Saturday, May 23, 2009

Imagined Interpretations

Reading scripture for its own sake is one thing and reading it for what one
wants to find in it is entirely different. But traditionally
'systemization' and 'interpretation' have been tools for 'text torture.' As
a (sincere) student of scriptures, while it always amuses me when I read or
hear speakers impose their own message on certain texts of scripture, yet it
also always causes concern for those who read or listen to such teachers
without any critical spirit. Without interpretation we cannot understand the
scriptures, but if we ignore the context and impose our personal views it
become more an 'imagined interpretation' than real exegesis.

This morning (May 15th, 2009) I heard an interview with a Vaishnavite
speaker about Divyaprabandam (Sri Varadhacharyiyar on Jaya T.V.) He, as
others also do, claimed that everything that other religious scriptures say
is already found in the Bhagavadgita. Then he quoted the Gita, saying
'Krishna is fire (agni)', and suggested that 'this is what Jesus says in
Geneses 1:14, "let there be light"'. At the end of the programme he
expressed his desire to write comparing other religious scriptures with
Divyaprabandam also.

Well, he is not the first and won't be the last in such an endeavor. Such
people are there in every religion. For example, in a television talk a
Tamil Christian went to the extent of saying that Adam was a Tamilian (Dr.
Daivanayagam's speech in Podigai channel, April 16th, 2007, 11.00 pm to
11.15 pm). He was not the only Tamil Christians as there are a few like
him. What is really shocking is that during the time of Ram sethu
controversy (see for details)
one Tamil Christian went to the extent of saying that 'Ram sethu is another
evidence to show that Adam was from South (Tamil) India as his descendant is
also called "Seth".' (I either read or heard this, but I don't have the
evidence at hand.) But he forgot the fact that 'sethu' in Hindi means
'bridge'. So 'Ramsethu' is actually what we call in Tamil 'Ramar Paalam'
and has nothing to do with Seth, the descendant of Adam.

When through Arjuna the Gita says that Krishna is 'fire' (11:39) it has
nothing to do with the Bible saying 'let there be light' (as per
Varadhachariyar, Jesus said this!) What Arjuna says after seeing Krishna's
vishvarupa (universal form) is part of worship, whereas what is said in
Genesis 1:14 is in the context of the creation story. Similarity of
'words', '(ethical and moral) teaching', 'terms', 'doctrines', even
'philosophies' doesn't mean that one scripture borrowed from another or one
influenced the other. When even within one scripture a single word can mean
different things according to the context, it is over simplistic to say that
one particular scripture is the foundational from which other people
borrowed all views. As there are several similarities to the longing and
need of humanity, irrespective of place and time, we expect to find several
parallel expressions through terms and words. But reading one's own message
into them merely exposes our limitation in understanding other scriptures
rather than serving any positive purpose. The following one will
demonstrate this even more clearly:

'Oak is best known, perhaps, for his continued efforts to prove that the Taj
Mahal was originally a Siva temple. Oak's books attempt to argue that
everything of value in the world originally came from India or was part of a
greater India. His etymologizing and general level of scholarship are
astounding, even in the context of this genre of literature; for example,
(Oak, p.343) England was originally pronounced as Angulisthan, since
"ancient Hindu explorers and administrators who fanned over a virgin Europe
looked across the English channel and called the British isles 'Anguli'
('sthan' or 'desh') i.e. a finger-size, finger-length land. If one imagines
Europe to be a palm-size, palm-shaped continent Great Britain appears to be
'anguli' namely the (extended) finger" (Oak P.N. 1984. World Vedic Heritage.
New Delhi 984, p. 842). I was informed by a professor of history at
Jawarhal Lal Nehru University that even the RSS, which previously had
cultivated Oak, has since completely distanced itself from his views. Oak's
insistence that all other cultures from all over the world in all historical
epochs ultimately originated in Vedic India, however, does parallel some of
the scholarship of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in
Europe. Attempts were made to accommodate the newly discovered Eastern
traditions within a biblical narrative by suggesting etymologies such as
Brahman being the Sanskrit for Abraham and Sarasvati for Sarah.'

--Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration
, Oxford University Press (2001) 2002 Indian edition, notes 6,
pp. 343-44.

Gurukulam, May 21, 2009

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