Monday, December 28, 2020

What the West’s academy has to say on Ayodhya


What the West’s academy has to say on Ayodhya

(Pragyata, 24 December 2020)


At this year’s digital version of the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Conference, the most agenda-setting event worldwide in the field of religious studies, several of the hundreds of sessions were devoted to Hinduism Studies. Of these, one (Boston, 9 dec 2020), presided over by Diana Dimitrova, addressed “The Ayodhya Verdict: The Jurisprudence and Geography of Modern Hinduism”. Nothing important, this report of ours: just letting you know what goes on in influential places. The on-line programme book announced:

“This panel examines the 2019 Supreme Court of India’s controversial judgement on the ‘Ayodhya Dispute’, M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs v. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors, in order to better understand modern Hinduism as a juridical and geographic phenomenon. Two papers focus on the jurisprudence (legal theory) of the judgement itself: how Rāma is conceived of as a juridical person capable of owning land; and how the court’s privileging of Rāma’s rights over those of Muslim litigants effectuates a legal endorsement of majoritarian Hindu claims to contested spaces by state institutions. How does the legal language of the judgement recast Ayodhya and India more broadly as a ‘Hindu’ space? In what ways is modern Hinduism shaped by the language of law? Conversely, the next brace of papers posit that text of the judgement itself is the culmination of longstanding practices of Hinduizing India’s geography. These papers explore the religious practices - temple building, pilgrimage, and intense devotion to Hanuman - whereby Hindus built possessory claims over the contested space in Ayodhya. Thus, this panel theorizes modern Hinduism majoritarianism’s spatial and legal dimensions.”


No Ayodhya debate

So, the actual Ayodhya debate, about the history of the site, was starkly avoided. In the past, the Indologists all meekly parroted India’s Eminent Historians that there never was a temple there, that it was merely a Hindutva concoction. It would be in the scholarly fitness of things if they were to face their mistake, acknowledge that they had made a false allegation of a “concoction” and that the evidence has robustly confirmed the demolished temple scenario. But they haven’t done that on any forum whatsoever.

The judicial aspects were safer ground for the Eminent Historians and their foreign allies: the insiders among them know of their hilarious defeat in the scholarly debate, so they avoid or muzzle any mention of it. Their ostentatious position of around 1990 was proven wrong and is now all the more embarrassing in proportion to how high-profile it was back then. So, their loyalists in the US likewise tiptoe around the issue.

Even many of their followers abroad have gone remarkably silent on the Ayodhya history: they still do obligatory instalments on what they call “Hindu history manipulation”, but whereas the Ayodhya debate used to be their crowning example, now it has gone down the memory hole, though in fact it was the one case that was fought out in the public square and came to a clear verdict both scholarly and judicial, viz. to the complete detriment of the anti-Hindu camp. Thus, the Flemish tabloid De Morgen (25 March 2020) did a multi-page article on an alleged policy by Narendra Modi to rewrite history, but innovatively left out all reference to the Ayodhya affair (my reply: “Negationisme in India”, Doorbraak, 5 April 2020, English translation: Koenraad Elst: . Negationism in India, and in De Morgen).

The only ones in the anti-temple camp who are staying the course and repeating what they used to say in the 1990s are people who haven’t paid attention for the last 20+ years. At the Leiden conference in July 2019 of the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), an all-Korean panel discussed India’s religious conflict. They were well-meaning and had nothing of the foaming hatred against Hinduism that many secularists and their Western acolytes display, but they were poorly informed; or rather deliberately misinformed, most of them having studied in Delhi at JNU. So, while saying nothing about the scholar’s debate on the Ayodhya site’s history, they focused on some conspiracy theories featuring the Hindu forces, e.g. that the public works in Varanasi to open a corridor between the Gyanvapi mosque (standing on the Kashi Vishvanath site) and the river, intended to make it more visible, are “in reality” Narendra Modi’s and Yogi Adityanath’s preparation for engineering a new temple-mosque controversy.

Anyway, it was in the audience that someone brought the long-buried claim of a no-temple scenario in Ayodhya back to life. Unbelievably, Italian scholar Marzia Casolari (who wrote about alleged links between Italy’s Fascist regime and the Hindutva movement, as discussed in K. Elst: The Saffron Swastika, p.483-500) still voiced the belief that it was merely a British divide-and-rule concoction launched by Montgomery Martin. Why would they concoct a novel mosque-replaces-temple scenario when there were so many of these present in India, often clearly visible with the temple remains worked into the mosque, and often affecting other prominent Hindu sacred sites (as in the aforementioned Gyanvapi mosque)?

Anyway, this flight of fancy only survived the first months of the Eminent Historians’ offensive, for pre-colonial testimonies of the Hindu pilgrimage to the contentious site soon surfaced. The negationist story therefore had changed already in the beginning: from blaming the British to blaming the Ramanandi Sadhus. But time had stood still in the minds of the meekest followers, including Dr. Casolari’s: having interiorized the victory claims of the anti-temple camp thirty years earlier, she kept on repeating them in blissful ignorance of the scholarly defeats meanwhile suffered by her side.

Otherwise, the no-temple claim has been buried even by India’s anti-Hindu forces, and though this news has clearly not reached all their loyalists, their American friends have clearly come to toe their line. Although, the next speaker made a semi-exception.   


Rama as litigator

Christopher Fleming addressed the topic: “In Breach of Trust with God? Fiduciary Principles and the Bar of Limitation in the Ayodhya Verdict”.

