Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pet Peeve Part II

This particular peeve is something I have been guilty of, not too long ago. I realized my mistake and now cannot stop feeling sorry for those who continue to commit this folly. Someone truly said that little knowledge is dangerous. This applies to people who enjoy bashing the ancient Indian scriptures without truly understanding them. The pseudo-secularists, the born again feminists, students and faculty from the top Indian colleges who take pride in their Gender Studies Cells,the writers cum activists, the I-am-in-love-with-everything-western-and-hate-everything-Indian and every Tom,Dick and Harry who can pen a few words is guilty of it.

If you ask them their source, it is always second-hand...Internet(Oh My God!!), western authors, and some by misinformed Indian authors too. And since religion bashing is fashionable these days, you will win substantial popular support if you defame Rig Veda or Ramayan.

I am deeply respectful of all religions. I love little Ibrahim who goes to the mosque everyday and reads the Quran. I am in awe of little Praveen Thomas who attends Sunday School. I am proud of 6 year old Gouri who attends a Baal Sanskara Kendra and is already learning about the Geeta, the Vedas and Upanishads.

I am hurt by the way some of these scriptures have been misrepresented by some authors both Indian and Western. Bloggers too in the name of feminism and pseudo-secularism are doing such disservice. I wish they would be honest about their research and do their home work well.They quote these authors or one of the unauthentic websites and cry wolf. Recently I skimmed through a book titled Infinite Hindu Wisdom by a Faculty of a Respected US University and found it sadly lacking. It clearly showed a lack of understanding of the culture and philosophy. And how easily we rely on such books and such 'experts' for their two bits on our scriptures.

Sanskrit has been misinterpreted and many books contain sorry translations. Also because many of our Puraans are very symbolic in nature you either need the brains or to say the least an excellent Sanskrit teacher and Vedic scholar to understand the true meaning and the deeper philosophy.I am not in a position to defend each and every accusation not because of lack of evidence but because of limited knowledge ( I am still learning). But I would like to give some examples. Dr. Moore has written in some book quoting from some Ved say that "Prajapati ran after his daughter and raped her" He goes on to say that the Vedas are full of such disgusting things and people find it titillating hence they read these scriptures.
The Story: goes that Prajapati got angry with his daughter and ran after her.
The Real Meaning:This story actually teaches a political lesson. A lesson in democratic practices in fact. The 'daughter' is a reference to the King's Council of Ministers..his Rajyasabha..his Rajyasabha/Rajsatta is also his duhita(Sanskrit for daughter). The bhavarth is a lesson in democracy. It says that the leader of the Rajyasabha should not be from the the Royal household but an ordinary subject of the state ..only then can he be fair and just in his duties. It is the job of the Rajyasabha/Rajsatta to serve the Praja.

Shameful is the way Dr. Moore has translated it. I know I have not done a good job explaining because though I am comfortable with English, I found it an extremely difficult task to translate from the Hindi explanation of this Sanskrit Shlok into English. It only highlights how things get contorted out of shape.
And translations by people who begin with an agenda and are unfamiliar with the language,culture,history and philosophy can end only disastrously.

Similary the shlok Ahilyayee jarah indrah has been translated as Indra raped Ahilya...whereas the shlok simply and beautifully describes something as natural as a Sunrise!!!.

What is sad is that there are few to oppose these awful translations. Many who are followers of Sanatan Dharm are steeped into mindless ritualism rather than knowledge, devotion and action. Sankrit being viewed as a 'dead' language means we are fast losing the tool with which to dig further and deeper,hence becoming alienated from our culture and our history in the process.

Someone I was chatting with the other day, was ridiculing the Veda and saying that somewhere it is written that if you have a cold you should chant .."I do not have a cold"...something to this effect. I do not know the exact reference and hence cannot correctly comment on this literal translation. But what I found sad is that when a Doctor from John Hopkins or Harvard Medical School talks about the powers of positive thinking/prayers/meditation it does not seem so quaint and silly.

