The spiritual deceits of Jules Monchanin, Henri Le Saux and Bede Griffiths – Aravindan Neelakandan

Saccidananda Ashram aka Shantivanam
Aravindan NeelakandanChristian missionaries usurp Hindu spiritual and cultural heritage and call it “cultural inclusiveness”. In reality, it is a specious theology of aggressive spiritual deceit. – Aravindan Neelakandan

Recently the Outlook magazine came out with the feature article on inculturation attempts of the Christian denominations in Tamil Nadu particularly by the Catholic Church. “This has emanated from the popular devotion of the faithful”, the article quoted Joe Varghese, a Catholic priest of a famous church of Marian cult in Chennai. Many theologians featured in the article presented the inculturation-evangelical project as “cultural inclusiveness”. Are they merely a spontaneous expression of popular devotion and cultural inclusiveness as claimed by the Christian evangelists or is there more to it than what meets the eye?

Let us start from the article itself. In the article, the Christian appropriation of the name “Periyanayagi” by Constanzo Besci, an eighteenth century Catholic missionary in Tamil Nadu, is explained by a Catholic theologian as “cultural inclusiveness”. In Tamil Hindu tradition, Periyanayagi is the name of the consort of Shiva. She is a goddess in her own right and is part and parcel of the vital aspect of Shiva. She is primordial and independently divine. She is Brahman. On the other hand, Mary in Christian theology is not even part of the Holy Trinity. She is only a saint—a rank well below the male deity in Christianity. Saints in Christian theology are sort of divine brokers between the devotee and the Christian deity seeking the mercy of the deity for the devout. Thus, when the Catholic Church allows the use of the name of a Hindu goddess for Mary, it not only appropriates the name of the deity but also downgrades the name in view of the Christian theological context. It is not inclusive culture. It is theology of aggressive spiritual deceit.

The pattern can be seen continuously in all Christian manoeuvres of the inculturation process and it has a long history. It was the Hindu scholar Sita Ram Goel (1921-2003) who made the first major and systematic study of this Christian phenomenon when he published in 1988 the book Catholic Ashrams. In 1994, an enlarged edition came out. Goel had collected the letters from the promoters and proponents of the inculturation projects as well as its critics—particularly Swami Devananda and Ram Swaroop from the Hindu side and Wayne Teasdale and Fr Bede Griffiths from the other side. This work so far remains the best documented work from the Hindu side on this movement. With the inculturation movement today steadily acquiring a popular and theo-political colour it is time we look deep into the theology that forms the basis of the inculturation movement—particularly in Tamil Nadu.

Fr Jules Monchanin (alias Swami Paramarubyananda)

Jules Monchanin

In 1950, Jules Monchanin, a 40-year-old French Catholic missionary, who had been till then “unexceptionally” working in India, succeeded in persuading his Church superiors to allow him to establish a Christian institution with a Hindu sounding name at the village of Kulithalai near Trichy. In establishing the institution, he had declared that his aim was “nothing less than the assumption into the Church of the age-old Indian sannyasa [life of total renunciation] itself.” The mission plan was stated thus:

We would like to crystallize and transubstantiate the search of the Hindu sannyasi. Advaita and praise of the Trinity are our only aim…. This means that we must grasp the authentic Hindu search for God in order to Christianize it. — (J. G. Weber, In Quest of the Absolute: The Life and Work of Jules Monchanin, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, p.73) 

The Hindu label is only for the Indian evangelical market. Within the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church it would be listed as a Benedictine monastery. While securing permission from the Church, Monchanin had help from French Benedictine monk, Henri Le Saux. The latter in turn got interested in the project and wrote to Monchanin about active collaboration:

We can begin together. I will initiate into life in India, and you will initiate me into Benedictine life, for I strongly agree with you, that [Saint Benedict,] the Patriarch of the West must also, in the plan of God, become the Patriarch of the East. — (Jules Monchanin quoted in Iona Misquitta, An Ashram in India under the rule of Saint Benedict: Jules Monchanin (1895-1957) as seen from East and West, Vol. II, Saccidananda Ashram/ISPCK, Delhi 2001, p.76)

Monchanin and Henri Le Saux now gave themselves Hindu names. Monchanin became Swami Parama Arubi Anandam (ultimate, formless happiness) and Henri Le Saux, Swami Abhishiktananda (bliss of the anointed one).

The official name of the institution, inaugurated on 21 March 1950, the feast day of Benedict, was Saccidananda Ashram, which they translated as Hermitage of the Most Holy Trinity. James Stuart, the hagiographer of Herni Le Saux explains the well thought strategy behind the adaptation of the name:

Saccidananda i.e. Sat (being), cit (awareness), ananda (bliss) is one of the deepest Hindu insights concerning God, with Trinitarian overtones which are drawn out in Abhishiktananda’s book of the same name. — (James Stuart, Swami Abhishiktananda: His life told through his letters, ISPCK, Delhi 2000, p.35)

However, such appropriations of Hindu names—[the hermitage is also known as Shantivanam]—in no way diminished the innate aversion towards Hinduism for the missionary in Monchanin. To him, Indian religion was tainted with errors and made vain attempts for salvation. His aim was humbling of Hinduism before Christianity. Making a comparison between pagan Greece and present day India he wrote:

Unfortunately Indian wisdom is tainted with the erroneous tendencies and looks as if it has not yet found its own equilibrium. So was the Greek wisdom before Greece humbly received the Paschal message of the Risen Christ … we hope that India, once baptized to the fullness of her body and soul, and to the depth of her age-long quest for Brahman will reject her pantheistic tendencies and discovering in the splendors of Holy Ghost, the true mysticism and finding a long last the vainly longed for philosophical and theological equilibrium…. India has to receive humbly from the Church the sound and basic principles of true contemplation, to keep them faithfully, to stamp her own seal, and develop through them along with the other members of the Church. — (Jules Monchanin, Contemplation: The essential vocation of the Church and of India in Swami Parama Arubi Anandam (Fr. J. Monchanin), 1895-1957: A Memorial, Saccidananda Ashram 2007, p.125) 

Monchanin simultaneously criticised and tried to appropriate yoga. In 1952, writing on the theme of “Christian yoga”, he underlined four “perils” (in upper case) of yoga—“physiological, psychological, moral and spiritual”. Catholic scholar Thomas Matus details Monchanin’s view of yoga thus:

The greatest dangers are of a moral and spiritual order; in both cases, an underlying “Pelagianism” in the various Hindu and Buddhist schools (Monchanin allows very few exceptions to this blanket judgment) seems to subtract yogi from grace; under the illusion that the isolated ego is the Higher Self, the yogi falls prey to the seduction of a monism that allows no room for agapic love. — (Thomas Matus, Jules Monchanin and Yoga in Jules Monchanin (1895-1957) as seen from East and West, Vol. II, Saccidananda Ashram / ISPCK, Delhi 2001, p.113)

Despite all these “dangers” and “perils”, he does not lose sight of the importance of “Christianising yoga” to the evangelical mission as “(Yoga’s) non-Christianisation would be tantamount to refusing to Christianise India itself”. So to achieve this, Monchanin made a tactful adjustment. Matus explains:

At this point Monchanin makes an important distinction: Yoga does not pertain to the essence of Indian civilization but to its form…. Yoga as a ‘method’ not ‘doctrine’ as ‘form-manifestation’ not ‘essence’ would seem to guarantee considerable freedom in a Christian theologian’s assessment of the Yoga component in the various Indian schools, while also guaranteeing a Christian contemplative’s use of yogic forms of meditation.

According to him yoga in its original form excluded grace. Yet Monchanin hoped:

In spite of this accumulation of obstacles, the need remains urgent: if Yoga is not Christianized, an essential aspect of India … will forever remain outside the pleroma of the Mystical Body.

As the inculturation project progressed, important differences started emerging between him and his collaborator Henri Le Saux. The latter wanted to extend Christianising to Advaitic experience also. Towards this end Henri Le Saux took extensive tours to Hindu places of pilgrimage and started practising meditation. Monchanin strongly disapproved of this and warned against going to Rishikesh, which he said was “a place where sadhus, real or supposedly so (both kinds no doubt) devote themselves to delusive exercises verging on mirage”.

Monchanin dreaded and detested the non-dualist experience more than anything. This hatred reached new heights as his life neared its end. He wrote:

It seems to me more and more doubtful that the essence of Christianity can be found by going through Advaita (the non-dualism of Sankara). Advaita like yoga and more than yoga is an abyss. Whoever dizzily plunges into it cannot know what he will find in its depths. I fear it may be himself rather than the living triune God.

It is for harbouring this Advaitic vision that Hinduism should die:

In this mystery, Hinduism (and especially Advaita) must die to rise up again Christian. Any theory which does not fully take into account this necessity constitutes a lack of loyalty both to Christianity—which we cannot mutilate from its essence—and to Hinduism—from which we cannot hide its fundamental error and its essential divergence from Christianity. Meanwhile our task is to keep all doors open, to wait with patience and theological hope for the hour of the advent of India into the Church…. Hinduism must reject its atman-brahman equation, if it is to enter into Christ. — (Jules Monchanin, quoted in Harry Oldmeadow, A Christian Pilgrim in India: The Spiritual Journey of Swami Abhishiktananda, World Wisdom Inc, 2008)

Harry Oldmeadow, a sympathetic biographer of Henri Le Saux reveals how this drift was creating some bitterness among the crusaders running the appropriation project:

In later years Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux’s Indian alias) himself referred to Monchanin’s skepticism about any reconciliation of Christianity and Vedanta and spoke of Monchanin’s fear that his Christian faith might be overwhelmed by Vedanta as it had nearly been earlier by Greek rationalism. Some hard words on these subjects were exchanged at Shantivanam but their mutual respect and deep affection withstood the strain imposed by these disagreements.

Grave of Jules Monchanin

In 1957 Monchanin died and Henri Le Saux took over the “ashram”. Even the burial structure over his dead body serves his mission of appropriation. One finds here a verse from Manikkavacagar a ninth century Saivaite mystic poet and one of the four seers venerated by Tamil Saivism. The verse written on the grave of Monchanin is the verse in which Manikkavacagar speaks of the greatness of Shiva coming as his own guru. The verse when written over the grave of a Christian priest evokes two ambiguous meanings both of which belittle the original Saivaite context.

If one is to take the verse to mean Monchanin himself (by his disciples) then that is a downgrading statement on Shiva to a Christian missionary. If the statement is made as a reference to Jesus then again there is a problem. In Saivism, Siva comes in human form when the disciple has obtained a critical mass of inner preparedness. This human form in which Shiva appears is according to Saivism, is neither an avatar nor does it have a human birth. It is only a form that appears, initiates the disciple and disappears. Hence if the statement of Manikkavacagar is applied to Jesus then it is an intentional distortion of the original verse.

Since his death, his project has been safeguarded and nourished. At times his successors had to gloss over his real motives. Bede Griffiths who was the third head of this Catholic institution, positioned himself often as an eclectic Christian who respected Hinduism genuinely. Nevertheless he was as fanatical and scheming but more deceptive than Monchanin. When a knowledgeable Hindu monk Devananda questioned Bede Griffith’s motives vis-a-vis Monchanin, Griffiths was quick to distance himself and the organisation Monchanin established from the writings of Monchanin:

Thank you for your letter and the enclosure about Father Monchanin. Of course, if I held the same view as Father Monchanin, you would be justified in suspecting me of deception. But you must remember that Father Monchanin was writing forty years ago and immense changes have taken place in the Church since then. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter to Swami Devananda dated 31.8.1987, in Sita Ram Goel, Catholic Ashrams: Sannyasins or Swindlers, Voice of India 1988 &1994, p.135)

One can note that in the letter Griffiths tactfully accepted that Monchanin was indulging in deception. And also one can see that the supposed distancing from the deception of Monchanin was attributed by Griffiths, not to any ethical change of heart but rather changes in the establishment of the Church. Even this statement by Griffiths is not completely true. The mission of Monchanin still remains very much integral to and is at the heart of Shantivanam movement as evidenced by the fact that the Golden String, the bulletin of the Bede Griffiths Trust in its winter 1997-8 issue hailed Monchanin’s quote to “grasp the authentic Hindu search for God in order to Christianize it” as “prophetic”.

Today, the strategy of “Christianisation” of yoga has become even stronger. The seemingly paradoxical stand of Monchanin in outlining the “perils” of yoga while at the same time taking efforts to Christianise it is reflected in the stand taken by the Church at large in India today. Catholic educational institutions do have their own form of yoga curriculum in their schools and campuses. At the same time they oppose any attempt by Indian Government to bring yoga into the school curriculum.

When the present government announced the draft for the National Education Policy in 2016, there was a protest led by Bishop of Coimbatore Diocese L. Thomas Aquinas, Superintendent of Roman Catholic Schools, Coimbatore Diocese, A. Maria Joseph and other high officials of the Catholic Church, teachers, non-teaching staff and members of the management of Christian-run education institutions in and around Coimbatore. Among other things the Catholic priests protested against “promoting yoga”, which they declared “was not a panacea for all ills”. The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) in its “report of the national education consultation” held on 24 and 25 October 2017 in New Delhi, announced that introduction of yoga as also part of “gradual saffronisation”.

In other words, here we see how the seemingly abstract theological strategy of Monchanin in Christianising yoga taking concrete political steps in the national discourse. With yoga curriculum decoupled from any state support in the educational system and with the huge network of Catholic institutions free to teach their own versions of yoga, they can soon become the only cost-effective channel for an average Indian child to learn yoga—which of course will initially be merely “the form” devoid of the authentic spirit of yoga and later acquire a Christian spirit—or Christian yoga. — Swarajya, 23 November 2017

Fr Henri Le Saux (alias Swami Abhishiktananda)

Henri Le Saux

Catholic missionary J. Monchanin (1895-1957) had established the “Saccidananda Ashram” in 1950 and had started an elaborate mission to “Christianise” Hindu spirituality. He wanted Hinduism to die, shed Vedanta and get resurrected in Christianity. In 1957, he died and was succeeded by another French Catholic missionary Henri Le Saux (1910-1973). Henri Le Saux assumed the Hindu name “Swami” Abhishiktananda as part of his mission strategy.

When Henri Le Saux first came to India, Monchanin took him to Sri Ramakrishna Tapovan so that the former could observe first hand a Hindu ashram. At the same time Monchanin was also observing Henri Le Saux to see what effect the place was having on him. Monchanin made the following observation:

(Henri Le Saux) senses quite independently of me, the human impossibility of the conversion of a Hindu who is truly a Hindu (…): the more spiritual a Hindu becomes, the further in a sense he distances himself from Christianity. — (James Stuart, Swami Abhishiktananda: His life told through his letters, ISPCK, Delhi 2000, p.28)

Henri Le Saux hence decided to understand and dismantle the Hindu spirituality so that it could be Christianised. So as part of the project, he started visiting Hindu pilgrim places in South India. Wearing the saffron robes of a Hindu sannyasin he visited the temples of Chidambaram, Kumbakkonam and Thanjavur enjoying the hospitality of gullible Hindus who welcomed him into their temples. He recounts in a letter of this experience in Chidambaram—the great Saivite temple:

… [At Chidambaram] they were very liberal and showed us every thing. They even wanted to give rice and cakes presented to the images. You can understand that all the same our devotion could not go as far as that! — (Henri Le Saux’s letter dated 9.11.1949)

At Srirangam—the great Vaishnavite centre he purportedly violated the explicit notice at the entrance that non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple. He went into the inner corridor. His hagiographer James Stuart admiringly writes how “clad in kavi (saffron robes) he followed a group of children into the inner sanctuary of the temple at Srirangam carefully averting his eyes from the notice which prohibits entry to all non-Hindus.”

Nevertheless, standing right before the sacred statue of Vishnu he refused with derision to accept the aarti. In his words:

… and the priest took up a tray containing camphor, … set it alight, recounted the glories of Sri Rangam Nathar [i.e., Vishnu], and began to offer a puja in my honour. … I have never had such good treatment but, all the same it was nothing doing, for I should have had to make the anjali, prostrate spread my hands over the flame and bring them to my eyes, put the ashes on my forehead etc. … I protested—horror indignation! — (Henri Le Saux’s letter dated 26.02.1950)

One place that particularly interested him was Arunachala—another great Saivite centre where the mountain itself is considered as a form of Shiva. It was also where Sri Ramana Maharishi experienced Advaitic state of the Self. In 1953, in his letter to his family, Henri Le Saux expressed his desire regarding Arunachala, “When will Arunachala be inhabited by Christian monks?”

Henri La Saux at Tiruvannamalai

Sri Ramana Maharishi was having a great influence on the seekers of the West. This had to be countered. Henri Le Saux had a plan. He revealed this to a fellow Catholic priest:

We have to work out a Christian advaita, and you know what that means; we shall not come to that by exploding advaita at the outset on the ground of its incompatibility. We have to strive to be faithful to advaita to the end. Only a heroic fidelity will make it possible in God’s own time to transcend it. … Not mutilation but sublimation. — (Henri Le Saux’s letter dated 12.01.1954)

By 1955, he was grooming a young Christian boy of 20 years to become a Christian Ramana, which however could not materialise (James Stuart, p.79). In 1957, following the death of Monchanin, Henri Le Saux then in charge of Shantivanam, soon developed the “fulfillment theology” to “Christianise” Advaitic experience.

The “fulfillment theology” was one of the prominent and strong weapons in the theological arsenal of Christianity.

Fulfillment theology was prominently employed in the study of Hinduism by a Scottish educational missionary John Nicol Farquhar then working in the YMCA (1902-23). His book Crown of Hinduism published by prestigious Oxford University became popular both in Indology circles as well as with Protestant missionaries. Fulfillment theology in the Hindu context as put forth by Farquhar states:

Christ provides the fulfillment of each of the highest aspirations and aims of Hinduism…. In Him is focused every ray of light that shines in Hinduism. He is the crown of the faith of India. — (John Nicol Farquhar, The Crown of Hinduism, Oxford University Press, 1913, pp.485-6)

Like Roman Catholic Monchanin did decades after him, Protestant Farquhar also declared that Hinduism should die in Christianity: “Hinduism must die in order to live. It must die into Christianity.”

Catholic counterpart of Farquhar was Pierre Johanns a Jesuit missionary. Johanns made the claim that “almost all elements of Christian religion … are to be found among them [the Hindus] in a higher form than they were ever known among the Greeks.” Both Johanns and Farquhar paid special attention to Vedanta. Farquhar wrote:

The Vedanta is not Christian and never will be—simply as Vedanta: but very definite preparation for it…. It is our belief that the living Christ will sanctify and make complete the religious thought of India.

In the 1920s, Johanns was publishing a periodical entitled The Light of the East where he serialised articles under the title “To Christ through the Vedanta” over a period of 20 years. According to Harry Oldmeadow, the biographer of Henri Le Saux, “fulfillment theology” had an abiding presence in the work of both Monchanin and Henri Le Saux.

As the head of the institution, Henri Saux set to work. In 1962 he finished a 100-page draft. Elaborately titled The Experience of Saccidananda: Advaitin Experience and its Trinitarian Fulfillment the text would become an important document in the appropriation project. According to James Stuart the book brought “together Advaitic experience and Christian faith … through the adoption of a ‘theology of fulfillment’”. In the book, Henri Saux explained the need to Christianise Advaitic Vedanta:

… the integration of the advaitic experience into his own faith is for the Christian a necessary task. Christianity presents itself to the world as the supreme message from God to mankind, as possessing the definitive word in which God has revealed all that can be told of the divine life and love. If the Church’s claim is true, then it follows that whatever men have found that is true, beautiful and good, both can and should be integrated into Christian experience. — (Henri Le Saux, Sacchindananda: A Christian Approach to Advaitic Experience, ISPCK, Delhi 1974, p.47)

Henri Le Saux wrote that Hinduism belongs to a category called the religions of the “cosmic covenant” which means all religious traditions outside the Biblical revelation. Of these non-Biblical cosmic revelations he called Hinduism in general and Advaita in particular as “the acme of man’s spiritual in the cosmic religions”. However he stressed that though “the cosmic covenant and Christ’s revelation are not opposed to one other”, they are not the same. On the contrary “it is that the first prepares the way for the second”. In the case of Advaita, it is the primeval evil that entered the Garden of Eden that is stopping this fulfillment of Hindu Advaita in Christian Divinity:

There is nothing true, beautiful or good that does not bear the mark of the Spirit. Evil only emerges when what is true, beautiful or good stops short at itself claiming to be the All, the final plenitude, and refuses the role in the history of salvation which is the very purpose of its creation. This was the temptation of the cherub in the Garden of Eden.

Even as he was undertaking these efforts, Henri Le Saux harboured serious doubts whether through fulfillment theology he could really Christianise Advaita. When the draft appeared as the book he had dropped the subtitle “Vedanta to Trinity”. In a letter to Raimundo Panikkar, another fulfillment theologian, he confessed: “… whatever we do is it not a qualified visishta advaita?—and advaita is lost as soon as there is qualification?” Such doubts and confusions never made him lose sight of his ultimate goal which he explained this in one of his letters thus:

“Without this recollection in [Jesus], the Indian Church will never be capable of transforming Hindu India into Christian India.” — (Henri Le Saux’s letter dated 10.10.1963)

In his worldview, the spiritual traditions outside the Church exist only because God conserves them for the Christian to bring them into the Church. After a spiritual tradition is appropriated by the Church it ceases the need to exist outside the Church.

The prayer “for the heathen” ought to turn into a prayer that the Christians may at last gather in the spiritual riches of the Gentiles, so that God might finally have no more need to conserve them outside the Church, precisely in order to prevent these riches from being lost. — (Henri Le Saux’s letter dated 12.04.1965, quoted in James Stuart, 2000, p.171)

Unlike Monchanin who worked mostly within the confines of Shantivanam, Henri Le Saux took the appropriation crusade right into Hindu holy places. He always made it a point to go to the most venerated places of Hindus and conduct a Christian mass while unsuspecting Hindus would take the saffron clad missionary for a Western Hindu sannyasin.

