There is something odious about us Indians — irrespective of caste, creed and religion. We are too oily, obedient children of our parents, god- and boss-fearing — especially if we are bhadraloks (ভদ্রলোক). Overtly religious, we observe more rituals than any other people, for it is dinned into us from birth that rituals constitute religion, and observance of the approved rituals like daily pūja (পূজা), frequent fasting and/or tonsure, and/or rigid vegetarianism that excludes foreign plants like onion and garlic but allows potato, tomato, chili, and very many foreign fruits and vegetables, and/or promoting satī (সতী), and/or refusing to marry off our nubile, widowed daughter, etc, would give us pūņya (পূণ্য) in this life and thereafter (hereafter, thereafter, fiddle-de twiddle-de everafter!) — leading us finally to eternal salvation in the form of svarga-bāsa (স্বর্গবাস). That much is true of all Indian religions with minor differences in details.
Most Indians are cursed with congenital piety and religiosity that have hitherto retarded their development. Hinduism, a hybrid of many disorganised faiths — pre- and post-vedic — leading to every nascent version till date up to Santoṣī-mā (a Bollywood-created deity), and Satya Sāi-bābā (promoted by a section of the press and with funds amassed by his own organisation), happens to be the most given to both (a) familial/personal and (b) huge and regionally different ethnic almanacs of rituals of every hue, and additional ones invented by the Joneses (who purvey religious accessories) every day. The fault, one may surmise, does not lie in the central doctrine (for their is none) but in the general ethos. It is generally believed by most Hindus that Hinduism is the sanātana dharma (সনাতন ধর্ম), that it had been there for ever and more and, hence, has no founder to show, as with inferior faiths like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism et al. We forget, more often than not, that Siddhārtha and Mahāvīra were born into the sanātana dharma and founded their own schools of immensely popular faiths outside its orb of influence. That they have degenerated — slowly at first but picking up momentum on the way — to the dismal abyss of doctrinaire Hinduism is another story. We easily forget that atheists (nāstikas> নাস্তিক) like the Chārvākas (in the plural since it is believed to be a common handle for kindred souls) and the thinking śramaņas (শ্রমণ) of the vedantic era (Siddhārtha, Mahāvīra and Ājīvika also belonged to that rank) too had a place within the sanātana fold. And we believe that the sanātana dharma was the faith of Aryans who had sired us all.
We shall never agree that the original Śaṁkarāchārya’s ninth century philosophy was merely about nirguṇa brahma, or brahmaņ without attributes — splitting hair on obscure points of abstract theology — things that have never fed a single hungry child! We tend to ignore that the term Hindu was first applied to the so-called hotchpotch of sanātana dharma as late as in the Mughal period. We, gentle reader, usually believe all things that come from the mouth of our elders for we do not take the pains to read or think for ourselves. The pious call it guru-vāda, the doctrine that only a guru could show you light and the guru is never to be questioned.
We earnestly believe that Kŗshņa (often reverently called Kŗshņa bhagavāna) was born on janmāṣtamī day (by lunar calendar reckoning), July 18, 3228 BCE, in Kaṁsa‘s prison. Some of us have glib answers to raised eyebrows of all types: “It was calculated by Śrin (the n’th power indicating how many times the honorific Śrī is to be uttered) Raghu Prasad (or some other), astrologer par excellence, from astronomical observations recorded in the Mahābhārata §24.306” (tongue-in-cheek for the Mahābhārata reference only, lest someone calls yours humble truly an outright liar!). If you happen to be at the receiving end, you are not allowed to raise your eyebrows any higher; certainly not as high as our right honourable speaker Meira Kumar’s well-plucked brows normally are. That would be construed as an insult to the faith and, depending on where you are, may be punished with scripture-approved burning-alive as Graham Staines was.
We also must (repeat, must) believe that Hanumāna, the black-faced species of langur, is a deity in his own right, for he was the most obedient theirs truly of Rama and Sītā. The sobriquet Lord (প্রভু) usually precedes his name. Believe you must, for Dara Singh and all of his ilk are members of the Bajrang Dal — dedicated to this muscular but singularly humourless Lord.
