Dr. Pankaj Jain - Influence of Mahabharata On EcoDharmic Activism of Bishnoi Swadhyaya Communities

Dr. Jain began his lecture by pointing out a profound paradox regarding the Mahābhārata which has succeeded in reaching every Indian household whether it be in the form of films, serials, or stories. He states that on one hand the ecology or ecological awareness is considered as a new concept and on the other, we have a thousand of years old text called Mahābhārata which is full of ecological awareness. Interestingly, this reveals how an ancient text can have much relevance in contemporary times.

While dwelling into the main concepts of his lecture he begins to explain the groundbreaking works done by the Bishnoi and Swadhyaya Communities. He says that it was with the help of the teaching of Mahābhārata & Bhagavadgītā that these communities and many other like these realised their duties towards the environment, their concerns towards the natural resources and the preservation of other species.

The beauty is that though there are no explicit areas in the Mahabharata where we can see a thorough explanation of rules or norms about the environment or sustainable development but still, these communities tend to seem inspired by Mahābhārata & Bhagavadgītā. It is on this note he moves further and explains to us the concept of Pravṛtti and Nivṛtti. Being extremely focused on the renunciation of worldly desires and problems Indian culture has always been perceived as a Nivṛtti. But later on, came scholars like David L. Haberman, Swasti Bhattacharyya who has focused on the Pravṛttivāda of our Indian tradition. Dr. Jain says that in the last 20 years we have a number of scholars who have acknowledged that Indian tradition is more than about saṃnyāsa or mokṣa as it has astonishing concepts in it which can actually help us in dealing with our day to day problems with other individuals and the society.

Further while showing the practicality of the Mahābhārata, Dr. Jain said that Dharma in Mahābhārata does not explicitly focus on the other worldly affairs neither it teaches us to reject this world and focus on the next. In this reference, he calls Dharma a world affirming concept and not a concept which teaches us to ignore our surroundings. Dharma in Bhagavadgītā, says the scholar is not merely religion it is not merely an ethical percept rather it is a cosmic law, a cosmic rhythm (as same as mentioned in Rg Veda), which when agitated takes a corporeal form to bring back balance.

Coming to the central concept of his lecture Dr. Jain began to explain the Bishnoi community and Swadhyaya Community. He asserts that the origin of Bishnoi community started in 1490s and Swadhyaya Community started in 1940s, and even after having 500 years of the gap we can still see that both the founders Guru Jambheshwar (founder of Bishnoi community) and Pandurang Shastri Athavale (founder of Swadhyaya Community) had many similarities.

While explaining about the Bishnoi community, he illumines that the teachings of Guru Jambheshwar is compiled as Śabda vani.

He says that the general conception that we have is that when one looks or talks about ethics in Mahābhārata it is a new conception as we consider it as a western influence which taught us to look at the ethical implications of the text and thus we name it is New Hindusim or Vedānta. But when one looks at Bishnoi community these all conceptions seems to be falsified. Why? Because this community have focused on the exploration and practicality of Mahābhārata in our day to day life. They are following these principles from very long back with full devotion and understanding. In the same manner Dr. Jain mentions the Swadhyaya Community and says that when one explores the Swadhyaya roots one can see how the founders have long back focused on the educational, Dharmic and practical aspect of the Bhagavadgītā Dr. Jain thus says that the founder of this community established a Gītā pāṭhaśāla in 1926 in Mumbai, and the community focuses on the teaching of Bhagavadgītā since then.

Dr. Jain then mentions the works of Swadhyaya Community how they went to various villages of Gujrat and Maharastra and this visit was called Bhakti Pheri where the devotees use to live with the villagers and share the devotional knowledge and teachings of Bhagavadgītā. These people were different from missionaries as their aim was to tell and enlighten the people of Hindu tradition about their own traditional knowledge of which they were ignorant. Dr. Jain further gave many examples where he asserts how the Swadhyaya Community saw various aspects of societies and amalgamated Bhakti and societal concerns. For example, when they saw extreme poverty, they amalgamated Bhakti and economy and worked on various initiatives such as Vrikśa mandīr, Yogeśvra Kṛṣi and Matsyagandhā.

To listen to the lecture in detail, please tune into YouTube channel.

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