Hinduism and the Hindu Rashtra
Hinduism? Is it a homogenous monolith or an expression of diversity and plurality? The first three chapters – on the emergence and significance of the term Hinduism; Hinduism and modernity; and Hinduism and law – address precisely these issues.
The contributors to this volume have correctly maintained that the changing historical context of India, an ancient country, should form the backdrop of any enquiry into a uniquely multidimensional religion like Hinduism, which is unlike the book-based religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It was European, specifically British, discourses about religious identities and spiritualism in the late 17th and early 18th centuries that led to the construction of the term “Hindoo”. The term dates from the 1770s and the modern journey of Hinduism begins a little after this.
Thus, Ramakrishna, his disciple Vivekananda, the Theosophical Society of India, the Arya Samaj, founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, and many others elaborated and expounded on the meaning of Hinduism. Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and others tried to embed it in contemporary society.
The revivalists and conservatives basically looked towards the Sanskrit Vedas or Dharmasastras or texts that became available in local languages with the advent of the printing press and concluded that Hinduism was a religion of “ancient and unchanging traditions”. This emphasis on an eternal sanatana dharma is historically false yet it continues to be part of the manufactured historiography propagated by V D Savarkar and K B Hedgewar in the early 20th century and by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Mahasabha.
This view of Hinduism ignores the existence of movements that changed the religious landscape of India around the 15th and 16th centuries — such as those by Chaitanya, Vallabha Acharya or Guru Nanak. As the first three chapters establish, the central conflict, which endures till today, is between those who “defend the unity of orthodox Hindu philosophical traditions,” and those who, on the basis of research, have concluded that heterodoxy, diversity and amorphousness all contribute to the essence of “an ill-defined and fractured religion known as Hinduism”.
It is in Chapter V, titled “The Sacred in Modern Hindu Politics” that Robert Eric Frykenberg takes the bull by the horns, so to speak, in examining the historical process underlying Hinduism and Hindutva.He unequivocally describes the movement launched by the Sangh Parivar as “fundamentalist” and writes, “In so doing, they embarked upon programs of constructing, defining and then demonstrating of new kind of Hindu consciousness. This is a new kind of self-conscious Hinduism such as had never before existed, at least in quite the same form.” These were, he adds, “Hindus in a new sense”.
This is corroborated to some extent by the author of the chapter on “media Hinduism”, which examines the impact of the electronic media in altering the religious imaginary. He describes the serialisation on Doordarshan of the Mahabharata and Ramayana during Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministership. This Brahmanical display of the two epics every Sunday raised the attractions of ritual-based religiosity to middle and lower middle class Indians.
The chapter on “Folk Hinduism, the Middle Ground” informs that a continuation of classical and folk ideas concerning ritual narrative, justice, and religion within the ideological framework of modernity and its secular institutions is very much a reality. The chapter on Hinduism and caste substantiates the basic truth of historically varied Hinduisms. The author informs that even deities of different Dalit castes among Hindus were different and varied, and he refers to the respect shown by the Dalit Hindu caste to Valmiki. If jati is one identity that does not go away and if the jatis worship many deities, the reality of an all-India, Sanskrit Hinduism is an artificial political construct.
Overall, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the propagators of current political Hinduism are scarcely different from the Islamic fundamentalists of West Asia; both override the plural traditions of their religions in favour of an authorised monolith that leaves little room for the acceptance of the “other”. The central argument of these 12 scholarly discussions is that an artificial and imaginary Hinduism is being constructed for purely political reasons, just as the Salafists are doing in their dreams of reviving a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. This study is welcome because it exposes the designs of political Hindu organisations. Modern and Contemporary movements Will Sweetman and Aditya Malik (Eds) Sage Publications 365 pages; ~795