History in the Breaking and Making of India

I have argued elsewhere that Republic of India is a Civilization-State, where Indic civilizational features will find increasing expression as the Indian state evolves away from its legacy of the British Raj. However, India’s history is an area of immense concern and a rate-limiting step in the evolution of the Civilization-State. The past seventy-five years of Indian independence have shown that to break away from the influences of intellectual and cultural imperialism is far more complicated than to draw away from political servitude because the foundation of colonization is cultural and spiritual illiteracy. 

Colonization influences Indians in unusual ways as it alienates us from our past. For instance, we refer to our Indic formals as ‘ethnic wear’ whereas a suit and a conservative tie in the heat of tropical India is our ‘natural’ formals. The Constitution of India is written in English when only 0.1% of independent India spoke the language. Likewise, the knowledge about India among the English educated elite is generated with an alienating European view when India was colonized. The main interest of the British was to write a history of India that justified their presence. So, they had to acknowledge the legitimacy of preceding violators like the Turks, Persians, and Mongols while accentuating only those Indic kings who either reformed or renounced the Hindu way of life. Several generations of Indians, including me, have grown up studying Indian history textbooks that scarcely evaluate our impact on the outside world even as we painstakingly document the aftermaths of ideas and actions of the outside world on us. 

Elites from colonized societies educated in the wake of the colonial rule often standardize colonial scholarship and legitimize it to the extent of rejecting most native insights about their own land, society, and culture. This dynamic largely explains the bloated investment in defining highly racialized tribes and ethnic types in colonized countries. Consider the state of African studies—with a nauseating inflection of Marxist narrative—is affected by similar categories: static tribes, decadent villages, and clashing ethnic groups. These frameworks were essential narratives that justified foreign rule— devices of hierarchical control by colonizing powers. Professor of African and world history Trevor Getz warns us, “the story we often tell of African tribes, chiefs, and villages tells us more about how Europeans thought of themselves in the period of colonization than of the realities in Africa before they came.” 

The same holds for the history of Indic civilization. On the threshold of intellectual and cultural decolonization in 1947, when rehabilitating Indic wisdom traditions and the dignity of Hindu civilization was the need of the hour, newly independent India saw the emergence of a new movement in writing its history. Though more self-reliant than Europeans in broadening the scope of Indian social and economic history, this movement deeply dyed Indian history in an expression of Marxism. India’s ancient past became a theater to assert European society’s preconceived class and material conceptions while obliterating the importance of Indic ideas in defining its own historical events. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Cambridge graduate whose fascination with Marxism and Fabian Socialism had made him an outlandish mix of the East and West, victimized the Indian civilization with his neither here nor their disposition. 

Jawaharlal Nehru, July 1957 | Flickr
India’s textbooks were written with Nehru in mind. It rejected the past. Source: Print

Commenting on the sly attempt at thought-control and brainwashing of future generations of newly independent India through a European/Marxist view of Indian history, celebrated Indic thought leader Ram Swarup writes: “Karl Marx was exclusively European in his orientation. He treated all Asia and Africa as an appendage of the West and, indeed, of Anglo-Saxon Great Britain. He borrowed all his theses on India from British rulers and fully subscribed to them. With them, he believes that Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history —implying our history is just a bunch of ancient myths—and that what we call its history is the history of successive intruders. With them, he also believes that India has neither known nor cared for self-rule. He says that the question is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turks, by the Persians, to India conquered by the Britons. His own choice was clear.”

As a result of such Marxist scribes, the brutal history of repeated invasions and the forced proselytization of Indic people is described in charitable words, often as the harbinger of an idealized syncretic culture that “refined” the Hindu society. Though I understand the emergence of syncretic cultures, it is absurd for anglicized elites to use them as an all-weather secular rationalization of blatant cultural and intellectual subjugation the Hindu psyche still confronts. The iconoclasm practiced by invading hordes and the resulting ruins of some of the most sacred Hindu sites find no place in our history books because it would ‘communalize’ history. Any inquisitive young Hindu will have to go out of the way to read the works of the trail-blazing Hindu publisher and historian Sita Ram Goel to understand the omitted sections from our history books. His two-volume work titled Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them analyzes nearly two thousand Hindu and Jain temples destroyed by Turkic/Mongol occupiers and their repercussions on the Indic ecosystem.

How was Hampi destroyed? - Quora
The city of Hampi (the nucleus of Karnata Empire of Southern India) that is majestic even in its ruin, was a city often compared to Rome for its size, its riches, its flourishing art, architecture and literature, and also its abrupt destruction. Source: Google Images

In a bizarre continuation of subjugating the Hindu temple ecosystem, the “secular” Indian state in 1951 under the Indian National Congress and its ideological Marxist and Communist allies selectively usurped Hindu temples and its lands to bring them under state control, and they continue to stifle the temple ecosystem of India. Every non-Hindu has a say on how Hindu temple rituals should be modified but a Hindu talking about Abrahamic practices will amount to a transgression of secularism and religious bigotry. I urge you to watch a quick primer on the crisis of Hindu temples in India — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js936p_cvTE.

