And thus fell Nalanda – Makarand Paranjape

Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) (c. 602 – 664)

Makarand R. ParanjapeThough the conquest of Delhi by Muhammad Ghori in 1192 is considered a historical watershed, Indic civilisation had already been under continuous attack for over 600 years, from the time of the Umayyad Caliphate. One wonders what the scholars, teachers, intellectuals, not just the kings, courtiers and soldiers were doing during [this] half-millennium. They had no effective answer to such repeated and devastating assaults. This was as much an intellectual and academic as it was a military or political failure. – Prof Makarand Paranjape

As we saw in the previous column, the foundation of the Nalanda International University may be attributed to the “bhadra vichara” (noble idea) of former president of India, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. He proposed it on 28 March 2006 in the Bihar assembly. This university is now, thankfully, a reality. It came into existence on 25 November 2010 through a special act of Parliament. Today, a dynamic vice-chancellor, Professor Sunaina Singh, is at the helm of affairs. Even though a young sapling, quite like the seedlings we planted in the commemorative vatika (garden) on 12 January 2018, Nalanda International University, I hope, will become a mighty tree of knowledge under her stewardship, as do some the actual trees we were privileged to root.

The new Nalanda, however, has a huge reputation to live up to. Its very name reminds us of the outstanding, world-renowned educational institution which flourished for nearly a thousand years. Nalanda Mahavihara was patronised by several kings and dynasties from the Guptas in the fifth to the Palas in the thirteenth century CE.

The most detailed account of its functioning is from the Chinese traveller, pilgrim, monk and scholar, Xuanzang (602–664). A grand pavilion built in his memory near the excavated and reconstructed site attests to his extraordinary feats. He travelled overland, covering some 25,000 kilometres, leaving a fascinating and invaluable account of what he experienced and encountered nearly 1,500 years ago in India.

Xuanzang’s Nalanda

Xuanzang was following in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor, Faxian (337-c. 422), who, nearly a hundred years before, had travelled on foot from China. Over 15 years, he visited the great Buddhist centres of pilgrimage and learning in what is now Xinjiang, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, all the way down to Sri Lanka. Xuanzang himself travelled over 17 years, trying to get accurate texts from India for doctrines he thought had got corrupted in China. His explorations inspired what many regard as China’s greatest pre-modern novel, the 100-chapter Journey to the West, written during the Ming period, several centuries later.

From Xuanzang’s account, we know that all the major schools of Buddhism were taught at Nalanda, in addition to the Vedas, Sanskrit, grammar, logic, medicine, and the other customary disciplines of the time. Xuanzang stayed in Nalanda for two years, studying Sanskrit, grammar, logic, and attending the Yogachara school of Buddhism.

According to historian René Grousset, Xuanzang became the disciple of the monastery’s rector, the venerable Silabhadra: “The Chinese pilgrim had finally found the omniscient master, the incomparable metaphysician who was to make known to him the ultimate secrets….” Xuanzang, recognised as an adept in his own right, was conferred the name “Mokshadeva.” He thus became the inheritor of the most illustrious wisdom-lineage of Mahayana Buddhism, going back to Asanga, Vasubandhu, Dignaga, Dharmapala, and to Nagarjuna himself. In that sense, Nalanda lived up to its name, one of whose interpretations is “unending gift.”

Nalanda, Bihar

The End of Nalanda

But the old Nalanda was finished by Islamic invaders. Around 1200 CE, it was reportedly looted and burned by a local Turkic-Afghan chieftain-adventurer, Bakhtiyar Khilji. Legend has it that Khilji and his 18 horsemen went on to capture Bengal. So popular is this view that Al Mahmud, the Bangladeshi writer, not only reprises it in Bakhtiyarer Ghora (Bakhtiyar’s Horses), but, some would argue, glorifies Khilji. Yet, 18 horsemen is an attenuation. When it comes to Nalanda, the more accurate figure going by historical accounts seems to be 200 horsemen. Even so, to imagine that such a small force could subdue such a large area is astounding.

The text that probably records Nalanda’s sacking is Tabaqat-i-Nasiri by the Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, written just a couple of decades after Khilji’s death. A colonial period translation by Major H. G. Raverty published in Calcutta in 1881 is easily available. Khilji, who possessed only two villages to begin with, began plundering Bihar, earning both respect and rewards from his superiors. Eventually, he went on to capture much of Bihar and Gaur (Bengal). But his ambitions knew no bounds. He mounted an assault on Tibet, but his forces were defeated in Kamrup (Assam). As he lay ill in Devkot in Gaur, he was murdered by his deputy, Ali Mardan Khilji, in 1206.

The first volume of the translation of Tabaqat-i-Nasiri chronicles what might have happened in Nalanda: “Muhammad-i-Bakht-yar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress and acquired great booty.”

The next lines indicate that the “fort” was actually a fortified university, which some historians have identified as Nalanda, others as Odantapura:

“The greater number of the inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven; and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus had been killed. On becoming acquainted (with the contents of those books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindui tongue, they call a college Bihar.”

The Persian word used, “madrese”, from the Arabic “madrasa”, current to this day, means school or college, suggesting that the place referred to was likely to have been Nalanda Mahavihara. Some years ago, Arun Shourie had argued that the lack of definite reference to Nalanda in Tabaqat-i Nasiri had led “eminent” Leftist histories to fudge history, alleging that Brahmins, not Muslims, had destroyed Nalanda. D. N. Jha, named as one of the guilty by Shourie, tried to defend himself through the columns of a leading newspaper with all kinds of whataboutery, but even common sense tells us that the shaven-headed inhabitants whom Khilji slaughtered are more likely to have been Buddhist monks than Brahmin priests, since the latter would have retained their tufts or top-knots (shikha). Whatever the truth or however contested its interpretations, the destruction of Nalanda was in keeping with the practices of Muslim conquerors throughout the history of the subcontinent, indeed true to their tried-and-tested template of invasion, conquest, vandalism, loot, and enslavement of subjugated people elsewhere as well. Why would Nalanda be an exception? While reading the Tabaqat-i Nasiri, I was struck by the number of times the word “intrepid” was repeated. Khilji was anything if not audacious, bold, doughty and fearless. That cannot be taken away from him or the tradition of conquistadors that he belonged to.

