Monday, March 2, 2015

Meera Kosambi Passes Away

Reposted from Permanent Black

Over our many years of publishing Meera Kosambi's books, including her brilliant translation of the memoirs of Dharmanand Kosambi, the author became a friend with whom much was shared and exchanged. She will be deeply missed.

A detailed blogpost will follow shortly.

A wide-ranging writer and intellectual, she authored numerous essays and books on topics ranging from Marathi theatre to the social ecology of Mumbai.

Noted sociologist Meera Kosambi, the youngest daughter of the great historian and mathematician D.D. Kosambi, passed away at a private hospital in Pune on Thursday after a brief illness aged 75. 

Ms. Kosambi, who did not marry, had an illustrious academic pedigree. Her father, a polymath, was India’s pre-eminent Marxist historian, while her grandfather was the renowned Buddhist scholar and Pali language expert, Acharya Dharmananda Damodar Kosambi. 

Ms. Kosambi, who did her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Stockholm, wrote, co-wrote or edited more than 15 books which reflected a lifelong preoccupation and passion for with the notion of the modern, emancipated Indian woman. 

While all her works are shot through with brilliant and incisive scholarship, Ms. Kosambi’s crowning achievement was to turn the light on Pandita Ramambai, the great 19 century Indian reformer and educationist and early pioneer of women’s emancipation in India. 

Through her splendid translations of Returning the American Gaze: Pandita Ramabai’s the people of the United States (1889) and a volume of Ramabai’s Selected Works, Ms. Kosambi was instrumental in salvaging the great reformer’s reputation from the debris of time and restoring Pandita Ramabai to the pedestal of one of Modern India’s most illustrious figures. 

A wide-ranging writer and intellectual, she authored numerous essays and books on topics ranging from Marathi theatre to the social ecology of Mumbai. 

She retired as a professor and director of the Research Centre for Women’s Studies, a post that she held for a decade, at the SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai. 

From the Times of India 

Sad news of the death of prominent sociologist, writer, and translator Meera Kosambi, in Pune on February 26, was received as
a double blow in her ancestral Goa. Many friends and admirers did not know she was ailing. The news was a shock.

There was also immediate recognition that an era had passed—76-year-old Meera Kosambi was the last living link to the prodigious intellectual legacy of her father, D D Kosambi, and her grandfather, Dharmanand Kosambi, who set out on foot from Sancoale in Goa in 1899 to found one of the greatest intellectual dynasties of the 20th century.

Every Indian schoolchild learns about the Tagores, but very few are taught about the Kosambis, despite three generations of truly exceptional achievement backed by pioneering work in multiple fields of research and scholarship. This 'recognition gap' can be attributed to the fact that the Kosambis stood alone, usually far ahead of their contemporaries.

Meera's description of her grandfather aptly summarizes the family character: "solitary thinker(s)... refusal to court public adulation, coupled with plain-speaking and unwillingness to compromise."

The combined story of the Kosambis is almost unbelievable.

Dharmanand's powerful thirst for knowledge—first, about Buddhism—led him to leave his wife and infant daughter and walk out from Sancoale across the border of Portuguese India to Pune, then Varanasi, where he learned Sanskrit while subsisting like a mendicant.

He trudged to Nepal to study Pali, then to Sri Lanka where he was ordained a Buddhist monk. By 1910, he was working at Harvard University in the USA. After learning Russian, this intrepid Goan scholar went on to teach at Leningrad University as well.

Dharmanand returned to India to participate in the freedom struggle against the British. He was imprisoned for six years for his key role in the salt satyagraha. But he continued to write and teach about Buddhism—his influence led B R Ambedkar to convert.

When he sought to give up his life through voluntary fasting just before independence, Mahatma Gandhi prevailed upon him to reconsider, but Dharmanand was steadfast. He died at Sevagram in June 1947.

In the introduction to her masterly translations of 'the essential writings' of Dharmanand, Meera acknowledged: "I did not
know my grandfather", but sought to "claim him as an intellectual ancestor".

She did meet him as a child, and her rigorous, sensitive approach to translating his writings from Marathi —especially the spellbinding autobiographical 'Nivedan' —more than demonstrates a powerful connection.

Even stronger ties bound the adamantine scholar D D Kosambi to his devoted daughter.

Her last book 'Unsettling the Past: Unknown Aspects and Scholarly Assessments of D D Kosambi', was released in Goa in December 2013.

Meera's father was a spectacular polymath with major contributions to the study of ancient history, mathematics, Sanskrit literature, numismatics, and energy policy.

He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard in 1929, before returning to India and writing a long series of highly original papers—backed by painstaking, innovative fieldwork—that define the meaning of 'Renaissance Man'.

Just as Meera's terrific translations of her grandfather's work have proven integral to Dharmanand Kosambi's continuing relevance, her collection of D D Kosambi's writings secured her father's place in history.

