Proponents as well as opponents of Hindutva have resorted to serious reductionism in the scope of the term. Hindutva has been reduced to a farce, by the pseudo-secularists as well as organizations which have resorted to using a limited version of Hindutva for their political purposes. The relative failure of the BJP and its associated social organizations lies not espousing of Hindutva. Hindutva is a philosophy which the majority of this country adheres to, which as Swami Vivekananda says, not only teaches tolerance but also believes all other religions to be true. This makes Hindutva the principal ethos for the well-being of this nation, as well as tolerance towards religious minorities.
BJP should have been a pan India party by now, but its failure is based on the reduction of Hindutva to smaller myopic levels. The nation needs a political culture and ethos which binds us, and Hindutva, which when the global nature of the term is taken into account refers to a way of life is one such weapon to further peace, prosperity and brotherhood. Neo-modernists also tend to look at Hindutva with the same shortsightedness as their nemeses, who they incidentally criticize vehemently .
Neo-modernists tend to look upon Hindutva as an ideology which is marred in superstition, unwanted rituals, and represents an old, rancid way of thought which is quite a misfit in the present world. But, Hindutva has certain innate characteristics which makes it more a more liberal way of life; in fact more liberal than the ideologies liberal fanatics of our time espouse.
The Vedas in Hinduism are not absolute, and have been criticized by people who did not prescribe to their view, since time immemorial. This did not make the critics any less Hindu. Indeed, Hinduism is not alien to atheism, or agnostic schools of thought.The second criticism of Hindutva come from materialists and realists, who believe that the Vedas and other mainstream literature is too engulfed in spiritualism. But, spiritualism is not the only aspect of Hindutva. The atheist schools of thought in Hinduism were also the champions of materialism.
EXPLANATION-EXISTENCE OF GODLESS PHILOSOPHICAL LITERATURE IN HINDUTVA
The Carvaka or Lokayata schools of thought of Hindu philosophy did not believe in the existence of God. They propounded the views that there was no heaven, nor hell. In some ways, they were as modern as John Lennon is perceived to be in his song,”Imagine.” They dismissed the concept of vice and virtue, and said there was nothing absolutely good or bad. The text “Dharmakriti” contains vehement criticism of the Vedas, and this being an integral part of Hinduism, explicitly states that Hinduism was all about discussion and debate, which are the essential ingredients of a robust philosophical package.
This ensured that there were two broad differences of opinion presented before Hindus, and they could choose their own mind and conscience to decide on what to choose. This does not explain that the Vedas are irrelevant literature, but explains that certain explanations in the Vedas were contested by people with difference of opinion. This is one kind of materialism-spiritualism debate which has not been observed in the same magnitude even in the West. So, we have a choice of introspecting in our search for liberalism, rather than looking outside to what others do, and gleefully emulating them.Brihaspati is said to be the founder of this form of atheist thought in Hinduism, as early as 600 BC, roughly the same time when Buddha lived.
In Sarvasiddhantasamagraha, Brihaspati is quoted as saying, that building of temples and wells for religious purposes was useless, and it helped only the travelers. He lambasts the ritual of ash-smearing, Agnihotra ritual as well as the Vedas. The term Carvaka/Charvaka means charming speech, which shows that these Hindu atheists were very good orators, and might have held considerable influence in those times.
“Prabodhachandrodaya” sums up the beliefs of this Atheistic school of Hindutva policy. One might side with the Vedas, or with the Carvakas, but they represent the enormous scope of freedom of expression of ancient Hindu culture. This also refutes the myths that Hinduism was/is a religion, and that it is one philosophical entity. Indeed it was a balanced systemic process which held difference of opinion as not antagonistic to philosophy, but an integral part of it. The Carvakas and the Lokayatas are the “Nastika” schools of philosophy.”Nastika” is a term used for atheists in the loose sense of the term these days. “Nastika” actually means “people who did believe in the existence of the Vedas.”
