Monday April 23, 2018

Hinduism is about love, unity, not divisive ideas: Author Mani Rao


New Delhi: With attacks by fringe Hindu outfits on writers and intellectuals for their views and assaults and murders of those with different religious and cultural practices, author Mani Rao, who has done extensive research on Hindu holy scriptures and classical texts, says Hinduism is about “love and unity” and not “divisive ideas”.

Speaking about her recent book “Bhagavad Gita” (Fingerprint, Rs.250, 176 pp), a translation of the Gita in the present day context , Rao said the current day’s “intolerance” needs many more people – and not just writers – to speak up against it.

“We seem to have sunk to a new low in intolerance; it does seem specifically ideological but is (in reality) religion-misunderstood. Those who believe in a Hinduism that is based on love must speak up against these divisive ideas,” Rao told IANS in an interview.

“‘Pundits see unity in all: a humble scholar priest, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-cooking person,'” Rao repeated a line from the Gita as she spoke of the intolerance in society.

Rao should know what she is talking about because otherwise she would not have been able to tweak the Bhagavad Gita in the manner she has. The sacred scripture, as translated by a majority of authors, takes a masculine line, and some even say “women are of a lower birth”. But not so for Rao, whose translation has a ‘she’ and ‘her’ – and adds a feminist perspective to the text.

“When we read an ancient text, we must be aware of the change of context and adjust our understanding. This is why I use ‘she’ and ‘her’ in my Gita instead of ‘he’ and ‘him’ – I am Arjuna, and I am a woman. My Gita cannot ignore the fact that I live in today,” Rao told IANS.

With a scripture like the Gita, considered the holiest, many translators, she said, are wary of adding or deleting even a word. “For instance, the style is different in Kalidasa’s Meghadutam and Raghuvamsham. But most translators will translate both these works in the same style!”

Studying previous translations, she could not help but feel that “the Gita’s status as a holy book has held back the translator’s hand, making him hesitant to delete even a rhetorical space filler such as ‘indeed’,” Rao notes in her book.

Having read many classical texts, there are no “authoritative texts”, and no text has dictated what people should or should not do, Rao said, when asked about the current day debate Hindu outfits raised that “Vedas ordered killing of sinners who killed cows”.

“In fact we do not have authoritative texts that dictate what people should do, we have always been a culture of dialogue … there are many contradictions in our vedas and shastras, and hence are interpreted by the ‘Apta purushas’ or wise people,” she told IANS.

In a country with a long history, “how can one make sweeping statements about what was or was not done by all of Indian society” across thousands of years, Rao questioned.

Asked how relevant the Gita, which elaborates on Brahminical concepts like Dharma, is in today’s world, Rao said: “It is possible to pick out one shloka from one part of the text and use it in a debate against another shloka. But it must be read as a whole, and not just one part of it followed, for that will be distortion,” Rao said.

Being a poet herself, Rao has also translated some of Kalidasa’s works, apart from the Gita. But a translation can never be denuded of the interpretations that the author adds to the book, she said.

“No translation is devoid of interpretation, especially for a text that discusses so much philosophy. There were many challenges while writing – terms are not easy to translate; previous translations and commentaries contradict each other sometimes,” said Rao about the process involved.

(Bhavana Akella, IANS)


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Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.