Saturday, 25 August 2018

The History of India....Sister Nivedita

That the birth of Chaitanya took place on this very day of Holi-Puja, thus determining another of its associations, may seem to some of us an accident. But it was no accident that attempted to interpret the festival in terms of Krishna-worship. Some phase of Hinduism—to which, in the elaborateness of its civilisation, the thought of frank Eros-worship was as revolting and incomprehensible as now to ourselves—some such phase took into its consideration this festival, and decided to reinterpret each of its games and frolics in the light of the gambols of Krishna with the cowherds in the forest of Brindavana. The red powder of the spring-time thus became the blood of the demon Medhrasura slain by the Lord. It was natural that the young peasants, under the excitement of danger just escaped, should "blood" one another and should yearly thereafter burn the effigy of Medhrasura in celebration of their deliverance. We can almost hear the voices of those who made the ingenious suggestion!

In the Holi-Puja, then, as an instance, we can trace the efforts of some deliberately Hinduising power. This power, it is safe to suppose, is the same that has determined the sacred year as a whole. As a power it must have been ecclesiastical in character, yet must have lived under the aegis of a powerful throne. What throne was this? A very simple test is sufficient to answer. Those comparatively modern institutions which are more or less universal to the whole of India must have derived their original sanction from Pataliputra. Things which are deeply established, and yet peculiar to Bengal, must have emanated from Gour. One of the most important points, therefore, is to determine the geographical distribution of a given observance. In this tact lies the secret of its age.

Historical events as such have never been directly commemorated in India. Yet perhaps, had Guru Govind Singh in the Punjab or Ramdas of Maharashtra lived in the time of the empire of Gour, he would have obtained memorials at the hands of Bengali Hinduism. The fact that none of their age has done so shows that the calendar was complete before their time. Even Chaitanya, born in Bengal itself, and a true product of the genius of the people, is scarcely secure in the universal synthesis. His veneration, like that of Buddha, is overmuch confined to those who have surrendered to it altogether. But if in the intellectual sense we would fully understand Chaitanya himself, it is necessary again to study the history of India as a whole, and to realise in what ways he resembled, and in what differed from, other men of his age. What he shared with all India was the great mediaeval impulse of Vaishnavism which originated with Ramanuja and swept the country from end to end. That in which his Vaishnavism differed from that of the rest of India represents the characteristic ideas of Bengal under the strong individualizing influence of Gour and Vikrampur.

In all that lies around us then, we may, if our eyes are open, read the story of the past. The life we live today has been created for us by those who went before us, even as the line of sea-weed on the shore has been placed there by the waves of the tides now over, in their ebb and flow. The present is the wreckage of the past. India as she stands is only to be explained by the history of India. The future waits, for us to create it out of the materials left us by the past, aided by our own understanding of this our inheritance.

 ...from Footfalls of Indian History....continued..