Friday, November 26, 2010

The Questionable Historicity of the Mahabharata by SSN Murthy

I conclude by saying that the Epic Mbh, is a dramatized version of the btk and there is no historicity involved in the Epic. There is only one ‘bhårata war’ ie., the Vedic battle of ten kings. It is believed here that this communication would start an interesting debate in the study of the ancient history of India.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Was the Harappan Culture Vedic? by RS Sharma

Was the Harappan Culture Vedic?*

by Ram Sharan Sharma
West Boring Canal Road, Patna 800001

(* Fourth Foundation Day Lecture of the Indian Council of Historical Research delivered on March 27, 2005.)

Download (original site)

Link via Communalism Watch

Monday, November 1, 2010

A film maker inspired by DDK

The Hindu : Arts / Cinema : Visual symphonies
“I can hear music in a colour,” says eminent film maker Kumar Shahani. This becomes quite evident when one looks at his repertoire of films all of which have a lingering musical quality. Shahani seems to carry music with him. There is an innate sense of music in his words; music colours his thoughts and many of his major films like ‘Khayal Gatha' and ‘Bamboo Flute' are based on music.

However he says he had no formal training in music as a child and later he began to train himself, not to perform but to enjoy music. Mumbai in those days was a centre for Khayal Gayakies and in the post-independence era was the hub of many music maestros.

Shahani considers singing to be the basis of Indian arts. For him without vocal music there is no orchestra, without which there is no dance, without dance there is no sculpture and without sculpture there is no painting.
Ocean of music

When he made the ‘Bamboo Flute' with Hariprasad Chaurasia he recollects how he kept on dreaming of life under the sea. He later interpreted this as an unconscious ‘knowing' of the pressure of water, of the pressure of life, the water in the womb and the water in the sea and their primeval music. Interestingly enough water is a predominant metaphor that figures in most of his movies.
Important works

Groomed under the tutelage of the likes of D.D. Kosambi, Ritwik Ghatak and Robert Bresson, his most important works include ‘Maya Darpan' (1972), ‘Tarang' (1984), ‘Khayal Gatha' (1988), ‘Kasba' (1990), ‘Bhavantharana' (1991), ‘Char Adhyay' (1997) and ‘Bamboo Flute' (2000). ‘Maya Darpan' was made in 1972 and in reply to the question whether his approach would be any different if he remade it today he said that he hadn't yet found out the final practice of either living or film making. “And I don't think I'll ever find it out in an absolute sense.”

In response to the comment that in his films one can see the struggle between the aesthetic and the ideological, he said he was grateful to both Marx and Kosambi for helping him bring forth and even represent that struggle itself.

It is the brilliant exploration of the visual in the performing and traditional arts of India that make his films resonate with a curious synesthetic beauty that is indeed rare in Indian cinema. Going by the Godardian definition of cinema as truth at 24 frames per second, for Shahani this truth itself is multivalent with oblique meanings offering the possibility of numerous perspectives.

The beauty of cinema for him is that so many subjectivities and so many arts come together in a film, making it a composite art

Shahani said that he was working on two projects: one on Odissi with Ileana Citaristi, a disciple of Kelucharan Mohapatra, and another with internationally renowned sculptor Anish Kapoor.

Speaking on the relevance of serious cinema in the age of digitisation he pointed out that we need to differentiate between the digital and cinematic art.

Although they overlap, each has a different potential and take off in different directions. It is important therefore that young film makers understand that the digital is not a cheap variant of the cinematic. Responding to questions regarding the philosophical and spiritual in his works he said in a jocular vein that his friends accuse him of not being carnal enough.

Surrounded as we are by film makers who seem to carry baggage of their films on their shoulders and are unable to digest any criticism, Shahani's view that the work has its own life and as an artiste he prefers to move on mentally and emotionally holds great significance.

Choosing not to speak on his own films he waxed eloquent on his master Ghatak and his student M.R. Rajan's films.

It was the humility and grace of this consummate artiste, his erudition and humaneness that held listeners spellbound during his lecture at the Institute of English, Thiruvananthapuram. The talk was in connection with the ‘Erudite Scholar Programme' of The University of Kerala.

Points to ponder

Shahani made a fervent plea to the youngsters of today to make attempts to preserve their rich heritage and their past. It is indeed the need of the hour to revive the works of major film makers and landmark films of India. Aravindan's films he said make the best case in point.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A discussion with Romila Thapar

I hope that this discussion with Prof. Romila Thapar might be of interest to the readers of this blog. Prof Thapar is one of the outstanding historians who were inspired by DD Kosambi's writings. Of particular interest are her comments on how British colonial perception led to the creation of the 'Hindu' identity and ignored other streams like Buddhism, Jainism and others.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Quest of Dharmanand, a review by Romila Thapar

Dharmanand Kosambi: The Essential Writings edited and translated by Meera Kosambi
(Ranikhet: Permanent Black), 2010; pp xv + 421, Rs 695.

A review essay by the historian Romila Thapar.

Dharmanand Kosambi was an extraordinary man. He sought knowledge about Buddhism when few in India were interested in it. He virtually trained himself as a scholar of Buddhism and did so in a manner that was the polar opposite of how we train to be scholars in our time. He had neither degrees nor research fellowships nor attachments to academic institutions but was recognised as a scholar.

Born in 1876 in a village in Goa he slowly became obsessed with wanting to learn about the teachings of the Buddha. This he proceeded to do and it involved him in long wanderings. It took him to various teachers and places for short or longer periods and in Sri Lanka and Burma he honed his knowledge.

The way he set about becoming a scholar shows immense determination but is at the same time a very moving articulation of a genuine wish to know and without any motives other than the acquiring of this knowledge. There are few who are motivated in this manner. He virtually worked out a curriculum for himself addressed to the knowledge for which he was searching.
In this volume under review, his grand-daughter Meera Kosambi has translated from the original Marathi and edited some of his more important writings. This provides a welcome acquaintance with the man, his scholarship and his social commitments. Complete Surrender His memoirs, written as a series of articles between 1912 and 1924 under the title of Nivedan, describe his early life. Declaring in 1899 that he had become a complete Buddhist at least in his mind, he left home and his young wife. He travelled first to Pune known to be a hub of Sanskrit scholarship. A smattering of Sanskrit provided an introduction to various scholars who helped him improve his knowledge of the language. Among them was R G Bhandarkar who was also developing a scholarly interest in Buddhism. From here Dharmanand travelled with his meagre belongings to Ujjain, Gwalior, Varanasi, Kathmandu and Gaya. He wandered often barefoot, ill-clad and accepting food where offered in the spirit of a bhikshu. This took him all over northern India and to sites linked to Buddhism.

During his travels he met Sanskrit teachers in various towns connected by a close network often through oral communication. These were not Indologists studying Sanskrit as something apart from their lives but were scholars for whom the study was itself a way of life. Money was extremely short and he was living on the edge of every coin. He was warned not to mention his interest in Buddhism which was frowned upon by the orthodox.

They associated it with the nastikas, the unbelievers and the pashandas, the heretics. As a contrast to this, initial studies and translations of Buddhist texts into English, such as those published by the Pali Text Society founded in 1881, were beginning to recognise the importance of Buddhism in south Asia, a recognition emerging from a mist of forgotten ideas. In eastern India, the Mahabodhi Society was slowly becoming a hub of studies on Buddhism, using both Sanskrit and Pali sources.

Dharmanand was directed to the Mahabodhi Society in Calcutta and from there he scraped together a few rupees and with a little help from his friends eventually reached Sri Lanka in 1902. Here he could openly state his purpose. The Mahabodhi Society extended support and he joined the Vidyodaya Vidyalaya.

International Recognition 

 A major movement in Sri Lanka at this time was focusing on the revival of Theravada Buddhism which had gone into a decline. The movement began in the late 19th century with the activities of the Theosophists– in particular Henry Olcott and Madame Blavatsky – who had links in India and with some organisations such as the Arya Samaj. The revival was pursued vigorously by Anagarika Dharmapala. An effort was made to propagate Theravada Buddhism and to identify it with Sinhala Buddhism. Tied into this revival were the current European theories of race with claims that the Sinhala Buddhists were Aryans. These theories were to contribute to Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. The movement has recently been described as “Protestant Buddhism”. Dharmanand met Dharmapala briefly but the meeting left little impression on him. It would have been interesting to have had an outsider’s view of the movement and particularly one sympathetic to the religion.

From Sri Lanka he went for a while to Burma where he was ordained a monk. But by now his health was so impaired that he had to discontinue monkhood. Nor was there a monastic network in India to maintain monkhood. He came to Calcutta in 1906 and taught Pali first in the National College and then at the university. His wife joined him but not for long. In 1907 their son was born. A stipend from the Maharaja of Baroda permitted a period of further research, Baroda being one of the princely states that took an active interest in furthering education. He eventually settled in Maharashtra.

Here his writings and lectures led to recognition. It also brought him into contact with James Woods to whom he taught Pali. Woods was at Harvard University and his colleague there, H C Warren, a professor of Sanskrit, was searching for a Pali scholar to help edit the Visuddhimagga, a major work on Theravada Buddhism. In 1910 Dharmanand was invited to Harvard to help with this work, the first of many visits. This established Dharmanand internationally as a scholar of Pali and Buddhism.

An Alternative System

His determination to study Pali is all the more impressive given that Buddhism elicited no interest in Goa. Nor was it much sought after elsewhere in India at that time. Apart from a children’s book on the Buddha, he mentions that he read a Marathi translation of Edwin Arnold’s poem on the life of the Buddha, The Light of Asia. This narrative in uninspired Victorian verse, published in 1879, was an instant success. Buddha’s life was portrayed as exemplary and reminiscent of Christ. Those of us that scoff at this poem will have to reassess its influence.