Source: Upword

As though the mainstream Marxist narrative of Indian history wasn’t enough, they have even captured the space of alternative history. Professor Vamsee Juluri, in his book, Rearming Hinduism, compares the dominant and alternative History of India. Here, I present an excerpt from his work:

Mainstream Indian history, as we learned it in school (India): 

-Indian history begins with the Indus Valley Civilization (which is not Hindu) 

-Hinduism begins with the Aryan Invasion bringing Vedic Religion of Sacrifice 

-Hinduism is full of violent animal sacrifice until Buddhism reforms it 

-There is a brief Golden Age for Hinduism in which art and culture ‘flourishes,’ and the epic poems, The Ramayana and Mahabharata are composed. 

-There are Islamic invasions, but the Mughals bring harmony under Akbar

-The British colonize India; Hinduism is once again reformed 

-Gandhi and Nehru free us. 

Mainstream history, as it is taught in American schools, from a California textbook: 

-Indian history begins with the Indus Valley Civilization (which is not Hindu) 

-Hinduism begins with the Aryan Invasion bringing Vedic Religion of Sacrifice 

-Hinduism is full of violent animal sacrifice until Buddhism reforms it 

-The Ramayana and Mahabharata are composed. They have talking monkeys and bears and Hindus primitively animal-worship them. They also have the holiest text of Hindus, the Gita, which tells Hindus to do their caste duty and war. 

The outline of the ‘alternative’ history proposed in Wendy Doniger’s book:

-The Indus Valley Civilization (is not Hindu) 

-Hinduism begins with the Nazi-like Aryans bringing Vedic Religion of Sacrifice.

-Hinduism is full of violent animal sacrifice until Buddhism reforms it.

-There is no real Golden Age for Hinduism, but the Greek Invasion leads to great ideas and works of fiction like The Ramayana and Mahabharata. Greek women presumably inspired the fierce and independent Draupadi. 

-After chapters called ‘Sacrifice in the Vedas’ and ‘Violence in The Mahabharata,’ at long last, we have ‘Dialogue and Tolerance under the Mughals.’

-The British colonize India; Hinduism is reformed. 

-Once India gained independence, without those civilizing external forces, the Hindus became Hindutva extremists. 

How can Doniger’s work be an ‘alternative,’ Vamsee Juluri asks, when its claims are the same as the dominant narrative? He notes that this ‘alternative’ history of Hinduism is at the top of the heap in most bookstores in the West, and its thesis dominates the press coverage of Hindu India. In a normal world, if there were ten titles written by ‘Hindu apologists’ on the shelf, then an ‘alternative’ would have indeed been worthy of the respect that term brings. Hence, the mainstream and the so-called alternative narratives of Indian history are both contemptuous for India of Hindu religion, culture, and philosophy. It is fortified in the republic of letters as ‘progressive’ criticism. This narrative still holds sway over academic appointments, research grants, crafting syllabi, and promoting textbooks. In other words, postcolonial Indian historians have primarily pursued the same blinkered colonizing vision of their masters who saw history only through a narrow prism of class, material wealth, and outsiders descending upon Hindus to ‘reform’ our heathen culture. In contrast, the history of the Hindu past is framed strictly within the confines of a region or sectarian terms. Therefore, instead of seeing the invaders for who they were, the history of Hindu India provincializes itself in this process and legitimizes self-hatred.

With a deep concern for such self-hatred in historical narratives, the Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul said: “This inveterate hatred of one’s ancestors and the culture into which they were born is accompanied by a hatred deep enough to want to destroy one’s own land and join the ranks of the violators of the ancestral land and culture, at least in spirit. Pakistan is an example. Its heroes are not the Vedic kings and Indic sages who walked the land but invading vandals like Ghaznavi and Ghori, who ravaged them.”

Accounting for the history of any country is a delicate task. However, it is far more sensitive for a civilization that has had a long colonial past. So, while reading mainstream Indian history, one must be mindful of what the foreigners wanted to know first. Because what they wanted to perceive foremost was beneficial to them in ruling the place as handily as possible, which effectively explains the dominance of hollow postulates surrounding racialized ethnic Aryan and Dravidian divides, and confounding European class concept with Hindu Varna in colonial and Marxist literature. These factors make it practically impossible for modern observers not to visualize previously colonized societies as changeless and unevolved for centuries. They never question if Indic social features are also aftermaths of several invading powers, the resulting conflict, and instinctive adaptations. Entities like factions and castes are often not static social constructs that result from endlessly contested histories. In Indic civilization and other colonized lands, such identities were often situational and flexible, not wholly rigid, and all-encompassing; wholesale rigidity is often a bug that needs exploration and explanation, not a feature to be endorsed unquestioned. A.M.Hocart, regarded by the philosopher-traditionalist Ananda Coomaraswamy as perhaps the only unprejudiced European sociologist who has written on caste, states: “It is at present fashionable to rationalize all customs, and to write up the “economic man” to the exclusion of that far older and more widespread type, the religious man, who, though he tilled and built and reared a family, believed that he could do these things successfully only so long as he played his allotted part in the ritual activities of his community.”

