Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Researchers, activists bat for Mhatoba shrine status quo

Ananya Dutta,TNN | Sep 21, 2015, 03.00 AM IST

PUNE: The shrine dedicated to Mhatoba on top of Vetal Tekdi is an important cultural and historical site and should be maintained as it is, instead of obscuring it with a modern structure, feel experts and environmentalists.

"The Mhatoba shrine is important from an archaeological point of view as well as in terms of the folk and cult geography of Pune. Building a modern-style temple on the site would erase the actual ritual association that pastoral communities had with the shrine," said Indologist and researcher Saili K Palande Datar.

As far back as 1962, historian and polymath D D Kosambi had commented on the importance of the site in mapping the cult of Mhatoba. In his book 'Myth and Reality — Studies in the Formation of Indian Culture', Kosambi terms this shrine on the hilltop as "the original locus" of the Mhatoba of Kothrud village. According to him, it came here along with "herdsmen" from Wakad, where there is a temple to Mhatoba and his consort — a structure older than 1678AD.

Kosambi also found prehistoric artefacts in the vicinity of the shrine, including what may be megaliths (large stones) from an ancient burial site.

"I have been visiting the site from the 1960s. It used to be as Kosambi has described it, 'a red-daubed boulder' minimally covered with a tin shed. It was revered by Dhangar and Wadar communities, who would offer a sacrifice to the deity when passing through Pune," said environmental activist Vijay Paranjpye.

Palande Datar said the communities that have historical associations with the shrine, such as the Dhangars, don't even pass through the area anymore. "Altering the structure would be an appropriation of their cultural symbols and amount to an erasure of history. Introducing something new will damage the cultural significance of the site," she said.

She said that several hills in and around Pune are associated with similar folk and tribal deities, many of them closely connected with the conservation of biodiversity. The Waghjai and Taljai goddesses on Taljai Tekdi for instance were associated with their own sacred groves on the hill.

"Both these deities are Mother Goddesses worshipped by forest-dwelling communities. Over the years, the land-use pattern of the hill has changed, but they were originally protectors of its environment," she said.

A key aspect of retaining the shrines in their original form is that many of them were not meant to be enclosed by any artificial structure. Kosambi had noted that the "primitive origin and nature" of the cults was shown by the injunction that the stone must be open to the sky. He saw it as a sign that the cults date back to a period "before houses were in fashion, and when the 'village' was on the move".

"The shrine on top of Vetal Tekdi, along with its natural precincts, is a very important cultural heritage site. The shrine as I have known it all these years was always open to the skies. It should be maintained as it is, without disturbing its natural precincts," Paranjpye said.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A dissenting voice silenced, again

Damodar Dharmanand Kosambi died in 1966. He was both a formidable mathematician and an unparalleled historian. His remarkable scholarship, his reading of ancient Sanskrit texts aside, he also had a very caustic, irreverent style. His Myth and Reality should be required reading for every believing Hindu. I would say also for every atheist but I suspect that Indian atheists of the educated variety are already very well acquainted with D D Kosambi. He is a star in the galaxy of Maharashtra’s fine traditions of scholarship and writing. Through his work he cut through several myths and exposed our many realities.

Mourners follow the funeral procession for scholar MM Kalburgi as he is taken to be buried at Karnataka University in Dharwad on August 31. Pic/AFP
Mourners follow the funeral procession for scholar MM Kalburgi as he is taken to be buried at Karnataka University in Dharwad on August 31. Pic/AFP

I think about Kosambi in the aftermath of the murder of writer and scholar M M Kalburgi in the Karnataka town of Dharwad on August 30, shot down by gunmen who rang his doorbell. Kalburgi was what we like to call a “rationalist”. That is, he was not religious and had written against idol worship and superstition. For this, his life was under threat from members of organisations which hold allegiance to the Sangh Parivar and related Hindutva outfits. He had only recently asked the government to withdraw police protection. Perhaps neither fear nor giving in to threats was part of his character.

As the news of his death broke, a Bajrang Dal activist tweeted words to the effect that people like Kulbargi who mock Hinduism will die a “dog’s death” and suggested K S Bhagwan, another Kannada writer, was next. The tweet and account were soon deleted. The activist was arrested and then let out on bail even before he was produced before a magistrate. He has been involved in three earlier cases of assault.

It is tempting to blame the BJP government at the Centre for the rise of Hindutva right-wing bravado and audacity. But the problem runs deeper than one election result. Karnataka is a Congress-ruled state but is no less a simmering communal cauldron for all that. Moreover, atheist and anti-superstition activist Narendra Dhabolkar was shot in Pune, while on a morning walk in 2013, in what was then a Congress-NCP-ruled state. Veteran communist leader and rationalist Govind Pansare was shot in Kolhapur in February 2015, before the general elections and the state Assembly elections.

The suspects for all three murders are the same, however — Hindutva outfits. The undertone is chilling: if you are seen to oppose Hindu practices, death will be your reward. It is dangerous to dismiss this as the thinking of kooks, nutcases and fringe elements. We are talking about more insidious and fearless elements of our society, who obviously feel they can get away with murder. And we are also talking about tacit acceptance from larger sections of society. In spite of being around 80 per cent of the population, there are Hindus in India who are riven with insecurity about their numbers and an imminent threat from religious minorities. I have heard gentle arguments about how you should not criticise Hinduism or this is what will happen, with a small aside that murder is not correct.

Interestingly, the same people were very quick to come out in support of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the horrific attack on it by Islamists. They possibly do not see the irony in condemning violence by those who believe Islam has been “abused” while saluting those who murder when Hinduism is “insulted”.

Some people will argue that it is best not to challenge such murderous ideologies and thus remain safe from attack. But how far will that get us? Must we all look askance at the atrocities committed by IS and then pretend that Kalburgi, Pansare and Dhabolkar were not murdered for threatening the status quo? Is there space left in India for argument or is a “dog’s death” now an acceptable response?

Many years ago, Minoo Masani told me about a conversation he had many many years earlier with C Rajagopalachari. Rajaji asked him, “Do you believe in mumbo-jumbo?” Masani answered, “No.” Rajaji’s reply: “Then you will find life very difficult in India.”

So what would we make of Rajaji and Masani in today’s India? And if it comes to that, DD Kosambi? I am re-reading Kosambi’s Myth and Reality while you ponder on that.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist.  You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona

Monday, March 2, 2015

Meera Kosambi Passes Away

Reposted from Permanent Black

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

A detailed blogpost will follow shortly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Times of India 

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

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

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

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

The combined story of the Kosambis is almost unbelievable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

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

A paper by R. Sundara Rajan.

Indian Philosophical Quarterly : Volume 3. January 1976

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

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

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

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

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

Source: The Hindu 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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