Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

One of the marvels of life in Auroville is the acceptance of difference

One of the marvels of life in Auroville is the acceptance of difference, be it racial, ethnic, religious or age… Once again it struck me how difficult a bargain Auroville offers to its residents with its system of volunteerism.

Ramalingam took me to see a number of the great churches from which one can read the history of colonization in India.  The British church was serviceable and relatively unadorned, save the bright blue and white façade.  Inside were many worshippers, all of whom wore traditional dress and bindis on their foreheads.  I asked Ramalingam about apparent Christians sporting the outward symbol of Hindu faith.  His response was that, in this country that loves spirituality and has been colonized by so many different cultures, Indians take a bit from all religions.  To most Hindus, Jesus is another god in the company of Siva, Krishnu and the others.  Though the Europeans were able to proselytize and believed they had achieved conversion, the truer story is that most Indians, especially in Tamil Nadu and some other states, remained Hindu and gladly expanded their pantheon of gods to whom they worshipped.  They do not see any sacrilege in this, just enhancement.
They have constructed from this very faceted history a spirituality that suits them well, and it is reflected in the physical nature of many of the churches.  While the British church reflected the artistry of India in its exterior colors, other churches were built by the Tamils and were ornate, gaudy, extremely decorated and a cacophony of color.  The Dutch church was massive, with huge vaulted ceilings painted in bright red trim, flowers everywhere, small Hindu-esque shrines to Jesus decorated with garlands and the usual offerings.  As we traveled to the once wealthy and highly segregated French section of city, the nature of the religious architecture changed again.  Standing in the center of the French church I felt as though I was time traveling to the colonial period.  The church was architecturally beautiful, very monochromatic and understated in pale color.  But it was the look of the pews that grabbed my attention.  Made of teak and wicker, I expected to see the cameras and actors of a Merchant/Ivory film trundle in.  The church was empty, save for two workers painstakingly restoring some of the intricate carving on indoor columns, and of course dressed and using methods as they would have been in centuries past.

from Communalism Watch by Ram Puniyani
Subverting Democratic Ethos RSS believes only Hindus are Indians! RSS is one of the major organizations in the country which influences and controls different political and semi political organizations, calling themselves as Sangh Parivar. It does claim to be a cultural organization, but it is implementing its political agenda of achieving Hindu Nation

The starting point of RSS ideology is Savarkar’s definition of Hindu being one who regards this land from Sindhu (Indus) to sea as holy land and father land. Here there is a clear indication that followers of those religions which did not originate in India are not Hindus, i.e. Muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians are out of the ambit of this definition.

After this first round of elimination comes the statement that the one who is not a Hindu cannot be an Indian. Here the story becomes complete, to deny citizenship status to all the followers of these religions. Another of the favorite line of RSS is dropped in here; that Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life. This formulation at a time was upheld by court judgment, but can this be ideologically true? Is it theologically valid? How does one define religion, and how does one define way of life. Way of life is a much broader concept than religion. Way of life includes; regional nuances, culture, food habits, social associations, the struggle for livelihood and much more come under this umbrella. Many a times, people of different religions have a way of life which has a big overlap, and mostly people of same religion may have a way of life which is very different from each other.

The way of life of Kerala Muslim was much closer to the Kerala Christian and Hindu, the way of life of a Punjabi Hindu may be very different from the way of life of a Bengali Hindu or a Hindu settled in
Mauritius or UK and USA. People do adjust and adapt to each other cutting across their religious faith. That’s how the syncretic traditions and culture developed and flourished in India. That’s how we have Ramdeo Baba Pir in Rajasthan with following amongst Hindus and Muslims and we have Satya Pir in Orissa revered by people of all communities. Who can forget saints like Kabir who united the society along the moral values coming from different religions, and who can ignore the fact that the Sufi saint shrines are frequented by people of all religions. In Mumbai the Mount Mary Church of Mahim is a place where people from all religions light the candles and pay obeisance to Mother Mary.

The formulation ‘way of life’ has been deliberately propped up to confuse the scope of religion. While religion is itself a very broad category, including moral values, rituals, holy books, way of worship, presence of clergy and specific festivals, that does not exhaust the term way of life, which is much broader to begin with and is ever expanding, ever changing, ever trying to attain newer paths due to the process of social transformation, which is the key to social progress and community life.

Coming to the formulation, ‘Hinduism is not a religion’, it is a mere eye wash to get legitimacy to put forward Hinduism’s claim to be the sole religion here in
India. It is a clever ploy to impose Hindu religion on minorities. RSS knows like most others that Hinduism is a religion. Surely it is not a prophet based religion but it does have most features which qualify for it being called a religion. Mere absence of a prophet does not make it non-religion. As there is no prophet in Hinduism many ideologies, philosophies and faiths can survive within its pantheon. These range from the Atheist Charvak tradition to the belief in multiple Gods and Goddesses, to monotheism, to the concept of formless God, to the concept of God which is primarily based around virtuosity. But still Hinduism does qualify as a specific religion all the same. Hinduism has holy books, holy deities, rituals, specific philosophy, holy symbols like cow etc. Even RSS literature makes it clear that Hinduism is a religion. The oath admininistered at the time of joining RSS does mention Hinduism as a religion. Its books taught in various Sarswati Shishu mandirs etc. do refer to Cow as the Holy mother for Hindus, its biggest ever political campaign was in the name of Lord Ram’s temple in Ayodhya.

It is a deceptive and clever move by RSS to talk in many languages and dish out various formulations about Hinduism and Hindus. The idea is either to impose it on those who are not Hindus or to co-opt others into Hindus pantheon under the ploy that all are Hindus. 

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