In this chapter, my attempt is to read Kālidāsa's classic AbhijñānaŚākuntalam through some biblical narratives. The objective is to bring out through this method the beauty of both the Indian classical as well as the biblical narratives as they grapple with human realities and experiences. What is expected is mutual enrichment of both the texts – Śakuntalā and biblical texts – as bearers of ever new impulses and meanings. This attempt is based upon certain premises and assumptions about the art and method of interpretation as well as understanding about literature and poetics.
Prelude to Hermeneutics and Intertextuality
Traditional Indian hermeneutics and contemporary Western theories of interpretation are at one in acknowledging the open-endedness of texts, which allow them to be understood in infinite ways. It means that the text is not bound to the meaning of the author and his or her intentionality. The dhvani interpretation in Indian tradition is based on the assumption that a text is autonomous and need not be bound by the meaning of the author. In biblical studies and researches, when there was the danger of limiting oneself to the literal sense of the texts, the search for the sociocultural context of their origin came to assume great importance as a means to overcome any biblical fundamentalism in interpretation. Hence from the nineteenth century onwards, the historic-critical method gained momentum and it helped situate the text in context and challenge biblical fundamentalism. From another angle, realizing that literal sense does not bring out the depth of the texts, early Christian writers, following some Jewish interpreters, laid stress on the allegorical meaning. The allegorical method of interpretation broke the limits of literal interpretation, pointing to truths which lie beyond the text.
The developments in the study of the biblical texts go along with the new insights provided by contemporary philosophical hermeneutics and the contribution of modern linguistics. These have created a theoretical space to read one particular text through another text. This is not totally new in Indian tradition. For in the tradition of writing bhāshyas, one of the strategies was to illumine one text through another. This is a step further to reader-centred interpretation, namely, reading of a text from the existential situation in which the reader finds herself.
Catholic Christianity of Central Asia
The very small Catholic communities of Central Asia drew world attention thanks to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Kazakhstan in 2001. Catholics constitute a tiny proportion of the population in most parts of the region, except in Kazakhstan, and even there they form only around 0.6%. However, the five states of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) were once at the crossroads of civilisations – the Silk Road of Eurasia. From its early centuries onwards, Christianity spread in this region, which also served as a refuge for Christians of different traditions and persuasions (Nestorians, Jacobites, Melkites, Armenians) persecuted by the Byzantine, Persian and Ottoman Empires. In medieval times this region saw the missionary engagement of different Catholic orders such as Franciscans and Dominicans. The first diocese was established at Samarkand in 1329.
Russian Orthodoxy has been the dominant Christian tradition in the region, and has enjoyed state support even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The region witnessed also the presence of Catholics along with other Christian denominations, whose relationship with Orthodoxy has not been smooth. The end of Soviet rule created space for the establishment of organisational structures for pastoral work among the Catholic communities of Central Asia. Some Catholic religious orders, including the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's congregation), are doing pastoral and charitable work.
The region experienced a reduction in its Catholic population following the mass exodus to their ancestral homelands of Europeans earlier deported to Central Asia under Stalinist rule. However, Kazakhstan continues to have more Catholic churches and parishes than other Central Asian countries, especially in localities with minority German, Polish, Lithuanian or Ukrainian populations, descendants of the large mass of deportees. Today, there is even a seminary in Karaganda for the training of Catholic priests. Though the majority population is Muslim, Catholics, like other minorities in the country, enjoy freedom of worship and have established links with Rome and other parts of Asia. The Vatican even entered into a bilateral agreement on cooperation with Kazakhstan in 1998.
A very significant development took place when the Catholic Church in the region became part of the larger Asian Catholic structure – the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) – coinciding with the Asian Synod held in Rome in 1998.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this to your organisation's collection.