My paper attends to a novel facet in the Supreme Court of India’s controversial 2019 judgment concerning the ‘Ayodhya Dispute:’ the fiduciary relationship between the juridical person ‘Ram Lala Virajman’ and his erstwhile servants (shebaits), the Nirmohi Akhara. The Nirmohi Akhara, a monastic order, had long claimed the right to represent Ram Lala Virajman (a perpetual minor under the law) and to enjoy a percentage of the revenues brought by pilgrims coming to Ayodhya. The court, however, found that, despite their representations otherwise, the Akhara had acted against Ram’s best interests (collaborating with Muslim litigants and undermining Ram’s proprietary claims) in a mala fide (bad faith) manner. Ironically, the court ruled that the Akhara’s breach of trust with Ram constituted a ‘continuing harm’ that protected Ram’s suit O.O.S. No.5 of 1989 (Regular Suit No.236 of 1989) from the bar of limitation. My paper concludes that the way the court construed Hindu religiosity as a justiciable form of Trust with a deity is a unique feature of modern Hinduism as a legal phenomenon.”

These are details about a well-known fact, though certainly surprising to outsiders: that a Hindu deity can be a party to litigation, and that it has the status of a minor as his case has to be taken up by a guardian. The perceived divergence between the deity’s interests and its guardian’s position in this particular case adds spice to this exotic situation. This is not controversial, so here we need not go deeper into it.

However, in presenting the verdict, Fleming claimed in passing that the Supreme Court in its verdict was non-committal on the historical question. Naturally, he too avoids going into the history question itself, and even the judicial treatment of that evidence is passed over swiftly. This much is true, that the Supreme Court did not explicitly base its verdict on the history question, partly even falling back on the inertial reasoning of the 1885 Court case, when the status quo (then de facto Muslim possession, now de facto Hindu possession) as such was taken as sacrosanct. Earlier, Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao had wanted to base the solution on the historical facts, which they knew to be the pre-existence of a Rama temple; and the UP High Court had, after ascertaining the historical evidence, given its verdict on this basis.

This verdict was confirmed by the Supreme Court. The whole background gives a central place to the historical evidence, which the Supreme Court wouldn’t go against. Still, unlike the UP High Court, which for years had been preparing a verdict based on the evidence, the Supreme Court looked hesitant to follow the evidence, which would necessarily lead to a pro-temple verdict. From the media reports, admittedly a doubtful source, the Supreme Court seemed to be more resolutely “secularist”, meaning prejudiced against the Hindu position.

This appeared from a strange episode in mid-2019, of which we must await the explanation from the jurists involved. The Supreme Court seemed to throw out all that had been acquired in terms of evidence, and instead leave it to a compromise between the parties. It declared that it did not want to impose a verdict, instead preferring a negotiated solution. (Imagine the murderer of your daughter standing trial and the judge declaring: “No, we don’t feel like sitting in judgment. Try to find an agreement with him.”) This was back to square one, reopening all possibilities, depriving the Hindu side of the lead that it had built on the scholars’ and archaeologists’ findings.

Moreover, the Hindu negotiator appointed by the Supreme Court was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, which raised some eyebrows. His record in interfaith discussions was rather spineless, with booklets about Christianity and Islam churning out the usual flaky sentimental pap, and a video debate with Zakir Naik bandied about by Muslims as a shattering victory for their side. On the other hand, he has set up a network of meditation centres in the Middle East, which is extremely meritorious and makes up for any shortcomings by far; but it also makes him vulnerable to blackmail from the Muslim side. However, during this episode, he consulted with a very goal-oriented VHP, that monitored the mediation closely. At any rate, the sell-out that some observers had feared, never materialized. No one wanted to give up his claim, as the judges had hoped. So, a disappointed Supreme Court gave up on this mediation gambit and took up the process of judgment again.

The verdict that resulted was predicated partly on other considerations (like the status quo factor confirming the extant Muslim possession in 1885 and the extant Hindu possession in 2019) than the long-available proof for the temple, which had earlier already informed the UP High Court’s verdict. But if the evidence had not been there (let alone if it had pointed the other way), it is strongly to be doubted that the Supreme Court would have awarded the contentious site to the Hindus.   



         One of the buzzwords of Subaltern and other Grievance Studies is “space”. The third speaker, Knut Axel Jacobsen, dealt with “Hinduization of Space and the Case of Ayodhyā”:

“This paper discusses Hinduization of space as a historical process in India. It presents some central features in the development of Hindu pilgrimage sites and makes some comparisons with modern and contemporary developments. The close connection between political power and expansion of sacred sites is analyzed and the paper looks in particular at sacredness as a form of land appropriation and the function of parikrāmas as a way to construct and mark religious boundaries. The paper looks at different ways Hindu sacred sites have been constructed and expanded in the past and compares these processes with the present Hinduization of space in India and especially with the contemporary centre of Hinduization policies of Ayodhyā.”

Throughout the whole field of Hindu Studies, you just have to get used to the omnipresence, though in different doses, of the Marxist-inspired reduction of religion to worldly categories. Prominent among these is “appropriation”, as in e.g. “cultural appropriation” or indeed “sacredness as a form of land appropriation”. There are power dynamics, to be sure, but you’re never going to understand Rama worship and the place of the Ayodhya site in it by forever dragging it down to the political level; just as Romila Thapar or Richard Eaton were fated never to understand the Muslim invaders’ iconoclastic zeal given their reduction of temple destruction to a mere political statement. It is an occupational hazard of post-religious scholars of (or opinionators on) religion that they just don’t understand the passion involved in their subject, including the destructive passion springing from a religion’s iconoclastic doctrine.  

