Social Scientist. v 21, no. 240-41 (May-June 1993) p. 102.


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OBITUARY

Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya

To resurrect spontaneous or naive materialism in the ancient thought of Indian civilisation which has been portrayed as being uniquely spiritual is a task of immense value. One of the most significant contributions in the direction of a rational reconstruction of the evolution of scientific ideas and naive materialism in Indian antiquity was made by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya. The publication of his pioneering work Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism (1959) with its scholarly rigour provided an academic credibility to the project, which he pursued till the very end of his life. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya's pursuit was a result as much of his commitment to values of scholarship as to the progressive ideas and communist movement. Described by Walter Ruben as a 'thought-reformer', he was in Ruben's words "conscious of his great responsibility towards his people living in a period of struggle for national awakening and of word-wide fighting of the forces of progress, humanism and peace against imperialism and militarism. He has written this book (Lokayata) against the old fashioned conception that India was and is the land of dreamers and mystics".

Lack of secularisation of thought and philosophy of ancient India makes a dispassionate discussion of underlying ideas very difficult. The terminology used and the concepts deployed in any discussion of Indian philosophy even now evoke religious and even ritualistic connotations. The manner in which the two classics of Indian heritage were visualised and received on the television network in recent times more than illustrates the point. In such a context any effort to explicate Indian philosophy with a secular intent demands tremendous intellectual courage.Over three decades ago when Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya undertook his studies, the task must have been still more arduous. That he never flinched in the face of isolation in his own profession only demonstrates the courage of his convictions.

A rational reconstruction of the Lokayata school of materialist philosophy in ancient India is made all the more difficult by the fact that the medieval compendium of Indian philosophy Sarva Darsana Samgraha (14th century AD) which enjoys considerable popularity among students and scholars was authored by an advaita vedantist,

Social Scientist, Vol. 21, Nos. 5-6, May-June, 1993



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