5 life lessons Krishna teaches us

The Bhagvad Gita offers ample lessons in life about handling crises situations, managing people and paving the path to success.

5 lessons the Bhagvad Gita teaches youWe often run a Google search on the top industrial honchos to learn from their words of wisdom.

However, we seem to have lost touch with our own rich intellectual heritage.

Why not go back to our own roots, and learn from words of wisdom that are truly eternal?

Our great epics (religious or not), surely have quotes that stand true to the modern times, even better than ever before.

I am sure many of us must have explored or heard some great treasures hidden in ancient scripture Bhagvad Gita.

Below are a few shloks which I tried to decode.

I hope it will help entrepreneurs take away something from them.

#1. Do your karma

“KarmanyeVadhikaraste Ma PhaleshuKadachana,

Ma Karma PhalaHeturBhurmaTeySangostvaAkarmani”

Translation: Do your duty and be detached from its outcome, do not be driven by the end product, enjoy the process of getting there.

A lot has been said and heard about ‘karma’, but the true essence lies in these two simple lines.

Every entrepreneur should focus on their work i.e. karma without anticipating the result or outcome.

You should not concentrate so much on the final product and just enjoy the process of reaching there.

We get swayed by our vision and rely on its success too much.

We forget it is pivotal to enjoy the whole process rather than just hoping for something that you know is anyway uncertain.

Remember, having hopes or being optimistic is not wrong, but without actions, your path will be dreadful.

The art lies in walking the tightrope and enjoy doing it.

If the guy who walks the literal tightrope is scared or too excited, he will certainly fall.

The trick to his success is that he enjoys it while he walks in order to reach the other end successfully.

#2. Master the art of adaptation

“vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya

navani grhnati naro ’parani

tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany

anyani samyati navani dehi”

Translation: As a man shedding worn out garments, takes other new ones, likewise, the embodied soul, casting off worn-out bodies, enters into others that are new.

It is easy to say versatility and adaptation are the keys to success. But the biggest lesson for any entrepreneur is learning to adapt to changes quickly.

Do not get stuck with your initial vision.

Learn to adapt, innovate and implore new opportunities.

Pave your journey like a traveller, who is not attached to the city he visits or the hotel he stays in but enjoys the experience of it all.

Do not be adamant; be innovative, open minded and ready to absorb experiences like a sponge.

The faster you adapt to a change, the better it is.

Remember, change is the only constant.

#3. Manage your anger

“krodhaadbhavatisammohahsammohaatsmritivibhramah ‘

smritibhramshaadbuddhinaashobuddhinaashaatpranashyati ””

Translation: From anger comes delusion; from delusion, confused memory; from confused memory the ruin of reason; from ruin of reason, man finally perishes.

It is imperative for all entrepreneurs to have control over their anger.

With anger goes away our ability to reason and we tend to become delusional.

The confusion and chaos generated by anger leads to memory loss.

The individual is moved away from his purpose and goals.

Anybody who seems to have forgotten their goals or lost their clarity of thought cannot succeed. Therefore, it is important for people to free themselves from anger.

A simple solution to this problem is focus.

Never lose your focus and never underestimate the virtue of patience.

#4. Detach yourselves

“tasmad asaktah satatam karyam karma samacara

asakto hy acaran karma param apnoti purushah”

Translation: Go on efficiently doing your duty at all times without attachment. Doing work without attachment man attains the supreme.

Inculcate the habit of being open to everything and being attached to nothing.

Attachment does give strength to work and love beyond ourselves, but it also limits us and makes our journey and growth difficult, especially if the object of our desire is taken away from us.

Too much desire can be bad, as it turns into greed.

Greed takes you away from your true calling and dream, be it to achieve, create or innovate.

Do not be super attached to your work, as it makes your journey as an entrepreneur difficult and closed.

You cannot wear binoculars and run the rat race.

You have to keep an open mind about the ever-evolving market changes, adapt to them.

Keep a close eye on your goals but do not get obsessive.

#5. Do not be misled

“dhumenavriyate vahnir yathadarso malena ca

yatholbenavrto garbhas tatha tenedam avrtam”

Translation: As fire is covered by smoke, mirror by dust and embryo by the amnion, so is knowledge covered by desire.

This simple shlok has the deepest meaning.

It is like a dissuading curse — as everything pure has a covering that can often be misleading.

For example, fire is covered with smoke, which prevents us from nearing it and if a mirror is covered in sheen, we cannot see what it is reflecting before removing the sheen.

Similarly knowledge is covered with desire that we must ignore or get rid of.

We must ignore the curtain of desire in order to imbibe knowledge that will help us grow.

This isn’t as easy as it looks but wise man is one who knows what to avoid and what to select.

The author Atul Pratap Singh is the co-founder and director of V Spark Communications, a branding agency for start-ups.

http://www.rediff.com/getahead/report/specials-career-5-life-lessons-krishna-teaches-us/20150904.htm?pos=8&src=NL20150905&trackid=f8ERWRNX3W1BXa7upWxc4ec0kxpcs8DJo5BycWOz6B8=&isnlp=0&isnlsp=0

The psyche and the power of a ‘Smart Troll’

Vivek Agnihotri

Do not generalise and mix them up with abusive trolls.

Last Sunday was a busy one. On Twitter, at least. The sudden surge in activity on an otherwise lazy Twitter day, was all about the anatomy of Internet trolls – an article by novelist Chetan Bhagat. A few weeks before this, a senior celebrity journalist, a favourite of Internet Trolls, had also written an article on the same subject. In the last few months, or should we say since the advent of a brand called NaMo, the discussion on trolls has moved from private conversations to mainstream media. And of course, on social media, it’s omnipresent.

It kept me wondering, why are we fighting for such an inane issue when India has much bigger challenges? A little research gave me some insight into the minds of trolls and those who claim to be trolled.

First, who is a troll? I asked this on Twitter and received hundreds of replies. Here are a few, in no particular order:

–    A user with fewer followers, who persists on giving unsolicited, contrarian views to a user with more followers.
–    Has come to mean a cheap abuse in India. Genuine Internet trolls however are very knowledgeable and cool people.
–    Any speech from anyone I dislike.
–    TROLL = watchdog.
–    Showing a mirror and embarrassing them with facts and figures is trolling.
–    Anyone who talks sense that is nonsense to others is a troll
–    Everybody is somebody else’s troll.
–    For a left liberal, whoever calls his/her bluff is a troll
–    A Hindu who questions the facts? A Hindu who doesn’t let them spin facts? A Hindu who is equipped with facts and exposes their hypocrisy.
–    If you disagree with me, or lose a debate, you are trolling.
–    Begaani shaadi mein abdullah deewana 🙂

There are mostly two kinds of trolls. One – abusive, frustrated trolls whose idea is just to insult you. They do it in their colleges, at the bus-stop, at local paan-shops or on social media. They go after film stars, they go after girls, they go after anyone who is celebrated. They suffer from an identity crisis or are victims of schadenfreude. I am constantly trolled, abused by them. I believe they are not even trolls, they are losers. The best way to deal with them is to ignore them. If they get worse, block them or report them. But I want to talk about the other kind of trolls. The ones that journalists, columnists and politicians constantly complain about – the Smart Trolls.

The Smart Trolls go after journalists, media handles, opinion-leaders, influencers, politicians, novelists, socio-political commentators and so on. A common thread is that their victims are from the media and politics background and belong to the elite class. Out there, it’s not just trolling…it’s war. A war between the haves and the have-nots. Between citizens who are entitled and those who are deprived. It’s about who will decide the narrative. It’s identity politics originating from hundreds of years of a strategic class divide.

Kings used to have courts for the intelligentsia, artists, academicians and scholars, because a King surrounded by peasants didn’t look good. The condition for entry into this club was singing the King’s praises. This gave them position, power and protection, which in return gave them influence, money and women. Exploitation was their way of trolling. They trolled the underprivileged. They trolled dalits. They trolled people who didn’t agree with them. They trolled those who were a threat to their incompetence. They trolled women. And they could do all this as they had the King’s protection.

India was divided between the King’s men (elite class) and the masses. The masses lived in fear of the elites and had no idea what was going on inside the court. Sometimes, someone came out and made announcements. No one questioned it. It was a one-way street of knowledge and information. The King was ‘great’ because the elites said so. The elites influenced the psyche of the masses because they had information.

Then the British arrived and they had clubs too. Dogs and Browns were not allowed unless one happened to be competent to serve tea or ready to wag one’s tail. The same families who had been in the King’s courts, joined the club. The divide between the elites and masses continued.

When the British left India, these clubs were taken over by the ruling Congress.

Very strangely, the intelligentsia, academia and media that was supposed to educate, enlighten, inspire, empower and therefore, bridge the gap, didn’t do any such thing. India was further divided between people with information and people without information. Like in Arvind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger, where he talks about Dark India and Lit India. Dark India believed in the printed word. It believed in pictures. In Film Divison’s documentaries. News was news. Its trustworthiness was never questioned. People believed that one joins this thankless, poorly paying profession of journalism for integrity and service to the society. The image was of a khadi-clad, jhola type person in Bata chappals. It didn’t change until the advent of modern TV journalism.

This was when the agendas behind news and opinions, the motives behind alignments and advocacies started becoming apparent. Thus was revealed a nexus between politicians, media, industrialists and the ‘mutual-benefits’ club. Post liberalisation, the media became big business. Yes, business. Journalists became entrepreneurs and in the process, industry leaders. Some, became extremely wealthy, with free access to the corridors of real power. This was a paradigm shift for Dark India.

The nexus was flourishing until the advent of Social Media. Twitter, specifically. It became a powerful tool for citizen journalism. This empowered Dark India. They got information and a platform to share information. The young generation didn’t just stop at reading the news. They started researching it, only to find that very often, the original news wasn’t based on genuine facts. It was an interpretation of news and in most cases, just the opinion of the reporter, based on his political or commercial alignment. They realised that in Elite India, the buck never stopped anywhere. So Dark India questioned things on Twitter. They exposed media spins. They figured out hit-jobs and revealed them. The dirty games became visible. They simplified the complex web of half-truths and white lies. Twitter became an equal platform for the unequal.

This Dark India, consisting of educated and empowered youth, with access to modern technology and global awareness, formed a virtual country with their own constitution, where you can’t spin news, distort or misquote. Like Lit India didn’t let them enter the elite clubs for years, they are not letting you enter this virtual world with your lies. With your elitism. With your hypocrisy.

They are aware, alert and quick. Minutes after the article on the anatomy of trolls started being discussed, these “Hindi-speaking, Hindu trolls” dug up the author’s timeline and shared his old tweets which ironically sounded like a Hinglish speaking, sexually frustrated troll. Thus, exposing the hypocrisy and winning a mini-battle. One must know that the major weapon with these trolls is ‘digital footprint’. They take screenshots, they catalogue every tweet and statement which helps them expose opportunism, agenda and hypocrisy. They read policy reports, analyse raw data and don’t let generalised, prejudiced theories flourish, like old times.

As I write this, a leading newspaper misquoted the BJP president’s speech. A senior journalist tweeted it with a taunt, without checking facts. Some of the Bhakts immediately got into action and dug up the original speech. By noon, the senior journalist had to take back his words with an apology.There are hundreds, maybe thousands of instances like this where these trolls have maintained checks and balances. Now that’s the power of Twitter. That’s the power of these Smart Trolls. Do not generalise and mix them up with abusive trolls. Simply put, do not underestimate them.

Someone once told me ‘They aren’t trolls. They are the R&D of social media’. They are doing what journalists are supposed to do. Most of them have humour, sarcasm, style and passion for finding the truth. They are the real watchdogs. They won’t let you spin, distort and misquote. They question your reports, your research, your analyses, your stands, your status and your integrity. They call a spade a spade. You call them I

, they call you Adarsh Liberals. You call them Bhakts, they call you Libtards. You call them Sanghis, they call you AAPtards. This new, emerging, virtual India is not taking it lying down like their ancestors did. They aren’t guilty about their Hindu tilak. They aren’t embarrassed about their language or their identity. And they are here to stay. Learn to deal with them or quit Twitter.

PS: To assume they are all Hindi speaking is like assuming all MBAs are literary dumbos. To assume they are sexually frustrated is like assuming all pulp-fiction writers are part of a non-stop orgy. To assume they are all Hindus (meaning orthodox, fanatic) is like assuming all self-professed seculars are actually secular.

The author is a film-maker, writer and travel junkie. He tweets at @vivekagnihotri

http://www.dnaindia.com/india/comment-the-psyche-and-the-power-of-a-smart-troll-2104891

Jeyamohan On The Question Of Being A ‘Cultural Hindu’

Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s mail exchange with a reader who wanted to know if one could be a ‘cultural Hindu’ and what that meant. Jeyamohan traces the history of Hindusim through the colonial era and explains how the term came about.

Dear Jeyamohan,

I read that the Turkish writer and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk calls himself a ‘Cultural Muslim’. That is, someone who does not necessarily follow the rules of Islam, but continues to maintains his cultural and historical connection with it. There seems to be an equivalent term for Christians as well. But I’ve never heard the term ‘Cultural Hindu’ being used.

Despite my family background of deep religiosity, I have never been much of a practicing Hindu. I do not avoid going to temples or applying the Sacred Ash but my rational brain is always on the alert to seek those false comforts. I have never thrust my thoughts on believers, and I do see that there is a place for Hindu faith beyond mere mental comfort.

I wouldn’t go so far as to identify myself as an Atheist, probably because I am worried about cutting myself off from the tradition. I am afraid that the egotistic side of such an identity will land me in a cultural hell without any connection to the tradition that nurtured great art, literature, temples and sculpture and music over thousands of years.

Whether we like them or not, our society makes us wear religious and caste labels,. I’m just trying to stay clear of false identities, be it ‘Atheist’ or ‘Hindu’.

I think ‘Cultural Hindu’ is a good label for people like me to adopt, but I am also confused. What do you think?

Sivendran

Dear Sivendran

This is an extremely good question. Indeed, such introspection is becoming rare these days. But before I share my thoughts, I will just ask you to keep in mind that whatever I say should be considered as just one side of the discussion. As you continue your search and form your own ideas, just consider my viewpoint as one possible angle – that is all.

We don’t need to go as far out as Orhan Pamuk to get to the term Cultural Hindu. Its equivalent terms and ideas gained currency in India as early as the ‘Hindu Renaissance’ period in the 18th century.

First, let us look at the historical background on the mindset prevalent at that era. During those times, the Upper-class educated Indians who were mingling with the British were getting uncomfortable with their Hindu identity. They could neither hold onto it nor shed it off fully.

During that time, Hindu customs and its way of life were subject to constant criticism and ridicule from the white rulers. Christian preaching and conversions hit their highs. The educated Hindus grew up being subjected to such pervasive criticisms in their schools.

We can note these dynamics from the biographies from that period – the Hindus tried to bracket such criticism as ‘religious preaching’ and tried to deflect it with available counter-examples of Christian inquisitions and ethnic cleansing in South America and Australia. But they could not take on the hefty questions posed by modern European liberalism and rationalism.

It was also true that the educated Hindus worshipped and admired modern Europe and its intellectual heroes. They invested effort in learning modern European thought but had only a passing understanding of Hindu philosophy. The Hinduism that they saw for themselves was a collection of quaint foolish beliefs and inhuman practices. No wonder they felt so much discomfort in front of the Europeans.

Even the educated British resorted to depicting Indians as steeped in regressive practices and superstition. They characterized the Hindu religion using terms like Totemism, Animism, Pantheism, Polytheism, Shamanism, Idolatry and many other half-baked concepts that were familiar to them. [That practice continues to this day. Our so-called Indian intellectuals still use such borrowed terms to try to understand their own ancestral religion!].

These educated Hindus wanted to move away from such a backward identity. They had a need to portray themselves as modern humanists with democratic outlook and liberal values to the Europeans,. So they got down to splitting Hinduism into two types. They rejected the supposedly old, foolish and backward Hinduism, and tried to create another more modern one without such trappings.

Those were also the times when the Hindu books and scriptures were getting translated into European languages. Behind these lay the immense effort of a few European scholars who sincerely tried to understand Hinduism. When these translations became famous in certain circles in Europe, they got retranslated into English which were then read by the educated Indians of that time. They, in turn, tried to use these as the core philosophy of their neo-Hinduism.

This was the mindset that gave rise to the Hindu Reform movements. The Brahmo Samaj was a good example. It was an attempt to take the Hindu philosophical core and build a ‘Christian’ shell on top of it. Brahmo Samaj sought to create a Hinduism that was close to the modern European worldview.

