Wednesday 25 December 2013

Back to the roots and basking in glory

Joe D' Cruz is an eminent Tamil writer who established for ever his place in Tamil literary field with his first work: 'World surrounded by Ocean' (Aazhi Choozh Ulagu: a phrase from Kamba Ramayan). His second work 'Korkai' is about the ancient port town Tuticorin. The epic narrative of 'Korkai' traces through multiple layers an inner chord of spiritual struggle between an earth-bound goddess tradition and an imposed system alien to that tradition. A dwindling, community leadership almost becoming endangered and ultimately extinct was painfully aware of the loss. Joe d Cruz explains this from the retold memories about a community leader, a generation or two ago.

Thonmichael was not as much interested in positions of power and leadership titles as he was charged when it comes to his community's concerns. It is said that after he assumed position, in a very short period, he started giving life to abandoned traditions. He cried in inner agony how the Catholic religion that had demanded the lives of thousands and thousands of Parathava fishermen as sacrifice, was today presiding as a mute witness over the destruction of their very social fabric fiber by fiber. He would often lament, with a pained heart, what faith these foreigners had imported here which was not there already in our people. Reviving the old tradition, on the day of his coronation (as community head) he would go and get Darshan at the Goddess temples of Kanyakumari, Madurai, Thiru Uttarakosa Mangai and Korkai Santhanamari and do special pujas there.  ('Korkai', pp.21-22)

However the destruction of the Goddesses traditions was done by forces that knew what they were doing. There were precise political and power equations involved. However amidst the waves of ocean and away from the grips of temporal power structures, the conversations of simple fishermen portrayed in the novel, bring out the socio-political equations of theological imperialism:
“Hey, I am talking about the white man. Arabs and Greeks before him came here only for trade but not for planting his flag here and govern over us.”
“Now this… this is really a fair statement”
“OK… They trade and they even capture power… Let them do that. But why should they propagate their religion here?”
“Oh… that? That is because, even with all his military and trade, people here will see him as an enemy and outsider. This he knew. To change that perception completely, that is possible only through religion. This he knew. We sing hymns to our Virgin Mary as 'standing on the crescent moon and wearing sun for her robes, and twelve stars on her crown'. Now, if we are told to worship Santhana Mariamman instead of Virgin Mary will we then do it?”

“What kind of thing you are talking?”, Lonchin asked.
“That is exactly what the white man has achieved. Boy! Know one thing for sure … Our Santhana Mari Amman and Our Kanyakumari Amman are no ordinary goddesses. In this expanse of ocean, they alone are our protection. Remember that.” ('Korkai', p.79)
The novel presents individuals who resist the powers of establishments which are imposed on their community. And that results in a paradox. While the imposed power structures have alienated the Parathava fishermen community from the other communities of the land, the individuals within the community who resist the power structures stand alienated within the community itself. And is it this alienation within, that has made these individuals realize the eternal embrace of the Mother who is waiting for her children to return?
When fishermen leave the terra firma and find themselves amidst the roaring waves, at the mercy of the primal forces of nature, the Goddess returns to the memory of her children in all her glory, untouched by patriarchal theological covers. Joe de Cruz portrays the moment of the resurfacing of the Mother, through various conversations studded throughout the novel:

From the stern came Philians voice, “We have crossed Kolachael tower and now Kumari light is visible”
“Then break a coconut for Kumari Mother” said Lenchin. ('Korkai', p.87)
The next wave wrathfully entered the deck and retreated back with the ropes and other things from there.
“Aamu… we have left Her whom we worshipped for generations and are doing today many other things. Santhana Mari please save us and get us safely to the shore. When in the sea we cry to Santhana Mari and when we reach shore we go to Mary? We will come one day to your own temple Mother and we will light the lamp and we will celebrate your festival.” ('Korkai', p.145)

The whole novel can be seen as a cyclic narrative that starts with a previous generation of community leaders feeling the widening spiritual vacuum created by the imposed structures and ends with a descendent of this vibrant community feeling the complete alienation in the end of his life. And both hear the voice of the Eternal Mother calling forth her lost children. The fishermen community, whose more democratic traditional social structures have been usurped by power structures that are pyramidal with string pullers elsewhere, is today undergoing the awakening of a new consciousness which is actually as old as the dawn of human race itself.  
Swami Vivekananda once gave a moving picture of a global spirituality that is always alive and whose true inner fire no proselytizer can destroy:

Here is the selfsame Old Shiva seated as before, the bloody Mother Kâli worshipped with the selfsame paraphernalia, the pastoral Shepherd of Love, Shri Krishna, playing on His flute. Once this Old Shiva, riding on His bull and laboring on His Damaru travelled from India, on the one side, to Sumatra, Borneo,
Celebes, Australia, as far as the shores of America, and on the other side, this Old Shiva battened His bull in Tibet, China, Japan, and as far up as Siberia, and is still doing the same. The Mother Kali is still exacting Her worship even in China and Japan: it is She whom the Christians metamorphosed into the Virgin Mary, and worship as the mother of Jesus the Christ. Behold the Himalayas! There to the north is Kailâs, the main abode of the Old Shiva. That throne the ten-headed, twenty-armed, mighty Ravana could not shake — now for the missionaries to attempt the task? — Bless my soul! Here in India will ever be the Old Shiva laboring on his Damaru, the Mother Kali worshipped with animal sacrifice, and the lovable Shri Krishna playing on His flute. Firm as the Himalayas they are and no attempts of anyone, Christian or other missionaries, will ever be able to remove them 

