Issues

. History? Scripture? Literature?

In what they appear to believe is a masterstroke, the RSS and its Hindutva organisations have found a formula for advancing their agenda of Hindutva in the country. They and their supporters in BJP have all been trained to advance the argument that the Gita, Ramayana, yoga, Ram, Krishna - all these are representatives not of Hindu religion but of Indian culture. In previous attempts though, they have been equating “Hindu” with “Indian” and tried to label everything Hindu as Indian. The latest in the series is the argument that the Gita and Ramayana are Indian historical documents, and not scriptures of Hindu religion. They believe that their argument will be accepted uncritically and will give them a success formula to impose Hinduism, more specifically the domination of Hindu elites, on India in the name of Indian culture. They forget that superfluous, unfounded arguments fail the test of scrutiny as well as the test of time.  

Are the Gita and Ramayana not scriptures of Hindu religion but of Indian culture?  Let me ask them a counter-question. What is Hinduism and what are its main sources and scriptures? Who are the founders and preachers of Hinduism? Who are the avatars they worship? If in answer to these questions, they exclude the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Gita, Ram and Krishna, perhaps they will be right in arguing that these have nothing to do with Hindu religion. By doing so, they will be denigrating not only Hinduism but also these scriptures and personalities. If Ram was a symbol of Indian culture and not Hindu religion, let no temple for his worship be built at Ayodhya. Instead let the Babri Masjid be rebuilt and renamed after Ram who, as I have found in the Valmiki Ramayana, worshipped only one God and did never ask his followers to make statues of him and worship them. Let them tell who the Hindu deities are, and let Ram and Krishna be excluded from the list.  

Now, they are arguing that the Ramayana and Gita are Indian historical documents. In all probability they do not understand what a historical document is. A historical document is a document that describes the details of the historical events and figures of any time in the past with emphasis on time period - from oldest to the most recent. Persons and events in historical accounts must be placed in a certain time and space - temporality and spatiality” being essential. Ramayana and Mahabharata are widely believed to be literary epics and Ram and Krishna are believed to be venerable figures of Hindu dharma. There is also a distinct possibility that they might have actually been historical figures, but not of India. This writer had written a long article describing how the story of Abraham as told in Old Testament (Bible) has certain similarities with the story of Ram as told in Valmiki Ramayana. Even the original name of Abraham was Ab-ram in Bible, meaning Father Ram, and Abraham too had to face expulsion to the forest along with wife Sara (similar to Sitaji) and cousin Lot (similar to Lakshman) where Sara was abducted by the Fir’awn Pharaoh (similar to Ravan) of the time. Not only this, Abraham’s second wife (several Ram kathas describe several wives of Ram) was banished to the forest. Abraham too had two sons, Ishaq and Ismail, like Kush and Lav of Ram. (Please note that this is my personal opinion and not a definitive position of Islamic scholars.) It is quite possible that when Aryans came to India they brought these stories along with them, which then got Indianised. While this comparison may be right or wrong, with no final proof to be sure about, the fact remains that the Ramayana and Mahabharata cannot be described as historical documents. Historians are not unanimous about the timing of Ram. Religious scholars believe his period to be as old as 1,000,000 years ago. These are the kinds of dates which no historian would agree with. Modern historians have two views. Some say that Ram was not a historical figure at all. Others say that if Ram did actually exist, his period could have slightly been more than 5000 BC.  

Compare this with the historicity of the Qur’an. Everybody knows that the first verse of the Qur’an was revealed in 610 AD. The exact date and background of the revelation of almost all of more than 6,000 verses is known. It describes the history of the creation of the universe and its laws, history of creation of mankind, the history of previous messengers of God and the events happening around Muhammad (pbuh) during the 23-year period of revelation. Still, Muslims will not want it to be treated simply as a historical document of the Arab world. To them, it is the Book of God, which provides details about the system of Islam, which is the final version of the religion of God propagated by tens of thousands of messengers in various parts of the world. . Irrespective of the historicity of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, they are of course parts of the religious, cultural and literary history of the country. But if they are important parts of religious and cultural history of India, so are the Qur’an and Bible. For anything to be part of any country, it does not necessarily have to have its origin in that country. British rule originated in England but it is part of Indian history. The Qur’an has influenced hundreds of millions of people in the Indian Subcontinent over a period of more than one thousand years with its 45 percent population accepting the Qur’an as the Book of God and guide for their individual and family lives. How can a book which influenced almost half of the population and led to their conversion to Islam not be regarded as important in the religious and cultural history of the country?
One is fully entitled to taking pride in one’s religion, and there is a justification in the argument why should important epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata not be taught as part of our literary and religious history in the universities. Hindutva protagonists have also been taking pride in stating that excerpts from the Gita and Ramayana are being taught in universities all over the world, including America and Europe. But the same applies to Bible, the Qur’an and other religious scriptures. They must know that full-fledged departments of Islamic Studies are there in major universities in non-Muslim countries. They also need to know that the Law Department of Harvard University has excerpts from the Qur’an at its Entrance Wall as “Words of Justice”. A report says:

