1. Credal definitions
is”, said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different
“The question is”,
said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master-that’s all.”1
A lot of ink has
flowed over the question how to define Hinduism. There is
no other religion for which the question of definition is so difficult.
A Roman Catholic could be defined as a person who is baptized by a priest
ordained within an apostolic succession going back to Jesus, and who accepts
the Nicean Creed and the authority of the Bishop of Rome. A Muslim
is defined by the Muslims themselves as one who has affirmed the Islamic
creed: that there is no god beside Allah and that Mohammed is Allah’s prophet.
A Buddhist is one who has taken the triple refuge into the Buddha, his
teachings and his community. But there seems to be no accepted definition
of a Hindu, neither one sanctioned by Hindu tradition nor one on which
the scholarly community agrees.
Yet, for a “Hindu”
movement the choice of a good definition may be a very consequential matter.
In this book, we will see how the Hindu Revivalist movement since ca. 1875
has dealt with the question: Who is a Hindu?
1.1. Vedic Hinduism
According to Ananda
Coomaraswamy, “the literature of Indian thought, apart from Buddhism as
interpreted by Buddhists, exhibits a continuous development, and knows
no acute crises; or rather, the real crises-such as the identification
of all gods as one, and the development of the doctrines of emancipation
and transmigration-are not determined by names and dates, they were not
announced as the Dharma of any one teacher, and they are only recognized
in retrospection. Here there is a gradual process of ‘thinking aloud’,
wherein by stripping the self of veil after veil of contingency there is
nothing left but the Abyss which is ‘not so, not so’, the ‘Ground’ of unity.
From animism to idealism there is direct development, and it is for this
reason that we meet with primitive terminologies invested with a new significance;
moreover the old strata persist beneath the newest layers, and thus it
is not only primitive terms, but also primitive thoughts which persist
in the great complex that we speak of as Brahmanism. But
this does not mean that the highest of these thoughts is primitive, it
means only that the historical continuity of thought is preserved in the
final system, and that system remains adapted to the intelligence of various
This way, Hinduism
cannot be caught in a criterion defining a specific stage of human religious
development. Rather, like an individual human being (or like a nation),
it represents a continuous identity through very different stages, and
carrying the memory and the remains of all these stages along. For
this reason, it is very difficult to formulate an essentialist definition
of Hinduism, of the type: “Is Hindu, he who satisfies the following criteria:...”
Even more difficult is, to catch Hinduism in doctrinal criteria: “Is Hindu,
he who believes the following truth claims:...”
well-known but evidently inaccurate proposal of definition was made by
Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the “Father of the Indian Freedom Struggle”, who chose
“belief in the Vedas, variety in the means and infiniteness of the objects
of worship” as the criteria for being a Hindu.3
The “variety in the means” is a valuable contribution, because it explicitates
what is often only a tacit assumption presupposed in most Hindu teachings.
The acceptance of many approaches to the ultimate truth is indeed a distinctive
characteristic of Hinduism, distinguishing it from the exclusivism intrinsic
to Christianity and Islam.
Yet, this reading
may be too optimistic: perhaps “disagreement about the means” would be
a better description than “variety in the means”. Thus, many of the
Sants of the Bhakti movement (Kabir, Nanak, Chaitanya) extol repeating
the God-name as the means to Liberation and explicitly denounce both rituals
and ascetic practices as false ways. Hindus have only agreed
to disagree and not to interfere with other people’s practices eventhough
these may be considered as deceptive paths leading nowhere. It is
perhaps in this sense that Hindus could accept the presence of Christians
and Muslims as much as that of rival Hindu sects, because all of them,
i.e. both non-Hindus and Hindus of certain rival schools, are considered
as being equally in the wrong. At any rate, Hindu tradition has an
acute sense of true and false (hence a lively culture of debate), and it
does not attribute equal truth to Hindu and non-Hindu, nor even to different
Hindu schools of thought.
that all roads lead to the same goal is typical for modern (urban and Western-oriented)
Hinduism as propagated by Swami Vivekananda and numerous more recent Gurus.
Thus, in his highly critical account of the specificities of “Renaissance,
English-speaking, eclectic, basically anti-Sanskritic, pamphletistic neo-Vedanta”,
including its tendency to uncritical “synthesis”, the late Agehananda Bharati
remarks: “Patanjali’s yoga is for people who have accepted brahmin theology.
This is a fact which is systematically overlooked (…) by many teachers
of the Hindu Renaissance. One of their perennial
mottoes was that all religions are the same, that everyone can be a yogi
on the basis of his own theology, or of no theology.”4
Hinduism, by contrast,
has kept up a tradition of debate and scholastic argument since hoary antiquity,
and has typically scorned soft options and insisted on radicalism, not
in the sense of smashing the heads of people who disagree, but in the sense
of settling for nothing less than the truth which liberates. Recent
Hindu Revivalists merely return to the genuine Hindu tradition when they
state that “the comparatively newfangled notion that all religions are
one, equal or equally valid (…) to us is a pleasant falsehood and thereby
the biggest stumbling block in the understanding of religion and the religions”.5 They
refer to the Mahabharata editor Vyasa who exercised his power of discrimination
when he observed that “moral principles may be shared by all religions
(…)but their philosophical positions are often different”.6
And who is to say that philosophical viewpoints don’t matter?
Even at the level
of moral precepts, religions are far from equal. Leave alone the
details such as dietary taboos, even the general principles may differ
considerably. Thus, ecstatic states provoked by alcohol and other
psychotropic substances are sought after in many animistic and Shamanistic
traditions, but abhorred in more sober traditions like Buddhism and Islam.
Violence is strongly condemned in Jainism but glorified, at least in specific
conditions, in Islam and other religions. Again, these differences
exist not only between Hindu and non-Hindu, but also within the Hindu commonwealth
of schools and sects. Tilak is aware of this pluriformity; what he
intended to add, is that this “variety of means” is not merely a factual
situation, but that it is also valued positively by Hinduism, and that
in this, Hinduism differs from its major rivals, which impose a single
worldview and a single system of ethics on their adherents.
But the major
problem with Tilak’s definition is the criterion of “belief in the Veda”.
This reduction of Hinduism to the “believers” in the Veda does injustice
to any accepted usage of the term Hindu (apart from contradicting
Tilak’s own just-quoted position of a plurality of ways, arguably including
non-Vedic ways as well). For centuries, Brahmins
prohibited lower-caste Hindus from hearing, reciting and studying the Vedas,
a prohibition still supported in principle by Tilak himself.7
Are those Hindus who are unfamiliar with the Vedas being excluded from
the range of the definition? This would be greatly welcomed by anti-Hindu
polemicists, who like to claim that only upper-caste Hindus are real Hindus.
expression “belief in the Vedas” shows a rather crude understanding of
the exact place of the Veda in the doctrine of its adepts, a place which
is radically different from that of the Quran for Muslims. In the
Quran it is God who speaks to man, while in the Veda it is man who sings
praise to the Gods. It is not even clear what “believing” would mean
in the case of the Vedas, collections of hymns written for a number of
Gods by several dozens of male and female poets over several centuries.