What Joe D Cruz has captured in the local flavors of his literary masterpiece, is that sound of Siva's drum, that music of Kali's dance and the beauty of Krishna's flute - an emerging spiritual consciousness whose roots are deep and connect across entire humanity obliterating the barriers of space, time, nationalities and cultures. He has captured the spirit of a people so unique to his own community and yet so universal to all communities across the globe who have lost their original identity to imposed structures. It is the voice of the truly silenced souls that is crying out through his pen. And those who can hear are indeed blessed in their heart for theirs is a tomorrow of harmonious co-existence not only among communities and nations but also with the entire planet. 
Yuva Bharati joins the Tamil world in conveying its congratulations to Joe D Cruz on the occasion of his novel 'Korkai' winning the Sahitya Academy award. D' Cruz has come to Vivekananda Kendra camps to enlighten our young workers about the roots of history and the problem of identity. That he received this on the 150th year of Swami Vivekananda's birth centenary makes us feel happy and proud. 

Aravindan Neelakandan

Mars Mission and India’s Vision

India launched its Mars mission Mangalyaan – mission to planet Mars in November 2013.  As the PSLV- C25 with India's Mars Orbiter on board lifts off majestically at 2.38 p.m on November 5, 2013 from the first launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, a new saga opened up in Indian space odyssey. The real start for all these happened during the first anniversary of Pokhran-II.  It was a passing remark by Dr.K.Kasturirangan then chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), in Delhi on May 11, 1999 that actually triggered the chain of events which ultimately culminated in the two milestones in Indian space research in less than one decade. That simple sentence was “India has the capability to undertake a mission to the moon.” The statement made a deep impact on the then union minister for science and technology Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi.  After the lecture the physicist-minister inquired the space scientist if he could materialize what he had declared in the podium. When Kasturirangan nodded in affirmation, Joshi promised all help from his government.  The project was analyzed in all its details before it was decided to give a full go ahead. In 2003 August 15th speech the then Prime Minister announced the world that India would launch its moon programme – he called it Chandrayaan.  

Both Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan have something in common with another scheme that comes from the same era. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is a scheme conceived in 1999 a national mission to achieve universal primary education.  Chandrayaan, Mangalyaan and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan – they all have one thing in common.  What can high flying space missions have in common with the ground level fight against illiteracy and school-drop out percentage?

It is a well ingrained Indian ethos.
Kopillil Radhakrishnan, the current chairman of ISRO, explained how ISRO made Mangalyaan the world's least-expensive Mars probe. Dismissing the phrase 'frugal engineering' which was increasingly used by the western media, he stated: “ISRO's general philosophy is cost effectiveness. The Russians look for robustness and the Americans go after optimization. Our aim at ISRO was how do we get to Mars on a budget.” Yes. It is cost-effectiveness that is the connecting string between Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. In the words of Dr.Joshi who conceived the SSA, “The basic thrust will be to come up with innovative techniques. Low-cost teachers from the community can make a school. The buildings can come up later."  Cost-effectiveness permeates almost all aspects of Indian technological innovations. In India wireless technologies have been developed to connect rural uses with switch exchanges at low costs, thus opening up rural areas.

The cost-effective designing of Indian technologists can change the way the space research is being conducted. One of the important programmes of ISRO is also the most innovative of ISRO's near future project: scramjet Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) which has been named Avatar. The Avatar is a hyperplane vehicle that can take off from conventional airfields, collect air in the atmosphere on the way up, liquefy it, separate oxygen and store it on board for subsequent flight beyond the atmosphere. The Avatar-RLV was first announced in May 1998 at the Aero India 98 exhibition held at Bangalore. Avatar can give India a great edge in global space research. Gregory Benford an astro-physicist at the University of California and an advisor to NASA and the Whilte House Council on Space Policy states that the Avatar RLV project will enable India to leap ahead of Chinese and once the low-cost to orbit comes alive it will drive cheaper methods of doing all our unmanned activities in space.

In the 1960s, Vikhram Sarabhai the architect of the Indian Space Program observed: 
There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.

When in 2013 we look with pride at the way we have become a serious player in global space programmes, we should also remember that actually ISRO has contributed vastly and innovatively to the problems humanity faces down at the earth. In fact ISRO has the largest such human-development oriented contribution by any space agency –even those of highly developed nations with huge budgets. In this connection Swami Vivekanadna has been a great inspiration to the scientists of ISRO. Dr.T.G.K.Murthy a renowned scientist of ISRO had worked in ISRO for forty years. He had developed number of novel electro-optical systems, having application in diverse disciplines such as Agriculture, Geology and Defense. He attributed his success to Swami Vivekananda, who changed the course of his life through his remarkable ideas and values like truthfulness, purity, modesty and humility. Cost-effectiveness and humanity-oriented research are the hallmarks of Indian Space Research Organization. Hence its successes are the successes of a civilization that is after centuries of subjugation claiming its place among the world nations and is becoming a guiding inspiration to the developing previously colonized countries. In effect the efforts of ISRO are fulfilling the vision of Swami Vivekananda of declaring the great Mother India to the world in the voice of peace and benediction.   
 Aravindan Neelakandan

