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Bhakti Renaissance (A Rare Book)
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Bhakti Renaissance (A Rare Book)
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Back of the Book

ASOKE KUMAR MAJUMDAR, M.A., D.Phil., attracted the notice of Dr. K. M. Munshi by hi work Chalukyas of Gujarat (1955) and was appointed to the staff of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Later he served as the Director of the Bhavan’s Delhi Kendra from its inception in 1957 to 1964 when he returned to Bombay as Joint Director (Academic) of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and Head of its Post-Graduate and Research Department. He was also the Editor- in-charge of the Constitutional Documents (Munshi Papers) and Assistant Editor of the History and Culture of Indian People. His works include Advent of Independence (1963), Problem of Hindi (1966), Caitanya His Life and Doctrine (1969), Impact of Sankaracarya on Indian Thought (1972), Elements of Indian Culture (1972), Economic Background of the Epic Society (1977), Concise History of Ancient India, Vol. I, Political History (1977) and Gaudiya Vaisnava Studies (1978). Dr. Majumdar was a fellow of the Senate and a member of the Academic Council of the Bombay University and is a member of the Indian Historical Records Commission. He has also visited the U.S.S.R. under the Indo-Soviet cultural exchange programme. Dr. Majumdar retired from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1976 and is now settled in Santiniketan, West Bengal, pursuing his literary activities.

 

Preface to the first Edition

It is always a work of time for ideas which have beer inwoven into the national life of a people to undergo complete expulsion, and for other ideas to be introduced, in their room Religious ideas are, of all ideas, the most tenacious and powerful; and, when once a set of values-based on experience has taken possession ‘of a nation it will never relax its hold on the popular mind, until after a long conflict with ideas which are more cogent than itself; and, although, through exhaustion, it is compelled to give place to them, it will, as it expires, fight every inch of the way, and continue the context even when reduced to absolute weakness as a dormant idea ready to germinate whenever conditions are favourable. Thus it took several centuries for Buddhism to expire in India but certain values established by Buddha never died, though no great acharya did ever come forward to restate those values in terms of Buddhistic faith. The great religious leaders of the middle ages in India preferred to base their teachings on Vedanta and caught the popular imagination by emphasizing the importance of bhakti as a means of realization.

This work has been called the Bhakti Renaissance, in which the English word has been used in• its etymological sense, that is, rebirth. We may regard the “renaissances,” the carrying of religion or art from one society to another, as the equivalent of transmission of force. In fact, however, renaissance is almost always a new creation. Therefore, though it may appear from the following pages that an unbroken stream of bhakti has flown down the ages, there have been periods of high and low tide, ‘Of the earlier periods we do not know the details, but the periods when the Bhaktt-sastras, or the Bhagavata were written must have been in some manner comparable to the ages of Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, or Chaitanya and in our age, of Ramakrishna, when a powerful stream .of mysterious faith was released.’ As these periodic movements are usually linked with a. person, with whom bhakti may be said to be reborn, this ‘work has’ been called the Bhakti Renaissance.

The first part of the work may serve as an introduction to a history of the bhakti movement, but for various reasons I have not discussed the philosophy of the different schools of thought, nor the Pancharantra doctrine. In support of my decision I may quote the well-known saying:

Vag-vaikhari sabda-jhari sastra-vyakhyana kausalam
Vaidushyam vidusham tad=vat bhuktaye na tu muktaye.

It has been pointed out to me that the statement on p. 1., that all the sadhakas or devotees are at the same time jnana-yogins, bhnkti-yogins, and ,-raja-yogins, requires explanation. Now, explanation is difficult, for I have written here what I have observed. In my support, I can cite the writings of Swami Vivekananda. Incidentally, this was one of, the reasons for the long quotation from Swamiji’s work on p. 9. He is usually associated with jnana and karma, and few would care to remember that he had so passionately upheld the most criticized part of the Bahgavata. So I have inserted a long passage, for I cannot expect all the readers to be familiar with Swamiji’s works, and in any case, his forceful language illumines the subject in a manner which mine would have utterly failed to do.

In the present work, the views of the saints have been preferred to those of modem scholars, for the intention was to trace the perennial source of inspiration of the Hindus. Their beliefs and faiths may have no objective validity in themselves, but have to be accepted at their face value by an historian who wants to probe into the rationale of their activities, and analyze the impact on the country of those faiths, beliefs, and the mystique which have sustained the Hindus through centuries of cruel oppression. That they were not degraded intellectually and morally through sheer frustration is an index of the power of the faith that sustained them. This is the difference between India and China, two of the oldest world civilizations, Western contact destroyed China’s faith in herself, and she! had to accept Communism at best a Western concept of life, to find her salvation. India on the other hand finds solace in her indigenous faith and philosophy.