Minhaj-i-Siraj’s account also shows how the whole state got its name, Bihar, from the viharas, the monasteries, colleges, and libraries that dotted it. Apart from Odantapuri and Nalanda, the other Hindu-Buddhist seminaries nearby, namely Vikramshila and Jagaddala, were also similarly pillaged and destroyed. It is to be noted that all the monks and Brahmins were slaughtered, to the extent that none was left to explain the import of the books. Buddhist accounts also corroborate that the viharas were demolished and the libraries, with lakhs of manuscripts, burned for months. Especially of interest is the biography of Dharmasvamin or Chag Lotsa-ba Chosrjedpal (1197-1264), who went there shortly after the destruction of Nalanda (1234-1236). When he visited, Nalanda was only a shadow of its former glory, barely functional.

Making meaning of the loss

At its peak, Nalanda had over 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students, both drawn from many parts of India and abroad. Viharas like it dotted the landscape of what is today called Bihar, which means that it was a great hub of educational, cultural, and intellectual activity for centuries. It is impossible to fully make sense of its loss. It is not just that a great institution of learning and an even greater tradition of philosophical and academic inquiry shattered, but that an entire civilisation was smashed and pulverised.

Thousands of teachers and students were killed, millions of manuscripts and books charred to ashes. Sanskrit, which was the main language of instruction and research, also suffered a body blow. Some of the knowledge of the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism was preserved because several monks and precious manuscripts made their way to Tibet. With the exile in India of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, some of this precious knowledge has returned to the country of its birth and from this very soil, spread all across the world, especially welcoming in North America and Europe.

The damage to India, to put it mildly, was incalculable. We have, in fact, no way even to know what we knew then and therefore what we lost in that cataclysm. Though the conquest of Delhi by Muhammad Ghori in 1192 is considered a historical watershed, Indic civilisation had already been under continuous attack for over 600 years, from the time of the Umayyad Caliphate. Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, the powerful governor of Iraq, sent Muhammad bin Qasim on the first Muslim expedition against India. Qasim conquered Debal (probably derived from “Devabal” or the strength of the gods), an important seaport, in 710. He destroyed the main temple, looted the city, extracted tribute, took slaves, and converted many of the conquered.

One, therefore, wonders what the scholars, teachers, intellectuals, not just the kings, courtiers and soldiers were doing during his half-millennium. They had no effective answer to such repeated and devastating assaults. To me, this was as much an intellectual and academic as it was a military or political failure. No real renaissance is possible without understanding, coming to terms with, and learning from the breakdown of the ancient Indian civilisation or the desolation of what A. L. Basham called The Wonder that Was India. – Swarajya, 9 March 2018

» Prof Makarand Paranjape is a poet and author who teaches English Literature at JNU, New Delhi.

Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji


Advertisements

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


Taj Mahal: Don’t downgrade history – Ravi Shankar

Taj Mahal

Ravi Shankar EttethIndia’s genius is that it outlives its conquerors, and appropriates alien influences by Indianising them. – Ravi Shankar

Monuments are the eternal ambassadors of history. They evoke reverence by defying interpretation as empirical proof of the past. They are built, not to destroy a culture, but to enrich the imagination of future generations. Which is why, the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world and the crown of India’s tourist ecosystem, should not be seen as a symbol of religious conquest. The Taj is not Babri Masjid or the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta.

The Babri Masjid was not a monument. It was a symbol of brutal conquest, constructed to denigrate a domestic faith. The mosque that has invaded the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, is an ugly token of Muslim imperial arrogance. The hundreds of mosques that have been built over the razed precincts of temples remind us of an old shame. But the Taj is not a symbol of conquest. It’s just a heartbreakingly exquisite piece of architecture, embroidered with romance. It would be very short-sighted and regressive to treat it as a Muslim monument. It belongs not just to India, but to all of mankind.

Cultural cleansing is a speciality of Islamic aggression, starting with the library of Alexandria. In 2001, the world was horrified when the Taliban blew up the 2,000-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas because they were “unIslamic”. As illiterate tribal chieftains, civil war riffraff of the Middle East and rabid preachers cut a violent swathe through fallen, failed nations their first victim was history. The Taliban destroyed everything that they deemed unacceptable to the Sunni Wahhabi version of Islam—Sufi shrines, Shia mosques and churches. IS set up the Kata’ib Taswiyya (settlement battalions) to destroy monuments. It turned Mosul into a graveyard of an Age—tombs of prophets Daniel, Jonah and Jirjis were blown up. Churches dating back to the 16th century were dynamited. Even inscriptions hailing Allah and the Prophet were destroyed.

But we are not them. We are a confident modern nation that has just rediscovered its heritage. India’s genius is that it outlives its conquerors, and appropriates alien influences by Indianising them. In food, language, classical music and architecture India has demolished the values of conquerors by diluting their essence with its own cultural power. Hence, Tansen’s ragas, Persian pilafs, mulligatawny and Urdu are now uniquely Indian.

Having said that, the Taj is not the only jewel in India’s crown. Myriad temples and palaces have fallen into neglect. Their lofty architecture and magnificent planning do not find space in the agenda of the bureaucracy. Cities that are home to such monuments are pockmarks of urban neglect. The filthy home of the Taj Mahal, Agra itself comes 47/73 in the Swachh Survekshan programme rankings.