Brahmo Samaj became popular among the upper-classes of Calcutta. It became understood that the Samaj was a good way to get close to the Whites. The Brahmo Samajis strongly rejected the Hindu ways of temple worship, festivals or sanyasa. Young Hindus with English skills showed a lot of interest in joining the Samaj.

The Bengali parents of those days worried that their youngsters were going to join the Samaj. (The Tamil poet Bharathiyar had based one of his stories – Aaril Oru Pangu – on such a situation).

It was true that organizations like the Brahmo Samaj helped in removing many superstitions and outlawing wrong practices that had all become part of Hinduism. But it also gave rise to a widespread question of whether the Brahmp Samaj was destroying the unique characteristics that made up Hinduism itself. This gave rise to a reactionary trend against the Samaj characterized by deep worship of backward ideas and Hindu conservatism. We can see all these narrated in Tagore’s novel ‘Gora’.

Then, there came a man whose genius and spiritual strength alone took on the Brahmo Samaj single-handedly, and made it disappear – Ramakrishna Paramhamsa!

Ramakrishna took as his students the same enthusiastic educated young men that the Brahmo Samaj had created. The gem among them was Swami Vivekananda. He was a Vedantin who spoke in the language of Brahmo Samaj. The Samaj vehemently opposed Vivekananda – it is very well known that its spokesman named Majumdar worked hard in America to create a slander campaign against the Swami. Vivekananda rose against all this and successfully established that the Hindu Gnana and culture did not reside within its backward customs and beliefs. He showed that Hinduism could stand on its own on the modern world stage, without losing any of its core.

During Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s time, there were many discussions and efforts around separating ‘Hindu culture’ from the ‘Hindu religion’. The most important question then was whether someone could still be a Hindu despite rejecting all its religious customs. The novel ‘Gora’ could be read as a starting point on this topic.

Then we encounter the same question in Jawaharlal Nehru’s works. In fact, if memory serves me right, I have even read the words ‘Cultural Hindu’ in Nehru’s writing.

Nehru was a self-proclaimed atheist. His atheism was based on European liberalism, he felt close to the anti-religious movements that held sway in Europe then. Bertrand Russel’s writing influenced him a lot. He was also very interested in European Naturalist thought.

But Nehru always felt himself a part of Indian culture. He was emotionally connected to Indian philosophy, aesthetics and emotions. He knew that they were all based on Hindu tradition, and he realized that he could not reject them fully.

That’s how he reached the identity of Cultural Hindu. That is, keeping oneself as the inheritor of all the good stuff in Hinduism that developed over thousands of years, and simultaneously, fully distancing oneself from the ‘bad’ parts like God, Temple worship and ritualistic beliefs.

Many of the important intellectuals of the Nehruvian era too identified themselves that way. The literary critic Ka.Na.Subramaniam called himself ‘just culturally a Hindu’. In fact, I heard that term for the first time at a meeting in Chennai when Ka.Na.Su used it on stage.

Like Ka.Na.Su, Sundara Ramasamy too called himself ‘a Hindu on just cultural terms’, he never had any belief in god or interest in religion as far as I knew. P.K Balakrishnan calls himself a Cultural Hindu in his essay. In the bigger Indian scene, one could quote many examples like Dr. Shivaram Karanth and U.R.Ananthamurthy. Even today, many intellectuals prefer to hold this identity.

In Tamil, Jayakanthan was one who strongly argued that the word ‘Hindu’ should be used strictly in a cultural context. He has thundered on stage that ‘I am an Atheist but I am a Hindu’. Jayakanthan has discussed and explained the term Cultural Hindu in many angles.

So the concept itself is not new, it is at least a hundred years old now. It is a concept that was born during the Indian Renaissance period, evolved over time and is still in use today. So we need to understand – what makes it useful today, where does it fit in?

Where did the need arise for Brahmo Samaj to split Hinduism into two? The Europe of that time had created a Hinduism according its own view. For them, Hinduism meant a single religion that was comprised of many things like worship of many gods, idol worship, casteism, untouchability, sacrificial rituals, festivals, superstitions, various kinds of mutts and religious orders, and a strong god-fearing Bhakti.

The only religions that Europeans knew of till then had a monolithic architecture – they had a defined flow and a concrete point-of-view. The Europeans visualized Hinduism in the same way.

When the Europeans started to examine it closely in the 18th century, Hinduism was still pluralistic and malleable. It was when the English-educated Hindus started absorbing the idea of Singular Hinduism from the Europeans that the Hindu religion as we know it today was born.

As far as most Europeans were concerned, all parts of Hinduism were all pieces of one big structure, they operated together. It went like this — Vedanta philosophy and Sati rituals were aspects of the same religion, they were connected. So, if Sati was barbaric then Vedanta too should be barbaric. Rituals like Sati were established and held in place by core philosophies like Vedanta. So Hinduism should be rejected.

It was no surprise that the Conservatives in the Hindu Orthodoxy lapped up this ‘singularizing’ eagerly, it allowed their orthodoxy to claim religious power. But what is puzzling is that this concept was also accepted by the Anti-Hindu atheists. The truth is this: the two opposing groups of Hinduism, the Orthodox conservatives and their radical atheist opponents, have both adopted a vision of Hinduism that was fed to them by the Europeans.

The Hindu conservatives will always argue that all Hindu tradition was Vedic tradition. Then they will say that the Vedic tradition is Vedanta itself, and that the Vedanta underlies all the practices of Vedic tradition. They will call all practices, including Untouchability, as an integral part of Hinduism, subsuming Vedanta within itself. That is, they will reject all the internal dynamics of Hinduism and proffer a singular structure that is advantageous to themselves. They will call that structure as ‘the Hinduism as drawn up by the ancestors’.

The enemies of Hinduism will the echo the same thing perfectly. For them too, the Vedic tradition is the Hindu religion. All its practices are inseparable from Hinduism and Vedanta is just a part of it. There are no differences or conflicts between its practices, philosophies and spiritualities. Just one and the same! It’s no surprise why our atheists love their opponents to adopt such a singular position – they could argue against it easily.

But unlike the European constructed view, the true Hindu way is not monolithic or singular in structure. It is an immense collection of various kinds of philosophies that have enriched and grown each other through mutual discussion and argument. Plurality is its identity, it has no central place for any single philosophy. Its fundamentals are not based on customs, rituals or beliefs. It is a Knowledge Space that progresses on its own internal dialectic that splits and splices, accepts and rejects constantly.

A few people who followed the Marxist approach understood this unique dynamic – K.Damodaran being a good example. E.M.S Namboothiripad also understood it to some extent. For them, the concept of Dialectics was very useful in helping them grasp the idea.

Unfortunately, there is no one in Tamil Nadu today who has understood the Marxian principle of historical analysis. It has devolved into a mere political slogan –instead the Tamil Marxists have only learnt the bad habits from third-rate Dravidian party polemics.

The Hindu Tradition of Knowledge – ‘Gnana Marabu’ – refers to that entire platform of discussion. Vedanta, and its later, more mature forms like Advaita, make up one of the biggest sides of the argument. They are the peaks of Hindu philosophical thought. They are neither dependent nor based on customs, rituals, practices or beliefs. Vedanta can stand on its own as a philosophy without the help of any single religious sect.

Once this concept was firmly established in modern Indian thought by Vivekananda, the proponents of Monolithic Hinduism started to retreat. The idea, that it is not necessary to rely on ‘external intellectual structures’ in order to reform Hinduism, became much stronger. That kind of structure has always been present inside Hinduism itself. It also became clearer that Hinduism has always had space for such kind of self-opposing and self-reforming flows. Thus the Brahmo Samaj finally withered away.

The pluralism stood up by Vivekananda was much strengthened by Narayana Guru’s movement. It too set forth Vedanta as the philosophy of choice, but it used Vedanta as the mighty force against all the backward aspects like Untouchability.

We can see that the traditional opponents of Hinduism are powerless against such a pluralistic vision of Hinduism. That is why they will resort to branding the Pluralist as yet another member of the Conservative camp. They will seek to deploy the same weapons that they successfully used against the Orthodoxy.

Let us say, if someone calls himself a Hindu and a Vedantin. From his ground, he rejects all the orthodox customs and beliefs of Hinduism. What would the enemies do? After all, their regular tactics do not seem to work against him! So they will call him a fraud, an Orthodox wolf in the Progressive sheep’s clothing. Even if he spends his entire lifetime in public working against casteism, superstition and inhumanity, they will denounce him as casteist, backward and regressive. One could quote many examples – Narayana Guru himself went through this.

Now, let me come back to your question. So you are trying to adopt the label of Cultural Hindu – but why? The answer is this – you have sub-consciously accepted the monolithic vision of Hinduism that has been propagated by both the Hindu Conservative and Anti-Hindu camps. You feel that being just a Hindu means accepting all of its customs and beliefs, including foolish inhuman ones.

But you are not prepared to accept it – because your humanism and your logical brain refuses to accept it. So you try to extract only the cultural aspects of Hinduism for yourself. You try to create a place for yourself using whatever you have taken.

But this issue would have never arisen if you hadn’t accepted the European vision of singular Hinduism in the first place. Hinduism is a massive platform of interacting ideas, a cultural space. You are free to take any side, free to join any part of the discussion. Yet whatever you do, you remain a Hindu.

Hinduism allows space for total atheism and total anti-ritualism to exist – within itself. That is, whatever it is that you are seeking to achieve by going outside, there is a place for doing that within Hinduism itself. You could be a Cultural Hindu while fully being inside Hinduism.

You can continue to be a Hindu even if you do not read a single religious book, do not follow any religious sect, do not follow any methods of worship or believe in any god. All you need to do is to find a place for yourself on this great platform. There are many hundreds of good examples. Ramalinga Vallalar is a great example. Wasn’t he a Hindu? Wasn’t his concept of Jyoti worship firmly rejecting of every single philosophy that existed before it?

So why does Orhan Pamuk need to call himself a ‘Cultural Muslim’? Prophetic religions are tight, they do not permit such space. Islam has strict boundaries, those within it must accept Allah, Mohammad and the Quran – else they are not Muslims. If someone realizes that they are unable to submit fully to the faith, yet wants to remain connected to fifteen hundred years of cultural evolution, then the only option available to them is to call themselves a Cultural Muslim.

Does a Hindu face any such compulsions at all?

Forget the whole Hindu identity, let us just take Shaivism. Even Shaivism is a collection of concepts, not a single organized religion. Just look at the sheer number of ways in which Shiva is worshipped!! There are those who read the Thiruvilayadal Purana and worship the Linga daily, and then there are those who sit in meditation saying Shivoham (‘Shivam Aham’ – I am Shiva). Two diametrically opposite points of view! Shaivism has six internal religious sects within it – Shaivam, Pashupata, Mavirata, Kalamuka, Vama, and Vairava. Six Shivas!!

Shaivism can be segmented into three on historical basis.

– One, the Shaiva way of worship, comprised of ancient methods like Linga worship – it is one of the oldest religions in the world.

– Two, the Shaivite religion. It formed around the 4th century BC, and grew by pulling in many forms of Shiva and other gods. Bhakti holds the central place in its worship. All the great Shaiva works of literature, arts and temples were creations of this religion.

– Saiva Siddhanta came up at a much later stage. One could say that its earliest forms developed around the 10th century. The higher aspects of Saiva Siddhanta philosophy developed still a few hundred years later.

Within Shaivites, the pure Siddhantis are at one end of the spectrum, while the ritualists are at the other end. When practicing the purest form of Saiva Siddhanta, you could reject every single custom and ritual of the average Shaivite. Yes, you could even reject the concept of ‘God’ itself.

For a worshipper, who is Shiva? The Lord of the Universe. The one who creates, conducts and destroys the Earth. You could submit to him, worship him and achieve a good life and contentment.

But who is Shiva for a Siddhanti? In his view, the knowable Universe is a space of boundless energy. He calls it the Shakti. There is a principle that gives the Shakti the active and creative characteristic. That principle is the Shivam.

The Siddhanti does not need to worship the Shiva, he does not need to submit or pray, and he does not need to give it any form. He just needs to feel Shiva’s cosmic dance in all of the Universe, that’s his state of completeness. That’s his salvation. Now, does religious faith figure in this? This is entirely a high-philosophy discussion. And since it seeks an overall vision, it is Spiritualism. But anyone at this level is still a Shaivite.

You feel that if you identify as a Shaivite, you will feel compelled to put on the Sacred Ash, sing the Devaram hymns, and perform Shiva puja every day. But since you cannot bring yourself to do any of this, you just want to retain the cultural aspects of Shaivism. I’m just bringing all this up just because one of your statements is just the result of not knowing the space available within Shaivism. You could be a purely philosophical Shaivite without doing any of the things that you mentioned.

Okay, but could you also reject Shaivism and take up total Atheism? You would reach the Lokayata religion – which is called by Shaivism as ‘Exterior Religion’ (‘Purachamayam’). There are many aspects within Lokayata too.

We could describe it all this way. Say, there is a big fort; you could build your house outside the fort. The town grows like that. If you build your house outside the town, the town just becomes bigger and now includes your house.

That is, in your current state, you do not really need an identity like Cultural Hindu, there is no need to define yourself that way. The Shaivite religion seems to be your family tradition – but if you are not able to gel with its everyday practices and god forms, you do not need to come out of it and call yourself a Cultural Hindu and all that. There is space within that religion for you to move beyond customary worship and move to higher levels of experience. A Shaivite worshipper becoming a Saiva Siddhanti is equivalent to crossing the distance from the earth to the sky.

If you are still unsatisfied after reaching that pinnacle, if you have learnt every spiritual-philosophical explanation that Hinduism has to offer and have rejected all of them, and then if you fully feel that you are an Atheist but are unsatisfied by all the Charvaka atheist philosophies in Hinduism, then – and only then – you could go outside and call yourself a Cultural Hindu.

But I still think there is a place for the term Cultural Hindu today. Two reasons:

– All the religions that evolved out of India like Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism, could be seen as belonging to the same cultural space. Their mythologies, fundamental beliefs, and symbolisms are all born out of what we would generally term as Hindu Culture.

– If someone is Jain, Buddhist or Sikh, they could be still be called as culturally a Hindu. You could also include Sufism in this. The symbolism and the stories in the songs of Kunangudi Masthan Sahib, Peer Mohammad Appa and Umaruppulavar were all born out of the immense Hindu cultural space.

Here we should use the word Hindu carefully – not to create differences but to remove them. That word does not belong to anyone, it cannot be controlled by anyone. Like the rivers and mountains of this land, it belongs to everyone that was born here. That was a quote from Jayakanthan in one of his speeches.

Secondly, Cultural Hindu will be useful for someone to identify with when they have fully moved away from all Indian philosophies and have adopted a Western mindset, yet does not intend to lose touch with Indian cultural aspects.

However we look at it, it is a useful term. It provides a good response to all the hatred against the word ‘Hindu’ that has been swept up by the religious conversion machinery and their paid servants among the Indian intellectuals.

Obviously, those who call Orhan Pamuk progressive for calling himself a Cultural Muslim will take a step back to think when Siventhiran calls himself a Cultural Hindu, right? Why should we lose that opportunity?!!?

–Jeyamohan

Jeyamohan is amongst the leading writers and critics of Tamil and Malayalam

http://swarajyamag.com/culture/jeyamohan-on-the-question-of-being-a-cultural-hindu/

From effeminate Hindus to virile men

Abhik Roy

British colonial discourse was replete with images of Hindus as being weak and ineffectual who were devoid of any form of masculinity. Thomas Babington Macaulay wrote about the effeminacy of Hindus in dealing with Muslims in blatantly racist terms: “The dark, slender, and timid Hindoo (sic) shrank from a conflict with the strong muscle and resolute spirit of the fair race, which dwelt beyond the passes.”

Macaulay described the Bengalis thus:

“Whatever the Bengali does he does languidly. His favourite pursuits are sedentary. He shrinks from bodily exertion; and though voluble in dispute, and singularly pertinacious in the war of chicane he seldom engages in personal conflict, and scarcely ever enlists as a soldier. There never perhaps existed a people so thoroughly fitted by habit for a foreign yoke.”

Very much akin to Macaulay, George Warrington Steevens depicted Bengalis in the most denigrating ways:

“By his legs you shall know the Bengali… The Bengali’s leg is either skin and bone, the same size all the way down, with knobs for knees, or else it is very fat and globular, also turning in at the knees, with round thighs like a woman’s. The Bengali’s leg is a leg of a slave.”

Within these examples, one can begin to see the emergence of a common narrative form. The British colonial discourse begins with the establishment of the Hindu male as a weak, lazy, cowardly slave. But not only does the colonial discourse establish a negative construction of Indian males’ character and physicality, it also — as further seen below — links this negative construction to military inaction.