Thursday 12 December 2013

Of a Sacrifice and a Sacrilege

Lance Naik Mohammed Firoz Khan of the Indian Army's 38 Rashtriya Rifles counter-insurgency unit postponed proceeding on leave for Eid this week to remain on patrol on the Line of Control (LC) in Jammu & Kashmir. A day before the festival, he was killed in heavy shelling by the Pakistan Army in Poonch sector of the frontier. The Pakistani violation was part of a near continuous series of unprovoked violations of the ceasefire by Pakistan Army units deployed on the LC. On that day a heavy exchange of fire began this morning at 10.40AM in the Krishna Ghati area in Poonch and Bhimber Gali area in Rajouri. 31-year-old Lance Naik Khan, who lived in Hyderabad, leaves behind his wife and two young children. 
Let us salute this great son of Hindustan! It is for us the citizens living in the comfort of the safety that our soldiers provide us through such supreme sacrifices, to make our lives worthy of these sacrifices. It is for us ordinary citizens to remember that Jammu and Kashmir is with us because brave young men and women have chosen to battle under harsh terrain, far away from their loved ones, enduring extreme weather and fighting a barbaric enemy from across the border and often betrayed by a treacherous political class from within the border. Every inch of our border has been sanctified by countless sacrifices made by families like that of Mohammed Firoz Khan. So let us honour the memory of this great son of India by rededicating ourselves to a prosperous and strong India and hope that with such strength emanating from all sections of the nation–not only from the soldiers but also from the polity and media- the alien aggressors will cease such unprovoked violations in the border.   

Meanwhile comfortably safe within the corridors of power, in JNU campus, a bunch of crackpot theorists calling themselves academicians conducted a seminar in honour of 'Mahishasur' – calling the demon 'a martyr' of Dravidian people, who was killed by an Aryan prostitute called 'Durga'.  Originally peddled by a party-hopping politician from Bihar this crackpot perversion has been embraced by a powerful cartel of academic anti-Hindu forces. Prof.Kancha Ilaiah a political science professor from Osmania University has been for some time making such crackpot racial theories and propagating them. Though he himself is not a Dalit, he is promoted by a US based organization called 'Dalit Freedom Network' (DFN) which in turn is part of an umbrella of organizations connected to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). CSW is run by extreme right wing politicians from Europe and US. It is quite amusing to see that in attacking Hindu culture and spirituality the ultra-left in India does not hesitate to make itself a puppet in the hands of string pullers belonging to the Western rightwing. Usually Hindus in their characteristic way may think that such utter nonsensical perversions are not even worthy of condemning even. However such an attitude of silence will only lead to the strengthening of these forces of darkness. And given the fact that our educational system has been specially designed to uproot us from our culture, we have a whole generation of cultural illiterates who often mistake rhetorical slogans for insightful perspectives. Hence attempts like the ones done by JNU 'academic' crackpots should be countered and condemned energetically in every possible way allowed in the democracy. 

Such motivated denigration of Goddess worship has been the bane of the collective psyche of the West. When James Lovelock an eminent independent scientist and Lynn Margulis the famed micro-biologist put forth the Gaia theory of life, which postulated that the planetary environment has actually co-evolved with life on earth, there was a marked hostility from the science establishment.  Michael Bond writes: 

Biologists in particular took umbrage. John Maynard Smith called Gaia hypothesis 'an evil religion'. Stephen Jay Gould dismissed it as "a metaphor, not a mechanism". Richard Dawkins argued it contradicted Darwinian evolution. Paul Ehrlich described Lovelock himself as 'radical and dangerous', while Robert May called him a 'holy fool'. (Michael Bond, The Living heart of things, New Scientist, Aug 24-30, 2013)   

Lovelock and Lynn bringing in the name 'Gaia' – the ancient Greek Goddess of the planet.  James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis stood their ground despite such an onslaught and the rest is now history in the annals of science. Decades later in 2009 James Lovelock explained his choice of the name 'Gaia' and its significance: 
Before 2004 the debate about Gaia concerned only me and a relatively small number of scientists, but now a proper understanding of the Earth as a living planet is a matter of life or death for billions of people, and extinction for a whole range of species. Unless we accept the Earth as alive, with us as a part of it, we may not know what to do or where to go as the ocean rises on a hot dry world. For this purpose the name Gaia is far more suitable for a vast live entity than some dull acronym based on rational scientific terms. In ancient Greece, Gaia was the goddess of the Earth. To many Greeks she was the most revered goddess of all... (James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, Penguin UK, 2009)  

The very name of the Goddess even if used as a metaphor for a scientific view of the planetary life, is actually a revival for the West which has lost its pagan roots. This fact is now coming increasingly to the surface of the collective conscious of the West. Michael Ruse in the preface to the recent book on Gaia hypothesis brings this fact more explicitly:

