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SPECIAL: India’s Cultural Influence on 19th Century German Intelligentsia   

The Hindu text of Bhagavadgitaa component of (Mahabharata 3000 BCE) has become one of the most prominent and well known expression of Hindu thought and belief and the foreign land that encountered Gitawas none other than Germany, where it originally appeared in the last phase of eighteenth century when Germany was undergoing transformation of the so called the Romantic Period and thus, 19th century produced some of the greatest artists like Beethoven, Goethe, Schiller and Wagner … A special report by Dilip Roy

This was also the period when strongest influence was felt on prominent intellectuals of the time such as Paul Deussen, Herder, Holtzmann, Humboldt, Max-Muller, Novalis, Schelling, Friedrich von  Schlegel and Arthur Schopenhauer to name but a few. The two names are very crucial here.

The thought of Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was a key influence on the development of Romanticism and German Idealism. Herder was a poet a philosopher of culture and history. He was attracted to the new discipline of Indology. For Herder India was the (cradle) of civilization of absolute unity of the basis of all things. Herder revisited Indian sources time and again to capture as a part of his wide-ranging effort to understand the world history as a whole. Among the numerous writings on India we find translations of Bhagavadgitapublished in 1792 which constitutes the first appearance of the text in German intellectual circles. In a broad sense with the concerns of his intellectual community inevitably gave India the recognition and thus the reception of  Gitaplayed a crucial role taking its place in the development of Indian sources (Indology) to the scientific study of the language (Philology) In this text, Herder presented some of the most enduring interpretations of Indian culture, and while these depictions became more distinguished in his other writings, the fame of the text meant that it would represent the most significant part of Herder’s legacy for early nineteenth century intellectuals who wished to study the great Indian civilization.  

The Romantic period of Germany also gave us Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829) who was a German poet, literary critic, philosopher, philologist and Indologist. In June 1802 he arrived in Paris to study Sanskrit and in 1808 he published epoch-making book, Uber die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of India). It is here he advanced his ideas about religion and importantly argued that the people originating from India were the founders of the first European civilizations. Schlegel compared Sanskrit with Latin, Greek, Persian and German languages noting many similarities in vocabulary and grammar. The assertion of the common features of these languages are now generally accepted. The essay also begins to open up the significance of the religious conception for Schlegel’s reading of Indian texts. This analysis provides the foundation for Schlegel’s interpretation and rendering of the Bhagavadgita which was appended to his famous treatise on India. Schlegel reaffirmed this myth as a part of the emerging Romantic program in an explicit attempt to establish Indian culture and religion as a source for European cultural renewal. As a part of this narrative, Schlegel continued to draw on important conception of fundamental Hindu ideology that began to emerge in Herder’s thought. However, one has the sense of this conception that has become something of a slogan in Schlegel’s text that Indian metaphysics and the language Sanskrit is superior above the rest.

Addendum: The Bhagavad Gita in twentieth century and Beyond.

Robert J. Oppenheimer (1904-1967) who is now regarded the father of Atomic Bomb was an American Scientist of German origin just like his friend world renowned scientist  Albert Einstein was also a German and both were influenced by Indian philosophy and thought.

Oppenheimer was not only a genius in his own field but he was strongly drawn to Hindu philosophy and the Hindu religion in particular, which resulted in feeling the cosmological mystery of the universe that surrounded him like a fog. He saw physics clearly, looking toward what had already been done and he turned away from the hard , crude methods of theoretical physics into the mystical realm of broad intuition. In 1933, he learned Sanskrit and met the Indologist Arthur W. Ryder at Berkeley university. He read the Bhagavadgitain the original Sanskrit, and later he cited it as one of books that most shaped his philosophy of life.

The Bhagavadgita is essentially a discourse between Prince Arjuna and God Vishnu (Lord Krishna) on the battle fields of the great MAHABHARATA war and Krishna is trying to convince Arjuna by implying that everyone in the battlefield will eventually die in time and that it his duty to fight.

In August 1945 when first Atomic Bomb was detonated on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the explosions reminded Oppenheimer of the quote from Bhagavadgita: Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of the Worlds.”

Postscript: Today at least eight countries have the destructive Nuclear weapons.

(Dilip Roy is an Indo-German cultural enthusiast and one of the greatest admirers of Nineteenth century German composer Richard Wagner. Mr. Roy’s articles on Wagner has been published by Wagner Societies of Australia, London, New Zealand and Scotland. Mr. Roy is also an elected Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.  )

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P.K.Rosy: An unwritten chapter on an enchanting Dalit Malayali actress

The name P. K. Rosy was brought back to the limelight recently when actress Kani Kusruti dedicated her State Award for Best Female Actor to the late actress of Malayalam Cinema…writes Ashok Parameswar

Born in 1903 to a Dalit family, Rosy acted in the first Malayalam movie called Vigathakumaran. However, the film was lost to a fire, erasing all memories of its existence with it. Rosy played a character named Sarojini in the 1928 silent film directed by J. C. Daniel, considered the father of Malayalam Cinema.