For example, Colonel JSE Western described Hindus as “as the non-fighting classes (who) never possessed the desirable virtue of courage”. And James Mill wrote: Hindus “possess(ed) a certain softness both in their persons and in their address that distinguished them from the manlier races of Europe”. Connecting the negative construction of character (non-fighting, soft, effeminate, cowardly) with a narrative of inaction completes the British colonial rhetoric of the effeminate Indian who was destined to be colonized.

Importantly, we see the colonial discourse of the effeminate Hindu operated even when the colonialists were confronted with potentially contrary examples. Specifically, it is important to note that representations of effeminate Indian men were created on the basis of complex ethnic classifications. These classifications allowed for the identification of particular “groups” of Indian men who were not effeminate without negating the overall anecdote. For example, Sir George MacMunn, the author of The Martial Races of India, ridiculed Gandhi, wondering how some Hindus, namely Rajputs Sikhs and Marathas turned out to be brave Indian warriors when Hindus in general were such weaklings: “Who and what are the martial races of India, how do they come, and in what crucible, on what anvil’s (sic) hot with pain spring the soldiers of India, whom surely Baba Ghandi (sic) never fathered?”

In response to British colonial rule and the racist discourse it generated concerning Hindus, Swami Vivekananda’s rhetoric emphasized a form of Hindu masculinity that was grounded in spiritual principles and bodily discipline. In nation-building efforts, for Vivekananda, there was no room for weaklings. He believed that Hindus needed to overcome their weakness, which was identified as effeminacy and become strong, virile men to combat the colonialists. To his fellow citizens he underscored the need for having bold, courageous Hindus to fight the British and prove their worth by being men:

“I will go into a thousand hells cheerfully if I can rouse my countrymen,

Immersed in tamas, to stand on their own feet and be men inspired with the spirit of Karma yoga, or: … the older I grow, the more everything seems to me to lie in manliness. This is my new gospel. Do even evil like a man! Be wicked if you must, on a grand scale, or: No more weeping, but stand on your feet and be men. It is a man-making religion that we want. It is man-making theories that we want. I want the strength, manhood, kshatravirya, or the virility of the warrior.

“Vivekananda reminded his countrymen that they could serve their religious and spiritual needs more effectively if they only disciplined their corporeal body better:

“You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger … You will understand the Upanishads better and the glory of Atman when your body stands firm upon your feet, and you feel yourselves as men.”

Vivekananda’s commitment to the warrior as a model of manhood could also be seen in his criticism of the Vaishnavas for their belief in nonviolence, which he perceived as being a feminine quality. He believed that it was this kind of thinking that made the Bengalis effeminate. He once commented to his friend, “Through the preaching of that love broadcast, the nation has become effeminate –– a race of women! The whole of Orissa has been turned into a land of cowards, and Bengal … has almost lost all sense of manliness.”

One can see a potential tension within Vivekananda’s rhetoric surrounding nonviolence as it relates to masculinity. On the one hand, Vivekananda’s writings frequently condemned the West for its irresponsible and often barbaric use of physical aggression and military power; on the other hand, he rejected nonviolence as incompatible with Hindu masculinity. However, if one considers Vivekananda’s rhetorical project in light of his emphasis on spiritual masculinity as a means for nation-building it is possible to reconcile this tension productively. Spiritual masculinity has to reject absolute nonviolence to the extent that this principle might be equated with passivity and inaction and therefore, contribute to the colonial threat of emasculation. However, rejecting certain articulations of nonviolence is not necessarily the same as embracing violence as a preferred mode of action. While proponents of nonviolence, such as the Vaishnavas might emphasize principles such as universal love, for Vivekananda, the emphasis had to be on courage and spiritually grounded action.

Vivekananda’s conception of manliness was linked to celibacy and asceticism. In fact, he was a life-long sanyasi who practiced brahmacharya. Thus, Vivekananda’s version of manhood was based not only on traditional notions of physicality, but also on the Hindu principle of asceticism. In his construction of Hindu masculinity, he sought to strike a balance between the militant aspects of the Kshatriya and the austere, disciplined and self-sacrificing dimensions of Hindu asceticism.

This is probably why Vivekananda was a strong advocate of celibacy in order to regain one’s manhood and virility; he often urged Hindu youth to accept celibacy as a way of life in order to conserve their strength. In a letter to one of his disciples, Vivekananda wrote the following: “every fool is married. Marriage! Marriage! Marriage! … the way our boys are married nowadays!” By incorporating some aspects of Western masculinity with its emphasis on physical power, strength, and militarism, and fusing it with Hindu spiritualism that calls for renunciation, self-control, and discipline of the body Vivekananda provided a counter discourse to oppose the colonial construction of Hindu effeteness. His emphasis on asceticism and celibacy made it possible to reclaim a version of masculinity for both Hindu men and for India.

Vivekananda defined Hindu masculinity as spiritually pure with a powerful core; he regarded spiritual strength not only as an appropriate but ideal form of manhood. Clearly, Vivekananda’s rhetoric of Hindu masculinity strove to break away from overemphasizing the physical body as the primary site of strength and power as was the case with the West. He did so by advocating the disciplining of the body to attain the purity of spirit. While Vivekananda’s rhetoric rejected certain articulations of nonviolence as being incompatible with Hindu masculinity, his emphasis on the importance of the spiritual aspects of power suggests that his was not a masculinity of unbridled aggression any more than it was a masculinity of passivity and inaction. Although Vivekananda used the term “Hindu” quite often in his discourse, which many Hindu nationalists have exploited to render Indian Muslims and Christians as foreigners in India, Vivekananda used the term Hindu in a broader sense that included all minorities. As historian Amiya P. Sen has explained, Vivekananda used the term Hindu in an “expansive, geo-cultural sense rather than the narrowly religious or communal” meaning of many Hindu nationalists.

Vivekananda’s rhetoric of spiritual masculinity that urges us to cease from unleashing violence and, instead, use a higher form of power that is grounded in spiritualism is of special relevance in contemporary India where we find religious extremist groups embroiled in violent conflicts. In these challenging times when Indian nationalism is often constructed in hypermasculine and nativistic terms that often ends up in unspeakable violence and terror, it is not too late to embrace Vivekananda’s notion of masculinity that exhorts us to tap into our spiritual qualities. It is only by upholding the spiritual can we eschew the negative, destructive attributes of the traditional notion of masculinity that is often linked with violence and bloodshed.

http://www.thestatesman.com/news/latest-headlines/from-effeminate-hindus-to-virile-men/70804.html

THE COMMON BASES OF HINDUISM by Swami Vivekananda

On his arrival at Lahore the Swamiji was accorded a grand reception by the leaders, both of the Ârya Samâj and of the Sanâtana Dharma Sabhâ. During his brief stay in Lahore, Swamiji delivered three lectures. The first of these was on “The Common Bases of Hinduism”, the second on “Bhakti” , and the third one was the famous lecture on “The Vedanta” . On the first occasion he spoke as follows:

This is the land which is held to be the holiest even in holy Âryâvarta; this is the Brahmâvarta of which our great Manu speaks. This is the land from whence arose that mighty aspiration after the Spirit, ay, which in times to come, as history shows, is to deluge the world. This is the land where, like its mighty rivers, spiritual aspirations have arisen and joined their strength, till they travelled over the length and breadth of the world and declared themselves with a voice of thunder. This is the land which had first to bear the brunt of all inroads and invasions into India; this heroic land had first to bare its bosom to every onslaught of the outer barbarians into Aryavarta. This is the land which, after all its sufferings, has not yet entirely lost its glory and its strength. Here it was that in later times the gentle Nânak preached his marvellous love for the world. Here it was that his broad heart was opened and his arms outstretched to embrace the whole world, not only of Hindus, but of Mohammedans too. Here it was that one of the last and one of the most glorious heroes of our race, Guru Govinda Singh, after shedding his blood and that of his dearest and nearest for the cause of religion, even when deserted by those for whom this blood was shed, retired into the South to die like a wounded lion struck to the heart, without a word against his country, without a single word of murmur.

Here, in this ancient land of ours, children of the land of five rivers, I stand before you, not as a teacher, for I know very little to teach, but as one who has come from the east to exchange words of greeting with the brothers of the west, to compare notes. Here am I, not to find out differences that exist among us, but to find where we agree. Here am I trying to understand on what ground we may always remain brothers, upon what foundations the voice that has spoken from eternity may become stronger and stronger as it grows. Here am I trying to propose to you something of constructive work and not destructive. For criticism the days are past, and we are waiting for constructive work. The world needs, at times, criticisms even fierce ones; but that is only for a time, and the work for eternity is progress and construction, and not criticism and destruction. For the last hundred years or so, there has been a flood of criticism all over this land of ours, where the full play of Western science has been let loose upon all the dark spots, and as a result the corners and the holes have become much more prominent than anything else. Naturally enough there arose mighty intellects all over the land, great and glorious, with the love of truth and justice in their hearts, with the love of their country, and above all, an intense love for their religion and their God; and because these mighty souls felt so deeply, because they loved so deeply, they criticised everything they thought was wrong. Glory unto these mighty spirits of the past! They have done so much good; but the voice of the present day is coming to us, telling, “Enough!” There has been enough of criticism, there has been enough of fault-finding, the time has come for the rebuilding, the reconstructing; the time has come for us to gather all our scattered forces, to concentrate them into one focus, and through that, to lead the nation on its onward march, which for centuries almost has been stopped. The house has been cleansed; let it be inhabited anew. The road has been cleared. March children of the Aryans!

Gentlemen, this is the motive that brings me before you, and at the start I may declare to you that I belong to no party and no sect. They are all great and glorious to me, I love them all, and all my life I have been attempting to find what is good and true in them. Therefore, it is my proposal tonight to bring before you points where we are agreed, to find out, if we can, a ground of agreement; and if through the grace of the Lord such a state of things be possible, let us take it up, and from theory carry it out into practice. We are Hindus. I do not use the word Hindu in any bad sense at all, nor do I agree with those that think there is any bad meaning in it. In old times, it simply meant people who lived on the other side of the Indus; today a good many among those who hate us may have put a bad interpretation upon it, but names are nothing. Upon us depends whether the name Hindu will stand for everything that is glorious, everything that is spiritual, or whether it will remain a name of opprobrium, one designating the downtrodden, the worthless, the heathen. If at present the word Hindu means anything bad, never mind; by our action let us be ready to show that this is the highest word that any language can invent. It has been one of the principles of my life not to be ashamed of my own ancestors. I am one of the proudest men ever born, but let me tell you frankly, it is not for myself, but on account of my ancestry. The more I have studied the past, the more I have looked back, more and more has this pride come to me, and it has given me the strength and courage of conviction, raised me up from the dust of the earth, and set me working out that great plan laid out by those great ancestors of ours. Children of those ancient Aryans, through the grace of the Lord may you have the same pride, may that faith in your ancestors come into your blood, may it become a part and parcel of your lives, may it work towards the salvation of the world!

Before trying to find out the precise point where we are all agreed, the common ground of our national life, one thing we must remember. Just as there is an individuality in every man, so there is a national individuality. As one man differs from another in certain particulars, in certain characteristics of his own, so one race differs from another in certain peculiar characteristics; and just as it is the mission of every man to fulfil a certain purpose in the economy of nature, just as there is a particular line set out for him by his own past Karma, so it is with nations — each nation has a destiny to fulfil, each nation has a message to deliver, each nation has a mission to accomplish. Therefore, from the very start, we must have to understand the mission of our own race, the destiny it has to fulfil, the place it has to occupy in the march of nations, the note which it has to contribute to the harmony of races. In our country, when children, we hear stories how some serpents have jewels in their heads, and whatever one may do with the serpent, so long as the jewel is there, the serpent cannot be killed. We hear stories of giants and ogres who had souls living in certain little birds, and so long as the bird was safe, there was no power on earth to kill these giants; you might hack them to pieces, or do what you liked to them, the giants could not die. So with nations, there is a certain point where the life of a nation centres, where lies the nationality of the nation, and until that is touched, the nation cannot die. In the light of this we can understand the most marvellous phenomenon that the history of the world has ever known. Wave after wave of Barbarian conquest has rolled over this devoted land of ours. “Allah Ho Akbar!” has rent the skies for hundreds of years, and no Hindu knew what moment would be his last. This is the most suffering and the most subjugated of all the historic lands of the world. Yet we still stand practically the same race, ready to face difficulties again and again if necessary; and not only so, of late there have been signs that we are not only strong, but ready to go out, for the sign of life is expansion.

We find today that our ideas and thoughts are no more cooped up within the bounds of India, but whether we will it or not, they are marching outside, filtering into the literature of nations, taking their place among nations, and in some, even getting a commanding dictatorial position. Behind this we find the explanation that the great contribution to the sum total of the world’s progress from India is the greatest, the noblest, the sublimest theme that can occupy the mind of man — it is philosophy and spirituality. Our ancestors tried many other things; they, like other nations, first went to bring out the secrets of external nature as we all know, and with their gigantic brains that marvellous race could have done miracles in that line of which the world could have been proud for ever. But they gave it up for something higher; something better rings out from the pages of the Vedas: “That science is the greatest which makes us know Him who never changes!” The science of nature, changeful, evanescent, the world of death, of woe, of misery, may be great, great indeed; but the science of Him who changes not, the Blissful One, where alone is peace, where alone is life eternal, where alone is perfection, where alone all misery ceases — that, according to our ancestors, was the sublimest science of all. After all, sciences that can give us only bread and clothes and power over our fellowmen, sciences that can teach us only how to conquer our fellow-beings, to rule over them, which teach the strong to domineer over the weak — those they could have discovered if they willed. But praise be unto the Lord, they caught at once the other side, which was grander, infinitely higher, infinitely more blissful, till it has become the national characteristic, till it has come down to us, inherited from father to son for thousands of years, till it has become a part and parcel of us, till it tingles in every drop of blood that runs through our veins, till it has become our second nature, till the name of religion and Hindu have become one. This is the national characteristic, and this cannot be touched. Barbarians with sword and fire, barbarians bringing barbarous religions, not one of them could touch the core, not one could touch the “jewel”, not one had the power to kill the “bird” which the soul of the race inhabited. This, therefore, is the vitality of I the race, and so long as that remains, there is no power under the sun that can kill the race. All the tortures and miseries of the world will pass over without hurting us, and we shall come out of the flames like Prahlâda, so long as we hold on to this grandest of all our inheritances, spirituality. If a Hindu is not spiritual I do not call him a Hindu. In other countries a man may be political first, and then he may have a little religion, but here in India the first and the foremost duty of our lives is to be spiritual first, and then, if there is time, let other things come. Bearing this in mind we shall be in a better position to understand why, for our national welfare, we must first seek out at the present day all the spiritual forces of the race, as was done in days of yore and will be done in all times to come. National union in India must be a gathering up of its scattered spiritual forces. A nation in India must be a union of those whose hearts beat to the same spiritual tune.

There have been sects enough in this country. There are sects enough, and there will be enough in the future, because this has been the peculiarity of our religion that in abstract principles so much latitude has been given that, although afterwards so much detail has been worked out, all these details are the working out of principles, broad as the skies above our heads, eternal as nature herself. Sects, therefore, as a matter of course, must exist here, but what need not exist is sectarian quarrel. Sects must be but sectarianism need not. The world would not be the better for sectarianism, but the world cannot move on without having sects. One set of men cannot do everything. The almost infinite mass of energy in the world cannot tie managed by a small number of people. Here, at once we see the necessity that forced this division of labour upon us — the division into sects. For the use of spiritual forces let there be sects; but is there any need that we should quarrel when our most ancient books declare that this differentiation is only apparent, that in spite of all these differences there is a thread of harmony, that beautified unity, running through them all? Our most ancient books have declared: एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति। — “That which exists is One; sages call Him by various names.” Therefore, if there are these sectarian struggles, if there are these fights among the different sects, if there is jealousy and hatred between the different sects in India, the land where all sects have always been honoured, it is a shame on us who dare to call ourselves the descendants of those fathers.