Indeed, the rigidity of the caste system was not the cause but the effect of the breakdown of political order. Moreover, the fixation with caste in Indian historical writings has made us oblivious to the profound ontological assumptions underlying the complexities of Indian society. Hindu society conceived multidirectional relationships at different levels of existence. This ideal of the individual-community relationship assumed that although human beings differ in temperament, each of them must try to develop and realize the full potential of being human through seeking greater intercourse with other members as part of cosmic reality. Dumont misunderstands this notion and argues that the individual in Indian thought did not exist beyond the idea of caste. It is simply not true because the concept of Indic autonomy is different from Individualism. Rights in Western liberal traditions are ‘claims’ against others in the society, but Indic society gave prominence to duties first, as it presupposed the consideration of others without obliterating autonomy. According to treatises like Sukraniti and the grand wisdom of Atharvaveda, autonomy is the state when no one can dominate us against our will or fundamental nature. Indian thought refers to this state as Swaraj; the Indian struggle for independence was predicated on Swaraj

Several other Indic scholars have highlighted the adverse effect of excessive emphasis on caste coupled with a de-emphasis of equally important other Indic social concepts. Factors such as ashrama, shreni, Kula and Jati, and above all Dharma (Global Ethic) are overlooked, leading to a grave misunderstanding about the character of Hindu society through its historical writings. Indeed, in the Ramayana (venerated Indian epic-poem composed by an author not belonging to the “upper class”) and Mahabharata (revered Indian epic-poem composed by an author born to a fisherwoman) and in the broad scope of Puranic literature, there is a notion of an individual who gives life and substance to the existence in this world. Indeed, so great has been the weight attached to the individual that Indic art and literature are sought to be expressed through the lives of such individuals, be it limited but the exuberant personality of Sri Rama or the unlimited personality of Sri Krishna (a cowherd who is the ultimate avatar; he also happens to be dark-complexioned) or the non-dimensional, half-man half-woman personality of Shiva. Needless to add that the importance of the themes discussed here springs from the fact that Hindu society of 2021 is still largely organized around them.

Indic pantheism may look absurd to atheists and those of Abrahamic persuasion alike. Nevertheless, the Indic tradition has always had a transnational characteristic and considerable geopolitical sphere of influence. Therefore, in the future Hindu scholarship will understandably reject the notion of the colonial or Marxist intelligentsia that overemphasized the ‘local’ or ‘regional’ as more ‘authentic’ than the larger society, territory, or neighborhood of the Hindus. Hindu scholars of today already investigate more into the interplay of local, regional, national, and global settings that have historically responded to Hindu thought and actions. As native scholarship course corrects Indian history, the updated Indian history textbooks of the future will undoubtedly give way to a bad press in the global north with alarmist headlines such as ‘Hindu revision of Indian history.’ Still, anyone with a reasonable amount of grey matter needs to recognize the mobility of Hindu predecessors and think through the different spatial frameworks they occupied and traversed Bhārata (the original name of Indic Civilization mentioned in the Indian constitution).

When external forces become overpowering, or the body of society is unable to assimilate them, inevitable tensions are generated, leading to its decay. The interaction of the outside influences with the total personality of the Hindu society and various traditions within it can be a fascinating study. I’m not suggesting that the mainstream discourse has no valuable insights in this regard. I’m only pointing at the enormous biases and gaps and how native Hindu scholarship is best equipped to address them. As I see it, an inevitable manifestation of cultural and intellectual decolonization of the Indian Civilization-State is the progressive recognition of the depth and scope of its Hindu character. A character that remains currently truncated for ‘communal’ comfort in the dominant narrative of Indian history.

11 thoughts on “History in the Breaking and Making of India

  1. I admire your wholesale analysis. Much of it rings true. Yet, as is almost always the case with anti-colonial critques, I am left with a sparse undestanding of the features of Indic cultures that the latest invader, and the ones before, it destroyed. I do not blame you at all for attending to first things first and I believe that complicated things require space to explain. I do think, hewever, that you owe the reader a Part Two, or, perhaps an illustrative appendix.

    • Thank you very much! Yes, that’s true. I need to do a bit of reading and frame my thoughts carefully as we are talking about what’s common between Turks, Mongols (Mughals) and post-Zoroastrian Persians and how their culture was antithetical to the Indic culture around the 8th and 10th centuries. I’ll need some time.

      To give you a taste of what it entails: My maternal ancestors migrated from India’s Eastern to the Western coast purely to avoid paying jizya or be slaughtered for not converting. My mom’s ancestors had to adapt and strengthen their social network, traditions, and sub-culture in their newfound home within Bharat. Such adaptations brought in a rigidity, created a new dynamic with the social network, traditions, and sub-culture of the Western state.

      Similarly, Indian musical tradition was pretty much uniform until Kashmir, and northwest India saw the invasion of those Turkic, Mongol, and Persian kings who either despised music or militated against lyrics that openly praised Krishna or Rama. Idols were removed. Temples were desecrated. Therefore, northern Indian music changed, while the south retained the older tradition because we in the south established the Karnata empire that was the most significant barrier against the Delhi Sultanate. Today, India has two distinct forms of traditional music (north and south). But the history books will not tell us why. A foreigner presumes that the south hates the north; there must be this Aryan vs. Dravidian divide. But that’s not true at all. The real reason may ‘communalize’ history. The story goes on.

