Saturday, December 27, 2014

Reading 'Ardor' by Roberto Calasso

An agnostic/atheist most of my life but coming from a Hindu background, I was curious to know a bit about Hinduism. Given my background in mathematics and science, Calasso seemed more understandable than the other books I browsed before. I am halfway through the book and will probably reserve the rest for future reading. It has been very readable so far but it seems to be a book that somebody like me has to take slowly. The chapter on Yajnavalkya, I enjoyed, and may be it is enough for now. There is a lot of fog upon fog but they seem to have thought of every thing possible from cosmos, the very process of thought and meaning and at the same time very aware of the human nature and built an edifice (or edifices) of thought and ritual which still resonates with many today. They started with some developed theories and rituals, probably somewhere in Persia. The changes in the meanings of 'asuras' and 'deavas' suggests (to me, but it is possible there were originally three categories) a dissident group migrated towards India and along the way had enough leisure to develop more and more elaborate theories. May be they were accompanied by by others who sustained them or found local patrons. In the process, the language developed adopted local words and gods, the older gods became more and more minor, the rituals more elaborate and more sacrifices an integral part of the rituals. Anyway this book seems to be a part of a series of books and was in the planning for a long time. In a 2005 article  Roberto Calasso said:
"In fact, one of the arguments of the books is that one cannot fully understand what happened since the beginning of the French Revolution and up to today if one doesn't take into account the very complicated and deep thoughts of the ancient risis on violence and the act of killing, which are both part of their theory of sacrifice. So the book is at the same time a narrative and a tentative reading of the metaphysical texture of modern history. "

May be. But during this process, they were sustained by others who did the hard physical work. And slowly it emerged that physical work was demeaning, I cannot but help feel that right from the beginning the seers took care of themselves with various duties about giving gifts to the priests. The vedic rites are still practiced in some parts, even in the south of India. It has sustained a system of inequality for a much longer period than anywhere else in the world and India still seems unable to get away from that spell. It is possible that there may be some lessons for the modern man in these texts and rituals but it seems to me that they have done enormous damage which is still difficult to undo.


Santaraksita D said...

I am a long-time reader of your blog. I have never felt a force to comment here, but somehow, passing through the link on Yajnavalkya and reading a few related articles on wikipedia changed that. These are times when there is wide-spread and pervasive mischaracterization about the religious/intellectural history of the people of the subcontinent, including, it seems, Wikipedia.

Since I have benefited from the kind and warm intelligence that shine through your posts, I just wanted to share as a dalit, apprentice mathematician vexed with the intellectual and socio-religious history of the subcontinent, two books I have found very enlightening:

1. Wilhelm Halbfass, India and Europe, and
2. Jonardan Ganeri, The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India

gaddeswarup said...

Thanks. I still do mathematics once in a while, about a month or two in a year. But I am not keeping track of what others are doing but mostly completing with collaborators some program in geometric group theory. Please let me know if I can be of help.

Unknown said...

G...A...S,what a

gaddeswarup said...

Hema, it is just one name. Because it is too long various people split it into two.