There are certain great principles in which, I think, we — whether Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shâktas, or Gânapatyas, whether belonging to the ancient Vedantists or the modern ones, whether belonging to the old rigid sects or the modern reformed ones — are all one, and whoever calls himself a Hindu, believes in these principles. Of course there is a difference in the interpretation, in the explanation of these principles, and that difference should be there, and it should be allowed, for our standard is not to bind every man down to our position. It would be a sin to force every man to work out our own interpretation of things, and to live by our own methods. Perhaps all who are here will agree on the first point that we believe the Vedas to be the eternal teachings of the secrets of religion. We all believe that this holy literature is without beginning and without end, coeval with nature, which is without beginning and without end; and that all our religious differences, all our religious struggles must end when we stand in the presence of that holy book; we are all agreed that this is the last court of appeal in all our spiritual differences. We may take different points of view as to what the Vedas are. There may be one sect which regards one portion as more sacred than another, but that matters little so long as we say that we are all brothers in the Vedas, that out of these venerable, eternal, marvellous books has come everything that we possess today, good, holy, and pure. Well, therefore, if we believe in all this, let this principle first of all be preached broadcast throughout the length and breadth of the land. If this be true, let the Vedas have that prominence which they always deserve, and which we all believe in. First, then, the Vedas. The second point we all believe in is God, the creating, the preserving power of the whole universe, and unto whom it periodically returns to come out at other periods and manifest this wonderful phenomenon, called the universe. We may differ as to our conception of God. One may believe in a God who is entirely personal, another may believe in a God who is personal and yet not human, and yet another may believe in a God who is entirely impersonal, and all may get their support from the Vedas. Still we are all believers in God; that is to say, that man who does not believe in a most marvellous Infinite Power from which everything has come, in which everything lives, and to which everything must in the end return, cannot be called a Hindu. If that be so, let us try to preach that idea all over the land. Preach whatever conception you have to give, there is no difference, we are not going to fight over it, but preach God; that is all we want. One idea may be better than another, but, mind you, not one of them is bad. One is good, another is better, and again another may be the best, but the word bad does not enter the category of our religion. Therefore, may the Lord bless them all who preach the name of God in what ever form they like! The more He is preached, the better for this race. Let our children be brought up in this idea, let this idea enter the homes of the poorest and the lowest, as well as of the richest and the highest — the idea of the name of God.

The third idea that I will present before you is that, unlike all other races of the world, we do not believe that this world was created only so many thousand years ago, and is going to be destroyed eternally on a certain day. Nor do we believe that the human soul has been created along with this universe just out of nothing. Here is another point I think we are all able to agree upon. We believe in nature being without beginning and without end; only at psychological periods this gross material of the outer universe goes back to its finer state, thus to remain for a certain period, again to be projected outside to manifest all this infinite panorama we call nature. This wavelike motion was going on even before time began, through eternity, and will remain for an infinite period of time.

Next, all Hindus believe that man is not only a gross material body; not only that within this there is the finer body, the mind, but there is something yet greater — for the body changes and so does the mind — something beyond, the Âtman — I cannot translate the word to you for any translation will be wrong — that there is something beyond even this fine body, which is the Atman of man, which has neither beginning nor end, which knows not what death is. And then this peculiar idea, different from that of all other races of men, that this Atman inhabits body after body until there is no more interest for it to continue to do so, and it becomes free, not to be born again, I refer to the theory of Samsâra and the theory of eternal souls taught by our Shâstras. This is another point where we all agree, whatever sect we may belong to. There may be differences as to the relation between the soul and God. According to one sect the soul may be eternally different from God, according to another it may be a spark of that infinite fire, yet again according to others it may be one with that Infinite. It does not matter what our interpretation is, so long as we hold on to the one basic belief that the soul is infinite, that this soul was never created, and therefore will never die, that it had to pass and evolve into various bodies, till it attained perfection in the human one — in that we are all agreed. And then comes the most differentiating, the grandest, and the most wonderful discovery in the realms of spirituality that has ever been made. Some of you, perhaps, who have been studying Western thought, may have observed already that there is another radical difference severing at one stroke all that is Western from all that is Eastern. It is this that we hold, whether we are Shâktas, Sauras, or Vaishnavas, even whether we are Bauddhas or Jainas, we all hold in India that the soul is by its nature pure and perfect, infinite in power and blessed. Only, according to the dualist, this natural blissfulness of the soul has become contracted by past bad work, and through the grace of God it is again going to open out and show its perfection; while according to the monist, even this idea of contraction is a partial mistake, it is the veil of Maya that causes us to think the, soul has lost its powers, but the powers are there fully manifest. Whatever the difference may be, we come to the central core, and there is at once an irreconcilable difference between all that is Western and Eastern. The Eastern is looking inward for all that is great and good. When we worship, we close our eyes and try to find God within. The Western is looking up outside for his God. To the Western their religious books have been inspired, while with us our books have been expired; breath-like they came, the breath of God, out of the hearts of sages they sprang, the Mantra-drashtâs.

This is one great point to understand, and, my friends, my brethren, let me tell you, this is the one point we shall have to insist upon in the future. For I am firmly convinced, and I beg you to understand this one fact – no good comes out of the man who day and night thinks he is nobody. If a man, day and night, thinks he is miserable, low, and nothing, nothing he becomes. If you say yea, yea, “I am, I am”, so shall you be; and if you say “I am not”, think that you are not, and day and night meditate upon the fact that you are nothing, ay, nothing shall you be. That is the great fact which you ought to remember. We are the children of the Almighty, we are sparks of the infinite, divine fire. How can we be nothings? We are everything, ready to do everything, we can do everything, and man must do everything. This faith in themselves was in the hearts of our ancestors, this faith in themselves was the motive power that pushed them forward and forward in the march of civilisation; and if there has been degeneration, if there has been defect, mark my words, you will find that degradation to have started on the day our people lost this faith in themselves. Losing faith in one’s self means losing faith in God. Do you believe in that infinite, good Providence working in and through you? If you believe that this Omnipresent One, the Antaryâmin, is present in every atom, is through and through, Ota-prota, as the Sanskrit word goes, penetrating your body, mind and soul, how can you lose, heart? I may be a little bubble of water, and you may be a mountain-high wave. Never mind! The infinite ocean is the background of me as well as of you. Mine also is that infinite ocean of life, of power, of spirituality, as well as yours. I am already joined — from my very birth, from the very fact of my life — I am in Yoga with that infinite life and infinite goodness and infinite power, as you are, mountain-high though you may be. Therefore, my brethren, teach this life-saving, great, ennobling, grand doctrine to your children, even from their very birth. You need not teach them Advaitism; teach them Dvaitism, or any “ism” you please, but we have seen that this is the common “ism” all through India; this marvellous doctrine of the soul, the perfection of the soul, is commonly believed in by all sects. As says our great philosopher Kapila, if purity has not been the nature of the soul, it can never attain purity afterwards, for anything that was not perfect by nature, even if it attained to perfection, that perfection would go away again. If impurity is the nature of man, then man will have to remain impure, even though he may be pure for five minutes. The time will come when this purity will wash out, pass away, and the old natural impurity will have its sway once more. Therefore, say all our philosophers, good is our nature, perfection is our nature, not imperfection, not impurity — and we should remember that. Remember the beautiful example of the great sage who, when he was dying, asked his mind to remember all his mighty deeds and all his mighty thoughts. There you do not find that he was teaching his mind to remember all his weaknesses and all his follies. Follies there are, weakness there must be, but remember your real nature always — that is the only way to cure the weakness, that is the only way to cure the follies.

It seems that these few points are common among all the various religious sects in India, and perhaps in future upon this common platform, conservative and liberal religionists, old type and new type, may shake bands. Above all, there is another thing to remember, which I am sorry we forget from time to time, that religion, in India, means realisation and nothing short of that. “Believe in the doctrine, and you are safe”, can never be taught to us, for we do not believe in that. You are what you make yourselves. You are, by the grace of God and your own exertions, what you are. Mere believing in certain theories and doctrines will not help you much. The mighty word that came out from the sky of spirituality in India was Anubhuti, realisation, and ours are the only books which declare again and again: “The Lord is to be seen“. Bold, brave words indeed, but true to their very core; every sound, every vibration is true. Religion is to be realised, not only heard; it is not in learning some doctrine like a parrot. Neither is it mere intellectual assent — that is nothing; but it must come into us. Ay, and therefore the greatest proof that we have of the existence of a God is not because our reason says so, but because God has been seen by the ancients as well as by the moderns. We believe in the soul not only because there are good reasons to prove its existence, but, above all, because there have been in the past thousands in India, there are still many who have realised, and there will be thousands in the future who will realise and see their own souls. And there is no salvation for man until he sees God, realises his own soul. Therefore, above all, let us understand this, and the more we understand it the less we shall have of sectarianism in India, for it is only that man who has realised God and seen Him, who is religious. In him the knots have been cut asunder, in him alone the doubts have subsided; he alone has become free from the fruits of action who has seen Him who is nearest of the near and farthest of the far. Ay, we often mistake mere prattle for religious truth, mere intellectual perorations for great spiritual realisation, and then comes sectarianism, then comes fight. If we once understand that this realisation is the only religion, we shall look into our own hearts and find how far we are towards realising the truths of religion. Then we shall understand that we ourselves are groping in darkness, and are leading others to grope in the same darkness, then we shall cease from sectarianism, quarrel, arid fight. Ask a man who wants to start a sectarian fight, “Have you seen God? Have you seen the Atman? If you have not, what right have you to preach His name — you walking in darkness trying to lead me into the same darkness — the blind leading the blind, and both falling into the ditch?”

Therefore, take more thought before you go and find fault with others. Let them follow their own path to realisation so long as they struggle to see truth in their own hearts; and when the broad, naked truth will be seen, then they will find that wonderful blissfulness which marvellously enough has been testified to by every seer in India, by every one who has realised the truth. Then words of love alone will come out of that heart, for it has already been touched by Him who is the essence of Love Himself. Then and then alone, all sectarian quarrels will cease, and we shall be in a position to understand, to bring to our hearts, to embrace, to intensely love the very word Hindu and every one who bears that name. Mark me, then and then alone you are a Hindu when the very name sends through you a galvanic shock of strength. Then and then alone you are a Hindu when every man who bears the name, from any country, speaking our language or any other language, becomes at once the nearest and the dearest to you. Then and then alone you are a Hindu when the distress of anyone bearing that name comes to your heart and makes you feel as if your own son were in distress. Then and then alone you are a Hindu when you will be ready to bear everything for them, like the great example I have quoted at the beginning of this lecture, of your great Guru Govind Singh. Driven out from this country, fighting against its oppressors, after having shed his own blood for the defence of the Hindu religion, after having seen his children killed on the battlefield — ay, this example of the great Guru, left even by those for whose sake he was shedding his blood and the blood of his own nearest and dearest — he, the wounded lion, retired from the field calmly to die in the South, but not a word of curse escaped his lips against those who had ungratefully forsaken him! Mark me, every one of you will have to be a Govind Singh, if you want to do good to your country. You may see thousands of defects in your countrymen, but mark their Hindu blood. They are the first Gods you will have to worship even if they do everything to hurt you, even if everyone of them send out a curse to you, you send out to them words of love. If they drive you out, retire to die in silence like that mighty lion, Govind Singh. Such a man is worthy of the name of Hindu; such an ideal ought to be before us always. All our hatchets let us bury; send out this grand current of love all round.

Let them talk of India’s regeneration as they like. Let me tell you as one who has been working — at least trying to work — all his life, that there is no regeneration for India until you be spiritual. Not only so, but upon it depends the welfare of the whole world. For I must tell you frankly that the very foundations of Western civilisation have been shaken to their base. The mightiest buildings, if built upon the loose sand foundations of materialism, must come to grief one day, must totter to their destruction some day. The history of the world is our witness. Nation after nation has arisen and based its greatness upon materialism, declaring man was all matter. Ay, in Western language, a man gives up the ghost, but in our language a man gives up his body. The Western man is a body first, and then he has a soul; with us a man is a soul and spirit, and he has a body. Therein lies a world of difference. All such civilisations, therefore, as have been based upon such sand foundations as material comfort and all that, have disappeared one after another, after short lives, from the face of the world; but the civilisation of India and the other nations that have stood at India’s feet to listen and learn, namely, Japan and China, live even to the present day, and there are signs even of revival among them. Their lives are like that of the Phoenix, a thousand times destroyed, but ready to spring up again more glorious. But a materialistic civilisation once dashed down, never can come up again; that building once thrown down is broken into pieces once for all. Therefore have patience and wait, the future is in store for us.

Do not be in a hurry, do not go out to imitate anybody else. This is another great lesson we have to remember; imitation is not civilisation. I may deck myself out in a Raja’s dress, but will that make me a Raja? An ass in a lion’s skin never makes a lion. Imitation, cowardly imitation, never makes for progress. It is verily the sign of awful degradation in a man. Ay, when a man has begun to hate himself, then the last blow has come. When a man has begun to be ashamed of his ancestors, the end has come. Here am I, one of the least of the Hindu race, yet proud of my race, proud of my ancestors. I am proud to call myself a Hindu, I am proud that I am one of your unworthy servants. I am proud that I am a countryman of yours, you the descendants of the sages, you the descendants of the most glorious Rishis the world ever saw. Therefore have faith in yourselves, be proud of your ancestors, instead of being ashamed of them. And do not imitate, do not imitate! Whenever you are under the thumb of others, you lose your own independence. If you are working, even in spiritual things, at the dictation of others, slowly you lose all faculty, even of thought. Bring out through your own exertions what you have, but do not imitate, yet take what is good from others. We have to learn from others. You put the seed in the ground, and give it plenty of earth, and air, and water to feed upon; when the seed grows into the plant and into a gigantic tree, does it become the earth, does it become the air, or does it become the water? It becomes the mighty plant, the mighty tree, after its own nature, having absorbed everything that was given to it. Let that be your position. We have indeed many things to learn from others, yea, that man who refuses to learn is already dead. Declares our Manu: आददीत परां विद्यां प्रयत्नादवरादपि। अन्त्यादपि परं धर्म स्त्रीरत्नं दुष्कुलादपि। — “Take the jewel of a woman for your wife, though she be of inferior descent. Learn supreme knowledge with service even from the man of low birth; and even from the Chandâla, learn by serving him the way to salvation.” Learn everything that is good from others, but bring it in, and in your own way absorb it; do not become others. Do not be dragged away out of this Indian life; do not for a moment think that it would be better for India if all the Indians dressed, ate, and behaved like another race. You know the difficulty of giving up a habit of a few years. The Lord knows how many thousands of years are in your blood; this national specialised life has been flowing in one way, the Lord knows for how many thousands of years; and do you mean to say that that mighty stream, which has nearly reached its ocean, can go back to the snows of its Himalayas again? That is impossible! The struggle to do so would only break it. Therefore, make way for the life-current of the nation. Take away the blocks that bar the way to the progress of this mighty river, cleanse its path, dear the channel, and out it will rush by its own natural impulse, and the nation will go on careering and progressing.

These are the lines which I beg to suggest to you for spiritual work in India. There are many other great problems which, for want of time, I cannot bring before you this night. For instance, there is the wonderful question of caste. I have been studying this question, its pros and cons, all my life; I have studied it in nearly every province in India. I have mixed with people of all castes in nearly every part of the country, and I am too bewildered in my own mind to grasp even the very significance of it. The more I try to study it, the more I get bewildered. Still at last I find that a little glimmer of light is before me, I begin to feel its significance just now. Then there is the other great problem about eating and drinking. That is a great problem indeed. It is not so useless a thing as we generally think. I have come to the conclusion that the insistence which we make now about eating and drinking is most curious and is just going against what the Shastras required, that is to say, we come to grief by neglecting the proper purity of the food we eat and drink; we have lost the true spirit of it.

There are several other questions which I want to bring before you and show how these problems can be solved, how to work out the ideas; but unfortunately the meeting could not come to order until very late, and I do not wish to detain you any longer now. I will, therefore, keep my ideas about caste and other things for a future occasion.

Now, one word more and I will finish about these spiritual ideas. Religion for a long time has come to be static in India. What we want is to make it dynamic. I want it to be brought into the life of everybody. Religion, as it always has been in the past, must enter the palaces of kings as well as the homes of the poorest peasants in the land. Religion, the common inheritance, the universal birthright of the race, must be brought free to the door of everybody. Religion in India must be made as free and as easy of access as is God’s air. And this is the kind of work we have to bring about in India, but not by getting up little sects and fighting on points of difference. Let us preach where we all agree and leave the differences to remedy themselves. As I have said to the Indian people again and again, if there is the darkness of centuries in a room and we go into the room and begin to cry, “Oh, it is dark, it is dark!”, will the darkness go? Bring in the light and the darkness will vanish at once. This is the secret of reforming men. Suggest to them higher things; believe in man first. Why start with the belief that man is degraded and degenerated? I have never failed in my faith in man in any case, even taking him at his worst. Wherever I had faith in man, though at first the prospect was not always bright, yet it triumphed in the long run. Have faith in man, whether he appears to you to be a very learned one or a most ignorant one. Have faith in man, whether he appears to be an angel or the very devil himself. Have faith in man first, and then having faith in him, believe that if there are defects in him, if he makes mistakes, if he embraces the crudest and the vilest doctrines, believe that it is not from his real nature that they come, but from the want of higher ideals. If a man goes towards what is false, it is because he cannot get what is true. Therefore the only method of correcting what is false is by supplying him with what is true. Do this, and let him compare. You give him the truth, and there your work is done. Let him compare it in his own mind with what he has already in him; and, mark my words, if you have really given him the truth, the false must vanish, light must dispel darkness, and truth will bring the good out. This is the way if you want to reform the country spiritually; this is the way, and not fighting, not even telling people that what they are doing is bad. Put the good before them, see how eagerly they take it, see how the divine that never dies, that is always living in the human, comes up awakened and stretches out its hand for all that is good, and all that is glorious.