The poem coincided with the emerging Orientalist interest in Buddhist texts and the study of Pali in the latter half of the 19th century. Buddhism was absent in India although prevalent in other parts of Asia, so its Indian context remained somewhat in the shadow. The historical background of the Pali Buddhist Canon associated with Theravada Buddhism and later with the Hinayana, “lesser vehicle”, was rooted in northern India of the fifth century BC. There was a tendency therefore to treat it as just another manifestation of Hinduism not recognising that it was projecting an alternative system. At best it was compared to the Protestant Reformation in Christianity. But Dharmanand’s memoirs confirm that the Brahmana orthodoxy regarded it as a definitive opposition to Brahmanism. It had no place for deity and its social ethic was not based on the code of the four castes. It was, however, vibrant in other parts of Asia and the Canon was elucidated by extensive commentaries which gave the teaching an additional provenance in Asian cultures. Those recorded in Pali came to be viewed as a source of pristine Buddhism.

There was another tradition of Buddhist teaching dating to the early centuries AD, the texts of which were largely in Sanskrit. These were associated more often with the other school of Buddhist thinking, the Mahayana, “greater vehicle” whose initial core area was north-western India but extending into other parts of south Asia as also into central Asia and beyond. It would perhaps have been easier for Dharmanand to have worked on these Sanskrit texts. He does refer to the biographies of the Buddha in Sanskrit, the Lalita-vistara and the Buddhacharita of Ashvaghosha, when writing his biography of the Buddha, Bhagvan Buddha. But the Pali texts were the earliest and thought to be the original teaching whereas the Sanskrit texts reflected later changes in belief and ritual.

Buddhism, Brahmanism, Islam

Despite having to go outside India to study Pali and Buddhism, Dharmanand surprisingly says little about why he thought it had faded out in India. There are, of course, many reasons. It could be argued that language may have played a partial role. The Buddha had stated that his teaching was to be in the local language and not in Sanskrit so as to reach a wider audience and remain distinct from Brahmanism. The Prakrit used by the Buddha has been labelled “Old Buddhist ardha-magadhi” to distinguish it from the Jaina Canon. From the mid-first millennium AD Sanskrit became the hegemonic language of religious and cultural discourse. Had there been more visibility of Buddhist writing in Sanskrit, it is just possible that Brahmanism may have had to defend itself with greater vigour.

The fading out of Buddhism also came with a decrease in patronage both royal as well as that of wealthy householders. Patronage gradually shifted from Buddhism and Jainism to the Vaishnava and Shaiva sects and to Brahmanas.

Buddhism had emerged from an ethos of gana-sanghas, chiefships and oligarchies. The organisation of monasteries used these as their model as directed by the Buddha. Dharmanand insisted, quite correctly, that the Buddha was not the son of a king which at that time was almost a lone opinion. He commented on the similarity of social organisation in the ganasanghas and in socialist systems. Kingship eventually became the more powerful political form and kings treated patronage as a means of building support and acquiring legitimacy. Religious sects therefore competed for patronage and the competition would have encouraged making concessions in belief and worship.

The patronage of wealthy householders had earlier drawn in small-scale land-owners, artisans and merchants as testified in the votive inscriptions at stupa sites such as Bharhut, Sanchi, Kanheri, Amaravati and others. Many of these spectacular Buddhist structures date to the period between the Mauryas and the Guptas when trade was at a peak. A slowing down of the trade in some areas may have affected patronage from these groups. Eastern India was an exception where Buddhism remained a strong presence until the early second millennium AD. But here Buddhism was of the Vajrayana form infiltrated by Tantrism and in the proximity of Tibetan Buddhism. This created some difference with the Theravada form.

Eastern India maintained trading activities as with south-east Asia until Arab intervention diverted this trade. This coincided with the Turkish conquest of the area resulting in political confrontation, sometimes violent. But the contention that Islam was responsible for the decline of Buddhism hardly holds. Xuanzang’s account of India in the seventh century AD indicates that the decline in various parts of the subcontinent was noticeable and this was prior to the arrival of Islam. The contrast with eastern India a little later is quite striking.

Whether or not Dharmanand subscribed to this view is not stated. But he comes down heavily on the Muslims ascribing the decline and destruction of the cultures of central Asia, Persia and Egypt to Muslim conquest. He then adds, “They could not entirely destroy Indian culture; but during their reign it was almost dead; the suffering of the Hindus knew no bounds” (p 330). As a Maharashtrian he would doubtless have been familiar with the compositions of Ekanatha and the activities of the court of Shivaji, so his assessment could have been more nuanced. But this was a facile explanation and did not require questioning possible changes in Buddhism.

Large grants of land to monasteries became less frequent (except in eastern India) as compared to grants to Brahmanas which increased. Rituals of all kinds were performed and astrological predictions came to the fore in which monks were not adept. Jaina monks in particular became a sign of the inauspicious. The antagonism between Shaivas and Shramanas was almost a given, although its intensity varied. Nevertheless the Jainas maintained a position of eminence especially in western India.

Non-violence over Suffering

Despite the increasingly low profile of Buddhism some aspects of Hindu belief and thinking were likely to have been altered by the proximity of the heterodox sects, and vice versa, as is evident from the sectarian fissions that emerged in each of the religions. It is a moot point whether the essentials of Puranic Hinduism (as distinct from Brahmanism) would have evolved the way they did had there not been the proximity of the Shramanic sects. This is not to argue that the one deliberately took from the other, but rather that given the relatively decentralised of religion in the subcontinent, osmoses among religions were the more likely processes of change. The identification of such processes is significant to understanding religion in pre-modern India.

Possibly one could argue that Dharmanand subconsciously recognised the presence of these processes in the world around him and set out to seek for their roots. However, commenting briefly on the interaction of Buddhism and Hinduism he maintained that the essential values of Buddhism – non-violence and the need to eliminate suffering – had bypassed Hinduism. He gave priority to non-violence over suffering. The cause of the Buddha’s renunciation was less due to his experience of seeing sickness, old age and death, and more the imminent violence between the Shakya and the Koliya clans of Buddha’s time. (This situation is described in the Kunala Jataka.) Dharmanand maintains that the violence between the clans was averted by his renunciation. This marks an important segment of his book, Hindi Sanskriti ani Ahimsa (Indian Civilisation and Non-violence), and is stated more clearly in his play, Bodhisattva, published posthumously in 1949.

Socialism and Neo-Buddhism

His interest in socialism could also have led him to underline the social message of the Buddhist ethic. In the early part of the 20th century there was an incipient dialogue between some Buddhists and Marxists. Ideas about socialism were also in the air.

Dharmanand makes some connections and these would have been an innovation at that time. Such ideas were subsequently expressed by others of the next generation such as Rahul Sankrityayan. These may indirectly and to some degree have contributed to neo-Buddhism.

Dharmanand’s initial reading of Marx impressed him enough for him to take up a short teaching assignment at Leningrad University. The application of Marxism to organising society as in the Soviet Union interested him. He was clearly impressed by the low incidence of unemployment in the Soviet Union and by the freedom accorded to women.

In the Name of the Father

These interests of Dharmanand are reflected in some of the ideas that surface in the writings of his son who was at the time completing his degree at Harvard and returning to Pune. Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi read Mathematics at Harvard. His training as a scholar was the reverse of the path followed by his father. He took regular courses in school and at university, studied a variety of European languages and above all familiarised himself with the methodology of scientific investigation. But the impact of his father’s work and concerns seems to have been enormous. This can be seen in what began as an extra-curricular study of ancient history and Sanskrit texts.

For theories of historical explanation he drew on Marxism about which he must initially have heard from his father. In his discussions on ancient Indian history he was concerned with giving visibility to the role of Buddhist social and economic activities emphasising a dimension that had received less attention in earlier general histories. Where Dharmanand had casually mentioned the Buddhist rock-cut monasteries, his son studied the sites in order to understand their function as socio-religious institutions of early India. However, for him these were not the articulations of the holy but of history.

This is also reflected in his choice of texts to edit. He chose courtly literature in Sanskrit reflecting his definition of feudal society. Refusing to be limited to texts and library research he walked the countryside around Pune collecting data to reconstitute “living prehistory”. This ranged from the study of microliths to that of mother-goddesses. One cannot help but suspect that Dharmanand’s walk across the land inspired his son not to neglect the continuities, literally on the ground.

Dharmanand’s major work was the editing of the Visuddhi-magga (Vishuddhimarga), the Path to Purification. This was a summation of his wish to learn Pali and expand the understanding of Buddhism. In the fifth century AD, the Brahmana acharya Buddhaghosha had travelled to various centres of learning, seeking knowledge through debating with philosophers both orthodox and heterodox. At the bidding of a Buddhist monk he went to Sri Lanka where he studied the Pali Buddhist Canon and its later commentaries. Some commentaries were composed in Sinhala and it was thought necessary to translate them into Pali so that they would circulate wherever Pali was known. At the time this would have included parts of south-east Asia. Such texts were crucial to the propagation of Buddhist teachings. Buddhaghosha became a major intellectual figure through the multiple commentaries he wrote on the Canon as well as the anthologies that he compiled. In his lifetime he was probably the foremost scholar of Theravada Buddhism and the Visuddhi-magga his most celebrated work. He is acclaimed in Buddhist writings such as the Mahavamsa, a Sri Lankan monastic chronicle of the Mahavihara monastery. In editing the text, Dharmanand was introducing a foundational text of Buddhism to the wider world. It is almost as if he was continuing the work of Buddhaghosha. And there seems to have been a resemblance in the unfolding of the two lives.

