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


The Rajiv Malhotra Interview – R. Jagannathan

Rajiv Malhotra

R. JagannathanRajiv Malhotra, author and Hindu intellectual, is the man who developed the “breaking India” theory in his eponymous 2011 book. Malhotra has written prolifically in opposition to the academic study of Indian history and society, especially Hinduism, as it is conducted by scholars and university faculty of the West, which, he maintains, undermines the interests of India “by encouraging the paradigms that oppose its unity and integrity”.

In an interview with R. Jagannathan, he speaks about the dangers that Indian and Hindu nationhood face today.

Excerpts:

• Can you give us a brief history of how you developed the “breaking India” theory? 

The “breaking India” thesis is not something I came up with overnight. It is not a matter of merely coining a term; it is the product of my lived experience in the US for over 45 years. I have been collecting a whole lot of experiences and organising them into a thesis that makes coherent sense. A theory is like an algorithm to make sense of your experiences. I was trying to figure out an algorithm for who is doing what to India. There were some major events in this journey. I found some African-Americans returning from India and talking about an Afro-Dalit movement that they were part of. I came across Marxists, including many Indians, aligned with Maoist forces in India. I came across Christian missionaries sending huge sums of money to India claiming it was about social work.

A few persons in India who studied this were simply tracking isolated data points concerning foreign interventions by Islam, Marxism or Christianity, but nobody was tracking end-to-end into a comprehensive view of these foreign forces. I invested many years chasing data about the forces at work. Then I hired a Tamil speaker in India to translate many of the works being funded by foreign sources, and eventually he became my co-author, (Aravindan Neelakandan, for the book Breaking India). So my project did not start in India. This is how it is different from others. It was a project started in the US to uncover who supported such nefarious NGOs, what agenda was driving them from their home country, whether they were linked to institutions such as CIA, how they were linked to academic people and think tanks, and their links to churches. I found all these links to be present.

I looked at various so-called friends of India in the US, Britain and the EU, and tracking their flow of money to India, tracking how they train leaders in India, how they export ideology to India, how they have conferences in India and abroad to train their sepoys in India. After tracking all this, I realised that there is a huge story that has never been told before. Around the year 2000, I was invited to give a talk at the IISc, Bangalore. But it was very difficult to get my topic selected because these forces were unknown and the term “breaking India” was considered too radical and provocative. In 2005, I was invited to India International Centre, Delhi, to give a talk on two consecutive nights—on “Where is India in the eagle’s eye”—the eagle being the American eagle. This was accepted as a safe and politically correct title, and I used the opportunity. Those two lectures, about 1.5 hours each, are on YouTube, and they are among the most thorough ones on the subject. It gives the whole theory at that point of time.

Then I was invited to deliver the Hegde Memorial Lecture in Delhi, on “Where is India in the clash of Civilisations?” (a term spelt out by Samuel Huntington in a book). This is when I laid out the case that in the “clash of civilisations”, breaking India forces were not local within India; they were global with a footprint in India. I showed that the clash between Islam, Christianity and Left-wing Marxist ideologies was a global one, and India was in their crosshairs. Yet the Indian people didn’t know it. That is why I started the whole project of “breaking India”—to explain such activities that were in the global arena. I connected activities that appeared isolated and local but were part of the global kurukshetra. That was the big breakthrough—bridging the global and the local and bringing the three global forces and their activities in India where Hindu dharma, Indian civilisation and the Indian nation-state has become their common enemy.

I got serious opposition from those who have now joined the bandwagon and like to go around giving talks on breaking India forces. Many people working for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), many people in Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) America, many people in the US Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, and many other custodians of Hindu dharma at that time were opposed to what I was saying. They did not want to be a part of it, because it was too controversial. They thought everything was going well for Hinduism worldwide, and that I was sensationalising things.

So, this was my lone battle for more than two decades, and finally I decided that I was going to turn this into a book. But the book could not get a mainstream publisher and I had to work very hard. The big mainstream publishers did not want to touch it. Finally, I got Amaryllis—because the editor was the same editor at Rupa who had edited my earlier book Invading the Sacred. She agreed to do this book because she knew me. And it became an instant best-seller. They refused to put the cover image of a broken India even though I explained that I found it in the office of an African-American professor in Princeton, who was part of the Afro-Dalit movement. They found it too provocative.

• How do you define a “breaking India force”?

