A monk of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Narasimhananda is currently the editor of Prabuddha Bharata, an English monthly journal of the social sciences and the humanities, started in 1896 by Swami Vivekananda. He is a visiting faculty in the Department of Sociology at the Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He regularly speaks at institutes of national importance like the IITs and interacts with the youth in various fora. He works in the fields of philosophy, religious studies, Vedanta, and Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Studies. He has edited a volume of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings titled Vivekananda Reader. He writes in Sanskrit, English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Malayalam.
Prabuddha Bharata or Awakened India, was started in July, 1896 by Swami Vivekananda’s Chennai admirers. The journal has been serving as a meeting ground for science, spirituality, and philosophy since then. Read more about the journal here. As the journal enters its 125th year of publication, we had the pleasure of speaking with the editor.
We are stepping into the 125th year of Prabuddha Bharata in publication. How do you look at the journey so far and in what ways has the journal changed over the years?
Prabuddha Bharata has been mirroring the cultural, philosophical, and historical aspects of India keeping the spirit of the name Swami Vivekananda gave to the journal, Prabuddha Bharata or Awakened India. The most important thought currents of the country and their influence on the world have been analysed through the pages of this journal. The journal has kept pace with technology both in the final output and in how the editorial team works. The language has been always current and social issues have been commented upon. The core values of the journal remain the same as they were at the time of its inception.
Has there been any impact of the COVID-19 and lockdowns on the circulation or subscription for the journal? Since Advaita Ashrama already had the journal online, has it helped the publication avoid such hiccups?
The printing and the despatch of some numbers of the journal have been delayed. However, all issues have been uploaded to the Advaita Ashrama website on time. After the lockdown is over the pending issues will be printed and despatched.
The journal has had articles from some of the greatest thinkers of their time, including Swami Vivekananda himself, Sister Nivedita, Carl Jung, Romain Rolland, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and others. Such names must have helped the journal create a benchmark for itself in the initial years. Do you see it that way?
Prabuddha Bharata has always carried great thinkers on its pages. This was not just in the initial years. We remember only the old thinkers because they are taught in history books! Even the current thinkers are published in the journal. The journal did not create a benchmark by publishing great thinkers in the initial years. The journal only publishes insights that are great. Many of the great thinkers became well known much after they were published in the journal.
The journal was in circulation for about 50-51 years of the British rule in India before we got our freedom. I have seen articles ranging from the spiritual development of individuals to economic development of Indian villages in the issues of those times. As such, one cannot help but wonder how the journal became a constant source of inspiration and strength for Indians. We have heard of Gandhiji being a regular subscriber and reader.
Prabuddha Bharata has always been a platform for voicing innovative ideas and reflecting on ancient Indian heritage. This is done by engaging with the current global thought. Many ideas of social development were printed in the journal during the pre-1947 decades. The journal was never hesitant to question difficult issues of the country.
The journal starts with an invocation, a hymn from our scriptures with translation. That seems to have been a conscious design choice from the very beginning. Are there other elements in the journal that have been kept as they were envisaged by the founding editors and Swamiji himself? What parts have remained constant and what have changed?
Focusing on current issues of the country, engaging with various philosophical currents, critiquing various perspectives, presenting Vedantic ideas in a more accessible manner, presenting path-breaking scientific discoveries that intersect with spirituality are some of the themes that have remained constant. The layout of the journal and the language keep on changing with times.
Prabuddha Bharata has maintained the highest standards year after year. How do you balance the equation of circulation versus quality? Has the demand for such content diminished or has it only gone up?
The journal does not focus on circulation. It is perseverant in maintaining high quality. There are insightful readers and the online version has seen more and more readers.
How difficult it is to be the Editor of a journal that is revered as the gold standard in its domain around the world? What’s your work like? Please take us through a bit of your day as the Editor of Prabuddha Editor.
Unfortunately, the journal is not considered as the gold standard by some groups, who have an agenda to denigrate everything Indian. In spite of this, the journal has been considered an unavoidable read, even by such groups, right from its inception. My work as the editor of Prabuddha Bharata involves identifying writers and publications that are of high quality around the world. Rejecting substandard work by many highly-placed writers, many of whom plagiarise, is almost daily routine! Most of the articles are solicited. Asking publishers for books for review to be sent is another work. And much time goes in reading the latest in culture, philosophy, religion, history, and psychology.
What are you reading presently? Who are some of your favourite writers?
I am reading several books now. The life and teachings of Swami Shankarananda in Bengali, the work by Vedanta Desikan titled Paduka Sahasram in Sanskrit, Karman by Giorgio Agamben in English, Budhini by Sara Joseph in Malayalam, Kaval Kottam by S Venkatesan in Tamil, and the plays of Jaishankar Prasad in Hindi. My favourite writers are of course Swami Vivekananda, Sister Nivedita, Swami Ranganathananda, Swami Ashokananda, Fyodor Dostoevsky, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Humayun Ahmed, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, M T Vasudevan Nair, Anisuzzaman, Narendra Kohli, Kalki Krishnamurthy, and Kalidasa.
What advice would you give to writers who aspire to get published in Prabuddha Bharata?
Focus on an area of expertise and develop your knowledge and insights in that area, and write regularly. Post all your writings on the web and if you are really good, Prabuddha Bharata will reach you even before you send your writing to the journal!
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