    • That’s a good start. Keep going. But you take too much for granted, I think. You don’t eve tell us from where your maternal ancestors migrated. Also, be very, very careful of famility narratives. The newish wave of interest in family history – including genetic history – suggests that family narratives in general, are not trustworthy. Think of the poor Sen. Elizabeth Warren! I, a foreigner do not presume that North Indians hate South Indians. In fact, I have never heard, or read anything like this although I have been married to a Bengali woman for forty years. What I have heard numerous times is southern resensentment about the unequal treatment of southern languages. As far as your broader self-assignment is concerned, it seems to me that it would profit greatly if you began with a version of the “null hypothesis” : That which the invaders destroyed was no better than that which they brought with them. Finally, rememeber that the beauty of advice that is both free and unsolicited is that it’s easy to ignore! Best of luck.

  2. May we philosophize that the presence of some pearls among the detritis of past civilizations is a part of the very significant cost of human progress?

    • The philosophizing would be appropriate if the Indic civilization were an actual museum piece to marvel at. But it is not. 85% of India is still Hindu. It is very much a living culture. It is slumbering in many aspects. India’s material progress will happen with its Hindu character more or less intact. If its nature is renounced, it is bound to balkanize. For those who find this suspicious, please look at those parts of ancient India that rejected the Hindu character and are not a part of the Indian Union — Pakistan, Bangladesh, and parts of Afghanistan. Did either country remain multi-cultural and multi-religious in any meaningful sense? The Indian democracy and tolerance of linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity (of course, with lots of road bumps) is because of its basic Hindu social fabric, not despite it.

  3. More constructive criticism: “… Hindu temple ecosystem….” You may have defined this expression and I missed it. If you did define it, my apologies but you may think of doing it a second time. If you did not define it, you should know that those three words raise this experienced reader’s critical hackles. The inclusion of the word “ecosystem” is what does it. I am thinking that here is a near-fashionable word that closes down my instinct to figure out what the author means. If I did not have so much respect for traditional Hinduism, I would say, “This looks like bullshit is coming.” Of course, there would be the danger of grave cross-cultural misunderstanding and that you would interpret my statement as, ” something more precious than gold!” Keep going.

    • In response to your earlier message:
      I thought I shouldn’t bore you with details. We live in the Kannada-speaking country (Karnataka) now. My maternal ancestors come from the Tamil-speaking country (Tamil Nadu).
      I’m not basing my arguments on anecdotal history at all. That was just a minor point I raised in the comment. I appreciate your interest and constructive suggestions. I will work on the null hypothesis.

      About the Hindu Temple ecosystem: Hindu temples, traditionally, are not places of prayer or transactional dialogue with the divine. Nobody leads a prayer for you. There is a priest, but he must function as an archaka (trained to care for the Arka or the image of the presiding deity). Essentially, you are on your own in the temple, provided you follow certain etiquettes. Yes, there are temples of devotion (bhakti temples), but that’s a relatively recent manifestation. Overall, the Hindu temple ecosystem is a hub of meditation, art, debate, and, most of all, learning.

      What exactly constitutes the temple “ecosystem”?

      There is a Garbha Gudi (Sanctum Sanctorum) where a presiding deity is consecrated and worshiped with specific rituals. The presiding deity can range from Vishnu (personification of the all-pervading divinity), Saraswati/Sharda (goddess of learning), to the non-dimensional Shiva in the form of water, fire, air, etc.

      Beyond the Grabha Gudi are the Ghatika, Agrahara, and Mathha.
      Ghatikas are spaces where learned scholars (Acharya) carried out debates on applying philosophical matters in the real world, the nature of reality, etc.
      Agrahara was dedicated to teaching young monks (Brahmana) about the Vedic corpus, Astronomy, Grammar, Mathematics, Meditation, Yoga, etc. Non-Brahmins funded them to ensure the continuity of learning and advancement of society. It could house anywhere from 100-300 students, complete with food and shelter.
      Mathhas served as academies of excellence in certain advanced subjects. Specialized scholars from such Mathhas would later visit other Mathhas and Ghatikas to teach and debate. These scholars had the titles like Chaturvedi, Trivedi, Somayaji, Bhatta, Karmavid, Vajapeyi, etc.

