The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan—that Institute of Indian Culture in Bombay—needed a Book University, a series of books which, if read, would serve the purpose of providing higher education. Particular emphasis, however, was to be put on such literature as revealed the deeper impulsions of India. As a first step, it was decided to bring out in English 100 hooks, 50 of which were to be taken in hand almost at once. Each book was to contain from 200 to 250 pages and was to be priced at Rs. 1.75.
It is our intention to publish the books we select, not only in English, but also in the following Indian languages; Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.
This scheme, involving the publication of 900 volumes, requires ample funds and an All-India organisation, The Bhavan is exerting its utmost to supply them.
The objectives for which the Bhavan stands are the reintegration of Indian culture in the light of modern knowledge to suit our present—day needs and the resuscitation of its fundamental values in their pristine vigour.
Let me make our goal more explicit:
We seek the dignity of man, which necessarily implies the creation of social conditions which would allow him freedom to evolve along the lines of his own temperament and capacities: we seek the harmony of individual efforts and social relations, not in any makeshift way, but within the frame-work of the Mortal Order; we seek the creative art of life, by the alchemy of which human limitations are progressively transmuted, so that men may become the instrument of God, and is able to see Him in all and all in Him.
The world, we feel, is too much with us. Nothing would uplift or inspire us so much as the beauty and aspiration which such books can teach.
In this series, therefore, the literature of India, ancient and modem, will be published in n form easily accessible to all. Books in other literatures of the world, if they illustrate the principles we stand for, will also be included.
This common pool of literature, it is hoped, will enable the reader, eastern or western, to understand and appreciate currents of world thought, as also the movements of the mind in India which, though they flow through different linguistic channels, have a common urge and aspiration.
Fittingly, the Book University's first venture is the Mahabharata, summarised by one of the greatest Indians, C. Rajagopalachari; the second work is on a section of it, the Gita, by H, V, Divatia, an eminent jurist and a student of philosophy. Centuries ago, it was proclaimed of the Mahabharata "What is not in it, is nowhere? After twenty-five centuries, we can use the same words about it. He who knows it not, knows not the heights and depths of the soul; he misses the trials and tragedy and the beauty and grandeur of life.
The Mahabharata is not a meme epic; it is a romance, telling the tale of heroic men and women and of some who Wore divine; it is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life, a philosophy of social and ethical relations, and speculative thought on human problems that is hard to rival; but, above all, it has for its core the Gita, which is, as the world is beginning to had out, the noblest of scriptures and the grandest of sagas in which the climax is reached in the wondrous Apocalypse in the Eleventh Canto.
Through such books alone the harmonies underlying true culture, I am convinced, will one day reconcile the disorders of modern life.
I thank all those who have helped to make this new branch of the Bhavan’s activity successful.
Hundreds of thousands of works of fiction have been written and published all over the world, and some of them are of so high a standard that they touch our hearts and help relax our worried minds.
Novels, short stories and imaginative narratives in general have a secure place in a civilised society, for they not only introduce us to lives other than our own but serve to throw light out contemporary and future situations and to guide our minds into channels that may lead to the solution of some of the problems which face us.
But folk tales have a value all their own. By the very fact of their not being modem they constitute a class apart. The development of a society and `the circumstances and conditions that gave it a particular character are amply portrayed by its folk tales.
According to Burton, whose translation of the Arabian Nights is very popular in the West, Professor Galland has written in his Epistle Dedicatory to the- Marquise d’O, daughter of his patron, M. de Guillerague, that the Arabian Nights originated in India and went to the Middle East via Iran. The tales were put into the present shape by the Arabs. No wonder that we find that many of the very familiar folk tales of India are found in the Arabian Nights.
By comparing the ancient stories of the Katha-Sarit-Sagar (Ocean of Stories) with the mediaeval tales related here, we may learn to what extent those times were responsible for moulding certain of the characteristics which have remained constant through all the subsequent upheavals.
Again, these folk tales are an inspiring study for students of psychology. We find blind valour among the Rajputs. It is amazing how readily and unquestioningly they die for ideals and promises; yet they are simple enough to be easily cheated by women or gulled by their crafty ministers.
We End farmers or artisans so content to be busy about their little homes, their green fields or professions as to keep aloof from politics or matters related to the king.
