Archive for July, 2009

July 31, 2009

Hindu Economics and Charity

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

In a recent article on Wall Street Journal, its bureau chief in New Delhi Paul Beckett has wondered why India’s rich were not generous enough towards charity, has exhorted them to ‘open their wallets’, and implied Hindu roots to blame for it.

His misguided opinion is a typical example of how the western journalists posted in India develop their views and spread the typical stereotypes about India, whose spirit they have never tried to, or succeeded in, grasping. His usage of the derogatory term “Hindu Rate of Growth” reminds us of a similarly stale and offending commentary on the growth of Indian Industry by another western journalist stationed in India, Edward Luce, in his ‘In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India’. Unfortunately for them, these western commentators on the economics of India are prisoners of their cognitive cocoon, and while physically being here, they fail to understand the experience of Hindu Civilization and keep ignorantly applying the norms and standards of their own culture when commenting about India.

Rajeev Srinivasan has masterfully responded with his incisive reply to the ignorant premise taken by Beckett on the “Hindu Rate of Growth”, and Dr. Koenraad Elst has dissected at length Luce’s outlook in a recent article. Here we shall share some random thoughts from the historical perspectives on Hindu outlook to economy and charity, and try showing how, there is continuity even today, although latent, of the same outlook prevailing among the more traditional Hindu shreShThins of our age.

The very reason why industry is needed to flourish, according to kauTilya, is to spread dharma in society which alone can beget lasting and all-round happiness. artha, the economy, he says, is the most important function of society, as it is solely from this basis that both the fulfillment of dharma and pursuit of desires can be accomplished (“arthaiva pradhAnaiiti kauTilyaH arthamUlau hi dharmakAmau iti: AS 1.7.6-7). Economy is like a tree, further says kauTilya, if whose roots are rooted in dharma, it produces the fruits of happiness. Achievement of such dhArmika wealth further promotes dharma and produces more wealth and gives more pleasure. This is the achievement of all the gains. (dharma-mUlatvAt kAma-phalatvAchArthasya dharma-artha-kAma anubandhA yA^arthasya siddhiH sA sarva.artha.siddhiH AS9.7.81)

Creation of wealth for the welfare of society was considered so important that bR^ihadAraNyaka upaniShada relates that bramhA was compelled to create the vaishya-s skilled in industrial enterprise and organizing business, since the first two varNa-s proved incapable or disinclined in doing so. (“…sa naiva vyabhavat, sa viShamasR^ijat, yAnyetAni devajAtAni, gaNASha AkhyAyante…”).

So, continuous creation of wealth is of absolute importance for the stability of society, which is required for the growth of dharma. kauTilya holds that if happiness is the objective and strength is the power, then wealth is one of the three types of those strengths to achieve it. (“shaktiH siddhishca | balaM shaktiH | sukhaM siddhiH | shaktistrividhA … kosha-daNDa-balaM…” AS6.2.31-34), and it is one of the reasons, why a government is needed, that is for prospering the society and spreading the dharma. A government is required for security of wealth, and once peace and industry is ensured (through a 6-fold policy that he enumerates), all-round wealth is automatically created. (“shamavyAyAmau yogakSemayoryoniH | shamavyAyAmayoryoniH ShADguNyam…” AS6.2.1&4).

But not only ensuring the right environ for society to generate and secure the wealth, but also the guarantee that the wealth really reaches the people, is counted by kauTilya as a basic prerequisite. (“…loka-priyatvam artha-saMyogena vR^ittiM… AS1.7.1). Therefore, the wealth of society is to not only be protected but also distributed. It is the people who are, for him, the center of good governance, and without attention to them a society, he says, is like a barren cow, useless and yielding no milk. (“puruShavad hi rAjyam; apuruShA gaurvandhyeva kiM duhIta… AS7.11.24-25”)

Hoarding of wealth, without either consuming it or distributing it, is throughout denounced by all the Hindu thinkers and dharma-shAstrakAra-s. Traditional wisdom tells us that charity, enjoyment, and destruction, wealth is only destined to go in one of these three ways. One who neither spends in charity, nor enjoys it, his is sure to go by the way of the third, i.e. destroyed. (“dAnaM bhogo nAshastistrI gatayo bhavanti vittasya; yo na dadAti na bhu~Nkte cha tasya tR^itIyA gatirnAshaH — vikrama charita, Andhra, 3.86).

A more aesthetically presented view of the same thought, from another source: ‘the wealth of those who simply hoard theirs, is eventually enjoyed not by them but by the others, like the honey collected through the industriousness of someone else is eventually consumed by someone else!’ (“ati-saMchaya-kartR^iNAM vittamansya kAraNaM; anyaiH saMchIyate yatnAdanyaishcha madhu pIyate”: vallabhadeva.474).

Another author intuitively compares unconsumed and hoarded wealth with daughters, who are lovingly brought up with care and affection by parents, only to eventually go off to someone else’s household! (upabhogakAtarANAm puruShANAm arthasaMchayaparANAm; kanyAratnamiva gR^ihe tiShThantyarthAH parasyArthe: v.482)

One must also notice that while wealthy are appealed to spend towards their social responsibility throughout the wide array of shAstra-s, quoting which at length would amount to compiling several volumes, it is not the charity alone for which the wealthy are being exhorted for the welfare of society, but also simply for consumption and enjoyment of their wealth, thereby keeping money in circulation to ensure a wider and broader distribution of wealth. The circulation of money ensures the chain reaction of wealth-creation in society, as kauTilya says, wealth creates more wealth, like the roaming elephants procreate and gather more elephants (“arthair arthA prabadhyante gajAH pratigajairiva…AS9.4.27”).

chANakya does recognize that the wealthy could easily grow a tendency of hoarding their riches and not share it with the commonwealth of the society, therefore not only does he warn the King to be cautious of such hoarding capitalists and keep them under watch, but in the spirit for which kauTilya is known, also suggests some innovative ways of how the King could justly rid such ones of some of their wealth when needed. One nice contrive he suggests is not devoid of some humour, although kauTilya must have been serious prescribing it. The King might employ a spy who takes the garb of a rich merchant, or even employ a real trustworthy merchant, who shall then go to the intended business and borrow the desired sum in gold or silver or some other costly or imported merchandise, and then having procured this loan, this spy can suitably “allow himself to be robbed”, maybe at the same night!