It started as early as 1955 when he visited the Elephanta caves. He claimed it for Jesus by conducting a Mass before the famous Mahadeva statue:

Yesterday evening we came here to Elephanta. Here Hindu temples cut out of the rock, only one well preserved. I was thunderstruck! I am more Hindu than Buddhist. You know the Shiva with three heads, incorrectly called Trimurti.… When I saw it, I simply had to hold on to a pillar for support…. This morning we said our Mass immediately in front of it. There is nothing pagan here. — (Henri Le Saux’s letter dated 18.07.1955)

Later a three-headed Jesus would adorn the entrance of his Catholic monastery at Shantivanam [see image at top of this article].

In January of 1965, he climbed to the summit of Arunachala—the sacred hill worshipped by Hindus and conducted a Christian mass there. While at Uttarkashi, another highly esteemed place of Hindu pilgrimage, while enjoying the hospitality of a Hindu ashram, he went into “the crypt of a small temple besides Ganges” where “sitting cross-legged” he conducted the Christian ritual alone with “the bread and wine after the order and rite of Melchizedech. …” and then “declared this act as ‘a prophetic sign’”. ( James Stuart, 2000, p.172) It was at Uttarkashi, which he visited once again, he started experimenting an Indian liturgy with a Sanskrit base. He wrote:

In the loft fitted up in my hut I offer Masseach morning seated like a brahmin priest, with ceremonies of offering water, incense, fire. I read the gospel in Sanskrit and also sing the Our father in Sanskrit…. My Upanishadic rite takes shape day by day. [Details follow] But all that is very Hindu…. — (Henri Le Saux’s letter dated 29.7.1965 and 28.8.1965)

He now started fashioning his masses based on fulfillment theology. Christmas eve celebrations of 1965 started with the reading of Hindu texts followed by the prophets and then Christian Gospel—thus Hindu texts becoming the preparation for the advent of Christianity. He called mantras as short prayer phrases which could be related to Christian devotion. In his work Prayer he drew parallels between the Hindu Om and Sacchidananda and the Christian Abba, the prayer of Jesus. The mechanism for creating a Christian mantra, which Henri Le Saux called as “mantra sandwich” was later consolidated in Shantivanam. Here a traditional Indic mantra venerated and practised for thousands of years like Om Nama Sivaya or Om Namo Bhagavathe Vasudevaya or Om Mani Padme Hum are taken. Then the Hindu or Buddhist spiritual principle (deity’s name or symbol) is removed and Christian name is slipped in between.

Thus Om Nama Shivaya or Om Namo Narayana becomes Om Namo Christaya, Aum Sri Yesu Bhagavathe Namaha. Om Mani Padme Hum became Om Yesu Christa Hum. Ringu Tulku and Mullen in their paper Buddhist use of Compassionate Imagery (2004) trace the Christian appropriation of Buddhist mantras to the Shantivanam project and justify it through the fulfillment theology: “A strong connection between Om Mani Padme Hum, as a universal expression into human heart and the spirit of Jesus has already been made in Buddhist circles.”

In 1968, Henri Le Saux left Shantivanam handing over the charge to new occupants. On parting, he gave a four-fold advice to a Jesuit priest who had founded a Christian centre for dialogue with Hindus. In that advice, Henri Le Saux suggested that Christians should take up the celebration of Hindu festivals such as Deepavali as a joyful expression of their own faith and also use aarti or deepa puja in Christian churches giving it their own Christian interpretation.

There is an interesting twist in the life story of Henri Le Saux. Leaving Shantivanam and living by the banks of Ganges, there seemed to have happened in him some genuine transformation. According to Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic theologian, Henri Le Saux “seemed to lapse into purely monistic Advaita”. Abhishiktananda declared that it was the Advaitic experience and realisation that is important and everything else need to be dropped:

Jesus may be useful in awakening the soul—as is the guru—but is never essential and, like the guru, he himself must in the end lose all his personal characteristics. No one really needs him. … Whoever, in his personal experience … has discovered the Self, has no need of faith in Christ, of prayer, of the communion of the Church. — (Henri Le Saux’s diary entry dated 10.7.1969, Ascent to the Depth of the Heart: The Spiritual Diary (1948-73) of Swami Abhishiktananda (Dom Henri Le Saux), ISPCK 1998, p. 217)

He also got critical about the Church though he offered Mass till his death. He felt the Church’s insistence of Christ was as an obstacle to final spiritual liberation:

Christ’s namarupa necessarily explodes, but the Church wants to keep us virtually at the level of the namarupa. — (Henri Le Saux’s diary entry dated 24.4.1972)

In another diary entry he again criticised the Church—this time quoting a verse from the Upanishad:

Christianity believes that salvation comes from the outside, through thoughts rites, “sacraments”. The level of namarupa. Nothing comes from the outside, nothing that is made, krita, leads to what is un-made, akrita! (MU I:2:12) — (Henri Le Saux’s diary entry dated 28.5.72)

He died on 7 December 1973. Meanwhile, Shantivanam itself had passed into the hands of a more virulent Hindu-phobic theologian who also would become more aggressive in appropriating Hindu spirituality and culture for evangelism. – Swarajya, 24 November 2018

Jesus

So Far

Suddenly a “folk” Christianity has exploded prominently in the public conscience of Tamil Nadu. It is claimed that it is a spontaneous movement of the people who are expressing their Christian devotion through local cultural forms. However, an investigation shows that it is more a result of a well-prepared strategy that goes back decades in the past. The Church has been working silently and very systematically in creating these Hindu-like “folk” expressions.

In Tamil Nadu, it started with a French Catholic priest Jules Monchanin (1895-1957), who wanted to “kill” Hinduism while appropriating the key Hindu elements into Christianity. He had observed that the more a Hindu becomes spiritual the more it becomes impossible to convert him to Christianity. He founded the “Saccidananda Ashram”, which is actually a Benedictine monastery. After his death, Henri Le Saux (1910-1973) took over the institution. He undertook fieldwork by visiting Hindu holy places and conducting clandestine Christian masses in the sacred spaces of Hindus. He wanted to create what he called “Christian Advaita”; he even had a project for creating a “Catholic Ramana”.

However, before his death he started criticising the exclusive nature of the Church and even questioned the necessity of Jesus for a real spiritual pursuit. Nevertheless, he produced some of the most important manuals for appropriation of Hindu culture and dilution of its spirituality. After his death, the appropriation project was taken over by his successor Bede Griffiths.

Fr Bede Griffiths

Bede Griffiths

Griffiths who gave himself the name Swami Dayananda, just like Henri Le Saux, started visiting various Hindu holy places. Wearing saffron robes and donning the Hindu name, which he used less frequently, he made friends with Hindus, who took him into the temple interiors. Witnessing Hindu credulity first hand, he was optimistic that soon Hinduism would die. He wrote:

I am gradually clarifying my views on Hinduism. I feel it is passing away. However strong it may be at the moment, it cannot survive the impact of modern thought which is undermining it on all sides. What is necessary is that its essential holiness should be preserved. … Its mythology – however beautiful cannot stand. It must come to recognize Christ as the unique historic manifestation of God and only then can its essential values be preserved. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 5.8.1955. From Adrian B. Rance, Falling in love with India: From the letters of Bede Griffiths, Saccidananda Ashram, 2006)

Theology of Colonialism as Christian Love

Griffiths was an apologist for colonialism. His colonialism was theological. In any negative incident he observed in Indian context, he was ready to stereotype and essentialise Indian culture. When a Syrian Catholic inmate was found stealing and having affairs with women, Griffiths blamed it on both Hinduism as well as the general Indian nature:

There was also as I believe you would find in a typical Hindu, a vivid sense of the presence of God in nature and a spontaneous piety. But with all this there goes almost complete absence of moral principle, and I am afraid this is terribly typical of India. I have found that it is almost impossible to trust anyone’s word. Lying, cheating, stealing, swindling seems to be in the blood and in his case at least (I don’t know how much of this is general) sexual promiscuity. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 25.3.1956)

The racial and colonial prejudice almost bordering a hatred towards Indians and Hinduism is a constant factor one sees throughout the writings of Griffiths. What is astonishing is that he was able to pen down these views after his own West had seen what such prejudices and hatred could do as in the case of Nazi Germany. However, Griffiths was able to always camouflage his hatred as “Christian love” which wanted to rectify the innate Hindu deficiency. He explained in a letter in what sense really he loved Indians:

Of course I love these Indians as my brothers. … But I assure you I have no illusions about them. I see the virtues of the British very clearly – they are honest, straightforward just and reliable – while Indians are lacking in these qualities. Of course India owes almost everything as a modern nation to the British…. But the British had a fatal defect—they could not accept the Indians as their equals—they always imagined themselves to be a superior race. There is good reason for this—we are superior in certain ways—but the Indians have qualities of religion and virtue and affection. … They need us and (we) can help them and they are deeply thankful for all we have given them—but they could not accept (us) as superiors—that is why we had to go. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 6.6.1959)

The letter is important because in a way Griffiths brings out the mindset of most of the post-colonial Western Indologists as well. As we will see, the world-view of Griffiths and his works prefigure the works of Western religious scholars like Wendy Doniger and Jeffrey Kripal studying Hinduism. His colonial prejudice of Indians and his faith in the lack of morality in Indian psyche was so deep-rooted that he treated even Indian Catholics close to him with suspicion. For example, a Gandhian Catholic named Stephen was attracted by this saffron-clad westerner. About him Griffiths writes:

I have been trying to form a group of oblates here … two or three young Indian Catholics. One of these is called Stephen—he has become a very close friend of mine. He calls me his “guru” and I act as his director. He is working in Vinoba Bhave’s Sarvodaya movement. … Stephen is heart and soul in this movement and is doing wonderful work…. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 21.03.1960)

The “guru” was finding the “Indian” nature of his “disciple” unpredictable. (“Like all Indians he needs watching—you never quite know what they will do next!”) Nevertheless, he was very happy that the “disciple” was “very faithful to us” and “had taken a private vow of obedience”. However, soon Griffiths discovered Stephen‘s behaviour not very satisfactory. So the “guru” blamed the disciple in a letter—it was of course Hinduism which had to be blamed.

But Stephen is a queer mixture. I am afraid that he is very unbalanced. He had wonderful ideas but was quite incapable of carrying them out…. All these are of course problems of the unconscious, which is still find it difficult to fathom. … This gives wonderful spontaneity, but it leaves one terribly exposed to the forces of emotions and the imagination. That is why I find people here so unreliable—they are carried away by their feelings and imagination (Stephen is very much this type)  and you can never rely on them. They may also be exposed to the deeper forces of the unconscious – the gods and demons. This is evident in Hinduism generally.… — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 27.08.1960)

As one can see the shallow stereotyped analysis of defects in a human individual as a result of the unconscious forces of his culture and reducing the sacred in another culture to “deeper forces of unconscious”, have all been done already by Griffiths. So when a Wendy Doniger or a Paul Courtright does similar “analysis” of Hinduism, what is essentially being carried out, intentionally or unknowingly, is a crypto-colonial project which embeds in its core theo-racism.

Coming back to his own project in India, of all the three, Griffiths shows remarkable consistency in his approach to Hinduism. He too was an advocate of fulfillment theology. In 1956, he wrote that India needed the “moral force” of Christianity outlining how to present Jesus as the fulfillment of Bhagavad Gita:

Christ must be seen as the fulfillment of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: Krishna is not sufficient to receive the devotion he asks for, he is not serious enough. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 8.4.1956)

Using Hindu Universalism for Christian Exclusiveness

Griffiths also decided to use one important aspect of Hinduism as an evangelical tool—its universal inclusiveness.

My idea is that Hinduism is valid as far as it goes but it is incomplete and needs Christ to fulfill its true purpose. If a man goes far enough in Hinduism with a sincere desire for truth, he will eventually come to Christ…. I find that most of these [Hindu] boys know something of Christ and no Hindu finds any difficulty in acknowledging him as a son of God, an avatar (like the Buddha). But to realize how Christ is the son of God, how he fulfills all religion, how he delivers from sin and incorporate all mankind in himself, how he introduces us into inner life of the Trinity—all this is beyond them at present, and can only come in time. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 27.5.1956)

While he saw the Hindu boys accepting Jesus as one of the avatars like Buddha as a stepping stone towards evangelising them to Christianity, he vehemently opposed any Western / Christian author adopting a similar syncretic inclusive vision of all spiritual traditions. Thus he rejected the thesis of Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998) thus:

I have been reading Schuon’s latest book Sentier de Gnose (Footpaths of Gnosis (Knowledge)). I see more clearly than I have ever done how fundamentally false is his whole position. … Everything he writes of Christianity is false in this sense—it is fundamentally perverted. It is nothing but a form of Gnosticism, the ancient heresy. … Schuon is more subtle, because he knows the whole oriental tradition and attempts to assimilate Christianity, a form of Gnosis—an esoteric wisdom which places it on a level with Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam…. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 23.6.1957)

So what is useful and valid for evangelism in Hindu mindset, when it accepts Jesus as divine similar to an avatar, becomes “fundamentally false” and “fundamentally perverted” when a Christian / Western author tries to place Christianity “on a level” with other religions!

What is important is that these theological studies are not abstract entities residing only in the papers. They get translated into concrete evangelical entities.

In Sandhya Vandhana, the prayer book that is in use in Shantivanam, the popular Hindu bhajans in every major Indian language are distorted to Christianise them. The famous Ragupathi Ragava Raja Ram used by Mahatma Gandhi declares Hindu universalism and aims to promote communal harmony. In the Hindi section of bhajans present in the ashram handbook, the verses are twisted to proclaim the superior exclusiveness of Jesus and Christianity:

Sab bole Prabhu Yesu nam Patita pavana Yesu nam. … Sab se accha Yesu Nam Papa nivarana Yesu nam [The name of Jesus is better than other names]. — (Sandhya Vandana, Saccidananda Ashram, Shantivanam, pp. 41:2)

Fritjof Schunon to Gandhi bhajan, the Hindu universalism becomes a doorway to proclaim Christian exclusiveness.

Sita Ram Goel

Hindu Seers—Belittled Inside but Praised Outside

What was true for Hinduism and Indian culture was also true for the great seers of Hinduism. Thus Sri Ramakrishna was no more holy than Ramana Maharishi and could come only just nearer to St Francis of Assisi, and could not even be his equals. To Griffiths the life of Ramakrishna also showed what Hinduism lacked with respect to Christianity. He wrote:

By the way Bernard Kelly sent me the Gospel of Ramakrishna. It is the most wonderful book. … I don’t think he is more holy than Ramana Maharishi, but his character is much more rich. His was the way of bhakti and he was carried away in ecstasy of love.… He is perhaps nearer to St Francis of Assisi than anyone. … I don’t think that anything gives a better idea of the real heart of Hindu religion. One can also see what it lacks in comparison with Christianity. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 22.7.1956)

Belittling Hindu seers by comparing them to Jesus or Christian saints is another consistent feature of Griffith’s writing. Almost a decade after writing the above lines, he wrote again about these two remarkable self-realised saints of recent times:

I mentioned Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharishi with their triumph over pain and their capacity to live in God above the whole state of the body. But I don’t honestly believe that this is the highest state. Christ accepted pain—he really suffered, physically and mentally, as they did not and through his suffering he came to the total surrender to God. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 12.6.1966)

Regarding the disciples of Swami Sivananda addressing him as bhagawan, he called that as “a weakness of Hinduism”. Though he thought Swami Sivananda as one with great powers and one having done much good, he found the atmosphere “not pleasant”. Swami Sivananda was “very fat and rather sickly man … conducted to coach and laid out as if in bed by devout females” many of whom were “Germans of a theosophical kind”. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 22.4.1964)

Despite all these reservations and criticism against Hindu saints, which he was free to have as a devout Christian, he would not hesitate to indulge in deception by uttering the names of very same Sri Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharishi as his guides, when confronted by Hindu scholars and seers. When a Hindu sannyasi Swami Devananda questioned the right of a Christian missionary to appropriate Aum, he accused the Hindu of being “a sectarian” and wrote:

I am concerned with the universal essence of Hinduism, as found in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita and in modern masters like Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Ramana Maharishi and Mahatma Gandhi. These have always been my guides. — (Bede Griffiths to Swami Devananda, letter dated 16.10.1987, in Sita Ram Goel, Catholic Ashrams: Sannyasins or Swindlers, Voice of India, 1988 & 1994, p.143)

Even before he took over, while staying at Shantivanam, he took many scouting visits to the great Hindu temples of South India—particularly Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Thanjavur and Srirangam—very similar to his predecessor Henri Le Saux. Mixing with Hindus, projecting himself as an admirer of Hinduism and hiding his Christian identity, he could gain access to the inner sanctum of the temples where only Hindus are allowed. From these visits he conjectured that it was the darkness of the unconscious that the Hindu temples represented and this was their attraction:

The whole effect is very strange—the Brahmin priests naked to the waist wearing the sacred thread and with heads half shaven, the weird primitive music with beating of drums and the scent of incense—the crowds of people. Yet I felt through it all intense appeal to the unconscious … this great world of unconscious which is the real Hindu temple—architecture, music, sculpture, the shrine half hidden in darkness—all belong to the world of unconscious, and it is this symbolism of the unconscious that draws the millions of India to the temples. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 22.12.1956)

After seeing Thanjavur big temple, his visit ended with Srirangam—the greatest of the Vaishnavite shrines. Now he wrote decisively:

I have never seen anything so sublime, not even in a Romanesque church. But at the same time one feels the limitation of his [Hindu] religion. It is a religion of nature and never rising above nature. I came away with the sense of oppression. I feel that this is essentially a primitive religion which must be transcended. A time must come when Christ takes the place of all the worship which is offered to these gods of nature. As education grows people will not be content with the myths of Siva and Vishnu; they will want the truth and only Christ can answer this need of the soul. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 22.12.1956)

Like Henri Le Saux, Griffiths also visited Elephanta caves. He also wrote about it later:

When I landed at Bombay I went to see the Elephanta caves and the great statue of Siva there left a lasting impression on me. Here at the threshold of India I found graven in stone that profound spirit of contemplation which has given inner meaning…. — (Bede Griffiths, Christ in India: Essays Towards a Hindu-Christian Dialogue, Bangalore 1967 & 1984, p.20)

In the same book he also makes it clear that Shiva is nothing more than “shadow of the mystery of Christ” (p.100).

Not only Hindus, but all those outside the Catholic Church, according to Griffiths, were just making “better use of lesser grace” and “fullness of grace and revelation” being present only within the Church, it becomes “our privilege and responsibility” to convert and bring all non-Catholics into the Church. Soon he was deconstructing Hindu symbols as well. The Hindu symbols were not only incomplete which had to be fulfilled by Jesus but left to themselves they would become evil and negative, he reasoned:

I believe that these symbols, the Golden Flower for instance or the Hindu temple can be a genuine revelation of God. But in so far as they are not redeemed—in other words do not belong to Christ—they have a daemonic aspect which can have a devastating power. … I see more and more clearly that Hinduism must be redeemed in order that it may reveal all is hidden power and beauty, otherwise it can devour the soul. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 23.6.1957)

Griffiths combined the traditionally implicit Christian anti-Semitism in the replacement theology with a Hindu-hatred in his fulfillment theology drawing parallels:

In the same way in so far as Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita reveals the way to ultimate goal of the Atman, he may be said to be a type of Christ. What Christianity brings is the fulfillment of this cosmic revelation. Christ is infinitely more than Krishna and the Kingdom of Heaven is infinitely (more) than Nirvana. But just as St. Thomas [Aquinas] holds that the knowledge of the Trinity and the Incarnation is implicit in primeval revelation, so I would say that the knowledge of Christ and Kingdom of Heaven is implicit in the experience of the Atman or of Nirvana. … They are the same supernatural reality but it is only in Christ that the fullness of this supernatural mystery is revealed. There is very close analogy with the Old Testament. Noah, Melchisedec and Job (who are pagans), Moses, David and Isaiah, all had true knowledge of God, but their knowledge was incomplete, and their experience therefore imperfect. Christ fulfills at once the Old Testament and the cosmic covenant. In this sense both Hinduism and Buddhism await their fulfillment in Him. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 21.3.1960)

Griffiths often descended into an attack on the Hindu deities declaring that they were ‘attractive’ but not ‘good’ and that they lacked morality.

The Infinite holy god of wonder and terror was also the God of infinite justice and moral goodness. In India idea of the holy is still overwhelmingly strong, but it is not particularly moral. Siva (with his lingam) is a holy God, at once terrible and lovely, but he is not particularly good! So also Krishna is holy—an object of worship and love and adoration. But he does not make any great demand on his devotees. I feel that this is what Hinduism lacks and why it needs Christ. He alone is  absolutely holy and absolutely good. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 19.10.1958) 

What is remarkable about Griffiths is the way such ideas about Hinduism become so fixed and rigid in his thought process. Despite his claims of “studying Hinduism” and being guided by its universal essence, etc. one finds the very same ideas expressed again in almost the very same words almost 17 years late in 1976:

What is more, he (Krishna) is morally ambivalent. He is a symbol of highest divinity, yet as a man he is shown to be a trickster, a deceiver who brings disaster on his people and is finally ignominiously slain…. [Siva] is the symbol of the purest love but this is in terms of gross sexuality. It is the same with Siva. He is the God of love, of infinite beauty and grace, whose nature is being, knowledge and bliss, the Father, the Saviour, the Friend. Yet his symbol is the lingam and like Krishna has many wives. — (Bede Griffiths, Return to the Centre, Collins, U.K. 1976, pp.76-7)

To him, Hinduism was nothing but descent into the darkness of unconscious with all its attractions and dangers and that to swim across it unharmed and reach real spiritual liberation one needed Jesus, as Hinduism was deficient:

…how I love Hinduism! Everything is there except Christ. I see more and more clearly that all we have to do is to place Christ in the centre of Hinduism. But how to do it? … I am sure that it is a question of coming to terms with the unconscious (the Hindu lives from the unconscious), … The unconscious is full of demons and daemonic powers which seek to ‘possess’ us as you say. … There is evil in Hinduism and in all Hindu society. … I believe that it is Christ alone who can set us free from the unconscious. … For me Hinduism seems to act as a means for regaining contact with the unconscious but it must be Hinduism transformed by Christ. Hinduism by itself will not do. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 23.7.1960)

The depiction of Hinduism as nothing but the unconscious or the “dark” or “negative” (as deemed by the Christian values) forces of the unconscious is so pervasive in the works of Griffiths. Today, they are very familiar in the Western academic circles studying Hinduism—particularly in Wendy Doniger-Jeffrey Kripal school. Doniger-Kripal school of course does not speak of Jesus but in the place of Jesus they place the superior Western academic discourse, which, of course, always has been unwittingly an aid for evangelism during both colonial centuries and post-colonial decades.