If someone compiles an Anthology of English Religious Verse, would
it make sense to say: “I believe in this anthology”?
matter becomes a bit clearer when we consider Tilak’s Sanskrit original:
translates it as: “Belief in the Vedas, many means, no strict rule for
worship: these are the features of the Hindu religion.”9
More literally, it would read: “Acknowledging the authority of the Vedas,
pluralism (‘not-one-ness’) of spiritual paths, no fixity about the objects
of worship: that is the characteristic of the Dharma.”
The point is that
the Vedas are to be considered as a pramâna, a “means of valid
knowledge”, on a par with direct perception and inference. Veda
may be understood in a very broad sense (common enough in actual usage,
e.g. “Vedic medicine”, “Vedic cooking”): “knowledge”, as encompassing the
entire Vedic corpus including the Upanishads, the Upavedas and the Vedangas,
thus meaning “the accumulated ancestral knowledge”, or more or less “the
tradition”. This then becomes a reasonable proposition: the accumulated
knowledge passed on by the ancestors is an important though not exclusive
means of knowledge, due to the human reality that we cannot start discovering
everything anew through personal experience within a lifetime. It
is also distinctive for Hinduism along with all “Pagan” cultures, contrasting
them with Christianity and Islam, and to an extent even with Buddhism.
The latter category, most radically Islam, rejects ancestral culture, and
takes a revolution against the tradition as its starting-point, a total
rejection of the preceding age as “age of ignorance” (jâhilîya).
However, in Tilak’s
case, there is every reason to assume that he used “Veda” in the restricted
sense: Brahmanic scriptures to the exclusion of all others, notably the
four Samhitas (“collections”: Rik, Sama, Yajus, Atharva), chanted by Brahmins
since time immemorial and supposed to have an auspicious effect.
In that case, the problem with Tilak’s definition is that for a majority
of practising Hindus, the Vedas are only a very distant presence, much
less important than the stories from the Itihasa-Purana literature, the
rules of conduct laid down in the Dharma-Shastras, and (often counterbalancing
the latter) the teachings of the Bhakti poets. This is not because of some
revolution rejecting the Vedic heritage, but simply because of the time-lapse,
and also because of the jealousy with which the Brahmin caste increasingly
distanced the Vedic knowledge from the masses.
In the post-Vedic
millennia, there was ample room for new writings, and gradually the Veda
proper was eclipsed by new Great Narratives, or new formulations of old
narratives, springing from the same inspiration as the Vedas but better
placed to catch the popular imagination. But at least these younger
texts pay homage to the Vedas and fix them as a distant and little-known
object of veneration in the collective consciousness. The most influential
post-Vedic text, the Mahabharata, is explicitly rooted in the Vedic tradition,
but it is younger and not guarded for the exclusive hearing of the Brahmins.
Through this indirect lip-service to the Vedas, even illiterate “little
traditions” in Hindu civilization can be covered by Tilak’s definition.
However, even in its most inclusive reading, Tilak’s definition excludes
important groups which many Hindu Revivalists insist on including in the
Hindu fold: Buddhists, Jains, Brahmo Samajists, etc. Savarkar, before
developing his own alternative, rejects Tilak’s definition precisely because
it is not sufficiently inclusive.
is a decisive scriptural argument against Tilak’s inclusion of “belief
in the Vedas” as a criterion for Hinduism. The
Puranas describe (and the Epics occasionally refer to) several dozens of
generations of ancestors of the Puru-Bharata lineage which patronized the
composition of the Vedas.10 Regardless of
whether we accept the historicity of those genealogies and family histories,
they prove that Hindus have at least conceived of a pre-Vedic period
in Arya/Hindu civilization. Thus, though the
Manu-Smriti in its present version does not pre-date the Christian era,
tradition ascribes it (or at least its original version) to Manu Vaivasvata,
putative ancestor of all the Puranic dynasties and pre-Vedic founder of
Hindu civilization, thought to have lived several generations before the
first Vedic poets and a great many before the compilation of the Vedic
Samhitas.11 If the central concept of dharma
is ascribed to pre-Vedic sages, if the Vedas themselves (like all ancient
religious traditions) have an awareness of venerable ancestry, it follows
that Hinduism conceives of itself as ultimately pre-dating the Vedas.
What else could you expect of a religion which calls itself Sanatana, “eternal”,
1.2. Credal definition: Puranic
distinguished between Vedic religion, laid down descriptively or normatively
in the Vedic text corpus, and Puranic religion, or Hinduism proper, as
it developed after the Buddhist interregnum (later Maurya dynasty). The
distinction is not an orientalist imposition, for Brahmins have all along
made a distinction between Vedic and non-Vedic elements within the native
religion, e.g. Shivaji was crowned with two ceremonies, one Vedic and one
For all practical
purposes, the Puranic tradition is now the dominant one, and many of its
non-Vedic elements have replaced the corresponding Vedic elements even
in circles of Vedic purists. Thus, Vedic Gods like Varuna and Indra
have practically disappeared from the Hindu collective consciousness in
favour of restyled minor Vedic Gods like Shiva and Vishnu and non-Vedic
gods like Ganesha and Kali. The major festivals of the Hindu calendar
are based on the epic feats of Rama and Krishna and on the Puranic lore
pertaining to Shiva and the Goddess.
A credal definition
of Hinduism commonly accepted by Western scholars is that a Hindu:
(2) observes caste rules, and
(3) observes the taboo on cow slaughter.13
This is an explicitation
of Mahatma Gandhi’s description of his own Hinduism: “Hinduism believes
in the oneness not merely of all human life, but in the oneness of all
that lives. Its worship of the cow is, in my opinion, its unique
contribution to the evolution of humanitarianism. (…) The
great belief in transmigration is a direct consequence of that belief.
Finally the discovery of the law of Varnashrama [= differentiation after
age group and social function] is a magnificent result of the ceaseless
search for truth.”14
fits “Puranic Hinduism”, usually defined as the specific form of Hinduism
developed after the ascendancy of Buddhism in the Maurya period, and which
has as its dominant scriptural corpora the Dharma-Shastras and the Itihasa-Purana
literature. This chronology of Hindu religion
is rejected by some Hindu Revivalist scholars, who claim that the Puranas
contain traditions as old as the Vedas (though also including younger material), and
that Vedic tradition even in its prime should be seen as just one lineage
within a much larger religious landscape which is preserved in the Puranas.15
They point out that a work or a literature called Purana is already mentioned
in Vedic literature itself.16 Nonetheless,
we will consider these three criteria when checking whether a given tradition
is Hindu or not, but not without some caveats. On all three counts,
this definition is considered not to fit the pre-Buddhist Vedic religion,
hence the decision of many Indologists to consider the pre-Maurya Vedic
tradition and the post-Maurya Puranic tradition as two separate religions.
