Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gem in the Lotus by Abraham Eraly - Book Review

A Gem of Indian Literature!

The Indian Civilization goes back over 6000 years and is the most confusing among all the ancient civilizations. There is not as much grandeur in it as the Egyptian pyramids or the Greek heroes, but there is nothing anywhere in the world to match the Indian philosophies and thinking that are highlighted through the Vedas and great thought leaders like Buddha. However ancient Indian history is documented very little and the grand mythologies of Mahabharata and Ramayana eclipses actual facts to a large extent.

Good books that explain ancient Indian history are also very few; but Abraham Eraly with the ‘Gem in the Lotus’ has created a marvelous narrative that bridges the gap to a large extent. Starting of with a lesson in geology on how the Indian subcontinent and the towering Himalayas were created, Eraly provides a good background to the geography, climate and topography that played a major role in early developments in India. He then describes the Indus Valley civilization and explores the causes of its sudden disappearance. Eraly really excels when he explains the Vedas and takes us through a detailed tour of how they came into being and what we can understand of the social dynamics of that period through them. Intellectually the grandest period for India would have been from 500 BC to 100 BC when not only Buddhism and Jainism came into being, but also the hundreds of other philosophies that disappeared over the subsequent centuries.

Alexander’s invasion and its effects, the first Indian empire of the Mauryas and Asoka’s grand reign are covered in detail. The world’s first treatise in politics and economics – the ‘Arthasasthra’ is leveraged very well to provide us an understanding of the life and culture of that period.

Indians even now suffer from considerable cultural baggage – the most unfortunate of them being the easy acceptance of ‘fate’. Nowhere else will people accept unfortunate events with so much equanimity that Indians can. This might have stood them in good stead at some critical periods in the past, but it has seriously affected their ability for critical inquiry. Though Eraly does not address this directly, through his book one will get a good understanding of the various factors that must have led to such a condition.

Eraly used the title ‘Gem in the Lotus’ as a metaphor for the Indian civilization but I feel that his book itself is a glittering gem of Indian Literature.

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