To be sure, economic and political dimensions of religious activity also exist, and may present legitimate objects of study. We can’t hold it against Jacobsen individually that he chose this theme, but having followed the scene for decades, we know that the academic authorities in this field do channel all scholarly energy towards this reductionist view of Hinduism. This is much less true for other religions: it is Hinduism that is very disproportionately targeted for reduction to its external dimension.


The Marwaris

Another form of reductionism focuses on the financial dimension of Hindu initiatives. Thus, Jeremy Saul dealt with “The Ayodhya Decision and Marwari Merchants: Financing Ram Devotion Through Hanuman”:

“This talk focuses on the decades leading up to the Ayodhya decision as a time of Marwari merchants’ cultural activism, when they championed devotion to Hanuman as a representation of Ram. The rise of Hanuman worship was thus a stand-in for the long-stalled Ram temple-to-be in Ayodhya. The Marwaris, prosperous merchants who reside in cities throughout India but trace their ancestry to northern Rajasthan, modified their longstanding reverence for ancestral shrines in their Rajasthan homeland, long reified as a symbol of ancient Marwari dignity, into Vaishnava (Ram-oriented) temple devotion in that region. They thus adopted the Hindu nationalist ideology of reviving Ram’s mythological domain onto Marwari ancestral piety. Thus, this talk argues, the chronology of Marwari donations to Hanuman temples in Rajasthan has closely paralleled the historical trajectory of the Ram Janambhumi movement. The patronage arose as a consequence of the formation of urban Marwari devotional organizations dedicated to Rajasthani folk manifestations of Hanuman during the late 1980s, just as public enthusiasm for the Ayodhya movement was reaching its climax in the destruction of the Babri mosque.”

This was an interesting but perfectly inconsequential piece of research in the margin of the very consequential Ayodhya affair, the kind that our academics fill their time with to distract from the real issue. The noteworthy aspect was a little contemplation on the Kothari community. It was mentioned that among these Marwaris in Kolkata were the Kotharis, who count in their ranks the brothers Ram and Sharad Kothari, who were martyred during the Ayodhya agitation in late 1990. The speaker claimed that the Kothari sub-caste belongs to the Terapanthi Oswal Jain community, which doesn’t practice murtipuja (“idol-worship”).

That is when discussant Deepak Sarma intervened, who said his very own wife is a Kothari Jain. He agreed that it was odd for the Kothari brothers to be that deeply involved with Vaishnava worship when they shouldn’t have been into “idol-worship” in the first place. He was smirking and dismissive of the Kotharis’ doctrinal inconsistency.

In fact, this intervention exemplifies how estranged the Indo-American secularists are from the reality of India’s religious landscape. As we have been able to ascertain ourselves in Delhi and Gujarat, there is no fixed boundary between Vaishnavism and Jainism, they are communicating vessels with lots of intermarriage within the Bania class. Mahatma Gandhi was a Vaishnava Bania but had the Jains’ extreme concern for non-violence. We have visited the Kothari family’s home in Kolkata to pay our respects to the martyred brothers, and we saw nothing non- or anti-Hindu there. The idea that Jainism (or Sikhism, Virashaivism etc.) is separate from Hinduism, a kind of anti-Hindu revolt, is a figment of the secularists’ imagination. They cultivate the Christian misconceptions about religious boundaries (which they think can only be crossed by “conversion”, e.g. Khushwant Singh describing Banda Bairagi’s entry in the Khalsa as a “conversion”), as if they are first-time tourists bringing their baggage of Christian categories to Hindustan.



         Through the chat facility, I put the following feedback in writing:

“Contrary to what Christopher Fleming claims, the court-ordered excavations in 2003 did yield evidence that the structure replaced a Hindu temple: this (rather than the plentiful documentary evidence) was the main ground for the UP High Court's 2010 verdict. It confirmed what earlier partial excavations since 1974 had found. Far from being a ‘Hindutva concoction’, it was confirmed by the participant senior archaeologist KK Mohammed. The High Court also called a line-up of ‘eminent historians’ who had earlier pleaded in public that there never had been a temple there, to the witness stand. One after another, they collapsed and were reduced to stammering: ‘I have never been to the site’, ‘I am not an archaeologist’; their evidence for a non-temple scenario amounted to exactly zero, and they were fiercely reprimanded by the Court for their misuse of authority to mislead the public.

“The Ayodhya evidence debate has presented the hilarious sight of an entire academic and mediatic establishment in India and abroad denying what had been a matter of consensus till the mid-1980s, and this on the strength of strictly no evidence at all. In all these years, documentary and archaeological evidence for the demolished temple has been accumulating, and some has kept on coming to light even after the debate had ended. This to the extent that the judges simply couldn't push a verdict going against this wealth of evidence. Now that the Ayodhya dispute is over, the question remains when all these academics are going to climb down from the denial of history on which they had staked their august reputations. The present power equation, which has allowed them to get away with this historical negationism in years past, and to keep the lid on their defeat now, is not going to last forever.”

Talking to those people is like tossing a message in a bottle into the ocean. Probably it will go nowhere, but there still is that slim chance of someone somewhere picking it up. It just might set a consciousness revolution in motion. 

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Ram Swarup and Hinduphobia



Ram Swarup and Hinduphobia



(Bharat-Bharati, 26 Dec. 2020:



On Ram Swarup's 22nd death anniversary, in the centenary year of his birth (12 Oct. 1920 -- 26 Dec. 1998), let us consider what he said about Hindu-bashing, or what is nowadays called Hinduphobia. The word, though in existence since more than a century, was not yet in vogue as Hinduism's ad hoc counterweight against the omnipresent propaganda term Islamophobia. But the phenomenon was already dominant in India and increasingly present abroad.


In fact, it was quite old. Several tribes of Muslims with a doctrinally motivated hate for the Hindus, followed by the Portuguese Christians with a similar aversion, had actively persecuted Hinduism for centuries. They represent a permanent source of anti-Hindu violence that now takes the form od occupation of parts of the Hindu homeland by the Islamic states of Pakistan and Bangladesh; of Pakistani incursions; of terrorism and of rioting. But while they bludgeoned Hindu society and inflicted huge human and material losses on it, they did not penetrate it or take control of its institutions.



Tribes of haters


The British, by contrast, could rule India with more limited violence largely outsourced to native Sepoys, but their influence penetrated far more deeply. Firstly, they managed to pit several Hindu sub-groups against the mainstream: most obviously the Sikhs, for whom the status of separate religion was made of whole cloth, promoted as a social reality and underpinned at the scholarly level. In several booklets, Ram Swarup went against this colonial-engineered separatism by documenting how, as per their own scriptures and history, Sikhism was a self-identified sect of Vedic Hinduism.


            The creation of bad blood between Buddhism and mainstream Hinduism only took the institutional form of keeping Sri Lanka and later Burma outside of British India, but was far more influential at the scholarly level. There, the underlying paradigm of all Buddhist studies and of Indian histories as instilled through the schools became: “Hinduism bad, Buddhism good.”  Even before 1947, “Christian missionaries (…) were presenting Buddhism (as they have been doing with Sikhism) as (…) a revolt against ‘Brahmanism’ and the ‘Hindu’ caste system.” (Hinduism and Monotheistic Religions, p.519, originally 1991) They had no use for the Buddha, except for making him into a stick to beat Hindu society with. The Macaulayites and Marxists followed this example: “they tried to use their learning and position to undermine Hinduism (…) and show that there was little difference between Marxism and Buddhism. Now communist historians are telling us that Hindus demolished Hindu temples.” (p.519)


Likewise with the Dalits and Tribals, who came to benefit from an incipient reservation system, and with the non-Brahmin Tamils. The then-popular Aryan Invasion Theory was used to pit them against the upper castes and the North Indians. The thrust of the exercise was invariably to put Hindus into the dock and make them feel guilty for their very existence. Needless to say, this caste-based discrimination with a good social conscience has only become more encompassing over the years, and the Invasionist paradigm still is the official one.


            But the second effect was even more detrimental to Hindu assertiveness: “The British took over our education and taught us to look at ourselves through their eyes. They created a class Indian in blood and colour, but anti-Hindu in its intellectual and emotional orientation. This is the biggest problem rising India faces – the problem of self-alienated Hindus, of anti-Hindu Hindu intellectuals.” (p.45)


            Then again, in numerical terms, this impact on Hindu society was still quite small even by 1947. Many millions in the countryside had never seen a Briton, less than 1% of the population spoke good English. If the Indian leadership had wanted, it could have undone this influence in a matter of decades.


            A crucial factor here was the choice of language. Ram Swarup himself was quite at home with British culture and thought, being most influenced by British liberalism: Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell. In his case, this didn’t stop him from fighting for freedom from British rule, with active participation in the Quit India movement. But for less independent minds, gulping down English influence would only end up estranging them from their Hindu roots, as it had done in the case of Jawaharlal Nehru. The vote in the Constituent Assembly’s Language Committee should have been crucial: 50% voted for Sanskrit, 50% for Hindi (which was given victory by the deciding vote of the Chairman), and 0% for English. For the generation that had achieved independence, it was completely obvious that decolonization implied abolishing the colonizer’s language. Yet by 1965, when this abolition was due to become effective, the English-speaking elite had gathered enough power to overrule this solemn commitment. Ever since, the influence of English and of the thought systems conveyed by it has only gone on increasing, and at some levels, India is becoming a part of the Anglosphere – hardly what the Freedom Fighter envisioned. Today, most Anglophone secularists are nearly as knowledgeable about Hindu culture as first-time foreign tourists who have crammed up the Lonely Planet Guide’s few pages summarizing India’s religious landscape.



Marx and Mao


            Compare with China, not formally colonized but having been repeatedly humiliated by colonial incursion, yet now again proud and assertive. Of course it has retained its language, and adopting a foreign language as medium for education or the judiciary is simply unthinkable. Ram Swarup, who wrote several books criticizing the record of Maoism, wouldn’t emphasize this, but it is one thing the Communists undoubtedly achieved: a clean break with the colonial age. Under the nationalist regime (1912-49), China was increasingly under Anglo-American influence, and the Christian missions could operate on a large scale. Nationalist leader Jiang Jieshi (who later was to give an award to Ram Swarup’s and Sita Ram Goel’s anti-Communist think tank Society for the Defence of Freedom in Asia) was a Christian along with much of his family. By contrast, when Mao Zedong came to power, all missionaries were imprisoned, killed, or at best banished.    


On the other hand, by importing Marxism, China was opening itself up to another Western doctrine, and actively imposing it on its population. The same counted for those circles in India that came to espouse Marxism. Under Nehru, it started influencing the power-wielding circles, and from Indira Gandhi onwards, it achieved control over education policy and much of cultural policy. This ideology was “more Eurocentric than regular imperialism. It used radical slogans but its aims were reactionary. (…) Marx fully shared the contempt of the British imperialists for India. He fully subscribed to the theses of colonial scholarship that India was not a nation, had no history and was meant for subjugation. Marxism was Macaulayism at its most hostile. It blackened Indian history systematically. It gave to [the] Indian social and political system its own format, the one it had learnt from its European teachers. It saw in Hinduism not (…) a great spiritual civilization but only communalism.” (p.45-46)


Newer forms of Marxist or soft-Marxist thought (critics speak of “Cultural Marxism”) remain entrenched in the Indian institutions, and are more powerful than ever in the relevant departments of Western universities. Their construction of Indian reality remains dominant and is more than ever spread to the new Hindu generations, leading to more culpabilization c.q. sense of shame for Hinduism.



