Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Ramayana Polity (Thesis approved for the degree of Doctor of Letters by the University of Madras)–By Miss P. C. Dharma, M.A., D.Litt, Women’s College, Benares Hindu University. (Pages 100. Price Rs.2.)

This thesis puts together the information regarding the social and political conditions implied in the Ramayana narrative. As the Rt. Hon’ble V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, in the warm Foreword in which he commends the book, observes, the ordinary reader of the Ramayana gives his mind to the story and does not attempt to piece together references to polity. When this is done, as in this book, by an able student, there is provided for even those familiar with the Ramayana something that can surprise and delight. Miss Dharma says that her object in writing the thesis was to depict the political institutions described by Valmiki. As she herself states, the Seventh Book of the poem is considered spurious by many and it is possible that a great portion of it is later addition. It would thus appear that references to polity found in the greater part of the Seventh Book cannot be credited to Valmiki. This statement would, apply to all such passages in the Ramayana as tradition holds, or careful scholarship may find good reason to suspect, as interpolation. The author has given the references to polity contained in the sarga of Rama’s questions on administration to Bharata, which is believed to be an interpolated sarga, in an Appendix. One wishes that this had been done with references found in all passages admitted or suspected to be interpolation. Between the time described by Valmiki and the time of the more considerable of the interpolations, centuries should have passed and brought changes. The polity described in the Ramayana as now current is therefore a conglomerate of those of different periods. This fact accounts, for example, for what scholars have described as the predominantly sacerdotal outlook of the Ramayana. The germ of sacerdotalism is there in the portion of the Ramayana which, without doubt, is Valmiki’s. But it is only in what, almost without doubt, is interpolation that it assumes the proportion that repels the modern mind. The need for distinguishing between the genuine and the spurious in what passes for the work of Valmiki received strange illustration some time ago in a controversy regarding Sita’s veracity; for the passage on which that discussion was based occurs in the episode of the burning of Lanka, the whole of which, on a little scrutiny, can be seen to be an interpolation.

Caution in regard to another matter concerning such studies is contained in Mr. Sastri’s Foreword. "Danger lurks in all analogy" and we do well not to take Sanskrit words treated as equivalents of English words like Embassy and Municipality and the rest as describing institutions in all respects similar to their modern counterparts. "Identity of names does not imply more than a general correspondence of the conceptions, certainly not a close parity in details or essentials." In one or two places, also, one feel that technical significance is attached to what is perhaps only a non-technical phrase. For the rest, this study shows a readiness to take pains that can come only of a real love of the subject and a scholarship that is praiseworthy. The style of the writing is simple and pleasing, though one might occasionally wish that the short sentences were not so many, nor, sometimes, so close to each other. The sensation that this produces of being pulled up short in reading is unfortunately enhanced by references to chapter and verse being placed within brackets in the middle of sentences, sometimes after single words.

The Author has to be congratulated on having produced so valuable a study of India’s great epic. It is to be desired that more Indian scholars would study the national inheritance with the same diligence and in the same spirit.


Assamese Literature–By Birinchi Kumar Barua. Edited by Sophia Wadia for the P.E.N. All-India Centre. (Arya Sangha, Malabar Hill, Bombay. Pages 102. Price Rs. 1-8-0.)

This is the first of a series of books planned by the P.E.N. All-India Centre on the main Indian languages, for, as the Editor truly says in her Introduction, "Many educated Indians are not familiar with the literary wealth of any Indian language other than their own. How many Bengalis know of the beauties of Malayalam literature? How many Tamilians are familiar with the literary efforts of old and modern Assam?...No systematic attempt has been made to popularise the story of the Indian literatures or to present gems from their masterpieces, to the general public in English translation" It is only too true that our English educated people interested in literary matters are more acquainted with French or Russian literature than even with the classics or the modern efforts of neighbouring Indian languages, not to speak of the literatures of comparatively remote areas like Assam.

"Each book" in this series "is divided into three parts: (1) the history of the literature dealt with, (2) modern developments, and (3) an anthology." And since the volumes are published in alphabetical order, to obviate any unwholesome criticism, we imagine, about the superiority of any one Indian language to any other Assamese Literature happens to be the first of the series.