May He who is the Creator, the Preserver, and the Protector of our race, the God of our forefathers, whether called by the name of Vishnu, or Shiva, or Shakti, or Ganapati, whether He is worshipped as Saguna or as Nirguna, whether He is worshipped as personal or as impersonal, may He whom our forefathers knew and addressed by the words, एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति। — “That which exists is One; sages call Him by various names” — may He enter into us with His mighty love; may He shower His blessings on us, may He make us understand each other, may He make us work for each other with real love, with intense love for truth, and may not the least desire for our own personal fame, our own personal prestige, our own personal advantage, enter into this great work of me spiritual regeneration of India!

http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/lectures_from_colombo_to_almora/the_common_bases_of_hinduism.htm

What makes a Hindu, Hindu; and Hinduism, Hinduism.

Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s exchange with a reader over what makes a Hindu, Hindu; and Hinduism, Hinduism. 

Question:

Let me tell you at the face of it:  I do not believe in an external power named God. This is not due to reading the Dravidian Movement literature. It’s entirely through my own confusion and the resulting introspections. The feeling that there is no external power named God gained strength after reading the thoughts of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Ramana. The reason I am saying this is to show that I am not merely a vacuous atheist. Though I do not understand Bharathi’s concept of ‘All that I see is Self’, Einstein’s ‘The World is a Cycle’, Ramakrishna’s ‘Nirchalanam’ I am incapable of refuting their contents. I am incapable of accepting them either maybe because I do not understand them or haven’t experienced them. All I can do now is value them.

I have a desire to read the Vedas and the Upanishads. But not now.

I think this letter is the first step in my effort towards that. Though my question is not direct, I know that the answer will be a journey towards that. I will come to the question. Why am I a Hindu? Is it my mother religion or is it an alien religion? Please do not repeat like all the others that this is the power of Hinduism (I feel this is absurd. If I create a chapter on Karuppaswamy in the Bible, will I become a Christian? These sort of questions arise within me).

I do not agree with the reason that it is impossible to pinpoint what defines a Hindu or that under the Constitution, those who are not Buddhists, Christians or Muslims are Hindus.

What’s common between me and my fellow Hindus? Not religion, not even cuisine. Not habits (not even in worship). Not even common Gods. Isn’t that true? In my grandfather’s generation, I have never seen any other form of worship than the worship of our communal deity (nor have I heard them speak of it). It’s only in my generation that for the people of my village it has occurred that someone living in Thirupathi or Sabarimalai could be a God. Even the worship of Murugan at Thiruchendur was not very prominent till a generation ago.

Till now, my village had worshipped only deities such as Karuppaswamy, Sudalaimadan, Kanniamman. My people (including me) knew of the Ramayanam as merely an epic (that too through Kambar, or pattimandrams).  There is no Siva temple or a Rama temple in the vicinity of our village or an easily accessible distance (there was none in the past too). As far as I know, there is none in my ancestors who have read the Gita or the Vedas or have even thought of doing so.

I believe you would have understood my question now. With all these, why am I still a Hindu? Or is the Hindu religion something that was thrust on me like the other religions?

From where did this religion come towards me? Is the distance the only differentiating factor between Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism? If it came in the recent past, did my ancestors have no religion before that? Did they have no form of worship? At the beginning of human history, there would have been no religion. I believe that all religions arose after that.

My question is – did my village not have any form of worship as its own? Or will this become a reality soon? The most significant change I notice in my generation is the food that is presented in temples. The educated (so-called) classes are keen to show themselves as abhorring the custom of eating meat in temples. For them, only the larger temples appear to be beautiful, potent and possessing divinity. My argument that we present to our deity what our deity likes fails to impress there. (I support vegetarianism solely on the basis of health. But this is different. They eat meat at home. But at the temple, they will do so with a guilty heart or will refuse.)

Similarly, I do not remember my grandfather or my grandmother performing offerings for the dead. What I learnt from that is that after the tenth day of rites, that’s it. Now, this habit is also on the rise.

My question is not whether these are for good or for bad. My question is whether the Gita and Vedas are to me what the Bible and Koran is? Or whether there is a connection between me and them.

Am not sure if I have put my question properly. But I have hopes that you would have understood me.

Regards,
Kaliraj.

***

Dear Kaliraj,

This confusion exists among a large section of educated youth in Tamilnadu who come from a humble background. This has been fanned by Dravidian organizations and the Left over the past several years. Powers with financial and organisational mightiness which operate with the objectives of proselytisation stand behind them. They seek to convert this confusion into a firm concept.

To give an example, it’s only in the 1990s that intellectuals of the Dravidian movement and the Leftists who espoused rationality started emphasizing that the worship of local deities in Tamilnadu is not connected to Hinduism and that it is even against Hinduism. Before that, they used to entirely brand it as superstition.

The reason for this happening is the ten-day conference named ‘Gods of the Common Folk’ (‘Sanangalin Saamigal’) conducted at the behest of Father Jeyapathy of the Department of Folklore at the St. Xavier’s college in Palayamkottai. At the conference, a segregation narrative was easily fed to our intellectuals that all the local deities were subjugated and that Hinduism is a religion of subjugating gods. Around 50 lakhs was spent toward this.

Look at what our Leftist intellectual S. Tamilselvan had to say about it: ‘In those days when the Department of Folklore at the St. Xavier College in Palayamkottai functioned actively, a ten-day conference ‘Sanangalin Saamigal’ was conducted. Those ten days were a turning point in my life. It gave a new perspective about gods and deities.

Observe here. See who has to come and present these intellectuals with the history of their own society and their own deities.

These intellectuals failed to ask just one question to the organisers of this conference. Does religion of the organisers permit the worship of local deities? Did it allow those who converted to continue their worship of their communal deity? What happened to the communal deities of those who got converted before this? Which is truly the subjugating religion that suppresses smaller deities? Only one student stood up and asked this, and he was removed from the room.

This question that you ask has been planted inside you without your knowledge and has been growing in strength with continued propaganda. I am pointing out that those behind such efforts are proselytising forces. An educated person like you may have doubts and misgivings that your illiterate father might not have had. He would never have doubted whether he was a Hindu or not. I had to tell this since I could not have answered your question without explaining this background.

The basis for your question lies in your definition of religion. You consider that a religion consists of firm principles of divinity, a definite organisational structure and well-defined practices and rituals. Most of the religions that we see today are like this. But this is not applicable to all religions. Only if we understand religion from a broader and less rigid definition will we be able to understand not only Indian history but also Asian and African histories.

There are two kinds of religions that have a firm center with surrounding structures. The first kind are religions based on race like the Jews. The faith of the Jews is Judaism. Outsiders cannot convert to it. Several African minor religions are like this. These religions have clear boundaries. The boundary of race-based religions is the racial identity. For them, those outside this boundary are aliens. Race based religions do not proselytize.

The second kind are the religions of Prophets. The Prophet who founded the religion would have clearly defined the religious center and its boundaries. In the Abrahamic religions, the Prophet would have said that ‘I am the true Prophet, all else are false’, or it would be written that he said so. Christianity, Islam, Manichaean, Bahai, Ahamedia – these religions can be listed in this category. These kinds of religions keep appearing even today.

These religions would demand complete faith from its followers on its founder prophet and its book. All those who do not accept this would have been defined as aliens or others. It will insist that these others have to entirely give up their own beliefs and customs and join them. These religions will do all that is necessary to this end. This duty would have been preached to all of its faithful. It’s on this basis that they grow.

Other than these two kinds of religions, there are two other. One – religions based on philosophy. Examples, Buddhism and Jainism. They were founded by prophet too. But they do not preach faith, they advocate their philosophy. Even the God that they preach is a philosophical construct. Their description of the universe is not based on faith, but on philosophy. They do not say that this philosophy had to be entirely believed and accepted. Instead, they call for a debate with that philosophy. Even Confucianism and Taoism belong to this category.

There are basic differences between how the two religions spread – the religions of the Prophets and the religions based on philosophy. The religions of the prophets ask the others to come to them casting off their older beliefs and customs in its entirety. They command that what they say be accepted with complete faith. If you become a Christian or a Muslim, you cannot retain any aspect of your old religion, communal deity or customs. You cannot doubt Christian or Muslim beliefs even a little.

But religions based on philosophy do not say so. They only teach that the philosophy be imbibed in your thoughts and your lifestyle. By only accepting the five customs of a Jain, and the basic principle of the Universal cycle, one can become a Jain. Standing within that boundary, one can worship his own community’s deity and practise his customs. In other words, they do not propagate their religion, but their philosophy.

If we consider Buddhism, this is why Sri Lankan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are different in customs and beliefs. A follower of Taoism can also be a Buddhist. The Japanese are able to use Shintoism for material life and Buddhism for spirituality. But it’s the Buddhist philosophy that remains as the essence. What Buddhism does is not proselytisation, but the transmission of philosophy.

Another category of religions can be called aggregate religions in general. Hinduism is the best example of this. Shintoism is another, somewhat smaller, example of the same. They do not have a central vision of divinity or a central philosophy. These emerge at a particular juncture in history and continue to grow.

We usually compare these religions to Abrahamic religions, religions of the Prophets. Hence, we start asking what is the central vision? what is its holy book? and who are the ‘others’? We ourselves decide that these are the central points and boundaries of this religion. Soon we are confused who else is within this boundary along with us. The same confusion exists in your question.

What is the difference between aggregate religions and the other religions mentioned before— religions based on race, religions of the Prophets, and philosophy-based religions? It is that the other three originate at a point and start expanding outwards. Religions based on race have a self-identity based on race as their core. Prophet’s religions have the vision and viewpoint of their prophets as their core. Religions based on philosophy have a philosophical system as the basis.

They make this core interact with several other beliefs and thoughts. Prophetic religions defeat other beliefs and thoughts and establish themselves. Religions based on philosophy penetrate other beliefs and thoughts at the level of philosophy, modify their core, and carry them along. In other words, in both these categories, a core that already existed in the religion starts moving towards the fringes.

For example, when Jainism came to South India, it spread among the Nagars who worshipped Nagas.  It made them accept the Jain philosophy. Nagar’s worship of the Naga became a part of Jainism. The five headed serpent over the head of Parsavnath is the god of the Nagars. The Nagaraja temple at Nagarkoil is their temple.

But aggregate religions do not have a pre-defined central principle or core. Since they are ancient, it is not easy to point out their source or where they originated. It can be said that aggregate religions are formed when the ancestral customs and beliefs of a set of people living in a landmass combine over a period of time.

Tribes living over a vast expanse of land develop individual forms of worship out of their lives. It cannot be called religion. When those people start relating with another group of people over a long period of time, there is a dialogue between their belief systems. They grow by giving and taking. A common ground is discovered between the two. In other words, by conjoining the cores, a new one is created. When it merges with a third form of worship, a new common point is discovered.

Like this, over hundreds of years, hundreds of forms of worship come together to form an aggregate religion. Most of these aggregate religions still continue to be in this process of aggregation. Hence, their central core continues to change and grow. This core moves towards whichever group of people within that population that has the largest intellectual influence or authority.

The structure that we call Hinduism today has been in this aggregate form since the beginning. Even the most ancient book of Hinduism, the Rig Veda is an example of this aggregate nature. It does not preach a particular faith, custom or a philosophy. In it, there are several forms of worship,  beliefs and philosophies. We can see them in dialogue with each other and join with each other in the Rig Veda.

In the ending part of the Rig Veda, there is this approximate central core that arose out of this aggregation. It can be called ‘Brahmam’. That is to say, the essence of this universe or power is envisaged as unfathomable and realizing the universe as its expression. As soon as a core like this is created, dialogue begins between this and the other cores. This we can see in the period of the Upanishads.

This dialogue continues till today. A few Leftists explained that this structure called Hinduism pulls in smaller components towards itself. Several people keep saying the same thing. Any form of worship which they claim was sucked into Hinduism has not lost its self-identity. Even philosophies and beliefs which came in like this two thousand years ago continue to remain so. It’s the newcomers that have modified what the Leftists called as the core. Hence, it is not swallowing in. It’s dialogue and reconciliation alone.

If we see history, we can notice that the central course of Hinduism has changed entirely once in every two or three hundred years. If a new population arrives or a new thought comes in, it changes itself after reconciling with them. Almost like a river. Our Ganges is not a river, it is an aggregation of rivers. It’s course and shape are all determined by the rivers that merge into it. Every group within Hinduism may claim that they are the core, but the core is always all-containing.

Please examine this question from this background. ‘Am I a Hindu?’. Saivaites, Vaishnavites and Saktars could ask this question too, isn’t it?  Saivite and Vaishnavite forms of worship are different, aren’t they> Then, who is a Hindu? One is ‘Hindu’ only if everyone stays together.  If they stand alone, they are merely Saivite, Vaishnavite or Saktar.

You have pointed out in your question a duality that is present in Hinduism.  It is the contradiction between theological religion and folk religion.  It is a sociological method developed by the British to study the forms of worship here.  But one cannot understand Hinduism using this.  The great godheads here were folk deities till a few years ago.  A folk deity of today will combine with an existing godhead and become one as well.

Shiva was a folk deity like your Karuppaswamy once.  Today Sudalaimadaswamy is turning into the Graceful Lord Sivasudalaimadaswamy.  This evolution is constantly happening.  You can worship yesterday’s Karuppaswamy or tomorrow’s Shiva.  You cannot add a chapter to the Bible about Karuppaswamy and make him a godhead. There is no place for him in the Bible and the Koran.  It’s possible in the Gita.  It is this nature which creates aggregate religions.

Now, the information which you share.  They mostly reveal your ignorance about your own heritage. You mostly do not know anything about your village, deities and forms of worship.  You would have grown up without interest in any of these like most other youth and would have come to the cities for work.  After this, you have imagined a village from what you have read or learnt here and there and are asking this question.

What do you know of Karuppaswamy or Sudalaimadan?  Have you attempted to learn something? I know local deities very well; the local deities and communal deities of Nellai and Kanyakumari districts in particular.  I am in touch with folklore researcher A. K. Perumal and have been discussing with him for over a decade. Only a few communal deities belong to your village alone. Karuppaswamy, Madaswamy, Kanniyamman, Maduraiveeran and Muthupattan are present all over the southern region.

Written histories are available for more than three hundred years for all these deities. In oral folklore, there are stories about these deities from even before this period.  The Sudalaimadaswamy folk song belongs to the 15th century. The Karuppaswamy villukathai (story narrated with a villumusical instrument) belongs to the 16th century. You can try reading them. Almost all of the southern folk deities belong to the Saivite tradition.  Shiva would have been mentioned as the god of these deities. Or they would have become deities having after receiving a boon from Shiva.  These stories are still being sung in the villu songs and kaniyan mudiyetru of these deities.

In our culture, gods continue to be created.  There are three ways through which a folk deity can be created.  One, symbolic deity.  That is, a small deity worshiped to cure a disease or to increase the harvest.  Worship of trees, rocks and rivers fall under this category.  Secondly, worshiping the deceased.  Making deities out of those who faced a violent death, killed in a war, or childbirth for the sake of honoring their memory. Thirdly, worshipping elders – deifying one’s ancestors. Temples rise in places where saints are laid to rest.

In the beginning, deities created in this manner stay within the groups that created them.  When this community forms relationships with other communities, they mix with other gods and transform into larger godheads.  All the godheads that you see today were created in this manner.  Deities for a particular family alone continue to exist as their communal deities.

This process of relating would have started several generations ago.  To tell the truth, a local deity starts relating to the Shaivite tradition as soon as it is created.  For example, the temple of ‘Serman’ Arunachala Swamy.  It is in Eral. Arunachala Nadar was born on October 2nd, 1880 at Melapudhukudi near Thiruchendur to Ramaswamy and Sivananaindha Ammai.  He took over as the Chairman of Eral Panchayat on 5th September 1906. He undertook several good measures for the people.  He passed away on Adi Amavasya of 1908.  People established him as a deity and started worshiping him.

