Kavya Dosha Vivechana1
Theosophist, October, 1883
We have to thank Mr. Simeon Benjamin, the author, for a copy of his Kavya Dosha Vivechana, an exposition of faults in the Marathi poems taught in Government Schools. By Simeon Benjamin. Price seven annas. Can be had from the Author; House No. 26, Payadhooni, Bombay. This is an essay read by him before a meeting of the Arya Samaj, and subsequently republished by him at the request of its leaders. The work before us purports to point out the faults in Marathi poems taught in Government Vernacular and Anglo-Vernacular schools. The subject being of some importance, we shall, with the author’s permission, examine minutely his analysis of the poems. His main contention is that some of these verses being unfit to be taught to children, should be eliminated from the Government school text-books. It is therefore necessary to examine carefully his reason in support of the contention. The first verse he takes objection to, is in the Marathi primer, which reads:—
This he translates as meaning that if we were to laugh at the dumb, the blind and the cripple, we would ourselves become like them, &c., &c. Thereupon he argues the falsity of this teaching and shows how it frustrates the chief aim of bringing children to a correct mode of action and thought. When the children, he tells us, do actually laugh at such unfortunate creatures and find no such threatened retaliation, then they naturally lose all faith in, and regard for, such a teaching; and the principal object of giving them sound instruction is foiled. There would be a good deal of truth in this reasoning, were the verses to really mean what the above translation indicates. With every deference, however, to the profound learning and scholarship which the author seems to possess, we submit that the verse yields quite a different meaning, or, at least, another meaning might more appropriately be attached to the verse than the one given by the erudite author. May we not translate the poem in question to mean that we should assist the invalids therein mentioned, not because such an act would recoil on us by making us like them, but because we would in the end be the sufferers: and for the second consideration that, should such a misery befall us, we may find no sympathisers. Or may it not also mean that in case we should be the sufferers in that way, there would be no one to look up to, we having estranged the sympathies of good people by laughing and scoffing at the poor unfortunates when we were in good circumstances. This is not, of course, the literal translation: but neither is that of Mr. Benjamin. In our humble opinion, however, this interpretation is more warranted by the words of the poem than the other. Our first rendering would teach the doctrine of Karma, a scientific and axiomatic truth. The latter construction would be a check upon untrained minds from doing anything wrong. Where then lies the harm? The next verse to which objection is taken, is:—
This is interpreted in two different ways by the author. The first meaning, however, he sets aside. As to the second, he says, it is not fit to be taught to children, its meaning being:—”One who has no Vidya (knowledge) and is neither considerate nor moral (in the broadest sense of the term), should not be styled as Aho (you) but as Aray (thou) and reckoned among beasts.” We think, however, that the word Aho is not correctly rendered. It does not refer to the man “without learning,” &c., &c., since there is no such word as Aray in the verse to point the distinction as shown by the translator, and that it rather refers to the reader, or the person to whom the lines are made to refer. What the poet says is:—”Oh! You (addressing his readers)! What shall we call a man without learning, morals and consideration! Surely he ought to be classed with the brutes.” The exception taken by the critic thus falls to the ground, for there is no direct insult implied in the above application. The student is not advised to insult the man by calling him “thou,” but to avoid him rather, as one below the rank of average humanity. And we leave it to our readers to decide whether the advice to avoid a man without learning, morals and consideration (mark the italicized portion) is justifiable or not. The third verse, found fault with, is from the third book:—
In this poem, in talking of what is loosely termed God, the poet says:—”Thou who hast no beginning, no end, and no middle.” Our author is shocked at such a conception. The word middle has upset his ideas! We would however humbly enquire if an infinite something (and it must be infinite if it has no beginning and no end), according to Geometry, is divisible? If it is indivisible, it can have no middle. We beg to suggest to our learned author that if the Marathi poems under review are not meant to be taught only in sectarian, and purely theistic schools but are used in colleges where there may be as many Vedantins as Hindus of other denominations, and the term being perfectly applicable to Parabrahm, it has nothing either disrespectful or offensive in it; hence that it is quite fit to be taught to children. We might go on in this wise, and take exception to nearly every objection of the critic of the pamphlet before us; but we regret having neither the space nor time for it. The instances, however, here given are, we believe, sufficient to prove to the impartial reader that the fault lies more with the intolerance of the teacher, than the poems under his review. Mr. Benjamin tells us that these difficulties were not only experienced by himself, while a teacher in a Government School, but that they are complained of still, by many of his colleagues. If that be really the case, we are at one with him in advocating the elimination of all such verses from Government textbooks, rather than see a false interpretation placed upon them. If no one can be found to enter into the true spirit of the poet’s meaning and expound the real significance of his ethical stanzas for the instruction of the students, it is far better for all parties to be without them than to have erroneous ideas inculcated, and impressed upon young minds incapable of forming an independent judgment. The work before us has at the same time its objectionable feature in other poems left unmentioned by the critic. Some are positively indecent; such, for instance, as the description of Damayanti, a conversation between Rama and Sita when meeting alone in a forest, and going over their past days of bliss. Such descriptions of marital relations are not precisely the scenes to be impressed upon plastic and undeveloped minds. No language is too strong to condemn the disgraceful carelessness of the tutors who have permitted for years such reading to be left in the hands of their pupils without a protest. In this instance the Marathi-reading community is certainly under a grateful obligation to Mr. Benjamin for initiating this movement and laying a just complaint before the educational authorities. We also concur in his opinion that the poems relating to the struggle between Bheema and Duryodhana ought to be expunged from the school-texts, although my reasons are quite different from those advanced by the critic. Taking exception but to the dead-letter sense, he only deprecates an exhibition of cruel and brutal feelings between two cousins. Unfortunately, however, our Puranas are generally abused by “learned” critics without a proper understanding of the inner sense and the morality to be conveyed. If our readers will turn to the back pages of this Magazine, they will find the real meaning of the allegory of the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. If the former represent the higher (or spiritual) part of man and the latter the earthly (sensual), and if Krishna (the only manifested deity, the Logos in each man’s heart) is spoken of as being the adviser of the former in conquering and killing the latter, where then, we ask, is the “disgusting brutality” fathered upon that most sublime of poems, the Bhagavat Gita? We are not, however, at present concerned with metaphysics or philosophy. And, as we are agreed that the poems complained of should not be taught to children promiscuously, since on the one hand the teachers themselves are as yet unable to realize the profound significance and the philosophical spirit of some of them, and that, on the other, there are some really indecent stanzas among them, we conclude our somewhat lengthy review of Mr. Benjamin’s criticism with a hope that the proper authorities will lend an ear to his just complaint. We beg at the same time our learned author’s pardon for dwelling at length upon the points of disagreement between him and ourself, since the necessities of the case demanded the present action. On the whole, the book supplies a deficiency which was long being felt; and every credit is due to Mr. Benjamin for interesting himself in the welfare of a people who are not of his race. We would recommend it to every person who has a real and earnest desire to improve the educational standard of Marathi children. As a Maratha we sincerely thank the erudite author for his advocacy in behalf of our children.
1. An exposition of faults in the Marathi poems taught in Government Schools. By Simeon Benjamin. Price seven annas. Can be had from the Author; House No. 26, Payadhooni, Bombay.