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The Hindu Renaissance and its Apologetic Patterns

  • Agehananda Bharati

An anthropological and linguistic analysis of the idiom of modern Hindu religious specialists and their followers, an audience which embraces all English speaking Indians and a large segment of the urban populations of India. The highly eclectic, quasi-secular and neo-Hindu ideology inaugurated by such charismatics as Vivekananda, other “Swamis” and interiorized by Indian nationalists, expresses itself in a highly stereotyped coded parlance, informed by Victorian English as well as by diffuse elements which could be described as a Hindu Protestant Ethic. Both systematic and conscious obfuscation of scriptural categories as well as complex but predictable patterns of dissimulation extending over virtually all types of cultural and social discourse—the caste-system, “superstitions,” the “scientific” base of Hinduism, political talk, etc., are adduced and investigated as paradigms of contemporary Indian parlance, which is not the grass-roots idiom, but which is gathering momentum as the forensic instrument of India's leadership and of Indian administrators, educators, and the Indian intellectuals.

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1 Ingalls, Daniel H. H., foreword to Singer, Milton (ed.), Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1966); ibid., Dimock, Edward C. Jr., “Doctrine and Practice among the Vaiṣṇavas of Bengal,” pp. 4163; ibid., van Buitenen, I.A.B., “On the Archaism of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa,” pp. 2340.

2 See Sarma, D. S., The Renaissance of Hinduism (Banaras: Hindu University Press, 1944) pass.; Raghavan, V., The Indian Heritage, 2nd revised edition (Bangalore: Institute of World Culture, 1958) introduction, p. xxi; Radhakrishnan, S., The Hindu View of Life (London: Allen & Unwin, 1957), pass.

3 See Singer, Milton, “The Great Tradition in a Metropolitan Center: Madras,” Traditional India: Structure and Change, Singer, M. (ed.) (Phila-delphia: American Folklore Society, 1959) Monograph no. X, pp. 141182; Srinivas, M. N., Religion and Society among the Coorgs in South India (London: Oxford University Press, 1952) pass.; Bharati, A. “Great Tradition and Little Traditions: an anthropological approach to the study of some Asian cultures,” Anthropology and Adult Education, Cummings, Th. (ed.) (Boston: Center for Continuing Education, 1968), pp. 7294.

4 See Srinivas, M. N., “A Note on Sanskritization and WesternizationJournal of Asian Studies, XV (1956), 481496; Marriott, McKim, “Little Communities in an Indigenous Civilization,” in Village India, Marriott, McKim (ed.), 5th imprint (Chiture, cago, 1963), pp. 171223; Staal, J. F., “Sanskrit and Sanskritization,” Journal of Asian Studies, XXII (1963), 261275; Gould, Harold C., “Sanskritization and Westernization: further comments,” Economic Weekly vol. 14, no. 1 (Bombay, 1962), 4851.

5 The Best of Sellers, Angel Records, #35884 (London, 1960).

6 Morris-Jones, W. H., “India's Political Idiom,” Politics and Society in India, Philips, C. H. (ed.) (New York: F. A. Praeger, 1962), pp. 123185.

7 Smelser, Neil J., Theory of Collective Behavior (New York: Free Press, 1963), pp. 49pass.

8 The term “intellectual” when applied to South Asians ought to be wider in its denotation than in its occidental reference; at the same time, certain semantic elements have to be added which are specific to the South Asian situation. Edward N. Shils's suggestions seem to be the most felicitous, see his The Intellectual between Tradition and Modernity: The Indian Situation (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1961), pp. 1519.

9 Staal, J. F., pp. 261–257 (see note 4).

10 Brajabuli, the alleged speech of Kṛṣṇa and his bucolic associates, is much closer to Avadhī and other forms of medieval Hindi than to Bengali.

11 The compounded linguistic confusions in that charming event were at once entertaining and instructive: though the apogy of the litany (kīrtan) was more or less correct Hindi, the suffix-than in Hanuman-than was a purely Tamil-Malayalam addition. The standard version, chanted hundreds of times every day on similar occasions in Hindi speaking areas, runs bol sab sādhu santon kī (jai), bol vīr Hanutnān-jī ki (jai) “say ye Victory unto all sādhus, say ye Victory to the Hero Hanuman”.

12 I am referring to the tradition inaugurated by Gilbert Ryle, editor of Mind at Oxford, continued and perfected by such authors as the late J. L. Austin, R. H. Hare, and Stuart Hampshire.

13 Bharati, A., “Cultural criticism as a tool for social studies,” Quest, no. 33 (Bombay, 1962), pp. 1522.

14 Prof. A. L. Basham lectured on various American campuses in 1967, emphasizing this important fact in his talks about indigenous Indian influences on Gandhi's thought.

15 Smelser, N. J., p. 173.

16 Hofstadter, Richard, Anti-lntellectualism in American Life, Vintage Book V-317 (New York: Random House, 1966), pp. 7, 1819.

