Renascent Hinduism - Govind K. Bharatan




                    I prefer the name Bharath instead of India.  Bharath has poetry about it, whereas India sometimes sounds like the Englishman’s compromise to poor pronouncement of vernacular terms.  Bharath is Bhava Raga Thala and where Bhava Raga and Thala are in perfect, balance alone can harmony emerge. 


          The unique strength of Indian culture lies in the perfect amalgam of the divine and the profane.  Even the most mundane aspects of everyday life are elevated to the realms of the spirit and are tinged with shades of the Divine.  The Ganga may be just another polluted over exploited river. But to the Indian mind it represents the grace of the Divine brought down by the firmness of human faith, and preserved in the matted locks of the eternal Yogi Lord Shiva.  Again surpassing the scenic beauty of the confluence of three oceans at Kanyakumari looms the legend of the resplendent virgin goddess eternally waiting for her Lord.


          The Bharatheeya Ethos is a remarkable phenomenon.  The Rishi, to whom even the King bowed his head and who as a consequence orchestrated national thought and the texture of life, had a dynamic trend of interiorisation coupled with a surprising openness of mind.  When asked to traces his ancestry, the Hindu unerringly trace his roots back to one of these hallowed Rishis, living in a peaceful heritage, living a life of extreme asceticism.  In the West, quest of one’s ancestral roots, (especially if one claims any degree of nobility) would invariably lead to some horrendous tyrant living in a fortified castle, subsisting on the fruits of his ill begotten riches. 


          The openness of the mind of the Rishi flowered into the freshness of the Upanishads, and through meditation, truth which was the ultimate quest assumed the  proportions of individual experience breaking out of the shackles of second hand narration. Chinmayanandaji says that this quest for truth and its resulting treasure of knowledge was going on in Bharath at the time our Anglo Saxons, ex-rules were hunting for hippopotami on the Thames, and when the rest of Europe was re-drawing its boundaries by waging relentless fratricidal battles. 


          Most of the Upanishads are in the setting of the forests and the mountains and seemed to carry perpetual echos of asceticism.  This gave the impression that the message of the Upanishads was renunciation.  It is precisely for this reason that Hinduism began to be considered as a religion which advocated withdrawal from everyday life into forests and hermitages.  The dynamism of life in ancient India was befogged by this false interpretation of the Upanishads and it became necessary to revitalize society, shake it out of its periphery and redefine the perennial philosophy.  This is perhaps why the Bhagawad Gita was conceived in the setting of the battlefield.  Life is a constant battle and the remedy is not to withdraw to the forests but to face the challenge.  The strains and stresses felt by Arjuna is in reality the constant pressure of life in society.  The tendency to withdraw and to seek refuge in a vague and philosophical attitude to life is the wrong approach.  One’s duty is to fight without egoistic involvement.  The message of the Gita is renunciation, not merely of objects but for the very desire for such objects.  The Philosophy preached is to keep one’s head in the forest and hands in the world.  Its message is simple and direct and addressed to the seeker, the man of action, the philosopher the house holder and the ascetic.


          The process of interiorisation flowered into the freshness of the Upanishads and the ultimate perfection of the Bhagawad Geetha.  And at the same time, on the social scene, an almost perfect class system was evolved where intellectuals and thinkers naturally migrated into a separate category to which was delegated the task of policy making and of giving the nation a direction and an aim.  This class was later called the Brahmins.  To those who are capable of taking up arms if necessary in battle in the cause of righteousness and national defence gravitated into another axis and they were called the Kshathriyas. The class which had the inherent capacity to trade and to nurture the economy either by resorting to agriculture and/or animal husbandry and by dealing with the produce from these activities, enriched the nation and themselves in the process, were classified as Vysyas.  The category, which supplied the labour force for these activities, who became the soldiers for those who led armed manures and those who served the intellectuals, naturally gravitated towards another classification.  They also provided a market for the Vyasyas and they were called the Shudras.  There was perfect harmony in society and each of these categories complemented the other leading to a mature, secure and well-balanced way of life for the entire society.  It is remarkable that there were no rigid barriers between the clases as irrespective of birth a child depending on his inherent talents would migrates towards the appropriate class.  The world’s most ancient system of classification by merit was conceived in the Bharatheeya ethos.  Ancient Hindu Kingdoms flourished on this concept in all aspects of national life. 


          To a mind that was free to delve into fathomless depths to discover the essence of truth, nothing could be accepted without first being challenged with questions.  It was in this spirit that brilliant young minds followed the authors of the Aranyakas who had retreated into the forests in search of an atmosphere of peace and quest and, sitting at their feet questioned the basic assumptions of their treatises.  These conversations gave birth to the Upanishads.  The Upanishads have been acclaimed as one of the most fascinating and fearless quests for truth by mankind.  Referring to this unique aspect of the Upanishads, Romain Rolland says:


  “The true Vedantic spirit does not start out with a system of preconceived ideas.  It possesses absolute liberty and unrivalled courage among religions with regard to the facts to be observed and the diverse hypotheses it has laid down for their co-ordination.  Never having been hampered by a priestly order, each man has been entirely free to search wherever he pleased for the spiritual explanation of the spectacle of the universe.”


