The Telegraph
Wednesday , March 1 , 2017

Real picture

In an interview with Sucheta Dasgupta on the sidelines of the Jaipur Literary Festival this year, the Sanskrit scholar, Alex Watson, lamented that Sanskrit remains "either totally rejected by modern-thinking, scientifically-minded people who think it is only about religion, or it gets claimed by the Hindutva right, but they focus on only one part of the Sanskrit literature, they don't recognize the full diversity that we find in it." Significantly, he noted, "there may be less contradiction between being a Hindu and being an atheist at first than, say, between being a Christian and an atheist or a Muslim and an atheist, but if the term denotes not just the religion but also the culture then there is no contradiction. So many people refer to themselves as atheistic."

Watson reminds us of a quote by Kapila muni, the author of Samkhya philosophy: "God does not exist due to lack of proof". In almost the same vein, Charvaka, another revered sage, sought to refute the Hindu belief of janmantar (rebirth); he told his disciples, "Once the human body is burnt, it doesn't come back." Sanskrit literature is linked to Hindu dharma (needless to say, dharma and religion are not synonymous), but never subservient to the latter. That is because of the tradition of tolerance in Hinduism has been systematically vulgarized by the defenders of Hindutva.

This tradition might have built the culture of tolerance in Indian history. The deceased historian and professor, Tapan Raychaudhuri, had inferred that in contrast with Indian tradition, the Western tradition lacks tolerance. In a talk in Calcutta in December 2012, under the aegis of The Telegraph, he argued that there was no bloody riot worthy of mention during the entire period of Muslim rule in India. He poignantly stated that if one teaches history, he or she cannot avoid saying unpleasant things, and sometimes, they cannot get away with it either.

Deep roots

On the subject of the destruction of the famous Alexandria Library during the era of Julius Caesar, the Chalcedonian clergyman, historian and theologian, Orosius, said, "So perished that marvellous monument of the literary activity of our ancestors, who had gathered together so many great works of brilliant geniuses. In regard to this, however true it may be that in some of the temples there remain up to the present time book chests, which we ourselves have seen, and that, as we are told, these were emptied by our own men in our own day when these temples were plundered - this statement is true enough - yet it seems fairer to suppose that other collections had later been formed to rival the ancient love of literature, and not that there had once been another library which had books separate from the four hundred thousand volumes mentioned, and for that reason had escaped destruction."

Intolerant Hindutva is, thus, an Occidental construct. Small wonder then, that it evolved directly under colonial rule. One may not find a semblance of this in Sanskrit literature.Watson is now engaged in translating a text of Jayanta Bhatta, an outstanding philosopher of the Nyaya school in the 9th century and author of Nyayamañjari. An advisor to King Shankaravarman of Kashmir, but born to a Bengali Brahmin family, Bhatta wrote a religio-philosophical and satirical drama, Agamadambara, which demolishes Vedic orthodoxy. The period of the drama was the reign of King Shankaravarman (883-902 CE). The main character is Sankarshana, a young, dynamic follower of the orthodox school of Mimamsa. He begins by defending the orthodoxy. But ultimately, the Mimamsaka forms an alliance with the Shaiva professor (representing the moderate doctrine of Shaiva siddhanta) against the irreligious Charvaka materialist. The Quran, too, endorses tolerance almost directly: "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256). Political Islam, fostered by the West, is obviously a subversion of the Quran.

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