Slowly, the worship of ‘Serman’ Swamy started interacting with Saivism. ‘Serman Swamy’ turned into an incarnation of Siva.  Today Arunachala Swamy temple is an important spot of Saivite worship.  This is how Hindu religion takes birth and continues growing.  Any form of worship here starts a dialogue with Hinduism and over a period of a time merges with it.  Only by merging this like, Hinduism moves forward.  Like all streams of water in a particular region somehow going and merging with a large river in that region.

Hence, your deities do not hang out of thin air without any relation whatsoever with the Hindu tradition like you think.  And you are not silent in the dialogue with the common structure of Hindu religion.  You are merely unaware of it.  Even communal deities will merge into the Hindu common traditional worship when the community expands and spreads a bit more.  All other deities will have a historical narrative which fits with the Hindu tradition.  Enquire this when you go visit next time.

As far as our smaller deities go, only a few in the village will have knowledge about them.   The others do not care. The reason is the cultural setback caused in the 19th century due to the great famines. Most of our families would have migrated during that time. The root of the community would be somewhere else. As a result, communal deities were given up and forgotten.  Traditional forms of worship were lost.  Traditional stories and wisdom were lost.  Only simple rituals survived in the places where some ended up living.  Our fathers and grandfathers would have existed in a cultural vacuum and slowly gained roots in the new towns and villages. They would have known nothing.

Why this doubt as to what your religion is?  Which other religion does the word ‘Kaliraj’ belong to?  I believe that you at least know that Kali is a Hindu god.  You mentioned Thiruchendur temple.  You can learn this easily.  Please see if your community has any right to any ritual like mandagappadi in the Thiruchendur festival.  If so, you are a member of a grand, temple based Hindu (Saivite) religious organization which has existed since the tenth century.   If your father or grandfather did not perform the communal worship meant for their community, it is their personal issue alone.

I too have communal deities.  Ittagaveli Neeli and Melaangodu Yatchi.  It is them that my ancestors worshipped.  At the same time, they were also a small part of a grand setup of the Thiruvattaru Adhikesavan temple.  All communities would have this dual religious belief.  Small deities would be their own unique deities.  They would have been attached to temples for larger godheads.

The Vedas were considered merely as books for rituals.  Hence only those who conducted rituals alone read them.  The Gita and the Vedanta were not spoken of as meant for everyone.  It was meant for those who crossed devotion and worship and searched for true knowledge. In all the communities, those who knew these were a miniscule number.

The puranas and epics belonged to all people of India in their respective forms.  For every community, there were different forms of the same stories from the Puranas.  That lower class people had no introduction to the puranas and that they had no relation to it is simply a fraud perpetrated by the Folklore Center Palayamkottai and the Madurai Divinity College.

Have you ever known that the puranas and the epics are the sole basis for all the folk arts of Tamil Nadu?  There are around two hundred folk arts in the Nellai region like the Therukoothu, Tholpaavaikoothu, Pulluvan Paatu, Villupaatu etc. All of them still narrate stories form the puranas and the epics.  Even today, over a hundred of them continue to be staged without facing extinction.  All the local deity festivals for the past two centuries have been conducting them only.  The people who act in them playing parts and those who watch them are all from the lower classes only.

When special dramas arrived, they staged dramas from the puranas.  When silent movies came, they were movies on the puranas as well.  Your village or your family is very surprising.  If they really do not know a little bit about all these things, they certainly live in an interesting illusory world.  Their special state should be separately studied.   One cannot examine Hindu religion or Tamil society on that basis.

You say that you and the Hindu form of worship do not have any relationship.  This is a statement made without any knowledge merely by believing in hearsay.  There are four ways of approaching divinity in the Hindu religion.  One,padayal (offerings) and sacrifice. Secondly,  poojas  and prayers. Third are the Vedic rituals.Fourth,dhyana (meditation) and yoga. Any folk deity would be within the first two forms of worship only.

Do your offer prayers to your Karuppaswamy? Or a joint prayer session?  You would light a lamp or a torch.  You would deck it with flowers, offer food and worship it, wouldn’t you? And you would share the food as sacred prasadam. What is this but Hindu worship?  This what Hindus do in the Fiji Islands, South Africa and in Nepal.  This is what is done to Thiruchendur Murugan as well.  It is sacred ash (thiruneeru) that is smeared on Karuppaswamy and Sudalai.  You would know this if you went to a Karuppaswamy temple.

There would be life sacrifice and food from meat in a Karuppaswamy temple.  In a temple for a larger deity, vegetarian food would be offered.  There would be a few differences in the materials and in the words used, that is all.  This is because a few centuries ago, Thiruchendur Murugan became a god for a larger set of people.  Hence, he moved towards a form of worship common to all the people.  Life sacrifice existed till around a hundred years ago in several of the great Hindu temples for major godheads.

Any small deity would continue to exist somewhere in the Hindu common tradition.  It will definitely not be completely outside of it; even the deities of the Dalits and tribal people.  How far within it depends on how big the worshiping community is, how wealthy, how educated and how much social status it possesses.   The deity of a community gains as much importance within a larger tradition (and merges with it) as the extent to which the community gains stature in society.

That’s why Hindu religion is not thrust down your throat.  Who is there is to do so?  Does someone come door to door for religious conversion?  Do they distribute pamphlets or do they campaign with loudspeakers?  There are no evangelists for Hinduism.  Counter campaigns happen from all quarters with the utmost rigor.

It’s you who force yourself into the Hindu religion.  This is the history of the past five or six thousand years.  Every community jostles for social power.  It searches for its own place in society.  Once it reaches there, it establishes itself there.  Soon their deities gain prominence.  Convincing proof for this is the great prominence gained by Badrakaliamman temples of the Nadars and the importance being gained by Mariamman temples of the Vanniyars.

Watch the roadside when you go.  You will notice brand new Ammans and Karuppaswamys standing up out of the concrete.  A few people from the community that worships those deities would have earned money in Dubai.  As they move up the social ladder and slowly gather authority, their deity will move towards the current core of Hindu religion.  If it has to move towards the centre, it should have a dialogue with the centre.  It should transform itself.  It should seize the centre. That is what is continually happening.

This is what is happening in your village as well.  When smaller deities turn into larger godheads, their appearance and rituals get transformed.  When Karuppaswamy which seeks life sacrifice is worshipped as the All-Pervading ruler of the universe, it has to become a god which has compassion for all living beings.  After that, it is not possible to offer life sacrifice to it anymore.  It transforms into the Graceful Lord Karuppaswamy.

There is no question as to whether this is right or wrong.  This has been the way culture has functioned in the Indian subcontinent for the past five thousand years.  This is how Hinduism was formed.  This society has grown and has progressed forward.  Our intellectuals who scream that this is cultural colonialism shamelessly dance to the tunes of proselytizing forces that uproot and destroy entirely the worship of local deities.

Hence, if you ask if you are a Hindu, I would say that yes, you are a Hindu.  Hindu religion is not an ear-marked region.  It is an expanse in which several fronts continue to be in dialogue. You and your deities are already a part of this vast Hindu expanse.  From what you have said, it appears that you continue to move towards the general way of life.  You are one among the group of people who are gaining ground within the Hindu religion and are making themselves the new core.

Translated by Madhuram Team

http://swarajyamag.com/culture/am-i-a-hindu/

Classification of Dharma

Shatavadhani Ganesh

Co-authored by Hari Ravikumar

Dharma is divided into two groups: sāmānyadharma (general or universal principles) andviśeṣadharma (special or particular principles).

Sāmāyadharma includes all basic values which don’t change with space and time. They are applicable irrespective of distinctions of gender, race, caste, creed, occupation, nationality, etc. They comprise what we would call human values today – truth, non-violence, non-avariciousness, purity of thought, speech, and action, self-control, empathy, forgiveness and so on.

The sage-seer Manu defines dharma as having ten features: courage, forbearance, self-control, abstinence from stealing, cleanliness, control over senses, power of discernment, self-knowledge, integrity, and freedom from anger (Manusmṛti 7.92)

Viśeṣadharmas are spatio-temporal in that they are relevant only for a particular time and place. Some of theviśeṣadharmas are āśramadharma (the traditional duties of individuals at different stages of life), varṇadharma (the traditional duties of people of different temperaments),rājadharma (duties of rulers), and āpaddharma (duties and exemptions applicable during adverse situations). The specific injunctions of viśeṣadharmas are only relevant to a particular place and time but the general notions are universally applicable. For example, the rules that were laid down for a king might not be relevant today but the idea that governance needs guidelines will remain forever. The beauty of the Indian tradition is that there has been a constant re-interpretation of these concepts to suit the place and time. This subtle dynamism is what makes Hinduism a very robust way of life.

Irrespective of the category of dharma, the essential qualification for a true adherent of dharma is the constant accountability – here and now – of thought, word, and deed. There is no place for a preacher who does not practice when it comes to dharma. One of the words for teacher in Sanskrit is ācārya, which means one who himself adheres to the principles that he espouses. The ācārya is truly aware of what he is teaching. Indeed the aspects of learning, teaching, and practising merge in one who is a true ācārya.

Another interesting aspect of dharma in the Indian tradition is that it doesn’t blindly toe the line of morality. It judges from an ultimate perspective and not a mere materialistic one. For example, being honest normally refers to verbal sincerity and being non-violent refers to not hurting others. These values maybe transgressed for a greater cause – a son might lie to his aged mother to save her from a rude shock, a police officer might violate traffic rules while chasing a criminal, a surgeon might amputate a patient’s leg to save the latter’s life, a teacher might punish a student to help the latter mend his ways. Can these be counted as cases of dishonesty or violence? In cases like this, we naturally consider the intent of the people involved and the results of their action. In this regard, sanātana dharma upholds the actions of people who are selfless and self-realized with good intentions even if their chosen means are not ‘moral’ by the textbook definition.

There is a nice episode in the Karna Parva of the Mahabharata where Arjuna and Yudhistira are having a heated argument with regard to maintaining their oaths. Krishna pacifies them by giving them an exposition on the nature of truth and declares: “yad bhūtahitamatyantam tat satyamiti dhāraṇā” (truth is that which is good for all beings, that which is good at the universal level).

Fact and Value

The seers of ancient India gave importance to the implications of facts and values both within and outside the purview of mere faith. On the one hand, they did not completely exclude faith from philosophy and on the other hand, they did not try to explain everything within the narrow framework of faith. They approached facts and values from logical and intuitive, emotional and intellectual, practical and mystical, realistic and idealistic, and materialistic and spiritualistic perspectives. Therefore, their understanding of fact and value has been free from biases and are thus applicable universally.

What separates facts and values? We always comprehend facts readily because they are perceived through the senses. There is not much to discuss or argue with regard to facts. They are objective. We realize values through our experience and hence there arise several diverging opinions and views. They are subjective.

Facts deal with the outside world whereas values are intrinsic. If facts are what we encounter, values are what we reflect upon. If facts are grasped by the intellect, values are realized through experience.

Values are not ready-made or even fabricated like facts. Facts are an ever-growing body of data from the world around us. We rarely gather facts for the heck of it; facts are often used for purposes other than themselves. However, values are almost always pursued for their own sake. Further, once we understand a fact, it need not concern us or relate to our life. But that is not the case with values. Once a value has come within the grasp of our understanding, it has indeed, become a part of our experience. If that is not the case, then we have not truly realized the value but instead have only an idea that we’ve grasped with our intellect.

The non-materialistic nature of values makes them elusive in the material world. Values are not perceived through our physical senses but are felt in our consciousness. Let us take a simple example of a glass of water. Water is a fact and so is the glass. Where the water came from, and how the glass was fashioned, are also facts. But drinking the water and quenching our thirst is the realization of the value.

http://indiafacts.co.in/classification-of-dharma/

‘Hinduism has been failed by seculars and the right-wing’

‘The real danger in India right now is that identity politics is being stoked in extremely dangerous ways.’

‘The narrative you get about churches in the mainstream Indian media and the narrative you get in the social media is very different.’

‘Many Americans today want to appropriate Indian culture. They want yoga, but they say yoga has nothing to do with Hinduism. They want Ayurveda, but they say it’s got nothing to do with Hinduism.’

A devotee offers prayers to a cow during a religious ceremony in Kathmandu, October 23, 2014. Hindus all over Nepal are celebrating the Tihar festival, also called Diwali, during which they worship cows, which are considered a maternal figure, and other animals. Also known as the festival of lights, devotees also worship the goddess of wealth Laxmi by illuminating and decorating their homes using garlands, oil lamps, candles and colourful light bulbs. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar (NEPAL - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY ANIMALS) - RTR4B9DO
A devotee offers prayers to a cow during a religious ceremony in Kathmandu, October 23, 2014. Hindus all over Nepal are celebrating the Tihar festival, also called Diwali, during which they worship cows, which are considered a maternal figure, and other animals. Also known as the festival of lights, devotees also worship the goddess of wealth Laxmi by illuminating and decorating their homes using garlands, oil lamps, candles and colourful light bulbs. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar (NEPAL – Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY ANIMALS) – RTR4B9DO

“I think my work is being seen as building bridges between generations of Indian immigrants and also between India and America,” Vamsee Juluri, author of Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia and the Return of Indian Intelligence, tells Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com.

It is possible that your arguments that Hinduism had certain qualities and does not match the current discourse in the Western world, but you cannot ignore the ground realities.

Can you explain, taking the argument of your book as the base, this whole holy cow controversy? How do you look at this beef ban controversy with your understanding of Hinduism?

It is a tough question, but I am glad you asked. See, my understanding of the cow, fundamental in Indian thought, is through Ahimsa. There are two or three arguments being made today on the cow issue. The people who are against cow slaughter ban argue that Dalits have the right to eat beef and it is a source of poor man’s protein.

There is also the argument that cow slaughter is being used to attack or intimidate minorities. I totally understand that the cow issue has become about human identities and that is deplorable.

But to me the cow issue is more about Ahimsa, not causing more harm than necessary to living beings. My understanding of Ahimsa — and this is through my understanding of Gandhi — is that perfect Ahimsa is impossible, even while we breathe. But we have a moral obligation to minimise it and that is the great contribution of the state of Gujarat to the recent Ahimsa principles.

The cow, in India, has become a symbol of various identities. But we are starting to see the discourse growing out of it. So far the Indian intellectual point of view was so strongly caught in its own identity politics. They were looking at the cow with reference to the rights of some communities to kill and eat it.

The Left has its problems and the right-wing believes that banning cow slaughter or beef is authentic Indian culture. But it is the right wing’s simplistic way of looking at this issue.

I think the real issue — and I talk about this a little bit in the book — is to decolonise natural history. In my book I propose that if you really want to understand Indian history, the present, and want to take charge of the future, we have to decolonise not only the Wendy Doniger narrative about Indian history but also see how the bigger relation between humans and animals have been colonised.

The assumptions we have about our relationships with nature and animals today, and Western thought, which is a global thought today, is a product of a particular moment when human beings decided to assert their dominance over animals and objectified them.

In 1600, Descartes, the father of Western enlightenment, made the argument that animals were machines, they did not have life and senses the way we have. His disciples used to beat dogs to death on the road to prove it.

Then there is the old Christian thought about dominion over nature. So all these assumptions about our relationship to animals have entered the Indian discourse today where people are arguing for or against the cow through this Western colonial anthropocentric lens.

My argument is that we need to understand why there was deep respect in the Indian thought for the cow. Sure, some communities ate it, but I do not want to argue about that.

Should there be a beef ban?

I do not understand the beef ban from the legal policy point of view intimately, so I do not know what exactly the legal policy says. But in theory, I believe vegetarianism is very important from the point of view of not harming animals.

In your book I read that you are essentially trying to bring in the serene, calming and divine part of a broader Hindu thinking. But you must understand that even within India, like on the cow issue, people who want to ban beef may actually be in a minority.

There are a whole lot of people eating beef, there are many who believe that — okay, we had a background, we had a tradition of worshiping cows but we can’t take away the right of people who eat beef. So this tough Hindutvawallahs actually may be in a minority. I don’t have any evidence to prove it. However, doesn’t Hinduism also teach you not to impose anything?

I get your point. You are putting me in a spot. Fair enough. (laughs)

Image: A devotee takes a dip in a river on the final day of the month-long Swasthani festival. Photograph: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

When you say that for the sake of vegetarianism and for the sake of non-violence you may want to support the beef ban, my argument is that no thought can be imposed if you follow Hinduism.

That is post-modernism. How can you say that no thoughts can be imposed? That also becomes a weird thing if people say that in the name of freedom anything goes. I can kill people, beat up people and say I shouldn’t impose anything because ‘to impose’ anything is bad.