Race to the exit


The trends unambiguously traced to colonial policies have not been reversed by the Nehruvian regime, but have instead been continued and magnified. Thus, the British policy of separating Hindu subsets from general Hinduism has continued with an affirmation at different times of minority status for Buddhism, Sikhism, the Arya Samaj, Jainism, Virashaivism and Sarna “animism”. In every case, the administrative separation was fortified with a change in discourse: the need for a non-Hindu identity was in each case buttressed by an increased blackening of Hinduism. This anti-Hindu attitude has even crept into Hindu organizations without the institutional ambition of minority status, e.g. the ISKCon (Hare Krishna) calls itself non-Hindu, except when it is canvassing for donations by Hindu communities.


When Ram Swarup wrote against separatism among the Sikhs, it was an interesting intellectual entertainment for his (mere hundreds of) readers, but had no impact at all on policy-making. The Narasimha Rao government managed to neutralize armed Sikh separatism, but did nothing to change Sikh separatist thought, so that there remains a constant threat of its political revival. In a healthy society, we might expect power-wielders to listen to sages like Ram Swarup, but this was not the case; just as it is still not the case today.


As described in Ram Swarup’s booklet The Ramakrishna Mission in Search of a New Identity, the Ramakrishna Mission, besieged by the Communist-supported Teachers’ Union in its school network, felt compelled as a matter of survival to relieve this pressure. In India, by virtue of Art.30 of the Constitution, minority schools (and similarly, places of worship) are autonomous and immune from government take-over, whereas classification as Hindu makes vulnerable to nationalization. But the RK Mission did not try to have the discrimination against Hindu schools abolished, did not appeal to Hindu society, but did the dishonourable thing of trying to escape by seeking minority status, like a rat leaving a sinking ship. The Bengal High Court gave it the coveted minority status, then finally (or so it seemed) the Supreme Court denied it, entirely in accordance with RK Mission founder Swami Vivekananda’s assertion of Hindu pride.


Superficial Hindus might jubilate that this was a victory for Hindu unity, but Ram Swarup warned that the Mission would now have to live down the anti-Hindu attitudes which it had come to espouse. Here again, some of its swamis make all the right noises for the respective audiences they address, sometimes calling themselves Hindu, but the “we are not Hindus” animus has not disappeared: when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress won the state elections ending decades of Communist rule, the Mission asked her for minority status. And promptly it received her assurance that it would henceforth be treated as a minority, thus de facto overruling the “final” Supreme Court verdict. Ram Swarup always emphasized that institutional arrangements are unimportant in themselves, merely the materialization of convictions and mentalities. If you want to stop the race to the exit, it is imperative to change people’s unfavourable impression of Hinduism.



Down with conspiracy thinking


A final point for the attention of the rather hot-headed Hindu activists and polemicists. They always see conspiracies against Hinduism, e.g. the Aryan Invasion Theory was a “British concoction”, the Partition of India was “imposed by machinations by the British” who had “brainwashed” the Muslim League leadership. In this case, “Hinduphobia” is deemed to be an expression of an intractable “hatred” that for some reason (in the case of Westerners, “racism”) animates Hinduism’s numerous enemies. This fuming hot air in Hindu discourse puts off many neutral observers and produces Hinduphobes. But in all of Ram Swarup’s works, there is not a single instance of this approach.


For a single example, he describes a novel about the Buddha’s wife Yashodhara, Lady of the Lotus, by a well-meaning American, William E. Barrett. It has totally fictitious episodes about the couple’s visits to the quarters of the Untouchables: “They were revolted by the sight. They saw that ‘the traffic in the streets was, in the main, animal’.” And about the sight of hungry people: “Next day when they were in bed, light dawned on Siddharta that ‘No one has to be hungry (…) and no one should live as these people live’.” (p.527) In reality, the Buddha was not particularly interested in the difference between rich and poor, high and low; he taught that suffering was basic to the human condition in general. He did not propagate liberation from poverty, but Liberation from the human condition. The socialist reinterpretation of the Buddha as a social rebel conflicts with the Buddha’s teachings. It is typical for the post-religious worldview to reduce religion to socio-economic considerations, i.e. to cultivate ignorance about the existential passions that have generated religions.   


The most interesting part of Ram Swarup’s account is: “The author was not hostile to India but he was doing his best to depict Hindus and their history as he knew it.” (p.528) This is crucial to understanding “Hinduphobia”: while some classes of people, say mullahs and missionaries, have an interest in blackening Hinduism, most people don’t. They just go by the information they have been fed. This American novelist has been fed the fable that the Buddha was a rebel against Hindu societal reality, so that is what he puts into his story: Buddhism social, Hinduism oppressive. As Socrates (translated into Hindi as Satyakām Sokratez by Ram Swarup’s friend Sita Ram Goel) taught: evil is, upon closer analysis, a case of ignorance. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.   





Ram Swarup made it his job to inform. Around 1950 he presented the facts about life under Communism, later he presented the facts of Buddhist or Sikh scripture, outside the Hindu field he presented the facts about Islam. No hectoring, just cool, calm and collected: the facts. Know the truth, and the truth shall make free. A hazy knowledge of Hinduism makes for distortions and makes susceptible to even more distortions, of the willful sort.


