Acts Of Faith
Journeys To Sacred India
By Makarand R Paranjape
Publisher: Hay House
Price: Rs 299
Pages: 229 Buy Now !
I understood, "writes Makarand Paranjape, "for those who wished to explore spirituality
above all things else, India might naturally be the best place on earth." So saying,
he journeys into sacred India, in the next 299 pages.
The landscape that Paranjape explores is vast; it is the birthplace of many spiritual
traditions, a land of old tales, of older myths and beliefs that help form the sacred
geography of our country. He starts mapping his country through its myths and legends.
The tales of Shakuntala and Dushyanta, and Shiva’s search for Sati after she jumped
into the fire, may be well-known, but they are just as interesting in Paranjape’s
retellings, as are his accounts of Paul Brunton’s A Search In Secret India.
The start is promising but it takes some time for the sacred map to reveal itself
on the ground and provide a route for Paranajape to walk and tell his tale. When
he does so, he is in Arunachala, the place of Ramana Maharshi; and later in Gujarat
and the middle of the Svadhyaya movement. What follows is an eye-opener: in Veraval,
on the coast, the whole village gets together in investing in a communal fishing
trawler, whose produce is used by the poorest, in Shanti para the entire village
participates in repairing power lines, and recharging wells. "Svadhyaya is a unique
way of bringing people together, " writes Paranjape " …it brings about an inner
transformation…by emphasising the indwelling divinity in every human being, it gives
a message of hope and strength to the most despised and abandoned sections of our
Throughout the book, Paranjape has used a lot of literary, biographical and historical
information and some personal narrative, but for me the crucial point in the narrative
happens through a small incident in the book. A New Yorker wishing to know what
God means to the ordinary Indian stops his car on the way down from Mount Abu and
asks a farmer, "can you tell me what, for you, is the meaning of God?" The farmer
offers a fitting riposte: "Does he know what he is asking?" The American, with his
cockiness, picks up a clod of earth and declares, "This…is dead matter… if this
is earth, what is spirit?" The farmer gets emotional, "You call my Mother dead?"
In bypassing and almost ignoring the ideas of sacredness within the Indian mind,
Paranjape has ignored a vast territory; a territory so coded into our DNA that we
consecrate every stone, or tree around us with sacredness.
As the book progresses, the writing shifts from lucid, even engaging prose, to lengthy
chunks of biographical detail and information. After telling us about the life of
the founder of the Swaminarayan sect, Paranjape piles on details on such things
as numbers of male and female ascetics in some of their units, and the annual number
of volunteer hours in service. Sri Aurobindo, the Mother, their lives and work appear
almost at the end; for those not familiar, it’s an interesting introduction.
With a little deeper exploration into the mind of sacred India and a little further
walking through India’s sacred geography, this book would have read much better
than it does. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
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Source: "The Speaking Tree," Times of India, 10 August 2012.