Bharatiya Pragna: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Indian Studies has been started with the main objective of critically engaging with various visible and invisible issues found in Indian culture, history and its rich spiritual heritage. We did not intend it to be one more journal devoted exclusively to the study of Indian literature/s and the approach we chose is interdisciplinary. Various Indian cultural traditions, narrative traditions, visual traditions, performing traditions, musical traditions, and historical traditions have been identified as the thrust areas. The inaugural issue of the journal testifies to this fact. The current issue carries a broad spectrum of articles on literature, music, religion and spirituality, painting, historiography, social anthropology, theatre and education.
Swami Vivekananda in one of his lectures in America emphasized upon the spiritual character and the otherworldliness of a typical Indian. He contends that even an unlettered farmer in India speaks philosophy in this land of ‘karma’, Karma Bhoomi. Surely, there is no exaggeration in what the Swami said. Religion is so inseparably entwined with an Indian’s day today life that seldom they are seen apart. The history of India is more a history of its Saints and sages than merely the history of the kings and queens and royal dynasties. It is the history of the Dharma that passed through various vicissitudes in the course of endless and inexorable time picturesquely captured in the Puranas and Itihasas. Instead of looking at several battles that took place between various kingdoms and kings as merely political, they were construed as the battle between Dharma and Adharma, between good and evil. Perhaps that is the reason for the popularity of Puranic form in the narrations of history. The four Purusharthas, namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha governed the lives of the people of the sub-continent and guided them towards the ultimate goal of human life, Moksha. As such these four Purusharthas pervaded all aspects of life in India and all mundane activities governed by these principles were ultimately turned in the direction of Moksha. Arts like music and dance were also used as means to reach the Ultimate. The source of their origin and their merger was perceived to be divine.
The first article in this issue “Nadayoga and the Seven Steps to Liberation: A Reading of Vemana and Tyagaraja” is an attempt to focus on one of the most ancient spiritual practices called Nada Yoga and how it was used by the medieval Telugu poet popularly known as Yogi Vemana and the doyen of the South Indian music, popularly known as Carnatic music, the Saint Composer Sri Tyagaraja. According to some scholars of music Nada Yoga is a part of Hatha Yoga. Yogis like Vemana practiced Hathayoga, which consists of two “Upa Yogas”, namely Mantra yoga and Laya yoga. Laya yoga is also known as Nada yoga as it deals with sound. While in the former the Sadhaka (spiritual practitioner) chants the mantra both outwardly and inwardly, so deeply and so intensely that he/she gets absorbed in it, in the latter the body and soul are cleansed by Pranayama (breath-control) and meditation (dhyana) respectively, and consequently the nada, the sound is constantly heard from inside. The goal of Nada Yoga is to merge one’s self into the Nada and attain liberation. The author of this article tries to illustrate how this philosophy is embedded in the verses of Vemana and the keertans of Tyagaraja by offering a brief theoretical framework and analyses of a few poems and keertans.
The Indian society is a complex matrix of richly diverse social or cultural and elements. Due to the stratification of the society on the basis of the social, economic and cultural factors the society appears as an amalgam of apparently contradictory factors. Rudolph and Rudolph name them as “The Great Tradition and The Little Traditions”, which otherwise are known as Margi and Desi tradition. As AK Ramanujan contends in his brilliant introduction to Speaking of Siva (1973) these two traditions which are apparently contradictory are reciprocal and have a symbiotic relationship between them. Many tales and stories have made their way from folk into the Great Tradition and vice-versa.
The matriarchal tradition of the Indian society still survives in the folk tradition, where the goddess, that is Shakti, is worshipped in myriad forms with different names depending on the region. In the main stream Hinduism the goddess is worshipped in the Tantric tradition as the all-pervasive force (Yadevi sarva bhuteshu Shakti rupena samsthitah/ Namahsthathai namahsthasthai, namamahsthatai namaha— Adi Shankara. “Hey Mother salutations to Thee who pervades all the Creation as Shakti”.) and the Devipurana extols her as the Supreme Mother, the Creator, while she is conceived both as a benign mother and a punisher of the disobedient in the folk religions. The retributive aspect gains prominence in the folk religion and as such an effort is made to appease her through animal sacrifice etc. This religion is more devotional than ritualistic. In their paper Manjula and others present that “In the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh, India, we see her [goddess mother] as an enigmatic all pervasive omnipotent power who is appeased with humble offerings of neem leaves and porridge.” In their own words, the paper deals with the collective representation of the manifestations of the Divine Feminine in the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh and the charming stories behind the ‘ammas’ threaded together from oral tradition of narrations”.
Surrogacy has become a contentious issue in the modern times for the social and ethical values it involves. Besides this it has economic implications too as the wombs are available on rent. In her brilliant exposition of the issue of surrogacy in “‘May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons’: The Social and Ethical Impact of Surrogacy presented in Ancient Indian Myths” Rolla Guha Niyogi traces its roots in the ancient Indian myths and how we negotiate today with the values they cherished. She illustrates that surrogacy was not unethical practice in the ancient times as it was consensual and was done for the perpetuation of the family line, that is niyoga system, though it reduced the woman to an instrument and overlooked her “emotional turmoil” and “physical trauma”. She refers to various myths from the Mahabharata to show how Madhavi, Satyavati, Kunti and Draupadi were surrogate mothers who were “exceptionally virtuous with the singular capacity of retaining their ‘virginity’ or purity of spirit”. She concludes, “In a society where the ability to ‘be the mother of a hundred sons’ was considered a blessing and a privilege, the popularity and social acceptance of surrogacy and the niyoga system would have been inevitable and a matter of necessity”.
Songs have played a very important role in bringing about social and cultural transformations in the Indian society despite being religious. We have a very rich repertoire of Bhakti literatures comprising of Keertans, Vachanas, Dohas, Abhangs, Bhajans etc. which played a key role spreading across the message of change in society. Most of this literature was protestant and reformist in character and questioned the age old beliefs and caste hierarchy. It threw challenge at the mainstream narratives and contested their assumptions. Sujay Thakur in his article “The Kirtan of Resistance and a Divided Bengal: A Study of the Matuya Community” focuses on the contribution of Harichand Thakur (1811-1877) in bringing together Namasudras under one umbrella of Matuya community and giving them a new social identity with his devotion and namgans of Lord Hari. He established Matua Mahasangha. He was considered an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu by his devotees, so he was called Thakur. He propagated his social message through his kirtans, which were suffused with social message. He gave the voiceless a new voice of dissent in the late 19th century Bengal. With the division Bengal and the rise of Islam in Bangladesh many of the Matuya community moved to West Bengal. Thakur’s paper illuminates those dark corners of history which are beyond the pale of mainstream narratives…Full Text PDF