Path to Purification

The Visuddhi-magga is an anthology of Buddhist teachings and a manual on Theravada Buddhism. It was intended as a summary of the Canon and also incorporated the earlier oral commentaries, the atthakathas, subsequently lost. The texts claimed to be authentic, maintaining that they incorporated the actual words of the Buddha, or traditions vouched for by the elders of the Sangha familiar with the teaching. The concern with authenticity was necessary now that almost a millennium had passed since the time of the Buddha. Furthermore, dissenting sects were sparring over the correct reading of the texts.

The Visuddhi-magga encapsulates some of Theravada Buddhist thinking in focusing on three paths to purification/liberation: sila (shila) discipline, samadhi, meditation and panna (prajna) wisdom. Discipline included finding a teacher and a place. Meditation involved reflecting on the teachings and the stages of concentration. The acquiring of wisdom was in part based on the practice of what has now become fashionable, namely, vipassana, as a method of acquiring insight. Narrative is used to explain the more abstract concepts which form the essence of the teaching. Absence of the centrality of deity and the insistence on a social ethic that did not require religious underpinnings, distinguishes early Buddhism from other religions; or, as Emile Durkheim argued, denies it the label of a religion. Editing the text therefore was an intellectual challenge.

The Sanskritist Henry Warren had begun the editing but needed the assistance of a Pali scholar. On the death of Warren another Sanskrit scholar Charles Lanman took over but looked for a person with greater expertise. The editing required consulting important manuscripts in Pali and in the Burmese and Sinhala scripts. Dharmanand was therefore well-equipped to edit the text. Dharmanand and Lanman did not always see eye-to-eye, nevertheless the work was completed in 1927. It was published later in 1950 in the Harvard Oriental Series as edited by H C Warren and D D Kosambi.

In Death, So in Life

The quest of Dharmanand illustrates the potential of searching for knowledge by seeking it directly. Ultimately that is what makes for the excellence of a scholar however arduous the training, particularly if self-imposed. After the 1930s his views were more forthright on the politics of his time. The past is brought into play on issues of the present but only where relevant. What his son D D Kosambi managed to do was in many ways a continuation of his father’s enquiries but with methods appropriate to the requirements of knowledge that prevailed in the subsequent generation.

For him the historical context of event and knowledge had primacy. This required a detailed study of context in addition to the analysis of the language. Understanding the context involved drawing on a range of evidence and this in turn enlarged the scope of causal connections. And if aspects of the analyses of the early past required juxtaposing with present times, he did this by providing a contextual critique.

When ill-health became unbearable Dharmanand retired to the Sevagram Ashram at Wardha, having known Gandhi, discussed ahimsa with him and participated in his movement. Here he chose to die through deliberate slow starvation more often associated with the Jaina tradition of sallekhana. In death as in life the decision was his.

Dharmanand wrote almost exclusively in Marathi although he knew English and other languages. He too wished to reach a large audience to explain his understanding of the teachings of the Buddha and other matters of contemporary interest. This accounts in part for his not being as well known as he should have been elsewhere in the country. Meera Kosambi’s editing and translating of his writings, involving both determination and care on her part, will help to familiarise many more people with Dharmanand’s work and thinking.

Romila Thapar ( is professor emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Scholars Extraordinary

Dileep Padgaonkar reviews the book on Dharmanand Kosambi edited by Meera Kosambi.

Scholars Extraordinary - The Times of India
For close to four decades after his death, the name of Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi did not ring a bell outside a small circle of academics engaged in the study of ancient Indian history, society and culture. But interest in his prodigious output revived in India and abroad on the occasion of his birth centenary three years ago. Younger generations of scholars discovered a man of many parts: a polyglot fluent in Sanskrit, Pali, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, German, French, Italian, Portuguese and Russian, not to mention English and Marathi; an internationally-acclaimed mathematician, statistician, Indologist, Sanskritist, archaeologist and expert in numismatics; a creative, if contested, Marxist; a peace activist and, not least, what in today's parlance is known as a 'public intellectual'.

One sad consequence of his towering achievements, however, was the near-eclipse of attention to the achievements of his father, Dharmanand Kosambi, that were, in some respects, even more remarkable. These have now been brought into focus thanks to Meera Kosambi who represents the third generation of this family of scholars extraordinary. She has brought together, for the first time in English, the essential writings of her grandfather prefaced with a succinct account of his fascinating life and career.

Born on October 9, 1876 in a humble Gowd Saraswat Brahmin family in a small village in Portuguese-ruled Goa, Dharmanand, beset with persistent health problems, dropped out of school and was compelled to manage the family's coconut grove. The routine asphyxiated his restless mind. Adding to his despair was his marriage at the age of 14. He sought and found salvation in books in Marathi, particularly books about Maharashtra's saint-poets like Tukaram and about the Buddha. The latter's teachings made such a strong impression on him that he resolved in his early 20s to devote all his energies to the study of Buddhism and to propagate Buddhist philosophy throughout the Marathi-speaking world.

Soon after his father's death in late 1899, Dharmanand left behind his wife and infant daughter in the village and, on borrowed money, headed for Pune, then recognised as one of the foremost educational and cultural hubs in the subcontinent. Here he began to study Sanskrit in earnest and, thanks to Dr R G Bhandarkar, a fellow Saraswat, came in contact with the Prarthana Samaj. Over the next six years, he travelled, penniless and often on foot, to places in India and in neighbouring countries including Nepal, Burma (where he was ordained a monk) and Ceylon to deepen his knowledge of Buddhism.
It is in Calcutta that he got a break to enter the mainstream of academic life. His principal mentors were the linguist Harinath De, Prof Manmohan Ghosh, (brother of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh), Satyendranath Tagore and, above all, Justice Ashutosh Mookerjee. The latter invited him to introduce Pali in the curriculum of the National University and, later, at the University of Calcutta. From here his reputation as a scholar of Buddhism spread wide and far in academic circles.

As a result, Dharmanand launched on the international lecture-cum-research circuit that included four stints at Harvard University (also the alma mater of son Damodar), teaching assignments in Leningrad and, at different intervals, at Pune's Fergusson College and finally at Gandhi's Gujarat Vidyapeeth and the Vernacular Society in Ahmedabad. Along the way, he became more and more drawn into the Mahatma's inner circle, took part in the salt satyagraha, spent time in jail and worked among mill workers in Bombay. He continued to write prolifically on Buddhism and socialism in Marathi periodicals, making sure, as Meera Kosambi notes, to anchor his social and political concerns in spirituality and moral uprightness.

In 1947, much against his son's wishes, Dharmanand chose the Jain manner to end his life he fasted unto death at Gandhiji's ashram at Wardha. A deeply anguished Mahatma paid tribute to him saying that he was a scholar who "preferred to work silently in the background and never blew his own trumpet". It would have embarrassed Dharmanand Kosambi who disdained money and celebrity no end to learn that six decades after his death there is a surge of curiosity about his work on Buddhism, especially among young Ambedkarite scholars; a surge that will now doubtless soar on account of his granddaughter's diligent labours.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Scholar Rebel- Dharmanand Kosambi


- A window into a remarkable mind

Dharmanand Kosambi: The essential writings Edited by Meera Kosambi,
Permanent Black, Rs 695

The Kosambi whom historians know well is D.D., the brilliant iconoclastic scholar who brought about a fundamental change in the writing of ancient Indian history and who, ironically, himself acquired an iconic status in Marxist historiography. But this book is about another, less-known Kosambi, D.D.’s father, Dharmanand (1876-1947). And the editor-translator is yet another Kosambi — Meera, eminent sociologist, daughter of D.D. and granddaughter of Dharmanand. Given the fact that Dharmanand was a grandfather whom she did not know, the book no doubt represents an important personal journey for her. For the reader, what lends it importance and interest is the remarkable life of its protagonist, and his amazing life-journey, which took him from a small Goan village to Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Russia, the United States of America and back. Not a bad record for a man who was afraid to travel!

Dharmanand is known as a Buddhist scholar in Maharashtra but is scarcely known elsewhere. This is because, although fluent in English, he chose to write in Marathi. This book introduces the man and his ideas to a wider audience and offers the first English translation of some of his writings. These include his autobiography, Nivedan,and his essays on Ashoka, Buddhism, non-violence, socialism, and the Indian working class. There is also a play (was it ever performed?) titled Bodhisattva, where Dharmanand wove satyagraha, women’s emancipation and his own vision of an ideal conjugal relationship into the story of the life of the Buddha-to-be.

Dharmanand was a school drop-out, his early education interrupted by frequent bouts of ill health. Married at the age of 14, shouldering the responsibility of the family business at 16, he had a strong contemplative and melancholy streak right from his childhood. Being a voracious reader only increased his dissatisfaction with life. The turning point came when he chanced upon a biographical sketch of the Buddha in a Marathi magazine, and later read a Marathi translation of Edwin Arnold’s The Light of Asia. He resolved to renounce his family and worldly life and to embark on a quest in search of knowledge of Buddhism. The problem was that he didn’t know quite where to look, because in the late 19th century, Buddhism had practically disappeared from India. After a seven-year-long journey, during which he became a monk, Dharmanand returned to the worldly life, determined to spread the Buddha’s message among his fellow Maharashtrians.

