Thursday, Feb 09, 2023 07:45 [IST]
Last Update: Thursday, Feb 09, 2023 02:05 [IST]
Social media across India celebrated Saudi Arabia’s decision to include parts of Indian epics in its school curriculum. India’s exuberance on this initiative by the Islamic Republic is legitimate. The epic stories the Mahabharata and the Ramayana need no introduction in India though its unconvinced secular mindset often takes a divisive look on the philosophical impact of the holy texts. Most of the universities in India refrained from introducing the epics in their campuses. A regime change in India since 2014 has not had enough implication on education though it keeps proclaiming its initiatives in the direction of a cultural revamp. Indifference to the idea of accommodating Indian epics in the education system continued throughout the post colonial scenario in the pretext of minority sentiments being hurt. The situation has not changed almost a decade into the historic right-wing regime in India. The Modi regime has so far been a failure in restructuring the curriculums with an adequate inclusion of the Indian cultural legacy.
Why Indian epics? This has multiple connotations to cherry-pick. When a country decides to shift from its consistent radical interventions by embracing a nuanced approach of reformation as part of its new visionary framework, it is indeed setting a vivacious approach of transition for its generations to come. Therefore, it was genuine for Saudi Arabia to catch headlines in India. We have at the same time another Islamic country taking an extreme radicalised view on the other side. Afghanistan, under its Taliban dispensation, has been floundering heavily as its women folks are barred from getting education. Saudi Arabia has definitely been stretching a moderate version of Islam to India while Afghanistan stands out so horrendous to the whole world. A reform, in whichever religion is welcome. For the larger refinement of generations, initiatives in this regard deserve kudos. Why do the Indian epics stand relevant here? When India’s pseudo secular mindset preferred to brush aside the potential impact of values imprinted in the epics and other ancient Indian texts, world over there was a demand for the thoughts enshrined in the ancient books of wisdom.
A living text like Mahabharata brings the conscience of the whole country on to one ideological outline. That has been the wisdom that the Mahabharata was capable of transmitting. It is said with full meaning and grace that there is nothing in human existence which does not have a place in the Mahabharata. But the ideological prelude that a large number of Indians are habituated to attach with, has not come from the sophistication of the post colonial education system that India has been drumbeating about. India possessed an intrinsic tendency to pass the ancient wisdom of its epics from generation to generation in the form of stories and ballads. And people from time immemorial had been strengthened by the wisdom that filtered through the stories of a cataclysmic war and the values deriving from them. A pilgrimage through the lively narratives of the Indian epics takes us through the immense meaning of the battle of Kurukshetra between two families and cousins and relatives. Among its thousands of verses are the golden words of wisdom exchanged between Lord Krishna and his friend Arjuna. To liberate himself from the intricacies of the bitterness of the battle and its pain and paranoia, an all-time war prince surrendered his ego to the Lord and his deliverance in the war field came to be known as Bhagavad-Gita.
The epic stories hold a significant impact among the impoverished Indians and the affluent elite alike. My personal experience holds me enthralled even today as I recall the narrative wisdom of my illiterate grandmother who helped us grow with her pastime activity- storytelling from the epics. That is its greatness. In India illiteracy does not mean ignorance. The epics bring better understanding about the Vedic wisdom with clarity. The Mahabharata especially presents a visual experience of people from the entire subcontinent of India. From Gandhari’s Gandhara in the present Afghanistan to Krishna’s Mathura to Dwaraka to the Kingdoms that participated in the Kurukshetra war from across the country; Mahabharata takes us not only for a cultural tour of India but its civilisational embroidery keeps us mesmerised as the epic narrates the pilgrimages and victory marches of the Pandavas from the extreme north to the deeper south and to Sri Lanka. The Indian epics hold key to the civilisational conscience of the landscape that remained under the tramples of ruthless invasion for centuries. No doubt, to the present day, irrespective of the insensitivity of the ruling governments, the populace of the country kept the values and the cultural splendour of the holy texts intact.
An aggressive campaign by the government on the cultural remnants of brutal invasion has been on the track since 2014. Many cities and monuments bearing the memories of acrimony have so far been renamed in tune with the country’s civilisational pride. Last entrant to this revamping mission was the renaming of the Mughal Garden to Amrit Udyan by the President of India. There were strong course corrections by rejuvenating spiritual places too. But the Modi government at the centre has failed to bring legendary works to limelight for revamping the literary and cultural imagination of our present generation. Wisdoms of yore such as the Bhagavad Gita, the eighteen Puranas, the Vedas and the Upanishads and the lessons on Jnana, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Mimamsa and Yoga philosophies and many more in this casket of wisdom remained shelved for decades.
India’s civilisational ambiance cannot be maintained until the spiritual wisdom preserved in these ancient texts is not disseminated. The controversy on the historical evidence on the efficacy of our great epics holds no relevance here. They depict India as a cultural unit, a civilisational landmass that existed in the golden spiritual values from the Vedic period irrespective of its political disharmony in certain periods. Abrahamic religions do not have epics of the same stature of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata with the same applicability of philosophy that even today encompasses a huge landmass such as the Indian subcontinent. With their minimal literary expressions, these religions are yet to find ideological proof that accentuates a civilisational unity. Probably this has been their disadvantage even though they flourished in millions with their inability to cement the loopholes of their cultural inaccuracy. The Indian government’s scurried manoeuvres to re-scripting the history by renaming cities and places should be seen as an eye-catching gimmick for intense polarisation and political mileage. To reclaim our cultural heritage through simple tokenism cannot be the pathway. There should be a more pragmatic and honest approach for India’s cultural revival. India has the complete right to walk an extra mile with respect to this. The government should step up its game.
(The views expressed are those of the author. Email: email@example.com)