Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ganesha and I

My survey class has moved on to Hinduism. Needless to say, I'm learning a lot, reading the Blackwell's Introduction to Hinduism while preparing for class. Already the opening, dealing with the question of whether Hinduism as a category is a colonial construct, and even if, what that might mean for modern Hindu and non-Hindu definitions of Hinduism left me dizzy, to say the least and that was before I attempted to penetrate the Hindu pantheon!

I am not an expert on Hinduism. I never read the Gita or the Ramayana (still haven't) and my knowledge of modern India barely extends beyond Monsoon Wedding, the Partition and Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations under the Mughals. In this class, I am focusing on a few key concepts (the systems of samsara, mokhsha) and the henotheistic/monotheistic character of Hinduism. The more I think about world religions, the more it seems to me that there are few religions that satisfy the polemical potential of the word polytheism. It's not avodah zarah, people are not praying to statues, not in Christianity, and not in Hinduism, and perhaps that is worth pointing out in class. Many of my survey books, strangely, get sidetracked into talking way too much about sati, the Partition, or Ayodhya--all important yet perhaps not what I want to dwell on when covering a religion in two weeks.

Spending way too much time on you-tube, I dug out a fascinating video showing how kids learn the Veda in a traditional setting. In contrast to traditional Jewish and Muslim learning environments, this is a full-body experience that is later internalized. Just watch the first 2 minutes for a taste.

The rest of the documentary describes an elaborate sacrifice and shows a very hands-on approach to geometry. Perhaps even I would have liked maths, had anyone ever explained to me why I should bother in the first place!

Here's a song that just stuck with me, on Ganesha, the lord of the writers:

My seminar remains great fun, at least for me. We do a lot of close readings which might get stale at some point but so far, so good. At times, my students surprise me. Two weeks ago, for instance, each and every one of them had spent considerable time reading and analyzing portions of an Iranian novel (in English). It was a fun class, making up for times when I feel inadequate and like the rookie I am... like last Wednesday, when nobody had done the readings and I let them go early because I was tired of playing the MC, not the responsible thing to do.

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