The books on Mahabharatha and Rg Veda by Prof. G.N. Chakravarthy delve deep into traditional sources of Indian thought
Definite ideological agendas have worked in generating various interpretations of texts central to a civilisation. Swami Vivekananda once remarked that commentators indulge in "text torturing". While certain dogmatic positions became unquestionable truths handed down under the rubric of tradition, a few unconventional readings brought its own distortions.Modern Western scholars with their Orientalist perspective generated myths and stereotypes about the Indian epistemological tradition. By their "location" they were alien to the intellectual culture that worked through the ages. Tragically, this misreading was blindly endorsed by many modern, Indian scholars too. Furthermore, it has become fashionable for self-styled radicals to label everything of ancient Indian tradition as Brahminical. Their blistering attack is understandable, looking at the inhuman social reality of India, but sweeping judgements are far from true.Traditional scholars like Prof. G. N. Chakravarthy have refuted the orientalist readings of Western scholars by deeply delving into the rich traditional sources of Indian thought. An erudite scholar, Prof. G.N. Chakravarthy has endeavoured to highlight the real significance of ancient Indian texts and disclose the universal message embodied in them throughout. His works The Concept of Cosmic Harmony in the Rg Veda and The Philosophy of History in the Mahabharatha stand testimony to his radical departure from blinkered positions and misrepresentations.
Prime positionHis work on the Rg Veda restores the prime position that it occupies among philosophical texts. Mediocre scholars charged that Vedas, including the Rg Veda, only promote self-seeking personal gain by prescribing rituals for the attainment of materialistic goods and pleasures. Prof. Chakravarthy demolishes this criticism declaring that "the view on which it is based is not borne out by the evidence of the Rg Veda text." His intensive study of the Rg Veda, aided by his mastery over the requisite branches of Sanskrit learning, has enabled him to cull internal evidence from the Rg Veda and infer that such criticism applies only "against mechanical study and formal performance of ritual". He argues that the Rg Veda actually does not lose sight of the realisation of Supreme reality. Therefore, with conviction he maintains that "the object of his present work is to show that the earliest of the Vedas, namely the Rg Veda Samhita, is the basic source of every kind of description of Supreme Reality embodied either in the Upanishads or in the Bhagavad Gita."Western Vedic scholars like Max Mueller (and some Indian scholars too) jocularly described Rg Veda as a God-making factory. They even asserted that the Rishis of the Rg Veda personified the forces of Nature and worshipped them as deities. The adoration of Nature gods and goddesses was far from the disinterested pursuit of Para-Brahman. Mantras in the Rg Veda that seem to uphold monism belong to the final phase of this process of God-making or are mere interpolations. But Prof. G.N. Chakravarthy gives a fitting reply to these unjustified indictments and declares that monism pervades the entire body of Rk Samhita by citing passages that propound monism from the first Mandala to the last.The contention that Indians do not have a sense of history comes from those who have no proximity to the various traditions of philosophy, mythology, folk narratives and avaidic texts of India. In his Kannada books Dharma Chakra, Itihasa Pradeepa and the English one on the Mahabharata, Prof. G.N. Chakravarthy has enunciated the uniqueness of Indian notion of history which is totally different from the chronological, linear mode of historical discourse of the West. History is cyclical wherein time is seen as the repetition of different eras in regular cycles. The occurrence of specific incidents has no significance when compared with major trends of thinking, human infallibility and the forces that shape history. Historical events and personalities are seen as metaphors that reflect the nature of the times. Thus myth-creation has been a major component of Indian historiography. He recognises the significance of this mode of historical discourse thus: "The essence of history does not reside only on recorded facts, but also on the thoughts, emotions and ideas of the creative minority of the particular nation. Indian history might not be rich in chronological and factual evidence, but is profusely rich in literature and philosophy of history."
Notion of historyThe Indian sense of history has a universal vision and is a blend of the worldly and transcendental. The term Sanathana embodies a history of ideas and cultures that include truths of empirical and spiritual spheres. The implementation of Rta (cosmic law) in history ensures friendly co-existence of humans.In his masterpiece, The Mahabharata, Vyasa combines theme with aesthetics. He says war spurs human soul to great exultation. He is also confident that tragedies of a time cannot extinguish the light kindled by divine grace. The central message of the Gita is that life is an endless battle that one wins by losing. The tendency to avoid looking at struggle and conflict is fatal for progress. A "vigourous vitality" which underlies the epic is a dire human necessity.The re-interpretation of Rg Veda to reclaim its prime position among the ancient texts that embody the highest philosophical knowledge and the enunciation of the Indian sense of history are the great contributions of Prof. G.N. Chakravarthy that will help us overcome our "cultural amnesia" and develop an insightful post-colonial epistemology.RAKSHITH M.R.Leafing Through is a fortnightly column that features some interesting reads in Kannada. Please send books to The Friday Review, The Hindu, 19 & 21, Bhagwan Mahaveer Road, Bangalore 560001