Subashita Sunday Episode 7: The True Mahatma, Emerson and Society in Sanskrit Poetry

Subashita Sunday Episode 7: The True Mahatma, Emerson and Society in Sanskrit Poetry

After a lull of two weeks due to unforeseen circumstances, we’re back this Sunday with another episode of the Subhashita Sunday on The Dharma Dispatch. Like always, we have curated a handpicked collection of articles drawn from the best and the most prized annals of Bharatiya tradition.

Happy reading!

The Characteristics of a True Mahatma

As always, we begin with another famous verse of Maharshi Bhartruhari drawn from the Niti Shataka. Using short adjectives, he fleshes out the essential traits that one should possess in order to be truly called a Mahatma. A notable facet in this verse is the brilliant use of a combination of situation and the trait that it demands.

विपदि धैर्यमथाभ्युदये क्षमा
सदसि वाक्पटुता युधि विक्रम:।
यशसि चाभिरतिर्व्यसनं श्रुतौ
प्रकृतिसिद्धमिदं हि महात्मनाम् ।।५२।।
vipadi dhairyamathābhyudaye kṣamā
sadasi vākpaṭutā yudhi vikrama:।
yaśasi cābhiratirvyasanaṃ śrutau
prakṛtisiddhamidaṃ hi mahātmanām ||

Courage in adversity, forbearance in success, mastery over the art of Speech in an assembly, valorous in war, a desire to acquire (noble) stature, and assiduously devoted to the Sastras – these are the traits of a Mahatma.

Emerson on Self-Reliance

Among the resplendent corpus of one of the world’s greatest essayists, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance is arguably the most popular. And deservedly so. Until at least thirty years ago, this iconic passage from the essay was lovingly memorized by students who had the fortune of having it taught to them by teachers who had memorized it in their student days. Without giving too much away, here it is:  

There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

Read this absolute classic in its entirety!

Society in Sanskrit Poetry

Of the scores of justly deserving epithets showered upon Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh, Vidwallokada Vismaya [The Wonder of the Scholastic World] is the best and the most fitting. Equally, of the nearly-inexhaustible corpus of his writing and speeches, this tiny sample shows why he is indeed the Wonder he is. In one masterful stroke, Dr. Ganesh punctures ill-understood assumptions and arrogant presumptions regrading traditional Indian society using Sanskrit poetry as a backdrop. This essay is mandatory and delicious reading for anyone interested to know the truthful picture of this society.  

Why question tranquility? To seek reconciliation between differences at all levels of existence is the cherished Indian ideal. Dharma, the ethic of synthesis and compromise, works to achieve this end. As evident from the above statement, dharma is not only found unsatisfactory, but also deemed unnecessary by several western scholars. Although this has been a frequently rehashed subject in Indic discourse, its essence does not seem to have entered the mainstream. Indian view of poetry is another gravely misunderstood concept.

Poetry is not a mere imitation of reality; it is a sublimated reoffering of raw emotions. It is a beautiful and suggestive expression (vakrokti) of the poet’s aesthetic delight. The poet points at beauty by capturing its essence in attractive words that are, in their highest reaches, pregnant with suggestion (dhvani). Readers of poetry sift these suggestions through the sieve of appropriateness (aucitya) and are thus endowed with genuine emotion (bhāva). Since these emotions do not stimulate any self-interest, connoisseurs appreciate them at an impersonal level as rasa. Rasa, a shared, universal experience, is the raison d’être of art. This being the case, all considerations that fall outside the purview of aesthetics and do not cater to rasa are peripheral in poetry….

Society in pre-modern India, especially in ancient times, was highly nuanced. It was a scene of order and settlement. People preferred security to change… Our ancients observed society to a minute degree, prescribed rules to establish social order and avoid anarchy as far as possible. But they were never blind to practical possibilities that arise from seeming inconsistencies in human nature.

Read the whole masterpiece.

How Sita Ram Goel Became a Hindu Again

Sita Ram Goel is perhaps the most powerful voice that not only defended the all-encompassing greatness of Sanatana Dharma but an even more powerful voice that shattered the veil of self-righteous pretensions of pompous and world-threatening imperialisms of Islam, Christianity, and Communism with a pen dipped in acid. But beyond these treatises, Sita Ram Goel was also a litterateur of merit. His autobiography of sorts, How I Became a Hindu is quite an extraordinary tale of how he rediscovered his roots. The following passage is evocative for the sheer honesty at its core.

It was my misfortune that I did not drink equally deep at the fount of Bengali culture which had, in the recent past, become synonymous with India’s reawakening to her innermost soul. Bengal herself was turning away from that great heritage and towards an imported ideology which was leading her towards spiritual desolation…. My new job in Delhi gave me a lot of leisure. I could read and think and take stock of my situation as I took long walks along the lonely avenues of New Delhi. But what mattered most was that I could now spend all my evenings with Ram Swarup. I could see that his seeking had taken a decisive turn towards a deeper direction. He was as awake to the social, political and cultural scene in India as ever before… I had a strong urge to write and pour myself out in strong comments on the current political situation. But who was there to publish what I wrote? … I was using my spare time during these 3-4 years to brush up my Sanskrit. I made quite a headway because I relinquished the aid of Hindi or English translations and broke through some very tough texts with the help of Sanskrit commentaries alone. At last I was able to read the Mahabharata in its original language, the Girvana Bharati… It was an experience unparalleled in the whole of my studies so far.

Read the story of this extraordinary journey, a highly rewarding experience.

The Consequence of Human Ambition

We can round off this episode of Subashita Sunday with this poetic caution regarding the self-destructive folly of all human ambition sounded by D.V. Gundappa in his classic Mankutimmana Kagga.

ತನ್ನ ಮನೋರಥಂಗಳ ಚಕ್ರವೇಗದಿನೆ ।
ತನ್ನ ಮಣಿಹಾರಗಳ ಸಿಕ್ಕು ಬಿಗಿತದಿನೇ ॥
ತನ್ನ ಸಂಕಲ್ಪ ವಿಪರೀತದಿನೆ ಮಾನವನ ।
ಬೆನ್ನು ಮುರಿದೀತೇನೊ! – ಮಂಕುತಿಮ್ಮ ||
tanna manorathaṃgaḻa cakravegadine ।
tanna maṇihāragaḻa sikku bigitadine ॥
tanna saṃkalpa viparītadine mānavana ।
bennu muridīteno! – maṃkutimma ||

The Human is running fast in the cycle of ambition, its satisfaction and greater and greater ambition spurred by such temporal satisfaction. In the process, he may wear a necklace of pearls, which, as he runs faster, may get entangled and suffocate him. His back may be broken under the weight of all the grand endeavors to satisfy his unending ambitions – Mankutimma

That concludes Episode 7 of the Subashita Sunday. See you next week.

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