The best remedy for “Hinduphobia” is to study and disseminate correct data about Hinduism. For foreigners this will mostly be a learning process, from scratch. For Indians this increasingly means learning a knowledge that was virtually automatic to their grand-parents. For the successful policy of the “Hinduphobic” leaders has been to estrange Hindus from their own civilization to make them ignorant. And unknown makes unloved.

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Sunday, December 20, 2020

The real Uttarayana



The real Uttarayana

(Pragyata, 20 December 2020)

As the Winter Solstice approaches, this year on 21 December at 10h3 Greenwich Mean Time, or 14h33 Indian Standard Time, we find in our inbox, like in preceding years, a passionate plea by AK Kaul for a return to celebrating Uttarayana on that day: “Why should we celebrate Makar Sankranti on December 21, 2020, 15:34 IST”. Alright, our data yield one minute of difference; but otherwise, the present article is entirely in support of this Hindu plea for a major rectification of the Hindu calendar. 

Uttarāyana, “northward course”, is the moment the sun stops its southward course (with ever-shortening days in the northern hemisphere) and turns northwards. It is an exact translation of “the half-year period starting with Winter Solstice”, or simply “Winter Solstice”. However, modern Hindus celebrate this moment on a different date, 14 or 15 January, which they call Makara Sankranti. What has gone wrong?

The Sankrantis (cusps) are the starting moments of the 12 periods of the Zodiac, with Makara being Capricorn. The problem is that there are two Zodiacs, presently more than 24° apart, or technically: with an āyana (“journey, distance traversed”) of 24°+. The one is called the Tropical Zodiac or Sāyana Rāśicakra, determined by the Tropics (from Greek trepō, “turn”, hence “turning-points”), i.e. the Winter and Summer Solstice, i.e. the seasons; the other the Sidereal Zodiac or Nirāyana Rāśicakra, determined by the constellations. For the Tropical Zodiac, the stars play no role at all: you could define it if only the sun and the earth made up the universe; and while they exist, the stars can fall in any Zodiacal period. For the Sidereal Zodiac, the seasons play no role at all: its twelve signs can fall in any season of the year. So, which of the two Zodiacs is it?

Both have a valid reason for existing. The dichotomy follows from the heavenly movement of the precession: the slow movement of the stars through the Tropical Zodiac, or conversely, of the Tropical cusps through the Sidereal Zodiac, at the rate of one cycle in 25,772 years, or 1° in nearly 71 years. So, since the moment ca. 300 CE when the two Zodiacs coincided (and Makar Sankranti, the entry in Capricorn, did indeed coincide with Uttarayana), the point marking the start of winter and of the northward course in the seasonal Zodiac has moved up 24° in the stellar Zodiac. After waiting for another ten thousand years or so, the constellations presently marking the winter months will mark the summer.

This movement is too slow to be perceived in a single lifetime, and had to wait till the availability of long-term observation tables to be discovered. It was 127 BCE when Hipparchos of Alexandria first realized the precessional motion. Until then, the Babylonian astronomers who had started the 12-part Zodiac followed the Sidereal Zodiac thinking it was Tropical. Siderealists sometimes argue that the original Zodiac was sidereal, which is true, but it was intended as Tropical. Significantly, already in the 5th century BCE, well before the discovery of the precession, Euktemōn had introduced the Zodiac in Athens as a non-lunar calendar system of 12 equal months, with Capricorn on Winter Solstice and Aries on Spring Equinox, purely seasonal-Tropical.

This primacy of the Tropical as against the Sidereal Zodiac can be seen from the symbolism of the Zodiacal signs, which is not linked to the constellations (as a comparative study of the constellation contours and names in different cultures shows, you can see all kinds of things in the shapes of star groupings), but to the seasons. Thus, in the contrast between the voluminous Taurus and the reduced Scorpio, it is obvious which one signifies the fullness of spring and which the reduction to the seed form. Virgo symbolizes the harvest, Pisces the thaw, mountainous Capricorn the coldness of sunny winter days, hospitable Aquarius the relative cosiness of snowy winter days, Sagittarius the hunting season, etc.

While purists could still dismiss these associations as dependent on the climate zone (e.g. some countries having more than one harvest season), more fundamental are the links with the mathematical structure of the Zodiac. The dynamic Aries signifies the pioneering starting-point, so its opposite is the middle of the Zodiac, aptly symbolized by Libra. At Summer Solstice, the solar arc, or visible motion of the sun during the daytime, is larger than half a circle, and has the shape of pincers, Cancer; at Winter Solstice, it it much less than half, and is shaped like a mountain in the distance, Capricorn. The sectors of the Zodiac rise in the morning at different speed: slowest for the sign around Autumn Equinox, viz. Virgo, the sign of analysis and patience, and Libra, the sign of equilibrium achieved with effort; fastest for the Spring Equinox signs, viz. Pisces, the sign of flight, fast and even faster, and for Aries, the sign of speeding forward, also of the falling object at its moment of greatest speed, viz. upon impact.   

At the same time, the stars and constellations have their own importance. They exist, and the Hindu Ahimsa view is that all entities have a valid reason for existing. Rather than the cosy earth-centred and sun-centred view, we can also focus on the long distance, where seasons are no longer important. But just as life at home is primary and distant journeys presuppose a grooming period at home, the Tropical Zodiac is primary and the Sidereal Zodiac a derivative.