Breaking India forces are centrifugal forces, making things fall apart. Centripetal forces would be those that bring people together. Centripetal (in India’s context) would be things like a positive grand narrative of India, a good economy bringing people together, a good sense of collective identity of who we are, a good sense of who our enemies (outside) are, such as China, Pakistan, and so on. Forces that bind us, like common problems of economy, hunger, etc, are also centripetal. So, centrifugal forces are breaking India forces. The big idea I brought into the limelight was that these forces are not local, they are global.

So, there are global breaking India forces and their local footprints exist in the form of sepoys and NGOs and so on. The local and the global are connected ideologically in terms of funding. The interesting thing is that globally there may be a war between Christianity and Islam, but locally they have been aligned because they both fight against a common enemy. So, imagine two predators that are fighting each other, but they are collaborating to kill an elephant since this brings food for both. Until they have killed the elephant, finished him off, they are collaborating to kill a common prey. Only after they have finished it off will they fight each other. This has happened in many parts of the world where two global predators work against a local opponent and destroy him. When they have finished off the local opponent, once the food is gone, they turn against each other for increased territory. That is what breaking India forces are like.

• Is there anything common between one kind of breaking India force and another? After all, the Kashmiri separatist is not the same as the evangelical church activist in South India or the jihadis in Kerala or West Bengal?

Many breaking India forces seem independent of each other. But a person could have many diseases that may be independent of one another; yet they have the collective effect of killing the person. Let’s say a person has cancer, and he has fallen down the stairs, and the two causes are independent. He may have been attacked from the outside, which is a third force, and he may be starving as he has no food to eat. Each of these forces challenges his vitality. All these forces that are breaking the person’s life may not be aligned with each other, they may not all be from a common cause.

Similarly, if there are Islamist breaking India forces, Christian breaking India forces and Marxist breaking India forces, they may all be independent of each other. But they tend to make practical alliances. These may not be strategic alliances, and merely tactical alignments for local projects. So, in the Maoist belt in India, ISI is helping local Islamist forces undermine the Indian state. There is collaboration between radical Islam with a Pakistani nexus, and radicalised Maoists, some of them with a nexus based in Nepal, some in China, and some who may just be supported by Marxists worldwide. Radical Islam and the radical Left are in alliance even though you may wonder why the Left should support Islam which is hardly a Marxist ideology. Rival predators will often make tactical alliances and so we must think of them as breaking India forces.

The important insight your question raises is that patriotic Indians should exploit the conflicts between these rival predators. We should exploit the conflicts between Christianity and Islam and Maoism among their global headquarters. Globally they are fighting each other, and we are not even aware of that. Our people are not taking advantage of the fault lines on the enemy side. Even though in India they seem aligned, globally they are at war with each other.

• To reverse the idea, are not violent forces like gau rakshaks, who sometimes lynch people, and Karni Sena, which has vandalised film sets, also not some kind of breaking India forces?

Yes, you are right. All violent forces in India that are undermining the Indian state, the unity of the Indian people, are in fact playing into the hands of breaking India forces. One of the things breaking India forces want to do is divide and conquer. They want to pit Indian people against each other, be it along the lines of caste, religion, class, or north versus south. Whoever is creating divisiveness is facilitating breaking India activities. They should be called breaking India forces.

The problem with a lot of Hindus, a lot of nationalists, is that they do micro-optimisation, which means a very localised optimisation of some interest that they have—it could be a political interest, an ethnic interest. They are optimising (their local interests) in a way that compromises the macro interests of India. So the interests of India as a macro entity are often being undermined by people with a narrow-minded view; they don’t have a wide-angle lens. They have narrow, tunnel visions. Through this lens they can see certain things that they should do from a very narrow short-sighted (perspective). In doing so they are undermining the bigger interests of India. So, yes, you do have breaking India forces which think they are actually helping to build India. But they are not.

• What is the common ground between breaking India forces based in India and the western democracies?

India is the world largest territory, both geographically and by population, that is up for grabs by the expansionist, predatory ideological movements in the world. By that I mean pan-Islam, right-wing expansionist Christianity, and left-wing forces which include post-modernism, Marxism and “liberalism”. These predators are expansionist and they want a global footprint. India is where the “clash of civilisations” is going to play out. The western democracies have interests of various kinds in other countries; there are government/state interests which want a footprint in several countries; there are churches acting autonomously in their own separate interest; there may be the imams and mosques that have interests separate from their own governments; and then there are these intellectuals and pseudo intellectuals, and extreme left intellectuals. They have their own funding and NGOs. If you look at ideological camps within the US, Britain and Germany, there are multiple competing ideological perspectives. These are often fighting each other. There are many different points of view fighting in their own countries. In India they want their own sepoys, so the Left will create its sepoys, the Christians their sepoys, and Muslims their own. These sepoys will sometimes collaborate because they realise they have a common interest in fighting against India.

