International Journal of Tantric Studies

New Titles

Il Monoteismo Hindu. La storia, i testi, le scuole

By F. Squarcini, C. Bartoli
with a Foreword by A. L. Basham

Pisa: Pacini, 1997

ISBN: 88-77-81-193-5, Pp. 191, ITL 29,000

Review by Paolo Magnone, August 1st, 1998

Under the auspices of the fabulous Churning of the Milk Ocean chosen as ouverture, the A.s set out to their quest for the quintessential principle of transcendental unity buried deep at the root of the wondrous proliferation of spiritual icons and paraphernalia first confronting the naif Indian enthusiast. And as the amRta emerging after many prodiges is held forth by the divine healer Dhanvantari (in the particular version chosen by the A.s) so is the unity principle they are seeking incarnated in a specific (i.e.: VaiSNava) expression of Hindu theism, or, as they dare say, albeit with a cautionary hyphen: mono-theism.

The discussion of the subject proper, i. e. VaiSNava theology, is prefaced by some considerations on the inevitable impact of the indological interpretative codes on the research matter. In the process of cultural translation the subject is invested, as it were, by methaphors entailing a semantic accretion which consistently modifies the subject itself. A good example in point is the notion of dharma: often translated by Western indologists as "religion", it has ended up with transforming by a sort of feedback the self-awareness of (some) Indians, who now perceive their own dhArmikatva as "religiousness". This is not necessarily obnoxious, from the A.s' viewpoint, which is also the viewpoint of intercultural (interconfessional) dialogue. The impact of the

cultural methaphors causes "salutary microfractures and chinks that if viewed from a stand of reciprocal hospitality may foster a useful and constructive osmosis of knowledge". Accordingly, the A.s' avowed aim has not been to discard insofar as possible the indological constructs for the thing itself, but to temper them with the indigenous traditional voices and make the best of both worlds to reach the utmost understanding.

In this frame, chapter 2 is devoted to a quick excursus of the history of indology, while chapter 3 comes to grips with the well-known problem of the elusiveness of the concept of Hinduism. Between the opposites of those who hail it as the genuine unitary expression of a great time-honoured tradition rooted in the sacred Veda, and those who regard it as a mere artifact of recent times, that could be best dispensed with in favour of the more definite notions of the different saMpradAya-s, a middle way is opened up by the so-called polythetic-prototype approach, according to which the concept of Hinduism is neither entirely arbitrary, nor altogether monolithic: rather, it admits degrees of applicability according as its subject are 'prototypical' to a greater or lesser extent. (Disguised in a fashionable garb here goes again, methinks, the venerable Aristotelian doctrine of analogy as a middle term between equivocity and univocity).

Similar considerations are brought to bear on VaiSNavism in chapter 4: to draw a coherent picture of the VaiSNava world as a whole may very well be a helpless task, still a deep rooted affinity centered on some pivotal motifs is unmistakably perceived beyond all differences of the several traditions. Such affinity is primarily rooted in the common scriptural knowledge, handed down in various ways but apauruSeya in origin. This knowledge, though, can only be accessed through practice of spiritual discipline, and particularly through bhakti, which the A.s envisage as the foremost of the "exegetical means".

The next chapters finally delve into the subject proper by discussing the historical development of VaiSNavism from the Vedic sources (ch. 5) through the epic period (ch. 6) to the medieval schools (ch. 7), while chapter 8 is devoted to a presentation of the literary sources. By way of epilogue, the A.s remark on the frequent surfacing of a dicotomy between scholarly and traditional views in the foregoing pages, concluding that for all its conservatism, tradition is not opposed to reason, hence to reasonable innovation, as is testified by the multifaceted developments of VaiSNavism itself; and it is exactly the dialogic interaction between the insider's experience and the symphatetic outsider's criticism that can best contribute to the continuous vitality of tradition.

