Tag Archives: Secular

The Hindu Ethos

A very well-articulated article, I thought, from Keerthik Sasidharan capturing what many of us feel within. Appears in The Hindu of November 19, 2017 (there’s no way to reblog onto WordPress, hence…). It’s neither jingoistic in the ‘Hindutva’ sense nor ‘secular’ in the Congress sense.

Here we go:

Away from the heat of reactionary furies and banal identity politics, seeing how Hindu beliefs are formed, sustained and changed

Last week, I visited my ancestral village and found myself listening to family stories told by my aunts who are well into their 70s. These were stories I had heard before. Nevertheless, like always, they were repeated at family gatherings, attesting to the axiomatic truth of all collective storytelling since Vyasa in the Mahabharata: repetition endows potency. In my head, I often divide these family stories into two categories: stories of the times and stories of people. The former are tales of perilous years when hunger was common and scarcity the rule. These aren’t moral tales but merely their recounting — a survivor’s sigh of relief — of how far we have all come from the India of the 1950s to this day. The latter stories about people are invariably morality plays — tales filled with ethical breaches, betrayals, and comeuppance.

This time, I heard a real-life story about a man who was a shrewd and feared feudal presence in their village — the kind who had managed to be both a functionary of the young Communist party and also relentlessly acquire land and wealth. Now in his 80s, after being felled by a stroke, he lay in coma, while, as my aunts described not without some schadenfreude, his children squabbled over his ill-gotten properties even as they refused to shoulder any responsibility towards his care. It all seemed a bit squalid, but none too uncommon, familial tragedy in play. What struck me vividly, however, was a statement by one of my more religious aunts: “It is inevitable given the [bad] karma he accrued by unconscionably fleecing illiterate Mapillahs [Muslims of Malabar] off their lands.”

Everyday secularism

Irrespective of the truth of her statement about his purported actions, what struck me was the ease with which a religious Hindu woman could imagine that a Hindu man could “pay” for his actions towards Muslims. The doctrine of karma, as she understood it, supplemented her intuitions about justice towards a fellow citizen, irrespective of her fellow citizen’s faith in the very same doctrine. It is this generosity of her theological interpretations, made on her own — without the sanction or permission of a clergy, without the approval from a book — that allowed her to be secular in practice without any supervised tutelage of the state regarding secularism. In many ways, she is not unique for a practising Hindu across India. But hers is the kind of everyday secularism borne from the generosity of her religious piety that is often mistaken by Hindutva ideologues for weakness and is often ignored by Left liberals who have little use for religion, far less religiously inspired ethical commitments.

The inner lives of devout Hindus gains all the more salience this week as Kerala begins to celebrate the next three months as a period earmarked for expressions of bhakti. Public and private forms of religiosity will soon decorate the streets. Millions of men from all of south India, dressed in black, heady with vows of brief asceticism, will trek to the temples at Sabarimala. Innumerable festivals at large and obscure temples, performances of various temple arts, concerts and processions, readings and discourses that run for days, if not weeks — it is all quite extraordinary. All of these are public reiterations of a way of living that has evolved over decades, if not centuries — a way of bookmarking human existence as seasons change and time flows.

Being a Hindu

Given all this, it is tempting to think of these external displays as the sole marker of being a Hindu. But unlike Islam or even doctrinaire forms of Christianity, what is less explicitly understood are the set of beliefs that constitutes one’s self-identification as a Hindu. What does ‘being Hindu’ mean? This is a question whose answer goes well beyond any worship of a god or belonging to a specific constellation of traditions (sampradaya). The answer — not in an academic or anthropological sense, but as a lived practice — is inescapably tied to the question of what does “being” mean? And then upon answering that, asking what does the descriptor “Hindu” entail. There are maximalists who argue that being human and being Hindu is the same. On the flip side, there are those who deny — usually after suffering from various inequities within the Hindu society — that one can’t be Hindu and human simultaneously. For most people, the truth lies in the proverbial middle not because that is the easy way out but because most human experiences are rarely at the extremes. To answer what it is to be a Hindu in our times is then ultimately an exercise to reduce an archipelago of subjective understandings into an island of objective knowledge.