What we must do is make the India-based Muslim, Christian and radical Leftist understand that in their HQ they are at war with one another. Only in terms of exporting their ideologies in India are they in a tactical alliance.

• In the US, the Left and Right are at daggers drawn on matters of religion and bigotry. But on India and Hinduism they seem to have united. Your comment?

In the US, the Left and Right are bitter enemies, and I have addressed this issue in my book.

• There also seems to be a nexus between the Indian Lutyens elite and US academics who control many of our historical narratives. How is this nexus nourished, and why do Indians think they are better served by aligning with foreign universities?

The Indian elites often go overseas for patronage, funding, prestige and political funding from private agencies, governments, CIA, all kinds of things. This is a very old game and has been happening since British times when an Indian raja or leader would seek British help to fight his fellow Indian rival. Sometimes, this is an Indian initiative, and they will seek a travel grant or a position in a university. Sometimes it is initiated by western agencies. The Lutyens elite is a term applicable not only to people in Lutyens Delhi; you find them all over India. I find them in Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, everywhere. They are mercenaries for sale at the right price.

I say that India is for sale by its own elites. There is a global market that wants positioning in India for vote banks of the future, consumer marketing, as well as leverage over separatist movements so they can chip off parts of India like Nagaland for Christian Baptists and Kashmir for Islamists in Pakistan.

There are huge business opportunities in such anti-India global-local collaborations. These global-local activities are very dangerous.

• Even though there are many Hindu organisations, from the RSS to Baba Ramdev to Sri Sri to Ramakrishna Mission, and even individual groups are doing various things like fighting the case of temples in courts, why is it that these efforts seem uncoordinated, and they are often found fighting among ourselves?

Well, the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, which was started by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, was to bring together various Hindu groups. It was doing a great job during Swamyji’s life; he made a huge amount of progress. Unfortunately, after Swamyji left, his successors have lost momentum. I don’t want to be judgmental but what I can tell you is that the new leaders of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha have compromised the momentum that Swamyji built so carefully. This is partly because the stature that Swamyji had is not there among his successors, and so they don’t command the same respect. The different Hindu organisations thus don’t look up to them as they looked up to Swamyji. This is one of the reasons why a whole lot of activities among Hindu groups are falling apart in terms of collaboration.

There is not enough civic leadership, or spiritual leadership. There is not competent kshatriyata to create a strong Hindu coalition.

You could say that a Hindu government ought to do this, but the Hindu government is also busy trying to establish its secular credentials. So, you really have a vacuum at the top of the Hindu renaissance movement.

• There is a charge that “Hindu” is different from “Hindutva”, and that “genuine” Hinduism is different from Hindutva, even if it is not violent. Your comment?

Well, within the Hindu sanatan dharma tradition, as recorded in its shastras, there is definitely a political dimension. There is a political dimension in the Mahabharata and in the Ramayana. You must take on enemies, both external and internal. In the case of the Ramayana, there was the external enemy in a separate geographical area. In the Mahabharata, there was the internal enemy, your own cousins.

So, this business of having to fight adharma as a political kind of activity is not something non-Hindu. It is at the centre of Hindu itihaas. So, Hindutva could be considered as a modern version of political Hinduism and you can’t say political Hinduism is not Hindu. If you say Hinduism must be non-political, you will also be distancing yourself and denouncing itihaas, which is full of political activity.

But there is also bhakti Hinduism, there is yoga-meditation Hinduism, there is Hinduism of the type I’ll-do-my-karma-helping-neighbours-helping-poor-people. Non-political karma is also Hinduism. There are many margas  in Hinduism, and you don’t have to be political, but there is a need for and legitimacy in political Hinduism. This has been forgotten because of 1,000 years of slavery. The masters told the slaves to stop being political because politicised slaves are very dangerous—they will learn to work together, they will undermine their master, they will bring him down, disrupt him. Politically awakened slaves can be dangerous. Obedient slaves are better, as they keep to themselves, they mind their own business. They are given space, do their little puja, do their yoga and meditation. They can thrive below the glass ceiling as long as they mind their own business and stay below the glass ceiling.

This business of assertive Hinduism is about a Hinduism that is combative against its enemies. Let’s forget the brand name Hindutva, for a moment, since that brings up a particular political party, and use terms like political Hinduism, assertive Hinduism. Assertive and political Hinduism are very much a part of Hinduism. They are necessary, and they have always been there. Just the coinage of the term Hindutva is new and is seen as something owned by a particular political party. I don’t necessarily use the term, Hindutva. I prefer to call it political Hinduism, assertive Hinduism, kshtriyata to show that this is important for Hindu dharma. It always has been.

