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मत सोचो

मृतकों पर चुनती दीवारें,
गंगा से उठती फुफकारें,
इंजेक्शन की गुहारें,
श्मशान की कतारें,
शासन की दुत्कारें,
उनके घमंड के नारे,

मत देखो।

क्यों हाथ धरे बैठे थे,
अपनी जीत पर ऐंठे थे,
जो जीत नहीं क़िस्मत थी,
तैयारी की मोहलत थी,
नहीं अस्पताल बनवाए,
क्यों सीना चौड़ा कर आए?

मत पूछो।

शाखों पर उल्लू चढ़वाये,
फिर जड़ सारे कटवाये,
खून से खून लड़वाये,
आँसू के दरिये बहवाये,
अब अपने दरवाजे पर ही
बाढ़ जो उसकी आए,

मत रोओ।

Thoughts

Everything is fair in Capitalism and Religion?

Talk about giving fair prices to farmers, or free drinking water to citizens, or making workplaces comfortable for women, specially-abled people, minorities, and oppressed groups, or basic economic security for the poorest sections of society, and you would have chorus go up from the very top of the pyramid. “That’s not capitalism!” they would remind you and walk off in a huff. It is supposed to be a self-evident argument. How can you demand, expect, hope, or do something that isn’t in line with the “capitalism” they espouse? What blasphemy!

But the question is this. Where does this “capitalism” get such moral authority from that the human society must conform to its rules? Why can’t we do something that this “capitalism” doesn’t agree to? “Capitalism” is not a natural law, not a constraint of physics. It isn’t even a religion. No prophet or messiah has ever preached capitalism to humankind. No “avatar” has descended on earth to defend it. Why then is “capitalism” supposed to be the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Because Adam Smith said so. Apparently. He said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.” He made a case that when people – producers and consumers – act in their self-interest, it ends up in a situation where we produce what the society wants, in the amount the society wants to consume, and at a price that is fair and natural. Everyone is better off. So, the government should not try to direct what should be produced or consumed, and by whom. Society will figure it out and do it in a way that works for everyone.

That is such an attractive idea. Society can take care of itself. Through the “Invisible Hand”. Everyone will act only in their own interest because that’s what individuals are programmed to do. And everyone will still be happy.

Very attractive idea indeed. Except it doesn’t work. Two questions:

  1. Do the market forces really behave in such a benign way that an equilibrium is achieved where things are produced in the right quantity and sold at the right price?
  2. Even if production-price-demand equilibrium could be achieved, does it really ensure justice in the society and well-being of people?

The first question is almost tautological. Who even knows what the right equilibrium is. You can say that whatever market forces produce is the equilibrium. If Apple and Google make an insane amount of money, if Amazon destroys small businesses, if deep discounting by companies with tonnes of money distorts the market and drives the not-so-deep-pocketed competitors out, if companies that are earning very well fire employees in their moment of need, or others treat them poorly, it is all towards that equilibrium. You can say that and win an argument, but it would be ridiculous. This is no fair equilibrium. It can’t be. Because the conditions in which the “Invisible Hand” could ever work are simply impractical. The neat world of “Invisible Hand” assumes a uniform mass of producers, uniform needs of consumers, commoditized products that are not at all differentiated, infinite mobility for producers to start producing something else if the market demands, infinite ease and flexibility for the consumers to switch the producers they procure from, everybody having perfect information about market and prices, and very importantly nobody other than the government having the power to disrupt or hijack the mechanism.

None of this is true. And I particularly want to draw attention to the last assumption. That government is the only entity with power that can disrupt a system. That all producers and consumers are benign players in this game governed by the Invisible Hand.

A bigger lie couldn’t be envisaged.

Companies are not nice participants in this game. Nor is any individual with any power. They can break the “Invisible Hand”, if it ever existed, a million times over each day. The economy is not a simple one-on-one relationship between individual producers and consumers. Whosoever has power, whether they are the producer or a consumer in a transaction, uses it for their benefit. And if they keep getting away with it (they do!), we don’t reach a place where the entire society is better off. Nope! There are many who lose. Some figure out potentially nefarious ways of getting power.

