Hindu creation myths as an understanding of the cosmos
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General Orientation: Over the last three weeks, Allie, Dillon, and I have emphasized that religiosity (note, not the noun Religion) is complex and not confined to doctrines or charts of beliefs but requires historical and social contexts. Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Mahatma, became a key example. In the lectures, I provided different contexts for understanding Gandhi:
The importance of cloth and dressing in his self-presentation and in his goals for independence.
Hindu creation myths as an understanding of the cosmos—the sense of the order of the world—that Gandhi inhabited and then re-interpreted.
The current use of Gandhi as a pollical icon by those who once opposed him—the political party called the BJP and the right-wing organization the RSS (current Prime Minister Modi is a long-time member).
However, the lectures did not concentrate on the PRIMARY SOURCE for this case:
The Story of My Experiments with Truth, The Autobiography of Mohandas K. Gandhi
NOW this paper will focus on the autobiography and ask you to consider several key questions about Gandhi’s self-portrayal using these last weeks of discussion and lectures.
A new edition of Gandhi’s autobiography was drafted in 2018; the editor, Tridip Suhrud, continued to use Mahadev Desai’s English translation but return to check the original Gujarati and added notes on key terms. Remember that Gandhi first drafted short entries in his own newsletter week by week. He wrote in his mother longue, Gujarati. These were later compiled, translated into English and drafted as a book—the now famous autobiography.
In the new editor’s introduction, Suhrud argues that the “autobiography” is not history and never meant to be. Rather,
In the original Gujarati, Gandhi introduced the difference through two forms, jivan vrutant (autobiography or the chronical of life) and atmakatha (the story of the soul). What Gandhi wanted to write was an atmakatha not a jivan vrutant. The distinction gets blurred in the English rendering, ‘autobiography’
Others have interpreted this difference, this lack of real history and facts, as Gandhi’s own act of self-creation. In this negative review in the Irish Times, Clara Neary mocks his claims,
While Gandhi tells the reader, he won’t “conceal or understate any ugly things that must be told”, it’s quickly evident that his honesty is firmly yoked to the service of identity-construction and self-promotion. . . During the course of the text, he identifies himself with more than 50 social roles; on the first page alone, he asserts himself as public worker, prisoner, intellectual, writer, spiritual being and social reformer.
Generally, these roles can be apportioned to the private or public domain, with the former including familial roles –son, brother, husband, lover and father – along with more unorthodox domestic roles. . .. He learned to bake bread, to cut his own hair and to cobble. He also “became an expert washerman”. Gandhi does not merely learn new skills; he becomes a professional exponent of them,
(Aug 15, 2017, https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/gandhi-s-autobiography-self-promotion-down-to-a-fine-art-1.3179478)
In his trenchant book, The Un-Gandhian Gandhi: The Life and Afterlife of the Mahatma, Claude Marlovits puts this another way:
By writing the Autobiography, Gandhi sought to take charge of all subsequent representations of his own life, and to impose an interpretation in terms of his spiritual quest which ought not to be questioned afterwards. This was not a deliberate attempt of Gandhi to mislead the public.
On the contrary, by insisting that he did not write an account of his life, but only his spiritual itinerary, Gandhi pre-empted criticism directed at the factual aspects of his narrative. There remains a lingering feeling that this caveat was mostly of a rhetorical nature. . . he was Mahatma Gandhi, the recognized leader of three hundred million Indians against British Imperialism. Who after such a book was drafted—apart from his political enemies—would dare propose another interpretation of Gandhi’s life (55)?
So, whether friendly or highly critical, many interpreters agree that the autobiography was a key form of self-presentation, an important way that Gandhi re-created his own public image for an Indian public but also in the end for a global constituency.
Looking again at the critique of Gandhi in the Irish Times, “on the first page alone, he asserts himself as public worker, prisoner, intellectual, writer, spiritual being and social reformer. Generally, these roles can be apportioned to the private or public domain, with the former including familial roles –son, brother, husband, lover and father.”
For our purposes consider these roles:
Choose of TWO of the roles that Gandhi adopts in the autobiography–note, this can include husband and son as well as social reformer, etc. Select a chapter in the autography in which Gandhi adopts and comments on this role
How does Gandhi by actions and/or words, define or redefine what it means to occupy such a role?
What older religious sources/concepts/practices does he use and re-use?
Why does he mention the role and what is he telling us about himself? How does this role build his public image?
Does it matter if this is in fact a true account? Why?
How does he relate each role to both the political and religious realms?
What are the advantages and dangers to a nation, especially India but also beyond, with such an act of self-creation that entangled the religious and the political/social realms?
You must provide clear evidence for your arguments by directly engaging with the autobiography, Knott, and class lectures and discussions. WARNING again do not use outside sources.