It is a gripping story. Dharmanand’s was not the usual search for an academic understanding of Buddhism. He was inspired by an intense, desperate yearning to comprehend the Buddha’s teaching from within the tradition, from practitioners of the faith. And his extraordinary spiritual quest was combined with a grim struggle for survival. He had no money and no wealthy patrons. He lived on the edge of starvation, begging for food and shelter, his body frequently racked with sickness. Concealing his interest in Buddhism, he set out to learn Sanskrit in Kashi, submitting to the Brahmin hierarchy which often left a Saraswat Brahmin like him hungry because he could only eat in the second shift. His pilgrimage to the Buddhist holy places speaks volumes about their sorry state in the early 20th century. His account of his sojourn in Burma is frank about the practical difficulties faced by a vegetarian monk in that country. After his return to the worldly life, Dharmanand travelled to the US, where the Harvard Indologist, Charles Rockwell Lanman, tried to deprive him of credit for translating the Visuddhi Magga — a story recounted with an admirable lack of rancour.

In the Harvard libraries, Dharmanand discovered Marx. His thoughts moved from religion to social and political issues, but he viewed these through a somewhat innocent Buddhist lens. He saw Buddhism as an ancient form of socialism. He talked about the incompatibility of fear and national freedom. National craving was the cause of war and world suffering. He urged capitalists to love their workers. He wrote against child marriage, caste discrimination and untouchability. Dharmanand was also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. He became the leader of the Maharashtra Satyagraha Mandal and led the salt satyagraha in Shirode village near Goa. But he was not an unquestioning camp follower and criticized both Gandhian ideas and Marxism. He was drawn towardssatyagraha, but thought it dangerous to base a philosophy of non- violence on the Bhagavad Gita. Moved though he was by Marx’s egalitarian message, he was repelled by the conflict and violence that was inherent in that message and in the Bolshevik revolution.

The autobiography is fascinating not only for what it says but also for what it does not talk about. There is remarkably little about his family, even in his account of his life after he gave up monkhood. There is no description of what must have been a very poignant family reunion. Was this reticence due to indifference, or was it too personal or painful a subject? Other relationships that remain hazy include Dharmanand’s relationship with Anagarika Dharmapala, and with Ambedkar and his movement. A very significant point mentioned by Meera Kosambi is that although Ambedkar does not mention any sources in his The Buddha and his Dhamma, he was probably indebted to Dharmanand for his understanding of the life and ideas of Gautama Buddha.

Historians are bound to be very curious about the relationship between Dharmanand and his historian son, Dharmanand Damodar. Did D.D. inherit some of his talents, ideas and methods from his father? Or did he react against his father’s engagement with religion and spirituality that had torn his family apart? In spite of being a great scholar, Dharmanand did not make a major scholarly impact. This was because he was essentially a loner who chose to operate within a Maharashtrian world. Even after renouncing monkhood and engaging directly with the world as a teacher of Pali and Buddhism in various universities, he remained unmoved by the lure of money and ambition. His death was as unusual as his life. Wearied by persistent illness, he decided to end his life through sallekhana, fasting unto death in Gandhi’s ashram near Gorakhpur. Dharmanand died just a few months before India became independent. Do not be misled by the gentle unpretentiousness of his writings. This book is a window into the remarkable life and mind of a rebel who lived by his convictions, who combined scholarly erudition with spirituality, simplicity and social commitment, with no interest in mundane personal gain.


Monday, August 2, 2010

DDK Festival of Ideas: What it cost the aam aadmi

Kebabs and more! | Goan Observer - Weekly News Portal
The D.D. Kosambi memorial lecture series, which attracted unusually large audiences and were no doubt a very commendable initiative, also cost the aam admi a lot of money. Not on the travel and accommodation of eminent people like Dr. Romila Thapar who were invited to participate in the Festival of Ideas. More money was spent on wining and dining of the bold and the beautiful, the rich and the powerful than on the festival itself. At the inaugural D.D. Kosambi Festival of Ideas in February 2008, the Chief Minister hosted a banquet for the distinguished visiting dignitaries and local culture-vultures which cost the aam admi Rs2.5 lakhs.

When the Ministers from the coastal states and senior officials came to Goa for a junket, under the guise of holding a conference, the Chief Minister hosted a dinner for them aboard the stationary cruise vessel which functions as a restaurant, Noah’s Ark, at a cost of Rs2.20 lakhs. When a conference on information technology and good governance was held in Goa, the Chief Minister picked up the tab of over Rs3 lakhs for dinner for the delegates in a five-star deluxe hotel. Similarly, when a national level meeting was held of town and country planners, probably among the most corrupt and well-to-do officials in the country at least going by the Goan experience, the Chief Minister very generously hosted a dinner costing over Rs3 lakhs.

DDK on The Name Gautama

Jayarava's Raves: Some Additional Notes
2. The Name Gautama

In my essay What Was the Buddha's Name? I drew attention to the quirk of history which left the Buddha, a kṣatriya by tradition but possibly a non-āryan, with an ostentatiously Brahmin gotra-, or clan-name: Gautama (meaning 'descended from Gotama, the one with the most cows go'). However more than half a century ago D.D. Kosambi offered a different take on this subject in a review published in 1953:

D.D. Kosambi. 'Brahmin Clans'. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 73, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1953), pp. 202-208.

He points to two brief Pāli passages which suggest that Gautama (Pāli: Gotama) is not the Buddha's gotra name. The first is from the Therīgāthā verses of the Buddha's maternal aunt and foster mother. She says (Th 2 162)

Bahūnaṃ vata atthāya, māyā janayi gotamaṃ;

Truly for the many, Māyā gave birth to Gotama

Kosambi's point here is that the names Māyā and Gotama are on the same level - i.e. they are both first names. This is to read the text quite literally, and I'm a bit doubtful about doing that. Compare for instance the case of the Brahmin boy Uppatissa, son of Rūpasārī, better known as Sāriputta 'son of (Rūpa)sārī'.[2] However Kosambi points out that neither does the Buddha's wife become known as Gotamī in any tradition. The fact that Mahāpajāpati, his mother's sister, is called Gotamī also suggests that it is not the Buddha's clan-name since the names pass pass down patrilineally (though I think Kosambi here is thinking in terms of Brahminical social rules which required Brahmins to marry outside their gotra). Kosambi also notes that bhikkhus are sakiyaputta not gotamaputta. He does not attempt to explain why the future Buddha might be named after Vedic sages however, which still strikes me as odd.

Kosambi's other text is the Pabbajjā Sutta [Sn 3.1] in which King Bimbisāra asks the Buddha where he is from. The Buddha replies that he comes from the country of Kosala, and:

Ādiccā nāma gottena, sākiyā nāma jātiyā;
Tamhā kulā pabbajitomhi, na kāme abhipatthayaṃ.

Called Ādiccā by clan, called Sākiya by caste [jāti]
I went forth from that family, not longing for pleasures.

The phrase only occurs once in the canon, but elsewhere the Buddha says that the Sākiya consider rājā okkāka their ancestor [Ambaṭṭha Sutta, DN 3, PTS D i.92-3] and Pāli okkāka is Sanskrit ikṣvāku a king of the ādityā [P. ādiccā] gotra. The suggestion then is that the Buddha's name was in Sanskrit Gautama Ādityā; and Pāli Gotama Ādiccā. The Buddha is also sometimes called Āṅgirasa which according to the Dictionary of Pāli Names was a tribe which included the Gautama gotra. My reading of some of the DOPN references suggests that āṅgirasa was being used as an adjective (e.g. 'shiny like the sun') rather than a name. Against the passage above Kosambi also cites the Mahāpadāna Sutta [Dn 14, PTS ii.3]

Ahaṃ, bhikkhave, etarahi arahaṃ sammāsambuddho gotamo gottena ahosiṃ.

I bhikkhus, now worthy, fully awakened, was of the Gotama gotra. [3]

This phrase occurs 3 times in the suttas, all in the Mahapadāna. Kosambi refers to this as "the first interpretation of Gotama as the Buddha's gotra name... obviously a late formation under Brahmin influence". Indeed it is so obvious that Kosambi provides no evidence for his conjecture, nor does he consider the possibility that both statements about gotra are "late formations". Contrarily we find the name Gotama being used in the last two chapters of the Sutta-nipāta which are generally considered to be the oldest layers of the Pāli Canon.

It is still a puzzle as to why the Buddha even has a gotra name, let alone a Brahmin one (which both Gautama and Ādityā are). He was not a Brahmin. I don't think Kosambi solved the mystery, but he provided an interesting additional view point. One last observation of my own is that though the Buddha meets Brahmins from many other gotra lineages, he never seems to meet a Gautama Brahmin. This is despite the fact that the two ancestors Gotama and Bharadvāja are mentioned together in Bṛhadāranyka Upaniṣad 2.2.4, and Gautama the Buddha meets more than a dozen Brahmins from the Bhāradvāja lineage, who mostly seem to live in Kosala (see e.g. DN 3, 13, 27, 32, but throughout the nikāyas).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Autobiography of Dharmanand Kosambi, in Marathi

The Autobiograpy of Acharya Dharmanand Kosambi, father of DD Kosambi, and a great Buddhist scholar himself, is available in three parts at Arvind Gupta's site. The book is in Marathi and can be downloaded by clicking on the following links:

Part 1 (pages 1- 100) 3 MB file
Part 2 (pages 101-200) 4 MB file
Part 3 (pages 201-330) 5 MB file

Thanks to the indefatigable Arvind Gupta.

A beautiful mind- Dharmanand Kosambi

A beautiful mind

How do you become an academic and a scholar? Usually, those who aim to research and teach are privileged with a formal education and spend their lives in academia. This was the path taken, for instance, by historians like Jadunath Sarkar and RG Bhandarkar. Sarkar began life in a village, then studied and taught at Presidency College. Bhandarkar took the regular exams and taught at Elphinstone and Deccan College. Both wrote for English-reading audiences. This made them widely known.

