Ram Swarup: The greatest Hindu thinker since Sri Aurobindo – Aravindan Neelakandan

Ram Swarup

Aravindan NeelakandanWhether it is Dharmic darshanas, global Pagan revival, study of Western philosophies and theologies from Hindu perspective, study of language from Hindu framework or, resistance to monopolistic ideologies—Ram Swarup has gifted every aspiring Hindu with vision, values and tools for his or her search . – Aravindan Neelakandan

The globalised environment today has created both challenges and opportunities for local, natural cultures. Among such natural cultures and spiritual traditions, Hindu Dharma represents the largest and the longest-continuing traditions. In fact, Hindus are the last standing nation of such a natural culture and spirituality.

With predatory and monopolistic forces threatening such a theo-diversity-laden ecosystem as Hindu Dharma and society, how should Hindus respond?

How do Hindus interact with other cultures and be a blessing to humanity while being rooted in their traditions, and without insulating themselves?

The answer may well lie with the works of Ram Swarup, who should be considered and can be considered as the greatest Hindu thinker and seer after Sri Aurobindo.

In many ways, he carried forward the thinking and vision of both Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda into the future, meeting head-on the challenges of the present and showing the thinking Hindu the opportunities embedded in every challenge.

For many millennial Hindutvaites, Ram Swarup would be known as the mentor of Sita Ram Goel.

The duo was like Sri Krishna and Arjuna in the dharma kshetra of life and rashtra.

Just as Sri Krishna is far more than the charioteer of Arjuna and Gitacharya, though that is a core dimension of the avatar, Ram Swarup was the mentor and guide of Sita Ram Goel and the sattvic energy behind Voice of India, but he was also much more than that.

And it will benefit the Hindu society to go through these other dimensions of Sri Ram Swarup as his centennial celebrations commence this year. And with the Ram Swarup foundation, we will also understand and utilise the work of Sita Ram Goel better.

In 1981, through Voice of India, he published The Word as Revelation: Names of Gods.

By any reckoning, this work should be considered a milestone in both study of religions and the study of languages.

Here, Ram Swarup takes linguistics to a different plane entirely. The magnificent view that Ram Swarup shows here is not partisan to any sectarian group of humanity.

Though he has limited his study to what he calls the “Indo-European” languages, he points out that “if speech and meaning are deeply human phenomena and if they follow deeply-laid patterns of the mind and heart, then they must share certain common characteristics, however differently clothed, and certain truths must hold good for them all”.

Going through this book, one is immersed into the beauty of words and their meaning—where the perspective is deeply Hindu, and the phenomenon studied is universal.

The book has two parts. In Part I, he explores how words are formed and what creates the relation between a word and its meaning.

He states:

“The process of naming is complicated and deeply psychological. It operates at subconscious level. Different elements that go into making of a name—the referent, the sound, the meaning—all tend to coalesce in the mind so much so that it is difficult to separate them from one another. … The process of naming may also be too much forced or fanciful; it may not be keeping with the deeper wisdom of the mind.”

What Ram Swarup talks about is an important aspect which educationists who are working to provide science and technical education in mother languages should pay attention to.

For example, in Tamil Nadu, the Dravidianists have only one purpose in their attempt to create Tamil terms for science and technology; it is not taking the concepts to the child but to remove Sanskrit from the words they coin. But still, they must use the term “kanakku” for mathematics which in turn is derived from Sanskrit gana and ganitham.

Similarly, “botany” is “thavaraviyal”, which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit sthavara.

Our tradition, from poet Kalidasa to sage Kumaragurupara, has handed over the relation between the word and the meaning as Shakti and Shiva and pure consciousness as the substratum from which the word and the meaning arise.

Sri Ramana Maharishi takes this further and hints at a roadmap for preserving linguistic diversity through this common spiritual matrix. In his famous Aksharamanamalaihe speaks of the non-dual union as the union of azhaku and sundaram—both being Tamil and Sanskrit terms for the same aspect: beauty.

In Part II of the book, Ram Swarup studies the names of gods. Here, he shows how humanity reaches its greatest linguistic possibilities in arriving at the names of the divine. Language, through the names of the divine, becomes a tool to elevate human consciousness to reach more “profound heights”.

The way Ram Swarup harmonises the spiritual elements in various traditions of the world is very important for every Hindu. He has provided a solid foundation for engaging in a proper dialogue with mutual respect for non-Hindu religions.

In discussing the names of the Vedic gods, he points out that all gods have multiple names and the knowledge of these multiple names is an important and holy knowledge.

Then he says:

“In all spiritual traditions, there is something analogous to it. The God of the Jews has many names. … But according to Jewish mysticism, God has also a secret name which should not even be uttered. Therefore, the Jews simply called it ‘the Great Name’ or ‘the Great Precious Name’ or just ‘the Name’. … Islam too admits of God’s Names though it denies His Forms. But the admission receives a certain narrowing at the hands of the more orthodox and faithful. … Socrates presents this idea in the language of understanding. He proclaims the awe, mystery and unknowability of Gods and their names but also tells us how these are ultimately names of man’s own intentions and meanings. … According to Hindu thought too, the names of Gods are not names of external beings. These are names of the truths of man’s highest Self.”

One can see how softly but sharply Ram Swarup creates a Hindu framework for the study of monopolistic religions—preserving whatever spiritual components they have and pointing out where the sublime truth is lost to rigidity inevitable to monopolistic theology.

His critique of the emergence of monopolistic rigidity traces to Paul who represented “a passionate attachment to a fixed idea which is closed to wider viewpoints and larger truths of life”.

To him, this was more an ideology than a spiritual idea. From the very early days to the present, this had worked in aid of imperialism. If rigidity and closing minds to larger truths of existence plague monotheism “polytheism too is subject to the despiritualizing influence of externalizing mind”.

As against these two, he points out that the Vedic approach “gives unity without sacrificing diversity … a deeper unity and deeper diversity beyond the power of ordinary monotheism and polytheism”.

Ram Swarup writes:

“God transcends every one of His Names; He also lives fully and indivisibly in each one of them. In one Name we should be able to see all the Names; in one God, we must be able to see all the Gods; otherwise, our knowledge of a God and His Names is not sufficient. We must also be able to see that a God exceeds all his Forms and Names, individually and collectively. The heart of a God is an enigma.”

Here is an interesting self-experiment for the inquisitive reader.

After reading the chapters on the names of gods in The Word as Revelation, one should read the science fiction short story The Nine Billion Names of God (1953) by Arthur C Clarke.

It will be rewarding to see how Ram Swarup’s framework transforms the way the short story gets internalised.

Another must read is On Hinduism: Reviews and Reflections (2000). Published posthumously, the book has eight long essays and contains his very early writing on Hinduism.

Here is an example of the alertness and conceptual clarity of Ram Swarup. One of the essays is “Buddhism vis-a-vis Hinduism“, originally published in July 1958.

Impressed by this essay, Rajaji wrote the following in Swarajya (21 May 1966):

“I read with great interest Sri Ram Swarup’s scholarly paper on the intimate connection, amounting almost to identity, between the Buddhistic philosophy and the Vedanta of the Upanishads. Hindu conformism sensed the danger lurking in a close identity with a school of thought which may well be misunderstood to be denial of God and soul. … Sri Ram Swarup’s paper explains how Hinduism saved itself from the dangers of its own philosophical dialectics through the cult of Bhakti and surrender. …”

Ram Swarup responded to this much later in a detailed footnote when he was updating the essay for a new reprint.

He wrote:

“[Rajaji] was a sage and a great spokesman of Hinduism. His views command our greatest respect. But I beg to make one clarification. Sri Rajagopalacharya agrees that there was a great affinity between the Vedanta and the Buddhist philosophy, but according to him Hinduism saw in it a danger at being misunderstood and identified with a school which denied God and soul; and it met the danger by developing the school of Bhakti and surrender. I believe Hinduism sensed no such danger and it did not panic into Bhakti and surrender because of any such danger. The fact is Bhakti and surrender even as a ‘school’ are older than Buddhism. … At no point there was any intention of keeping Buddhism ‘out of pale’. … [Hindus] protected Buddhism and defended it when it was threatened; they gave refugee to Buddhists when they were persecuted in Persia, Khurasan, Iraq, Mosul by king Gushtap and his descendants—in the same manner they are doing it at present to Buddhist Chakmas fleeing from persecution in Bangladesh.”

The importance of this response cannot be overstated. The idea that Bhakti movement was a reactionary movement against Buddhism and Jainism is one of the cornerstones of colonial and Marxist indology. It had been internalised by almost all scholars of Hinduism of that time. This continues to this day.

Well-meaning Hindu scholars too fell into this trap and spoke of Bhakti as a response to either Buddhist-Jain movements or Islamist invasion and persecution.

While Bhakti did allow a strong resistance movement against Islamist invasion, that was not its origin or motive. Nor did Bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu or elsewhere emerge as a strategy or response to counter Buddhism.

Ram Swarup stands for eternity as the pioneering Hindu scholar, whose deeply penetrating Hindu insight identified this fallacy and cautioned students of Hindu Dharma against this.

Every aspiring young Hindu intellectual should also read his essay “Development in Huxley’s Thought: Hindu-Buddhist influences“, which is also in this collection.

This essay, running to almost 40 pages, is an excellent guide for anyone who wants to study Hindu influence on the Western philosophical traditions, particularly in modern times.

Here is Ram Swarup’s analysis of Aldous Huxley’s critique of Christian art.

“Despite non-representative Christian mystics like Eckhart, Tauler and Ruysbroeck, the profound inner mystic landscape and its elements could not find their expression in Christian art. Huxley observes that there is nowhere ‘equivalents of those Far Eastern Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who incarnate, in stone and print, the experience of ultimate reality.’”

Ram Swarup, pointing out that Huxley stops here and does not get into the deeper cause, analyses further:

“Christian artists were talented and innovative; they performed all the tasks set for them by their religion and fulfilled all its needs for what they were worth. … Similarly, they discovered important techniques like perspective and foreshortening by which they could portray the third dimension and render horizons and depth in space. … The fact is that Christian art failed at a deeper level. It failed not in execution but in conception and vision and this failure was at bottom failure of Christian theology in which mysticism is rudimentary and peripheral. … A deeper iconography needed the support of a deeper theology and vision. This explains why Christian art has no equivalents of Far Eastern Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as Huxley notices.”

Another important work of his which too was published posthumously is Meditations Yogas, Gods, Religions.

In the essay, “Gods, God, Unity, Unit” which deals with the origin of Hindutva, some striking parallels between what Ram Swarup puts forth and the way some pioneering neuro-psychological studies look at the evolution of religions, have been shown.

Ram Swarup proves to possess a perspective which, in hindsight, was more scientific and holistic than that of the Western psychologists.

Whether it is Dharmic darshanas, global Pagan revival, study of Western philosophies and theologies from Hindu perspective, study of language from Hindu framework, literary criticism, resistance to monopolistic ideologies, Dharmic ecology—Ram Swarup has gifted every aspiring Hindu with vision, values and tools for his or her search.

It is amazing that a person could do all these in one life.

There was no Internet then. He neither sought nor had any cult following as many have and seek now. He worked in solitude, his writing was his sadhana, his tapas, his yajna—the fruits of which shall always be there for generations of seekers.

Thus, among us lived a rishi. And he was born a hundred years ago. – Swarajya, 14 October 2020

Aravindan Neelakandan is an author, psychology and economics major, and contributing editor at Swarajya.

Ram Swarup's Books


Founding a Hindu Rashtra, not just a temple – Virendra Parekh

The bhoomi poojan is an occasion for all of us to invoke Ram to be our unifier and liberator. Let Ram, who united the royalty and laity of his kingdom with tribals in forests and mountains in distant lands, bring together estranged brothers in his homeland. Let Ram, who liberated Sita from the bondage of Ravan, liberate us from the bondage of the past and lead us to Ramarajya. – Virendra Parekh

The bhoomi poojan of Ram temple in Ayodhya is a major landmark on India’s journey towards the Hindu Rashtra. We are indeed blessed to witness this historic moment. To grasp its true significance, one has to view it in a perspective of centuries. The last millennium, which opened with wanton destruction of Hindu temples by Islamic invaders, ended with a powerful popular movement to restore the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya. The current one opens with the foundation laying ceremony of that grand temple. No wonder the country is celebrating it as a grand festival of civilisational reaffirmation and resurgence.

To be sure, the challenges before the Hindu civilisation, which remain multiple and serious, would not disappear with the reconstruction of the Ram temple. The reconstruction, however, signifies Hindu society’s determination to overcome these challenges and also holds out an assurance of its success in this noble endeavour.

For centuries India has been struggling to retain its civilizational identity. It has been a battleground of two civilisations (Hindu and Islamic) for the last one thousand years and three civilisations (Hindu, Islamic and Western) for nearly three centuries. Muslim invaders were interested not just in enjoying India’s fabled wealth and power, but also in driving out Hinduism (“kufr”) and establishing the “only true religion”. Chronicles of their court historians testify to that. The Britishers, too, were not as neutral or indifferent in civilisational issues as it may appear at first sight. Macaulay’s famous minutes leave no doubt on that score.

India did manage to retain her identity through these turbulent centuries, but it could not defeat the invading civilisations. It could neither absorb them fully through assimilation nor throw out what could not be assimilated. This inability to reject what it could not digest was the essence of foreign conquest. Even today, it has not gained that freedom in full measure.

The unresolved tussle resulted in a civilisational stalemate. This stalemate, as Girilal Jain pointed out three decades ago, lies at the root of crisis of identity faced by our intelligentsia over the last hundred years. Are we an ancient civilization under assault from predatory forces or a hotchpotch of innumerable identities struggling to become a nation? Should we cherish our culture as a unique and invaluable asset or cut it asunder as burdensome deadwood from the past?

The foreign rule over the centuries, meanwhile, divided our intelligentsia into broadly two groups. A large part of it, which wanted to enjoy wealth, power, prestige, status and position decided to collaborate with the ruling class by offering to serve it. A small part of the intelligentsia stuck to its roots and refused to join the rulers. It was driven out from the corridors of power, but its voice could never be completely silenced.

Members of the former group learnt Persian and Arabic, took up jobs under Muslim rulers and adopted their mores and manners. The British Raj was much wider, stronger and more uniform. Most members of the groups which had earlier collaborated with Muslim rulers now donned the new attire with alacrity. Thousands of Hindus took to English language, dress, manners and even ideas, ideals and thought processes. They came to view themselves as partners of the rulers rather than the ruled. Nehrus are a good example of this class. This rule—collaborate with rulers if you want to come up socially—remained in operation even after independence.

It was this class of Anglicised brown sahibs, with a history of serving successive foreign dispensations that formed the dominant elite at the time of independence. With Jawaharlal Nehru as its guiding star and spirit, it sought to remake India into a Western image. Indian state under Nehru became a powerful agency for propagation of Western ideals and institutions.