      The Hindu Temple campus housed a water body, where new graduates in the presence of their Gurus and invitees would offer a Dakshina (gift for the guru), recite chapter XI of the Taitreya Upanishad, deliver obeisance to the Chith-Agni (the fire of knowing), followed by a ceremonial bath (Snana or Samavartana).
      The Chapter XI of Taitreya Upanishad is as follows:
      Never deviate from the truth
      Never deviate from Dharma (Ethics)
      Never neglect your well-being
      Never neglect your health
      Never neglect worldly activities (for gain and welfare)
      Never neglect svadhyaya (self-study) and Pravachana (speaking the truth)
      And finally:
      Your mother is like your god
      Your father is like your god
      Your teachers are like your god
      Your guests are like your god

      The new graduate was called Vidya Snathaka (One who is bathed in learning). The town’s revenue would support the Grabha Gudi, Ghatika, Agrahara, and Mathhas, along with the maintenance of Saraswati Bhandara (libraries).
      This temple ecosystem present throughout Bharat, also described as temple universities, operated alongside the four leading stand-alone universities of ancient and medieval India:
      Nalanda (modern-day Bihar)
      Takshashila (modern-day Punjab region of Pakistan)
      Valabhi (modern-day Gujurat) specialized in political science and commerce
      Ujjaini (modern-day Madhya Pradesh)

      The temple ecosystem was crucial in establishing the Kerala School of Mathematics that was the first to indulge in calculations of sine tables to 12 decimal places. Look up G. G. Joseph’s The Crest of the Peacock: The Non-European Roots of Mathematics. The ecosystem also contributed to producing the Sushrutha Samhita and Charaka Samhita, the first medical manuals of the world, which also had an oath quite similar to the Hippocratic oath and quite likely predated it. [https://hinducouncil.com.au/new/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Sushruta.jpg]
      Furthermore, vocational training flourished around the temple ecosystem and helped a great deal in the local economy.
      The systematic iconoclasm unleashed on the Garbha Gudi (the nucleus of the ecosystem) all in the name of proselytization destroyed the Ghatikas, Agrahara, and Mathhas. As a consequence, the vocational training was left without an object. This gravely affected Indic learning, wisdom traditions, and economy.

      It would help if you looked at the Hindu temple as a place beyond an expression of faith. It produced the ethics of conduct appropriate for the age, learning various subjects, and was the meeting ground of theory and practice applied to every aspect of mundane life. Since Hindu tradition is not a pontified or centralized Church-like organization, the decentrality of its institutions allowed for regional interpretations and schools of thought. However, under subjugation, this system broke down but never died out. We still have Mathhas, Agrahara, and Ghatikas around my home in India, but they are not at the forefront of knowledge. Any attempt at rejuvenating them will be pejoratively termed as Hindu revivalism and what not. The “secular” government still stifles these temple lands by excessive taxation, etc. Please watch this video: https://youtu.be/BZ7XdcMFGLI

    • You did not bore me at all. You can’t make a few words central to your narrative – temple ecosystem – and not explain what they mean. That’s true even if explaining is a challenge, as it is in this case. In my limited but not null experience, those who attempt this sort of thing don’t do too much, rather, they don’t go to the end of their project. It’s your challenge as a writer to make the description your attempt to do so, limpid and not too taxing to the reader. I still think the word “ecosystem” is ill chosen. “Eco” has too many connotations today (today); it has too much baggage. My own limited but real experience is this: Those who try to explain to me either Buddhism or Hinduism often don’t seem to have their topic under full control. They tend to hide behind words in a foreign language to try to avoid being clear. I mean that they don’t do as good a job at explaining these sets beliefs and practices as I would explaining Christianity, for example. This is all subjective, of course. You decide whether it’s useful or not.

      You also allow yourself to sink into obscurity. Perhaps, it’s because of lack of familiarity with the severe limitations of the average educated westerner’s knowledge. Here is a striking example: you wrote: “The systematic iconoclasm unleashed on the Garbha Gudi (the nucleus of the ecosystem) all in the name of proselytization destroyed the Ghatikas, Agrahara, and Mathhas.” I have no information about these events. I don’t even know when they took place, take or leave a century or two. I have to add, at great cost to my natural humility, that I am better read, have greater general culture than your average westerner with a college degree. I also suspect (I would bet on it) that not one in ten of my Indian acquaintances in the US would have anything to say at all about this instance of persecution. I have an intuition (just that) that there is a part of your mind that refuses to recognize the magnitude of what you have undertaken. Happens all the time. If this is right, you have a decision to make: Shoulder the full, extensive burden or cut out a smaller part you wish to cook up for general consumption. One way or the other, I hope you will continue. PS I have not watched the video. I rarely do.

  4. Another thing, a small thing, but perhaps exemplary. You write: “Indic pantheism may look absurd to atheists and those of Abrahamic persuasion alike.” No, it does not look absurd. Every Westerner with a college education – OK, every other such Westerner – is familiar with the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. What I know of their Hindu counterparts is not especially shocking or disorienting. (It’s not obvious though to me if the Hindu gods add up to “pantheism.” They may, I can be persuaded, but I am not.) In general, I am not sure you are clear about who you are writing for. You may be alternating in your own mind between an educated and westernized Indian audience and an undefined Western audience. Seems to me those are different missions, with the first being the toughest because such Indians will think they already know something. I would bet that interested Westerners in general think they don’t. I am not sure where you live but it should be possible to gather four or five Americans or Europeans for coffee three or four times to get a rough idea of the cultural baggage they carry in common. Here is a piece of pan-European wisdom to help you begin: Don’t fight windmills as if they were knights in full armor and on horseback. I think what you are doing is valuable.

