January 22, 2018
Dr. Shiva G. Bajpai passed away peacefully at his home in the Pacific Palisades, California, on January 13, 2018, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. A lifelong scholar and a long-standing teacher of the history of India, Professor Bajpai taught at California State University Northridge (CSUN) from 1970 to 2003. After his retirement from teaching, he continued to offer classes as an occasional lecturer at CSUN until 2010. Professor Bajpai’s teaching focused on the history of India and World History, and he created and directed the Asian Studies interdisciplinary major at CSUN from its inception. He came to CSUN by way of Banaras, India, London, and the University of Minnesota. After completing his B. A. and M. A. at the Banaras Hindu University—graduating first in a class of 200, Bajpai taught for several years at the Banaras Hindu University and the Hindu Degree College of the University of Gorakhpur. Thirsting for excellence and feeling adventurous, Professor Bajpai then undertook graduate work at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies with Professor A. L. Basham, receiving his Ph. D. in classical and medieval India in 1967. He moved that same year to the University of Minnesota to work as the co-author and co-editor of the Historical Atlas of South Asia, which was published in 1978 and updated in 1992. This magisterial work is the standard in the field and remains the essential tool for understanding the “wonder that was (and is) India.”
As an educator and teacher, Professor Bajpai influenced several generations of students, guiding them into becoming well-rounded and critical-thinking citizens, teachers, and intellectuals. Experiencing Professor Bajpai in the classroom was always mind-challenging. As one of his former students said of his teaching: “Eye-opening! There’s never a simple or direct answer from Professor Bajpai. He takes every topic, every question, and turns it into a major non-stop, mind-expanding exercise.” Professor Bajpai’s classes were exercises in philosophy, religion, metaphysics, aesthetics, ancient and comparative history, and material culture. And always he strove to present a non-Western perspective rooted in original sources about the history, culture, and character of one of the great civilizations of the world. In his capacity as an internationally recognized authority on ancient and early modern India, Professor Bajpai also served on numerous Ph. D. dissertation committees for students at prestigious Indian universities.
A compelling teacher, Professor Bajpai also excelled in his scholarship, which was always rooted in ancient texts and original sources as demonstrated by his work on The Historical Atlas of South Asia. He published numerous articles and essays, authored several dozen scholarly papers presented at international conferences, and organized and oversaw scores of workshops and panels devoted to the study of India and South Asia, earning for him and the university much prestige and honor. He served as President of the Association of North Indian Studies and as Director and Vice President of the World Association for Vedic Studies. Among his many honors and awards were the National Federation of Indians in America Award for Academic Excellence, the “Hind Rattan” Award from the NRI Welfare Society of Indians, and numerous research fellowships and visiting lectureship positions. The director of the Atlas project recently said of Professor Bajpai’s acumen: “…for the millennia of Indian history prior to the advent of the West, Shiva's vast store of information was absolutely indispensable. Never in my life have I met anyone else with so capacious a memory. Shiva could cite in detail the messages conveyed by hundreds of the Hindu inscriptions on which the reconstruction of ancient and medieval Indian history so largely depends.”
As an activist member of the university, Professor Bajpai championed faculty rights, free speech, academic freedom, and faculty governance. He served for many years on the important Educational Policy and Personnel Committee of the university (chairing it often) as well as on various curriculum and other governance committees and as a long-standing member of the Faculty Senate. In these service positions, Bajpai functioned as a vigilant champion of quality education in the face of massive budget cuts and administrative efforts to undermine the liberal arts in favor of professional programs. As a strong supporter of collective bargaining for faculty and the United Professors of California (UPC) he worked persistently to protect the careers of numerous young faculty even as he mentored and nurtured in friendship and collegiality many others over the years. His colleagues remember him for his wit, perspicacity, generosity, and precise command of the English language in the service of excellence.
When Professor Bajpai retired from active teaching he found himself engulfed in a new struggle that drew on his resources, acumen, and diplomatic skill—what came to be called the California Text-Book Controversy, which centered on the teaching of the history of India and the Hindu religion in California K-12 schools. Working closely with the staff of Hinduism Today magazine with funding from the Uberoi Foundation, he served as a content review expert in 2004/2005, impacting directly the History-Social Science Framework revision process undertaken by the California State Board of Education and making thereby substantive improvements to the curriculum in California schools on the teaching of India. His scholarly credentials figured mightily in his eloquent challenge of the contentious “Aryan Invasion” theory of classical India promoted by various Western scholars. From 2005 to 2009, he worked with the staff of Hinduism Today to create the book The History of Hindu India intended for middle school as a corrective to the erroneous material common in the textbooks. The book has been turned into a well-received five-part documentary series available on You Tube. Hinduism Today's editors found in Professor Bajpai “an expert in India history with a vast reservoir of knowledge spanning the entire known history of the subcontinent, from the Paleolithic era to modern times."
