February 19, 2011

Cultural Ecocide and It's Threat to Vedic Wisdom

The rapid loss of India’s great storehouse of wisdom, passed down for thousands of years via carefully copied manuscripts, is of great concern, both within India and abroad.

In January 2011 at the Jaipur Literary Festival, noted Prof. Sheldon Pollock, a renowned scholar of Sanskrit and Indian literary history and general editor of Harvard’s Murty Classical Library, warned that in literary terms, India is on the verge of what he termed a potentially cataclysmic cultural ecocide.

Giving the keynote address he said, It is now entirely legitimate to ask, if within two generations there will be anyone in India who will have the capacity of reading Indian literature produced before 1800. I have a feeling that that number is slowly approaching a statistical zero.’

Of India’s ancient languages, it is only classic Sanskrit that is not endangered. Prof. Pollock’s concern is over the loss of the treasury of literature that already exists and has been preserved over thousands of years. The scholar, who teaches at Columbia University, says he has become gravely concerned over 40 years of coming and going from India.

"Over the 35 or 40 years coming to India…it’s been the same in classical Assamese, it’s the same in Bangla, it’s the same in Gujarati, Marathi, Oriya and all the way down the long list," he said.

Srila Prabhupada expressed the same sentiments in 1972 when he instructed his disciples to go to Birnagar, the birthplace of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and photograph the original writings of the Thakura.

Srila Prabhupada with Lalita Prasada Thakura, Guru dasa, Shyamasundara in Bir Nagar in 1972:
[To: Acyutananda-12 June, 1972] 
I have asked Yadubara to come there to Birnagar from Bombay for photographing all of the manuscripts in the possession of Lalita Prashad Thakura page by page very completely before it is too late. The pages are in very decrepit condition, so best thing is to request Lalita Prashad if we may take care of them by treating them against insects and storing them in a tight, dry storage place where they may be preserved for future generations of Vaisnavas to see the actual handwriting and words of such great saintly persons. 
Treat this matter very seriously and thoroughly, and take all precautions to protect this wonderful boon of literatures forever. Yadubara may photograph every page, never mind Bengali or English or any other language, and later we shall see where to send the copies to different places.
These statements have provided our inspiration to try our humble best to protect our Vaisnava heritage for future generations.

Srila Prabhupad with Lalita Prasad Thakur (left) and disciples