Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Huffington Post debate on A.K. Ramanujan

A.K. Ramanujan's essay Three Hundred Ramayanas has elicited a debate misstating the issues. The problem with the essay is not that it is blasphemous, but that it is flawed. It is just unscholarly.
A Hindu writing under the pen name Artboxone (5-12) and thinking he was being helpful referred to an article about past affairs of Hindu anger over Hinduism’s academic misrepresentation:

“An excellent summation contextualizing the RISA-L chronology has appeared in the academic forum (!!!), as described below: McComas Taylor: ‘Mythology Wars: The Indian Diaspora, ‘Wendy's Children’ and the Struggle for the Hindu Past’, Asian Studies Review [1035-7823] yr:2011 vol:35 iss:2 pg:149-168.”

Vishal Agarwal replied (5-12):

“The paper by McComas Taylor is another example of deception. For example, it completely omits to mention Swami Tyagananda's published book (by Motilal Banarsidass) on Jeffrey Kripal's work. Likewise, it totally misrepresents my own criticism of Paul Courtright's book on Ganesha calling it nitpicking and point to spelling errors. In fact, in our rebuttal extending over 80 pages, only half a page deals with spelling errors and so on. Now is this because Taylor did not understand our critique, or was he being dishonest? I leave it to the reader to decide.”

Vishal Agarwal added (2-12 to 5-12) more observations:

“Whether people like it or not, the fact is that there is no credible proof that Valmiki's Ramayana post-dates the Buddha. There is a complete absence of mention of Buddha or Mahavira or their followers or of Nandas, Mauryas or Shungas and so on. There is no mention of Pataliputra or Rajagriha. Rather, the latter's predecessor Girivraja is mentioned. Even if there were additions to the text in subsequent centuries, the data in the text itself is clear that it belongs to a much older era. In a country of 1.2 billion people, you will find all sorts of interpretations and retellings. The secularists and leftists like Ramanujan use this diversity as a weapon against Hinduism, and argue that there is no normative Dharma or no ‘highest common factor’. Ipso fact, Hinduism is a 'myth'. This is the subtext of Ramanujan's essay. And it is for this reason, it was prescribed by the leftist faculty of Delhi University. Otherwise, there is not much merit in the essay. Asuras can read the Mohashastras but there is no need to prescribe it in the DU reading list when there are dozens of better things to chose from.

“Where Ramanujan got it wrong, driven by his ideological agendas, is to to place all the diverse renderings of Ramayana at par with the Valmiki Ramayana. Let us get one thing VERY CLEAR - All these different versions of Ramayana (Dasharatha Jataka included) have the Ramayana of Valmiki as their basis and draw their storyline to it. It is another matter that they adapt it to their own purposes. Even Ashvaghosha, the author of Buddhacharita, salutes Valmiki as the Adikavi. The Shakya lineage was derided for having descended from a brother sister union. The Buddhists therefore created the Jataka in which Rama and Sita married, and linked the Shakyas with the Ikshavakus. So, their agenda was obvious. To claim, despite this obvious explanation, that in the 'most ancient version of the Ramayana, Rama and Sita are siblings' is to distort stuff with the deliberate intent of deriding Hindu beliefs. Likewise, the Paumicharyam clearly seeks to create an alternative Jain version. This phenomenon so rampant in Jainism that there is no need to detail it. The Jains created alternatives for everything Hindu (which pre-supposes the prior existence of Hindu originals).

“Ramanujan was 'mohita'. His agenda was Hinduphobic and Leftist. He may have done some good work but it has to be taken with a pinch of salt. In any case, let us not deviate from the issue. The question was whether it was appropriate for AKRs essay to be in the prescribed reading list in DU. And my answer is a firm no. It is academically flawed and ideologically driven and was prescribed precisely because of the Hinduphobic arguments that it inadvertently proposes. When even early Buddhist authors can claim (e.g., the Spitzer Manuscript, dated to 200 AD or earlier on palaeographic grounds) that the omniscience of Buddha is proven because he had studied the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the obvious conclusion is that these texts were considered pre-Buddha even by Buddhist writers at that time. Otherwise, they would not fool their readers. For that matter Jatakas etc. have their own versions of Krishna's life too. But it is obvious which one is older and which is a recast.

Artboxone added (2-12):

“AK Ramanujan was not a historian or mythologist. His scholarship was primarily in English literature with a smattering of Kannada and Tamil folklore. He didn’t have the kind of knowledge of Sanskrit that an essay, which dismisses the authorship of Ramayana, demands...

"The fact is that over 5000/6000 years, every single tradition, author, poet, or folktale takes Valmiki’s name with the utmost reverence as the original author of Ramayana. Not one other person is mentioned as the author. Yet, AK Ramanujan’s opium-filled pen includes Valmiki’s original as ‘one of the tellings’ on the basis of… absolutely no evidence. He simply assumes...

"The claim that this puerile essay provides ‘alternative viewpoints’ is absurd. Alternative viewpoints must be based on the original epic, on the original story and not on fantasy. You can’t alter the original dramatically — like making Ravana Sita’s father — and then claim that it’s an ‘alternative viewpoint’. That’s distortion, not an alternative viewpoint. And 300 Ramayanas does precisely that — it legitimizes such distortions...

"The behaviour and character of academic mullahs is once again consistent with their sorry record of misdeeds. The way — the civilized way to go about protesting an issue like this is to call for an academic debate. Call experts on both sides, have a debate and then come to a conclusion. But then that’s how academics do it...”

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