‘Am I a Hindu?’ (Part 1)

16 Oct

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=21656

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Question:

Let me tell you at the face of it:  I do not believe in an external power named God. This is not due to reading Dravidian Movement literature. Its entirely through my own confusion and the resulting introspection. The feeling that there is no external power named God gained strength after reading the thoughts of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Ramana. The reason I am saying this is to show that I am not merely a vacuous atheist. Though I do not understand Bharathi’s concept of ‘All that I see is Self’, Einstein’s ‘The World is a Cycle’, Ramakrishna’s ‘Nirchalanam’ I am incapable of refuting their contents. I am incapable of accepting theme either maybe since I do not understand them or haven’t experienced them. All I can do now is value them.

I have a desire to read the Vedas and the Upanishads. But not now.

I think this letter is the first step in my effort towards that. Though my question is not direct, I know that the answer will be a journey towards that. I will come to the question. Why am I a Hindu? Is it my mother religion or is it an alien religion? Please do not say like all the others that this is the power of Hinduism (I feel this is absurd. If I create a chapter on Karuppaswamy in the Bible, will I become a Christian? These sort of questions arise within me).

I do not agree with the reason that it is impossible to pin point what defines a Hindu or that under the Constitution, those who are not Buddhists, Christians or Muslims are Hindus.

What’s common between me and my fellow Hindus? Not religion, not even cuisine. Not habits (not even in worship). Why, not even common Gods. Isn’t this true? In my grandfather’s generation, I have never seen any other worship than worship of our communal deity (nor have I heard them speak of it). Its only in my generation that for the people of my village it has occurred that someone living in Thirupathi or Sabarimalai could be a God. Even Murugan worship at Thiruchendur was not very prominent till a generation ago.

Till now my village has worshipped as far as i now only village deities like Karuppaswamy, Sudalaimadan, Kanniamman. These people (including me) knew of the Ramayanam as merely an epic (that too through Kambar, or patti mandrams, I don’t know).  There is no Siva temple or a Rama temple in the vicinity of our village or an easily accessible distance (there was none in the past too). As far as I know, there is none in my ancestors who have read the Gita or the Vedas or have even thought of doing so.

I believe you would have understood my question now. With all these, why am I still a Hindu? Or is the Hindu religion something that was thrust on me like the other religions?

From where did this religion come towards me? Is distance the only differentiating factor between Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism? If it came in the recent past, did my ancestors have no religion before that? Did they have no form of worship? At the beginning of human history, there would have been no religion. I believe that all religions arose after that.

My question is – did my village not have any form of worship as its own? Or will this become a reality soon? The most significant change I notice in my generation is the food that is presented in temples. The educated (so-called) classes are keen to show themselves as abhorring the custom of eating meat in temples. For them, only the larger temples appear to be beautiful, potent and possessing divinity. My argument that we present to our deity what our deity likes fails to impress there. (I support vegetarianism solely on the basis of health. But this is different. They eat meat at home. But at the temple, they will do so with a guilty heart or will refuse.)

Similarly, I do not remember my grandfather or my grandmother performing offerings for the dead. What I learnt from that is that after the tenth day of rites, thats it. Now, this habit is also on the rise.

My question is not whether these are for good or for bad. My question is whether the Gita and Vedas are to me what the Bible and Koran is? Or whether there is a connection between me and them.

Am not sure if I have put my question properly. But I have hopes that you would have understood me.

Regards,

Kaliraj.

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Dear Kaliraj,

This confusion exists among a large section of educated youth in Tamilnadu who come from a humble background. This confusion has been fanned by Dravidian organisations and the Left over the past several years. Powers with financial and organisational might which operate with the objectives of proselytisation stand behind them. They seek to convert this confusion to a firm concept.

To give an example, its only in the 1990s that intellectuals of the Dravidian movement and the Leftists who espoused rationality started emphasising that the worship of local deities in Tamilnadu is not connected to Hinduism and that it is even against Hinduism. Before that, they used to entirely brand it as superstition.