What I am saying is there is an emerging discourse. Am I saying that Hinduism’s philosophy is ‘anything goes’ and that we should not impose anything on anybody? I am saying Hinduism’s philosophy is to strike a fine balance between the desa-kala — the circumstances of the present and a yearning for the eternal.

The yearning for the eternal is obviously something that is very spiritual, poetic and personal. The way it emerges, the way the balance comes in, is through particularly inter-generational negotiations.

When my grandparents were children they had very bad ideas about caste. Caste was horribly restrictive. Three generations down we know in cities that socially, caste is largely invisible. Even on a national scale we have seen the rise of many formerly oppressed communities.

In my state (Andhra Pradesh), the most dominant caste in politics is not the Brahmins or even Kshatriyas. They are Reddys, Kammas, Kapus.

All communities have come up through democracy. So even on the beef issue, there needs to be dialogue between people. People should realise the issue is not about human beings, but about the right of an animal to not feel pain for the sake of our pleasure.

In your book you soften the colours and hues of deep saffron. One sees in the daily routine of Indian life so much more of ‘Hindutva’ and less and less of Hinduism. How do you see this with reference to your thinking?

That’s why I wrote the book! (laughs aloud). I wrote this book for anyone who feels the love about Hindu culture broadly. I wrote for those who like gods or its stories — be it Hampi, the Vedas, Bhajans, be it Amar Chitra Katha. The idea is to make a connection between the social and cultural discourse about the world today and Hinduism.

I want to make connections. Hinduism has been failed by political constituencies in India — seculars and the right-wing. You have the secularists who are talking about being tolerant and liberal. What, in my heart, I think Hinduism is all about.

Now the problem is, secular discourse has been so vitiated. The secular outlook on Hinduism is perpetuating 19th century racist Orientalism.

The right-wing Hindutva argument started in the 1920s and has essentially been a nationalist argument. Good or bad, we have to see it in the context that it spread during the colonial divide and rule era.

If you look at the evolution of Hindutva from the 1920s to the present, it had its really dark moments. But today the secular discourse has gone downhill. You see the Hindu discourse, at least in parts, is trying to enlighten itself.

So the way I see it, I want to build a bridge between the Right and Left through my writing. I think the intellectual community has got completely disconnected from ordinary Hindus.

It is argued that this entire secular-communal debate around Hindu identity and politics is actually a lesser conflict between followers of Islam and Hindus in India. It is much more among Hindus.

One section thinks Hinduism should be the centre-point of the nation and our private and public life. This thinking has all shades of people, starting from the Hindu fringe elements, and on the other end are the pseudo-secularists, with a large number of people in between.

Sober Hindus and many South Indians want Hindutva inside their homes, only in their private lives. How do you see it?

I am a South Indian, so I guess I am sober… (laughs). My understanding of Hinduism is that it is plural, tolerant and culturally rich.

The secular critics of Hinduism — like Doniger — all say Hindutva is too monotheistic, mono-vocal. Some of them claim it does not respect plurality and tolerance. It is not because of Hinduism, but the narrow vision because of other reasons like lesser cultural exposure.

There is a need to equip those who feel strongly about identifying as a Hindu. To understand the critical tradition, I want Hindus and others to understand from where critics like Doniger are coming. I want them to know the right reasons for disagreeing with Doniger and for disagreeing with the beef issue.

That is why the book is called ‘Rearming Hinduism’. Look at the cover. The hand of the Hampi statue is broken. For me the picture inspired the book more than the title. I saw the picture and said here is a picture of Narasimha, who looks like sitting down to write and his hand is broken. For me it is about essentially re-arming with a pen.

The pen is mightier than the sword. Rearm with a pen. Sit down. Write your history. Find a voice and thought. Forget the sword.

Is your book written for the NRI audience?

I really wish it will be widely read in India too. I just wanted to create some ideas about a better way to talk about Hinduism. NRIs obviously will like it. I am seen as acceptable both by new Indian immigrants and old ones. I think my work is being seen as building bridges between generations of Indian immigrants and also between India and America.

So what next?

I am saying, reject the American narrative. Now we need to have a more accurate understanding of what it means to be a minority and majority in India. Nominally we can say Hindus are a majority, they are 80 per cent, you can say there are concerns about majoritarianism.

Now, in the global context, in the global age, when migration and ideas and terrorism go across borders so easily, it is not easy to talk about Hindus as being an oppressive majoritarian force on the same scale as what Europe was before.

Hindus are not operating hegemonically as a majority — you yourself said earlier the majority of Hindus probably don’t support the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) on the beef ban.

I am just saying that the understanding of Hindus, Hinduism and Hindutva needs to be nuanced. The real danger in India right now is that identity politics is being stoked in extremely dangerous ways.

The narrative you get about churches, for example, in the mainstream Indian media and the narrative you get in the social media is very different.

The social media has really evolved, as far as the Hindu or the Hindutva community is concerned. They are not simply abusing people anymore, the way it was maybe 20 years ago. People are trying to create a discourse and they are getting better at it.

The discourse in the West about rape in India is so skewed. It is presenting it as an Indian/Hindu cultural problem, even though statistically rapes are more in some parts of the Western world. There they never say it as a cultural problem.

There (in the West) it is usually a law and order problem. But in India, a lot of the problems that are blamed on our culture are really law and order problems.

I mean, it is a miracle! If many other countries had such a strained infrastructure in terms of policing and streets, there would be civil war! For a country whose infrastructure is so strained like India’s, the reason most of the people still look happy and smile is probably because our culture is what helps us survive. It is not the other way around.

So the effect of the BBC documentary on the rape incident, I totally object. I object to the way the criminals were given a pedestal. The BBC has a way of trashing good news from India or positive figures from India.

It is tabloid journalism at its worst. Of course, the government did a foolish thing by banning it (the BBC documentary). The silliest thing they can do. But the problem with the global discourse today, when they made the documentary, they didn’t say explicitly, it is because of Hinduism. But in the world climate today it is immediately being connected with the stereotypes that are coming out of The New York Times, The Guardian, from Slumdog Millionaire, from some extremist Christian propaganda and some parts of the West that think the Hindu male or Hinduism is to blame.

Many Americans and many people in parts of the world today want to appropriate Indian culture. They want yoga, but they say yoga has nothing to do with Hinduism. They want Ayurveda, but they say it’s got nothing to do with Hinduism.

And what is Hinduism? ‘Oh, it’s just a caste’ and ‘being nasty to women.’

At one level my argument isn’t even about Hinduism. It is not about narcissistic pride, it is for the truth.

I teach media studies and we do research and talk about improving representation. We have studies of representation of Muslims, Arabs… there are hundreds of studies. But on Hindus, it is just not been done because we are considered the oppressor community in the academic discourse.

India needs to find a sane way to discuss relative decline in Hindu population

Sadanand Dhume

Is India’s overwhelming Hindu majority shrinking? A recent survey by the Pew Research Center echoes news reports based on leaked figures from the 2011 census. For the first time since independence in 1947, fewer than four in five Indians self-identifies as a Hindu.

Needless to say, the faintest suggestion of falling Hindu numbers—even if only in relative terms — touches a raw nerve with sections of the far Right. A VHP leader responded to the survey by suggesting that India was on its way to becoming another Afghanistan or Pakistan. Not long afterwards, a vice president of the Hindu Mahasabha demanded that Muslims and Christians be forcibly sterilised. Shiv Sena’s official newspaper Saamna, echoing founder Balasaheb Thackeray, called for Muslims to be disenfranchised.

Fortunately, none of these views appear to represent mainstream opinion. But, they stand out as examples of how not to discuss demographic change. If sensible people cannot speak calmly about the issue, they effectively cede it to assorted cranks, bigots and conspiracy theorists.

The Pew survey suggests a far more nuanced picture than the overheated rhetoric that grabs the headlines. With fertility rates comfortably above the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman, in absolute terms India’s Hindu population is growing, not declining. Over the next 35 years, it will swell by over 300 million people to total nearly 1.3 billion.

In relative terms, however, these numbers suggest a gentle but steady decline compared to other faiths. In 1951, not long after the ravages of Partition, India was about 85% Hindu. By 2050 it will be 77 per cent Hindu. To put it differently, if you’re in your 40s today, your parents likely grew up in an India where one in eight people was Muslim or Christian. Your grandchildren will live in a country where that figure will be closer to one in five. This proportion of Hindus, coincidentally, is about the same as reflected in the 1881 census of undivided India. Throw in Pakistan and Bangladesh and, over a 170-year period to 2050, the Hindu population of the region is projected to shrink to 61 per cent of 2.17 billion people.

Bearing on fertility rate

Most of the change in India can be explained by a sharp projected uptick in the Muslim population thanks to higher fertility rates. The average Indian Muslim woman bears 3.2 children; the average Hindu has 2.5 children. Over the next 35 years, Muslims in India will swell to about 311 million, or more than 18 per cent of the population, up from their current 14 per cent share. The survey predicts that by 2050, India will house the world’s largest Muslim population, ahead of Indonesia and Pakistan.

Christian numbers are harder to pin down. Conrad Hackett, the demographer in charge of the Pew survey, says that though both Hindu nationalist and evangelical groups claim that Christianity is growing rapidly in India, “We have not found evidence of this in census or demographic survey data.” Pew estimates an approximately 10 per cent undercount of Christians in India on account of some Dalit Christians identifying as legally Hindu in order to qualify for reservations in government jobs and education.

But while Pew predicts that Christianity will grow rapidly in places like Africa over the coming decades, the Christian share of India’s population will remain more or less steady at 2.5 per cent or less of the population. Another organisation, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, says India’s Christian population is already 4.7 per cent, or about double Pew’s current estimate.

Islam biggest gainer

At a global level, the Hindu share of the world’s population will remain more or less unchanged at 15 per cent. Here again, the biggest gainer, in both absolute and relative terms, will be Islam. Pew estimates that the world’s Muslim population will rise from 1.6 billion people today to 2.8 billion people in 2050, or from 23 per cent to nearly 30 per cent of the world’s population.

To be sure, as with nearly all surveys, prognostications about the future ought to be taken with a grain of salt. If minority religion numbers are undercounted, then India’s Hindu majority may decline more rapidly than suggested. Though, by the same token, if they’re overstated then so are concerns about them.

Either way, India will need to find a way to talk about religious demographics as other nations do — mostly without fuss, rancour or wild policy suggestions. Over the coming decades, India’s changing religious demographics will likely upend politics as we know it, particularly in states with large Muslim populations such as West Bengal and Assam. It will affect everything from efforts toward a uniform civil code to the debate about religious conversions to assumptions about Indian secularism.

To understand what these changes mean, India’s public square needs to host a debate that reflects neither the apathy of the Left nor the shrillness of the extreme Right. This means talking about aggregate trends without losing sight of individual rights.

Only then can the country confidently come to terms with its changing demographic future.

The writer is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC

http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/toi-edit-page/india-needs-to-find-a-sane-way-to-discuss-relative-decline-in-hindu-population/

Am I A Hindu?

Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s exchange with a reader over what makes a Hindu, Hindu; and Hinduism, Hinduism

Question:

Let me tell you at the face of it:  I do not believe in an external power named God. This is not due to reading the Dravidian Movement literature. It’s entirely through my own confusion and the resulting introspections. The feeling that there is no external power named God gained strength after reading the thoughts of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Ramana. The reason I am saying this is to show that I am not merely a vacuous atheist. Though I do not understand Bharathi’s concept of ‘All that I see is Self’, Einstein’s ‘The World is a Cycle’, Ramakrishna’s ‘Nirchalanam’ I am incapable of refuting their contents. I am incapable of accepting them either maybe because I do not understand them or haven’t experienced them. All I can do now is value them.

I have a desire to read the Vedas and the Upanishads. But not now.

I think this letter is the first step in my effort towards that. Though my question is not direct, I know that the answer will be a journey towards that. I will come to the question. Why am I a Hindu? Is it my mother religion or is it an alien religion? Please do not repeat like all the others that this is the power of Hinduism (I feel this is absurd. If I create a chapter on Karuppaswamy in the Bible, will I become a Christian? These sort of questions arise within me).

I do not agree with the reason that it is impossible to pinpoint what defines a Hindu or that under the Constitution, those who are not Buddhists, Christians or Muslims are Hindus.

What’s common between me and my fellow Hindus? Not religion, not even cuisine. Not habits (not even in worship). Not even common Gods. Isn’t that true? In my grandfather’s generation, I have never seen any other form of worship than the worship of our communal deity (nor have I heard them speak of it). It’s only in my generation that for the people of my village it has occurred that someone living in Thirupathi or Sabarimalai could be a God. Even the worship of Murugan at Thiruchendur was not very prominent till a generation ago.

Till now, my village had worshipped only deities such as Karuppaswamy, Sudalaimadan, Kanniamman. My people (including me) knew of the Ramayanam as merely an epic (that too through Kambar, or pattimandrams).  There is no Siva temple or a Rama temple in the vicinity of our village or an easily accessible distance (there was none in the past too). As far as I know, there is none in my ancestors who have read the Gita or the Vedas or have even thought of doing so.

I believe you would have understood my question now. With all these, why am I still a Hindu? Or is the Hindu religion something that was thrust on me like the other religions?

From where did this religion come towards me? Is the distance the only differentiating factor between Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism? If it came in the recent past, did my ancestors have no religion before that? Did they have no form of worship? At the beginning of human history, there would have been no religion. I believe that all religions arose after that.

My question is – did my village not have any form of worship as its own? Or will this become a reality soon? The most significant change I notice in my generation is the food that is presented in temples. The educated (so-called) classes are keen to show themselves as abhorring the custom of eating meat in temples. For them, only the larger temples appear to be beautiful, potent and possessing divinity. My argument that we present to our deity what our deity likes fails to impress there. (I support vegetarianism solely on the basis of health. But this is different. They eat meat at home. But at the temple, they will do so with a guilty heart or will refuse.)

Similarly, I do not remember my grandfather or my grandmother performing offerings for the dead. What I learnt from that is that after the tenth day of rites, that’s it. Now, this habit is also on the rise.

My question is not whether these are for good or for bad. My question is whether the Gita and Vedas are to me what the Bible and Koran is? Or whether there is a connection between me and them.

Am not sure if I have put my question properly. But I have hopes that you would have understood me.

Regards,
Kaliraj.

***

Dear Kaliraj,

This confusion exists among a large section of educated youth in Tamilnadu who come from a humble background. This has been fanned by Dravidian organizations and the Left over the past several years. Powers with financial and organisational mightiness which operate with the objectives of proselytisation stand behind them. They seek to convert this confusion into a firm concept.

To give an example, it’s only in the 1990s that intellectuals of the Dravidian movement and the Leftists who espoused rationality started emphasizing that the worship of local deities in Tamilnadu is not connected to Hinduism and that it is even against Hinduism. Before that, they used to entirely brand it as superstition.

The reason for this happening is the ten-day conference named ‘Gods of the Common Folk’ (‘Sanangalin Saamigal’) conducted at the behest of Father Jeyapathy of the Department of Folklore at the St. Xavier’s college in Palayamkottai. At the conference, a segregation was easily fed to our intellectuals that all the local deities were subjugated and that Hinduism is a religion of subjugating gods. Around 50 lakhs was spent toward this.

Look at what our Leftist intellectual S. Tamilselvan had to say about it: ‘In those days when the Department of Folklore at the St. Xavier College in Palayamkottai functioned actively, a ten-day conference ‘Sanangalin Saamigal’ was conducted. Those ten days were a turning point in my life. It gave a new perspective about gods and deities.

Observe here. See who has to come and present these intellectuals with the history of their own society and their own deities.

These intellectuals failed to ask just one question to the organisers of this conference. Does religion of the organisers permit the worship of local deities? Did it allow those who converted to continue their worship of their communal deity? What happened to the communal deities of those who got converted before this? Which is truly the subjugating religion that suppresses smaller deities? Only one student stood up and asked this, and he was removed from the room.

This question that you ask has been planted inside you without your knowledge and has been growing in strength with continued propaganda. I am pointing out that those behind such efforts are proselytising forces. An educated person like you may have doubts and misgivings that your illiterate father might not have had. He would never have doubted whether he was a Hindu or not. I had to tell this since I could not have answered your question without explaining this background.

The basis for your question lies in your definition of religion. You consider that a religion consists of firm principles of divinity, a definite organisational structure and well-defined practices and rituals. Most of the religions that we see today are like this. But this is not applicable to all religions. Only if we understand religion from a broader and less rigid definition will we be able to understand not only Indian history but also Asian and African histories.

