The rattlepod bushes stood in a row, replete with flowers. Clusters of butterflies buzzed around the flowers, opening and shutting their colorful wings lazily, the afternoon sunlight throwing iridescent hues on their delicate gossamer wings. Shades of blue, pearl, yellow, saffron and red danced in front of our eyes, as we took out our phones to take pictures. The butterflies seemed oblivious of our presence, intent as they were in sucking nectar out of the flowers.
I was at a unique Weekend With Wisdom retreat organized by Indic Academy. The retreat was held in the serene environs of the Govardhan Eco Village spread over a 100 acres in pristine forest land, surrounded by mountains in Palghar district, near Mumbai.
Weekend With Wisdom is an unique concept floated by the Indic Academy where interested people get to spend a weekend retreat with a noted Indic scholar or a writer who has contributed greatly to the preservation, promotion and protection of our civilizational thought. The idea behind the retreat is that budding researchers, writers and public intellectuals get to spend uninterrupted quality time with noted scholars in free-flowing exchange of thoughts that is meant to interest, inspire and initiate new projects and collaborations.
As the founder of Indic Academy, Shri Hari Kiran Vadlamani explained it, the objective of Weekend With Wisdom is two-fold. The first is to preserve and promote the works of the scholars and the second is to provide a spark to create new bodies of work that will add to the corpus of Indic knowledge and scholarship.
I couldn’t make it to the first two Weekend With Wisdom retreats that were held with Shri Shrikant Talageri and Shri Subhash Kak respectively, but I was very keen to attend the third retreat with eminent political scientist, scholar and historian, Dr. Meenakshi Jain. Dr. Jain is the author of several important books that have debunked the myths peddled by India’s well-entrenched leftist historians like Romila Thapar and Satish Chandra.
I had become a die-hard fan of Dr. Meenakshi Jain’s scholarship after reading her books. Some of her best-known works are ‘Rama and Ayodhya’, ‘Parallel Pathways: Essays on Hindu-Muslim Relations’, ‘Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse’. Her latest book, ‘The flight of deities’ had particularly moved me as it talks about the desecration of temples all over India by Islamic Invaders, and the yeoman efforts of our ancestors, who did all they could to save the Murtis, even as they could not save their temples from destruction. While I was reading the book, I was moved to tears several times, even though the book is a well-researched scholarly work that has no scope for sentimentality. As a child of religious persecution of Hindus by the Christian rules of Goa, I could identify strongly with the stories narrated by Meenakshi-ji in her book. I did not want to miss this chance of spending an intensive weekend with Meenakshi-ji.
It was on a lovely Sunday morning that I made my way to the Govardhan Eco Village, a haven of serenity and peace nestled in the scenic hills of Palghar. Other participants for the retreat were going to join directly at the venue.
We were seven of us, a motley group of writers, storytellers, journalists, engineers, lawyers and technologists, from different parts of India. We had one thing in common; we were fellow travelers on the path of Dharma, each on our own journey of self-discovery as well as the journey to discover the civilizational ethos of India. I knew most of the participants before I started, so it was more like a meeting of old friends in that sense. Our group had Yogini Deshpande, editor of Indic Today and the CEO of her own construction company, Abhinav Agarwal, the curator of Indic Book Club and a technologist, writers Sahana Singh and Manoshi Sinha, Business Journalist Vaijayanthi Chakravarthy, and young researcher Debtanu, who was so determined to attend this workshop, that he arrived at three am after missing three flights from Kolkata!
It was afternoon when all of us except Debtanu reached GEV. The place is more beautiful than the pictures on their website. Everywhere we go, there is the serene presence of Shri Krishna, be it in the three temples on the site, in the Yogashala where only Sattvic vegetarian meals are served or at the Gaushala, where several desi cows and bulls nestled in open orchards, looking happy and contented. The venue provided a beautiful backdrop to our discussions over the weekend.
Being with Dr. Meenakshi Jain was a revelation. Her scholarship is without parallel. Every word that she spoke was backed with solid references. She has an elephantine memory and even though our freewheeling discussions moved from topics as diverse as Sufism to history-writing to classical dance to textiles to the history of Christian conversations in India, Meenakshi-ji’s scholarly presence was the thread that kept all the discussions together. She reminded me of the shloka from the Geeta, ‘मयि सर्वमिदं प्रोतं सूत्रे मणिगणा इव’, where Shri Krishna says, ‘Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.’ In our context, Dr. Meenakshi Jain’s scholarship and knowledge was the ‘sutra’ around which all our discussions were threaded!
Meenakshi Jain’s two books on Ayodhya make the case for the Shri Ram temple in Ayodhya based on scholarly historical research, sans any rhetoric. It was a fitting tribute that we got to celebrate the Ayodhya Verdict with her at the retreat. One of the fellow participants, Sahana Singh gifted Meenakshi-ji a beautiful Murti of Ram Durbar. Meenakshi-ji, who is normally a very reticent, soft-spoken person transforms into a speaker of rare eloquence and passion when she talks about the history of Ayodhya. She has a way of letting you realize how the worship of Shri Rama has united this country for millennia. She also made us realize what our position is as individuals in his Sanatan story called Hindu Dharma.
