Friday, May 18, 2012

Hindu survival: what is to be done

                Some Hindus ask me, as a sympathizing outsider, if I have any advice for them when they want to revive their fortunes. In principle, I have no advice; it would be arrogant to pretend to know something that the people concerned are not so sure about. But then again, Hindus are no different from others, they are subject to the same laws, so an approximative knowledge of their condition is enough to predict where they are moving and to say what they have to do to make the best of it. So, here goes.

1. Self-knowledge

                The first thing Hindus have to do, is to know themselves. The great problem of Hindus today is that they have become sleep-walkers, forgetful of their civilization. It gets worse with every passing year, as the ever-larger Hindu middle-class is becoming Americanized both in consumer patterns and in values. Their knowledge of Western films and music is becoming bigger as their knowledge of Hindu tradition is lessening. And the worst is that increasing numbers take pride in their ignorance.

                In the past, it didn’t matter if you skipped religion classes. You would just breathe Hinduism. You would know the tales from the Mahabharata and the Puranas through songs and theatre plays performed in your village square. Girls would learn Hindu traditions from their mothers and pass them on to their own children. But that can no longer be taken for granted.

                In a way, the world has become more conducive to Christian-style religion. NRI-PIOs congregate in their temples the way Christians gather in their churches. They organize Sunday school for their children the way they learnt from their Protestant neighbours. India itself is becoming similar, if only because the same family pattern with two wage-earners is being transplanted. You can study religion on your own, the way the first Christians practised their religion (even in secret), against or at least without support from your surroundings. At any rate, unlike in the past, if you don’t make a deliberate choice to do something about your religion, chances are that you won’t.    

                To Hindus, this is a new situation. In days  gone by, religion was just there, you fell in line with your surroundings, you did as everyone did. Now, to an increasing extent, you have to make a choice for it. The law of inertia is no longer working for Hinduism; it starts to work against it. The missionaries know this; the Hindus, I am not so sure.

                But they can save their Hinduism by practising it. The very first result is that they themselves will realize again what Hinduism is all about.  Not otherworldly Hinduism but the kind that Krishna preached, on the Kurukshetra, with the real enemies and opportunities and the real world.

2. Language

                For Hindus abroad, depending on circumstances, knowledge of Indian languages is probably lost. In a few places, native languages are perhaps viable, like Hindi in Suriname or Tamil in Singapore. If Hindu families can speak their Indian language inside the home and transmit it to the children, so much the better. But in mixed families and in oceans of powerful languages like the Anglosphere, children or grandchildren are bound to take to the language of their surroundings, so it is a waste to still your guilt feelings as an immigrant by forcing your children to learn a smattering of Bengali or Kannada. It is better to teach your children Hindu values, and if this has to take the form of a language, let it be Sankrit, the key to the main Hindu scriptures. For the rest, let  them acquire a thorough grounding in Hindu stories and ritual, in English or whatever vernacular they take to, rather than investing your and their precious time in a language that is bound to die.

                In India itself, English should be shown its place as first foreign language. Mind you, mine is a position against self-interest, for I will never have more fluency in an Indian language than in English; by contrast, all Indians and Westerners pleading for English happen to be self-serving. At any rate, an anti-English stand is not voguish, now that Indian politicians are not just sending their own children to English-medium schools while promoting vernacular-medium education for the common man, but openly replace vernacular with English schooling. This is a political choice: either Panjabis and Malayalis will speak English with each other, like Danes with Koreans or Congolese with Pakistanis; or they will speak an Indian language. If you want Indian unity, you’d better aim for an Indian language that will set India apart from the Anglosphere.

                That Indian language can only be Sanskrit. At this distance, we can say that it was a fateful day when the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad, cast the deciding vote in the Constituent Assembly in favour of Hindi as link language, to the detriment of the other candidate, Sanskrit. Hindi was not accepted by the chauvinist speakers of the other vernaculars. One of the good reasons was that it was but a recent language, a common denominator between old literary languages like Braj Bhasha, Awadhi, Rajasthani and others. Hindi as it is, was deemed vulgar by speakers of highly civilized non-Hindi languages like Bengali or Telugu. It didn’t have the kind of prestige that could overrule such objections.

                By contrast, Sanskrit if chosen as the link language would have sent a cry of admiration through countries like China and Japan, Russia and Germany, France and America. The state of Israel, that chose to make Biblical Hebrew its first language, would have understood very well that India made its main Scriptural medium into its second language. The Flemish, who waged a struggle against French-language masses all while accepting Latin masses as a matter of course, would have understood it if the Indians had preferred their common sacred language over a vernacular. Even the Muslim world would have understood it. Most importantly, it would have been accepted by the Indian people. Speakers of the constituent members of the Hindi commonwealth would have had no objection, and speakers of non-Hindi languages (even Tamil chauvinists) would have had fewer objections than against Hindi. As for the English-speaking elite, it would militate no harder against one Indian language than against another.