                                      (The Life of Vivekandanda and the

                                      Universal Gospel Third Impression 1947, P.196)


  It is this spirit of enquiry led these brilliant minds to question even their gods and the basics of all traditionally held faiths.  The creative role of skepticism in the relentless pursuit of truth lent rationality to their faith. 


          Knowingfully well that the truth even while so pursued was still bound to be allusive, the Rishies established a system of external practices using the Panchabhuthas, the very building blocks of matter to demonstrate how the gross could be utilized to search for the subtle.  Elaborate systems of rituals were prescribed whereby using fire as the messenger, ritualistic offerings were made to Agni under strictly controlled conditions to attain specified objectives.  Elaborate yagnas were carefully planned and executed in an attempt to fuse the subtlety of the unknowable by using the grossness of the known.  Gradually these practices were perfected into a highly evolved system where the gods could be invoked to satisfy human aspirations.  The age of poojas and rituals was born.  Man created god in his image in stone, metal or wood, and through the ritualistic performance of poojas, using water, sandalwood paste, kumkum, milk, honey and all the best gifts of the fecundity of the earth and its animal and vegetable life, performed poojas and rituals in Temples which he established for this purpose. 


          But somewhere along the line something went horribly wrong.  Some commentators are of the opinion that it was the relentless wave of invasion, the debilitating wars that were waged by ruthless conquerors that caused a calcification of this nascent and creative life force.  Others feel that when this unique quest had fulfilled itself and found that it had nowhere else to go, it turned upon itself resulting in a cannibalistic orgy which converted society into a parody of itself.  Whatever it was, in the process, certain near fatal changes occurred in the Hindu psyche.  Interiorisation became secretiveness.  The class system degenerated into the caste system and yagnas and poojas became mere rituals to be performed by a few, purportedly for the benefit of the many.  The art of questioning became argumentativeness.  Hair splitting distinctions were made both in polymics and in practices which resulting the frittering away of creativeness into the “dreary desert sands of dead reason”.  (Tagore in the Geethanjali).  A mighty philosophy which bordered on sheer scientific rationalism degenerated into bigotry and superstition.  This was the curse that Hinduism had to suffer at that distant point of time, some of the ill effects of which subsist even today.


          But when this happens to an ancient and tested way of life, a savior emerges from the system itself to set matters right and to re-establish Dharma.  This is Krishna’s promise to the kneeling warrior Arjuna on the battlefield to Kurukshethra in the Bhagawad Geetha.  When Arjuna attempts to retreat into a paralytic pacifism, in the face of the wave of Adharma let loose by the Kauravas, Krishna patiently demolishes his reasons for withdrawal from battle and in the process rejuvenates the Hindu Religion by establishing a dynamic and positive approach to eradicate Adharma, thereby wiping off the false patina of meekness and resignation which Arjuna had raised to the pedestal of virtuousness.  This process of self-correction is one of the basic inherent strengths of Hinduism.  The threats faced by our complex and often misunderstood Religion from within and without and the great souls who emerged to rescue Hinduism from seemingly formidable and invincible threats are too many to catalogue. 


          When Hinduism faced the serious threat from within itself in the form of self contradictory and self destructive creeds spawned by a host of interpreters who seemed to be more interested in polemics than philosophy and in self assertion rather in self unfoldment, Adi Shankara emerged to rid Hindu thought of these unnecessary and debilitating accretions. Single-handed, he fought this devastating trend and reconstructed Hindu society, establishing its supremacy once again and made Hinduism a vital and dynamic creed. 


          But the greatest threat of them all was from aggressive proselytizing and organized Religions, Centuries of exploitation and Macaulayism supported by the protection, power and patronage of our Colonial Rulers had brought our religion to another crisis.  The very foundation of our faith appeared badly shaken.  The well planned and carefully orchestrated attack going to the roots of the Bharatheeya Ethos and Hindu culture started slowly bearing fruit.  Our youth started turning away from all aspects of our Religion and our Culture.  The result was an appalling pall of spiritual and cultural listlessness.  The stage was thus set for another great advent.   


From the very soul of Bharath emerged Sri.Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and along with him came the prophet of Hindu Renaissance, Swami Vivekananda. 


          Vivekananda was Sri.Ramakrishna’s facet of karmayoga.  He was passionately averse to passivity, seeking in this bovine attitude, one of the chief reasons for the failures of India.  “ The passions of strength (never of weakness) were striving within his Lions heart.  he was energy personified and action was his message to men”. 


                                      (Roman Rolland: “The Life of Vivekananda

                                                and the Universal Gospel”)


          In Vivekananda was really born the seed of Hindu renaissance. In his powerful athletic and virile for there raged mighty tempests of the spirit he symbolized the power of pure energy forever ready to translate itself into dramatic and meaningful action. 