Even in present-day Hinduism, these three criteria only fit a certain mainstream
but fail to include groups of people whom anyone would call “Hindu” upon
watching their religious practices, as we will see in the next paragraphs.
It is commonly
believed that caste, i.e. the division of society in endogamous groups,
is an exclusively Hindu institution. Thus, after briefly describing
the system of the four varnas, Ambedkar writes: “This
is called by the Hindus the Varna Vyavasthâ. It is the
very soul of Hinduism. Without Varna Vyavasthâ there
is nothing else in Hinduism to distinguish it from other religions.”17
Harold A. Gould summarizes: “Most [researchers] have found [caste] an integral
and inalienable part of the Hindu religion.” And he himself agrees: “This
ancient social institution was the necessary sociological manifestation
of the underlying moral and philosophical presuppositions of Hinduism. Without
traditional Hinduism there could have been no caste system. Without the
caste system traditional Hindu values would have been inexpressible.”18
One might say
that the caste system has been Hinduism’s body for a long time, the concrete
structure with which Hindu culture organized its social dimension.
But that is something very different from saying that caste is the soul
of Hinduism, its intrinsic essence. Thus, Peter van der Veer writes
that caste may not be as all-pervading or intrinsic to Hinduism as is usually
claimed: “The idea that caste is the basis of the Indian social order and
that to be a Hindu is to be a member of a caste became an axiom in the
British period. What actually happened during
that period was probably a process of caste formation and more rigid systematization
due to administrative and ideological pressure from the colonial system,
which reminds us of the so-called ‘secondary tribalization’ in Africa.”19
in fact, castes and caste systems have developed in very divergent parts
of the world, e.g. the originally ethnic division in Hutu and Tutsi in
Rwanda, or the endogamous hereditary communities of blacksmiths, musicians
and other occupational groups in West Africa.20
The European division in nobility and commoners was a caste system in the
full sense of the term: two endogamous groups in a hierarchical relation.
When the Portuguese noticed the Indian jâti system, they applied
to it the term casta, already in use for a social division in their
homeland: the separate communities defined by religion, viz. Christians,
Jews and Muslims. In practice, these were virtually endogamous, and
there was a hierarchical relation between the top community (first Muslims,
then Christians) and the other two.
the insistence on including caste among the criteria for Hinduism is not
so innocent: it was part of the British “divide and rule” strategy against
the Freedom Movement. In 1910, a British official, E.A. Gait, passed
a circular proposing several tests to decide who is a Hindu, regardless
of whether the person concerned described himself as a Hindu: whether he
worshipped the “great Hindu gods”; whether he was allowed entry into temples;
whether the Brahmins who performed his family rituals were recognized as
Brahmins by their supposed caste members; on what side of the untouchability
divide he was. Except for the first, these criteria were calculated
to exclude the lowest castes and certain sects, regardless of their beliefs
and Hindu practices.
aim was to fragment Hindu society: “Given the upper caste character of
the leaders of the Swadeshi movement, this ‘test’ was designed to encourage
the detachment of low castes from the ‘Hindu’ category, reducing the numbers
on whose behalf the upper castes claimed to speak.”21
The “test” in effect implemented a suggestion by Muslim League leader Ameer
Ali (1909) to detach the lower castes from the Hindu category. Ever
since, it has remained a constant in anti-Hindu circles to maximize the
importance of caste, and in Hindu Revivalist circles to work for its decrease
in importance or even its ultimate abolition.
the existence of caste practices in non-Hindu societies, the caste phenomenon
does not need Hinduism. But does Hinduism need caste? Can Hinduism
exist without it? To anti-Hindu agitators, the matter is very simple:
“Hinduism means caste.”22 But
real life tells a different story. Among overseas Hindu communities
(e.g. in South Africa, Surinam, the Netherlands), the sense of caste has
waned and in many circles even disappeared, without making them any the
The Arya Samaj,
which has worked hard to diminish the importance of caste, argues that
this is merely a return to the Vedic condition, for indeed, the “family
books” (2-7) of the Rigveda, the oldest literary testimony of Hindu civilization,
are silent about caste. Only in the Purusha
Sukta of the Rigveda does the enumeration of the four varnas appear, without
any hint that this was a caste rather than just a class system.24 Even
Dr. Ambedkar, who argues that modern Hinduism is absolutely bound up with
caste, describes how Vedic society knew a class system rather than a caste
system: “Particular attention has to be paid to the fact that this was
essentially a class system, in which individuals, when qualified, could
change their class, and therefore classes did change their personnel.”25
This is based on no more than an argumentum e silentio, but there
may be something to it.
At any rate, hereditary
varnas are a very old institution, well-attested in the Mahabharata and
its most popular section, the Bhagavad-Gita. This
text is frequently quoted by reformers as attesting that the four varna
functions already existed, but were allotted on the basis of (not one’s
birth but)26 one’s guna-karma, “qualities
and activities”. This is a constant in Hindu
revivalist discourse aimed at disentangling Hinduism from the caste system
with Scriptural authority: reference is to Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad-Gita:
“The four varnas have been created by Me through a classification of the
qualities and actions.”27
the other hand, in the same Gita, the curse of varna-sankara, “mixing
of varnas”, is invoked as one of the terrible consequences of intra-dynastic
warfare by Arjuna: “When women become corrupted, it results in the intermingling
of varnas.”28 If this can still be dismissed
as part of Arjuna’s initial plea (for not joining the battle), which Krishna’s
subsequent explanation seeks to refute, it is harder to ignore Krishna’s
own statement implying a negative opinion of inter-varna marriage: “If
I do not perform action, I shall become the agent of intermingling (of
varnas).”29 it seems clear that by the time
of the final editing of the Gita, varna endogamy was a firmly entrenched
institution. But one has to make the best of it, and so, reformers
like Swami Shraddhananda have highlighted such scriptural alternatives
to hereditary and endogamous caste as are available.