There is no nice equilibrium that the market automatically produces. But even if you insist that whatever is there is the equilibrium, the next question is why should that equilibrium be considered sacrosanct? The only reason is that it was supposed to work for everyone. And that’s not the case. Most of you reading this are not living in a centrally planned economy. You are a part of an economy that allows producers and consumers to do exactly that, act in their self-interest. And it doesn’t make everyone happy. It creates extreme inequality, dire poverty, strife-ridden society.

So, whatever you decide on the first question, the answer to the second is a resounding “no”.

If you haven’t already done so, and are now preparing to dismiss this as a “communist” rant, let me tell you this. I have read enough history that I don’t want to live in a centrally-planned economy or a communist dictatorship, thank you. I don’t idolize China – though surprisingly many modern defenders of “capitalism” do. The point I am trying to make is not that the government should be in the middle of everything. The point is that the government is not the only possible entity with power that needs to be restrained and controlled. There are others too.

Also, the point is that when Adam Smith said the “Invisible Hand” takes care of the society, even apart from the impracticality of assumptions, he definitely didn’t mean that the rich and powerful individuals and corporations should be allowed to get away with whatever they want just because “market mechanisms” allows it

The point is also this. Adam Smith is considered the father of Economics and Capitalism. Neither of which he would have recognized. He was a scholar of moral philosophy. The book that birthed the field of economics was over 900+ pages. It wasn’t an Economics textbook though. Its extent was much broader. And it didn’t mean to claim that what we know as “economics” today is the only thing that should matter in the society. He wasn’t a defender of “capitalists” of his days, or of today. He was trying to explain how society works. And “capitalism is the best” argument has turned those explanations into inviolable rules that must govern how society works. That too, the cherry-picked ones. It’s messed up.

The point is that “If the market can’t correct it, then it must be right” is wrong!

Yes. Government not unduly interfering in the working of society, including economics, is good. No individual or institution – including the government – always knows the best. Market mechanisms give innovation and new ideas an opportunity. It’s great.

But! Taking a leaf from Faiz – “aur bhi dukh hain zamane mein mohabbet ke siwa”, innovation and new ideas in the market are not the only things the society has to cater to. The well-being of the entire society is most important. More important than innovation. If innovation caters to this well-being, it’s a win-win. But if not, tough luck. And remember, the well-being of society doesn’t mean people’s well-being just as a consumer. It also means their well-being as employees, as people who may not fit in or cannot cater to the restrictive machines market-mechanisms produce in the name of workplaces, as small business owners, as farmers, as just people!

Recently, when a company publicly announced “period leave” for women, it created an uproar among certain people – both men and women. Women will get a couple of extra leaves every month. How unfair is it to men? Companies won’t hire women. Teammates won’t hire women. Why would companies and teammates doing such things be okay? Because that’s how “capitalism” works. But turn the question around. Why is “capitalism” supposed to be obeyed? Presumably, because it leads to the betterment of all. But a system that can’t cater to the health needs of half the humanity does not lead to the betterment of all. So, how does it get to say that it is the system that must be obeyed?

So, no! “Capitalism” is not a self-evident answer to all the issues raised in the first paragraph of this post. They need solutions, they deserve solutions, and they can demand solutions from the system. Capitalism needs to change to really make things better for everyone. If it can’t figure out a way of not punishing women for a day or two of period pains, well – it better pull its socks up and find the answer. To this. And to everything else that it is doing wrong.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Thoughts

How Old is Everything? In East, and in West?

Indian culture is not “millions of years old”. The human species itself evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago (that is, 0.2 million years). There were no humans on earth before that, much less any human civilization or culture. The invention of agriculture is about 8000 to 10000 years old. Without agricultural surplus, a civilization – as we typically define it – can hardly come into the picture. Indus Valley Civilization is about 5500 years old. Rgveda is 3000-3500 years old. The earliest known Sangam literature about 2500 years old. Puranas are less than 2000 years old. Ramcharit Manas is 500 years old.

The cultural stalwarts, who insist on the “Sanatan” (forever) nature of our religion or culture, take offense. They would come armed with half-truths and conspiracy theories to support their denial of things that decades and even centuries of research in paleontology, evolution, archaeology, literature, linguistics, and most recently genetics has revealed about our history. They would claim these timelines are western impositions.