A word here about Communists is in order. In India, the Western civilization is represented not so much by Christianity as by Communism. Some Christians may appreciate the religiosity (not the religion) of the Hindus. But the Communists’ contempt for Indian philosophy, religion and civilization is deep, absolute, and uncompromising. They could think of no greater calamity than India returning to its Hindu ethos.

To continue with the story, the dominant left-leaning elite sought to mould India into a non-Hindu entity. It used secularism to repudiate the Hindu ethos of India and socialism to humiliate the weal-creating business class and subordinate it to the benefit of an ever expanding rapacious neta-babu combine. Under its aegis, Hinduism came to be viewed as synonymous with superstition, inequality and exploitation. Nationalism became suspect and invoking India’s ancient civilization was branded as communalism.

Ram Janmabhoomi movement was Hindus’ reaction to this soulless, rootless un-Indian state that had scant regard for their concerns and sentiments. The overnight conversion to Islam of Meenakshipuram village in Tamil Nadu in 1981, Khalistani terrorism in Punjab, the overturning by the Parliament of the Supreme court judgment in Shah Bano case and fanning of separatism in J&K left Hindus deeply worried about their future in their homeland. That is why the opening of padlocks at the shrine at Ayodhya in 1986 and shilanyas at the sight in 1989, meant to be minor diversions, became historic turning points. Ram came to occupy centre stage of the public discourse.

Like a subterranean river bursting out in a desert, Hindu awakening broke out into the open and carried away everything before it. All attempts to smother it failed. This was the sentiment that saw BJP under Narendra Modi win absolute majority in Lok Sabha elections twice in succession. The civilizational stalemate that Girilalji spoke about is beginning to resolve in favour of the Hinduism. The left-leaning intelligentsia which dominated the public discourse has lost its political clout. Narendra Modi is the most visible and powerful symbol of this transformation. No wonder the dispossessed intellectual elite regard him as a mortal enemy.

The nature of the Indian state is changing. Nehru as prime minister sought to prevent President Rajendra Prasad from attending the Somnath temple renovation ceremony. Modi as prime minister is going to lay the foundation stone himself. We have indeed come a long way.

The reconstruction of Ram temple is not directed against the Muslims. The dispute is not between Hindus and Muslims but between those who respect India’s civilizational ethos and those who wish to destroy it. A Shia organization was among the first to announce donation for the temple. Pakistani author Tarek Fatah has consistently supported the cause of the Ram Janmabhoomi. On the other hand, Sharad Pawar was determined not to attend the ceremony even if invited. Left to himself, Mani Shankar Aiyar may perhaps erect the Babri mosque again at the spot.

An overwhelming majority of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent are descendants of Hindu ancestors. In their veins also flows the blood of Vedic sages and saints of yore. Vicissitudes of history tore them away from their parent society. The temple reconstruction is an occasion for all of us to remember this blood relation between India’s two major communities. With silent endorsement of the temple reconstruction, Indian Muslims can bond again with their parent society. Millions are doing it already.

We may wish that all this should have happened twenty, thirty, fifty years ago. But history or Mahakal moves at his own pace. He cannot be pushed from behind; nor can his march be thwarted by trying to block his path.

The bhoomi poojan is an occasion for all of us to invoke Ram to be our unifier and liberator. Let Ram, who united the royalty and laity of his kingdom with tribals in forests and mountains in distant lands, bring together estranged brothers in his homeland. Let Ram, who liberated Sita from the bondage of Ravan, liberate us from the bondage of the past and lead us to Ramarajya.

› Virendra Parekh is an editor and senior journalist in Mumbai.

PM Modi at Bhumi Puja (5 August 2020).

Ram Mandir silver foundation brick (5 August 2020)

PM Modi completes Ram Mandir bhumi puja (5 August 2020).


VIDEO: The Calcutta Quran Petition – Smita Mukerji

Sita Ram Goel

Buy the book here, read it online here, and see the Wikipedia article here.


Koenraad Elst: A maharathi without a rath – Shankar Sharan

Koenraad Elst

Shankar SharanIt is so strange even by common sense, not to say political-intellectual sense, that Hindutva quarters did not see the need to make Dr Elst’s stature influential or at least more visible. Elst is personally known to many tall Hindutva leaders, who are directly in power for decades. But it never occurred to anyone to set even a little ground beneath his feet, so that he could continue to work comfortably. – Prof Shankar Sharan

Koenraad Elst has coined two evocative terms to help understand Indian socio-political situation: “Negationism in India” and “Decolonizing the Hindu mind”. These are also the names of his two most important books published in 1992 and 2001 respectively. Going through just these two books one can understand his great contribution to current Indology. Yet his assistance to the Hindu side on the Ayodhya debate is as significant, though surprisingly little known even to Hindutva leaders.

In fact, the Ayodhya issue changed the course of Koenraad’s life. He was incidentally in India when the controversy erupted on the national scene. He observed the falsehood being spread by eminent Marxist historians and liberals in Indian media, and could not resist the urge to fight it out. The common adventurer in this European young academic decided to take it on, even without any support. Except that Sita Ram Goel decided to publish his first book: Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid, A Case Study in Hindu-Muslim Conflict (Voice of India, 1990).

It was also the first book on the dispute based on first-hand sources written by an unbiased Western scholar. Koenraad rebutted the false claims of the Marxist historians, then actively campaigning for the Muslim side, or put better, against the Hindu side. The book was released by none other than L.K. Advani and Girilal Jain, then the most important figures in politics and media respectively. Advani at the time was the Hindutva hero, after his recently concluded famous Rath Yatra that put the Ram mandir in Ayodhya on the national agenda.

However, as it became clear later painfully, Koenraad had inadvertently put his career and by implication his life on line to defend the Hindu position on Ayodhya and other related issues. Hindu leaders and organizations happily used his hard research, data, facts and arguments he marshaled. But hardly thanked him and, more importantly, never provided some succor to compensate the hardship he invited upon himself by just becoming the friends of Hindus.

The situation has not changed since. Although today Koenraad is an internationally recognized Indologist, well known to all organized anti-Hindu forces. He is even feared by many left-liberals. No Indian left-liberal or Islamic apologist is ready to face him in any standard debate on Ayodhya or on issues related with the theory and practice of secularism in India. For the same reason he has also been denied academic situations in the Western world, mostly controlled by left-liberals. The unstated reason everywhere is the same: he is a supporter of “Hindutva forces”, by itself deemed as a bad entity.

Yet, the very Hindutva forces never invested even in his well-being, let alone thanking and celebrating his scholarship. A first rate scholarship that put leftwing superciliousness in place. Hardly any Indian left-winger or secularist ever took up Koenraad’s works to find faults, though they all know its weight. Initially they tried even to deny his existence, saying that Koenraad Elst is a fictitious name created by cunning Hindutvawadis to give their “lies” a Western support! An uber-secularist Khushwant Singh also fell for this propaganda, until he by chance met Koenraad in real flesh. This kind of denial attempt by the left-liberal powerhouses in India was also a revelation of their puerile scholarship. By the same token, it was also a left-hand recognition of Koenraad’s prowess.

That is why it is so strange even by common sense, not to say political-intellectual sense, that Hindutva quarters did not see the need to make his stature influential or at least more visible. Koenraad is personally known to many tall Hindutva leaders, who are directly in power for decades. But it never occurred to anyone to set even a little ground beneath his feet, so that he could continue work comfortably. The work which benefited the Hindutva leaders themselves. His scholarly contribution on the Ayodhya controversy is just a case in point.

The VHP and BJP were campaigning for Hindu claim over the disputed Ramjanmabhumi-Babri Masjid site for years. Yet they did not collected hard evidences to be used in court for their claim. The campaign was largely emotional, based on traditional lore. It was important but where a court was hearing the matter and the issue was debated in media and academia, such an approach was hardly winnable. It was Koenraad, encouraged and helped by Sita Ram Goel, who took upon himself to present a systematic case for Hindus with authentic historical and logical evidences. This was his second book Ayodhya and After: Issues before Hindu Society (Voice of India 1991), a first introduction to all aspects of India’s religious conflicts.

Thus, Koenraad Elst was one of the rare individual scholars who put paid to the pretensions of eminent Marxist historians. Soon they started dragging feet because they depended on the mere emotionalism of the Hindu forces, and were sure to win the thinking classes by flaunting their high academic chairs. Koenraad, Sita Ram Goel and also some others such as Arun Shourie, Swapan Dasgupta, etc. challenged them on facts, arguments and historical method. Thence the Marxists changed their tune, fled the court contest and finally also the arbitration the Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar had constituted to resolve the issue on evidence.

It would be ungrateful if we do not recognize the role Koenraad also played, indirectly, in Hindus winning the Ayodhya court case. The archeological evidence, after the Allahabad High Court ordered the Archeological Survey of India to dig into the site, further corroborated the contentions of Koenraad and Sita Ram Goel presented in their books about temple destructions.

This long prelude is necessary to explain the importance of his new book, Hindu Dharma and the Cultural Wars (Rupa, 2019). It may be useful to evaluate the book, as it helps to understand the continuity of his concerns and consistency ever since he voluntarily took up the case of Hindus vis-à-vis their opponents in politics and academia.

The articles in this book are on diverse issues, all combined make the outline of a cultural war presently raging which Hindus are compelled to fight. Yet they are ever so reluctant to fight, as the articles about the BJP and their governments in this volume also indicate. Many Hindus, including their leaders, are not ready yet to even acknowledge that there is such a war going on. Even as they are feeling the heat of the war for a long time. This strange apathy is also addressed in some articles in the collection.

Book Contents

Some new insightful pieces in this collection of 25 articles are: Hindu Fearlessness through the Ages (pp. 1-6), A Diversity of ‘White saviours’ (178-194), Debating the Hindu Right (43-46), The Modi Government as an Exponent of BJP Secularism (39-42), Hindus Need Dharmic Awakening? Rather, the BJP needs Dharmic Awakening (72-74), Academic Bullies (152-167) , and The RSS in Western Media (127-133). For a new reader every article would be a novelty and provide food for thought. They all combined make the title meaningful, suggesting that the Hindus are in the midst of a cultural war. Even though many highly educated Hindus are blissfully unaware of it.

That makes this book rather more valuable. The author himself said it is a “very good book”. Should Hindu organizations study and propagate it seriously, a great need of the time may be fulfilled. The need of making uninformed Hindus aware of the dangers they are facing. The Modi government in power has not thwarted it. At best the dangers seem subsided or waiting at a distance, but they are very much alive and focused.

Take, for example, any issue discussed in the book. Yoga, Ramakrishna, Saint Thomas, Golwalkar, Aurangzeb, Macaulay, Hinduphobia, nationalism, or even Ayodhya. The daily discussions, observations and comments about it in our prestigious media are found invariably opposite to the hard realities, past or present. They tend to take, as a rule, an anti-Hindu and pro-Islamic or pro-church stance. Sometimes even knowingly so. What this shows, if not that many leading Hindu intellectuals are fighting from the enemy side? They even take pride in being “liberal” and more “fair” to others. Totally oblivious of the dire results of such a naïve Gandhian stance in the recent past, as in Bengal and Punjab during the years 1947-48 or in Kashmir since 1989 onwards for more than a decade. Not to speak of the great devastation the Hindu society earlier suffered during centuries of barbaric Islamic onslaught.

Being increasingly ignorant of the un-natural calamities that fell upon Hindus, past or present, is the hallmark of Indian academic discourse in independent India. By extension of our media too. As a result, they simply deny there is any cultural war going on. If at all, they say it is the “minorities” who are at the receiving end. Any single day a prestigious Indian English newspaper would reveal a score of evidence in its coverage, headlines, comments, op-ed articles, and even in selection of pictures or data or words. Not only they summarily speak a different tune, from the concerns expressed in this book of Koenraad, but also definitely ridicule it in more or less open manner.

Therefore, the problems the Hindu society is facing on cultural fronts are as acute as ever. In fact, the BJP securely in power has somewhat lulled many in the Hindu movement. All the while the enemies of Hindus are relentlessly playing the victim card, and getting rewards, even more easily. Any event of significance, be it the legislation for banning triple talaq, or the hearing on Ayodhya in the Supreme Court, or abrogation of Article 370, or meeting of the RSS chief with an Islamic leader, or even just BJP winning an election is used as a common indicator of the “hurt” non-Hindus are feeling regularly. This refrain is articulated and propagated more regularly and forcefully by Hindu liberals than a Muslim or Christian writer. In no case, such as mentioned above, a left-liberal Hindu would even care to give a voice to a single Hindu hurt, as if such a hurt is non-existent or irrelevant.

This makes the Koenraad book much more noteworthy. It brings to light some still hidden truths about the history of the Hindu society. It also challenges many wrong notions entrenched in its intellectual classes. At present is a golden opportunity because influential Hindu organizations in India could use such works to awaken sleeping sections of our country, reeducate the misinformed sections and correct the wrong notions wantonly propagated by misinformed or misguided intellectuals. Not only the Hindus but at least a section of Muslims also mouth falsehoods due to plain ignorance.

If candid rebuttals and correct information could be disseminated with equal seriousness and regularity, the tide of the cultural war can be turned successfully. That is the opportunity at hand. Are the so-called organized Hindutva forces up to it? It remains to be seen. Meanwhile individual Hindu warriors may rejoice that one of their inspirations—a maharathi—is still fighting the battle, despite being without a rath. This seems an apt imagery to depict Koenraad Elst, the Belgian scholar and orientalist. Through his scholarly contributions he has been fighting for Hindus with his two bare hands—without weapons customarily available to those on high academic chairs. Grateful Hindus must salute the rare warrior on completing his 60 years recently! – IndiaFacts, 21 December 2019

Dr Shankar Sharan is Professor of Political Science at the NCERT, New Delhi.

Hindu Dharma and the Culture Wars


The place of Mahatma Gandhi – Sita Ram Goel

M. K. Gandhi

Sita Ram GoelWhat is relevant in Mahatma Gandhi … is not his failure in solving the Muslim problem but his success in re-affirming the language of Sanatana Dharma which had been revived during the Swadeshi Movement. – Sita Ram Goel

Introduction

The language of British and Christian imperialism had stood fully exposed for what they were in essence by the time the Swadeshi Movement swept forward after the Partition of Bengal in 1905. The language of Islamic imperialism had revived but was not resounding enough as yet to ring bells in the minds of national leaders. And the language of Communist imperialism had not yet appeared on the scene.

The last two languages came into their own by the end of the twenties. The freedom movement had to feel their full blast by the middle of the thirties. The leader who had emerged in complete command of the freedom movement by that time was Mahatma Gandhi. And his role vis-a-vis these two languages has been a matter of controversy.

Mahatma Gandhi showed the same understanding of the languages of British and Christian imperialism as had been shown earlier by the leaders of the Swadeshi Movement. There were indications in his writings and statements that he suspected the language of Communist imperialism as something sinister, though he started faltering when this language became the language of Leftism in the mouths of Pandit Nehru and the Congress Socialists. But his response to the language of Islamic imperialism was not at all what could be expected from a man of his instinctive perceptions.