So no wonder, another text informs the accumulators, that their wealth, unless they spend it more generously or conduct charities, will invite only the attention of crime and decay. ‘One who neither enjoys his wealth nor donates it to those worthy of it, must rest assured that his accumulation would find its way either to the houses of the thieves or eventually rot in the belly of the earth’. (saMchitaM kratuShu nopayujyate yAchitaM guNavate na dIyate; tat-kadarya-pariraKShitaM dhanaM chaurapArthiva gR^iheShu gachcHati)

One well-known snippet of wisdom differentiates between the charitable rich and the shameless accumulators, by employing the simile of clouds and ocean, and says that ‘the glory of donors always thunders from the sky like the clouds that generously give us water, while those who keep on accumulating wealth without returning, always rot at the lowest strata of rasAtala like the ocean which only knows to receive and store’. (gauravaM prApyate dAnAt na tu vittasya sa~nchayAt; sthitiH uchchaiH payodAnAM payodhInAM adhaH sthitiH)

Some of the popular aphorisms attributed to chANakya advise us likewise, that ‘while a man must learn to be content with his wife, his wealth, and his food, he should never tire in zealously conducting these other three things: learning, recitations, and more charity’. (santoShas triShu kartavyaH sva-dAre bhojane dhane, triShu chaiva na kartavyo-dhyayane-japa-dAnayo : chANakya-nIti-darpaNa 7.4)

Another one points to the right and wrong ways of picking up fields for conducting charity: ‘Feeding a man who is not hungry is as useless as clouds raining over the ocean, and donating to someone who is not needy is as useless as lighting a lamp in the daylight’. (yathA vR^iShTiH samudreShu tR^iptasya bhojanam; vR^ithA dAnam samarthasya vR^ithA dIpo divApi cha: CND5.16)

This reminds us of that famous benchmark of charity established in the bhArata, narrated by a mongoose towards the end of the ashwamedha yaj~na of the pANDava-s. The mysterious mongoose who had half of his body as golden, announced to an astonished yudhiShThira that all the donations and charities made by pANDava-s during the yaj~na for which they were proud, were useless and not equal to even one fistful of crushed barley (saktU) donated by the family of a certain brAhmaNa. He then went on to narrate a tale of how one side of his body turned golden by just witnessing the sacrifice of that family which had nothing to eat and was starving, and having found this little crushed barley after tedious effort, as they were about to eat it, a guest appeared and begged them for it, and this starving family happily decided to offer it to him. That is charity, says mongoose in the fourteenth book of bhArata, adding since then he is roaming around to see another charity of that magnitude to turn the rest of his body golden too, but not succeeding.

We are also reminded of that prayer of kabIra, a householder saint, ‘sA.I itanA dIjiye jAme kuTuma samAya, maiM bhI bhUkhA nA rahUM sAdhu a bhUkhA jAya’: (Lord grant us just enough so that my family may survive; just that much, in which we don’t sleep hungry nor a sAdhu returns hungry from our doors.)

What about the charity with black money accumulated by the corrupt businessmen? Not acceptable, says this medieval jaina text that deals solely with the regulation of donations. ‘Donating such ill-earned money is of as much benefit’, it says, ‘as the medicine to that patient who refuses to follow the restrictions of pathyApathya prescribed by his doctor!’ (yo vahyAshArjitArthassann kurvansa bahudhA vR^iShaM; doShI vA~ncHAnniva svAsthyaM bhuktvaivApathyamauShadhaM : dAnopashAsanam.179). It sternly says that like an infertile woman can not conceive, even if she goes to bed with a thousand men, auspiciousness does never arise in someone with evil methods and ill-gotten money, no matter how much charity done. (sahastra-jana-bhogepi vandhyAyAM najuto yathA…101). The same work also says that, in contrast, only the charity from the honest money earned by the noble businessmen flourishes in the aid of dharma; it never exhausts, never meets loss, nor is ever stolen, since if charity of honestly-earned money serves dharma, dharma too protects such earning and such charity. (satpuruSho-rjayati dhanaM yat sakalajaneShTa-sAdhu-vR^iddhashchaiva syAt; tasya dhanasya cha hAnirnAnupahata-dharma-bala-suguptasyaiva. 180)

The prospective receivers of charity had a right to reject the donation too, and they did reject such donations on many occasions. Comes to our mind that instance related in the ancient drama mR^ichcHakaTikA where a brAhmaNa stoutly declines the invitation to partake of a lunch and receive donation from a householder. The jaina text referred above probably explains why. That, by receiving the ill-gotten money, earned through various sins, the receiver (dvija) of such charity has to also share with the donor those sins, and is verily destroyed. (nija-pApArjitam dravyam dvijebhyo dadate nR^ipAH; tairnaShTA rAjabhirviprA dAnam doShadamuchyate. 9)

Another very important aspect which might be hard for the secularized variety to fathom is that it is the temples and the maTha-s, vihAra-s and the jinAlaya-s which were and are the trustees of the charitable commonwealth of society, and giving to them meant returning to the Lord who can then multiply it and return it back. While it is a well known knowledge and demands citing no special evidence, what is interesting is to notice that business in ancient India did more than simply financial contribution to the religious institutions – they also regulated as well as facilitated such charities, and behaved as the responsible trustees also for the small private donations as a very organized activity. We can do no better than quote Prof. R C Majumdar at some length:

“…furnished by an inscription of huvishka at mathurA, dated in the year 28 (c. 106 AD), (the prashasti) refers to an akShaya-nIvI (perpetual endowment) of 550 purANa-s each to two guilds, one of which was that of flour-makers (comment: so that this guild will now use the interest from this money for the intended charitable purpose on behalf of the donor). An inscription in a cave at nAsik, dated in the year 42 (120 AD), records the donation of 3000 kArShApaNa-s by UShavadatta, son-in-law of the shaka chief nahapAna. The gift was intended for the benefit of the Buddhist monks dwelling in the cave, and the entire sum was invested in the guilds dwelling at govardhana in the following manner: 2000 in a weavers’ guild, the rate of interest being one per cent per month, and 1000 in another weavers’ guild at the rate of 0.75 per cent per month. It is clearly stated that these kArShApaNa-s are not to be repaid, their interest only to be enjoyed.”

“An inscription at Junnar records the investment of the income of two fields with the guild at koNAchika for planting kara~nja trees and banyan trees. Another inscription at junnAr records investment of money with the guild of bamboo-workers and the guild of braziers. A third inscription at junnAr record the gift of a cave and a cistern by the guild of corn-dealers. An inscription at nagarajonikonDA, dated 333 AD refers to a permanent endowment created by a person for the maintenance of the religious establishments made by him. The endowment consisted of a deposit of 70 dInAra-s in one guild and 10 each in three other guilds, out of the interest of which specific acts had to be done. Only names of two guilds are legible, namely those of pAnika (probably sellers or growers of betel leaves) and pUvaka (confectioners).” “The Indore Copper-plate Inscription of Skanda Gupta dated in the year 146, i.e. 465 AD, records the gift of an endowment, the interest of which is to be applied to the maintenance of a lamp which has been established in a temple for the service of the Sun-God.”

