Professor Danuta Stasik of Poland visits Ramayana Centre

Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

On last Wednesday evening the Ramayana Centre had the immense pleasure of welcoming Prof Danuta Stasik for a brief visit and exchange of views. She was here to participate in the World Hindi Day, and she was accompanied by Shri Gulshan Sooklall who is Deputy Secretary-General of the World Hindi Secretariat.

Danuta Stasik is Professor and Head of the Department of South Asian Studies, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland. During 1980-81, she was on a scholarship at the Central Institute of Hindi in New Delhi, where she completed a course of Advanced Diploma in Hindi. Continuing her studies at the Indology Department, Institute of Oriental Studies, University of Warsaw, she obtained her MA degree with a first class and distinction in 1984. In 1990 she was awarded a PhD degree for her thesis entitled ‘The Image of Culture Contact in Contemporary Hindi Literature’ (published in India in 1994 as ‘Out of India – Image of the West in Hindi Literature’).

Currently she teaches Hindi language and literature at the University of Warsaw. Her research interests include the Ramayana tradition in Hindi Literature, Rambhakti in North India and the Indian diaspora in the West (particularly as represented in Hindi writing). She has been a visiting scholar at Wolffson College, Cambridge, on several occasions, and has attended numerous international conferences on Hindi, Sanskrit/Related Studies and South Asian Studies either as participant or as member of organizing committees. In November 1993 she was presented the ‘Award for Excellence’ by the Indo-Polish Association in New Delhi, and in 1999 received the ‘Visva Hindi Sammaan’ for her contribution to research on Hindi language and literature on the occasion of the 6th World Hindi Conference, London.

It was a great honour indeed to meet such a distinguished scholar and expert on the Ramayana. Were present Shri Rajendra Arun, Chairman Ramayana Centre and Dr (Mrs) Arun who is herself a well-known Ramayana scholar, Shri Kreshan Gangoo Secretary, and Trustees Shri Hurrynag, Shri Ramjeet and myself. Danuta indicated briefly how, as a specialist in languages, she had taken an interest in Hindi and subsequently the Ramayana which led her to a better understanding of the culture of India in which Hindi was rooted. Indeed her depth of appreciation of and insight into Indian, especially Hindu culture, was a refreshing and sobering perspective to me, coming as it did from a non-Indian. She is clearly thoroughly knowledgeable about many facets of that culture, having been involved over so many years in its study and interacting both internationally and during visits to India with scholars and her hosts.

Continuing to speak in Hindi, she gave an overview of Hindi and Oriental Studies in Poland, pointing out that the Faculty had over 2000 staff and students, and courses were offered up to PhD level. Two other universities in Poland, namely Cracow and Poznan, also had similar Faculties. At the World Hindi Day held at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture, she had said that there was growing interest in Hindi Studies in Bulgaria and Romania as well. When we enquired about the reason for this phenomenon, she replied that in addition to wanting to open up to other cultures, the intelligentsia were conscious of the opportunities that globalization was opening up in South Asian countries. However, as she emphasized too, the initial thrust was more of a cultural rather than of a ‘business’ interest nature.

She gave the example of her students, who were Polish in their majority, and who were very searching in their exploration of the fundamental texts such as the Ramayana, and who sought to understand the concepts embodied in it and the specific episodes in the larger historical, spiritual and social traditions within which the story of Rama and Sita unfolded. It takes a profound grasp of Vedic culture to situate the human happenings in the context of dharma (righteousness) and of the three other pursuits (purusharthas) of the human being known as artha (worldly activity and material gain), kama (emotions and passions, including sexual desires) that, fulfilled according to dharma, leads the individual to moksha: release from the chain of rebirths. She felt that just as Gandhi while remaining rooted in his culture had been inspired by the Sermon on the Mount, so could her students be inspired by values enshrined in the Ramayana, and take a fresh look at their own values in light of their new knowledge.

Rama is regarded not only as a divine king but also as a ‘cultural hero’ precisely because he lived his life based strictly on the concept of purushartha, as an example to people at large that it was within their possibility to do so too. That fewer of us follow this ideal is a call to wake up rather than lamenting over our failure to live up to it! Those who would want to know more about the subject would find great reward in reading her book, The Infinite Story: The Past and Present of The Ramayanas in Hindi. As we were meeting in the library of the Ramayana Centre, it was very appropriate that she presented a dedicated copy of the book to the Chairman there.

We gave her a brief account of how the Ramayana Centre came to be established, and about our major project coming up namely the Rama Mandir. In exchange, the Chairman presented her with a copy of Ramayana in Parliament, which would give her a clearer idea, along with some other material. She was taken on a tour of the Learning Centre, including the hall on the first floor. She was told about the various activities being carried out and taken also to the ‘foundation’ – the kitchen in the basement, where she met the core team of devotee-ladies who work behind the scenes to support us. She had a pleasant talk with them too, and they looked forward to seeing her again in future.

This was our parting wish too, and certainly she will be kept informed of our programmes and activities, especially the major ones such as Tulsi Jayantee and international conferences that we hold. We look forward to her participation at the Ramayana Centre in future, depending of course on her availability because as an academician she has an extremely busy schedule.

As we say here, ce n’est qu’un au revoir, Danuta…

* Published in print edition on 13 January 2012

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