Daya Krishna and Twentieth-Century Indian Philosophy: A New Way of Thinking about Art, Freedom, and Knowledge


In his book, Daya Krishna and Twentieth-Century Indian Philosophy: A New Way of Thinking about Art, Freedom, and Knowledge, Daniel Raveh paints a fascinating account of the life and works of Daya Krishna, one of the most prominent philosophers of 20th-century India. The book projects Daya Krishna as the foremost thinker on art, freedom, and knowledge, and it ventures into the philosophical debates of a decolonized world. Nonetheless, the book does not circumscribe itself in setting the biographical narratives; instead, it successfully unfolds the horizons of late 20th-century Indian philosophy. The most promising thing about the book is that it successfully creates lively dialogues with Daya Krishna’s philosophical contemporaries and gives enough space to their dissents and agreements with his ideas. Daniel Raveh's attempt to encapsulate the different shades of Daya Krishna's life as a true academician and philosopher par excellence can be an engrossing read to those interested in finding something new in comparative Indian philosophy.

The book presents unexplored pathways into the study of world philosophies. It is part of a series launched by Bloomsbury to accommodate cross-cultural philosophizing and maintain philosophical plurality. Raveh begins with a detailed introduction that provides a detailed plan of the book and his own methodologies for unravelling the intriguing aspects of Daya Krishna's versatile writings. While concluding the introduction, the author notes that this monograph is open-ended and full of questions, in tune with Daya Krishna's own approach. The author has laid emphasis on distinguishing this work from becoming historical, as evident in his own words: “I am not writing in the past tense. It is a philosophical inquiry in the present tense.”

This monographical work has been divided into four interlinked chapters that present the work of Daya Krishna very lucidly to readers. The first chapter, “Toward a New Picture of Indian Philosophy,” focuses on Daya Krishna's critique of conventional Indian philosophy. Daya Krishna's works set a new trend in philosophical writings, which were more inclusive and provided more alternatives. He is not among those in favour of the rigid classification of Indian philosophy. Advocating multivocality, Daya Krishna creates space for the unheard voices and thus strives to release the history of Indian philosophy from the monopoly of its conventional readings.

However, for Daya Krishna, not all philosophy is traditional philosophy. It does not necessarily belong to the past, to history or antiquity; for him, it is alive and dynamic, drawing on its past, creating more space for creativity and, more importantly, establishing new avenues for dialogue and dissents. Thus challenging the dogmas of Indian philosophy, Daya Krishna also refutes the notion of a 'rational West' versus a 'spiritual India' throughout his major projects. Raveh painstakingly counterpoises the works of other eminent Indian philosophers, such as Mukund Lath, Krishnachandra Bhattacharya, and D.P. Chattopadhyay with the propositions of Daya Krishna.

The second chapter is based on a dialogue with  Daya Krishna on art and aesthetics which later turned into the paper “Thinking Creatively about the Creative Act” (1999). Raveh uses the term 'grafting,' which denotes the interweaving of his own commentary on the text of Daya Krishna, thus making it a blending of ideas on critical, creative thinking. This chapter is more of a commentary on the paper, where the author has suitably chosen the excerpts and added his deliberate commentaries. The author himself, and also through Daya Krishna's writings, has emphasized creative thinking, philosophizing arts, and aesthetics. Somehow, the term 'creative act' does not seem to appear with a more sound and clear philosophical meaning in the commentaries made by the author.

The third chapter, entitled “Freedoms,” includes all kinds of freedoms, be it spiritual or material. For Daya Krishna, freedom is to be exercised otherwise; mere talk is empty and futile. This chapter is based on the ideas of Daya Krishna at two different phases of his life: when he was young, and then when he was old and mature. With all his endeavours, the author has created a dialogue between the two timeframes. The concept of knowledge goes parallel to the philosophical notion of freedom, and the author intertwines both of these notions by virtue of a series of articles written by Daya Krishna on ‘knowledge.’ Moreover, this chapter extracts Daya Krishna's writings on Patanjali's Yogsutra, and moksa-treatises including  the Buddhists and Jaina texts. This chapter also highlights a shift in Daya Krishna's thinking on the issues of pre-independent India to an independent and crystallized nation-state.

The fourth and final chapter is titled “Concepts and Actions: Daya Krishna and Social Philosophy.” This chapter is a discussion and dialogue with the ideas of Daya Krishna on bondages and freedoms in the social and political domains. The author argues that Daya Krishna's readings of the Upanishadic stories and the discussions on Vedic corpus portray an image of a theorist and an activist who dares to comment on Shanakra's work as “twisted and perverted… to suit the narrow sectarian and caste interests of society.” For a true academician, nothing can be more important than raising and answering new questions: Daniel Raveh has successfully served this purpose; moreso, it is a student's tribute to his Guru (Daniel Raveh was a student of Daya Krishna). Separate notes for each chapter have been provided towards the end, which can acquaint the reader well with the issues and works under discussion. An extensive and exhaustive bibliography and other cited sources could help new readers and researchers on Daya Krishna and Indian philosophy. The excessive use of abbreviations for cited scholars' names does create a little discomfort while reading the book, and it should have been avoided seeing the serious readership of this outstanding work.