By Tej N Dhar
The Hidden Glory of India, Steven J Rosen; Mumbai: Jaico Publishing House, Pp 191(PB), Rs 395.00
In the 1950s, Walther Eidlitz wrote in his Unknown India that the hidden glory of India lies neither in its exotic land nor its Hinduism, but in Vaishnavism. Inspired by this, Steven Rosen writes almost a mini encyclopedia on Vaishnavism and calls his book The Hidden Glory of India. Vaishnavism is hidden because though more than 70% of the people of India are Vaishnavites, this fact is hardly known outside the country. Contrary to what people know about Hinduism, especially in the West, Vaishnavism is monotheistic, with a personalized view of God, in which God Krishna is the supreme Lord, the father of all that lives. The credit for popularizing it in the West goes to Swami Prabhupada. In India it is associated mainly with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is revered as an incarnation of Krishna.
Rosen states that India is a spiritual hub of the world, for it not only gave birth to several religions, but also adopted almost every other religion of the world. Vaishnavism is the religion of a significant part of Indian population and its most famous text is The Shrimad Bhagvatam or Bhagvat Purana, which has been widely commented upon in India. Rosen explains the main themes of Vaishnavism, its religious and political thought, the main teachings of Bhagvat Gita, its well known commentaries, the importance of Valmiki’s Ramayana and its various retellings.
Rosen writes extensively about the systematization of Vaishnava tradition in south India by the Alvars and its roots in the Bhakti movement of north India. He also writes about Shankara, the great Acharayas of Vaishnavism, such as Ramanuja, Madhava, and Shri Chaitanaya, God Sri Krishna, his numerous expansions in Vishnu avatars, and other kinds of avatars for completing different missions: matysa, kurma, Varaha, Nrisimha, Vamana, Parsuram, and others. Rosen also has chapters on goddesses, such as Durga, Parvati, Radha, and all other Hindu gods, who are only half gods or demigods in Vaishnavism, such as Shiva, Ganesh, Brahma, Saraswati, Hanuman, and many others.
Rosen also provides short descriptions of the Vedic cosmology, of the four yugas, the theory of karma and reincarnation and also details about the life and teachings of Chaitanya, the goswamis, the concept of devotional love, the holy land of Braj, the places associated with Vaishnavism, such as Navadip, Mayapur, Jagganathpuri, and its famous chariot festival. We also get short chapters on art, poetry, drama, music associated with Vaisnavism, and its known devotees, including the work of Shrila Prabhupada, its connection with yoga, meditation, yantra, idols, deities, vegetarianism, ayurveda, and much more.
Written in crisp and clear English, on glossy paper, with beautiful coloured pictures on every page about every single thing associated with Vaishnavism, Rosen’s book is a real visual treat, and contains everything that one wishes to know about Vaishnavism. It should be of interest to Viashnavites and non-Vaishnavites, too.
(Jaico Publishing House, A-2, Jash Chambers, 7-A, Sir Phirozshah Mehta Road, Fort, Mumbai- 400 001, website-www.jaicobooks.com, email: jaicobooks.com)