What they fail to realize (which is funny when not exasperating or dangerous) is that their western counterparts would quite happily join hands with them in denying all of this as well. They will just come from the other direction. The human species can’t be 200,000 years old. Agriculture could not be 10,000 years old. Why? Because according to Biblical chronology, the world can’t be more than 6000 years old. Everything just came to be in a matter of 7 days, some 6000 years ago.

How nice it would be if these two groups could keep busy fighting with each other for settling their differences. 6000 or millions of years? And the rest of us were left in peace to actually try and make some sense of our history without a Vedic or Biblical agenda on our backs. We would find our way somewhere in between. Or beyond the confines of both.

Because here is the thing about Science. It’s not yet another religion. “Belief” in Science is not at all anything like “belief” in religion. Belief in religion involves believing in some “facts” which cannot be questioned, deduced, or understood. Believing in Science doesn’t mean believing in a set of facts. It means believing in certain methods, certain ways of studying evidence that can help us understand things. It also means believing that if new evidence comes up, the understanding may change. It means being ready for that change of understanding. It means being prepared that new evidence may come into the picture, which will change our understanding of timelines of human evolution, agricultural revolution, Indus Valley Civilization, and Rgveda. It means knowing that changing your understanding based on new evidence is not a matter of shame; it’s not a defeat. It is a matter of pride because it means you don’t stop searching for the truth.

Believers of religion attack this possibility of changing understanding as if it is a weakness. Their logic essentially boils down to this. If you can’t really be 100% certain of your understanding, and if evidence can change it, if you don’t already have an answer to everything, then you haven’t really achieved the nirvana of religion. Why do you want to search for answers the hard and uncertain way when you have all the answers right here in your religion? If you can’t “trust Science 100%”, you must trust religion instead.

Guess what? The nirvana is spurious. And it is easy for me to make that case than it would have been for the forebearers of Science. Because by now, while a lot of understanding can change with new evidence, a lot of religious dogma has certainly been proven wrong by Science. The world is definitely much, much older than 6000 years old. And no human civilization or culture is millions of years of old.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Thoughts

हिन्दू धर्म पर कुछ प्रश्नोत्तर

क्या आज का हिंदू धर्म वैदिक है?

यदि हम ऋृग्वैदिक धर्म की बात कर रहे हैं, तो उसका मतलब यह होगा:

  1. हिंदू धर्म के कोई मंदिर नहीं होंगे।
  2. मुख्य धार्मिक अनुष्ठान यज्ञ और उसमें की जाने वाली पशु-बलि होगी। जैसे आज हम रोज़ाना पूजा करते हैं, वह नहीं।
  3. इस पशु-बलि के रीति-रिवाज आजकल कुछ क्षेत्रों में होने वाली पशु-बलि से काफ़ी अलग होंगे। और जिन देवताओं को बलि दी जाती है, वे भी बिलकुल अलग होंगे।
  4. हम सब मांसाहारी होंगे।
  5. इंद्र हमारे सबसे प्रमुख देवता होंगे।
  6. विष्णु की महत्ता देवता के रूप में काफी कम होगी। दशावतार, राम, कृष्ण आदि की कहानियाँ भी नहीं होंगी।
  7. रामायण, महाभारत, गीता, पुराण जैसे धार्मिक ग्रंथों का कोई अता-पता नहीं होगा।
  8. ब्रह्मा-विष्णु-महेश के त्रिमूर्ति की कोई परिकल्पना नहीं होगी।
  9. शिव को हम जिस रूप में जानते हैं, वैसे कोई भगवान नहीं होंगे। रुद्र का नाम हमें पता होगा, लेकिन वे समाज से लगभग निष्काषित भयावह देवता माने जाएंगे।
  10. कुछ देवियाँ होंगी जैसे कि उषा, रात्रि और पृथ्वि, लेकिन उनकी उतनी महत्ता नहीं होगी। दुर्गा, काली, पार्वती, सती, मीनाक्षी, सप्तमात्रिका का कोई अस्तित्व नहीं होगा।
  11. धार्मिक परंपरा की मुख्य धारा में वैरागियों, घुमक्कड़ साधुओं, कठिन साधना करने वाले तपस्वियों, गृहत्यागी धर्मगुरुओं की कोई खास भूमिका नहीं होगी।

क्या मुसलमानों ने ऋृग्वैदिकधर्म को नष्ट कर दिया?

