Dreams we weave
Rachna Singh

The Indian Night: Sleep and Dreams in Indian Culture
Ed. Claudine Bautze-Picron. Rupa & Co. Pages 661. Rs 395.

The Indian Night: Sleep and Dreams in Indian CultureDREAMS and their interpretation have a quality of mysticism that has enticed the interest of readers and students over the years. The dream analysis and associative symbolism of Freud and Jung was the start of the theorisation of dreams. However, the corpus of dream interpretation in the Indian context is not only small but also restricted to the academic field. A collection of as many as 22 papers on the symbolism associated with dreams in Indian culture, thus comes as manna from heaven for the ‘dream’-deprived readership.

The Indian Night: Sleep and Dreams in Indian Culture edited by Claudine Bautze Picron spans the physiology and meaning of dreams and also focuses on the literary lexicon as well as interpretation of dreams. The papers are for the most part based on the nature of dreams as enunciated and interpreted in the ancient literary and religious Indian texts like the Upanishads and the Ramayana. Strange as it may sound, the Indian texts have an enunciator of dreams and an interpreter of dreams. So, the peculiarity of such interpretation is that the analysis is not the dream perception of the researcher but the analysis of the original ancient interpreter of the dreams. Queen Maya’s dream of the Bodhisatva entering her womb in the form of an elephant is a case in point. The Master interpreter of dreams informs the king and Queen Maya that the dream prophesied the birth of "a supreme emperor who will possess the flying wheel (Cakravartin) or he will leave home to seek the way, attain Buddhahood". Dreams in the ancient literary and religious texts were also considered prophetic in nature. So, Bharat in the Ramayana recognises the well-known omen that a person sitting in a chariot drawn by donkeys’ in a dream predicts imminent death of the person, in this case Dashratha.

Interestingly, the Indian philosophical tradition also interweaves the concept of dream with spiritual salvation. The Upanishads talk about the four states of mind-wakefulness, dream, deep sleep and unification with the Brahman. The four states are in fact four steps towards the ultimate consciousness or enlightenment. The dream motifs were thus a fundamental and indispensable part of the ancient classical texts and were also depicted in sculptures and stupas.

The Indian Night is a succinct enunciation of the importance of dreams in the ancient life and times of the Indians. The prophetic nature of the ‘svapna’ and its spiritual connotations in the Indian tradition have been analysed with panache. At times the book does sink under the weight of difficult Sanskrit passages and their too-scholarly interpretation. But for the most part, it is an interesting read that gives an insight into the concept of dream interpretation in the Indian philosophical tradition.