I speak in my subtitle of Earth as a “pagan planet.” In one sense, such usage hardly demands comment. The great Greek philosophers, where we start our history of the idea of a living planet, obviously had little interest in the religious beliefs of illiterate tribesmen to the south of them, and did not know of Jesus Christ and His redeeming mission here on Earth, or of Muhammad and his life and meaning. Understood in this context, as something that stands outside the Abrahamic religions, by definition the birth of Gaia was the birth of a pagan idea. Today, as we shall learn, among the most enthusiastic of Gaia supporters are those who call themselves Pagans or neo-Pagans—I capitalize to distinguish them from the past—and often they look back to the Greeks as their inspiration. But I intend a little more by the term, namely, that we are talking of something—our home, the planet Earth—that has life, that has value, in its own right. It is significant that although, as we shall see, there have been and still are Christians who accept the Gaia hypothesis, there has often been tension (especially for Protestants) between Christian commitment and acceptance of Gaia. For Christians, most notably for those who take the sacred scriptures as the only basis for the true religion, only God has value and all else derives from Him.  Gaia is very much the opposing idea, the extended sense of Earth as something with intrinsic value, that interests me. One might easily say that atomism is as much a pagan idea as Gaia, and yet because in itself atomism does not contain the same value commitments as Gaia, the belief does not raise quite the same issues and passions. Understand therefore that I speak of Earth as a "pagan planet" precisely to highlight its vibrancy, its life, and its value that stems from this. (Michael Ruse, The Gaia Hypothesis Science on a Pagan Planet, The University of Chicago Press, 2013) 

Fortunately for us in India, we do not suffer like the Western civilization in reconnecting to our roots. Despite the best efforts of the dysfunctional education system and the foreign funded to denationalise us,  the Goddess veneration is still vibrant and alive. This land has for long preserved and well cherished the spiritual tradition of Divine Feminine. That explains why for the last four consecutive years Indians top the world in being environment friendly earth friendly consumers, as revealed by the annual global Green-index survey taken by National Geographic. Sacrifices of youths like Lance Naik Mohammed Firoz Khan is to preserve this India that is the gift to all life on planet Earth and the attempts of JNU crackpot perverts is also to destroy this India that is the incubator of all things eternally true, auspicious and beautiful for the entire planet.               

 Aravindan Neelakandan

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Dadhichi Lives

Hindu Dharma has always exhorted the sons of Mother India to sacrifice. The great epic Mahabharata has the story of the golden mongoose which showcases a family which down to the last child was ready to embrace death by hunger willingly in order to feed a stranger who has come as a guest to their house. Saivaite devotional literature tells repeatedly of the sacrifices of individuals who sacrificed their lives, their dear ones, their very vital organs including the eyes, their children without the least hesitation for the Divine. Kannapa the tribal devotee of Shiva piercing his own eyes to give it to Shiva is an enduring image in the devotional iconography of South India. 

Sister Nivedita the disciple of Swami Vivekananda was the first to design the national flag of India. In that first design of the national flag of this ancient land, she rightly introduced the Vajra – the thunderbolt – the weapon of Indra against the forces of darkness. It was the Vajra that was made by the backbone of Dadhichi. Sister Nivedita says about this design of the national flag thus:

…The gods, it is said, were looking for a divine weapon, that is to say, for the divine weapon, par excellence-and they were told that only if they could find a man willing to give his own bones for the substance of it, could the Invincible Sword be forged. Whereupon they trooped up to the rishi Dadhichi and asked for his bones for the purpose. The request sounded like mockery. A man would give all but his own life-breath, assuredly, for a great end, but who, even to furnish forth a weapon for Indra, would hand over his body itself? To the rishi Dadhichi, however, this was no insuperable height of sacrifice. Smilingly he listened, smilingly he answered, and in that very moment laid himself down to die-yielding at a word the very utmost demanded of humanity. Here, then, we have the significance of the Vajra. The Selfless Man is the Thunderbolt. Let us strive only for selflessness, and we become the weapon in the hands of the Gods. Not for us to ask how. Not for us to plan methods. For us, it is only to lay ourselves down at the altar-foot. The gods do the rest. The divine carries us. It is not the thunderbolt that is invincible, but the hand that hurls it. Mother! Mother! Take away from us this self! Let not fame or gain or pleasure have dominion over us! Be Thou the sunlight, we the dew dissolving in its heat.

One may say that these are all mythologies and legends. A skeptic may argue that in real life such sacrifices seldom happen. History has shown that the unbelievable acts of sacrifices by Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Govind Singh were vital in preserving Sanathana Dharma. A skeptic may still say that they too belonged to a bygone era and in the modern society where selfishness reigns and consumerism prevails such sacrifices may well be nothing but a figment of imagination. 

Maruthachalam and Kalavathi are daily laborers living in Coimbatore, the financial capital of Tamil Nadu. For decades they had toiled and through their sweat and sacrifices, made their son Rajagopal a computer science graduate. The boy was both intelligent and patriotic. After graduating he joined a software firm in Coimbatore. He was also a leader in the local BJP unit. On September 4th 2013 Rajagopal met with an accident when driving his two-wheeler. Unconscious he was taken to a hospital nearby. Soon the parents arrived at the hospital. The parents were informed by the chief physician of the hospital that their young boy, hope of their future has suffered brain death. The parents struck as they were by this monumental tragedy, at their moment of extreme grief made a decision of supreme sacrifice. The boy's two eyes were donated to 'Arvind Eye Hospital'. His liver, heart and kidneys were also donated to different ailing patients. One of his kidneys provided a new life to a Muslim sister. That the parents even at this moment of grief decided to act with such a sense of sacrifice should make even the toughest of the skeptics stand up and take notice that in this land of Dadhichi, the tradition continues to this day. Rajagopal's parents when they decided to give the body parts of their son to provide healed lives to the ailing humanity have made us all aware of the lineage of sacrifice into which each one of us is born. In this 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda let us all salute these great parents and let us rededicate ourselves to the national ideal of sacrifice which Swamiji emphasized again and again in his soul stirring words:

Who will give the world light? Sacrifice in the past has been the Law, it will be, alas, for ages to come. The earth's bravest and best will have to sacrifice themselves for the good of many, for the welfare of all. Buddhas by the hundred are necessary with eternal love and pity.