Despite all his seemingly adoring words to portray Hinduism, a small scratch on the surface—an intelligent criticism over his real motives would bring out torrents of the hatred he harboured against Hinduism. Almost 30 years after he wrote the above lines, in 1990 he wrote scathingly to Sita Ram Goel when he questioned the ethics of the methods and the theology underlying them:

I suggested to Mr. Goel that the Voice of India might well make a special study of the various aspects of Hinduism. I suggest as a beginning the history of human sacrifice and temple prostitution from the earliest times to the present day…. Another institution is the practice of sorcery and magic…. Above all there is the problem of untouchability. Surely one of the greatest crimes in the history of religion…. I love Hinduism, not only the Vedas and the Gita and Vedanta but popular Hindu piety and its cultured traditions but I try to get a balanced view of it. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 06.4.1990, from Sita Ram Goel 1988 &1994, pp.171-2)

Obsession with Marriage Syndrome

The second part of Griffiths’ autobiography is titled: The Marriage of East and West. In this he wrote:

I wanted to experience in my life the marriage of these two dimensions of human existence, the rational and intuitive, the conscious and unconscious, the masculine and feminine. I wanted to find the way to the marriage of East and West. — (Bede Griffiths, The Marriage of East and West, Templegate Publisher, 1982, p. 8)

This marriage notion of Griffiths has been often lauded by his followers as some sort of a deeper spiritual synthesis. A reviewer of a hagiographic video on Griffiths says:

The persistent theme throughout is of the union of opposites: East and West, Christianity and Hinduism (and other religions), right brain / left brain, masculine / feminine, rational / intuitive. — (Beatrice Bruteau, Film Review: “A Human Search: The Life of Father Bede Griffiths, The Golden String”, Bulletin of the Bede Griffiths Trust, Vol. I, No. I, Spring 1994, p.7)

However, a study of the origin of this theme in its formative stages in the works of Griffiths, reveals more colonial prejudice and personal pathos than any genuine spiritual need for the harmony of deeper opposites. To Griffiths, though Hinduism had “affection and natural grace” it lacked being “honest, straightforward, just and reliable” These qualities of Hinduism, he identified with the feminine and found the British element masculine. He wrote:

I feel in a sense they are our opposites—it is male versus female—conscious versus unconscious, and it is not easy to marry with them. Yet this is what we ought to have done for their own sake.… — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 6.6.1959)

He would reveal later that in seeking the feminine in India he was also resolving a personal crisis:

…I am sure that my problem is that of the anima. At school we were brought up in a totally masculine world. We scarcely even referred to a mother or sister and a mother was known as ‘the mater’. We never saw girls or women (except for the matron). … Unfortunately, there were not many feminine contacts at home either, so altogether I was starved…. That is why people like Cherian and Stephen attract me—and why India attracts me. People here all live from the anima.… Hence all the lying and cheating and stealing, and a lack of moral integrity. — (Bede Griffiths’ letter dated 15.10.1961) 

Repressed sex was also bothering him. After a stroke in the early 1990s he explained:

It is your flesh and your blood that this has to penetrate. It then moves down through the sex region. That is very important too, because that tends to be suppressed. In my own experience it was very much repressed. I am rediscovering the whole sexual dimension of life at the age of eighty-six, really. And that also means discovering the feminine. — (Bede Griffiths quoted in “Self-Surrender and Self-Realization in Bede Griffiths” by Bruno Barnhart, The Golden String Newsletter, Vol. 6,  No. 2)

One wonders if his attacks on Sri Krishna and Shiva as well as his stereotyping of Hindus and India as lacking moral sense, being dishonest, etc. were more the amalgamation of his own repressed sexuality combined with the colonial theology. He wrote that he was starved of the feminine. Was his conversion attempts then elaborate predatory rituals on the nation and culture perceived as the feminine prey? In fact in the current context one has to ask if these innate tendencies of Catholic Church are what making the priests turn predatory paedophiles on their own flock?

Is it time for Hindus to reverse the direction and do a fulfillment mission on Christianity? Perhaps what Christianity needs is the replacement of a crucified Christ by a dancing Siva or a Krishna whose melody can redeem the Church of its repressed sexuality?

Despite Griffiths and his acolytes claiming that the so-called “Christian Advaita” was deeper than Sankara’s Advaita, Cyprian Consiglio, another Catholic theologian, found him saying in his previous interviews that Griffiths thought Abhishiktananda “went too far”.

Appropriating the Vision of New Physics

Meanwhile, new developments were happening in physics which had theological consequences for Christianity. Griffiths was painfully aware that Hinduism even with no institutional mechanism like the Church was able to get itself into a constructive dialogue with the philosophical impacts of New Physics. Griffiths was equally aware of the deficiencies of his own Christian theology. He noted:

David Bohm speaks as a theoretical physicist, of unity and interconnectedness in what he calls the implicate order, prior to the world of separate entities which is our normal experience. The implicate order is constantly unfolding, giving rise to the explicate order of particular forms and structures. This is where the new scientific understanding of the universe meets with the non-dualist traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and so on. — (Bede Griffiths, “The New Consciousness” quoted in “New Age and New Science in Bede’s thought” by Everado Pedraza, The Golden String, Vol. 14, No. 1, Summer 2007)

He was acutely aware of the deficiency of Christianity to incorporate into it the holistic vision provided by New Physics and the parallels pointed out by physicists like Schrodinger, Capra, Bohm, etc. between the vision of New Physics and Indic systems of inner science. Quoting Teasdale, Everardo Pedraza, an admiring author of Griffiths writes:

Yet there was still the question of where and how Christianity and its mystical tradition fit into this interdisciplinary and interreligious dialogue. Indeed, “Father Bede was aware of this deficiency and sought in numerous lectures to show how Christianity and its mystical tradition fit in, primarily through the intuitions of Trinity, Godhead, and the Incarnation.” — (Everardo Pedraza, “New Age and New Science in Bede’s thought” in The Golden String, 2007)

To achieve this, he recruited Rupert Sheldrake—a British biologist advocating questionable pseudo-scientific vitalist theories—who also shared the colonial prejudices of Griffiths including the negative stereotyping of Indic traditions as fatalistic and uncaring towards human suffering.

To make Christian theology presentable as being in sync with the world-view emerging from New Physics, Griffiths did not hesitate to take Hindu darshanas and then give a little Christian tweak to them. How this is done by providing a Christian twist to an originally Hindu concept is unwittingly described by Catholic theologian Brian J. Pierce:

From there Fr. Bede makes his usual connections with the new physics, especially the theory of ‘implicate order’ proposed by David Bohm. ‘The whole physical universe today is understood as a vast field of energies vibrating at different frequencies,’ says Fr. Bede. He then likens these varied energy vibrations to whirlpools in a river, concluding that ‘my body is a particular whirlpool, and yours, and so on…. Christ is the new Adam in whom our dis-integrated human family is healed and so made one again (1 Cor 15:45ff). In the 1989 satsang he connects this image with the Hindu figure of the Purusha, a theme which he develops further in chapters six and seven of A New Vision of Reality. — (Brian J. Pierce, “This Is My Body—This Is That”, The Golden String, Vol. 4 No. 2, Winter 1997-98)

But all these borrowing from Hinduism to compensate the deficiencies of his own religion does not make him acknowledge this fact. Rather he went on pointing to what he perceived as the deficiencies of Hinduism. Apart from the lack of “moral” compass, Hinduism also lacked social conscience as Advaita made people withdraw from the world. Griffiths wrote:

I feel the danger of Hindu mysticism is to retire into an inner reality of infinite riches and beauty and so on, but it doesn’t relate you to others, and the danger of the sannyasi in India is he is not really concerned with other people. That’s why you can meet people dying in the streets of Calcutta and not worry much about it. It’s part of karma. — (Bede Griffiths in an interview dated September 1992, from the transcript of Exploring the Christian-Hindu Dialogue: A Visit with Bede Griffiths, Inner Explorations, USA)

In hindsight, the historical irony is cruel. In reality, it was a British Christian Winston Churchill who engineered one of the severest famines of that century in Bengal and countless people perished in the streets of Calcutta because of the inhuman Hindu-phobic attitude of Churchill to which his Christian upbringing also contributed in no small amount. It was Hindu nationalist Syama Prasad Mukherjee and Hindu volunteers who fought against the famine created by the British. The subsequent post-independent Calcutta scenario too was more because of the colonial impoverishment rather than the stereotyped Hindu apathy.

Thomas & Seeman

India a Xian Nation (Secessionist Propaganda)

Shantivanam, Aryan-Dravidian Racism and Evangelism in the Field

While Griffiths was not primarily interested in Aryan-Dravidian race theory, he did use them in his approach to Hinduism. And where he used them, he tried to show Hinduism as an Aryan development that integrated into itself a positive element of non-Aryan tribal tradition.

Thus Krishna worship, tantra, Shiva worship were all originally non-Hindu, tribal (for he considers tribal as non-Hindu and Aryan as Hindu) traditions integrated into Aryan Hinduism. When analysing the historical development of the Krishna worship and devotion in India, he suggested that “Krishna had been a non-Aryan deity absorbed into the Hindu pantheon through his identification with Vishnu”. With regard to tantra, Griffith speculated:

But in the third century C.E., this movement of Tantra came into Hinduism and Buddhism. It was a movement from below and must have come from pre-Aryan people. It’s not Aryan which is patriarchal, but pre-Aryan—it comes from the earth. (Bede Griffiths with Matthew Fox, The Other Half of My Soul: Bede Griffiths and the Hindu-Christian Dialogue, Quest Books, 1996,  p.328)

In an article that was published in the winter 2004-2005 issue of The Golden String, the bulletin of Bede Griffiths Trust, the writer appreciatively described the Griffiths perspective of grouping Indic spiritual traditions into racial binaries:

Bede marvelously traces how historically the Tantric texts, which first begin to appear in the third century CE, rise up out of the indigenous Dravidian Shaivism of south India, where devotion to God as mother is very strong, so the tendency is to assert the values of nature and of the body, of the senses and of sex. Many things which tended to be suppressed in the Aryan Vishnu tradition came to be reverenced by Tantra. — (Cyprian Consiglio, “Awaken and Surrender”, The Golden String, Bulletin of the Bede Griffiths Trust, Vol. 11, No. 2, Winter 2004-2005, p.1)

Again one can see here the framework that would also be used by David Gordon White—studying tantra through the Brahmin-non-Brahmin ethnic binary.

After assigning such non-Hindu roots to tribal spiritual traditions (which in reality are organically associated with Hindu Goddess traditions), Mary is introduced as the “dark mother of the oppressed”. Here is where the abstract theological conjectures and experimental structures fabricated in Shantivanam slowly enter the political space. Another Shantivanam product, Christian artist Jyoti Sahi, elaborates upon this idea of Griffiths thus:

Some years ago I was asked to make an image of the ‘Dalit ki Mata’, or the Mother of the Dalits. The word Dalit, coming from Dal, meaning the earth, or that which is broken, crushed, made me think of this image of the cave. Could the Mother of the Dalits be this primordial figure of the woman in the cave? But then what would this woman look like? Traditionally she has been pictured as dark-skinned, as in the figure of the ‘Black Madonna’ who was definitely a representation of ‘Our Lady of the Rocks’, who perhaps  was in ancient times worshiped in dark caves, where she was associated with the chthonic forces of the underworld. — (Jyoti Sahi, The Lady and the Cave, Reflections on the Meaning of the Black Madonna, United Theological College, Women’s Studies Department, Bangalore)

Interestingly, this again, the image of Mary as the mother of the oppressed seems to be for Indian evangelical market. Where Catholicism had triumphed, feminist theologian China Galland witnessed as late as 2000 in Brazil how Catholic priests exhorting people to be like Mary “obedient, reasonable, serene above all obedient”, writes:

Once again I see how the devotion to Mary … is also used by the Church to control people, especially women. — (The Black Madonna and the Limits of Light: Looking Underneath Christianity, A Teaching for Our Time in the Fabric of the Future: Women Visionaries of Today illuminate the Path to Tomorrow, ed. M. J. Ryan, Patrice Wynne, Conari, 2000)

One can find many icons of Mary clad in Indian dress placed in many areas at Shantivanam. The chapel entrance tower displays a Mary similar to a Hindu goddess donning a vermillion mark and performing abhaya hasta, seated below Jesus. Today, we find in select areas of Tamil Nadu such promotion of Indianised form of Mary—specifically to compete with and replace Mariamman—the mother goddess of the folk tradition, who was popularised during the freedom struggle by Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi. After strategically promoting such designed syncretism, the missionary scholars enter, do research and proclaim that there are similarities between worship of Mary and Mariamman. For example, in the book Christian Folk Traditions: An introductory study published from the Bishop House, Nagercoil, in 2007, Brigitte Sebastia had a paper “Maariyamman—Mariyamman: Catholic Practices and Image of Virgin in Velankanni”.

Shantivanam chapel itself is built in the style of Hindu symbols. For example, generally, Hindu temples of South India have in the four corners of the gopuram, an animal, which is the mount of the deity. In the case of goddess it is lion and in the case of Shiva it is the bull. The Shantivanam chapel features very similar bull, lion, eagle and they actually represent the evangelists Luke, Mark and John. Those recognised by the Catholic Church as officially saints are shown in the base tier of the gopuram—in Hindu saffron clothing—like mendicants or siddhas and above them Jesus is depicted in yogic postures. In Shiva temples usually on the southern side of the gopuram, Shiva is depicted as Dakshinamurthi. In the Shantivanam chapel, Jesus is depicted as Dakshinamurthi.

The inculturation attempt to Christianise Hindu sculptural and temple architectural elements cannot be seen in isolation. In parallel to what Shantivanam is doing, Christian missionaries are developing pseudo-historical narratives that it was the revolution of ancient Christianity brought by St Thomas to India that became all the Saivaite and Vishnu temples in South India, which were later appropriated by Aryan Brahmins. Thus a notorious Dravidianist—Christologist, Deivanayakam and his late daughter Devakala, both of whose works were promoted by Chennai Roman Catholic Diocese, claimed:

Though Saivism and Vaishnavism have nothing to do with the Vedas the Saivite and Vaishnavite figures came to be considered as Brahminical gods and goddesses. … The pantheon of the Hindu gods were given anthropomorphic form only in the later period. Saivism and Vaishnavism are the offshoots of early Indian Christianity and the sculptures of Saivism and Vaishnavism are actually the visual aids for the doctrine of Trinity, and the doctrine of incarnation or avatar. … This triune God is depicted as “three faced Siva” with one body. In Ellora and Elephanta the icons of Siva with three faces in one body are seen in large numbers. — (M. Deivanayagam & D. Devakala, Iconography of Hindu Religion)

Griffiths also gives Christian meaning to the most venerated Hindu symbols like the dance of Shiva and instructs Catholic missionaries how to Christianise Nataraja, the presiding deity of Chidambaram. Kim “Nataraja”, an acolyte of Shantivanam project explains:

When Fr. Bede visited Sr. Pascaline, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at the Osage Monastery, Forest of Peace, in Oklahoma in 1978. He presented them with a statue of Nataraja, saying that Christians must begin to see Nataraja as the symbol of the risen Christ. It is easy to see why he felt this to be so. — (Kim Nataraja, “The Dancing Siva” in The Bede Griffiths Sangha Newsletter, Vol. 2, Is. 3, September 1999)

In the “evangelical manual” given to evangelical workers in Tamil Nadu, question number 193 is about Nataraja. The explanation given is that it in reality symbolises Jesus winning over death but the book claims that these meanings were distorted by the Aryan Brahmins.

Today, many such texts which claim India to be “a Christian nation” and provide evangelical guidelines based on inculturation and appropriation are available throughout Tamil Nadu in many Christian stores. These books are approved by Roman Catholic Diocese officials.

Sleeper Cells for Christianising Hinduism

Inside Shantivanam, one finds thus various forms of Jesus at experimental stage. These forms imitate popular Hindu sacred icons. Jesus sitting in the lotus position like a yogi with four forms of him sitting adjacent to each other in four directions looks typically Hindu. The aim is to increase the Hindu universal acceptance to a point where he or she will accept the Trojan of Jesus-exclusiveness presented in Indian garb.

There is a statue of Jesus in yoga pose under a five-headed serpent. Given the fact that Tamil Nadu waysides and the banks of village water bodies abound in the images of Hindu gods and goddesses seated under such five-headed serpents, eventual installation of such theo-plagiarised Christian statues can create considerable confusion in the minds of people while at the same time fulfilling the mission of the Shantivanam founders to replace the Hindu deities with the Christian deity at the centre of Hindu spiritual traditions.

They are at the experimental stage—waiting for the right time of launch—for Christianising Hindu institutions and spiritual traditions. The Shantivanam movement finds parallel for this kind of operation in the history of the Church—when it captured the [ancient Greek and Roman] pagan religious institutions, their celebrations and places of worship.

A commemorative issue in honour of Monchanin, its founder, published by Saccidananda Ashram explains:

When St. Gregory the Great sent the monk Augustine to the Angles, he directed him not to deprive them of their places of worship or customary festivities, but to transform their temples into Christian ones and to dedicate to the Saints their religious festivals. The Indian Church at least in the Tamil Nadu made at times wonderful use of these directives…. In short Shantivanam was only an attempt amongst others an effort to recapture a spirit and to prepare this spirit to find in due time its right outcome and Christian expression, in matters of cult, art, etc.

Today, the experiments done in the quite obscure corners of Tamil Nadu are being tested openly by the Church. For example, John Samule, a Christian zealot and director of Institute of Asian Studies spearheaded the “Murugan conferences”. He emphasised that his approach was more to approach Murugan as a historical figure than a deity. Though Saivism categorically states that Murugan has no human birth, this thesis was first put forward in the Murugan conferences.

Later, Seeman, a Christian born Tamil secessionist started vociferously stating that Murugan was just a deified ancestor of Tamils. Soon, St Thomas, who in a historically unattested story [was said to have been] martyred in Madras, was presented by the Church similar to Murugan with his spear, and his forehead adorned with holy ashes and vermillion in Hindu fashion.

Meanwhile, Shantivanam and many such institutions throughout India and abroad silently carry out their mission and operation, making full use of the Hindu ignorance of the preparations for a “war” against them. – Swarajya, 26 November 2017

» Aravindan Neelakandan is an economist, psychologist, author and contributing editor at Swarajya magazine. He is best known for the book Breaking India which he co-authored with Rajiv Malhotra.

Jesus images at Shantivanam Aum symbol crucified on a Benedictine cross at Shantivanam


Is a new India emerging? – Makarand R. Paranjape

Bhagwa Dhwaj Raising

Prof Makarand R. ParanjapeThe fact is that a Hindu majoritarian India may not be as bad as it is made out to be by its detractors. It may actually be a better, more wholesome, integrated, and compassionate India than the present state, that is so riven by uncivil strife. – Prof Makarand Paranjape

Another India? The simple answer is, yes. Or, at any rate, the emergence of another India is not at all unlikely; in fact, there are signs aplenty of its advent.

What is more debatable is what its exact ingredients or outlines might be. Even those who are supposedly in charge of the new narrative aren’t sure. At the crux of all these debates is one word: Hindu. And its varieties—Hinduism, Hindutva, Hindu nationalism, Hindu majoritarianism, and so on.

For many, especially those who were perpetrators of the older dominant, “secularist” plot, the rise of this new India spells doom, the end of the project that Gandhi-Nehru lead, and the Congress headed mostly by Nehru’s heirs brought to the present pass. Perhaps, they are right. It is the end of that kind of India, and of that kind of elite. Naturally, such people are unhappy; displaced privilege usually produces outrage if not predictions of doomsday.

But we must examine the situation on its merits. The prospect of this new Hindu majoritarian India, has got a terribly hostile press. So much so that it seems as if there is a combined opposition media party, utterly hell-bent on demonising Hindu India and its protagonists. So inveterate is the antagonism displayed by this faction that sometimes it resembles visceral hatred, while at other pathetic self-delusion.

Clutching at straws, seizing upon a Kanhaiya Kumar, Hardik Patel, or Jignesh Mevani as the youth icon, even avatar, to stop the BJP juggernaut in its tracks, this decimated opposition seems to be praying for nothing short of a miraculous slaying, metaphorically speaking, of the rakshasa called Narendra Modi.

Funnily, this lot might never use such a Hindu metaphor in the first place. The modern sector is, perforce, doomed to express its outrage in a modern idiom. When they resort to tradition they end up making fools of themselves, wearing their janeu on their sleeve, so to speak.

But all that is politics. Let’s leave it behind as we approach the end of year, even if by the Gregorian calendar. We Hindus follow multiple calendars, perhaps using each to our advantage. Why should we give up this opportunity to introspect, even meditate, over the future of our beloved country?

The fact is that a Hindu majoritarian India may not be as bad as it is made out to be by its detractors. In fact, it may actually be a better, more wholesome, integrated, and compassionate India than the present state, that is so riven by uncivil strife. Hinduism, or dharma nationalism, may actually be a better guarantor of Indian pluralism than pseudo-secularism. If we are unprejudiced, fair-minded, and truly liberal, we should be willing to give the other side, especially when it is elected by an overwhelming majority, a fair chance rather than excoriating it before its commencement so as never to let it come into being.

But in doing so, we shall fall prey to many fallacies, including considering a majoritarian nation and polity as the inherent opposite of liberalism and multiculturalism. Even in the latter, one element dominates, whether in the metaphor of melting pot, salad bowl, or mosaic. In liberal Western democracies, the dominant element is a combination of modernity and democracy, underwritten not only be science and technology, but by the culture of capitalism and consumerism. That a religious element, mostly Christian in the case of Europe, North America, and the Antipodes, endorses the national consensus is almost a given. Then why shouldn’t the Hindu cultural bedrock that informs the Indian consensus work as well as the Confucian or Shinto accord in modern China or Japan?

