Posts tagged: Jaipur Litfest

Kumbh Mela at Jaipur Litfest.

¨ The colonization of mind is the greatest stumbling block in the way to understand the past and present of any non-European society including India. Some people think the pre-British India  was just frozen in time. There was hardly anything there except constant atrocities and deep-rooted irrationality British Raj brought enlightenment, it brought dynamism, it brought unshackling of mind. On the other hand, some people are convinced that India before the British  rule was a vertibale heaven on earth. All our problems have caused by the foreigners. In other words, forget about solutions, we Indians are not even capable of creating our own problems. Both of these contradictory perceptions of India’s past emanate form the same source–Colonial Episteme””

(भारत, बल्कि किसी भी गैर-यूरोपीय समाज के अतीत और वर्तमान को समझने के रास्ते में सबसे बड़ी बाधा है-  चेतना का उपनिवेशीकरण। कुछ लोगों को लगता है कि अंग्रेजी राज की स्थापना के पहले का भारत धरा पर स्वर्ग समान था। हमारी हर समस्या विदेशियों की देन है। दूसरे शब्दों में, अपनी समस्याएं हल तो हम क्या करेंगे, इतनी भी सामर्थ्य परमात्मा ने भारतीयों को नहीं दी है कि अपने लिए कुछ समस्याएं खुद भी पैदा कर सकें।दूसरी ओर, कुछ लोगों को लगता है कि अंग्रेजी राज आया तो मुक्ति आई, प्रगति आई, आधुनिकता आई, वरना तो भारतीय समाज तो जैसे बर्फ में जमा हुआ था। अंग्रेजी राज के पहले  के भारतीय जन-जीवन में, अत्याचारों और तर्कविहीन परंपराओं के अंधानुगमन के सिवाय, था क्या? परस्पर विरोधी दिखने वाले ये मूल्यांकन असल में एक ही जमीन पर खड़े हैं। वह जमीन है— औपनिवेशिक ज्ञानकांड की जमीन…)

This evening in Jaipur, I was recalling the above-mentioned opening statement of  ‘Akath Kahani Prem ki’ while having a lively chat with Devdutt Patnaik, well-known author and management consultant, and his friend Partho Sengupta. They were very excited about what I said at  the  Kumbh Mela session yesterday at Jaipur Litfest where I had spoken along with Diana Eck and James Mallenson. In this session, I pointed out that Kumbh in our cultural memory and in the idiom of our languages has become a metaphor not of faith alone, but also of celebration of diversity and debate. Any congregation with these qualities is described as Kumbh. In fact, in the opening ceremony, the JLF itself was described as Kumbh Mela of literature and ideas.

To reduce Kumbh to just Shahi Snanas and the Naga Sadhus is to reduce a lively cultural experience to the Exotica Indica created by the colonial gaze. Like any metaphor or word, the significance of Kumbh can be appreciated only if you ‘read’ it as part of a narrative. Kumbh is an opportunity for ‘holy baths’ alright, but it is also an opportunity to reach out to the people. So much so, Swami Dayanada Sarswati who had no sympathy for most of the practices of his contemporary Hinduism, put on a “Pakhand Khanini Pataka” ( the standard challenging the false beliefs) at Haridwar Kumbh  inviting debate and deputations on his interpretation of the Vedas. He was only following the age-old practice of the Kumbh Melas. It was at the Ujjain Kumbh on the 11th may of 1921, that Bhagwadacharya had challenged the Ramanuji Vaishnavs who did not respond, and Bhagwadacharya declared that day as the day of deliverance for Ramanadis. The Fascinating story Of Bhagawadacharya Ramanandi can be read in my essay , ‘In Search of Ramanand’.

James Mallenson, himself a Ramanandi Bhagat could relate with this immediately.

Kumbh a provides an opportunity of deciding the issues of power, hierarchy and heritage. After all, India is not and never was a static, frozen or ”a-historical” society. It was a society having its own material questions along with spiritual quest. Of course, It was and is an unique society, uniqueness, however  lied not in the problems,  but in the solutions it sought. This is something, Raymond Schwab had reminded his European readers in 1950.

I was asked a question about Kumbh, in fact, religiosity in general becoming so popular in this era of  science and rationality. I pointed out that the science as such in itself can not act as an antidote to faith of any kind. In this sense, science and rationality do not necessarily go hand in hand. The fact of the matter is that more empty we become inside, more religious we  turn outside.

It was an interesting session with such a lively audience participation.



Keynote Address at Jaipur Literature Festival

I will be delivering the keynote address at the Jaipur Literature Festival along with Arvind Mehrotra on the theme Bhakti Poetry: The Living Legacy.

I am also participating in a panel on Kabir and Dadu Dayal along with Arvind Mehrotra, Monika Boehm-Tettlebach and Shabnam Virmani.

This year, the festival runs from 20 to 24 January. The full schedule can be found here

Attending the festival is free. Official festival website