Guruji: A drishta-V
The Supreme Court and Guruji independently agree and converge to say that the term “Hindu” is “undefinable”, “Undefinable because it comprises all”, “without a beginning”, and “bewilderingly complex but with a thread of indescribable unity running through”, with “all attempts to define Hindu/Hinduism being incomplete and inadequate”. Read on to know the unique convergence of two independent streams of thought – the socio-cultural and judicial-constitutional. This part and few more parts following will capture this incredible convergence.
Connecting Hindus to their past – not an academic exercise, but integral to nation building
Who is a Hindu and what is the definition of Hinduism have been questions that have bewildered the best minds in religion, history, philosophy, politics and finally even judiciary. When Guruji was articulating the concepts Hindu, Hindu culture and Hindu Rashtra, he was up against the White scholars with colonial perspective and Left thinkers in India with political objective to deny the due historic antiquity to the term “Hindu”. The Left scholarship dated its origin as something as recent as 8th century and also credited the Arabs with having baptised the Hindus with the name “Hindu”! The challenge that the founder of the RSS Dr Hedgewar and later Guruji faced was how to convince the Hindus, who were educated to believe that they had no common identity, that they were known as ‘Hindus’ before Christianity and Islam and that they had a common cultural heritage and identity connecting them to their land and dating back to thousands of years. Without being so convinced, the Hindus cannot connect to and own their great past. And without their so connecting and owning their past, Indian nationalism will remain undefined and incomplete. So it was no academic exercise to connect the Hindus to their past, but it was inevitable and integral to the nation building work of RSS. The challenge became more acute with the rise of the RSS and in Guruji’s time, particularly after Independence.
Guruji on “Hindu”
And Guruji, who was speaking the obvious facts about Hindus, also knew that what was obvious was the most difficult thing to explain and understand. So while explaining the meaning of “Hindu”, he first conceded that it was difficult to define “Hindu” (Bunch of Thoughts 72) He went on to explain the “Undefinable Hindu” thus: With its whole existence based on God,“the Hindu society has developed in an all-comprehensive manner, with a bewildering variety of phases and forms, but with one thread of unification running inherently through the multitude of expressions and manifestations. All sects, the various castes in the Hindu fold, can be defined, but the term ‘Hindu’ cannot be defined because it comprises all. Of course many attempts at definition (of Hindu) have been made from time to time, but all such definitions have proved to be incomplete. They do not express the whole truth and it is but natural in the case of a people….evolving for the last so many scores of centuries.” (ibid 73) He went further: “The origin of our people….is unknown to the scholars of history. In a way we are ‘anadi’, without a beginning. To define such a people is impossible………..We existed when there was no necessity for any name.” (ibid). Here is the summary of Guruji’s initial propositions on Hindus: One, the Hindu is undefinable; two, the Hindu society is bewilderingly complex but with a thread of unity running inherently; three, parts of Hindu society is definable but not the whole because it comprises all; four, all definitions of Hindu have proved to be incomplete; five, Hindu is “anadi”.
Debate with Guruji evaded
From the moment Guruji inherited the mission of RSS from Dr Hedgewar in 1940, he toured the length and breadth of India at least twice a year and kept enlightening the Hindus about their origin dating before history, their culture, traditions and reminding them about their glorious past. His tours were the largest and most persistent open air education to question and clear the misconceptions of campus education of Colonial and Independent India. Guruji’s conceptualisa-tion of Hindu, and the Hindu Culture and Hindu Nation based on it, was dismissed, summarily and without debate, as communal and anti-secular. In an effort to contain the RSS and impede the nation-building work of Guruji, the political and intellectual India have been campaigning since Independence that Hindu identity to India communalises the nation. Guruji was himself unfairly targeted as anti-Muslim and anti-modern. In refusing to engage in debate with Guruji and by substitute abuse for debate, the intellectual and secular India were not only unfair to Guruji, but also unfair to Hindus and to the nation itself of which the Hindu society constituted the core. And it was not until the Ayodhya movement of 1980s and 1990s which forced a debate on the concepts ‘Hindu’, ‘Hindutva’, ‘Hinduism’ and Hindu ‘culture’, evaded by vested interests for decades, that a meaningful debate on the concepts ensued.
Guruji and Supreme Court converge on “Hindu”
The Ayodhya movement ultimately placed the concept of Hindutva in the hands of the Supreme Court. The Court was asked to consider in the Hindutva case in 1995 whether Hindu, Hinduism, Hindutva, and Hindu culture were communal and anti-secular. It was then that the highest judiciary virtually endorsed, as this part and the parts that follow explain, the views Guruji has been articulating for decades, of course without referring to him by name.
