Friday, February 06, 2015

Vivekananda, Islam and Hinduism

This blog post is inspired from an article written by the Mr. Padmalochan Nath, which originally appeared on Asomiya Pratidin on 12th of January 2015. I am putting his thoughts to the best of my abilities, for the benefits of all who can't read Assamese.

Fundametalism is an enemy of the Hindus as well as the Muslims.

After British imperialism had successfully established its stronghold and they had started giving stress on modern education in India, which was then available to the upper class influential Indians, a new historically significant phenomena had got created. With modern education, these newly educated youths had developed a certain sense of inferiority on the matter of Hindu religion. They were growing up to a belief that Hindu religion was all about superstitions and archaic socially destructive traditions. A majority of these young Indians who had the fortune of British education were from Bengal, as Calcutta was the Capital of the British empire. The first institute of higher eduction, Hindu College (later renamed Presidency College) was established in the year 1817 at Calcutta. It was during this period of time Raja Ram Mohan Rai had started creating a  strong public opinion against 'Sati-dah pratha' to abolish and ban the inhuman tradition of a wife being compelled to jump in the funeral pyre of her husband, in the name of Hindu religious customs. It was around the same time when the Principal of Sanskrit College, Calcutta, Mr. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar had started the social revolution against child marriage and for remarriage of the widows who had lost their husbands at a young age.

There were two significant waves of social reforms in Bengal then. One was led by Raja Rammohan Rai, Keshub Chandra Sen and Debendranath Tagore with their monotheistic reformist and renaissance movement called Bhakti Movement, and the other was led primarily by the students/alumni of Hindu College with their radical free thinking Young Bengal movement, started by a young teacher of Hindu College, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio.

Raja Rammohan Rai was fluent in Arabic, Parsi and English. He had studied and researched Islam and Christianity, and had formed an opinion that the strength and positivity of Persia's Islam and Christianity of the West came from their institutionalized one Supreme God theology. As a result, Rammohan Rai stopped the idol worship of numerous Hindu Gods and Goddesses and started worshipping the form-less Brahma as the whole and sole, reforming the ancient Hindu religion to create the 'one-formless-supreme God' dharma called the 'Brahmo Dharma'. On the other hand, Head Master of Hindu College Henry Louis Vivian Derozio - a great scholar and a thinker, started influencing a group of intelligent boys in the college to think freely, to question existing religious beliefs and not to accept anything blindly. It started a new wisdom based on hardcore logic and atheist ideology. It was in the same period, when a Hindu College student and a son of an influential rich family of lawyers, Madhusudan Dutta stood against the illogical caste led atrocities, blind beliefs and customs prevalent in the Hindu society of the 19th century Bengal, denounced Hinduism and got converted to Christianity. He was expelled from Hindu College. This expelled student of Hindu College later became one of the greatest poets of Bengal literature and the father of the Bengali sonnet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt.

It was in such a juncture of ancient and modern times in the 19th century of Bengal, Narendra Nath Dutta was growing up in a affluent Kayastha Bengali family to be known as Swami Vivekananda later. He was sensible and an extremely intelligent student. Initially, he was influenced by the Brahma movement started by Raja Rammohan Roy and Devendranath Tagore. However, very soon the short-comings of the Brahma Samaj became evident to him. Brahma Samaj was essentially a fraternity of the rich and educated, and did not have any effect on, or relation with the greater general public of Bengal. In his search for answers, Narendra Nath finally met the renowned priest of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, dedicated to the Goddess Kali - Ramkrishna Paramahamsa. Being a Brahma Samaj follower, Narendra Nath initially opposed idol worship, polytheism and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali. As he grew ready to renounce everything for the sake of realizing God,he finally accepted Ramakrishna as his Guru. Ramakrishna taught him the ideals of 'Jata Mat, Tata path' through the teachings of the Vedanta. He showed him the path of unity in diversity and confluence of differing thoughts. Narendra Nath later took monastic vows and ascended to Swami Vivekananda. Irrespective of that, he was not too convinced and happy about the ideologies of the Vedas. He could not find social solutions to the existing problems of the present material realistic world. Vedantic teachings were all about Gods, spiritualism, renunciation, sacrifice and death. Therefore, Swami Vivekananda started to define and describe the glory of ancient Indian philosophy, keeping the 'present' of that period of Bengal. He devoted himself to express 'Advaita Vedanta' as a religion of the general public. He brought out neo-vedantic teachings to preach Hinduism in a new light which was above all the narrow-mindedness and doggedness of Hinduism. He presented Hinduism with the ideals of the upanishads, without the social evils based on superstitions to the whole world, and gave Hinduism a new meaning and stature. In the 'The Parliament of the World's Religions' opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago, Swami Vivekananda, in reference to the perceived inferiority complex of the Hindus said, "Say it with pride: We are Hindus". Having said that it should be noted that 'that pride of being Hindus' did not have even an iota of ill-feeling or dis-respect to other religions. According to Swami Vivekananda, if one religion is true, then the other religions are true as well.