There are two kinds of religions that have a firm center with surrounding structures. The first kind are religions based on race like the Jews. The faith of the Jews is Judaism. Outsiders cannot convert to it. Several African minor religions are like this. These religions have clear boundaries. The boundary of race-based religions is the racial identity. For them, those outside this boundary are aliens. Race based religions do not proselytize.

The second kind are the religions of Prophets. The Prophet who founded the religion would have clearly defined the religious center and its boundaries. In the Abrahamic religions, the Prophet would have said that ‘I am the true Prophet, all else are false’, or it would be written that he said so. Christianity, Islam, Manichaean, Bahai, Ahamedia – these religions can be listed in this category. These kinds of religions keep appearing even today.

These religions would demand complete faith from its followers on its founder prophet and its book. All those who do not accept this would have been defined as aliens or others. It will insist that these others have to entirely give up their own beliefs and customs and join them. These religions will do all that is necessary to this end. This duty would have been preached to all of its faithful. It’s on this basis that they grow.

Other than these two kinds of religions, there are two other. One – religions based on philosophy. Examples, Buddhism and Jainism. They were founded by prophet too. But they do not preach faith, they advocate their philosophy. Even the God that they preach is a philosophical construct. Their description of the universe is not based on faith, but on philosophy. They do not say that this philosophy had to be entirely believed and accepted. Instead, they call for a debate with that philosophy. Even Confucianism and Taoism belong to this category.

There are basic differences between how the two religions spread – the religions of the Prophets and the religions based on philosophy. The religions of the prophets ask the others to come to them casting off their older beliefs and customs in its entirety. They command that what they say be accepted with complete faith. If you become a Christian or a Muslim, you cannot retain any aspect of your old religion, communal deity or customs. You cannot doubt Christian or Muslim beliefs even a little.

But religions based on philosophy do not say so. They only teach that the philosophy be imbibed in your thoughts and your lifestyle. By only accepting the five customs of a Jain, and the basic principle of the Universal cycle, one can become a Jain. Standing within that boundary, one can worship his own community’s deity and practise his customs. In other words, they do not propagate their religion, but their philosophy.

If we consider Buddhism, this is why Sri Lankan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are different in customs and beliefs. A follower of Taoism can also be a Buddhist. The Japanese are able to use Shintoism for material life and Buddhism for spirituality. But it’s the Buddhist philosophy that remains as the essence. What Buddhism does is not proselytisation, but the transmission of philosophy.

Another category of religions can be called aggregate religions in general. Hinduism is the best example of this. Shintoism is another, somewhat smaller, example of the same. They do not have a central vision of divinity or a central philosophy. These emerge at a particular juncture in history and continue to grow.

We usually compare these religions to Abrahamic religions, religions of the Prophets. Hence, we start asking what is the central vision? what is its holy book? and who are the ‘others’? We ourselves decide that these are the central points and boundaries of this religion. Soon we are confused who else is within this boundary along with us. The same confusion exists in your question.

What is the difference between aggregate religions and the other religions mentioned before— religions based on race, religions of the Prophets, and philosophy-based religions? It is that the other three originate at a point and start expanding outwards. Religions based on race have a self-identity based on race as their core. Prophet’s religions have the vision and viewpoint of their prophets as their core. Religions based on philosophy have a philosophical system as the basis.

They make this core interact with several other beliefs and thoughts. Prophetic religions defeat other beliefs and thoughts and establish themselves. Religions based on philosophy penetrate other beliefs and thoughts at the level of philosophy, modify their core, and carry them along. In other words, in both these categories, a core that already existed in the religion starts moving towards the fringes.

For example, when Jainism came to South India, it spread among the Nagars who worshipped Nagas.  It made them accept the Jain philosophy. Nagar’s worship of the Naga became a part of Jainism. The five headed serpent over the head of Parsavnath is the god of the Nagars. The Nagaraja temple at Nagarkoil is their temple.

But aggregate religions do not have a pre-defined central principle or core. Since they are ancient, it is not easy to point out their source or where they originated. It can be said that aggregate religions are formed when the ancestral customs and beliefs of a set of people living in a landmass combine over a period of time.

Tribes living over a vast expanse of land develop individual forms of worship out of their lives. It cannot be called religion. When those people start relating with another group of people over a long period of time, there is a dialogue between their belief systems. They grow by giving and taking. A common ground is discovered between the two. In other words, by conjoining the cores, a new one is created. When it merges with a third form of worship, a new common point is discovered.

Like this, over hundreds of years, hundreds of forms of worship come together to form an aggregate religion. Most of these aggregate religions still continue to be in this process of aggregation. Hence, their central core continues to change and grow. This core moves towards whichever group of people within that population that has the largest intellectual influence or authority.

The structure that we call Hinduism today has been in this aggregate form since the beginning. Even the most ancient book of Hinduism, the Rig Veda is an example of this aggregate nature. It does not preach a particular faith, custom or a philosophy. In it, there are several forms of worship,  beliefs and philosophies. We can see them in dialogue with each other and join with each other in the Rig Veda.

In the ending part of the Rig Veda, there is this approximate central core that arose out of this aggregation. It can be called ‘Brahmam’. That is to say, the essence of this universe or power is envisaged as unfathomable and realizing the universe as its expression. As soon as a core like this is created, dialogue begins between this and the other cores. This we can see in the period of the Upanishads.

This dialogue continues till today. A few Leftists explained that this structure called Hinduism pulls in smaller components towards itself. Several people keep saying the same thing. Any form of worship which they claim was sucked into Hinduism has not lost its self-identity. Even philosophies and beliefs which came in like this two thousand years ago continue to remain so. It’s the newcomers that have modified what the Leftists called as the core. Hence, it is not swallowing in. It’s dialogue and reconciliation alone.

If we see history, we can notice that the central course of Hinduism has changed entirely once in every two or three hundred years. If a new population arrives or a new thought comes in, it changes itself after reconciling with them. Almost like a river. Our Ganges is not a river, it is an aggregation of rivers. It’s course and shape are all determined by the rivers that merge into it. Every group within Hinduism may claim that they are the core, but the core is always all-containing.

Please examine this question from this background. ‘Am I a Hindu?’. Saivaites, Vaishnavites and Saktars could ask this question too, isn’t it?  Saivite and Vaishnavite forms of worship are different, aren’t they> Then, who is a Hindu? One is ‘Hindu’ only if everyone stays together.  If they stand alone, they are merely Saivite, Vaishnavite or Saktar.

You have pointed out in your question a duality that is present in Hinduism.  It is the contradiction between theological religion and folk religion.  It is a sociological method developed by the British to study the forms of worship here.  But one cannot understand Hinduism using this.  The great godheads here were folk deities till a few years ago.  A folk deity of today will combine with an existing godhead and become one as well.

Shiva was a folk deity like your Karuppaswamy once.  Today Sudalaimadaswamy is turning into the Graceful Lord Sivasudalaimadaswamy.  This evolution is constantly happening.  You can worship yesterday’s Karuppaswamy or tomorrow’s Shiva.  You cannot add a chapter to the Bible about Karuppaswamy and make him a godhead. There is no place for him in the Bible and the Koran.  It’s possible in the Gita.  It is this nature which creates aggregate religions.

Now, the information which you share.  They mostly reveal your ignorance about your own heritage. You mostly do not know anything about your village, deities and forms of worship.  You would have grown up without interest in any of these like most other youth and would have come to the cities for work.  After this, you have imagined a village from what you have read or learnt here and there and are asking this question.

What do you know of Karuppaswamy or Sudalaimadan?  Have you attempted to learn something? I know local deities very well; the local deities and communal deities of Nellai and Kanyakumari districts in particular.  I am in touch with folklore researcher A. K. Perumal and have been discussing with him for over a decade. Only a few communal deities belong to your village alone. Karuppaswamy, Madaswamy, Kanniyamman, Maduraiveeran and Muthupattan are present all over the southern region.

Written histories are available for more than three hundred years for all these deities. In oral folklore, there are stories about these deities from even before this period.  The Sudalaimadaswamy folk song belongs to the 15th century. The Karuppaswamy villukathai (story narrated with a villu musical instrument) belongs to the 16th century. You can try reading them. Almost all of the southern folk deities belong to the Saivite tradition.  Shiva would have been mentioned as the god of these deities. Or they would have become deities having after receiving a boon from Shiva.  These stories are still being sung in the villu songs and kaniyan mudiyetru of these deities.

In our culture, gods continue to be created.  There are three ways through which a folk deity can be created.  One, symbolic deity.  That is, a small deity worshiped to cure a disease or to increase the harvest.  Worship of trees, rocks and rivers fall under this category.  Secondly, worshiping the deceased.  Making deities out of those who faced a violent death, killed in a war, or childbirth for the sake of honoring their memory. Thirdly, worshipping elders – deifying one’s ancestors. Temples rise in places where saints are laid to rest.

In the beginning, deities created in this manner stay within the groups that created them.  When this community forms relationships with other communities, they mix with other gods and transform into larger godheads.  All the godheads that you see today were created in this manner.  Deities for a particular family alone continue to exist as their communal deities.

This process of relating would have started several generations ago.  To tell the truth, a local deity starts relating to the Shaivite tradition as soon as it is created.  For example, the temple of ‘Serman’ Arunachala Swamy.  It is in Eral. Arunachala Nadar was born on October 2nd, 1880 at Melapudhukudi near Thiruchendur to Ramaswamy and Sivananaindha Ammai.  He took over as the Chairman of Eral Panchayat on 5th September 1906. He undertook several good measures for the people.  He passed away on Adi Amavasya of 1908.  People established him as a deity and started worshiping him.

Slowly, the worship of ‘Serman’ Swamy started interacting with Saivism. ‘Serman Swamy’ turned into an incarnation of Siva.  Today Arunachala Swamy temple is an important spot of Saivite worship.  This is how Hindu religion takes birth and continues growing.  Any form of worship here starts a dialogue with Hinduism and over a period of a time merges with it.  Only by merging this like, Hinduism moves forward.  Like all streams of water in a particular region somehow going and merging with a large river in that region.

Hence, your deities do not hang out of thin air without any relation whatsoever with the Hindu tradition like you think.  And you are not silent in the dialogue with the common structure of Hindu religion.  You are merely unaware of it.  Even communal deities will merge into the Hindu common traditional worship when the community expands and spreads a bit more.  All other deities will have a historical narrative which fits with the Hindu tradition.  Enquire this when you go visit next time.

As far as our smaller deities go, only a few in the village will have knowledge about them.   The others do not care. The reason is the cultural setback caused in the 19th century due to the great famines. Most of our families would have migrated during that time. The root of the community would be somewhere else. As a result, communal deities were given up and forgotten.  Traditional forms of worship were lost.  Traditional stories and wisdom were lost.  Only simple rituals survived in the places where some ended up living.  Our fathers and grandfathers would have existed in a cultural vacuum and slowly gained roots in the new towns and villages. They would have known nothing.

Why this doubt as to what your religion is?  Which other religion does the word ‘Kaliraj’ belong to?  I believe that you at least know that Kali is a Hindu god.  You mentioned Thiruchendur temple.  You can learn this easily.  Please see if your community has any right to any ritual like mandagappadi in the Thiruchendur festival.  If so, you are a member of a grand, temple based Hindu (Saivite) religious organization which has existed since the tenth century.   If your father or grandfather did not perform the communal worship meant for their community, it is their personal issue alone.

I too have communal deities.  Ittagaveli Neeli and Melaangodu Yatchi.  It is them that my ancestors worshipped.  At the same time, they were also a small part of a grand setup of the Thiruvattaru Adhikesavan temple.  All communities would have this dual religious belief.  Small deities would be their own unique deities.  They would have been attached to temples for larger godheads.

The Vedas were considered merely as books for rituals.  Hence only those who conducted rituals alone read them.  The Gita and the Vedanta were not spoken of as meant for everyone.  It was meant for those who crossed devotion and worship and searched for true knowledge. In all the communities, those who knew these were a miniscule number.

The puranas and epics belonged to all people of India in their respective forms.  For every community, there were different forms of the same stories from the Puranas.  That lower class people had no introduction to the puranas and that they had no relation to it is simply a fraud perpetrated by the Folklore Center Palayamkottai and the Madurai Divinity College.

Have you ever known that the puranas and the epics are the sole basis for all the folk arts of Tamil Nadu?  There are around two hundred folk arts in the Nellai region like the Therukoothu, Tholpaavaikoothu, Pulluvan Paatu, Villupaatu etc. All of them still narrate stories form the puranas and the epics.  Even today, over a hundred of them continue to be staged without facing extinction.  All the local deity festivals for the past two centuries have been conducting them only.  The people who act in them playing parts and those who watch them are all from the lower classes only.

When special dramas arrived, they staged dramas from the puranas.  When silent movies came, they were movies on the puranas as well.  Your village or your family is very surprising.  If they really do not know a little bit about all these things, they certainly live in an interesting illusory world.  Their special state should be separately studied.   One cannot examine Hindu religion or Tamil society on that basis.

You say that you and the Hindu form of worship do not have any relationship.  This is a statement made without any knowledge merely by believing in hearsay.  There are four ways of approaching divinity in the Hindu religion.  One, padayal (offerings) and sacrifice. Secondly,  poojas  and prayers. Third are the Vedic rituals.Fourth, dhyana (meditation) and yoga. Any folk deity would be within the first two forms of worship only.

Do your offer prayers to your Karuppaswamy? Or a joint prayer session?  You would light a lamp or a torch.  You would deck it with flowers, offer food and worship it, wouldn’t you? And you would share the food as sacred prasadam. What is this but Hindu worship?  This what Hindus do in the Fiji Islands, South Africa and in Nepal.  This is what is done to Thiruchendur Murugan as well.  It is sacred ash (thiruneeru) that is smeared on Karuppaswamy and Sudalai.  You would know this if you went to a Karuppaswamy temple.

There would be life sacrifice and food from meat in a Karuppaswamy temple.  In a temple for a larger deity, vegetarian food would be offered.  There would be a few differences in the materials and in the words used, that is all.  This is because a few centuries ago, Thiruchendur Murugan became a god for a larger set of people.  Hence, he moved towards a form of worship common to all the people.  Life sacrifice existed till around a hundred years ago in several of the great Hindu temples for major godheads.

Any small deity would continue to exist somewhere in the Hindu common tradition.  It will definitely not be completely outside of it; even the deities of the Dalits and tribal people.  How far within it depends on how big the worshiping community is, how wealthy, how educated and how much social status it possesses.   The deity of a community gains as much importance within a larger tradition (and merges with it) as the extent to which the community gains stature in society.

That’s why Hindu religion is not thrust down your throat.  Who is there is to do so?  Does someone come door to door for religious conversion?  Do they distribute pamphlets or do they campaign with loudspeakers?  There are no evangelists for Hinduism.  Counter campaigns happen from all quarters with the utmost rigor.

It’s you who force yourself into the Hindu religion.  This is the history of the past five or six thousand years.  Every community jostles for social power.  It searches for its own place in society.  Once it reaches there, it establishes itself there.  Soon their deities gain prominence.  Convincing proof for this is the great prominence gained by Badrakaliamman temples of the Nadars and the importance being gained by Mariamman temples of the Vanniyars.

Watch the roadside when you go.  You will notice brand new Ammans and Karuppaswamys standing up out of the concrete.  A few people from the community that worships those deities would have earned money in Dubai.  As they move up the social ladder and slowly gather authority, their deity will move towards the current core of Hindu religion.  If it has to move towards the centre, it should have a dialogue with the centre.  It should transform itself.  It should seize the centre. That is what is continually happening.

This is what is happening in your village as well.  When smaller deities turn into larger godheads, their appearance and rituals get transformed.  When Karuppaswamy which seeks life sacrifice is worshipped as the All-Pervading ruler of the universe, it has to become a god which has compassion for all living beings.  After that, it is not possible to offer life sacrifice to it anymore.  It transforms into the Graceful Lord Karuppaswamy.

There is no question as to whether this is right or wrong.  This has been the way culture has functioned in the Indian subcontinent for the past five thousand years.  This is how Hinduism was formed.  This society has grown and has progressed forward.  Our intellectuals who scream that this is cultural colonialism shamelessly dance to the tunes of proselytizing forces that uproot and destroy entirely the worship of local deities.

Hence, if you ask if you are a Hindu, I would say that yes, you are a Hindu.  Hindu religion is not an ear-marked region.  It is an expanse in which several fronts continue to be in dialogue. You and your deities are already a part of this vast Hindu expanse.  From what you have said, it appears that you continue to move towards the general way of life.  You are one among the group of people who are gaining ground within the Hindu religion and are making themselves the new core.

– Jeyamohan

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