I understand that my peers,the young today are put off by the ritualism they see around them and also by the various malpractices which have crept in. But what is important to remember is that what is needed is reform and a revival of a study of these scriptures not ill informed bashing. Are we waiting for some Westerner to show us the power and brilliance of our scriptures, our shastras...yoga,ayurved,jyotish-shastra etc. etc. Will we believe in ourselves only then?

I wish those who consider themselves smarter than Adi Shankracharya,Ramkrishna,Swami Vivekanand,Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,Pandurang Athvale Shatri...some of the great followers and teachers of Advait Vedant would be honest and wise enough and refrain from commenting on something they know very little about.

16 comments:

Amrita said...

I am not an expert in Hindu scriptures but i second you in tour thought that it requires a lot of effort to get the real meaning of the holy books. I myself have a Bhagwad Gita as it is by ISKON and i dont think i fully comprehend it inspite of 2 readings

BK Chowla said...

By no strech of imagination can I say that everyone understands those well.Hence,i feel people must refrain from giving meaning to these sciptures.

Nisha said...

wow...i had no idea on this one. It's shocking how the so called translators can mislead the readers. Every writer has a moral responsibility for each word he writes..and this is absolutely ridiculous.

Vinod_Sharma said...

This is a peeve of mine too. It is fashionable to ridicule religion in many parts of the world, Hindu religion in particular.

But I think this is a cycle which has to play out its full course. People in the world are richer and busier than they have ever been in history - at least among those who ridicule religion. That is why they don't need it. Who was it said "dukh mein sumiran sabh karien sukh mein karey na koi"?

Notwithstanding all this, I think we should in our own small ways try to correct those who wrongly interpret scriptures.

wordsndreamz said...

Religion, to me is personal and not anything to do with rites and rituals that go on , in the name of religion. I am proud to be a Hindu - without wearing it on my sleeve, if you know what I mean.. And whatever little I know, is thanks to my Dad who is very spiritual and who had given me several, very interesting books to read when I had questions relating to Theology. I totally agree with you that there is so much of knowledge in our vedas and scriptures that it is ridiculous to slander it in this way or even assume that we know it enough to talk about it. Yes, people do assume that they 'know' everything and have the licence to slander a religion..

Chrysalis said...

Amrita: I am no expert either...in the process of getting to know more...As far as comprehension goes I dont think I will be able to understand and implement everything in this one lifetime. Of course having a great teacher helps.

Chowla Sir: I agree with you sir. It especially hurts when people judge them without making the effort of tapping into the authentic sources. Many also fail to see the true meaning behind the symbolism. It can be blamed on the lack of good teachers too.

Nisha: I know it is sad. But sometimes the writer really believes in the written word or hearsay of their choice. Making statements after shoddy research is definitely a great disservice.

Vinod Sir: Yes it is fashionable to ridicule religion and esp. Hinduism. But such ridicule is even more visible in India. Not only religion but our Ved, Upanishads and Geeta are also a target of such malicious ignorance.
You are so right about people being busier and richer than ever and hence not interested in anything which does not make them even richer....
Yes those who know what these scriptures are all about should point out and correct those who wrongly interpret.

Smitha: Actually the rites and rituals you mention are not part of Vedic Religion or Sanatan Dharm. What you see around you is 'Karmakaand' corrupt and defunct practices that have crept in and have been encouraged by vested interests who gain from the lack of true knowledge of the Dharm..the right way of life, the right way of worship.
Again those who "wear their religion on their sleeve"...i am not sure what you really mean, but am guessing you are referring to those who beleive more in the rites and rituals and symbols without truly understanding their significance...are way off mark.
You had mentioned that fact about your Dad in some earlier post too. You are lucky to have someone guide you.
The more I know,the more I am in awe at the infinite wisdom contained in our scriptures. They are the oldest and the sheer volume( much has been lost actually) and brilliance is mind boggling.

manju said...

I think that most of the bashing of ancient Indian scriptures is because people feel it is politically correct to do so.

Sometimes they genuinely misunderstand the meaning. But more often- I have noticed- the words are manipulated so that they seem to convey something different from the real meaning.

