Who is a Hindu? How Hindutva threatens the history of Hindus
Published on 5th July, 2020, in Mumbai Mirror.
Hindutva history makes the history of Hindus fragile — people whose temples were destroyed by Muslims and who need Hindutva politicians to help them recover. It gives power to Hindutva politicians but strips Hindus of power — makes them weak, gullible victims. It ignores Hindu resilience — how Hinduism thrived, despite different kinds of attacks over centuries. This Hindu resilience has its source in the doctrine of rebirth, but Hindutva sidesteps it. The ‘fragile Hindu discourse’ is more politically lucrative than the ‘resilient Hindu discourse’.
A thousand years ago, two events took place: One, which is popular in public imagination, and the second that is not well-known. The first is the raid of the Somnath Temple in Gujarat by Mahmud of Ghazni in the 11th century. He was a Turkish warlord, a recent convert to Islam, who travelled from Central Asia, through the North West Frontier and Afghanistan, to modern-day Pakistan. When he reached Gujarat he desecrated the Somnath Temple and stole all its wealth. He even destroyed what he could not take back home.
The second story is of Rajendra Chola, a king from South India. His army marched up north, from the Tamil heartland, to conquer Odissa, while defeating kings in Bengal and the western part of the Gangetic plains. On the way to claim his victory, he took images of Bhairava from Kalinga and Shiva from Bengal kings back home. How many of us know this second story? This is what happens when political discourse dominates an academic discourse.
For the last hundred years, we have had political organisations tell us of how Muslims raided India, a thousand years ago. What these organisations do is whip up rage and outrage across the country to help them secure votes. This enables a new brand of politicians to seize power and to make money at the expense of the poor, gullible voters. These voters believe that voting for these politicians will protect Hindu dharma. These voters are never told about the march of the Chola kings and how the Hindus were used to such attacks by kings who attacked temples of other kings to assert political dominance.
When you read Islamic chronicles, they say that Mahmud of Ghazni attacked the Somnath Temple because he was against idol worship, which is forbidden in Islam, and the very word Somnath relates to a pre-Islamic goddess known as Su-mannat. Thus, by destroying the temple, he was removing an ancient pagan shrine. The reality, however, is that the temple was the source of wealth for the region, which in all probability was what attracted him to it. It was all about money — religion was just a clever excuse. He was not interested in conversion. Just plunder.
More interestingly, the local Hindu rulers, and the local inscriptions by Hindu writers from the time, do not mention the raid. They were almost indifferent to the raid. The writings speak of the repairs of the temple, pilgrimages and prayer rituals of that shrine. It is almost as if the attacks were routine. Hindus were used to people attacking their temples. The raiders would come to the temples and loot them. The temples would then resurrect and business would continue again. Hindu temples had the constant ability to rise from the ashes — be reborn, which is part of Hindu philosophy. That ‘atma’ never dies. Temples can be rebuilt. Societies can be regenerated.
The Somnath Temple was, in fact, raided several times by several Muslim rulers until the 15th century. After which, it was almost forgotten. The centres of prayer in Gujarat moved to other places, for various reasons, including the rise of the Vaishnava faith. Krishna temples at Nathdwara, Dwarka and Dakor became the major centres of worship. They still thrive.
Even in Odissa we find stories of the temple of Jagannath Puri that reached its great form in 1,200 AD, two centuries after the Ghaznavid attack. The temple was attacked several times by several kings. Even the idols inside were desecrated and burnt by an Afghan general called Kalapahad. The images, eventually, had to be hidden in caves by local kings. There are over a dozen raids of the temple that took place, and at least one during the pre-Islamic period, which was probably a Hun attack. But the temple known as Shri Mandir survived. Even today, the deity undergoes rebirth every 12 years. Nothing can destroy the spirit.
This reveals the resilience of the Hindu people who saw the raids of temples by Muslim rulers and by competitive Hindu kings as a norm. These raids did not really affect the people’s faith. The temples played a key role for local kings, but the faith of the people was not anchored on the temple. It was in their local shrines, at home, in villages, on the streets. The great temples were for the kings.
Hindutva groups have learnt the discourse of victimhood and fragility from the Left movements, which love to wallow in self-pity. This does not allow anyone to find the inner strength to rise above tragedies and oppression. This gives power to ‘saviours’ ie politicians and activists. Hence the denial of Hindu resilience that gives power to the people.