Annie Besant by Sri Prakasa (Published by Bhavan’s Book University, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay.Pp. LXIII plus 173. Price Rs. 1-12-0)
“May we prove, in the present, worthy of those who have gone before; and discharge our own duties and responsibilities to the full, as trustees of those who are to follow.” It is on this note of idealism that Sri Sri Prakasa closes his sixty-page Introduction to the second edition of his book of reminiscences of the great Dr. Besant. The first edition was published in 1940 by the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar; while India was yet struggling to be free. The author, a leading Congressman in his home-Province, was then preparing to court imprisonment in the campaign of individual Satyagraha, launched by Gandhiji during the second World War. Since then, the situation has undergone a complete change, and at the request of Sri K. M. Munshi, Sri Sri Prakasa has brought the book up-to-date, and added an admirable survey of events since the passing away of Dr. Besant. It is interesting to note that this survey was written in Raj Bhavan, Madras. Here dwelt a former Governor of Madras, Lord Pentland, who ordered the internment of Dr. Besant and her colleagues, Dr. G. S. Arundale and Sri B. P. Wadia, for their activities in connection with the Home Rule movement of 1916. Times have changed!
The author was a child of four years when Dr. Besant came to India and started her work as a Theosophist in collaboration with the author’s father, Dr. Bhagavan Das, the illustrious savant and leading citizen of Banaras. That sacred city became Dr. Besant’s home till 1907, when she moved to Adyar, Madras, as President of the Theosophical Society. ‘Shanti Kunj’ (Abode of Peace) was dear to her, and here she lived and shaped the destinies of her adopted Motherland. The Central Hindu College was an embodiment of her dreams; it was also the means of gathering round her a band of devoted workers. Dr. Bhagavan Das was Honorary Secretary of the Committee, and served in that capacity till the College became the nucleus of the Hindu University.
The friendly and life-long association of Dr. Besant with the author’s family forms the background of this biography. Sri Sri Prakasa has a powerful memory; his narration of incidents spread over forty years makes this book as interesting as a novel of contemporary life. His affection for “the Great Madame” was unbounded, and as he watched her at work and at play, on the platform and in the Committee Room, his reverence for her grew, till it became the dominant influence in his life. The men who were born in the nineties of the last century, and were at school and college during the early years of the present, came under the spell of Dr. Besant’s personality. To them, she was the prophet of a New India in the making, as well as its architect. In 1920, however, they came to be associated with Mahatma Gandhi and his movement for the liberation of India through peaceful but ‘illegal’ activities. That generation now occupies the seats of power in free India. It looks back to Dr. Besant and Mahatma Gandhi as the greatest formative forces in their lives. In many ways, Dr. Besant was a forerunner of Mahatma Gandhi; their methods differed, but they were moved by the same vision. Sri Sri Prakasa rightly emphasises the view that the presence of Republican India in the Commonwealth is, in a sense, the fulfillment of Dr. Beasant’s hope of “Britain and India hand in hand; but an India free as is her, right.”
There is tenderness, grace, and eloquence in this book. It is an intimate revelation of Dr. Besant’s personality, and of the author’s too. This is a book to read and cherish.
The Call of the Vedas by A. C. Bose (published by Book University, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. Price Rs. 1-12-0)
It is true, though rather strange, that while the Upanishads have attracted wide attention, the Vedas which are admittedly their sources have been more or less sealed books. The layman, especially the English-educated layman, even in India has absolutely no idea of the contents of the Vedas, apart from the Upanishads. The Editors of Bhavan’s Book University therefore deserve the thanks of the public for presenting in a handy volume an account of the Vedas and their contents, along with numerous extracts with translations and comments. The author has very wisely confined his anthology to such verses as have caused no serious differences of opinion, in respect of interpretation, between the orthodox scholars, and the Orientalists, European and Indian, though in his translations he adopted, in the main, the work of the Orientalists. He has shown the same wisdom in refraining from following the Orientalists in their anthropological approach to the Vedas. In his comments he professes to have aimed at indicating the poetical and spiritual content of the Mantras and that in assessing their spiritual and religious significance he has drawn upon the Indian sources, including the work of Indian spiritual leaders.
In a fairly long Introduction the author has attempted to view the Vedic religion in the historical perspective, to define its spiritual attitude and to study some of its more salient aspects. The author is to be congratulated therefore upon the wisdom with which he has set the limits to his subject and the care with which he has attempted to render the volume interesting and attractive to the layman.
Hinduism–Doctrine and Way of Life by C. Rajagopalachari (Published by the Hindusthan Times, New Delhi. Pp. 120. Price Rs. 3)
Sri Rajagopalachari, our distinguished elder statesman, all through his brilliant career of politician and administrator, has been well known for his essentially spiritual outlook and cultural interests and attainments. It is not surprising therefore that, increasingly with his gradual retirement from active political life, he should be engaging his brilliant intellect in philosophical and literary pursuits. The result is the publication of a number of books in English as well as Tamil, very popular and very much appreciated for their inspiring and elevating themes, and elegant and attractive style and treatment–Mahabharata, Bhagavadgita, Upanishads and Vedanta. The volume under review, “Hinduism, Doctrine and Way of Life.”, is the latest in which he sets out to give the reader a clear idea of the philosophy of the Hindus and the way of life flowing from it, the spiritual and ethical doctrines that have given to India its way of life. The irrepressible optimist in him believes and hopes that a spiritual and cultural basis for the regulated co-operative economy to which the world is tending, in preference to individual competition on one side and totalitarian dictatorship on the other, will be found only in the ethic and culture rooted in vedanta. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished but only a remote possibility at present.
But there is no doubt that the book will prove of great value immediately to the English-educated Indian youth in danger of subjection to secularism and materialism and to the craze for higher standards of life and amenities of modern civilisation. In his simple, elegant, and engaging style and with his lucid, analytical, argumentative exposition, the learned author presents the spiritual and moral doctrines of our ancient culture, and endeavours to convince the reader that Vedanta is a faith as suitable for modem times as for ancient and that it can create, better than any other political or social philosophy, a conscience for social obligations in our modern conditions of life. The book deserves the earnest attention of every Hindu, especially the youth.
Aradhana (A monthly religious magazine. Inaugural number, Feb. 1955. Published from Masulipatam under the auspices of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Dept., Andhra. Annual Subscription Rs. 12. Single copy Re. 1)
History tells us that temples in our country played in the past a vital part in the cultural life of the Hindu community, by serving not only as places of religious worship and spiritual endeavour but as centres of cultural and artistic achievement and enjoyment. But most of the temples in our villages are now forsaken, neglected and lifeless. There is no doubt that it is necessary to renovate them and restore them to their former status.
The new Journal, obviously intended to serve these purposes, is therefore a welcome addition to the all too few cultural magazines in the country. The inaugural number, with articles in English and Telugu on a wide variety of subjects connected with temples, provides every reason to hope that it will contribute substantially to the revival and rejuvenation of these valuable institutions of cultural life, our temples. The official auspices under which the Journal is launched, let us hope, ensure for it a long and useful career.