– What does the word mean –
(A few months ago Shri Ranga Hari, a senior pracharak of the RSS, addressed a meeting of Hindus from different parts of the world held at Pune. He has succinctly explained the meaning of the word Hindu. In the background of the word being rightly or wrongly understood or misunderstood by different sections of the society, his talk gains significance. Hence Sri Aravinda-Bharati desires to bring this for the kind perusal of all ardent patriots. A careful reading of the talk will be the best homage that we can offer to all visionaries particularly Shri Guruji Golwalkar who strove hard to awaken the Hindu consciousness in the country.)
I have been asked to speak on the subject which is fundamental to us. The subject is Hindutva or Hinduness as I would like to put it. I wish to deal with the subject broadly in three sections.
Firstly, I wish to place before you the real relation between Hinduness and Hindus and what the word really connotes. Secondly, I would like to mention a few significant features of Hinduness. And finally, I will go into the secret of its astonishing tenacity to survive strike and succeed.
Meaning of Hinduness
Hinduness simply means the social collective personality of the Hindus. We can better understand it from the example of man. Man as one of the created species has his own shape and form. Every man has the same organs placed in the same order. So on the plane of generality there is no difference between man and man. But in reality it is not so. One individual does differ from the other. Twins are many times so identical that even parents sometimes commit mistake. But as those twins grow, their inner growth moulds them into two different personalities. Take the case of Pandava twins Nakul and Sahadev. Although they lived in same circumstances and care – Sahadev became an astronomer par excellence while his replica Nakul became a specialist in animal husbandry. Here comes the existence of what is called personality. It is a clear march from generality to particularity. The real man is identified not by his external physique but by his inner personality.
What is true of individuals is true of societies and nations. Among various people living in the world, the Hindus the oldest among them due to dispensation, geography, history and times naturally developed a distinct personality of their own and that is known as Hinduness. I intentionally do not call it Hinduism, because that word as understood today may land us into the sphere of religious faiths that were born in Hindusthan.
Hinduness is the personality, the distinctive identity of the people known as Hindus, whereas Hinduism is the collective name of faiths and sampradayas that have sprung from Hindusthan. Not that Hinduness has no connection with those faiths or it bypasses them, but it has a positively larger circumference covering the life of the society in its entirety. To make the point clearer, Hinduism cannot accommodate in it an atheist, whereas Hinduness can. Hinduness is the very psyche of the society that finds expression in all its emotions and actions.
It is this Hinduness that we have to understand with clarity. Then only we will be able to become its effective transmitters.
Dharma: Most Unique Contribution
The first and foremost feature of Hinduness is the concept of dharma. Dharma is a unique word which has not been aptly translated into any other language up to this day. Approximately it means Eternal Cosmic Law. Dharma literally means which upholds, sustains and supports. Here the question arises what is to be upheld, sustained and supported? The answer is the entire creation with all its varied manifestations. It is said by the ancient seers that the primordial Cosmic Energy with a desire to multiply projected itself into many and the creation of the universe was the outcome. At the same time because everything created was a part of the earlier single whole there existed an unbreakable bond in all. A binding force existed that held together all those created parts. The force of gravitation between planets is one such.
So right from the moment of creation there existed a Cosmic force that worked for the harmonious function of all the different, separated parts, animate and inanimate. To keep up the balance and the rhythm of creation was its sole purpose. This force was identified as Dharma, by the ancient Seers. They declared:
Dharma is the Eternal Law that is the support of the Universe. All are supported by dharma that is why dharma is considered supreme; it cannot be transgressed.
Many people wrongly understand this dharma as religion. In fact, religion is mat or sampradaya and not dharma. Dharma is the unstoppable sustaining force of the Cosmos whereas religion is an organized set of beliefs and commandments regarding spirit, man and matters. It may appear very strange but the fact is Dharma is beyond religious belief. The writ of Dharma runs even upon the agnostic. Even he has to follow its dictates. It does not deny Hinduness to him provided he adheres to this Eternal Law.