                The vote in the Constituent Assembly, fifty-fifty between Sanskrit and shuddh Hindi,  shows how far India has slipped, and what an outrageous failure the so-called Hindu Nationalist movement has been. If the vote were held today, it would rather be fifty-fifty between English and Bollywood Hindi, i.e. Urdu. The secularists were then a small coterie around Nehru, now the same stream of opinion controls all the cultural and other institutions. Back then, a vote for English would be unthinkable, now the same taboo counts almost for a vote against English. The Muslims were only 10% and smarting under their guilt for the Partition, not in a position to make demands; now they are 15% and growing fast, and in active opposition to every language policy that smells of either Hinduism or nationalism. Sanskrit has been borrowed heavily by the South-Indian languages and would be welcomed by their speakers (so would shuddh Hindi, for that matter, and for the same reason), whereas “Hindustani” or Urdu brings Hindi a lot closer to the official language of Pakistan but at a greater distance from the Southern languages of India itself.

                So, you have a choice. Supporting Bollywood Hindi will make Indian unity weaker and the Muslim factor stronger. But more importantly, supporting English will make Indian unity and democracy weaker, and the hold of the secularist elite stronger. By contrast, supporting Sanskrit will make Indian unity stronger, along with popular access to the Hindu tradition. Whether India as a unified state survives, depends on many things, but English will certainly not be a factor of unity. A Kannadiga may speak English with a native of Karachi or Chittagong, as he would with a native of Hong Kong or Cairo or anywhere, without sharing a national state with them; and the same counts for a native of Mumbai or Delhi.        

Admittedly, Sanskrit is a difficult language, but then it is equally difficult for everyone. And if one positive development can be mentioned since 1947, it is the decreased importance of caste pride, which led many upper-caste people to have a sneaking sympathy for the Nehruvian anti-Sanskrit policy, which at least kept Sanskrit out of the hands of the lower castes. One of the formative episodes in Dr. Ambedkar’s life was when he was denied the right to study Sanskrit in school because of his low caste. It helped make him a partisan of Sanskrit as national link language, a choice not followed by his so-called followers in the Dalit movement. They favour English, a choice unthinkable to the freedom struggle generation.

So, the anti-Sanskrit forces are a lot stronger than in the late forties, when they very narrowly won the day. Still Sanskrit is the only chance the lovers of India have. Hindi failed, and English will only weaken Indian unity, apart  from being an utterly undignified choice of link language. Brace yourselves for a difficult struggle – or for national disintegration.

3. Build your own Hindu organization

                It is counterproductive to hope for tangible results from the Sangh Parivar. In most respects, they achieved nothing for the Hindus. A few merits go to their credit, viz. relief work and, in some areas,  security for Hindus threatened by aggressive “minorities” (i.e. the local branches of international religions with a lot of support from abroad). Important as these merits undoubtedly are, they do not justify the Sangh Parivar’s national claims for the “awakening of the Hindus”. On the contrary, the Sangh Parivar has done its bit for keeping the Hindus asleep. They have misdirected their flock and neglected a number of concerns of those Hindus who were awake.

                One good thing the Sangh did, was to organize. I call upon you to do the same. Unfortunately, the Sangh saw this as a goal in itself. It forgot to make self-organization subservient to a Hindu vision, because it had none.

                However, that criticism of the Sangh has been expressed enough times and on enough forums. Repeating it is only one form of what Rajiv Malhotra calls “mouse-clicking Hindu activism”, a useless activity that may be ego-flattering but otherwise makes no difference. It may be necessary to keep Hindus from a mistaken line of involvement, but it has mostly outlived its use now. The thing to do is simply to set up your own Hindu centre of activity and ignore the ideological line of the Sangh.

                The focus may be very different depending on local needs. Physical security is an important concern in areas where the so-called minorities are strong and growing, like West Bengal and Kerala. That is why the Hindu Samhati in West Bengal is so important: it promises to be more effective than the RSS, and has so far also lived up to its promise. It channels the natural Hindu capacity for self-defence. In opulent areas where Hindu self-forgetfulness due to the invasion of American consumerism is a greater menace, by contrast, the focus may be more on Hindu identity and the revival of Hindu knowledge.

                The national and international dimension can be taken care of far more easily that in the past, thanks to the internet. The pure communication dimension of this transregional cooperation will take care of itself. But is there a need of some more formal way of grouping along national and international lines? In particular, shouldn’t there be a party like the BJP?

                If there were an effective lobby group, like the Jewish lobby in the US, there would be no need of a Hindu political party. There is no Jewish political party, but both the Democrats and the Republicans do their best to curry the favour of the Jewish lobby. For the impartisan form, the VHP (World Hindu Council) has in the past approached all political parties with its “Hindu agenda”, but in practice it only counted on the BJP. And even this party did not do the Hindu lobby’s bidding, e.g. whereas the VHP’s Hindu agenda of 1996 contained an anti-abortion item, in keeping with the Brahmanic-Shastric interdiction of abortion, the BJP programme (in keeping with most other parties’ and governments’) was all for birth-control by any means necessary, including legal abortion. So Hindus don’t consist of the right human material to form an effective lobby-group pressurizing political parties.

