Buddhism came to him and changed his life. Later he moved towards Marxist Socialism and rejected the concepts of reincarnation and afterlife also. This he discovered in Tibetan translation from Tibet. He spent several years in the "Parsa Gadh" village in the Saran district in Bihar. While travelling, he mostly used surface transport, and he went to certain countries clandestinely; he entered Tibet as a Buddhist monk. He made several trips to Tibet and brought valuable paintings and Pali and Sanskrit manuscripts back to India.
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A human life viewed in retrospect is an odyssey of sorts, a journey through cultures, lives, relationships and environments. To use a little more decorative language, it can be said that every life is a story that walks on two legs : always exciting and never much of a bore!
Now zoom out that viewing lens a little bit and lets look at a town, then a village and lets go farther By the time a human being says goodbye to this World, he or she would have gone through a varied amount of experiences.
It is a multitude of stories and if we were to borrow a statement from that grand old Greek named Aristotle, then the sum of all these parts is greater than the whole of humanity. Rewind these stories to the dawn of mankind and your book of stories start overflowing. The whole idea of this book is to capture the march of humanity centered around Asia from the first group of hunter gatherer humans to the time of WWII.
The timeline as a whole is extremely ambitious and brimming with images and ideas. I am awed by Rahul Sankrityayan who was a tireless traveler in real life and came up with this collection while under incarceration for his participation in the Indian independence movement. This is not a single story but a collection of multiple vignettes over a gradually unfolding timeline from the time of the first Aryans who migrated from across the Volga till the Quit India movement.
The stories chart the rise of the present day societies which is to say that we see a gathering of humans moving from a matriarchal society to a patriarchal one, we see how sex slowly becomes a taboo subject, the rise of Vedic religions and Gods by suppressing or amalgamating with the pagan gods, how slavery becomes a norm, the first arms race, a consensus driven society becoming a monarchy and later an empire and so on as modern civilization takes root.
The Wikipedia entry for the author calls him a polymath and a polyglot and it is by no means an exaggeration for the degree of detail that he captures in these stories are nothing of short of amazing. It is no mean feat to pen your short stories across a vast landscape full of larger-than-life characters who have formed the idea of India across decades. At a later stage in his life, the author acquired Marxist socialist leanings which tend to rear up all too often in the final chapters of the book.
The societal and political unrest of the times are captured in the conversations between the main characters which towards the end tend to be entirely Marxist in nature. The chapters that deal with the time following the adoption of Vedic religions hold some of the most scathing criticism for the Brahmins and the Kings who keep the learned Brahmins as their counsel. Almost every chapter from this point on tends to go off on religion bashing and heaping criticism on organized religions.
There are the subtle Marxist comments on the oppression that the working class faces at the hands of the Kings, the landlords and later the British East India Company too. The last couple of chapters are not very soft on the Congress party and the ideals of Gandhi as part of the independence movement.
Needless to say, the final chapters appeared to be rather propaganda driven for such an amazing book. The fact that the publisher of this book is owned by the Communist Party Of India Marxist was also another curious point to note.
A truly one of a kind book and long since out of print. I was fortunate to have come across a Malayalam translation.
Books by Rahul Sankrityayan