“Harvard Law School, one of the most prestigious institutions of its kind in the world, has posted a verse of the Holy Qur’an at the entrance of its faculty library, describing the verse as one of the greatest expressions of justice in history.

Verse 135 of Surah Al-Nisa (The Women) has been posted at a wall facing the faculty’s main entrance, dedicated to the best phrases articulating justice: “O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do.”

Established in 1817, Harvard’s is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States and is home to the largest academic law library in the world.

According to its official website, The Words of Justice exhibition is a testimony of the endurance of humanity’s yearning for fairness and dignity through law. “The words on these walls affirm the power and irrepressibility of the idea of justice.”

There are approximately two dozen quotations on display in the art installation created by the Law School. The three most prominently displayed at the entrance of the art installation are quotes from St. Augustine, the Holy Qur’an and the Magna Carta. According to the Harvard Law School these quotations illustrate the universality of the concept of justice throughout time and cultures.”

The protagonists of Hindutva must also realise the fact that it is religion, which has a direct and bigger effect on culture, and not vice versa. Culture witnesses huge changes when a new religion or new prophet/saint appears anywhere. The Indian culture in Pre-Ashoka period was mainly based on Hindu religion; but with the arrival of Buddhism and Jainism, Indian culture witnessed a sea change. Vegetarianism in Indian culture emanated not from Hinduism but Buddhism and Jainism. When Islam appeared in Arab, it brought huge social and cultural transformation of society. Dresses changed, several festivals changed and the laws of governance and business changed. Slavery started disappearing. The practice of marrying innumerable women was replaced by monogamy or restricted polygamy. Inequality on the ground of race, colour and creed vanished. Alcohol was banned. Gambling and usury were banned too. When Islam arrived in India, another huge wave of changes came into Indian culture with a deep impact on architecture, social norms, dress, language and arts. The Indian culture of today is a combination of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Islamic and Christian religious traditions and cultures.

 I fail to understand how some Hindus can embark upon a path of destroying their own religion for the sake of domination. In fact, the forces of Hindutva are doing a great disservice to their religion by describing its prime personalities and scriptures as symbols of Indian culture and not Hinduism. This dilutes their religion. What is Hinduism without Ram and Krishna and without Mahabharata and Ramayana? If they love their religion, they should instead insist that they belong to Hindu dharma. If they want Indians to read some portions of the books, they must seek a subject on religion in all schools with quotes from all the religions rather than simply theirs. This will give a better understanding to students about all religions. Hindu students will be in a better position to understand how their religion is different from Islam and Christianity. Comparative study of all religions will reduce tensions in between them.

They are totally justified in arguing that religion cannot and should not be sidelined. Unfortunately, Indians belonging to all religions, in fact people all over the world have fallen prey to the designs of the forces of Modernism (Westernism and Communism) that seek to sideline religion in public life. In India, secularism does not mean negation of religion but equal respect to all religions. The atheistic forces of the world have created an atmosphere where religions, instead of fighting the modern morality (which allows the commercialisation of human weaknesses) through united efforts, are fighting one another on the ground of communal hatred. Instead of negating the role of religion, all Indian communities should work for strengthening of religious morality with equal respect to all religions. But for this, all Hindutva and Islamist leaders and organisations will have to abandon their approach based on identity and domination and must instead cooperate with each other in uprooting social evils and making all of us partners in peace and prosperity.  

 Dr Javed Jamil is Delhi-based thinker and writer with over a dozen books including his latest, “Qur’anic Paradigms of Sciences and Society” (First Vol: Health). He may be contacted at
doctorforu123@yahoo.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2015 on page no. 2

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