rules is still the general practice among Hindus in India, yet even there
it has not been accepted as a defining component of Hinduism in at least
one court ruling. The Ramakrishna Mission,
in its attempt to acquire non-Hindu status, had used the argument of its
professed rejection of caste as proof of non-Hinduness, but the Supreme
Court pointed out that abolition of caste had been the explicit programme
of outspoken Hindus like Swami Dayanand Saraswati, so that Hinduism without
caste did seem to be possible after all.30
1.4. Sri Aurobindo on caste
relation between caste in Hindu history and modern anti-caste reform was
perhaps best articulated by Sri Aurobindo. First of all, he emphasizes
the confinement of caste to purely worldly affairs: “Essentially there
was, between the devout Brahmin and the devout Sudra, no inequality in
the single virât purusha [Cosmic Spirit] of which each was
a necessary part. Chokha Mela, the Maratha
Pariah, became the Guru of Brahmins proud of their caste purity; the Chandala
taught Shankaracharya: for the Brahman was revealed in the body of the
Pariah and in the Chandala there was the utter presence of Shiva the Almighty.”31
This could, of course, be dismissed as a case of “opium of the people”,
conceding to them a spiritual equality all the better to justify the worldly
avoids the somewhat contrived attempts to deny the close connection between
the specificity of Hindu civilization and the caste system: “Caste
therefore was (…) a supreme necessity without which Hindu civilisation
could not have developed its distinctive character or worked out its unique
mission.”32 So far, he actually seems to
support the line now taken by anti-Hindu authors, viz. that caste is intrinsic
to Hinduism, eventhough selectively highlighting cases where low-caste
people got a certain recognition in non-social, religious respects.
third point is that social reform including the abolition of caste is equally
true to the fundamental genius of Hindu civilization: “But to recognise
this is not to debar ourselves from pointing out its later perversions
and desiring its transformation. It is the nature of human institutions
to degenerate, to lose their vitality, to decay, and the first sign of
decay is the loss of flexibility and oblivion of the essential spirit in
which they were conceived. The spirit is permanent, the body changes;
and a body which refuses to change must die. (…) There is no doubt that
the institution of caste degenerated. it ceased to be determined by spiritual
qualifications which, once essential, have now come to be subordinate and
even immaterial and is determined by the purely material tests of occupation
and birth. By this change it has set itself
against the fundamental tendency of Hinduism which is to insist on the
spiritual and subordinate the material, and thus lost most of its meaning.”33
this position could use some corrections (was the low status of the Chandala
who spoke to Shankara not a symptom of an already advanced “degeneration”?),
but we get the picture, the caste system may have been right in some past
age, but now Hindu society should adapt to the modern age. This evaluation
by Aurobindo proved to be trend-setting and is now very common in Hindutva
1.5. Caste as a non-violent integrator
of caste is now eroding, first by the amalgamation of closely related castes,
and marginally, slowly but surely, even by the intermarriage of people
from very divergent ranks in the caste hierarchy. Interdining with
people of unequal caste rank, a revolutionary act in the British period,
has become commonplace. Even the priesthood is open to members of
lower castes in an increasing number of temples. The
RSS was instrumental in fighting the rejection of S. Rajesh, an RSS-affiliated
low-caste candidate for the priesthood in a Shiva temple (Kongarapilly,
Kerala), in court; the verdict upheld the candidate’s rights.34
The fact that judicial interventions are needed proves that there is still
some way to go; on the other hand, the fact that people challenge caste
privileges in court, as a last resort after challenging them in civil society,
and that they succeed, proves that caste is losing ground, and this without
entailing the disintegration of Hinduism.
to discover a basis in Hindu tradition for casteless equality (as the Arya
Samaj claims to have found in the Vedas) is a good thing, it should not
keep us from understanding why Hinduism could accommodate the caste system
so well. One underlying Hindu value is that of ahimsâ,
“non-violence”, not in its extreme Gandhian sense (when slapped, turn the
other cheek), but in the subtler sense of respecting every entity, not
upsetting but preserving it.
To preserve the
distinctive character and tradition of a community, caste separatism was
extremely helpful. Thus, in China the Jews were not persecuted, yet
they disappeared because of intermarriage; in India, in spite of their
small numbers, they remained a distinctive community, thanks to their caste
separateness. Hinduism profoundly respects worldly difference and
distinctiveness, and while that cannot justify the atrocities which have
been committed in the name of caste, it does help to explain why Hindus
could maintain the system with a perfectly good conscience for so long.
So, in one sense, it is undeniable that caste resonates profoundly with
the Hindu world-view; but the point is that Hinduism has more arrows in
To put it differently,
there is one intrinsic aspect of Hindu culture for which the caste system
was an eminently useful (though not strictly necessary) social framework:
the fabled Hindu tolerance. It is one thing to say that Hindu society
has received the persecuted Jewish, Syrian Christian and Parsi communities
well, but another to devise a system that allowed them to retain their
identity and yet integrate into Hindu society. Whatever else one
may think about the caste system, it is a fact that it facilitated the
integration of separate communities.
This very process
of integration of separate communities with respect for their distinct
identity is at least a part of how the caste system came into being: by
gradually integrating endogamous tribal communities in such a way that
they could retain their identity, with only minor changes in their traditions.
Dr. Ambedkar has drawn attention to this structural continuity between
caste and tribe:
“The racial theory
of Untouchability not only runs counter to the results of anthropometry,
but it also finds very little support from such facts as we know about
the ethnology of India. That the people of
India were once organized on tribal basis is well-known, and although the
tribes have become castes, the tribal organization still remains intact.
Each tribe was divided into clans and the clans were composed of groups
And this tribal
structure continues in the system of endogamous castes divided in exogamous
clans (gotra), indicating that caste is in fact a continuation of
tribal organization in a supra-tribal or post-tribal society.
British indologist J.L. Brockington correctly argues that one of the prime
functions of caste “has been to assimilate various tribes and sects and
by assigning them a place in the social hierarchy”, so Hinduism and caste
do have a long common history, without being identical: “To the extent
that Hinduism is as much a social system as a religion, the caste system
has become integral to it. But (…) in Hinduism outside India, caste
is withering. More significantly, some elements in India would deny
its validity; the devotional movement in general tends towards the rejection
of caste (…) The limitation on such attitudes to
caste is that in general they were confined to the distinctly religious
field, but that only reinforces the point here being made that caste,
though intimately connected with Hinduism, is not necessary to it”.36
Later on, Brockington
gives the example of Virashaivism, a sect intended as casteless, founded
in 13th-century Karnataka by the Brahmin politician Basava: “Yet,
despite Basava’s rejection of the Vedas and the caste system, along with
so many other characteristic features of Hinduism, the Lingayat movement
has remained a part, though admittedly an unorthodox part, of Hinduism.”37
Even at the height
of his egalitarian innovation, Basava never called himself a “non-Hindu”
(because such terminology was not yet in use), and he remained faithful
to Hindu religious practices, starting with the worship of Shiva.