Alright, so both Zodiacs are in their own way legitimate, but which one is being celebrated? Which one should determine the Uttarayana festival? AK Kaul clearly opts for the Tropical Zodiac, yielding 21 December, but the traditionalists opt for the Sidereal Zodiac and for 14 January, present date of the Makara Sankranti festival. In the many debates or slanging matches we have witnessed on a Hindu calendar list, the Hindu traditionalists (who control the calendar) always object that Kaul’s proposal goes against “Vedic” (meaning scriptural) tradition. About this, we can afford to be brief: this is not true at all.

While Kaul himself has argued this point with numerous examples (see for starters his article, we will make do with just two. The Srimad Bhagavata 5/21/3-6:  

 “Placed at the centre of the sky, the glorious sun, the lord of the luminaries, warms by its heat and illuminates by its light the three worlds (heaven, atmosphere, earth).  Coursing by slow, swift and regulated marches known by the names of Uttarayana (the northerly march from the Winter Solstice), Dakshinayana (the southerly march from the Summer Solstice) and the Vaishuvata (Equinox) and rising higher, going down and taking a mean position whenever  and wherever such positions are inevitable, the sun, while passing the Zodiac, from Makara (Capricorn) onwards, lengthens the days while shortening the nights and vice verse and brings their duration on a par."


         So the central concern is the Solstices and Equinoxes, markers of the year cycle with the seasons, like in most Pagan cultures and the emerging neo-Pagan practices worldwide. Additionally, the constellations are linked with them, so that Makara/Capricorn starts the northward course, which is on 21 December. No word is whispered about a constellation, Makara denotes a time, viz. the beginning of the sun’s northward course. It focuses on the immediately available seasonal cycle rather than on the distant constellations.


The Vishnu Purana 2/8/28-31 is even more explicit: “In the beginning of Uttarayana (northward course), the sun enters Makara Rashi (Capricorn), from there going to Kumbha (Aquarius) and then Mina (Pisces). After having passed through these three signs, it just gains Vishuvati (equinoctial) speed resulting in the day and night being equal on Mesha (Aries).(…) Then when the sun is in the end of Mithuna Rashi (Gemini), i.e. when it is just at the verge of entering Karkata (Cancer), the day is the longest then, as Dakshinayana (southward course) starts on that date”.


So, as per scripture, Makar Sankranti is nothing but a synonym of Uttarayana, already celebrated in the Vedas, Mesha Sankranti of Vedic Vishuva, Karkata Sankranti of Vedic Dakshinayana, and Tula (Libra) Sankranti of Vedic Śārada Sampāda (autumnal confluence). As Kaul sums up: “What is material is that they are related to the seasons -- exactly as is done by the Vedas and the Puranas and Siddhantas.”


         So, while most cultures focus on the seasonal cycle and celebrate its great moments or its derivatives (e.g. Chinese New Year being the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice, or Easter being the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after Spring Equinox), Hindu culture likewise focuses on this earthly phenomenon. Additionally, it also reckons, more than others, with the constellations, but these should not displace the primary seasonal cycle. So, we should celebrate Winter Solstice, not the entry in the Capricorn constellation which in its precessional motion happened to coincide with it some 17 centuries ago.


To sum up, we support Kaul’s practical conclusion: “God helps those who help themselves: We should not wait for Pujya dharmacharyas (reverend religion teachers) to streamline the derailed Vedic calendar.” 


Shubh Uttarayana, Merry Winter Solstice!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Iconoclasm in Kerala too


Iconoclasm in Kerala too


(MyIndMyGlory, 25 Aug. 2020)


In 1990, the late Sita Ram Goel, historian-publisher from Delhi, in his book Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them, compiled a list of some 1862 temple sites where the temple had been destroyed by Islamic iconoclasm, often to be replaced with a mosque. Those are 1862 falsifiable claims, as a scientific hypothesis requires, and none of them has been refuted in the intervening 30 years.


The list was by no means exhaustive. Likewise, historian Meenakshi Jain's 2019 book Flight of Deities, listing murtis being spirited away by worshippers in the nick of time to protect them from approaching armies of iconoclasts, is very far from complete. Books as hefty as hers on India as a whole wait to be written on each of India's provinces. Now, a start has been made listing and discussing demolished temples in Kerala. 


In Goel's list, Kerala was really underserved, with only a mosque in Kollam and a Palghat fort of Tipu Sultan mentioned in which temple materials were used. (Hindu Temples vol.1, p.133). Kerala was not the hotbed on Hindu-Muslim conflict, rather well-off compared to North India, that bore the brunt of the repeated waves of Muslim conquests and iconoclasm. The periods of temple destruction there are mainly the occupation by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan (late 18th century) and the Moplah Rebellion (1921). 





Now, the 157-page book Destroyed Temples of Kerala, vol.1 (so, more volumes are coming), by Tirur Dinesh, speaks of "thousands" of "destroyed Hindu temples" (back cover) in the far southwestern part of India alone. He zooms in on one case each in 25 chapters, where a "case" or "incident" of iconoclasm usually means more than one temple, or a major temple with a number of dependent smaller temples. (Even in Richard Eaton's list of "80" cases of iconoclasm, nowadays cited for authority by the secularists as "the number of destroyed temples", the ca. 1000 temples destroyed in Varanasi by the Ghurid army count as a single "case".) Nor does a single demolished temple mean that it was demolished only once.


Thus, "Chokkoor Sreerama Kshethra was demolished during the time of Tipu's invasion and again during the Moplah riots (...).Tipu's army entered through the Thamarassery mountain pass, killed as many Hindus as they could, terming them as Kafirs, destroyed the temples all the way and spared only those Hindus who were willing to accept Islam. They demolished nearby temples like Kulikkapra Siva Temple, Kuzhikalaattu Siva Temple, Pongattur Subrahmanya Temple near to Manipuram, etc., and reached Chokkoor Srirama Temple." (p.59-60) The several demolitions of all these temples altogether form one case, here one chapter.