According to Hinduness the dividing line between good and bad is this Dharma and not religion. Good are the men who are Dharmic and bad are the men who are Adharmic. Ravana, the emperor of Lanka, was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva, yet he was considered bad because he did not conform to Dharma, the Cosmic Ethics, and the support-base of the Universe. On the other hand Philosopher Kanada, a confirmed atheist, was conferred Rishihood because with all his non-spiritual theory he never compromised with Dharma he upheld it.
Carefully recall the Divine assurances of Sri Krishna – He said He would incarnate to protect and uphold Dharma checkmating Adharma. He did not mention belief or non-belief of God there. After all belief in God is ultimately personal, a matter between you and your God. That being not a fundamental issue, Hinduness is more concerned with the Eternal Law that governs the universe.
Here I would like to tell you that in the southern four states of India where Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu are spoken; there is no mistaking Dharma for religion. In those languages there is a separate word for religion – mat. All who speak those languages say mat for religion and Dharma for Dharma.
The confusion arises where for both, there is only, one single word called Dharma. But if we pay a little bit of attention we can avoid the confusion.
In short, once more repeating that singularly unique conception of Dharma is the most valuable contribution of Hinduness to world -thought, I move on to my second point.
The Undivided in the Divided
To see plurality, to appreciate it and accept it and search for the underlying unity is the second important feature of Hinduness. Sri Krishna in His psycho-therapic text of Bhagavad Geetha says:
Pure knowledge is that which sees the undivided in the divided
This enabled the Hindus to conceive of one Single Divinity that pervaded in the numberless Godheads that were adored and worshipped by clans, communities and tribes residing in this vast land from the Himalayan peaks to the southern seas. On the strength of realization his Rishi forefather taught him:
Reality is one, the wise express it in many ways.
So he could construct all over the land big temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Durga etc. with subsidiary Gods coexisting in the same complex. In Brahma Desh (Myanmar) I visited a Devi temple wherein Lord Buddha was venerably accommodated. There again, in the biggest Buddhist Temple – The Golden Pagoda – in the Parikrama Marg all Nava Grahas including Rahu and Ketu are worshipped. Compare this with the Goan experience. There the Roman Catholic Portuguese for a period of 450 years, till the end of their colonial rule, had not allowed even a single church of any other denomination to be built.
The Hindu has no quarrel with different Gods who are by themselves comrades-in-arms. There is no jealous God in Hindu pantheon. On the contrary the Hindu rishi invokes through the mantra:
Agni his chosen God to come down along with other Gods like Maruts to accept his oblations, not once but nine times.
Here I remember the remarks of Khalil Jibran in his Sand And Foam, “Once in every hundred years Jesus of Nazareth meets Jesus of the Christian in a garden among the hills of Lebanon. And they talk long; and each time Jesus of Nazareth goes away saying to Jesus of the Christian “My friend, I fear we shall never never agree.’’ Compare this with the Vedic prayer. We will understand the uniqueness of Hinduness.
Imagine a pilgrim from Rameswaram set out for Haridwar. On the way he visits Meenakshi in Madurai, Lord Venkateswara in Tirupati, Lord Shiva in Srisailam, Lord Vishwanath and Kala Bhairav in Varanasi, Ramlala in Ayodhya, Maruti in Hanuman Ghari and finally when he reaches Haridwar he feels gratified that the All-merciful Omnipresent One has blessed him all the way. How can you say the Hindu is a polytheist? He worships the One God. Yes – not the Lone God as the Semitic believer does. Here again Gods are many but Divinity is one.
The vision of Hinduness is integral, not differential. As in the case of Gods it views humanity as one undivided whole. It is fully aware of the diversity around. It knows that on the face of this vast earth various types of people live, different are their languages, dissimilar are their customs, varied are their tastes, yet they are all earthlings destined to live together in peace and prosperity.
