The Hindu fundamentalists have been crying hoarse demanding the Indianisation of Islam and Christianity. Some leaders of the RSS and the Viswa Hindu Parishad are in the forefront of this demand. The burden of the argument is that Islam and Christianity originated in foreign lands, that the followers of these religions do not respect Indian traditions and that it is high time that they discarded their un-Indian practices and joined the main stream. In other words, these religions should be Indianised. The people who make these demands betray total ignorance of the essence of Hinduism. They are also ignorant of the harmonious blending of the religious practices of Muslim Indians and Christian Indians with the traditions and culture of India. Muslims and Christians have lived in this country for centuries in harmony with the rest of the society. They are thoroughly Indianised and they are an integral part of the culture and traditions of this great country. In reality it is Hindutva that needs to be Indianised!
India ' Hindu
The words India and Hindu do not occur in Sanskrit literature, religious or secular. The word for the country in Sanskrit is Bharatavarsha. The Sanskrit word for a river is Sindhu. The Vedic Aryans who first settled down in the northwestern part of the sub-continent called that region 'Sapta'Sindhu', the land watered by seven rivers. In course of time the mighty river with its tributaries came to be known as the Sindhu. And the Sindhu of Sanskrit became Hindhu or Hindu in Persian, following the practice of changing 'S' into an aspirate in Persian. To the Persians and Arabs the word Hindu covered both the lands watered by the Sindhu and the people living there and beyond. Greeks dropped the "H' and, accordingly, in Greece and the rest of Europe the country came to be known as Ind. It was only after the establishment of British rule that the word India gained currency.
In ancient and medieval times the followers of the religion now referred to as Hinduism never called themselves Hindus. That was simply a term applied to them by foreigners. In course of time all inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent who were not Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs or Parsees, came to be known as Hindus.
It is difficult to define Hinduism. It is a way of life with no rigid code of beliefs and practices. Hinduism has taken its present shape after absorbing the beliefs and practices of the original inhabitants and of the myriad human streams that found their way into the sub-continent during the last three or four millennia. It has no founder, no prophet, no set creed nor any rigid institutional structure. Unlike the Semitic religions, which are rigid and exclusive, a distinguishing feature of Hinduism has been its flexibility and the tendency to assimilate and tolerate a wide variety of beliefs. At one end of the spectrum there is the highly intellectual Advaita of Sankara, the essence of which is the oneness of the universal and individual souls. Then through the Vishishtadvaita of Ramanuja, the Dwaita of Madhva and the worship of Siva, Vishnu, and Devi as manifestations of the supreme reality, the spectrum spreads to cover the worship of numerous other gods and goddesses, some of whom are anthropomorphic.
An important aspect of Hinduism is the emphasis on Dharma or the right way of living. Even today millions of unlettered Indians have a broad perception of right and wrong. Though numerous Hindus believe in re-birth and the doctrine of Karma, observe certain rituals, visit temples and undertake pilgrimages, none of these is mandatory. Extreme flexibility in the matter of beliefs and practices is an integral part of the religion. Hinduism has, of course, its own serious flaws. Social stratification based on caste is so rigid that Dumont coined the colorful term Homo-hierarchicus to describe Hindu society. Another serious blot on Hinduism is various forms of discrimination against the so-called Backward Castes and Dalits and the inhuman treatment meted out to them.
A unique and redeeming feature of Hinduism through the ages has been tolerance, a certain willingness to live and let live. Belief in one and only one God is central to the Semitic religions. The God of Israel is a jealous God. In the wilderness of Sinai God admonished Moses 'Thou shalt have no other gods before me'. The daily prayer prescribed for Muslims reiterates that Allah is the one and only God. On the other hand the eclectic declaration of Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu was 'Those who worship other gods also in reality worship me'. Then there is the oft quoted passage from the Rig Veda: 'Ekam sat, bahudha vadanti viprah' ' Reality is one, the wise speak of it in different ways. The ultimate spiritual goal of the Hindu is Moksha or release from the cycle of death and birth. The Gita speaks of three paths for attaining moksha: the path of Jnana or knowledge, the path of Karma or self-less action and finally the path of Bhakti or total devotion. The last named, advocates absolute faith in and total surrender to God. The Bhakti Marga is in no way different from the path recommended in Christianity and Islam for salvation.
Tolerance and the quest for truth
All through history India has been, except for minor aberrations, the land of tolerance. Our greatest rulers, Ashoka, Akbar and Krishnadeva Raya accorded equal treatment to all religions and scrupulously practiced tolerance. Not only those mighty emperors, but even local chieftains practiced tolerance. and treated all religions. benevolently. Consider the establishment of the first mosque east of the Arabian Peninsula at Kodungallur in Kerala soon after the Prophet's' death and the grant of land to the Jews for building a synagogue at Cochin. And a Maharaja of Cochin handed over a Devi temple to Christians to be used as a church. It should be a matter of some pride to us that when Europe was busy with the Crusades, pogroms, the Inquisition and the burning of heretics, our ancestors practiced tolerance and displayed a higher level of civilization.
Another significant feature of Indian philosophy is the relentless pursuit of truth relying on logic and reason. In the Upanishads, the veritable storehouse of Indian philosophy, the sublime and the mundane, occasionally even the ludicrous, co-exist. But what is lofty is, indeed, truly lofty. We come across erudite men and women who dared face truth with unblinking eyes. Kathopanishad tells the story of Nachiketas who boldly wrangled with Yama, the god of death, and worsted him. In Chandogya Upanishad, when questioned by his preceptor, Satyakama Jabali revealed his illegitimate birth with disarming frankness. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad narrates how the scholar Gargi Vachaknavi boldly cornered the indomitable Yajnavalkya by her intelligent and persistent questioning. These seekers of truth rank with great thinkers like Socrates and Voltaire. They all believed in the supremacy of logic and reason. It is this great legacy of ours that the mindless fanatics want to repudiate and disown.
(The writer is a former Director of the LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, and a former Chief Secretary of Bihar.)