Friday 27 February 2015

An Ode to March

March is a very special month for the lovers of India. The month of March also has two very important events of national significance – Shivaji Jayanthi and Rama Navami

Unfortunately in the history curriculum Shivaji is systematically depicted as Maratta chieftain belonging to medieval period. Even in recent TV serials popular in some private networks he is shown more as a local Maratta chieftain rather than a visionary with a pan-Indian vision. This depiction hides an important truth. Shivaji lived in the seventeenth century. In Europe it was the time when the nation-states were getting born. And this was accompanied by blood-bath of the wholesome massacre of rivalling Christian cults and ethnic minorities. At a time when European naval forces were destroying human cultures and ravaging nature everywhere through colonialism, Shivaji not only gave importance to building a strong navy for the nation but more importantly aware of the environmental concerns of the ordinary Indians whom the navy should protect. In one of his edicts Shivaji had forbidden the cutting of fruit bearing trees such as mango and jackfruit for use in building ships for his navy, on grounds that this would result in considerable sufferings for the peasantry in his kingdom (Madhav Gadgil, Social Restraints on Resource Utilization: The Indian Experience, 1985). Shivaji also stood against the British and Dutch discouraging and forbidding slave trade despite the fact that it was then a highly profitable trade. Every European nation that is today high on human rights has built their luxuries –including the luxurious human rights trade is built- on the transatlantic slave trade that existed for more than two centuries. In India it was prevented largely because of the power of Shivaji’s Hindu state.  Shivaji also recognized the federal nature of Indian nation. When Chattrasal of Bundelkhand wanted to join Shivaji’s army to fight against Mughal oppression, Shivaji advised him to raise a separate banner of revolt centered on his own region. However he also made Chattrasal realize that they were united in a greater cause for an unifying Dharma and culture. Hence when alien forces attacked any of the Indic regional states they should at once unite and make themselves one and retaliate. We find that in history this really happened. When Marattas were treacherously trapped by Mughals Chattrasal did arrive with his forces and both Marattas and Chattrasal inflicted a humiliating defeat on the enemy.  Here Shivaji seems to have prefigured what Dr.Ambedkar envisioned as the nature of Indian state - harmonizing both federal and unitary character.  According to Dr.Ambedkar 'In normal times Indian Constitution is framed to work as a federal system. But in times of war it is so designed as to make it work as though it was a unitary system. Thus Veer Shivaji can rightly be considered as the precursor of modern Indian state. Unlike European nation-states formed on the idea of one-blood or one language and one state, Indian nation-state is founded on the basis of unity in diversity. Founding of such a nation state can be traced to the genius of Shivaji.

Thousands of years before Shivaji was Sree Rama. Rama represents the national soul of India. He is the personification of duty and dharma. He is the ideal ruler archetype enshrined in the collective psyche of India. We have his Rama Navami this month.

The month saw some of the greatest sacrifices and achievements and movements in the history of India’s march towards freedom. It was on 13th March 1910 that Veer Savarkar was arrested by the British police when he returned from Paris to London. He was arrested in connection with the assassination of then British Collector of Nasik, A.M.T. Jackson.  It was the beginning of a great ordeal. He languished in the Andaman jail for the next one decade before he was moved to Ratnagiri where again he was interned.  Again it was in On 13 March 1940, Udham Singh shot Michael O'Dwyer – the British general responsible for the massacre of Amritsar. This was the last act of revenge enacted by the Indian revolutionary outside the Indian soil, in the very den of British itself, against the British atrocity in India. On March 10 1942 Indian troops stationed at so-called Christmas islands belonging to Australia revolted killed five British officers and captured the remaining British soldiers and officers as prisoners. This facilitated the Japanese takeover of the island. Gandhi too launched his Dandi March against the Salt Tax by the British on 11th March 1930.   

Remembering all these great men and their achievements should inspire us to achieve great things for our nation collectively. Man. Eknath Ranade rightly points out: “We Indians believe in the incarnation of great men for great work, while Westerners achieve the goals through collective work. We require a Shivaji, a Ramakrishna, a Vivekananda, a Tilak, a Gandhi or a Savarkar to achieve great goals. We have been successful in performing wonderful deeds, but only when the great men are born. We have a galaxy of great men. In the West, the common people have worked wonders by amicably coming together and putting forth combined efforts.”

