Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A tribute to Bettina Baumer

Themes in art and mysticism VANAMALA PARTHASARATHY SAMARASYA - Studies in Indian Arts, Philosophy and Interreligious Dialogue: Sadananda Das, Ernst Furlinger — Editors; D.K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd., The Hindu Book Review Tuesday, Aug 08, 2006
This volume is a tribute to Bettina Baumer, a renowned Indologist, one of the foremost expounders of Kashmir Saivism and a well-known figure in the field of inter-religious dialogue. It is a voluminous presentation of 32 essays representing her main areas of study. Each essay deserves special treatment. Space being a constraint only a select few would figure. There is a biographical essay and three more under the title `Sharing of Experiences'. The latter carries an article by S. Kumar [The Divine Master: Swami Lakshman Joo (1907-91)]. Bettina received initiation from this great master in 1987. Unfortunately, the author has not included any details regarding their interaction.
The main section has three chapters. Nine contributors deal with a wide range of subjects under Indian philosophy and spirituality, the main focus being Kashmir non-dualistic Tantric Saivism except for three significant essays.
Tantric Saivism: A. Chakrabarti's essay analyses in detail the key philosophical term in Kashmir Saivism `visranti' by referring to the writings of Abhinavagupta. (975-1025 A.D.). H. N. Chakravarty provides a translation of the Tantric hymn, Bahurupagarbha Stotra, in lucid English.
The two exceptionally good essays are `A Commentary on the Opening Verses of Tantrasara' by A. Sanderson and `A New Theology of Bliss' by A.Wilke. In the former, the author has chosen three opening verses from the text, scrutinised them in detail, also citing other works of Abhinavagupta. Elaborate interpretation of the term `Hrudaya' the object of his prayer in the first one, discussion on the Mandala and deities of Trika form a part. Names of Abhinanavagupta's parents and his Gurus are elicited from Tantrasara and from his other works.
Art and aesthetics: The latter is an in-depth study of the text Lalitatrisatibhashya, a commentary on Lalitasahasranama, which claims to be a part of Srividya form of worship, which owes much to Kashmir Saivism and is nowadays the most widespread Sakta Tantra in India. She considers "religion as a living body and a dynamic organism in constant flux" and Srividya "has been synthetic and inclusivist from its very beginnings." This being her stand she has demonstrated the `Vedantisation of Tantra' and `Tantrisation of Vedanta' with regard to the text by referring to relevant portions.
`Indian Arts and Aesthetics' comprises nine absorbing essays by eminent scholars on subjects such as lithographs, miniature painting, and the colour theory based on primary colours, temple architecture and spread of religious movement. D. Desai has brought out explicitly the relevance of textual sources in comprehending the nuances and symbolism of temple architecture with special reference to Khajuraho temples (Relevance of Textual Sources in the Study of Temple Art). E. Fischer has deftly employed the Saundaryalahari verses to analyse a Rajasthani painting (The Goddess of the Island of Gems).
The essays, `Beginning of Saiva-Siddhanta' by R.N.Misra and `Guhavasi and Devaraja in Cambodia' by R.Nagaswamy have their focus on inscriptions. The former records the early history of Saiva Siddhanta in northern Madhya Pradesh and its spread to Central India during 7th - 10th centuries and also ascertains the causative factors. In the latter the author has ingeniously substantiated that the Pasupata cult flourished before the Devaraja cult in Cambodia and how the latter eclipsed the former by referring to the Pasupata Sutras and the commentary, and the Linga Purana.
K.Vatsyayan's wonderful exposition on Mount Kailasa (Mountain, Myth, Monuments) will be useful to comprehend the import of `A Journey to Mount Kailash' by B. Imhasly. She presents the importance and significance of the sacred mountain in Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina traditions and as the source of inspiration for myth, literature, architecture, sculpture, music and dance.
Inter-religious dialogue: The section `Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue' has 14 thought-provoking contributions. K. Baier's article points out the practice of Zen meditation introduced in Christianity as a trans-religious medium in the 20th century (Trans-Religious Studies and Existential Interpretation).
M.von.Bruck presents valuable views on surmounting the present-day social, economic and political problems (The Ethics of Justice in a Cross-cultural Context). In the essay `The Doctrine of Recognition (Pratyabhijna) and Interreligious Dialogue' J. R. Dupuche explores in depth the concept of Kashmir Saivism and the Bible too with a section `Bettina and Pratyabhijna'.
A.M.Haas's probe into the subject of Self and its knowledge in the western tradition of mysticism, history of western thought and the Upanishads is very scholarly (Self-knowledge-Space of Inwardness). Distinction between `Inward' and `Outward Man' also forms a part. E.Jungclaussen reconsiders four sermons of Johannes Tauler (1300-60) to find and comprehend the meaning of `Nothingness' and it has been done to `fullness' (The Meaning of Nothingness).
A.Michaels's `Between Similarity and Contrast' delves into the forms of inter-religious debates in the West and South Asia from the pages of religious history. Finally, the crucial essay by R.Panikkar is a quest to understand the essential issues of `life' and `death' through intercultural metaphor of `The Drop of Water' in a dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity. Priceless contributions, good print and photographs together make the volume manna from heaven.

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