Aravindan Neelakandan

Yuvabharati : Voice of Youth : October 2013

Thursday 5 September 2013

Of a martyr and a law

Narendra Dabholkar became a martyr when he was shot dead by unknown assailants by the side of a road in Pune. He had been fighting against superstitions all his life. His single-minded devotion to the cause had earned him many enemies. He had been attacked violently in 1990s twice. While there are many areas where one can and have to disagree with the warrior of rationalism, none can deny his sincerity and commitment. He strived for a healthier, stronger Hindu society in his own way.  The Anti-Hindu forces have made use of his campaign to malign Hindu culture. Repeatedly we are told that the very Hindu culture and religion are rationally deficient and hence the abundance of superstition and charlatanism in Hindu culture. Somehow the shallow rationalists want Hinduism to follow the path of the Western history of rationalism where every triumph of science and reason had to be won through a hard battle with the religious authority.

However a survey of the popular culture of the West shows that it teems with superstition and deficiency in scientific outlook. It is not culture specific as claimed by many.  None can deny the fact that India has been teeming with superstitions.  However there is a major difference between the Indian superstition and the superstition as seen in the Western nations.  Indian superstitions are mainly not completely the result of social anxieties which in turn are the result of the colonial impoverishment, missionary influences and additionally the failure of the Nehruvian state apparatus. The western superstitions are essentially and in most cases though not completely the result of a theological assault and aggravation on the dark aspects of the human psyche. This aspect needs an explanation. For example, a survey of the major superstitions would reveal that they come from the anxieties over the child health or health of the near and dear ones in the family. This is the result of the failure of the State to take a good humanistic medical network to the people in backward areas.
Another phenomenon in India's backward states is witch hunting. Poor rural and tribal women are accused of being witches and are killed. However a survey of Indian folk and classical literature shows that the idea of witch –women practicing black magic- is conspicuous by its absence. The very concept is derived from western religion and folktales which abound with evil witches. The children are taught to fear such evil witches who lure the children only to turn them into toads. It is not an accident that most of the witch hunting happens in and around the places where missionaries took the western education and culture. One does not have to convert to an alien religion to internalize the concept of witches. Almost every western educated and semi-educated person knows witches. And this mixed with family feuds, the fear at female spirituality etc. can become effective breeding ground for witch hunting. 

Usually when a Hindu moves from the impoverished state to a better socio-economic condition most of his or her superstitions cease to exist. But in the case of the West it is the affluent who churn out superstitions like anti-Christ incarnating as a child, blood sucking historic monsters in your backyard and worse the achievements of non-western civilizations are attributed to aliens from other planets and not the forefathers of the non-European civilizations.  The Western superstitions are the children of a theo-racial arrogance coupled with abject scientific ignorance.

Then there is of course the problem of fake godmen. All humanity has needed spiritual counselors and the cultures world over have produced genuine sages as well as incredible charlatans. Even here there is a marked difference. Even the worst of the charlatans in India have not led their followers into mass suicides as in the case of mass suicides reported in the Western culture with unbelievable regularity: Jonestown to David Koresh to Heavens' Gate – the mass suicides or homicides can be traced to the Biblical idea of apocalypse internalized by the cult leaders who considered themselves the promised messiah. One can extend this to the nuclear arms build-up initiated by US and the West who may be unconsciously driven by the Biblical vision of Armageddon again the idea of which is part of the popular culture.

That brings us to the tragic death of Narendra Dabholkar and his controversial bill to end superstition. One man's superstition is another man's faith. So where shall we draw the line? How much right can the State have to decide what one person believes is superstition or not? Dabholkar belonged to the socialist school of thought which considered the State to be the ideal representative of the collective will of people. In a country like India with a rich cultural knowledge base the line between the indigenous knowledge system and superstition is a thin one. Is panchagauya indigenous knowledge or superstition? Is Bharatanatyam a social degradation which needed to be banned as was claimed by missionaries and Dravidianists or is it a wonderful spiritual art form as proved by Rukminidevi Arundale? Is fire-walking a superstition or a therapeutic system which helps people to walk through the tests of life in hard times providing them self-confidence? 

But can we allow abject exploitation of our people in the name of religion by charlatans? The beating and chaining of women in the name of exorcism happens in many temples, churches and Islamic holy places. These women who are actually in need of psychiatric treatment or are victims of abuse are treated worse than animals by charlatans who fleece their relatives. No god picture that is not framed in glasses oozes out holy ashes. 'Materializations' of objects by these god-men are invariably within the size of the palms. Miracle stories of even genuine saints and sages, who lived exemplary transparent lives, are narrated by fraudulent people after their Samadhi and marketed by corporates. 

