Hindu civilization has not been static. It has been characterized by constant movement, intellectual redefinition and struggle. Reformers within the Hindu framework continually contested certain tenets. The Veda and Upanishad are not centered on caste. Key successor texts, not to mention folk practice, challenge social elitism. Hinduism can not be reduced to a mere caste-centered tradition as it goes on to include a sense of the aesthetic, a method of statecraft and an approach to the secular. It incorporates empiricism, philosophy, devotion and dissent. To quote Radhakrishnan, "Hinduism is a movement, not a position; a process, not a result; a growing tradition, not a fixed revelation." It is an unstructured assortment of different sects, denominations and practices where common motifs and themes recur. The absence of fixed tenets or a rigid theology is conducive to free thought.
Persons of all castes contributed to a Hindu intellectual understanding of the world. The author of the Aitereya Brahmana was half Dasyu. Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, belonged to a robber tribe. Epic legend has it that the great rishi, Parasara, was the son of an outcaste girl. Vyasa, his son by a fisherwoman, edited the Mahabharata and Brahma Sutras.
There is a rich tradition of dissent in Hindu civilization. The Upanishads question ritual and ceremony. These texts emphasize reason as against priest craft. One Upanishad likens the chants of the priests to frogs croaking in twilight while the Svetasvatara Upanishad asserts that the attainment of immortal bliss is the birthright of all, irrespective of social position.
Much of the Bhakti movement of devotion to a personal god, emphasized democratic values. Proponents questioned exclusiveness, hierarchy, ritual and exploitation. One can refer to Namdev, the tailor, (1270-1350) whose guru was a grocer and sister, a maidservant. His songs of protest and devotion influenced medieval Hindu thought. Jnaneshwar, Eknath, and Tukaram likewise were poets of the masses who stressed the equality of man in the eyes of God. Texts such as the Bhagavad Geeta and Srimad Bhagavatam influenced these Maharashtrian saints.
The Lingayats represented democratic stirrings in early medieval Karnataka. This movement drew persons of all castes in committed devotion to Siva and organized the Siva anubhava mantapa in the 12 century, wherein all discussed, debated and defined the principles of Saivite Hinduism, regardless of caste. This movement, which included some 60 eminent women saints in positions of leadership, emphasized inter-caste marriage, the abandonment of untouchabity and the dignity of labor.
Other voices of protest rooted in the Hindu tradition included Ramanand and his disciples Kabir the weaver, Ravidas the shoe maker, and Sena the barber. Akho, the gold smith and the Tamil Siddhas opposed caste-based oppression as well. Most Siddhas belonged to the untouchable caste and spoke out, in Siva's name, against exploitation. The Siddhas, Pattinattar, Sivavakhiyar and Pathirakiriyar, criticized hypocrisy and formalism.
This liberal tradition continued into the 19th and 20th century with Ram Mohan Roy, Keshub Chandra Sen, Rabindranath Tagore, Jyotiba Phule, Narayana Guru, Vivekananda, Dayananda Saraswathi and Mohandas Gandhi. Each attempted to introduce a more just and compassionate society and did so from the Hindu standpoint.
One has to re-assert this liberal trend in Hinduism and re-emphasize the oneness of humanity. One can then recover an inheritance centered on loka samgraha, the purposive action towards the social good, and Kshemakrit, the welfare obligation to the poor. The highest worship is that of Daridra Narayana, that divinity who assumes the form of the downtrodden. To quote the author of the Bhagavata Purana,
"I desire from God neither Lordship nor absence from rebirth! I pray that I stay amongst the afflicted, that I bear the load of their grief and help liberate themselves from the causes."
Tiruvalluvar, the ancient Tamil poet, goes on to assert,
"real superiority does not stem from birth, wealth and education; it is born of character alone. The absence of character cannot sustain all or any of the former; indeed even with all of them, the absence of character would make one but a wretch."
Friday, October 07, 2005
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- Indonesia: The Aceh Peace Accord
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- Kashmir in 1947: A Viewpoint
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- How 'Bout Those Chickens!
- Indian Eye on Koizumi
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- Goodbye Lenin!
- Ingrate Bangladeshi Calls India "Evil"
- India's Alternate Sea Lanes?
- The Judiciary and India's Dalits
- Sarabjit Singh
- Senseless Census
- British India's War Dead: A Tribute
- The Wisdom Of Shaukat Aziz
- Great Expectations
- Sino-Japanese billiards: Indic Perspectives
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