Hinduness prepares man for genuine world citizenship and a global family. It is not given to it to split humanity into believers and heathens and promote heavenly apartheid, which perhaps is the sole prerogative of Semitic Creeds.
No full stop on human intelligence in Hinduism
The Hindu concept of global family did not limit itself to humans and Gods. It got extended to all other living beings also. Firstly, unlike the Semitic dogma Hinduness experienced the presence of soul in each living being. Not to find godliness in what all that came out of God was to the seer of the Hinduness as illogical as the absence of sweetness in the sweet-meat prepared out of sugar.
It will do good to remember here that the Semitic theologies went to the extent of denying the existence of soul in a woman who, it was argued, was created out of the rib of the man. When a magnetic rod is broken into two does any one of them cease to be a magnet? But our Semitic friends would like to believe so and stick on to it with unflinching faith! But the Hindu thinks otherwise. His faith is God’s DNA and is inexhaustible and is replicated in all His manifestations. Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Geeta (10-20) says that soul is present in every organism. Sarvabhootaa-shayasthitah is the expression He uses. So the Hinduness classified the entire creation not as animate and inanimate but as chara and achara, the moving and the static. Each and every living being has equal right to live on earth as equal partners. Also Hinduness taught:
The earth is mother of all and conversely all are her children worthy of equal affection and protection.
This created in the inheritors of Hinduness a sort of Eco-consciousness. It is this that inspired Valmiki to make even the creepers and trees of the forest wail at the abduction of Sita and a bird Jatayu air-attacks the abductor and sacrifices its life. It is again the same that made Kalidas’s deer weep at the departure of Shakuntala. It is again the same that made philosopher poet Bhartruhari address the elements as:
‘Oh Mother Earth, Father Air, Friendly Fire, Kindred Water Brother Sky,’ humbly conceding ‘the blessing contact of Thee all brought me Supreme Bliss.’
In the Kindergarten book of Panchatantra virtually you find a big eco-family wherein animals, birds, fishes and men live together with all the pluses and minuses of day-to-day worldly life. In fact, the modern ‘eco-friendliness’ is too poor a word for Hinduness to accept. Eco-brotherliness is its word. Not global-village but global family – not Vasudhaiva Gramakam but Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – is its ideal.
Pursuit of Truth and its negation
Now coming down to man as a species, he has in him an uncommon faculty to think and reflect. He has been provided with intelligence and that distinguishes him from the rest of creation. Hinduness recognized this fact of nature and allowed man to have unfettered play of that singular faculty called intelligence. It agreed that each man is singularly original in his thinking and no curbs of any sort could be there upon that. Here it will do well to recall Bhisma who said to Yudhisthira:
Dear Son, Infinite are the ways of the wise, as infinite as the trails of birds in the vast sky and tracks of fishes in the endless sea.
Hinduness does not put a full stop on human intelligence. It is a story of encouragement to all, at all times, to pursue Truth. The pursuit outwards was known as Science and the pursuit inwards as darshan, both two faces of the same Single Truth. Here we may do well to remember poet Tagore. To explain the wholeness of the tree he said ‘the branches of a tree are its roots above the earth and the roots its branches beneath the earth. Similarly, it can be said truth discovered outside is science, truth realised inside is spirituality.
The only insistence here is ‘don’t say I have found the truth; say I have found a truth.’ It means Hinduness had the robust common sense to admit that there shall be no end to that pursuit. This gave it the natural breadth of vision and readiness to accept what is experienced by the seekers of Truth from wherever they are. That is why we find here scientists like Aryabhatta, Varahamihira and Bhaskaracharya, despite their being against the then prevailing notion of sun’s and earth’s movements, were extolled to Rishihood.
Similarly, seers like Buddha, Shankara and Vivekananda despite their open repudiation of the outgrown sterile customs and ceremonies were accepted and revered as divinities. Learning from the history of Hinduness we can safely surmise, had Galileo, Copernicus and Bruno been born in Hindusthan they too would have been honourably nominated to the Rishi Sabha! And Jesus would not have been crucified but considered as Paramahamsa.