Dabolkar fought against superstitions all his life.  He is often accused that he only targeted Hinduism. Even if it is true, that will seldom lead to  a point of desolation because Hinduism is the only religion that can flourish vibrantly after being cleansed of all superstitions and blind beliefs. Swami Vivekananda boldly declared:
Is religion to justify itself by the discoveries of reason, through which every other concrete science justifies itself? Are the same methods of investigation which we apply to sciences and knowledge outside, to be applied to the science of Religion? In my opinion, this must be so, and I am also of opinion that the sooner it is done the better. If a religion is destroyed by such investigations, it was then all the time useless, unworthy superstition; and the sooner it goes the better. I am thoroughly convinced that its destruction would be the best thing that could happen. All that is dross would be taken off, no doubt, but the essential parts of religion will emerge triumphant out of this investigation. Not only will it be made scientific, as scientific at least, as any of the conclusions of physics or chemistry, but will have greater strength, because physics or chemistry has no internal mandate to vouch for its truth, which religion has.

In his own way Narendra Dabholkar was heeding the call of Swami Vivekananda.
However the cleansing has to be done by an enlightened selfless leadership. The present pseudo-secular polity which is based on caste and minority vote banks is far cry from such an enlightened leadership. Scientists, free-thinkers, psychologists, sociologists, Hindu Acharyas, Hindu nationalist organizations, community leaders, women representatives, the leaders and educators of tribal communities, medicine men – they all have to sit together and form a legislature to clean our nation of charlatanism in the name of religion. This has to be done in the spirit of a common goal of making Hindu society healthier and a real guide to the world community to follow. That shall be the real tribute to the fallen martyr of reason and humanism. 

                                                                                                                         Aravindan Neelakandan.  

Uniqueness of the term Dharma.

Bharath being the cradle of civilizations has spun out thousands of such terms which illustrate the culture and value systems of the nation which has a long and hoary tradition. Dharma is one such word which elucidates our culture. This word is taken as an example because it has no equivalent in any other language in the world, which has around 6000 languages surviving at present.  This will also exemplify the fact that the culture of our land is unique and peerless. 

When Swami Vivekananda was addressing the west he used the term religion to connote Dharma. Since, the culture of those lands were bereft of that value, he had no other option but to rely on the  term  religion to make them understand the concepts which he was presenting before them. One often sees dharma translated as religion, duty, or even righteousness, but in fact, there is no single direct translation for dharma. Religion, duty and righteousness are not wrong; they are simply included within the idea of dharma. But we must be clear that Swami Vivekananda was NOT referring to religion as understood by us. In the Hindu parlance religion can be equated with ’pantha’.  

Dharma literally means the one which upholds. The word "dharma" comes from the Sanskrit root dhri, meaning to "uphold" or to "sustain." From this perspective, the best way to think of dharma is to say, "that which upholds or sustains the positive order of things: the nation, the community, the family and ultimately even the universe." At a social level, every individual has a particular dharma according to their place in life. Children have a dharma, parents have a dharma, teachers have a dharma, the police have a dharma and everyone right from the head of a nation has a dharma. One of the dharmas of a child, for example, is to obey parents and to study. Parents have a dharma to protect and look after children: to make sure they are educated, fed, housed and trained. It is sometimes written on the sides of police cars: To Serve and to Protect. This is a statement of dharma for police. A head of state has a dharma to protect the country and to provide a secure environment for its citizens. If everyone performs their dharma: children obey parents, parents look after children, citizens uphold the laws of the land, the police enforce the law, a head of state protects the nation, then the family, the community and the nation are "upheld" and there can be prosperity. This is dharma, and it all follows from the idea of dhri, to uphold. 

The word dharma is also used in a different way within Hindu philosophy that can also be understood from the root dhri. Every constituent of matter: liquids, metals, gases, fire, and so on have different dharmas. For example, the dharma of water is fluidity. The dharma of ice is coldness. The dharma of fire is heat. In other words, whatever it is that makes water as water or ice as ice, or fire as fire; what "upholds" the state of being water, ice, or fire, etc., is dharma. Knowledge of Dharma and Adharma (the opposite of dharma) is knowledge of right and wrong, proper and improper. It is universal truth and it doesn’t require any special education to comprehend these truths. It requires understanding. Understanding of our being and our fellow beings. Our culture which lays a great emphasis on moral and ethical values has these Dharmic values embedded in its every activity. That’s how these ideas occupy an important part of Hindu philosophy, even though they are subtle.

Various facets and Misconceptions.

Dharma takes various meanings and connotations according to the place and person. It is adherence to Dharma which elevates one from vikruti  to prakruti.  Adi Sankaracharya goes further and says that if we don’t  adhere to Dharma, then we will be leading the life of an animal. He says in his sutrabashyah, “Human beings and animals have the same urges. They eat and sleep and copulate and besides the feelings of fear are common to both. What, then, is the difference between the two? It is adherence to dharma that distinguishes human beings from animals. Without Dharma to guide him man would be no better than an animal.”

