Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Indigenous Philosophies of the Himalayan Communities

Cosmic Worldviews
Bunty Mondal reports on the outcome of a national seminar on Himalayan communities (SNS)

A NATIONAL seminar on the “Indigenous Philosophies of the Himalayan Communities” took place on 8 and 9 May in the Don Bosco School, Malbasey, premises, located in the lap of the east Himalayas. Twenty-four scholars representing the 300-plus communities residing in these mountainous regions, constituting 18 per cent of the land mass and two per cent of India’s population, gathered in the company of 50 other participants to listen to research papers and test their own acquired indigenous knowledge.

Organised by the Salesian College, Sonada, in collaboration with the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, a Union human resource development ministry concern, the aim was to promote philosophical studies in the country. This first-of-a-kind seminar in Sikkim was also another first in its execution through a collaborative venture of two educational institutions – a college and an ICSE higher secondary school.

Besides the inaugural session, there were five sessions of two hours’ duration, during each of which four scholars presented their themes. The seminar was inaugurated by Rt Rev Bishop Stephen Lepcha, Bishop of Darjeeling, and the presidential address of the Vice-Chancellor of Sikkim University, Professor Mahendra P Lama, was read out by the finance officer of the university. The keynote address was delivered by Professor Mrinal Miri, former Vice-Chancellor of Nehu and director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla. The welcome addresses were delivered by Fr Tomy Augustine, SDB, rector, Salesian College, and Fr George Thirumalachalil, SDB, rector and principa,l Don Bosco School. The message from the member secretary of ICPR, Professor G Mishra, and the address by Fr George Thadathil, placing the seminar in context, brought to conclusion the inaugural session.

The research papers presented dwelt on the various communities, ranging from the Dogras in Jammu and Kashmir in the north-west, to the Wanchos of Arunachal Pradesh in the north-east. The focal discussion revolved around the hill communities of the Darjeeling-Sikkim region, among whom the prominent attention went to the Lepchas, the Rais and the Tamangs. The Nagas, the Adi and Tani group of Assam-Arunachal tribes also featured among the papers presented, their philosophies underlying the folklore, the myths, the arts and literature and how they all contain cosmic worldviews that predate the meta-cosmic religious outlooks was a recurring theme.

The discussions lead to the conclusion that these traditional perceptions contain a cosmo-theandric vision of reality that is compatible with every major religion, be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity or Islam. The religions that have made inroads into these communities over the past centuries have succeeded in varying degrees to appreciate their indigenous worldviews and have done service towards the preservation of their cultures. The Himalayan communities, in turn, situated as they are at the crossroads of two or more civilisations across the great divide of mountainous region, have acted as transmitters as well as preservers of distinct worldviews by promoting pluralism within their cultures, languages and religions.
The two-day seminar left a sense of satisfaction among the organisers, resource persons as well as participants. There were cultural insights into the art forms of the local communities provided through the dances performed by the local school children from in and around Soreng. The valedictory session saw the distribution of certificates and mementos, after the wise summations of the highlights of the seminar by Professor Mrinal Miri, Professor G Mishra, N Parthasarathy and Fr George Thadathil.

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