Persecution of man or a group is due to the total absence of this noble feeling. Bigotry and self-aggrandizement are the executors on stage here. This is what we witnessed in the case of Jews in the first century, Syrian Christians in the fourth century and Parsis in the eighth century. They were driven away from there home and country by the intolerant hordes. Here again it is the attitude of Hinduness that gave them refuge in the land of Hindus. Each group was granted unconditional freedom to safeguard its community, customs and beliefs fastidiously. In the act of this beneficence Gujarat, Konkan and Kerala behaved in the same way. None was squeezed into nothingness as the minorities in Pakistan.
So far I have dealt upon only a few of the chief features of the Hinduness. But the moot question is, ‘is it relevant today?’ The answer is ‘yes’, very much relevant, perhaps more relevant than ever. Today many universal bodies guarding human rights, environment etc. have sprung up and after much deliberation they have made necessary declarations and passed resolutions. Gather all of them. Study them and ponder over. You will find that many of the ideas expressed there are recent echoes of the age-old Hindu pronouncements. Naturally, they are relevant even today, especially because of the track record of Hinduness.
But can this Hinduness fulfill its task in these days when the talk is that of clash of civilisations? I honestly feel it can. It has the potential. On two counts I feel confident – one, that of behaviour and the other that of structure.
First: On the plane of behaviour, Hinduness never gets outdated. It has a tremendous tenacity to renew itself. Take the case of music. They say Sam Veda is the source of Indian music. From there centuries along it grew to perfection. Then reached the Europeans in the 16th century with their violin and the ‘octave’ musical notes. Our classical artists saw the new instrument. They approached it with inquisitiveness, assessed it with prudence, accepted it with a mind to experiment, adopted it with an element of risk to suit to their sapta swaras and finally assimilated it with conviction into their classical musical system. Today there are ever-so many well-known violin-vidwans all over the country and the classical Carnatic Music to this day continues to be uncontaminated by the Macaulay virus. With this at my back I said I am confident.
Second: About the structural factor: – I think I can explain it better by a story from Mahabharat. Once the all-devouring sea called a meeting of all the rivers and complained to them ‘What is this? You are all my tributaries and you ought to bring to me good tribute. You always bring tall sky-shooting trees. They are very difficult to chew and digest. I hear of canes. They are smooth, slim and sweet. Why can’t you bring them to me?’ Rivers fearfully looked at each other and delegated Ganga to speak. She pleaded, ‘Not that we did not try, Sir. Every time what happens is this: These trees are highly naughty. They never respect us, they belittle us, pooh-pooh us. Provoked we swell up and attack them in their strong-hold, rush to their roots and wash them off of all the mud and sand. Grip lost those mighty giants fall into our whirls and with ease we bring them fresh to your honorable self.’ ‘What about cane?’ intruded the master impatiently, Ganga explained: ‘Yes sir, it’s a different story. These canes are very amicable, Sir. They grow all along our tanks. They laugh with us, they play with us. They never flout. They live in bushy spiral coils. They have no trunks big and small. Top to toe it is all one long stalk with intermittent root-rings. To uproot them we can’t reach their roots because there is no centralised root-system at all. Where to strike is the problem. We flow into their coils; they allow us to pass through. They won’t mind dipping even. But they stick to their ground. They hold together. And when we pass by empty handed they rise up fresh and bright and smilingly thank us with soft words ‘very nice of you; you have bathed us well; so cool, please be with us tomorrow also.’
I think you have caught the message of the story. Vyasa termed this as Vaitasa Vritti – Cane Syndrome. Structurally Hinduness possesses this Vaitasa Vritti, resilience. This is my second reason for confidence.
So, these two traits of Hinduness, the power of assimilation and the power of resilience shall enable it to meet the demands of time effectively. It shall not entangle itself in the clash of civilisation as some would imagine. True to the Hindu phenomenon of avatar it shall assume form suitable to times, act suitably and finally fulfill its destiny.