India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and great grandmother of tradition.
Essence of Indian Thought is about the contribution of India to the thoughts, cultures and traditions of the world. The debt owed by the west to other civilisations and to India in particular, goes back to the earliest epoch of the ‘Western’ scientific tradition, the age of the classical Greeks and continued until the dawn of the modern era, the renaissance when Europe was awakening from its Dark Ages.
This book is an humble attempt to put together some of the aspects of India’s contribution to the thoughts of the world. Upanishads and Yoga both speak of universal values and constitute the heritage of all peoples. Other subjects like Ayurveda, Kamasutra and various forms of Indian arts-painting, music and dance have been analysed and discussed elaborately. The book draws attention to the Indian art of storytelling, the origin of mathematics, including the zero and decimal system.
Baldeo Sahai was born on 7Apr11, 1918 at Jhunjhunu (Rajasthan) in a highly religious family. He was taught the Gita by his grandfather at the age of 12. Since 18 years of age he has been associated with saints of Ramakrishna Mission and Sivananda Ashram. He was selected for Indian Foreign Service (B) and Indian Information Service. He opted for the latter and superannuated in 1976. Was Communication Consultant to Standing Conference of Public Enterprises, many private and public sector organisations for two decades.
He was music critic of the Hindustan Times for 12 years and art critic of the Illustrated Weekly of India for eight years. He has authored many books. Of these Indian Shipping-A Historical Survey and Active at Eighty are extremely popular. A Fellow of Indian National Science Academy he was conferred a Doctorate in History by a University of the Netherlands. He founded the Upanishad Society and has written pocket books on all principal Upanishads.
While going through the website of Dr Baldeo Sahai — www.upanisadsocietv.com, I was impressed by his interpretation of the philosophy of the Upanishads. It appeared to me that here is a person who has crossed theoretical confines and speaks from experience. I got in touch with him and became a life member of his Society. There are many societies in the world but I had not heard of a society which is solely devoted to the popularization of the Upanishads which, to my mind, represent the high watermark not only of Indian but of world philosophy.
Later, when he approached me to formally release some of the pocket books he had prepared giving the essence of principal Upanishads in simple English, I gladly agreed. At 25 he had gone through the Yoga course at Kuvalyananda Ashram at Lonavala near Pune and had since been practicing Yoga, including meditation. That is the reason that even at 92 he has produced his sixteenth book on the Essence of Indian Thought. I have gone through it and find that he has covered substantial ground and presented an impressive spectrum of Indian wisdom.
Upanishads and Yoga both speak of universal values and constitute the heritage of all peoples. They try to pull mankind up from the morass of sensual pleasures to a realm of sublime thought which should help in ushering in an era of mental peace and physical wellbeing. Dr Sahai has re-emphasized these values when the world is threatened with global warming on the one hand, and terrorism on the other.
Having been a music critic of the Hindustan Times and art critic of the former Illustrated Weekly of India he has dealt with the development of Indian arts like music, dancing and painting in a historical perspective and with perspicuity. He has also drawn attention to the Indian art of storytelling. While speaking about the much talked-about Indian Kamasutra, he does not endorse all that it says and has pointed out that love-making is only a ‘Station’ not the destination. According to the Indian way of four Ashramas or phases - Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa - the Grihastha or family life constitutes only the one-fourth portion and the final two Ashramas have to follow. The ultimate aim of human life on this Earth is to realize the real Self.
Dr Baldeo Sahai has made a bold effort to present the Essence of Indian Thought. I have pleasure in commending this book to the interested public not only to read but also to practise some aspects as succinctly described in the Epilogue.
Geologists theorise that initially there was a single landmass known as Pangaea (in Greek it means ‘all land’), and a single ocean called Pathalassa. About 200 million years ago, Pangaea split into two portions which were called Gondwanaland and Laurasia. The former further broke apart into Africa, Antarctica, Australia, South America and the Indian sub-continent.
If we carefully examine the world map, the east coast of Africa almost its’ into the western coast of India, and Australia, right into the Bay of Bengal. Laurasia, on the other hand, split into Urasia and North America. Such cataclysms are brought about by the drifting apart of continental laws.
Thus, the modern boundaries of the continents and countries have not been a permanent feature. It is not unlikely that India might have been once the home of Australians and Polynesians. Migrations of men and animals amongst Africa, India, Sumeria and Greece on the one hand, and India and Americas on the other, might have been a routine.