नहीं। इस्लाम की स्थापना से भी पहले ही ऋृग्वैदिक धर्म में काफ़ी परिवर्तन हो चुके थे।

कई परिवर्तन तो इसलिए ही हुए कि समय के घूमते चक्के के साथ परिवर्तन अनिवार्य है। दार्शनिक सोच, समाज, राजनीति और अर्थव्यवस्था समय के साथ बदलते और विकसित होते ही हैं। लेकिन ऋृग्वैदिक धर्म पर दो चीज़ों को काफ़ी असर पड़ा:

  1. आर्यों के भारत आने से पहले मौजूद द्रविड़ संस्कृति का (जो कि स्वयं काफ़ी क्षेत्रीय विविधताओं से पूर्ण रही होगी।)
  2. ऋृग्वैदिक धर्म की बलि प्रथा पर प्रतिक्रिया (जिनका नतीजा कई उपनिषद् तथा बौद्ध और जैन धर्म थे।)

ऋृग्वैदिक संस्कृत भाषा के कई शब्दों में ही हमें द्रविड़ भाषा-परिवार का असर दिखने लगता है। तो धर्म और संस्कृति पर असर पीछे कहाँ रहता। यह सच है कि भारत में पहले से रहने वाले लोगों के कुछ वर्गों को आर्य वर्ण-व्यवस्था से बाहर रखा गया (और ये लोग आज के दलितों और आदिवासियों के पूर्वज हैं), लेकिन कई लोगों को उसमें जगह भी दे दी गई। यह संभव है कि घुलने-मिलने की इस प्रक्रिया का एक महत्वपूर्ण कारण आर्य पुरुषों की स्थानीय स्त्रियों से शादी करने की ज़रूरत हो।

फिर ऋृग्वेद से 500-1000 सालों के बाद वह युग आया जो बौद्ध और जैन धर्म की स्थापना के लिए मशहूर है। लेकिन ये नए धर्म रातों-रात नहीं खड़े हो गए थे। इस समय तक भारतीय दर्शन में उपनिषदों की रचना हो गई थी और लोग कई ऐसे गूढ़ दार्शनिक सवाल पूछ रहे थे जिनके बारे में ऋृग्वैदिक आर्यों ने कभी सोचने की ज़रूरत नहीं समझी थी। धार्मिक और दार्शनिक मुख्य धारा में नए विचारों को जगह मिल रही थी – जैसे कि विराग, अहिंसा, आत्मा-परमात्मा की प्रकृति और संबंधों को समझने की कोशिश, संसार को समझने की कोशिश। भारतीय धर्म ने अचानक से ऋृग्वैदिक धर्म की पशु-बलि का त्याग नहीं कर दिया, लेकिन उसके सिद्धांतो के बीज पड़ गए थे।

यह समय 500-600 ईसा पूर्व का था।

इसके आगे कई तरह के परिवर्तनों के बाद गुप्तकाल में हिंदू धर्म लगभग वैसे वेश में आ गया था जिसे आज के हिंदू धर्मी पहचान सकते हैं – कम-से-कम पंडित लोग ज़रूर पहचान लेंगे। यह समय ईस्वी सन की शुरुआती सदियों का था और गौतम बुद्ध से 800-1000 सालों के बाद का। आज के धर्म के कई लोकप्रिय पहलू इस समय भी नहीं थे क्योंकि उनका विकास मध्यकालीन सदियों में हुआ, जैसे कि भक्तिकाल के संत और कवियों की परंपराएँ और क्षेत्रीय भाषाओं में लिखा गया काफ़ी सारा धार्मिक साहित्य। तो गुप्तकाल में लोगो का धर्म वैसे तो काफ़ी कुछ हमारे जैसा था, लेकिन तब हर घर में रामचरितमानस नहीं होता था क्योंकि इसकी रचना उसके कई सदियों बात हुई।

मंदिर कहाँ से आए?

मंदिर बौद्ध धर्म की स्थापना और प्रचलन के बाद की कहानी का हिस्सा हैं। संभवतः बौद्ध स्तूपों, गुफा-मंदिरों और विहारों से हिन्दू धर्म को भी मंदिर बनाने की प्रेरणा मिली। हमारे ज़्यादातर प्राचीन मंदिर 1000-1500 साल से ज़्यादा पुराने नहीं है। वैसे 1500 साल पुराने मंदिर काफ़ी प्राचीन हुए, लेकिन समझने वाली बात ये है कि वे “सनातन” नहीं हैं। ऋग्वेद 2000-2500 साल पुराना है।

शाकाहार की संस्कृति?

