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Thursday, 6 February 2014

Myth and History of Indian Religion

There is a myth that there was only one dominant paradigm in each epoch of Indian religion: first, Brahminism, then Buddhism, then Bhagavatism, then Bhakti movement, then neo Vedanta. There was no single Aryan religion. The Vedic society emerged through assimilation of diverse traditions, viz., Brahmana (priests engaged in ritual karma kanda sacrifices), Shramana (hermits engaged in independent meditative practices and philosophical speculation), Pashupata (worshippers of the Lord of all the species and the Mother goddess) and Pancharatrika (worshippers of Yadava heroes, Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha).

Similarly, there was a 2000 year old dialectical process between Buddhism and Vedic religion, producing the classics of Sanskrit philosophy, e.g., the works of Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Udayana and Kumarila Bhatta. Then, came the philosophical giant, Adi Shankara. Shankaracharya's philosophy is known as crypto Buddhism because he simply synthesised Buddhist philosophy with the Vedic religion. Therefore, Buddhism got absorbed into what then came to be known as Bhagavatism.

Bhagavatism then got split into caste-based Smartism and devotional Bhakti movement. Again, Bhakti movement was also diverse, mostly product of synthesis between Bhagavatism and Pashupata/Pancharatrika sects.  There came the Shaivas: e.g., Basava  (Lingayat), Shrikantha (Southern school) and Abhinavagupta (Kashmiri school) and the Vaishnavas: e.g., Ramanujacharya (Shri Vaishnava), Madhvacharya (Tattvavadi) and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (Gaudiya).  There was also a debate between the Nirgunavadis (Kabir and the Sikhs) and the Sagunavadis (Tulasidas and the Ramanandis). The Muslims were also part of the movement, either as Sufis like Farid or as Bhagavata saints like Haridas Thakur.

Finally, under the British Raj, there was synthesis between modernity and what came to be known as Hinduism. It was dominated by neo Vedanta of Swami Vivekananda and Shri Aurobindo. However, Hinduism has got split into two sections, the scholars who deal with abstract topics like matter, soul and God and the masses who are fooled by charlatans and godmen. A new form of cheaters are the evangelical missionaries who are selling Jesus only in the bottle of Yoga and Vedanta philosophy and Dawah preachers like Zakir Naik who are misleading the Muslims in the name of comparative religion. But I admire the Christian missionaries who are uplifting the Indian masses through education, health and social service and the Muslims who are pious and live peacefully with their Hindu brethren.

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