Aharanidrabhayamaithunam ca samanyametat pasubhirnaranam
Dharmo hi tesamadhiko visesah dharmena hina pasubhissamanah”

But one simple way to get a grip of this outwardly confusing concept is to know about the various facets of dharma. One must be inclined to do whatever he expects others to do to him. In the same vein, one must desist from acts, which he does not want others to do to him. This simple yet insightful value is called as Samanya dharma. We don’t want to get cheated, hurt, humiliated, robbed or deceived. Hence, our first duty towards our society is not to do these to others. Swami Dayananda Saraswati lucidly explains this, “...all that you do not want others to do to you, and others also do not want you to do to them. You do not want to be hurt, robbed, cheated, or deceived in any manner.  On the contrary, you want others to be compassionate, to be giving and loving.  This is Dharma.  That is why we call the act of giving also as dharma.  In no other culture is giving called dharma.  Others call it charity.  Charity is the most uncharitable word, because you assume a patronizing attitude when you give charity.  We lead a symbiotic life.  We need each other; we need to help each other.  Therefore, giving is dharma.  It’s a kind of duty.  We expect people to be giving.  Definitely, we can be very understanding.  We can be accommodative. We can understand others’ limitations, as we need them to understand our limitations.  This understanding is something very profound in day to day life……” (Living intelligently – Page 80)

While this Samanya Dharma lays the foundation for harmony in the society, there are some exceptions to it too. For example Ahimsa which is a Samanya Dharma, meant for all in the society to follow. Men engaged in the work of ensuring the safety and security of people, like Police or Security forces, cannot and should not follow this. You should not hurt is a universal value. But at the same time people are to be protected and if use of force against those who are Adharmic , is warranted, to ensure the safety of commoners , then it should be used and any hesitation in this regard will only cause greater harm to those who believe in Dharma. This action which apparently causes Himsa is the Visesha Dharma of Police and security Forces.  The hurtful actions of a medical surgeon is another example of visesha dharma. It is the Motive behind the action which will qualify an act whether it is Dharma or not. Varna-asrama-dharma,and kula-dharma, together, are called visesha-dharma, which can be divided in many ways. Visesha-dharma means peculiar or particular dharma, governing certain situations, whereas samanya-dharma applies to all human beings whether a person is a student, a householder, or in any other stage of one’s life. A particular dharma is one that is governed by the structure of a society. For instance, in the Vedic society, the society envisioned by the Vedas, there was a structure called varna and another called asrama. This structure, consisting of the varnas, made it possible to assign particular jobs to particular groups of people. A broad division was thereby created, along with a concept of duty. Because I belong to this varna, this is to be done by me. This is all an integral part of karma-yoga. This structure of assigning specific duties to particular groups of people is called varna-dharma. This is a visesha-dharma.

Then, there is asrama-dharma,which provides guidelines as per the stage in one’s life. For example, a brahmana, as a student, had to follow a certain order. When he or she married, certain changes occur and additional dharma is included. As a student, one was not supposed to pursue certain activities. You could follow politics, but you should not participate in politics. If you do, you cease to be a student. You become a politician, instead. Thus, there was a structure with reference to one’s asrama. Asrama­dharma - what was expected of you, depending on the stage of life you were in, is also visesha-dharma.
Another example of visesha-dharma was stri-dharma or purusa-dharma, based on whether a person was male or female. There was also kula-dharma, dharma applicable to a particular family or clan. The Kuru clan, for instance, had its own dharma. If there is any conflict between the Samanya Dharma and Visesha Dharma, Visesha Dharma will override, since all these are duties meant for a harmonious social order. Wrong understanding of these Samanya Dharma and Visesha Dharma have led to serious mistakes in our history. Swami Vivekananda expounds this complex phenomenon in a rather perspicuous manner. He says,
“ .. The Bauddhas were confounded just there and brought about all sorts of mischief. Non-injury is right; "Resist not evil" is a great thing — these are indeed grand principles; but the scriptures say, "Thou art a householder; if anyone smites thee on thy cheek, and thou dost not return him an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, thou wilt verily be a sinner." Manu says, "When one has come to kill you, there is no sin in killing him, even though he be a Brahmin" (Manu, VIII. 350). This is very true, and this is a thing which should not be forgotten. Heroes only enjoy the world. Show your heroism; apply, according to circumstances, the fourfold political maxims of conciliation, bribery, sowing dissensions, and open war, to win over your adversary and enjoy the world — then you will be Dharmika (righteous)…”( East and West  8 &9)
 All these will make it clear that Dharma is always intertwined with Karma, which means action or Duty. Dharma can only be established through practice and this is where the present day society’s lacunae lie. Due to the several decades of Alien rule which was followed by rulers who are plagued by the educational system introduced by the Imperialists, practice of dharma has taken a back seat. Understanding clearly that the bedrock of this nation is Dharma, the British rulers planned to do away with the system of education which introduced these concepts to the students. It was replaced by an education system which denounced our Vedic concepts and Dharmic approaches to life.  The society started believing in the myths rolled out by the western academics as true. Many even got converted thinking that it is the real path for salvation. Bhagavad Gita denounces such attrition by people of their own Dharma thus,
Svadharme nidhanam shreyah,  paradharmo  bhayavah.” (Ch: 3.35)
Following the path dictated by one’s own tradition/nature is always Superior to following another person’s path, even though it may well lack financial gain, fame, or approval. Working out the law of one’s own nature, even though it may lead to our demise, is superior to the folly of attempting to follow the path of another person is certain to turn out badly.”. But the rot was slowly setting in and as a result the national scene saw a vacuum.  A nation of more than 300 million people were unable to rise themselves united against a few hundred English Officers.