True, this Hindu element should not thrust itself in everyone’s face or enforce its norms coercively. It should be the broadest, most open, most compassionate kind of Hindu unity. At the same time we must recognize where its most virulent opposition comes from. Not from other religious or ethnic minorities, but from the Hindu secularist elite, which does not wish to yield power.

In other words, the problem with India at present is a life-and-death struggle between two elites, the erstwhile dominant secularist and the emergent Hindutva brigade. Who will win remains uncertain, though as of now, the latter seems ascendant. In the end, like all tussles for power, this one too may be more inconclusive than what appears right now.

The cultural rule of the interpenetration of opposites predicts that the new order may not be radically different from the old. Of course, it would be rather disappointing if it were not at least slightly better—more confident, capable, competent, prosperous, creative, and egalitarian.

For that to happen, however, we must all join hands to contribute our mite rather than being cynical nay-sayers and Hindu-haters. – Asian Age, 31 December 2017

» Prof Makarand R. Paranjape is a poet, author, and English Literature professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Banyan Tree

Logic behind the perversion of caste – Ram Swarup

Caste

ram-swarupThe self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want an India without castes, they want castes without Dharma. This may be profitable to some in the short run but it is suicidal for all in the long run. – Ram Swarup

Today casteism is rampant. It is a new phenomenon. Old India had castes but no casteism. In its present form, casteism is a construct of colonial period, a product of imperial policies and colonial scholarship. It was strengthened by the breast-beating of our own “reformers”. Today, it has acquired its own momentum and vested interests.

In the old days, the Hindu caste-system was an integrating principle. It provided economic security. One had a vocation as soon as one was born—a dream for those threatened with chronic unemployment. The system combined security with freedom; it provided social space as well as closer identity; here the individual was not atomised and did not become rootless. There was also no dearth of social mobility; whole groups of people rose and fell in the social scale. Rigidity about the old Indian castes is a myth. Ziegenbalg (1682 – 1719) writing on the eve of the British advent saw that at least one-third of the people practised other than their traditional calling and that “official and political functions, such as those of teachers, councillors, governors, priests, poets and even kings were not considered the prerogative of any particular group, but are open to all”.

Nor did India ever have such a plethora of castes as became the order of the day under the British rule. Megasthenes (ca. 300 BCE) gives us seven-fold division of the Hindu society; Hsuan Tsang (ca. 650 CE) the Chinese pilgrim mentions four castes. Alberuni (973 – 048) too mentions four main castes and some more groups which did not strictly belong to the caste system.

Even the list of greatly maligned Manu contained no more than 40 mixed castes, all related by blood. Even the Chandals were Brahmins on their father’s side. But under the British, Risley (1851 – 1911) gave us 2,378 main castes, and 43 races! There is no count of sub-castes. Earlier, the 1891 census had already given us 1,150 sub-castes of Chamars alone. To Risley, every caste was also ideally a race and had its own language.

Caste did not strike early European writers as something specially Indian. They knew it in their own countries and saw it that way. J. S. Mill (1806 – 1873) in his Political Economy said that occupational groups in Europe were “almost equivalent to an hereditary distinction of caste”.

To these observers, the word caste did not have the connotation it has today. Gita Dharampal-Frick, an orientalist and linguist [currently at Heidelberg University], tells us that the early European writers on the subject used the older Greek word meri which means “a portion”, “share”, or “contribution”. Sebastian Franck (1499 – ca. 1543) used the German word rott (rotte) meaning a “social group”, or “cluster”. These words suggest that socially and economically speaking they found castes closer to each other than ordo or estates in Europe.

The early writers also saw no Brahmin domination though they found much respect for them. Those like Jurgen Andersen (1669) who described castes in Gujarat found that Vaishyas and not the Brahmins were the most important people there.

They also saw no sanskritisation. One caste was not trying to be another; it was satisfied with being itself. Castes were not trying to imitate the Brahmins to improve social status; they were proud of being what they were. There is a Tamil poem by Kamban (ca. 1180 – 1250) in praise of the plough which says that “even being born a Brahmin does not by far endow one with the same excellence as when one is born into a Vellala family”.

There was sanskritisation though but of a very different kind. People tried to become not Brahmins but brahmavadins. Different castes produced great saints revered by all. Ravidas (ca. 1450) a great saint, says that though of the family of Chamars who still go through Benares removing dead cattle, yet even most revered Brahmins now hold their offspring, namely himself, in great esteem.

With the advent of Islam the Hindu came under great pressure; it faced the problem of survival. When the political power failed castes took over; they became defence shields and provided resistance passive and active. But in the process, the system also acquired undesirable traits like untouchability. Alberuni who came with Mahmud Ghaznavi (971 – 1030) mentions the four castes but no untouchability. He reports that “much, however, as these classes differ from each other, they live together in the same towns and villages, mixed together in the same houses and lodgings”.

Another acquired another’s trait; they became rigid and lost their mobility. All mobility was now downward. H. A. Rose (1867 – 1933), Superintendent of Ethnography, Punjab, from 1901 to 1906, author of A Glossary of Punjab Tribes and Castes, says that during Muslim period, many Rajputs were degraded and they became scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Many of them still retain Rajput gotra of Parihara and Parimara. Similarly, G. W. Briggs in his The Chamars, tells us that many Chamars still carry names and gotra of Rajput clans like Banaudhiya, Ujjaini, Chandhariya, Sarwariya, Kanaujiya, Chauhan, Chadel, Saksena, Sakarwar; Bhardarauiya, and Bundela, etc. Dr K. S. Lal (1920 – 2002) cites many similar instances in his recent Growth of Scheduled Tribes and Castes in Medieval India.

The same is true of Bhangis. William Crooke (1848 – 1923) of Bengal Civil Service tells us that the “rise of the present Bhangi caste seems, from the names applied to the castes and its subdivisions, to date from the early period of Mohammedan rule”. Old Hindu literature mentions no Bhangis of present function. In traditional Hindu rural society, he was a corn-measurer, a village policeman, a custodian of village boundaries. But scavenging came along with the Muslim and British rule. Their numbers also multiplied. According to 1901 Census, the Bhangis were most numerous in the Punjab and the United Provinces which were the heartland of Muslim domination.

Then came the British who treated all Hindus equally—all as an inferior race—and fuelled their internal differences. They attacked Hinduism but cultivated the caste principle, two sides of the same coin. Hinduism had to be attacked. It gave India the principles of unity and continuity; it was also India’s definition at its deepest. It held together castes as well as the country. Take away Hinduism and the country was easily subdued.

Caste in old India was a cooperative and cultural principle; but it is now being turned into a principle of social conflict. In the old dispensation, castes followed dharma and its restraints; they knew how far they could go. But now a caste is a law unto itself; it knows no self-restraint except the restraint put on it by another class engaged in similar self-aggrandisement. The new self-styled social justice intellectuals and parties do not want an India without castes, they want castes without Dharma. This may be profitable to some in the short run but it is suicidal for all in the long run.

In the old days, castes had leaders who represented the culture of the land, Who were natural leaders of their people and were organic to them. But now a different leadership is coming to the fore: rootless, demagogic and ambitious, which uses caste slogans for self-aggrandisement. – The Indian Express, 13 September 1996

» Ram Swarup (1920–1998) was a Sankhya philosopher, yogi, and colleague of historian Sita Ram Goel. Together they founded the publishing imprint Voice of India in New Delhi, to give Hindu intellectuals a voice when the mainstream media refused to give them any time or space .

Glossary of the tribes and castes

Is India’s national anthem secular? – Koenraad Elst

Rabindranath Tagore

Koenraad ElstIndia’s national anthem merely expresses love for the nation through all its variegated landscapes and experiences – plus a veneration for the divine Guru. – Dr Koenraad Elst

India’s anthem, written by Rabindranath Tagore, opens by addressing the Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak or “commander of the people’s minds”, the Bharata Bhagya Vidhata or “dispenser of India’s destiny”. Who is this?

Before focusing on the Indian anthem and wondering to whom it is directed, I want to remind my readers of some fairly well-known facts concerning the anthems of a few other countries, and the unexpected overlaps between them.  This will lay out a framework within which we can evaluate India’s anthem.

God Save the Queen

Indians will probably know, if only from historical movies about the colonial age, Britain’s anthem, the oldest anthem in the world. The writer is unknown, but the attribution to John Bull ca. 1618 is common. It is addressed to God, but otherwise, it is all about the monarch:

God save our gracious Queen [c.q. King], God save our noble Queen, God save the Queen. Lead her victorious, happy and glorious, ever to reign over us, God save the Queen.

As you will notice, the focus is not at all on the people but entirely upon the monarch, in whom the ideals of victory, prosperity and good governance are embodied. This is the traditional monarchical scheme: the ruler as the embodiment of the nation.

Heil dir im Siegerkranz

Less well-known is that the same tune once provided the anthem to several countries, including even imperial Russia (1816-33). When devising national symbols, new nation-states just assumed that the tune of the venerable British empire’s anthem naturally and intrinsically was the melody of the national song. Prussia adopted it in 1795, and after its chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, unified the German states (minus Austria and Switzerland) and presided over the founding of the German empire in 1871, it adopted as anthem the Prussian national song. So, this was set to the tune from God Save the Queen, but with the lyrics:

Heil dir im Siegerkranz, Herrscher des Vaterlands, Heil Kaiser dir. “Hail thee in victor’s laurels, ruler of the fatherland, hail to thee, emperor.”  It is not about God and only tangentially about the nation, but mostly about the monarch. Patriotism is lauded, but again only subordinate to the monarchy: Liebe des Vaterlands, Liebe des freien Manns, gründen den Herrscherthron, wie Fels im Meer, “Love of the fatherland, love by the free man, found the ruler’s throne like a rock in the sea.”

In 1918, after losing the Great War, the emperor had to abdicate and the anthem lapsed. As we shall see, the succeeding Weimar republic would choose a different one, ultimately more controversial.

Wilhelmus

While God save the Queen played a pioneering role in spreading the notion that a state needs an anthem, it was nevertheless not the oldest song to become anthem. That honour goes to the Wilhelmus, written ca. 1572 by Filips van Marnix van Sint-Aldegonde, mayor of Antwerp (the city where I presently live), in honour of Willem van Oranje-Nassau, the founder of the Netherlands. The tune had only recently been composed, 1568, and had served to animate the Huguenot (Protestant) defenders of Chartres in France against their Catholic besiegers. Ideally, after declaring independence from Spain, the country should have encompassed Belgium (including Antwerp), Luxemburg and a slice of France as well, but those territories were reconquered by Spain.

William of Orange never became king nor wanted to: the Netherlands became a republic and the head of state was a Stadhouder (“city-holder”, maintainer of the public sphere, effectively president-for-life). The Netherlands became the trailblazer of modern liberties, first adopted by England in founding the parliamentary rule, then the budding United States and France. Nevertheless, the monarchical mentality was so engrained that this song might as well have been written for a king. It is not about the nation or patriotism, it is about the person of William of Orange. (After Napoleon, when the Netherlands regained their Independence, the Great Powers gathered at the Vienna Conference insisted that the country become a kingdom, not to encourage liberal ideas elsewhere; so William’s descendants became queen or king of the Netherlands; which didn’t increase their power nor decrease their popularity.)

The song goes, in translation: “Wilhelmus of Nassau, am I of German blood.” (Explanation: the dialects that were to become Dutch and German then still formed a single continuum, the way Tamil and Malayalam did before parting company. They were called Duytsch/Dietsch, “folkish”, as distinct from Latin, used by priests and scholars, and when the names were later distinguished, they came to mean “German” c.q. “Netherlandic”/Dutch. Until ca. 1800, Dutch was regularly called Nederduytsch, “low-German”. Moreover, William’s hereditary fief Nassau did indeed lie in what became Germany. This expression explains why during the German occupation in World War II, this 1st stanza was avoided in favour of the anti-tyrannical 6th.) “True to the fatherland I remain until death. A prince of Orange I remain, free and fearless. The king of Spain I have always honoured.”

The song is written from William’s own viewpoint and reflects his profound dilemma between his loyalty to his suzerain, the king of Spain, and his God-given duty to his people. The central part of the very long song, the rarely performed 8th stanza, likens him to the Biblical king David, showing the Bible-solid Calvinist inspiration of its author. The better-known 6th stanza clearly subordinates him to God: “My shield and trust art Thou, oh God my Lord. On Thee I want to build, don’t ever leave me. May I remain pious, Thy servant at all times, and drive away the tyranny that wounds my heart.”

When the song was written, there was no notion of a national anthem yet. During the 19th century, a different song served as the anthem, and it was only in 1932 that the Wilhelmus was adopted. But meanwhile, its tune had been used to turn a different poem into a song.

In 1814, at the fag end of the Napoleontic occupation, Max von Schenckendorf wrote a poem expressing German patriotism: Wenn alle untreu werden, so bleiben wir doch treu, dass immer noch auf Erden für euch ein Fähnlein sei, “When all become disloyal, even then we remain loyal, so that always your flag will stand somewhere on earth.” It is a nationalist poem, ending in a pledge to the German Reich, which didn’t exist at the time, though its shadowy existence had only been abolished by Napoleon in 1806. The memory was still fresh, and as an ideal, it lived on. It illustrates, as do many of these poems and songs, how Christianity shaded over into nationalism, by likening the worship of “false gods” to the submission to foreign rulers.

The poem was soon put to music using the Wilhelmus tune. Then, more than a century after the poem had been recited and sung, it was adopted by the Nazi elite corps SS. In many contemporary sources, you will find it mentioned as SS-Treuelied, “SS Loyalty Song”. This is a symptom of a common hypersensitivity for anything associated with Nazism, especially in people with a Nazi-centric worldview (such as Leftists who have to hide their own crimes behind a maximized memory of WWII, when even Winston Churchill had to accept Josef Stalin as a good guy only for fighting the Nazis). In reality, the Treuelied owed nothing at all to National Socialism, any more than other much older symbols such as the Swastika or the “Black Sun” (a kind of 12-armed swastika, present on the Wewelsburg castle floor where the SS had chosen to install its headquarters). It will nevertheless still take some time before these symbols, tainted by association, can be completely healed and used again without complications.

The Wilhelmus, though, was never seriously affected. The Dutch have never considered disowning their anthem because of the late and temporary association with the SS. By contrast, another innocent song, or at least part of its lyrics, was demonized.

Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser

For his birthday in 1797, the Austrian emperor Franz was treated to a new song, with lyrics by leading poet Lorenz Leopold Haschka and music by the famous composer Joseph Haydn. When visiting England, Haydn had been enthused by the ready presence of a good song that everybody knew and that expressed their national togetherness. Though he was composer enough to compose his own tune, he too had been inspired by God Save the Queen as the model of an anthem. The lyrics too were somewhat modelled on the British text:

Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser, unsern guten Kaiser Franz, “God save emperor Francis, our good emperor Francis.” And it goes on about: “Long live Francis the Emperor in the brightest splendour of bliss! May laurel branches bloom for him, wherever he goes, as a wreath of honour”, etc. It is his well-being that counts, not the nation, though he is posited modestly below God.

Here too, the defeat of 1918 rendered the song without object, so the lyrics were replaced but the tune, after a decade of disuse, was revived in 1929. The lyrics had now become thoroughly republican, focused on the nation instead of the head of state, but with God still lurking in the background: Sei gesegnet ohne Ende, “be blessed without end”. It lapsed in 1938, when Austria was annexed by Germany.

La Marseillaise

After the French Revolution of 1789, the Revolutionaries who came to power were first of all nationalists. Today’s Leftists, who advocate open borders, demonize military service and laugh at nationalist propaganda, like to forget it, but on the said issues, they were poles apart with their French role models. In 1792, they devised a song, which in 1795 they adopted as anthem, wherein neither king nor God played a role (Ni Dieu ni maître, “neither God nor master”). The focus was fully on the nation, the tone combative: Allons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire est arrive, “Let’s go, children of the fatherland, the hour of glory has arrived”. This set the template for a number of secular anthems in new states the world over. It was rich in energy and self-righteousness, but poor in wisdom.

The Star-Spangled Banner

The anthem of the USA was written in 1814, to the tune of an existing popular song from Britain, by Frances Scott Key, a lawyer who had witnessed a scene from the British-American War of 1812 from a rare vantage point: as a prisoner held on a British ship participating in a British naval siege of Baltimore. He had been impressed with the American flag on the tower of a coastal fort, and saw how after a night of fighting, it was still there is the morning. That, then, is the focus of the song: not God, not the ruler, only tangentially the nation (“the land of the free and the home of the brave”), but the national flag, plus the bravery of the American soldiers who defended it. It served as the semi-official anthem for a century, until in 1931 a law was enacted officially declaring it the anthem.

La Brabançonne   

The Marseillaise, “(the song) of Marseille”, named after volunteers from Marseille who had intoned the song while entering Paris, served as the model for the Belgian national anthem, La Brabançonne, “(the song) of Brabant”. This is the province where Brussels is located, somewhat like “Kashi” for “Varanasi”. That song has no God either, but peripherally it does venerate the king, as the country (1830) had to make its way in a world where the post-Napoleontic Vienna Conference of 1914-15 had installed a system of monarchical anti-Revolutionary regimes: …le roi, la loi, la liberté, “…law, king and liberty”. As an exceptionally liberal country, with freedom of the press and asylum for foreign dissenters, Belgium has its anthem contain the liberal phrase: het woord getrouw dat g’onbevreesd moogt spreken, “true to the word that you are allowed to speak without fear”. But the focus is on the nation itself and its territory: O dierbaar België, o heilig land der vaad’ren, onze ziel en ons hart zijn u gewijd, “Oh precious Belgium, oh holy land of the ancestors, our souls and our hearts are vowed to thee.”

Das Lied der Deutschen

At the end of 1918, Germany became a republic. A new anthem did not have to be devised. The lyrics had been available in a nationalist poem from 1841 by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, and since then it had been sung to the tune of the well-known Austrian Emperor’s Hymn. It was the time of German unification, and the song called on all Germans to put their loyalties to their own local states between brackets and focus on the then-fragmented Germany as a whole. Hence the song’s title: Das Lied der Deutschen, “The Song of the Germans”, or the Deutschlandlied, “Germany’s Song”. Foreigners usually know it through its opening line, Deutschland über Alles, “Germany above all”. This sentence had nothing to do with condescension towards non-Germans, only with a hierarchy between Germany as a whole and its parts: Germany above Bavaria, Germany above the Rhineland, etc.

It did not address a monarch, but the German nation. The liberal nationalists then in the forefront contrasted their own modern liberal and predominantly secular nationalism with loyalty to the erstwhile Holy Roman Emperor and the contemporaneous Austrian emperor. In the revolution year 1848, it represented a rebellion of the people against the transnational nobility. It is for this reason that in 1922, the Weimar Republic chose Das Lied der Deutschen as its anthem, marking a break with the Imperial Germany of the preceding half century.

Somewhat like Jana Gana Mana, the song situated the country geographically, not by listing its component parts (“Panjaba, Sindhu, Gujarata, Maratha…”), but by listing its borders, roughly: “Von der Maas bis and die Memel, von der Etsch bis an den Belt.” These are the borders, flatteringly but not imperialistically defined, of the German speech area with the French/Dutch, c.q. the Baltic, Italian and Danish speech areas during the mid-19th century. Note that then a unified Germany was still an ideal and its borders were still being debated: it was deemed desirable to include Austria and hence the border would be with Italy. Around 1920 too, the Etsch border with Italy was a realistic proposition, for it was the outspoken desire of the Austrian people to be included in Germany, as is clear from the massive majority that this proposal received in a referendum. (However, France as a victor in the Great War disallowed it.)

The song remained national anthem when the National Socialists under Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, including when they occupied much of Europe in 1939-45. The latter circumstance gave the song a highly negative connotation. Outsiders reinterpreted the opening line as meaning: “Germany above every other nation in the world.” When Dutch children saw the British bombers fly over their country to drop their load over German cities, they inverted the sentence: Alles, Alles über Deutschland, “(Drop) everything on Germany”.

After 1945, the same anthem continued, or at least its melody. Of the lyrics, only the 3rd stanza has an official status. It carries the liberal bias of Hoffmann von Fallersleben’s unification movement: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit für das deutsche Vaterland, danach last uns Alle streben, brüderlich mit Herz und Hand…, “Unity and Justice and Freedom for the German fatherland, for that let us all strive, fraternally with heart and hand”. The 2nd stanza is innocent but not deemed dignified enough to serve as an anthem, and the first is frowned upon as irredentistically seeking the restoration of Germany’s pre-1945 borders: with the loss of East Prussia, the Memel river is now hundreds of miles from the German borders, and with the definitive independence of Austria, Germany has lost all pretence of bordering Italy. Now, the listing of these borders has acquired a decisively imperialistic meaning which originally it did not have.

Many laymen think there is something Nazi about this song (as also about the Treuelied). These are not just tamasic Leftists who fill their empty minds with endless Hitler references in order to assure themselves of a moral high ground, but also the mass of people who are simply ignorant. However, the true story is just the reverse: it is politically liberal, pro-constitution, pro-democracy, and emphasizes the non-aristocratic, people-oriented angle of nationalism. It lays no claim to non-German lands and does not contain even a germ of hatred against other nations or communities such as the Jews. When all is said and done, it is just a song, set to the beautiful music by Haydn.

Jana Gana Mana

This survey of the trail-blazing European anthems, upon which all other anthems were modelled, indicates three possible foci: God, the monarch, and the nation. Traditional monarchies tend to have anthems focusing on the monarch, either putting him in the shadow of God (God Save the Queen, Wilhelmus), or presenting him as the highest authority by himself (Heil dir im Siegerkranz). Modern songs emanating from secular elites tend to avoid God, such as the French and German republican anthems, and they have a conspicuous absence of references to the head of state, who is simply one of us, one of the nation that is already being glorified.

In what category does Jana Gana Mana fall? What did it mean at the time when it was composed? In the rest of this essay, we will find out.

The song was written in 1911 by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore in a high Bengali bordering on Sanskrit. (Among his other poems, one more made it to the status of national anthem: Amar Sonar Bangla, “My Golden Bengal”, written in 1905, was adopted as anthem by Bangladesh in 1971.) In a multilingual country, it has the virtue of being understandable to every citizen with even just a smattering of education. It was first performed at a conference of the Indian National Congress.