Indian philosophy has been presented to the modern world by scholars mainly as epistemological or ontological studies with the help of Western terminology. Hence the insistence on a history of philosophy, in which an idea Is studied in the process of its development, rather than as an idea-in itself. The main import of Indian thought throughout the ages has been, however, that there is a world or a reality which may be penetrated by direct experience and an intuitive state developed which is absolutely independent of theoretical and intellectual cognition, This is called mysticism, sometimes reverently, sometimes derisively, and sometimes quite stupidly the term is applied to juggler’s tricks by credulous people.

 

Preface to the second Edition

This work has been out of print for several years, but so far as the main text was concerned, no substantial change was required for this edition except small additions and minor corrections. There are, however, two additions. The first is Chapter III of this edition, entitled Buddhism and Bhakti. In the first edition, discussion was based almost exclusively on brahminical literature, but it was felt that the history of the development of devotional cult would be incomplete if its transmission through Buddhism was left out.

The second addition is the1 appendix entitled Women in Vaishnavism. The Indian Council of Social Research, New Delhi, commissioned me to write this paper for their intended publication during the Women’s International Year. But the project did not materialize, and the ICSSR kindly gave me permission to publish it elsewhere, for which I am grateful to them. The last section of the paper, in which the lives and works of some Vaishnava women saints were discussed, have been omitted in the present appendix, as most of the material on which that section was based will be found in the text of the present work. For Sita and Sulabha, I would refer the reader to my book Economic Background of the Epic Society, where I have also discussed the general position of women during the Epic Age. My thanks are due to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and to my friend Shri S. Ramakrishnan for, publishing this edition.

 

Contents

 

  Preface v
  Preface to the Second Edition ix
  I. Definition 1
  II. Gita and the Bhagavata 10
  III. Buddhism and Bhakti 21
  IV. The Founders 32
  V. Literature 52
  VI. Effect of Bhakti on Modern Indian Languages 76
  VII. Modern Religious Movements 92
  VIII. Bhakti in Politics 107
  Appendix: Status of Women in Vaishnavism 127
  Select Bibliography of Modern Works 143

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Bhakti Renaissance (A Rare Book)

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Back of the Book

ASOKE KUMAR MAJUMDAR, M.A., D.Phil., attracted the notice of Dr. K. M. Munshi by hi work Chalukyas of Gujarat (1955) and was appointed to the staff of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Later he served as the Director of the Bhavan’s Delhi Kendra from its inception in 1957 to 1964 when he returned to Bombay as Joint Director (Academic) of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and Head of its Post-Graduate and Research Department. He was also the Editor- in-charge of the Constitutional Documents (Munshi Papers) and Assistant Editor of the History and Culture of Indian People. His works include Advent of Independence (1963), Problem of Hindi (1966), Caitanya His Life and Doctrine (1969), Impact of Sankaracarya on Indian Thought (1972), Elements of Indian Culture (1972), Economic Background of the Epic Society (1977), Concise History of Ancient India, Vol. I, Political History (1977) and Gaudiya Vaisnava Studies (1978). Dr. Majumdar was a fellow of the Senate and a member of the Academic Council of the Bombay University and is a member of the Indian Historical Records Commission. He has also visited the U.S.S.R. under the Indo-Soviet cultural exchange programme. Dr. Majumdar retired from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in 1976 and is now settled in Santiniketan, West Bengal, pursuing his literary activities.

 

Preface to the first Edition

It is always a work of time for ideas which have beer inwoven into the national life of a people to undergo complete expulsion, and for other ideas to be introduced, in their room Religious ideas are, of all ideas, the most tenacious and powerful; and, when once a set of values-based on experience has taken possession ‘of a nation it will never relax its hold on the popular mind, until after a long conflict with ideas which are more cogent than itself; and, although, through exhaustion, it is compelled to give place to them, it will, as it expires, fight every inch of the way, and continue the context even when reduced to absolute weakness as a dormant idea ready to germinate whenever conditions are favourable. Thus it took several centuries for Buddhism to expire in India but certain values established by Buddha never died, though no great acharya did ever come forward to restate those values in terms of Buddhistic faith. The great religious leaders of the middle ages in India preferred to base their teachings on Vedanta and caught the popular imagination by emphasizing the importance of bhakti as a means of realization.

