In Shiva and the Primordial Tradition, Alain Danielou explores the relationship between Shaivism and the Western world. Shaivite philosophy does not oppose theology, cosmology, and science because it recognizes that their common aim is to seek to understand and explain the nature of the world. In the Western world, the idea of bridging the divide between science and religion is just beginning to touch the edges of mainstream thought.
This rare collection of the late author's writings, selected and edited by Jean-Louis Gabin, contains several never-before-published articles and offers an extensive examination of the underpinnings of Shaivism. It provides an in-depth look at the many facets of the Samkhya, the cosmologic doctrines of the Shaivite tradition. Danielou provides important revelations on subjects such as the science of dreams, the role of poetry and sexuality in the sacred, the personality of the great Shankara, and the Shaivite influence on the Scythians and the Parthians (and by extension, the Hellenic world in general). Providing a convincing argument A favor of the polytheistic approach, he explains that monotheism is merely the deification of individualism-the separation of humanity from nature-and that by acknowledging the sacred in everything, we can recognize the imprint of the primordial tradition.
Alain danielou (1907-1994) spent more than fifteen years in the traditional society of India, using only the Sanskrit and Hindi languages and studying music and philosophy with eminent scholars. He was duly initiated into esoteric Shaivism, which gave him unusual access to texts transmitted through the oral tradition alone. He is the author or translator of more than thirty books on the religion, history, and arts of India and the Mediterranean, including TO Complete Kama Sutra, The Myths and Gods of India, and A Brief History of India.
Jean-louis gabin, Ph.D., began collecting and editing the various texts in this volume in collaboration with Danielou while he was still alive. He is working on an additional Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and Indology on the subject "Tradition and Modernity in the works of Alain Danielou." He also has edited and published five posthumous collections of Alain Danielou's work in French, as well as serving as editor of the English edition of India: A Civilization of Differences.
AIthough on the one hand we may consider Alain Danielou’s discovery of India wholly fortuitous, on the other we may deem that he was particularly destined to do so, especially in view of what he tells as about his youth. From an early age, Alain Danielou was very unhappy in his Western Catholic circle. He launched into artistic activities, such as painting, singing, playing the piano, dancing, meanwhile showing deep contempt for "intellectuals" and detaching himself totally from Catholicism.
Throughout the twenties, Alain Danielou certainly did not seem to be bothered about metaphysics, religion, mysticism, or philosophy. He sang and danced, taking rigorous and demanding dance classes at the Saulnier gymnasium in Montmartre along with the girls from the Moulin Rouge dance troupe. He gave recitals and lived a vie de boheme among an amusing artistic circle, with Henri Sauguet, Maurice Sachs (who had out left the seminary), and Max Jacob, for whom he had a great affection, while being totally disinterested in the poet's religious preoccupations.
At the same time, the family influences of his youth, particularly his mother's exacerbated Catholicism, were to have a decisive influence on the young rebel. Whereas his father had to be baptized so that he could get married, his mother, Madeleine Clamorgan, was very devoted to Pope Pius X. She fought firmly against the anticlerical government that had just outlawed religious congregations and set up first a substitute lay order called "Saint Francois Xavier," and then a school-"Sainte Marie"-where the values of Catholic ethics were very much to the fore.
Madeleine Clamorgan’s brother was a canon, the cure of the church at Chaillor. Her eldest son Jean became a Jesuit and was made a cardinal by Paul VI, before becoming a member of the French Academy. Was the young Alain influenced by it all? He showed interest in some areas of mystery, although far from any official religion.
In the first chapter of his memoirs,' entitled "The Discovery of the Divine," he writes about a hiding place he created as a very young child in an abandoned nursery: "Here, alone, I could sense a mystery far greater than that of the ordinary human world." Yet again, reflecting on the priory of Resson, he wrote: "The old chapel held a strange fascination for me. I hated anyone else who came inside. I would stay there for hours on end, my mind completely blank. The red-shaded oil lamp threw dancing shadows on the wall. I was not afraid, though I felt an unknown presence beside me. I would perform all kinds of strange rites, which seemed guided by some mysterious force. I invented a complete ritual-was it really invented by me?-and as I lay flat on my stomach with my arms stretched out in the aisle, I would make a vow. I did not know what it was; when spirits exercise their will upon one's mind, they never express themselves through words. I vaguely sensed that I had been chosen for a special destiny and must pledge myself to it with no questions asked. That may have been my first real initiation. I was ten years old."
His discovery of India was made accidentally during a memorable voyage crossing through it to reach Afghanistan, at the invitation of the crown prince, a friend of his youth, who was to become the king, Mohamed Zaher Shah. During this trip, he stayed for the first time at Shantiniketan, the school founded by the poet Rabindranath Tagore in Bengal. Danielou, who remained very close to the poet up to the latter's death, was immediately fascinated by the world he discovered. His main interest continued to be the arts: dance and-above all-music. He became rapidly aware, however, that the circle around Tagore was already greatly Westernized. Little by little, he took an interest in the Hindu system, its philosophy and religion. Settling at Benares in 1938 was decisive from this point of view.
The declaration of war in 1939 trapped him in the ancient city of Benares. It was then that he decided to start studying under the pandits of orthodox Hindu society. He studied Hindi, Sanskrit, and music.