The Weekend With Wisdom with Dr. Meenakshi Jain was full of such ‘aha’ moments that made all of us more connected with our past and more determined to play our squirrel’s share in the story of India, her past, present as well as her future.
Here are five key things that I learnt at the retreat with Dr. Meenakshi Jain.
1) The India story is not of defeat but of continuous and consistent resistance.
Predictably, we started off the discussions with the most traumatic period in India’s history, the Islamic invasions. Starting from the Arab invasion of Sindh by Bin Kasim, Dr. Jain gave us insights into the Islamic reign of terror – the destruction of thousands of temples, replacement of Sanskrit with Persian, the brutal tax regime that turned India from a land of milk and honey to a land of famines and starvation and the systematic destruction of native Indian institutions.
This destruction has been completely ignored by the left-leaning historians, who have drilled into us over the years, through a systematic disinformation campaign, the myth that Islamic invaders were peace-loving monarchs who marched into India without much resistance from the local rulers and the people of India. They cite caste as the main reason for this.
Meenakshi Jain narrated with several examples, how Indians never stopped resisting. Even when big kingdoms were defeated, small clan leaders and chieftains continued to reclaim the sites of old temples. They either built temples at the same site, or where it was not possible, they built temples in close proximity and they did this over generations, fighting all odds. Building, rebuilding but never giving up on their Gods and their lands. Her book, The Flight Of Deities is a tribute to the unceasing struggles of our ancestors to reestablish Dharma against tremendous odds.
2) Hindus had learnt the importance of writing their own history very early on.
As Dr. Jain pointed out, two Bengali scholars working at the Fort William college, Kolkata, wrote the first textbooks on Indian history in 1803. Raja Siva Prasad, an Indian scholar, linguist and historian employed by the East India Company wrote a three-volume work on the history of India, with the instructive title of “Itihāsa timiranāśaka”, meaning ‘History That Dispels Darkness’ even before the great war of 1857. Raja Siva Prasad also argued for the use of Nagari scripts in British courts.
3) Before 1813, the British had no interest in religious conversions of the natives.
The East India Company came to India for trade and not to spread the word of Christ. In fact, originally the EIC had issued regulations against proselytizing in India and had warned ‘That the missionaries shall not in the smallest degree interfere with the political concerns of the countries in which they labour’. It is only due the sustained efforts of the Serampore Trio of Baptist missionaries, William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward that the Charter Act of 1813 granted missionaries “regulated access” to native Indians.
4) Babar built not one, but 3 mosques in India, two of which were on the sites of Hindu temples.
We all know about the Ram Janmabhoomi temple of Ayodhya that was demolished by Babur to built his structure there, but how many people know that Babar also built mosques at Panipat, the site where he won the battle against Ibrahim Lodhi and at Sambhal, a place in UP, where Hindus believe the Kalki Avatar will be born.
5) The story of the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization is not of subjugation, but of assimilation.
Dr. Jain pointed out how the composers of the Vedas could be described as the ‘thought leaders’ of the India civilization, and how, as the people of the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization spread all over India they assimilated tribal and local Gods and elevated them to the status of Vedic Gods.
She explained how Lord Jagannath, who was a deity worshipped by the tribals of Odisha was accepted and revered by the Hindus, while respecting the rights of the original tribal worshippers. Even today, the tribals have the right to be the sevaks at the Jagannath Puri temple.
Dr. Jain peppered her insights with a long list of book recommendations that would be useful for any student who wants to have a correct, unbiased assessment of Indian history. Dr. Meenakshi Jain’s humility, her deep scholarship as well as her genuine desire to mentor upcoming authors and scholars impressed all of us. She had even got us each one of us reading material that was based on our individual interests and areas of work.
Spending two days with a scholar like Dr. Meenakshi Jain and a group of interested and interesting people enriched me in a way no classroom ever could. It was like a churning of thoughts in each one of us, a vicharmanthan that will yield different results for different folks.
We were shocked to know that despite her book on Ayodhya being a critically acclaimed best seller, Dr. Jain’s works have never been reviewed in a national daily in a conspiracy of silence by the left liberal lobby that dominated Indian media and academia, even though Dr. Jain herself said it a matter of fact way without any rancor.
Time has a way of flying when you are in the company of interesting people. Before we knew it, the weekend was over and it was time to go back to our respective homes. As we walked to the reception, I saw the rattlepod bushes again. The butterflies were still there, only now they were no longer flitting from flower to flower. They sat quietly on the plant, their wings a picture of stillness, sated as they were with the nectar.
As I watched them transfixed, I realized that we were like those butterflies too, sated with the nectar of wisdom from Meenakshi Jain. We too needed some silent contemplation before we could make use of the immense insights we had gained in our own ways.
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