• There is also a suggestion that the more radical Hindu groups are trying to make Hinduism take on an Abrahamic character. Is this charge correct?

I don’t think that assertive Hinduism should be denounced as having an Abrahamic character. After all, would you say that the kshatriya in our ancient texts is Abrahamic? By saying that you are telling Hindus that you should not be a kshatriya, you must get rid of all kshatriyata. That is a way to keep us as slaves, keep us weak, keep us dependent. I don’t buy that.

Abrahamic metaphysics is incompatible with dharma though it has its own rationale and basis for assertiveness and aggression. But dharma definitely has its rationale and basis for political assertiveness.

The best way to understand the nature of kshatriyata is illustrated in the Mahabharata. These are people fighting for dharma, and that is about using assertiveness. It has nothing to do with Abrahamism.

The difference between Abrahamic and Dharmic is not a difference between assertiveness and passivity. The real difference is explained in my book Being Different. It has to do with the metaphysics of history-centrism versus the metaphysics of embodied knowing. Each of the six chapters gives you a major area of difference between the Abrahamic system and the dharmic system and there is nothing like aggressive versus passive as a difference. We are not supposed to be slaves sucking up to some masters, sitting passively at their feet. The Mahabharata shows how to be very active and assertive, and this is something we need to reignite in our people. Those who say that by reigniting that you are being Abrahamic are actually doing a disservice to our people.

• Hinduism has traditionally been difficult to define. We are Hindu largely by self-definition. Various Hindu denominations are also difficult to categorise as one distinct religion, and some are seeking separate status (like Lingayats in Karnataka). Is it time to agree on putting together come common elements so that this gap is bridged?

In my book Being Different, I give half a dozen major ways in which dharmic systems are aligned with each other through sheer commonality and (this is) very different from non-dharma systems.

Dharmic unity is determined by the common elements we have and these elements are different from the Abrahamic systems. Further, in my book Indra’s Net, I discuss the idea of Hinduism’s open architecture and how it is open enough to accommodate a whole lot of the diversity. At the same time, there are minimum principles of compliance. I give the example of the Internet. The Internet has an open architecture and allows a lot of diversity, but at the same time it will not tolerate people who are subverting it by bringing viruses. They have mechanisms like the anti-virus to keep it clean, keep it from being subverted.

Hinduism needs a balance. The open architecture is very inviting and new forms can come and take root in Hinduism. At the same time it needs an anti-virus against those who are projecting exclusivity and being subversive. By projecting exclusivity they are not giving space to other parts of the open architecture. They are trying to hijack the open architecture and make it closed. This has been important part of my work, to show the unity and diversity of Hinduism in a manner that is responsible, that is dynamic and vibrant and stays competitive. It is not passive.

• You yourself have written that some poison pills need inserting into Hinduism to prevent hijacking of cultural properties. Is this not another way of trying to Abrahamise Hinduism? In any event, is there anything wrong in Abrahamising Hinduism, if that is what is needed today?

Poison pills do not change the character of Hinduism. Inserting poison pills mean taking the quintessential qualities of Hinduism and demanding that the other person must accept them as part of appropriating from our tradition. If someone wants to appropriate yoga, you have to tell them that the Samkhya system of yoga, karma and reincarnation is also necessary. There are constructs required for understanding how yoga works beyond a superficial level. So, when you are saying karma and reincarnation are a poison pill, you are not Abrahamising Hinduism at all but doing just the opposite. The whole purpose of a poison pill is that when the Abrahamic swallows it to get the benefit of yoga, if he swallows the poison pill along with it, he cannot be Abrahamic any more. He will have created a contradiction in his own metabolism.

A poison pill is that which is necessary for Hinduism and which is not digestible into an Abrahamic stomach. When you couple it with what is delicious and tasty in Hinduism like yoga, so when they swallow yoga, they are also swallowing the karma and reincarnation poison pill along with it.

The poison pill will gradually dismantle the metabolism of the Abrahamic system. That is how it works.

• Between predatory jihadi Islam and aggressive evangelism and conversion practices, which is a greater threat to India?

