Why is Hinduism denigrated? – Maria Wirth


Maria WirthWhy is Hinduism being denigrated in spite of being the most reasonable system of living? 

This was a question on Quora, to which I replied. Yet again, I got a message from Quora that “the question has been marked as needing improvement and will be in a restricted state until edited.”

So I post it here because there is nothing wrong with the question or my answer. Here it is:

Both points in the question are right: Hinduism is the most reasonable system of living and it is being denigrated.

In case some people, who don’t know much about Hinduism and believed those who denigrate it, have doubts if it is indeed the most reasonable system, this may clear the doubts:

Even just the main point in Vedic philosophy, that Brahman—in the form of Ishwara—has become this universe and beyond, is—apart from being the truth—clearly the best possible foundation for a society. If you believe—and it can be reasonably and scientifically concluded—that the essence in everything is the same and divine, there will be respect for others, including animals and nature.

There are many more very worthwhile aspects in Hinduism, for example the four goals of life (purusharthas), four stages of life (ashramas), the different dharmas connected with each stage, plus the huge knowledge in the ancient texts which is even scattered over the world, and others have benefitted from those texts without acknowledging it.

But this is not the topic here.

The question is: Why is it that Hinduism is being denigrated?

Incredibly, the reason is because it is the most reasonable system of living. Because it is so profound. Because it comes closest to truth—which cannot be put into words, but it can be pointed to. Because Christianity and Islam are no match for it. And because those two religions need to protect themselves if they don’t want to lose their power and influence to the most reasonable system of living.…

This means it is after all not so incredible. Here is an explanation:

When the Vedic knowledge first reached Western universities, the intellectual elite there were deeply impressed. Prominent personalities like Voltaire, Mark Twain, Schopenhauer, the Schlegel brothers, Paul Deussen and many others spoke in glowing terms about India’s tradition. And even later, in the early 20th century scientists like Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Oppenheimer, Pauli, Einstein and Tesla were in their research inspired by Vedanta and acknowledged it. Voltaire had praised the Vedas as the greatest gift for humanity. He even said “we are eternally indebted to India”.

There was real danger that the Church would lose her sheep as the Christian view of the “true” God, who sits in heaven, is jealous of other gods and sends all those who are not baptized into eternal hellfire, was no match for the Indian concept of Brahman which is the one conscious essence in all forms, like the one ocean is the essence in all the waves.

Of course the Church was not keen on losing even more power. It had lost already due to people like Voltaire who fought against the Church’s unreasonable dogmas.

It surely wanted to put an end to this praise of India’s great civilization. And the strategy was simple and time-tested:

Teach children all over the world negative aspects about Hinduism and later generations will be convinced that it is worthless because that’s what they have learned.

But which negative aspects were there to project?

“Idol worship” was projected as a top negative aspect, without even trying to understand it. They did not understand that the different “gods”—“deva” was mischievously translated as god—are in essence the same as Brahman. “Idol worship” is a great sin, both in Christianity and Islam. So to point out that Hindus worship sun-god, tree-god, or a god with an elephant head did its job of making Hinduism look as primitive as the Western Pagan traditions were made to look primitive.

I remember how in school our ancestors were ridiculed that they worshipped trees or thought that god is angry when there was thunder. Children easily believe what they are told and we indeed felt lucky that we now knew the one true God, who loves us so much that he even sent his own son….

Next, they projected an “oppressive caste system”. Incidentally the term caste is not there in any ancient Indian text. The Vedas speak of four varnas, which were compared with the different parts of a human body, and varnas were fluid, not determined by birth.

Why did the British choose “caste”, a Portuguese term for class or race? Did they want to give the impression that the Hindu social system is “cast in stone”? The worst term they projected was “untouchables”, which convinced every school kid that those Hindus, and especially the Brahmins, must be plain evil, forgetting that “not touching” somebody is far less evil than butchering people because they did not accept Christianity or Islam.

I won’t go into how the British cemented the “caste system” and created untouchables by declaring whole tribes as “criminal from birth”. Those who are interested can search the net, for example the interviews with Satish K. Sharma. Just so much: Hindus need not go on the defensive when “caste system” is thrown at them. There is no need to get rid of the varna or the jati system, which has certain advantages, only because “caste” is so heavily criticised. Yes, by all means give up any discrimination (and as a consequence, reservation). Yet discrimination is not inherent in Hinduism. It is inherent in human nature all over the world.