Born at Nandankode in Trivandrum, Rosy was reportedly raised in abject poverty after her father died when she was very young. From a Dalit family, her caste background caused controversy when the film was released. Rosy had dared to act in a movie when it was objectionable for a woman to do so, let alone a Dalit woman. And she played an upper-caste Nair woman, which enraged the Nair community.

Rosy endured the shoot, but the story goes that director Daniel had to keep her away from the cinema hall called Capitol during the film’s first screening as important men from the upper caste were present at the show. Rosy stayed away, and the screening was inaugurated peacefully, but when the upper caste men found out a Dalit woman was portraying a Nair, they responded spitefully. They threw stones at the screen, and Rosy’s hut was burnt down that very night, forcing her to flee.

Rosy reportedly fled Kerala with the aid of a lorry driver belonging to the Nair caste. She later married him and left all the hardships behind. However, her grandchildren refuse to acknowledge her Dalit legacy, which makes it nearly impossible to trace her entire story. The only biographical book is a small booklet titled P. K. Rosy by Kunnukuzhy S Mani, and a novel titled Nashta Nayika (The Lost Heroine), authored by Vinu Abraham. The book was translated into English by C.S. Venkiteswaran.

Rosy is thus, the first heroine of Malayalam Cinema and also the first Dalit woman to act in a Malayalam movie. Her story is also the story of the birth of Malayalam Cinema. Unfortunately, both are smeared by the horrors of casteism, which still holds on to Kerala’s cinema and culture. The story of the lost heroine sheds light on the politics of gender, caste, and society in Malayalam cinema.

In 2019, 89 years after the release of Vigathakumaran, the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) founded a film society in Rosy’s name in an attempt to restore her lost legacy.

WCC, made up of a group of female actors of Malayalam cinema, said: “This act of naming our film society PK Rosy Film Society is an attempt to be sensitive and to take note of all those who have been excluded from dominant cinema histories through their gender, caste, religious or class locations and our imagination.”

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‘MAA’ : A Heartfelt Film On Social Issues (***)

The mainstream film industry is an inaccessible dream for many cinema buffs who may want to act or direct but lack the means or connections…writes Shelja Pallath.

Well, this was the reality until some time ago. With a technology boom, more people who love cinema are breaking barriers to bring with small budget films that are close to their hearts to the forefront. One such example is the Malayalam film MAA, released in December 2019.

Produced by London High Commission employee Antony Thomas Vallikad and directed by cine artist Jayaraaj Aarattuvazhy, the 16-minute film tackles several pressing issues in society, making it a compelling watch.

From our addiction to smartphone to our disregard for the elderly and fellow humans, the film highlights our current times’ uncomfortable realities with reasonable sensitivity, depth, and insight.

The movie begins with a shot of a young girl playing a game on her smartphone and develops it through other interesting plots and subplots.

Three Ms — ‘Mobile, Madhu and Mother’ — are the main themes of the film. In the modern world of technology, phones play an inexorable role in our lives. While we remain engrossed in it, the world with its small, beautiful moments passes us by, including the selfless love of parents. As more and more children take to online gaming and social media, it poses a serious challenge for future generations. These are among the several issues that the film captures.

The second theme, ‘Madhu,’ is a name that Keralites can never forget. In 2018, a tribal named Madhu was tied up and reportedly beaten to death by a violent mob for stealing food. The movie draws out the incident through a similar narrative, asking for a change in people’s attitude towards other humans.

The film also underlines the widening gap among generations, highlighting to its audience the similarities between the elderly and children. While both age groups need care, love, and attention, the old is discarded by society who often restricts children from loving them.

“There is one shocking incident that was reported in a newspaper, which was weaved into the script and the film. The scene made a huge impact on our audience. It is the most heartfelt sequence of the film. People who watched the movie may wonder if a child can do such things to their parents, but the incident did happen, and in Kerala, God’s own country!” said Antony, the producer of the film.

Created by a group of cinema buffs from Kerala, most people who worked on the film are from Alappey. The director’s own brother Joseph Vallikkad is an experienced cine artist who has starred in one of the central roles in the film. He has been working in the industry for the last 20 years, but unfortunately, he couldn’t reach the pinnacle of fame.

“He worked as production manager and participated in several television projects, including Tapasya, Rose in December. He has also acted in films and coincidentally starred in Parvathy Jayaram’s Ashokante Aswathy, which was released in 1989, as well as her son Kalidas’ 2019 film called Happy Sardar,” Antony added.

If you want to watch a simple movie that depicts some hard realities of life, touching the heart and making you think, this is the one to watch.

The movie’s storyline was created by Anil Virad, and Binoy Antony developed into a script by PS Shibu in collaboration with the director. The cast includes Kaviraj, Jophy Joseph, Antony Vallikkad, Jomon, Sajai, Jaaraj and Master Aloshya and Fayas. Makeup artist Alappey Johnson and composer Roshan Joseph are also part of it. The visuals have been created by Saji, accompanied by Roshan Joseph’s background score. Vallikkad production’s movie is available on YouTube.