In spite of being the Prime Minister’s constituency, Varanasi, where one of the holiest of Shiva temples in India is situated, was rated among the country’s 10 dirtiest cities by the government in 2016. The Hampi ruins are defaced by graffiti and filth, making a mockery of the glory of a great Hindu empire. Monuments under the protection of ASI are routinely encroached upon by squatters and the political land mafia. There is so much to be done before undoing anything. Let’s start with the basics. – The New Indian Express, 15 October 2017

» Ravi Shankar is a columnist for The New Indian Express in New Delhi. 

Gyanvapi Mosque Varanasi

Must read

 

Babri Masjid and the great Indian Muslim divide – Sandhya Jain

Babri Masjid (1991)

Sandhya JainThe Shia Board asserts that the Sunni Board has no stake in Ayodhya as the mosque was Shia property. – Sandhya Jain

In a stunning blow to the hitherto dominant Sunni sect, the Shia Waqf Board filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on August 8, 2017 fracturing the united front put up by the Muslim community since the dramatic fall of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, asserting that the temple for Maryada Purushottam Sri Rama Chandra could come up at the Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya, and a mosque could be raised at a reasonable distance in a Muslim-dominated area.

As one of the parties to the dispute, the Shia Board claimed that the demolished mosque was a Shia mosque, as the alleged destroyer of the Rama Mandir was a Shia general named Mir Abdul Baqi; hence the mosque built upon the ruins of the temple was a Shia mosque. The Board indicated a desire for peaceful resolution of the dispute which the Supreme Court is not keen to adjudicate upon.

This is a stupendous development as hitherto, since 6 December 1992, all efforts to strike a deal with the Shia community have met with failure as community leaders in Lucknow always pleaded helplessness in opposing the strident Sunni community. The Babri Masjid Action Committee that spearheaded the movement against handing over the site to the Hindu claimants has been dominated by Sunnis. It was the Sunnis who reneged on the promise to the Government of India and the Supreme Court that they would surrender claims to the site if it was established that the mosque was built on the ruins of a temple.

That claim was conclusively proved in a Supreme Court-ordered and monitored excavation by the Archaeological Survey of India. But far from retreating gracefully, the BMAC dug its heels in and refused to retreat from the scene, resulting in a prolonged stalemate.

The sudden divergence of views between the Shia and Sunni Waqf Boards appears to reflect larger Shia-Sunni conflicts in the Muslim world, with Shias being targetted by jihadis in Pakistan and other Muslim countries, and their holy sites desecrated. Iran, the self-proclaimed protector of Shias worldwide, has facilitated the spectacular victory of the Syrian Arab Army against Islamic State jihadis in Syria, thus enabling the survival of the Alawite (Shia) regime headed by Basher al-Assad; it has also prevented Yemen from crumbling before the Saudi assault.

Now, the Shia Board explicitly asserts that the Sunni Board has no stake in Ayodhya as the mosque was Shia property; hence, “only Shia Central Waqf Board UP, is entitled to negotiate and arrive at a peaceful settlement with other remaining stake holders”.

The Board further opined that proximity of “place of worships should be avoided in as much as both denominations using loudspeakers tend to disturb the religious performance of each other often leading to conflicts and acrimony”. Therefore, “to bring a quietus to the issue, Masjid can be located in a Muslim-dominated area at a reasonable distance from the most revered place of birth of Ram.”

Reports claim that the Shia Board decided late July to stake claim to the Ayodhya site. Such a momentous decision could hardly be taken overnight. It seems likely that Yogi Adityanath, head of the non-communal Gorakhnath Peeth, was selected as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister by Prime Minister Narendra Modi precisely to accomplish an acrimony-free transfer of the sacred site for the Rama Temple. Should this be accomplished, it would be a far greater feat than rebuilding the Somnath Temple in Saurashtra, where the only resistance to be overcome was that of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

In Civil Appeal No. 10836-10867 of 2010, the Shia Central Waqf Board through its chairman, Syed Waseem Rizvi (Respondent No. 24), filed a counter affidavit asserting that the “Babari Masjid” was a Shia Waqf and not a Sunni Waqf as claimed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board UP. As the Allahabad High Court judgement stated that “Muslims” should get not less than one-third of the disputed area, chairman Rizvi asserted that this obviously alluded to “Shias” as the High Court had rejected the Sunni Board’s claim (based on Notification dated 16 February 1944 by the Chief Commissioner of Waqfs under the Muslim Waqfs Act, 1936) that Babari Masjid was a Sunni Waqf.

The High Court declared the said Notification of 16 February 1944 as illegal as it was issued in violation of provisions of the 1936 Act, as it was made without issuing a notice to the interested persons, which was a statutory requirement. It follows that the Waqf was a Shia Waqf as a waqf must always be Shia or Sunni, according to its creator (Waqif).

Certain Arabic inscriptions in the disputed structure, cited in previous judgments, establish beyond doubt that the mosque was built by Mir Baqi, a Shia Waqif, who created a Shia waqf. All mutawallis, including the last one (1949) were admittedly Shia and were descendants of Abdul Baqi, a Shia from Ispahan (Persia). It is notable that the Baqi family tree has not been seriously challenged. Verses engraved on a tablet in the central arch of the mosque describe Mir Baqi as an ‘Ispahani’, a resident of Ispahan.

On 30 March 1946, the Faizabad Civil Judge, S.A. Ahsan, ruled that it was inconceivable that a Sunni waqif would appoint a Shia mutawalli, or vice versa (Regular Suit No.29 of 1945).