                A party like the BJP is better than nothing, according to many Hindus. While it fails to do anything for Hindu causes, at least when it is in power nothing will be done against the Hindus, unlike the other parties; or so they say. The opening of Indian media ownership under the NDA regime can be given as a counterexample, a BJP-engineered disaster for Hindu society; but we don’t want to be difficult. Well, let the BJP exist, it will do so anyway, but let that not stop you from doing anything on your own.

                Once you’ve built up something, it will automatically become the lobby that some were dreaming of. The BJP, and perhaps other parties, will seek your approval when making its programme, your support during the campaign. It always does so when it sees people who know what they want; it did so with the secularists, and it will do so again with Hindus. This will put you in a position to make demands. The BJP will make some of your programme its own if it has the impression that you are consistent and credible. All  this and more will accrue to those who really do something and get started.

4. Let the facts speak for themselves

According to Rajiv Malhotra, Hindus are “under-informed and over-opinionated”. I already had that impression, but being a foreigner, I had no business saying it. However, if an Indian says it, it deserves to be quoted. They haven’t done their “Purva-Paksha”, their study of the opponent’s viewpoint, and --  now I quote Sita Ram Goel --  yet “they think they know everything about everything”. I have, for instance, made many an argument with Hindus who claimed to know more of my home religion, Christianity, than I myself did. Perhaps it is an atavistic behaviour pattern dating back to the time when India was on top of the world, and when Indians had a superiority rather than their present inferiority complex.

On the internet, I have come across many Hindus who were ill-mannered and unwilling to abide by the general rules of good conduct. That will not influence my opinions too seriously, because my mind has by now been made up, but it will affect those of many others.  What they prove is that a good cause can be spoilt by bad servants. They give a good message a bad name by their lack of self-control.

They feel good about themselves because they had their say. They think it is impressive if they shove it into the other side’s face. But what they never do, is listen to feedback. Am I achieving what I set out to achieve? Well, the problem with most of these folks is that they don’t really want to achieve anything. The thought of getting somewhere just doesn’t cross their minds. They merely want an emotional kick, a feeling of having said it in a way that the other side, or more likely the sympathizing reader (they are not aware of another side), is unlikely to forget. They want to live out what is inside of them, and the result be damned.

The fact that they are participating in discussions on Hinduism and its plight at least proves they feel that something is not right. Let that be a start. For the rest, you have your own teachers to go to. You don’t need me to tell you that self-control (in Sanskrit: yoga) is better for you and for everyone than self-indulgence. You have Hindu civilization for that.

Hindu tradition teaches you all about Purva-Paksha, the “earlier wing” against which your own viewpoint is the counter-wing. It teaches you that you first have to acquaint yourself with what the others are saying before you can answer them. Short, it doesn’t want you to be lazy. It doesn’t want you to take the laughable posture of pretending you know it all without studying. By extension, it teaches you to take into account what the others say in answering you. It wants you to learn from their feedback. Thus, there has never been a Hindu who has convinced an outsider by means of a false (P.N. Oak-ian) etymology, it has solely earned them ridicule; only Hindus fall for this kind of “argument”, and that should tell you something.

How does this work out in practice? Instead of letting your emotions take centre-stage, you should let the facts speak for themselves. That works best. Isn’t it funny, Hindus who have the facts as their best friends yet want to hide these behind their own anger? In making your point, you should first of all let reality do the talking. Nothing convinces as much as reality does.

And yet, reality is not enough. Some Hindus know how to let reality speak and how to make their own emotions shut up, yet their performance is insufficient. For instance, so many times already I have received copies of Nathuram Godse’s speech about Mahatma Gandhi. Hindus think they are meritorious by spreading the word and propagating Godse’s speech, because it stays close to the facts,and because it is itself a historical fact. But except for a secularist of sorts (Ashis Nandy), I am the only author of an analysis of Godse’s speech. Many Hindus admire Godse, but they don’t bother to stop and think about his speech. They merely repeat it, mantra-like, without adding anything to it.

So, once in a while it is necessary to think things over. Was Nathuram Gods right? Was he more right in his words than in his act? What was the result of his act? Discussion forums are an excellent place to make a start. The “wisdom of crowds” is represented there, and I have already learnt a lot from it, even from the most ordinary people who have their moments of brilliance too, and their area of expertise. Hindus could learn a lot too, and train themselves in making up their own minds and influencing other people’s.

5. Don’t create false problems

                According to textbooks, Hindus and especially low-castes (who were only induced into Hinduism by the evil Aryan invaders) are fed up with “empty ritual”. That is, according to the secularists, why they want to leave Hinduism. If you see Christians eat the flesh of Christ, just remember that they would never want to be Hindus and condemned to doing “empty rituals”.