So let this month of March remind us that we come in the line of these great men and we have their power in us and their memories as well as achievements to inspire us to do great things collectively while getting inspired individually.

Aravindan Neelakanan

Sunday 1 February 2015

Violence, Bloodshed and the Solution

Even before the blood of the 130 children has dried, the entire editorial team of a satirical magazine at Paris has been slaughtered. It is easy to blame a particular religion and score brownie points. However the real issue here is much deeper than the fanaticism of one religion. The real problem is not the supposed intolerance of one religion. Intolerance is used here as a weapon of aggression. It may be surprising but many religious minded people in the Western world do not indulge in such violent retaliation at the ‘hurting’ of their religious beliefs not because of want of will as it is because of the want of power.

By 2012 there had been anti-blasphemy laws in six of the forty five European nations. According to the Pew Research Center in the United States, 11 out of 35 states (31%) had blasphemy laws. In the Bahamas, for example, the publication or sale of blasphemous material can be punished with up to two years imprisonment. The 2012 survey shows several U.S. states – including Massachusetts and Michigan – still had anti-blasphemy laws on the books. But these anti-blasphemy laws are clearly meant for the blasphemy against Christian deity but not against the continuous demonization of the local spiritual traditions. The saving grace against the anti-blasphemy laws is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which can prevent the enforcement of any such law.

But what we see in the Western world is the progressive dilution of the mindset against blasphemy just as we see in the Islamic world a progressive hardening of the mindset against blasphemy.

The reason is that from the onset of colonialism to the modern times political Islam has been nurtured by various forces – from British colonialism, to Gandhian national movement to Soviet-US cold war maneuvers. German Nazism also coopted the Islamic militancy because the latter had a strong hatred towards the Jews. Churchill openly sided with Islamic political forces in India and expressed his hatred for Hindus.

The Hindu approach to the aggressive onslaught of Islam has been varied and multi-dimensional. The accommodative all-embracing songs of Kabir and the unbreakable steel of the sword of Khalsa are two sides of the same coin. By the nineteenth century India has produced a veritable school of Indic Islam with its roots nourished by Indian Vedanta. Ibrahim Razkhan sang verses about the beautiful form of Lord Krishna. Even in the twentieth century venerable Bismillah Khan openly declared that he had the Darshan of Sri Krishna. One can imagine what kind of fate Raskhan and Bismillakhan would have suffered in even a modern theocratic state like Malaysia.

Ultimately the violence and barbarism of the religious come from the closed worldview and fanaticism. Kendra founder Eknath Ranade used to point out with his characteristic humour the fallacy of fanaticism:

Fanaticism is intolerance of others views. We must clearly understand the view-point of others also. Liberality in outlook is essential. … People are fanatic about their own village or about vegetarianism and about so many things in the world. A certain pleader always insisted and tried to convince the  people  that  his  village  was  the  hub  of  the  earth.  Somebody declared and started propaganda that to drink cow’s milk was sin. Fanaticism existed about yoga and about meditation and what not. To yield to some good points of others is not bad. Staunch attitude about anything is not always beneficial.

It is very easy to find out that it is silly and downright foolish to call one’s own village as the hub of the universe. But it is equally silly and foolish when someone claims that his only holy book or only prophet or only begotten son of God is the only way to the salvation of all humanity. Yet fanaticism has always been attractive to the proselytizing religions. The reason is not far to seek. Swami Vivekananda points out:

Through fanaticism and bigotry a religion can be propagated very quickly, no doubt, but the preaching of that religion is firm-based on solid ground, which gives everyone liberty to his opinions and thus uplifts him to a higher path, though this process is slow    

But we need to get rid of this evil by getting to the root of it. More than a century has passed since Swami Vivekananda made that moving appeal to the world community to renounce fanaticism and violence:

Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

We can only hope that with what has happened at Peshawar and Paris the world realizes the wisdom of Swami Vivekananda’s words and make his appeal happen.
Aravindan Neelakandan