'The kings feel it their duty to help their subjects in times of adversity and those who do not do so have but a short life. Characterless kings do not command respect and prestige. It is admittedly a matter of great pride for India that she should possess such royal examples and that their noble acts are still preserved in our folk tales.
But a story must be first of all a story. Its moral comes next. Reading interest is its soul.
Stories deal with not only men, but also birds and animals, trees and plants; ghosts and fairies talk and act as human beings. The art of story-telling shows particular regard for the simple reader when it leaves the meaning to be drawn by him; he is not given any ready-made thinking. Common men do not like abstract thinking.
If a story does not interest the reader its moral is altogether lost on him. It is through entertaining reading that a story is able to instill high morals into the reader’s mind.
If, for instance, our princess Kanaharde does not interest readers, she has absolutely no message. If Hazarisinha does not gain one’s love, his goodness is meaningless. If Rupkumar’s adventure and the princess’s pride do not touch the reader’s heart, then they teach him little or nothing. Indeed, the characters in a story teach, though one does not know that one is being taught. In a story the moral is a matter of the subconscious. What belongs to the consciousness is that the reader gets pleasure in reading it.
Another prominent feature of the folk tales is the use of the motif. In fact, it is too important a part of every tale to be lost sight of. Transforming oneself into some animal or bird, to escape danger, the indication of death or life through shrubs specifically planted, the saving of oneself from a vampire—such motifs are found not only in Indian stories but in folk tales all over the world.
According to the famous Biblical story, the great strength of Samson lay in his long hair. As long as it remained on his head he was invincible. Delilah contrived to delude him with love in order to find out this secret, and later arranged to have his head shaved. Thus he lost his power and was captured.
It is difficult to trace the history and philosophy of the motif and how it came to be developed, but it would appear that alchemy, magic and miracles were very much sought after during mediaeval times. As motifs help to stimulate imagination, they made their way into such tales and helped to solve intricate problems. There could be nothing quicker than mage to counteract the mischief perpetrated by a sorcerer or a vampire. Sometimes even the gods extend their helping hand for the good of the righteous man. Supernatural solutions at least afford relaxation to the mind and the body. As for the simple villager, they also appeal to his imagination and induce him to believe in the possibility of the achievement of his wildest dreams.
Another thing noticeable in these stories is the magic of certain numbers. For instance, a powerful king had fifty- two pieces of cannon or he had subdued fifty-two kings. This figure is neither forty—four nor fifty—eight. Even in the Arabian Nights a harem was guarded by forty eunuchs; there were forty lads under a captain or a king had a host of forty thousand armed horsemen. The figure of forty appears to be sacrosanct in the Arabian Nights.
The author has omitted certain portions of the tales or made certain changes in the telling of them to make them acceptable to modern readers, but greater liberties than he has taken would destroy their spirit and their charming message.
The folk tales of Greece or Rome have been very popular all over the world. The author has come across only a few published collections of Indian folk tales. It would indeed be a great service to society if more light were to be thrown on Indian ideals as they are revealed in such tales. I shall be amply rewarded if the reader feels pleased as he reads.
About the Author
Industrialist, educationist, writer and art connoisseur, Shri Lakshminiwas Birla (born in 1909 at Pilani, Rajasthan) is a man of multi-faceted interests and profound humanism. He has pursued with distinction the various activities - industrial, educational and philanthropic - of his illustrious father Shri G. D. Birla.
He is a Trustee of the Birla Education Trust, a foundation running a University and a number of educational institutions imparting education to well over 10,000 boys and girls in modern methods.
Shri Lakshminivas has distinguished himself by his writings on historical and philosophical subjects. His books Uma’s Tapasya, Popular Tales of Rajasthan, The Curse of Padmini, Romance of Princess Nihalde, For Love and Freedom and his collection of essays in Hindi and Bengali have put his in the forefront of modern Indian industrialists who are also writers of distinction.
It is, however, by a deep current of humanism that L.N., as he is popularly known, will be ultimately remembered. Managing as he does a vast complex of industrial organizations, he has always kept to the force the human aspect of all problems in his dealings with his employees and has left no opportunity unutilized to further the well-being of all those over whose destinies he presides.
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