Abrahamic origins considers this life as a onetime event, a journey that ends at death forever, the Indic worldview, which is informed by Hindu philosophy posits life as a perpetual journey of the Jiva-s from one body to another body until this journey finally comes to an end with the realization that this entire cycle of birth and death was merely an appearance, a superimposition which when removed leads to the reality of Atman as one birthless unchanging infinite whole. Death in Indic worldview is not a full stop, but merely a comma, where the Jiva discards the old body and takes up the new. In other words, Life is a journey from unreal to real, from ignorance to knowledge …

Perspective as an Audience of Pondicherry Literature Festival 2018 – the Beginning

I’ve always been wary of ‘lit fests’, ending up more often than not at book fairs instead. In my defense, the illustrious “Jaipur Lit Fest” was my benchmark for forming an opinion about such events. Glossy, elite, crowded, and towing the same soul-destroying mind-numbing left leaning binary world view. So when the INDICA the Chapter network of Indic Academy presented Pondy Lit Fest (PLF)  was announced with the speakers line up I was again unsure, would this be just another of those? My interest was really peaked when the communists came up in arms to get the festival barred and I totally decided to go when the Alliance Francaise Pondicherry, one of the two partner venues pulled out at the very last moment owing to the pressure. I can only imagine the frustration and difficulties faced by the Indic Academy and PLF organisers to keep their first venture afloat… and must I say what a rise of the phoenix it was. A spectacularly hosted and successful event despite the limitations and road blocks!! I’m so glad …

Swami Vivekananda And Sardar Patel On Nationhood

Between two Indian Independence days, last year and this year, I spent most of my time reading the letters and speeches of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for my new book on Patel, The Man Who Saved India. Two letters, in particular, have stayed with me. They justify, in a sense, the title of the book. They were written barely days before the death of India’s first deputy Prime Minister in mid-December 1950. In November 1950, barely a month before his death, Patel wrote two letters on China, Tibet (which China annexed in 1950) and India’s north-eastern frontier which are acutely prescient. The first letter, the shorter of the two, is addressed to Girija Shankar Bajpai, the Secretary-General in the External Affairs Ministry, where Patel warns about everything from Communist arms smuggling in the northeast to the impact of European missionaries on the hill tribes including the Nagas “their influence was, by no means, friendly to India and Indians”. On China he writes, “we cannot be friendly with China and must think in terms of defence against …

India At 71: Crises of Identity Amidst The Machinations Of Monopolists

It is a yearly ritual, since 1947, to ask both the simple and obvious questions of what independence has brought to and means to India, as well as pose the more probing interrogatories about identity, belonging, and seeking post-independence. Getting to a satisfying there where Bharat meets India, on terms that both the Bharateeya and the Indian can celebrate, seems to be a distant destination in this 71st year of India’s independence from colonial rule. Once colonized, the getting there is through a long, bumpy road that winds upon itself, tying us up in knots of the mind and the soul, and wearing us down with self-doubt about our place in the Sun. This identity quest, if indulged in for far too long, by the digging up of the dirt of history, can keep us stalled on that bumpy road or get us into the ravines of rage and regret. Colonized for long, humiliated, injured, and robbed of our precious legacies, and of our sense of self, we struggle to find our place in the …