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Nov 30th


By Prabhu Guptara

Posted in IndUS Forum Blog
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I’m afraid that I have only just got around to reading a book by the above title, published in 2007, Dr. R.V.S.S Avadhanulu.


It exemplifies all the strengths and all the weaknesses of the conservative view.


Strengths: it is clear, well organised, makes excellent distinctions, and is based on sound knowledge of Sanskrit as well as of our traditions.


Weaknesses: it is not willing to question any of our pieties. The problem is that if one is not willing to ask questions, then one cannot really grow that body of knowledge. Further, as there are different traditions in our country, one cannot explore the differences between our traditions in any substantial way.


Here is a simple example of the sort of thing I mean. Dr Avadhanulu provides an instructive (one might even say exhaustive) account of the Vedic and Vedantic views of the importance of the Vedas themselves. He also documents how much of the Vedas have been lost (as far as can be deduced). However, he does not ask how is it that a body of knowledge that was held in apparently the highest esteem by our people came to be lost by our people? Or perhaps it was the case that only a few of our people held the Vedas in that high esteem? If so, how come that even those few did not hang to the most precious thing in their lives? Further, as the majority of the Vedas have been lost, how do we know that what we do have is as important as that which we have lost? If I lose just the last few pages of a novel, that novel is not much use to me; if I lose several chapters from different sections of any book then surelythat book (whether fiction or non-fiction) is not much use to me? Please note that I am not arguing that what we have of the Vedas is not of much use; I am simply raising the sorts of questions that we must ask if we are to grow beyond our pieties.


Naturally, the question also arises: do we actually need to grow beyond our pieties? One way of answering that question is to consider the following.


Though Dr Avadhanulu does not demonstrate this, it is clear from even the most cursory knowledge of the subject, that early Indian technology was developed to a height greater than anywhere else in Asia (perhaps in the world, though that is a different matter, and can be argued about). How come we lost that technological lead? By the way, it is clear that we did not lose that lead simply because others overtook us – we actually degenerated in our level of civilization. I am referring of course to PRE-Vedic technology. Then, in another phase of our history, the Vedic phase, we again developed technology to the highest degree in Asia – but without building on the pre-Vedic technologies at least in some aspects. However, we lost not only Vedic technologies, we lost most of the Vedas themselves! Then we had Buddhist technology (which, again, if not in all aspects at least in many significant aspects, did not build on Vedic technology). At a specific point, perhaps as a result of the violence of the campaign to eliminate Buddhism from among our people, we lost Buddhist technology too. From this simple history, a basic question arises: what is wrong with our traditional way of dealing with knowledge that, highly technologically gifted as our people can historically be seen to be, we have lost our edge again and again? Did we lose it each time for fundamentally different reasons or for similar reasons? In what ways do we need to grow beyond our traditions so that we don’t lose again whatever edge we are developing now? Those are the sorts of questions, and they are important for our children and grandchildren, that the conservative approach is not merely uncomfortable with, but specifically forbids one from asking. At the same time, I am deeply grateful to Dr Avadhanulu and other conservative scholars and researchers who have done and are doing so much to preserve and further our knowledge of our traditions.

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