The book is very well documented by an extensive bibliography and hundreds of references -- even too much so: hardly ever do the A.s venture an assert of their own without deferring the responsibility for it on the standard Indological textbooks which are called to witness over and over again. This makes for awkward reading, as well as for a certain patchwork impression, where the most diverse pieces of indological thought are (sometimes hazardously) brought together to serve the overall design meant by the A.s. The A.s' reliance on secundary literature may also rest on some degree of uneasiness with the primary sources, as is betrayed by occasional misunderstandings of Sanskrit texts1, confusions of grammatical gender2, miscompliance with the standard convention for the quotation of Sanskrit terms3 or other minor slips seemingly originated by linguistic unawareness4. But on the whole the book fulfils the A.s' purpose of building a fresh opportunity of dialogue by bringing together the different voices of the devotee and the researcher in the interest of mutual understanding.


  1. E.g. on p. 52 the expression pauruSeya-zabdApramaNakatve quoted from Das Gupta quoting VyAsa TIrtha does not 'describe the concept' of apauruSeya nature. As Das Gupta's complete quotation runs, pauruSeya- zabdApramANakatve sati sapramANakatvAt constitutes an argument for the eternity of the Veda, on account of its being a valid means of knowledge (sapramANakatvAt) though not deriving its validity from human authority (pauruSeya-zabdApramANakatve sati). Incidentally, this apauruSeya nature does not pertain to the ('le' pl.) zruti, the smRti and the vedAnta darzana, as the A.s say, but exclusively to the Veda. On p. 55 the passage ataH zrI-kRSNa-nAmAdi / na bhaved grAhyam indriyaiH /sevonmukhe hi jIhvAdau / svayam eva sphuraty adaH is boldly rendered (between quotes) "as long as one abides in duality, in the dimension of the senses, the empirical or intuitive comprehension of the supreme God cannot be obtained".

  2. E.g. 'le' (f.) itihAsa (p. 46 and passim); 'i' (m.) devatA (p. 61 and passim).

  3. Case forms are sometimes quoted instead of stems (e.g. p. 88 bhaktaH, anugraham, sAdhakaH; p. 53 'i' (pl.) loka- pAlaH); or saMdhi instead of pause forms (e.g. p. 131 divya-vAcA presumably N. pl.); or according to non-standard transliteration systems (e.g. p. 82 satyavachanam).

  4. E.g. on page 89 is mentioned the "constellation nakSatra zravana"; on page 82 the sequence "dAnaM, tapa, Arjavam, ahiMsA, satyam" is glossed as "charitable, austere, righteous, non-violent, truthful".

An Exhibition on Cosmic Order and Cycle of Seasons (Jan 4 - Mar 30 1966)

New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), 1996

Pp. 95

Review by Paolo Magnone, August 1st, 1998

This is the catalogue of the fifth of a series of IGNCA exhibitions aimed, in the A.s' own words, at "viewing fundamental concepts on universal themes that cut across diverse cultures", following upon the preceding presentations devoted to kha, AkAra, kAla and prakRti.

After tracing the origin of the Indian concept of Rta to the Rg Veda and sweepingly equating it with the principles of Chinese tao, Islamic haqq, Greek logos and Buddhist dhamma, the booklet goes on to expose its reflexes in the different domains of Cosmic Order, Cycle of Life, Spatial Order, Moral Order, Ritu Cakra and Eternal Recurrence, which make up individual chapters due to the pens of different authors.

The accent is aptly laid on pattern, rhythm and rite as expression of spatial, temporal and social order, lavishly illustrated by photographs and drawings revealing the hidden symmetry underlying apparent asymmetry in phaenomena, or, to put it in Jung's words as quoted by one author, the cosmos hidden in all chaos. The whole is interspersed with numerous quotations both from Oriental and Occidental sources, building up a sort of polyphonic hymn to Universal Order, as was the original purport of the exhibition.

It might be doubted, however, whether all the voices enlisted do indeed sing in tune. Not to mention minor flaws (such as the unintelligible quotation of Empedocles's fragment from Aristotle's Rhethorich (sic) at p. 8), one instance strikes the eye. At p. 63 the well-known drawing Homo ad circulum by Leonard (after Vitruvius), embodying the Renaissance ideal of man as centre of the universe and measure of all things, has been made to serve anonimously as "an artist's visualisation of the fragmented man", as the caption runs. This is the major problem with many such well-meaning transcultural approaches, that in their craving for unity they only too often fall short of even realizing what actual cultural differences there are.

