November 19, 2006

Metaphorical or figurative reading

Ram Swarup Memorial Lecture, Los Angeles, Saturday, 18th November @ 7:00 PM You are cordially invited to attend the First Annual Ram Swarup Memorial Lecture to be held in Los Angeles, CA, on Saturday, November18th @ 7:00 PM. The lecture will be delivered by Dr. Koenraad Elst titled "Historicity and Hinduism". Call at 714-225-3318. Sincerely yours, Satinder Trehan Los Angeles, CATel. 714-225-3318 E-Mail:
Abstract: An issue that pits the religious-minded against those of scientific temper is the historicity of Hindu scripture. Scholars historicize e.g. Sanskrit as not the mother of all languages, nor of all Indo-European languages, nor even of all Indo-Aryan languages; the Vedas as not God-given but the creation of a human tribe living in the Saraswati region in a particular (fairly recent) millennium, and as not even the wellspring of Hinduism but one among several religious traditions which together make up Hinduism; "Hindu" as a fairly recent Persian loan word with a history; or "Seshvara Sankhya", "Sankhya-with-God", as a back-projection by theists of a God notion onto Patanjali's agnostic Yoga philosophy. Religious devotees have several problems with all this. Some take scripture as literal history, hence e.g. a recent open letter to the Andhra government protesting against wordings like"legend has it" and "it is said" when referring to Ramayana episodes linked with sites of pilgrimage. Others, by contrast, deny any historical meaning to scripture; e.g. the Arya Samaj translations of the Vedas give a symbolic meaning to all mundane personal or geographical names.
This symbolic reading is entirely apt at the level of mythology, as explored by Ram Swarup, but it is a sad mistake to impose it on historical narratives. It can be argued that along side the historical reading, there is nonetheless still plenty of room for the metaphorical or otherwise figurative reading, as favored by Sri Aurobindo. Comparative mythology has also shown how historical events sometimes get translated into heavenly myths (Euhemerism) or how conversely, mythological motifs get translated into or imposed upon historical events. At any rate, where a historical reading is called for, Hindus ought not to take refuge in an irrational rejection. Indeed, it can be shown that historicity adds a lot to the greatness of the Rishis and of Hindu civilization.

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