Book Reviews

Good and Evil: The Eternal Tangle

P C K Prem’s The Lord of Gods

P C K Prem is one of the brightest stars on the firmament of Indian English Literature. A renowned poet, novelist, short story writer and critic, Prem is revered as a literary giant by the fellow writers, critics and readers alike. He is venerated as a versatile artist, profound thinker and spiritual guide. But as always happens with passionate intellectuals, they are never satisfied with what they have achieved. Their insatiable hunger drives them to explore new vistas of learning, takes them onto the untrodden paths and enlighten the world in newer ways. Prem’s artistic conscience cannot rest with the numerous laurels he has already won. He must tread on still more difficult terrain and help man in evolving into a better being.

The Lord of Gods: Towards Indian Consciousness and Universal Oneness, in two volumes, is a remarkable work which takes Prem to enviable heights. Apparently, it might look anomalous for a literary writer to make a foray into religious or mythological texts or scriptures. But that would be erroneous comprehension of both literature and religion. In fact, the primary aim of religion is to put man on the right path by injecting him with the forceful doses of preaching to discriminate between right and wrong. Interestingly that is what literature is for. Most of the great literature paints in words a fight between good and evil, and it persuades man to shun the evil ways which would ultimately prove to be disastrous not only for himself but also for the entire human race. It always suggests that by following the good, he would evolve into a better human being and would thus serve Nature’s objective.

Unfortunately, religion in the hands of selfish and fake elements has been grossly misused and abused and has been reduced to mere ritualism, and the true meaning of religion has been completely lost on the people.

Prem’s emphasis, therefore, in interpreting these ancient tales of Srimad Bhagawata Mahapurana in the modern context is to bring out their deep spiritual, psychological and philosophical truths which have stood the test of time and are universal in character. Man, living in the chaotic world of today, drifting from nowhere to nowhere, can learn a lot from the moral lessons of these poignant ancient tales and find a new direction for his directionless life.

The Lord of Gods presents a fascinating study of the forces of good and evil. The sages and scholars of the ancient times too were very well aware of the DNA of the human race, and the good and the evil, both existing simultaneously and prominently in their midst. The society of the ancient times, as presented in The Lord of Gods, can be broadly divided into three sections: gods represent the angelic forces, demons the evil, and the common people who were neither here nor there. They were not concerned with ethics or morality; they were with those who fed them and provided them with the necessities of life. They would shout slogans and die for either, like they do today. In fact, it seems they never mattered. They were like slaves who were traded at the will of the lords, were supposed to give blind devotion to their lords, and were not expected to ask the Why questions. Today too nothing has changed. Millions of migrant workers walking thousands of kilometers on foot to reach their homes, starving and dying on the way, during the lockdown of this pandemic was a spectacle to be seen. Except for a few dramatic scenes, nobody from the higher echelons of the society cared for them.

The classic example of the treatment of the common people from the ancient  literature occurs in the Mahabharata where Lord Krishna who himself is on the side of the Pandavas, dedicates  all his forces to the Kauravas to be annihilated by the Pandava warriors. In fact, history of the human race has centered only on the nobility, kings and queens, and the ordinary people have been driven by them like the dumb cattle.

It is, however, interesting to watch the existential drama played between the two warring forces of good and evil, both belonging to the ruling elite. Angels and gods are as insecure in that world as the demons. Both pray to God, the Lord of gods, Vishnu, and get amazing boons as well as armaments. God is apparently impartial because whosoever undertakes to do very arduous and painstaking ‘tapa’ and penance to propitiate Him, He obliges him and gives him all the boons sought by him. But it is a tricky business. God gives boons to the demons too no doubt, but very cleverly provides safeguards. Demons are very powerful and get stronger and more ferocious through the boons granted by God. The angels or gods who represent good forces feel threatened by the demons and run to God for protection. Strangely enough, good forces were always weak, as is the case today all over the world. Wicked people are always able to manipulate the entire system to their advantage while good forces can only watch helplessly or run to the temples to pray to God.

