‘The mature Gandhi who left South Africa...was a very different man from the callow youth who arrived there...He had become an ashram dweller... a political activist... dedicated to the cause of the lowliest Indians...had absolutely no relation to the ambition that drove him to South Africa twenty years earlier.’ ‘Gandhi travelled a long journey of non-violence from his days in South Africa to his death... As time went on, his concept of non-violence seemed to grow wider... various aspects of his spirituality such as renunciation, chastity, self-purification, and service coalesced more and more in his mind into one basic religiosity.’ ‘When Gandhi fell under the assassin’s bullets, his final words were “He Ram!” ...because his Hinduness was repeatedly doubted that Gandhi again and again proclaimed he was a sanatani Hindu, an eternal Hindu, rooted in the ancient tradition... The invocation of Ram on his lips as he breathed his last, was the ultimate sign of the justness of his claim. ’ ‘The principal threads of Gandhi’s religiosity, the result of the synthesis in his case is ... a large, bulky homespun woollen shawl...With its knots and unevenness, it feels at first rough to the touch; but soon we can experience how effective it is in warming cold and hungry limbs. It was by looking at his actions that we discovered under the homespun shawl a giant who in our age gave active witness to the reality of the divine.’
Described by Jawaharlal Nehru as a ‘Hindu to the depths of his innermost being Gandhi’s ideas on religion were an enigma to many Hindus in his lifetime. Allowing ’Gandhi to speak for himself’, this book sensitively resurrects the religious life of the Mahatma. It reveals how intrinsic his faith was to the man, his politics, and his idea of service. It shows how Gandhi formulated his own religious ethic, weaving his experiences with the teachings of the Gita and other texts. At times of anarchy and communal strife it was Gandhi’s belief in his convictions that restored peace and amity.
J.T.F. Jordens delineates the many strands that went into the framework of Gandhi’s religious thought. He chronologically traces the development of Gandhi’s ideas, from a young, confused youth to the Mahatma who upheld the moral superiority and social efficacy of service, renunciation, and ahimsa.
This biography, with an introduction by Ramachandra Guha, is a remarkable portrait of a man who lived his words, Based on extensive research, and written in elegant, understated, prose, this book is essential reading for scholars and students of modern India history, religious studies, and Gandhian studies. It will also interest the general reader seeking a deeper understanding of the greatest Indian of modern times.
J.T.F. Jordens established the first Department of Indian Studies in Australia at Melbourne University in 1961. He also served as the Dean of Australian National University from 1982 to 1988. Among his many writings are Dayananda Sarasvati: His Life and Ideas (1978) and Swami Shraddhananda: His Life and Causes (1981).
In or about the year 1980 - when I was a young doctoral student in sociology - I had an argument with the philosopher Ramchandra (Ramu) Gandhi about his grandfather's faith. I had always admired the Mahatma, but my secular-socialist self sought to rid him of the spiritual baggage which seemed unnecessary to his broader message. Could we not follow Gandhi in his empathy for the poor and his insistence on non-violence while rejecting the religious idiom in which his ideas were cloaked? Ramu Gandhi argued that the attempt to secularise Gandhi was mistaken. If you take the Mahatma's faith out of him, he told me, then Gandhi would not be the Mahatma. His religious beliefs were crucial to his political philosophy - in this res ect, the man was the message.
Gandhi was born a decade after the publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. This was a time of widespread scepticism among the educated classes in England and Europe, a sentiment captured in the title of Thomas Hardy's poem, 'God's Funeral'. But outside the continent, this was also a time of heightened missionary activity. In their new colonies in Africa and Asia, European priests sought to claim the heathen and the pagan for Christianity. In reaction, Hindus in India started missionary societies of their own, as in the Arya Samaj, which sought to make Hindus more unified in facing the challenges of [slam and Christianity.
The distinctiveness of Gandhi's faith was that it simultaneously rejected the atheism of the intellectuals as well as the proselytising of the missionaries. The home he grew up in was devout without being dogmatic. His mother, who was a profound early influence on him, was a Pranami, a member of a syncretic sect whose Hindu founder admired the Koran and is said to have visited Mecca. As a young adult, Gandhi learned the virtues of austerity and non- violence from his Jain preceptor Raychandbhai. His upbringing was ecumenical; so, too, was his personal orientation. He had close Muslim friends in school, and even closer Jewish and Parsi friends while working in South Africa. For most of his adult life his best friend was a practising Christian priest, Charles Freer Andrews. Through the 1980s, as I read more by Gandhi and more about Gandhi, I became persuaded that religion was central to the Mahatma's personal life and to his political practice. My change in orientation was not unconnected to the fall of the Berlin Wall, which had knocked a hole in my socialist beliefs (or pretensions); and to the rise of the Ayodhya movement, which had made more urgent the relevance of a Hinduism, such as Gandhi's, that was not intolerant of other faiths.
My conversion - if you could call it that - was hastened by the reading, in 1996, of a manuscript on Gandhi's religion by an Australian scholar called J. T. F. Jordens. It had been sent to me by the Indian branch of the Oxford University Press (OUP), who wanted my opinion as to whether they should publish it.
I read jordens's manuscript with attention and an increasing fascination. The scholarship was prodigious (and worn lightly); the prose elegant and understated. The author's approach was biographical as well as analytical. He knew the vast secondary material on Gandhi and Indian nationalism; and he had read, more than once, the ninety and more volumes of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Through his erudition (and industry), Jordens had located the evolution of Gandhi's religious thought in the context of the changing contours of his life as a whole.