“We learn from an inscription of vaillabhaTTasvAmin Temple at Gwalior, dated 933 VS, that while the merchant savviyAka, the trader ichcHuvAku and the other members of the Board of the SavviyakAs were administering the city, the whole town gave to the temple of the Nine durgA-s, a piece of land, which was its (viz., the town’s) property. Similarly it gave another piece of land, belonging to the property of the town, to the viShNu temple, and also made perpetual endowments with the guilds of oil-millers and gardeners for ensuring the daily supply of oil and garlands to the temple. This long inscription preserves an authentic testimony of a city corporation with an organised machinery to conduct its affairs. The corporation possessed landed properties of its own and could make gifts and endowments in the name of the whole town.”

“Mention is made, by name, of four chiefs of the oil-millers of shrI-sarveshwara-pura, of four chiefs of the oil-millers of shrI-vatsasvAmI-pura, and four chiefs of the oil-millers of two other places, and we are told that these together with the other (members) of the whole guild of oil-millers should give one palika of oil per oil-mill every month (to the temple). Similarly, the other endowment was to the effect that the seven chiefs, mentioned by name, and the other (members) of the whole guild of gardeners should give fifty garlands every day.”

Such was the public charity and maintenance of social wealth, through cooperative and democratic organization. Prof. Majumdar notes that, “the objects with which these endowments were made are manifold, and due performance of them must have required extra-professional skill. Thus one guild is required to plant particular trees, while several others, none of which had anything to do with medicine, were to provide it for the sick.”

Several other inscriptions, particularly and more clearly from, although not limited to, the draviDa country reinforce this view. Prof. Majumdar notes how a combination of a village pa~nchAyata, democratically elected, organized the charity in draviDa country, and used to form the very basis of the economic functioning of the villages and to the spread the benefit of the commonwealth: “An inscription of rAjArAja choLa records the gift of a sum of money by a merchant, from the interest of which the Assembly and the residents of tiruviDavandai had to supply oil to feed a perpetual lamp. Sometimes these endowments involved two-fold banking transactions. We learn from a choLa inscription that a merchant made over a sum of money to the residents of taiyUr on condition that they should pay interest in oil and paddy to the Assembly of tiruviDavandai for burning a lamp in the temple and feeding 35 Brahmanas. There are other examples, too numerous to be recorded in detail, where the South Indian records represent the Village Assemblies as public trustees or local banks.”

Temples likewise served as the repository of public wealth, and lent their money for public works in the time of its need like famine, floods or epidemic. “An inscription at ala~NguDI dated in the 6th year of rAjArAja refers to a terrible famine in the locality. The villagers had no funds to purchase paddy for their own consumption, seed grains and other necessaries for cultivation. For some reasons, the famine-stricken inhabitants could expect no help in their distress from the royal treasury. Accordingly the Assembly obtained on loan a quantity of gold and silver consisting of temple jewels and vessels from the local temple treasury. In exchange for this the members of the Village Assembly alienated 8314 velI of land in favour of the God. From the produce of this land the interest on the gold and silver received from the temple was to be paid. A Chola inscription also records that the Assembly borrowed money from temple treasury on account of “bad time” and scarcity of grains.” Yet another one informs how “the Assembly received an endowment of 100 kAsu from an individual for providing offerings in a temple and for expounding shiva-dharma in the Assembly-hall built in the temple by the same person. They utilized the sum for repairing damages caused by floods to irrigation channels.” [above quotes from Prof. R C Majumdar are from his masterpiece “Corporate Life in Ancient India”]

When the above was happening in the choLa country, a little while from now, rAjendra choLa’s friend and ally in North India, bhojadeva the paramAra would be establishing new standards of charity for merchants in his own country. The collective Hindu subconscious remembers the times of Bhoja as much for his charity, as for his valour and scholarship. It is this impression which is reflected when the jaina AchArya merutu~Nga states that two commodities were always precious and in demand in the kingdom of bhoja: Iron and Copper. Iron because of the excessive consumption by his military, and copper for the prashasti plates for donations! We might probably add the construction of temples and schools to the list. It was not the royal charity alone, but also the works performed by the merchants of his kingdom, such as in the famous bhojashAlA university, its central figure the vAgdevI of dhArAvatI was commissioned not by bhoja, but by a jaina lady named soShA hailing from a merchant family of his capital from her own money.

We can still happily notice the continuity of the same thought, to a large extent, prevailing even today among the more traditional wealthy Hindus. It comes as no surprise to learn that the donations to temples far exceed the amount spent on “charity” as claimed on the Income Tax returns. According to the Finance Ministry, the businesses filing corporate income taxes had recorded a total expenditure of about USD 2 billion during the year 2007. On the other hand the annual budget of Tirupati shrine alone, for the same year, exceeded USD 500 million: almost all of which goes to the charitable activities managed by the temple trust, besides a portion for the maintenance of the shrines. Now add to this amount the donations received by the other important Hindu shrines all over India!

For Hindu society, charity is not the only outlet of financial contribution to the society. We also hear the stories of complete financial sacrifice in the cause of the nation, such as that by the great jaina shreShThin of mewADa, whose name is permanently etched in golden letters on the rocky walls of the fort of Udaipur: Seth Bhamashah Oswal. In a few years after the battle of haldIghATI, mahArANA pratApa siMha was not left with any resources to carry on his resistance against the moghal tyrant. Disheartened, he is said to have decided to give up, just when, apparently inspired by ekali~Nga mahAdeva in a dream, patriotic ShreShThin met mahArANA and laid down at his feet all his wealth. Seth Bhamashah, the guild leader of the merchants of mewADa and mArawADa, was no small man, nor his donation a small sum. With this financial sacrifice of patriotic businessman, mahArANA reorganize his senA and went on to launch a renewed and rejuvenated tumultuous struggle. ShreShThin went further than just donating his money, and also advised mahArANA to attack and regain first the trade routes and stifle the supply chains of the moghals in west. It is by following this advise that in less than a decade, mahArANA quickly brought the imperial control to its feet and reclaimed almost entire mewADa. Seth also led from the front, leading a regiment of mahArANA’s army, and fighting on battlefields along with an equally valiant brother of his, seTha tArAchanda oswAl.

Likewise, how can we forget the contribution of another great vaishya warrior, who a little before this time, rose to reclaim the Hindu independence in dillI by spending all his wealth on raising a senA to crush the foreigners and picking up a sword himself: himU, the son of a powerful merchant from mithilA. Moslem chroniclers use for himU the abusive epithet of ‘bakkAla’, a derogatory term for ‘shopkeeper’, alluding to his business background.

