Review of Anirvan’s “Kena Upanisad” by Brahmachari Bhudevachaitanya

Dear Friends and Well-wishers of Overman Foundation,

Born in the town of Mymensingh in Bangladesh, Shri Anirvan (1896—1978) knew the Astadhyayi of Panini by heart and daily recited a chapter from the Gita by the time he was eleven years of age. After completing his studies, he took sannyasa and became Nirvanananda Saraswati. Later he dropped the ochre robes and changed his name to Anirvan. His first book was a Bengali translation of Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine though the centre of his studies was the Vedas on which he had acquired a rare mastery. He is best known for his Veda Mimamsa which was published in three volumes.

Kena Upanisad consists of the four sections of the fourth chapter of the Jaiminīya Brāhmana Upanisad of the Sāmaveda. It begins directly with Brahman as its subject matter and tells us in first two parts how it is impossible to know or attain Brahman by our ordinary senses including mind. To realize Brahman we have to open ourselves to higher intuitive levels of mind. In the third and fourth parts, the Upanisad beautifully speaks about the unknowable Brahman and about the subjective and objective ways of its realization through an allegorical story about Gods led by Indra on one side and Yaksha and Umā Haimvatī on the other. Brahman has to be meditated upon and realized as “Tad Vanam”—“That most Delightful Dear One”.

A review of Anirvan’s Kena Upanisad (distributed by Overman Foundation) penned by Brahmachari Bhudevachaitanya of Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University (Belur Math) has been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation. The said review was originally published in the January 2014 issue of Prabuddha Bharata.

With warm regards,
Anurag Banerjee
Overman Foundation.


Kena Upanishad

Kena Upanisad: Author: Anirvan; translated into English from Bengali by Gautam Dhrmapal. Number of pages: 246. Price: Rs. 225. ISBN 978–81–88643-40-0. Distributor: Overman Foundation, Kolkata.

The Upanishads are a fountainhead of strength and bliss. Equipped with Acharya Shankara’s commentary they are all the more enjoyable and elevating. Down the ages many saints and savants have tried to render this literature easy for ordinary minds. Traditional commentators apart, there have also been mystics and scholars who have attempted original interpretations. Kena Upanisad by Anirvan, aka Swami Nirvanananda Saraswati, is one such exposition.

The elaborate introduction by Gautam Dharmapal, who translated the book from Bengali, throws light on various topics and tunes the mind to follow the style of explanation in the following pages. Thoughtful inclusion of the life of the author has enriched the volume. Right from explaining the words to the philosophical implication of the verses, the author has maintained originality of thought, a unique aspect of the work. The preface attempts to bring out the deeper dimensions of the peace chant of this Upanisad.

Extensive study of and sound grasp over scriptures are palpable in the pages and the author’s in-depth knowledge of the Panini’s system of grammar does not go unnoticed. Certain enigmatic verses have also received original treatment. It is difficult, however, to say how well such interpretations will be received by the traditional students of Vedanta. While several subjects are touched upon in the course of explaining the text, one feels that no definite system of thought is built up while commenting on the mantras. Nevertheless, the book is no doubt a good spur for innovative study of scriptures. Swami Vivekananda wanted Indians to think originally, and the present edition is a fine example. Though the author has, at times, gone off the beaten track in dealing with the Upanisad, yet unlike some Indian scholars who were swept off their feet by pernicious colonial Indology, his loyalty to Indian culture is charming and wins him plaudits.

Finally, the translation deserves a word of praise. Gautam Dharmapal has not hesitated to transcend the limitations of the English language in coining his own terms and honing the syntax to efficiently convey the most powerful of languages, Sanskrit. For instance, abhinivesha is translated as ‘contracted attachment’ (142), ‘one has to take the path of unwardisation’ (135), and vi-chiti has been translated as ‘the light of their searching vision’ (154).

On the whole, the book is definitely good and deserves to be read.

Brahmachari Bhudevachaitanya


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