At the same time that Professor Bajpai was engaged in his California text-book endeavors and ongoing scholarship, he worked tirelessly and creatively as a guiding founder and President of the Dharma Civilization Foundation. Serving as the first President of the organization, and an ongoing trustee, Bajpai oversaw the implementation and invigoration of the Foundation’s program and goals. He helped shape its mission, which was to “facilitate and promote” understanding of Indic Civilization by establishment of centers, endowed chairs at undergraduate and graduate colleges and universities, new course offerings, scholarship, and journals. In this capacity, Professor Bajpai and the Dharma Civilization Foundation achieved remarkable success in creating the Center for Dharma Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California. DCF is now involved in several initiatives both in California and around the world at all levels of higher education. This achievement is one of which Professor Bajpai was most proud.
All told, Professor Bajpai’s professional life was indeed rich and accomplished, but so too was his personal life. Born a Brahmin in a mostly pre-modern village (Balhemau, Rae Bareli District) in India and left fatherless at age thirteen, Bajpai was adventurous and dedicated to being a discoverer of truth, beauty and goodness. He met and married Catalina Jós Badiny, a Hungarian by birth who lived in Argentina from age seven, after a two-week romance in 1967, meeting her in Michigan at a conference when she visited that state’s university with her father. When his colleague once asked him how he could have made such a quick decision to marry, he replied: “When you find a rare flower that blooms only once in a lifetime, you have no choice but to act.” Catalina became her husband’s devoted caregiver in the last years of his life, and the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary together on November 30, 2017. Their daughter, Anita Bajpai-Peterson, was born in 1970 and is a medical doctor married to Brett Peterson, an accomplished orthopedic surgeon. Shiva was, by any and all definitions, an excellent father. He was a constant force of love, support and guidance to Anita throughout her life. Shiva’s grandson, Marc age eight, has been his grandfather’s joy and pride—along with his daughter, whom he lovingly considered his greatest accomplishment. Bajpai’s family remained a strong and nurturing presence, especially his older now deceased brother Bhagavati Prasad Bajpai and his nephew Saroj Bajpai. Across the miles, he maintained close relationships with his family back in India, always providing advice and support. He is survived by his wife, his daughter and son-in-law and grandson, and his nephew, as well as many family members in India.
Although always a traditionalist, and very much a spiritual man dedicated to the practice of Hinduism as a compelling force in his life, Shiva eschewed conservatism in politics and never hesitated to confront and challenge those he deemed narrow-minded or mean spirited. As a person, he embraced and lived by the words he once scribbled to his daughter when she asked him to explain Hinduism: “Hinduism is a religion that integrates ‘God’s Divine’ guidance with human action and experience. At the divine plane we can only look for inspiration and direction while at the human plane we can act to accomplish our objectives and goals and enjoy our experience of the senses and delight in Self-Realization.”
But it was his personality and the quality of his mind and heart that endeared Shiva Bajpai to friends of every stripe and sort. He viewed every person he met as a potential student and would ask thought-provoking questions and generously offer shrewd advice to all those he interacted with. His wife recalls, “When he spoke to someone, he would never rush, offering his full attention. He told me that God lived in every person even if they didn’t know it, and that when he spoke to them, he would offer them the respect their divinity deserved.” He will be remembered by those who knew him well as a delightfully roguish sage, as a font of wisdom who always seemed to have the precisely apt word for almost every occasion. He possessed a supreme sense of self-confidence about his place in the world and the role of fate in his life—often thanking his lucky star and the lucky number 13 for all the good things that had come his way. One of his best friends, a fellow professor who shared an office with him for twenty-five years and who passed hours and days and years discussing philosophy and history with him, once asked him teasingly what words he would want on his tombstone, knowing full well that his friend believed in the Hindu concept of reincarnation. Shiva responded by saying that “no tombstone is needed because my grave will be the sacred Ganges river.” Then thinking for a moment, he added: “but I guess if something has to be written it would be, in view of my date with the Ganges, “Not In; Gone Fishing.”