The affidavit states that Muslims must ponder that the entire world wants to know the exact teaching of Islam in respect of the relationship of Muslims with others. Indian Muslims, it says, enjoy a unique position. They have been rulers, they have been ruled and now they are sharers in power. They are not in majority but they are also not a negligible minority and are in fact the most populous Muslim community in the world after Indonesia. As legatees of a huge corpus of religious knowledge, Indian Muslims are exceptionally placed to tell the world the true teachings of Islam, beginning with a resolution of the Ayodhya dispute.

The Allahabad High Court proclaimed Muslims, Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara as joint title holders to the disputed premises and allotted them one-third share each, with the stipulation that the portion beneath the central dome, where the murti of Sri Rama is installed, would be allotted to Hindus in the final decree. The Nirmohi Akhara would receive the portion including the Ram Chabutra and Sita ki Rasoi, and the parties could make minor and mutual adjustments while dividing their respective shares.

The Shia Waqf chairman observed that the intent of this judgment was that the parties amicably settle the dispute, and his sect was willing to do so. As there has been no dialogue in the matter in the past seven years, he urged the Supreme Court to appoint a Committee headed by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court and two retired Judges of the Allahabad High Court, with the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister (or his nominee) and a nominee from the Prime Minister’s Office. The nominees of the Shia Central Waqf Board UP, Nirmohi Akhara and Hindu sect, would offer suggestions for an amicable settlement to this committee.

The Shia leader added that the Sunni Central Waqf Board UP was dominated by “Sunni hardliners, the fanatics, and non-believers in peaceful coexistence, who have absolutely no stake in the present case”. As Babari Masjid was a Shia Waqf, the Shia Central Waqf Board UP alone is entitled to negotiate a peaceful settlement with other remaining stakeholders.

Chairman Syed Waseem Rizvi further informed the Court that after his views became known, he had received threats from the hardliners, and had informed the Government of Uttar Pradesh, which is reportedly taking steps for his security. He reiterated the keenness of the Shia sect for amicable settlement of the dispute.

Should the Supreme Court constitute such a committee, this could be a very different Diwali. – PGurus, 9 August 2017

» Sandhya Jain writes on political and contemporary affairs. She is a post-graduate in Political Science from the University of Delhi and a student of  Indian civilisation.

Ramlalla Temple on the Babri Masjid site after the demolition.

How the NCERT covers up Islam’s role in temple destruction – Koenraad Elst

Gyanvapi Mosque Varanasi

Koenraad ElstNo matter how many cases of Hindu idol abduction [the secularists] manage to find, it will never amount to proof for the hypothesis … that Muslim conquerors and rulers did what they did because Hindus had inspired them to do it. – Dr Koenraad Elst

During the Rama Janmabhumi commotion ca. 1990, it was the “done” thing for secularists to deny that Muslims had ever committed destruction of Hindu sacred buildings and statues. This even became the official position worldwide, for practically all Indologists and India-watchers internalized it and zealously condemned any acknowledgment of Islamic iconoclasm as stemming from “Hindu fanaticism”. However, this position is hard to sustain, because it is so obviously untrue. Therefore, they have recently refined their propaganda strategy in two ways.

First, they now minimize Islamic iconoclasm but admit some of it. Not that they would concede the Islamic motivation for this mandir-and-murti destruction, but alright, some Muslims had done it. That, after all, is what human beings do, Hindus included, see? As long as Islam remains out of the picture, they are willing to admit a little bit of destruction for the sake of salvaging their own credibility.

Second, they now try to make Hinduism guilty of the crimes of Islam, viz. by providing the inspiration through its own example. Muslims destroyed Hindu temples because Hindus had destroyed Hindu temples. Provincials like our secularists and their foreign imitators try to lead you by the nose towards whatever happened within India’s borders, and never ask, nor want you to ask, what the record of Islam outside India is, including in the period before it entered India. They don’t want you to realize that Islam’s behaviour in India was only a continuation of its behaviour in West Asia and around the Mediterranean, starting with Mohammed’s own model behaviour in Arabia.

The secularist narrative is now being propagated everywhere and inserted into the textbooks of history, including in the projected new textbooks mulled over by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT). As per the official procedure, there is a provision for feedback from the public. A friend of mine sent in an objection to the NCERT’s scenario. What follows is the NCERT’s response, interspersed with my comments.

Bluff

The objection to the cited passage—that temples demonstrated the power and resources of the kings who built them and that is the reason why medieval rulers targeted the temples of rival rulers—can be substantiated by innumerable references.

This is a sheer bluff. The two examples given do of course not amount to the “innumerable” cases which they mendaciously claim to have. Nor have such numbers of cases been mentioned elsewhere. Yet, given the strong motive the NCERT secularists have to overrule the straightforward narrative of Islamic iconoclasm, they would by now certainly have published a book full of such evidence and made sure it was quoted in every relevant paper and editorial—if it existed.

Sheer bluff, we said, but in the real world, there is nothing “sheer” about bluff. On the contrary, a bluff is a mighty weapon that can produce impressive results. Take the Rama Janmabhumi controversy. The secularists suddenly claimed that all the Muslims and Hindus and Europeans who had unitedly assumed that a Rama temple had stood at the disputed site on which the Babri Masjid had been imposed, had all been wrong. They offered no evidence whatsoever for their proposed scenario (say, a sales contract in which a landlord sold Babar a piece of empty real estate to build a mosque on), and denied the evidence on the opposite side which had existed all along and which accumulated further once the challenge to bring more evidence had been raised.