It is virtually impossible to come across a scholar of international stature who had neither access to a regular education nor libraries. Dharmanand Damodar Kosambi (1876-1947), a self-taught man who became a scholar of Pali and Buddhism, is in this sense unique. Obscured by the fame of his historian son D.D. Kosambi (1907-1966), Dharmanand also remains little known outside Maharashtra because he preferred Marathi to English. His local renown will now become widespread because his granddaughter, Meera Kosambi, has recently edited and translated his writings into English (Dharmanand Kosambi, The Essential Writings, Permanent Black, 2010).

What these writings reveal, described so well in her introduction, is a man of phenomenal intellect with a matching capacity for austerity. Kosambi the Elder scripted for himself “a trajectory of intellectual and ideological adventure” that transported him, in his search for knowledge about Buddhism, from an impoverished rural Goa to various places in India, Nepal, Ceylon, Burma, Russia and America.

It has been said that our lives are irrevocably shaped by the cards we are dealt in childhood. The frail and mentally impoverished Dharmanand, a Gaud Sarasvat Brahmin by birth, seemed destined to spend his life tending the family’s coconut grove in village Goa. But his passion for reading, which developed around the time he was married off at age 14, spurred him out of domestic disenchantment into a life filled with an almost incredible severity of self-teaching. Reading material wasn’t readily available. So, every month he travelled to Madgaon to borrow it from friends and relatives. In a Marathi magazine, Bal-Bodh, he first read about the Buddha. Later, travelling to learn Sanskrit in Poona, he read a Marathi translation of Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia (which also influenced Gandhi and Nehru). For Dharmanand, this book on the Buddha became a religious text: “I have still not forgotten how,” he says, “while reading certain portions of it, my throat would constrict and tears would stream down my face.”

Roughly half of Kosambi’s Essential Writings comprises an unusually moving autobiographical narrative: ‘moving’ in both senses, because this is an Indian Pilgrim’s Progress crafted to inspire disadvantaged people to carve out extraordinary paths; and because his self-abnegation in the cause of replicating the Buddha’s suffering for self-enlightenment leaves one close to tears. The almost penniless Dharmanand, after studying Sanskrit in Varanasi, walks virtually barefoot to Nepal in February 1902 because he has been told that knowledge of Buddhism might be acquired in the vicinity of Kathmandu. Reaching the promised land exhausted, he finds only sadhus who tell people’s fortunes by throwing dice.

Filled with sorrow, his search resumes, taking him towards Bodhgaya, and then, by begging for money in the prescribed manner of the true bhikshu, to the doorstep of the Mahabodhi Society in Calcutta. Supplication here results in sponsors who send him to Colombo, where he finally acquires direct knowledge of Buddhism. Now Dharmanand becomes a monk, subsisting daily on begged food, which must be consumed before noon. Through all his trials and tribulations he neither loses his sense of humour nor his aversion for unappetising food: in Kashi the dal was, as he nicely puts it, swimming in Ganga water.

The pilgrim then becomes a missionary. Forsaking the monk’s cowl, Dharmanand repays his debt to Calcutta, introducing Pali into the curriculum of the National College and teaching at the university. The restlessness of the truly zealous overtakes him again: he gives up a bhadralok’s salary to be closer to Marathi-speaking regions where he may spread knowledge of the Buddha. He lectures in Baroda, introduces Pali to Bombay University, and writes copiously in Marathi on Buddhist texts and ahimsa. His itinerant narrative ends at Harvard, where over three spells he helps prepare a critical edition of Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhi-magga.

Paradoxically, the journey to capitalist America opened Dharmanand’s mind to socialism. At Liverpool, a Dutch accountant introduced him to Marx’s thought and bought him books on socialism that he followed up with others in America. In his later writings, Dharmanand consistently sought to trace socialism’s compatibility with ancient Indian thought.

Dharmanand’s writings on Buddhism made him a celebrated figure across Maharashtra: they comprise the second half of his Essential Writings. The most unusual here is a play, Bodhisattva. In it he enlists the past for present social reform. Yashodhara is shown marrying Bodhisattva knowing full well that celibacy for a protracted period is the condition of their marriage.

A critique of child marriage, and the difficulties faced by couples married before their time, is implicit and links with what Gandhi said of his failed attempt to teach Kasturba, whom he married when she was 13: he was anxious to teach her, but lust left him little time, and later public life left him none. Dharmanand worked with the Mahatma and must have known this. Sensing and espousing the connections between Buddhism, socialism, and Gandhianism, it was in Gandhi’s Vardha ashram that he chose to die in 1947 — voluntarily, by giving up food. In his tribute to Dharmanand, Gandhi said: “May God inspire us all to walk in his footsteps.”

Pay and promotions provoke rather more passion among academics now than the disinterested quest that so nobly motivated Dharmanand. In a consumerist world where socialism and Gandhian principles are thoroughly dead, it is difficult even to imagine a life of the kind lived by Dharmanand Kosambi, let alone live it.

India has produced outstanding and committed scholars. And then there is Dharmanand, the only scholar-sage that Indology has known.

Nayanjot Lahiri is a member of the Delhi Urban Art Commission

The views expressed by the author are personal
© Copyright 2009 Hindustan Times

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Crossing Thresholds: Feminist Essays in Social History by Meera Kosambi

Scholars without Borders
Meera Kosambi is a prominent Indian sociologist. She has done her PhD in sociology from the University of Stockholm and has authored several books and articles on urban sociology and woman's studies in India. She is the youngest daughter of a prominent Marxist historian and mathematician, D. D. Kosambi, and grand-daughter of Acharya Dharmananda Kosambi, prominent Buddhist Scholar and a Pāli language expert.

In her book "Crossing Thresholds: Feminist Essays in Social History" Kosambi states that 'The notion of the threshold, indicating the restricted periphery of the 'woman's place' in family and society, was firmly embedded in the psyche of nineteenth-century women in western India. Yet some remarkable and articulate women (who are the focus of this book) 'transgressed' patriarchal boundaries--crossing thresholds, literally and metaphorically--to make their mark in the public sphere. These Indian women created the 'first ripple feminism' of the region.

Nineteenth-century men also inbabit the book--social reformers and those who helped these women, as well as conservatives who opposed both the reformers and the progressive women. The central objective of Professor Kosambi's book is to interrogate official social history--which posits strong male reformers and passive women recipients--as well as retrieve and assess women's own pioneering contribution to their proto-feminist efforts.

The Introduction presents a conceptual framework of public/private spheres, attempts to retrieve women's subjectivity through their published narratives, and discusses questions of representation and 'voice'.

The ten essays that follow span a variety of topics--the politics of iconizing individual women, women's complex relationships to their homes and their bodies, women's exposure to education and nationalism, the nature of conjugality and 'consent', ideas of motherhood and widowhood.
Uniting all these themes is the effort to amplify women's voices and reconstruct their experiential worlds.

The book straddles the areas of Gender Studies, History, and Asian Studies while underscoring the resonance of these women's lives with those of other women across South Asia and the West. '

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Middle Class in Colonial India- a book review

The Hindu : Book Review : The making of the Indian middle class
THE MIDDLE CLASS IN COLONIAL INDIA: Edited by Sanjay Joshi; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 795.

This thought-provoking book is a compilation of readings on the making of the Indian middle class from the late 19th century to the early 21st century. There is both a challenge and an advantage in compiling such a volume. The challenge: what to include and how to order it. And the advantage: an enviable opportunity to make a critical appraisal of the essays. On both counts, Sanjay Joshi has performed admirably.

Microscopic minority

What or who constitute the Indian middle class? Since the secular and liberal Western middle class is taken as the norm, its Indian counterpart will often be seen as falling short of the ideal, so to speak. In 1888, according to the outgoing Viceroy, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, it was a “microscopic minority” that was incapable of representing the interests of the masses.

Even today, the middle class in India does not occupy a median position, and may, more properly, be dubbed an “elite, affluent class,” as Aurobindo Ghosh anticipated in his 1893 essay (“A Cheap Shoddy Import”) and D.D. Kosambi recalled, some 50 years on, in his review of Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India. One of the earliest tributes paid to the Indian middle class is to be found in the 1961 essay by B.B. Misra, where he called it “a product of British benevolence.”

It is not as if such a class did not exist in pre-colonial times. The main change in its status came about in the form of its participation in the public sphere (which C.A. Bayly calls ‘ecumene'), resulting in a kind of universalisation of middle class norms. But this so-called universalisation was tainted owing to the colonial experience.

The post-colonial subject, from Jawaharlal Nehru to the Bollywood scriptwriter (as M. Madhava Prasad argues), was forced to indulge in a paradoxical nationalist discourse, hoping to reconcile the goals of objective Western rationality and subjective Indian antiquity. To this day, there have been an uneasy, troubled coexistence of liberalism and caste endogamous practices in virtually all parts of the country. Nevertheless, the Indian middle class is not a monolith, as suggested by the various ways in which the contributors describe it — the non-fixity of the Western middle class narrative within the Indian context (Dipesh Chakrabarty); the Bengali rentier component giving rise to complex gender politics (Tanika Sarkar); players of cricket in the extended Macaulayan education system (Boria Majumdar); the prudent white-collar Kanara Saraswat community in Bombay (Prashant Kidambi); the family-oriented merchant class (Claude Markovits); the new sharif Islamic class divorced from the nobility and the lower classes (Margrit Pernau); and the educated Tamil Brahmins, who embody a schizophrenic realm of Westernised public and Sanskritised private values (M.S.S. Pandian).

Not demarcated

In reality, the ‘public' and the ‘private' are not very clearly demarcated as the ‘Westernised material sphere' and the ‘native spiritual sphere' respectively, as Partha Chatterjee would have it. According to Chatterjee, there can be no such phenomenon as the Indian middle class in colonial times, simply because the natives were excluded from the public sphere of economics and politics. Since the natives were confined to the private sphere of the household, religious, caste and gender hierarchies flourished in the Indian community during the colonial phase. However, as Sanjay Joshi (‘Re-Publicising Religiosity') points out, the native private sphere did not remain private; it acquired an aggressive public face, as in the case of religious expression, in defiance of the British colonial embargo on native participation in politics.