An important aspect which one notices is that the underlying principle, stressed by the traditions in the enterprise of charity, is humility. Charity was not a matter of show for the Hindu, as it is generally in the west and as the westernized Hindu corporate is now learning these days as it seems, but something which was to be done silently. shAstra-s teach one to conduct charity in such a way that while one’s right hand donates, the left does not even get the wind of it. It is these who are called the real udAra-s and dAtA-s, and it is their charity which is considered the real charity. ‘Among the hundred men born’, says this well known piece of wisdom, ‘only one is found to be brave and among thousands born only one could become a paNDita, among ten thousands born only one grows to become a good orator but truly rare and precious is the birth of such real donors, when they happen or don’t happen, knows who!’ (shateShu jAyate shUraH… dAtA bhavati vA na vA)

This reminds us of the well-known kiMvadanti about a friendly exchange between tulasIdAsa and abdur-rahIm. We know that tulasIdAsa was well-known within the circle of Akbar, with at least one copper prashasti discovered at kAshI in context of an endowment made by Todarmal which relates to his considering tulasIdAsa as his master. According to this well-known narrative, once an acquaintance of tulasIdAsa needed some money for arranging the wedding of his daughter, and asked tulasIdAsa for financial help. Todarmal who used to govern kAshI was away those days for some military campaign in North West, so tulasI sent this man, with a letter of recommendation to rahIma, the adopted son of Akbar and the symbolic head of the moghal clan, khanekhAnA, who was known to be wealthy and charitable. rahIma received the man with humility, returned him with more money than requisitioned for, and also sent a humble letter of thanks for tulasIdAsa. Hearing of rahIm’s humility, and reading the letter, tulasI replied back with a dohA, saying: “sIkhe kahAM nawAbajU denI aisI dena, jyauM jyauM kara Upara uThata tyauM tyauM nIche naina” (‘Wherefrom did our dear nawAb learn this mode of giving / Higher rise his arms in charity, lower turns his gaze in humility’). To this rahIma is said to have replied, “denahAra koi aura hai deta rahata dina-raina, loga bharama hama para dharahi tA te nIche naina” (‘The giver is someone else, who keeps giving day and night / people confuse us to be the donor, causing us the embarrassment’). At one place, rahIma himself says that, ‘we consider those not alive, who only live on alms, but we consider those even deader, from whom charity does not come’. (“rahimana te jana to muye je jana maMgahi jAya; unate pahile te muye jinate nikasata nAhi”)

We are reminded of another great mArawADI ShreShThin from va~Nga, the father of bhAratendu harishchandra, seTha harSha chandra, whose name is still taken with respect in the city of kAshI due to massive investments he made in the service of sarasvatI. bhAratendu, his son, or shall we say sarasvatI’s son, went further and practically spent all his wealth in reviving Hindu culture, especially its languages, at a time when it was most needed: setting up schools and printing presses, establishing journals and granting scholarships all over the North India, and leading the intellectual assault from the front himself.

We remember Lala Lajpat Rai, the scion of a well known wealthy family from panjAb, who decided to dedicate all his wealth in the cause of the freedom struggle. At one place we read in the memoir by the elder son of Lal Bahadur Shastri, the grateful reminiscence of the services that the legendary lAlAji silently did from his wealth for the freedom struggle. Shastriji’s son recounted here that lAlAji used to send money orders every month to those countless families whose bread winners were either languishing in British prisons or had been martyred. He also contributed in a major way towards founding of the Hindu University at kAshI.

Talking of the Hindu University of kAshI, let this be reminded that it started and continued to operate its massive infrastructure, solely on the private contribution from the wealthy Hindu businessmen and royals from across bhArata. It is only later, post-independence, that the government began contributing to it.

Yet another important institution comes to mind that was started at kAshI for the Hindu revival even before this, the kAshI nAgarI prachAriNI sabhA, which made no small contribution in inflaming that flame of Hindu revival which now seems to have been all but extinguished. Even the functioning of that sabhA was the effort of the private Hindu charity effort.

Many years back, our father used to be in the employ of the shreShThin-kulabhUShaNa GD Birla’s family for some years, and we are in intimate knowledge of how this family was and is committed to spending on public welfare, and especially for the spread and growth of dharma, much of which may not be known in public. We need not enumerate how this house is even today on the frontlines of charity, and doing so silently. We also remember the nAyaDU shreShThins who founded the shAlA where we studied for a few years when living in the draviDa country. The wealthy founder of the institute had four sons, and the philosophy of this gentleman used to be to treat society as a fifth one and share the wealth among five, not four. Their attitude to philanthropy was also typical and somewhat peculiar. They used to impart Industrial Training to the needy and then finance the machine tools for them to become self-employed and be responsible for themselves.

Coming back to Beckett, we think he might be right when he said that charity was practically a competitive sport in US business. He probably had in mind the native Indians charitably pushed into the business of gambling and gaming? Or he probably meant the proposal of the State of California to make gambling legal in the state for charity purposes? Or maybe he had in mind the recent case of the State of Connecticut suing the charity founded by the NBA star Charles D. Smith, Jr. for spending away the funds collected for charity on cruise vacations, cars and beauty services!

July 16, 2009

5th century nR^isiMha

by Sarvesh K Tiwari


This 5th century sculpture from the outskirts of Jhansi town is probably the oldest intact nR^isiMha image in North India, with some possible exceptions of even older ones in central nepAla.

July 14, 2009

QUIZ: Who Coined the term ‘Hinduism’?

by Sarvesh K Tiwari
July 12, 2009

maitrEm bhajata – Guest Post by S. Aravindan Neelakandan

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

There is a memorable scene in that Spencer Tracy classic “Inherit the wind” where the creationists clash with scientists in a courtroom. The pro-creationist lawyer asks the judge not to allow the testimonies of professors of zoology, archeology and anthropology in the courtroom, as they did not want to hear any “zoological hogwash” against Bible. It was déjà vu of that courtroom drama, when the Chennai based activist Radha Rajan in her recent article in the web-portal sneered at “Anthropology, linguistics, archaeology and epigraphy” disciplines which project them as science only to provide “their peddlers the veneer of infallibility.”

The context should be first made clear. And the context is Witzel.

Professor Michael Witzel of Harvard University, Wales professor of Sanskrit was scheduled for a meeting in Sanskrit college Chennai. This created a stir, as Witzel was known for his anti-Hindu stand in the California Textbook case where he did not hesitate to derive support from anti-Indian forces. Witzel is a strong supporter of Indo-European migration model of ancient Indian past. He also favors an “illiterate Harappa” model. In all, his academic stands have a pattern: he carefully devalues, demeans and deconstructs ancient India. He does that in an academic way and sometimes his agenda spills out as he views all Indian research as naturally inferior. He smacks of western supremacist tendencies. So are some of his colleagues. So his invitation to Sanskrit college in Chennai naturally creates resentment and pain among the section of people. This is natural.