He did promote intermarriage for one or two generations, i.e. a caste equality
which was more than merely spiritual. Very soon, his sect simply
became one more high and proud Hindu caste, which it has remained till
today. Its egalitarianism lasted but a brief moment. This may
be sufficient to serve as a selling proposition in the modern religion
market, at least among people who go by historical anecdote rather than
living social practice. On the other hand,
a non-cynical approach of this heritage would be, to say that the hour
for the awakening of a long-dormant ideal of casteless Shaivism has struck.38
Along with the
persistence of living Hinduism among non-resident Indians who have shed
their caste identities, this illustrates how Hinduism can survive caste.
Likewise, it has also been amply documented how caste can survive Hinduism:
converts to Christianity or Islam tend to maintain caste divisions even
when they have long given up the supposed Hindu basis of caste: belief
in Shastras or in the doctrine of Karma.
typical aspect of the Hindu caste system is the notion of purity,
unattested as such in the Vedas.39 Here again,
we find the same phenomenon in divergent cultures, e.g. Islam has a distinct
notion of purity and impurity, and requires purity before offering prayers,
just like Hinduism. Islam also considers unbelievers impure, though
they are free to become Muslims and shed their impurity. It is only
the coupling of the hereditary character of caste with the notion of impurity
which yields a typically Hindu institution: hereditary untouchability.
The genesis of this institution has not been definitively reconstructed
yet, though it is a matter of prime importance for understanding Hindu
It is at any rate
not due to the much-maligned “Aryans”, who originally had no such notion
whether in India or abroad. Neither do the Vedic Samhitas contain
any reference to Untouchability; Vedic Hinduism, at least, could exist
without untouchability. The Dravidians, by contrast, seem to have
had the notion in complete form: “Before the coming of the Aryan ideas
(…) the Tamils believed that any taking of life was dangerous, as it released
the spirits of the things that were killed. Likewise, all who dealt
with the dead or with dead substances from the body were considered to
be charged with the power of death and were thought to be dangerous. Thus,
long before the coming of the Aryans with their notion of varna,
the Tamils had groups that were considered low and dangerous and with whom
contact was closely regulated.”40
reports that even the orthodox are uncomfortable with the Untouchability
category: “The untouchables have not been noticed in any of the sacred
scriptures. As Mahatma Gandhi said in an oft-quoted statement: if
he were to find even a single text passage in the Vedas or the great Hindu
epics which justified the abomination of Untouchability, he would no longer
want to be a Hindu. For lack of historical source material, it is
completely unknown when this greater category of ‘Untouchables’ on the
lowest rungs of the social ladder was established. No
high-caste author of the past millennium seems to have found it necessary
to discuss the question in any form in his writings. Probably this
greater category has only come into being during the 8th or 9th century,
so it is truly a young phenomenon.”41
In today’s urban
Hinduism, the practice of untouchability (unlike the practice of caste
endogamy) is disappearing, yet that does not mean that Hinduism is disappearing. Indeed,
it is the Hindu nationalists’ boast that in their meetings and group activities,
there is no trace of untouchability or caste discrimination.42
So, caste may
be included as a criterion for defining Hinduism in a purely descriptive
sense when discussing Hindu society in the classical and medieval period
(which in India is reckoned as lasting into the 19th century), though Hindu
religion can and does exist without it. Of untouchability, even this
need not be conceded: its presence in Hindu history is considerably more
limited than the caste system, and there is plenty of Hindu history which
would wrongly be labelled “non-Hindu” if untouchability were accepted as
a criterion. Though contemporary anti-Brahmin polemic in media like
Dalit Voice tends to fuse all social phenomena of Hindu civilization
into a single (“evil Brahminical”) design, a more historical attitude is
recommended: one which explores the exact and probably separate origins
of untouchability and caste, just as within the institution of caste, social
rank/varna and endogamy/jati may have separate origins.
1.7. Arun Shourie on the abolition
has been outlawed (1950), and even before that, it was losing ground.
As Arun Shourie has observed, “reformers like Swami Vivekananda, like Gandhiji,
like Narayan Guru had had no difficulty in showing that Untouchability
had no sanction in our scriptures, that, on the contrary, the conclusive
doctrinal argument lay in the central proposition of the scriptures themselves:
namely, that all was Brahman, that the same soul inhered in all.
There was also the historical fact that whatever might have been the excrescences
which had grown around or in the name of Hinduism,
the entire and long history of the religion showed that it was uniquely
receptive to new ideas, that it was uniquely responsive to reformers, that
it was adaptable as no other religion was, and therefore there was no reason
to believe that it would not reform itself out of this evil also.”43
I don’t think that Shourie’s reference to the vision of the same soul inhering
in all (any more than the vision that all are created by the same God)
provides a sufficient ground for equality in social practice. At
any rate it doesn’t remove the real-life inequality between human beings
and animals, so it can also co-exist with inequality between nobles and
commoners, between priests and laymen, between Banias and Chandalas.
But the point is that both ancient scriptures and modern Hindu reformers
could perfectly do without the institution of untouchability without being
any the less Hindu for it.
Shourie tells us that a lot can be learned from the case of Narayan Guru
who, early this century, as a member of the unapproachable Ezhava caste
in Kerala, became an acknowledged religious leader and profoundly changed
caste relations in Kerala for the better.44 He
“attained the highest spiritual states, thereby acquired unquestioned authority,
and transformed society from within the tradition”.45
He made use of a major loophole in the rigidities of the caste system,
a loophole which Hindu society deliberately maintained precisely because
Hinduism was not merely a social system but, among other things, also a
spiritual system: renunciates in general, and sages with acknowledged yogic
realization in particular, are above the worldly divisions such as caste.
They also have the authority to herald social transformations which Hindus
would never accept from purely political busybodies.
As you can verify
from any publisher’s book list, Narayan Guru is not very popular among
Indian secularists and foreign India-watchers, quite unlike that other
Untouchable, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: “today, scarcely
anyone outside Kerala even knows about Narayan Guru”, while by contrast,
“Ambedkar’s statues outnumber those of Gandhiji”.46
Narayan Guru upsets the now-dominant Ambedkarite description of Hindu tradition
as a den of caste oppression beyond redemption.