In The Lord of Gods too Prem’s stories present an unflattering picture of the good forces. Whenever the demon kings become dangerously powerful, angels helplessly approach God and pray to Him to protect them. What a pity! God is amused by their feeling of insecurity. As He is omnipotent and omniscient and has deliberately phrased His boons in an artful way so that He could interfere whenever the demons with the boons go berserk, beyond the tolerable limit of evil. Powerful demons like Hirayanyaksa, Hiranyakasipu, Vyoma or Yavana who think they are invincible and create havoc in the social order could only be defeated and destroyed by God Himself. In order to eliminate the evil that could bring about total chaos in the world God chooses to come to the earth from His heavenly abode in strange forms, like a Boar avatar or Vaman avatar. Whatever be the form, He descends from heaven in some incognito avatar and destroys the demon who has become a symbol of the overriding evil. It is God’s job to create a semblance of normalcy whenever evil forces start dominating or overshooting. After all it is His creation, and He is responsible for its proper and smooth functioning. At the same time, it is very interesting to watch this whole drama of the opposing forces being fought on the earth, sea and the skies.

‘Churning of the Ocean’ is a classic example where the demons have to be tricked into parting with the pot of nectar or they would become immortal and invincible. ‘Saam, daam, dand, bhed’, the phrase that has been so notoriously used in today’s polity, was adopted by the angels and gods too to befool and defeat the demons even in those ancient times. Nothing has changed. Man remains the same. Where is the evolution?

In ancient literature gods and angels, God Himself too, participated in the human affairs, and it was given to understand that whenever things went wrong beyond a point, God Himself came on the earth in some form or avatar and destroyed the evil forces. In ancient Greek literature too, gods were actively involved in all the major wars of the humans. In India it is still the common belief that whenever evil exceeds the permissible limit (What is the permissible limit? nobody can define), God would descend on the earth in a new ‘avatar’ and annihilate the forces of evil. The concept of Messiah is also derived from this traditional belief, and it is so attractive to the common people that they live their hopeless lives with faith and hope. It also gives them an escape route from their duty of fighting and resisting the evil forces. Consequences are disastrous. Too much of religiosity and blind faith in India continues to cloud the eyes and minds of the people, and hence they always find hope in traditional myths. In Europe, with the advent of science, and cultivation of scientific temper, through Renaissance, things changed a lot. Shakespeare too, in his great tragedies, confronted the inexplicable question of good and evil, but with the minimum interference from the supernatural forces.

But today’s enlightened thinkers go even beyond Shakespeare’s analysis. If God created the universe, why should He create evil at all? If He wants and supports goodness in the world, why should He create so much evil or why should He allow evil to flourish at all? Why should He put man in a quandary all the time? Why should man be subjected to such a horrendous task of fighting the ever-growing menace of evil? God can’t be so callous and indifferent to the sufferings of the human race at the hands of evil forces!

However, in India we still go by the Bhakti cult, and most of the people still believe that God will come down on the earth to cut the evil to size. They are always waiting for an avatar to happen. This way they just escape the responsibility of fighting the evil forces. When the evil is becoming more powerful by the day, they talk indifferently about it and quote an escapist refrain: the pitcher is not yet full.

In the ancient literature you find gods or angels asserting themselves or exhorting God to intervene on their behalf. There was some agency more powerful than the evil forces who would create a congenial atmosphere for the good forces. In the present day, good forces, unable to assert because Bhakti myths have made them passive, either hide themselves in their holes or tempted by the glamour of the evil join the evil forces. Thus, there is hardly any resistance to the flourish of the evil. Even the so-called saviors, who mushroom in the name of gurus and claim themselves as the incarnations of God, have proved to be the fulcrum of the evil forces. They exploit the faith of the common people and indirectly serve the purpose of the evil forces.

In this gloomy situation where darkness abounds, good forces devise ways and means to justify their inertness and escapism. Meditation these days has become a fad and promises peace and inner happiness to the practitioner. Exploration of the self by going within is nothing but turning away, ostrich-like, from the bitter reality. Another popular propaganda of the management gurus dictates people to be positive, look at the positive side, even when nothing positive is visible to the people. They ask you to see the bright moonlight on the ‘amavas’ night.

In The Lord of Gods, Prem presents the angelic forces always trying to wipe out the evil forces through an omnipotent force. Symbolically the lesson that man should learn from these ancient tales is that you just cannot wish away the evil. If, therefore, the good forces want goodness to survive, they must assert themselves by making themselves more powerful than the evil forces. Not an easy task. A lot of sacrifice, strong will-power, courage and fighting spirit along with skillful, intelligent handling of the evil forces will be required to overcome and defeat the all-prevailing evil. Gandhi did that. He showed the way how you could manage even the worst situations.

Wake up, good forces! Tremendous responsibility on your shoulders. Save the world. Divine task.


More by :  Dr. O.P. Arora

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