In a lighter vein, A.R. Venkatachalapathy tells us that even a private pleasure like coffee drinking — initially viewed as a Western vice — acquired a public face in the form of Brahmin-run coffee houses, which before long gave rise to the ‘other', namely the working-class tea houses, all over Tamil Nadu.

The importance of a volume like this lies in that it throws light on the historical evolution of the values of the middle class that are naturalised and taken for granted in the present-day.

Saluting a Genius: Dr K K Kusuman

Saluting a genius
Sabloo Thomas
First Published : 14 Jun 2010 01:38:46 AM IST

When Dr K K Kusuman, former head, Department of History at the University of Kerala died in a road accident in 2007, a group of his friends decided to bring out a volume in his memory. Dr Suresh Jnaneswaran, presently Reader of History at the University, who was then working in SN College, Chempazhanthy, was asked to take up the task of coordinating the work. and he accomplished the feat in time.

During the work, Jnaneswaran realised that there has been no similar work to honour Dr T K Ravindran, former Vice Chancellor of Calicut University and one of the prominent historians of our time.

In fact, Ravindran is among the few historians of his generation who has not been honoured with such a work.

‘‘That was when I decided to initiate a work that would be a tribute to the great scholar,’’ Jnaneswaran told.

Jnaneswaran single-handedly took up the task of bringing out the book. ‘‘The response from historians was very encouraging as most felt the need for such a book,’’ said Jnaneswaran.

‘‘Many, who could not contribute as they were working on other projects, were disappointed with the fact that they could not associate with the work.’’

It was during the course of the work that Jnaneswaran realised that there were other facets to Ravindran’s personality. Ravindran is a poet with over 20,000 poems to his credit. He is also an amateur painter. Historiography was selected as the topic for the festschrift, as it was Ravindran who introduced historiography as a topic for study in universities in Kerala, said Jnaneswaran.

The work ‘Historiography: Structure and Practice,’ a festschrift in honour of the eminent historian and teacher, has turned out to be a scholarly work and a fitting honour to the great man.

Union Minister for State for Home Mullappally Ramachandran released the book at a function at Palakkad on May 16.

‘‘The Minister cancelled all the programmes for the day to attend the book release function. He arrived well before the scheduled time and sat through the entire programme. This clearly showed his reverence for Ravindran who was also his teacher,’’ said Jnaneswaran.

It is a mystery why many consider Ravindran as an anti-Marxist historian, says Jnaneswaran. ‘‘He, in fact, is the one who first introduced the writings of Marxist historians like D D Kosambi and R S Sharma to the students in Kerala,’’ Jnaneswaran said.

Contributors to the festschrift include most of the prominent historians - Aditya Mukherjee, professor of Contemporary History, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Dr Sukumar Bhattacharyya, former Professor of History, Viswa Bharati, Shantiniketan; Professor R Mahalakshmi, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Professor M G S Narayanan, former Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research and Prof B Sheik Ali, former Vice-Chancellor, Goa and Mangalore universities.

Some of the themes dealt in the book are ‘Ideas in History and Reflections on the Emergence of Indian Historiography;’ ‘D D Kosambi and Historiography in India’ and ‘The Return of the Colonial in Indian Economic History: The Last Phase of Colonialism in India’.

The book is a vast collection of articles that will add to historical knowledge and will serve as a reference book for teachers, researchers and students.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

DDK- A paper on mathematics

I am not sure what this paper is about, it is too obtuse for me to understand, but there seem to be significant references to DDK's work on mathematics. Download.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

DDK on social aspect of Buddhism

Features | Online edition of Daily News - Lakehouse Newspapers
Buddhist doctrine for all

Ven Dr Beligalle Dhammajoti

Some scholars with a little knowledge of Buddhism are of the opinion that there is no socio-economic and political philosophy of Buddhism. A well-known scholar, Max Weber, who is considered as’ father of sociology of religion’ explaining the socio-political aspect of Buddhism says: “Buddhism had no sort of tie with any sort of social movement, nor did it run in parallel with such and it has established no social and political goal.” He further says that Buddhism is a social and anti-political and it can be considered to be an ‘other-worldly religion.’
Max Weber

This is a misleading and distorted concept of Buddhist doctrine. It is very clear that Max Weber never analyzed and understood Buddhist teachings deeply. Early Buddhism is in no way another-worldly religion. It includes a well-defined socio-economic and political philosophy and also a philosophy of history. Professors D D Kosambi and Rhys Davids explicitly recognize that there is a socio-economic and political philosophy of Buddhism and their idea give one lie to the above-mentioned notion of Max Weber.

A dagoba seen through a gong. Picture by Saman Sri Wedage

Another misconceived idea of Buddhism states that Buddhism is such a sublime system that ordinary people cannot practice it. One has to retire to a monastery if one desires to be a true Buddhist.

This is a partial and distorted view. The doctrine of the Buddha is meant not only for mendicant monks but also for ordinary men and women living in their homes with their family members. The Noble Eightfold Path, meditation on loving-kindness and ten perfection are meant for all. They can be practised in their daily life.
Competitive society

It is extremely incorrect to say that Buddhism is social. Addressing the first 60 Arhaths, the Buddha says: “O monks walk on tour, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, for the welfare of the many, good and happiness of human beings and celestial beings.” This shows that the Buddha has laid much emphasis on the members of society and their welfare. Therefore the old Buddhist monasteries had become the spiritual centres and the centres of learning and culture. The five precepts are meant for the whole human society. Any person can observe them and lead a spiritual life and that would be of great benefit for him and to this competitive society.

The Sigalovada Sutta explicitly explains the family and social relationships. It gives a set of instructions and teachings that pertain to man’s socio-economic and spiritual progress. Modern man can lead a very happy and prosperous life if he understands the significance of these social relations explained in the Sigalovada Sutta.

Some scholars are of the opinion that Buddhist philosophy is interested only in higher morality and it ignores the social and economic welfare. This is also another misconception of Buddhist socio-economic and political philosophy. The Kutadanta Sutta explains the way and approach of development of a country with proper planning and also it shows the nature of socio-economic progress. We should not forget that the Buddha expounded these words in the 6th Century BC and even today that they are of great value.

The Cakkavattisihanada Sutta explains poverty, revolution, poverty-related crimes and the reasons for the chaotic situation of a country and also the reasonable grounds for arising those social ills. Today our competitive global society experiences these socio-economic and political ills and tribulations that are explained in the Cakkavattisihanada Sutta.
Moral degeneration

In the Agganna Sutta we find a theory of the origin of social classes. There the Buddha explains the arising and evolution, the origin of State, the evolution of human race and social grades, the changing nature of moral values and the relationship between moral degeneration and the deterioration of environmental elements. The Sutta explains how beings were becoming less hard-working, less honest, less ethical and how they lost their physical and mental qualities with the passage of time.
Dogmatic views

Fundamental unreasonable concepts related to social organisations were radically transformed by the Buddha. The Buddha explained the nature of those concepts and their connection with the ditthis or dogmatic views of certain religious traditions.

The socio-economic and cultural transformations by the Buddha can be seen explicitly even in the present time in our Buddhist societies. Making a comment on the social upheaval of Buddhism, Narendranath Bhatthacharya says:

“The rise of Buddhism was certainly to serve some social purpose. It had some distinct social and functional role. But very few attempts have been made to understand all these.”

It is a well-known fact that Buddhism is capable of making a drastic transformation of the present day competitive and war-like Society. For such a transformation, it needs a proper knowledge and correct understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.

The first significant work in the Buddhist social field was Die Religion des Buddha (1957) written by C F Koppen. In his book Koppen explains.

“.....the Buddha was viewed as the emancipator of the oppressed and a great political innovator.”

Here it is very interesting to note that Koppen was a close friend of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Karl Marx ruthlessly criticized religion and the widely accepted concept of omnipotent God. Buddhism is completely free from that criticism, for it has no concepts of God. Trevor Ling in his great work on Buddha, Marx and God explains that Buddhism is free from his critique. French scholar La Loubere says that Buddhism is totally different from other religions as it does not possesses a doctrine of God and it teaches rebirth (re-becoming or Punabbhava) without accepting the concept of a soul. Addressing the Berlin Science Academy in 1856, Albrecht Weber explained that Buddhist teachings were so helpful for social reformation and it had accepted the equality of all human beings.

DDK and Unilinear Progression in India

The Hindu : Arts / Books : Social patterns in early south India
This is an extremely timely anthology of 17 essays on social formations of early south India (from the prehistoric beginnings to circa 1300 CE) which Rajan Gurukkal has contributed to leading publications since the early 1980s. Of these, two essays — “The Course of Social Historiography of Kerala” and “Semiotics of Ancient Tamil Poetics: A Methodological Consideration” — are published for the first time. Many of the already published ones have been revised/modified for this collection.

The essays have been grouped under four heads: historiography and method; early social formations (up to the ‘Early Iron Age'); social transformations (tracing the transition from the ancient to early medieval); and the new social formation (into which the ancient agro-pastoral social transformation had dissolved itself).
Marxist method

Given that the Marxian thinkers and practitioners in India are under attack all round, it is courageous of Gurukkul to have reiterated his strong conviction in the validity of Marxist methodology of studying the dynamics of Indian society through the millennia. His introductory chapter, “Conceptual Preliminaries” sets the tone and tenor by underlining the central thesis of social formation. It successfully demolishes the myth of homogenised uni-dimensional notion of the definitional parameters of ‘social formation' not only through Marx's own formulations but also by alluding to the more recent refinements of the theory of ‘mode of production' in the writings of such renowned structuralist-theorists and anthropologists of Marxian tradition as Althusser, Balibar, Godelier and Poulantzas.