                In reality, there may be some things in Hinduism that trouble them, but “empty ritual” is not it. Take it from an eyewitness to the slow death of a religious culture, Christianity in Europe, who has seen numerous contemporaries sigh: “Yes, Christianity is a pack of fairy-tales, but where will I find such a good ritual setting for my funeral as a mass in church, conducted by a real priest?” Religion may be nonsense, but ritual is very important. So, when I see Hindus on internet lists complain about “empty ritual”, I know they are just rattling off what they learned in their Jesuit school. Of course, the Jesuits know the value of ritual and also practice it, but to Hindu pupils they teach about its emptiness.

Ritual will take care of itself, it gets reborn easily, but some matters are more serious when they are made into problems. One perfectly false issue that has been keeping Hindus busy for a century and a half (if not for a thousand years) is polytheism vs. monotheism.  Pharaoh Akhenaten, Moses and Mohammed thought  they stumbled upon some important realization when they declared monotheism true and polytheism false. Against them, some Hindus defend their ancestral polytheism, which nowadays is a brave thing to do. Others, whom the Buddha called lickspittles, try to curry favour with their enemies by espousing monotheism. To have an edge over other Hindus, they declare that the others have not understood how a single God is hiding behind the seeming multiplicity of Vedic gods.

But the truth of the matter is that the Vedic seers didn’t cared two hoots for this quarrel between monotheists and polytheists. The divine manifests itself as one or as many, and both could be lived with. You should not import into Hinduism a problem that only your enemies created, and in the name of which they have destroyed your idols and temples.

A related “problem” is that of idolatry. For thousands of years, Hindus have depicted the divine through paintings and sculptures. To be sure, they also worshipped in the open air, with the wind as the natural idol of Vayu, the thunder as the natural idol of Indra, and so on. But surely the culture of artificial idols has so long and so intimately been interwoven with living Hinduism that we can call idolatry Hindu par excellence. So, it is safe to ignore those Hindus who, wanting to cozy up to their self-described enemies, suddenly “discover” that the Hindus have always been oppressed by false and evil idolatry.  

The so-called problems of polytheism and idolatry are false problems floated by those Hindus who want to feel  superior to other Hindus, viz. by bathing in the reflected glory of Christianity and Islam. Hindus had better concentrate on real issues, like how to maintain their Hinduism in a sea of hostile forces, or how to save girl babies.

6. Creativity

                One very good thing by which Hinduism stood out, both in its Vedic and its Puranic phase, was its unbridled creativity. Today, this is what is sorely lacking. Sita Ram Goel diagnosed the Hindu activists among his fellow students ca. 1940 as the most mediocre of the lot. Those who had nothing to offer individually gravitated towards causes which tilted them above themselves but to which they themselves had indeed little to offer.  They gave their time and energy, nobody can deny them this dedication, but a winning movement cannot be built exclusively of such grey people.

                The creative people are on the other side. Most Bollywood actors and directors are either on the anti-Hindu or, at best, on the mindlessly Hindu side. They have named their industry after its American counterpart and some say their product is lousy, but at least they know how to attract money and they certainly have a good time. Hindus ought to feel jealous, if at all they have the ambition to do as well as Bollywood.

                Creativity was to be found in the late M.F. Husain, hated by the Hindus and disliked by a great many Muslims too. He was driven by hate, old and uninspired hate, but undeniably he created things in painting. Hindus could do nothing but demand a ban, the most humourless and uncreative solution. No Hindu came forward to be the anti-Husain, let alone some original way to silence him.

                It was different once. Every art form was steered to new heights by Hindu artists. Every province of India had its own variation of the performing arts. In the visual arts, no tradition was a match for the richness in characters that the fable collections, epics and Puranas had to offer. Whereas Chinese and Japanese classical music are museum pieces next to omnipresent Western classical music (at performing which the East-Asians excel), Indian classical music remains as the only rival. More individualistic yet more complex, it differs from European classical music the way adult music differs from children’s songs. Hindus are fairly good at maintaining what was great among the inventions of their ancestors, but not so good at giving a creative answer to today’s challenges.

                So, gird up your loins to start anew. Create Hindu art. Let it not be an imitation of Western “modern art”, the West is fed up with it and you have no need of Indians pretending to like it. Forget about trying to be original, just be Hindu and your originality will take care of itself. Except for calendar artists, no artist wants to be known as a Hindu, so by doing Hindu art you automatically stand out.

7. Celebrate

                The greatest thing about Hinduism for all its adherents are its festivals. As long as people celebrate these, the religion will exist.  Just apply the Americans proverb: “If it’s fun, it gets done.” The same counts for the more serious Hindu business, like meditation. It is not airy-fairy, as Westerners imagine, but very down-to-earth, the most realistic thing in the world. But it is also the happiest thing, the source of joy.

  And judging by this criterion, Hinduism is alive and kicking. So, I am not all that pessimistic about the future. You simply have to do what it takes.

(first published on the Hindu Human Rights website, ca. 17 May 2012)


webasura said...

Koenraad ji,
A wonderful post. You have approached the solution from directions corresponding to all psycho-social faculties, from the linguistics-semantics to politics to philosophy and mysticism to art, and finally just having fun. I particularly like your emphasis onthe critical need to reinstate Sanskrit as the Garuda on the steeple. In this regard, the work of orgs like Samskrita Bharati is admirable. jayatu saMskRtaM.

