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Book Review: Philosophy as Samvada and Svaraj

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This book discusses Daya Krishna and Ramchandra Gandhi’s respective intellectual contributions and speculates how one might take forward the work of the two persons who were among the most brilliant minds of our times. 

Philosophy as Samvada and Svaraj

Dialogical Meditations on Daya Krishna and Ramchandra Gandhi


Ed. by Shail Mayaram

Publisher: Sage

Pages: 305; Price: Rs 895

The Editor of the book under review Shail Mayaram is Professor at the Centre for the Study of Development, Delhi, She is part of the ‘Subaltern Studies’ Editorial Group. There are twenty contributors to this volume, each a recognized authority in his or her own field of studies.

The Foreword is from Peter Donald De Souza, who is the Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla. He points out how Ramchandra Gandhi and Daya Krishna were part of the Institute and had been integral to its vibrant community of minds. To pay a tribute to these two philosophers the Institute organized a Seminar in 2008 and the book is an outcome of the deliberations in that Seminar.

According to Mayaram, Ramchandra Gandhi was a philosopher with the imagination of an epic poet, a painter and a playwright. Daya Krishna was relentlessly rationalist and iconoclastic but with a vision of knowledge that combined music and mysticism, politics and philosophy and science and society. He was childlike in his capacity for fun.

Daya Krishna and Ramchandra Gandhi were two spirits who opened up new vistas for those who read and listened book reviewto them. They were two of the most perceptive minds in the last fifty years of India and their intellectual journeys in an intellectual biography would be of great value as they straddled with equal felicity both the philosophies of the East and West. One avowed aim of the book is decolonizing the mind and clears it of any cobwebs. Daya and Gandhi have deep philosophical engagements with Indian philosophical heritage.

A striving for ‘Svaraj’ in ideas is important for the country which has completed sixty years as a Republic. Both attached great importance to ‘Samvada’— which they interpreted in different ways and took it beyond the category ‘Dialogue’. The Seminar held in Shimla brought together participants from several disciplines, philosophers, physicists, political scientists and sociologists.

What is ‘Svaraj’? It is neither narrow nationalism nor nativism. Intellectually ‘Svaraj’ is based on the idea of consciousness as intrinsically self-reliant. It has to do with the realization that all knowledge is self-knowledge.

 ‘Samvada’ means the human capacity to enter into a dialogue with the Divine. The svar of sva (notes of the self) are enunciated by the saptarsis – the seven sages are Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharishi. J. Krishnamurti and M K Gandhi. Daya Krishna’s interpretation of ‘Samvada’ envisaged creating encounters with texts—collectively engaging with the Sastras on Dharma, Artha and Natya. He himself engaged with Indology and Anthropology.

The book comprises three different types of articles — that analyse Daya and Gandhi as philosophers and elucidate facets of their concerns and conceptual imagination — those that seek to take their work forward and those that use conversations with either of the two philosophers as their point of departure. The volume is divided into five parts — Part One is on ‘Love, Liberation and Lila’; the next Part is devoted to the ’Idea of Svaraj; asymmetries of power, knowledge and alternative ethical politics’; the Third Part deals with ‘Mode of Samvada’; the Fourth Part is concerned with ‘Language, Selfhood and Philosophy’; the Final Part is dedicated to rethinking in the Arts/ Ethics / Science/ Mathematics’.

There is an interesting discussion on varnas, ashramas and purusharthas, The Purushasukta of the Rig Veda has been clinically analysed by Daya Krishna. The varna theory has become an intellectual straitjacket.

Ramesh Pradhan argues that while the moral question dominates the spiritual quest of Daya Krishna, the spiritual question dominates the moral quest of Ramchandra Gandhi. Morality for Daya Krishna involves the pursuit of what he called active and contemplative values, the former relating to the welfare of others and the latter centred around one’s own consciousness and which, being concerned with inner freedom, enlightenment and peace, are self-oriented. Since for both the timeless and mystical is of paramount importance, he describes both philosophers as non-dualists.

Kapila Vatsyayan contributes a very perceptive ‘Prologue’ and points out how in Indian tradition there is space for dialogues, divergences and even counter questions without invading the very earth of fundamentals of the world view.

An exquisite part of the book is the Afterword by Shail Mayaram — which is an imagined dialogue between Daya Krishna and Ramchandra Gandhi which throws a flood of light on the thoughts and views of the distinguished duo. This book is an attempt to balance the cross-currents of Eastern and Western philosophy.