Neither need Hindus go on the defensive when “idol-worship” is thrown at them. Acknowledging and worshipping the different powers in this universe, without which life would not be possible, surely makes sense. To greet the sun makes more sense than to turn your back to him claiming, he is only a ball of helium. To touch the earth in reverence makes more sense than exploiting her. Not only are these powers absolutely essential for our life on earth, but are also permeated by that great Brahman. It means they are alive. Everything is alive.

I wonder when scientists will come to the conclusion that the oneness of all, which they have already discovered, is conscious, too. Individual scientists consider it as possible though mainstream science has not followed yet.

But one thing strikes me as strange: While the clergy of both dogmatic religions maliciously denigrate Hinduism, the Hindu clergy does nothing of this sort to the dogmatic religions. Hindus don’t even mention unacceptable claims by those religions which are in the public domain, like “Hindus will burn in hellfire if they don’t convert”. Why don’t Hindus do it? Wouldn’t it be in the interest of truth to point out their flaws?

Maybe the major reason why Hinduism is constantly being denigrated is to keep Hindus busy with defending themselves and in this way prevent them from realising that the others have serious flaws. – Maria Wirth Blog, 9 June 2018

» Maria Wirth is a German psychology graduate and author who lives in Uttarakhand.

Idol worship


Dalai Lama: Integrate Indian traditions with modern education system – Swarajya Staff

Dalai Lama

BharatvarshaIndia has the capability to combine modern education with its ancient traditions to help solve problems in the world. – 14th Dalai Lama

Exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader Dalai Lama has called for ancient Indian traditions to be integrated with the modern education system to rid the world of issues like war and global warming.

Speaking in New Delhi on the “Role of Ethics and Culture in Promoting Global Peace and Harmony” (see video below), Dalai Lama praised the greatness of Indian civilisation which gave rise to the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism borrows heavily from the Nalanda tradition, Nalanda being one of the most important centres of learning in ancient and medieval India.

“Serious discussions on how to include the ancient Indian traditions in educational system should begin. India has the capability to combine modern education with its ancient traditions to help solve problems in the world,” Dalai Lama said.

He also called modern day problems like war, terrorism and religious extremism as products of materialism and expressed concern about global warming citing the reduced snowfall in Dharamshala.

He also said that the concept behind quantum physics was explained by Indian philosopher Nagarjuna 2000 years ago, as he called for ancient Indian literary traditions to be revived.

He stressed that Indians should maintain their identity the way Chinese do, saying “Wherever Chinese go, they have a ‘China Town’. Why not an ‘India Town’ by Indians?”

“Try to revive ancient Indian traditions. Actual change does not come from prayer, it comes from action,” he added. – Swarajya, 23 April 2018


What Hindu tradition says about evolution – Subhash Kak


Prof Subhash KakSuperstitions arise in the absence of right knowledge and sunlight dispels darkness. A course on history of Indian science in colleges and universities will go a long way in presenting Indian scientific ideas to the next generation. – Prof Subhash Kak

There was an outcry in the Indian media last week when Satyapal Singh, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, reportedly said: “Darwin’s theory (of evolution) is scientifically wrong. It needs to change in school and college curriculum. Since the man is seen on earth, he has always been a man.” He was speaking to reporters in Aurangabad at the All India Vaidik Sammelan.

He reportedly added: “Nobody—including our ancestors—has said they saw an ape turning into a man. No books we have read or the tales told to us by our grandparents had such a mention.”

Indian scientists are shocked that the minister should speak thus against the idea of evolution which is fundamental to biology and medicine. How can the HRD minister be so ill-informed about science? This is all the more puzzling since he was a senior police officer before entering politics.

Was the minister merely trying to be nice to the traditionalists at the Vaidik Sammelan, and he has no strong views on the matter, and perhaps the HRD ministry is safe under his leadership?

My own thinking is that he is genuinely misinformed because, in reality, the idea of evolution (more general than Darwinian Evolution) is basic to all Indian thought, which is something that he does not appear to know.

The least he can do is to understand both modern evolution theory and Indian ideas on it and then see how the education system in India can help people know the history of Indian ideas as well as the foundations of modern science.

