On the Loose: Anti Mythical

Ancient Spiritual texts are relevant, just not in a civil service examination

Written by Leher Kala | Updated: April 23, 2018 12:25:11 am
mahabharat, gita references, Biplab Deb, mahabharat internet, rpsc, civil examination syllabus, indian express The curriculum also includes sketches of national icons and social reformers, and specific incidents from Mahatma Gandhi’s life. (Representational photo)

Aspirants to the Rajasthan Public Service Commission (RPSC) need to learn management lessons from the Bhagawad Gita for the exam in 2018. The revised syllabus includes the epic conversation of Lord Krishna with Arjun before the Battle of Kurukshetra. The curriculum also includes sketches of national icons and social reformers, and specific incidents from Mahatma Gandhi’s life. According to an article in an English daily, this change at the RPSC has happened after the syllabus of Rajasthan University was tweaked to include management techniques from the Gita, the Ramayana and the Arthashastra in its commerce courses.

In these polarised times, it’s frightening to consider the angry furore that would undoubtedly arise, if, instead of the Gita, lessons from the Quran or the Bible were included in the RPSC test. One would imagine with Rajasthan having the country’s lowest literacy rate and high figures of crimes against women, the question paper would focus only on solutions to these urgent issues, rather than a speculative war thousands of years ago. Not to dismiss the Gita’s very relevant symbolisms and metaphors that have timeless resonances for us all, but for to-be civil servants charged with modernising the country, spiritual knowledge can certainly wait. As any scholar knows, it is necessary to be able to make a distinction between religious propaganda and thought, and to use those aspects of faith that provide a logical framework on how we should live. However, like a doctor needs an MBBS before he can diagnose a patient and an engineer needs a B.Tech before he attempts building a bridge, people looking to change ground realities in Rajasthan need a crash course in administration, before everything else. Besides, there is plenty of wisdom to be gleaned from all ancient texts whether it’s the eight-fold path advocated by Buddha or the teachings in the Guru Granth Sahib. To single out one religious text to study over another signals bigotry, and is antithetical to the aim of building a pluralistic society.

Indian news these days carries an alarming number of references to Indian mythologies, specifically the Mahabharat. Recently, the Chief Minister of Tripura Biplab Deb was relentlessly ridiculed for saying satellite communication probably existed in ancient times because, “How could the charioteer of Dhritrashtra give a detailed account to the king about the Battle of Kurukshetra?” As one tweet went, maybe Siri did it. Ill-informed rhetoric diminishes the powerful literary tradition of the Gita.

For time immemorial contemporary fiction and poetry, art and film, have been tapping into all these ancient texts that acknowledge the complexity of the human experience. Whether it’s a fight between two brothers brilliantly rendered in Kane And Abel by Jeffrey Archer or the hit film Baahubali, that borrows liberally from the Ramayan and Greek legends. Or actor Raj Kumar’s most famous dialogue jinke apne ghar sheeshe ke hon, woh doosron par pathar nahi phenkte, which can be traced to one of the Bible’s most memorable lines: Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.

Perhaps, because lately so many godmen have been outed as slimy predators, and others have lost credibility, people’s faith in gurus, at least the ones who are alive, has lessened. Consequently, interest in the Gita has grown. The Chinmaya Mission holds packed courses and across Delhi, chapters for Gita classes have sprung up. People gather in each other’s homes, where teachers attempt to turn known truths into profound realisations. Despite the attempt to equate the Gita strongly with India’s majority, this venerable scripture doesn’t belong to any one religion. In this strange cultural moment, the time-tested advice to witness the flow of events around you like an outsider, has never been more relevant.

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