At 91, Dr. Karan Singh is as devoted to politics as he is to scholarship, but editing the recent Shiva: Lord of the Cosmic Dance was for him an expression of a more personal piety.
Dr. Karan Singh; Photo by Chandradeep Kumar/India Today
Q Compared to other gods and goddesses, is Shiva an easier deity to theorize?
In some ways it was harder to theorize. Other gods fit right in with the Vedic pantheon, but Shiva was still the outsider. The way he dressed, smoked, ate was totally outward, totally beyond normal. Ultimately, I think what led to it being accepted was the fact that it was all-encompassing.
Q Given our strong Shaivism tradition, isn’t it strange that we do so little for those on the margins?
Yes, it is a national weakness. We never had enough empathy for the backlogs. It doesn’t matter if for the past 75 years we have tried to abolish poverty, Covid has pushed many crores back into lower income status. Even though it doesn’t have much to do with Shiva, he represents them too.
Q So, in a world ravaged by Covid and war, what is the relevance of Shiva, the god of death?
Shiva has two Tandavas. The first is Ananda Tandava, which sees him dancing in happiness and bringing the world to birth. His Vinasha Tandava, on the other hand, destroys everything. A nuclear war, for example, could do that. So all we can do is pray to him and say, “Please don’t ever shoot us with that arrow you’re holding.”
Q Finally, what role should religion play in politics, in your opinion?
Rather, we need to ask ourselves what role is it already playing. I like to find my answers in the global Vedantic philosophy. There are no exclusions here.