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HomeOpinionDiaryIs Hinduism the same as Hindutva? Part 1

Is Hinduism the same as Hindutva? Part 1

If you ask a follower of the Hindutva ideology, he/she will say yes, Hindutva and Hinduism are indeed the same, or that Hindutva is actually a superset that includes politics and economics, while Hinduism is restricted to religion and culture.

If you ask a Marxist historian, or many followers of liberal, atheist and secular ideologies, they will see Hindutva as a fascist nationalistic hegemonic communal supremacist patriarchal misogynist casteist force of upper caste, upper and middle class Hindus, designed to homogenise India with their own idea of the Hindu state (rashtra).

Many Hindus would recognise Hindutva as one of Hinduism’s many, and currently most influential, sampradayas (schools of thought) because it has a clearly defined leadership (originating with Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, KB Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar), a clearly defined institutional structure (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Bharatiya Janata Party and Vishwa Hindu Parishad), a clear history — starting from the early 20th century — that is political in nature, and has a distinct tendency to bristle with rage at even the slightest criticism, howsoever valid, of what are seen as Hindu customs and beliefs.

A crude, but useful way to understand the relationship between Hinduism and Hindutva is to study Hindu history. Note: Like many orthodox Christians and Muslims, Hindutva despises the word “mythology”, and by clinging to its colonial interpretation, sees it as a secular ploy of scientists to dismiss traditional wisdom. It yearns for historic validation, resonating Abrahamic mythologies. If Christians need to see the resurrection of Jesus as a historical fact, if Muslims need to see God and his appointing of Prophet as historical facts, then surely Hindus need to see Shiva, Ram and Krishna as historical figures, argues Hindutva.

Hinduism has evolved organically over 5,000 years approximately and can be seen as having seven phases that telescope into one another. Some Hindutva advocates will insist Hinduism was revealed to sages in its perfect form as far back as the end of the Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. In Hindutva history, mythology is just proto-history, from times that historians cannot or will not calculate. In recent times, Hinduism has been described as an “open source religion”, unique in that it has no defined founder or doctrine, and its ideas evolve continuously in response to historical and geographical realities. It is best described as a river with many tributaries and branches, Hindutva being one of the branches, and currently very powerful, assumed by many to be the river itself.

The earliest phase, 5,000 years ago, in the Bronze Age, can be traced to what is now called the Harappan civilisation characterised by brick cities that thrived for nearly a thousand years over a vast area from the Indus river valley, right up to the Gangetic plain. In these cities, we find clay seals with images that are very much part of the current Hindu iconography such as the pipal tree, the bull, the swastika, seven maidens, and a man seated in yogic postures. We don’t know much about this phase as the language remains to be deciphered.

The second phase, 3,500 years ago, in the Iron Age, can be traced to Vedic hymns and rituals that contain traces of Harappan thinking, but seem to have been designed for a nomadic and rural lifestyle rather than a settled urban lifestyle. Some Hindutva advocates will passionately disagree and insist the two phases are actually one. In this phase, we find a worldview that celebrates the material world, where gods are invoked with rituals, and asked to bestow health and wealth, prosperity and peace. This aspect of invoking gods and seeking favours from them continues to this day, though the rituals are different. The Vedas reveal a gradual spread from the Indus (now Punjab) to the Upper Gangetic (now Agra and Varanasi) and the lower Gangetic (now Patna) plains. Some Hindutva scholars refute such a geographical spread and insist the subcontinent was a fully developed, homogenous, urban Vedic culture since ancient times, privy to advanced technology such as plastic surgery and even the aeroplane.

The third phase began 2,500 years ago, with texts known as Upanishads, where greater value was placed on introspection and meditation than rituals, and we see increased focus on ideas such as rebirth, monasticism, liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This phase saw the rise of shraman (monastic) paramparas (traditions), such as Buddhism and Jainism, its followers spoke in Pali and Prakrit, and rejected the Vedic way as well as the Vedic language, Sanskrit. It also saw Brahmin priests reorganising Vedic thought through the composition of Dharma-shastras, books that focus on regulating social life through marriage and rites of passage, and obligations of people defined by the debt they owe to their ancestors, their caste and the world at large. Many academicians use the word Brahminism to describe this organisation of Vedic thought and see it as an essentially patriarchal and misogynist force competing violently with egalitarian and pacifist monastic orders. Buddhism and Jainism, along with Vedic customs and beliefs, spread from North India to South India, and eventually beyond the subcontinent to Central Asia, and South East Asia. In the South, it encountered the Tamil Sangam culture, information about which comes from a collection of early poems, that reveals some knowledge of Vedic rituals, and later epics with knowledge of Buddhism and Jainism. Some Hindutva scholars insist there was no separate Tamil Sangam culture. It was part of a pan-Indian fully developed, homogenous, urban Vedic culture, where everyone spoke Sanskrit.

This is three part series of the article and this is first part and other two parts will continue in next two editions of the newspaper.


(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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