I feel that radical Islam and radical evangelical Christianity are both equally dangerous. One invites the other. One weakens, and the weakened body is then vulnerable to the other. Which is why the two of them in combination are a deadly thing for India, and Indians haven’t realised this. Most Indians, even Hindus, aren’t even clear in their thinking in this matter. If you align with western Christian forces to fight radical Islam, it may look very good in the short-term, but note my prediction—such an alliance will very soon lead to a radical Christianisation of India, a radical digestion of Hinduism into Christianity, and make us a second-class, second-tier, below-the-glass-ceiling kind of Christian colony. Hinduism will become a Christian colony and tolerated and allowed to live there. But it will be gradually sucked dry, with each generation being made more Christian.

And some foolish Hindu gurus will love it. They are so confused. They are marketing sameness already, and they will get a lot of marketing opportunities; they will be given more support by the west to expand their ideas because these ideas are softening Hinduism, weakening it. An outright alliance with the West is to be discouraged. India should have a tactical alliance with the Christian West, tactical in the sense that we should know we have our own selfhood to protect. We cannot let our defences down, we can’t let our guard down with these guys, but outwardly we should be friends with them, we want to be in alliance with them against a common enemy, which is radical Islam. This is the solution: join forces with the Christian West to fight radical Islam but, at the same time, don’t succumb to them. Make it very clear as part of our negotiation that they need us as much as we need them, and one of the conditions for us to collaborate with them is that they have to end this aggressive evangelism that they are doing currently. We need that kind of alliance.

I have talked to some of the important leaders on the right-wing side in the US, and I can convince them. It is the Indian government that hasn’t made its move. I am able to convince them that if they were to stop radical, aggressive Christianising in India, we can help them in their fight against radical Islam. They think they need us, but it is for our government to show some leadership with intellectual clarity.

• Many people have pointed out that Hinduism’s historical faultlines—caste, anti-SC/ST feeling—are as much a problem as anti-India forces, since the latter are simply trying to fish in troubled waters. Your comment?

Yes, it is true that our fault lines, whether it is caste, or north-south divide, are being exploited. For us to take control of these, we have to admit we have some fault lines, which the orthodoxy has not done. We need new smritis. The shrutis (the Vedas) are eternal and permanent, but the smritis have to be changed and can evolve. For example, we need a new social science and sociological smriti on families in this modern era, when different members can geographically be thousands of miles away from each other and you can’t have a joint family kitchen or living under one roof. We need smritis on the whole relationship between citizenry and government, on diversity—how the different varnas and communities have to come together, how we have to respect all the languages and the different sub-cultures in different parts of India even as we come together under the broader rubric and fabric of a unified Bharatiya sanskriti. How all this has to happen requires an amazing amount of new smritis. I do not see pro-dharma competent think-tanks that are being funded. I see old, stodgy, fossilised, orthodox, and incompetent old guard of Hinduism being encouraged and funded, given jobs, prominence, awards and promotions.

I do not see evidence of a new kind of thinking within Hinduism being encouraged. In fact, a literal revival of the old is not something that’s going to do us any good. We need a lot of changes, a lot of new thinking, a lot of refurbishment, that is what smritis are for. Smritis, throughout our history, have always been very radical, very dramatic, and we need new 21st century smritis and the government has yet to step up to enable this.

• What do Hindus—and non-Hindus—need to do to tackle breaking India forces? Or is this the job only of Hindus—to seal the internal cracks through some kind of social reforms, which can take decades?

There is a disconnect and mismatch between Hindu leaders who have talent, insight and vision, on the one hand, and other Hindu institutions that have resources, land, ashrams, billions of dollars, and brand value. In other words, if you look at the large Hindu establishments under the hands of the big gurus or politicians, they are not avant-garde, fighting the intellectual battles. They are only looking after their own corporate interests, maximising their own particular venture, and not Hinduism at large. Yet there are individuals, intellectuals who are out there without any support, without all that funding, without all that kind of corporate assets, who in their own personal capacity are trying to fight. Similarly, the government has huge resources. Look at the ministry of culture or HRD. With all their resources they haven’t done one major thing of a strategic kind to help. Having a music performance here and a dance performance there and some sammelan where some guys come and talk of the same old stuff—this is not enough. It hardly has any impact. It is some kind of show-and-tell and personal brand building for a few individuals; but they lack strategic planning, strategic thought. I would say that at the government level and the level of the large ashrams and gurus we do not today have the kind leadership we need. The academics are already sold out, and they are on the wrong side. The Hindus who are in academics tend to be very weak; they are not only politically weak but also intellectually weak. They are not the sharpest people. There are a few good ones, but not in large numbers.

