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Message From the Deep (The West Encounters the Rig-veda)

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About the Book This volume reviews from the postcolonial position, the event of the culture confrontation between the modern West and ancient India between the enlightened Europe triumphant in expansionist adventures, and India with a millennia-old culture. Debilitated and decadent at that point of time. The probing analysis of the Western scholars' encounter with India. Particularly of Max Muller's reading of the Rig-vela, brings out the complex nature of the interaction: the study unravels th...
About the Book

This volume reviews from the postcolonial position, the event of the culture confrontation between the modern West and ancient India between the enlightened Europe triumphant in expansionist adventures, and India with a millennia-old culture. Debilitated and decadent at that point of time. The probing analysis of the Western scholars' encounter with India. Particularly of Max Muller's reading of the Rig-vela, brings out the complex nature of the interaction: the study unravels the layered narrative of the West's epistemic conquest of the alien mode. The situation here the author argues, had been more challenging to the West than in other sites of colonization. India with her vast and undeniably rich tradition, had presented an "other" more formidable than in other parts of the planet. The experience was complex: there were contrary pulls, both intellectual and imperial. The "new knowledge" that emerged, the knowledge that, Max Muller asserted, had marked a "renaissance", grew into a text and a sub-text. "Iridology" records the spectacle of the epistemic engagement. Understanding the nature and the full impact of this event is of vital importance in comprehending colonization as a global historical process.

About the Author

Sati Chatterjee, formerly of the Department of English, Jadavpur University, has been engaged for the last couple of decades in culture studies. A published author on the Dharma Sastras and the Upanishads, Professor Chatterjee edited the compilation of Sri Aurobindo texts entitled Sri Aurobindo: a Postcolonial Reader published by The Centre of Sri Aurobindo Studies, Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University in association with the National Council of Education, Bengal, in 2015. Her recent research publications include the two volumes of concordance on several thousand letters of Rabindranath- Rabindranather Chitbipatra: Nirdesika 1 and 2 (National Council of Education, Bengal, 2009 and 2011). The work is received as pioneering effort, a corpus of research material for Tagore Studies. At the National Council of Education Professor Chatterjee currently directs postcolonial research projects on Bankimchandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore.


In the 1990's I was studying the Upanishads and the Dharma Sastras. At opposing ends - the Upanishads absorbed in the contemplation of transcendental monism, the Smriti Sastras engaged in enunciating orthodox social ethics in practice - the ancient texts revealed a mind mature beyond the estimate in popular currency. Beneath expository accounts, adulatory and hyper-critical, the ancient voices spoke from the depths of wisdom born of stored experience accumulated over ages. This aroused in my mind fresh curiosity about the older Rig Veda text. The Rig Veda, we had learnt in our school days, and we had learnt from encyclopaedias and handbooks, is the "oldest book" in human history; it records the earliest infancy of human civilization. Does it, really?

The question led into territory I knew little about; and it took years. My studies revealed a fascinating spectacle spread out on many levels, nuanced and laden with messages of historical import. Max Muller in the 1840's had been reading "helpless utterances" of the primitive man in the Veda text. The ancient text does offer worshipful appreciation to all the bounty in the universe, the forces in the mortal abode; and it voices the numerous needs of earthly existence. But, beneath the surface recognition of the perceptual world and its compulsive pragmatics, it projects a mind on a quest, a mind in moments of penetrative realization. The questing mind asks: whence comes all this? What had been the source when nothing was there? Is there anyone who knows? To whom should we offer our worship? What is this "mind" that asks, questions? The conviction arising out of accumulating experience, long meditation and persistent questioning, is that the truth behind, beneath, or beyond, is one, manifest in the many - and called by different names.

The vision in the oldest book extends into the Upanishads; the Rig Veda reaches into the Vedanta.

Whence then did the fable that the Rig Veda represents the "infantia" in the story of human civilization emerge? What forces had shaped this reading? Did it grow out of the event of the colonizer meeting the colonized, of the Hellenic mind meeting the Un-Hellenic, of Europe as the enlightened "self', facing the rest as the "other"? How authoritative is the mandate, how long is its validity? The present enquiry is intended to explore these and suchlike questions.

Rig Veda text cited here tallies with the edition published by the Vedic Samshodhanamandal, Pune, 1933.

The translation of Sanskrit texts, unless mentioned otherwise, is mine.

Rig-veda MSS images: UNESCO Memory of the World website. MSS preserved in Archives, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune.


Messages from the Deep: the West Encounters the Rigveda by Professor Sati Chatterjee, attempts a re-viewing from a postcolonial point of view of the culture confrontation between the colonizing modern West and India, the land of a millennia-old ancient tradition.

Focused on the Western scholars' reading of the Rigveda, particularly on Max Mailer's mammoth interpretive effort and his formulation of the "historical approach" and the comparative method, Chatterjee's explorations bring out deeper complexities and contrarieties in the West's encounter with the ancient Veda and the vedic modality of perception. Chatterjee questions the West's assessment of the Rigveda as a collection of "helpless utterances" of primitive people in the infancy of human civilization. The work engages in unraveling the intermingling of the forces of epistemic domination with the imperial in the construction of an empire of the mind; it analyses the interplay of cognitive perception and positional compulsions on the side of the colonizer as well as the colonized

As chroniclers of civilization studies in recent times note, Postcolonial studies as yet remain entrenched in the Anglo-American Universities. Although in the Western academia it is already moving out of the "post"- phase into the perspective of a "trans-National" community, borderless and global, postcolonial study of the colonization experience in India is yet to emerge as a mainstream in the field of culture studies. The present author argues that the colonization of India by the West - the colonizing West triumphant in its expansionist adventure and ancient India past its peak-point of maturation and in deep decline at that point of time - had been a major event in the history of colonization. Its cultural ramifications were deeper and more complex than was the case in other colonies. India's vast and undeniably rich (although obscure and difficult to access for various reasons) tradition and her apparent social stagnation at the time of the colonial experience, placed before the West an almost unique interpretive challenge. Probing studies in the nature and the impact of the experience on both the colonizer and the colonized, the author believes, is of vital importance in our understanding of the historical process of colonization and the way it continues to shape our identity and understanding of our pre-colonial heritage.

Chatterjee's competent and commendable effort marks a belated, and for this reason all the more welcome, beginning of a postcolonial approach to the Euro-centric interpretation of the ancient culture of India and explores ways of release from the grip of established epistemic domination.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

Item Code: NAR648 Author: Sati Chatterjee Cover: HARDCOVER Edition: 2016 Publisher: Maha Bodhi Book Agency ISBN: 9789384721480 Language: English Size: 8.50 X 6.00 inch Pages: 286 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.52 Kg
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