Monday May 28, 2018

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

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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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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)