The song was first performed with the status of the national anthem by Subhas Chandra Bose’s troops. Before his well-known leadership of the Indian National Army under Japanese tutelage in 1943-45, he had commanded a smaller army, recruited from among the Indian soldiers in the British regiments taken prisoner at Dunkirk, as part of the Nazi-German war effort in 1941-42. It was in Germany that men, for the first time, stood to attention for Jana Gana Mana as India’s national anthem.

The Bharata Bhagya Vidhata is not King George

The song is frankly nationalist to the extent that it glorifies the nation and its territory, of which it enumerates the provinces. However, it also addresses and glorifies the Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak, the “commander of the people’s mind”, who is at the same time the Bharata Bhagya Vidhata, the “dispenser of India’s destiny’. Does this refer to the country’s hereditary or appointed or elected ruler?

We can imagine the vainglorious Jawaharlal Nehru, as Prime Minister in the 1950s, feeling flattered whenever the crowds in front of him were intoning these words. But then, he was not seriously in the picture yet in 1911. At that time, the British king George V was India’s ruler. Moreover, he was to pay a visit to India only weeks after the song was first performed—at a Congress meeting where a proper reception for the king was central on the agenda.

By connecting these dots, the British press at the time, and many of its Indian readers, believed that Tagore composed the song in honour of the king. The claim proved particularly tenacious, and it is occasionally heard even today. Yet, the poet was to deny this, later in life even vehemently. But the first years, this correction did not reach the public.

The confusion in the British and British-Indian press partly came about due to the existence of another song by an Indian that did genuinely glorify the British king-emperor. This was Bâdshâh Hamâra, “Our King”, written in Urdu by Rambhuj Chaudhary, and it was sung on the same occasion but explicitly in praise of the monarch. At that time, Congress was still committed only to dominion status within the British Empire, so with King George as its legitimate ruler.

The mistaken belief that Tagore had wanted to praise the British king and thus further legitimize his rule over India had its bright side. It crucially helped in convincing the Nobel committee to award its 1913 prize for literature for the first time to a non-Westerner. Gitañjali, Tagore’s award-winning collection, is no doubt fine poetry, but to win the Nobel Prize, it was best to satisfy a preliminary condition. Tagore was deemed a loyalist of the colonial dispensation, and therefore a convert to civilization uplifting his own more backward countrymen. Now that was the kind of merit to be rewarded.

If questioned, the Swedes on the committee would probably not have opposed or condemned India’s nationalist movement. But at the same time, Europe in those days was abuzz with stories of murderous rebels and of brave colonials who went there to tame them. So, to actually give open support to a rebellious colonial underling would have been too much even for the well-meaning Swedish bourgeoisie. In these circumstances, the mistaken impression that Tagore had put his literary services at the feet of the British monarch came in handy.

Then who is the Bharata Bhagya Vidhata?

In a letter dated 10 November 1937, Tagore explained the true story:

A certain high official in His Majesty’s service, who was also my friend, had requested that I write a song of felicitation towards the Emperor. The request simply amazed me. It caused a great stir in my heart. In response to that great mental turmoil, I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Bidhata [Bengali pronunciation; “dispenser of destiny”] of India who has from age after age held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George. Even my official friend understood this about the song. After all, even if his admiration for the crown was excessive, he was not lacking in simple common sense.

Here Tagore already lets on the real identity of this Dispenser of India’s Destiny. As a scion of the Brahmo Samaj, which frowned upon the variety of god-figures from devotional Hinduism, he avoided mentioning by name any god. Yet, he leaves no one in doubt that he means the Eternal Charioteer leading the pilgrims on their journey through countless ages of the timeless history of mankind. This clearly refers to the Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita, who is there as Arjuna’s charioteer. He is worshipped as an incarnation of Vishnu, who takes birth from age to age, whenever Dharma has weakened and needs to be strengthened.

Usually, only the first stanza is publicly sung. But if you read on or sing on to the third stanza, it all becomes clear enough. The iconography of Vishnu and Krishna (chariot, conch, the expression yuge yuge, “age after age”) is exuberantly sung there, and the singers describe themselves as yatri, “pilgrims”. King George, Prime Minister Nehru or any otherworldly ruler is absent, the entire focus is on Krishna, the guide and charioteer. He is said to “deliver from sorrow and pain”, which would be too much honour for a mere state leader; and to be “the people’s guide on the path”. Hail to the Bharata Bhagya Vidhata!

Is it secular?

For a republic that is always praised as “secular”, we might expect a secular anthem, somewhat like La Marseillaise or Heil dir im Siegerkranz. But whereas these two simply ignore religion altogether, Jana Gana Mana does at most have a passage that could be termed secular in the Gandhian sense, viz. an equally positive recognition of all religions by the state. India only calls itself secular since 1975, when Indira Gandhi’s Emergency dictatorship inserted the words “secular, socialist” into the Constitutional description of India as a “democratic, federal republic”. That makes these two words the only ones in the Constitution that did not go through a proper parliamentary debate. In the days of the Constituent Assembly, by contrast, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, explicitly refused to include “secular”. When, 28 years later, the term did get inserted, it had acquired the meaning “anti-Hindu”, yet most Hindus accept the term because they naïvely assume it still has the meaning “secular”.

That word was not in the air yet when Tagore composed the song, in 1911. But he did support religious pluralism. In fact, like most Hindus, he took it for granted as self-evident, not in need of being articulated as a separate doctrine. It was in his case vaguely the Gandhian idea of “equal respect for all religions”. Consider another unsung stanza, the second. To a superficial reader, this might give the impression of espousing religiously neutrality: “We heed Your gracious call. / The Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, / Muslims, and Christians, / The East and the West come together, / To the side of Your throne, / And weave the garland of love. / Oh! You who bring in the unity of the people!”

Indian Muslims and Christians still have a lot of un-Islamic or un-Christian feelings in them, inherited from their Hindu ancestors, adopted from their Hindu environment, or simply stemming from universal human nature. Thus, they generally have a strong attachment to their motherland, overruling their tutored orientation to Mecca, Jerusalem or Rome. In that sense, their attachment to India does bring them together with their Hindu compatriots. Most Hindus are not too serious about doctrines, they overlook the specific points which set Islam and Christianity against all other religions, and hence they tend to welcome all sects into the Indian fold.

But this stance is not reciprocated. The attitude that takes all sects to be one happy family, is emphatically not Muslim and not Christian, for these sects vow only hellfire upon all the others. The spirit of this second stanza is not also-a-bit-Muslim nor also-a-bit-Christian, it is not a bit of everything; it is thoroughly Hindu.

Also ran

When the Freedom Movement and later the Constituent Assembly deliberated upon the choice of an anthem, there were three candidates. Sare jahan se accha Hindustan hamara, “Of the whole world, the best is our Hindustan”, was an Urdu song by Mohammed Iqbal, composed in 1904. Having studied in Germany, he may well have been inspired by Deutschland über Alles, but with the wrong though now common idea that this means: Germany is superior to the rest. At any rate, his opening line said in so many words that India is superior to the rest. Whatever the merits of the lyrics and the melody, any choice for an Iqbal song came to leave a bad taste in the mouth when, shortly before his death in 1938, he became the spiritual father of the fledgling Pakistan movement. Nonetheless, it has never ceased to enjoy a certain recognition within the Indian Army.

Another option was Vande Mataram, “I salute thee, Mother”, meaning Mother India. It was drawn from a novel by Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Anandamath, “Abbey of Bliss” (1882). Covertly, the story appealed to its readers to rise up against the colonizers, at that time the British. But in its explicit narrative, it was set in an earlier age, when the occupiers against whom to revolt were Muslims. As was to be expected, Muslims and Nehruvian secularists objected.

Moreover, and perhaps even more decisively, Muslims proposed a theological objection: this veneration of the Mother Goddess, easily recognizable as the warrior-goddess Durga, was idolatry pure and simple. Only Allah should be worshipped, and to the extent an anthem with all its pomp and ceremony was acceptable at all (the Jehovah’s Witnesses reject it), it should emphatically not deify the nation nor any symbol or deity associated with it. Till today, Muslims regularly boycott public performances of Vande Mataram.

But in fact, Jana Gana Mana’s “dispenser of India’s destiny”, while not its past or present ruler, unambiguously signifies the divine Guide, the eternal Guru, Krishna. If Vande Mataram is “communal”, then so is Jana Gana Mana.

Nehru supported the Muslims in their objections against Vande Mataram, thus, in fact, misdirecting their attention and deflecting further scrutiny of Jana Gana Mana. But to give his own plea against it a less communal colouring, he took an entirely different line and objected that the song is too difficult to sing. Though this objection was disingenuous and had to hide another reason, it had a core of truth. In the functions where I have seen it sung, it was typically performed by a professional singer, while the public kept mum. In comparison, Jana Gana Mana is a pleasant and beautiful hymn that anyone can sing. As far as my opinion counts for anything, I think the Constituent Assembly made the correct choice.

Conclusion

Yet, it may have been a choice based on incomplete information. Clearly, most voting members were unaware of Jana Gana Mana’s third stanza. Alternatively, they may have considered it as not really part of the national anthem anyway. Or, they may not have cared for secularism anyway. At any rate, when including the third stanza, the song is emphatically God-oriented and Hindu.

India’s anthem is not ruler-oriented like Heil dir im Siegerkranz. It is not ruler-and God-oriented, like the Wilhelmus, God Save the Queen, or Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser. It is not secularly nation-and-state-oriented, like the Marseillaise, the Star-Spangled Banner, the Brabançonne or Das Lied der Deutschen. It is emphatically nation-and-God-oriented, God in this case probably being identifiable as Krishna, or more abstractly, the idea of the Divine involving Itself in this world whenever Dharma requires it. The song does not commit itself to a specific political system, such as monarchy, by glorifying the ruler. It merely expresses love for the nation through all its variegated landscapes and experiences—plus a veneration for the divine Guru.

According to Rabindranath Tagore, and according to all Indian citizens who intone or honour his anthem, India is not complete without a heaven-oriented, sacred dimension. – Pragyata, 17 March 2017

» Dr Elst is an historian and indologist with MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. He lives in Antwerp, Belgium.

Krishna & Arjuna

The Modi Government as an exponent of BJP secularism – Koenraad Elst

Narendra Modi

Koenraad ElstLike the previous BJP Government, the present one fails to live up to the oft-heard predictions of strident pro-Hindu and anti-minority policies. This is due to a phenomenon insufficiently realized by most India-watchers: a desire to live up to the norms upheld by the secularists and an interiorization of the disinterest in “outdated” Hindu concerns, not just among the numerous opportunists who have flocked to the new party in power, but even in the loyal core of the BJP’s personnel. Based on insider sources, this paper enumerates the data establishing the reality of “BJP secularism” and analyses the reasons for this emerging phenomenon. – Dr Koenraad Elst

A.B. VajpayeeA. B. Vajpayee’s NDA Government (1998-2004) heavily disappointed the experts who had predicted “all Moslims into the Indian Ocean” or similar doomsday scenarios—or rather, it put them squarely in the wrong. Hindu “fascism” as a threat to democracy? When Vajpayee narrowly lost a confidence vote, he meekly stepped down. War against Pakistan? Though Pakistan unilaterally invaded India (Kargil 1999), Vajpayee forbade the Army to strike at the invaders’ base across the border, and later opened a peace process, making symbolic concessions which Congress had always refused. Isolationism? He threw the Indian media market open to foreign media ownership, a move opposed by India’s entire political spectrum. The only “Hindutva” thing the NDA ever did was HRD Minister M. M. Joshi‘s clumsy overhaul of the recommended history schoolbooks, changing nothing dramatic and easily reversed. When the Government created a Chair for Indic Studies in Oxford (“saffronization!”), it selected an outspoken opponent for the job, in the vain hope of receiving a pat on the back from its declared enemies.

With the hindsight knowledge of historical reality, it would be embarrassing to reproduce the predictions by Indian and foreign experts. Today, anti-BJP discourse is less shrill, but still confidently classifies the BJP among the “Hindu Right”. This implies a prediction that once in power, the BJP would pursue distinctly pro-Hindu policies. However, in the light of our experience with the Vajpayee Government, it is no surprise that the present Government led by Narendra Modi fails to live up to this learned prediction, at least for now. (Of course, this paper will be updated by November as new developments take place.)

In spite of having a more homogeneous majority, it is reluctant to do anything pro-Hindu or perceivable as anti-minority. On the contrary, one of its first acts was to decree a new subsidy to Islamic schools. The stray Hindutva statements by loose cannon (Sakshi Maharaj, Niranjan Jyoti) were followed by retractions, condemnations by Government spokesmen, and indignant innuendos by Modi-friendly journalists (Tavleen Singh, Swapan Dasgupta). Public reconversions by the allied VHP, heavily publicized and demonized by the media, were promptly discouraged by the Government. Having learned from Vajpayee’s 2004 defeat, though, Modi does “keep the pot boiling”, does regularly throw crumbs of inconsequential Hindu symbolism to his support base, all while not formally changing anything.

However, if many BJP workers are disappointed with this Government, is not for what it does but mainly for what it persistently fails to do. Thus, it inducted no figures with a strongly ideological profile (Arun Shourie, Subramanian Swamy). Likewise, some public figures who had crossed the floor (e.g. Madhu Kishwar) were conspicuously not rewarded—a fact not considered here for disgruntled ego reasons but for illustrating the BJP’s lack of strategy: it doesn’t put people who have actually sacrificed for the BJP to any use, while awarding positions of influence to unreliable newcomers motivated by sheer opportunism. While some things on the Hindu agenda are either useless to Hinduism (e.g. declaring a “Hindu Rashtra”) and others would arouse violent protests for which the media are sure to blame Modi (e.g. a Common Civil Code, though “secular” par excellence), others are perfectly feasible and, moreover, turn out to be the most consequential for the flourishing of Hinduism.

In particular, the amending of Constitutional Articles 28 and 30, which (de facto c.q. formally) discriminate against Hinduism in education, does not take away any rights from the minorities, yet lifts an enormous burden from Hindu organizations investing in education and eliminates a major reason for Hindu sects (Arya Samaj, RK Mission, Lingayats, Jains) to have themselves judicially declared non-Hindu minorities. Similarly, eliminating the legal basis of the discrimination against Hinduism in temple management, with rich temples (but not mosques or churches) nationalized and their income pocketed by politicians or diverted to non-Hindu purposes, would give an enormous boost to Hindu religious and cultural life, without impinging upon the rights of the minorities. It has to be noted, however, and it buttresses my case for “BJP secularism”, that temple management is partly a competence of the States, and that BJP State Governments have not made the difference. At any rate, there are meaningful things a BJP Government could do specifically for Hinduism without endangering its non-religious agenda (development, cleaning India etc.) or its international standing, yet it chooses not to do them.

As for the Hindutva fits and starts of some BJP members, now considered extremists but in fact only representative of what the erstwhile Jan Sangh (1952-77, predecessor of the BJP) stood for, it should be easy to bring them in line around a more reasonable but still credibly pro-Hindu programme. It is here that the BJP is most conspicuously failing — conspicuous at least to insiders, for 99% of the outside literature about the BJP never mentions this phenomenon. Contrary to a consensus among academic and journalistic India-watchers, the supposed “Hindu extremist” party has no Hindu agenda. It relies on pro-Hindu workers to do the campaigning legwork, but once in power it cold-shoulders them, it publicizes and pursues an agenda of economic development only, and it tries to curry favour with the secularists.

The main reason is the long-standing deliberate lack of investment (pioneered by M. S. Golwalkar) in an intellectual and strategic vision of its own, the spurning of any analysis of the forces in the field and of the potential and limitations of the situation. It therefore also lacks competent personnel for the ideological struggle, e.g. for a textbook overhaul or, now, for nominating politically friendly new Vice-Chancellors. Consequently, most BJP leaders have an enormous inferiority complex vis-à-vis the secularists and, even when in office, try to live up to the norms laid down by their opponents.

This is hardly the impression created by most experts; but the primary data, the only source to which this paper pledges loyalty, tell a clear story: the present BJP is only termed a Hindu party in deference to the distant memory of its initial orientation. – Koenraad Elst Blog, 15 November 2016

» Dr Koenraad Elst is an indologist and historian from Belgium who publishes with Voice of India.

Tipu Sultan: Villain or Hero – Sita Ram Goel

Tipu Sultan

Sita Ram GoelOne can conclude quite safely that Nehruvian Secularism is a magic formula for transmitting base metals into twenty-four carat gold. How else do we explain the fact of Islam becoming a religion, and that too a religion of tolerance, social equality, and human brotherhood; or the fact of Muslim rule in medieval India becoming an indigenous dispensation; or the fact of Sirajuddaula, Mir Qasim, Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, and Bahadur Shah Zafar becoming the heroes of India’s freedom struggle against British imperialism? – Sita Ram Goel

Secularism per se is a doctrine which arose in the modem West as a revolt against the closed creed of Christianity. Its battle-cry was that the State should be freed from the stranglehold of the Church, and the citizen should be left to his own individual choice in matters of belief. And it met with great success in every Western democracy.

Had India borrowed this doctrine from the modem West, it would have meant a rejection of the closed creeds of Islam and Christianity, and a promotion of the Sanatana Dharma family of faiths which have been naturally secularist in the modern Western sense. But what happened actually was that Secularism in India became the greatest protector of closed creeds which had come here in the company of foreign invaders, and kept tormenting the national society for several centuries.

We should not, therefore, confuse India’s Secularism with its namesake in the modern West. The Secularism which Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru propounded and which has prospered in post-independence India, is a new concoction and should be recognized as such. We need not bother about its various definitions as put forward by its pandits. We shall do better if we have a close look at its concrete achievements.

Going by those achievements, one can conclude quite safely that Nehruvian Secularism is a magic formula for transmitting base metals into twenty-four carat gold. How else do we explain the fact of Islam becoming a religion, and that too a religion of tolerance, social equality, and human brotherhood; or the fact of Muslim rule in medieval India becoming an indigenous dispensation; or the fact of Muhammad bin Qasim becoming a liberator of the toiling masses in Sindh; or the fact of Mahmud Ghaznavi becoming the defreezer of productive wealth hoarded in Hindu temples; or the fact of Muhammad Ghuri becoming the harbinger of an urban revolution; or the fact of Muinuddin Chishti becoming the great Indian saint; or the fact of Amir Khusru becoming the pioneer of communal amity; or the fact of Alauddin Khilji becoming the first socialist in the annals of this country; or the fact of Akbar becoming the father of Indian nationalism; or the fact of Aurangzeb becoming the benefactor of Hindu temples; or the fact of Sirajuddaula, Mir Qasim, Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, and Bahadur Shah Zafar becoming the heroes of India’s freedom struggle against British imperialism or the fact of the Faraizis, the Wahhabis, and the Moplahs becoming peasant revolutionaries and foremost freedom fighters?

One has only to go to the original sources in order to understand the true character of Islam and its above-mentioned luminaries. And one can see immediately that their true character has nothing to do with that with which they have been invested in our school and college text-books. No deeper probe is needed for unraveling the mysteries of Nehruvian Secularism.

This is not the occasion to go into the implications of this Secularism vis-a-vis India’s own spiritual vision, India’s own cultural wealth, India’s own national society, and India’s own native nationalism. I have dealt with this theme elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the other face of this Secularism is Hindu-baiting, which profession has been perfected by many scholars, scribes, and politicians, and has so far proved immensely profitable. I need not give the names. The stalwarts in this field are very well known.

The Bombay Malayalee Samajam has, therefore, rendered a great service in providing a test case, that of Tipu Sultan, for exposing the true character of Nehruvian Secularism. To the best of my knowledge, this Secularism has never faced a challenge such as was posed before it by the scholars and men of public spirit whom we meet in the pages of this book, Tipu Sultan: Villain or Hero? The wealth of first-hand source materials presented in the articles that comprise this book, portray not only the base metal that was Tipu Sultan but also the components of that alchemy which has transmuted him into twenty-four carat gold. VOICE OF INDIA is proud that it should have the privilege of publishing this study of an arch villain being sold as a great hero.

The fight for truth which is described in this book, has proved fruitful. The Statesman dated May 24, 1993 reports: “Once again Tipu Sultan has become a controversial topic in Karnataka. First it was the serial produced by Sanjay Khan which attracted criticism and protests from people, now it is the bicentenary of his death which has created quite a stir. … The Karnataka Board of Wakfs has organized the bicentenary, Urs-e-Sharif, of Hazrat Tipu Sultan Shaheed (R.A.), from May 21 to May 23 this year…. This has led to speculation that the Government will again spend several lakhs of rupees in 1999 to observe the 200th death anniversary of Tipu. The State Government has, however, remained tight-lipped over the issue and left the Board of Wakfs to answer these questions.” Had there been no challenge to the serial, the State Government would not have remained tight-lipped. It would have immediately untied its purse strings, and joined hands with the Board of Wakfs for singing hymns of praise to the Hazrat and the Shaheed.