    • “I still think the word “ecosystem” is ill-chosen. “Eco” has too many connotations today (today); it has too much baggage.”

      My Response: You repeatedly harp on temple “ecosystem” being problematic but never actually explain the nature of the baggage it carries. It seems to me that you are taking it for granted that everyone must have the same baggage around this term that you seem to be holding. The various elements of the Indic temple that are distributed spatially and interact as one whole, one nerve-center, create a network of such temples throughout Bharat—making it an ecosystem of cultural wisdom. And it has been described in other works. I didn’t coin it. I borrowed an accepted term, clearly affirmed by those who don’t think ‘ecosystem’ is ill-chosen nor feel its supposed baggage in a different setting is of extreme significance to Indians.

      “You also allow yourself to sink into obscurity. Here is a striking example: you wrote: “The systematic iconoclasm unleashed on the Garbha Gudi (the nucleus of the ecosystem) all in the name of proselytization destroyed the Ghatikas, Agrahara, and Mathhas.” I have no information about these events. I don’t even know when they took place, take or leave a century or two. I have to add, at great cost to my natural humility, that I am better read, have greater general culture than your average westerner with a college degree. I also suspect (I would bet on it) that not one in ten of my Indian acquaintances in the US would have anything to say at all about this instance of persecution.”

      My Response: I don’t think my comment sank into obscurity. In the space of a reply, I highlighted the key elements (Garba Gudi, Ghatika, Agrahara, and Mathhas) of any significant Indic temple complex that became the targets of desecration under the invaders and colonizers. I have even hyperlinked the book that documents these destructions. If anyone cares to go through Sita Ram Goel, who has recorded 2000—representing the peak of the iceberg of desecration—of such temple desecrations, the understanding about the Indic temple ecosystem will not sink into obscurity in one’s understanding. It will also not get stuck in pointless phraseology. The ignorance of the ten Indian acquaintances only proves my point of the degree to which Marxist and Colonial narratives around the history of India have created disregard, apathy, and solidified the incapacity to receive previously suppressed information for many lifetimes.

      “PS I have not watched the video. I rarely do.”
      My Response: This is a case in point of your lack of genuine interest in gaining clarity on the Indic temple ecosystem and a continued fixation on your mental baggage around the term.

      “My own limited but real experience is this: Those who try to explain to me either Buddhism or Hinduism often don’t seem to have their topic under full control. They tend to hide behind words in a foreign language to try to avoid being clear. I mean that they don’t do as good a job at explaining these sets of beliefs and practices as I would explaining Christianity, for example. This is all subjective, of course. You decide whether it’s useful or not. […] Another thing, a small thing, but perhaps exemplary. You write: “Indic pantheism may look absurd to atheists and those of Abrahamic persuasion alike.” No, it does not look absurd. Every Westerner with a college education – OK, every other such Westerner – is familiar with the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. What I know of their Hindu counterparts is not especially shocking or disorienting. (It’s not obvious though to me if the Hindu gods add up to “pantheism.” They may, I can be persuaded, but I am not.)”

      My Response: You’re right. There is a long-standing predicament to explain Hinduism to suit western preconceptions and demands, turning complex Hindu traditions and practices into a sanitized bourgeois monotheism complemented by congregational worship or neo-Vedic fire sacrifices. The Hindu wisdom traditions have had to sort of ‘semitize’ themselves (Hindu Dharma became an -ism and more recently has turned to Hindu-ness or Hindu-tva) to defend against the proselytization by Islamic hordes and Christian missionaries.

      Moreover, you overstate the Western mind’s range of receptivity to accept a plurality of spiritual methods in all its enormity. There is undoubtedly a provisional acceptance (due to socio-political, new-age movements, and possible links to Pagan customs) but not a profound realization by any means. I have lived in Illinois and Ohio for five years each. I have seen an idol of Buddha used as a door stopper. Sri Krishna and Shiva compared to Satan, etc. Overall, exclusivist monotheism compounded by implicit imperialism cannot easily come to terms with pantheism informed by non-dogmatic monism. It is like the struggle between English monolingualism and polyglot Hindus during colonial times.

      On the Hindu pantheism:
      The Hindu tradition practices Monism (absolute reality, as opposed to one god assertion). The absolute reality (the Brahman) is both immanent (Sagun Brahman) and transcendent (Nirgun Brahman) of this creation. The Sagun Brahman differentiates (as plenary and non-plenary divisions) into devas (gods), and each deva holds a unique key to understanding the same Brahman (absolute reality). Therefore Hindu pantheism is a part of greater awareness that recognizes Brahman not only in the heavens above but in the very ground on which we stand.

