Rattan Gujadhur

[Rattan Gujadhur] Professor Emeritus D. Prithipaul – An Eminent Mauritian Intellectual

Mardi 27 Novembre 2018

In the book ‘pour une meme batardise’ the great Pierre Renaud wrote an incisive piece of writing on Professor Dad Prithipaul.

Nalanda University, India
Nalanda University, India
The writing is brief, but it is packed with humanity and brilliance, reflections on time, life, aesthetics, morality , religion, mysticism and sufism and at the same time visions of the Ulysses-like struggle of the lives of some intellectuals who eventually find solace outside Mauritius, because they are in fact never really ‘wanted’ or taken with the seriousness or respect they deserve.

These same individuals who are forced to leave actually never end up coming back home because  ‘on dit qu' on peut aisément sé passer d'un homme comme lui’.

At the time of the encounter with Pierre Renaud, Prof Prithipaul had then come for a short break to Mauritius proceeding on his way to a cultural tour of India. There are few words in the short but powerful exchange between the two men in 1975 that shook me to the core, such that I decided to direct some research time on Prof Prithipaul, and actually reached out to him in Alberta.

Words like, ‘toute démarche spirituelle n'a pas besoin d'un support matériel’ and ideas discussing that ‘aesthetics remain an important part of our spiritual quest’ had a deep resonating connection with ordinary seekers like us.

What has happened to Professor Prithipaul since 1965? How did his career progressed after a flat rejection by the then movers and shakers of the Mauritian government in the mid 60`s?

Professor Prithipaul is a retired Professor Emeritus from University of Alberta, Canada. He retired in 1992 after a brilliant and stellar career in Indian philosophy, having penned a few well known books on the topics such as Comments on the Bhagavadgita, Moha in the Brahmanical Tradition, Advaita Vedanta, Ontology of Dharma, and Yogasutras of Patanjali, amongst his many other publications and writings.

In 1963 to 1965 he was made to wait for 28 months in Mauritius for a possible job in his academic field of study after he had completed 9 years of deep study at Banaras and Sorbonne with some of the most renowned scholars in both Indian and Western philosophies.

After his doctorate, he worked as a teacher at Bhujoharry College, but his desire to switch and work in his own academic field of expertise met with a series of bureaucratic red tapes.

A famous line that was the turning point of his time in Mauritius, was when the then Prime Minister told him ‘so what was really the issue, are you not getting your ‘dal douri’ paid off by Bhujoharry college.’?

Prof Prithipaul was not one to be allowed to become stratified with a good cushy teaching job, he had dreams of setting up a Center for Indian Studies in Mauritius as well as have a serious research journal with proposed contributions from francophone intellectuals and renowed contributors around the world.

These noble plans did not unfortunately materialize as Prof D Prithipaul met with waves of resentment from the political class and the actual teaching job he desired was offered to an individual that fitted the political equation at the time (i.e caste related issues).

In passing no one ever asked him or inquired on his experiences abroad, nor his research areas. There was no philosophical curiosity in Mauritius even from the so called ‘elites’. In addition to travails with the offical establishment, he was also shunned by friends, acquaintances, and relatives.
He never got the job at the teacher`s college and decided thereand then to leave for Banaras Hindu University where he took a job as Senior Research Scholar, at the centre of Advanced Study of Philosophy.

At Banaras he worked with the world renowed Sanskrit scholar Prof Murthy (a student of the renowned Professor Sarvapelli  Radhakrishnan). The red tapes all seem to have had a catalytic effect on Professor Prithipaul`s career.

From Banaras in 1965, he was offered a new position in the US, and became the first Mauritian researcher to join Harvard University and Harvard`s Centre for the Study of World Religions.

At Harvard his career took a different and very interesting path. A recommendation from the eminent Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith at Harvard, a scholar of Islam and comparative religions renowed for having taken an early lead in urging intellectual understanding of religious pluralism and dialogue among faiths, and who saw in the young researcher Prithipaul a rising star in Indian philosophical studies.