इसका सबसे आसान जवाब ये है कि शाकाहार बौद्ध धर्म के प्रभाव से आया। लेकिन ऐतिहासिक बदलाव साफ़-सुथरे तरीके से पल भर में नहीं हो जाते। उनका काफ़ी जटिल इतिहास होता है। अहिंसा और शाकाहार के विचार सिर्फ बौद्ध धर्म से नहीं आए। जैसा कि हमने पहले भी कहा है कि उस युग में ऋृग्वैदिक बलि प्रथा पर कई कोनों से सवाल उठ रहे थे।

लेकिन हाँ, उस युग से जो सबसे प्रभावशाली चीज़ निकली वह बौद्ध धर्म थी। और जब बाद की सदियों में बौद्ध धर्म बहुत प्रभावशाली हो गया तो पारंपरिक धर्म के लोग अपनी प्रतिष्ठा वापस पाने के लिए शाकाहार संबंधी नियम बनाने लगे, खासकर ब्राह्मणों के लिए। गुप्तकाल तक आते-आते ब्राह्मणों का शाकाहारी होना काफ़ी अपेक्षित था, जैसा कि आज भी भारत के ज़्यादातर हिस्सों में होता है।

दशावतार, राम, कृष्ण?

ये कहानियाँ बौद्ध धर्म की स्थापना के काफ़ी पहले से ही विकसित होने लगी थीं, ऋग्वेद की रचनाकाल के थोड़े समय बाद ही। लेकिन इन कहानियों का कोई एक स्रोत नहीं हैं। ये समय के साथ विकसित हुई हैं और उन्हें जिस रूप में हम आज पढ़ते हैं वो कई सदियों के बाद लिखी गई और कई लेखकों ने उसमें परिवर्तन भी किए। अवतारों की कहानियाँ शायद पहले-पहल आर्येतर स्थानीय धर्म के देवताओ को आर्य धर्म का हिस्सा बनाने के लिए प्रचलित हुई होंगी। मत्स्य, कच्छप जैसे अवतारों की बात तो होती है लेकिन उनकी पूजा या उनके लिए बलि चढ़ाने की परंपरा हम नहीं ही देखते हैं। ऋृग्वैदिक लोग प्रकृति का अनुष्ठान करते थे और मवेशियों के लिए प्रार्थना करते थे, लेकिन उनके धर्म में पशु-रूपी देवताओं का कोई प्रमाण नहीं दिखता है। अवतारों की सूची में राम और कृष्ण शायद बहुत बाद में जोड़े गए थे।

आज हम जिन देवी-देवताओं को जानते हैं, उनमें से कई समय के साथ बदलते हुए अपने वर्तमान रूप में आए हैं। उनकी कहानियों के विकसित होने का एक इतिहास हैं। खासकर वे देवी-देवता जिन्हें हम कई नामों से जानते हैं।

कृष्ण ऐसे ही एक देवता हैं। उनके लिए कई सारे नाम जो अभी इस्तेमाल किए जाते हैं, वे पहले अलग-अलग देवताओं के लिए इस्तेमाल किए जाते होंगे। वृंदावन के कृष्ण – जो चरवाहों के देवता हैं – गोपाल – वे अर्जुन को गीतोपदेश देने वाले कृष्ण से अलग रहे होंगे। द्वारका के कृष्ण की भी शायद कोई और ही कहानी रही होगी, जो कि बाद में गीता के कृष्ण से मिला दी गई। वासुदेव तो निश्चित ही कोई और देवता थे, जिनको बाद में कृष्ण के ही एक नाम की तरह जाना जाने लगा। बाल-गोपाल की भी शुरुआत मे कुछ और ही कहानी रही होगी।

