In the following essay, I try to explain the meaning and purpose of this 'discovery' and how it affects the existence of the Indian majority, based on an article 'The Invention of the Hindu' written by Pankaj Mishra. (http://www.axess.se/english/2004/02/theme_inventionhindu.php). However, I do not agree with everything Mr. Mishra mentions in this article.
Though I have heard about this Hindu discovery before, Mishra’s is the first article I read on it. Among other things he writes, “Hinduism is largely a fiction”, an 18th and 19th century creation of the colonial Europeans and their Sanskrit learned Brahmin intermediaries in India.“Together, the British scholars and the Brahmin interpreters came up with a canon of sorts, mostly Brahmanical literature and ideology, which they began to identify with a single Hindu religion”.
Before going further, I suggest to read this article from the above link
If anybody feels the news shocking, that is natural. In the more than the five generations passed by since this creation, Hinduism has come to represent on the one hand a monolithic religious institution of India and on the other a cultural and national identity for the Indian majority. And to admit, all of a sudden that, that identity is a fiction jointly created by a people who pause the cultural leaders of India and of a foreign people is not easy.
And when one says, Hinduism is a creation of the Brahmin-European alliance, what does that mean?
Does it mean that traditional India’s knowledge and wisdom, its holistic philosophy, enterprises, industry, civilization, religions etc. that we find in the current Sanskrit Brahmanic Hindu texts are creations of a 19th century Brahmin-colonial union? No. They only ‘interpreted’ those knowledge and wisdom, preserved in India's oral traditions and peppered them with a few stories of their own, to appear as theirs.
However, this kind of interpretation of Indian tradition by foreign migrants was not a phenomenon that started in the 18th century. It started much earlier than that; the Brahmanic puranas and even the Gita are apparently such interpretation of earlier Indian traditions.
How those migrants later became Brahmins has a twist. Original Brahmins of India were not foreigners. The Kuchela Brahmin narrated in the Brahmanic text Bhagavatha was a poor, learned, humble, person. He was the representation of the typical average traditional learned Indian. How the Kuchela Brahmin was coerced to join a tardy, greedy pack of foreign migrants who played second fiddle to a villainous migrant ruling class and how he finally traded off his ideals for material as engineered by ‘bhagavan Krishnan’ is the story of the avil-puranam in the Bhagavatha. Once the true Brahmin tradition had gradually collapsed, the migrants cut and pasted that tradition and clan-name on them and they better be called the neoBrahmins (nB).
And why didn’t the Indian majority know anything about that Brahmin fiction and did nothing to protect themselves from its shame?
The reasons could be:
Once the neoBrahmins (nB) stepped into the scene, they displaced the majority from the mainstream using racial/caste apartheid. That led to the majority’s traditional enterprises, industry and quality of life deteriorating at rapid pace. The nB also prohibited the masses from educating and learning, which left them with little grasp of the devastation inflicted on their tradition. Neither it was easy for them to prioritize the issues of freedom and dignity, while worried about subsistence. As time went by their young generations slipped into poverty and ignorance and it became impossible for them to dwell into existential quests.
Why was it invented?
On the other hand, the nB with the wealth and property expropriated from the majority, embarked on a new existence in India (Kerala) and elsewhere. Long before the colonial period, the role changing between the nB and the people of India-nB taking the role of the enlightened Indians and the Indians taking that of the subverted migrants- was in full swing.
And once the colonials struck, an instant rapport was found between the two. Though the chemistry between the two activated unthinkable equations and formula in to the various aspects of Indian life the deadliest of them was found in the religio-cultural field.
Invention of Hinduism was one such. Mishra argues that in the British rational this invention was to impose a ‘uniformity’ or to ‘fix a single identity for such diverse communities as (they) found in India ..’. However, in my understanding, beyond this superficial rational, both the nBs and the British had hidden agendas. The invention fabricated an Aryan racial connection between neoBrahmins and the Eropeans. This authorised the nB the sole custody of Indian religions and civilization and in turn the British got to lay a claim on to a civilized Aryan ancestry.
And how much of the above claimed ‘uniformity’ and ‘single identity’ by Misra have the Indian majority achieved by way of inventing Hinduism? It only trapped them into an outside abstract religious identity/label with which their inner Being that was deeply entrenched in traditional religions came into sharp contrast. To some extent they were not even conscious about those inner attributes though their actions were guided by them.
And a kind of such contrast Mishra observes in his aunty which surpises him (please read Mishra’s article).
But contrary to the Indian majority, Mishra’s aunt was unconscious about her inner being. She was more conscious about her outside religious label and the prejudice it imposed.
In most cases the Indian majority rationalizes the outer and let go the prejudices it invites using their inner beingness. That is why the passive chanting of a nB or the political ranting of a Hindu fundamentalist makes little impact on their day-to-day life. Ideals of secularism, universalism and human values are their religion and ways of life which they easily practice. But they are not articulate about them like the westerners.
This non-articulation has been greatly exploited by the inventors of Hinduism. Mishra points out ‘most Indians then knew nothing or very little about the hymns …or the philosophical idealism of the Upanishads that the British and other European scholars took to be the very essence of Indian civilization’. That is, by western definition, only those who could make the outward academic expressions of Hinduism, the right chanting of Vedic hymns in Sanskrit, are true Hindus. Very few among the Kerala majority can read the Gita or the Upanishads in Sanskrit, but they do practice the exact ideals purported in them. But for those go pedantic about Hindu definitions they are heathens. But, how much of the nB who chant Sanskrit hymns in right ways follow those ideals in real life?
Hinduism, as an invented Brahmanic label and as the traditional religious ways of life are two mutually evasive theologies. The latter can never meet with the former.
Converting India’s traditional reigious centers into Hindu temples was an organized part of Brahmanic institutionalization that might have started much earlier than the colonial arrival. Traditionally India’s sciences, art and architecture were developed around those temples, which were then secular than religious. Once converted into Hindu temples, neoBrahmins denied the majority access to them and became the sole owners of their property and possessions. Evidence of them tampering with the old temple structures and deities are evident in all present Hindu temples.
· Contents of this article are not aimed at upsetting anybody. Misconceptions in the west that Indian majority are not proper Hindus for they lack its formal knowledge is taking a toll on their dignity and existence. To Deal with every unfair decision taken in the parlour of human history is the responsibility of the generations that follows.
· Present generation of India (Kerala) may be innocent of the doings of their forefathers. However their dignity is very much in question when they still continue in the path of their for-fathers.
· Indians (Keralites) who tend to ignore this issue out of shear modesty or arrogance are making huge mistakes. A culturally conscious Kerala Hindu youths, at home and abroad are growing disgruntled about complacency with the deliberate damages on their cultures. They need education to purge out the dirt inflicted on their religion and to embrace the truth hidden beneath it.
· In this regard, the invention of Hinduism as a religious label is not simply a religious issue. It is, I believe, an issue of Indian culture and civilization. So it is the business of every Indian who is genuinely concerned with these matters whether they live in India or elsewhere.