From Panini to Derrida…the creation of knowledge continues

Whenever people talk of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge lodged in our ancient Indian texts and how we should all Sanskrit and read them to be a global knowledge power, I have retorted, “Our forefathers were great, not because they read the Upanishads, it is because they WROTE the Upanishads.”bhskara-ii-4

The other thing I want to tell them is that   the Vedas were already there. But someone took the trouble to write the Upanishads. They didn’t sit back and say, “Hey. You guys should read the Vedas. All the world’s knowledge is there!” Knowledge is never static. There is no last prophet or the last book that has all the knowledge. Knowledge has to be created anew, in every era.

panini_15335After Upanishads, Ramayana  and Mahabharata were written. Much later Panini wrote his ‘Astadhyaya’, Bharata Muni wrote ‘ Natya Shastra’, Abhinvagupta wrote ‘ Abhinavabhāratī’ and ‘ Tantraloka’, Patanjali wrote ‘ Yoga Sutra’ and Gotama wrote ‘ Nyaya Sutra’. Nagarjuna, Hemchandra, Gangesh Upadhyaya, Vachaspati Mishra and Udayana wrote their treatises on logic, Bhaskara II wrote ‘Siddhānta Shiromani’ and ‘ Bijaganita’. Sudraka wrore ‘ Mrichhakatika’, Visakhadutta wrote ‘Mudrarakshasa’, Kalidasa wrote ‘Abhignana Shakuntalam’, ‘Meghdoot’ and ‘Kumara Sambhava’, Jayadeva wrote ‘Gitagovinda’ and Kautilya wrote ‘ Arthashastra’.

What happened after that?

Nothing happened. New knowledge continued to be created. Great literature was created in Indian languages. Thiruvalluvar, Tukaram, Tulsi Das and Tagore wrote their poems. Premchand and Bibhuti Bhushan wrote their novels. And as per knowledge on science, cosmology, logic and mathematics goes, it continued to be created. May not be in India. So? Knowledge does not have geographic boundaries. If it is worth anything, people in any part of the world will absorb it and build on it  further. Newton’s Laws of Motion are not British. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is not German. Derrida’s Deconstruction is not French. Knowledge belongs to entire humanity.

So who are the rishis of modern times? A rishi does not have to grow a beard (Though many of the modern rishis do sport beards.) or have to wear orange robes. Today they don’t have to live in forests. They can live in universities where they can reflect, think and work with a single-minded focus. And they do.


So we have Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, Planck and  Hawkings. We have Freud, Jung and Darwin. We have Charles Babbage, George Boole and  Augustus De Morgan with their treatises on logic. Derrida,  Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Lévi-Strauss with their work on grammatology and ethnology; Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynarad Keynes, John Nash and others created seminal works on modern economics. As per literature the list is long…from Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Balzac to Neruda and Marquez.


The lack of creative output from India after roughly the eleventh century has been ascribed to the domination by Islamic invaders and British colonizers. But that’s not true at all. Amir Khushru , Bulle Shah, Meera and Tansen did their work under Islamic regimes. The most significant scientific work by Indians, works by  Jagdish Bose, Satyendranath Bose and CV Raman and the mathematics of Ramanujan were done during the British rule. No. The plain truth is our universities today are not the ideal place for modern-day rishis to reflect and create. (No wonder, we do not have a single university in the top 100, while countries like China, Japan and Singapore do.) We can work on it and maybe someday in future things will change.

Yes. Not too much of the modern knowledge creation is happening in India. But that is only the law of nature. The centre of creative excellence keeps shifting from epoch to epoch.  But as a part of the glorious human race, should we be worried? Not at all. All this treasure is for us enjoy and benefit from. Remember, it is stupid in the extreme to think of knowledge and wisdom in terms of geographic boundaries.

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