His failure vis-a-vis the language of Islamic imperialism can be explained in various ways. But the fact remains that this failure made the Muslims more and more aggressive and created a lot of resentment in a section of Indian nationalists. These anti-Gandhi nationalists have not been able to get reconciled to his role even after his death in very tragic circumstances. On the other hand, all sorts of Hindu-baiters have been invoking his name and fame to put Hindu society in the wrong.

Mahatma Gandhi in hostile lands

The Leftists had no use for Mahatma Gandhi during his life time. They had hurled their choicest swear words at him. But the Mahatma dead seems to have become an asset for them. Not that they have revised their estimate of his role in the past or acquired any respect for him in the present. They are only using him as a stick to beat Hindu society into shame.

Muslims, too, have staged a similar volte-face. They had opposed him tooth and nail during his life-time. The language which their press had used for him provides a study in pornography. But after his death, they have been holding him up in order to harangue Hindu society. Not that they have changed their opinion about him or imbibed any of his teachings. They are only using him as a device to put Hindu society on the defensive.

The Gandhians present a very curious case. They claim to have inherited the message of the Mahatma. But the only people with whom they feel at home are Hindu-baiters. They avoid all those who are not ashamed of being Hindus or who take pride in Hindu history and heritage. They suspect that “Hindu communalism” has been and remains India’s major malady. The only point to which they never refer is that Mahatma Gandhi was a proud Hindu with a profound faith in Sanatana Dharma and that a reawakening and rejuvenation of Hindu society was his most important preoccupation.

The Hindu-baiters highlight the fact that the Mahatma was murdered by a Hindu. But they hide the fact that it was the Hindus who had always rallied round Mahatma Gandhi, who had adored him throughout his life, who had followed him as their leader and who had stood by him through thick and thin. It is tantamount to insinuating that Hindus have done nothing in the whole of their history except murdering the Mahatma. The only parallel is provided by the Catholic Church which has known the Jews only as murderers of Jesus.

This exercise in employing the name of a great Hindu to malign Hindu society has succeeded because whatever nationalists have come forward to lead Hindu society in the post-independence period have chosen to ignore all facets of the Mahatma’s life and teachings except one, namely, his handling of the Muslim problem. They have meditated, one must say rather morbidly, on the one mistake he made in his life, namely, his understanding of Islam. They have never taken into account the sterling services he rendered to Hinduism and Hindu society in so many spheres. The only thing they remember with resentment is his failure in one field, namely, his final inability to prevent partition.

Two significant facts

The anti-Gandhi nationalists have never tried honestly to face the fact that it was he and not they who had stirred the minds and hearts of Hindu masses. It was he and not they who had mobilized Hindu society to make sacrifices in the service of the motherland. Nor have the denunciations of anti-Gandhi nationalists succeeded in doing the slightest damage to his stature. In fact, his stature has risen higher with the passing of time. He continues to be cherished by Hindu masses as one of the greatest in their history. Reverence for him in the world at large has also continued to grow. He is now regarded as a profound thinker on problems created by an industrial civilisation and a hedonistic culture. Hinduism has gained abroad because Gandhi is known as a great Hindu.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that the failure which the Mahatma met vis-a-vis the Muslims was truly of startling proportions. Hindu-Muslim unity was a goal which he had pursued with great dedication throughout his life. He had paid high tributes to Islam, its prophet, its caliphs and its scriptures. He had espoused the cause of Khilafat in order to win Muslim hearts. He had befriended even questionable characters like Mohammad Ali {Jinnah] because the latter enjoyed the confidence of Muslim masses. He had gone out of his way to humour Jinnah who was always cold and quite often nasty in his manners. He had ignored the invectives that were hurled at him by the Muslim press and politicians. He had even advised the British to hand over power to Muslims and quit. he had always frowned at all efforts to organise Hindus in order to call the Muslim bluff. In short, his policy towards Muslims had been full of appeasement at the cost of Hindu society. But nothing had helped. Muslims had continued to grow more and more hostile.

If we put these two facts together, we can perhaps draw some worthwhile conclusions. First, it follows that Hindu society responds only to a call which is deeply religious and cultural. Anti-Gandhi nationalists have failed to move Hindu masses because their appeal has been purely political. These nationalists have drawn most of their inspiration from the modern West and not from India’s own great past. Secondly, there must be something very hard in the heart of Islam so that even a man of an oceanic goodwill like Mahatma Gandhi failed to move it. He succeeded with the British by making them feel morally in the wrong. He succeeded with such sections of Hindu society as had nourished some grievances of their own and had tried to turn away from the freedom movement. It was only the Muslims with whom he failed miserably.

In justice to Mahatma Gandhi

There is no doubt that Mahatma Gandhi’s failure vis-a-vis Muslims was great and has had grievous consequences. But the failure can be attributed to him only in so for as he was at the helm of affairs during that particular period of Indian history. It is highly doubtful if Hindu society would have been able to prevent partition even if there had been no Mahatma Gandhi. On the other hand, there is ample evidence that Hindu society would have failed in any case. In fact, the seeds of that failure had been sown long before Mahatma Gandhi appeared on the scene.

The first thing to be done in this context is to put straight the record of the freedom movement and find out how Hindu leaders who preceded Mahatma Gandhi had functioned vis-a-vis the Muslim problem. For, although the Mahatma dominated the freedom movement for more than twenty-five years, he had appeared on the scene when thirty-five years had already passed since the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the first leader to start sabre-rattling on behalf of his community. That was a year or two after the Congress came into existence. There is no evidence that any Hindu leader called his bluff at that time or at a subsequent stage. On the other hand, there is ample evidence of how Hindu leaders tried to appease the bully. To top it all, Hindus contributed quite a lot of money towards the establishment of his Anglo-Oriental Mohammedan College at Aligarh which was to become the main seat of Muslim separatism at a subsequent stage. Mahatma Gandhi was nowhere near the scene.

The Swadeshi Movement was the next step in the struggle for freedom. It was immediately followed by the founding of the Muslim League. Muslims not only boycotted the movement but also let loose an orgy of riots which were particularly violent and beastly in Bengal. But there is no record of Hindu leaders coming forward to beat back the aggression. The only Hindu response to this Muslim mayhem was to hail Siraj ud-Daulah, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan as national heroes. Again, Mahatma Gandhi was not on the scene.

Then came the Lucknow Pact of 1916. Muslim leaders had made no secret that pan-Islamic causes rather than patriotism had made them move towards a joint front with the Congress. But no Hindu leader cared to look into the motivation of Muslims. Only a slight gesture from the Muslim League was enough to elicit an enthusiastic response from the Congress. Hindu leaders conceded not only separate electorates to Muslims but also one-third representation in the Central Assembly to a less than one-fourth of the total Indian population. It was Lokmanya Tilak and not Mahatma Gandhi who was the leader of the Congress at that time.

Once the legitimacy of the pan-Islamic cause was recognised by the national leadership, it was only a short step to the Khilafat agitation. The meeting that was held on June 1, 1920, under the auspices of the Central Khilafat Committee, in order to solicit Congress support for the Sultan of Turkey, was not attended by Mahatma Gandhi alone. Leaving aside Motilal Nehru. Tej Bahadur Sapru and Jawaharlal Nehru, whose support for all Islamic causes was always a bygone conclusion, the others who sat by the side of Mahatma Gandhi in that crucial meeting were Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Satyamurti, C. Rajagopalachari, and Chintamani. The proceedings of that meeting exist in cold print. Some of these Hindu leaders did oppose the proposal for a Non-Cooperation Movement to be launched simultaneously with the Khilafat agitation. But no one pointed out that the national movement should have nothing to do with a pan-Islamic platform. The same story was repeated at the Special Session of the Congress at Calcutta in September that year and at its Annual Session at Nagpur in December. Later on, Swami Shraddhananda was to be lionised for lambasting the British Government from the steps of the Jama Masjid at Delhi. He was speaking in support of the Khilafat agitation.

The Congress and the Muslim League never came together again at an all-Indian level after this brief period of six years which ended with the suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement in February 1922. Muslims made no secret of their belief that they had been betrayed by Mahatma Gandhi. They let loose another orgy of riots all over the country. It was in the midst of this bloodshed, and while Mahatma Gandhi was behind prison bars that Deshbandhu C.R. Das led the Bengal Provincial Congress into signing a Hindu-Muslim Pact which permitted Muslims to kill cows during their festivals but forbade Hindus from playing music before the mosques!

Justice demands that anti-Gandhi nationalists review Hindu history vis-a-vis Islam and lay the blame where it belongs. They will soon find out that Mahatma Gandhi was neither the first nor the last to accord the status of a religion to Islam, the dignity of a deity to Allah, the aura of an avatar to Muhammad, the sanctity of a scripture to the Quran, the holiness of saints to the Sufis, the majesty of a place of worship to the mosque and the rights of a minority to the Muslim millat. Most Hindus are still chanting sarva dharma sama bhava vis-a-vis Islam in the face of Muslim fanaticism, though over three decades have passed since the death of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Mahatma’s Failure: A failure of Hindu society

There is ample evidence in the Mahatma’s writings that he could see quite clearly the pattern of perverse behaviour on the part of Muslims. That was at the back of his statement repeated several times, that an average Muslim was a bully and an average Hindu a coward. But he refused to believe that this pattern was derived directly from the teachings of the prophet.

That, however, is the story of Hindu society in its centuries-old encounter with Islam. Hindu society has always viewed Islam through the eyes of its own spirituality. Islam had shown its full face to Hindu society quite early not only in the devil dance of its swordsmen but also in the pronouncements and prolific writings of its mullahs, sufis and historians. But Hindu society had all along failed to draw the right conclusions. It had continued to regard Islam as a religion. The folly has persisted till the present time.

Modern Hindu and Sikh scholars have done something worse. They have presented Islam not only as a superior religion but also as a superior social system. This is obvious in hundreds of books written by them about the nirguna saints like Kabir and Nanak. These saints alone had the courage to question the exclusive claims of Islam while they sang in the advaitic tunes set by ancient Hindu spirituality. Islam had no impact on their teachings. But modern scholars have paraded these saints as monotheists who were in revolt against the multiplicity of Hindu gods and goddesses, as iconoclasts who were against image worship in Hindu temples and as social reformers who denounced the so-called caste system under the “influence of an equalitarian Muslim society.” The saints have thus been turned into tawdry social reformers. Falsehood can go no farther.

The relevant in Mahatma Gandhi

Sri Aurobindo has said in his Uttarpara Speech that India rises with the rise of Sanatana Dharma. Mahatma Gandhi proved the aptness of this observation. What is relevant in Mahatma Gandhi, therefore, is not his failure in solving the Muslim problem but his success in re-affirming the language of Sanatana Dharma which had been revived during the Swadeshi Movement. I give below a few specimens.

“The English have taught us that we were not one nation before and that it will require centuries before we become one nation. This is without foundation. We were one nation before they came to India. One thought inspired us. Our mode of life was the same. It was because we were one nation that they were able to establish one kingdom.” (Hind Swaraj, Chapter IX)

“I believe that the civilisation India has evolved is not to be beaten in the world. Nothing can equal the seeds sown by our ancestry. Rome went; Greece shared the same fate; the might of the Pharaohs was broken; Japan has become westernised; of China nothing can be said; but India is still, somehow or other, sound at the foundation.” (Ibid., Chapter XIII)

“Hinduism is a relentless pursuit after truth and if today it has become moribund, inactive, irresponsive to growth, it is because we are fatigued. As soon as the fatigue is over, Hinduism will burst forth upon the world with a brilliance perhaps never known before.” (Young India, 24-4-1924)

“What the divine author of the Mahabharata said of his great creation is equally true of Hinduism. Whatever of substance is contained in any other religion is always to be found in Hinduism, and what is not contained in it is insubstantial or unnecessary.” (Ibid., 27-9-1925)

“Hinduism is like the Ganga, pure and unsullied at its source but taking in its course the impurities in the way. Even like the Ganga it is beneficent in its total effect. It takes a provincial form in every province, but the inner substance is retained everywhere.” (Ibid., 8-4-1926)

“Our sages have taught us to learn one thing: ‘As in the Self, so in the Universe.’ It is not possible to scan the universe as it is to scan the self. Know the self and you know the universe.” (Ibid.)

“Now when we talk of brotherhood of men, we stop there and feel that all other life is there for man to exploit for his own purposes. But Hinduism excludes all exploitation.” (Ibid., 26-12-1926)

“Hinduism insists on the brotherhood of not only all mankind but of all that lives.” (Harijan, 28-3-1936).

Such sayings of Mahatma Gandhi about Hinduism can be multiplied. He affirmed, again, and again not only the fundamentals of Hindu spirituality but also the framework of Hindu culture and social life. He valued “the spirit behind idol worship” and declared his determination “to defend with my life the thousands of holy temples which sanctify this land of ours.” For him cow protection was “the dearest possession of the Hindu heart” and “no one who does not believe in cow protection can possibly be a Hindu.” The sacred thread had a deep meaning for him because it was “the sign of the second birth, that is spiritual.” He believed that varnashrama was “inherent in human nature, and Hinduism had simply reduced it to a science.” He wrote several articles in defence of the “much-maligned Brahmin” and had not a shadow of doubt in his mind that “if Brahmanism does not revive, Hinduism must perish.” There was no symbol of Sanatana Dharma which did not stir him to the depths and which he did not trace back to its inner and eternal spirit.

And he served Hinduism not by words alone. His whole life was an uninterrupted hymn to Hinduism. He rendered many sterling services to Hindu society. He staked his life in order to free Hindu society from the stigma of untouchability. He wanted the Hindus to shed fear and be brave. By all accounts, his place should be secure in the mainstream of Indian nationalism.

There was no lack of Hindu leaders during the Mahatma’s life-time who appealed in the name of political patriotism. They left Hindu society cold and unresponsive. Nor has a purely political approach to Hindu society succeeded after the passing away of the Mahatma. The one lesson we learn from the freedom movement as a whole is that a religious and cultural awakening in Hindu society has to precede political awakening. The language of Indian nationalism has to be the language of Sanatana Dharma before it can challenge and defeat the various languages of imperialism. The more clearly Hindu society sees the universal truth of Hindu spirituality and culture, the more readily it will reject political ideologies masquerading as religion or promising a paradise on this earth.

Mahatma Gandhi stands squarely with Maharshi Dayananda, Bankim Chandra, Swami Vivekananda, Lokamanya Tilak and Sri Aurobindo in developing the language of Indian nationalism. His mistake about Islam does not diminish the lustre of that language which he spoke with full faith and confidence. On the contrary, his mistake carries a message of its own. – Pragyata, 1 October 2019

This excerpt is taken from Perversion of India’s Political Parlance by Sita Ram Goel 

M.K. Gandhi Quote

 

Ganesha: An enigma for Christians, a celebration for Hindus – Aravindan Neelakandan

Ganesha

Aravindan NeelakandanThroughout our history and culture, Ganesha represents the deepest spiritual reality and the height of Hindu civilisation. Naturally, He attracts attacks of the enemies of this civilisation. But He endures and protects. – Aravindan Neelakandan

The year was 1944. With the Quit India Movement and the Indian National Army (INA), the Indian struggle for Independence had achieved a new momentum.