      Let me try to explain Hinduism without the -ism to the best of my ability. We refer to it as Hindu Dharma or Sanatana Dharma (the Hindu ethic or the Eternal ethic):
      There are six branches of Hindu wisdom traditions (Darśana)
      1) Nyaya –> School of Logic –> Gautama is the founding seer –> Nyaya Sutra of Gautama (This is not Gautama Buddha but an earlier Sage Gautama) is the foundational text
      2) Vaisheshika –> School of Categories of Reality –> Kanada is the founding seer –> Vaisheshika Sutra by Kanada is the foundational text
      3) Samkhya –> School of Cosmic Principles –> Kapila is the founding seer -> Samkhya Karika is the foundational text
      4) Yoga –> School of Yoga –> Hiranyagarbha is the founding seer -> Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is the foundational text
      5) Purva Mimamsa –> School of Rituals and Dharma (Ethics) –> Jaimini is the founding seer –> Jaimini Sutra is the foundational text
      6) Vedanta (aka Uttara Mimamsa) –> School of Metaphysics and Self-realization –> Badarayana (aka Veda Vyasa) is the founding seer –> Brahma Sutra of Badarayana is the foundational text

      The Six Darśana or Schools come in three pairs:
      –> Nyaya and Vaisheshika deal with a systematic inquiry into the nature of physical reality.
      –>Samkhya and Yoga deal with principles of cosmic existence and the practical methods of realizing our constitutional position within the cosmic self.
      –>Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta deal with the theories of Karma and how it clouds our perception of absolute reality.

      Vedanta itself divides further into systems of Tantra (much maligned in the West due to many perversions), Jnana Yoga (Intellectual inquiry into the self), Bhakti (Devotional inquiry into the self), Karma (External action-oriented inquiry into the self), Kriya (Internal action-oriented inquiry into the self).

      All six Darśana are complementary facets of Hindu thought and action.
      It is safe to say that Vedanta is the spine of modern-day Hindu Dharma, Bhakti is its heart, and Yoga is its sinews. The cream of all the Hindu Darśana traditions finds expression as one living road map of eighteen chapters in the Bhagavad Gita — the main text of Hindus– in the backdrop of a great war, symbolic of the ethical dilemmas we face amid unending polarities and the rigors of daily life. Each chapter builds onto the next one in a succession of Q&A between a charioteer (Sri Krishna, the Avatar) and a skilled marksman (Arjuna, the Seeker). The Bhagavad Gita starts with The Yoga of Arjuna’s Dejection and ends with The Yoga of Liberation.

      Self-conscious activity is at the core of Hindu Dharma because the knowledge of the self can only be realized through the action of the mind, body, emotions, and energies. The ultimate goal of all action is the liberation of the individual.

      Bhagavad Gita in a nutshell (One cannot explain Hindu Dharma without the Gita)
      The charioteer tells the dejected marksman to perform his Swadharma (Self-Duty informed by ethics).

      Q: What is Swadharma?
      A: Our role in society is shaped by our inherent nature (Prakriti), Capability (Samarthya), and responsibilities (Kartavya). Let the discretionary mind (Vivek Buddhi) guide you through the various ethical frameworks that govern you, namely, family ethics (Kutumb dharma), professional ethics (vyavaharika dharma), and everyday ethics (Samanya dharma).

      Q: Will the discretionary mind always guide me in the right direction?
      A: Not when it is deluded by anger, greed, lust, ego, jealousy, and extreme attachment in sense-objects. It is the desire to gratify the senses and ego that leads to anger. Anger leads to delusions that further distort our memory and intellect, leading to wrong decisions and undesirable actions.

      Q: So then, how to ensure that the discretionary mind always guides me well?
      A: By becoming Yogastha (situated in Yoga).

      Q: What does it mean to be situated in Yoga?
      A: a) Equanimity in all situations and outcomes.
      b) Unperturbed by emotional vacillations.
      c) Detachment (not disinterest) in outcomes and situations
      d) Striving for excellence
      e) Detachment in egotistical ‘Doer-ship,’ developing a sense of being an instrument for the outcome
      f) Having a profound dedication to act

      Q: How can I not be attached to the outcome when the outcome matters?
      A: Yes, outcome matters. But the outcome is not entirely under our control and depends on multiple factors.

      Q: What are these factors?
      A: The doer, the instruments/resources of action, the environment/substratum in which the action is executed, the processes followed, and the fifth factor is ‘daivam.’ The fifth is not in our control; call it probability, risk factor or grace.

      Q: If the outcome is anyway not in my control, isn’t it better to instead not act at all?
      A: Inaction is impossible for a human. Activity is the essence of life. Even to sustain this body, we must act. To give up action to avoid an inconvenient situation is delusional. Eventually, one will have to face what one has tried to avoid.

      Q: Then why is ‘giving up,’ ‘renunciation,’ a virtue?
      A: It is a virtue when one ‘gives up’ attachment to the outcome of the action and sense of ego-centric ‘doership’; and acts by one’s Swadharma, without letting emotions of anger, greed, fear, lust, jealousy cloud one’s intelligence. Giving up one’s responsibilities and Swadharma for fear of outcome is not a virtue. Inaction is not a virtue. Not taking a stand when one must, is not a virtue. It is escapism. It is a selfish act. Giving up acting out of delusion or ignorance is ‘Tamasic’ (a passive view of the world). [Tamasic is one of three views of Indic life. Tamasic (a passive view), Rajasic (passionate view), Satvic (Compassionate view unsullied by intellect)]

      Q: So I must be a doer but give up doer-ship. What does this mean?
      A: You must own the action. There is no choice for us in this regard; our action is ours to own. To give up ego-centric ‘doership’ is to give up ownership of the outcome of the action. The doer indeed has a role to play, but it is just one of the factors to determine the outcome.