Rita Narayanan said...

Hindu custom tradition roles in the way they were devised cannot really be separated from caste or even the old royal states- a great many local festivals, dances etc come from such history.

I actually think observering relatives who think they are 'good' hindus that the birth of a new country and dislocation of pple and liberated opportunism has completely broken the back and the character of the faith.

I can only see a rebirth in the manner Aurobindo envisaged since the body exists as a cartoon and the soul is missing.

The qualitative leadership of the Hindu right may be more democratic but it is not better. Growth has to be comprehensive and meaningful.

women don't just face modern challenges, I have observed older women within the family and seen a complete dislocation of behaviour and unbridled opportunism and envy enter relationships. So the external can mirror deception.

Very often the external mask of tradition as in language and dress is masking a very Kafkaesque internal reality.

Thanks Sir as always for your astute take and valuable observances.

Rita Narayanan

Nirjhar007 said...

I think the mantra is "Learn from the past stay in present and build the future".

Allhumanalike said...

I think problem is much greater than portrayed by author.Urbam Hindus are mostly converted, brainwashed to anti Hindu state of mind. All this mass will not practice, preach hindu rituals, stories by themselves and not encourage their children either. . Rather, most of them hate as first reaction to anything remotely Hindu-ish. My first hand experience. In villages only, culture is live and kicking. Villagers never expected to rule the country. So, Hindu awakening, not possible unless God incarnate again and help them

Unknown said...

Regarding hindi and sanskrit, back then the leaders had other serious challenges like the dravida movement in the south, northeast unrest which made people question if india would actually last as a single nation, and i think due to these constraints then leaders would have prefered hindi over sanskrit , not very popularly spoken. It is not fair to compare israel with India since israel is a small country with no divisions in language with geography neither any differences in loyalty with rescept to nationality.

ManishJ said...

Naman!! Thanks for awakening me..

Yashaswita Bhoir said...

The major problem with Hindus is that they are easily brainwashed by irreligion & other stuff as compared to abrahamic religions. This needs to be stopped. We need to reinvent Hinduism for the greater good.

Sid Gau said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sid Gau said...

The religious component of Hinduism, like other religions, has to answer questions from science - logic, rational and irreligious ideas. It is nothing new, all religions have done it in the past. However, now with a smaller-global-World, ideas are transmitted faster than ever before, and travel further than ever before.
As more Hindus stress on educating their children, the Hindus are going to face more science and knowledge that question the very basis of worshiping some super natural entity that can intervene in human lives.

Unknown said...

Hindus should totally give up on BJP politicians delivering the goods. A Hindu lobby like the Jewish one is one way forward.
Like Koenraad, I believe that Hinduism is very vibrant and attracts people from all over the world. One Parashuram was able to revive the race of kshatriyas. Similarly, a few good Hindus can revive it from oblivion.
However, are there enough good people? The problem I have encountered from my direct interaction with traditional Hindu organisations and the BJP is of disorganisation and clannishness.

However, I believe it all begins at home. I read Dickens to my kids but I also have tonnes of Amar Chitra Katha, which we all read. It was ACK that introduced me to Hindu history when I was young. I have read every comic book printed in the US in the 1970s and 1980s, and yet it was ACK that mattered in the end. In today's world, it can be so easily done via DVDs and Kindle (on which I'm introducing ancient Hindu tales and Chankaya Niti to my children).
While a lot of the NRIs in New Zealand congregate in temples and some take our children to Sunday Hindi classes, the majority are at the malls, munching on Burger King and MacD. When I ask them to take their children to such classes, they say, "Look we have created these assets for our daughter/son; our job is half over; we don't want to force them into rituals or impose a certain culture. When she grows up, she can choose what she wants."
In fact, this was exactly what one person whom I know well told me recently. He BTW is a member of the local Sai Baba association and they are building a big temple in Auckland. He was proud of the fact that his best friend and Sai Baba fan was a Muslim who had married a Hindu girl. When I said that didn't mean his Muslim friend was entitled to a "Certificate of Secularism", he said the Muslim man's sister was married to a Hindu.
Now, I do not know whether the two marriages have created two new friends of Hinduism or two future adherents of Islam. But what I know for sure is this Hindu man's daughter for whom he has created so many "assets" in Auckland will grow up in a very un-Hindu milieu where making fun of Hinduism and rituals will be par for the course.
Watch this space.

Julian said...

"Unknown" doesn't seem to know much about Israel's history.

Take for instance:

"israel is a small country with no divisions in language with geography neither any differences in loyalty with rescept to nationality."

In reality the early settlers to Israel came from all over Eastern & Central Europe with the most common language being Yiddish. Then they were flooded by Jewish refugees from all over the Arab world.

They could have chosen Yiddish or English but consciously went for Hebrew.

