Exploring the depths of Hinduism with Ambassador Pavan K Varma

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What are the origins of the religions we practice today? How did Hinduism emerge as a civilisation first, rather than as a religion? Such were the questions answered in the highly insightful session on The Great Hindu Civilisation: Achievement, Neglect, Bias and the Way Forward’ with Amb. Pavan K Varma on 21 November, 2021,  the second day of the Symbiosis Literary Festival.

Dr. Anita Patankar kicked off the event and mentioned how the motto for designing the event has always been having “conversations that matter.”

Professor Suchetana Banerjee, then, introduced Dr. Radhika Seshan, an author and retired Professor from the Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts. Dr. Seshan led the discussion with Amb. Varma by introducing the former Ambassador of India to Bhutan. An author and a diplomat, Amb. Varma has been the Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, also served as the advisor to the Chief Minister of Bihar as a former Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha.

Getting right into the conversation, Dr. Seshan started by asking a number of questions related to Amb. Varma’s book, ‘The Great Hindu Civilisation: Achievement, Neglect, Bias and the Way Forward’. As historians, the two panellists spoke about numerous things, like the link between Hinduism and Buddhism; the origins of Hinduism as a religion and a civilisation; relations to Sanskrit; and the involvement of the British Empire in the emergence of Hinduism and the nation.

Watching the two converse, the sheer richness of the knowledge shared had the audience enthralled. Amb. Varma emphasized on Hinduism being a civilisation and a way of life centuries before it was recognized as a religion. He described it as a ‘river of thought;’ with various offshoots as ‘tributaries,’ with Buddhism being an important tributary.  When asked about the relevance of such different communities within it, Amb. Varma established that Hinduism had always been very accommodative of diversity, and ‘culturally vibrant.’ He also added that the British did not ‘invent’ Hinduism as they may claim to have,  but merely discovered it by observing the people around them. Though Hindus did not refer to themselves as such for a long time,  they were united by practices, rituals, and ideas of divinity and spirituality.

The session was concluded with Dr. Seshan and Amb. Varma talking about the challenges faced by the Hindus in the modern world, and possible solutions as mentioned in the book, wherein Amb. Varma called them ‘Imperatives.’ The audience was left given a deep insight into religious origins and ancestries as residents of India.

By Janhavi Deshmukh

(Batch 2024)

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