Integration of the sacred and the secular PREMA NANDAKUMAR The Hindu Book Review Tuesday, Mar 06, 2007 ANCESTRAL VOICES - Reflections on Vedic, Classical and Bhakti Poetry: Ramesh Chandra Shah; Motilal Banarsidass, 41, U. A. Bungalow Road, Jawahar Nagar, Delhi-110007. Rs. 195.
One needs intelligence to understand a word but one must perform tapasya to understand the word. The words spoken by our ancients were a divine Morse code that conveyed immense areas of imaginative experience that gave a rounded perfection to man's earthly life. Indian epics are not a celebration of mere battle heroism. Rama, Arjuna, Karna, Ravana: they all have characteristics that are not just a brilliant wielding of the bow, the sword and the mace. Arriving at the core concept that moves all these heroes, one comes face to face with Dharma, a word so mantric that it has defied all attempts at translation. The genius of Indian culture links even poetic criticism to a soul view of Beauty seeing it as no different from Truth. Art experience is looked upon as an instrument of Yogic realisation. The theory of `Rasa-dhwani' posited by eminent critics like Ananadavardhana and Abhinavagupta helps us appreciate all Indian literature without losing significant perspectives. Fusion: By the time of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, there is a perfect fusion of the near and the far, the integration of the here and the hereafter, of poetry and spirituality. Nearer our times we have Sri Aurobindo writing poetry as part of his `Yoga sadhana'. Ramesh Chandra Shah asks himself: "How exactly is Yoga, that realm of silent wordless inward action related to the same man's unrelenting passion for the order of words?" Relation there must be, a connection with our earliest dawns but which we have lost by limiting our visions to our own "egoistic shells of separativity." These ideas and more are woven with expertise by Shah in a seamless argument.In her foreword, Kathleen Raine makes a passionate statement: "The time has come to re-learn from the Orient — and above all from the spiritual mainstream of India — that special kind of wisdom of which Professor Shah speaks." There has been too much doctrinaire deconstruction and compartmentalisation of thoughts, a sourness of the intellect that can only forage through agony and disillusionment. The author rightly feels that we must hark back to the medieval Bhakti movement which can give spiritual nourishment by positing the delight of existence. Not a turning away from life nor seeing it as a field of broken shards but becoming electrically free to watch existence as the eternal Ras of soul-unity. Ancestral Voices contains not only reflections but also pointers for the reconstruction of our critical tools to unify the sacred and the secular. As the Vedic poet sang: "Let the sacred threads by which we weave the coloured web of our song remain intact." Yes, for all future time.