The result is that most writings about being Hindu, even by “insiders”, is indistinguishable from historical accounts of concepts, a cornucopia of myths, or are explorations of high philosophical subtleties. All of these are important, of course, but ultimately they are merely the scaffolding inside which Hindu identities learn to organise their inner worlds. If we are to be students of modern India, then this means learning to see how Hindu beliefs, commitments and affiliations are formed, sustain and change. To do this, away from the heat of reactionary furies and banal identity politics, is to learn to see the world for what it is.




Source: The original article appears here. Thanks, Siddharth for the forward.


An Old Story And A New Question

This well known story about Ganesha, nicely put together by the author was narrated in brief to a bunch of kids. I assure you won’t be bored. And there is some interesting stuff at the end of the story.

Ganesh is born of divine parents and is himself a divine being. According to the Hindu mythology, in the snow-capped mountains of Kailash, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi, the divine couple, live with their two divine children, Ganesh and his brother Karthik, also known as Karthik.

This is the tale of those days when both Ganesh and Karthik were very young.

Ganesh being the elder son, was full of patience and wisdom. Karthik, on the other hand, was impish and playful. But both of them were intelligent and powerful.

The two brothers had much difference in their physique. While Ganesh had a massive body with a big belly and an elephant’s head, young Karthik was a beautiful boy with strong limbs. They were kind to everybody and were loved by all.

Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi loved their two children and they in turn were devoted to their parents. The Devas (deities) were pleased with the lovely divine children and they worshipped them.

But one day, as the Devas talked about the qualities of the brothers, a doubt arose in the mind of one of them:
“Who is the wiser of the two brothers?” he asked the others “Ganesh or Karthik?”

Soon this doubt spread to all the Devas. All of them were talking and expressing their opinion about the matter. But no one could surely decide upon the matter. As they racked their brains to solve the issue, suddenly, a Deva got an idea.

“I know whom to ask!”, said he. As others looked at him curiously, he continued, “Lord Brahma. He is the Creator of the world. He should know the answer, so let’s ask him! He can surely solve this doubt.”
Without any more delay, the Devas rushed to Brahma and asked their Creator about their doubt. Brahma was surprised to see all the deities, together.

“Such a pleasant surprise! What brings you here?”

The Devas told Brahma about their doubt. “O lord Brahma, who is the wiser brother?”, asked they, “Ganesh or Karthik?”
Shiva 2
“Alas, I do not know!” replied Brahma. “I am the creator of mankind, not divine beings. Ganesh and Karthik were born to the celestial gods Shiva and Parvathi.”

The Devas were disappointed. Even the Brahma did not know! Then they would not be able to have an answer, after all.

Looking at their glum faces, Lord Brahma decided to help them. “It is true that I do not know who is the wiser of the two young Gods”, he thought. “But I can probably find it out with the help of my son Narada”.

Narada, the son of Lord Brahma, was a mischievous sage who was famous for creating disputes. Wherever he went, he created trouble.

But if he got away with all his pranks and without getting cursed it was only because the trouble he caused usually ended on a happy note.

“Narada, help the Devas. Find the answer to their question,” said Brahma after explaining the problem.
“Certainly, Father,” replied Narada, and his eyes twinkled naughtily, smelling an opportunity to play a prank.

Using his magical powers Narada swiftly flew over the white mountains of Kailash and, in no time, arrived at the divine abode of Shiva and Parvathi. He was warmly welcomed by the heavenly couple.

“O Shive, Saviour of the Universe!, O Devi Parvathi !” Narada praised the Lord. “I thank you for your warm welcome. It is indeed a pleasant joy and an honour to see you both together as the Divine Couple”.

Everyone knew about Narada’s mischievous nature. Shiva understood that Narada was up to some mischief. “Now tell us the truth. I can sense some mischief brewing in your mind. What is the prank you are planning to play on us?” he said jokingly.

Narada pretended to be hurt. “You greatly insult me, Lord Shiva! I have just come here to give you a gift,” he said in a sorrowful voice.

“A gift for me? What is it Narada?” asked Lord Shiva. Narada, hearing the eagerness in Shiva’s voice smiled to himself in amusement. He produced a golden mango and gave it to the Lord.