The reason for this happening is the ten day conference named ‘Gods of the common people’ (‘Sanangalin Saamigal’) conducted at the behest of Father Jeyapathy of the Department of Folklore at the St. Xavier’s college in Palayamkottai. At the conference a segregation was easily fed to our intellectuals that all the local deities were subjugated and that Hinduism is a religion of subjugating gods. Around 50 lakhs was spent for this.

Look at what our Left intellectual S. Tamilselvan has to say about it: ‘In those days when the Department of Folklore at the St. Xavier College in Palayamkottai functioned actively, a ten day conference ‘Sanangalin Saamigal’ was conducted. Those ten days were a turning point in my life. It gave a new perspective about gods and deities. Observe http://satamilselvan.blogspot.com/2009/04/blog-post_04.html
See who has to come and present these intellectuals with the history of their own society and their own deities.

These intellectuals failed to ask just one thing to the organisers of this conference. Does the religion of the organisers permit the worship of local deities? did it allow those who converted before that to continue their worship of their communal deity? What happened to the communal deities of those who converted before this? Hence which is truly the subjugating religion that  suppresses smaller deities? Only one student stood up and asked this, and he was removed from the room.

This question that you ask has been planted in you without your knowledge and has been grown with continued propaganda. I am pointing out that those behind it are proselytising forces. An educated person like you may have this doubt and misgivings, your illiterate father would not have had. He would never have doubted whether he was a Hindu or not. I had to tell this since I could not have answered your question without explaining this background.

The basis for your question lies in your definition of religion. You consider that a religion consists of firm principles of divinity, a definite organisation structure and well defined practices and rituals. Most of the religions that we see today are like this. But this is not applicable to all religions. Only if we understand religion from a broader and less rigid definition will we be able to understand not only Indian history, but also Asian and African histories.

Two kinds of religions have a firm center with surrounding structures. One is religions based on race like Judaism. Jews are a race. The faith of the Jews is Judaism. Outsiders cannot convert to it. Several African minor religions are like this. These religions have clear boundaries. The boundary of race based religions is the racial identity. For them, those outside this boundary are others or aliens. Race based religions do not proselytize.

The other kind are the religions of Prophets. The Prophet who founded the religion would have clearly defined the religions center and its boundaries. In the Abrahamic religions, the Prophet would have said that ‘I am the true Prophet, all else are false’, or it would be written that he said so. Christianity, Islam, Manichaen, Bahai, Ahamedia – these religions can be listed in this category. These kind of religions keep appearing even today.

These religions would demand complete faith from its followers on its founder prophet and its book. All those who do not accept this would have been defined as aliens or others. It will insist that these others have to entirely give up their own beliefs and customs and join them. These religions will do all that is necessary to this end. This duty would have been preached to all of its faithful. It’s on this basis that they grow.

Other than these two kinds of religions, there are another two. One – religions based on philosophy. Examples, Buddhism and Jainism. They were founded by prophet too. But they do not preach faith, they advocate their philosophy. Even the God that they preach is a philosophical construct. Their description of the universe is not based on faith, but on philosophy. They do not say that this philosophy has to be entirely believed and accepted. Instead they call for debate with that philosophy. Even Confucianism and Taoism belong to this category.

There are basic differences between how the two religions spread – the religions of the Prophets and the religions based on philosophy. The religions of the prophets ask the others to come to them casting off entirely their older beliefs and customs. They command that what they say be accepted with complete faith. If you become a Christian or a Muslim, you cannot retain any aspect of your old religion, communal deity or customs. You cannot doubt Christian or Muslim beliefs even a little.

But religions based on philosophy do not say so. They only teach that the philosophy be imbibed in your thoughts and your lifestyle. By only accepting the five customs of a Jain, and the basic principle of the Universal cycle, one can become a Jain. Standing within that boundary, one can worship his own community’s deity and practise his customs. In other words, they do not propagate their religion, but their philosophy.

If we consider Buddhism, this is why Sri Lankan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are different in customs and beliefs. A follower of Taoism can also be a Buddhist. The Japanese are able to use Shintoism for material life and Buddhism for spirituality. But its the Buddhist philosophy that remains as the essence. What Buddhism does is not proselytisation, but transmission of philosophy.