As far as "national loyalty", many Ultra Orthodox Jews considered and still consider the state of Israel to be illegitimate. Many live on gov't dole and have 7-8 kids each and there is increasing tension between them and secular Jews.

Indians never tire of making excuses for Nehru & other Indian "leaders" failures and "Unknown" is no exception to this trend.

Phillip said...

(More individualistic yet more complex, it differs from European classical music the way adult music differs from children’s songs.)

Well, now you don't know what you're talking about. It would make sense to say this about the Indian and non-Indian premodern linguistic traditions, but no one who knows and loves both Indian and Western classical music could say something so foolish and ignorant about them. Both traditions exploit their resources, and overcome those resources' different limitations, in ways that show human creativity at its most brilliant and beautiful, and each has areas of complexity that make the other look "childish". To say that one is more "individualistic" or "complex" than the other is as false as it is true. Purvapaksha, remember? But seeing that this post may originally have been meant to function as a pep talk for philistines, I suppose you may not have been holding yourself to a very high standard.

समीर देशपांडे (Sameer Deshpande) said...

Dear Ashwamitra,
Why do you abuse readers of this blog as philistines? Are you a Hindu hating Sanskrit scholar or just another Christian Missionary.

Nirjhar007 said...

What do you mean by reinvent?

Naras said...

Sameer Deshpande,

"...Are you a Hindu hating Sanskrit scholar ..."

Hey, don't jump to conclusions. He can define terms of logic that would shame a Descartes or a Navya Nyaaya scholar. He can define words like ad hominem, paranoia, ignorance and spirituality.

Seriously, he is a troll. Don't bait him. He didn't expect you to understand "philistine".

Sandeep said...

1. Folks, Ashwamitra is a friend of Hindus. One of the very few westerners who is a friend of Hindus. While most western Sanskritic scholars want to declare Sanskrit dead, and any attempt to revive it as communal, Ashwamitra does his bit to keep the language kicking by writing daily shlokas that he himself composes.

2. You (Sameer and Naras) have misinterpreted what he meant by philistine; he is referring to those who have enough sense of affiliation to Hinduism as to read this blog, but still not seriously into Hindu culture and art. I know soooo many fellow Hindutva-vadis who swear by Hinduism, yet only listen to Bollywood etc. Koenraad is asking them to take our culture seriously, and Ashwamitra is fine with that. Only, Ashwamitra also happens to like western classical music so he got upset when Koenraad referred to western classical music as childish. That is a tangential issue to the thrust of this post, and I do believe Ashwamitra's comment was a digression, but that is no reason to hate him.

3. Even if you do consider someone anti-Hindu, don't call him/her troll, missionary etc. - not because it is wrong to do so, but because doing so weakens your position. Among school children, calling each others names and shouting each other down works very well; in adult discussions, that actually showcases you as a very weak individual, and makes your argument less likely to carry through.

4. As Koenraadji points out, one of the biggest issue with Hindus is that they do not know how to identify and work with potential allies. You - Sameer and Naras - have shown that phenomenon in action just now. That Ashwamitra reads Koenraad regularly and links it among the blogs he follows itself shows his sympathy to Hinduism. And you want to drive him away.

5. In conclusion - Sameer and Naras - you may be well meaning but you do a disservice to Hinduism by killing potential friendships.

Naras said...

Dear Sandeep,

1. He may be a "friend of the Hindus" to you, but he has baited people on this blog earlier.

2. There are many Sanskrit scholars like Witzel and Doniger, who revel in distorting Hindu sciptures. The one does not imply the other.

3. His blog seems to be good, I need to spend time on it to come to a conclusion.

4. I have learnt Carnatic music from my mother, love Hindustani classical for its meditative ambiance, and love European classical music as well (My favourite European composer, Beethoven's Pastoral is close to shankarAbharaNam).

5. But I agree with Dr. Elst that these genres have very different purposes and levels of advancement. Bach for example is a mathematical skills exhibitor, but thyAagarAja is lost in Shri Raama. Put it down to my native bias.

Unknown said...

you have given some good suggestions.
1) Yes , hindus have to ‘re-learn’ Hinduism starting with the historic basis of the rig vedha. There is simply too much holiness, divinity, rituality and other mumbo jumbos attached to it that people are losing sight of the rationality and logic associated with it. This is getting glaringly visible. The defence of Ram-sethu as a national heritage , (and hence trying to prevent its destruction by the sethusamudhiram project ), by hindu outfits is pathetic. One speaker on a TV talk show asserts that if Ram throws a rock into the ocean it will float, hence the Ram-sethu was a pontoon bridge which later hardened and sank to become a natural bridge !! Instead of aligning tactically with ecologists and economists who have correctly pointed out the dangers and un-viability of the sethusamudhiram project, the hindu groups are toeing the religious line to preserve the bridge. The former strategy would have earned them good name of preserving the marine biosphere as well as preserving the bridge, now they are appearing more like jokers. Again, what to do, you have given the most apt term for them : sleep walkers !! Now they have become sleep walkers-cum-talkers !!
2) Promoting Sanskrit is a good idea, but that requires a huge initiative from the hindu groups. I am not sure how many of them are up to it.
3) Starting our own hindu groups depends a lot on time factor as well as what opportunities like- minded people get, to come together and start a group. Mostly, such people are scattered rather being concentrated, and hence we see less intelligent-cum-effective groups and more of over-zealous groups which are of blabbing type. I wonder how many such groups are even aware of your works and that of other intelligent hindu analysts. Another method is to gate crash into existing groups and try to reform them. Fat chance, eh ? (...continued..)