This must have led to the early cross-fertilisation of ideas among the peoples of the world. We have to keep this background in mind when we discuss the contribution of India to the thought of the world.
In modern times, the Aryan Panis, a mercantile class, had gone south to the kingdom of the Cholas. From there they voyaged to the Persian Gulf and settled in the fertile land at the mouth of Euphrates and Tigris rivers. They called their new home as Chola Desh, later corrupted to ‘Chaldea’.
When the Semite followers of Sargon overran that place, the Panis moved further West, and occupied the eastern coast of the Mediterranean. There they were called Poni, Phoeni and finally Phoenicians.
In the Americas, modern research scholars have discovered a lot of similarity between the art and iconography of the Mayan and Aztec people and that of Indians. They speculate that many Indians had once travelled to Americas, Mexico and adjacent regions.
In Asia, when the Macedonians were pursuing the Persians, Alexander the Great attacked their last satrapy in the north-west of India ruled by King Porus. When he returned to Greece, he left General Seleucus to look after the Persian portion conquered by him. In 305 BC when Seleucus dared to attack India, he had to accept a humiliating defeat at the hands of King Chandragupta Maurya.
The thoughts and philosophy of India also find an echo in the views of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD). He firmly held that God is in everything and everything is in God. He regarded ‘desire’ - kama — and anger — krodha — as the most heinous sins. No wonder, the Indian statesman, C. Rajagopalachari, called him a ‘Roman Janaka’.
In 1492, when Columbus landed in North America, he might have run into certain people who called themselves ‘Indians’, and he said with some justification that he had discovered ‘India’. Now it is being generally held that complete isolation of North America for several millennia is a ‘myth’.
Each ancient country has layers upon layers of several cultures. Ideas It how no boundaries. Earlier, they travelled slowly but took roots wherever they went. Now, with modern means of transport and instant information, the impact of ideas though immediate, is rather superficial.
Indian civilisation is among the six most ancient civilisations of the World. ‘Whereas some of the civilisations have disappeared or interrupted, India has had the unique distinction of enjoying an unbroken existence ending over thousands of years.
The longer a civilisation continues, greater are the dangers it has to face. Most of these dangers are man-made and manipulated. There was a when India was widely known as the ‘Golden Bird’, and many countries were keen to ‘pluck her feathers’. Attacks on India from outside started from the eighth century onwards. Mohammed Ghori carried out as many as 18 raids and in each, carried away hundreds of camel-loads of silver, gold and jewels from India. Babar gene in 1526 and the Moghals stayed on to rule for nearly 180 years.
The advent of trading companies from the West started with the Portuguese who entered Indian waters in 1498. They were followed by the Germans, Danes, French and finally the British East India Company According to Jean Sutton in her Lords of the List, during that period a wave of ‘India craze’ swept the British Isles. Ladies in high society were wearing nothing but Indian muslin, and decorating their homes with painted clothes of Coromandal.
Similarly, the Roman leaders were worried about the outgo of their gold to India. Pliny complained that “in no year does India drain us of less than 550 million sesterces ($ 22 million) Hoards of Roman coins have been found during excavations not only at Arikamedu near Puducherry but also at several sites into the interior.
When conquerors settle down to rule a country, their first objective is to dc-culture the people, more so those of India who were proud of their heritage, and valued their past. Whereas the Moghals generally became a part of that heritage, some of the British rulers systematically took up the task of destroying their cultural values.
In an address to the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835, one of the British peers, Lord Macaulay observes: I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage...”
Because of his educational reforms, all higher education was imparted in English. The aim of that education was “to create a class that would act as interpreters between us and the millions we govern, a class of Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.”
After 50 years, in a letter to his father written on 2nd October 1823, Macaulay says:
“Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully the effect of this education on the Hindus s prodigious. No Hindu, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion... It is my firm belief that if our plans for education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence…”
Some liberal British administrators, and foreign scholars, however, played a pioneering role in highlighting Indian heritage and Putting it down on world map. Sir William Jones founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784. He translated the immortal drama of Kalidasa —Abhijnana Shakuntalam- and the famous Manu Smriti.
In the following year 1785, Sir Charles Wilkins translated Shrimad Bhagwad Gita. Roth published his epoch-making treatise on Literature the History of the Veda in 1846, and in collaboration with Bohtlink, issued the great Petersburg Lexicon in 1852. These were followed by Max Mullers English text of the Rig Veda in 1875, and many other publications on Indian Philosophy.
