I was born in a Hindu family. We were Vaishnavites. I was fiercely religious in my school days. But when I joined college, slowly I became indifferent towards religion. I studied philosophy in my post graduation and my special paper was religion.
I was not particularly interested in religion, but the next option was logic which I didn’t like much. I liked what I studied in religion. But subsequently I had forgotten everything as I was not interested in it. But, when the dark waves of Hindutva have gripped everything in India, I have started reading and rereading the original text of Hinduism. I am still grappling with it.
Recently I read Mahabharata and Ramayana- the great Indian epics, though I grew up in an oral tradition where our uncles told the stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana in our childhood in the corner of a house in a rainy day or around a fire in winter evenings. These stories were in fact our staple intellectual diets in our childhood.
I have also bought the Vedas, the Upanishads and the The Bhagavad Gita and trying to read them carefully. While reading them I also got attracted to the Bible and the Koran and the Dhammapada. Why is religion still alive and around in a modern world when science and technology have thrived so much? Here perhaps it is important to look back and ponder over the religious reality of thousands of years.
Wasn’t religion the integral part of people’s life in the past? How was it related to culture and language? Religion was not a private affair then. It was a culture and a lifestyle. This was the history of religion. A human being cannot live by bread alone he needs a culture to go with it. Without this culture human civilization would not have progressed and a human wouldn’t have become a human. Religion was culture for the ancient people. All religions evolved through the challenges of their times.
But my simple question to the supporters of Hindutva is are they really Hindus? From where have they got the lessons of hate mongering? The studies of religious texts and scriptures is a serious thing. It needs deep understanding. But to say that Hinduism is not Hindutva is a simple thing. Here I shall try to understand this with three examples from three books. Wendy Doniger is an authority on Hinduism. She has authored many scholarly books on Hinduism. She is currently Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of History of Religions at the University of Chicago. What is her views on Hinduism?
“It is true that before the British began to categorize communities strictly by religion, few people in India defined themselves exclusively through their religious beliefs; their identities were segmented on the basis of locality, language, caste, occupation and sect. Even today, despite attempts by extreme right-wing groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the more mainstream Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to ‘Hinduize’ India, most people in the country would define themselves by allegiances other than their religion.
“There is after all no Hindu cannon; ideas about all the major issues of faith and lifestyle-vegetarianism, nonviolence, belief in rebirth, even caste are subject of debate, not dogma. And yet, if we look carefully, there are shared ideas, practices and rituals that not only connect the diverse people generally called ‘Hindus’ today, but also link the people who composed and lived by the Vedas in northwest India around 1500BCE with the Hare Krishna converts dancing in the street of twenty-first-century New York.” (On Hinduism, p 4)
This is an analytical and scholarly analysis of Hinduism. This is seeing Hinduism without being influenced by it and without being involved in it. And there is nothing that one can disagree with her.
Then there was Juan Mascaro who translated The Bhagavad Gita into English. He was a Spanish and his mother tongue was Catalan. But he liked The Bhagavad Gita so much that when he read it in his childhood in a poor translation he wanted to translate it into English. Subsequently he had learned the English language and Sanskrit and translated “The Bhagavad Gita” into English with great care and patience. At times he translated and re-translated some portion of it even twenty times. His introduction (page 11) to The Bhagavad Gita is like a treaty on Hinduism. Look at the portion below:
“In the Vedas, composed long before writing was introduced into India, and before grammarians could analyze language, we see man watching the outside world with joy and wonder. He feels life and prays for victory in life. He watches the beauty of the dawn and the glory of the sun and he feels that the fire and air, and the waters and winds are living powers: he offers to them the fire of sacrifice. His life depends upon nature, and he knows that between nature and himself there is not an impassible gulf. Man loves this beautiful creation and he feels that his love cannot but be answered by a greater love. And he sings to Varuna, the God who loves and forgives.” (This is somewhat the essence of Shlokas of Rig Veda 11.28.1-9)
Then as the last example, I want to refer to Gandhiji. Remember Gandhiji was a devout Hindu. For him religion was more important than the nation. But what does he mean by religion?
“I want to identify myself with everything that lives. In the language of the Gita I want to live at peace with both friends and foe. Though, therefore, a Muslim or a Christian or a Hindu may despise me and hate me, I want to love him and serve him even as I would love my wife or son though they hate me.
“So my patriotism is for me a stage in my journey to the land of eternal freedom and peace. Thus it will be seen that for me there are no politics devoid of religion. They subserve religion. Politics bereft of religion are death-traps because they kill the soul.”(Young India, 3-41924.CWMG, Vol. XXIII p.349)
It is up to the supporters of Hindutva what lessons they wish to draw from all this.