This work has been called the Bhakti Renaissance, in which the English word has been used in• its etymological sense, that is, rebirth. We may regard the “renaissances,” the carrying of religion or art from one society to another, as the equivalent of transmission of force. In fact, however, renaissance is almost always a new creation. Therefore, though it may appear from the following pages that an unbroken stream of bhakti has flown down the ages, there have been periods of high and low tide, ‘Of the earlier periods we do not know the details, but the periods when the Bhaktt-sastras, or the Bhagavata were written must have been in some manner comparable to the ages of Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, or Chaitanya and in our age, of Ramakrishna, when a powerful stream .of mysterious faith was released.’ As these periodic movements are usually linked with a. person, with whom bhakti may be said to be reborn, this ‘work has’ been called the Bhakti Renaissance.

The first part of the work may serve as an introduction to a history of the bhakti movement, but for various reasons I have not discussed the philosophy of the different schools of thought, nor the Pancharantra doctrine. In support of my decision I may quote the well-known saying:

Vag-vaikhari sabda-jhari sastra-vyakhyana kausalam
Vaidushyam vidusham tad=vat bhuktaye na tu muktaye.

It has been pointed out to me that the statement on p. 1., that all the sadhakas or devotees are at the same time jnana-yogins, bhnkti-yogins, and ,-raja-yogins, requires explanation. Now, explanation is difficult, for I have written here what I have observed. In my support, I can cite the writings of Swami Vivekananda. Incidentally, this was one of, the reasons for the long quotation from Swamiji’s work on p. 9. He is usually associated with jnana and karma, and few would care to remember that he had so passionately upheld the most criticized part of the Bahgavata. So I have inserted a long passage, for I cannot expect all the readers to be familiar with Swamiji’s works, and in any case, his forceful language illumines the subject in a manner which mine would have utterly failed to do.

In the present work, the views of the saints have been preferred to those of modem scholars, for the intention was to trace the perennial source of inspiration of the Hindus. Their beliefs and faiths may have no objective validity in themselves, but have to be accepted at their face value by an historian who wants to probe into the rationale of their activities, and analyze the impact on the country of those faiths, beliefs, and the mystique which have sustained the Hindus through centuries of cruel oppression. That they were not degraded intellectually and morally through sheer frustration is an index of the power of the faith that sustained them. This is the difference between India and China, two of the oldest world civilizations, Western contact destroyed China’s faith in herself, and she! had to accept Communism at best a Western concept of life, to find her salvation. India on the other hand finds solace in her indigenous faith and philosophy.

Indian philosophy has been presented to the modern world by scholars mainly as epistemological or ontological studies with the help of Western terminology. Hence the insistence on a history of philosophy, in which an idea Is studied in the process of its development, rather than as an idea-in itself. The main import of Indian thought throughout the ages has been, however, that there is a world or a reality which may be penetrated by direct experience and an intuitive state developed which is absolutely independent of theoretical and intellectual cognition, This is called mysticism, sometimes reverently, sometimes derisively, and sometimes quite stupidly the term is applied to juggler’s tricks by credulous people.

 

Preface to the second Edition

This work has been out of print for several years, but so far as the main text was concerned, no substantial change was required for this edition except small additions and minor corrections. There are, however, two additions. The first is Chapter III of this edition, entitled Buddhism and Bhakti. In the first edition, discussion was based almost exclusively on brahminical literature, but it was felt that the history of the development of devotional cult would be incomplete if its transmission through Buddhism was left out.

The second addition is the1 appendix entitled Women in Vaishnavism. The Indian Council of Social Research, New Delhi, commissioned me to write this paper for their intended publication during the Women’s International Year. But the project did not materialize, and the ICSSR kindly gave me permission to publish it elsewhere, for which I am grateful to them. The last section of the paper, in which the lives and works of some Vaishnava women saints were discussed, have been omitted in the present appendix, as most of the material on which that section was based will be found in the text of the present work. For Sita and Sulabha, I would refer the reader to my book Economic Background of the Epic Society, where I have also discussed the general position of women during the Epic Age. My thanks are due to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and to my friend Shri S. Ramakrishnan for, publishing this edition.

 

Contents

 

  Preface v
  Preface to the Second Edition ix
  I. Definition 1
  II. Gita and the Bhagavata 10
  III. Buddhism and Bhakti 21
  IV. The Founders 32
  V. Literature 52
  VI. Effect of Bhakti on Modern Indian Languages 76
  VII. Modern Religious Movements 92
  VIII. Bhakti in Politics 107
  Appendix: Status of Women in Vaishnavism 127
  Select Bibliography of Modern Works 143

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