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Saturday, March 30, 2013

*Re-Redefining Hinduism* Ram Puniyani

*Re-Redefining Hinduism*

Ram Puniyani

While defining religion is a theological exercise, many a times the
tribunals and judges are pontificating on the nature of Hindusim on the
basis of common sense and their own perceptions of it. Many of these
perceptions are dictated by the contemporary politics, which wants to
present Hinduism in a different light. It was a great surprise that a
recent Income Tax Tribunal held that Hinduism is not a religion and stated
that Shiva, Hanuman or Goddess Durga are  "superpowers of the universe" and
do not represent a particular religion. (March 2013)  The Income Tax
Appellate Tribunal, Nagpur, in a recent order, said the expenses on
worshipping Hindu deities and maintenance of temple could not be considered
as religious activity.

They went on to declare that "Technically, Hinduism is neither a religion
nor Hindus form a religious community." Shiv Mandir Devsthan Panch
Committee Sanstan' had argued that the temple run by it was open to
everyone, irrespective of caste and creed and so "the temple does not
belong to a particular religion and that installing idols is not a
religious activity".

This is fairly hilarious. Idol worship is a major part of Hinduism, while
religions like Islam and Christianity don't resort to worship of idols. It
is a Hindu religious activity, that's how the whole Ram Temple issue could
be built up and Babri mosque was demolished on the pretext of fulfilling a
religious obligation of restoring Ram Temple, where the idols of Ram Lalla
could be installed. Then, what is this new definition of '*superpowers*' in
the form of Shiva, Hanuman and Durga? Contemporary times mired in the world
of politics regards the United States of America as the global superpower.
In tribunal's verdict we are being told about the Universal superpowers,
Durga, Hanuman and Shiva amongst others. The learned tribunal needed to
know that in Hinduism the concept of supernatural power goes through
different stages. It begins with polytheism with Gods and Goddesses looking
after one faction of the power. So you have Gods and Goddesses taking care
of rains (Indra), air (Marut), power (Durga), knowledge (Sarswati), and
even sex (Kam Devata) and wine (Som Devata). From here one goes to
trithiesm where one God creates (Brahma), one maintains (Vishnu) and one
destroys (Shiva). From here, one goes to the concept of monotheism
(Ishwar). As such Hanuman is a mythological character, servant of Lord Ram
and also referred to as God.

All this is a part of Hindu religion, to think that this is universal, applicable to all
religious beliefs is a travesty of truth. Different sects of Hinduism worship
different of these Gods. Some of these Gods are a reincarnation of Lord
Vishnu like Ram and Krishna. In Greek mythology one does see a parallel to
polytheism. In Christian tradition tri-thiesm of Father, Son and the Holy
Spirit is very much there. These are religion specific beliefs and don't
apply to other religions. In contrast to the verdict of the tribunal one
knows that some religions like Jainism and Budhhidm don't have faith in
supernatural power. Some traditions, which developed in this part of the
globe like Charvak also did not have faith in supernatural power.

Coming to the conclusion of the tribunal that Hinduism is not a religion
because there are diverse trends, this can be rejected right away. True,
Hinduism has diverse trends but that is because this religion is not based
on the teachings of a single Prophet. It has evolved-been constructed over
a period of time. So the diversity is very much there, still all this does
fit into the criterion laid down for understanding a religion.

Defining Hinduism in such is a difficult task for sure. The reasons for
this are multiple. One, Hinduism is not a prophet based religion, it has no
single founder and two, religions developing in this part of the world have
been lumped together as Hinduism and three; there are so many diversities
in the practices of Hinduism that all streams cannot be painted with a
single brush. To this one may add the the practices and beliefs originating
at different times continue to exist side by side. Lord Satyanarayn and
Santoshi Maa do exist along with the concept of Ishwar (God) and a Nirankar
Nirguna Ishwar (God beyond the attributes of qualities and form at the same

The major point of departure for Hinduism is the imprint of caste system on
the major aspects of Hinduism, the religious sanctity for social
inequality, caste system being the soul of its scriptures and practices.
The conditions under which the terms came into being also tell a lot about
the real meaning of those terms. Aryans who came in a series of migrations
were pastorals and were polytheists. During the early period we see the
coming into being of Vedas, which give the glimpse of value system of that
period and also the number of gods with diverse portfolios, the prevalence
of polytheism. Laws of Manu were the guiding principles of society. This
Vedic phase merged into Brahminic phase. During this phase elite of the
society remained insulated from the all and sundry. At this point of time
caste system provided a perfect mechanism for this insulation of elite.
Buddhism's challenge to caste system forced Brahmanism to come up with a
phase, which can be called Hinduism. During this the cultic practices were
broadened and public ceremonies and rituals were devised to influence the
broad masses to wean them away from Buddhism.

 It is interesting to note that till 8th century the so called Hindu texts
do not have the word Hindu itself. This word came into being with the Arabs
and Middle East Muslims coming to this side. They called the people living
on this side of Sindhu as Hindus. The word Hindu began as a geographical
category. It was later that religions developing in this part started being
called as Hindu religions. Due to caste system there was no question of
prosetylization. On the contrary the victims of caste system made all the
efforts to convert to other religions, Buddhism, Islam and partly
Christianity and later to Sikhism.

Within Hindu religion two streams ran parallel, Brahmanism and Shramanism.
Shramans defied the brahminical control and rejected caste system. While
Brahminism remained dominant, other streams of Hinduism also prevailed,
Tantra, Bhakti, Shaiva, Siddhanta etc. Shramans did not conform to the
Vedic norms and values. Brahminism categorized religious practices by caste
while Shramanism rejected caste distinctions. Brahminical Hinduism was the
most dominant tendency as it was associated with rulers. Sidetracking the
Hindu traditions of lower castes, Brahminism came to be recognised as
Hinduism in due course of time. This phenomenon began with Magadh-Mauryan
Empire after subjugating Budhhism and Jainism in particular. Later with
coming of British who were trying to understand Indian society, Hindu
identity, based on Brahminical norms was constructed for all non Muslims
and non Christians. Vedas and other Brahminical texts were projected as the
Hindu texts. Thus the diversity of Hinduism was put under the carpet and
Brahminism came to be recognised as Hinduism. So Hinduism as understood as
a religion is based on Brahminical rituals, texts and authority of Brahmins.

Hinduism as prevails today is a religion in all sense of the sociological
characteristics. It is dominated by Brahminism is another matter. To say
that Hindus are not a religious community is a wrong formulation to say the

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