However Witzel has been criticized academically and attacked non-academically. First the academic: It should be noted that there is no textual evidence in the Vedas for Indo-Aryan migration into the Indian region. However Witzel in his work came up with one passage Baudhâyana Shrauta Sûtra. A leading international authority on Vedic Sanskrit would later comment:

It is beyond dispute that the interpretation Witzel gives to this passage does not accord with its syntax. This was pointed out, though without considering details by Elst (1998, similarly 1999:164-5).  In e-mail message kindly conveyed to me by S.Kalyanaraman (11 April 1999), Witzel reacted to Elst’s objection and amended his rendition, referring to a passage from a forthcoming paper…. Even this however, fails to meet the requirements of syntax…. one must conclude that, without resort to unwarranted liberty of interpretation, this text cannot serve to document an Indo-Aryan migration into the main part of the subcontinent.”

[(Emphasis not in the original), George Cardona, The Indo-Aryan languages, Routledge, 2003, pp.34-35]

Witzel also acknowledges in academic circles that his Munda, Para-Munda substratum are not as well attested by proof as he would like his lay audience to believe. For example Witzel admits in an academic paper thus:

It must be stressed that neither the commonly found Dravidian nor Munda etymologies are up to the present standard of linguistic analysis where both the root and all affixes are explained. That is why most of the subsequent etymologies have to be regarded preliminary.”

(Substrate languages in Old Indo-Aryan (Rgvedic, middle and late Vedic), Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 5.1, 1999)

George Cardona, an eminent linguist from University of Pennsylvania corrects many of the misconceptions that Witzel slips in between the lines in his papers. For example Witzel claims, “The spread of the narrative perfect, is a late phenomenon that it did not reach Panini at all…” Cardona states “The use of the perfect in reporting events not witnessed by a speaker is known to Panini, for his current language (Astadhyai 3.2.115…) … so that it is not precise to say “the spread of the narrative perfect …did not reach Panini at all”. (George Cardona, 2003 p.20)

In fact Cardona states in the civilized language of a venerable academician: “Without wishing to diminishing the value of Witzel’s major contribution, I have nevertheless to say that some of the conclusions and claims made are subject to doubt.” (George Cardona, 2003 p.19) Regarding one of Witzel’s pet theories on Munda substratum in Vedic language, though Cardona honestly admits he could not judge the value of the Munda vocabulary Witzel brings in, Cardona states clearly his own judgment on the Vedic terms for which Witzel proposes Munda etymology: “…although Witzel gives a long list of Vedic terms in which he sees Para-Munda prefixes, he does not, as far as I can see, give examples of entire words demonstrably borrowed from Munda and which could have served as a basis for abstracting prefixes. Moreover while asking rhetorically ‘Is the Indus language therefore a kind of Proto-Munda?’ Witzel admits, “Against this may speak first of all, as Kupier states, that the RV substrate does not have infixes like Munda.” (Emphasis not in the original: George Cardona, 2003 p.31)

The readers can note for themselves the intentional mistranslation by Witzel in order to fabricate literary evidence for Aryan migration. The readers can also note the mild language of rebuke towards the linguistic speculations Witzel puts forth with not much of credible evidence.

Now let us contradict this academic civilized culture with the way Witzel and his close associate Steve Farmer react to academic stands that go against themselves. Of course the the almost racial jabs hurled at Indians, particularly Hindus, by the learned Wales Professor of Sanskrit have made their rounds in the Internet.When in 2009 an Indian team from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and the Indus Research Centre of the Roja Muthiah Research Library (both at Chennai), presented a paper, resulting from more than two years of sustained research it was accepted and was published in the prestigious journal Science. The paper contradicted Witzel-Farmer thesis of “illiterate Harappans”, which they had earlier presented in a sensational way. Now this paper by Indian team proved that there is credible scientific evidence to show that the Indus script is a system of writing, which encodes a language. The derision with which the Witzel-Farmer team reacted to this paper shocked among others Iravatham Mahadevan – the famous epigraphist who has dedicated his life to study the Indus seals. He wrote:

“As they say, garbage in, garbage out,” says Michael Witzel of the Harvard University. These quotations from an online news item (New Scientist, April 23, 2009) are representative of what passes for academic debate in sections of the Western media over a serious research paper by Indian scientists published recently in the USA (Science, April 24, 2009)…. The provocative comments by Farmer and Witzel will surprise only those not familiar with the consistently aggressive style adopted by them on this question, especially by Farmer. (Iravatham Mahadevan, The Indus ‘non-script’ is a non-issue, The Hindu, May 03, 2009)

In 2001, Witzel and Farmer along with a Chennai based Marxist media establishment launched a quasi-academic media lynch of N. S. Rajaram for claiming in his deciphering of Indus script that a particular broken Indus seal as a horse. While Rajaram’s deciphering did not stand the tests of science and failed on its own merit, the mistaken identification of the seal was trumpeted by Witzel-Farmer as an intentional hoax. However N.S.Rajaram need not have had recourse to hoaxing a broken seal if he wanted to prove the presence of Equus caballus. He could have mentioned the archeological reports which place domesticated horse ca 4500 BCE at the base of Aravalli Hills (Ghosh, 1989) or at the Harappan sites of Surkatoda (AK Sharma, 1979) or nearer to his own home at the Hallur excavation (Alur 1992), or at Kalibangan (Sharma 1992-3) or at Lothal (Rao, 1979). Yet Witzel-Farmer duo went about beating their drums about how they had exposed an equivalent of a Piltdown hoax by Indian nationalists.

The truth is that had anyone bothered to apply the same standards to Witzel’s mistranslation of BSS to fabricate literary evidence for Aryan migration that could have definitely merited as a “Piltdown translation” hoax than the seal misidentification could be termed as a “Piltdown horse hoax.” Emboldened now Witzel and Farmer claim that Mahadevan had distorted the Indus seals to present it as a language. So now the Indian researches are all graded from distortions to hoaxes. Steve Farmer once spoke with the same derision about eminent Indian archeologist B.B.Lal as “rightwing archeologist” and that “absolutely none of Lal’s recent work is accepted by any leading Western archaeologist.”(In an Internet post dated January 16, 2006)

Thus the pattern that emerges is clear: Witzel and his colleague Farmer carefully devalue anything Indian and at the same time also do not hesitate to attack non-academically and in an arrogant language those who disagree with them. Interestingly, the find media-platforms provided to them. One of the reasons for their increase in non-academic, political as well as media clout is the kind of attack launched on them by a section of Hindu activists. The name-calling as well as hyperbole has helped the duo to project themselves as some sort of knights in the shining armor fighting the menacing eastern monsters threatening academic freedom and research.

This being the context let us return to the article by Radha Rajan – we will see how she unwittingly complements Witzel’s agenda b her own vitriolic language and ill-tempered statements.

Iravatham Mahadevan, it is rumored, had arranged the meeting of Witzel at Sanskrit college. Perhaps Mahadevan was following the dictum of Thirukural – the Tamil classic that wants one to make the arrogant shy their evil deeds by one’s benevolence towards them. However this was also provided an opportunity for Sanskrit scholars in India to academically confront Witzel and expose him as academically weak. However Radha Rajan took it as an emotional issue. To her Sanskrit college is more than an academic institution, for it is sanctified by Pramacharya and today the evil Milecha was going to pollute it.