Unknown said...


4) Let facts speak for themselves !! , really good. Hindus have to take this suggestion very seriously.
5) False problems: I didn’t quite get your point here. Are you suggesting that hindus need not prepare themselves in the poly vs mono debate with Christians/muslims , or to refute the accusation of idolatry thrown at them by Christians/muslims ? They may be false problems imported by hindus with superiority complex, but problems nevertheless, and hindus had better learn to tackle them. They are not just problems, but effective weapons in the hands of Christians/muslims. Intellectually weak hindus, mainly those belonging to the lower class, easily fall prey to these two accusations. Vedhic seers may not have given two hoots about poly vs mono theory, but neither could they have imagined in their wildest dreams that later stage lunatics, calling themselves prophets, would latch on to monotheism and propagate it with murderous intensity. To counter Christianity and islam, hindus have to learn to shoot down these two accusations with impunity. Monotheism can be blown to bits, but idolatry ? it is not enough to simply say that divinity can be seen everywhere including these dumb idols , but a more philosophical explanation needs to be given, perhaps along the lines of bhagawadh geetha ??
6) Creativity of hindus in music is definitely good, especially carnatic and also fusion music. Revival of hindu art is another good idea. People can draw inspiration from plenty of paintings found in the temples which are now closed to the public for fear of vandalism. MF Hussain comes nowhere near these creations. He is a maverick painter , whose works have been blown out of proportion by the media, and a complete coward. Good thing that hindu groups have legally hounded him out of india, and that is a good riddance.
7) Hindu festivals are being celebrated with the same vigor as before. Nowadays it is a convenient excuse for a family get together and outing. Overall , Hinduism is thriving and will continue to thrive. To recover the lost ground, hindus have to close ranks and launch an all out ideological war against Christianity and islam. There is no other go, and will be beneficial to entire humanity as well, not just to hindus.

समीर देशपांडे (Sameer Deshpande) said...

There is nothing wrong in Idol worship. Even Catholic Christians pray before Mother mary. Idolatry is just a swear word invented by monotheists to equate idol worship with materialism. Mr. Elst is right in saying do not create false problems. Idols just are medium to give fromless Diety a form. Idol worship is one of oldest form of worship known to us. East asians like Chinese & Japanese also perform Idol worship, so do most Pagan religions.

समीर देशपांडे (Sameer Deshpande) said...

Catholic Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians pray before Mother Mary and other Icons.
Muslims imagine God to be present before them when performing Namaz (salat). Taoism (China), Shintosim (Japan) also have some form of Idol worship, so do most Pagan religions.
Idol worship is one of oldest form of worship known to us.
Human mind requires Saguna Bhakti (Form worship) of Formless(Nirguna) Deity. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are inherently intolerant because they reject Idol worship and have narrow ideology of Monotheism.

Dhruva said...

Brilliant Mr.Elst!! u hit the nail everytime :)!!

Anonymous said...


punch into google search--

hindus converted to other religions , because they were NOT proud to be hindu-- and of course the high handedness of the shrewd brahmIns, who equated themselves to brahmAn.

brahmAn in vedas -- means the "morphogenetic consciousness field".

capt ajit vadakayil

Nirjhar007 said...

Yes thats right and when Swami Vivekananda asked a rajput king (who didn't know the basis of idol) to spit on his fathers painting he couldn't do it.

Bhavya Ketan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

hi bhavya,

i have done some experiments on TIMES OF INDIA new comments column.

i am of the conclusion that some of the REAL HATE comments are made from abroad by white christians using hindu names.

because if they are really rustic brainless RSS/ ABVP scum , their english will NOT be the way they write.

having been sailing for 40 years , i can even sense the style of english-- because that is the way they speak english out there ..

also sometimes by pakistanis using indian hindu names--to abuse RSS.

i have used some IT help to find out these things.

some VIP indian writers ( men and women ) , who come on TV in prime time, have several ID accounts , on various names.

if you make a remark criticising their mindless, worthless column, this VIP writer will attack you in another avatar, in which they mis-spell their own names .

i have used some IT help and found out this too.

capt ajit vadakayil

Unknown said...

Thanks for taking this opportunity to discuss this, I feel fervently about this and I like learning about this subject.
Hanuman Chalisa Multilanguage app

Bodhidas said...

