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Deepak Sarma

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Censoring Ramanujan's Essay On Ramayana: Intolerant Hindus And Confusing Texts

Posted: 11/30/11 11:26 AM ET

It is concurrently ironic and hypocritical that the very same "Hindus" who champion "Hinduism" to be the only tolerant religion are also intolerant of academic and other publications that are incongruous with their imagined and reified vision of Hinduism, and especially with their homogenized version of the epic Rāmāyaṇa. The recent antagonism towards the late (and great) A. K. Ramanujan and his article on the varieties of the Rāmāyaṇa has led to the article being dropped from the syllabus at Delhi University, to vandalizing the offices of the History Department there, and now to Oxford University Press' shameful decision to discontinue publishing and selling any book that contains Ramanujan's essay. Though the perpetrators of these injustices deny allegations of censorship, I certainly know it when I see it.

It is equally ironic and hypocritical that the "Hindus" who champion this censorship also propound that "Hinduism" is a robust and muscular tradition that can win any battle against imagined enemies (historical or contemporary, real or otherwise) yet they must nonetheless censor anything or anybody that threatens their delusion.

But if one actually examines texts that are held to be "Hindu" one finds that "Hinduism" is much more resilient and tolerant than the behavior of the censors would lead one to believe. In fact there is a "Hindu" tradition that embraces texts that conflict with its fundamental doctrine. The Mādhva school of Vedānta, founded in the 13th century by Madhvācārya, thus considers mohaśāstras (confusing texts), which conflicted with Mādhva doctrine, to be canonical and an integral component of its system. In his Mahābhāratatātparyanirṇaya, a commentary on the Mahābhārata, Madhvācārya, states:

The śāstras [texts] whose meaning is confusing are made by the servants of Hari [i.e. Viṣṇu]. Because these [śāstras] have been described as unacceptable [they] guide the asuras(demons) to hell. As these texts are composed by Śiva etc. by the order of Viṣṇu...[1]

In a subsequent passage Madhvācārya again states that Viṣṇu is responsible for these texts:
I [Viṣṇu] emit this confusion that will confuse people. You, Oh Rudra, Oh Strong Armed One, cause the confused śāstra to be composed. Show those false [śāstra], Oh Powerful One. Make [your] Self renowned and conceal me." This is stated in the words of the Vārāha Purāṇa and similarly in the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa.[2]

Madhvācārya thus includes texts that conflict with his doctrine as vital components of his system. They are texts that serve a purpose for those who are easily deluded and who are not destined for mokṣa (release from the cycle of birth and rebirth). They also place any text that conflicts with Mādhva theology within the Mādhva narrative, thereby explaining away their danger. The texts, then, when contextualized, are thus neither prohibited nor harmful. If a person were to read them and were to be convinced by them then it would prove that the person is destined to hell and will not achieve mokṣa.
From this it would follow that texts like Ramanujan's essay exist by the grace of God (i.e. Viṣṇu). Such texts, moreover, delude those who are meant to be deluded. For that matter Ramanujan's existence itself is at the pleasure of Viṣṇu himself.

I do not, by the way, find Ramanujan's essay to be offensive.

Ramanujan is one among many whose work has been targeted by those who claim to speak for and defend "Hinduism." He is not the first whose work has been censored by publishers under the threat of violence and by reason of the claim that it hurt the sentiments of the Hindu community. If, however, one takes Madhvācārya to be representative of a particular kind of Hinduism then works such as his that are deemed offensive ought to be tolerated and accepted as mohaśāstras, and therefore canonical and certainly not censored. If readers found this blog to be offensive, for example, then it ought to be classified and embraced as a mohaśāstra!

To censor, then, would not be Hindu at all.

[1] mohārthāny anyaśāstrāṇi kṛtāny evājñayāhareḥ |
atasteṣūktam agrāhyam asurāṇāṃ tamogataḥ ||
yasmāt kṛtāni tānīha viṣṇunoktyaḥ śivādibhiḥ |
eṣāṃ yan na virodhi syāt tatroktaṃ tan na vāryate|| Mahābhāratatātparyanirṇaya (hereafter MBhTN), 1.34.

[2] eṣa mohaṃ sṛjāmyāśu yo janān mohyiṣyati |
tvaṃ ca rudra mahābāho mohaśāstrāṇi kāraya ||
atathyāṇi vitathyāṇi darśayasva mahābhuja |
prakāśaṃ kuru cātmānam aprakaśaṃ ca mām kuru ||
iti vārāhavacanaṃ brahmāṇḍoktaṃ tathāparam | MBhTN, 1.48-50.

 
 
 

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