So she went and insulted Mahadevan.

In her own words:

I asked Mahadevan to back off and dump Witzel, Mahadevan refused, I told him I will disrupt his meeting, he snivelled, he was 80 years old, was recovering from a heart attack and would go on a fast-unto-death if I disrupted his meeting. … But like all idiot/criminal Hindus Iravatham Mahadevan decided to fast-unto-death, like Gandhi, not for Hindus and Hindu dharma but for Hinduism’s enemies. At my creative best, I made some posters – Inky Pinky Ponkey, Harward had a donkey, The Donkey rode the elephant (iravatham is Indra’s elephant),shame shame, and so on, a ten point ‘Know your Witzel’ document and went to the venue yesterday.

It is exactly through these kinds of moments that Witzels of the world become heroes. It is exactly because of such uncivilized attacks that we diminish ourselves. One should remember that it was Mahadevan who discovered the identification of Soma ritual and the Unicorn motif in the Indus seals. Remember that it was the Indian team under the guidance of Mahadevan that gave an academic blow to Witzel-Farmer “illiterate Harappans” hypothesis. And see how we Hindus repay him? Is it because he has provided us an opportunity to counter Witzel academically that we through our uncivilized behavior let pass.

Now to this article that Radha Rajan has penned down.

She calls archeology, linguistics and anthropology as tools for White Christian agenda. But what she forgets is that it was a white-skinned archeologist who disproved the “Massacre at Mohenjadaro” scenario – George Dales. It was an anthropologist – a white-skinned one at that- who exorcised the notion of Aryan as a racial or biological entity. It is archeologist B.B.Lal who today advocates academically the identification of Harappan civilization with Vedic. It was only a few decades back that some orthodox Hindus attacked him for his dating of core events of Ramayana as should have happened later than those of Mahabharatha. It was a white-skinned Belgian who exposed Witzel’s fabrication of literary data.

But here the malaise is deeper. Radha Rajan states that calling a discipline science a “veneer of infallibility.” This shows not just the prejudice of Radha Rajan but her ignorance about science. Had she at least customarily glanced Karl Popper she would not have written, what she had written. The label of science does not give a discipline the “veneer of infallibility.” On the other hand, it demands that the discipline should provide falsifiable hypothesis, which can be tested empirically. That is why we can claim Marxism and astrology as pseudo-sciences. That is why we can precisely identify some of the claims of Aryan invasionists and Dravidianists and their Nazi-like anti-Brahmin rhetoric as pseudo-scientific nonsense.

The readers can see for themselves that some of the worst indictments of Witzel have come from the very disciplines Radha Rajan so vehemently belittles. But it is the rhetoric of people like Radha Rajan that gives Witzel and his likes their extra-hours in the limelight of glory.

It is time Hindu intellectuals disown such uncivilized drivels and move forward and take up the challenge thrown at us by the likes of Witzel. Indian archeologists have done that. They did not indulge in word fights of street fight caliber nor did they pen down silly rhymes demeaning themselves. Rather they indulged in hard work. They overcame all the problems of a closed mindset of a dying paradigm. AK Sharma had to wait almost two decades before his discovery of horse bones were held valid. It is such Gandhian patience and intelligent hard work that will win the day for Hindus against the likes of Witzel. Instead if we abuse our own giants like Mahadevan, we are indulging in the sin of insulting Saraswati Herself.

As far Radha Rajan, I can only hope that she will not become furious reading this. A vain hope of course. For my fellow Hindu brothers and sisters I can only share with them the benedictory prayer Paramacharya wrote for UN:

maitrEm bhajata

Practice Friendship that wins all hearts

Now that is a sentiment even a die-hard Hindu atheist like myself can agree with.

S. Aravindan Neelakandan

July 9, 2009

A Homosexual turned Bhakta

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

kahA kahUM ratiyA kI kathA batiyA kahi Avata hai na kacHU rI
Ayi gopAla liyo bhari a~Nka kiyo mana bhAya piyo rasa kU rI
tAhI dinA soM gaDI aMkhiyAM rasakhAni mere a~Nga a~Nga me pUrI
pai na dikhA.i parai aba bAvari dai ke biyoga bithA kI majUrI

{How do I describe that night dear, for words are escaping my tongue;
gopAla came, took me in his embrace, did what he liked, and we tasted the nectar;
And since that day, as if every pore of rasakhAn’s body has become eyes, waiting for him –
As he has not returned since, and I am left with this gift of his, this madness, this pain, this agony…}

The recent discussions on homosexuality brought to our mind that great poet of braja-bhAShA, Syed Ibrahim Piyani turned vaiShNava sAdhu rasakhAna, for whom his homosexuality itself had become the vehicle to reach kR^iShNa-devotion.

There are of course many unknown things about rasakhAna, including his parentage and early life, and we have no intentions to go into much of those details, in brief what stands almost certain from internal evidence of his own writings is that he was a homosexual, was a paThAna, used to live in dillI, and most scholars of Hindi history consider him a contemporary of Akbar. We however feel that he was an old man by the time of Akbar, and must have rather seen those times when himU had suppressed the last of Afghans and was crowned in dillI. (We have seen some hints of its mention in a couple of his lines, but that will require more analysis.)

The vaiShNava hagiography by gokuladAsa called ‘dosaibAvana vaiShNavan kI vArtA’ (Discussion on 252 vaiShNava-s) recounts the life of rasakhAna, and provides some details about rasakhAna’s homosexual beginning and how through it he turned to devotion. Reproduced below is the relevant part of the prose (#218):

“so vA dillI me eka sAhUkAra rahato hato | so vA sAhUkAra ko beTo baDo sundara hato vA cHoro so rasakhAna ko mana laga gayo | vAhI ke pIcHe phiryA karai vAko jhUTo khAve ATha pahara vAhI kI naukarI karai |… eka dina chAra vaishnava milaki bhagvadvArtA karate hate | karate karate aisI bAta nikasI jo prabhu me aisa lagAvanA jaise chitta sAhUkAra ke beta me lagyo hai…”

In summary, he used to live in dillI and been in homosexual relationship with a certain vaishya’s son, with whom he used to spend day and night and the story of their scandalous affaire was well known in the town. Once he was passing by a group of vaishnava sAdhu-s and got curious overhearing their discussion. (One sAdhu said that one must develop love for the Lord like this paThAna loves that vaishya boy). His curiosity drew him to them and when he asked he was shown a picture of kR^iShNa in shrI-nAtha form (some other descriptions mention it in muralI-manohara form, although little difference it makes). The image was so attractive that rasakhAna’s heart was immediately struck by its beauty, and he fell in love, as rasakhAna himself says in one of the dohA-s recorded in prema-vATikA: ‘prema-deva kI cHabi lakhi, bhaye miyA rasakhAna’ – one glance at the image of the Lord of Love, and miyA became rasakhAna.