What the Hazrat and the Shaheed stood for is described by Mir Hussain Ali Kirmani in his book, Nishan-i-Haidari, which he completed in AD 1802, three years after Tipu’s death. Kirmani writes: “It happened one day that a fakir (a religious mendicant), a man of saint-like mind, passed that way, and seeing the Sultan gave him a life-bestowing benediction, saying to him, ‘Fortunate child, at a future time thou will be the king of this country, and when thy time comes, remember my words—take this temple and destroy it, and build a masjid in its place, and for ages it will remain a memorial of thee.’ The Sultan smiled, and in reply told him that ‘whenever, by his blessings, he should become a padishah, or king, he would do as he (the fakir) directed’. When, therefore, after a short time, his father became a prince, the possessor of wealth and territory, he remembered his promise, and after his return from Nagar and Gorial Bunder, he purchased the temple from the adorers of the image in it (which after all was nothing but the figure of a bull, made of brick and mortar) with their goodwill, and the Brahmins, therefore, taking away their image, placed it in the Deorhi Peenth, and the temple was pulled down, and the foundations of a new masjid raised on the site….” That is the Masjid-i-Ala or Jama Masjid standing in Srirangapatanam on the site of a Shiva temple. One need not comment on Kirmani’s statement that Tipu “purchased the temple from the adorers of the image … with their goodwill”. It is not unoften that terror has produced this sort of goodwill in the minds of its helpless victims. – Preface to Tipu Sultan: Villain or Hero

1. The Sword of Tipu Sultan – V.M. Korath

Tipu Sultan who succeeded his father, considered it his primary duty to continue this unfinished jîhâd started by Hyder Ali Khan. However, the Islamic fanaticism of Tipu Sultan was much worse than that of his father. His war-cry of jîhâd was “Sword” (death) or “Cap” (forcible conversion). This makes very clear the character of Tipu Sultan’s military operations started in 1783. The intensity and nature of sufferings which the Hindu population had to bear during the nightmarish days of Padayottakkalam (military regime) were vividly described in many historical records preserved in the royal houses of Zamorin and Kottayam (Pazhassi), Palghat Fort and East India Company’s office. There is no apparent reason to disbelieve them. It is absurd and against reason to describe all this evidence as being forged for the purpose of creating enmity between Hindus and Muslims. READ MORE HERE …

2. Religious Intolerance of Tipu Sultan – P.C.N. Raja

When that Brahmin Prime Minister, Purnaiyya, presented to Tipu Sultan 90,000 soldiers, three crore rupees, and invaluable ornaments made of precious stones, he was tempted to rule as the Emperor of the South India. Tipu did not consider the Hindu rulers of Maharashtra, Coorg and Travancore or the Muslim ruler Nizam as impediments. He was afraid of only the British. He had convinced himself that he could easily become the Emperor of South India if he could somehow vanquish the British. Because of his intense and-British attitude, the so-called progressive and secular historians have made a vain attempt to paint Tipu Sultan as a great national hero. … Opposition to foreign powers need not always be due to love for one’s country. To achieve his selfish goal and to face the British forces, Tipu Sultan sought the assistance of another foreign power, the French, who were manoeuvring to establish their own domination in the country. How is it possible, therefore, for Tipu Sultan to be an enemy of foreign forces when he himself had sought help from Napoleon who was then a prisoner in St. Helena Island and also the French King, Louis XVI? READ MORE HERE …

3. Tipu’s Own Testimony – C. Nandagopalan Menon

William Kirkpatrick, who compiled many of Tipu’s letters, writes in his book, Selected Letters of Tipoo Sultan (published in 1811): “Tipoo knew his will to be a law the propriety of which … would never be questioned or doubted by any of his slaves…. He probably measured the sentiments in question by a different standard from that with which we estimate them. Thus the various murders and acts of treachery which we see him directing to be carried into execution, were not criminal, but on the contrary just, and even meritorious, in his eyes.” … “The Koran taught him that it was not necessary to keep faith with infidels, or the enemies of the true religion, in which case it was not difficult for him to persuade himself that it was right to include all who opposed or refused to cooperate in his views for the extension of that religion; or, in other words, for his own aggrandisement.” … This observation of Kirkpatrick is found to be valid when one goes through the letter of January 19, 1790, sent to Budruz Zuman Khan by Tipu himself. It says: “Don’t you know I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam? I am determined to march against that cursed “Raman Nair” very soon (reference is to Rama Varma Raja of Travancore State who was popularly known as Dharma Raja). Since I am overjoyed at the prospect of converting him and his subjects to Islam, I have happily abandoned the idea of going back to Srirangapatnam now” (K.M. Panicker, Bhasha Poshini, August, 1923). READ MORE HERE …

4. Tipu Sultan: As Known in Kerala – Ravi Varma

The ruins of hundreds of Hindu temples destroyed, and heavy concentration of Mappilas, all along the invasion routes of Tipu’s army, are standing and conclusive proofs of the brutalities and atrocities committed by the fanatic Tipu Sultan in Kerala. He was, all through, waging a cruel Islamic war against the Hindu population of Kerala, with a large Muslim army under Muslim field commanders ably assisted by the French, and with powerful field-guns and European troops. The period of Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali Khan from 1766 to 1792 is the darkest period in Kerala history for all types of Islamic atrocities including forcible conversions. In spite of all these, historical documents and records are being deliberately suppressed, distorted and falsified in order to project this fanatic Tipu Sultan of Mysore as a liberal and magnanimous Muslim king. Worse still, this Muslim tyrant from Mysore is being glorified and projected as a national hero like Chhatrapati Shivaji, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Rana Pratap Singh, and Pazhassi Raja of Kerala. To perpetuate the memory of this tyrant Tipu Sultan, the Central Government has released a postal stamp. Doordarshan has sanctioned a video serial to glorify the deeds and life of Tipu Sultan. And a special rehabilitation programme is being worked out for the benefit of the descendants of Tipu Sultan in Calcutta. It is an insult to our national pride and also to the Hindus of Kerala. At this rate, who knows that tomorrow our secular Government and the motivated Muslim and Marxist historians of Jawaharlal Nehru, Aligarh and Islamia universities will not project as national heroes villains like Mahmud Ghaznavi who destroyed the Somnath Temple, Babar who destroyed the Sri Rama Temple at Ayodhya, and Aurangzeb who destroyed the Vishwanath Temple at Kashi and the Sri Krishna Temple at Mathura? What a shame! What a degradation! READ MORE  HERE …

5. Scandalous Tele-Serial of Tipu Sultan – Prakash Chandra Asdhir

The secularist tribe in this country must realise that no useful purpose will be served by putting secular garbs on these barbaric rulers who were only usurpers. Such actions only revive the centuries-old wounds and embitter the relations between Hindus and Muslims. The whole exercise, it should be realised, runs against the process of National Integration envisaged by the Government and the people of this country. Ghaznavis, Ghuris, Baburs, Aurangzebs, Hyder Alis and Tipu Sultans can only carry the coffin of secularism and nothing more. Let the souls of these tyrants lie in their graves and be raised only on the day of “Qiamat” (Doomsday) when Allah will put them on trial for their crimes against humanity. READ MORE HERE …

6. Tipu Sultan: A Fanatic Muslim – Ravi Varma

It was Tipu Sultan and his fanatic Muslim army who converted thousands of Hindus—Thiyyas, Nairs and tribals—to Islam all along the invasion route, and occupied areas in North Kerala, Coorg, Mangalore and other parts of Karnataka. Besides, over 8,000 Hindu temples were desecrated and/or destroyed by his Muslim army in Malabar, Cochin, Coorg, Mysore and Tamil Nadu. … Tipu Sultan was only a usurper. He fought a war of expansion against Cochin and Travancore after running over the lands of a weak Zamorin. He could not succeed in his ambition and became a cripple because of the joint resistance by Cochin and Travancore armies. Simply because Tipu Sultan died in Srirangapatnam while escaping in the night from the fort which had been surrounded by the British army, does not make him a national hero. He fought an imperialist war in South India seeking the help of the French Army. … To project Tipu Sultan as a national hero is not only a distortion of South Indian history, but also an insult to the seventy crore Hindus, especially of South India. READ MORE HERE …

7.  Tipu Sultan and Doordarshan – K. Govindan Kutty

Some years later—well before Gidwani came out with his eulogy [of Tipu Sultan]—there was a still more breathtaking re-evaluation of Tipu’s exploits in Malabar. Its author, C.K. Kareem, a former editor of the Kerala State Gazetteer, went so far as to show Tipu as a philosopher and a great sufi, who viewed the whole cosmos as a mosque! Kareem’s “finding” was that Tipu came to be painted black just because those who wrote history in Kerala were the descendants of people who had to suffer hardships after his advent. His argument was that the repression represented by Tipu was not for the sake of Islam but to govern a newly-conquered territory. … The Hindu view of Tipu’s conquest of Malabar has not changed in spite of Balakrishnan’s and Kareem’s attempt to make him out as a sufi and a reformer. The historical view taken by K.M. Panicker and K.P. Padmanabha Menon and showing Tipu as a tormentor, continues to hold sway. READ MORE HERE …

8. The Tele-Serial of Tipu Sultan – P. Parameswaran

Tipu Sultan had not only given some financial assistance to a few temples including Sringeri Mutt, but he had also destroyed hundreds of temples and carried out forcible mass conversions as well. He had also indulged in mass murders. Letters and orders directing to do such horrible things were also issued by Tipu Sultan. If such things are deliberately suppressed, that will amount to injustice to the population who were the victims of his cruel atrocities. Even if it is only for promoting communal harmony, blatant lies should not be deliberately propagated. For the promotion of communal harmony, let people produce novel, poetry or even cinema. In the case of history, acknowledging the mistakes would be the best way to correct the mistakes; and not to whitewash the mistakes. If it is not done, that will result in emotional outbursts. READ MORE HERE …

9. A Letter to Shri P. Upendra – P.C.C. Raja

As a member of the Zamorin’s family my blood gets boiled even today when I hear the very mention of Tipu’s name because the worst crimes and the worst sort of atrocities were really perpetrated by him on the Hindus of Malabar. In fact the Zamorin of Calicut and the members of his family are well known for their religious tolerance and catholicity of outlook as would be seen from recorded history. But wholesale conversion of all people into Islam was indulged in by Tipu Sultan at gun point. Those who did not obey had either to flee away from the country or to face the bayonet. No other option was available according to recorded history. It will be useful if you will kindly refer to the writings of Prof K.V. Kristina Iyer as well as Malayalam Encyclopedia (Volume 7, published by Sahithyaka Pravasthaka Sahakarna Sangham Ltd., Kottayam, p. 996, para 3, column 1). The several inhuman, barbarous, and brutal acts done at the behest of Tipu Sultan cannot be summarised even in a thousand printed pages. In the circumstances, a cryptic statement that Tipu’s controversial roles are not purported to be dealt with in the serial can hardly assuage the feelings of the victims and would hardly render justice to the injured, their families, and their successors. Kindly also refer to the report of a joint Commission of Bengal and Bombay appointed to inspect the state and conditions of the province of Malabar in the years 1792 and 1793 (Volume 1, paras 52, 64, 67) kept in the National Archives of India, Janpath, New Delhi. A bare perusal of the above report will convince anyone that Tipu Sultan, far from being a benevolent ruler, was one of the worst fanatics, and more inhuman than even the Nazis. READ MORE HERE …

10. The Agitation Against the Tipu Sultan Serial – B.N. Jog

Three years back, one news item which appeared on the pages of many dailies attracted my attention. The news item was about a big studio-fire in Bangalore, where shooting of Shri Sanjay Khan’s tele-serial, “The Sword of Tipu Sultan” was in progress. Scores of young artistes died and many others were injured in the studio-fire. While going through the press report, I was amazed to read that “in this TV serial Tipu Sultan is being depicted as a great warrior and secular benevolent ruler”. Tipu Sultan who forcibly converted thousands of Hindus and Christians to Islam, hanged to death hundreds of innocent women and children, and destroyed and looted scores of temples and churches in Malabar, Cochin, Coorg, Dindigal, Mangalore and Coimbatore, a secular, fair-minded ruler! Hypocrisy also must have some limit. READ MORE  HERE …

11. History of Legal Battle Against the TV Serial The Sword of Tipu Sultan – Madhavrao D. Pathak

The legal fight against the shameful and motivated attempt of Doordarshan and the Government of India to project the usurper king of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, as a national hero, was a long, expensive and frustrating ordeal. According to authentic and documented history of the period, Tipu Sultan had hanged to death and sold as slaves a large number of innocent men, women, and children; looted and destroyed and burnt down hundreds of Hindu temples and Christian churches; and circumcised and converted to Muhammadanism thousands of Hindus and Christians in Mangalore, Coorg, Coimbatore, Dindigal, and Kerala. He had made territorial concessions to the French whose help he sought to fight the British. He had also sent emissaries to Islamic countries – Afghanistan, Iran, and Turky – inviting them to conquer the whole of North India for the glory and spread of Islam. But the Doordarshan serial on Tipu Sultan, based on a novel entitled The Sword of Tipu Sultan by Bhagwan Gidwani, was full of deliberate distortion, fabrication, and suppression of recorded facts of history with the object of glorifying a villain as a national hero, a benevolent ruler, and a paragon of all virtues. READ MORE HERE …

» Sita Ram Goel  (1921–2003) was a historian, author and publisher who founded the Hindu publishing house Voice of India. He along with philosopher Ram Swarup, sought to correct the warped and distorted histories of India and Hinduism that had been put out by European indologists, Christian missionaries and their secular Indian Marxist camp-followers.

Tipu and Mistress

India can establish Ram Rajya today – David Frawley

Rama & Sita

David FrawleyTo find Rama we must first find Sita, which is to honour the earth and emulate its receptive and caring nature. To defeat Ravana we must gain Hanuman as an ally, meaning a life purpose dedicated to the Divine, not to the separate self. – Dr David Frawley

Sri Rama is the ideal ruler whose image has dominated the history of India. He is the avatar of Dharma, which is right action, holding to truth and duty as supreme. The Ramayana is the most famous story and performed drama, not only in India, but in Asia overall.

The epic account of Rama and Sita has embedded itself in the local art and culture of the entire region. And this is over a period of more than 2,000 years, with the coming and going of many kingdoms, and radical changes in civilisation.

Rama’s defeat of Ravana, which is colourfully celebrated on Dussehra with both fervour and fascination, is the most dramatic event in India’s vast literature, the supreme conflict of Dharma versus adharma. The Buddhist poet Ashwaghosha, who composed the life of the Buddha, lauded Valmiki’s Ramayana as the greatest Sanskrit poem.

Yet Ravana was not merely a wicked demon as commonly portrayed. He was originally a great king, a follower of Lord Shiva, a master of the Sama Veda and of Brahmin lineage. Yet he suffered from the ultimate human defect, which is pride and arrogance.

He wanted to possess Rama’s wife Sita as a trophy for his power, a sign that he was greater than all the kings of the day, notably Rama. Yet our Ravanas today are much worse—not representing a precipitous fall like Ravana, but an inability to rise up in the first place.

A new vision of Dharma

Many leaders of India’s Independence movement, including Mahatma Gandhi, used the term Ram Rajya to describe their vision for modern India. While secular politicians have tried to reduce Ram Rajya to a mere metaphor, its spiritual and yogic connotation cannot be forgotten.

Ram Rajya is the land of Dharma, poetically described as a realm of peace, harmony and happiness for young and old, high and low, all creatures and the earth itself, in recognition of a shared universal consciousness.

Ram Rajya is not simply an ideal of the past but of all time, and reminds us of the glory of ancient India and its noble traditions.

The message of the Ramayana is the need to hold to Dharma, karma yoga and respect for the sacred nature of all life, even when it may cause personal loss or require self-abnegation. If we do so, as in the case of Lord Rama, even all the forces of nature will come to our defence.

Today our culture seems to promote opposite values to Dharma, not renunciation of the ego-self but its unbridled expansion. Our personal rights reign supreme, behind which hides a plethora of commercially stimulated wants, appetites and impulses.

Duty to family, community, country and humanity is looked upon as a violation of our personal independence, our right to first satisfy our own urges, whose origins we may neither know or question.

Ours is not a culture of self-sacrifice but of self-assertion. We have forgotten our karmic responsibility for ourselves and for the whole of life.

Our society has become expansive outwardly without a corresponding inner dimension of service and spirituality. We spend our time trying to fulfill artificial desires and unnecessary cravings that limits creating the proper resources for all.

Rising to the challenge

We certainly need a new ideal of Ram Rajya to fight the many new Ravanas of corruption, manipulation and materialism that seem to have a thousand heads these days.

Yet to find Rama we must first find Sita, which is to honour the earth and emulate its receptive and caring nature. To defeat Ravana we must gain Hanuman as an ally, meaning a life purpose dedicated to the Divine, not to the separate self.

Rama rules in the eternal realm. The question is when we will embrace the cause of Dharma on earth and give up the conflict and duality caused by adharma.

This may require tremendous effort given the ominous gathering of hostile forces on the world stage today, but it remains our true goal that we should never forget. If we arouse Sri Rama within ourselves, we can make an important contribution to that eventual Ram Rajya everywhere. – Daily-O, 10 October 2016

» Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) is a Vedacharya and includes in his wide scope of studies Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient teachings of the Rigveda.

Ram & Ravana

VIDEO: The Story of India – Will Durant

Will & Ariel Durant



Will Durant Quote

Remembering Karmayogi Sita Ram Goel – Virendra Parekh

Sita Ram Goel

Virerndra ParekhThis is the original article which appeared in a commemorative volume on Sita Ram Goel many years ago. It is well worth reading as author Virendra Parekh has faithfully recorded in detail Sita Ramji’s views on Islam, Christianity, Communism, Secularism, Hinduism, his own work and Voice of India. – Editor 

“How old are you?” Sita Ramji asked me. “Forty.” “You are younger than my younger son”, he said affectionately. Thus began my first and only meeting with Sita Ramji in November 1993. I was on my way to Manali along with my family and had happily foregone sightseeing in Delhi in order to be able to meet him. As a bonus, Sita Ramji had offered to take me to Ram Swarupji.

For years, his writings had just mesmerized me. Even a few paragraphs were enough to bring out his originality of approach (more about it later), incisive analysis, fiery style and a stubborn refusal to be tamed by considerations of political correctness imposed by the Mullah-Marxist-Missionary-Macaulayite combine. If style is the man, then the picture that Sita Ramjis writings threw up was that of a sterling patriot who happened to be a great scholar and a fearless fighter. Brahmakshatriya is the only word that comes to the mind to describe him.

However, what put him in a class apart from angry pamphleteers was his reverence for truth, a breadth of vision combined with an eye for detail and accuracy, and a willingness to go wherever his search for truth led him. If he had only contempt for Indian secularists, he had no burning desire to be counted among the officially recognized champions of Bharatiyata. He was a seeker of truth, not a camp follower. He would not spare Hindu kings for their myopia, disunity and strategic failures. He would praise Gandhiji for arousing Hindu society by stirring its heart like the Savarkars and Hedgewars never could, because his commitment was to the ideal of truth, goodness and beauty, not to any individual or group.

Our conversation was brief and informal, but Sita Ramji did make a few perceptive remarks. “Where Brahmins are blind, Kshatriyas are lame”, he said. “Intellectuals (Brahmins) are the eyes of the society, and the ruling class its arm. Hindu society, which is not lacking in numbers, valour or devotion to its culture, is kicked around in its own land, because Hindu intellectuals lack vision”, he explained. He referred to the fateful decision of the Vijayanagar King Ramaraya to have two battalions of Muslim archers who could shoot from the horseback. In the critical battle of Rakshasi-Tangadi, widely though erroneously known as the battle of Talikota (1565), these battalions deserted their employer and joined the invaders. Ramaraya lost the battle and his life. The great Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar which had kept the saffron flag aflutter in the South for over two centuries, suffered a terrible blow from which it could never recover. “Look at the irony, Parekh. In this land of Lord Ram and Arjun, the idea of having our own archers did not occur to the king”, commented Sita Ramji.

He went on to say that there should be a Catalogue of National Mistakes which must be taught to all children in the schools with a view to avoiding their repetition. History which does not provide an insight into our weaknesses and mistakes, which is merely a source of false pride through glorification of a mythical past, is no history at all. Secularists would readily accept this, but their definition of India and Indianness would be suspect.

In the afternoon, Sita Ramji drove me from his residence in Shakti Nagar to Maharani Bagh where Ram Swarupji was staying. It was one more act of kind affection from a great person who had over the years replied to each of my letters, enlightened me by answering every question I asked, communicated his candid views on several issues, and sent me for free all the publications of Voice of India, some of them beyond my means.

My meeting with Ram Swarupji was brief, lasting about an hour. I told him that measured against the depth and vastness of his knowledge, he had written very little. He smiled and said that it may be true in some sense, but he did not like to be repetitive. Around 9 p.m., Sita Ramji dropped me at the hotel where my family and friends were waiting for me. I could not have asked for more. My purpose of coming to Delhi was fulfilled.

His mission

During our conversation, Ram Swarupji made an important point about the work of Voice of India. It deserves greater attention. For long, Hinduism has been defined for Hindus by its enemies. They denigrated whatever hindered their designs on us. They told us that Brahmins were a class of deceitful exploiters and oppressors, that Sanskrit was a dead language, that Hinduism was a mumbo-jumbo of silly superstitions, puerile priest craft and meaningless mysticism, and that the caste system was the root of all evils afflicting Indian society. They even taught us that the Vedic Aryans had come to India from outside (so why cavil at Muslim or Christian invaders?), that the history of India was actually a series of India’s conquests by one invader after another.

Their praise was motivated, too. The missionaries and mullahs always praise Hindu society for its tolerance and generosity (something that they have never shown to it or other rival creeds) and expect the Hindus to look the other way when they themselves malign Hinduism and convert its weaker sections through force, fraud and allurements. The missionaries always praise Hindus for their religiosity, but never for their religion. The pope praises Hinduism for its secondaries, while hiding his contempt for its primaries.

The enemies of Hinduism floated false notions about their own creeds, too. We were told that Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood; that Christianity has nothing but love and mercy for non-believers, that Marxism has the master-key to the “ascent of mankind from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”

The greater tragedy is that the Hindus have gone along with this con game, slavishly or foolishly. What the enemies of Hinduism found wrong with us, we found wrong with ourselves. Even today, few Hindus can see through these mischievous canards. Hindus feel flattered by the motivated praise of their tolerance by the missionaries, little realizing that it is a ploy for their moral disarmament against a ruthless, systematic onslaught on their culture and tradition; that it is akin to a sermon on detachment and renunciation by a pickpocket while he is relieving you of your wallet.

Centuries of cultural and political enslavement have led Hindus to look at themselves and others through the tinted spectacles forged by the inveterate enemies of their religion and culture. Voice of India, said Sita Ramji, wanted Hindus to use their own eyes for looking at themselves and at others. All its efforts were directed at equipping them for doing so. The means of achieving this end was a detailed and objective first-hand study of the rival ideologies (Islam, Christianity and Marxism) from their primary sources. It meant a study of their scriptures, their sources of inspiration, their worldview, their objectives and methods and their historical record. It also meant studying Indian history from primary sources and interpreting it, on the basis of undisputable and recorded facts, from the perspective of Indians rather than that of invaders and conquerors.