People of our country are, by tradition, religion-minded and this country is therefore described as a land of religion and spiri­tuality. Swami Vivekananda used to say that the soul of our country is in religion. The highest and the ultimate goal or Purushartha aspired for by the people of this country is Mukti, so much so that the traditional treatises dealing with even mundane arts and sciences, including those on Ayurveda and even statecraft, strive to tell, in their prefatory remarks, how the ultimate purpose behind them is to facilitate progress of every human being towards the common spiritual goal — Moksha.
If going to temples, visiting places of  pilgrimage,  participat­ing in Bhajans, Yagnyas and  Anushthanas as also  listening  to  philosophical  and  religious  discourses by millions of people of the presence of numerous religious teachers, Gurus and such other men of God all over the country are the manifestations of a grow­ing religiosity, our country, perhaps,  is more religious today than it ever was at any time in the past.
But, unfortunately, the natural impact of this apparent Godwardness on the general society is little in evidence today. Pur­poseful living, discipline, character, truthfulness, fellow-feeling, fearlessness, subordination of the self and a zest for works of public good, which are some of the traits that develop in a Godward society and which, we have enough evidence to say, existed in a good measure in our country in the past, are seen fast dis­appearing from our midst. Ironically enough, with the apparent religious fervour presently on the increase, general corruption, indiscipline and other kinds of moral degradation are also in the ascendant. How is this paradox to be explained? Certainly, it will not be reasonable to ascribe all these evils solely to inefficient governance of the country. Because, after all, the people, especially in modern democracies, get the government they deserve!
So, what is wrong with us and what is the way to save the country from the impending social disintegration that seems to be fast overtaking us? Any discerning mind will be able to see that a distorted conception of religion is the root cause of most of our evils for the last several centuries which persist even today. It is rightly said that religion is the soul of our country. But as that itself is blurred, we have the sorry spectacle of deterioration all round.
Religious awakening means experiencing the presence of God in one’s self and the world. That makes one conscious of the divine within and urges one to work for its unfoldment and to grow spiritually. Simultaneously it generates in one a sense of oneness with God’s creation and, consequently, an intense fellow-feeling for the members of one’s own species — the human race — and prompts one to work with zest for human welfare and progress. If, and as long as, the religious awakening intensifies on these lines, it is dynamic and full of tremendous potentialities for the transforma­tion of humanity into higher and higher planes of existence. But, if it remains limited to rituals, forms of worship and offerings to God, or prayers and praises addressed to Him, it becomes static and has hardly a role to play in human advancement.
Swami Vivekananda  was the foremost among the modern  reli­gious teachers who strove to take out  religion from that  static con­dition into which it had degenerated over the centuries, and drew the attention of the people to its real role. He pointed out in no uncertain terms that ceremonies and forms are not the essence of religion, but it is rather the realisation of a higher life. He said,  “We  may study all the books that are in the world, yet we may not understand a word of religion or of God. Temples and churches, books and forms are simply the kindergarden of religion, to make the spiritual child strong enough to take the higher steps.  Religion is not in doctrines or dogmas,  nor  in  intellectual argumen­tation. It is realisation  in the heart of hearts; it is touching God; it is feeling, realising that I am a spirit in relation  with universal spirit and  all its great manifestations”. To those who lost  them­selves only in forms and rituals, turning their back on the people and the misery that had befallen them, he said,  “What vain gods shall we go after and yet cannot worship the god that we see all around us, the Virat (Janata Janardan)?  When  we  have  worship­ed this, we shall  be able to worship  all  other  gods”.
The  remedy  for  the ills of our country, therefore, lies in launching a mighty movement of right  thought flooding the entire country, it has  to  be a two-pronged move. It is to be aimed, on the one hand, at (1) transforming our people’s inherent God-wardness into right spiritual urge rising out of the Vedic teachings, namely, (i) each soul is potentially divine and (ii) faith in God, in turn, means faith in one’s self, i.e., in one’s potentiality to rise to divine heights. On the other hand, it is (2) to convert the  spiritual  fervour  thus released into works of national reconstruction.
The movement described above has recently been   born  and   the  name  it  bears is Vivekananda Kendra. The seed of this move­ment was in  fact  sown as far back as three quarters  of a century ago by  Swami Vivekananda himself, when he brought into being the Sannyasi  Order of the Ramakrishna Mission. This Order has been preparing the ground since  then by propagating  the twin ideals of renunciation and service, especially  among  the intellectuals. The time is  now  ripe and the present  conditions also demand that enlightened people of this country yoke themselves to these ideals, and rouse the masses to intense activity towards national recon­struction. The coming into being of the Vivekananda Kendra is only an expression of that deep urge felt in the country.
(Editorial written by Mananeeya Eknathji Ranade which appeared in Yuva Bharati, September 1973 is being republished now).

Ma.Eknath Ranade