Hindutva Hinterland

A Warrior, Four Monks & Two Writers!

Bibekananda Ray

The Hindutva nationalism that Prime Minister Modi referred to as his 'remaining task' after re-election in May 2019 is now coming like a sword over secular India. It was the vision of V P Savarkar but has a hinterland from which emerged the Marathi Brahmin's ideology. Occupying it are a Marathi warrior king, Chhatrapati Shivaji, four Hindu monks—Dayananda Saraswati, Shri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda and Swami Pranabananda—two Bengali writers—Chandrnath Basu and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. Shivaji (1630-1680) who envisaged a united Hindu India (Akhanda Bharat), free of foreign rule. His devotion to mother, Jijabai and studies of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata made him a lifelong defender of Hindu traditions and values. He was devoted to a Brahmin guru Samrath Ramdam. In his court Shivaji replaced Persian, with Marathi, and emphasised Hindu political and courtly traditions. He gave his fort names in Sanksrit, such as Sindhudurg, Prachandgarh, and Suvarndurg. He was liberal and tolerant of all faiths, not only all faiths, not only allowed Muslims to pursue their vocations but had prominent Muslims in his military services. In a letter to Aurangzeb, he wrote: 'Verily, Islam and Hinduism are terms of contrast. They are used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colours and filling in the outlines. If it is a mosque, the call to prayer is chanted in remembrance of God. If it is a temple, the bells are rung in yearning for God alone". In 1895, Lokmanya Tilak organised what became the annual Shivaji festival. Rabindranath Tagore in a Bengali poem, Shivaji Utsav (1924) recalled his vision: O sovereign Shivaji / Lightening—like across your forehead. / There flashed the thought / from above— / with a singular religious thread, / this torn up, fragmented / Bharata, I shall bind in One".

Before Shivaji, great Hindu monarchs, like Ashok (C 268-232 BC), Bimbisaar (C 543-419 BC) and Harsha-vardhan (C 590-647 AD)—all devout Buddhists—did not want to make their kingdoms all-Hindu, or all-Buddhist, because they did not perceive any existential crisis of their faiths. Thus, Hindutva is a reactionary political goal to protect Hindus and their faith from Muslim invaders and immigrants.

The four main Hindu monks who practised Hindu revivalism were Dayananda Saraswati, Shri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda and Swami Pranabananda; numerous other monks and sects follow Hinduism too but these four have very large following.

Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) founded the Arya Samaj in Bombay on 10th April 1875 out of his belief in the infallibility of the Vedas; its members believe in one God and do not worship idols. Fidelity to the Vedas was also a way of uniting the various strands of Hinduism. He debunked the Puranic incarnation theory; God, he said, does not incarnate. While in Varanasi, a series of lectures, dictated to a scribe, was publisbed under the title, Satyarth Prakash ("the light of truth"). He set up schools and centres in Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Bombay; after his death in 1883, the Samaj spread especially in Punjab and its activities stoked Hindus' animus to Muslims. The British government labelled it as a political body and dismissed some Samajis in government service. Arya Samajs believe in one Almighty, represented by the holy syllable Aum; they denounce other Hindu religious texts on the plea that they were not "revealed" To them the Upanishads, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas are legends, not authentic like the Vedas. It wants to abolish the Hindu caste system but focuses on empowerment of women. Dayananda's zeal to reform Hinduism came from the Western perception of India as a Vulgar, sensuous and despotic country; Satyartha-prakash was his answer to Western critics. He advocated self-determination by Indians ''for their political future as well as racial and ethnic homogeneity".

Shri Aurobindo, an armed revolutionary turned ascetic, who fled to French Pondicherry to escape Kolkata police, secretly planned a violent uprising to free India from the British; he held that this could be done by Kshatriyas only, as Brahmins and other castes were unsuited to politics. He coined his famous jibe "Beef, biceps and Bhagavadgita" to rid Hinduism of 'weakness and effeminacy'. A firm believer in nationalism, he once said: "nationalism is not politics but a religion, a creed, a faith; (Hindu) Sansatan dharma is for us nationalism". He believed that only through the revival of Vedic institution of the fourfold order, Chaturvana Hindus could become patriotic.

Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), ordained by his guru, Shri Rama-krishna, preached a masculine version of Hinduism and called upon youngsters to engage in sports and body-building ("Football will take you near God faster than the Bhagavad Gita"). On the Islam and Muslims, his thinking was contradictory and rather nebulous. He detested the Vaishnavism, or Bhaktibad, of Shri Chaitanya. Although Shri Ramakrishna claimed to have realised Allah through meditation and following Quotranic rites, Muslims are debarred in Belur Math, the head-quarter of R K Mission & Math. He did not envisage any Hindu Rashtra, like Aurobindo and Savarkar but preached for revivalism of the faith through what he called 'Practical Vedanta'.

Swami Pranabananda (1896-1941), born as Binod Das in Bajitpur village of Faridpur, began as a brahmachari with focus on body-building; he had secret contact with freedom fighters of East Bengal. His first altruistic service was for the famine-hit people of Saatkhira in Khulna in 1921 with his students and local youth. He helped scientist Acharya P C Roy for eight months to provide succor to starving people by raising money. He was worshipper of Shakti and introduced Kalipuja in Varanasi in 1928. He raised a brigade of Hindu volunteers and set up a Hindu Milan Mandir in 1934 and formed what has come to be known as Bharat Sevashram Sangha. He organised a large Hindu concourse in Ballygunge in 1940, in which Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was made the President of the Sangha.

The word Hindutva was coined by a Bengali writer, Chandranath Basu who called for 'economic nationalism' of Bengal. Impressed by his review of his novel, Krishnakanter Will Bankim Chandra Chatterjee gave him ample space in his Bangadarshan, in the late 1800s. His faith in Hinduism was abetted by a Brahmin scholar, Sasadhar Tarkachuramani whom he met in Bankim's residence. His Pasupati Samvad made him a prominent voice of the orthodox Hindu society. He coined the term Hindutva in his 1892 Hindutva Hindur Patrika Itihas and claimed that "Hindus were the only beings who have gained the spiritual consciousness and are the sole harbingers of absolute harmony, magnanimity, honesty and unity" and 'fundamentally superior to people of all other faiths. He supported the Hindu caste system and Manusmriti taboos on women's education and their civil rights. He supported the 'Indigenous Aryan' theory (that Aryans did not come from central Asia) and engaged in aggressive polemics with contemporary intellectuals like Rabindranath Tagore concerning Hindu marriage and Hindu diet. His stand was anti-Islamic and atavistic.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in novel Anandamath (1882) depicted sprouting of Indian nationalism but a failed Sannyasi rebellion against the Britishbut. It popularised a prayer of the monks, Vande Mataram ("I worship thee, my Motherland") which was set to music by Rabindranath Tagore, (now the national song of India). It became a rallying ditty during the Swadeshi movement, which got a spurt after Lord Curzon's bid to partition Bengal into a  Hindu majority west and a Muslim majority east. He argued that the British were not enemy but Muslims were. Chattopadhyay imagined India as a Mother Goddess, which Abanindranath Tagore immortalised in a moving painting.

Rabindranath's father, Maharshi Debendranath, an outcast (Pirali) Brahmin, broke away from Hinduism for its idolatry and co-founded Brahmoism with Raja Rammohan Roy. The poet shunned idolatry but believed in Upanishadic ideals which he weaved in the school he founded in Santini-ketan and later in Viswa Bharati. In numerous poems, songs, plays and prose he idoilised Hindu gods and goddesses, the legend of divine consort Radha and Krishna and even a woman who committed Sati but had no hatred to Muslims. In fact, like Gandhi's. Hindu-Muslim unity was his lifelong plea; he epitomised it through Raksha Bandhan to unite them in protest against Lord Curzon's division of Bengal in 1905. All his life, his sympathies lay with the Muslims, with whom he lived in East Bengal for a decade, as they were poorer and deserved amity with the Hindus (e.g. in Ghare Baire).

[The writer retired from Indian Information Service as the Registrar of Newspapers for India]

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Vol. 52, No. 37, Mar 15 - 21, 2020