The ancient Indian epics carry a kind of authority different from their Western equivalents. The Indian audience has been ready to stay invested in the story for longer, unto the present times. The story of Rama is performed every year in India before the Hindu festivals of Dussehra and Diwali celebrated to mark, respectively, Rama’s victory over Ravana, and his return to Ayodhya.
According to the ancient Indian Hindu scriptures called the Puranas, the Earth is shaped like a disc and it rests upon different animals in different versions—the cobra, the elephant or the turtle. In her new book Terrestrial Lessons, historian Sumathi Ramaswamy says that in the process of signing treaties and carrying out diplomatic negotiations with the rulers of the various small kingdoms in the subcontinent from 18th century onwards, the officials of the British East India Company saw an interesting opportunity in these myths.
East is East, and West is West, but the twain did meet and influenced each other unpredictably. For instance, the post-colonial Asia encountered Christianity during its first interactions with the West. The fruit of such a meeting is the post-colonial religion that is practiced in different parts of the continent as Christianity. Jesus is a protagonist of the stories of transformation of thought and practice of the religion in Asia.
It is so difficult to live in Mumbai, an old Bollywood song about Mumbai goes, for there is everything here—cars, trams, mills— everything except a heart. Perhaps it is because of this absence that the heart is invoked in so many ways in countless songs and love stories set in the city. Dil Dhadakne Do: Let the heart be. Dil toh Pagal Hai: The heart is mad. Dil tera deewana: This heart is crazy about you.
The West tends to think and speak of ancient India as a spiritual lot, as a place and time which gives extraordinary importance to religion, and other dimensions of otherworldliness. The poet R Parthasarthy goes to the texts, different from the usual epics, that engage with love in all its corporeality.
The Indian stand up comedian Anuvab Pal jokes that Gandhi gave the mantra of nonviolence or the message of “Don’t Fight” to the people who did not want to fight in the first place. Gandhi recognized the reluctance and laziness among the Indians to fight against the British. Well, that’s one theory.
A little before John Donne and George Herbert penned their devotional poetry in the sixteenth century, a couple of bhakti (devotional) or sant (saint) poets in India began to write about the glory of God and the sentiment of devotion. Surdas, Tulsidas, Mirabai and Kabir are among the medieval saint poets becoming increasingly well-known outside their native India. However, with the exception of Tulsidas whose Ramcharitmanas is known to the West as the Bible of North India and has been translated several times in English, it can be difficult to separate the historical, authorial personalities from the interpolations by later poets who continued to compose in a similar vein.