secular people who were insensitive to the spiritual dimension, such as
Dr. Ambedkar and Ramaswamy Naicker, “Narayan Guru consistently taught against
conversion, he himself took back into the Hindu fold persons from the lower
castes who had gone over to other religions”.47
And the contrast with Ambedkar’s Dalit movement persists when we study
the long-term results: “The legacy of Narayan Guru is a society elevated,
in accord, the lower classes educated and full of dignity and a feeling
of self-worth. The legacy of Ambedkar is a
bunch screaming at everyone, a bunch always demanding and denouncing, a
bunch mired in self-pity and hatred, a society at war with itself.”48
Though there is
still some way to go, it is nonsense to claim that nothing in caste relations
has changed, especially after ex-Untouchables have become Deputy Prime
Minister (Jagjivan Ram, 1977-79), President (K.R. Narayanan, 1997-) and
chairman of the ruling party (Bangaru Laxman, BJP, 19992000). This
evolution provides an opportunity to test the dominant theory that Hinduism
cannot exist without caste: has Hinduism diminished in proportion with
the losses which caste inequality has suffered? The problems besetting
Hinduism are most definitely not due to the withering away of untouchability. On
the contrary, recent conversions to Islam have typically happened in areas
like Meenakshipuram (1981) where discriminations of the Scheduled Castes
are still severe, e.g. where they are harassed by unscrupulous policemen
and seek safety by acceding to the Muslim community.49
Hinduism has everything to gain by liquidating caste inequality as quickly
1.8. Belief in reincarnation
often called the “fifth Veda” and explicitly paying respects to the Vedas,
contains an explicit affirmation of the doctrine of karma and reincarnation. This
doctrine is not attested in the Veda proper (which hints at an afterlife
not unlike the Germanic Walhalla or the Greek Elysean Fields),
and is only in statu nascendi in the great Upanishads, eventhough
there are sophisticated hypotheses detailing the deeper origins of this
doctrine in the Vedic doctrine of sacrifices.50
At any rate-and here we introduce an element which must be taken into account
in any definition of Hinduism-, Hinduism is not a belief system. Its
rules extend to behaviour (âchâra), not to opinion (vichâra).
Therefore, although “belief in reincarnation” is indeed quite common among
Hindus (and Sikhs and Buddhists), it is questionable as a defining characteristic
of Hinduism, modem or ancient.51
Ananda Coomaraswamy, one of the most accurate and profound 20th-century
exponents of Hindu thought, did not believe in individual reincarnation:
with an appeal to Shankara, he thought that “only Brahman reincarnates”,
not some individual soul.52 Within Hindu
tradition, this is a somewhat simplistic view when compared to the doctrine
of the “causal body”, which as carrier of the accumulated karma defines
the individual soul as distinct from the universal Brahman-consciousness.
On the bright side, this simplicity yields a more robust view of human
destiny than the awkwardly moralistic Puranic belief
in an individual soul being rewarded or punished for its past deeds, a
belief which deprives all good and bad events in life of their innocence
by employing them in a cosmic calculus of retribution.53
Indeed, the Upanishadic doctrine of the Self (âtman), which
transcends all individual distinction, may even be read as the very opposite
in spirit of the theory of reincarnation, which extends individuality (jîva)
beyond this life-time to near-eternity.
Staal observes: “A Hindu (…) can but need not believe in reincarnation
or rebirth, or if he believes in them, he may interpret it in so many ways
that it is not clear whether there is a common element in all these diverse
notions.”54 The Hindu view of afterlife and
reincarnation has evolved over the centuries, and it would be wrong to
pin “Hinduism” down on any single one of the stages in this development.
Belief in reincarnation may be found among the majority of contemporary
Hindus and could be used as a valid indication but not as a decisive criterion
1.9. Caste and reincarnation
It has often been
said that the belief in reincarnation is a cornerstone of the caste system.
For instance, Christian author Dr. J. Verkuyl writes: “…the caste system
in India has always been officially justified and legitimized by the doctrine
of karma. Someone’s birth in a higher or a
lower caste or as an outcaste was the consequence of the law of karma.”55
But the fact is that many other societies have known the doctrine of reincarnation
(e.g. the Druze of West Asia) without setting up a division in endogamous
groups, or at least without deriving the need for such a division from
It is especially
remarkable that Buddhism has brought the notion of reincarnation and karma
to most of East Asia, without thereby creating a caste system in those
countries. To be sure, Buddhism never had the intention of reforming
the Chinese, Japanese, Burmese etc. societies in
any direction, and it fully cooperated with and integrated into the existing
feudal and monarchical establishments in these countries; but if caste
were “the necessary sociological manifestation of the moral and philosophical
presuppositions of Hinduism”56, among which
reincarnation and karma are certainly considered the foremost, then these
same notions, even when labelled “Buddhist”, should have had the same effect
on those other societies.
One might reply
that the Buddhist notion of reincarnation is not entirely the same, as
Buddhism “does not believe in the Self”, but that distinction is purely
academic. Commoners belonging to both Hinduism and Buddhism take
the karma doctrine as a ground for fatalism: you have deserved what you
are getting, so don’t complain. People with more philosophical education
take it as a ground for activism: you make your own fate, so do your best.
Practically all of them, excepting a handful of scriptural purists, take
reincarnation as an individual process, as a journey of an individual Self
directed towards its temporary destiny by its specific load of karma.
The Jatakas describe the previous incarnations of the Shakyamuni Buddha;
the Dalai Lama (and all the other institutionally reincarnating lamas or
Tulkus) is believed to be always the same individual reincarnating,
etc.: in actual practice, Buddhists have the same understanding of reincarnation
as Hindus have, relative to their level of education and inclination to
And yet, in countries
at some distance from India where Buddhism became the state religion, it
has not built the same social system. That is because the Buddhist
notion of reincarnation does not motivate people to build a particular
type of society rather than another one, just like the Hindu notion of
reincarnation is not the cause of India’s particular type of society either.
It is simply wrong to deduce an entire social system from abstract metaphysical
notions like karma.
1.10. Taboo on cow-slaughter,
or: are the Untouchables Hindus?
As for the taboo
on cow slaughter, this is definitely accepted by most committed Hindus
(including the Sikhs, but not all tribals) as an intrinsic element of their
religion, at least in the last twenty centuries or so. Anyone not
observing this taboo is ipso facto untouchable. That is why
the Muslim invaders made forced converts eat beef, to prevent them from
being reintegrated in their castes afterwards. Here again, what counts
is not belief but behaviour: Jain scriptures are not particularly fussy
about cows as distinct from other animals, but since the Jains don’t eat
any kind of meat, they are untainted by beef and hence not untouchable.
question whether the Vedic seers practised cow-slaughter is hotly debated
among Hindu revivalists and traditionalists.57
Even the Hindu Revivalist historian K.S. Lal quotes Arabic writer Albiruni (ca.
AD 1000) with approval, when he relates about the Hindus: “for they say
that many things which are now forbidden were allowed before the coming
of Vasudeva, e.g. the flesh of cows”.58 It
is certain that the cow was a sacred animal to the authors of the Vedas,
but it may be precisely because of that sacredness that the cow was sacrificed
and eaten on special occasions. Indeed, P.V.