Professor Prithipaul under the recommendation of stalwarts in his field of work like Professor Smith was offered the position of Associate Professor at University of Alberta, Edmonton. He had a brilliant career at the same University and ended his career in Canada as Emeritus Professor. Prof Prithipaul has had a passion to bring his expertise to Mauritius and start a process of re-awakening general knowledge in Eastern philosophy (Islam, Brahmanism, Buddhism, Jainism).

In 1975, he proposed to the then Governor of Mauritius (D Burrenchobay) a series of free public lectures to all on Hindusim and Buddhism.  Some years before (I mentioned this above), he did approach the Prime Minister (Sir S Ramgoolam) to set up a Centre of Indian Studies, endowed with a professional research Journal with articles from preferably francophone collaborators from around the Indian Ocean.

These offers to both Burrenchobay and Ramgoolam were never acknowledged, nor did he ever receive a kind reply. The real kick in the stomach came in 1981, when on completing the manuscript of his seminal work ‘commentaries on the Bhagavadgita’, he wrote to PM Jugnauth, offering his book to be published in Mauritius, insisting it to be his humble gift to his much loved Island.

Mauritius was dear to him and after the years abroad he still felt an emotionally bond. Prime Minister A. Jugnauth never bothered to reply to this offer nor was the book thought to be important enough to be published in Mauritius.

[Rattan Gujadhur] Professor Emeritus D. Prithipaul – An Eminent Mauritian Intellectual
Recently, I reached out to Professor Prithipaul who still resides in Alberta, Canada. The patience, kindness, and wealth of knowledge he possesses on varied areas such as Brahmanism, Dharma, Buddhism, Islam and Jainism was a deeply humbling experience.

After spending an hour with him discussing his journey, hindusim and Buddhism and Islam, one puts down the receiver in great awe.

His ideas are simply revolutionary, and he reminded me that ‘India is the only country in the world to have invented a way of life based on the mystical experiences of Mokṣa, which is a trans-cultural experience. In fact India is unique in having developed not one, but three ways of life based on such an Ontological reality - Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

This is the fundamental theme of his latest book ‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’.’ It must be stressed that all proceeds of this book (Labyrinth of Solitude) go towards a fund aimed to help in the reconstruction of the once famous Nalanda University.

His story is the story of hundreds of immigrant intellectuals who gather knowledge externally, return home to share their spark to foster a positive change, but are instantly turned back because of political maneuverings. These maneuvers do seem to have something deeply sinister about them, and have cost many minds to be lost forever to the western world to the detriment of culture in Mauritius.

The focus on pure and undistilled blind materialism in Mauritius since the 1960s has already had long lasting negative impacts in so called  

A natural environment (physical and aesthetical) in grave disarray, a high and rising crime rate, public health concerns, all cry for an alternative type of investment on the island, i.e centers of advanced philosophical learning need to be developed so ever widening gaps and the sick concepts of ‘nous contre zot’ are bridged between faiths, and the modern Mauritian man and woman finally learns the essence of some of the world`s oldest faiths. Prof Prithipaul had about 40 years ago brought such noble ideas to the Island, but alas, some did not see its inherent and perennial value.
Rattan Gujadhur,
California, September 2014.

A propos de l'auteur :

Rattan Gujadhur left Mauritius for higher studies in the US in 1999. He has practiced in the Pharma and Biotech world for over 29 years and is a Dr in Chemistry. He remains deeply in love with Mauritius and has published reminiscences of Mauritius via a poetry collection and a novel

Rédigé par Rattan Gujadhur le Mardi 27 Novembre 2018

1.Posté par ERIC BAHLOO le 28/11/2018 11:30
Hi Rattan,

Thank you very much for this outstanding portrait of not less outstanding Prof K. D. PRITHIPAUL career and record.

I would love to read his book ''The Labyrinth of Solitude''. Please tell me how and where to buy it.

Regarding your very detailed and instructive exposé on K. D. PRITHIPAUL I was just wondering who was the then Governor-General OSMAN or BURRENCHOBAY in 1975.

Looking forward to regarding more from and on you Rattan.

Best Regards