Colonial and Post‐Colonial Elaborations of Avataric Evolutionism

Zygon 42 (3):715-748 (2007)
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. Avataric evolutionism is the idea that ancient Hindu myths of Vishnu's ten incarnations foreshadowed Darwinian evolution. In a previous essay I examined the late nineteenth‐century origins of the theory in the works of Keshub Chunder Sen and Madame Blavatsky. Here I consider two major figures in the history of avataric evolutionism in the early twentieth century, N. B. Pavgee, a Marathi Brahmin deeply involved in the question of Aryan origins, and Aurobindo Ghose, political activist turned mystic. Pavgee, unlike Keshub, used avataric evolutionism in expounding his nationalistic goals for an independent India. His rationale was bolstered by the idea that India was the fountainhead of all science and civilization. Aurobindo saw in avataric evolutionism a possible key to understanding the involution and evolution of the supreme spirit in the realm of matter as taught in traditional Vedanta. This material‐spiritual evolution represented for Aurobindo the necessary knowledge for the true liberation of India, transcending purely political independence. Such knowledge he also saw as the means for the spiritual liberation of the whole of humankind. The processes of involution and evolution he claimed were not in conflict with modern science, and Western evolutionary thinking seems to have inspired many of his own evolutionary reflections, even though in the end he rejected the Darwinian transmutation of species. I conclude with an overview and assessment of recent, post‐colonial Hindu assimilations of avataric evolutionism.



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Cassidy Brown
Carleton University

References found in this work

India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding.Wilhelm Halbfass - 1988 - State University of New York Press.
The Life Divine.Sri Aurobindo - 1939 - Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
The Life Divine.Sri Aurobindo - 1953 - Philosophy East and West 3 (2):178-182.

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