Altogether, this was one of the best books I had read on Gandhi; a book, moreover, highly relevant to the India of the 1990s, when relations between religions had become almost as acrimonious as they were in the last years of the Mahatma's life. I strongly recommended publication; unfortunately, the author chose to place it with a British publisher instead. Printed in England and priced at eighty pounds, it was out of reach of Indian libraries, let alone individual Indians. So this magisterial study of Gandhi's religious thought remained largely unread in Gandhi's own homeland.
In 2006 I taught a course on Gandhi at Yale University. In that university's library I found a published copy ofJ. T .F. Jordens' s book; and read it again, to be as impressed as I was the first time. Now, whenever friends asked me for a short list of good books on Gandhi I always placedJordens's book in the first five. That it was still not read, or available, in India, continued to distress me.
Sometime in 2009, I ran into Robin JefIrey, an Australian political scientist who has himself written several very fine books on India. I praised J.T.F. Jordens's book to him. Professor JefIrey told me that the author, whom he had known well, had recently died. How could we (belatedly) get his book published in India, I asked? Professor JefIrey introduced me to the author's wife, Ann-Mari. Dozens of emails later, I had coerced OUP into bringing out an Indian edition, after Ann-Mari Jordens had - with even greater persistence - persuaded the original British publisher to relinquish Indian rights. Now, more than fifteen years after it was first submitted to the OUP, this superb study of Gandhi's religious ideas is finally available to Indian readers.
Joseph Teresa Florent Jordens, the author of Gandhi's Religion: A Homespun Shawl, was born in Belgium in 1925. He joined the Jesuit order after finishing high school. Later, he studied Sanskrit at the University of Louvain, writing a doctoral thesis on 'The Idea of the Divine in the Bhagavadgita'. In 1953, his doctorate in hand, he took a boat from Rotterdam to India. He spent several years in the subcontinent, studying Hindi and Sanskrit in Kolkata and Ranchi. He also played a great deal of football with his Indian friends; because of his tall frame, he was usually placed in the goal.
Befriending Hindus and Muslims led Jordens to rethink the idea of spending a lifetime as a Jesuit priest. He left the Order, and, recognizing that English - and scholarship in English - was the wave of the future, moved to Australia, taking up a job at Melbourne University, where he established a Department of Indian Studies in collaboration with Sibnarayan Ray, a Bengali writer and scholar known for his work on the revolutionary M.N. Roy. Jordens later moved to the Australian National University in Canberra, where he came under the influence of the great historian of ancient India, A.L. Basham.
In the 1970s, Jordens returned to India, to research and write the first rigorous, scholarly, life of the founder of the Arya Samaj, Dayananda Saraswati. His book drew on a wide range of source material in Hindi, English, Marathi and Gujarati. Combining biography and social history,Jordens traced the arc of Dayananda's life, from his early years in Kathiawar through his time studying with teachers in the Doab, to his subsequent founding of the Arya Samaj and his proselytising work in Bombay, the United Provinces, Rajputana, and, not least, the Punjab. The interplay between man and environment was fascinatingly sketched, the narrative exploring what Dayananda learned from the various places he lived in, and what he gave them in return. Dayananda's studies, teachings, writings and speeches were analysed in depth, the work of the reformer set against the background of the rapidly changing world oflate nineteenth century India.
Dayananda Saraswati: His Life and Ideas was published by OUP in 1978. Three years later the same publisher brought outJordens's next book, entitled Swami Shraddhananda: His Life and Causes. This explored the complicated career of one of Dayananda's most influential followers. Born Munshiram, this man overcame a youth spent in indolence and hedonism to emerge as a major leader of the Arya Samaj in North India. Munshiram founded a famous seminary, Gurukul Kangri, that turned out a stream of students who took the Samaj's message to the farthest corners of the land.
In 1917, at the age of sixty, Munshiram took sanyasand assumed the name Shraddhananda. He renounced his family, his office, and his possessions, but remained active in the workaday world. He joined the national movement and came into close touch with Gandhi, whom he admired, with reservations. Shraddhanada was also deeply committed to the abolition of untouchability, if somewhat less so to the Mahatma's platform of Hindu-Muslim unity. In the event, it was a Muslim fanatic who assassinated the Arya Samaj leader in 1926.
Jordens's career mirrors that of his close contemporary W.H. (Hew) McLeod, a New Zealander who came to the Punjab in the 1950s as a Christian missionary, but was instead converted to the study of Sikhism. His books on Sikh history and scripture are classics. Jordens and McLeod were both anticipated by Verrier Elwin, an Anglican priest who, after meeting Mahatma Gandhi, left the Church and became the foremost scholar of adivasi culture and religion. Coming to India as convinced Christians, these three men soon immersed themselves in the scholarly study of faiths rooted in India instead.
Through the research for his first two books, Jordens acquired a profound knowledge of the sacred texts of Hinduism, and of how they had been reshaped by their modern interpreters. Writing about the travels and struggles of Dayananda and Shraddhananda deepened his understanding of the geography and social structure of India. Notably, Dayananda, like Gandhi, was born and raised in ~thiawar. And, as Jordens remarked in an autobiographical essay, hIS book on Shraddhananda drew his research 'into the twentieth century, particularly the period in which the Indian National Congress developed. Overshadowing all was the giant figure of Mahatma Gandhi'.
Dayananda and Shraddhananda were both substantial figures; exploring their lives and causes was excellent training for the study of a Hindu social reformer who was even more radical and important than they.
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