अलग-अलग देवताओं की कहानियाँ मिलकर कई बार एक हो जाती हैं इसको समझना तब आसान हो जाता हैं जब हम एक देवता के अलग-अलग “उत्तर भारतीय” और “दक्षिण भारतीय” नाम देखते हैं। जैसे की कार्तिकेय या स्कंद और मुरुगन को एक माना जाता है। दोनों देवताओ की मूल कहानियाँ निश्चित ही अलग हैं। लेकिन आज के धर्म ने उन्हें मिला दिया है।

शिव भी ऐसे ही कई देवताओं के मिश्रण का परिणाम हैं। उनके वैरागी, तांत्रिक, यौगिक, पशुपति, और गृहस्थ (पार्वती और पुत्रों के साथ) रूप अलग-अलग जगहों से आए हैं।

हड़प्पा संस्कृति के धर्म का हिंदू धर्म पर क्या असर पड़ा?

इस बारे में हमारे पास अभी भी ज़्यादा जानकारी नहीं है। हाल तक हड़प्पा संस्कृति के लोगों का भारत में उसके बाद बसने वाले लोगों से क्या संबंध था ये हमें नहीं के बराबर पता था। उनकी लिपि अभी तक भी पढ़ी नहीं गई है। लेकिन पिछले कुछ सालों की जेनेटिक रिसर्च से हमें पता चलता है कि हड़प्पा संस्कृति के लोगों की जीन आज के भारतीयों में मौजूद है, खास कर दक्षिण भारतीयों में। तो अगर दोनों बिल्कुल एक नहीं भी थे तो भी यह संभव है कि द्रविड़ संस्कृति हड़प्पा संसकृति की उत्तराधिकारी है। अगर ऐसा है तो शायद द्रविड़ धर्म के रास्ते से हड़प्पा संस्कृति के धर्म के तत्व भी आज के हिंदू धर्म में मौजूद हैं।

आर्य धर्म का द्रविड़ धर्म पर क्या असर पड़ा?

समय के साथ आर्य ऋृग्वैदिक धर्म में द्रविड़ धर्म के कई तत्व समाहित तो होते ही गए, लेकिन उसका उलटा भी हुआ। द्रविड़ धर्म भीआर्य धर्म के रंग में रंग गया। जो सबसे पुराने तमिल साहित्य हमें पता हैं, जिन्हे संगम साहित्य कहा जाता है, उसमें भी संस्कृत भाषा का बहुत प्रभाव है। ऐसा माना जाता है कि तमिल का पहला व्याकरण अगस्त्य ऋृषि ने लिखा था, जो कि एक ऋृग्वैदिक ऋृषि थे। हो सकता है कि यह किवदंती संगम साहित्य के लिखे जाने के बहुत बाद प्रचलित हुई हो, लेकिन द्रविड़ लोगों ने उत्तर से आने वाले एक ऋृषि को अपने साहित्य और संस्कृति में इतनी बड़ी जगह दी, इससे साफ पता चलता है कि द्रविड़ संस्कृति और धर्म पर आर्यों का कितना असर था।

द्रविड़ और आर्य धर्म एक दूसरे से मिलते गए और यह मिश्रित धर्म आज के हिंदू धर्म का पूर्वज है।

तो अब हिंदू धर्म की क्या हालत है? क्या यह अपने एकीकृत स्वरूप में आ गया है?

हिंदू धर्म का कोई एकीकृत स्वरूप नहीं है।

ब्राह्मणों के शाकाहारी होने का इतिहास अब लगभग दो हज़ार सालों का है। लेकिन सारे ब्राह्मण आज भी शाकाहारी नहीं हैं। मुझे अपने अनुभव से पता है कि कई तरह के मांस का सेवन बंगाली और मैथिल ब्राहम्णों की संस्कृति का हिस्सा हैं।

वैदिक धर्म की पशु-बलि तो अब नहीं बची है लेकिन एक अलग तरह की बलिप्रथा, जो देवी के शक्ति या दुर्गा रूपों को दी जाती है, भारत के कई हिस्सों – जैसे कि बिहार, बंगाल और असम – में प्रचलित है। इसके बारे में भी मैं अपने अनुभव से जानती हूँ।

कुछ हद तक हम शाकाहारी बन भी गए हैं तो यह सिर्फ सवर्ण लोगों के बीच ही हुआ है।

धार्मिक विश्वास और प्रथाओ में आज भी काफ़ी विभिन्नता है। कुछ सत्तालोभी लोगों को यह बात हजम नहीं होती है लेकिन भारत हज़ारों रामायणों का देश है। सबकी अलग-अलग कहानी है।