He then visited vR^indAvana, and started roaming around in the company of vaiShNava vairAgI-s, eventually taking dIkShA in puShTi mata from the son of famous vallabhAchArya, composing and singing love songs for his new love, and eventually becoming the famous rasakhAna. His poems are mostly in the savaiyyA meter, and present an entirely unique strain of devotion. Above all, one can find such expressions in his work that would easily remind one of his homosexual beginnings.

It seems Moslems did not take kindly to his conversion, and some complained against him with the emperor (Akbar?), although there is no mention of any persecution of rasakhAna except for this line that he wrote: “kahA karai rasakhAna ko ko.U chugala-labAra | jo pai rAkhana-hAra hai mAkhana-chAkhana-hAra” (What harm can these petitioners bring to rasakhAna, for his protector is now none lesser than kR^iShNa himself.)

According to janaShRuti, towards the end of his life he once heard a recitation of rAma-charita-mAnasa (which must have been composed just recently by young tulasIdAsa), and took to its reading and hearing very lovingly.

His immortal, famous last-wish:

mAnusa hauM tau vahI rasakhAna basauM mili gokula gaoM ke gvArana
jo pasu hauM tau kahA basu mero charauM nita nanda kI dhenu majhArana
pAhana hauM tau vahI giri kau jo dharyo kara cHatra purandara kArana
jo khaga hauM tau basero karauM mili kAlindI kUla kadamba kI DArana

(If reborn as a human, then wish to be reborn as rasakhAna, living among those shepherds of gokula;
And if I have to be reborn as an animal, for what control do I have in it, then wish to be born as a cow that would graze together with the cows of nanda;
And if I be sent as a stone, then let me be on that hill, which my Lord picked up due to the wrath of purandara;
And if I become a bird, then I wish I shall make home on the branches of those kadamba trees that grow on the banks of holy yamunA)

bhAratendu records about rasakhAna in his uttara-bhaktamAla, and counting him among other moslem-turned-Hindu devotees, he ecstatically concludes: “ina musalmAna harijanan pai koTina hinduna vAriye”: (the gain of such hari-jana musalmAns makes cheaper to me the loss of a million Hindus.)

July 6, 2009

A Ghazi turned Kafir: the Case of Akbar’s U-Turn – 5

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

continues from Part-1, Part-2 , Part-3, Part-4

While we have sufficient data about Akbar’s U-turn from the onwards of year 1576-77, that is generally coinciding with the time from which the Shiites got engaged, and the process stands fairly coherent after the year of 1580-81 when Akbar was done with the religion of the Prophet, our knowledge is woefully challenged by the insufficiency as well as lack of satisfactory clarity of data available about the happenings in the neighborhood of 1575-76. We are left only with badAyUnI narrating for us the events from this initial stage of the process, without the benefit of corroboration either from the IsAists or the informants of the dabistAn’s author.

We have already seen that down to this time Akbar was under major influence of the sUfI-s, originally of the naqshabandiyA variety but for many years now of their chishtI cousins. A couple of disconnected anecdotes narrated by badAyUnI reinforce our information on how deeply was pAdishAh biased towards chishtiA. One of these days when blessed with a son, badAyUnI approached him for choosing a name for the newborn as per the custom, and the name Akbar proposed, ‘abdal hAdI’, indirectly reveals his bend at the time: ‘hAdI’ being a common address to the sUfI masters. [1]

Another anecdote about name-giving confirms the same. After fulfilling his pious desire of participating in jehAd against Hindus at haldIghATI, badAyUnI returned to sIkarI in the end of 1576 with an accidentally captured elephant of mahArANA, dispatched for Akbar by Man Singh. When Akbar was told that mahArANA called it ‘rAma-prasAda’, he rechristened the war-elephant as ‘pIra-prasAda’, the ‘Grace of pIra’, referring by pIra the chishtI of ajmer. [2] (If name-giving could be any indicator of Akbar’s religious bend at any given time, then it is very interesting to note that during his later life the names Akbar gave to the newborns, for instance to the son of abul-fazl, or to his own grandsons, were all non- or pre-Islamic.)

At another instance, Akbar scoffed at a sUfI divine for having reportedly criticized the chishtI master, by saying: ‘Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti is my preceptor… Anyone who says that he was misguided (gumarAha) is a kAfir, and I shall slay that person with my own hands.’[3] Indeed, by this time, he was a committed follower of chishtiA, not only regularly visiting the dargAhs of the chishtI sheikhs but actually practicing their peculiar exercises.  badAyUnI reports that sometime around 1576, Akbar went so far as to learn and attempt the performance of chillA-i-makus, sort of a penance in which one suspends one’s head downwards in a well for forty days while continuously meditating. [4]

His strong bias towards the sUfI-s must certainly have been playing an important role at ibAdat-khAnAh in this crucial initial phase, and to understand the likely dynamics better, we are forced to take an unavoidable digression into the position of sUfI-s within the scheme of Islam. In the infancy of Islam there was hardly any need for either philosophy or mysticism. Its spirit was not concerned with these trivialities as it erupted forth from Arabia, the basic and the only demand it placed before the convert was the absolute acceptance and obedience to the revealed command of Allah, rather than explaining, understanding or putting it to reason, which was not only unnecessary but also implicitly impossible. Within this worldview, as the ultimate scope of human knowledge was limited to knowing Allah and His Law as revealed by the Prophet, it permitted the intellectual and spiritual pursuits only as far as they develop a deeper piety and belief in the revelation. However, by the mid of the next century even as the sword of Islam defeated and subjugated vast domains of the non-Islamic societies, it had to be confronted with the sophisticated ancient religions not on the battlefields anymore but now on the turfs of philosophy and theology, and had to soon recognize the crisis of its own poverty in these fields.

The realization necessitated the Moslems to systematize and develop somewhat more rational explanations of their theology, by desperately though reluctantly employing, like their Christian cousins had done before them, service of the Greek logic and system of rational disputation, while of course scornfully distilling out all the heathen thought that came with it. By unscrupulously utilizing the heathen system of ration for template and Qoran and the life of the Prophet as data, Islam began filling the void that was there in it concerning the finer points of theology like the nature and attributes of Allah, scope of revelation, free-will versus the pre-destination etc., thus the proper founding of Islamic orthodoxy and rise of the famous lines of jurists: abU hanIfA (d 767), mAlik ibn-anas (d 795), ash-shafi-I (d 820), and ahmed ibn-hanbAl (d 855). The new faculty inaugurated the careers for the custodians of Islamic orthodoxy and guardians of the new theology, who would systematize every fine point about theology, government, law and society of Islam.