Indian ideas on evolution

The Sankhya is the Indian theory of evolution, which is supposed to apply both to the individual and the cosmos. In it, the basic entities are pure consciousness and materiality (nature). Nature has three constituent qualities (gunas) called sattva, rajas, and tamas, and as the balance between these three changes the universe evolves.

Out of the interplay of the five basic elements arise other principles (tattva): five subtle elements, five action senses, five senses of perception, mind, egoity, and intellect. The evolutionary sequence goes through many levels. The tattvas help in the emergence of life out of inert matter. The gunas are not to be taken as abstract principles alone. Indian thought believes that structure in nature is recursive, and the gunas show up in various forms at different levels of expression.

The texts imply that ingredients for the growth of life are available throughout the universe. Infinite number of universes are conceived, so each new one is created like a bubble in an ocean of bubbles. The tattvas are not discrete and their varying expression creates the diversity of life in and across leading different species.

Each sensory and motor tattva is mapped into a corresponding organ. Indian thought conceives of 8.4 million species, which is an impressive number, considering modern authorities estimate the number of extant species to be 4.5-10 million.

Physicist Erwin Schrödinger thought that the Sankhyan tattvas were the most plausible model for the evolution of the sensory organs. A quote on evolution on earth from the thousand-year-old, encyclopedic Yoga Vasistha (YV):

I remember that once upon a time there was nothing on this earth, neither trees and plants, nor even mountains. For a period of eleven thousand years (4 million earth years) the earth was under lava…. [Later] apart from the polar region, the rest of the earth was covered by water. And then forests enveloped the earth, and great asuras (demons) ruled. Then there arose great mountains, but without any human inhabitants. For a period of ten thousand years (almost 4 million earth years) the earth was covered with the corpses of the asuras.

Indicating the presence of other animals while the giant asuras were on earth, YV suggests that man arose later. YV also speaks of minor ages of destruction on earth that correspond to the yugas.

The Indians believed that all life can be divided into three classes (Chandogya Upanishad 6.3.1): “In truth, beings have here three kinds of seeds, born from the egg, born alive, and born from the germ.”

Given that it is also affirmed that life on other planets exists and that there was a gradual rise of life on the earth, it would appear that this implied a belief in a panspermia theory.

Why aren’t Indian ideas on evolution known to educated Indians?

We see that Satyapal Singh did not need to deny evolution just to be on the right side of the remembered Indian tradition. The question then is: Why are the minister and other Indians ill-informed about their own sciences?

India is the only major nation where history of science is not integrated in the school and college curriculum. People pick up bits and pieces on it from a variety of sources, such as tangential references in religious texts, and other sources many of which are unreliable or plain wrong.

Superstitions arise in the absence of right knowledge and sunlight dispels darkness. A course on history of Indian science in colleges and universities will go a long way in presenting Indian scientific ideas to the next generation, and help people distinguish scientific ideas from mythology and fiction. The history of Indian science is not a politically divisive issue as it is not teaching religion or ritual. Why can’t the HRD ministry take leadership on this issue? –Daily-O, 22 January 2018

» Subhash Kak is a Vedic scholar and computer scientist. He is the Regents professor of electrical and computer engineering at Oklahoma State University. 



Yes, another India is emerging! – Makarand R. Paranjape


Hindu Nationalism

Makarand R. ParanjapeThe fact is that a Hindu majoritarian India may not be as bad as it is made out to be by its detractors. In fact, it may actually be a better, more wholesome, integrated, and compassionate India than the present state, that is so riven by uncivil strife. – Prof Makarand R. Paranjape

Another India? The simple answer is, yes. Or, at any rate, the emergence of another India is not at all unlikely; in fact, there are signs aplenty of its advent.

What is more debatable is what its exact ingredients or outlines might be. Even those who are supposedly in charge of the new narrative aren’t sure. At the crux of all these debates is one word: Hindu. And its varieties—Hinduism, Hindutva, Hindu nationalism, Hindu majoritarianism, and so on.

For many, especially those who were perpetrators of the older dominant, “secularist” plot, the rise of this new India spells doom, the end of the project that Gandhi-Nehru lead, and the Congress headed mostly by Nehru’s heirs brought to the present pass. Perhaps, they are right. It is the end of that kind of India, and of that kind of elite. Naturally, such people are unhappy; displaced privilege usually produces outrage if not predictions of doomsday.