I am sympathetic with most of this article. However, I must disagree with your comments on the role of vernacular Indian languages among the diaspora.
I don't think it is realistic for overseas Indians to learn Sanskrit instead of the vernaculars. I have observed that in the UK, among the 2nd and 3rd generation of Indians,Pakistanis,Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, those who speak the vernaculars tend to be those that get some exposure to it through their relatives and acquaintances in the UK or in the sub-continent. They by and large do not learn it from a classroom (though I would recommend going to classes as it will supplement what one already knows and make one literate in the language).
To maintain Hinduism and Indian culture, it is a good idea to be in touch with some part of living India, through a vernacular language. And in some cases, like Hindi, Punjabi and Bengali, there are hundreds of thousands of speakers (Hindi and non Hindu) in the UK and North America, which should enable these languages to be maintained in at least a spoken form in those lands.
And as India becomes more important, these vernaculars will also increase in importance and prestige. And what can be better than to get off the plane in India and be able to speak to local people, including one's own relatives. So speaking a vernacular Indian language is of practical value.
Also, as someone who is trying to self study Sanskrit, I have learned that it is far easier to do so if you already have a vernacular Indic language, for I have found that I already know a large number of Sanskrit words that I wouldn't know if I only knew English, and the grammar, though more complex, is quite familiar.
Sanskrit is not difficult for those who know a vernacular Indian language (including literacy and grammar) well. I am finding it easier than French or German.

American said...

This essay has numerous gems.

I expand my comments in the same order as Koenraad Elst's essay:

1. Self knowledge. This is indeed the starting point. Like journalists, who are constantly challenged to know and inform, it helps to remember the five "W"s. On any topic, always ask - what, where, when, who and why. Elst gives away one question, asking: what Hinduism is all about? Whatever be our answer, we must examine that answer, by asking - why, who, when and where.

The objective shouldn't be to defend your beliefs, or to attack someone's else beliefs. The objective should be to discover and understand and refine the belief - its why, when, where, who and what. Caution: we should differentiate between what "a self proclaimed expert" writes versus what the primary scriptures actually say and what true Hinduism was/is all about.

The path is one that takes one towards self discovery, a journey towards being a full, happy and content human being.

2. Language. Learning Sanskrit can help. Then the primary sources become more direct, more available, more meaningful. Right now, less than 1 in 100,000 Indian has read any original Sanskrit veda. Most rely on biased or innocent-but-wrong translations of others. This makes most Indians reflecting on and fighting ghosts of someone else's translation and imagination.

But even if you don't know Sanskrit, it is imperative to avoid blindly trusting anyone's translation or re-translation of main ancient Hindu scriptures. Literally, numerous Sanskrit scripts remain untranslated, or wrongly translated, or translated with modern bias. So, if you come across core claims, ask: are we sure the original documents have been properly translated? or am I blindly trusting a translator who like all humans made mistakes.

3. Build your own Hindu organization. I like Elst suggestions here. There are two additional suggestions.

Organize properly. An organization becomes ineffective, even destructive, if it does not have a clear inspiring constitution or if it does not follow its constitution. In other words, build or join or support an organization that has a statement of reasons as to why it originated, what its core purpose is, the scope of what it wants to achieve, and its fundamental principles.

The best organizations drive to discover, learn, create, support and celebrate.

4. Let the facts speak for themselves. This section is beautifully explained by Elst.

American said...

Comment continued from above...

5. Don’t create false problems. Yes, and don't "accept" false problem.

I have travelled to some 120+ countries in my life, met numerous people on all inhabited continents, experienced a zillion cultures and religious sects. There is no problem in India, that you do not find in 40+ other countries - even though these countries have no Hinduism, or whatever -ism. From slums, to poverty, to income gap, to child labor, to race, to caste, to discrimination, to paganism, to idols, to art, to festivals, to hate, to love, to beauty, to creativity, to whatever. India's story is the human story.

For example, at the very end Elst mentions "how to save girl babies." Did you know that this question is not unique to India? In China, it is a bigger issue. It is also a bigger issue in Christian Georgia and Armenia, and Muslim Azerbaijan? For last 20 years, the boys to girls ratio at birth in these countries has been far worse than in India. If you get the facts, you will begin to wonder - may be, Indian mothers are as loving as any other? What is the real problem? Are we asking the right question here?

6. Creativity. This cannot be over-emphasized. Creative non-violent answers, creative non-violent actions are infinitely more effective and successful than impulsive violent answers, impulsive violent actions.

The likes of M.F.Husain's art, that Elst mentions, are better answered by creative reply in art, such as mirroring one motif and one religion with another motif and another religion; or better still, integrating his art and your reply into one comic art masterpiece. Study the Surrealism movement, for more examples.

Priya said...

The main problem with Hinduism is - though one sect argues its not a religion- the same sect worries that this religion is out to vanish soon.. Bigotry thoughts- leading to absolute confusion.

and most often- the I AM in our books are so wrongly deciphered that it leads to more self righteousness and least humility.

Unfortunately it seems to be more of a sweeping of truth under the carpet than accept reality in the way it should be


Dinesh said...

nice post! we should all respect each other religions as we are one and we have one blood that flows hrough our veins. From:lingashtakam team.