Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Children of Nature - The Life and Legacy of Ramana Maharshi

Author:          Susan Visvanathan
Published:    2010
Publisher:     Roli Books Pvt. Ltd.
Paperback: 260 Pages 

Irrespective of what the subtitle suggests, this book is not a biography of Sri Ramana Maharshi.  It is an anthropological research work by the author who is a Professor in JNU, New Delhi.

She attempts to understand the role of spirituality and its social relevance. For this she has chosen as the subjects of her study - Sri Ramana Maharshi ( a spiritual master); his ashram (Sri Ramanasramam, which grew around him in his lifetime and continues to attract many sincere followers and devotees) and the Tiruvanamalai town where this ashram is located.
 However there is a personal angle to this book too.  
When she was towards the end of nine months of her pregnancy she was having some complications and  started feeling very frightened. Around this time one day an old gentleman appeared in her dream and smiled at her. That  smile was the most amazing one she had ever seen and after that the feeling of fear left her. She came through the last weeks of her dangerous pregnancy with tranquility. Few years later she recognized a photograph of Sri Ramana Maharshi  as being that of the gentle old man who had smiled at her. Then after few more years later (in 1996) she decided to pay visit to Sri Ramanasramam to research material for this book.

So using Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramanasramam and Tiruvannamalai town as primary example,  the book tries to analyze - to what extent a person's experience of the divine can be explained by social anthropology; what are the limits of interpretation; and how far is it possible to understand the interweaving of the sacred and the profane in the lives of ordinary human beings.

This book records author's several journeys to Sri Ramanasramam, and the things she saw and the people she met. It is both a travelogue as well as a sociological exercise. Sometimes the narrative is presented as journal entries, sometimes as sociological essay replete with jargon and sometimes as reminiscences and meditation.

I have to admit that I really could not grasp what the author is trying to say. Her conclusions of her research still remains a mystery to me ! Neither the narration of her personal experiences in Sri Ramanasramam kept me interested although I myself have been greatly inspired by life and philosophy of Sri Ramana Maharshi and have been a regular visitor to Sri Ramanasramam and also seen many of the people mentioned by the author in this book.

This book is definitely not for lay persons due to its abstruse, scholarly writing style replete with jargons. 
Neither this book will attract anthropology/ sociology scholars  since in my view the narrative being personal in nature loses the objectivity of an unbiased research.

Probably that's the reason why hardly after a year after its publication I found this book marked down at a throwaway price of Rs.99/- in the Landmark Bookshop,

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