But we must examine the situation on its merits. The prospect of this new Hindu majoritarian India, has got a terribly hostile press. So much so that it seems as if there is a combined opposition media party, utterly hell-bent on demonising Hindu India and its protagonists. So inveterate is the antagonism displayed by this faction that sometimes it resembles visceral hatred, while at other pathetic self-delusion.

Clutching at straws, seizing upon a Kanhaiya Kumar, Hardik Patel, or Jignesh Mevani as the youth icon, even avatar, to stop the BJP juggernaut in its tracks, this decimated opposition seems to be praying for nothing short of a miraculous slaying, metaphorically speaking, of the rakshasa called Narendra Modi.

Funnily, this lot might never use such a Hindu metaphor in the first place. The modern sector is, perforce, doomed to express its outrage in a modern idiom. When they resort to tradition they end up making fools of themselves, wearing their janeu on their sleeve, so to speak.

But all that is politics. Let’s leave it behind as we approach the end of year, even if by the Gregorian calendar. We Hindus follow multiple calendars, perhaps using each to our advantage. Why should we give up this opportunity to introspect, even meditate, over the future of our beloved country?

The fact is that a Hindu majoritarian India may not be as bad as it is made out to be by its detractors. In fact, it may actually be a better, more wholesome, integrated, and compassionate India than the present state, that is so riven by uncivil strife. Hinduism, or dharma nationalism, may actually be a better guarantor of Indian pluralism than pseudo-secularism. If we are unprejudiced, fair-minded, and truly liberal, we should be willing to give the other side, especially when it is elected by an overwhelming majority, a fair chance rather than excoriating it before its commencement so as never to let it come into being.

But in doing so, we shall fall prey to many fallacies, including considering a majoritarian nation and polity as the inherent opposite of liberalism and multiculturalism. Even in the latter, one element dominates, whether in the metaphor of melting pot, salad bowl, or mosaic. In liberal Western democracies, the dominant element is a combination of modernity and democracy, underwritten not only be science and technology, but by the culture of capitalism and consumerism. That a religious element, mostly Christian in the case of Europe, North America, and the Antipodes, endorses the national consensus is almost a given. Then why shouldn’t the Hindu cultural bedrock that informs the Indian consensus work as well as the Confucian or Shinto accord in modern China or Japan?

True, this Hindu element should not thrust itself in everyone’s face or enforce its norms coercively. It should be the broadest, most open, most compassionate kind of Hindu unity. At the same time we must recognize where its most virulent opposition comes from. Not from other religious or ethnic minorities, but from the Hindu secularist elite, which does not wish to yield power.

In other words, the problem with India at present is a life-and-death struggle between two elites, the erstwhile dominant secularist and the emergent Hindutva brigade. Who will win remains uncertain, though as of now, the latter seems ascendant. In the end, like all tussles for power, this one too may be more inconclusive than what appears right now.

The cultural rule of the interpenetration of opposites predicts that the new order may not be radically different from the old. Of course, it would be rather disappointing if it were not at least slightly better—more confident, capable, competent, prosperous, creative, and egalitarian.

For that to happen, however, we must all join hands to contribute our mite rather than being cynical nay-sayers and Hindu-haters. – Asian Age, 31 December 2017

» Prof Makarand R Paranjape is a poet, author, and English Literature professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Banyan Tree


Why do Hindus worship idols? – Devdutt Pattanaik


Cow Namaskar

Dr Devdutt PattanaikHindu sages knew that the divine is infinite potential and has infinite expressions. We can access this limitlessness through the limitation of artificial and natural forms, even using icons … that the ignorant contemptuously refer to as idolatry. – Dr Devdutt Pattanaik

Why not [worship idols]? Who said how a Hindu or any human is supposed to worship the divine? Who made these rules?

This question is rooted in Abrahamic myth that frowns upon God being given any form, and the Biblical condemnation of idolatry as indicative of a false religion. In the 19th century, as the British became masters of India, Hindus were pressurised to defend the practice of idol worship. And so many Hindu reformers went to the extent of saying that “true” Hinduism, in its pristine form (by which they meant Vedas), had no idols. That idol worship is a later-day corruption. However, many Hindu traditionalists rejected this idea.

