On Hindu pilgrims and cross -cultural pilgrimage: The hermeneutics of Jarava Lal Mehta

Thomas Baynard Ellis, University of Pennsylvania


The life and work of Jarava Lal Mehta (1912–1988) exemplifies the religio-philosophical encounter between India and Europe in the second half of the twentieth century. Garnering an international reputation for his work on Martin Heidegger in the 1960s, Mehta's work in the 1970s and 1980s represents aspects of modern Hindu thought seldom encountered in the works of other more popular authors (e.g., Vivekānanda, Radhakrishnan, Gandhi). Mehta's works make at least two significant contributions to contemporary scholarship on hermeneutics and the Hindu tradition. First, Mehta articulates a postcolonial hermeneutics predicated on the rupture of the self through the encounter with the other. Second, he delineates a postmetaphysical interpretation of the Hindu tradition based on the withdrawal of the other found in the classical theme of viraha bhakti, or “love-in-separation.” In this way, Mehta significantly contests not only forms of perennial philosophy committed to the search for a positive universal ground, but also the monistic ontology of Advaita Vedānta so often privileged by both classical and modern Hindu intellectual traditions. To serve these ends, Mehta proposes the model of the “pilgrim” to represent the self's encounter with the irreducible other. He argues that the pilgrim travels out to an other that interminably resists its intentions and representations: the pilgrim is ontologically incomplete and thus reconciled to its death. Mehta's emphasis on the self's rupture and death consequent to its encounter with the other suggests a significant alternative to the philosophical hermeneutic emphasis on the building up of self through such an encounter. Deploying this hermeneutic of the pilgrim in his interpretation of the Hindu tradition, Mehta suggests that the gopī (milkmaid) represents the postmetaphysical self reconciled to the withdrawn other, thereby displacing the monistic ontology of the Vedānta. To fully understand the complex horizon of contemporary Hindu thought, one must consider the life and work of J. L. Mehta.

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Recommended Citation

Ellis, Thomas Baynard, "On Hindu pilgrims and cross -cultural pilgrimage: The hermeneutics of Jarava Lal Mehta" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3043867.