If the leadership of Hinduism is not going to come from the current generation of academics, it has to come from the gurus or the government. I don’t see either of them doing it. The industrialists who are Hindus are privately Hindus, but they are very careful in who they fund and who they support. Ultimately, they are looking out for themselves, and calculating what will this do for their brand, what would be bad for their brand. They don’t want to be too controversial; who knows if the government changes tomorrow. They are also sitting on the fence. This is the problem we face as Hindus—lack of altruism, selfless leadership where people stick their necks out and put all they have got—their tan, man, dhan—on the line … for the sake of dharma. That is what the current need is. – Swarajya,  9 March 2010

» Jagannathan is Editorial Director of Swarajya. 

Academic Hinduphobia

The ‘secular’ solution for the Ramjanmabhumi dispute – Michel Danino

Secularism
Prof Michel DaninoTeesta Setalvad’s petition in the Supreme Court, which tries to dispute the massive archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence supporting the existence of a Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid, makes no mention of repeated pleas by smaller Muslim groups to hand over the site to Hindus, since it has no particular religious value for Islam. – Prof Michel Danino

The long dispute between claimants to the site of Ram Janmabhumi and the erstwhile Babri Masjid in Ayodhya seems to be inching towards a conclusion in India’s Supreme Court. How far the litigants will be satisfied by a final judgment on the ownership of the crucial plot of land remains unclear. Meantime, did the Chief Justice of India on February 8 miss a golden opportunity to resolve the conflict innovatively, when he refused to hear a petition filed on behalf of the NGO “Citizens of Peace and Justice” by 32 “public-spirited citizens” such as Teesta Setalvad, Shyam Benegal, Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy and John Dayal?

What was the gist of the petition? Actually an old argument: the Ayodhya developments have posed such “a serious threat to the secular fabric of the country” that the dispute cannot be regarded as an ordinary land issue. To save the country from a communal conflagration, the Court is asked to “direct that the disputed site be used for a non-religious public use.” However, while brushing the petition aside for the moment, the Chief Justice said he wanted the dispute to be treated “as a land issue,” hinting that it would be solely decided on the merits of the title to the disputed plot.But what if the petition were to be taken seriously? Let us consider the implications.

There is enormous historical evidence—from Islamic chronicles, inscriptions and archaeological remains—that thousands of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples were destroyed by Islamic invaders from the 11th century onward. Delhi’s Qutub Complex, for instance, was built by Qutb-ud-din Aibak out of the remains of 27 destroyed Hindu and Jain temples. Varanasi’s Gyanvapi Mosque erected by Aurangzeb sits on the erstwhile Kashi Vishvanath Temple, remains of which are still visible (the 19th-century Orientalist James Prinsep left a fine lithograph of them).

Aurangzeb also had Mathura’s Krishna Janmabhumi Complex destroyed, with the Shahi-Eidgah Mosque built over parts of its remains. And so on. Let us assume that in the name of secular wisdom Ayodhya’s disputed site is indeed turned into a public space. Very likely, Hindutva organisations would go back to their list of potential hotspots (starting with Varanasi and Mathura) and launch fresh agitations. All would depend on whether those were sufficiently sustained and intense. If they pass the test, Ayodhya’s “secular solution” would serve as a very useful precedent: should not the newly disputed mosques be converted to hospitals, schools or such like? One after another, thousands of mosques across India could thus experience the delights of secularisation. Hindutva organisations would not recover the underlying temples, but the public would considerably benefit in terms of public health and education, a prospect every progressive Muslim should rejoice in.

But why stop at mosques? Ananda Ranga Pillai in his Diary recorded the destruction in 1748 of Pondicherry’s large Vedapuri Iswaran Temple; at Goa, the historian A. K. Priolkar listed the destruction of 34 temples, some later overbuilt with churches; there have been persistent arguments that Chennai’s Santhome Cathedral stands over Mylapore’s original Kapaleeshwara Temple. Should some of the churches become candidates to secularisation too?

And why stop at India? Christendom is replete with churches built over destroyed Pagan sites. In the late first millennium, Muslims conquering Spain erected mosques over churches; Christians promptly reconverted them after their reconquest. (Although Spanish Muslims have asked the Roman Catholic Church to let them pray at Córdoba’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, earlier known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba, the Vatican seems in no mood to grant their request!) And what if orthodox Jews started agitating for the removal or reconversion of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock Mosque? Its location was that of the Jewish Second Temple, which the Romans destroyed to erect a temple of their own; later, one or several churches were built over it, before Islam swept by. Perhaps orthodox Jews should demand thorough excavations, and, were their claim to be established, could ask the building to be put to some “secular” use.