      Q: No control on the outcome, no claim of ownership of the result, then what is the motivation to act and act with dedication. How do I convince myself to work hard?
      A: The outcome is not under one’s control, but acting to the best of one’s ability indeed is. In the long run, failure is ensured if the doer is ineffective. Victory or defeat can only happen for an action performed—the motivation to act lies in the conviction of the act itself and our Swadharma. We should act because it is the appropriate thing to do.

      Q: Emotions are the essence of being human. Why the aversion to emotions?
      A: Yes, emotions make us human, and they have an evolutionary and social purpose. So does intelligence. Together they drive our decision-making. However, when not controlled by intelligence (buddhi), the emotional self (manas) gets busy with the instant gratification of the senses, even though that action may not benefit us and those around us. Use your emotions appropriately under the control of your intelligence to execute actions, not vice versa.

      Q: Controlling emotions and the mind are easier said than done.
      A: No doubt, but it is not impossible. It can be achieved by way of conscious practice and by developing a detached, objective third-person perspective.

      Q: What kind of practices and techniques can one employ to control the mind and develop a yogastha perspective?
      A: Through self-study (swadhyaya), cultivating a sense of dedication (shraddha) and devotion (bhakti), regulated breathing and meditation (pranayam & dhyana), and exercising a sense of moderation in all our activities in wakefulness and sleep.

      The Q&A goes on…

      Note: In the Hindu Dharma, we recognize error and liberation, not sin and redemption. Heaven and hell are not absolute or final entities but are transitional experiential realities within the same absolute reality. The yogastha perspective of the Bhagavad Gita compliments the Upasnishadic insight (Upanishads are Vedic literature of Q&A on various subjects under the Vedanta School.)

      The Upanishadic wisdom is as follows:
      There are four states of reality for all living beings. We regularly experience three states; the entire spiritual endeavor is to experience the fourth, which forms the substratum of the other three states. What are the four states?
      –>The first quarter is the Wakefulness–one who experiences the gross physical world.
      –> The second quarter is the Dream– one who experiences the subtle mind-projected world.
      –> The third quarter is the Deep-Sleep– one who experiences the unmanifest world.
      –> The fourth quarter, also known as Turiya (literally meaning the fourth), is an indescribable state of self-realization. It is also known as Mukti/Moksha/Nirvana or simply Liberation.

      The Hindu Dharmic view looks to create methods for each to reach Turiya through yogic practices, self-conscious activity, etc. It is a gradualist approach and context-specific; one size doesn’t fit all. One either achieves self-realization at the moment of death or in the wakeful state provided there is sufficient evolution of the being. But most often, people do not touch Turiya at all. There is no place for belief or disbelief in the existence of Turiya, as it neither confirms nor negates its existence. Turiya = liberation. Liberation isn’t achieved based on one’s belief or disbelief. Instead, it is achieved by combining intellectual inquiry, devotional inquiry, external action-oriented inquiry, and subtle inner-action-oriented inquiry (Dhyana/meditation).

      “In general, I am not sure you are clear about who you are writing for. You may be alternating in your own mind between an educated and westernized Indian audience and an undefined Western audience. It seems to me those are different missions, with the first being the toughest because such Indians will think they already know something. I would bet that interested Westerners, in general, think they don’t. I am not sure where you live, but it should be possible to gather four or five Americans or Europeans for coffee three or four times to get a rough idea of the cultural baggage they carry in common. Here is a piece of pan-European wisdom to help you begin: Don’t fight windmills as if they were knights in full armor and on horseback. I think what you are doing is valuable.”

      My Response: Point taken. My article was written for westernized minds in general. I did not distinguish between a westernized Indian audience and an undefined Western audience.

    • Many good explanations, some of which might better placed in an appendix so as to be available but not imposed. You, alone, by yourself, decided to talk about the travails of Hinduism and its persecution mostly to people who are unlikely to know much about Hinduism. I know it’s discouraging but few Westerners probably know as much about it as I do. (I don’t know if I mentioned it before but I have been married to a Hindu for forty years. A long time ago, I even received formal instruction in Hinduism in Mumbai – another story, of course.) So, don’t bite off my nose if I point out to you that some of your writing probably does not get through to many of the intended. I am trying to help. My opinion is like all free advice: It should be easy to dismiss or ignore it. Two main comments: First, your summary of Hinduism does not work. It looks to me like a display of drawers in an apothecary shop, each drawer with with a careful label in a language I don’t understand, maybe Albanian, or Finnish. Second, the root “eco” has come to mean, for better of for worse, something that has to do with the natural environment. I am well aware of other usages. I was one of the founders of the field of Organizational Ecology, a very productive endeavor in terms of research but one which rebuts many people because of its name, precisely. Again, you can easily ignore my comments. Again, they are offered in a spirit of helpfulness. I think you are brave.

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