Yes. But we ceased to laugh on the advent of Islam. That was a thousand years ago! It is time we learnt to laugh again. To laugh at, if need be. We have much to laugh at in our past.
Not everything of the past, says Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, calls for our reverence. There is much that is to be despised and discarded.
Humour and satire served the West to combat evil. We chose to laugh at it. Sanskrit is rich in humour and satire. They can be traced back to the Vedas.
But the Dhammapada asks: ?How can there be birth and laughter when the world is on fire? Good question. The world is indeed on fire. But only laughter can put out this fire. Not gloom.?
The West has a tragic vision of life. The Greeks chose to drown their sorrow in tragedy. Aristotle says: tragedy purges the soul of its passions. But life is a comedy to us. Why? Because we are thinkers first of all.
A comic tradition, however, cannot grow unless there is a tradition of free thinking. Fortunately, the Hindus civilisation is built on freedom of thought. The same cannot be said of either Christianity or Islam. They are closed to thought.
?The true end of satire,? says Dryden, is the ?amendment of vice.? To Johnson, the end was ?to censure wickedness and folly.? To Daniel Defoe, the end was ? the reformation of man.? And to Jonathan Swift, the greatest satirist, ? the chief end I propose to myself in all my labours is to vex the world than divert it.?
Bhartahari ripped apart our obsession with sex. He exposed the ? disgusting? aspects of the female of the species. And he ridiculed the poets who sang in praise of women.
Do you know, Dear Reader, that we used to make fun of our gods? In this we were like the Greeks. But how many of us are aware of this?
Gilbert Highet, an authority on humour and satire, writes: ?If you want to understand any age, you ought to read not only its heroic and philosophic books but also its comic and satirical books.? I believe Indian writers and academics of today know nothing of our comic tradition. Which is why I do not always accept what they write. They have given us a false picture of India.
Thus, Shiva has been an object of ridicule. He has also been an object of our reverence. And the caricature of Ganesh is truly laughable. And yet our gods were comforting and lovable. They kept us sane. We are not known for hubris.
Prof. Siegal of Hawaii University (USA), author of a book on Indian humour, writes: The presence of Shiva was far more comforting than that of a solemn Jesus?It was afterall the mirthfulness of Indian religion, the laughter of their gods in contrast to the gloom and sorrow of my own inheritance that had drawn me to India.? Like Max Mueller, he opened our eyes to the vast treasures of our hasya tradition.
Only Yahweh could have produced an Inquisition. And only an Allah could have produced the Taliban. A Sri Krishna could not. He was far too playful.
But we do make mistakes. They have to be corrected. If possible, through self-correction. Humour and satire can help. They are weapons of a free society. Let us see how it worked.
Kashmir was a centre of Hinduism and Buddhism. Kashmir produced the greatest satirist of India! ?Kuttani-mata? (Advice of a procuress) by Damodara Gupta was one of the earliest satires to appear in this country (779-813 AD). He was followed by Kshemendra, the greatest satirist of all. He wrote about forty books. They were all thrown into the Jhelum river on the orders of Sultan Sikander. Some of his works have survived. Samaya Matrika (Convention for Courtesans) followed the tradition of Damodara Gupta. Darpana Dalana (Crushing of Pride) denounced the vanity of people arising from lineage, wealth, learning, beauty and valour. In Kalavilasa, a merchant engages Muladeva, master of tricks, to teach his son tricks of trade. Kshemendra devotes an entire book to ridicule the Kayasthas, the corrupt officials of the king.
Among the great satirists, mention must be made of Dandin, Subandhu and Shudraka. In all 600 works were accounted in Sanskrit. But they were not translated.
The classic tradition died in the 12th Century. What followed were Prahasanas, written to entertain, the lower orders of society. ?The invasion by the Mohammedans in the 12th and 13th centuries sounded the death-knell of the already decaying Sanskrit drama,? writes Balwant Gargi, an authority on Indian theatre.
India'sgreat contribution to the theatre was the introduction of the ?Vidushaka?, the jester. He has become an integral part of the Indian theatre.
King Kalivatsala announced through beat of drums that vice had been made a virtue in his kingdom!
Humour and satire are weapons of a democracy. They correct misrule and excesses. It is a pity we have lost that tradition. Thanks to Islam. It is time to revive it. There is much to clean up in Hinduism.