That year, Winston Churchill, who through the Bengal Famine, had wiped out three million people the previous year, was deeply moved by a newly published book.

The book was Verdict on India written by a Beverley Nichols, and was an argument against giving Hindus, specifically Hindus, freedom.

Pakistan was fine. But giving freedom to Indians with Hindus as a majority was wrong, it argued.

In his book, “by way of foreword”, Nichols had trained his guns on an interesting target to prove the “civilisational superiority of Christendom over the Hindus”—Ganesha:

“I shall never forget my first visit to a Ganesh temple. It was in Bangalore. … The sun shone on a tiny building of crumbling brick, and inside this building, the monster squatted awaiting us. He was carved from a single hulk of black shining stone, and his trunk and his misshapen limbs were contorted like angry serpents. The forgotten sculptor who had evoked this creature from the rock, so many centuries ago, was a genius, but he was—I felt—an evil genius, a man possessed. For this Ganesh was imbued with a malevolent life; in the fading light his limbs seemed to twitch, as though impelled by ancient lusts. He would escape if he wanted; a flick of that sinuous trunk, a gesture of those twisted arms, and the walls would crumble, and he would walk abroad in the darkness.”

A true Christian and a colonialist, Nichols was scandalised that Hindus not only defend this “monster” but even continue to worship it.

To show how Hindus defend Ganesha, he quoted C. Rajagopalachari, “ex-President of Congress and one of Gandhi’s closest friends”. Rajaji had said:

“People of the West might not find beauty in Ganesh and might say that the figure was funny and that at best it was a mascot. But to the Hindus, Ganesh represents the sense of universal unity … beauty and ugliness are combined to make one ineffable beauty in Him. He has the body of a fat man and the head of an elephant, with a mouse as His vehicle. He is fond of good eating but He is not stupid as a Westerner might suggest. We are a curious people, let us continue to be curious, that is my prayer.”

If anything, this explanation by Rajaji angered him even more. If it was a “strange thing when a man must apologise for his God”, it was “an even stranger thing when, having apologised, he continues to worship”.

It may not be a coincidence that every Hindu-hater, from Beverley Nichols with his fanatic Christian supremacist convictions to E.V. Ramasamy with his pseudo-rationalism as well as Dravidian racism, to Paul Courtright with his pretensions of Freudian deconstruction, loves to hate Ganesha.

The reason may be that Ganesha embodies in Him the core civilisational ethos of this culture so boldly and vibrantly that the hatred for His form is instantaneous.

What are those core values?

In 1941, Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati of Kanchi Math was at the port town of Nagapattinam for his Chaturmasya Virata. He narrates an interesting event that happened then.

They were breaking coconuts in front of Ganesha (who is called in Tamil Nadu as Pillayar—pillai meaning child. Pointing it as “a custom peculiar to the Tamil province”, Swamigal explains:

“The people of the Math tried to regulate the mob of children, fearing they might fall on the Swami. So they shouted at the children not to mob and move away. A boy among those children looked at the person who shouted and said in a very clear voice: “After breaking coconut to Pillayar, only we children have the right to the pieces. Then you do not have the right to tell us not to come.” It was seeing the strength of truth in the voice of the child that I got fully convinced that the right of coconuts broken for Ganesha completely belong to the children (emphasis added).” – Deivathin Kural

Thus, Ganesha infuses even in our children the right to food and then, it is no wonder that the cohort of Churchill who engineered the Bengal famine developed an innate hatred for the form of Ganesha.

He also destroys the false distinctions between the divine, the human and the non-human forms of life. He at once combines the non-human animal, the human form and the divine form (in the form of four hands).

For those civilisations which have thrived on the bifurcation of the divine and the human as well as human and the non-human as unbridgeable categories, what can be more shocking?

And this shock can only increase when Darwinian science also blurs the boundaries between the human and the non-human.

Today, the origin of Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of Hindu Dharma, is widely limited to one particular Puranic version. In this, Parvati creates Ganesha to protect her privacy and Shiva, infuriated by Ganesha challenging his right to enter Parvati’s mansion, beheads him.

Later realising what he has done, Shiva gets the head of an elephant and attaches it to the body of the boy, creating the beloved form of the deity whom Hindus love so much.

In 2014, in a jovial way, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of this as the first plastic surgery and the “righteous indignation brigade” went into hyper-action. “Mixing mythology and science” got essentialised as the RSS way of looking at history or rather pseudo-history.

As late as August 2019, almost after five years, this casual remark by the PM was dug out by a columnist who explained seriously its impossibility pointing out “a large human neck’s circumference would be around 48cm, while the smallest baby elephant’s neck would be around 120cm”.

Then he went on to declare in a pompous manner that “if Ganesh was not a human who needed plastic surgery, the plastic surgeon had to be a senior god who created junior gods”.

What Prime Minister made was not a policy statement. It was stated more in a lighter vein than in any seriousness that Ganesha should have been the first person to have undergone plastic surgery.

That being said, one need not think of it as literal but that the poets who sang the Puranas could conceive of an animal organ being transplanted to a human body is in itself a leap for human imagination.

So one wonders who is really against scientific temper—the PM or the columnists and outrage brigade which cling on to an off-the-cuff remark as if it has become the policy statement of the government.

Yet these are worrying times, particularly when it comes to the Puranas. Everywhere in the world including the so-called Abrahamic religions, even history-specific narratives are being turned into poetic metaphors.

In the West, the rationalist secular human movements have played a great role in that transformation. Of course, there is a fundamentalist backlash which is a different story.

In India, the situation is tragically different.

As this writer has often pointed out, the so-called rationalists here take a literal, fundamentalist view of the Puranas here and the so-called believers—for that is a wrong word for Hindus—often take a view of their deities as symbolic realities at another level.

The belief that the constant, high-voltage propaganda over the elephant-headed deity is nothing but a vile superstition brought by the Brahmins is in a way yielding results.

Spurred by inferiority complex, there are Hindus who look to explain their deities using terms such as “ancient aliens”. Not long ago, a famous guru was recycling the decapitation of Ganesha by Shiva, with a liberal ascription of “alien technologies” to his disciples.

But it cannot be emphasised enough that the decapitation story is only one of the many in the Puranas. And in South India, where Ganesha worship has a tremendous influence, there are other Puranic origins which do not need either ancient plastic surgery or alien technology to explain the elephant-headed God.

In Tamil tradition, the story of Ganesha’s origin that is emphasised is different. Thirumurga Krupananda Vaariyar narrates this thus:

“In Kailasha is the famous hall of 70 million mantric paintings. One day, Siva and Parvati visited this hall. They both looked at two representations of the Pranava mantra—Vyashti Pranava and the Samashti Pranava. When Siva and Parvati looked at them, they both merged and came out as the elephant-headed God Vinayaka.” – Pillayar Perumai

That Ganesha arose from the gaze of the Goddess is also stated in Sri Lalita Sahasranama (names 76 and 77). S.V. Radhakrishna Shastri, in his commentary based on that of the famous commentator Bhaskararaya, describes:

“Because of the power structures of delusion created by the demonic forces, the Devas lost their fighting ability. Laziness, sleep, depression, loss of vigour, feeling inferior, delusion and loss of self-respect—all these eight characteristics developed in the army of the Devas. Even the generals of the army of the Goddess could not enthuse their warriors. When the Goddess was informed of this, She looked at the face of Siva who was seated next to Her as Kameswara and from His face emerged the elephant headed Ganesha embracing His consort Vallabai. He had 10 hands (along with the trunk 11) and in them He had the pomegranate, mace, bow made of sugarcane, Trident, discus, conch, binding rope, Nymphaeaceae flower, rice grains, His own tusk and a pot made of precious gems.” – Sri Lalitha Sahasranama Stotram with Commentary

Then, Ganesha destroyed the delusional power structures created by the demonic forces and thus freed the army of the Goddess from the sense of defeatism, inferiority and loss of self-respect.

No wonder then that Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak used Ganesha to shatter the tamasic tendencies engulfing the nation and rouse it to fight against the forces of colonialism.

It is to the credit of Saiva Siddhanta in Tamil Nadu that the inner significance of Ganesha worship has been turned into a very popular one.

Here, Ganesha represents the very basis of Hindu Dharma—unity and diversity—the One becoming the many and the many grounding their essence in the One. He is also Pranava Swarupaor the very form of the Omkara.

Saiva Siddhanta scholar Vidwan Arunai Vadivelu Mudaliyar explains:

“In the auspicious form of Vinayaka, the four-handed form shows the Deva nature while the elephant-ears, trunk as well as the tusks show the animal nature; the big pot belly and the small legs show the Bhuta nature. The asymmetry of tusks with its absence in the right side shows the feminine and the masculine forms united in Him. The different categories we see namely ‘ahirinai’ (non-human intelligence) and ‘uyarthinai’ (human and supra-human intelligence), male and female, the celestials, the animals and goblins etc. in all these the Ganesha exists as the inner essence and He is in fact all these diverse forms, is well illustrated by His very adorable form.” – Vinayagar Vazhipadu Nool

Most Western indologists and their brown-skinned clones have often concentrated on the speculative ethnic origins of this elephant-headed deity. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravidianists routinely call Him as a Brahminical alien deity brought in to enslave Tamils.

When that could not get enough traction, it was claimed that the decapitation and attachment of an elephant head was symbolic of crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. However, Tamil Nadu used Ganesha to disseminate the highest spiritual wisdom of Hindu civilisation through a hymn to Ganesha.

Vinayakar Akaval (a hymn in praise of Vinayaka in peacock-sound genre) is a composition by Avvaiyar—a poetess who probably lived around 10th century. The hymn, today famous throughout Tamil Nadu, particularly memorised by children at a very early age, is an exposition of the deepest Yogic path—combining both bhakti and yoga in an ingeniously harmonious way.

Thus, throughout history and culture, Ganesha represents the deepest spiritual reality and the height of Hindu civilisation. Naturally, He attracts attacks of the enemies of this civilisation. But He endures and protects.

With his elephant head, fat body, four arms and a mouse as vehicle, He is loved by all. He is especially dear to children. We grow up to love this form filled with paradoxes and it—for the inwardly oriented ones—becomes an eternal koan for meditation.

He who harmonises all opposing categories makes us embrace differences with respect and love. For the seekers of material prosperity, he is a deity who removes obstacles to prosperity. He also teaches us to fight against the aggressor, like he did with his very own tusk.

Ganesha is thus a quintessential universal deity who embodies in him the complete biological and spiritual evolution of this entire planet. – Swarajya, 2 September 2019

Aravindan Neelakandan is an author, psychology and economics major, and contributing editor at Swarajya.


The historical roots of our ecological crisis – Lynn White

Lynn Townsend White Jr

Science MagazineProf Lynn Townsend White was a historian of medieval Christianity who conjectured that Christian influence in the Middle Ages was the root cause of the ecological crisis in the 20th century. He gave a lecture on December 26, 1966, called “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” at the Washington meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, that was later published in the journal Science. White’s article was based on the premise that “all forms of life modify their context,” that is, we all create change in our environment. His ideas were considered by some to be a direct attack on Christianity and set off an extended debate about the role of religion in creating and sustaining the West’s destructive attitude towards—and exploitation of—the natural world. — Editor

The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis

A conversation with Aldous Huxley not infrequently put one at the receiving end of an unforgettable monologue. About a year before his lamented death he was discoursing on a favorite topic: Man’s unnatural treatment of nature and its sad results. To illustrate his point he told how, during the previous summer, he had returned to a little valley in England where he had spent many happy months as a child. Once it had been composed of delightful grassy glades; now it was becoming overgrown with unsightly brush because the rabbits that formerly kept such growth under control had largely succumbed to a disease, myxomatosis, that was deliberately introduced by the local farmers to reduce the rabbits’ destruction of crops. Being something of a Philistine, I could be silent no longer, even in the interests of great rhetoric. I interrupted to point out that the rabbit itself had been brought as a domestic animal to England in 1176, presumably to improve the protein diet of the peasantry.

All forms of life modify their contexts. The most spectacular and benign instance is doubtless the coral polyp. By serving its own ends, it has created a vast undersea world favorable to thousands of other kinds of animals and plants. Ever since man became a numerous species he has affected his environment notably. The hypothesis that his fire-drive method of hunting created the world’s great grasslands and helped to exterminate the monster mammals of the Pleistocene from much of the globe is plausible, if not proved. For 6 millennia at least, the banks of the lower Nile have been a human artifact rather than the swampy African jungle which nature, apart from man, would have made it. The Aswan Dam, flooding 5000 square miles, is only the latest stage in a long process. In many regions terracing or irrigation, overgrazing, the cutting of forests by Romans to build ships to fight Carthaginians or by Crusaders to solve the logistics problems of their expeditions, have profoundly changed some ecologies. Observation that the French landscape falls into two basic types, the open fields of the north and the bocage of the south and west, inspired Marc Bloch to undertake his classic study of medieval agricultural methods. Quite unintentionally, changes in human ways often affect nonhuman nature. It has been noted, for example, that the advent of the automobile eliminated huge flocks of sparrows that once fed on the horse manure littering every street.

The history of ecologic change is still so rudimentary that we know little about what really happened, or what the results were. The extinction of the European aurochs as late as 1627 would seem to have been a simple case of overenthusiastic hunting. On more intricate matters it often is impossible to find solid information. For a thousand years or more the Frisians and Hollanders have been pushing back the North Sea, and the process is culminating in our own time in the reclamation of the Zuider Zee. What, if any, species of animals, birds, fish, shore life, or plants have died out in the process? In their epic combat with Neptune have the Netherlanders overlooked ecological values in such a way that the quality of human life in the Netherlands has suffered? I cannot discover that the questions have ever been asked, much less answered.

People, then, have often been a dynamic element in their own environment, but in the present state of historical scholarship we usually do not know exactly when, where, or with what effects man-induced changes came. As we enter the last third of the 20th century, however, concern for the problem of ecologic backlash is mounting feverishly. Natural science, conceived as the effort to understand the nature of things, had flourished in several eras and among several peoples. Similarly there had been an age-old accumulation of technological skills, sometimes growing rapidly, sometimes slowly. But it was not until about four generations ago that Western Europe and North America arranged a marriage between science and technology, a union of the theoretical and the empirical approaches to our natural environment. The emergence in widespread practice of the Baconian creed that scientific knowledge means technological power over nature can scarcely be dated before about 1850, save in the chemical industries, where it is anticipated in the 18th century. Its acceptance as a normal pattern of action may mark the greatest event in human history since the invention of agriculture, and perhaps in nonhuman terrestrial history as well.

