OPINION: MANTLE OF A HINDU – Hindutva, the Jaswant Singh or Varun Gandhi way ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH EDITORIAL
Aug 8, 2010: Hindu spirituality, or what is perceived by that term, has had an allure for certain Westerners ever since William Jones and his peers discovered the Indian past.
From writers like Christopher Isherwood, who had his epiphany in a meeting by the river with an outstanding scholar, Leopold Fischer, who donned the ochre robe as Swami Agehananda Bharati, to the innumerable flower children who sought instant karma with Mahesh Yogi in the upper reaches of the Ganges and those who want to get rid of their stress though varieties of yoga, there are many to whom the ‘Hindu way of life’ has appeared as a viable alternative to the materialist civilization of the West.
Julia Roberts is the latest distinguished addition to a very long list. The quest is to find inner peace, which seems to elude some in the West through the agency and the rituals of the Christian church of whatever denomination. In Ms Roberts’s case, there is also the search for an escape. She has admitted that she goes to a Hindu temple to “chant and pray and celebrate’’ so that in her next life she will be born as “something quiet and supporting”. She, presumably, has had enough of being a celebrity. It is possible that a similar quest brought George Harrison to Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh.
There is no denying the mystique of India’s past which seems to flow seamlessly into India’s present. The very idea that a verse of poetry, first recited on the banks of the rivers in Punjab around 1000 BC, is still chanted on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi or wherever Hindus gather to worship is enough to bewilder some or send shivers of excitement down the spines of those who are sensitive to religious traditions and their persisting influence.
It is this so-called absence of change in India that evokes wonder among those encountering India from a different culture. Hinduism or the Hindu way of life is equated with this unchanging quality — it is endowed with special powers of redemption and simplified so it becomes adaptable for practice in the West.
Devoted Hindus imbued with the scriptures and practising the rigours of the innumerable rituals that mark the daily life of a conscientious Hindu may well ask what Ms Roberts means when she describes herself as a “practising Hindu”.
Does going to a temple and chanting prayers without knowing their meaning and context make one a Hindu? The very strict would argue that it is not possible to become a Hindu. A person is born a Hindu and remains one.
The idea of conversion is alien to the Hindu way of life. It is not easy to be a Hindu, as current champions of Hindutva have discovered. A Margaret Noble could transform herself into Sister Nivedita through dedicated work and acts of renunciation. In India, fantasy can turn anything into a god but not anyone can become a Hindu.