But on the whole the catalogue is nicely laid out and makes agreeable, and sometimes inspiring reading for the intended audience.

Aforismi dello Yoga (YogasUtra)

By Patanjali, transl. by Paolo Magnone

Torino: Promolibri, 1991

Pp. 183, ITL 24,000

Review by Enrica Garzilli, August 1st, 1998

This is an accurate translation into Italian of the famous PataJjali's YogasUtras. The book includes an introduction, the traditional division into four chapters of the original text, and an appendix with the notes on the present translation.

The first main quality of this translation is the translation itself which is literal, and yet perfectly understandable, without the usual neologisms and (pseudo-) sophistications of many Italian translations of other texts (that compelled the reader's mind to bothering twistings). Each verse is transcribed into Roman letters and then translated into plain, yet elegant Italian.

The second main quality is the unusual choice of translating the commentary RajamArtaNDa of the king Bhoja (11st cent.), which accompanies each verse. In fact, the text has been largely translated into many languages, including Italian (by C. Pensa in 1978), with the commentary of VyAsa. There are two other translations into English of Bhoja's commentary, both of the last century and somehow incomplete (by J. R. Ballantyne and G. Z. Deva in 1852-1868, and by R. Mitra in 1883).

After Bhoja's commentary, Magnone has added an original "sub-commentary" which has been composed by the A. himself "according to the Indian tradition and in the spirit of king Bhoja himself, freely rephrasing the thought, resorting, according to the need, to other commentators, making a synthesis and adding any information which is useful to improve the clarity of the text" (editor's trasl.). This sub-commentary has been composed having in mind all the main Sanskrit commentaries of the text.

Our regret is that Magnone's book can be used by a limited number of scholars and general readers - - only who knows Italian well enough to appreciate it. Moreover, the book itself has not been duly distributed and promoted by the publisher, and I happened to know it only when the Author himself donated a copy to me.

Brahmins of Nepal

By Prakash Raj

Kathmandu: Nabeen Publications, 1996

Pp. 47. Price: Nep. Rs 100, Ind. Rs. 70

Review by Enrica Garzilli, August 1st, 1998

This booklet provides useful information on one of the most important ethnic groups in Nepal, which has given not only Hindu priests and Sanskrit scholars, but also most of Nepal's communist leaders. There are only a few books written about this caste. The Author himself belongs to it: his gran-father, Hemraj Sarma, was the royal teacher. He also was an excellent Sanskrit scholar to whom all the European and Asian scholars of the first half of the century abundantly resorted in order to have rare manuscripts, rare books, scholarly information and suggestions, and intercessions near the King. He also donated his collection of some 6,000 manuscripts to the Royal library, now public library, in Kathmandu.

The publication is divided into short chapters: Brahmins of Nepal, Geographical Distribution, Origin of Brahmins of Nepal, Hill Brahmnins and Terai Brahmins, Rituals Associated with Brahmins, Festival Celebrated, Contribution and Role in the National Integration of Nepal. It also includes six appendices on surnames and districtwide census of brahmins, a glossary of the main Nepali words referring to brahmins, and a bibliography.

This booklet is a precious source for the study of social history of Nepal, and of one of the most scholarly proficuous ethnic groups of South Asia.

Mongolian Portrait - Land of Big Skies

A photographic essay by Andrew Pax

Plymouth, Vermont: Five Corners Publications Ldt., 1996

ISBN: 1-886699-03-8. Pp. 60

Review by Enrica Garzilli, August 1st, 1998

This photographic essay gives the usual excellent photos with an excellent graphic realization on an excellent glossy paper os any other book of this kind. The subject of the essay is quite different from the other travel photographic books though, since the Mongolian traditional culture, like the Tibetan traditional culture, has been almost destroyed by the Soviet governement. The country has been reopened only in 1989. As explained below a photo at p. 9, by 1990 there was one active (Buddhist) monastery with only 110 monks. The Author reports that, according to Mongolian friends, 30,000 to 40,000 monks were killed by the Communists.

Therefore, welcome to the "usual" excellent photographic book on Mongolia.