Another category of religions can be called aggregate religions in general. Hinduism is the best example of this in the world. Shintoism is a smaller example of the same. They do not have a central vision of divinity or a central philosophy. These emerge at a particular juncture in history and continue to grow.

We usually compare these religions to Abrahamic religions, religions of the Prophets. Hence we start asking what is the central vision? what is its holy book? and who are the ‘others’? We ourselves decide that these are the central points and boundaries of this religion. Soon we are confused who else is within this boundary along with us. The same confusion exists in your question.

What is the difference between aggregate religions and the other religions mentioned before ? religions based on race, religions of the Prophets and philosophy based religions. It is that the other three originate at a point and start expanding outwards. Religions based on race have a self identity based on race as their core. Prophet’s religions have the philosophy of their prophets as their core . Religions based on philosophy have their perspective of that philosophy as the basis.

They make this core interact with several other beliefs and thoughts. Prophetic religions defeat these other beliefs and thoughts and establish themselves over them after destroying them. Religions based on philosophy penetrate the other beliefs and thoughts at the level of philosophy, modify their core and carry them along. In other words, in both these categories, a core that already existed in the religion starts moving towards the fringes.

For example, when Jainism came to South India, it spread among the Nagars who worshipped Nagas.  It made them accept the Jain philosophy. Nagar’s worship of the Naga became a part of Jainism. The five headed serpent over the head of Parsavnath is the god of the Nagars. The Nagaraja temple at Nagarkoil is their temple.

But aggregate religions do not have a pre-defined central principle or core. Since they are ancient, it is not easy to point out their source or where they originated. It can be said that aggregate religions are formed when the ancestral customs and beliefs of a set of people living in a landmass combine over a period of time.

Tribes living over a vast expanse of land develop individual forms of worship out of their lives. It cannot be called religion. When those people start relating with another group of people over a long period of time, there is a dialogue between their belief systems. They grow by give and take. A common ground is discovered between the two. In other words, by conjoining the cores, a new one is created. When it merges with a third form of worship, a new common point is discovered.

Like this, over hundreds of years, hundreds of forms of worship come together to form an aggregate religion. Most of these aggregate religions still continue to be in this process of aggregation. Hence their central core continues to change and grow. This core moves towards whichever group of people within that population that has the largest intellectual influence or authority.

The structure that we call Hinduism today has been in this aggregate form since the beginning. Even the most ancient book of Hinduism, the Rig Veda is an example of this aggregate nature. It does not preach a particular faith, custom or a philosophy. In it, there are several forms of worship, beliefs and philosophies. We can see them in dialogue with each other and joining with each other in the Rig Veda.

In the ending part of the Rig Veda, there is this approximate central core that arose out of this aggregation. It can be called ‘Brahmam’. That is to say, the essence of this universe or power is envisaged as unfathomable and realizing the universe as its expression. As soon a core like this is created, dialogue begins between this and the other cores. This we can see in the period of the Upanishads.

This dialogue continues till today. A few Leftists explained that this structure called Hinduism pulls in smaller components towards itself. Several people keep saying the same thing. Any form of worship which they claim was sucked into Hinduism has not lost its self-identity. Even philosophies and beliefs which came in like this two thousand years ago continue to remain so. It’s the new  comers that have modified what the Leftists called as the core. Hence it is not swallowing in. It’s dialogue and reconciliation alone. 

If we see history, we can notice that the central course of Hinduism has changed entirely once in every two or three hundred years. If a new population arrives or a new thought comes in, it changes itself after reconciling with them. Almost like a river. Our Ganges is not a river, it is an aggregation of rivers. Its course and shape are all determined by the rivers that merge into it. Every group within Hinduism may claim that they are the core; but the core is always all-containing.

*

(to be contd.)

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One Response to “‘Am I a Hindu?’ (Part 1)”

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  1. ‘Am I a Hindu?’ (Part II) « The Sabarmati - October 20, 2011

    […] (Part 1) […]

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