Though their behaviour was that of conspiracy-mongers, their shrill bluff carried authoritative public opinion with it. They managed to make the Government abandon its plans for a negotiated settlement, they managed to have national and state governments toppled, they managed to trigger a number of bloodbaths, all through “sheer bluff”. Even when they collapsed one after another when questioned in court, even when their bluff had been exposed (though the media did all they could to hide this development from you), they have never apologized, never publicly admitted how wrong they had been. Bluff can get you very far in life, so the NCERT tries more of it.

Even the evidential value of their “evidence” is a bluff. No matter how many cases of Hindu idol abduction they manage to find, it will never amount to proof for the hypothesis they really want to push: that Muslim conquerors and rulers did what they did because Hindus had inspired them to do it. These conquerors mostly didn’t even know the record of Hindu kings, and at any rate they didn’t care. They would never have wanted to be seen imitating the idolaters and instead invoked the solid justification for iconoclasm within their own tradition. Mohammed himself had set the example, and in his wake came the conquerors of West Asia and the Mediterranean, unaffected by Hindu examples.

Power of discrimination

Consider the gold statue of Vishnu which was once in the Lakshmana temple of Khajuraho. The statue actually belonged to the rulers of Kangra, it was taken by the Pratiharas and finally by the Candell ruler Yasovarman just before 950 CE (and a near contemporary of Mahmud Ghazni). The inscription in the foundation stone of the Khajuraho Laksmana temple commemorated these events and stated—“With his troops of elephants and horses, Herambapala (Pratihara, ruler of Kanauj) seized it from [the king of Kangra]. Obtaining it from his son, the (Pratihara) prince Devapala, the illustrious (Candella) king Yasovarman—an ornament among kings and a crusher of enemies—performed the ritual establishment of [Vishnu] Vaikuntha [in the Laksmana temple at Khajuraho].

See F. Kielhorn, “Inscriptions from Khajuraho” in Epigraphica Indica, vol. 1 (1892), p. 192.

This example is a beautiful illustration precisely of how Hindu idol-kidnapping differs radically from Islamic idol-breaking. According to the NCERT itself, the Vishnu statue from Khajuraho was abducted not once but twice, and ended up (not walled into a lavatory or underfoot, nor smashed to pieces, but) consecrated as a prominent murti in a Vaishnava temple, exactly where it belonged. What was abducted, was merely an object of art, duly consecrated. There was no destruction of the religion behind the murti. It was used for Vaishnava worship in its original site, after it was abducted, and again after Yasovarman abducted it. Further, the worship at the temples robbed of their murtis, was perfectly allowed to continue, though they would have to install a new murti.

By contrast, in Islamic iconoclasm, the goal was to destroy the “idolatrous” religion of which the murtis were an expression. The destruction of murtis and the demolition of mandirs had the purpose of destroying Hinduism or whichever the Pagan religion behind some given murtis was. When Mahmud Ghaznavi was done destroying the Somnath temple, he did not mean to let Shiva worship resume at the site, not as long as he was militarily in a position to prevent it. While Yasovarman installed the abducted Vishnu murti for worship, Mahmud Ghaznavi would have the captured murtis destroyed or worked them into lavatory walls or into floors in order the humiliate them—not so much the murtis themselves but the religion they represented. In destroying the Somnath Shivalingam, he meant to destroy Shiva worship.

One day, a man needed some paper to light a campfire, but he had none. His friend suggested: I have some paper, wait. And he took his wallet to produce a wad of dollar bills. The friend turned out not to see any significance in the dollar bills, only their material dimension. Whether a little rectangle of paper was a currency note worth an exchange value, or a newspaper clipping containing specific information, or merely a blank slip of paper, they were all the same to him: enough paper to light a campfire with. Now that is Nehruvian secularism for you: a deliberate suspension of the power of discrimination. This wilful superficiality claims not to see any difference between abducting an object without any further consequence and destroying this object as part of the attempted destruction of the religion it stands for.

Lalitaditya

From a different cultural zone note also the example of the conflict between the soldiers of the Gauda (Bengal) ruler and the ruler of Kashmir, Lalitaditya. The episode concerns the moment when the Bengali rulers chose to attack the idol of Vishnu Parihasakesava who was providentially saved because the soldiers mistook this image of the royal God for another. The Rajatarangini notes—“Though the king was abroad, the priests observed that the soldiers wanted to enter, and they closed the gates of the Parihasakesava shrine. Aroused with boldness, the soldiers got hold of the silver Ramasvamin image, which they mistook for Parihasakesava. They carried it out and ground it into dust. And even as Lalitaditya’s troops who had come out from the city were killing them at each step, the Gaudas continued to break it into particles and scatter them in every direction.

See Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, trans., Rajatarangini: The Saga of the Kings of Kashmir, The Indian Press, Allahabad, 1935, pp. 326-28.

Note firstly that this Lalitaditya episode is also related, complete with the spin dear to the NCERT, in Robert M. Hayden, Aykan Erdemir, Tuğba Tanyeri-Erdemir, Timothy D. Walker, Devika Rangachari, Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, Enrique López-Hurtado, and Milica Bakić-Hayden, Antagonistic Tolerance: Competitive Sharing of Religious Sites and Spaces, 2013, p. 136-137. As you can see, the Nehruvian secularist bluff is being spread far and wide and is acquiring the status of academic orthodoxy.

We are here dealing with a typical case of Western imitators, if not careerists who want to serve the current orthodoxy of battling “Islamophobia”. Concerning India, they have completely swallowed the Nehruvian bias. Thus, about Islamic iconoclasm deniers Romila Thapar and Richard Eaton, they say: “As scholars of India in the late 20th century, their aim in doing so is to counter the accusations by Hindu nationalists that the Muslims uniquely violated the sensibilities and rights of Hindus by destroying temples, by showing that Hindu rulers had done much the same thing before Muslims reached India.” (R. M. Hayden et al., Antagonistic Tolerance, p. 136)

It is in itself commendable that they point out the political intentions of these academics. These have a purpose other than dispassionately seeking the truth, which to Marxists would only be “bourgeois objectivity”. While not in itself disqualifying their research, it should at least set some alarm bells ringing. But this political bias only enjoys the unquestioning approval of the new generation of dupes.

