Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hindu fundamentalism

It is often said by promoter and followers of the Hindu religion, that is 'a way of life' or 'Universal Religion'. It is one of the very few religions in the world that does not have a prohpet or a founder or single person responsible for its inception. Most detailed discourses about the evolution, for want of a better word, of Hinduism, center around the fact that there were numerous ideas and ideators, which helped fashion the core. The religion, practices, rituals, books, motifs, symbols and gods are just as many as there are followers. It is therefore virtually impossible to determine clearly when and how this religion came about. Although, religion as a concept required a certain evolution of social form of the humankind, before it had to take shape or form.

The Hindu religion was born out of arguments, discourse and dialogue between numerous proponents. It evolved from a clash of ideas. Sometimes diametrically opposite each other, as in including and support for the concept of atheism within its fold. If one philosopher taught that there was 'one god, with many names', another was quick to add that 'there were none and the god you prayed, was in you'. Every new century opened and introduced new paradigms. The wax and wane of the vaishnavites and shaivites, brought to fore the supreme nature of each of these gods. Mantras, rituals and sacrifices were the bane, introduced by some. While atman, brahman, and karma are the grace described by some. With Polythesim in practise, Monothesim as a concept, it was but natural to see how some people could be driven away.

It is in this context that you cannot, but react with a sense of amazement, that people who are the so called proponents of this religion today, take a very narrow centric view. The religion or culture has supported many of today's so called social evils for eons and centuries. But yet, we awaken each day to marauders burning and pillaging in the name of god. Again, they are only trying to save a tradition or ritual, which possibly is only a hundred years old, all in the name of a lord, who has been in existence for about a thousand or two thousand years. 
It is always difficult to rationalize with these. And there is no reason to do so either. This religious divide, which today is fought in the name of different gods, and externalized as hindu vs islam vs christianity, was very much a part of the internal divide within hinduism.  Kings who favoured different sects within the Hindu religion, have warred with others. Viewed from this angle, it just means we are going through a different revolution. Even in the last hundred years, movement like the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosphical Society, Ramakrishna Mission and people like Gandhi, Narayana Guru, Aurobindo etc., have reformed or propounded different doctrines. While all these havent lead to bloodshed, they still have resulted in upheaval.
To all those who behave like fanatics and fundamentalist in the name of religion, they only need to look back in history, and see that they are not alone. However, they do need to understand that barring a few situations, mostly created by fewer individuals, many of these so called changes or thoughts have come in a peaceful manner. This religion promotes and depends on discussion, discourse and most importantly disagreements. If it weren't for disagreements, we would have missed out on many important texts and studies, that are considered integral part of the Hindu religion today. The first and foremost that sticks in my mind, is Adi Shankaracharaya and his theory that there is difference between the individual and god.