          Hinduism as misinterpreted exhibited an unhealthy pre-occupation with Moksha as against ignoring Dharma. Vivekananda constantly lashed out at this concept.  His foresight into the fast emerging complex India of the future, shaped more by science and technology than by the abstraction of spirituality caused him to propound the supremacy of the path of a dynamic extrovented fulfillment of ones own Dharma as against a philosophical introverted search for Moksha.  To Vivekananda spirituality had other connotations than meditativeness and introspection.  His contempt for the bovine passivity of the East was expressed in his famous exhortation to his disciples in Rajputana in 1891. 


    “Above all, be strong, be manly! I have a respect even for one who is wicked, so long as he is manly and strong; for his strength will make him some day give up his wickedness, or even give up all work for selfish ends, and will then eventually bring him into the Truth”.



          He reinstalled Humanism on the firm foundation of spirituality and gave it a new meaning, while retaining its ancient sources.  He said. 


For the next fifty years let all other vain Gods disappear for that time from our minds.  This is the only Gold that is awake, our own race – everywhere His hands, everywhere His feet, everywhere His ears, He covers everything.  All other Gods are sleeping.  What vain Gods shall we go after and yet cannot worship the God that we see all round us, the Virat?  The first of all worship is the worship of the Virat of those all around us.  These are all our Gods – men and animals and the first Gods we have to worship are our own countrymen”


          And this mighty message went to the heart of the Bharatheeya Ethos and kindled there the flame of Hindu Renaissance.  The touch bearers of this message on the political front were the father of our Freedom Movement and ultimately the Mahatma led us out of bondage with the Rama Nama on his lips.  Like a sleeping giant, Bharat woke up and even while waking up, the chains of centuries of colonial rule snapped.  Macualay had lost. The British had succeeded neither in destroying the Hindu Religion, nor Sanskrit, nor the Culture of the Rishi.  Bharat arose from the flames like a phoenix spread her wings in flight and in the echo of her wing beats could be heard the voice of Vivekananda. 


          It is the greatness of our culture that our approach to life has been this basic spirituality.  Whether it be art, music, poetry or architecture, the basis of all creative activity has been spiritually oriented.  Art is the crystallization of the overflow of the human emotion.  Thus where the causative factor of emotion is spirituality, necessarily all forms of art must emerge from and symbolize soaring heights of the spirit. 


          Any culture not based on spirituality and which traces its origin to power, conquest or the glory of wealth will ultimately peter out into oblivion.  The Greeco Roman cultures have been reduced by time to heaps of marble and granite.  This was because basically these cultures were not rooted in the spirit. 


          It is this basic foundation in the spirit that constitutes the unity and continuity of Indian culture.  It is this atmic relationship which transcends the physical and the mental aspects of man.  That is the basic strength of Indian culture and which explains its resilience and continuity. 


          Time and again throughout the sweep of history, or land has been subject to successive waves of invasion from beyond its frontiers.  Conquering forces came, each armed with seemingly invincible powers.  The victors brought with them their culture and often tried to impose their cultures on the vanquished.  But time and again they found that the essence of all that was best in their cultures was absorbed by Bharat and the rest emphatically rejected.  Thus, through successive waves of invasion, Indian culture enriched itself often rising phoenix-like from the flames. 


          A cursory study of Hindu Law as it existed from time immemorial and as it exists today will also reveal the range and the elasticity of Hindu Dharmic concepts and the Bharatheeya Ethos.  No other system of law has undergone so many changes.  The metamorphosis of Hindu Law from its Divine Rishi oriented origins to a scientifically codified system as it is today is in itself a tribute to refreshing the open mined approach adopted by the Hindus.  When the Hindu Code was introduced in 1950, there was of course a cry of dismay from the orthodox and the scholarly legal sources.  However there was no difficulty in the implementation of the Hindu Code, which dealt with almost all aspects of social life including marriage maintenance adoption succession and women’s rights.  Judicial pronouncements molded many of the reliefs under the various statutes and altered the very texture of life at all levels of society. This according to prominent legal commentators is because the Hindus have understood law as facet of Dharma.  Dharma is one of the few concepts for which there is no western equivalent either in meaning or in words.  The easiest way to understand Dharma is to see it as an aggregate of duties and obligations falling under the multifarious heads of religious matters, mutual obligations, social realities, and legal restrictions. It is a tribute to the genius of the Vedic Aryans that the social concepts of an entire people which are an admixture of religious ethics and legal precepts meshed together perfectly to form the durable model of a legal system, or the Hindu Law can thus be said to be legal facet of Sanathana Dharma. 


          Ancient Hindu law is rooted in the Vedas and enlarged though the Smrities. The system was elaborated by enlightened commentaries and by customary usages.  The basic premises was that the law as promulgated in the Smrities was essentially interlinked with ancient traditions leading to position that ancient institutions and time honoured customs should be as far as possible be left unchanged and intact. It is a tribute to the flexibility of enlightened Hindu thought and action that, over a century and a half of judicial pronouncement have not strayed from this basic principle, but have made substantial changes in both Textual Law and Law by customary usage.  The necessity to bring in the entire Hindu fold under one orchestrated and planned structure also resulted in substantial changes being brought into the realm of Hindu Law.  The dominant factor of all statutory enactments in Hindu Law was to bring about a just and effe

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