The potential unleashed by our 32 self-appointed guardians of secularism appears limitless. Should we rejoice at this formula? And if not, why reserve it for Ayodhya? All the above examples—not even the tip of a global iceberg—are inherent to the history of aggressive, conquering religions. Unsurprisingly, that history has more often than not been sanitized or swept under the carpet—a mistake in my view, as we stand to benefit hugely from an honest look at the unvarnished past and its darker chapters.

Strangely, the petition in the Supreme Court, which clumsily tries to dispute the massive archaeological, epigraphic and literary evidence supporting the existence of a large Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid, makes no mention of repeated pleas by smaller Muslim groups to hand over the site to Hindus, since it has no particular religious value for Islam. Or of last November’s proposal by Uttar Pradesh’s Shia Central Waqf Board chairman Waseem Rizvi to let a “grand Ram temple” be built at the disputed site, in exchange for a mosque at Lucknow. Such formulas, coupled with a goodwill agreement that there would be no future claims to other sites, would be a far more promising road to a final solution for this centuries-old conflict and to true reconciliation.

Since, meanwhile, the petition is loud on India’s “secular and tolerant ethos,” which it sees under threat from Hindu activism (and no other), we need to cast a critical look at the concept and practice of secularism in India, both in the polity and in education. – The New Indian Express, 26 March 2018

» Michel Danino is a guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple Ruins by James Prinsep (1834)

What value is ‘genetic evidence’ for Aryan Invasion Theory vs. Out-of-India Theory? – Shrikant G. Talageri

Rigveda

Shrikant G. TalageriThe Rigveda proves incontrovertibly that the oldest parts of the text hark back to a period around 3000 BCE, and certainly long before 2000 BCE, and that the Vedic beginnings were in Haryana. – Shrikant G. Talageri

Every few months, in the last few years, different groups of “scientists” announce “results” of some “new genetic/genomic study”, “proving” the old colonial theory of an Aryan invasion of India. It is often cloaked in ambiguous terms, but not ambiguous enough for its target audience — political and academic groups committed to the theory that India was invaded by a race of people, popularly known as “Aryans”, who brought the Indo-European languages into India.

The latest study, “The genomic formation of South and Central Asia”, co-directed by Dr David Reich and an “international team of geneticists” is the latest in this series, which has enthused supporters of the Aryan Invasion of India Theory (AIT) and galvanised them into action in the media and social media in India. This latest paper echoes and substantiates with military precision the exact points enunciated by AIT scholars and activists since two centuries, especially on the chronological angle.

The very concept of an “Aryan” people—even as an entity, let alone as an invading race from outside India—arose from the revolutionary discovery by colonial scholars that Sanskrit and the languages of northern India and the languages of Europe, Iran and Central Asia, are related to each other and given the name “Indo-European” (formerly also “Aryan”). This led to the academic quest for the “Original Homeland” of this family of languages.

This was a question which arose solely from a linguistic fact (the linguistic relationship between all these languages), and three fields or disciplines of academic study have been involved for over two centuries in the elucidation of this problem: linguistics, archaeology and textual/inscriptional data (mainly the Rigveda and the oldest recorded Indo-European language inscriptions and documents from West Asia). The latest entrant in this field is genetics/genomics. The central factor in the debate is the date of the Rigveda, a text which the invading people are supposed to have composed in their first settlements in the northwest:

1. The Rigveda is the oldest recorded major text in any Indo-European language. As Ralph T. H. Griffith puts it in the preface to the first edition of his translation of the Rigveda: “in its original language we see the roots and shoots of the languages of Greek and Latin, of Kelt, Teuton and Slavonian, so the deities, the myths, and the religious beliefs and practices of the Veda throw a flood of light upon the religions of all European countries before the introduction of Christianity.”

2. It shows absolutely no extra-territorial memories and shows ancestral attachment to the geographical area extending from Haryana to southern Afghanistan, and particularly and originally to Haryana.

3. It does not refer to any linguistically “non-Indo-European” entities at all.

4. Even the rivers and animals in this area have purely Indo-Aryan (Indo-European) Sanskrit names, which is unparalleled in world history in respect of any conquered or invaded area.

The AIT scholars are compelled to locate the Rigveda between two known dates: a) The linguistically determined date of 3000 BCE, which was the date when all the 12 Indo-European branches were together in their Original Homeland (which was assumed to be South Russia) and started dispersing around that time. b) The Buddhist period in Bihar from around 600 BCE, when it is definitely recorded that the whole of northern India was covered mainly by speakers of Indo-Aryan languages, and which definitely followed the periods of composition not only of the Rigveda but also of the three other Vedic Samhitas, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads and Sutras.