So much have they already internalized the belief in Hindu iconoclasm that they take it one step further: “From the perspective of the AT [= Antagonistic Tolerance] project, of course, it would be surprising if Hindu rulers had not done so.” (R. M. Hayden et al., Antagonistic Tolerance, p. 136)

Naturally, they should think so, for it fits in with the reigning paradigm that “all religions are essentially the same”.

At the end, when practical conclusions are drawn, fashionable academics tend to differentiate again and favour Islam over Hinduism, e.g. by clamouring about “Islamophobia” but ignoring “Hinduphobia” (including their own); but at some point within their narrative, it is useful to put forward the equality and sameness of all religions, viz. in order to preclude or drown out all specific Hindu complaints about distinctly Islamic behaviour.

Since those authors are only second-hand spokesmen of the Nehruvian view, they sometimes let on facts that, when properly analyzed, don’t really fit their narrative, e.g.: “Tantalizingly, Eaton (2000a:293) mentions that temples not identified with royal patrons were generally left unharmed.” (R. M. Hayden et al., Antagonistic Tolerance, p. 136)

Tantalizing? Only if you pursue the Nehruvian paradigm. In fact, it follows logically from the difference between Hinduism and Islam. If at all there were Hindu kings who “harmed” temples because through them they wanted to harm hostile kings, they clearly opted for a policy that constituted another distinction with Muslim iconoclasm: they left politically irrelevant temples untouched. By contrast, when Muslim armies went on an iconoclastic spree, they did not care about these petty considerations, precisely because their motive had nothing to do with “royal patrons” but only with non-Islamic religion.

Thus, when the Ghurid army ca. 1193 destroyed a “thousand” temples in Varanasi (as admitted by Eaton), obviously, not all of them had enjoyed royal patronage. But all of them contained Pagan idols, and what was enough to get the Muslim conquerors in a destructive mood. This off-hand refutes the whole point of this new-fangled soft-Marxist hypothesis: that iconoclasm had nothing to do with religion.

Now, as to Lalitaditya, he defeated the Gauda king, invited him with the  Parihasakeshava (Vaishnava) idol as a guarantee for the Gauda king’s safety, yet had him murdered. To take revenge, the Gauda servants contrived to visit the relevant shrine in order to destroy this idol. Though they mistook another idol for Parihasakeshava (and apparently the story is gleefully told in order to convey this idol’s supposed cleverness in arranging for its own safety at the expense of another), they did indeed destroy the idol that they could lay their hands on. The fragmentation of the idol is duly described.

So, this indeed is one rare case where Hindus destroyed a Hindu idol. To be sure, they did nothing to Vaishnavism in Kashmir, nor in Bengal, nor anywhere else. They only wanted to get at that particular idol, a radical difference with the numerous campaigns of idol-breaking by Muslims, who were not so fussy. While Hindus did it, Hinduism was not involved. On the contrary, the text itself stipulates that their motive was quite mundane, viz. vengeance for their murdered king. The perpetrators did not quote any Hindu scripture prescribing: “Thou shalt destroy a Parihasakeshava idol whenever thou seest one!” They did not invoke any idol-breaking model behaviour of a Vedic rishi.

Islamic iconoclasm

We have spent some time writing out several pages in analyzing the NCERT response to an objection. To be sure, a fool can famously ask more questions in a few lines than a normal man can answer in a number of pages. Nevertheless, the fact deserves mention that, through misdirection, the NCERT has succeeded in keeping us busy all while the true answer was so simple. We have been forced to deal with two of the handful of cases of idol-abduction and iconoclasm by Hindus as the supposed reason for Islamic iconoclasm, when in reality, Islamic iconoclasm had nothing to do anything good or bad done by a Hindu. And no secret is made of this in Muslim chronicles, clear enough about the real motive.

Neither the folks at NCERT, nor the Nehruvian historians, nor their foreign followers, have ever succeeded in finding a Muslim chronicle saying that “the Sultan was inspired by Hindu example to destroy idols and demolish temples”. The point, after all, was not finding fault with what Hindus may have done (though finding fault with Hindus is certainly also on the secularists’ agenda), but to explain through Hindu behaviour the known Islamic conduct of iconoclasm. This relation between Islamic iconoclasm and Hindu example has never ever been established. On the contrary, whenever Muslim iconoclasts feel the need to motivate their destructive behaviour, they cite Islamic examples, first of all, the destruction of the idols in the Kaaba by Mohammed himself.

And let alone the words in chronicles or elsewhere, it is actual deeds that prove the radical difference between Islamic iconoclasm and any possible Hindu attitude. The NCERT itself quotes a case where a Vishnu statue was abducted, and then installed for worship by the abductor himself. If such were the example followed by Muslim iconoclasts, we would expect to find mosques where Hindu statues from, say, the Somnath temple or the Rama Janmabhumi temple had been installed. Unlike the Nehruvians, we are not provincials and will not confine ourselves to India, so images of Apollo, Osiris, or any other deity will also do. Pray, NCERT, where is that mosque where an abducted idol has been installed for worship? We are not asking for two examples, just one. – Pragyata, 31 March 2017

Surya Temple at Marttand, Kashmir from Hardy Cole's Archaeological Survey of India Report 1869

Leftist intellectuals pave the way for jihad – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Sadiq Khan Ravi Shanker KapoorThe system doesn’t want to offend religious minorities, and a realistic analysis of Islam’s precepts and practices is ruled out. – Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Can London fight terror? One has to be extremely optimistic to answer in the affirmative. A city that elects an Islamist Mayor, Sadiq Khan, despite his sympathies with the jihadists being well known, can scarcely hope to live peacefully.