Simultaneously the education system introduced by Macaulay drilled into, the minds of adolescent students that the antiquity of Indian was a fantasy The date of Rig Veda, said to be the oldest book of the world, was placed at 1500 BC, and other events were fixed in relation to that date. The poetry of Rig Veda was dubbed as ‘primitive’ Can any
“Thought was the pillow of he! couch, Sight was the unguent of her eyes.
In the book we have used the dates as generally accepted at present. any modern scholars do not agree with these dates. Dr. B.G. Siddharth, Director General of the Hyderabad-based B.M. Birla Science Centre, for example claims that “in view of the epi-paleolithic agricultural and proto-agricultural civilizations, the date of 10,000 BC for Vedic culture seems 0ore plausible.”
Pride of India, compiled by the Bharatiaya Boudhik Sampada, Nagpur, and published by Samskrita Bharati, New Delhi (2006), puts the date of Atharva Veda, the youngest of the four Vedas, as “earlier than 5000 BC” we have gone by that date in the chapter on Ayurveda, an upa veda of Atharva Veda.
The dates of the composition of upanishads we have mentioned given by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in his The Principal Upanishads, first published by George Allen & Unwin in 1953. These may have to be reviewed if the Rig Veda is p re-dated.
The book has nine chapters. We have chosen such subjects which appear to be the exclusive contribution of India like the Upanishads Yoga and Ayurveda. The origin of mathematics — including the zero and decimal system - is now generally accepted as belonging to India. An authentic edition of Surya Siddhanta based on original palm-leaf manuscript published over fifty years ago, in 1957.
The monumental History of Hindu Mathematics has already been brought out by Dr. A.N. Singh of the Lucknow University. In 2003, Dr. AK. Bag (of INSA) and Dr. S.R. Sarma published The Concept of Sunya, the proceedings of an international seminar jointly organised by the Indian National Science Academy and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
Some readers might be surprised to know that in olden times Indians had travelled to Americas and founded civilisations like Maya and Aztec. Historians like Donald A. Mackenzie, Bancroft, Sir Robert Marett and Sylvanus C. Morley have come to these conclusions after painstaking research.
In the sixth century BC the Buddha appeared on the Indian scene when the Hindu society was ridden with a rigid caste system. He denounced ill authority, even Vedas and God — and proclaimed the equality of mankind.
The part played by Raja Bhoja of Dhara belonging to the eleventh century has not been evaluated even in India. From his over 80 publications, Hilly two of his books have been dealt with — Yukti Kalpataru on shipping, and Samarangana Sutradhara on town planning, architecture and instrumentation. It has been suggested to set up a Raja Bhoja Society to throw light on his multifarious achievements.
The youths of no other country enjoyed a tradition of practising as many as sixty-four arts’. In the chapter The Glory of Indian Arts’ some Important arts like painting, music and dance forms have been dealt with. A complete list of the then prevalent sixty-four arts as given in the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana is mentioned at Appendix I.
Stories are being told the world over from times immemorial. Special attention has been drawn to those which though originating in India are being credited to other countries. Many Indian stories have been translated into scores of languages, seldom mentioning the original source. We have also given in brief a story from Panchatantra. It illustrates the style of weaving tale within tale which is an exclusive Indian contribution.
The Katbasarita Sagar - literally ‘An Ocean of Stories’ — has only been mentioned. These stories have been translated into English by C.H. Tawney in two volumes running into 1217 pages. The institution of marriage is regarded as sacrosanct in almost all societies of the world. In India, sex has always been considered sacred with religious overtones. Therefore, India’s contribution to the art and science of love-making has been analysed and elaborated.
I am extremely grateful to Dr Karan Singh, a well known scholar, MR and President, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, for kindly going through the book and give a foreword. This book is a very humble attempt to put together some of the aspects of India’s contribution to the thought of the world. My deep thanks to my parents and other elders who inculcated in me a love for learning at an early age. My thanks are due to the great thinkers of the world whose works I have consulted. Having been denied the inspiring presence of my late wife Pushpa, I thank my friends, relatives and children — Yogi, Rani, Rashmi, Bina and Promila — who have gone through the text and made useful suggestions.
I also thank A.S. Khan, who computerised the entire text.
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