The tension between giving God form and stripping God of any form is an ancient one. Before the British, it was the Muslim rulers of India who frowned upon idol worship. Their raid on temples, which was for political reasons and economic loot (temples were repositories of great wealth), was justified by stating it was an exercise against infidel idolatry. This influence of Islam led many Hindus to prefer the formless (nirguni, nirakar) divine, over divinity with form (saguni, sakar). So we find some bhakti followers using the name of God to refer to an abstract entity, while others use the names of Rama and Krishna or Kali to refer to a specific deity.

At a metaphorical level, idolatry refers to taking things literally. When we focus less on the idea and meaning, which is formless, than on the word or symbol, which is the form. An idea can be communicated only using a form (word, symbol, story, ritual). However, when the vehicle becomes more important than the content, when the form becomes more important than the idea, idolatry starts. We need idols (word, symbol, story, ritual) for the sake of communication. But we need to differentiate between the vehicle and the content. Every civilisation crumbles when the vehicle is taken literally at the cost of content. Those who take the vehicle literally are called fundamentalists; they do not bother with the underlying idea. So they see the idol as God, rather than a concrete expression of the idea of God.

For example, every year, in Mumbai, people bring clay images of Ganesha home, and worship him for a day or two, before immersing the image in the sea. The ritual makes one aware of the transitory nature of life—even God comes and goes, is created and destroyed. The ritual includes veneration (aradhana) which involves welcoming the divine, bathing them, offering them food, clothes, perfumes, lamps, incense, and finally words of praise, before bidding them farewell. Thus divinity is seen as a guest, and treated as guests are supposed to be treated.

The act involves concentration (dhyana). During the festival, the name of God is chanted and his stories told so that our mind is filled with ideas about life, death, existence, wealth, power, impermanence, relationships, sorrow, liberation, success, pleasure. We express our desires and hope these will be fulfilled by the deity. Thus, we are connected to a force larger than ourselves.

At the same time, the ritual involves engaging with friends, and family, and creating a sense of auspiciousness (mangalya) in the house, which generates positive energy. We realise how fragile life is and how lucky we are to have the good life.

We are asked to gaze upon the image (darshan) so that we realise in the elephant head and corpulent body the forces of earth that generate wealth and power, and how they are all impermanent, how even the hermit Shiva has to become a householder for the benefit of humanity at large. Thus, the ritual anchored by the idol harnesses the Hindu idea and helps the Hindu reconnect with Hindu-ness, a shift from his otherwise mundane material life, a moment to pause about existence and his role in the cosmos.

The outsider will see the ritual as “idolatry”. All rituals and prayers, of all religions, eventually seem like idolatry to the outsider, whether it is bowing to the image of Jesus hanging on a crucifix, or going around the Kaaba in Mecca, or singing before the menorah, or carrying the Granth Sahib in a palanquin, or dancing to the drum beat of tribal rituals in the forest. But the insider, who is immersed in the act, engages with the larger ideas of life and existence through the tangible vehicles created by his ancestors.

In the Vedas, Gods were embodied through chants (mantra). There was no material form. The only form was sound. As Vedic ideas spread, they mingled with the local faith of people who venerated earth’s fertility in the form of serpent-spirits (nagas) and tree-spirits (yakshas), as well as gods (bhutas, devas) who lived in water bodies, mountains, rocks and caves. The earliest temples were groves, or rocks by a river side, or a mountain peak.

Later, pillars were erected to mark a deity. Then, images were carved on stone or clay or metal. The Gods began to look more and more like humans, but sometimes with multiple heads and hands, sometimes part animal, sometimes part bird. Imagination congealed itself into imagery. In the Agama literature, detailed instructions are given on how to establish an idol in a temple and transform an idol into a deity through rituals known as breath-establishing (prana-pratithsha). These are vehicles of faith. Contained in the image and the ritual and the accompanying story is the idea that helps man discover the infinity described in the Vedas. It helps him bring the divine into his life.

Abrahamic faiths are uncomfortable with idols and images. Catholic faith is the only exception, where God is visualised as an old man and there is much art to show heaven, hell, prophets, angels and demons. The Protestants shunned art. The Muslims are forbidden to show images of the Prophet, though some artists in medieval Persia tried (keeping him veiled though). But the human desire to express divinity through art has not been crushed. Instead of human forms, Islamic artists used calligraphy and architecture to express the divine spirit. Others have used music to give the formless form. Hinduism has kept no restriction—divinity is expressed through nature, through artefacts, through trees and animals and humans and fantastic creatures.

Hinduism celebrates human imagination. Abrahamic religions fear human imagination and tend to restrict it using rules and norms and prohibitions against art. This tendency to control human imagination and expression of the divine is slowly creeping into Hinduism, with fundamentalism and attacks on artists. Everyone who seeks to control expressions of divinity seeks to contain divinity. But the wise Hindu sages knew that the divine is infinite potential and has infinite expressions. We can access this limitlessness through the limitation of artificial and natural forms, even using icons of Rama and Krishna and Durga and Ganesha, that the ignorant contemptuously refer to as idolatry. – Daily-O, 16 December 2017

» Dr Devdutt Pattanaik is an author, mythologist, and human resource management guru.

Moses orders the destruction of the Golden Calf

Do we need religion? – Maria Wirth

Torah Bible Koran

Maria WirthWe don’t need a religion which tells us what to believe but prohibits us to question. We don’t need a religion which insists without any proof that the whole world must follow it. – Maria Wirth

Before answering this question, let’s first find out what we need.

We need to know how to live life in the best possible way to be happy, healthy, confident, strong and capable, and how to live in harmony with others and nature.

And we need to find answers to important, basic questions, like: What is the purpose of life? Where did we come from? Where will we go from here? What is this world made of? And most important: Who are we?

Our present day science doesn’t give us the necessary guidance, nor does it give answers to these questions, as it still is in its infancy exploring consciousness.

Our conscience is no doubt helpful in living a good, moral life. Yet it does not help us much in diving into the mysteries behind this universe and our own persons.

Religion is considered the authority in this realm, but it has gravely failed us. In fact, it may have even deceived us right from the start less than 2000 years ago. By “religion” I mean here the two biggest religions—Christianity and Islam—which have almost four billion members. Both claim to be the only “true” religion and won’t allow any debate on this. So naturally, other traditions are considered as inferior, even if they are listed as “religions”.

Why do I say that religion has deceived us? Because these two religions claim that they know the full truth, but how can there be two different full truths? Moreover, how can religion, which is meant to help humanity, turn out to be most harmful for humanity—with millions mentally enslaved and even killed in its name?

So do we need religion?

No. We don’t need a religion which tells us what to believe but prohibits us to question. We don’t need a religion which insists without any proof that the whole world must follow it. We don’t need a religion which tells us to look down on others for the sole reason that they are not members of “our” religion. And definitely we do not need a religion which condones or even encourages killing of others in the name of religion—which has happened far too often over many centuries.

So if neither science nor religion can help us what to do?

Luckily the knowledge how to live life in the best possible way is available and also the answers to the above basic questions. It was “seen” by the ancient Rishis and memorised and preserved in the brains of long lines of Brahmin families over many thousands of years. This knowledge does not have any of the above mentioned flaws. It makes sense, encourages questioning and does not divide humanity.

I mean the Vedas of India.

We do need Vedic knowledge. It is vast, too vast to mention here. It even includes what to eat or how to conduct the affairs of the state. Yet the most important point is this:

The subtle essence in all is one and the same. The best description is sat-chit-ananda—being blissfully aware. This is the real “thing”. It is the truth. And we are one with it.

To discover this is the goal of life and its fulfilment.- Maria Wirth Blog, 20 Nov 2017

» Maria Wirth is a German psychologist who has lived in Uttarakhand for decades.

Bible & Koran

Don’t deny BHU’s Hindu character – Faizan Mustafa


Faizan MustafaWe should be proud of the Hindu character of BHU and in view of its origin and purpose, retain ‘H’ in BHU. It does not impinge on our secular character. – Faizan Mustafa

Shakespeare was wrong in saying “What’s in a name?” There is a lot in a name. The names of institutions have far greater significance than the names of individuals as they give us an idea about their history, purpose and character. A UGC audit team recently suggested that the words ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ be dropped from the names of two denominational universities: Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). It not only exceeded its brief but also showed its ignorance of the history and the unique character of the universities.

