A way of life
HINDUISM A Gandhian Perspective: M.V. Nadkarni; Ane Books India, Avantika Niwas, First Floor, 19, Doraiswami Road, T. Nagar, Chennai-600017. Rs. 795.
Portly, but not obese, Hinduism: A Gandhian Perspective is a commendable study in self-control. Taking up such a large canvas as Hinduism and trying to sieve it through the utterly bewildering phenomenon of Mahatma Gandhi could lead one to an unenviable tangle of peoples, events and ideologies. But M.V. Nadkarni has his basal plan firm and wields a racy pen through eight chapters, packed with a good deal of information for the general reader.
According to the author, the Vedic stream of `Sanatana Dharma' (Hinduism) is not world negating since the concept of `Purusharthas' does not reject earthly existence. Liberal and peace loving, this Dharma has a ready welcome for a million viewpoints. Even the atheist Sage Jabali of Ayodhya has an honoured place.
The author rightly says that this is a religion, which defies any generalisation or definition. It is a way of life that does not exclude anyone or any thought from its ever-expanding horizon. Tolerance is the very nature of `Sanatana Dharma'. Even when its temples were vandalised and whole libraries containing its scriptures burnt by Islamic armies, Hinduism did not turn away Islam. Or Christianity. The Zorastrians and Jews have always been welcome.
After taxiing thus for a while, Nadkarni takes off with a very relevant wonderment: Is caste system intrinsic to Hinduism? How come a religion, which is so accommodating has been criticised as intolerantly casteist and has even been accused of fostering untouchability? "This myth has harmed the cause of social justice and led to justification of an Indian brand of apartheid."
The Vedas and the Upanishads have said nothing to support the caste system. The Dharmashastras do but wherever there was a conflict, the former prevailed. Clarifying the Gita's statements, the author explains `swadharma' as "one's own sphere of duty" and not any caste-based compartment. With crystalline legends suggesting social and occupational mobility on hand, how can we ever condemn Hinduism as the propounder of casteism? Again and again voices within Hinduism have protested against caste-based discrimination. The Bhakti movements beginning with the Alwars in Tamil Nadu have all worked within the confines of Hinduism to eradicate casteism and untouchability. The Nagar Brahmin Narsi Mehta had openly danced and mingled with the untouchables singing of god-love: "Where distinction is made between one and another/There is no holiness there."
If Hinduism is not the villain, from where did the cancer of caste arise? Nadkarni offers an incisive analysis of the manner in which the division of labour set up for the sake of convenience subsequently got debased into the caste system. This book gives a fascinating view of the manner in which the religion has conserved its past and has permitted changes to reform it. We meditate upon the Vedas for a while, leap through the Bhakti movements and arrive at the modern phase of ISKCON and Sudarshan Kriya. Why, even Deepak Chopra has a modest six pages in this micro-pedia.
All this sounds good, but Nadkarni does not close his eyes to the ugly reality of communal tensions. He gives nine steps for us to become liberal-minded and walk into a new dawn of fraternity. His hope is infectious.
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