The three essays on solar energy alone illustrate how far ahead he was of his time. If India had heeded him instead of his some-time nemesis Homi Bhabha, there is no doubt the country would be far ahead today.

The youngest link in the Kosambi intellectual chain was much more than merely the champion of her father and grandfather.

Meera was a strikingly distinctive feminist thinker and writer, as well as one of the most meticulous scholars and translators
of her generation.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Some Theoretical comments on DD Kosambi's The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India

A paper by R. Sundara Rajan.

Indian Philosophical Quarterly : Volume 3. January 1976

"Conflict is the main spring of Marxian social dynamics, whereas in Kosambi, there is no such clear identification of a dynamic factor; he merely speaks of successive changes in the means and relations of production. But if we wish to identify the dynamic factor in Kosambi's model of change, we have to look to another context and surprisingly enough, it turns out to be population growth"

Alternate download from source: Indian Philosophical Quarterly, University of Pune

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kosambi’s ‘An Introduction to the Study of Indian History’ Translated into Telugu

Delhi University retd professor Uma Chakravarti and Veekshanam editor N Venugopal in conversation before her talk on DD Kosambi’s approach to history at the release of the Telugu translation of ‘An Introduction to the Study of Indian History’ in Hyderabad on Monday | A RADHAKRISHNA
Delhi University retd professor Uma Chakravarti and Veekshanam editor N Venugopal in conversation before her talk on DD Kosambi’s approach to history at the release of the Telugu translation of ‘An Introduction to the Study of Indian History’ in Hyderabad on Monday | A RADHAKRISHNA
HYDERABAD: DD Kosambi is the first historian to adopt a logical approach to Indian history and his books reflect his ideas, which are very different from other historians, according to Prof. Uma Chakravarthi, a retired history faculty of the Delhi University.
Speaking at the launch of the Telugu translation of noted mathematician and Marxist historian DD Kosambi’s classic, ‘An Introduction to the Study of Indian History,’ here Monday, Uma felt that, even after five decades, Kosambi’s work still stands as a landmark in the field of history.
“Many scholars pick some paragraphs from his books and make an entire thesis out of them, but I don’t think they follow the method he followed,” she opined. Though his work in history is considered to be one of the best, interestingly, he never pursued it as his full-time profession. He wrote all his papers while working as a mathematics teacher, she added.
Kosambi was also the first historian to talk about caste and gender in ancient India. Most of the historians begin Indian history only from 16th or 17th century while Kosambi begins his reference way back from the 12th century, Uma explained, adding that chapters on Buddhism are her favourites among Kosambi’s works.
Prof Inukonda Thirumali, chairman of the joint action committee of the Telangana Praja Sanghalu, described Kosambi’s book as an ‘eye-opener’ which shows the difference between truth and myth. He said such ideas should be brought to light and the book should be translated into as many languages as possible. “This is the reason why Geeta Ramaswamy of Hyderabad Book Trust decided to bring out the Telugu translation,” he added. Translated by N Venugopal, editor of Veekshanam magazine, the Telugu translation titled, ‘Bharata Charitra Adhyayananiki Oka Parichayam,’ was jointly published by Hyderabad Book Trust and Veekshanam.

‘Kosambi broke with the past, pioneered a new methodology’

Source: The Hindu 

Historian Uma Chakravarti said Kosambi was a pioneer in social history at a time when the basic writing of history was either colonial or nationalistic

Eminent historian Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi made path-breaking contributions to historical analysis through his methodology, noted well-known feminist historian and civil liberties activist Uma Chakravarti.

During her talk on Kosambi’s Approach to History here on Monday, Prof. Chakravarti said Kosambi was a pioneer in social history at a time when the basic writing of history was either colonial or nationalistic. 
This was stated in an introduction to a Telugu translation of D.D. Kosambi’s An Introduction to the Study of Indian History by N. Venugopal.

Though emerging as an antidote to the colonial narrative, the problem with nationalist history was that it constantly evoked a “glorious past”, and its reluctance to look at caste and gender meant disengagement with the present, Prof. Chakravarti noted.

Indologists who narrowed down their tools to texts have typically left the history before 1200 AD to the realm of mythology, which offered nothing in terms of caste and gender.

In contrast, Kosambi, a mathematician by profession, was incredibly eclectic and used all tools at his disposal, including numismatics, statistical derivatives and archaeology to study ethnography, and brought out a set of questions that had not been seriously considered before 1956.
The observation that India did not need slavery thanks to its caste system and debt bondage, and that the Indus Valley could have been a static civilisation as its script remained unchanged for 800 years, were remarkable examples of his historical understanding. His study of Buddhism and State formation were brilliant, Prof. Chakravarti remarked.

