The Bhumi Puja of the Ram Mandir was a much celebrated event that filled many of us with a lot of hope, energy and happiness. In fact, the day of the Puja felt no less intoxicating, to me, than the effects of having sweet milk on Shivaratri. Nevertheless, there were also a lot of people disappointed with rising trends over the last few years, this occasion being symbolic of those. This article is addressed to Bhakts and “intellectuals” both.
India is much, much older than that name. This is a fact that no number of ‘eminent historians’ and communists can change. It was not a land of squabbling kings occasionally united by an empire. The identity of India is far from political, in fact far from material – it is adhyatmik (do not translate).
A good example to understand this is the story of the composition of the Rigveda. More than ten thousand years ago, the tribes of north India, who already shared a common history, fought a battle. The winners of this battle were the Bharata tribe from what is now Haryana. It is often said that history is written by the victors. In this case, the Bharatas invited Rishis from all clans, victorious or otherwise, and together these great men composed a compilation of all that they knew, a magnum opus of knowledge called the rigveda, the knowledge (ved) of the rishis (rig-).
That has been the founding principle of Bharat ever since – assimilate by compilation, not by replacement. This is not a mere mixing of cultures, because it has a philosophical backing – that of advaita – that all philosophies can be reduced by logic to one. It is in the expression of this one philosophy that our systems of knowledge diversify. Every time we met a new tribe, be it in bharatvarsh or overseas, we observed their traditions, their beliefs and gave them the backing of this philosophy, which transformed them from superstitions to saadhna, methods to accomplish what we are involuntarily trying to do anyway. In this process, all practices were retained and yet unified; this left the people with their own identity, simultaneously giving them a stronger one of sanatana dharma.
That is the reason for diversity in our practices, and that is the difference between Hindu diversity and Christian or Muslim diversity. While the latter began as one and split with differences of opinion, we began as many and came together under one blanket, while retaining individual identities – the ultimate balancing act; our diversity is a proud birthmark of our origin.
Unfortunately, we met out military match in post-industrial Europe, and the fort of Dharma fell. Western scholarship intentionally twisted the meaning of our philosophies and practices and presented to us our own identity as backward, and what choice did we anglicized Indians have but to lap it all up, since we were forced to know English but no Sanskrit! Matters like caste (jaati-varna system) became a political punchline, the actual practices obscured by misinformation, or by taking stories from the era of British rule as representative of our whole ten-thousand-year history!
Six years ago, known now as Hindus, we regained some degree of political power, and began the long journey of rebuilding. Perhaps the one thing that fell hardest when we lost was out temples. The Hindu temple is not a place of worship like a Church, because we can worship anywhere. It is not just a place of ritual like a mosque, although rituals form an important part of temples. A temple is the adhyatmik equivalent of a fort, an institution build to guard our intangible philosophy from harm in the tangible world.
Temples were owners of large amounts of lands and wealth, and acted as economic flywheels in times of disaster. Temples were the dwellings of Devatas, who are not gods, but nuclei of Bhakti, a form of Sadhana, a course in philosophy. Temples were pieces of art. They were places of social gathering. Indeed, the institution of a temple has as many layers and diversities as Hindu philosophy itself. That is why temples are the soul of our society, and that is why we need to recover them from the two evils that have plagued them for a long time now – structural destruction and government control. While efforts are on in both directions, the Ram Mandir is one small step for Hindus, and one giant leap for Hindutva. That is the value of this event for Hindus.
All this may seem like distant, inconsequential philosophy to you, but it affects you in very profound ways. In the name of modernization, we are blindly following the west, even though we can see what they have come to today. It would be very foolish to continue on their path even after we have seen where it leads. We have the power to set our course right, and I suggest we exercise it effectively, else it will only take a generation or two for things to go steeply downhill.
Happy Diwali to you all.
Jai Shree Ram! Jai Shree Krishna! Jai Mahakaal!
The author is a student at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali.