Sunday, November 26, 2006

The religious Indian

‘Do you believe in God?’ asks Mr. White from the latest bond flick, Casino Royale. ‘No, I believe only in a reasonable rate of return’ says Mads Mikkelsen, who plays an evil banker in the movie. Most of the Vratas and Poojas in the Hindu way of life also seem to believe in an (un) reasonable rate of return for the priest. Take for example the ‘Sathyanarayana Vrata’, more famous in the South India rather than the North, which details explicitly the kind of offerings to be made to Brahmins for the full benefits of the Vrata to be realized. The reasons are not far to seek. For hundreds of years, the bulk of the Brahmin community survived on the priestly profession though a small percentage did serve as ministers, poets etc in the king’s court. Not surprisingly, the Hindu way prescribes a very austere life-style for the Brahmins and mandates that they earn their living only from the temples and in other cases through begging. Yes, begging was a legitimate way of earning one’s livelihood, what with Lord Shiva Himself portrayed as a beggar who lives in a cemetery. The Brahmin community, in some sense was the intelligentsia in the society, thanks to the education they have received and their perceived superiority over other sects. Surely someone would have asked the question (which was begging to be asked in some sense), ‘If we represent the creamy layer in the society, why do we have to be poor? Assuredly economic prosperity and intellectual (whether perceived or real) superiority are not mutually incompatible.’ Since priesthood was the only career option available to the majority of the Brahmin community, it seems likely that this option was systematically made more and more lucrative with time.

Interestingly, God is portrayed as a god of vengeance in these Vratas. For the uninitiated, the typical storyline goes like this; the devotee, who is passing through a period of great difficulty, strikes a bargain with God that he would do the Vrata if God made him rich, or gave him a child or whatever. Invariably, the devotee would forget his part of the bargain and God would strike back in vengeance. Now the God of the Old Testament was also a vengeful God, meaning that this notion of a vengeful God is at least as old as the Old Testament. It is not clear why this notion has not evolved even after 2000 years; apparently, our religious dimension remained unchanged and primitive.

From the Hindu World View’s perspective, materialism figures at the bottom in the pecking order and therefore cunningly, all these Vratas are positioned as spiritual shortcuts to material success, which accords them with a stamp of legitimacy. This kind of hypocrisy is not uncommon among the religious; they euphemize their material ambition by calling it their dharma.

Surely, the annoying habit of deification is a legacy of the Hindu way of life. Though I suspect, it is this very habit you see in action when temples are built for Rajnikant and Jayalalitha, there is more to it. Rama, the warrior prince in the Valmiki’s version becomes the Almighty Himself in the Tulasidas’s version. Once you call someone a god, all arguments cease, you are muted in reverence and rationality is suspended. There is no room for debate -for how could you be presumptuous to judge God. Therefore, Ramayana and Mahabharata- marvelous parables that they are- instead of becoming great literary works degenerate into mystical discourses.

The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen refers to has always belonged to a minority. Debate cannot co-exist with reverence and reverence has been our bane for centuries. For long, only the ‘hereafter’ mattered -where supposedly our sage-scientists have figured out the alpha and omega of the paraloka (afterlife) millenniums ago. Western technology you say; bah, what about it? We have built an aircraft (Pushpaka Vimana) thousands of years ago; what we called Brahmastra- that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Mahabharata- is what you call today a nuclear bomb. This is Hinduism at its assimilatory best!

Initially it was Gandhi, sadly now it is a political party that wants to use Hinduism as an ideology of regeneration for India -to bring back the utopian Ramraj. Neither Hinduism, nor any religion for that matter could serve as a vehicle of progress for a society or a nation. Religion, as an institution had served its purpose-which was to provide a moral reference point in the absence of the state. Now it’s time to move on.


Anonymous giks said...

different point - but not everyone is an atheist, and not everyone have a liberal outlook. I believe religion has still a big part to play if you want to spread peace and moral values among a large part of the existing population. ne ways, i like ur writing style!

7:52 AM  
Anonymous gopi krishna said...

religion though has taken many negative connotations with people taking extreme positions and not entertaining a dialogue at all....the fact remains that logic,reasoning and hence science and off late people too adopt change with little resistance...sadly the same cannot be said about religion,the reason is the so called custodians of the religion fear losing their grip on the masses and hence we find records of so many atrocities being committed by the priestly class across all religions.

The world today is much better than the days of gladiator when people used to take sheer pleasure from seeing other people killed on the stage try to save their lives from stronger foes.The civilization today has changed a bit for the better that thr are more ppl who take the libertarian view.

But it is always the minority that calls the shots as they can group quickly and work for their goal pretty easily and the majority always reneges on its stand a little slowly.

Science has evolved in the last few centuries and ppl across accept that we are only improving on our scientific knowledge every day by trying to make amends but sadly this is not the case for religion.Religion is less prone for change,the custodians are adamant inspite of the fact that nature has evolved and human beings as a species are more mentally mature now than say some 1000 years back.Obviously this demands more weightage to be given for the present day viewpoint instead of holding fast to an ancient dogma.

coming to the aspect of deification in India it has become a habit now a days with people making a demi god out of sachin and ganguly and the next day the same crowd doesnt think twice to denigrate their heroes on the roads.This will surely change in few years from know when the masses become more literate.

For many of the problems their is a solution but as usual time is part of the solution hence lets wait.....better days await us....

1:25 PM  
Blogger Ravi Ivaturi said...

@Giks, you seem to take the position that liberal thinking is only for a few while religion continues to be the opium of the masses (quoting Karl Marx). While what you say is historically correct, this stand will not change the status quo. Consider Islam for instance, the fundamentalists seem to wield much greater power than the moderates and liberalists, which seems to me a major reason why the concept of ‘Holy war’ flourishes. Look at U.S for instance, much of the progress (okay material progress), they have made can be attributed to the liberal and non-threatening environment they have created. That is why I am all for promoting liberal thinking- not necessarily with an atheistic leaning.

@Gopi, usually things get better with time, but one of the major problems I have with religion is that it hasn’t evolved with time. I am not saying that all of us should turn into atheists; only remove the cloak of untouchability with which we have covered our religious beliefs. Otherwise, in most things, we are liberal and progressive; in matters of religion, we return to primitivism- seems to be like a classic symptom of schizophrenia.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous gopi krishna said...

As u yourself say Option value increases with time,so as time passes we will be in.. for a better solution or may be when the need for solution becomes inevitable.

To a large extent even i am amazed by the way some ppl take claim for what our ancestors have discovered be it Zero (0), pythagoras theorem,bhramastra (supposedly nuclear weapon which we knew milleniums before the westerners)and similar such things.When the world has gone way beyond and acheived much more but some of us are caught in a vortex.

As portrayed in the movie swades when the village sarpanch says we are proud of our culture,tradition was obviously showing the hollowness of our claims.I experienced a similar kind of feeling when i went to patna for some work and in due course of conversation with a person proudly boasts about patna being india's capital few hundreds of years back during magadha's rule.

So it is basically about living in the past that is still reminiscent among many of us.When we can shed the glory of the past and come to terms with the crumbling present there is hope for a wonderful future.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Ravi Ivaturi said...

I know, sadly in India nostalgia is glorified. Nostalgia is appropriate when you have nothing to look forward to and it’s time to walk away into the sunset. It’s totally inappropriate when as a nation you are about to become an economic superpower and call the shots on a global stage. Sometimes, I think one of the major reasons for US’s success is that they don’t have a past; so the only way to look is FORWARD.

6:12 PM  
Anonymous gopi krishna said...

could be very much true indeed, gr88 thought as well,another reason for US success is because of the individualism that they proudly profess and follow.

In one of the recent movies of chiranjeevi he says "If in 28 crores of americans 1 bill gates is born then in 100 crores + of indians how many bill gates should have been born" and he goes on to say that corruption is the reason.I beleive it is the system,the clinging to the roots,the individual always being sacrifical animal for the so called benefit of the masses,has been the reason for India not being able to produce even 1 bill gates till date.

Besides even if u look at the 100 crores of Indians and look at their demographic distribution nearly 70 crores of them can be outrightly removed from consideration given the fact that many of them in rural areas still do not have access to basic facilities,esp the highly populated states of bihar,UP,WB are in the second half of any survey that talks abt progress.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Ravi Ivaturi said...

Clearly inspired by Ayn Rand-doubtless; very true nevertheless.

11:50 AM  
Blogger srinivas said...

i thought you were well "schooled" in your student days regarding reglion and values. there is a lot less to be told about religon as it exists today and how it is supposed to exist actually

i will extrapolate more in my next comment

8:48 PM  

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