Converted Christians and Moslems too are over-fond of ritualism, if they happen to be born into and steeped in the subcontinental culture. Brahmin Christians prefer Brahmins for their spouses. High-caste converted Moslems would balk at accepting a peasant’s or a cobbler’s rough hands for their fair and lovely daughters. Proletarian Moslems are known to salute Kali (কালী) if and when they need to; and I have personally known one who, rising above his peasant past, initiated his grandson to literacy (হাতে খডি) on Sarasvatī pūjā day, and that too in just-formed Bangladesh. Though the reverse is believed to be true, sufi mysticism here often camouflages ritualistic elements of the bhakti cult; the traffic runs both ways. The eminent linguist, Sukumar Sen, believed that another source of the Hindu bhakti cult was the South Indian brand of early Christians (see his preface to the Chaitanyacharitāmŗta by Kŗshņadāsa Kaviraja, Ananda edition). Catholics, of course, always had their rigid rituals in common with the Hindus and superstitions galore; those who belong to the C of E have their own brand of prejudices. Most Hindus-on-the-street salute their own pantheon, as well as all the churches and mosques that they happen to pass by.
When it comes to egalitarianism, Indians of all religions show a similar face in their own way. Moslems and Christians are relatively more egalitarian in marriage matters, but none feel free to share a meal with the menials they employ. We lip-synch, clap our hands and sway gently with eyes shut to bhajans of our very own egalitarian sants (সন্ত) of the middle ages (Kabir, Dadu, Meera, Ravidas, Nanak, Chaitanya and many more) but refuse to follow the humane part of their teachings. How many religions, old or new, ever think of the teeming, undernourished millions?
These are facts that we all know about, whether we admit or not. What are the facts of which we are blissfully ignorant, for we have no inclination to recognise the truth for what they are?
- That the sanātana dharma is a motely collection of many regional religions, mostly pre-Aryan and of tribal origin, held together by our tacit acceptance of Indo-European as a superior language. (Then, perhaps, comes the logic that a superior culture must be behind such a superior language, though the Aryan contribution to the sanātana dharma pantheon, theogony, theology and mythology is minimal. Check it up yourself if you doubt. The game is given away by the fact that very few of the vedic gods are worshipped still. Agni, Rudra, Indra, the Maruts are all forgotten.)
- That Śaṁkarāchārya had merely imposed a modified philosophy (nirguņa brahmaņa), of Dravidian psyche perhaps, into the annals of Hinduism in a rather argumentative (Amartya Sen sagely pointed out that Indians are argumentative indeed) manner — without an iota of piety. (It was later widely publicised to be a signal effort to save sanātana dharma from the mushroom-cloud of Buddhism, but, in reality, the tide was already turning away from saddhamma. His was a hair-splitting philosophy, bone-dry in form and content, without any trace of popular appeal. Religious movements have never been fuelled by such stuff, let alone revival. That is why his influence did not leave a mark on the masses.)
- That Kŗshņa, accepted as god in the so-called Aryan pantheon, cannot predate, by any logic, the entry of the first of the Central Asian tribes of that name. (The first wave entered the northern part of the subcontinent not before 2000 BCE. If Kŗshņa was really born in the last quadrant of the fourth millennium, he could not have belonged to Mathurā in the doāb, let alone Dvārakā off Gujarat coast. If he was a Central Asian, he must have been a Caucasoid Nordic, fair of skin and hair, and with blue eyes. How, then, would you explain his dark-skinned image?)
- That there were many totemic deities and religions described in the great epics, misinterpreted and misrepresented in the later periods. (Gaņeśa, the elephant-headed, clearly was the deity of some tribe with elephant totem. Ban-bibi (বনবিবি) and Dakshiņ-Ray (দক্ষিণরায়) are local deities of the tiger-infested Sundarbans of relatively recent origin — surviving till date. Both are worshipped by local people who have reasons to dread tigers and, hence, may be called a tribe of tiger totem. Dakshiņray is still worshipped in the form of an adult male Royal Bengal tiger with manhood showing, as depicted in earthen or garishly painted images. People of neighbouring, non-forest regions do not worship either, for they have no reason to. Hanumāna, likewise, must have been a tribal god worshipped by cults of the langur totem; must those who are not of the cult, who have no reason to propitiate langurs, also worship him?)
- That we are a people with illogical and unthinking reverence for (a) tradition, (b) familial and societal teachings, (c) meaningless rituals, (d) gurus, and we (e) dread to upset the apple cart.
- That all religions, sanātana dharma inclusive, are bunkum, as Mr Henry Ford would have said. ( Religions, in India and anywhere, are rallying points for argumentative schisms, the daily ware of a class of faith-vendors — also variously called priests, monks, ministers, etc. Religions become veritable industries when institutionalised as churches, mosques, temples and politicommercial [author’s portmanteau] entities, and a major source of prejudices. The distance between societies, persons, sexes and organisations, Marx’s alienation, stems from religions and cause needless bloodshed.)
But who will awaken the society? Who will bell the collective cats?