Monday, February 23, 2015

The War Cry

        “Mark you this, Bassanio,
          The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
          An evil soul producing holy witness
          Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
         A goodly apple rotten at the heart:
        O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!” 
          So says Antonio in Merchant of Venice.

This was precisely why I’m sure most of those including myself reacted with consternation at the demand that Baghwad Gita be made a national book.
The other day a friend chastised me that I talk nonsense and write bunkum in my blog embellished with grandioseness. He was referring to my general anathema for the rightwing religious agenda and my outspokenness. He termed my assertions and opinion as frivolous and naive. Criticisms are welcome only that they have to be  sauted with reasoning. 

He, for that matter, though a semi liberal and not votary of the Sangh or the right wing politics, was recently enamoured by a more chastened and former Chinmaya Mission spiritual ascetic who excels in discourses from the Gita. I’m sure  that my friend's  awareness and knowledge  of the Gita is as plebeian as mine and quite certainly he may not have read even the Penguin publication of Juan Mascaro’s Gita that is still held as the most authentic English translation of Gita addressing ordinary and less competent people that certainly includes me and he.
The argument the gentleman friend based his endorsement that Gita be made a national text are
   a-     Gita is all encompassing and can be related to all race, creed, and origin of human beings
b       b-     Because of its universal essence it should be made a national book.
c      c -      It is not a Hindu religious text; it has nothing perse about religion
d      d-     The message of the Gita is eternally relevant.

Now, I being a lay person and my knowledge was always sourced from the writings and lectures of intelligent and scholarly minds and as always the thinking mind was set rolling by the works of elitist and dispassionate writers and historians.

Let me put forth why I intend to disagree with the gentleman friend on the most vital argument that the Gita be elevated as a national book, though at the same time acknowledging  the wisdom of the Gita as much as in many other books that are repositories of wisdom

Can we disagree with the statement that the Gita is a war cry and the war mentioned in the Gita is an allegory? Will the votaries who want it elevated to national status agree to see it so and not as the iconic text of  of Hinduism?   Perhaps Machiavelli too may have borrowed from the spirit of Gita in his “Prince”. The reasoning that the Gita is universal in appeal and is the panacea to all the tiresome agony of human existence is similar to the oft stated catch phrase coming out from pulpits of Muslim and Christian places of worship that the Koran and the Bible is the lone means to salvation.

In the context of Bhagawad Gita historians like Romilla Thappar (who is persona non grata to the right wing) suggests , “…..that some 700 verses of the Gita were a later addition to the primary text, The Mahabratha. The epics had originally been secular and had to be revised by the Brahamans with a view to using them as religious literature…….”.The idea of interpolation was provided by Wendy Doniger (again, a pariah for the right wing). She suggests that the Gita was written around 100 CE, while the epic Mahabharata was dated about 300 BCE and 300 CE, concluding that Veda Vyas who authored Mahabharata did not write the Gita. In sum Bhagawad Gita is the wisdom of the Upanishads and the Vedas. To now say that Gita is not a religious text is erroneous.

Forcing people of other faith to study Gita at a time when religion is not a positive identity but a tool in the hands of negative, parochial, divisive forces will bring a backlash that will grow ominously. The rightwing as we have today are certainly not the ones to be trusted with a Gita . For as the bard himself said “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose”.