Notes On Culture
Let’s consider three random but eminently representative episodes from Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s three different novels.
In a fine and powerfully moving scene, Dr. S L Bhyrappa in the monumental work, Mandra presents us the character of Ram Kumari standing before her Devi (Parvati) in a temple. Ram Kumari at once questions, commands, and dares her Devi to provide answers/solutions to the pain in her life. The pain is her own immensely talented but completely worthless husband. At no point in her interaction with her Devi is she apologetic, weak, or cowering. Describing her gaze as she looks at her Devi, Dr. Bhyrappa writes that “the brilliance of her eyes reflected the innate strength of thousands of years of Sanatana Dharma embedded in her subtle consciousness (Prajna).”
In his extraordinary historical novel Saartha, we have the incisive observation by a military commander Jayabhadra on the eve of Mohammad bin Qasim’s siege of Multan (Mulasthana). Qasim’s army has surrounded Multan and his emissaries deliver the threat of destroying the magnificent Martanda Surya Temple if the Hindu king doesn’t surrender. History tells us of the sorry fate of the Surya Temple despite the surrender. Ruing this, Jayabhadra remarks how short-sighted this decision was on the part of the Hindu king. He delves into the core of Sanatana Dharma and says that even if Qasim destroys the Surya Temple, it could be rebuilt but the urgent and immediate task was to kick out Mohammad bin Qasim. Jayabhadra says that the Hindu king had confused the essence of Sanatana Dharma with the Surya Temple and that if this essence was preserved, thousands of such temples could be built and rebuilt.
The third episode occurs in his acclaimed and super-bestseller, Aavarana. Fittingly on the steps of a Ghat in Kashi on the banks of Ganga. More fittingly, between a Sanyasin and a former Kshatriya prince who has been castrated and forcibly converted to Islam. Here is a tidbit from the conversation that this eunuch, Khwaja Jahan has with the Sanyasin.
‘We are wrecking your Vishwanath temple and you’re sitting here calmly like nothing has happened.’
He smiled gently, ‘You’ve accomplished your goal. May the Lord do good to you.’
‘So what are you doing? I mean, these people are running around the country destroying temples, smashing idols, killing Hindus, torturing their priests, and selling hundreds of thousands as slaves…what are you doing?’
‘Hmm…what am I doing? What I am doing is what thousands of people like me—sadhus, sanyasins, bairagis—are doing. We go around the country, everywhere from the cities to remote villages, and tell our people not to lose heart because we’re facing very hard times. We comfort them and ask them not to abandon the faith of our forefathers. We give them the example of Shivaji Maharaj. We tell them that he was the disciple of Ramadas who was a sadhu like us. We tell them that others like him will be born or will eventually rise up and become powerful. The wheel of time doesn’t remain at the same place for long.’
And these immortal lines which is one of the hundreds of reasons why Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa is the colossus that he is.
She sat up and just sat there in the dark, trying to catch the sound of the Ganga flowing about forty to fifty feet just below from where she was sitting. She heard nothing. This is a noiseless river. Actually, Ganga is a dynamic culture that accommodates and digests everything and flows on quietly. These banks are the timeless witnesses of never-ending debates in philosophy and logic. Every philosophical school has come here. One school has argued with the other and they’ve all argued with one another and written treatises and refutations. Saints have meditated here. Leaders of various sects and cults have sung praises of their cult’s central god. Atheists have thundered out their atheism here. And yet, being witness to such noise over the centuries, Ganga continues to flow in contented silence. [Emphases added]
This is our true strength to which we still need to fully awaken. Among the numerous layers that these three episodes reveal, a prominent one is this:resilience. In both Saartha and Aavarana, we can discern an important but tragic fact of history: that thanks to Islam’s barbarism, while thousands of Buddhist monasteries were exterminated and Buddhism itself almost disappeared from the land of its birth, Sanatana Dharma continues to survive and flourish to this day despite far more extensive losses of temples, Mathas, institutions, and people. The reason is the same reason behind the effulgence in Ram Kumari’s eyes in Mandra.
There is almost no temple of the Classical Era in all of North India, the painful tales of which Sita Ram Goel has meticulously documented in his Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them. Yet, nowhere in India has the force of Hinduism been preserved with greater vigour than in this region.
Think about it.
When we closely observe the secular media and other narratives for the last seven decades, we notice that the greatest contempt, scorn, and vilification has been reserved for the people, institutions, and culture of the “Hindi heartland,” “cow belt,” terms that indicate derision. The underlying agenda is to somehow break this selfsame vigour. Hindus everywhere owe a debt of profound and everlasting gratitude for North Indians who historically sacrificed so much, took nothing, expected nothing in return, and ensured that Bharatavarsha remained a sacred land of Sanatana Dharma.
The finer points of this history maybe arguable but one shouldn’t forget the grand sight of the Dandakaranya of Dharma in a haste to point out a few errant or weak trees. Nor should we forget the roots of this all-encompassing Dharmadruma (Tree). The same history shows that over a thousand years, no matter how many thousands of people tried to chop off its branches, plucked its leaves, tore off its bark, and singed its trunk, it kept re-growing, re-flowering, and kept giving nourishment, succor and spirituality in return. A Ramana Maharshi for example, could only be born in Bharatavarsha at the height of British colonial rule.
Let’s examine this from another perspective.
Generally speaking, among other things, the Ramayana is an unparalleled narrative offering the essence of Dharma in practical life using a wholesome and holistic approach. Starting right with this author. A roadside robber who elevated himself so profoundly that he became a Rishi. The Mahabharata is not only one of the greatest expositions of Dharma, it is also that Veda which made Vedanta and Dharma accessible to every single person of Bharatavarsha.
The Atman of Bharatavarsha is Vedanta, Dharma its body, and the Ramayana and the Mahabharata its language and their enduring impact its grammar, music, art, literature, dance, sculpture…in short an entire grand culture of spirituality and celebration. No other country or civilization today has anything remotely comparable.
It is not a mere accident or coincidence that Maharshi Valmiki and Bhagavan Veda Vyasa were kept alive by Kalidasa who in turn inspired countless poets, litterateurs, kings, builders, and sculptors. Nor is it an accident that Jayadeva’s mellifluous Gita Govinda added a new and beautiful dimension and became a lasting influence and inspiration to artists, painters, musicians and dancers. In fact, even today, it is hard to visualize a classical dance performance minus Jayadeva’s signature all over it—direct or indirect.
One can multiply such examples in various spheres of human endeavour throughout our history but there is a very fundamental reason for the extraordinary resilience of Sanatana Dharma. That reason lies in the very word, “Sanatana” or eternal. The eternal has meaning only if it is perennial. Akin to a river has continuity and even existence as long as it flows. And where human interference driven by egotism is minimal. When we think about the river metaphor, it seems incredible that Bharatavarsha continues to preserve the memory of the Saraswati River which dried up at least three thousand years ago. What does it tell us that the proverbial illiterate masses at Triveni Sangam point to the spot where Saraswati flows as a “gupta gamini” (invisible/underground)? What education can inculcate this level of civilizational memory?
In the next part, we can examine how all of this relates to the recent fire at the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
To be continued
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