Sacred Travels
Sacred Travels

Acts Of Faith
Journeys To Sacred India
By Makarand R Paranjape
Publisher: Hay House
Price: Rs 299
Pages: 229
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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 society."

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.

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Source: "The Speaking Tree," Times of India, 10 August 2012.

  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape