Thursday, June 25, 2020

Re–learning Itihāsas of the Sanātana Dharma

Book Review


Who Is Who In Hindu Mythology (Vols. 1 & 2). Author: Surya N. Maruvada. Publishers: Notion Press. Available for ordering from Amazon: (India) (Outside India)


The days when children learnt stories from Indian Itihāsas at the knees of their grandpas are sadly long gone. The potent, venomous mix of the three Ms—Macaulay, missionaries and Marx had sufficiently vitiated the learning of the intermediate generations to such an extent that they are confused and ambivalent in their approach to matters concerning the Sanātana Dharma. The missionaries wanted to uproot the Sanātana Dharma and supplant it with their own religion. If Macaulay’s supremacist approach to Indian thought dictated the course of educational curricula during the British rule, the domination of the educational system by the left–illiberal mobs post–independence finished the job. As Koenraad Elst observed in DecolonizingThe Hindu Mind, all Western knowledge and scientific thought (including those borne out of pre–Christian Graeco–Roman achievements) were attributed to Christianity while the Sanātana Dharma was depicted as no more than a cult order, backward and regressive.


India had had its own period of “Dark Ages” from the first Mohammedan invasions in the tenth century to the end of the British rule in the middle of the twentieth century. The advent of independence, instead of heralding cultural renaissance, did the opposite. Indian achievements in arts, culture, philosophy and spirituality, and science and technology were deliberately expunged from school text books. Instead schools and colleges were taught a fictitious construct called syncretic culture. For example, Elst pointed out


To describe Moghul painting (a Hindu contribution to Islamicate culture) as a “contribution of Islam to India’s composite culture”, as secularist discourse has it, indicates a muddled understanding of Islamic religion and Islamicate culture.


Marxists are adept at co–opting pop cultural modes like song, drama, cinema and etc. as vehicles for insidious indoctrination. After Macaulayesque education sucked out all traditional forms of Sanātana Dharmic knowledge from curricula, mass media like newspapers, magazines and cinema did the rest. As it happened, for nearly a century Madras was the centre of arts and culture of the southern Indian states. Exponents of Indian arts and culture who gravitated to the city were willy–nilly sucked into the black hole fertilised by the three Ms—of Macaulay, missionaries and Marx. It was they who did the insidious job of indoctrinating several generations of Indian school and college children into loathing their own cultural ancestry. The glitz and glamour of the silver screen has an undoubted charm for the youth and its appeal has a deeper and longer–lasting impact on impressionable minds. Therefore if movies distorted characters of Rāmāyaṇa or Māhābhārata Indian youth were inevitably led to believe that the Sanātana Dharma was an iniquitous religion, forgetting Svāmi Vivekānada’s aphorism about Sanātana Dharma being a religion that is “spiritual in content, scientific in approach and universal in appeal”.  

Macaulayesque education killed the spirit of contemplation, inquiry and introspection that were the bedrock of Sanātana Dharmic education and instead bred implicit and unquestioning obedience to what was taught. Left–illiberal thought inbred negativity. Thankfully the trend is reversing at last.   

How do we rekindle interest in India’s ancient lore, especially after several generations of Indians gave up on learning Saṁskṛtaṁ (another left–illiberal conspiracy), the language in which the wealth of our knowledge is encoded? India has such a rich repertoire of sacred texts that a lifetime may not suffice to read the entire corpus. And then there are perversions of the texts. A beginning could be made by reading the Itihāsas and understanding them without stripping their component stories out of context. As C. Rajagopalachari observed

“A little knowledge of the laws of nature and the wonders of science, specially when that knowledge is acquired second–hand, without the chastening influence of effort and investigation, acts as a wine on some natures. Their sense of proportion is upset. The unknown is not only unknown but ceases to exist for them.” (1935. The Bhagavad–Gita. Delhi. Hindustan Times Ltd. p.6)

It is in this context the present Encyclopaedia assumes importance. It includes sketches of all characters from our Itihāsas providing them context. The Itihāsas were stories of Gods but they were contextualised in their human incarnations. What societal values changed between the times of Rāmāyaṇa and Māhābhārata? How does Māhābhārata treat Kuñti as a virgin even though she begot a son before marriage? Why did Srī Kṛṣna who knew the outcome of the war, and could, did not prevent it? There may be hardly anyone who wants to know the names of the ninety–eight Kauravās but who were Srī Kṛṣna’s five consorts apart from the well–known three? The voluminous book (in two volumes) introduces the reader to topics ranging from the trivia to the sublime and from the mundane to the scientific. For example while introducing the book the author observes

On the world where Brahma, the creator in the Hindu Trinity resides, the length of a day is equivalent to many years on earth. While the huge difference may be a stretch, the concept of a different time scale on different worlds was not known until a few hundred years ago.

Modern science recognises this as the ‘theory of time dilation’ which is an off–shoot of the theory of relativity. The author expended enormous amounts of time in collecting and collating information from a variety of texts. One hopes that the Encyclopaedia will be useful not only for the world–wide Indian diaspora to obtain gleanings from their spiritual heritage but other scholars desirous of understanding the rich spiritual and philosophical underpinnings of the Sanātana Dharma.     


  1. Dharmavarapu Rama Mohan RaoSaturday, June 27, 2020 8:06:00 pm

    Thank you Narayana Das garu, it's well analysed.