            Dinesh has personally visited all the sites and provides original photographs. Every site has a different story, which he relates in detail, often after painstaking original research. The mythical origin of the temple is also exploredUnlike Goel's bald enumeration followed only by the general ideological context, this list provides ample local context.


In some cases, the temple demolition does not date back to historical episodes like the Moplah Rebellion, but took place within living memory, with eye-witnesses still around to be interviewed. The Iringavoor Siva Temple was the victim of a bomb attack on 31 July 1985. The perpetrators were local Muslims descended from Hindus forcibly converted by Tipu Sultan. The Islamic ideology that motivates iconoclasm, that motivated Hyder and Tipu and the Moplahs to it, is still alive and unchanged. But the good part of this story is that this temple is presently being revived. (p.43 ff.)


Where the demolished temples were not replaced with mosques, which are immunized and perpetuated by the Places of Worship Act 1991, the ruins often become the germ of a new temple. Thus, the Malaparambu Maattummal Narasimhamoorthy Temple had already gone through convoluted proceedings (including the return to Hinduism of some Muslims and the menacing resentment of the local Muslims for that) to set up a trust, revive the temple and renovate it, when “in 2005 the temple was released to the trust. Following this they started the renovation process and found the Narasimha’s idol as 6 pieces. (…) The fund to build [the Sanctum] Sanctorum was raised from the native Hindus.” (p.110)


Other devotees are now preparing for a revival of the Paruthikkottamanna Mahadeva Temple, after excavating it from the forest that had covered it over in the past two centuries in 2013: “The believers hope that they will overcome hurdles, and well-wishers will financially back them up for the renovation.” (p.138) In some cases, the author himself partakes in these revival efforts. At any rate, this way he manages to end sordid stories of temple destruction on a constructive note.



Why iconoclasm?


Why did these things happen, and sometimes not happen? To start with the former: Islam teaches and commands iconoclasm, with Mohammed himself having set the example, most emblematically with the destruction of the 360 idols in the Kaaba. That was the general rule to which Hyder, Tipu and the Moplah Khilafatists adhered. 


But the latter case, non-iconoclasm, has its part of the truth as well. There is a secularist argument that Tipu Sultan actually patronized Hindu temples. The argument suffers from the usual secularist flaw of wilfully confusing an exception with the rule, but yes, next to numerous temple destructions, there are a few such cases. The reason was that "Tipu blindly believed in astrology. (...) Astrologers attributed the continuous defeats met by Tipu to the demolition of temples and suggested the renovation of temples as the only remedial measure. His donations to the temples were a result of this advice." (p.8) 


So, the cases where he patronized idol temples do not prove that next to a fanatical iconoclastic Islam there is also a pluralistic Islam (even wrongly extolled as “the real Islam”), as secularists would like you to believe. They only prove that next to Islam, Tipu also held another belief, viz. in astrology. When his belief in astrology, rendered acute by setbacks on the battlefield, did not intervene and Islam had free reign, he was an unmitigated fanatic eager to convert Hindus forcibly and destroy their temples. His letters down to the inscription on his sword testify to this Islamic zeal. As do the mute witnesses: the ruins of Hindu temples and the mosques he built with their debris.



Points for improvement


A few times the wording in this book is not precise enough, either because the author is a bit careless in doing justice to the evidence available, or because the evidence is still really deficient. Thus, the Chamravattom Kannanoor Pisharath temple "was last demolished at the time of the Moplah riots" (p.39), factual enough, but many temples were demolished several times in India's long history. So earlier, it was "believed to be destroyed at the time of Tipu's invasion" (p.38, emphasis added). In a scholarly book of facts, the word "belief" detracts from the power of persuasion; it should be avoided. To be sure, it may reflect a real state of affairs, where a scenario is probable but not altogether certain, there really exist several more options between totally yes and totally no. Still, in the present war with the anti-Hindu forces, anything less than full certainty, even including an honest admission of mere probability, will be exploited by your enemies.


And while we are formulating a bit of criticism, a trivial but non-negligeable point is the language of this book. Proofreading by a native speaker or at least someone fluent in English and in the standard transcription of both Sanskrit and Malayalam would not have been a luxury. For a temple mentioned above, we note the variant spellings Srirama and Sreerama, neither of them standard. The definite article "the", non-existent in the Indian (and the immense majority of the world's) languages, is one of the grammatical difficulties in English. In most Semitic, by extension Greek, Germanic and Celtic, and by further extension the Romance languages, it also exists but its use is more predictable; in English it is quite irregular and idiomatic. It makes little difference for a correct comprehension, but not mastering it just looks bad, e.g. here: "The most sacred place of South India, Brahma temple among these, was demolished by Mysore army" (i.e. by Hyder Ali; p.94). It shouldn't have been too much trouble to change this to "the Brahma temple" and "the Mysore army". For most readers, stunted language indicates stunted thinking, and thus detracts from the author's credibility.





The list of what was actually done to the Hindus is getting longer, and more volumes inventorizing this chapter of Indian history are sure to follow. Every part of India could produce such a volume. We must be grateful to Tirur Dinesh for breaking the ice in localizing and deepening the line of research pioneered by SR Goel.



Tirur Dinesh: Destroyed Temples of Kerala, vol.1, Trasadasyu Publ., Trivandrum 2020, 157 pp., ISBN 978-81-939299-2-6, Rs.350.

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