There is a subtle semantic departure in the definition and framework of the concept of social formation adopted in these essays. Instead of being viewed as a combination of ‘modes of production', it is sought to be defined as an ensemble of a few unevenly evolved ‘forms of production' (emphasis added) interconnected to one another and structured by the dominance of one form that need not necessarily be superior to the rest in terms of technology and productivity. The defence offered is that, since the expression ‘mode of production' is widely used to mean a specific social totality of epochal identity almost on a par with ‘social formation', ‘forms of production' is found to be more appropriate and free of confusion.

It is essential for a historian to bear in mind the distinction Marx draws between the universality of economic, political, and ideological practices, and the variety of determinate institutional forms, which can be located historically. It is heartening to see Gurukkal recalling D.D. Kosambi and seeing in him “a historian committed to anti-deterministic stance with ‘source first' approach.” Kosambi's contempt for the OMs (‘Official Marxists') and his deviations from the Marxian scheme of unilinear progression of historical changes in the context of India are well- known. No wonder his formulation “ single mode prevailed uniformly over the whole country [India] at any one time...” is the most abiding influence in this anthology.

And yet, Gurukkal is not averse to speaking his mind fearlessly. To illustrate, he forcefully asserts: “in the absence of classical society in South Indian history, the direct application of the feudal model became difficult.” Recognising that the particularities of the ‘Indian feudal model' are not pan-Indian, he takes up the agrarian social formation in the Tamil south as a case study to bring out its distinctiveness. In the process, he goes on to critique the so-called ‘gradualists/evolutionists' (including his own peers M.G.S. Narayanan and Chamapakalakshmi — this anthology is dedicated to the latter). Accusing them of having ‘diffusionist assumptions', he argues that they simply critiqued Burton Stein's ‘Segmentary State Model' (put forward as an alternative to the ‘feudal' paradigm) to defend the feudal model without providing any alternative theoretical framework to suit the specificities of the region concerned (Tamilakam). Such formulations demonstrate Gurukkal's grounding in Marxian theory and firm grasp over empirical evidences.
Major changes

The major changes that the social formation underwent over time are presented in detail. For instance, the transition from kin-labour to non-kin labour; from thrust hoe to plough; from millet to paddy; from clans to hereditary occupation groups and caste; from chiefdom to monarchy; and from heterodox ideology to Brahmanism. In the process, illustrations have been drawn from the experiences of the Tamil macro region as well as of the Kerala micro region. There is a specialised study of the technology of irrigation and institutions of water management, particularly the cascaded reservoir system, and the community practice of prioritised distribution. This book fills a significant gap in the study of social formations in early south India.

Keywords: South Indian history, Rajan Gurukkal, Social history

Monday, April 5, 2010

Caste- Annihilition and beyond

Himal Southasian/Equalisation to annihilation-and beyond
The idea of corrupting the system of caste through genial viruses like intermarriage and inter-dining is defeated even before organisations like the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal in Lahore or the Periyar E V Ramasamy-led Self-Respect Movement in Tamil Nadu offered these as counters. After all, the very system we are dealing with is a gigantic virus, which is why Ambedkar spoke of the need to “dynamite” the Brahminical religion that upholds caste. Yet his subsequent recourse to Buddhism, stripped of all the metaphysical baggage it had acquired over centuries, has not exactly led even Dalits into a caste-free utopia. A whole generation of Dalit Buddhists has relapsed into popular Hinduism, as studies have shown.

Further, new communities are always being enlisted as castes. According to historian D D Kosambi, at the instance of Kautilya, the Brahmins were designated with the task of creating castes among tribes that rebelled against the Mauryan Empire – despite the fact that the Mauryans were themselves believed to be of tribal/Shudra origins. In her recent essay on Maoists in Dandakaranya, writer Arundhati Roy notes that, as part of the Hindutva drive,
In north Bastar, Baba Bihari Das had started an aggressive drive to ‘bring tribals back into the Hindu fold’, which involved a campaign to denigrate tribal culture, induce self-hatred, and introduce Hinduism’s great gift – caste. The first converts, the village chiefs and big landlords – people like Mahendra Karma, founder of the Salwa Judum – were conferred the status of Dwij, twice-born, Brahmins.

Monday, March 29, 2010

DDK's associate, thinker R P Nene no more

RP Nene, close associate of DD Kosambi, among others, is no more.

PUNE: Noted progressive thinker and an active member of the Maharashtra Rationalist Forum, R P Nene, passed away at a private hospital in the city on Tuesday following illness. He was 81.

His body was donated as per his wishes. The body was kept at his brother's residence off ILS Law College road from 12 to 3 pm to enable people to pay tributes.

Nene was a senior freedom fighter, philosopher and left- progressive ideologue. He was associated with several political and social movements and with social organisations, including Goa Liberation Movement, Samyukta Maharashtra movement, Ek Gaon Ek Panavtha (one village one water source), Lokayat, movement for renaming of Marathwada university, discussion group, and the latest Narmada Bachao Andolan, to name a few.

Nene undertook over 22 social research projects with scholars in India and abroad. Some the topics include Power politics in Pune zilla parishad' and Impact of Panshet flood on people's lives.' He also contributed extensively for journals like Tatparya', Milun Saryajani' and Vatsaru'.

Though Nene was influenced by communist philosophy later in his life, in the initial stages he was also in contact with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and was impressed by the philosophy of late Swatantryaveer V D Savarkar. Later, he became associated with the All India Students' Federation and Marxism. When he was studying in the final year of MA, he was active in the students' movement and became a card holder of the communist party for a brief while during 1948-52. Though he never remained an active party worker, he retained his association with the leftist movement.

During 1948-1950, when there was a ban on communist literature, Nene operated the People's Book House and extended its reach by keeping books on other subjects as well.

Nene was a close associate of renowned thinkers D D Kosambi, D K Bedekar, A R Kamat and social activists like Baba Adhav, Medha Patkar, Vilas Wagh and Dada Sonawane. Though a soft spoken person, Nene never hesitated to express his views and opinions even when they differed from those of his associates.
Arvind Gupta's long interview with RP on DD Kosambi has previously appeared at this blog.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

DDK on the Gita- eBook in Hindi

DD Kosambi's writings on the Gita have been translated into Hindi and published by the Bharat Jan Vigyan Samithi.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Harsh Mander at the DDK Festival of Ideas

Oheraldo Goa's complete online news edition :: Half-the-children-of-India-go-hungry-Harsh-Mander
Half the children of India go hungry: Harsh Mander

Once Mandar had asked a Dalit woman in MP what their major problem was, she said, ‘how to teach our children to sleep on an empty stomach.’ It not only reflected the pathetic state of affairs of this country, it also shows that these communities have virtually no hope that their plight would ever change. It is indeed shocking that there are people in this country who look for undigested seeds of grain in cow dung so that they could give some relief to pangs of hunger.

Harsh Mandar who resigned from IAS in 2002 after the Gujarat riots, who has headed district governments in tribal areas, delivered a sobering lecture on Thursday at DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas, being held in Kala Academy Panjim, on abysmal plight of a large mass of the people of the country who do not even get a square meal. Mandar pointed out that half the children of this country go hungry.

We have all heard of Gujarat riots and mostly the horror stories of brutal massacres. Mandar, narrated a tale of an ordinary Brahmin family that protected and fed over a 100 Muslim for ten days and held off the mob with the help of other villager. The head of the family, a devout Brahmin when asked by Mandar why he did this, he replied that he could not bear that his villagers should be treated this way even if they were Muslims. When asked if they were not afraid, his wife replied “if you do the right thing how can you fear.”

For Mandar thirty years ago we believed that we could create a just and kinder world today we have lost that conviction. For him three major demolitions have transformed our world radically: the fall of the Berlin wall which signaled end of communist experiment and hope of a just and humane world which according to him are not even desirable goals today. Second, the demolition of Babari Masjid which was cheered by leaders who were to later lead the nation and with it according to Mandar, was pulled down the solemn promise that we had made to ourselves and each other in the constitution. Third demolition was fall of World Trade Centre, 911 that lead to globalization of war on terror set into motion increasing militarization of the world, legitimised hatred and sharpened differences.
What are we doing with our poor? According to Madar we are trying hard to pretend that do not exist we are increasingly removing them from our conscience and consciousness. In 1960 popular cinema made movies about a farmer struggling to protect is land or about the homeless. People who made such cinema have disappeared.

According to Mandar our middle classes have become increasingly indifferent to injustice, hunger and suffering and uncritically accept the stories of hate, while referring to targeting of the Muslims in the country. According to him the poor are much less influenced by prejudice.

Mandar said that one of the goals of education was to create equality of opportunity but this has not happened and education has only reinforced inequality. Rational and liberal thought was supposed to make us better human beings, but, according to Mandar, those in our elite technical institution show greater prejudice. And to make matters worse we talk about ‘merit’ when we want to keep out the underprivileged.

Mandar feels that above all there is enormous need to restore compassion into our public life and into our governance. For Mandar communalism is a real threat and he praised Goa as a place where diversity co-exists in harmony, but cautioned that communal organisations were systematically injecting hatred into our communities and Goa is in grave danger of losing its communal harmony. He referred to vigilante groups in Karnataka that make sure that there in no mingling of Hindus and Muslims and use violent means to prevent it.

According to Mandar, “Battle against communalism is battle of hearts and minds.”