Kane, the great expert on Dharma Shastra, has written: “It was not that
the cow was not sacred in Vedic times, it was because of her sacredness
that it is ordained in the Vâjasaneyî Samhitâ
that beef should be eaten.”59
At any rate, by
modern consensus the Vedic Aryans ate beef, and if the tribals are not
Hindus on this ground, then neither were the Vedic Aryans. It is
perfectly possible to worship the Hindu Gods but not to observe the Hindu
purity rules, of which the taboo on beef is one; that was historically
the situation of the untouchable castes, who by their profession violated
the taboo on handling dead and decomposing substances (cobbler, barber,
washer, sweeper, funeral worker). If you stick
to such taboos as defining characteristics of a Hindu, then untouchables
are not Hindus. Anti-Hindu campaigners do indeed apply this logic,
to lop off as many parts as possible from Hindu society.60
This would mean that many westernized modern Hindus should also be subtracted
from the Hindu fold, along with the Vedic seers.
as even Christian missionaries admit, “the deep-rooted personal attachment
of the Dalits to the Hinduised form of their ancestral gods and goddesses
(…) make[s] any mass exodus of the Dalits out of Hinduism unlikely.”61
In a religious sense, the Dalits practise Hinduism; a definition of Hinduism
which ignores this, is a bad definition. It is only logical to include
all those who worship the Hindu Gods or who perform Hindu rituals in the
Hindu category. Hinduism is certainly larger than the tradition of
theistic worship of Gods like Shiva, Durga, Rama or local Goddesses, but
at least it must include that devotional tradition. I know quite
a few westernized Hindus who eat meat including beef, but who practise
Hindu rituals, marry their daughters to fellow Hindus etc.; in what religious
category would you put them, if not under the heading “Hindu”?
That indeed is
how the historical leader of the Untouchables, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, saw
it. In the 1930s, when the British pressed him to champion their
plans for institutional separation of the Depressed Classes from the Hindu
category, Ambedkar declared that the Untouchables
were a “separate community”, though practising the “same religion” as the
caste Hindus, comparing their separateness to the separateness of the European
nations in spite of their common religion.62 Though
he hated Hinduism, he admitted that he was born as a Hindu, an Untouchable
Hindu, that his community “worship the same Gods and Goddesses as the rest
of Hindus, they go to the same places of pilgrimage, hold the same supernatural
beliefs and regard the same stones, trees, mountains as sacred as the rest
of the Hindus do”.63 He deduced quite logically
that it would take a formal conversion including an explicit repudiation
of Hinduism (which he performed shortly before his death in 1956) for him
to become a non-Hindu, in his case a Buddhist.
Let us conclude
this section with an instance of the pragmatic way in which a leading Hindu
Revivalist philosopher deals with the admittedly intricate question of
“who exactly is a Hindu?” As we just saw, criteria like taboo on beef-eating
or belief in reincarnation might stamp the Vedic seers as non-Hindus.
This point is exploited by people who want to diminish the semantic extension
of the term “Hindu”, e.g. by spokesmen of the Ramakrishna Mission when
they were trying to get their organization reclassified as a non-Hindu
minority. Swami Hiranmayananda asked a number of semi-rhetorical
questions which were nonetheless pertinent, e.g.: “I want to know something
from Shri Ram Swarup. Were the Vedic people Hindus?” Of course, the
term was not in existence yet, so the Vedic people certainly didn’t call
themselves Hindus. But were they Hindus? This is Ram Swarup’s
I would answer this question by putting a counter-question: ‘Were they
non-Hindus? Were they Muslims? Were they Ramakrishnaites?’
Secondly, I would say that (…) they were (…) people who in later days became
better known as Hindus. People have more names than one and sometimes
old names are dropped or forgotten and new names given or adopted.
Thirdly, (…) though we may not be able to say whether the Vedic people
were Hindus, we quite well know that ‘the religion of the Vedas is the
religion of the Hindus’, to put it in the language of Swami Vivekananda. This
kind of looking at the problem is good enough. It was good enough
for Vivekananda, and it should be good enough for any serious purpose.”64
indeed, the question whether the Vedic seers were Hindus is a contrived
one, and Hinduism can flourish without bothering about it.
Through the Looking-Glass, in The Complete Illustrated Works
of Lewis Carroll, p.184.
Coomaraswamy: Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism, p.207.
given during Tilak’s speech at the 1892 Ganapati festival in Pune; quoted
in D. Keer: Lokamanya Tilak, p. 173-174.
Bharati: Light at the Center, p.155.
Narain: Myth of Composite Culture, p.47.
Narain’s paraphrase (Myth of Composite Culture, p.53) of Mahabharata,
Keer: Lokamanya Tilak, p. 174-175.
in V.D. Savarkar: Hindutva, p. 109.
Savarkar: Hindutva, p. 109.
to the Puranas, Manu Vaivasvata, patriarch of the present human race, or
at least of the Aryas, had ten successors, one of them being Sudyumna,
founder of the Prayag-based Lunar dynasty (another being Ikshvaku, founder
of the Ayodhya-based Solar dynasty). His great-grandson Yayati left
Prayag to conquer western India, and one of his five sons, Puru, acquired
the metropolitan area (East Panjab and Haryana) of the Saraswati basin
where the Vedic tradition was to develop. One of his descendants
(23rd generation starting from Manu) was Bharata, after whom India is named
systematic table of dynastic lists given in the Puranas was prepared by
P.L. Bhargava: India in the Vedic Age, reproduced in S. Talageri:
Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p.338-343. A cross-reference
between these lists and the kings names appearing in the Vedas is given
in Talageri: op.cit., p.345-347.
Jadunath Sarkar: Shivaji, p.158-167. The rivalry between the respective
priests provides a nasty example of Brahminical greed and caste pride,
a frequent point of reference in the Hindutva variety of antiBrahminism
as represented by the Shiv Sena.
Callewaert: India, hetoverende versheideheid (Dutch: “India, enchanting
diversity”), p. 14.
Gandhi: Hindu Dharma, p.8.
Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, p.297 ff.
11:7:24, Satapatha Brahmana 10:5:6:8, Chandogya Upanishad 3:4:1, Kautilya
Arthasastra 1:3, all quoted in S. Talageri: Aryan Invasion Theory and
Indian Nationalism, p. 298.
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol.4, p. 189.
A. Gould: The Sacralization of a Social Order, p. 1. This statement
is at least partly circular, for “traditional” Hinduism (as opposed to
anti-caste reform Hinduism) would be defined precisely as that tendency
within Hinduism which upholds traditional institutions such as caste.
van der Veer: Gods on Earth, p.53.
Tamari: “The Development of Caste Systems in West Africa”, Journal of
African History 1991, p.221-250.