नए-नए देवी-देवता आज भी बनते रहते हैं। शीतला माता का इतिहास ज़्यादा पुराना नहीं है। और शायद कोरोना माता का अवतार अभी हो ही रहा हो।

बहुत घाल-मेल है। कोई एक भगवान नहीं है। कोई एक मसीहा नहीं है। कोई एक पुस्तक नहीं है जिसको मानना अनिवार्य है। हर किसी के पास अपना भगवान चुनने का मौका है, भगवान को ना मानने के भी।

यह घाल-मेल ही हमारे लिए सही भी है। क्योंकि इससे हमें सवाल पूछने की आज़ादी मिलती है, जो हमें चाहिए। हमें चीज़ों के बेहतर बनाने की, उन्हें बदलने की आज़ादी चाहिए।

Photo by Apoorv Dubey on Unsplash

Thoughts

Some FAQs on Hindu Religion

Is the current Hindu religion Vedic?

If we were to go back to the Rgvedic religion, here is what it would mean.

  1. There would be no temples.
  2. The chief religious activity would be the animal sacrifice in a yagna. Not the currently ubiquitous pooja.
  3. This sacrifice ritual will be very different from the kind that does exist today in many areas of India. And would be to a completely different set of deities.
  4. We would all be non-vegetarians.
  5. Indra would be the most important god in our pantheon.
  6. Vishnu would be a minor deity. There would be no Dashavatar, no Rama, no Krishna.
  7. Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagwat Gita, Puranas won’t exist as religious texts.
  8. There would be no concept of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh as Trimurti.
  9. There would be no Shiva as we know him. There would be an almost outcaste Rudra, but he would be missing most of Shiva’s legacy as we know them today.
  10. There would be minor female deities like Usha, Ratri, Prithvi. But no Durga, Kali, Parvati, Sati, Minakshi, Saptamatrika, etc.
  11. There won’t be any mainstream recognition of ascetics, wandering sadhus, body-mortifying tapasya/penance.

Did Muslims destroy the Rgvedic religion?

No. A lot happened to the Rgvedic religion much before Islam was even conceived.

Many changes happened simply because changes happen as philosophical ideas, society, politics and economic life evolve and change. But there were definitely two major influences.

  1. Existing (Dravidian, but perhaps with huge local variations) culture of the subcontinent
  2. Reactions to sacrificial Vedic religion in an age that gave us Upanishads, Buddhism, and Jainism.

In Rgvedic Sanskrit itself, there are signs of borrowings from the Dravidian language family. Culture and religion could not have stayed far behind. While there was definitely a class of older inhabitants of the subcontinent who were left outside the folds of the Aryan varna system (who became the ancestors of today’s untouchable castes and the tribal folks), there were others who were assimilated. It might have been driven or accelerated by the Aryan men’s need to marry local women.

Then, 500-1000 years after Rgveda we had a period whose best remembered legacy is the origin of Buddhism and Jainism. But these religions had not cropped up in a vacuum. By this period we had Upanishads and people were asking more profound philosophical questions than Rgvedic folks ever bothered with. Asceticism, principles of non-violence, search for spirituality and a connection with the higher power, the need to understand the self and its relation to the world – these things became mainstream in religious and philosophical discourses. The religion didn’t turn away from sacrifices overnight, but the seeds were sown.

This period was around 500-600 BC.

Through a lot of evolution, reaction, and mixing of ideas Hindu religion came to its currently recognizable shape, at least from a scholarly viewpoint, in the first few centuries after Christ in the Gupta period. This makes it 800 to 1000 years after Buddha. Although there are many medieval influences (Bhakti movement for one, and many texts in popular languages) that went into making the popular religion of today.

Where did the temples come from?

Temples are a post-Buddhism phenomenon. Buddhist stupas, cave temples, and monasteries are the most likely inspiration for temples in the Hindu religion. Most ancient temples we know today are 1000-1500 years old, no more. It is still a lot of history, but there is nothing “sanatan” about the temples. Rgveda is 2000-2500 years old in comparison.

Non-vegetarianism?