“The un-definable Hindu”, “all definitions incomplete”: Guruji said decades ago that “Hindu (or Hinduism) cannot be defined” (p72-73) and added that “many attempts” at defining Hinduism “have been made from time to time, but all such definitions have proved to be inadequate”. And the Supreme Court concluded in the Hindutva case independently concurring with that what Guruji had said, by quoting from the Encyclopedia of Britannica which had said: “Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved unsatisfactory in one way or another, the more so because the finest scholars on Hinduism, including Hindus themselves, have emphasized different aspects of the whole” (Hindutva case p1129).
The Supreme Court also added, “It is a matter of common knowledge that Hinduism embraces within itself so many diverse forms of beliefs, faiths, practices, and worship that it is difficult to define the term ‘Hindu’ with precision” (Hindutva case p. 1129)
“With a thread of unity running through”: Guruji said that “the Hindu society has developed in all-comprehensive manner, with a bewildering variety of forms, but with one thread of unification running through inherently”. (Bunch of Thoughts p73). The Supreme Court view is identical. It says that, “underneath that divergence there is a kind of subtle indescribable unity which keeps them within the broad and progressive Hindu Religion” (Hindutva case p. 1128). What Guruji sees as “inherent” thread of unity amid bewildering diversity, the Supreme Court explains it as “subtle indescribable unity” which lies “underneath the divergence”. The Court also approvingly referred to earlier decisions to the effect that “this being the nature of the religion, it is not strange that it holds within its fold men of divergent views and traditions which very little in common except a vague faith in what may be called the fundamentals of Hindu religion. [Hindutva case p1129]
“Undefinable because it comprises all”: Guruji said that Hinduism is “undefinable because it comprises all”. The Supreme Court quotes the Encyclopaedia which approves Gurujis view. “In principle Hinduism incorporates all forms of worship without necessitating the selection or elimination of any. The Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation, whatever it may be, and is doctrinally tolerant, leaving others – including both Hindus and non-Hindus – to whatever creed and worship practices suit them the best. A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu…..Few religious ideas are considered to be finally irreconcilable. The core of the religion does not even depend on the existence or non-existence of God or whether there is one God or many. Since religious truth is said to transcend verbal definition, it is not conceived in dogmatic terms.” So Hinduism can only be described, not defined.
“Without a beginning”:Guruji said decades earlier that “we”, comprehending the Hindu religion, society and culture, “are ‘anadi’, without a beginning”. (Bunch of Thoughts p73). Decades later, in 1976 and again in 1995, the Supreme Court approvingly quoted the Encyclopaedia of Britannica, to say “Hinduism is thus both a conglomerate of religions with neither a beginning, nor a founder, nor, a central authority hierarchy or organisation” (Hindutva case p. 1129) and concurred with Guruji that Hinduism was without a beginning or “anadi’.
It is relevant here to briefly state the historicity of the ‘anadi’ Hindu. The theory of the left historians, Romila Thapar and DN Jha, that the word ‘Hindu’ was given currency by Arabs in the 8th century (Romila Thapar. A history of India. Vol 1. Harmondsworth 1966. DN Jha Ancient Indian Historical Outline New Delhi 1998) stands demolished by Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (1926-76 Ed reprint 2003) edited by James Hastings (Published by T&T Clark Continuum Imprint London) which says: “The name ‘Hindu’ appears in the form “Hindus” in the inscription on the monument Darius Hystaspes near Persepolis (circa 486 BC) ‘Hod(d)u’ in the later Hebrew literature (Est11 89) and in its modern form (circa 440 BC) in Herodotus (iii.8)” (See Vol VI. P686). Undeniably, the term “Hindu” dates prior to Christianity.
The views of the Supreme Court and Guruji are also incredibly identical on the following subjects, namely, that Hinduism is a way of life, not a narrow religion; that Hinduism is compatible with secularism; that respect for all faiths is the nucleus of Hinduism; that Hinduism welcomed and protected other faiths; that Hinduism accepts, not just tolerates other faiths; that Hinduism itself protects minorities; that Hinduism had no animosity to Muslims; that Indianisation does not mean Hinduisation; that the other religions practised narrow concept of religion; that Hindu unity in diversity is recognised in the Constitution of India; that the Hindu view is based on universal receptivity; and that Hinduism harmonises heterogeneity like a tree harmonies its branches. Read on for this incredible convergence.