& occasionally about other things, too...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mysticism in Maharashtra

Back in the late Cretaceous era when I was a reporter, Arvind Inamdar, a crime-busting cop who went to attain greater glories in the police force in Maharashtra in later years, was one of my key contacts.

One of the lessons that I learnt from him was to understand the native cultural roots; a lesson that helped me do journalism in Mumbai, as I hope it will help me do journalism in Toronto.

“To understand Maharashtrians, you must understand the importance of Shivaji and Dnyaneshwar to their culture,” he had said.

It was a lesson that made a lasting impact on me, as I began to study Maharashtra’s history keeping in mind this unique perspective.

Shivaji is a much misunderstood, much misrepresented and occasionally maligned warrior king who established the first Hindu kingdom in the Deccan.

Dnyaneshwar is the spiritual head of mysticism in the region; he is revered for laying the foundations of a movement that democratised religion.

Together, Shivaji and Dnyaneshwar represent the yin and yang of the Marathi psyche, which is a robust combination of pride and compassion.

One of the seminal books on the subject that explained both Dnyaneshwar and Shivji was RD Ranade’s Mysticism in Maharashtra, published by Motilal Banarsidass (the iconic publishing house on Indology).

The book goes beyond the basic understanding of Bhakti movement as being merely an attempt to break the shackles of Brahminical dominance on the Hindu society and Hindu religion.

Narrating the historical, political, social, religious and philosophical underpinnings of the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra, the book also sketches the significance of Maharashtra’s five big sants – Dnyaneshwar, Namdev, Eknath, Tukaram and Ramdas. It establishes a link from Dnyaneshwar to Shivaji through Ramdas.

The book quotes Justice MG Ranade who argued that that pacifist sants such as Namdev and Tukaram laid the moral foundations on which Ramdas (through Shivaji) built the politico-religious foundations of Maharashtra.

I began by saying that a police officer taught me to understand local culture by learning to respect it. It’s a lesson that has come in handy in Canada, too.

I’m learning, from first-hand experience, that the Canadian psyche is a combination of pride and politeness.

Canadians are always polite, but that doesn’t come in the way of protecting their pride.

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