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Why this I-Day is doubly special
August 14, 2006
Of course, it is the 60th Independence Day and therefore a landmark of sorts. But it is made extra special as Janmashtami, the birth celebration of Krishna, falls on the same day.
Lord Krishna and his philosophy as euniciated in the Gita is indeed one of the greatest treasures of India.
'India's revival, about which there is no doubt, will draw inspiration from the message of the Bhagvad Gita' is what Warren Hastings wrote in his preface to the translation into English of the epic poem by Charles Wilkins in 1784. 'Works such as the Gita would live long after the British Dominion of India has ceased to exist,' he added.
The immortal scene of Krishna reciting the Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra is a well known motif, not just in India but in many parts of South East Asia. In fact, it adorns the Parliament building of Islamic Indonesia.
But it seems we Indians are bent on proving Hastings wrong.
The Bhagvad Gita and its message of discipline, hard work (Nishkam Karma or doing one's duty without any expectation of reward) and tolerance ('there are many paths to realisation of God, all are valid and each one has full right to choose his own') seem lost in modern day India.
Ironically, while outside the country there is increased appreciation of Indian philosophical heritage, within India itself it has become a 'communal' and divisive issue. Any thought of having the Gita Upadesh mural in the Indian parliament will have the secularists frothing with indignation. The 'eminent' historians of the Jawaharlal Nehru University variety have already described the Ramayana and Mahabharata as 'myths' and not history.
As a historian, I would like to ask a very simple question to all these 'eminent' people: If we accept that the Indus Valley civilisation ended around 3500 BC (now proved by the carbon dating process) and Buddha made his appearance in 600 BC, what happened in the intervening period of over 2,000 years? Did India and Indians go to sleep?
The sad fact is that such is the tyranny and domination of the 'Leftist' establishment that the historicity of Rama and Krishna have been denied. Since these are now myths, the contributions and philosophy of these two great Indians is of no relevance.
Interestingly, till 1986, when the actual site of the city of Troy mentioned in the Iliad (also dubbed as Greek mythology) was found, Western scholars similarly disbelieved Greek history.
In the case of Indian history as well, the ruins off the Kutch coast have shown the existence of a city of Dwarka. Recent NASA satellite photographs showed a man-made bridge-like structure at Rameshvaram (the Ram Setu mentioned in the Ramayana). But the typical reaction to these new finds has been to deny it outright.
In 1986, when the Dwarka ruins were first found, H D Sankalia, the late doyen of Indian archaeology, declared in The Illustrated Weekly magazine that 'Marine archaeology or no marine archaeology, I do not believe Dwarka existed!' It is politically incorrect in the India of the 21st century to be assertive of our own civilisational heritage. Even yoga, the sitar or Transcendental Meditation has come to India via the West.
Lamentably, the Gita today is more worshipped than read or followed.
In our statecraft, 'we the people' are forever waiting for Him to come to rescue us (Sambhavami Yuge Yuge: I will take birth in every epoch).
With the creed of non-violence as the dominating ideology, we have forgotten that to save the Good (Partranay Sadhunam) we have to be ready to destroy the evildoers (Vinashaycha dushkrutam).
Even more fundamentally, we Indians seem to have failed to distinguish between 'Eternal Truth' and Practical Truth. Our philosophy imbibes in us respect for life, all living beings have a soul that is a part of God, therefore all are children of the same creator and the whole earth is one family, Vasudhev Kutumbakam. This is the eternal truth.
But at the practical level there are nations and individuals who do not accept this and are bent on our destruction. So do we, as Gandhiji had advised the Jews in respect of Hitler, turn the other cheek? Will that be following our Dharma (not religion, but Duty) or saving the good and destroying the evil?
My good friend G D Bakshi often laments the fact that we Indians follow Bhishma Niti (Bhishma's doctrine) that goes more by tradition and the narrow concept of Dharma, and have forgotten Krishna Niti or a pragmatic approach while dealing with evil.
This abhorrence is so ingrained in our psyche that we use phrases like Krishna kritya or a Krishna like-deed, to describe dark deeds that ought not to be done. If Krishna had not used the kind of tactics he did against Bhishma or Drona during the Mahabharata war, it is unlikely the Pandavas would have won. G D Bakshi is the author of several books including one on the tactics and strategy of the Mahabharata war.
In his address to the British parliament on February 2, 1835, Lord Macaulay is said to have bared the British strategy: 'I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and have not come across one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre that I do not think we could ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation which is her spiritual and cultural heritage. And therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient educational system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.'
I have often been asked that being an atheist why I fast on Janmashtami. My answer is that here was an extraordinary Indian, a warrior, philosopher, musician, statesman, author and a great lover, all rolled into one. Surely one can keep a day's fast to remember this great Indian, whose Gita gives solace and guidelines for living a purposeful life to so many of us.
Is 60 years too long a period for us to throw away our mental burden and become truly free?
This obviously does not mean wholesale rejection or going back in time, but merely that we accept the foreign with open eyes and confidence in our own worth.
The double joy of Independence Day and the birthday of one of the greatest Indians should be an auspicious day to start that journey!