DA VINCI CODE HAS TOUCHED A NERVE
I enjoyed the runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code (DVC). I realize that it will have its critics. I take issue, however, with Sarita Sarvate’s comments (“Will the Da Vinci Code Mania Ever End?” India Currents, July 2006) about DVC being a sophomoric potboiler appealing primarily to New Agers. More than merely a mystery or puzzle, as Sarvate classifies it, this book delves into paganism, including goddess worship, and Gnosticism in an early Christian context.
Gnosticism (from the Greek gnosis, or knowledge, with roots similar to the Sanskrit jnanam) emphasizes contemplation, personal growth, reincarnation, and the complementary roles of male and female—similar to Shiva-Shakti, Radha-Krishna, and Ardhanareesvara concepts. Organized Christianity apparently expunged all positive references to the sacred feminine, and ruthlessly suppressed Gnosticism, which actually predated it. Gnosticism, like Sanatana Dharma, is non-invasive, and focuses on reaching the divinity within. It was probably closer to Christ’s own teachings.
Sarvate concludes that DVC was “a load of *$&#!” (how charming indeed!), and that “little of Dan Brown’s thesis was based in historical fact.”
In contrast, in Secrets of the Code, which analyzes much of the source material for DVC, prizewinning journalist and bestselling author Dan Burstein reviewed works covering a wide range of views of several historians, philosophers, and theologians. Burstein writes, “In a time of growing fundamentalism and religious extremism in the world, DVC highlights the diversity and ferment that existed in the Judeo-Christian world two thousand years ago … later suppressed by the anti-heresy campaigns of the church. It suggests that some of the pagan and Eastern ideas that found their way into eastern Mediterranean thought may have had value and validity. … DVC is an implicit critique of intolerance, of madness in the name of God, and of all those who believe there is only one true God, one true faith, and one true way to practice religious devotion.”
Assuming that DVC’s central premise that Jesus married Mary Magdalene is true, why should this diminish Christ’s teachings? Surely an incarnation could live a full human life during his advent on earth—including marriage and children—as in the Ramayana or Lava-Kusa? How better to teach us than by example?
Sarvate’s flippant language, such as her references to Jesus’s “romantic relationship” and to Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s “alleged lover” connotes disrespect. Such irreverence is on par with those who do not understand the allegorical significance of Krishna’s rasa leela dances with the gopis, or the symbolism of the Shiva lingam. Love between a devotee and the divine should not be degraded to human levels.
Finally, Sarvate should remember that the swastika has indeed long been an auspicious religious symbol—before Hitler abused it.
It has been reported that approximately 90 books touch on topics similar to those in DVC and are selling well in bookstores nationwide. Obviously DVC has touched a nerve, and readers are hungry for more information. DVC represents an idea whose time has come or, more aptly, reappeared.
The significance of this is unfortunately lost on Sarvate.
Malathi Ramji, via email
THE BIG CULPRITS
One time, in Madras, the chief minister made a big noise about cracking down on liquor suppliers. At the same time, the number of shops selling liquor began to multiply rapidly. It was soon an open secret that the CM had no problem with the hundreds of lorries owned by a liquor baron who was paying a daily cut. It was only the one or two lorries coming from “unlicensed” or “unknown” people that were caught and made an example of.
The same principle holds true for the American-Israeli “war on terror” in the Middle East. The bombs and missiles built by Lockheed Martin (with taxpayer money) and sent off from Seattle to Israel are somehow considered “good.” The Fajr missiles going from Iran to Hezbollah are “bad” and Iran is an evil country for supplying them. Ultimately, they are both missiles, they both do the same thing. If you define missiles and bombs as evil and those who supply them as aiding terrorism, then it applies equally to both the factories in Iran and the factories in Seattle. If bombs are bad, then they are bad in all circumstances, whether they are set off in trains or train stations or whether they are dropped from the sky. They do the same thing.
On a broadcast on C-span recorded on May 12, 2006, I saw an Italian speaker who said that 85 percent of the weapons in circulation were produced by the five nations of the UN Security Council. So these are the biggest terrorists: the mafia, the big dons of organized state-sponsored terrorism. The ones whom they want to focus on are the small guys, with a few missiles here and there. And they are so upset, not because of the terrorism, but because they don’t control them.
Arul Francis, Clayton, Calif.
WATER AND SRINGARAM
Ketu Katrak’s analysis (“Still Water Runs Deep,” India Currents, July 2006) is the mother of all stereotypes. She treats Water and Sringaram as one uniform unit.
To me, the two films are like chalk and cheese. Water was the exoticization of pain from the outside, the external. Sringaram was far more authentic and convincing, exploring the mind of a woman at every stage of her path from the inside, the internal. We in India know of several such stories of women and therefore, to us, the film rings true. But Water had many technical and narrative glitches like the characterizations of most of the women and the casting.
Also, Katrak preposterously puts the onus of the American viewer’s ignorance on the filmmakers. Isn’t it obvious that the films are period pieces? And Indians are melodramatic, Katrak. Take it or leave it, but we won’t apologize for it anymore to your school of linear feminism thought.
Vidya, via the Internet
WISHING THE BEST FOR THEIR CHILDREN
In her letter (India Currents, May 2006), Ranjani Vedanthan writes, “It’s disheartening to read how women themselves perpetuate gender discrimination and participate in pressuring their daughters, daughters-in-law, or even themselves to give birth to sons, not daughters.”
Actually, this apparent paradox is rather easy to explain. Most women don’t want their children to be their clones. In fact, they usually want their children to have a “better resume” at birth than they themselves had. Thus, it is not surprising that many Indian women prefer male children (or wish to have at least one son), many dark-complexioned women prefer light-complexioned children, many short women prefer tall children, and many Mexico-born women prefer to have U.S.-born children.
I think that these women are simply wishing the best for their children, and (indirectly) for themselves. They probably don’t need any advice or endorsement from well-meaning social architects.
Vijay Gupta, Cupertino, Calif.