Almost at once the new situation forced the crystallization of the novel concept of ecology; indeed, the word ecology first appeared in the English language in 1873. Today, less than a century later, the impact of our race upon the environment has so increased in force that it has changed in essence. When the first cannons were fired, in the early 14th century, they affected ecology by sending workers scrambling to the forests and mountains for more potash, sulphur, iron ore, and charcoal, with some resulting erosion and deforestation. Hydrogen bombs are of a different order: a war fought with them might alter the genetics of all life on this planet. By 1285 London had a smog problem arising from the burning of soft coal, but our present combustion of fossil fuels threatens to change the chemistry of the globe’s atmosphere as a whole, with consequences which we are only beginning to guess. With the population explosion, the carcinoma of planless urbanism, the now geological deposits of sewage and garbage, surely no creature other than man has ever managed to foul its nest in such short order.

There are many calls to action, but specific proposals, however worthy as individual items, seem too partial, palliative, negative: ban the bomb, tear down the billboards, give the Hindus contraceptives and tell them to eat their sacred cows. The simplest solution to any suspect change is, of course, to stop it, or better yet, to revert to a romanticized past: make those ugly gasoline stations look like Anne Hathaway’s cottage or (in the Far West) like ghost-town saloons. The “wilderness area” mentality invariably advocates deep-freezing an ecology, whether San Gimignano or the High Sierra, as it was before the first Kleenex was dropped. But neither atavism nor prettification will cope with the ecologic crisis of our time.

What shall we do? No one yet knows. Unless we think about fundamentals, our specific measures may produce new backlashes more serious than those they are designed to remedy.

As a beginning we should try to clarify our thinking by looking, in some historical depth, at the presuppositions that underlie modern technology and science. Science was traditionally aristocratic, speculative, intellectual in intent; technology was lower-class, empirical, action-oriented. The quite sudden fusion of these two, towards the middle of the 19th century, is surely related to the slightly prior and contemporary democratic revolutions which, by reducing social barriers, tended to assert a functional unity of brain and hand. Our ecologic crisis is the product of an emerging, entirely novel, democratic culture. The issue is whether a democratized world can survive its own implications. Presumably we cannot unless we rethink our axioms.

The Western Traditions of Technology and Science

One thing is so certain that it seems stupid to verbalize it: both modern technology and modern science are distinctively Occidental. Our technology has absorbed elements from all over the world, notably from China; yet everywhere today, whether in Japan or in Nigeria, successful technology is Western. Our science is the heir to all the sciences of the past, especially perhaps to the work of the great Islamic scientists of the Middle Ages, who so often outdid the ancient Greeks in skill and perspicacity: Al-Razi in medicine, for example; or Ibn-al-Haytham in optics; or Omar Khayyam in mathematics. Indeed, not a few works of such geniuses seem to have vanished in the original Arabic and to survive only in medieval Latin translations that helped to lay the foundations for later Western developments. Today, around the globe, all significant science is Western in style and method, whatever the pigmentation or language of the scientists.

A second pair of facts is less well recognized because they result from quite recent historical scholarship. The leadership of the West, both in technology and in science, is far older than the so-called Scientific Revolution of the 17th century or the so-called Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. These terms are in fact outmoded and obscure the true nature of what they try to describe—significant stages in two long and separate developments. By A.D. 1000 at the latest—and perhaps, feebly, as much as 200 years earlier—the West began to apply water power to industrial processes other than milling grain. This was followed in the late 12th century by the harnessing of wind power. From simple beginnings, but with remarkable consistency of style, the West rapidly expanded its skills in the development of power machinery, labor-saving devices, and automation. Those who doubt should contemplate that most monumental achievement in the history of automation: the weight-driven mechanical clock, which appeared in two forms in the early 14th century. Not in craftsmanship but in basic technological capacity, the Latin West of the later Middle Ages far outstripped its elaborate, sophisticated, and esthetically magnificent sister cultures, Byzantium and Islam. In 1444 a great Greek ecclesiastic, Bessarion, who had gone to Italy, wrote a letter to a prince in Greece. He is amazed by the superiority of Western ships, arms, textiles, glass. But above all he is astonished by the spectacle of waterwheels sawing timbers and pumping the bellows of blast furnaces. Clearly, he had seen nothing of the sort in the Near East.

By the end of the 15th century the technological superiority of Europe was such that its small, mutually hostile nations could spill out over all the rest of the world, conquering, looting, and colonizing. The symbol of this technological superiority is the fact that Portugal, one of the weakest states of the Occident, was able to become, and to remain for a century, mistress of the East Indies. And we must remember that the technology of Vasco da Gama and Albuquerque was built by pure empiricism, drawing remarkably little support or inspiration from science.

In the present-day vernacular understanding, modern science is supposed to have begun in 1543, when both Copernicus and Vesalius published their great works. It is no derogation of their accomplishments, however, to point out that such structures as the Fabrica and the De revolutionibus do not appear overnight. The distinctive Western tradition of science, in fact, began in the late 11th century with a massive movement of translation of Arabic and Greek scientific works into Latin. A few notable books—Theophrastus, for example—escaped the West’s avid new appetite for science, but within less than 200 years effectively the entire corpus of Greek and Muslim science was available in Latin, and was being eagerly read and criticized in the new European universities. Out of criticism arose new observation, speculation, and increasing distrust of ancient authorities. By the late 13th century Europe had seized global scientific leadership from the faltering hands of Islam. It would be as absurd to deny the profound originality of Newton, Galileo, or Copernicus as to deny that of the 14th century scholastic scientists like Buridan or Oresme on whose work they built. Before the 11th century, science scarcely existed in the Latin West, even in Roman times. From the 11th century onward, the scientific sector of Occidental culture has increased in a steady crescendo.

Since both our technological and our scientific movements got their start, acquired their character, and achieved world dominance in the Middle Ages, it would seem that we cannot understand their nature or their present impact upon ecology without examining fundamental medieval assumptions and developments.

Medieval View of Man and Nature

Until recently, agriculture has been the chief occupation even in “advanced” societies; hence, any change in methods of tillage has much importance. Early plows, drawn by two oxen, did not normally turn the sod but merely scratched it. Thus, cross- plowing was needed and fields tended to be squarish. In the fairly light soils and semiarid climates of the Near East and Mediterranean, this worked well. But such a plow was inappropriate to the wet climate and often sticky soils of northern Europe. By the latter part of the 7th century after Christ, however, following obscure beginnings, certain northern peasants were using an entirely new kind of plow, equipped with a vertical knife to cut the line of the furrow, a horizontal share to slice under the sod, and a moldboard to turn it over. The friction of this plow with the soil was so great that it normally required not two but eight oxen. It attacked the land with such violence that cross-plowing was not needed, and fields tended to be shaped in long strips.

In the days of the scratch-plow, fields were distributed generally in units capable of supporting a single family. Subsistence farming was the presupposition. But no peasant owned eight oxen: to use the new and more efficient plow, peasants pooled their oxen to form large plow-teams, originally receiving (it would appear) plowed strips in proportion to their contribution. Thus, distribution of land was based no longer on the needs of a family but, rather, on the capacity of a power machine to till the earth. Man’s relation to the soil was profoundly changed. Formerly man had been part of nature; now he was the exploiter of nature. Nowhere else in the world did farmers develop any analogous agricultural implement. Is it coincidence that modern technology, with its ruthlessness toward nature, has so largely been produced by descendants of these peasants of northern Europe?

This same exploitive attitude appears slightly before A.D. 830 in Western illustrated calendars. In older calendars the months were shown as passive personifications. The new Frankish calendars, which set the style for the Middle Ages, are very different: they show men coercing the world around them—plowing, harvesting, chopping trees, butchering pigs. Man and nature are two things, and man is master.

These novelties seem to be in harmony with larger intellectual patterns. What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny—that is, by religion. To Western eyes this is very evident in, say, India or Ceylon. It is equally true of ourselves and of our medieval ancestors.

The victory of Christianity over Paganism was the greatest psychic revolution in the history of our culture. It has become fashionable today to say that, for better or worse, we live in the “post-Christian age.” Certainly the forms of our thinking and language have largely ceased to be Christian, but to my eye the substance often remains amazingly akin to that of the past. Our daily habits of action, for example, are dominated by an implicit faith in perpetual progress which was unknown either to Greco-Roman antiquity or to the Orient. It is rooted in, and is indefensible apart from, Judeo-Christian theology. The fact that Communists share it merely helps to show what can be demonstrated on many other grounds: that Marxism, like Islam, is a Judeo-Christian heresy. We continue today to live, as we have lived for about 1700 years, very largely in a context of Christian axioms.

What did Christianity tell people about their relations with the environment? While many of the world’s mythologies provide stories of creation, Greco-Roman mythology was singularly incoherent in this respect. Like Aristotle, the intellectuals of the ancient West denied that the visible world had a beginning. Indeed, the idea of a beginning was impossible in the framework of their cyclical notion of time. In sharp contrast, Christianity inherited from Judaism not only a concept of time as nonrepetitive and linear but also a striking story of creation. By gradual stages a loving and all- powerful God had created light and darkness, the heavenly bodies, the earth and all its plants, animals, birds, and fishes. Finally, God had created Adam and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely. Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes. And, although man’s body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God’s image.

Especially in its Western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. As early as the 2nd century both Tertullian and Saint Irenaeus of Lyons were insisting that when God shaped Adam he was foreshadowing the image of the incarnate Christ, the Second Adam. Man shares, in great measure, God’s transcendence of nature. Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient Paganism and Asia’s religions (except, perhaps, Zorastrianism), not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.

At the level of the common people this worked out in an interesting way. In Antiquity every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit. These spirits were accessible to men, but were very unlike men; centaurs, fauns, and mermaids show their ambivalence. Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of that particular situation, and to keep it placated. By destroying Pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.

It is often said that for animism the Church substituted the cult of saints. True; but the cult of saints is functionally quite different from animism. The saint is not in natural objects; he may have special shrines, but his citizenship is in heaven. Moreover, a saint is entirely a man; he can be approached in human terms. In addition to saints, Christianity of course also had angels and demons inherited from Judaism and perhaps, at one remove, from Zoroastrianism. But these were all as mobile as the saints themselves. The spirits in natural objects, which formerly had protected nature from man, evaporated. Man’s effective monopoly on spirit in this world was confirmed, and the old inhibitions to the exploitation of nature crumbled.

When one speaks in such sweeping terms, a note of caution is in order. Christianity is a complex faith, and its consequences differ in differing contexts. What I have said may well apply to the medieval West, where in fact technology made spectacular advances. But the Greek East, a highly civilized realm of equal Christian devotion, seems to have produced no marked technological innovation after the late 7th century, when Greek fire was invented. The key to the contrast may perhaps be found in a difference in the tonality of piety and thought which students of comparative theology find between the Greek and the Latin Churches. The Greeks believed that sin was intellectual blindness, and that salvation was found in illumination, orthodoxy—that is, clear thinking. The Latins, on the other hand, felt that sin was moral evil, and that salvation was to be found in right conduct. Eastern theology has been intellectualist. Western theology has been voluntarist. The Greek saint contemplates; the Western saint acts. The implications of Christianity for the conquest of nature would emerge more easily in the Western atmosphere.

The Christian dogma of creation, which is found in the first clause of all the Creeds, has another meaning for our comprehension of today’s ecologic crisis. By revelation, God had given man the Bible, the Book of Scripture. But since God had made nature, nature also must reveal the divine mentality. The religious study of nature for the better understanding of God was known as natural theology. In the early Church, and always in the Greek East, nature was conceived primarily as a symbolic system through which God speaks to men: the ant is a sermon to sluggards; rising flames are the symbol of the soul’s aspiration. The view of nature was essentially artistic rather than scientific. While Byzantium preserved and copied great numbers of ancient Greek scientific texts, science as we conceive it could scarcely flourish in such an ambience.

However, in the Latin West by the early 13th century natural theology was following a very different bent. It was ceasing to be the decoding of the physical symbols of God’s communication with man and was becoming the effort to understand God’s mind by discovering how his creation operates. The rainbow was no longer simply a symbol of hope first sent to Noah after the Deluge: Robert Grosseteste, Friar Roger Bacon, and Theodoric of Freiberg produced startlingly sophisticated work on the optics of the rainbow, but they did it as a venture in religious understanding. From the 13th century onward, up to and including Leitnitz and Newton, every major scientist, in effect, explained his motivations in religious terms. Indeed, if Galileo had not been so expert an amateur theologian he would have got into far less trouble: the professionals resented his intrusion. And Newton seems to have regarded himself more as a theologian than as a scientist. It was not until the late 18th century that the hypothesis of God became unnecessary to many scientists.

It is often hard for the historian to judge, when men explain why they are doing what they want to do, whether they are offering real reasons or merely culturally acceptable reasons. The consistency with which scientists during the long formative centuries of Western science said that the task and the reward of the scientist was “to think God’s thoughts after him” leads one to believe that this was their real motivation. If so, then modern Western science was cast in a matrix of Christian theology. The dynamism of religious devotion shaped by the Judeo-Christian dogma of creation, gave it impetus.

An Alternative Christian View

We would seem to be headed toward conclusions unpalatable to many Christians. Since both science and technology are blessed words in our contemporary vocabulary, some may be happy at the notions, first, that viewed historically, modern science is an extrapolation of natural theology and, second, that modern technology is at least partly to be explained as an Occidental, voluntarist realization of the Christian dogma of man’s transcendence of, and rightful master over, nature. But, as we now recognize, somewhat over a century ago science and technology—hitherto quite separate activities—joined to give mankind powers which, to judge by many of the ecologic effects, are out of control. If so, Christianity bears a huge burden of guilt.

I personally doubt that disastrous ecologic backlash can be avoided simply by applying to our problems more science and more technology. Our science and technology have grown out of Christian attitudes toward man’s relation to nature which are almost universally held not only by Christians and neo-Christians but also by those who fondly regard themselves as post-Christians. Despite Copernicus, all the cosmos rotates around our little globe. Despite Darwin, we are not, in our hearts, part of the natural process. We are superior to nature, contemptuous of it, willing to use it for our slightest whim. The newly elected Governor of California, like myself a churchman but less troubled than I, spoke for the Christian tradition when he said (as is alleged), “when you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all.” To a Christian a tree can be no more than a physical fact. The whole concept of the sacred grove is alien to Christianity and to the ethos of the West. For nearly two millennia Christian missionaries have been chopping down sacred groves, which are idolatrous because they assume spirit in nature.

What we do about ecology depends on our ideas of the man-nature relationship. More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecologic crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one. The beatniks, who are the basic revolutionaries of our time, show a sound instinct in their affinity for Zen Buddhism, which conceives of the man-nature relationship as very nearly the mirror image of the Christian view. Zen, however, is as deeply conditioned by Asian history as Christianity is by the experience of the West, and I am dubious of its viability among us.