Therefore it is a life-and-death requirement for the AIT to date the Rigveda between 3000 BCE and 600 BCE, ideally around and after 1500 BCE.

If the Rigveda is proved to go beyond 2500 BCE or even 2000 BCE, the entire AIT structure collapses like a pack of cards. The archaeological consensus in western academia is totally against the AIT.

The text proves incontrovertibly that the oldest parts of the Rigveda hark back to a period around 3000 BCE, and certainly long before 2000 BCE, and that the Vedic beginnings were in Haryana in the east.

The unchallengeable evidence for this is given in the full version of this article on my blog. I challenge anyone to disprove this date, which is based on the Mitanni data, found in securely dated records in West Asia, and can be exactly dated: the Mitanni kingdom flourished from around 1500 BCE onwards in Syria and Iraq, and the Mitanni (and a related people, the Kassites), who were descendants of the Rigvedic Aryans, are found in West Asian records from around 1750 BCE.

In this circumstance, what is the value of these “genomic” claims by “scientists” who speak of an “expansion of pastoralist[s …] from the Steppe to Turan in the Middle Bronze Age (2300-1500 BCE)” and claim that these “Steppe communities integrated farther south throughout the 2nd millennium BCE” leading to “the formation of present-day South Asians” and identify these genomic ghosts with “the populations that almost certainly were responsible for spreading Indo-European languages across much of Eurasia”? By trying to fit in their “genomic” data into the now completely discredited chronology of outdated Indologists, this “genomic” evidence stands totally exposed.

Human beings have been migrating from every conceivable area. Certain areas, indeed, like Central Asia, are seething hotbeds of ethnic migrations. India has seen countless migrations and invasions in the last many thousand years: we have Scythians, Greeks, Kushanas, Hunas, Arabs, Turks, Afghans, Ethiopian slave-soldiers and Persians invading, and other Persians and Syrian Christians taking refuge in India, and none of them retained their language, all of them adopted the local languages, but their foreign genes remain in the genetic record.

The “scientists” have only released preliminary trailers of their “report”. The full report is yet to come. And it will be answered in full by the appropriate people. However, many new strands of different foreign “genes” are discovered to be embedded in the genetic structure of different sections of Indians. All this has nothing to do with the question of the “Aryan languages” in India, and of the Original Homeland and the migrations of the ancient Indo-European tribes, since all this has already been answered: the Original Homeland of the Indo-European languages was in northern India, and the migrations of the other eleven branches of Indo-European languages from India is a matter of recorded history. – The Asian Age, 22 April 2018

» Shrikant G. Talageri lives and works in Mumbai. He is a meticulous researcher of the Vedas and has authored four books to date: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, Aryan Invasion Theory: A Reappraisal, Rigveda: A Historical Analysis and Rigveda and Avesta the Final Evidence.

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Jules Monchanin (alias Swami Paramarubyananda)

Jules Monchanin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grave of Jules Monchanin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Henri Le Saux (alias Swami Abhishiktananda)

Henri Le Saux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henri La Saux at Tiruvannamalai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus

So Far

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

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

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

Fr Bede Griffiths

Bede Griffiths

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

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

Theology of Colonialism as Christian Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Hindu Universalism for Christian Exclusiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sita Ram Goel

Hindu Seers—Belittled Inside but Praised Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obsession with Marriage Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appropriating the Vision of New Physics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas & Seeman

India a Xian Nation (Secessionist Propaganda)

Shantivanam, Aryan-Dravidian Racism and Evangelism in the Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleeper Cells for Christianising Hinduism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is a new India emerging? – Makarand R. Paranjape

Bhagwa Dhwaj Raising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banyan Tree

Logic behind the perversion of caste – Ram Swarup

Caste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glossary of the tribes and castes

Is India’s national anthem secular? – Koenraad Elst

Rabindranath Tagore

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

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

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

God Save the Queen

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

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

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

Heil dir im Siegerkranz

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

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

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

Wilhelmus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser

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

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

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

La Marseillaise

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

The Star-Spangled Banner

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

La Brabançonne   

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

Das Lied der Deutschen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jana Gana Mana

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

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

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

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

The Bharata Bhagya Vidhata is not King George

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then who is the Bharata Bhagya Vidhata?

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

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

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

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

Is it secular?

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

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

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

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

Also ran

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Krishna & Arjuna

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

Narendra Modi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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