So, there was a third major attack in Britain in the past three months, with three jihadists mowing down and knifing indiscriminately in busy areas, killing seven and wounding 48. BBC reported that one of the attackers, Khuram Shazad Butt, was a 27-year-old British citizen. Born in Pakistan, he “became known to the police and MI5 in the summer of 2015 and an investigation was opened into his behavior after concerns reached counter-terrorism officers.” Yet, little was done to neutralize him.

“One man called the anti-terrorism hotline, while a woman went to the local police station because she was scared Butt was trying to radicalize her children,” BBC report says. “However, the Met said there was no intelligence to suggest that this attack was being planned, meaning the investigation had been prioritized accordingly.’”

Further, a man, “who did not want to be named, said one of the attackers had become more extreme over the past two years. He said he had contacted authorities but no action was taken.”

Now, the police in the UK and other Western countries are not like their Indian counterparts; when some wrong-doing is reported, they act, and act fast, unbothered about phone calls from their higher-ups and politicians. So, what happened to the efficiency of the British cops? The answer was provided by US President Donald Trump’s tweet: political correctness (PC). Encyclopaedia Britannica describes PC as a “term used to refer to language that seems intended to give the least amount of offense, especially when describing groups identified by external markers such as race, gender, culture, or sexual orientation.”

What began as a nasty war against language—eliminating what Left-liberals thought was offensive to non-whites, women, Orientals and Africans, religious minorities, the LGBT community—acquired a life of its own and transmogrified into a full-fledged ideology. A fascistic, intolerant ideology that brooks no dissent; anybody challenging it is a ‘racist’ and, when the subject is Islam, ‘Islamophobic.’

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad; and the civilization that they want to destroy they first corrupt its thought leaders. By gods or otherwise, it is indubitable that those who lord over public discourse, set various agendas, and mould public opinion in the West, as also elsewhere, have been badly corrupted by the PC plague. So, we find academics, media pundits, authors, and other opinion makers peddling PC 24×7.

This has translated into security paralysis; since the system doesn’t want to offend religious minorities, and a realistic analysis of Islam’s precepts and practices is ruled out, law-enforcement agencies have been handicapped. Any preventive measure is slammed as racist, Islamophobic, etc. And among those leading the brigade of the politically correct is Sadiq Khan.

In the wake of July 7, 2005, bombings in London, he blamed Britain’s foreign policy rather than Muslim terrorists. Further, as a lawyer, he defended Zacarias Moussaoui, a 9/11 terrorist who admitted to being a member of Al Qaeda. Another Islamist he defended was Azzam Tamimi who threatened violence if the Prophet Muhammed was defamed. The London Mayor has shared a platform with Suliman Gani, a South London imam who favors an Islamic state. Daily Mail reported on April 17, 2016, at a funeral, “he stopped to shake [hands with] convicted terrorist Babar Ahmad, a man who has been blamed for inspiring a generation of extremists, including the gang behind the London bombings of July 7, 2005. The pair exchanged brief pleasantries before Khan moved on.”

In his book, Sadiq Khan advised that the police should be charged with “racism” if a certain community was targeted. Evidently, such ideas are not just being spread by sundry intellectuals but also followed in the UK capital, indeed in the entire country.

Frequent attacks in London are the denouement. In a revealing article in www.frontpagemag.com, Daniel Greenfield, a writer focusing on the radical Left and radical Islam, has listed the march of Islamist forces that led to the ghastly attack in Manchester (http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/266793/manchesters-islamist-appeasing-police-and-daniel-greenfield).

“While Salman Abedi [the Manchester attacker] … stalked the streets wailing, ‘There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger of Allah,’ Manchester police were busy with more important things … Mayor [Andy] Burnham and Chief Constable [Ian] Hopkins pandered to Islamists, prioritised Islamophobia and dutifully opposed the government’s fight against Islamic terror.”

The Greater Manchester Police, writes Greenfield, are one of only two police forces to list Islamophobia as a hate crime category. Earlier this year, Hopkins honoured Tell MAMA for fighting Islamophobia. “Shahid Malik, the chair of Tell MAMA, had been photographed with the leader of Hamas. Appearing at the Global Peace and Unity conference, where plenty of terrorism supporters have promenaded, he boasted, ‘In 2005 we had four Muslim MPs. In 2009 or 2010 we’ll have eight or ten Muslim MPs. In 2014 we’ll have 16 Muslim MPs. At this rate, the whole parliament will be Muslim.’”

This is the quintessential Islamist vision: creeping acquisition of power, not much different from the creeping acquisition in the corporate sector.

Intellectuals seem to have a penchant for evil. During the Cold War, they had a soft corner for communism, the violent ideology that killed over 100 million people in the 20th century. Now, they are sympathetic to radical Islam, thus acting as the sappers and miners for the jihadist takeover. Not just in London but in entire Europe. – PGurus, 6 June 2017

» Ravi Shanker Kapoor is a journalist and author. He upholds freedom of expression, individual liberty, free market, and open society. He has published three books till date. His website is http://www.thehinduchronicle.com/.

Jihadi

Aghora’s radical egalitarianism makes Reza Aslan yearn for inequality – Bharavi

Man Sitting Under Tree IconAslan is truly a worthy heir to Sufi luminaries like Amir Khusrau and Ahmed Sirhindi who so eloquently expressed their contempt and detestation for the stench of idolatory and polytheism in the land of Hind. – Bharavi

Now that there is a lot of indignation in the Hindu community about the way the Muslim, Iranian-American religious writer Reza Aslan has gone about depicting Hinduism in a CNN program titled “Believer,”[1] it would help to understand issues at hand that run deeper than overt “Hinduphobia” and stereotyping.  Mr. Rajiv Malhotra and some members of the Hindu Students Council have broadcast a video “rebuttal” of sorts, questioning Aslan’s intentions in reaffirming western stereotypes of Hinduism.  

