Dharmanand Kosambi: continued

Ram Guha’s piece on Dharmanand Kosambi that I liked to a fortnight ago has become the first of a series; in the latest Sunday magazine edition of the Hindu, Guha writes about the letters exchanged between Gandhi and Kosambi:

After I wrote my last column on the Kosambis, father and son, I decided to check for references to them in that capacious repository of relevant knowledge, the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG). The Marxist historian D.D. is not mentioned, but there are as many as 29 entries pertaining to his father, the Buddhist scholar Dharmanand.

One of the letters also contains a curious view of Gandhi that a temple for Buddha is “an advanced type of Hindu temple”:

In 1930 the professor returned to India to participate in the Salt Satyagraha. He went into jail, and after he came out, started work on a temple devoted to the Buddha. It was to be called Naigaum Vihar, and the Mahatma had been asked to help. Gandhi, in turn, wrote to the Maharashtra Congressman B.G. Kher, urging him to oversee the collection and disbursal of the money for the project. Kher answered that he could do the job (of monitoring expenses) until the temple was built, but after that had to excuse himself. For, “how am I to work on a Buddhist Vihar committee?” enquired Kher: “Are they all going to become Buddhists? Where is the need?”

To this Gandhi replied: “There is no question of anyone becoming a Buddhist. The temple is meant to be one dedicated to Buddha as temples are dedicated to Rama, Krishna and the like. There is no proselytising taint about this movement. At the most it is to be a Hindu temple of an advanced type in which a very learned man will be keeper or pujari. That is how I have understood the whole scheme of Prof. Kosambi. You may share this with the Professor, and if he endorsed my position, with Shri Natarajan [presumably another promoter of the temple idea] so that there may be a common understanding about the temple”.

We do not know whether Kosambi agreed with this interpretation of the proposed temple to Buddha — would he have accepted that it merely represented Hinduism “of an advanced type”?

I am wondering if the Natarajan that is being referred to is the A L Natarajan (அ லெ நடராஜன்) who translated Dhammapada into Tamil.

In any case, whatever be the view of Prof. Kosambi, I am sure that Buddha himself, who was very careful to denounce all metaphysical speculations about God, would not have agreed either for the temple or for the interpretation.

Having said that, I know that some Hindu schools do consider Buddha to be a part of Hindu pantheon (and even hold him responsible for some of the present day Hindu practices — Bharathiar, for example, in his introduction to the translation of Bhagavad Gita blames Buddha and Sankaracharya (whom he calls a prachchanna bouddha — a hidden Buddhist) for the strong emphasis on monkhood, while Vivekananda traces some of the Vamachara practices to tantric Buddhism). It is also clear that some of the schools of Buddhism (the Tantric ones at least) both borrowed from and contributed to Hinduism — see David Gordon White’s Tantra in practice, for example.

Finally, Guha promises another piece next fortnight on what the passing away of Prof. Kosambi meant to Gandhi, which, needless to say, I am looking forward to.

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