The influence of a great sannyasi, Swami Karpatri-who was extremely revered, especially at Benares, where his name appears in bold letters across the façade of a math, near the temple of Kedargath on the banks of the Ganges-was to be decisive. It was Karpatri who decided that Alain Danielou should be initiated into Hinduism. The initiation took place a few years after his arrival in the holy city, during the course of a ceremony that was, as he mentions, "quite simple, like a baptism," without wishing to say much more. As part of the initiation he was given the name Shiva Sharan, meaning "the protégé of Shiva."
From this moment on, everything changed: Alain Danielou, now Shiva Sharan, entered wholly into the traditional Hindu system, to the extent of judging any return to the Western world impossible. He discovered a religion totally opposed to the monotheistic religions he had come into contact with. He adopted all the Hindu rules. He rapidly became an ardent defender of this civilization and declared war on the later monotheistic religions, which he deemed to be pernicious and dangerous for the destiny of humankind. Their proselytizing, totalitarian, dogmatic character-unknown to Hinduism-appeared as a permanent source of conflicts, as recent history so clearly demonstrates.
Despite more than thirty years spent at his side, I always find it difficult to analyze his progress in the philosophic field (rather than use the word "spiritual," which he would not have liked). What is clear is that the more he learned from Karpatri, the more his conceptions of Hinduism evolved. Although he acted like a good Hindu, bathing each morning in the Ganges, and a brahman used to come each day to the palace where he was living to perform a ritual puja, Danielou remained extremely modest and reserved about whatever concerned his own religious practices.
Alain Danielou rejected Catholicism. His visits to Algeria and Muslim countries interested him on the musical plane, but never on a religious level, with the exception of an approach to Sufism during a visit to Iran and his contacts with Rene Guenon and Henri Corbin. His discovery of the Hindu world came upon him as an out-and-out revelation. This religion-as much a philosophy as a science--was in absolute harmony with his own vision of the divine.
Was his also an instinctive rejection of all kinds of prophets, spectacular rituals, masses, pilgrimages, and other gatherings of crowds under the pretext of religion? Did he not totally refuse to become a guide, a guru for confused Westerners in quest of oriental spirituality? Did he not consider the temple a place cohere qualified priests seek contact with mysterious powers and where the public has no function? Did he not accept the rites solely as a private relationship between himself and the gods, without witnesses?
The works he wrote, particularly his memoirs and the Tales of the Ganges, denote a decisive orientation toward Shaivism-and doubtless toward Tantrism as well. Tantrism is, on principle, absolutely secret, so that we consequently know nothing. At the same time, Danielou plunges with delight into every Shaivite text and many of his works allow us to discover concepts that differ widely from Vedism, the latter referring mainly to the four Vedas, about which he says very little.
Alain Danielou sticks to presenting the theological and philosophical speculations of Shaivism, feeling that he has been designated for this purpose. He does not feel, however, authorized to teach secret practices, which Westerners lacking in spirituality would treat merely as exotic approaches. Shaivism is, at the same time, both the religion of the humble and of the most esoteric and secret currents of Hinduism. Danielou was one of the first to present this religious thought, so little known in the West.
The Ferryman’s Task of Alain Danielou
An essayist, musicologist, Sanskritist, and philosopher, Alain Danielou was also professor of the Benares Hindu University from 1949 to 1953, honorary member of the Institut Francais d'Indologie from 1943 on, Director of the Library of Manuscripts at Adyar in 1954, and member of the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient from 1956 to 1960, before he became the director of the Institute of Comparative Musicology in Berlin and Venice up to 1977. In 1991, the Ambassador of India in Rome handed him an edict engraved on a copper plate making him the first Westerner to belong to the famous Sangeet Natak Academy. He passed away in 1994 covered with honors: the Legion d'honneur, Professor Emeritus of the City of Berlin, Commandeur des Arts et des Lessees (at the same time as Ravi Shankar, who dedicated to him the concert he gave on that occasion in Paris at the Theatre des Champs Elysees).
Danielou has left behind him an exceptional work, translated and well-known in many countries, both in the field of comparative musicology and the safeguarding of "World Music" (the title of the collection of records he created for UNESCO), as well as in the field of Indian philosophy and culture. His bibliography includes books that have been classics for many years-such as his encyclopedic Hindu Polytheism (republished with the title The Myths and Gods of India); Shiva and Dionysus; Virtue, Success, Pleasure, Liberation-The Four Aims of Life; as well as While the Gods Play-works that have been translated, particularly in the United States, where they have been published by Inner Traditions or in the Bollingen series of Princeton University.
If we add to these texts his scholarly translations in French from seminal Sanskrit and Tamil works, it is strange that his memory was not more honored by the academic world at the time of his death. In this regard, the Encyclopaedia Universalis was fully justified in concluding the long article devoted to him in 1995 with the words, "Bewildered by such a multi-faceted approach, university circles have mostly kept Alain Danielou aloof."
What was Alain Danielou's approach? It can be summed up in a sentence: For more than fifteen years, he practiced only Sanskrit and Hindi, immersing himself in the traditional society of India and its scholars, which gave him access to commentaries on texts transmitted orally, parallel to official Hinduism.
From this, it is easy to understand how far Danielou was from ordinary university research patterns and, consequently, that what he can teach us is exceptional.
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