It was at this crucial juncture Swami Vivekananda emerged on the scene. When the entire nation was reeling under complex of guilt and timidness foisted by the academia, Swami Vivekananda, a product that very same English education gave the much needed succor to the Indian psyche by firmly re establishing the role and importance of our Hindu Dharma.  He had the knowledge of both Eastern and Western philosophies and hence was able to see things in proper perspective. He realized that his life’s mission was not just attaining Moksha but the liberation of the masses who are reeling under ignorance. After the 3 day Tapas at kanyakumari, he hit upon a grand plan to resurrect this nation to her past glory by re establishing Dharma as the undercurrent of all activities, personal, social and national. He urged our countrymen not to ape the west and get goaded by their materialistic pursuits. He felt that dharma, being unique, should be the soul of our nation. He says,
“…With every man, there is an idea; the external man is only the outward manifestation, the mere language of this idea within. Likewise, every nation has a corresponding national idea. This idea is working for the world and is necessary for its preservation. The day when the necessity of an idea as an element for the preservation of the world is over, that very day the receptacle of that idea, whether it be an individual or a nation, will meet destruction. The reason that we Indians are still living, in spite of so much misery, distress, poverty, and oppression from within and without is that we have a national idea, which is yet necessary for the preservation of the world…. With every man, there is an idea; the external man is only the outward manifestation, the mere language of this idea within. Likewise, every nation has a corresponding national idea. This idea is working for the world and is necessary for its preservation. The day when the necessity of an idea as an element for the preservation of the world is over, that very day the receptacle of that idea, whether it be an individual or a nation, will meet destruction. The reason that we Indians are still living, in spite of so much misery, distress, poverty, and oppression from within and without is that we have a national idea, which is yet necessary for the preservation of the world….”( East & West 3-4)
These words are refreshing and reassuring for a society drenched with the western ideals. Swami Vivekananda urges our people to believe in the system which has carried the national boat so far, instead of castigating it. He says,
“..The powerful men in every country are moving society whatever way they like, and the rest are only like a flock of sheep. Now the question is this, who are these men of power in India? — they are giants in religion. It is they who lead our society; and it is they again who change our social laws and usages when necessity demands…” ( east & west 23).

Swami Vivekananda, while asking people to follow the age old principles also cautions them about being dogmatic. Being dogmatic is another confounded position which has led to several decay in our society.  He says,
 “..Now, this Jati Dharma, this Svadharma, is the path of welfare of all societies in every land, the ladder to ultimate freedom. With the decay of this Jati Dharma, this Svadharma, has come the downfall of our land. But the Jati Dharma or Svadharma as commonly understood at present by the higher castes is rather a new evil, which has to be guarded against. They think they know everything of Jati Dharma, but really they know nothing of it. Regarding their own village customs as the eternal customs laid down by the Vedas, and appropriating to themselves all privileges, they are going to their doom! I am not talking of caste as determined by qualitative distinction, but of the hereditary caste system. I admit that the qualitative caste system is the primary one; but the pity is qualities yield to birth in two or three generations. Thus the vital point of our national life has been touched; otherwise, why should we sink to this degraded state? ..”( East & West)
He clears the air about the misconceptions of Jati Dharma by further saying,
 “..Remember always, that there is not in the world any other country whose institutions are really better in their aims and objects than the institutions of this land. I have seen castes in almost every country in the world, but nowhere is their plan purpose so glorious as here. If caste is thus unavoidable, I would rather have a caste of purity and culture and self-sacrifice than a caste of dollars. Therefore, our solution of the caste question is not degrading those who are already high up, is not running amuck through food and drink, is not jumping out of our own limits in order to have more enjoyment, but it comes to every one of us fulfilling the dictates of our Vedantic religion, by our attaining spirituality, and by our becoming the ideal Brahmin…” The age old fallacies and misconceptions which are clogging our national vein are thus cleared by this wonderful exposition of Dharma by Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda has reiterated the role India has to play to resolve the crisis which Humanity is facing. The role is spreading Dharma, and he says that it is Viswa Dharma. If India doesn’t play her destined role the loss and suffering will for the entire Humanity. He says,
 “..Shall India die? Then from the world all spirituality will be extinct; all moral perfection will be extinct; all sweet-souled sympathy for religion will be extinct; all ideality will be extinct; and in its place will reign the duality of lust and luxury as the male and female deities, with money as its priest, fraud, force and competition its ceremonies and the human soul its sacrifice. Such a thing can never be. The power of suffering is infinitely greater than the power of doing; the power of love is infinitely of greater potency than the power of hatred.” 
To achieve this ideal Swami Vivekananda gives us this call,
 Lay down your comforts, your pleasures, your name, fame or positioin, nay even your lives, and make a bridge of human chains over which millions will cross this ocean of life. Bring all forces of good together. Do not care under what banner you march. Do not care what be your colour - green, blue, or red - but mix all colours up produce that initense glow of white, the colour of love. Ours is to work. The results will take care of themselves. I do not see into the future; nor do I care to see. But one vision I see clear as life before me, that the ancient Mother has awakened once more, sitting on her throne rejuvenated, more glorious than ever. Proclaim her to all the world with the voice of peace and benediction. “
Swami Vivekananda urges people to be inquisitive and at the same time earnest in their search. It’s not mere questioning but questioning to get more refined in our walk and make the society a better place to live. With a society deeply mired in corruption and moral degradation, one may be tempted to pray for an Avatar to descend and set the things on right order. But we must remember that, Lord Krishna, Swami Vivekananda and many other seers of this Holy land will work with us if we allow them to work within us.