Possibly we should ponder the greatest radical in Christian history since Christ: Saint Francis of Assisi. The prime miracle of Saint Francis is the fact that he did not end at the stake, as many of his left-wing followers did. He was so clearly heretical that a General of the Franciscan Order, Saint Bonaventura, a great and perceptive Christian, tried to suppress the early accounts of Franciscanism. The key to an understanding of Francis is his belief in the virtue of humility—not merely for the individual but for man as a species. Francis tried to depose man from his monarchy over creation and set up a democracy of all God’s creatures. With him the ant is no longer simply a homily for the lazy, flames a sign of the thrust of the soul toward union with God; now they are Brother Ant and Sister Fire, praising the Creator in their own ways as Brother Man does in his.

Later commentators have said that Francis preached to the birds as a rebuke to men who would not listen. The records do not read so: he urged the little birds to praise God, and in spiritual ecstasy they flapped their wings and chirped rejoicing. Legends of saints, especially the Irish saints, had long told of their dealings with animals but always, I believe, to show their human dominance over creatures. With Francis it is different. The land around Gubbio in the Apennines was ravaged by a fierce wolf. Saint Francis, says the legend, talked to the wolf and persuaded him of the error of his ways. The wolf repented, died in the odor of sanctity, and was buried in consecrated ground.

What Sir Steven Runciman calls “the Franciscan doctrine of the animal soul” was quickly stamped out. Quite possibly it was in part inspired, consciously or unconsciously, by the belief in reincarnation held by the Cathar heretics who at that time teemed in Italy and  southern France, and who presumably had got it originally from India. It is significant that at just the same moment, about 1200, traces of metempsychosis are found also in western Judaism, in the Provencal Cabbala. But Francis held neither to transmigration of souls nor to pantheism. His view of nature and of man rested on a unique sort of panpsychism of all things animate and inanimate, designed for the glorification of their transcendent Creator, who, in the ultimate gesture of cosmic humility, assumed flesh, lay helpless in a manger, and hung dying on a scaffold.

I am not suggesting that many contemporary Americans who are concerned about our ecologic crisis will be either able or willing to counsel with wolves or exhort birds. However, the present increasing disruption of the global environment is the product of a dynamic technology and science which were originating in the Western medieval world against which Saint Francis was rebelling in so original a way. Their growth cannot be understood historically apart from distinctive attitudes toward nature which are deeply grounded in Christian dogma. The fact that most people do not think of these attitudes as Christian is irrelevant. No new set of basic values has been accepted in our society to displace those of Christianity. Hence we shall continue to have a worsening ecologic  crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.

The greatest spiritual revolutionary in Western history, Saint Francis, proposed what he thought was an alternative Christian view of nature and man’s relation to it; he tried to substitute the idea of the equality of all creatures, including man, for the idea of man’s limitless rule of creation. He failed. Both our present science and our present technology are so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature that no solution for our ecologic crisis can be expected from them alone. Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it that or not. We must rethink and refeel our nature and destiny. The profoundly religious, but heretical, sense of the primitive Franciscans for the spiritual autonomy of all parts of nature may point a direction. I propose Francis as a patron saint for ecologists. —  Science Magazine, 1967

» Download the essay here (pdf)

» Prof Lynn Townsend White, Jr. (April 29, 1907–March 30, 1987) was a professor of medieval Christian history at Princeton and Stanford universities. He was the son of a Calvinist professor of Christian Ethics and had himself earned a master’s degree at Union Theological Seminary. 

Lynn Townsend White


 

Buddha was every inch a Hindu – Koenraad Elst

Gautama Buddha

Koenraad ElstBoth Nehru and Ambedkar believed by implication that at some point in his life, the Hindu-born renunciate Gautama had broken away from Hinduism and adopted a new religion, Buddhism. This notion is now omnipresent, and through school textbooks most Indians have lapped this up and don’t know any better. However, none of the believers in this story have ever told us at what moment in his life the Buddha broke way from Hinduism. When did he revolt against it? Very many Indians repeat the Nehruvian account, but so far, never has any of them been able to pinpoint an event in the Buddha’s life which constituted a break with Hinduism.” – Dr. Koenraad Elst

When did the Buddha break away from Hinduism?

Orientalists had started treating Buddhism as a separate religion because they discovered it outside India, without any conspicuous link with India, where Buddhism was not in evidence. At first, they didn’t even know that the Buddha had been an Indian. It had at any rate gone through centuries of development unrelated to anything happening in India at the same time. Therefore, it is understandable that Buddhism was already the object of a separate discipline even before any connection with Hinduism could be made.

Buddhism in modern India

In India, all kinds of invention, somewhat logically connected to this status of separate religion, were then added. Especially the Ambedkarite movement, springing from the conversion of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar in 1956, was very driven in retro-actively producing an anti-Hindu programme for the Buddha. Conversion itself, not just the embracing of a new tradition (which any Hindu is free to do, all while staying a Hindu) but the renouncing of one’s previous religion, as the Hindu-born politician Ambedkar did, is a typically Christian concept. The model event was the conversion of the Frankish king Clovis, possibly in 496, who “burned what he had worshipped and worshipped what he had burnt”. (Let it pass for now that the Christian chroniclers slandered their victims by positing a false symmetry: the Heathens hadn’t been in the business of destroying Christian symbols.) So, in his understanding of the history of Bauddha Dharma (Buddhism), Ambedkar was less than reliable, in spite of his sterling contributions regarding the history of Islam and some parts of the history of caste. But where he was a bit right and a bit mistaken, his later followers have gone all the way and made nothing but a gross caricature of history, and especially about the place of Buddhism in Hindu history.

The Ambedkarite world view has ultimately only radicalized the moderately anti-Hindu version of the reigning Nehruvians. Under Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, Buddhism was turned into the unofficial state religion of India, adopting the “lion pillar” of the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka as state symbol and putting the 24-spoked cakravarti wheel in the national flag. Essentially, Nehru’s knowledge of Indian history was limited to two spiritual figures, viz. the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, and three political leaders: Ashoka, Akbar and himself. The concept of cakravarti (“wheel-turner”, universal ruler) was in fact much older than Ashoka, and the 24-spoked wheel can also be read in other senses, e.g. the Sankhya philosophy’s world view  with the central Purusha/Subject and the 24 elements of Prakrti/ Nature. The anglicized Nehru, “India’s last Viceroy”, prided himself on his illiteracy in Hindu culture, so he didn’t know any of this, but was satisfied that these symbols could glorify Ashoka and belittle Hinduism, deemed a separate religion from which Ashoka had broken away by accepting Buddhism. More broadly, he thought that everything of value in India was a gift of Buddhism (and Islam) to the undeserving Hindus. Thus, the fabled Hindu tolerance was according to him a value borrowed from Buddhism. In reality, the Buddha had been a beneficiary of an already established Hindu tradition of pluralism. In a Muslim country, he would never have preached his doctrine in peace and comfort for 45 years, but in Hindu society, this was a matter of course. There were some attempts on his life, but they emanated not from “Hindus” but from jealous disciples within his own monastic order.

So, both Nehru and Ambedkar, as well as their followers, believed by implication that at some point in his life, the Hindu-born renunciate Buddha had broken away from Hinduism and adopted a new religion, Buddhism. This notion is now omnipresent, and through school textbooks, most Indians have lapped this up and don’t know any better. However, numerous though they are, none of the believers in this story have ever told us at what moment in his life the Buddha broke way from Hinduism. When did he revolt against it? Very many Indians repeat the Nehruvian account, but so far, never has any of them been able to pinpoint an event in the Buddha’s life which constituted a break with Hinduism.

The term ‘Hinduism’

Their first line of defence, when put on the spot, is sure to be: “Actually, Hinduism did not yet exist at the time.” So, their position really is: Hinduism did not exist yet, but somehow the Buddha broke away from it. Yeah, the secular position is that he was a miracle-worker.

Let us correct that: the word “Hinduism” did not exist yet. When Darius of the Achaemenid Persians, a near-contemporary of the Buddha, used the word “Hindu”, it was purely in a geographical sense: anyone from inside or beyond the Indus region. When the medieval Muslim invaders brought the term into India, they used it to mean: any Indian except for the Indian Muslims, Christians or Jews. It did not have a specific doctrinal content except “non-Abrahamic”, a negative definition. It meant every Indian Pagan, including the Brahmins, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), Jains, other ascetics, low-castes, intermediate castes, tribals, and by implication also the as yet unborn Lingayats, Sikhs, Hare Krishnas, Arya Samajis, Ramakrishnaites, secularists and others who nowadays reject the label “Hindu”. This definition was essentially also adopted by V.D. Savarkar in his book Hindutva (1923) and by the Hindu Marriage Act (1955). By this historical definition, which also has the advantages of primacy and of not being thought up by the wily Brahmins, the Buddha and all his Indian followers are unquestionably Hindus. In that sense, Savarkar was right when he called Ambedkar’s taking refuge in Buddhism “a sure jump into the Hindu fold”.

But the word “Hindu” is a favourite object of manipulation. Thus, secularists say that all kinds of groups (Dravidians, low-castes, Sikhs etc.) are “not Hindu”, yet when Hindus complain of the self-righteousness and aggression of the minorities, secularists laugh at this concern: “How can the Hindus feel threatened? They are more than 80%!” The missionaries call the tribals “not Hindus”, but when the tribals riot against the Christians who have murdered their Swami, we read about “Hindu rioters”. In the Buddha’s case, “Hindu” is often narrowed down to “Vedic” when convenient, then restored to its wider meaning when expedient.

One meaning which the word “Hindu” definitely does not have, and did not have when it was introduced, is “Vedic”. Shankara holds it against Patanjali and the Sankhya school (just like the Buddha) that they don’t bother to cite the Vedas, yet they have a place in every history of Hindu thought. Hinduism includes a lot of elements which have only a thin Vedic veneer, and numerous ones which are not Vedic at all. Scholars say that it consists of a “Great Tradition” and many “Little Traditions”, local cults allowed to subsist under the aegis of the prestigious Vedic line. However, if we want to classify the Buddha in these terms, he should rather be included in the Great Tradition.

Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha was a Kshatriya, a scion of the Solar or Ikshvaku dynasty, a descendant of Manu, a self-described reincarnation of Rama, the son of the Raja (president-for-life) of the Shakya tribe, a member of its Senate, and belonging to the Gautama gotra (roughly “clan”). Though monks are often known by their monastic name, Buddhists prefer to name the Buddha after his descent group, viz. the Shakyamuni, “renunciate of the Shakya tribe”. This tribe was as Hindu as could be, consisting according to its own belief of the progeny of the eldest children of patriarch Manu, who were repudiated at the insistence of his later, younger wife. The Buddha is not known to have rejected this name, not even at the end of his life when the Shakyas had earned the wrath of king Vidudabha of Kosala and were massacred. The doctrine that he was one in a line of incarnations which also included Rama is not a deceitful Brahmin Puranic invention but was launched by the Buddha himself, who claimed Rama as an earlier incarnation of his. The numerous scholars who like to explain every Hindu idea or custom as “borrowed from Buddhism” could well counter Ambedkar’s rejection of this “Hindu” doctrine by pointing out very aptly that it was “borrowed from Buddhism”.

Career

At 29, he renounced society, but not Hinduism. Indeed, it is a typical thing among Hindus to exit from society, laying off your caste marks including your civil name. The Rigveda already describes the munis as having matted hair and going about sky-clad: such are what we now know as Naga sadhus. Asceticism was a recognized practice in Vedic society long before the Buddha. Yajnavalkya, the Upanishadic originator of the notion of Self, renounced life in society after a successful career as court priest and an equally happy family life with two wives. By leaving his family and renouncing his future in politics, the Buddha followed an existing tradition within Hindu society. He didn’t practice Vedic rituals anymore, which is normal for a Vedic renunciate (though Zen Buddhists still recite the Heart Sutra in the Vedic fashion, ending with “sowaka”, i.e. svaha). He was a late follower of a movement very much in evidence in the Upanishads, viz. of spurning rituals (karmakanda) in favour of knowledge (jnanakanda). After he had done the Hindu thing by going to the forest, he tried several methods, including the techniques he learned from two masters and which did not fully satisfy him, — but nonetheless enough to include them in his own and the Buddhist curriculum. Among other techniques, he practised Anapanasati, “attention to the breathing process”, the archetypal yoga practice popular in practically all yoga schools till today. For a while he also practised an extreme form of asceticism, still existing in the Hindu sect of Jainism. He exercised his Hindu freedom to join a sect devoted to certain techniques, and later the freedom to leave it, remaining a Hindu at every stage.

He then added a technique of his own, or at least that is what the Buddhist sources tell us, for in the paucity of reliable information, we don’t know for sure that he hadn’t learned the Vipassana (“mindfulness”) technique elsewhere. Unless evidence of the contrary comes to the surface, we assume that he invented this technique all by himself, as a Hindu is free to do. He then achieved bodhi, the “awakening”. By his own admission, he was by no means the first to do so. Instead, he had only walked the same path of other awakened beings before him.

At the bidding of the Vedic gods Brahma and Indra, he left his self-contained state of Awakening and started teaching his way to others. When he “set in motion the wheel of the Law” (dharma-cakra-pravartana, Chinese falun gong), he gave no indication whatsoever of breaking with an existing system. On the contrary, by his use of existing Vedic and Upanishadic terminology (Arya, “Vedically civilized”, Dharma), he confirmed his Vedic roots and implied that his system was a restoration of the Vedic ideal which had become degenerate. He taught his techniques and his analysis of the human condition to his disciples, promising them to achieve the same awakening if they practised these diligently.

Caste

On caste, we find him is full cooperation with existing caste society. Being an elitist, he mainly recruited among the upper castes, with over 40% Brahmins. These would later furnish all the great philosophers who made Buddhism synonymous with conceptual sophistication. Conversely, the Buddhist universities trained well-known non-Buddhist scientists such as the astronomer Aryabhata. Lest the impression be created that universities are a gift of Buddhism to India, it may be pointed out that the Buddha’s friends Bandhula and Prasenadi (and, according to a speculation, maybe the young Siddhartha himself) had studied at the university of Takshashila, clearly established before there were any Buddhists around to do so. Instead, the Buddhists greatly developed an institution which they had inherited from Hindu society.

The kings and magnates of the eastern Ganga plain treated the Buddha as one of their own (because that is what he was) and gladly patronized his fast-growing monastic order, commanding their servants and subjects to build a network of monasteries for it. He predicted the coming of a future awakened leader like himself, the Maitreya (“the one practising friendship/charity”), and specified that he would be born in a Brahmin family. When king Prasenadi discovered that his wife was not a Shakya princess but the daughter of the Shakya ruler by a maid-servant, he repudiated her and their son; but his friend the Buddha made him take them back.

Did he achieve this by saying that birth is unimportant, that “caste is bad” or that “caste doesn’t matter”, as the Ambedkarites claim? No, he reminded the king of the old view (then apparently in the process of being replaced with a stricter view) that caste was passed on exclusively in the paternal line. Among hybrids of horses and donkeys, the progeny of a horse stallion and a donkey mare whinnies, like its father, while the progeny of a donkey stallion and a horse mare brays, also like its father. So, in the oldest Upanishad, Satyakama Jabala is accepted by his Brahmins-only teacher because his father is deduced to be a Brahmin, regardless of his mother being a maid-servant. And similarly, king Prasenadi should accept his son as a Kshatriya, even though his mother was not a full-blooded Shakya Kshatriya.