The simplest answer is that non-vegetarianism is a result of Buddhist influence. But like most historical changes it must have been a complex one. The initial impulse wouldn’t have been just Buddhism. As mentioned earlier, it was a period that saw strong reactions to Rgvedic religion based on animal sacrifice.

But Buddhism is definitely the most important survival from the era. Later as Buddhism became influential, the traditional religion reacted with coded rules and philosophy to elevate itself, especially the Brahmins. By the Gupta period, vegetarianism for Brahmins is another recognizable feature of the current Hindu religion that was well established.

Dashavatar, Rama, Krishna?

These legends started developing much before Buddha, in the centuries soon after Rgveda was composed. But there isn’t a single original source of these stories. The initial conception of avatars was perhaps an attempt to assimilate local deities into the mainstream religion. Matsya, Kachchhapa, and many other avatars are acknowledged but have never been specifically sacrificed to, or worshipped, in the mainstream religion. Rgvedic folks celebrate nature and pray for cattle, but there isn’t much indication of worshipping animal-original deities. Rama and Krishna were perhaps much later additions to the list of avatars.

Many deities we know today have had an evolution of their own. Especially the ones which are known today with multiple names.

Krishna is an interesting case in point. A lot of names that are used for the same deity now weren’t always the same. In all likelihood that Krishna of Vrindavan, the deity of cowherds, was different from the Krishna who preached Gita to Arjuna. Krishna of Dwarka may have a different origin as well. Vasudeva was definitely a different deity than Krishna who was later made synonymous with Krishna and Vishnu. Balgopal may have yet another different origin.

This history of assimilation of different deities in one becomes more believable when we compare it to the current set of deities that have “North Indian” and “South Indian” equivalents. For example, identifying Murugan with Skanda or Kartikeya. They definitely don’t have the same origin but have been assimilated into the mainstream religion as one by now.

Shiva is also an amalgamation of deities. The ascetic, the tantrik, the yogi, the deity of animals (Pashupati), the householder (with Parvati and their sons) – all of these have come together over time from disparate local origins.

What happened to the Harappan religion?

We still don’t know enough. The relationship of Harappans with the later Indians was not very clear for a long time. Their script is still far from being deciphered. But the genetic studies of recent years have established that the Harappan genes are present in almost all the Indians today, and more so in the South Indians. So, culture-wise it is likely that Dravidian culture was a successor of Harappan, even if they were not identical. And hence the Hindu religion of today may very well have absorbed elements of Harappan religion.

Impact of Aryan religion on the Dravidian religion?

Aryan Rgvedic religion definitely absorbed elements from the Dravidian religion as time passed. What happened the other way? Dravidian religion was also thoroughly Aryanised. The oldest Tamil (Dravidian) texts, collectively called Sangam literature, already have the influence of Sanskrit. Agastya, a Rgvedic rishi, is supposed to have given Tamil it’s first grammar. In the same “sangam” where the Sangam literature is supposed to have been composed. Even if this myth came into the picture later than the time of the composition of the literature, the very acceptance of a rishi coming from the North as one of the most important cultural and literary icons speaks volumes about the acceptance of Aryan influence.

The religions came together and this combined religion became the ancestor of the current Hindu religion.

Is everything clean and clear now?

By no means.

Yes – the vegetarianism of Brahmins now may have almost 2000 years of history. But not all Brahmins are vegetarian. I personally know that Bengali and Maithil Brahmins have a tradition of eating specific meat.

While the Vedic sacrificial culture didn’t really survive, a different kind of sacrifice, to female deities, Shakti and Durga of the world, became a part of mainstream religion in some parts of the country. Again, I am personally familiar with the sacrificial rituals in Bihar, Bengal, and Assam.

To the extent we did become vegetarian, it remained an upper-caste phenomenon.

The local variations in religious beliefs and rituals are staggering. As much as certain powerful factions would like to impose a uniformity on the idea of the Hindu religion today, we are a land of a thousand Ramayanas.

We still keep creating deities (Sheetla Mata couldn’t be too old). For all we know, Corona Mata is in the making.

It is a mish-mash. There is no one God. There is no last messiah. There is no single book of truth. Everyone can find a god or goddess to suit them. And they can choose to not believe in them at all.

We are better off that way. Because we need the freedom to question. We need the freedom to reform, the freedom to change.

Photo by Apoorv Dubey on Unsplash