“I don’t think Kosambi should be treated as God. The method he followed made him open to analysis…Nobody has adopted his methodology, but just want to follow the line he gave,” she pointed out.
She also noted that Kosambi made a gendered analysis of history in Myth and Reality , even though gender was a dimension much ignored.
I don’t think Kosambi should be treated as God. The method he followed made him open to analysis…Nobody has adopted his methodology, but just want to follow the line he gave
Prof. Uma Chakravarti
Historian Uma Chakravarti said Kosambi was a pioneer in social history at a time when the basic writing of history was either colonial or nationalistic

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas Facebook page

Please "Like" the DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas Facebook page to get updates about the annual festival.

Please note that this blog is not connected in any other way to the facebook page other than a common interest regarding DD Kosambi.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lessons from D D Kosambi

Lessons from D D Kosambi

By Victor Ferrao
‘Give us today our daily bread’ is already a highly developed prayer and  cannot have been prayed by humanity in the stone age as nothing like bread was known to us then writes Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi in his famous book Myth and Reality.
Indeed, the prayer could not be directed to God the father in that era, when Mother Goddess was predominant. All our beliefs today have evolved and gained in complexity. Scientist Newton recognised that he saw further because he stood on the shoulders of giants. Our past has a constitutive relationship with the present. Most of us in India accept this truth more radically through our belief in the law of karma.
Kosambi, being a great intellectual giant, drove home this plain truth effectively through his book. He demonstrated that some of our myths and rituals have primitive roots, opening a new widow to our understanding of our history and culture. He showed how these practices remain fossilised in the caste and religious practices of today.
We can  identify two dynamic processes in the religio-political past our country. Some ancient cults amalgamated with each other and consolidated their socio-political and even economic dominance while the quest for the same lead other cults to refuse merger with  others.
Kosambe maintained that it is not the cults that clash with each other,  but rather the people who follow them, who sometimes even take to violent paths. In this context, he presented the conflict between the followers of  Acharya  Shankara  and Acharya Ramanuja as model and asserted that nothing in the noble theology of the two could inspire such violence and  yet  it occurred.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Orgy of Myth making

The ignorance the three RSS leaders exhibit about a religion they publicly espouse is remarkable. They seem not to have read the Rg Veda, the source of numerous Hindu traditions and beliefs. The historian D.D. Kosambi had read it in Sanskrit, and according to The Oxford India Kosambi, compiled, edited and introduced by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, the Rg Veda speaks of four major castes, tribes being outside the then localised caste scheme: “Brahmana was his (the Supreme Being’s) mouth, Kshatriya made of his arms; the Vaisya his thighs, and the Sudra generated from his feet (RV.X.90.12), says the particularly sacred Puru-sasukta hymn. Yet the four-caste system is not described as prevalent outside of India, where the earliest division into Arya and Dasa was known to persist.”

As far as animal sacrifice is concerned, Kosambi had this to say: “The function of Vedic ritual is the celebration of certain animal sacrifices at the fire-altar. The five principal sacrificial animals are in order of importance: man, horse, bull (or cow), ram, he-goat…, and their flesh was to be eaten as is seen from rubrics for the disposal of the carcasses….” Horse sacrifice is particularly significant, given the importance Aryans attached to horses.

Will Subramanian Swamy give a call now to burn Kosambi’s books along with the “Nehruvian books” of Bipan Chandra and Romila Thapar?
Full article:  Orgy of Myth making
HISTORICAL revisionism has attained a certain kind of urgency in the country today. The blurring of the lines between fact and myth is being expedited like never before. Sweeping generalisations about the past are being made publicly and repeatedly, not only by individuals but also by formal organisations. Conferences are being organised to rearrange facts and show “Hindus” as the true inheritors of the land and all “others” as foreigners or invaders. This is to build a narrative of a glorious Hindu Rashtra that negates the contributions of the Mughals, Buddhists, Christians and everybody else.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Kosambi festival from Febuary 4-8, 2014

Kosambi festival from Febuary 4-8
TNN | Jan 15, 2014, 01.46 AM IST

READ MORE National University Of Singapore|Kala Academy|Diplomat|Kosambi Festival
PANAJI: The 7th D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas will be held from February 4 to February 8 at Kala Academy, featuring noted personalities from various fields including co-founder of Infosys N R Narayana Murthy and astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar.

Others who will be delivering lectures include author Vandana Shiva (Indian); Kishore Mahbubani (Singapore), an academician and former Singaporean diplomat, currently professor in the Practice of Public Policy and Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore; and Baroness Patricia Scotland (UK), a British barrister who served in many ministerial positions within the UK government.

The Directorate of Art and Culture had initiated the D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas to commemorate the birth centenary of the legendary Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi, who contributed to genetics by introducing Kosambi's map function. He is well-known for his work in numismatics and for compiling critical editions of ancient Sanskrit texts.