While on one hand Islam was pressurized to develop the system of its orthodoxy, in the east it was staring at another and more profound crisis. Its newly conquered territories in east – the north-eastern IrAq and interior Persia, Turkey and Caucasus – were homes to several of the immensely rich and ancient Indo-Iranian-Greek mystic and monastic traditions, answer to which the invader did not know besides trying to wipe out the kufr and jAhiliyyA by brute force as it had done back home. Unlike what it encountered in west however, where the ground was already prepared for it by the very compatible Christian creeds, here Islam had to grapple with a whole different reality. Even after simply eliminating the monks and the mobeds, demolishing the monasteries and the fire-altars, the pious invader could only succeed in converting these people in letter but not so much in spirit. The new convert continued to apply counter-pressure and bring with him his ancient mystic spirit and traditions, to the new religion forced upon him. The reaction from the guardians of the purity in Islam was on the predictable lines: suppression of heresy through persecutions, which applied selective pressures on the native traditions and their followers, culminating in survival of those traditions which managed to learn how to adjust themselves and survive within the limits permissible in Islam, and these are who would later give birth to the sUfIs. It is no surprise to observe that the earliest illustrious sUfI-s were the children of the jaruthastrian converts to Islam, like bAyazId bastAmI (d 874) and mansUr al-hillAj (publicly executed 922) etc., although western sUfIlogists and apologists of Islam carefully conceal this fact.

Thus the making of the sUfI, which started in the ninth century but did not complete until the twelfth, the process involving gory persecution at the hands of ulemA and khalIfA, and resulting over time in circumspection and internalization of Islam by these mystics, causing them to make inventions of historically-impossible vaMshAvalI-s in order to link themselves to the Prophet and his companions (sometimes explaining these linkages using supernatural travels, spiritual visions, or appearances in dreams), liberal applications of hagiography to absorb the historical Moslem figures as saints of their own traditions, interpreting Qoranic verses and Prophetic traditions to seek approvals for their practices, adopting Arabic terminology to express their spiritual ideas (until a limited later revival of local vernaculars), and above all, forcefully de-linking themselves from their true origins. Then there was also an element of the pre-Islamic mysticism of Arabia finding a renewed channel to express itself once again too.

 Our present scope would prevent us from delving much deeper into this process, and the matter need not detain us further than saying that Islam dealt with the crisis of its mystic poverty by ruefully allowing some liberty to the mysticism of the converts, as long as they did not clash with the core of Islam, as Sita Ram Goel writes: “…the sufi spirit was irrepressible like all other sterling expressions of the human spirit. But theology and theocracy were equally uncompromising. After a lot of terror inspired by theologians and theocrats, a compromise was made between the two… The sufis could sing and dance and indulge in other ‘frivolities’ provided they swore by the Muhammad, conformed to the Sunnah in their outer conduct, and served the sultans in the extension of Islamic imperialism.”[5]

Their islamization was to however complete soon, and whatever the origins of their real traditions, the later sUfI-s came down to become zealous missionaries of Islam, often displaying no lesser bigotry than the orthodox ulemA. Their role now started to come handy for both before and after the march of jehAd into undefeated dAr-ul-harb: before, as one writer perceptively states, as “the sappers and miners of the invading Muslim armies”, and after, as “a balm to the insulted, humiliated and the plundered” kAfirs[6].  They now played no small role in both converting the defeated kAfir as well as in preventing the neo-converts from falling back to their original faiths. Proverbially, the sword of sultan took the horse up to the water and sUfI-s made him drink it, whereas eventually the ulemA would take over and indoctrinate the coming generations of the neo-convert into Islam-proper.

The ulemA, the sultAn and the sUfI, now acted as if three columns of the vanguard of Islam, but like the three generals, while they acted in unison at war, internally they wrestled for supremacy over the other; the sUfI claiming to be the spiritual heir of the Prophet and his living model in this world, ulemA concerned with the preservation of the purity of the true faith as revealed, and the sultAn of course being the champion of Islam and its Rightly Guided khalIfA. The tussle between them can be noticed throughout the history of Islam, and is evident even before Akbar, during the tug of war between alA-ud-dIn khaljI, his contemporary orthodoxy, and nizAm-ud-dIn the chishtI awliyA of dillI. This process can also be noticed in the eighteenth century Arabia where the sa’Ud sultan and abdal wahhAb the ulemA would forge an alliance to subjugate the sUfI and ‘reform’ the Islamic faith. But despite the internal tussle, whenever the three resonated together in concordance, they imploded into the Islamic Revolution, as can be witnessed from the times of the Caliphs to the times of awrangzib the naqshbandiyA sUfI, down even to the revolution of AyAtollAh khomeinI or of the tAlibAn the pious deobandists.

In any case, what we are witnessing at the present moment in Akbar’s decision to hold theological discussions is, in our opinion, springing from this inherent schism between the sUfI-s and the Islam. Akbar was compelled to pay attention to it, he himself being inclined to the sUfI-s at heart but towards orthodox Islam in mind, as we can understand from this statement of badAyUnI: “pAdishAh has thus leisure to come into nearer contact with ascetics and the disciples of his reverence, muin, and passed much of his time in discussing QorAn and hadIs. Questions of Sufism, scientific discussion, enquiries into Philosophy and Law, were the order of the day. His Majesty spent whole nights in praising Allah; he continually occupied himself in pronouncing yA-huwA, and yA-hAdI, in which he was well-versed.” [7]

It would appear natural for such a pious follower of sUfI tarIqA to try and arbitrage a truce between sUfI-s and orthodoxy, maybe help develop a synthesis as had happened earlier outside India, for right at the moment orthodoxy was once again inspiring much terror into the sUfI-s and as we have seen the persecutions of heretics was the order of the day.


1. Muntakhab ut-tawArikh, Vol. II, p229 (Incidentally, not unusual for the then prevailing infant mortality, the child was soon consumed by some fatal sickness, but in retrospect badAyUnI accuses himself, lamenting why he succumbed to the heretical ways of pAdishAh rather than bringing home his orthodox colleagues to recite QorAn to seek blessings for the newborn.)

2. Muntakhab ut-tawArikh, Vol. II, p243

3. Majalis, Maktaba Ibrahimia, #1367 p. 58. Quoted from IQTIDAR ALAM KHAN,”Akbar’s Personality Traits and World Outlook: A Critical Reappraisal”, Aligarh Muslim University – Center of Advanced Study in History

4. Muntakhab ut-tawArikh, Vol. II, p. 201 and vol. III p. 110. Akbar learnt it from a dervish Shaikh Chaya Laddha but did not perform it.

5. Sita Ram Goel, “Starting Point of Universal Spirituality”, Defence of Hindu Soceity, Voice of India

6. Ram Autar Singh, Time for Stock Taking, Voice of India, 1996

7. Muntakhab ut-tawArikh, Vol. II, p. 203

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