“A mango!” exclaimed Shiva. “Now don’t say you traveled all the way here to give me this fruit.”

“It is no ordinary fruit, my Lord,” Narada replied. “The taste of this fruit is said to be sweeter than nectar. This is the divine fruit of knowledge that bestows eternal wisdom to those who eat it.

“Is it so?” asked Shiva, looking at the mango. He then asked his wife Parvathi to have a bite.

Parvathi was surprised. “Oh no, I don’t want it! You are my husband. How can I eat it without you having a taste of it?” she refused.

Both Lord Shiva and Narada requested her to eat the fruit but Parvathi steadily declined. “Instead, let one of our children have the fruit,” she suggested.

“But, how is that possible?” asked Narada slyly. “There is one fruit and two children. Who should be given the fruit – Ganesh or Karthik?”

While the elders were talking, Ganesh and Karthik appeared in Kailash. They saw that their parents and Sage Narada were having some serious talk on something. Then Karthik noticed something yellow and round in Narada’s hand.

“What is Uncle Narada having in his hand?” Karthik asked Ganesh. Ganesh was equally curious.

“This is a magical mango, Karthik, “Narada replied, as he heard Karthik’s question.”I gave it to your Father but he wanted your Mother to eat it. But she won’t have it. She wants to give it to one of you”.

“A magical mango? I love mangoes!” shouted Karthik, “I want it! I want it!”.

“No, no, it should come to me. I love mangoes too! I’m the eldest son and the right one to eat the fruit of knowledge,” argued Ganesh. Soon the brothers started fighting.

The divine parents were perplexed. This is nothing but a mountain out of a molehill. Lord Shiva looked at Narada. “So this is why you came to Kailash! I knew it! I knew there was something in your mind. Well done Narada, you have finally played the trick. This is why you came here. But now that you have created trouble, please solve it. You decide to whom the mango should go to,” he said firmly.

Narada was delighted that his plan was working so well. “Why don’t we could have a competition to settle the matter?” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

“The children agreed to Narada’s suggestion. Lord Shiva thought over the matter.

Shiva 1

“All right, then.” said he, “We’ll have a contest. Whoever of you goes around the world three times and returns first will get the fruit,” he said to his children.

Hearing this, Karthik immediately mounted his vehicle, the peacock. His brother Ganesh was slow and fat. Karthik laughed to himself in glee. He was very certain that he would win.

Ganesh too, understood that his vehicle, the mouse, could not compete with the peacock’s speed. So he thought for a moment. Suddenly, he got an idea. Ganesh smiled to himself.

Karthik flew around the world stopping at all temples and sacred spots on the way and offering his prayers. To his astonishment, he found Ganesh at every major stop. Karthik was puzzled. How did Ganesh manage to be so fast?

The reason was the razor-sharp intelligence and the great wisdom of Ganesh. Back in Kailash, Ganesh remembered that his parents Shiva and Parvathi represented the entire universe. Without delay, the young elephant-headed god walked around his parents with great devotion, folding his hands.

“Why are you circling us Ganesh?” asked Lord Shiva.

“I’m your son and to me, you two make up my whole world. Why should I go further to win the contest?” replied Ganesh.

Shiva was pleased with his elder son’s smart answer and gave the magical fruit to him.

When Karthik returned after his voyage, he understood what had happened and accepted the superiority of his clever brother Ganesh. The Devas found the answer to their doubt. They praised and blessed Ganesh.

Narada chuckled to himself. His father had praised him too. So did the Devas.

The story was told inviting a lot of interaction from the kids to keep them actively engaged.

Quite expectedly there was a furry of questions at the end of the narration.

The one question that stood out was: ‘After winning, why Ganesha did not share the fruit with Karthikeya?’

The narrator had missed out including in her abridged story, the specific injunction from Sage Narada against splitting the fruit into halves for it would then lose its magical power.

So we can take comfort we are bringing up good sharing and caring citizens for future?

Does the credit for the kids imbibing praise-worthy values go to secular education they are receiving in US schools?


Source:  kidsgen.com/fables_and_fairytales/ has this beautifully narrated story and many more. Shared by Nithya, the narrator.