Indian subcontinent is an union of innumerable religious, linguistic, ethnic, historical and regional diversities. That is why, Swami Vivekananda did not present India as a country of one religion. When he said, '.. we are Hindus', he didn't mean it as a religion. He meant it as a civilization. He presented it as the land of the wisdom of the Advaita Vedanta - the blessed land of virtue where humanity has attained its highest towards generosity, towards purity, towards calmness, and above all, as the land of introspection and of spirituality. He had immense respect for Islam. On his speeches about the prospect of Advaita Vedanta becoming the future religion of humanity, he maintained that although India was fortunate to be ahead in knowing about the theories of advaita, yet it was the Arabs who were first in propagating its practice through their religion of Islam. He very clearly said, "if ever any religion approached to this equality in an appreciable manner, it is Islam, and Islam alone". He was upfront in appreciating the equality that Islam had in both theory and practice. As for India, he stressed that the religion of renunciation to attain ultimate salvation is not as good as the real religion of being in this real world and working towards removing poverty, illiteracy, social evils like untouchability, caste differences and diseases. It is not advisable to run away from the material world, but to bravely face the problems and challenges of the material world. Swami Vivekananda had always stressed that the British imperialism always feared the unity in the diversity of India. They feared the power that emanated from the peaceful co-habitation of the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other religions of India. That is why, British imperialism always tried to use the existing fallacies in the Indian societies to divide us and continue their rule.

With western education, when a section of upper caste philosophers and writers started feeling inferior about being superstitious and started demeaning the viability of the concept of Hindu Rashtra, a new political concept of Hindutva nationalism started gaining foothold. It influenced a significant number of freedom fighters of that era as well, who were biased toward one religious way of life, i.e., Hinduism. In the midst of all that, there were Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das and Bal Gangadhar Tilak who believed in religious unity and found ways and strategies to promote the strength of Hindu-Muslim unity in India's freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi was very fond of both these leaders. He had said, "His (Chittaranjan Das) heart knew no difference between Hindus and Mussalmans.." Bal Gangadhar Tilak once said, "Religion and practical life are not different. To take sanyasa (renunciation) is not to abandon life. The real spirit is to make the country your family work together instead of working only for your won. The step beyond is to serve humanity and the next step is to serve God". However with the untimely death of both these leaders, their philosophy of Hindus and Muslims fighting for India's independence together could not be sustained. In the subsequent times, India saw the steep rise of zingoist Hindutva led political efforts to label Indian Muslims as non-Indians in the fight for independence. In reaction to that, the concept of 'Pakistan' for Muslim self-rule started to get public acceptance, and it marked the arrival of the divisive communal politics during India's freedom struggle. The freedom movement led by the Congress was not that significant and strong then that it could have curbed the advances of these two divisive political ideologies. The leadership of the freedom movement had fallen into the divisive trap of the imperialist British raj. Mahatma Gandhi became helpless. As a result, India was divided into two countries in the name of Independence. Lakhs of Indians died in the ensuing riots and migration to and from Pakistan. What's worse, even the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi had to lay his life to the same jingoist Hindutva brigade.

