Business Standard

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

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India