When he died, the elites of eight cities made a successful bid for his ashes on the plea: “We are Kshatriyas, he was a Kshatriya, therefore we have a right to his ashes”. After almost half a century, his disciples didn’t mind being seen in public as still observing caste in a context which was par excellence Buddhist. The reason is that the Buddha in his many teachings never had told them to give up caste, e.g. to give their daughters in marriage to men of other castes. This was perfectly logical: as a man with a spiritual message, the Buddha wanted to lose as little time as possible on social matters. If satisfying your own miserable desires is difficult enough, satisfying the desire for an egalitarian society provides an endless distraction from your spiritual practice.

The Seven Rules

There never was a separate non-Hindu Buddhist society. Most Hindus worship various gods and teachers, adding and sometimes removing one or more pictures or statues to their house altar. This way, there were some lay worshippers of the Buddha, but they were not a society separate from the worshippers of other gods or awakened masters. This box-type division of society in different sects is another Christian prejudice infused into modern Hindu society by Nehruvian secularism. There were only Hindus, members of Hindu castes, some of whom had a veneration for the Buddha among others.

Buddhist buildings in India often follow the designs of Vedic habitat ecology or Vastu Shastra. Buddhist temple conventions follow an established Hindu pattern. Buddhist mantras, also outside India, follow the pattern of Vedic mantras. When Buddhism spread to China and Japan, Buddhist monks took the Vedic gods (e.g. the twelve Adityas) with them and built temples for them. In Japan, every town has a temple for the river-goddess Benzaiten, i.e. “Saraswati Devi”, the goddess Saraswati. She was not introduced there by wily Brahmins, but by Buddhists.

At the fag-end of his long life, the Buddha described the seven principles by which a society does not perish (which Sita Ram Goel has given more body in his historical novel Sapta Shila, in Hindi), and among them are included: respecting and maintaining the existing festivals, pilgrimages and rituals; and revering the holy men. These festivals, etc. were mainly “Vedic”, of course, like the pilgrimage to the Saraswati which Balaram made in the Mahabharata, or the pilgrimage to the Ganga which the elderly Pandava brothers made. Far from being a revolutionary, the Buddha emphatically outed himself as a conservative, both in social and in religious matters. He was not a rebel or a revolutionary, but wanted the existing customs to continue. The Buddha was every inch a Hindu.

» Dr. Koenraad Elst is a Belgian scholar and orientalist. He has authored many English language books on topics related to Indian politics and communalism, and is one of the few western writers to actively defend the Hindutva ideology.

Gautama Buddha & B.R. Ambedkar

The Twenty-Two Pledges of a Neo-Buddhist

  1. I will not accept Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh as God and will not worship them.
  2. I will not accept Rama and Krishna as God and will not worship them.
  3. I will not accept Gauri, Ganpati, etc. belonging to Hindu canon, as God / Goddesses and will not worship them.
  4. I do not have any faith in divine incarnation.
  5. That the Buddha is the incarnation of Vishnu is a mischievous and false propaganda. I do not believe in it.
  6. I will not perform Shraddha Paksh or Pinda Pradaana (rituals to respect the dead).
  7. I will not act contrary to principles and teachings of Buddhism.
  8. I will not get any function performed in which the Brahmin is officiating as a priest.
  9. I believe that all human beings are equal.
  10. I will strive to establish equality.
  11. I will follow the Eightfold Path prescribed by the Buddha.
  12. I will abide by the Ten Paramitas prescribed by the Buddha.
  13. I will show loving kindness to all animals and look after them.
  14. I will not commit theft.
  15. I will not commit adultery.
  16. I will not speak lies.
  17. I will not indulge in liquor drinking.
  18. I will live my life by relating pradnya (knowledge), sheel (purity of action) and karuna (compassion).
  19. I renounce Hinduism which has proved detrimental to progress and prosperity of my predecessors and which has regarded human beings as unequal and despicable; and embrace Buddhism.
  20. I have ascertained that Buddhism is saddamma (pure way of life).
  21. I believe that this (embracing Buddhism) is my new birth.
  22. I take the Pledge that hereafter I shall live / behave as per the teaching of the Buddha.

See also

 

Sabarimala: BJP government’s gross miscalculation in Kerala – Rajeev Srinivasan

Narendra Modi & Pinarayi Vijayan

Rajeev SrinivasanThe courts and the Kerala government may be demonising and humiliating Hindus as a way of taking pot-shots at the BJP government, which they view as Hindu-friendly. What is bitterly ironic is that the BJP government has done absolutely nothing to save the Hindus of Kerala, but stood by, apparently either helpless or uncaring. – Rajeev Srinivasan

The Sabarimala issue is one in which there are no winners, but many losers. Most of all, the losers are the faithful, especially Kerala Hindu women, who have had their beliefs trampled underfoot by an uncaring state. Almost nobody comes out of it smelling of roses, and it has been a disastrous series of events, the real import of which we don’t yet understand. However, it feels very much like a tipping point, although which way things will go is not yet clear.

While the proximate cause of the problems is the Supreme Court ruling on 28 September, there is a preponderant cause and a root cause, too. We can also think in terms of three different stakeholders, none of whom exactly covered themselves in glory: the Supreme Court, the Communist Kerala government, and the BJP union government.

The Supreme Court

The proximate cause is the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that the Court unwisely admitted: because those filing the case had no obvious locus standi. None of them were Kerala Hindus, or pious Ayyappa devotee women, who might have had a legitimate desire to visit the temple in their child-bearing years between 10 and 50. Instead, it was filed by several Delhi lawyers (four out of five of them later changed their mind once they understood the situation, but the Court would not let them withdraw the petition, perhaps for technical reasons, perhaps because of the virtue-signalling opportunity).

There are plenty of concerns about the entire PIL process, wherein a fashionable cause can be brought to the Supreme Court directly: a situation unique to India. Comparable class-action suits in the US, for instance, have to wend their way for several years through lower courts, courts of appeal, etc, before the Supreme Court accepts it only if it is a constitutional matter. In India, on the other hand, anybody with an axe to grind and lots of money can hire a famous lawyer, get the case listed straight as a PIL in the SC, and have the Court rule in their favour in a few months, damn the impact on society at large. It really isn’t in the “public interest” after all, just a pet cause for the litigants.

The simplest thing regarding Sabarimala would have been for the Supreme Court to maintain the status quo ante. However, based on a narrow reading of their ambit, and influenced no doubt by current fads and the media, the Court chose to impose a ruling that is the very opposite of Solomonic: instead of being harsh but even-handed, it is harsh but one-sided, and doesn’t take the ground situation into account.

This is the most glaring proximate cause; on reflection, the Court should have rejected this PIL, but it was positioned as a “gender rights” issue, and presumably in the wake of #MeToo, judges too are eager to show how politically correct they are with respect to this latest fashion.

The Supreme Court, in a rambling verdict, ruled on 28 September said that all women should be allowed free entry, regardless of consequences. The simple-minded focus on gender equality shows two things: a) the baleful influence of Western fads and causes on the courts, b) the possibility that the Court had made up its mind even before any arguments were heard.

The latter possibility is buttressed by two observations. There was an immediate uproar, and thousands of ordinary Kerala Hindu women, the purported “victims” being given succour by the ruling, took to the streets in massive protests, because they felt their faith and traditions were under attack by outsiders. They were #ReadyToWait till they were 50, they said. The sight of thousands of ordinary middle-class mothers and grandmothers out on the streets should have been instructive.

But the Court choose to ignore them, and set the hearing for the clutch of review petitions on 13 November, aware that the temple would open for Diwali on 5 and 6 November. If the process were fair, the hearing of the review petition should have been before Diwali, because once a single young woman entered, there would be a fait accompli, and the tradition would have been violated, to the chagrin of the faithful.

Indeed, there were startling battle scenes on the days the temple was open in October and earlier this month with large numbers of policemen in riot gear protecting certain female activists who were obviously not pilgrims, or driven by any need to pray. They were there to make a point. This prospect caused serious angst among the devotees, leading to scenes of unprecedented protests. There was chaos.

These law and order problems and the sentiments of the protesting women did not sway the Court, and when they accepted the review petitions in camera on 13 November, the Court did not stay their earlier judgment, which they could have while analysing the situation on the ground. On the contrary, they postponed the hearing of the review petitions to 22 January, which is after the Sabarimala season is over. They explicitly said there was no stay on the 28 September ruling. In other words, they were signalling the Kerala government that the latter should go ahead with its plans to bring in women activists, and perhaps that the review petitions would be thrown out.

The impartial observer is forced to ask whether there is a pattern in the Supreme Court’s rulings in the recent past, generally in the wake of dubious PILs. There was the jallikattu ban, the dahihandi ban, the Diwali cracker ban—all of which were based on no scientific evidence, but all of which had the result of demeaning Hindu practices. The impression one gets is that court is simply sniping at the Narendra Modi government, possibly with a political agenda. Hindu sentiments are the collateral damage.

Kerala Government

There is a preponderant cause, which is the hostility of successive Kerala governments towards Hindus (and only Hindus) and in particular against the Sabarimala Temple. Let us recall how in the 1950’s, the temple (which was then seldom visited) was set on fire by Christians seeking to grab the forest around it. The response of C. Kesavan, the then-CM and Congress leader, was instructive: “Good. One more house of superstition burned down”.

Successive Congress and Communist governments have continued their step-motherly treatment of the temple. It became a cash cow for them, as the number of pilgrims grew exponentially in the 1980s and later, now reaching some 40 million a year, quite possibly the largest pilgrimage in the world. The governments simply siphoned off the entire revenue of donations by the faithful. And they did nothing to whatsoever improve the facilities.

It is unbelievable how much has been looted from pilgrims—hundreds of crores per year—without a paisa being spent on improving amenities for them. There is absolutely no organisation unlike in Tirupati: pilgrims are not able to purchase passes to enter at a given time and many end up spending 10-12 hours waiting in line for a glimpse of the sanctum; there are far too few toilets and bathrooms; there is not enough shelter from the sun and rain (the November-January season is relatively cold and the northeast monsoon is active).

There are feral pigs rooting in the muck, with fierce fangs; the whole area is a mess with mud, pig droppings, plastic, flowers, and human waste. There were photographs of young children sleeping propped up against garbage bins, others sleeping next to rooting pigs. These are people who have come from far and near, after 41 days of penance, have been overcharged for everything, been forced to walk 20 kilometres from the Nilakkal station to Pamba, then climb steep hills for 4-5 km to arrive at the sanctum. Only in India are pilgrims treated with such contempt.

And indeed, the temple area has exceeded its carrying capacity because of no investment whatsoever for decades. Frankly, the emotion it induces is not bhakti but bibhatsa: the fortitude of the pilgrims who brave all this is astonishing.

None of this is beyond fixing: but it needs money, and more importantly, will. The money is there: the government commingling pilgrim offerings with government funds. The will is missing. It is ironic that this year, when the Pinarayi Vijayan government wanted to control the crowds for their own purposes, they have been able to create some kind of system of reducing the crush at the Sannidhanam. Why couldn’t they do crowd-control all these years?

It’s not just the Communists who are hostile, but so are their alter-egos, the Congress. In Kerala, the Congress reflects Christian interests, which include the conversion of Western Ghats forest land to privately-owned Christian assets, especially plantations and resorts. There was the instance where the previous Congress chief minister said that he didn’t support a proposed rail link to Sabarimala because it would mean the loss of Christian land for the project!

The actions of the Kerala government after 17 November, when the shrine reopened for the season, have been nothing short of extraordinary. They ordered the police to wear their boots in the Sannidhanam, hitherto a holy area around the sanctum sanctorum; there were startling photos of the police drying their rain coats on a clothesline erected just in front of the sanctum sanctorum. A Section 144 prohibitory order was issued, which forced all pilgrims to vacate the waiting sheds. They hosed down the entire area so that nobody could lay down a sheet and lie down.

Furthermore, in an act that could only have been intended to provoke, there were photographs of policemen standing on the hitherto sacrosanct 18 steps, with their back to the deity, hosing down the surroundings. So far as I know, the only person who had ever been entitled to climb the steps without the traditional irumudi (offerings) is the officiating tantri (priest). These are startling violations of tradition.

They started arresting pilgrims who had come after all the traditional penances: firebrand Hindu Aikya Vedi leader Sasikala and Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Surendran. Many pilgrims were arrested and summarily removed, their sentiments ignored. At least one pilgrim has been reportedly injured when police kicked him. The pilgrims who were merely chanting Ayyappa stuthis were set upon by the police.

On the other hand, a local airport was turned into a sea of khaki to protect a known rabble-rouser woman who had arrived from Mumbai. There was no question where the government’s sympathies lay. Meanwhile, they are treating pilgrims as criminals and terrorists (a Communist minister, with a Christian name, actually called the pilgrims, terrorists).

This has all the signs of a simple agenda: desacralisation of the shrine. The Kerala government is planning to remove all sanctity, violate every rule there, and reduce it to an object no longer of reverence, but of disdain. It is as though they would like to turn the temple into an empty shell, devoid of sacredness, and kill off this religious tradition and pilgrimage. It is like a medieval attack of one religion on another: pious Communists want to wipe out Hindus.

That would be quite natural for a Communist government to do, but it is also a violation of the fundamental right to worship unmolested. The fact is that there appears to be no appeal against this assault: there is nobody the distressed pilgrims can turn to for help, as the courts are hostile. In these circumstances, it is quite possible that a few agents provocateurs can come into the picture. The idea may be to create a Bluestar-like situation, with violence used as an excuse for physically destroying the shrine using, possibly, military equipment.

I have never seen a religious shrine treated with such contempt as Sabarimala. It is unbelievable in a democratic country. The entire might of the state has been brought to bear against an old temple, with its pious, unarmed, peaceable pilgrims being treated inhumanely. It is clear that the Kerala government will stop at nothing to force the entry of young women into the temple, come what may. Their contempt for the Hindu citizens of Kerala, who are protesting peacefully against unjust laws, much like Gandhi did Salt Satyagraha, could not be clearer. The words “apartheid” and “pogrom” spring to mind.

It is possible that both the courts and the Kerala government may be demonising and humiliating Hindus as a way of taking pot-shots at the BJP government, which they view as Hindu-friendly. What is bitterly ironic is that the BJP government has done absolutely nothing to save the Hindus of Kerala, but stood by, apparently either helpless or uncaring, nishprabha.

There were several things that the central government could have done. First and foremost, there is the history of Article 356, which was first used in Kerala by Jawaharlal Nehru against the then-Communist government of E.M.S. Namboodiripad in 1959. President’s rule was imposed based on a “breakdown in law and order”, which was probably no worse than what is being unleashed now on pilgrims by the current Communist government under Pinarayi Vijayan.