The first part of the book deals briefly with the land and the language, and the history of Assamese literature, which dates from about 1200 A.D. Assamese, though printed In Bengali script, developed as a distinct language, derived probably from Magadhi or ‘Gauda apabhramsa’. The earliest compositions were folk-songs, or bihu-gits, that is, songs sung on the occasions of spring and autumn festivals. It is interesting to note that the earliest work was Prahlada Choritra, a translation from Sanskrit by Hema Saraswati. Harihara Bipra’s Babhruvahanar Yuddha from the ‘Aswamedha Parva’ of the Mahabharata, an episode the scene of which is laid in Manipur (Assam?) in the old epic, and the Ramayana by Madhava Kandali (fourteenth century), which seems to enjoy great vogue, show how the two great Indian Epics have influenced ways of thought all over India, and have proved to be veritable mines providing literary material for all Indian languages. More than any other single influence, the Epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, have been responsible for the cultural unity of India, and have supplied the ideals of life and conduct to people living all over this great country.

The next period of Assamese literature was the Vaishnavite period, contemporaneous with similar movements in most of the other provinces of India; and Sankar Deva (1449-1569), who is said to have written about thirty books including his masterpiece Krishna Ghosa, is called the father of Assamese literature. He wrote not merely puranas, but dramas and hymns. It is interesting to note that Sankar Deva travelled all over Northern and Southern India, visiting sacred places for nearly twelve years, and came into contact with the Bhakti movements in other provinces. The volume before us then gives us accounts of the life and work of Madhava Deva, Ramsaraswati, Ananta Kandali, Sarbabhauma Bhattacharya and Sridhar Kandali who enriched Assamese literature with poetic and dramatic works and devotional songs of Bhattadeva (1558-1638) and others who wrote prose works. During the succeeding period (1650-1834), it is interesting to note that in addition to the normal production of translations and adaptations of Sanskrit books, historical chronicles called ‘Buranjis’ and Biographies came to be written in prose.

The history of the modern period of Assamse literature, after English education was introduced, partakes of the features that have characterised the evolution of modern literature in all the provincial languages of India–the efforts of early Christian missionaries at establishing schools, the attempts of the English educated to enrich their own language, inspired by their contact with the then new thought of the West, the results of the national awakening–all these finding expression in a variety of output, of essays, short stories, novels, biographies, etc.

There is a small anthology of about 40 pages at the end of the book giving English translations of specimens of Assamese literature, aphorisms, folk songs, poems and prose, not only by old writers but by modern writers like Lakshminath Bezboroa, Raghunath Chowdhari, Ambikagiri Chowdhary, Nalinibala Devi, Jatindranath Barua. Doubtless these can give us only a bare idea of the texture of thought and fancy that characterise Assamese writers, though not the subtle graces of the language used by them, which is naturally untranslatable.

The book is neatly printed and bound in Khaddar, and though the price of the book (Rs.1-8-0) may seem a little too high, we cannot forget that at the present time printing and paper have become very costly, and books on such select subjects have but a limited market.

We cannot be too thankful to the Author and to Madame Sophia Wadia for this labour of love. We look forward to the publication of the companion volumes in the series.

K. S. G

Education–Compiled by T. S. Avinashilingam from the speeches and writings of Swami Vivekananda. (Published by the Sri Ramakrishna, Math, Madras Pages 82. Price As. 8.)

The inspiring and eloquent utterances and writings of Swami Vivekananda have had a great share in the making of Modern India. The great seer and patriot passed away over forty years ago, but his words have still a power and charm, difficult to over-estimate. Though there are seven volumes of his works, still the Swamiji did not write a set treatise on education. Sri T. S. Avinashilingam has compiled this booklet from Swamiji’s works.