17 Sarsasvati, Swami Sivananda, Sure Ways for Success in Life and God-Realization, The Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy and Divine Life Society (India: P. O. Sivanandanagar, Dt. Hrishikesh U.P., 1940), p. 276.

18 Sarasvati, Swami Sivananda, p. 269.

19 The original pizza was a simple, hot-baked bread without any trimmings, the staple of the Calabrian and Sicilian contadini from whom well over 90% of all Italo-Americans descend. After World War I, a highly elaborated dish, the U.S. pizza of many sizes, flavors, and hues, made its way back to Italy with visiting kinsfolk from America. The term and the object have acquired a new meaning and a new status, as well as many new tastes in the land of its origin, not only in the south, but throughout the length and width of Italy.

20 Carus, Paul, “Buddhism and the Religion of Science,” The Open Court, vol. X (Chicago, 03 12, 1896), 4845.

21 See Jackson, Carl T., “Meeting of East and West: the case of Paul Carus,” Journal of the History of Ideas, XXIX/1 (1968), 7393.

22 See Krishnananda, Swami in The New York Times (Sunday Supplement E5, 03 6, 1968).

23 Humboldt's Briefe an Freiherrn von Gentz, vol. V., p. 300, dated 1827, in Schriften Gentz, Fr. v. (ed.) (Mannheim, 1940).

24 Personal communication from the late Prof. Helmut von Glassenapp, Banaras 1953; but see also his Die Philosophie der Inder, Kröner's Taschenausgaben (Stuttgart, 1949), p. 6.

25 Wilkins, Charles, The Bhagavadgita (London, 1775), preface.

26 Sacred Books of the East, Telang, K. T. (ed.) vol. VIII (Oxford, 1882).

27 Thomson, J. C., The Bhagavadgita or the Sacred Lay (London, 1867).

28 Sacred Books of the East, vol. VII (Oxford, 1880).

29 Raghavan, V., p. xxi (see note 2)

30 On the occasion of Rabindranath Tagore's Anniversary Celebration at Central Hindu College, Banaras Hindu University, 1952.

31 The word ‘saint’, when used by Indians, is a totally different sememe from the Euro-American Christian usage. Probably by an unconscious linguistic-phonetic analogy to the North Indian sant, English ‘saint’ is used by English speaking sadhus when they refer either to themselves or to other sadhus, and also by Hindu laymen when they talk about sadhus. The moralizing Christian notion that the term should have ‘genuineness’ as its semantic component is out of place. North Indians use the term sant or the English ‘saint’ quite unhesitatingly for any full-time religious specialist of the monastic type and a statement like ‘Sant so-and-so is a rogue…’ is not contradictory in the Indian and Indian-English language usage. Most pervasive in the Panjab, sant is the title of quite a few political leaders (e.g., Sant Fateh Singh). It is a term of professional ascription and reference, and not of hieratic content, analogous, say to “Dr. X” stating that the person has an M.D., and not whether he is a good or a bad physician.

32 See Marriott, McKim, “Social structure and change in a U.P. village,” Economic Weekly, IV (Bombay, 1952), 869874; Singer, Milton, “The Indian Joint Family in Modern Industry,” Structure and Change in Indian Society, Singer, Milton and Cohn, Bernard S. (eds.) Chicago: Aldine Publishers, 1968), pp. 423454; Srinivas, M. N., Religion and Society among the Coorgs in South India (London: Oxford University Press, 1952), pass; Cohn, B. S., “Changing Traditions of a Low Caste,” Traditional India: Structure and Change (Philadelphia, 1959), pp. 207215.

33 Singer, Philip, Sadhus and Charisma, doctoral dissertation submitted to Syracuse University in 1961 (Bombay and New York: Asia Publishing House, 1970).

34 The bible of the Ārya Samāj, the book was first published in Hindi in 1880 (published by the long defunct Virajananda Press, Lahore). Since then, roughly forty imprints have been made in Hindi. The book has been translated into all Indian languages, and into most European languages [e.g., Pdt. Daulat Ram Dev Das Licht der Wahrheit (Berlin, 1927)]. It is the summation of the polemics of Swami Dayānanda, founder of the Samāj. For an excellent study of the role of the Swami, his followers, and the Samāj, see Jones, Kenneth W., “Communalism in the Panjab,” Journal of Asian Studies, XXVIII (11 1968), 3955.

35 Personal communication from the late Swami Madhavananda, president of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (1951).

36 Roy, Dilip K., The Subhash I Knew (Calcutta, 1952).

37 Morris-Jones, W. H., pp. 142148.

38 See Bharati, A., The Ochre Robe (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1961), p. 127.

39 Linton, Ralph, The Study of Man (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1936), pp. 475479; Honigman, John J., Personality in Culture (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), pp. 263266.