Kumar Datta: “‘Dying Hindus’”, Economic and Political Weekly, 19-6-1993,
MP and Scheduled Caste member B.P. Maurya, replying to Organiser’s question
what Hinduism is (8-9-1996). He strongly advocated conversion of
Hindus to any other religion on the plea that they are all more
egalitarian than Hinduism.
most of these communities, the Arya Samaj with its anti-caste stance has
played a major role. The Arya Samaj is also a factor in the much
lower intensity of caste inequality in the Arya heartland, Panjab.
As Bahujan Samaj Party leader Kanshi Ram, told me (interview at BSP headquarters,
Delhi 1993), he only became aware of the seriousness of caste inequality
when he moved from Panjab to the more backward state of Uttar Pradesh.
Brâhmana was his month, of both his arms was the Râjanya
made. His thighs became the Vaishya, from his feet the Sûdra
was produced.” (RV 10:90:12)
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 1, p.18.
put these words between brackets, because they do not appear in this line
of the Gita (4:13), though Hindu apologists usually pretend that they have
at least been intended by Krishna.
McLean: “Are Ramakrishnaites Hindus? Some implications of recent
litigation on the question”, in South Asia, vol. 14, no. 2 (1991).
(22-9-1907): India’s Rebirth, p.27.
(22-9-1907): India’s Rebirth, p. 27.
(22-9-1907): India’s Rebirth, p. 27.
no bar to be Hindu priest”, Times of India, 8-12-1995.
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 1, p.303. Emphasis added.
Brockington: The Sacred Thread: A Short History of Hinduism, p.3.
Brockington: The Sacred Thread, p. 148.
e.g. J.P. Schouten: Revolution of the Mystics. On the Social Aspects
of Vîtrashaivism; at least for historical data, for in its interpretation,
it overstates the egalitarian “revolution” of Basava, in the usual Christian
tactic of reducing everything Hindu to caste, wholly caste and nothing
but caste. Basava was an ardent Shiva worshipper, to the extent of
feeling close enough to Shiva to neglect the worldly conventions outside.
Virashaiva castelessness and unconcern for purity rules (e.g. in case of
menstrual “impurity”) results from an intense religious, viz. Shaiva-Hindu,
enthusiasm. For a first-hand account of Virashaivism, I thank my
old friend Shambo Linga, who spent seven years as the live-in pupil of
a traditional Virashaiva Guru. He told me how a government official
had to intervene in a Virashaiva-run village school in order to stop caste
discrimination, with Virashaiva children sitting on a platform and others
on the ground. Equality: a long way to go even for self-proclaimed
an analysis of the notion of purity, see the path-breaking study (e.g.
the first to discern the rationale behind Biblical purity rules, p.51-57)
of Mary Douglas: Purity and Danger, esp. p.8 and p. 123-128.
L. Hart, III: “The Theory of Reincarnation among the Tamils”, in W. Doniger:
Karma and Rebirth, p.117.
Schweizer: Indien, Stuttgart 1995, p-97 ff., reproduced in Joachim
Betz: “Indien”, Informationen zur politischen Bildung no.257/1997,
RSS likes to quote Mahatma Gandhi’s appreciation of the absence of untouchability
at RSS Shakhas, e.g. RSS Spearheading National Renaissance, p.23.
Shourie: Worshipping False Gods, p.230. Shourie is arguing against
Dr. Ambedkar’s view that Untouchability is of the essence of Hinduism.
P. Parameswar: Narayan Guru.
the cover text of A. Shourie: Worshipping False Gods.
the cover text of A. Shourie: Worshipping False Gods.
Shourie: Worshipping False Gods, p.381. About “Perivar” Ramaswamy
Naicker, see Amulya Ganguli: “The atheist tradition”, Indian Express,
20-9-1995, and M.D. Gopalakrishnan: Periyar, Father of the Tamil Race.
Shourie: Worshipping False Gods, p.381. The last sentence refers
to the foul language, violent ways and infighting among the low-caste parties
claiming Ambedkar’s legacy. Christian missionaries likewise report
that communities converted to Christianity have progressed much more in
the last half century than the castes which have followed Dr. Ambedkar
into neo-Buddhism or into Dalit activism.
of several more recent cases was reported in Indian Express, 12-2-1995
and in Young India, July 1995: police excesses have triggered off
conversions of Pradhi tribals in central India to Islam. A local
leader declared: “Now they have started laying hands on our women.
We cannot tolerate this. The only way to resist the continued torment
is to embrace Islam. Conversion to Islam would earn the Pradhis the
support of a community which can act as a pressure group.”
Herman W. Tull: The Vedic Origins of Karma.
of the best concise explanations of the theory of reincarnation is by E.
Krishnamacharya: Our Heritage, p.67-74.
Coomaraswamy: Metaphysics, p.74, p.80. p.347n.
e.g. K. Elst: De niet-retributieve Karma-leer (Dutch: “The non-retributive
Staal: Een Wijsgeer in bet Oosten, p. 107.
Verkuyl: De New Age Beweging, p.71.
A. Gould: The Sacralization of a Social Order, p. 1.
classic (though intemperate) summary of evidence for Vedic cow slaughter
is B.R. Ambedkar: Hindus Ate Beef. However, the opposite case
also has its erudite defenders: in his book Sânskrtik Asmitâ
kî Pratîk Gomâtâ (Hindi: “Mother Cow, Symbol
of Cultural Identity”), Rameshwar Mishra Pankaj argues in favour of the
Vedic origin of the cow’s immunity.
Lal: Growth of Scheduled Tribes, p.102, quoting Albiruni: India,
vol.1, p.107. Albiruni uses it as an example of how the Hindu laws, unlike
the Shari’a, are open to change. Vâsudeva is Krishna,
the cow-herd. The depth and nature of the revolution brought about
by Krishna in the Vedic tradition is still insufficiently understood by
Indologists including myself.
Kane: Dharma Shastra Vichar, p.180; quoted by Dr. Ambedkar: The
Untouchables, Ch.11, in Writings and Speeches, vol.7., p.324.
is the stated position of the Bangalore fortnightly Dalit Voice. “Dalits
are not Hindus”. The term Dalit, “broken, oppressed”, was
first used by the Arya Samaj to designate the untouchable Scheduled Castes
in their campaign for dalitoddhâra, “upliftment of the oppressed”.
The term has now largely pushed out the allegedly paternalistic Gandhian
term Harijan, “people of God”, which only unyielding Gandhians like
Arun Shourie keep on using.
Ayrookuzhiel: “The Dalit Church’s Mission: a Dalit Perspective”, Indian
Missiological Review, Sep. 1996, p. 44.
R. Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 9, p. 184-185; discussed
in A. Shourie: Worshipping False Gods, p.227-228.
Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol.9, p. 184.
Swarup: “In reply to Swami Hiranmayananda”, Organiser, 8-10-1995;
Hiranmayanada’s article had appeared on 24-9-1995.
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