Mandar wants every temple, church and gurudwara to become a place where the homeless can find shelter and the hungry, food. He praised the Sikh tradition of langar – community kitchen where the lowly and the lofty sat side by side to share a free meal. According to him this practice is now changing as the poor people are being increasingly denied entry.

In Mandars experience, homeless children who were picked up from the railway station managed to reform fast and showed remarkable intelligence and motivation that often in two years they picked up which other student learned in ten years, and in some cases even topped the class as they valued education.

In the end it is the poor who help the poor - as Mandar noticed in the peak of winter at Jama Masjid in Delhi where nearly ten thousand take shelter, entrepreneurs hire out quilts, but he was surprised to see that each and everyone had a quilt and he found that all the homeless had pooled in money to ensure that everyone had something to cover with in the biting cold. Among the poor and the deprived he sees the hope of new India.

Kiran Bedi at the DDK Festival of Ideas

Oheraldo Goa's complete online news edition :: Compassion-makes-women-better-leaders-Bedi
Compassion makes women better leaders: Bedi
Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman IPS officer, recipient of several awards, known for bringing innovative ideas into administration and most importantly, known for courage and compassion was given a very warm welcome by the audience crammed into Dinanath Mangeshkar Auditorium with some sharing seats and other standing in the aisles and some forced to witness the programme on the screen outside at Kala Academy Panjim on Wednesday. Theme of this lecture the third of DD Kosambi Festival of Ideas organised by Directorate of Art and Culture was: ‘Leadership – Does Gender Matter’.

Dr Kiran Bedi was introduced by Dr Pramod Salgoankar, ex Chairperson of State Commission for Women in presence of Chief Minister Digambar Kamat and Chief Secretary Sanjay Shrivastava. Mrs Bedi said that she was pleasantly surprised at the presence of the CM and remarked – “It is good to see a politician at the festival of ideas as normally politicians run away from ideas”.

She was also nick named ‘Crane Bedi’ as she had the gumption of towing away late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s car for which she, in her own words, was banished to Goa in 1984.
According to her when she was invited for DD Kosambi lecture she dug into her archives and her ‘hard disk’ to revive the old memories and first part of her talk was on her experience as SP Traffic, a post that did not exist prior to her arrival in the State.

Mrs Bedi narrated how with only 20 policemen she would in full strength raid Mapusa, Panjim and Margao on different days giving the impression that the traffic police had a very large contingent. For CHOGM (Common Wealth Heads of Government Meet) held in the State in 1984, she enlisted the help of the students and trained them to control bye-lane traffic as she felt that except for the elite the people of the State were completely left out of this event. She felt heartened that several VIPs stopped to talk to the students.

According tot Mrs Bedi, Zuari bridge which was constructed for CHOGM was not used even months after it’s completion as Indira Gandhi who was supposed to inaugurate the bridge cancelled her visit several times. One day in frustration while she watched cars lined up for the ferry, she decided to remove the barricades leading to the bridge and shouted to those present at the ferry point to follow her. Thus Zuari bridge was inaugurated by this courageous police officer who said that perhaps that is why it is still called Zuari bridge otherwise it might have been called Gandhi bridge.

In another instance she was summoned to apologise to a minister as his car was not allowed to go right up to the entrance for St Xavier’s exposition. In her own words she said, “I am sorry sir I will not apologise”. For Kiran Bedi what mattered was what was in right front of her at that moment and tomorrow did not matter.
Even during her stint in Tihar Jail in Delhi, which was again punishment posting for her, she managed to in her words to “turn the jail into a temple”. She accomplished this with as system of feedback and ‘walking her work’ which according to her are very essential for success. A small wooden box in which prisoners could write complaints and needs and her promise that only she could read what was written as she was the only one with a key to it; not only did she win the trust of the prisoners she also came to know what was going on in the prison.

Eventually her reforms were made a part of the Prisons Act.

For her, leadership is aptly defined by Oliver Goldsmith’s quote: “You can preach a better sermon with your life than your lips”. Leading by example and ‘walking your work’ are essential to leadership. She urged the politicians present also to walk their work and be more accessible to people.

Kiran also had parents who undoubtedly supported and as she said that her parents used to tell her: “No one can prevent you from being exceptional”.

For Kiran Bedi leadership demands integrity and physical mental and spiritual strength in unison; these qualities must work together.

Do women make better leaders? Kiran feels that women have edge over men because of their different biology, fact that they undergo immense pain to bear children, nurture them, connect the family and keep harmony, hence they have ‘emotional quotient’ and extra quality of compassion that is lacking in men. However, she did clarify that this emotional quotient is not exclusive to women and men could cultivate it too; according to her, precisely for this reason Mahatma Gandhi is her idol as he had this emotional quotient, a reason why he was much loved by the people. She also said that she was glad that he was a man and not a woman as he is an example for other men to emulate.

According to Kiran globalization has made women stronger, added to their qualities of capacity to bear pain and nurturing as they now have economic power, higher education and mobility, which was the preserve of the men.
While answering the question of reservation for women in assembly, she felt that this would be a positive move as not only will it correct the imbalance but will also bring the missing ‘emotional quotient’ into our governance.

The audience asked extremely passionate questions that ranged from sexual harassment, lack of trust in the police force, and disillusionment with the politics.

Kiran Bedi profusely praised the Director of Art and Culture for this idea of organising this Festival of Ideas and hoped that this would set and example for other States of the country.

The programme ended with presentation of memento by ex-chief minister of the State, Shashikala Kakodkar.
Should we be surprised that one of most courageous, innovative and compassionate police officer that India produced is a woman?

Prof Krishna Kumar at the DDK Festival of Ideas

Oheraldo Goa's complete online news edition :: Livelihood-central-to-education-VC
Livelihood central to education: VC

Prof Krishna Kumar, Director of NCERT (National Council for Educational Research and Training), for unspecified reason was unable to catch his morning flight from Delhi forcing the organisers of 3rd D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas, being held at Kala Academy, Panjim, to improvise, yet retaining the theme of today’s planned lecture on education.

Indeed if education is about setting examples, Prof Krishna Kumar had set a bad example of reneging on the commitment and not having the basic courtesy of issuing apology for his absence to the audience that had gathered to listen to his lecture in Dinanath Mangeshkar auditorium on Tuesday.
Maria Aurora Couto, a writer and educationist based in Aldona took the initiative of obtaining a paper on education by Fr Rudolf Heredia, based in Mumbia, and used it as a basis for draw out the ideas and opinions of a panel comprising of herself, Girish Karnad, Fr Romuald D’Souza, Founder of Goa Institute of Management and Vice Chancellor of Goa University, Dilip Deobagkar.

Maria Aurora Couto read Fr Heredia’s academic paper on education which placed individual at the centre of the process of education and liberation as a meaningful goal of the process of education. Heredia’s paper referred to various models of education like of John Dewey’s, considered as father of educational philosophy and Mahatma Gandhi who laid emphasis on learning through experience. According to Heredia, our education system has failed to fulfill democratic aspiration and emphasis has shifted to create skilled and productive forces, at the cost of needs of the individual. While Heredia reaches for what is ideal and utopian, he does not dwell on what is possible but he certainly advocates a clean break from the past – a paradigm shift that breaks the old orthodoxy.

Commenting on Heredia’s Paper Fr Romuald said that opportunities are more important than ideas and educational system should enable individuals to achieve something through productive work and not necessarily employable people. He also laid stress on ability to compete, thereby advocating a more practical approach.

Prof Dilip Deobagkar pointed this out that Heredia’s paper defined the problem but did not offer any solutions and was critical of his use of concepts such as ‘liberation’ as the goal of education which may have little meaning for a person who is not sure of his next meal. Vice chancellor was more practical in his approach and urged that we need to draw on our strengths in this era of globalization which we cannot escape from. He pointed out that in the recent economic meltdown India has emerged stronger and there is every reason for us to spread globally what we are strong in.

VC also cautioned that what we are witnessing in today’s world is explosion of information but not knowledge which is different from information. He also felt that for education we need not talk about the world but pay closer attention to what surrounds us. For Prof Deobagkar, issue of livelihood will always be central to the education system and education system should find right balance between personal need and larger national economic goals.

He was also of the opinion that ‘values’ cannot be taught in schools but imbibed in day to day life.
Girish Karnad said that he was horrified that how incompetent a person Director of NCERT is as he could not even catch a flight. According to Karnad it is nothing other than arrogance and it smacked of “if you have power you can run roughshod over others”. Karnad offered historical perspective that the system of education established by the British was geared to creating clerks for their trade in India; otherwise traditionally it was the preserve of the Brahmins.

Karnad pointed out that in the first five-year plans little attention was paid to education and agriculture instead emphasis was laid of industrial development. It has lead to a dismal situation that even after over sixty years post independence, nearly half the country is still illiterate.

Second problem that afflicts our educational system is that because of the caste system our higher education has become field of social justice and not of information or knowledge, pointing to the system of reservations which paradoxically is making inequities more entrenched.
Then he came to the heart of the problem of poor infrastructure and lack of teachers in rural areas, narrating a personal experience while making a film on child marriages in Madhya Pradesh. He felt that the primary education has been given very low priority while we see proliferation of engineering and medical colleges.

After panel’s comments on Heredia’s paper and their own opinions on education audience asked various questions including the inevitable question of right medium of instruction – mother tongue Vs English – to which VC replied that perhaps it is wise to have initial instructions in the mother tongue. The other questions were on uniformity of syllabus, constraints faced by teachers while teaching over sixty students in a single class. Someone in the audience also pointed out that there was little community initiative to be seen in the field of education.

The panel concluded the discussion pointing out that learning never really ends and we should shift our emphasis from teaching to learning.