D D Kosambi was also a historian specializing in ancient India who employed the approach in his work.

He is described as 'the patriarch of the Marxist school of Indian historiography'. This festival is the only one of its kind in the country.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Monk, Mathematician, Marxist

Dharmanand Kosambi may be described as
a scholar and proselytiser of Buddhism and
practicing Buddhist, a Gandhian, and a feminist

By ANANYA VAJPEYI February 1, 2012

INDIA HAS REMADE ITSELF at least twice in the past 100 years. The economic and political character of the country, which was of a colonial-nationalist nature in the early 20th century, became Nehruvian-socialist after Independence and then shifted again toward globalising neoliberalism in the last decade of the century. An effective way to track the cultural effects of these very large shifts is to compare the trajectories of successive generations of Indians. The lives of the extraordinary father-son duo of Dharmanand Kosambi (1876-1947) and Damodar Dharmanand or DD Kosambi (1907-1966), both brilliant scholars and pioneers of entire fields of study, vividly illustrate the first great transformation of modern India, effected over the course of the 1950s and early 1960s, during three administrations under Jawaharlal Nehru.

The recent translation of several of Dharmanand’s Marathi writings, including his partial autobiography Nivedan (A Narrative): 1912-1924 (Permanent Black, 2011), and a broad retrospective exercise by a number of contemporary historians occasioned by Damodar’s birth centenary in 2007, allow us to follow Kosambi père and fils in some detail, and through them to view the changing historical contexts in which they were embedded. Dharmanand’s granddaughter and DD Kosambi’s daughter, Meera Kosambi, herself a sociologist specialising in urban studies and women’s studies, and an accomplished translator between Marathi and English, has in the past two years helped bring both her eminent forbears back into focus for students of modern India.

Father and son were polymaths, and in this regard they remind us of other talented public figures in South Asia prior to Independence, like the poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and the art historian Ananda K Coomaraswamy (1877-1947). Together and individually, the Kosambis also exemplify a confluence of intellectual streams that coloured the biographies of a large number of prominent Indians, men and women, in the first three quarters of the 20th century: Buddhism, Marxism, Gandhianism and Socialism. For reasons that remain culturally and sociologically under-studied and have as yet to get any sort of systematic treatment in the intellectual history of modern India, some blend of these ideological currents impacted a range of thinkers and leaders, from BR Ambedkar to Ram Manohar Lohia, Narendra Dev to Rahul Sankrityayana, Jai Prakash Narayan to Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Vinoba Bhave to JB Kripalani.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Remembering D. D. Kosambi

Remembering D. D. Kosambi

Progressive circles in India have been late in remembering D. D. Kosambi in 2007, the centennial year. Of course Pune, where Kosambi lived and died, led the way to centenary celebrations. A committee was formed with R. P. Nene and Meera Kosambi, daughter of D. D. Kosambi, to pay homage to the savant extraordinary in a befitting manner. A number of public lectures were organized on and from 31 July 2007, with Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Prabhat Patnaik, and others as speakers. The Birth Centenary Committee has also been successful in persuading the Government of India to issue a postal stamp and instituting a Chair in the name of Kosambi in the University of Pune. The Human Resources Development ministry has sanctioned a grant of Rs. one crore (ten million) for this post. One, however, cannot be sure whether the right man will be appointed to continue the works of Kosambi along his lines.

DD Kosambi
Memorial meetings have been held in Aurangabad, Kolkata, Goa, Manipal, and Mumbai and maybe in other places in India. A Kosambi Festival was held in Goa from 4 to 7 February 2008 to celebrate “the life and work of an extraordinarily erudite son of a legendary figure in Goan intellectual history, the Abhimanyu of an Arjun, as someone has said about Damodar Kosambi and his father Dharmanand” (Reported by Sandhya Palekar in Indian Skeptic, 21: 1, 15. 05. 2008, p. 18). Dr.Vivek Monteiro, a Harvard doctorate, who abandoned the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research to teach mathematics and science to the children of slum-dwellers of Mumbai,  and finally became a trade unionist, gave a talk on “Science as the cognition of necessity”, the definition of science proposed by Kosambi.

Such attempts, however laudable, are not sufficient to make the new generation aware of what a versatile genius Kosambi was. Of course, it is not possible for a single person even to describe in broad terms, not to speak of evaluate, the contributions made by Kosambi in such diverse fields as anthropology, archaeology, classical genetics, Indian history, mathematics, numismatics, statistics, and Sanskrit text criticism. He was equally thoroughgoing in all the disciplines he had enriched. The bibliography of his works is bound to fill anyone with awe. A man like him is rare in all ages, more particularly in our times when ‘superspecialization’ is the key to both fame and success. In what follows I shall try to give an inkling of the man Kosambi, not the prodigious scholar he was.