Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hinduism: The Religion that Never Was

This thought has been on my mind since many years - actually, since the demolition of Babari Masjid in 1992 - and, the subsequent happenings since then, around this theme...

So when, I came across this ad, released by Kerala Tourism, a couple of days back, it once again surfaced the contradiction, I have often felt...

Off and on, whenever the issue of "Hindutva" surfaced in the media and politics, I have wondered about this "branding" of something that never was... at least, not till 1750s...

The term, Hindu, was originally a Persian word ("river dwellers") - attributed to anyone who lived around or beyond the river Indus. When the colonial British East India Company introduced the census in India (after the "black-hole tragedy" of Calcutta in 1750s to make sense of the "body-count"), "Hindooism" got defined as a religion (which till then was a cluster of different sects, beliefs, philosophies - still is!!).

But such is the power of "branding" - leveraged by politics and media - that "Hinduism" as a "religion" has seeped into our consciousness, public discourse, and systems...

We take sides between being a Hindu ("fundamentalist")or a ("Pseudo") Secularist...

(...A couple of months back, when my teenage daughter, applying for her passport, wrote "none" in front of "Religion" in the application form - the passport office refused to accept her application, till she wrote "Hindu". I, myself, for the sake of "convenience", convinced her to put "Hindu" as religion when she was filling up forms for college admissions...)

Such personal "compromises for conveniences" apart, it still makes sense to understand "Hinduism" as a "Sanjhi Virasat" - one of the earlier entries on this blog

... a "Shared Heritage" which cuts across beliefs and ideologies - is inclusive, rather than exclusive...


Sumita said...


Very interesting post!!

I struggle with such definitions every day.

Not being in ones own land, others need labels to define me. They prefer to call me Hindu.

I observe and have come to conclusion that there are many facets to this term. Yet none of them may be close to how one views oneself.

The struggle to be viewed as human continues. Am tired of categories.

The Arbit Council said...

wow i never thought of it this way..suddenly a whole lot of things are on shaky ground!

Ambuj Saxena said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ambuj Saxena said...

I wonder if people know that the religion most people refer to as hinduism has the name "Sanatan Dharam". Even far a big part of my life I considered myself a Hindu until I was illuminated be my aunt that I am a Sanatan Dharmi. She, though belonged to a different sect called "Arya Samaj" who unlike the Sanatan Dharmis don't worship the Sakar Brahma, but worship Nirakar Brahma.

This is very true that the people who live in the Indian Subcontinent are Hindus as they share a common culture. Its only a recent phenomenon that a bulk of our youths are poisoned against each other on the basis of religion. Today would a Muslim ever call himself a Hindu. Never. Because today people consider Hindu as a religion. I was planning to write a post on this topic but thanks to you I have been relieved on writing on a controversial topic.

Raghunandan said...


Definitely an interresting and debatable post. Clearly Hinduism might have originated out of Geography but is no longer the same. ICICI ealier meant " Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India " but today it means " ICICI ".

I am not sure how many of us saw the program on NDTV featuring Amartya Sen, interacting with students. The best part of the program was relating scoiety directly to economics. Religion was one of the topics discussed.

Hinduism is definitely more than religion. Its the way of leading ones life, beliefs ,rituals etc. The People who dwelled on the othe side of Indus had some of these in commnon. The root of all these were on the other side of " Indus". Any religion that rose in and around India share a common platform ( If not commnon , a similar platform ). The " Indus " people believed in worshipping cows and being vegetarians so did the Jains / Buddists. Jainism and Buddism are modifations and adiitions to the existing Hinduism. When Hinduism started taking extreme stand there were moderators who tried bringing in equality in Society. It was eaiser to convince the hardliners as they had a common back ground. In management terms there was an organic growth to spirituality and the society.

But then came the Inorganic Growth - Christians and Muslims. The beliefs and idealogies were entirely different. Now the question was not about individulistic views. It was view of a group. Now there are Hindus , Christians ans Muslims. In Gujrat riots a Ahmed and Raghu were not the ones killing each other. It was A Muslim killing a Hindu. And hence The Hindus attacked Muslims and not Ahmed. Religion is not as simple as worshipping god. One reason why we have not been able to solve the issue of religion in our country is we expect the GODS to do it for us. It is not GODS but it is a common view, common goal or common perspective whihc will help us in eradicating the problem. During freedom movement we are all one. The Christians , Muslims and Hindus fought it out together. They did not fight the "brits" because they were Christians but they did so because they were "brits".

Having said all this , there is definitely a fair distinction between Hindus and Muslims even today. Its not again because of GODS, its because of our openness towards accepting other GODS.

Having told all this, I think we should give due credit to the people of " Indus Valley " who have accepetd strangers permanently in the society, there are very few civilization who have done the same.

Anonymous said...

Great to know that you pride in not defining your religion. But remember this, in a war of the religions, if it ever happened that you caught in the wrong locality, you will be slaughtered in one and saved in another precisely because of this religion you prefer to "deny".

Madhukar said...

In a war of religion, in any case, you get killed if you are caught in the "wrong" locality!! :0)

In any case, the purpose of the posting was not to 'accept' or 'deny', what has become a narrow brand definition - Hinduism - but to point out that it is a generic and assimilative system of diverse - even contradictory - beliefs...

Abhilash Pillai said...

I saw a comment earlier where the writer says his aunt worships niraakar brahma unlike sanatana dharmis.
I would like to point out that Arya Samajiks are not monotheist as made out out to be. They offer oblations to goddesses and gods during weddings and other ceremonies which clearly shows the skewed view of Arya Samajiks
As far as vedas go, in keno upanishad there are verses which clearly shows that God is one and all oblations and prayer should be made to him
Even lord krishna in Bhagwad Gita had said GOD is one and nowwhere there is mention of him being a GOD. People will mistake the 'I' reference in Gita is made to Krishna. Actually it was GOD who spoke through him. One well versed in Gita will know that.
In shivpurana there is a mention that all shudras who worship idols will end up in hell.
In gita, Krishna says that in Kaliyuga all human beings are shudras even though some may pose as Brahmins.
Read the above two lines together, we will know that we are prohibited from idolatory
In vedas there is no mention of temples and idols. The mention of devas can be made to angels as devas are prone to indriyaas(senses). Also Brahma, Mahesh and Vishnu are not eternal. Brahma is said to die after his 100 Brahmic years. It is clearly stated that in the beginning there was only Atman(i.e, the GOD) who created all devas,humans and earth.
I think we sanatana dharmis should ponder about these points.
P.S-->I wish i could find a monotheist hindu woman who share similar ideas but i think i will remain a bachelor(:-))

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Ed Vis said...

(...A couple of months back, when my teenage daughter, applying for her passport, wrote "none" in front of "Religion" in the application form - the passport office refused to accept her application, till she wrote "Hindu". I, myself, for the sake of "convenience", convinced her to put "Hindu" as religion when she was filling up forms for college admissions...)

That is the beauty of Hinduism. We have the right to deny we are Hindus and still remain as Hindus.

Even an atheist can proudly proclaim he or she is a Hindu.

UTMOST FREEDOM OF THOUGHTS and ACTIONS. Are the most cardinal principles of Hinduism.

In fact the CHARVAKA philosophy or NASTIKA philosophy, [existed during the Vedic period] founded by CHARVAKA rejected the existence of God and considered religion as an aberration.

Voltaire in Essay on Tolerance wrote:

I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it.

Hinduism is the symbolic representation of what Voltaire wrote.

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