40 Shils, E., pp. 1518.

41 yātrā (Sanskrit) is the ‘Great Tradition’ vernacular term for ‘pilgrimage’; see Bharati, A. “Pilgrimage Sites and Indian Civilization,” Chapters in Indian Civilization, vol. I., Elder, Joseph W. (ed.) (Madison, Wis., 1967), pp. 85100.

42 Majumdar, R. C., Swami Vivekananda: A Historical Review, (Calcutta: General Printers & Publishers, 1965), p. 138.

43 Ibid; see also Swami Vivekananda Memorial Volume, Majumdar, R. C. (ed.) (Calcutta: Swami Vivekananda Centenary, 1963) and Parliament of Religions (Calcutta: Swami Vivekananda Centenary Committee, 19631964). These two volumes, containing contributions from a wide cross section of contemporary writers, provide excellent samples of Renaissance apologetic. (A very limited number of these books was printed; they are available at Advaita Ashrama, 4 Wellington Lane, Calcutta-12.)

44 literally “assembly of the good”; this is the most general term for any meeting, at a shrine or at home, where nonformalizcd religious group activities are carried out. The stress is primarily on bhajan and kīrtan (litanies, group chanting) and, secondarily, on kathā (reading and explanation of religious texts) and sermon.

45 A pervasive Indian-English neologism in Renaissance parlance. It is not clear to me which Indian term, if any, the word is supposed to translate; but its use is quite different from any British or American use of the word ‘realization’. The meaning of the Indian-English term is something like ‘consummation of religious experience’, Possibly, the term might first have been used by neo-Vedāntins in a semi-technical sense: if you realize, by an act of guided intuition, that you are one with the absolute (brahman), you have ipso facto reached the goal of religious life. The most striking example of this use is the tide of the collected works of Swami Ramtirtha, M.A., who followed Vivekananda's itinerary a short time after the latter's demise. See Swami Ramtirtha, M.A., “In Woods of God-Realization,” The Complete Worlds of Swami Ramtirtha, MA., 8 vols. (Delhi: IMH Press, 19101935).

46 Bhagavadgītā, IV, 7, 8. The passage means “whenever dharma degenerates, and when antidharma comes to prevail, I (i.e., the godhead) create myself anew—for the protection of the good, and the destruction of the wicked, I incarnate myself in every age.”

47 This is the ‘invocation for peace’ (śdntipāṭha) at the beginning of the Bṛhadāranyaka-Upaniṣad, though it occurs in other, later Upaniṣads as well. It means “this is (the) whole, that too is (the) whole, the totality of things is all this: and if you remove the whole from the whole, yet the whole remains.”

48 A takeoff from the Upaniṣadic formula vasudhaiva kuluṃbakam “the whole world, verily, is kin to us.”

49 Peace, A monthly journal devoted to Universal Peace, Totapalli Hills P. O., via Sankhavaran, Godavari Dt., Andhra State, India. Publisher & Editor: His Holiness Omananda, Swami, p. 345.

50 Ibid., p. 363.

51 Maharishi, Ramana, Sat-Darshana-Bhashya and Talks with Maharishi, compiled by “K.” (Madras: The Jupiter Press, 1953), p. 16.

52 Metha, J. L., The Philosophy of Martin Heidegger (Banaras: Banaras Hindu University Press, 1968).

53 Smelser, N. J., p. 270.

54 Spiro, Melford E., “Religion: Problems of Definition and Explanation,” Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, Banton, M. (ed.), A.S.A. Monograph no. 3, (New York: F. J. Praeger, 1966), pp. 85126.

55 Virtually unknown outside Sindhi, Cutchi, and Gujarati speaking Hindu society, Chellaram (died 1946) has become the tutelary “saint” of the banya, Lohana, and odier castes in the area. His teachings differ in no way from those of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism; Chellaram himself like many Sindhis, was a sahajdhāri Nānakpanthi, i.e., a follower of Guru Nānak, not bearded and turbaned like die Panjabi Khālsā Sikhs. The legends told about Chellaram are in line with the semi-miraculous tales about medieval saints of the bhakti-tradition, of which he was a latter-day representative. See Chellaram, Dada, Niraguṇa Patra (Saproon, India: Niraguna Balik Satsang Mandal, 1964).

56 The repetition, silent or aloud, of a divine name or of a sacred formula (mantra); see Bharati, A., The Tantric Tradition (London: Rider & Co., 1965) pp. 101164.

57 Control of the vital force (prāna), but more specifically, the various techniques of breath control, common to yoga and other psycho-experimental systems in India.

58 Meditative posture; as each human being has a different type of body, he has to find the āsana that suits him best for the sake of undisturbed meditation.

59 Sarasvati, Swami Sivananda, Bliss Divine (Sivanandanagar, see note 17), pp. 451459.

60 Stace, W. T., Mysticism and Philosophy (London: Macmillan and Co., 1961), pp. 320323.

61 See Bharati, A., “Gandhi's Interpretation of the Gita,” Gandhi and Gandhism: an International Symposium, Ray, S. N. (ed.) (Melbourne: The University Press, 1970).

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