The irony of being a Hindu God in Modern India. In my frequent visits to countries around the world, I’ve met people from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. I’ve tried my best to be open-minded in accepting views that they have about India. I should honestly say that it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if a non-Indian’s definition of India is spicy curries, Kamasutra and snake charmers. Nor would it surprise me if their definition of Hinduism is bindis, sarees, yoga and namaste.
But what is really painful is if a person born and brought up in India makes half-baked comments about Hindu gods without examining their histories. An article on similar lines by Deepanjana Pal made me melancholy. It made me wonder, “What have we Hindus been reduced to, by our own lack of knowledge?” I don’t blame the ignorance on her entirely. The immense brainwash that we’re all subject to regarding Hindu philosophy in our educational career puts us in a situation where we’re clueless about what to interpret out of it. Add to this the general confusion regarding Hinduism in our parents, neighbours, friends etc and by the time we grow up, the only trace of Hinduism left within us is the memories of Mahabharata and Ramayana TV serials (with all their flying arrows and blowing conch sounds). The situation further degrades with modern television serials featuring flat-ab Duryodhanas and zero-figure Draupadis. In all this confusion, Hinduism reduces to an uncontrolled circus, where all acts are playing simultaneously. Enjoy yourself for a while, criticise it, give it a bad name and leave it in its current dilapidated state.
As a student of Vaishnavism (a branch of Hinduism) for many years, I feel that I should at least make an attempt to put things in perspective. I should begin by making a fervent request to all those who wish to reinterpret Hinduism in the modern context. My request is simple – kindly first study the original context from a reliable source before trying to interpret it in a modern context. It would be preferable if you can read the original in Sanskrit. In his poem, Malavikagnimitram, Kalidas makes a brave statement saying “Do not consider the old ideas to be authentic simply because they are ancient. Neither think that a new idea is automatically inferior. Learned souls study all ideas carefully before coming to a conclusion while fools always depend on other’s opinions.”
I strongly feel that this statement of Kalidas should be reversed for the modern Hindus who are unaware of their own history. It’s now time to tell them, “Do not consider an idea inferior simply because it is ancient. Neither think that a new idea is automatically superior. Learned souls study all ideas carefully before coming to a conclusion while fools always depend on other’s opinions.”
The author of the article starts off rather unconventionally by calling Sita and Shurpanakha as ‘mythical women’. Ahem! With all due respects, May I remind you that Sita and Shurpanakha are characters from Ramayana, which is technically an Itihaas (history), and not mythology. Without sugar coating my words, I should say that if you consider them to be mythical fairy tale characters, then you’re not exactly taking the position of a religious Hindu. Rather, you’re taking the position of a naastik (disbeliever) Hindu. That’s all right, for we Hindus have welcomed even the disbelievers with an open mind. It is our culture of Hinduism that produced the first ever recorded atheist by the name of Charvaka. What did we do to Charvaka? Did we burn him on the stake? Did we stone him in the middle of a marketplace? No, instead we allowed him and his philosophy to live with us. All of us may not agree with him, but he nonetheless lives with us. This is our culture.
The author writes that Shurpanakha was vilified for daring to propose a man. But what is comfortably forgotten here is that after her proposal was politely rejected, Shurpanakha (who has disguised herself as beautiful women) retorted to violence and attacked Sita intending to kill her. Had lord Rama accepted her proposal, he would had been damned as a womaniser and he is still damned for protecting his own wife from an aggressor.
Damned if you do! Damned if you don’t!
Furthermore, the author resorts to saying that Sita was “abused by her husband”. Why? He left her suffering in a forest just because citizens of his State doubted her chastity. In the opinion of our reformist Hindu author, Ram should have not paid heed to the opinion of the general populace and let her stay with him, ending the story on a “happily ever after note”. This is the deadlock that Hindu gods find them in. If they take the traditional stance, the liberals criticise them while the traditionalists glorify them. If they take the liberal stand, the liberals take his stand for granted.
Agreed that Ram took the conservative stand, but Sita was not the only sufferer of it. He could have married many more, but he too chose to suffer in loneliness. Why? Just for once to be a role model for the traditionalists. Without him, they would have nobody to emulate in their lives. In his next appearance, he dropped the conservative aspect and took wholeheartedly to the liberal aspect. Sita appeared again, this time as Rukmini. And Ram appeared again, this time as Krishna. No more was there any separation. It’s a feast for the liberal Hindus, for now Krishna has appeared.
Alas, the very liberal audience that he wished to attract has taken his liberalism for granted. The author superimposes a bike on the image of Krishna, yet gives a passing nod to his flute. He gets labelled as a “chap who decided to flee to new pastures” just because he did not want to fight Jarasandha on his own and instead wanted Bhim to kill him. Even after walking barefoot in Vrindavan the entire day and tirelessly taking care of cows while killing many demons with his bare hands, he gets labelled as lazy, just because his weapon is an efficient sudarshan chakra. The author at one point wonders what image Krishna surrounded by many ladies would give in today’s age. The author wonders, “Would he look like a Gay?”
Although Krishna at one point acted as Arjuna’s charioteer and was virtually the sole cause of the Pandavas winning the Mahabharata, he gets labelled as a man who’s “happy to be kidnapped by women,” just because he once gave Rukmini the chance to take charge of the chariot while he was fighting the enemy forces. In all this, Krishna must be thinking, “I made a grave mistake by trying to please the liberals. Fortunately, there are still those who stick to traditional viewpoints and see me in a context that is pleasing to me.”
Damned if you do! Damned if you don’t!
The only saving grace of the article is the final vote of thanks given to Krishna for protecting Draupadi. The Hindu men are then sermonised by the author that some of Krishna’s “contrariness” can be a useful trait for them. The Hindu men still wondering why they were singled out, when four out of the five men caught in the recent rape case were not Hindus. The Hindu men thus request the author to devote some time to studying other religions and write similar articles instructing men of other faiths. The Hindu men will be in for a surprise if the author finds more success preaching to men of other faith.
In all this confusion, Krishna – the hero of our article wants to make a fervent request to all Hindus. Please atleast read Bhagavad-Gita once completely. Bhagavad-Gita doesn’t end at karm kar phal ki chinta mat kar (do you actions without worrying for the results). It’s much more than that. Its 18 chapters and 700 verses are the key to understanding Krishna. Krishna for once would love to be understood in his own words, rather than in the words of those who consider him to be a mere myth. If the Hindus don’t do it soon, their children too may be in a position where Hinduism will be, bindis, sarees, yoga and Namaste.