On many blogs we see one or two sentences quoted out of context and their meaning distorted.

Child Of Adam said...

Well, i agree with you completely. Dr. Moore should have spent his time in India, studying under the best veda gurus, to even think about translating the vedas. All of us rush after everythin western. Hillary clinton is in India , telling us to curb our carbon emission. that is hillarious. USA alone contributes 21% of the carbon emissions. India is still down to barely a 1%. I don't know why I wrote this here... hmmmm..

Maybe you should write a letter to that Faculty, and tell him to first learn sanskrit even before he attempts to make a mockery out of our ancient texts.

Kislay said...

I cannot even begin to say how passionate I am about this . Wholeheartedly concur . You should write a mail to that fool . It is like "nach na jaane aangan tedha" .

wordsndreamz said...

'Again those who "wear their religion on their sleeve"...i am not sure what you really mean, but am guessing you are referring to those who beleive more in the rites and rituals and symbols without truly understanding their significance...are way off mark.' - Yes that is exactly what I meant.. And I am totally aware that most of the so called rituals are as you say, 'defunct practices that have crept in and have been encouraged by vested interests who gain from the lack of true knowledge of the Dharm'. Agree totally! Which is one the reasons, I still feel spiritual despite not being very 'religious' in the way people expect.. And yes , you are right.. people do chose to look down on religion - it is fashionable to do so..

derpedia said...

Pardon me if I am misinformed, but isn't this partly the fault of the Indian Government for not allowing students in India to major in religions in an attempt to maintain a secular government? I've heard quite a few Hindus complain that almost all Hindu scholars come from the Western world due to this policy.

Chrysalis said...

Manju ji : I so agree with all that you say. Its politically fashionable and people think it makes a statement that they are peace loving humanitarians if they bash the scriptures, religion etc.


Child of Adam: The fault lies within us. HOw many are there to correct Dr. Moore or the other faculty? And why should we first read their books and then the original. Language problem? Sanskrit, Hindi, Regional Languages are becoming incomprehensible to most of us. So we rely on the translations.Blame rests with us.

Chrysalis said...

Kislay: Glad to know it is troubling for you too. The one who wrote was ignorant about a foriegn culture. What about those born to this nation and culture and who show disregard to thousands of years old wisdom?
Would love to read a post on this topic from you.

Smitha: Ditto. Glad we agree.

Chrysalis said...

derpedia: You are so welcome here. The minute I read your comment I rushed to see your wether you were an Indian or not. Because the kind of comment you have made is rarely made by Indians or Hindus for that matter. They are either not brave enough or steeped into this twisted lopsided view of freedom, secularism and globalization. If you have heard some Hindus complaint ..you have been meeting some smart people :)
Secularism in no way implies stopping of religious studies...be it Hindu, Christian,Islamic scriptures. In fact if we truly read the authentic texts they all preach peace and universal brotherhood.
Dr. Moore and the other faculty mentioned are not so much as a focus of my attention here than the Hindus and Indians themselves who will not even know wether someone is misinterpreting the texts either out of ignorance or malice. Many see a study of religion/scriptures unsecular and since English is what the modern urban Indian is more 'comfortable' with ..translations (good, bad,ugly)which take away the essence anyways are the order of the day.
Bottomline...agree with you totally.

derpedia said...

Thanks for the welcome, Chrysalis.

It saddens me that translations are taken to be the 100% pure meaning of the original text. :( Anytime something is translated, its original meaning is changed. That's why translators are listed after the author -- because they've colored the entire topic, intentionally or unintentionally.

But don't take my word for it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J11mJ29jZEg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=265MmBcFPQM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0Nh-Nxnq14

and if this kind of thing can happen between two living languages (English and Hindi), it most certainly can happen to Sanskrit.

Chrysalis said...

Derpedia: Am I thankful for interacting with you or what. I have been thinking of this whole issue of language etc. for some days thanks to some other comments on some other blog and you are such a sane, reasonable, objective voice. Thanks so much for the videos, will certainly check them out.