Oct 21, 2010

Hindutva versus Hinduism


Hinduism is the most difficult religion to define as it does not have a Book, a prophet or a common creed. Consequently, both its supporters and critics can take up any one of its various aspects and present a conception of it that is nowhere near the reality. This is exactly what is being done by the protagonists of Hindutva.

First, let us take up the conception of Rama. They project Rama as the sole Deity of Hinduism, a symbol not only of Hinduism, but of nationalism. This is a fantastic assertion. Rama cannot be a symbol of nationalism, because religious faith and nationalism belong to two entirely different conceptual frameworks. Nationalism is a modern conception and is territorial and political in its connotation. Religious faith is a matter of heart, or soul if you wish, and is not related to territory or political sovereignty. More importantly, Rama could not be a symbol of Hinduism even, as the latter has so many gods, and Rama is but one of them, and that too a later entrant in the Hindu pantheon. If at all the votaries of Hindutva want to establish the historicity of Rama, they must depend on Valmiki’s Ramayana; and there is no suggestion of Rama’s divinity therein. It is in Tulsidas’s Ramacharita Manas that Rama is declared divine. But this was written approximately one and a half millennia after Valmiki’s Ramayana and cannot be cited to prove Rama’s historicity.

Second, granting that Rama is probably a historical figure in view of the depth of feelings for his story; also granting that Rama was born in Ayodhya, it is hard to believe that the exact spot of Rama’s birth can be pinpointed with accuracy. The declaration that the spot at which Rama was born is determined by faith is stretching the meaning of faith. Here it should be remembered that the greatest difference between Hinduism and the Semitic religions is that, unlike the latter, Hinduism has no historical beginning. If tomorrow, it could be proved that there was no historical Jesus Christ, Christianity would be destroyed. But if it were to proved that Krishna was not a historical person, it would not diminish the Gita’s authenticity. The same holds true for Rama. Hinduism is Sanatan dharma, marked by its content, attitudes and values, and not by its historicity.

Thirdly, the Hindutva people have destroyed the conception of Rama which the Hindus have worshipped through the ages. Rama is maryada purushottam, the embodiment of all Aryan virtues. An extreme dedication to duty, respect for elders, affection for juniors, compassion for all and peace (shanti) characterise him. He hardly ever gets angry and is unwilling to attack anybody unless absolutely necessary. His idols have traditionally portrayed Rama in shanta or abhaya mudra — with the right hand raised in a gesture of blessing and a beatific smile on his face. Also, traditionally, Rama, like Krishna, is never worshipped alone but always with his consort. The Rama of Hindutva stands alone, with bow held aloft, ready for aggression. Both innovations go against the traditional conception of Rama.

Fourthly, there is hardly anything common between traditional Hinduism and Hindutva. Traditional Hinduism worships many gods, and declares that all Gods are but different names of one Supreme Divine Reality. But the ideology of Hindutva seems to declare that there is but one God called Rama, who is the symbol of both Hindusim and Indian nationalism. The core of traditional Hinduism is religious toleration and even ahimsa which, though borrowed from heterodox sects, has been so internalised by Hinduism that it can be safely assumed as belonging to the core of Hinduism. In contrast, Hindutva’s central message is aggression and destruction of enemies, real or imagined.

Fifthly, Hindutva has distorted the meaning of religious symbols. The project of distributing trishuls is an example. That Shiva has been portrayed holding a trishul does not mean that every Hindu should carry one. Vishnu is portrayed as carrying four things in his hands—shanka, chakra, gada, padma, Rama carries a bow and arrow, and Kali is supposed wear a garland of skulls. Does it mean that a Hindu should carry these things?

The Hindutva people have randomly picked varied elements from all these traditions to project Hinduism as an aggressive religion, without learning about the intrinsic characters of their Gods. Rama is God of righteousness, compassion; Krishna of Vrindavan is a God of love; Krishna teaches one to do one’s duty selflessly; and Shiva is declared Hole nath, a simple-hearted God who is easily appeased. None of this holds value for the Hindutva lot.

Hindutva is an attempt at semitising Hindusim. The uniqueness of Hinduism lay in its extreme liberalness, toleration and vision of one Divine Reality residing in all. By trying to project Hinduism as a self-assertive, aggressive, and strictly monotheistic religion, Hindutva could destroy it.

(Indian Express, 31 October 2003, Chandigarh)