Perhaps for the first time in its long and chequered history did Hindu society take up this Herculean task. Ordinary Hindus had long regarded Islam as barbarism masquerading as religion, at least for non-Muslims. They had not regarded Christian missionaries as anything more than wily, cunning, arrogant fanatics who were hand in gloves with India’s foreign masters. And for all their skills in sophisticated slander and manipulation of the mind, the Communists have not been able to expand their influence (or whatever is left of it) beyond the two corners (Bengal/Tripura and Kerala) of India. However, Hindu scholars had by and large neglected to examine critically the tall claims made by these ideologies. This was at par with the failure of the Hindu rulers to keep abreast of developments in the neighbouring lands, even those developments that had a direct bearing on national security.

The consequences of both these failures have been heavy. The myopic refusal of the Hindu rulers to look beyond their nose led to the political enslavement of the country whereas the failure of the Hindu scholars to examine critically the doctrines of Islam and Christianity, not to speak of Communism, left the ideological field open to the enemies of Hinduism. Whatever they said about their own creeds went uncontested.

Sita Ramji and Ram Swarupji moved in to fill this vital gap. In the nineteenth century, Swami Dayanand Sarawati, founder of the Arya Samaj, had subjected the Quran and the Bible to the test of traditional Hindu polemics. Before him, Brahmins from Tamil Nadu had asked a few pertinent questions to Christian missionaries. But the task before the duo was truly daunting. As Sita Ramji wrote to me in a personal letter: “My heart sinks when I think of the organizational, financial and political resources at the command of our adversaries. Voice of India is not even a drop in the ocean.”

Sita Ramji went about his lifework in the spirit of a true Karmayogi. Calculations of personal cost and benefit never mattered to him. His detachment (anasakti) afforded him tenacity, fearlessness and independence of judgment. He sat at the feet of great masters like Vyasa, Valmiki, the Buddha, Vivekananda and Aurobindo and recaptured a vision of India that was dazzling in its brilliance. This vision defined for him the mission of Voice of India.

National vision

As Sita Ramji himself pointed out, his vision of India is nothing new. It is only a restatement in modern language, in a modern setting, of the ancient Vedic vision as enshrined in the Vedas, in the Upanishads, in the Jainagama, in the Tripitaka, in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, in the Puranas, in the Dharmashastras and in the latter-day poetry of saints and siddhas. We have had countless spokesmen of that vision throughout our history.

The first dimension of that vision is that India is the land of Sanatana Dharma. India’s national identity is coterminous with Sanatana Dharma. As Sri Aurobindo said in his Uttarpara Speech, India would rise with the rise of Sanatana Dharma, India would sink if Sanatana Dharma sank and India would die if it were at all possible for Sanatana Dharma to die. The second dimension of that vision is that of a vast and variegated culture. According to adhara and adhikara, various sections of our population, various segments of our society, various regions of our country, developed their own culture, their own art, their own literature. It is a vast fabric, this art and literature. But its spirit is the spirit of Sanatana Dharma. It is informed by Sanatana Dharma in all its details.

The third dimension of that vision was that this great society, the society which we describe as Hindu Society today, was reared on the basis of spirituality and a great culture created by Sanatana Dharma. The Hindu social system, epitomized in the phrase varnashrama dharma, has degenerated under the onslaught of foreign invasions and is the subject of severe criticism today. It was originally, and it has been for centuries, a harmony model which enabled people of various abilities and inclinations to live together as an organic whole. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan pointed out, the varna vyavastha was founded on two ideals: firstly, society should be based on cooperation and accommodation, not competition and exclusion; secondly, the highest place in society should go to the men of learning and character, not to the men of wealth and power. As for ashrama dharma, the division of life into four stages of brahmacharya (period of celibacy and learning), garhasthya (period of householding), vanaprastha (period of retirement) and sannyasa (period of renunciation), indicates that this life is a pilgrimage to the eternal life through different stages. For all its weaknesses and distortions, varnashrama dharma has saved Hindu society from the destruction which overtook so many societies outside India at the hands of Christianity, Islam and Communism.

The fourth dimension of that national vision is that the history of India is the history of the Hindu society, of Hindu culture, of Hindu spirituality. In short, it is the history of the Hindu nation and not the history of foreign invaders as we are being taught today.

The last dimension which India’s great men have stressed, which they have affirmed again and again, is that this land of Bharatvarsha is one indivisible whole; that it is the cradle of Hindu society, of Hindu culture, of Hindu spirituality; that it is the homeland of the Hindu nation. Other communities are welcome to live in this land provided they come to terms with Hindu society and Hindu culture. Today, Bharatavarsha stands divided into several countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which are not only politically but also culturally hostile to each other; and we seem to have become reconciled to that division. But the vision that was given to us by our great men was that of Bharatvarsha as an indivisible whole, not only geographically but also culturally.

It was from this perspective that Sita Ramji judged ideologies like Islam, Christianity, Communism and their united front, which in India is called secularism, as well as Indian history and contemporary developments. Thus, about the demolition of the Babri Masjid, he wrote to me in a personal letter: “My only grievance is that the Hindus had to do it surreptitiously. I never thought that the Hindus would assert themselves or that the Communist empire would disintegrate. I have fought for both. I am fulfilled.”

One has only to look around to realize how far we have moved away from this pristine vision of India shining in its natural glory. We are taught that even today’s truncated India is a multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-many-other-things entity struggling to evolve some principle of unity that can hold together its disparate components; that it is a nation in the making, to use a phrase dear to the secularist elite. Indian history has been massively perverted. Stalinist activists masquerading as historians have thoroughly and systematically distorted and falsified every period of Indian history with the malicious intention of cleansing it of all Hindu influences, to negate every dimension of the national vision outlined above. The very idea of India is adulterated to suit the designs of invading ideologies.

Sita Ramji made it his lifework to defend this national vision of India as it has existed through millennia. He has set out the problem and its solution in the books Hindu Society Under Siege and Defence of Hindu Society. His books relating to Indian history (Story of Islamic Imperialism in India; Heroic Hindu Resistance to Muslim Invaders; and Muslim Separatism, Causes and Consequences) convincingly nail the secularist propaganda. In Perversion of India’s Political Parlance, he traced and exposed the secularist sleight of hand whereby Muslim communalism became respectable as “secularism” while Indian nationalism was reviled as “communalism”. When he handled the works of others, Sita Ramji brought out the depth, perspective and relevance of the original work in bold relief. His publication of The Calcutta Quran Petition, the Niyogi Committee Report on the Activities of Christian Missionaries, and, to some extent, Catholic Ashrams: Sannyasins or Swindlers? provides examples of this. His two major contributions, Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them (Vol. I & Vol. II) and History of Hindu-Christian Encounters are classics of original research and will stand the test of time.

Sita Ramji’s works (and VOI publications in general) are characterized by a depth and an intellectual honesty that are rare in secularist writings on Hindutva. The views and arguments of the other side are rendered faithfully and then answered cogently by setting out an alternative perspective backed by facts and reasoning. Ancient India had this tradition of scholarly debate. It is said of Shankara, the great philosopher, that he formulated the arguments of his opponents better than they themselves could. Indeed, these are elementary features of public debate in a civilized society, but Indian debate on issues like (what passes for) secularism, the cultural content of Indian nationalism, the nature of Indian society, the interpretation of Indian history and the role and direction of the Indian State leaves much to be desired on this count.

Much of Hindutva writing is characterized by whining and self-pity, dwelling on the atrocities and injustices heaped on Hindus by others. Sita Ramji carried the battle to the enemy camp, taking on the adversaries in a frontal attack. Instead of calling himself secular and others pseudo-secular, as the BJP is doing, he discussed secularism—of the Indian variety—threadbare and showed that it was far from being a noble idea. Instead of presenting Hinduism as a monotheistic religion, he showed that monotheism as extolled in the Abrahamic religions was a monstrous idea responsible for a great deal of strife and bloodshed in the name of God.

Critique of India’s secularism

Sita Ramji’s critique of what passes for secularism in India is epitomized in the title of his book India’s Secularism: New Name for National Subversion. Jawaharlal Nehru, who had not used the term in his pre-Independence writings or speeches, picked up a prestigious word from Western political parlance and made it mean the opposite of what it meant in the West. In the West, secularism stood for rationalism, universalism and humanism. In India, it is a united front of all anti-Hindu ideologies: Islam, Christianity and Communism. Each of these is an intolerant, aggressive and violent ideology. Each of them aims at conquest of the world by rooting out other religions. Each of them has a history soaked in the blood of the innocent. All over the world, they are enemies of one another; but in India, they are always found on the same side against their common enemy: Hinduism.

In the West, secularism was directed against Christianity, which spurned reason, suspected science, punished doubt and claimed absolute monopoly of truth in all matters, secular and spiritual. In India, secularism is ranged against Hinduism which respects reason and experience, which imposes no belief system but enjoins everyone to realize the spiritual truths in the cave of his heart through his own effort in his own way.

It is the ultimate irony of Indian politics that those who masterminded this subversion of the national psyche have positioned themselves as guardians of democracy and secularism in the country, and that votaries of authoritarian ideologies lecture the Hindus on the virtues of pluralism. And the Hindu society, which is the national society, which has borne the brunt of all foreign invasions and fought all freedom struggles, is driven into a corner and made to shout that it is secular, that it regards Islam and Christianity as noble religions, that it regards Islamic heroes as its own.

In pre-Independence days, the Muslim minority had a veto on what was national. Only that leader, that party, that programme was national which was approved by the Muslim leaders. The rest were, by definition, communal. In the post-Independence period, the same game is played in the name of secularism: only that leader, party, organization, or programme is secular which is approved by Muslim leaders. Whatever they disapprove of is, for that very reason, communal. Sita Ramji showed that this deliberate and malicious perversion of thought has thoroughly distorted the national perspective. Love for one’s country and its world-renowned ancient culture has been turned into a cardinal sin. Foreign invaders and tyrants have become lawful rulers while national heroes are downgraded as petty rebels fighting for personal gain. The catchword “secularism” provides a smokescreen behind which several types of imperialism (Islamic, Christian, Communist and Consumerist) are stealing a march over Hinduism.

Sitaramji urged Hindu intellectuals to see through this con game perpetrated on them by the residues of imperialist ideologies with the help of a self-alienated denationalized elite, and to counter it by conducting the public debate in the proper language. Such a language, he said, would substitute “Indian nationalism” for “Hindu communalism”; and “national subversion” for “secularism”; and “Islam” for “Muslim communalism” or “Islamic fundamentalism”.

Two traditions of worship

A major contribution of Sita Ramji and other VOI scholars, especially Ram Swarup and David Frawley, is a clear enunciation of two types of religious traditions. One may be called the Biblical or Abrahamic tradition and the other, Vedic or Indic tradition. The Bible-derived creeds are founded on a central figure—Jehovah, Allah, God or History—who commands the exclusive and overriding allegiance of the believers. He is jealous, cruel, and brooks no rival. He deals with his people through an intermediary, messenger, prophet, or the sole saviour. His teachings are contained in the Book. The Book is the sole repository of Ultimate Truth.

Thus in these creeds, there is only one Truth; there is only one way to it; the God has given it to us, the Chosen People, and us alone; it is contained in our Book and in our Book alone. Since the Book is authored by God himself, every word in it is true, excellent, immutable and binding. The Book, al-Kitab, is beyond the comprehension of most of even the believers, and certainly the non-believers. We must therefore heed the Church, the Priest.

The faith in the Book is the overriding duty, as is the duty of making others to see the light. Since this is the absolute Truth, since it alone can lead to Heaven or permanent bliss, mankind must be awakened to it for its own good at any cost in whatever way. No sacrifice is too great for holding on to it; no means are impermissible for converting others to it. The very idea of an absolute monopoly of ultimate truth contains within it the seeds of intolerance, aggression, strife and authoritarianism. It is a charter for killing, destruction and subversion with a clean conscience. There will always be more than one claimant to this monopoly while there are bound to be others who refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Church or the Party.

The Vedic tradition, on the other hand, is founded on very different premises. The starting point of this tradition is human consciousness, which can be explored, which can be purified progressively and which can be transcended till it attains the highest heights of knowledge and creativity. At this summit, the Self becomes one with the Universe and sees all things, animate and inanimate, as its own symbols and sequences. In this vast vision, sanctity attaches not only to human life but to the whole of creation. This is the summum bonum of spiritual humanism, which has always been India’s message to mankind.

The Vedic tradition teaches us that spiritual truths are not of the nature of a revelation received by a historical prophet from an extra-cosmic God or some other supernatural source. Nor are those truths contained in or confined to a Book. On the contrary, these truths lie secretly in every human heart and have always been accessible to those who seek for them. These truths are never in need of a crusade for their spread and propagation. On the contrary, these truths are self-propagating due to their own inner strength. The only defence they need is the dedication they inspire spontaneously in all those who invoke them.

Sita Ramji pointed out that the Vedic tradition advises people to be busy with themselves, that is, their own moral and spiritual improvement. Several disciplines have been evolved for this purpose: tapas (austerity), yoga (meditation), jnana (reflection), bhakti (devotion), etc. A seeker can take to whichever discipline (adhara) suits his adhikara (stage of moral-spiritual preparation). There is no uniform prescription for everybody, no coercion or allurement into a belief system, and no claim of merit for aggression against others.

The Biblical tradition, on the other hand, teaches people to be busy with others. One is supposed to have become a superior human being as soon as one confesses the “only true faith”. Thenceforward one stands qualified to “save” others. The only training one needs thereafter is how to man a mission or military expedition, how to convert others by all available means including force and fraud, and how to kill or ruin or blacken those who refuse to come around.

The Vedic tradition has given to the world schools of Sanatana Dharma, which have practised peace among their own followers as well as towards the followers of other paths. On the other hand, the Biblical tradition has spawned criminal cults such as Christianity, Islam, Communism and Nazism, which have always produced violent conflicts as much within their own camps as with one another and the rest of mankind. As Sita Ramji pointed out, the syrupy slogan of sarvadharma-samabhava glosses over the basic difference between these two traditions. This has caused an enormous amount of confusion.

Critique of Islam

The magnitude of crimes credited to Muslim monarchs by the medieval Muslim historians was beyond measure. In his book The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India, Sita Ramji has devoted two long chapters to the magnitude of the Muslim atrocities. He showed with the help of detailed documentation that with a few exceptions, Muslim kings and commanders were monsters who stopped at no crime when it came to their Hindu subjects. He showed that there was a broad pattern to those crimes. The pattern is that of a jihad in which the ghazis of Islam 1) invade infidel lands; 2) massacre as many infidel men, women, and children, particularly Brahmins, as they like after winning a victory; 3) capture the survivors to be sold as slaves; 4) plunder every place and person; 5) demolish idolatrous places of worship and build mosques in their places; and 6) defile idols which are flung into public squares or made into steps leading to mosques.

Hindus were long familiar with this “behaviour pattern patented by Islam”. Sita Ramji’s distinct contribution was to trace this behaviour pattern to the tenets of Islam. Apologists of Islam, from Mahatma Gandhi to Mohammad Habib, regarded the atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on Hindus as aberrations and deviations from true Islam; they attributed it to greed, political compulsions, inherent barbarism of certain tribes etc. Sita Ramji showed that far from being aberrations or deviations from the true faith of Islam, these atrocities were the logical outcome of the teachings of Islam. Far from being a slur on the fair name of Islam, the behaviour of Muslim rulers towards the Hindus was the true face of Islam, it is what Islam had in store for non-believers. He showed that this is exactly the pattern 1) revealed by Allah in the Quran; 2) practised, perfected and prescribed by the Prophet in his own life-time; 3) followed by the pious khalifas of Islam in the first 35 years of Islamic imperialism; 4) elaborated in the hadiths and hundreds of commentaries with meticulous attention to detail; 5) certified by the ulama and the sufis of Islam in all ages including our own; and 6) followed by all Muslim monarchs and chieftains who aspired for name and fame in this life, and houris and beardless boys hereafter. It is, therefore, poor apologetics to blame the Islamized Turks alone of being barbarous. Islamic barbarism was shared in equal measure by all races and communities who were forced or lured into the fold of Islam—the Arabs, the Turks, the Persians, the Pathans, the Hindu converts. The conclusion is inescapable that Islam brutalizes all those who embrace it. And that is where the blame should be laid in all reason and justice.

“Islam in India is still suffering from the high fever of self-righteousness, though lately it has shifted its claim from the ‘only true religion’ to the ‘only human brotherhood’. Powered by petro-dollars, it is again dreaming of an empire in India. Hindus, on the other hand, have learnt no lesson from history as is evident from their slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhava vis-à-vis Islam, which is only a totalitarian and terrorist ideology of imperialism. And now the Hindu secularists are bent upon perverting the historical record in order to prove that Islam never intended any harm to Hindus or Hinduism!” (Story of Islamic Imperialism, p. 87) And he added a warning: “Will Hindu society have to pay the price again? It is highly doubtful if Hindu society will survive another determined assault from Islam, such is the mental, moral and spiritual health of this society. A society which has no self-confidence, which suffers from self-pity, which indulges in breast-beating at the behest of every Hindu-baiter, and which stands in daily need of certificates of good conduct from its sworn enemies, has not the ghost of a chance in a world which is becoming deadlier with the passing of every day. Can such a society make any creative contribution to the greater good of mankind? Let every Hindu search his heart, and seek the answer.” (ibid.)

Critique of Christianity

Sita Ramji’s views on Christianity are equally clear and instructive. “Hindus, from early-seventeenth-century Pandits of Tamil Nadu to Arun Shourie in the closing years of the twentieth, have spent no end of ink and breath to demolish the dogma of Christianity and denounce missionary methods. But it has hardly made any difference to the arrogance of Christian theologians and aggressiveness of Christian missionaries. That is because the dogma was never meant for discussion. It is an axiom of logic that that which has not been proved cannot and need not be disproved. And who has ever proved that the nondescript Jew who is supposed to have been crucified by a Roman governor of Judaea in AD 33 atoned for the sins of all humans for all time to come? Who has ever proved that those who accept that man as the Only Saviour, will ascend to a heaven of everlasting bliss, and those who do not, will burn forever in the blazing fire of hell? Nor can the proclamation or the promise or the threat be disproved.

“High-sounding theological blah blah notwithstanding, the fact remains that the dogma is no more than a subterfuge for forging and wielding an organizational weapon for mounting unprovoked aggression against other people. It is high time for Hindus to dismiss the dogma of Christianity with the contempt it deserves, and pay attention to the Christian missionary apparatus planted in their midst.

“The sole aim of this apparatus is to ruin Hindu society and culture, and take over the Hindu homeland. It goes on devising strategies for every situation, favourable and unfavourable. It trains and employs a large number of intellectual criminals ready to prostitute their talents in the service of their paymasters, and adept at dressing up dark designs in high-sounding language. The fact that every design is advertised as a theology in the Indian context and every criminal euphemized as an Indian theologian, should not hoodwink Hindus about the real intentions of this gangster game.” (Pseudo-Secularism, Christian Missions and Hindu Resistance, pp. 1-2)

Sita Ramji said time and again that Hindu society was committing a blunder in regarding Christianity and Islam as religions at par with Sanatana Dharma. These are ideologies of power, masquerading as religions. They proceed from very different premises and have very different objectives: “Hindus are committing a grave mistake in regarding the encounter between Hinduism and Christianity as a dialogue between two religions. Christianity has never been a religion; its long history tells us that it has always been a predatory imperialism par excellence. The encounter, therefore, should be viewed as a battle between two totally opposed and mutually exclusive ways of thought and behaviour. In the language of the Gita (ch. 16), it is war between daivi (divine) and asuri (demonic) sampads (propensities). In the mundane context of history, it can also be described as war between the Vedic and the Biblical traditions.” (op. cit., p. 2)

Focus on ideas, not people

Notice that the focus is on the ideas, not on people; it is on Islam, not Muslims; on Christianity, not Christians. In his prolific writings, Sita Ramji always took care to distinguish between Islam and Muslims, between Christianity and Christians. At the end of his discussion of the two traditions of worship, he clarified that this analysis cannot be applied mechanically to all persons born and brought up in these two opposite traditions. The head and heart of a person can be smaller or larger than any thought pattern. Therefore, ordinary men born and brought up in both these patterns are found to be of good as well as bad behaviour.

This distinction between ideas and people marks out VOI from many other pro-Hindu organizations. Many Hindus sincerely believe that Islam is good, but Muslims are wicked; Christianity is good, but Christians are crooked. As a result, they are baffled by the behaviour pattern of Muslim leaders or missionaries and harbour prejudices against them. The VOI approach removes prejudices against people, while providing a proper basis for understanding their behaviour: “It has long been a Hindu habit to resent the behaviour pattern of Muslims and Christians, while praising Islam and Christianity as revealed religions. We are asking Hindus to reverse this process, to study Christianity and Islam to see for themselves that Christian and Muslim behaviour patterns follow from the belief system of Christianity and Islam.” (History of Hindu-Christian Encounters, pp. 453-454)

The whole approach to the communal problem is redefined. “Muslims are not to be hated”, Sita Ramji said to me, “they are our own people alienated from their ancestral society and culture by a divisive doctrine masquerading as religion”. So, target the ideas, not the people.

It also imparts a wider dimension to the noble endeavour of VOI. By speaking up for Hinduism as an ancient, pagan religion that has survived the onslaughts of monotheistic creeds, VOI is speaking up for pagan America and Africa, and also for the pagan past of Egypt, Iraq, Persia, Arabia, Greece, Rome and Europe in general. As Ram Swarup put it in the preface to his Hindu View of Christianity and Islam, “Today, there is an awakening in many parts of the world. Many people are coming to know what they have gone through and what they have lost. They have also begun to realize that their present religions are impositions on them, that they once belonged to a different spiritual culture which had a different orientation and was built on a deeper and wider base. As this realization becomes more acute, many of them are trying to break form their present confines and recover their lost identity. They are also seeking a more satisfying spirituality. Probably Hinduism can help them. It has survived many physical and ideological onslaughts and it still retains in its bosom layers of spiritual traditions, intuitions and knowledge which other nations have lost; it can therefore help these nations recover their lost religious roots and identity.”

Conclusion

Sita Ramji was a karmayogi whose personality was a lively synthesis of jnana (knowledge), karma (action) and bhakti (devotion). This brave son of Hindu society took up cudgels in its defence on a frontier that was left largely unmanned for ages. He showed the difference that an individual can make with dedicated efforts. In any history of the Hindu renaissance, the contribution of Sita Ram Goel and Voice of India will be acknowledged in golden letters.