It is not only the Nastik schools of thought which are doubtful or completely refute the existence of God. The creation hymn in the Rig Veda, followed by “Astikas” is also skeptical about the existence of God:
“Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen? Whence this creation has arisen – perhaps it has formed itself, or perhaps it did not – the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows – or perhaps he does not know.”
Two more “Astikas” known as Samkya and Mimansa also do not believe in the existence of God. Mimansa however is quite different from reductionist Western Atheism. It believes in two components, Prakriti (nature) and Purusha (Spirit), and has no place for “Ishvara”(Supreme Being.) It is not only philosophical literature in which atheism surfaces. There is a character in Ramayana called Jabali, who persuades Rama to accept the Kingdom, by using materialistic, and nastika arguments. He, however, gets a fitting reply from Rama too, showing the presence of difference of opinion.
The Carvakas believed in materialism and the existence of nothing but matter. They believed in the four elements,Earth, Water,Air and Fire, as they represent existing matter. They criticized the Vedas for referring to ethereal matter. Since, the soul is made of material elements, they believed there is no point in sacrificing pleasure for the fear of pain, and that was no need of exercising penance as there would be no soul left after death. They believed in the existence of the soul, but believed that no soul existed without the existence of a body, and the soul perished along with the body itself. Therefore it was better to enjoy life as an opportunity, and also try to reduce pain.
CRITICISM OF THE CARVAKAS
Some Carvakas criticized the Vedas for relying mainly on three pillars-untruth, self-contradiction and tautology. But, along with this kind of a dignified criticism, some Carvakas also called Vedas as books to be read by buffoons, knaves and demons, which cannot be deemed to be honourable, as they relied more on personal criticism rather than philosophical. The Carvakas were also criticized for their excessive reliance on perceptions, and offering of piecemeal solutions by relying heavily on subjective perceptions. Truth, the opponents of Carvakas argued, is not what is perceived, but what actually exists. Thus, some Carvakas also degenerated into fanatics of liberalism that they propounded, which also reduced the actual weightage they had in Hindutva philosophy long ago. This might be a lesson for Atheists, who are on a short-cut route to Atheism, as certain human tendencies tend to drive men and women towards spiritual purposes and these pulls cannot be totally ignored.
Ain-i-Akbari, by Abul Fazl contains numerous accounts of Carvakas being involved in good work, and welfare. It mentions the Carvakas as proponents of judicious administration, during Akbar’s rule. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the father of the Hindutva movement in India, claimed that he was a Hindu atheist. Aurobindo, the proclaimed philosopher, also said:
“Atheism is the necessary protest against the wickedness of churches and the narrowness of creed. God uses it as a stone to crush the solid card houses.”
Indeed, Western educated intellectuals, who rose to become Prime Ministers and messiahs, had a very reductionist view of their own traditions.
In short, although the atheism in India was quite similar to Western versions, but it is deemed to have evolved to be more judicious and welfare oriented. This inference can be drawn from the role of Carvakas in administration. So, a corresponding centrist, almost left leaning neutral stand has also been a part of Hindutva, so it will be difficult to dismiss Hindutva as a right wing movement. Conserving Hindutva does not mean conserving a few scriptures, but it refers to conserving the beautiful argumentative traditions and liberalism.
Indeed, conservative Hindutva means liberalism, unlike perverted Hindutva which means superiority of caste, creed and rituals. The future of India lies in conserving these traditions of liberalism, and letting discussions and debates flow through this country to bring about a new dynamism and change. After all, we have the privilege of choosing what we want. Fanatics as well as divisive pseudo-secularists can at least stand and admire at Hindutva, and its true essence and its global appeal. It is this tradition that the Atheist Amartya Sen also refers to in his book, “The Argumentative Indian.”
Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides- Rig Veda
(Pulakesh Upadhyaya is a research associate and a friend of CRI )
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