I read in a tweet from @trramesh, a lawyer, that even Article 356 was not necessary: the Center could use Article 356 (a)(1) to just take over the Travancore Devaswom Board and Pathanamthitta District where the shrine lies, and administer it directly to prevent further chaos and problems. I don’t know if this is feasible, to have a federally administered enclave in a state, but it could be explored.

In fact, it is incumbent on the Centre to act in such manner, because the issue goes beyond state boundaries: it is not a Kerala issue, and thus, by definition, it becomes a Central issue, because the affected pilgrims are from all over the south. Thus the state governments of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka (and Maharashtra, and Delhi, and so on) are all parties to the matter because their residents’ fundamental right to religious freedom, guaranteed in the Constitution, is affected.

Secondly, the Centre could have brought out an ordinance, or executive order, as they did in the jallikattu case, which would have stayed the court order at least till the time came to vote on it in Parliament. That probably would have taken care of this year’s pilgrim season without any ill effect. I am not sure if there are any legal obstacles to this as it is a constitutional issue, but then, I assume, so was the jallikattu case.

Thirdly, it could have just spoken out. There was stunning silence from the Centre. This betrays either incomprehension about what’s going on in Sabarimala, or cynical calculation, or both. The Home Minister, and especially the Prime Minister, did not say a word about Sabarimala. Amit Shah, the president of the BJP, did make strong statements, but he is a politician, not the inspirational leader that Narendra Modi is, and so his statements—which were also not backed up by any visible action—did not have the same impact.

I heard Arun Jaitley speak about the issue, but he did it in a very general, vague, “lawyerly” way without mentioning the name “Sabarimala” even once. I heard Yogi Adityanath speak, but what he said was the following: “if the Supreme Court could make a quick decision about Sabarimala, why was it dithering on Ayodhya?” These were not the most satisfying responses, and it’s clear that the Vijayan government is not particularly bothered about them.

This brings us back to the other possibility: of a long game being played. It is clear that there is a demographic wall against the BJP in Kerala. I have long ago explained this by what I see on the ground: Kerala is (approximately) 30 per cent Muslim, 30 per cent Christian (including those who have converted but retain their Hindu names for various reasons), 30 per cent Communists and only 10 per cent actual Hindus.

My conjecture was more or less proved in the 2016 assembly elections in Kerala. The BJP, under Kummanam Rajasekharan, a soft-spoken veteran, ran a very good campaign based on Hindu unity. They made unity the centrepiece of the campaign, invoking Sri Narayana Guru (Ezhava), Chattampki Swamikal (Nair), and Mahatma Ayyankali (SC/ST), representing the three biggest groups of Hindus.

And Hindus responded. In alliance with the BDJS, an Ezhava party, the BJP won 15 per cent of the vote. I could argue that, in effect, every Hindu in Kerala voted for the BJP and BDJS. (Remember, there are large numbers of people with Hindu names who are Christian or Communist, and they don’t count.) In other words, the Hindus of Kerala delivered what they could for the BJP.

There may be a feeling among some BJP people that Kerala voted against them, so that they did not win any parliament seats, and only one assembly seat. (This is a specious argument anyway, because the PM is responsible for the welfare of even people who didn’t vote for him.) But the fact is that the minority Hindus are powerless: on their own, they can never give the BJP victory. On the other hand, the Congress, with its vote-banks of Christians and in many cases Muslims, pretty much are assured of victory. At best the minority Hindus can only act as spoilers.

The only feasible way around this is to “convert” some of the Communists bearing Hindu names back to Hinduism. The backbone of the Communists is the Ezhava community, an OBC (Other Backward Caste) group. In conversations with Ezhavas, I have come to the conclusion that many are committed Communists, brainwashed with a victimhood narrative, wherein their poverty is attributed to FC (Forward Caste) malice, along with manufactured “atrocity literature” (an excellent example is the story of nineteenth century Nangeli who ripped off her breast in protest against a breast tax, a story that was fabricated by a hardcore bigot around 2010 but it is now widely circulated and believed).

What is ironic is that while it is true there were many atrocities against Ezhavas by Nairs and Namboodiris before 1947, those two groups are themselves powerless now, and it is increasingly non-Hindus who are putting Ezhavas down. Furthermore, the Communists themselves have exploited them. After the first Communist government in 1957, it took an astonishing 50 years for an Ezhava to become Communist chief minister. Communists are infamous for casteism.

I have the feeling that there is a cynical school of thought among the BJP leadership that the Sabarimala issue is what can erode Ezhava support for the Communists. In other words, the womenfolk of the Communists will force their men to withdraw their support for the Communists.

I think this is far-fetched. The brainwashing is so deep and so thorough that many Communists see nothing wrong with the destruction of the shrine. They echo what C. Kesavan (himself an Ezhava) said about the setting on fire of Sabarimala—a reduction in superstition. There is no way that hard-core Communists are going to abandon the party. Ironically, in a strange way, their triumphalist notions about the superiority of the “rational, logical” Communists may have been more damaged if their government were overthrown and President’s rule imposed.

On the other hand, the Congress has managed its dog-whistle signalling quite well. They made a faux pas earlier this year when their cadres publicly slaughtered a cow, with the intent of opposing anti-beef sentiment, and pandering to their non-Hindu vote-banks. But they realised that this might boomerang on them, so they were very careful to make soothing noises in the Sabarimala case: they trod a fine line, vaguely supporting the pilgrims, and at the same time being careful to mouth platitudes about women’s rights.

In other words, nothing to upset their vote-banks, but faint praise for the pilgrims, just in case they could gain a few Hindu votes from their arch-foes the Communists. The stunning silence of Shashi Tharoor, their loquacious MP from Trivandrum, was an example of this: for the longest time, Tharoor said nothing about it, leading me to wonder if I had finally discovered the one word not in his vast vocabulary.

In other words, the obituary of the Communists in Kerala has been written too soon. If the BJP in effect sacrificed Sabarimala expecting that it would be the tipping point against the Communists, it is a gross miscalculation. I think the BJP brass is getting terrible advice regarding Kerala. For instance, the only Minister of State at the Center from Kerala is K.J. Alphons, a Christian. I would be astonished if the BJP were to get more than about 100 Christian votes: anecdotal evidence suggests that Christians (rightly) view the Congress as their party. A far more productive exercise might have been to give an Ezhava that lone ministry as a signal.

Thus the BJP has comprehensively mismanaged the Sabarimala issue. They have sacrificed the biggest bulwark of Hinduism in the south against conversion—why do you think 40 million pilgrims come there braving all the inconvenience?—in a vain attempt to win a political battle against the Communists.

Root Cause

Sabarimala shows Hindus yet again that they have no future in the “Idea of India” as defined today. That is the root cause: endemic hostility and discrimination against Hindus, which turns them into second-class citizens in their own country. I wrote about this in 2002, and I reproduce it below; alas, things have only gotten worse in the meantime. Hindus are oppressed:

  • By looting Hindu temples through control of their finances (and only theirs; while providing largesse for others);
  • By declaring open season for conversion, which is violence against Hindus because they are only victimised and are never the proselytisers;
  • By discriminating against them by only allowing non-Hindus to run educational institutions;
  • By delegitimising and destroying Sanskrit and Indological studies;
  • By creating and cultivating a negative Marxist interpretation of Hinduism and making it the state-supported official view;
  • By continuously insulting Hindu tradition by labelling it primitive and superstitious, whereas it is in fact highly rational and scientific;
  • By negating Hindu history itself and brushing under the carpet massive Islamic and Christian damage done to it;
  • By ignoring all human rights violations against Hindus;
  • By propagating as state ideology something called “secularism”, which in essence means oppression of Hindus.

This goes all the way to the Constitution. I am hard pressed to think of many other constitutions where there is explicit inequality built in based on religion. Usually constitutions proclaim equality before the law as a cardinal principle. There are, perhaps, some countries where the dominant religion gets special privileges. But surely India is the only country where the numerically dominant religion is explicitly given fewer privileges, as in Articles 25 to 30, embellished by the provisions of the Right to Education Act, and its related constitutional amendment which cemented the inequality.

This is the root cause behind the troubles in Sabarimala. Can you imagine, by the wildest stretch of your imagination, a similar battle scene in a site holy to Christians in one of their countries? Say at St Paul’s Cathedral in London? Of course not. Sabarimala is the symptom. The disease is endemic anti-Hinduism built into the Constitution, and used by the courts and bureaucracy for its own sake. – Swarajya, 21 November 2018

» Rajeev Srinivasan focuses on strategy and innovation. He has worked at Bell Labs and in Silicon Valley, and has taught innovation at several IIMs. An IIT Madras and Stanford Business School grad, he has also been a conservative columnist for twenty years.

Police and female pilgrim at Sabarimala

Nehru & Patel: Serious differences over China’s invasion of Tibet – Claude Arpi

Sardar Patel

Claude ApriSenior Congress leaders, led by Patel, violently opposed Nehru’s suicidal policy of appeasement with China, which led India to lose a peaceful border. – Claude Arpi

On October 31, the world’s tallest statue, the Statue of Unity dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, was unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The work on the 182-metre tall statue has been completed after round the clock work by 3,400 labourers and 250 engineers at Sadhu Bet island on Narmada river in Gujarat. Sadhu Bet, located some 3.5 km away from the Narmada Dam, is linked by a 250-metre-long long bridge.

Unfortunately, for several reasons, scarce scholarly research has been done on the internal history of the Congress; the main cause is probably that a section of the party would prefer to keep history under wraps. Take the acute differences of opinion between Sardar Patel, the deputy prime minister, and “Panditji”, as Nehru was then called by Congressmen. In the last weeks of Patel’s life (he passed away on December 15, 1950), there was a deep split between the two leaders, leading to unilateral decisions for the PM, for which India had to pay the heaviest price.

The most serious cause of discord was the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese “Liberation Army” in October 1950. In the course of recent researches in Indian archives, I discovered several new facts. Not only did several senior Congress leaders, led by Patel, violently oppose Nehru’s suicidal policy, but many senior bureaucrats too did not agree with the Prime Minister’s decisions and objected to his policy of appeasement with China, which led India to lose a peaceful border.

On November 11, 1950, the deputy prime minister of India addressed a meeting organised by the Central Aryan Association to commemorate the 67th death anniversary of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. It was to be his last speech. What did he say? The Sardar spoke of the potential dangers arising from what was happening in Tibet and Nepal, and he exhorted his countrymen: “It was incumbent on the people to rise above party squabbles and unitedly defend their newly won freedom.” He cited the example of Gandhi and Swami Dayanand.

Sardar Patel then criticised the Chinese intervention in Tibet; he asserted that to use the “sword” against the traditionally peace-loving Tibetan people was unjustified: “No other country in the world was as peace-loving as Tibet. India did not believe, therefore, that the Chinese government would actually use force in settling the Tibetan question.” He observed that the Chinese government did not listen to India’s advice to settle the Tibetan issue peacefully: “They marched their armies into Tibet and explained this action by talking of foreign interests intriguing in Tibet against China.” The deputy prime minster added that this fear was unfounded; no outsider was interested in Tibet. The Sardar continued by saying that “nobody could say what the outcome of Chinese action would be. But the use of force ultimately created more fear and tension. It was possible that when a country got drunk with its own military strength and power, it did not think calmly over all issues.” He strongly asserted that the use of arms was wrong: “In the present state of the world, such events might easily touch off a new world war, which would mean disaster for mankind.”

Did he know that it was his last message? “Do not let cowardice cripple you. Do not run away from danger. The three year-old freedom of the country has to be fully protected. India today is surrounded by all sorts of dangers and it is for the people today to remember the teachings of the two great saints and face fearlessly all dangers.”

The deputy prime minister concluded: “In this Kalyug we shall return ahimsa for ahimsa. But if anybody resorted to force against us we shall meet it with force.” He ended his speech citing Swami Dayananda: “People should also remember that Swamiji did not get a foreign education. He was the product of Indian culture. Although it was true that they in India had to borrow whatever was good and useful from other countries, it was right and proper that Indian culture was accorded its due place.” Who is ready to listen to this, even today?

Days earlier, Patel had written a “prophetic” letter to Nehru, detailing the implications for India of Tibet’s invasion. In fact, Patel used a draft done by Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the secretary-general of the Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations. However, Nehru decided to ignore Patel’s letter.

Witnessing the nefarious influence of K.M. Panikkar, the Indian ambassador to China, who ceaselessly defended China’s interests, Bajpai, the most seasoned Indian diplomat, had lost his cool. On October 31, in an internal note, he detailed the sequence of events which followed Tibet’s invasion and the role of Panikkar, whose attitude was compared to Sir Neville Chamberlain’s towards Hitler.

Bajpai’s anger demonstrates the frustration of many senior officers; the account starts on July 15, when the governor of Assam informed Delhi that, according to the information received by the local intelligence bureau, Chinese troops, “in unknown strength, had been moving towards Tibet from three directions.” Not only was Panikkar unable to get any confirmation, but he virtually justified Beijing’s military action by writing: “In view of frustration in regard to Formosa, the Tibetan move was not unlikely.” During the next three months, the Indian ambassador would systematically take the Chinese side.

After receiving Bajpai’s note, Patel wrote back: “I need hardly say that I have read it with a great deal of interest and profit to myself and it has resulted in a much better understanding of the points at issue and general, though serious, nature of the problem. The Chinese advance into Tibet upsets all our security calculations. … I entirely agree with you that a reconsideration of our military position and a redisposition of our forces are inescapable.”

Some more details of the seriousness of the situation filters through Inside Story of Sardar Patel: The Diary of Maniben Patel, the daughter of the Sardar. In an entry on November 2, 1950, Maniben wrote: “Rajaji and Jawaharlal had a heated altercation about the Tibet policy. Rajaji does not at all appreciate this policy. Rajaji very unhappy—Bapu (Patel) did not speak at all.”

Later in the afternoon, “Munshi complained about Tibet policy. The question concerns the whole nation—said he had written a personal letter to Panditji on Tibet.”

Later, Patel told K.M. Munshi: “Rajaji, you (Munshi), I (Patel), Baldev Singh, (C.D.) Deshmukh, Jagjivan Ram and even Sri Prakash are on one side, while Gopalaswami, Rafi, Maulana (Azad) are on his side.” There was a vertical split in the Cabinet; and it was not only about Tibet. The situation would deteriorate further during the following weeks.

On December 12, Patel was divested on his portfolios. Nehru wrote: “In view of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s ill-health it is absolutely necessary that he should have complete rest and freedom from worry, so as to be able to recuperate as rapidly as possible. … No work should be sent to him and no references made to him in regard to the work of these ministries.”

Gopalaswami Ayyangar, from the “other side”, was allotted the Ministry of States and Nehru kept the Ministry of Home. The Sardar was only informed after the changes were made. He was a dejected man. Three days later he passed away. – Deccan Chronicle, 8 November 2018

» Claude Arpi is a French-born author, journalist, historian and tibetologist. He is the director of the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture at Auroville, Tamil Nadu.

Patel & Nehru