Vivekananda (was: IA migration etc., - scholarly debate)

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 24 04:20:05 UTC 1998

Robert Zydenbos <zydenbos at FLEVOLAND.XS4ALL.NL> wrote:

>I think we would not be wrong in believing that V.'s relevance today
>has little, perhaps nothing, to do with the quality of his writings
>and his thinking, but everything with the image that was built around
>him. --

For most people, image is indeed everything. The same holds true for
most followers of the contemporary Sankaracharyas or even devotees of
Sai Baba. Their pictures hang in homes and university departments, but
how many read what they write? The myths and miracles that grow around
their names have more power to make them relevant to most Indians than
what they actually say or write.

>And when I mention that this same V. has written: "Caste is good.
>Wherever you go, you will find caste," people do not become angry at
>him, but at _me_ for supposedly calumniating this great man. (I
>certainly hope that this anti-scholarly attitude will not spread
>through the Indology List.)

I wonder why. People getting angry at you, that is. Isn't it an
all-pervasive Hindu notion that caste is inevitable, if not divinely
mandated? What is so exceptional about the fact that V said something
similar? Maybe caste is such an emotional issue that Indians don't want
to hear anything about it from Europeans or Americans, however

>Only after some further study has been made of just how much of V.'s
>writing is actually read and discussed in India (and how it is) will
>we be able to form a proper judgment about whether _V._ really is
>admired, rather than the myth around him that catches people's
>imagination. Until then, any statements that _he_ is 'important',
>'relevant', 'admired', etc. etc. are without scholarly significance.

Maybe a survey of Indian judges, IAS officers, police commissioners and
other bureaucrats should be done. They may all be anglicized, urban and
alienated, but they certainly decide what happens in India today. And
most of them will not have the training to make informed, scholarly
judgments about Vivekananda either, but that is besides the point. It
might be useful to tie the survey to the attitudes that these people
bring to issues like inheritance, strIdhana, dowry, caste, riots, temple
management, the universality of Hinduism, etc.

> dAE> There is some irony here, since V once referred to Kerala as "a
> dAE> vast lunatic asylum".
>Typical! But how many people in Kerala know this?

Probably more than one realizes. After all, Kerala is the one Indian
state with full literacy, and the Ramakrishna organizations are quite
active there. And yes, rather than getting angry with him, many
Keralites would agree that the fastidious rules of caste purity in
Kerala were indeed maddening. Even nambUdiri priests in important
temples would concede it nowadays, if grudgingly.


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