» Virendra Parekh is a senior journalist based in Mumbai. He writes in English and Gujarati on issues and developments related to Indian nationalism, economy and politics.

Sita Ram Goel - THIE - 17-10-16 - Chennai

In defence of Indian science – Michel Danino

Brahmagupta

Prof Michel DaninoLet me clarify that I have not attempted to prove that India “invented the zero,” as is often and wrongly stated. The Mesopotamians, the Mayans and the Chinese all had some concept of a zero, mostly as a place-holder—just as it was used in India before the place-value system spread across the subcontinent. India’s unique contribution … was to integrate the zero in a positional system, in a way that zero now became a mathematical operator. – Prof Michel Danino

Studies of India’s ancient scientific accomplishments have seen two extremes: At one end of the spectrum, daydreamers fancy that the Vedas knew everything from electricity to interplanetary travel, that vimānas crisscrossed Indian skies millenniums ago, or that Aryabhata invented all mathematics. At the other end, gainsayers bristle at the thought that some science might not have emerged from the “Greek miracle”: Indian scientific advances can only be borrowed or derivative, its imperfections and errors alone being original contributions, while its rational elements ultimately stem from contact with the Greeks; Indian savants knew no experimental science, followed no proper axiomatic method, and in any case ended up in stagnation, while Europe galloped forth triumphantly and gave us the boon of “modern science”.

With minor variations and boring predictability, the two scenarios are repeated decade after decade, while serious scholars—both Indian and Western—quietly and patiently generate solid material which, in a normal (rational?) world, should suffice to dismiss dreamers and gainsayers alike to the obscurity they deserve. Indeed, ridiculing the former is easy, and occasionally needs to be done. Exposing the latter, however, is less commonly done, as they often conceal their biases or ignorance behind academic posts and imposing jargon.

A recent case in point is Meera Nanda, who has been for some years on a self-appointed mission to expose all claims to knowledge by (let us lump them together, as she does) Hindu enthusiasts, nationalists, right-wingers or Hindutva activists. Her latest contribution, “Hindutva’s science envy” (Frontline, August 31), blames in a vast sweep “the current crop of Hindu nationalists and their intellectual enablers” for being the progeny of thinkers like “Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya, Vivekananda, Dayananda Saraswati, Annie Besant (and fellow Theosophists), Sarvepalli Radhakrishanan, M. S. Golwalkar and countless other gurus, philosophers and propagandists”—doubtless a most despicable crowd!

I will not deal with Nanda’s personal attacks on past and present figures, but will confine myself to discussing the considerable distortions in her two case studies of Indian mathematics: the case for early Indian knowledge of the Pythagoras theorem, and India’s claim to be “the birthplace of the sunya, or zero.”

The Pythagoras Theorem

Nanda attacks the view that Baudhāyana’s Shulbasūtras, a text of geometry for the construction of fire altars, which she dates “anywhere between 800 and 200 BCE,” knew the Pythagoras theorem (on right-angled triangles) before the Greek savant himself. Thus, Nanda informs us, Pythagoras “comes in for a lot of abuse in India.” But this view is not that of hot-headed enthusiasts; it was stated as early as in 1822 by the British astronomer John Playfair (“On the Astronomy of the Brahmins”): “It is curious to find the theorem of Pythagoras in India, where, for aught we know, it may have been discovered.” The eminent historian of Indian mathematics Bibhutibhushan Datta (in his Ancient Hindu Geometry of 1932) showed that knowledge of the “theorem” was actually traceable to the much earlier Taittirīya Samhitā (also known as Krishna Yajurveda) and Shatapatha Brāhmana, the first of which dates back to 1000 BCE at the least. In his landmark 1960 paper on “The Ritual Origin of Geometry”, the U.S. mathematician and historian of mathematics A. Seidenberg independently reached similar conclusions: “The Pythagoras theorem … was known and applied at the time of the Taittiriya Samhita.” Playfair, Datta or Seidenberg were not members of the Sangh Parivar, to my knowledge; neither can they be blamed for “abusing” Pythagoras.

Nanda proceeds to ridicule the thesis that the Greek savant might have come to India to learn geometry “from Hindu gurus,” unaware that the said thesis emerged not from one of her bêtes noires, but from a few minor neo-Platonic Greek texts picked up and amplified by Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire, the French astronomer Jean-Sylvain Bailly (in 1777) or the British Edward Strachey (1813).

Nanda then points out that the Mesopotamians knew the theorem about 1800 BCE, which “blows holes through much of the case for Baudhayana’s priority.” Strictly speaking, all that the Mesopotamian tablets in question show is an acquaintance with certain sets of Pythagorean triplets; this may or may not imply knowledge of the theorem in its general form (as given in the Shulbasūtras). Even if conceding that the Mesopotamians did know that general form, as is likely, does this badly puncture the Indian text’s “priority”? Not necessarily, since the Shulbasūtras enshrine a geometrical tradition much older than the texts themselves, as Datta and Seidenberg demonstrated. How much older is a matter of speculation in the absence of clinching evidence.

But why should “priority” matter so much, after all? Nanda does not cite a single serious scholar, not even a “nationalist” one, who worries about it. Historians of mathematics rightly prefer to concentrate on understanding how each geometrical tradition—Mesopotamian, Greek, Indian or Chinese—approached and applied the theorem, or whether (as Seidenberg concluded) the first three traditions had a common origin.

Pythagoras in China

Nanda then informs us—and this is supposed to be very damaging—that the first “proof” of the Pythagoras theorem is found not in the Shulbasūtras but in a Chinese text of unknown authorship, Chou Pei Suan Ching, “dated anywhere from 1100 to 600 BCE.” In current spelling, this is the Zhou Bi Suan Jing (“Mathematical Classic of the Zhou Gnomon”), which was “most probably compiled no later than the first century BCE,” according to Joseph W. Dauben, a distinguished historian of science and expert on Chinese mathematics (I borrow his translation of the work’s title). Christopher Cullen, another respected expert, agrees that the text “was probably assembled under the Western Han dynasty during the first century BC.” In fact, Joseph Needham, the noted pioneer of history of Chinese science, one of Nanda’s only two references in this whole issue, mocks those who “would cheerfully put the Chou Pei 1000 years too early” and accepts a date in the Han dynasty, that is, between 206 BCE and 220 CE.

This brings in an interesting aside: Nanda, as we saw, was willing to stretch Baudhāyana’s date to 200 BCE, while most scholars have him earlier than 500 BCE (even to “800–600 BCE,” to quote the U.S. historian of Indian mathematics Kim Plofker); in contrast, Nanda curiously ages the Chinese text by at least five centuries, taking it before 600 BCE—a neat somersault to suggest Chinese “priority” over the Indian text! (Of course, as pointed out by Needham and others, the Zhou Bi Suan Jing integrates older material and practices, but so do the Shulbasūtras.)

Such double standards apply to her statement that the first Indian proof, by Bhāskarāchārya in the 12th century CE, is “an ‘exact reproduction’ of the Chinese” one. This, she claims, was stated by Needham “and many others” (whom we shall not know). Actually, Bhāskara in his Bījaganita mentions two proofs which he attributes to tradition (and therefore of uncertain but older dates). One is rāshigata (arithmetical); the second, kshetragata (based on geometric algebra), does bear some likeness to the Chinese proof—but equally to the Shulbasūtra-type of constructions.

The evidence, again, is not clinching: Nanda fails to realize that likeness alone is no proof of borrowing—neither from India to China (as she blames unnamed “Indocentric historians” for always assuming) nor from China to India, as she herself favours. The methodology serious scholars follow is to note similarities and chronologies, whenever unambiguous, but to refrain from conclusions until an actual chain of transmission can be objectively established.

Finally, why should Nanda ridicule the “longstanding demand of Hinducentric historians that the theorem should be renamed ‘Baudhayana theorem’ ”? Note, once again, that she does not cite a single such historian or source to that effect; even assuming such a demand has been made, it is by no means without justification, since Baudhāyana is undeniably one of the early mathematicians to formulate the theorem (which in Greece was not formulated, let us recall, until 300 BCE by Euclid). However, let us recall that mathematicians have renamed series discovered in Europe by Newton, Leibniz or Gregory as “Mādhava–Newton,” “Mādhava–Leibniz” and “Mādhava–Leibniz–Gregory” series—after Mādhava, the fourteenth-century founder of the famous Kerala School of mathematics and astronomy, who discovered the said series long before European mathematicians. Similarly, a better term for the Pythagoras theorem would have to be “Baudhāyana–Zhou Bi–Pythagoras theorem” (in whatever order). It is far too unwieldy ever to be adopted, yet would be accurate, historically justified, and certainly no insult to Pythagoras, who made a profound impact on Greek and later Western thought without leaving behind a single written work.

The Zero and the Decimal Place-Value System

Meera Nanda moves on to the notion that “Bharat gave zero to the world,” which she calls “the sacred cow of Hindu sciences.” Her all-too-predictable line is that China is the likeliest source for both the concept of zero and the positional decimal system of numeral notation. That system—the one the whole world uses today—is technically called “decimal place-value system of numeral notation,” since the value of a numeral depends on its place: 261 is not the same as 621 (whereas the value of XXIII, 23 in Roman numbers, does not change if the two Xs are switched: it is not a positional system).

Nanda cites Needham (who wrote on Chinese mathematics in 1959) and a more recent scholar, Lam Lay Yong, to suggest the “possibility of the South-East Asian transmission of zero from China.” She complains that Lam’s “rigorously argued and evidence-backed thesis” has met with a “deafening silence” in India. What are the “rigorous arguments,” then?

First, “the absence of place value in Indian numerals until around the sixth century of the Common Era, and secondly, [the fact] that the first physical evidence of zero comes not from India but from Cambodia [in 683 CE] and other South-East Asian countries that lie between India and China.” Nanda combines the second point with Needham’s and Lam’s thesis to argue that the mathematical zero is traceable to China, not India.

There is nothing wrong in giving credit where credit is due, and ancient Chinese civilization did witness brilliant advances in mathematics and other sciences, not to speak of technologies, often far ahead of the rest of the world. As it happens, however, Nanda’s two arguments can only be maintained by sweeping under the (Chinese silk) carpet a mountain of evidence. Needham could be excused for advancing them six decades ago (far more tentatively and detachedly than does Nanda), but fresh material has come to light since his pioneering research, all of which Nanda ignores. The work of epigraphists and historians of science, both Indian and non-Indian, all of it equally “rigorously argued and evidence-backed,” now permits a definite answer.

As a complete survey of the evidence would easily fill a thick tome (the French historian of mathematics, George Ifrah, devotes over 200 pages of his monumental Universal History of Numbers to the Indian systems and the zero), I will restrict myself to a few instances (and can supply references on request). Let us begin with three inscriptions deciphered by D. C. Sircar, from all accounts the greatest post-Independence authority on Indian epigraphy:

The Mankuwar Buddha image stone inscription of 428 CE includes a “small globular symbol” representing zero. This is not a positional context, however: zero here acts as a mere place-holder.

The Dabok stone inscription (near Udaipur, Rajasthan) bears the date of “701” (in the Vikrama Samvat era, that is, 644 CE, again not in a true positional fashion, but with a symbol for 700 followed by a dot (zero as a place-holder) and 1.

The Khandela stone inscription of Rajasthan gives its date as “201”, now in the proper positional system, and with a small circle for the zero. Sircar applied the date to the Harsha era, which yielded 807 CE.

The Mankuwar and Dabok inscriptions, both of which antedate the Cambodian inscription of 683 CE, are conclusive epigraphic evidence for an early use of the symbol for zero in India (initially in non-positional systems). Even the common notion, relayed by Nanda, that the zero in a positional context is first depicted in India in the Gwalior inscription of 876 CE is belied by the Khandela inscription.

Besides, the famous Bakhshāli manuscript, a mathematical work dated to the 7th century CE by the Japanese scholar Takao Hayashi, author of the most thorough study on it (of course, others have proposed older as well as more recent dates), manipulates numbers in the decimal place-value system, with the zero represented as a dot.

In fact, many more inscriptions bearing a symbol for the zero (always a bindu or small circle) predate the Cambodian one. I have not listed them as they are on copper plates, and according to Nanda, “many of [the copper land-grant plates] have been later proven to be fake.” The trick of declaring “many” (how many?) copper-plate inscriptions “fake” has long been resorted to whenever their dates proved inconvenient to the prevailing theories—but the said “fakeness” is almost never “proven”; it is no more than a matter of opinion. That is what happened to the well-known copper-plate inscription of Sankheda (Bharuch), which records its date as “346” in a local era, equivalent to 596 CE. Its authenticity was questioned but, as Bibhutibhushan Datta (with A. N. Singh) and Ifrah independently explained at length, without valid ground. In any case, stone inscriptions such as the above cannot be faked.

Ifrah’s conclusion as regards the epigraphic evidence is categorical: “There exist very numerous records [other than the Sankheda inscription] of perfect authenticity which prove beyond dispute that the zero and the positional decimal numeral system are definitely—and solely—of Indian origin, and that its discovery goes back to a far more ancient period than the oldest known inscription on a copper plate.”

Are Inscriptions the Only Evidence?

The strongest evidence is however not of epigraphic nature. Consider:

The system of computation found in Pingala’s Chhandasūtra (variously dated between 400 and 200 BCE), a set of rules on Sanskrit prosody, used a binary system to classify all possible metres (no numerals are involved, let us note, only Sanskrit letters and syllables). In the course of the calculations, which demand a place-value notation, Pingala refers to the symbol for shūnya or zero, which, as the historian of science S. R. Sarma demonstrated, had to be an integral part of the system. This does seem to be its conceptual origin, after which it took a whole millennium to be worked out with numerals and to spread across the subcontinent, and beyond.

The Buddhist philosopher Vasumitra (1st century CE) wrote, “When [the same] clay counting-piece is in the place of units, it is denoted as one, when in hundreds, one hundred, when in thousands, a thousand,” which is plainly a positional system of counting. A few Jain savants between 100 BCE and 100 CE have been credited with similar statements, but more research is required to bring out their contributions. Vyāsabhāshya, before 400 CE, made a statement similar to Vasumitra’s: “The same stroke [i.e., numeral 1] denotes 100 in the hundreds place, 10 in tens place and 1 in units place.”

Sphujidhvaja’s Yavana Jātaka, an adaptation of a Greek work on astrology, gives its own date in a system called bhūta-samkhyā which is strictly equivalent to the decimal positional system; the date is 191 of the Shaka era, that is, 269 CE. Concludes Kim Plofker, “Evidently, then, positional decimal numerals were a familiar concept at least by the middle of the third century, at least to the audience for astronomical and astrological texts.”

Lokavibhāga, a Jain text of 458 CE, explicitly uses (with words rather than numerals) the modern place-value system along with zero.

Āryabhata, who wrote his celebrated Āryabhatīya about 500 CE, spelt out a number of rules for mathematical and astronomical applications. Although he created his own semi-positional system of numeral notation based on Sanskrit syllables, that system will not work for the algorithms he formulated for the extraction of square and cube roots instance, among other procedures: only the full-fledged place-value system with zero, as we know it today, will work with such algorithms. This was briefly noted two decades ago by the current Indian doyen of historians of science, R. C. Gupta, then was amplified by Ifrah, who offered a rigorous mathematical proof of this, which anyone familiar with school-level maths can follow. This is irrefutable evidence that the modern system was well known to the Indian scientific community in the 5th century CE.

Subandhu, in his Vāsavadattā of the 6th or 7th century CE (but dated two or three centuries earlier), compared stars to shūnya bindus, that is, “zero dots”.

Finally, in 662 CE, the Syrian bishop Severus Sebokht wrote about “the science of the Indians … their subtle discoveries in astronomy, discoveries that are more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the Babylonians, and their valuable methods of calculation which surpass description … done by means of nine signs.” This is a clear reference to the place-value system, which will not permit “valuable methods of calculation” without the integration of zero. Why should a Christian bishop go out of his way to acknowledge the scientific advances of “Pagans” if there was not good ground to do so? Let us note the date, 221 years before the Cambodia inscription.

I wonder why Nanda is “deafeningly silent” about such incontrovertible evidence, some of which was discussed as early as in 1929 by the U.S. Sanskritist W. E. Clark. Even the highly conservative historian of Indian astronomy David Pingree conceded that “there is evidence in Buddhist and Jaina texts of uncertain date, but near the beginning of the Common Era, that a decimal place-value system was in use, but there is no certain evidence that a symbol for zero was in place before the fifth century A.D.” As we saw, the second part of his statement can arguably be pushed back by two or three centuries, but it is good enough for our present purpose.

From India to China?

Desperate to somehow connect the issue to Hindutva propaganda (apparently Sangh Parivar hotheads discuss the “sacred cow” of the numeral system everyday at breakfast), Meera Nanda makes it appear as a recent one. In reality, the debate of the origins of the place-value numeral system and the zero goes back well over a century and initially was conducted wholly among Western scholars. Leaving aside Alexander Wylie, who wrote in 1897, let me come to the British scholar G. R. Kaye, author of studies on Indian mathematics and astronomy and a strong proponent of the colonial prejudices that Indians could have created no science of their own: it had to be always derivative, borrowed the Greeks, the Persians or the Chinese. As a result he declared all early Indian inscriptions to be “fakes” and insisted that the place-value system originated in Southeast Asia under Chinese influence and travelled thence to India—a thesis he first formulated in 1907, and which is almost verbatim Nanda’s. A couple of decades later, the French scholar George Coedès, revered as the “unchallenged dean of Southeast Asian classical scholarship” and author of numerous volumes of inscriptions from all “Hinduized states of Southeast Asia,” as he called them, gently rebuked Kaye for his “strange opinion” and plainly favoured an Indian origin.

In fact, according to Needham himself, “The circular symbol for zero is first found in print in the Su Shu Chiu Chang of Chhin Chiu-Shao (+1247), but many have believed that it was in use already during the preceding century at least.” Thus the Chinese depiction of the zero is not only centuries later than the Indian inscriptions we saw above; it is also some 500 years more recent than the Cambodia inscription Nanda makes so much of: if the latter is evidence of Chinese influence, as she argues, why do we not have much earlier depictions of the zero in China itself?

And while Nanda is so sensitive to unnamed “Hinducentric historians,” she ought to know that Chinese scholars are far more nationalistic as a rule than their Indian counterparts. This is the case of Lam Lay Yong cited by Nanda; Lam’s theory of the Chinese origin of the place-value system is neither “rigorous” nor “evidence-based,” as she completely ignores the Indian evidence (as a glance at the bibliography of the revised 2004 edition of her Fleeting Footsteps: Tracing the Conception of Arithmetic and Algebra in Ancient China, co-authored with Ang Tian Se, will show). Lam is no doubt a sound scholar of early Chinese mathematics, but she is ill-qualified for crosscultural studies, which is why her thesis, first propounded over 30 years ago, has met with no growing acceptance, despite to Nanda’s assertion to the contrary.

Indeed, in a review of their book, the noted Sinologist Jean-Claude Martzloff was critical of Lam’s and Ang’s approach as regards India: referring to the early Tang dynasty or 7th century CE as “a period of intense contacts between China and India (where the concept of zero in its written form was already developed),” Martzloff pointed out that “Chinese translations of Indian mathematical and astronomical texts were made at this time and one of these, dated 712 AD, mentions precisely an Indian written zero in the form of a small dot. This aspect of the question is well documented, and certain of these translations have even survived. Still more significantly, the representation of numbers in Chinese Buddhist literature is often borrowed from Indian culture, especially in the form of phonetical transliterations of Sanskrit words into Chinese. Conversely, as far as I know, Chinese mathematical terms have never been detected in Indian or Islamic technical literature. Unfortunately, these aspects of the problem are passed over in silence in Fleeting Footsteps.”

That is the crux of the whole issue: while no positive evidence of Chinese transmission to India exists as far as the number system is concerned, there is plenty in the opposite direction, as many scholars have documented. But even a brief survey of India’s contributions to Chinese mathematics would require another longish article, and it is now time to rest my case.

Concluding Thoughts

First, let me clarify that I have not attempted to prove that India “invented the zero,” as is often and wrongly stated. The Mesopotamians, the Mayans and the Chinese all had some concept of a zero, mostly as a place-holder (just as it was used in India before the place-value system spread across the subcontinent). India’s unique contribution, as explained by Ifrah with meticulous care, was to integrate the zero in a positional system, in a way that zero now became a mathematical operator. Again, let us give credit where credit is due.

Secondly, there is no need to be obsessed with “priority,” unless clear evidence is available, much less with supposed “superiority”. There is also nothing wrong in discussing the occasional errors of Indian savants (Āryabhata, for instance, gives wrong formulas for the volume of the pyramid and the sphere; his diameters for the planets and the sun are also far too small). Indian mathematics rests on many well-documented breakthroughs from the Shulbasūtras to the Kerala School, especially in geometry, algebra and calculus; that is more than sufficient. Indian students, if those breakthroughs were not inexplicably concealed from them, would have a better and more intelligent appreciation of their country’s intellectual history.

Meera Nanda, clearly, wants none of this to happen. She is no doubt entitled to her opinions, neo-colonial prejudices and even pet hates, but disregarding or concealing all material that runs counter to one’s choices is poor scholarship. Worse, misleading the lay public into believing that the genuine accomplishments of early and classical Indian mathematics and astronomy are no more than Hindutva-created fictions reflects a jaundiced view of the whole field which not even the most contemptuous colonial scholar would have dreamt of. The mind boggles, and I wonder what Nanda’s next targets will be. I wish her well in her explorations, but hope she will first study basic research methodology, without which no scholarly work can endure. – The New Indian Express, 13-14 October 2016

Note

Except for long vowels, I have made no attempt to use standard diacritics for Sanskrit words, opting instead for spellings closer to their actual pronunciation. “BCE” and “CE” stand for “Before Common Era” (or BC) and “Common Era” (AD). I am thankful to Dr. M. D. Srinivas for a few inputs on Bhāskarāchārya’s treatment of the so-called Pythagoras theorem and on Lam Lay Yong’s work.

Prof Michel Danino’s main interests lie in Indian protohistory and the history of Indian science and technology; he has also authored a few papers and educational modules on the latter. He teaches at IIT Gandhinagar and is a member of ICHR. Email: micheldanino@gmail.com.

Bakhshali Numerals