Swami Vivekananda's idea of independent progressive India that was blessed by the wisdom of the Vedanta was not this. He wished for brotherhood, mutual respect and fondness between the followers of Hinduism and Islam. For a developed India in the future, he wanted a progressive unity between these two great religious ideologies. He had said, "For our own motherland, a junction of the two great systems - Hinduism and Islam: Vedanta brain and Islam body is the only hope". Swami Vivekananda wanted to nourish and nurture 'Indianhood' by conjoining the Vedanta brain and the Islam body. However, it is quite the opposite picture that the present Hindutva politics is painting in the name of development, in the name of Swami Vivekananda. They are even trying to negate and erase the contributions of Islam to the history and heritage of making of India. The term 'Hindu' of Hinduism was coined by the Muslims from Persia, when they couldn't pronounce 'Indus'. The word 'Hindu' neither has its origin in Sanskrit, nor is it found in any of the vedic / ancient literature. Hindu was not even a name given to a religion. First Greek and then Muslim invaders referred to the region of civilization by the banks of the Indus river as 'Indus' and 'Hindus'. So, the name on which the political concept of Hinduism rest, had come from the followers of Islam. Isn't that a contribution?

It was during the times of Buddha and Ashoka, the influence of the culture and traditions prevalent in the region of the present day India had spread all across Asia. That is the reason Gautama Buddha is also called the 'Light of Asia'. When the word Hindu had started getting acceptance as a religious identity, history does not have any mention of any Indian crossing either the Himalayas, or the Indian Ocean for culture and traditions to travel outside. Megesthenes from Greece and Hsuan-Tsang from China had come to India. There is no historical evidence of any Indian going to either Greece or Germany. The Indian religions of today, starting then, have lost their dynamism and somehow are busy preserving their status quo through, at best, reactionary strategies. If effect, religions are nurturing a fundamentalist extremism, rather than doing the opposite. As a result, the ordinary common man of each of the religions are facing various hardships, atrocities and deaths. The worldly Hazrat Muhammad's teachings had unified the whole of Arabia and civilized the various barbaric tribes and sects. Before his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam, and he had united Arabia into a single Muslim religious polity. Islam slowly became one of the major religions of the world, giving rise to wealthy powerful civilizations across the world. However, the present day Taliban, ISIS, Boko Haram and other such terrorist organizations are bringing these progressive Islamic civilizations back to the barbaric period. The wordly Saint Hazrat Muhammad had advised one to even travel to China for education and knowledge. However, Taliban is shooting innocent girls in their heads for they had wanted to get educated. In India as well, a certain set of religiously blind fundamentalist Hindu leaders are trying to portray the killer of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi as a patriot, and want to building a temple in his name. They are trying to eulogize and give public respect to the first fundamentalist Hindu terrorist of Independent India, by building a memoribilia in his name.

According to Swami Vivekananda, the primary objective of religion is to inspire or awaken the positive energies within an individual. He meant to use this positive energy to kill or weaken all the negative energies. The key notion of a civilized world is good-will for each other and spirit of tolerance for well-being of all. According to Swami Vivekananda, the religion (or religions) which cannot impart tolerance and peaceful co-existence of all is not a religion in reality. Like Islamic fundamentalism is an enemy to the common Muslim, Hindu fundamentalism is also an enemy to the common Hindu. It is the time when we - the Hindus and Muslims of India, have to come out of the blinds of our religious fundamentalism to realize the dream of Swami Vivekananda of a progressive united India where all of us unitedly struggle to remove poverty, to provide education and health facilities to the teeming poor of our country.


  1. Anonymous11:55 AM

    Hi Durlav, da this is abhijit bhattacharya, from SSG-volleyball,, I never knew of this blog of yours. I have been following few of your post in FB and your concerns. any way I want to communicate with you through mail ..please send me your mail id. my id is

    1. Thank you Abhijit. Hope you liked reading my thoughts.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Gautam.. More to come. Keep reading. :)

  3. Religious tolerance is definitely deminishing. ..a very good have aptly provided a good historical compilation and perspective best wishe's and hope to read more....

    1. Thank you Priyangshu.. lots to write.


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