It is also wrong to assert, as some have done, that while AMU was meant to serve primarily Muslim interests, BHU did not give central importance to Hindu interests. In fact, the editor of Leader (an English newspaper started by BHU founder Madan Mohan Malaviya) said the birth of BHU was in fact the beginning of Hindu renaissance. To deny the Hindu character of BHU is to rewrite history.

“No Hindu who has received an English education ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. It is my firm belief that if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater amongst the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence,” said Lord Macaulay. To counter the ill effects imparted by the British educational institutions, Hindus wanted a university of their own. The Central Hindu College was founded in 1898 by Annie Besant and Bhagwan Das to promote the study of Hindu shastras along with western education. Revival of Hinduism was the primary goal of this institution. Khalsa College was similarly founded in 1892 to conserve Sikhism.

The MAO College at Aligarh founded in 1877 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had a similar motive but there was a difference. Here, Sir Syed was more interested in western education than the revival of Islam. As many as five fatwas were issued against him, including one from Mecca. He and his college were called evil. While Sir Syed was for radical reforms in Islam, Malaviya represented and practiced Hindu orthodoxy. Malaviya’s links with Hindu organisations were quite cordial.

In 1887 Madhya Hindu Samaj sent him as its delegate to the newly-founded Indian National Congress session. Malaviya was one of the founders of Hindu Mahasabha which too was formed with the intention of promoting the Hindu identity. He repeatedly said that Hindus should take pride in their Hindu identity as the British education system had inculcated in them a feeling of inferiority. But when the Hindu Mahasabha adopted an aggressive and exclusionary approach, Malaviya withdrew himself from its activities. Malaviya as the third vice-chancellor of BHU in 1938 permitted the construction of two rooms on campus for the RSS to carry out its activities.

In 1904 at the Congress session, Malaviya’s proposal for the BHU was unanimously adopted. The British government also supported the proposal in the hope that it would produce loyal British subjects. Harcourt Butler, member education, Government of India , without mincing words said about the BHU Bill that “educating the youth in India in the Hindu religion would inspire loyalty to the government and would serve to quell growing sedition in India”.

The Hindu kings were of the similar view. When Butler informed the promoters of both the universities that the secretary of state did not agree to using “Hindu” or “Muslim” in the names of the universities, both communities opposed it. The Maharaja of Darbhanga, president of Hindu University Society, wrote to Harcourt Butler that “the new name will not appeal to the Hindu public at large”. He also said in any case, a “change of name will not alter the essential Hindu character of the proposed University”. The Viceroy Lord Hardinge’s letter of 7th October, 1912 to the secretary of state saved the day as he persuaded him to concede this genuine demand.

Malaviya was also opposed to the non-cooperation movement. In fact Gandhiji at the Nagpur session of Congress where the non-cooperation resolution was adopted did acknowledge Malaviya’s absence; otherwise he would have opposed this resolution. Gandhiji considered institutions run with British support as “satanic”. He advocated BHU’s closure as the education was not nationalist. When Malaviya did not concede, Gandhiji got an alternative nationalist university established at Benaras itself: Kashi Vidyapith. At its inauguration in 1921, Gandhiji regretted that Malaviya had even refused to attend the function. Similarly in Aligarh, Jamia Millia Islamia was founded as an alternative to AMU by the nationalist Muslims with Gandhiji’s patronage. Subsequently it was shifted to Delhi.

The BHU reflected its Hindu character. The university’s Supreme Governing Body till 1951 consisted only of Hindus. Only Brahmins were permitted to teach at the College of Theology. When non-Brahmin donors and kings objected to this, Malaviya convinced the members on the basis of Manusmriti. Non-Brahmins were not admitted even as students of the Theology College as according to the shastras, they were not entitled to perform the duties of priests. On the same basis, women too were excluded.

In 1945, even Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan who had succeeded Malaviya refused to go against the regressive decisions. Thus it is absurd to say that BHU was progressive and AMU was sectarian and regressive. We should be proud of the Hindu character of BHU and in view of its origin and purpose, retain ‘H’ in BHU. It does not impinge on our secular character. In 1965, the Centre’s similar proposal was opposed even by the RSS and was dropped. The BHU is certainly better than most universities in India and its character has not diluted its academic standards. The New Indian Express, 10 November 2017

» Faizan Mustafa is Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

BHU Emblem

Vishwanath Temple at Banaras Hindu University