This is not, however, a mere collection of stray sayings, or loose pebbles of Swamiji’s luminous and fiery thoughts on this important subject. The sentences of Swamiji, taken from different lectures and writings, have been strung together in eight chapters (viz., need for a man-making education, philosophy of education, the only method of education, the teacher and the taught, education for character, religious education, education of women, education of the masses), and each chapter presents the topic in paragraph sequences developing a thought in logical order, though almost every paragraph is merely a collation of sentences from different volumes of the Swamiji’s works. The compiler has literally distilled, from the mass of Swamiji’s writings, a booklet on Education, all in Swamiji’s words. The task has been performed with great ingenuity, patient search and rare devotion.

Swami Vivekananda’s writings are strewn with lofty utterances like the following:

"It is man-making religion that we want. It is man-making theories that we want. It is man-making education all round, that we want".

"Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man."

"To me the very essence of education is concentration of mind, not the collection of facts."

"Weakness is sin. All sins and all evils can be summed up in that one word, weakness."

"The old religions said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is the atheist who does not believe in himself."

"Go to your Upanishads, the shining, the strengthening, the bright philosophy."

"So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor, who having been educated at their expense pays not the least heed to them."

Such sentences, once read, continue long to haunt the mind; and even an anthology of such passages would be a valuable compendium, The compiler has done even better by arranging, into an integral and coherent whole, these and similar passages bearing on education, so that the booklet reads like a discourse that the Swamiji himself might have written.

Gandhiji’s letter to Sri T. S. Avirnashilingam has been reproduced in facsimile as a kind of Foreword and reads: "Surely Swami Vivekananda’s writings need no introduction from anybody. They make their own irresistible appeal."

This booklet is a valuable contribution to the literature on the philosophy and methods of Indian education.

K. S. G.

Musing of Basava–A free rendering with a biographical and critical Introduction–By S. S. Basavanal, M.A., and Dr. K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, M.A., D. Litt, Belgaum (Pages 128. Price Re. 1.)

The Vachanas or Sayings of Basava, the great religious reformer and mystic, and the prophet of Virasaivism, who flourished in the twelfth century, are not so well known outside the province of Karnatak as they deserve to be, and any attempt like the present one to make his life and work known to the English-reading public is welcome. So far as Karnatak is concerned, Basava’s influence has been both deep and wide, not only on the thought of the people but on Kannada literature, which Basava and his followers have enriched by the composition of innumerable Vachanas, pithy prose passages, the heart’s outpourings of devotees marked by directness and lucidity of expression. These have been sung, intoned pr declaimed as the occasion demanded, by thousands of wandering preachers or mendicants these eight centuries, and treasure the wisdom of the Virasaiva mystics.

The volume under review gives a free rendering in somewhat metrical form of eighty such sayings of Basava, and six ‘Rhapsodies’ of sister Mahadevi, famous as ‘Akka Mahadevi’ whose life of devotion and whose outpourings resembled greatly the life and songs of Mirabai of North India, better known to fame, who lived two centuries later.

Basava’s life as a devotee and mystic, as statesman and leader of men, is narrated in the Introduction which also contains a critical and comparative estimate of the Virasaiva faith.

A word about the translation. The translators have done their task with devotion, and the English rendering possesses distinction and dignity. But it is a matter for doubt whether Basava’s trenchant, incisive and even conversational style, full of homely comparisons and unadorned except for occasional alliteration and antithesis, has been duly rendered by stately iambic verse such as

"The fire enkindled in the hearth
May be extinguished with the earth;
Should the earth itself be a blaze
What charm can quench its rage away?"
"Behold the golden pinnacle
On the temple’s towered height
Shine in the azure sky,
Even now it glistened in the sun
So soon befouled by the passing crow."
"Wouldst thou the mongrel cleanse
And seat in a palanquin fair?
At sight of a mouse or refuse
Its wild desires revive,
It bolts away."

Such passages reminiscent of the style of Shakespeare and other famous English poets are perhaps too ornate for the purpose.

Basava’s ‘Musings’ which are analogous to the ‘Meditations’ of Macus Aurelius or the ‘Sayings’ of Seneca or the ‘Imitation of Christ’ of Thomas a-Kempis are perhaps mere truly rendered into English in the form that has been given to the above classics, viz., simple rhythmic prose.

K. S. G.

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