For starters, it must be noticed that Reza Aslan finds himself in the U.S.A. because his family fled the Islamic revolution in his native Iran, circa 1979. Though born in a Muslim family, he converted to Christianity, but returned or, as the terminology goes, “reverted” to Islam.  Currently, he is a professing Muslim. Had he been a true heir to his brutally extinguished Aryan-Iranian heritage, he would surely have been at least more balanced, if not more respectful and nuanced, in his depiction of the last vestiges of the common Indo-Iranian religious heritage in the multifarious forms of Hinduism in India, a civilization that gave refuge to Zoroastrian Iranians fleeing before their equally Iranian compatriots who converted to Islam. But, having been put through the wringer, as it were, of the Religions of Love and Peace, all Understanding and Compassion has been conclusively wrung out of him. What Ishwar Sharan perceptively stated of the betrayal of Hindus to the Portuguese Catholic invaders by Syrian Christians applies to him in its totality: “… [the] Christian religion … harbours in its heart a demon that divides mankind into friend and foe on ideological grounds.”[2]  The Qu’ran, which is but the “Bible in Arabic” insofar as its basic contents are concerned, bettered the instruction by summarily and firmly reinstating the original Yahvist spirit by abolishing all hints of Jesus’ divinity and Mary’s phantom gestation that, according to Christians, resulted in a case of human parthenogenesis.  

It matters little that Aslan piously proclaims his personal preference for Islam while proclaiming “good will and peace to all men” on his website, which deserves to be read in full by befuddled Hindus:[3]

That’s where religion comes in. Beyond the doctrines and dogma, the do’s and the don’t’s, religion is simply a framework for thinking about the existential questions we all struggle with as human beings.

It is, as the Sufi mystics say, a “signpost to God.”

Can you have faith without religion? Of course! But as the Buddha said, if you want to strike water, you don’t dig six 1-foot wells; you dig one 6-foot well. In other words, if you want to have a deep and meaningful faith experience, it helps—though it is by no means necessary—to have a language with which to do so.

So then, pick a well.

Different words, same thing

My well is Islam, and in particular, the Sufi tradition. Let me be clear, I am Muslim not because I think Islam is “truer” than other religions (it isn’t), but because Islam provides me with the “language” I feel most comfortable with in expressing my faith. It provides me with certain symbols and metaphors for thinking about God that I find useful in making sense of the universe and my place in it.

So … what do you believe?

But I know, just as the Buddha did, that while my personal well may be different and unique, the water I draw from it is the same water drawn from everyone else’s wells. Indeed, having drunk from many wells in my spiritual journey, I consider it my mission in life to inform the world that, no matter the well, the water tastes just as sweet.

Consider the following parable by the great Sufi master Jalal ad-Din Rumi, which I recount in my book, No god but God:

A Persian, a Turk, an Arab and a Greek are traveling to a distant land when they begin arguing over how to spend the single coin they share in common. The Persian wants to spend the coin on angur; the Turk, on uzum; the Arab, on inab; and the Greek, on stafil.

A linguist passing by overhears the argument. “Give the coin to me,” he says. Taking the coin, the linguist goes to a nearby shop and buys the travelers four small bunches of grapes.

“This is my angur!” cries the Persian.

“But this is what I call uzum,” replies the Turk.

“You have brought me my inab,” the Arab says.

“No! This in my language is stafil,” says the Greek.

The travelers suddenly realize that they were all asking for the same thing, but in different languages.

My goal—as a scholar, as a person of faith, and now as the host of “Believer” —is to be the linguist, to demonstrate that, while we may speak in different religions, we are, more often than not, often expressing the same faith.

And that, regardless of whether you, too, are a believer or not, is a lesson worth learning.

See, multiple wells, same water! Multiple languages, same grapes! Aslan’s stated goal in the series “Believer” is to convince you, like a latter-day Gandhi, that “while we may speak in different religions, we are, more often than not, often expressing the same faith.” Hell, why can’t we all just get along like one big happy family!? Where are those vasudhaiva kutumbakam hippies when you need them?

Firstly, note that the Buddha (a rank Pagan) was the one who talked about multiple wells reaching the same water. Any Abrahamic prophet worth his salt would have taken umbrage at this kind of laissez-faire approach, so there are no matching quotations from the Abrahamic traditions, especially Reza’s own. Even the oft-quoted sura 109 of the Qu’ran often bandied about by Muslims as evidence of Islam’s “tolerance” declares:

Say: O ye that reject Faith!
I worship not that which ye worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
Nor will I worship those whom you have worshipped,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
To you be your Way, and to me mine.

The sura is also suggestively titled “Al-Kafirun”—The Unbelievers. For different wells with the same water, you definitely have to summon Kafir help and surreptitiously slip it in while ostensibly taking a stand as a convinced Muslim.

Hindus should additionally note that even for an aspiring Sufi mystic like Aslan, it becomes a positive strain to extend real courtesy about “more often than not, expressing the same faith” to the rank Pagans/Kafirs that Hindus are with their pantheism and polytheism, thereby revelling in the great “sin” of kufr and shirk—of “associating partners with Allah.” Aslan’s pir Rumi frequently and variously uses “Hindu” as a symbol of all that is wrong, the (despicable) colour black, darkness, evil influence, and especially the nafs (the base soul) that is in urgent need of reforming. That is the lineage of teachers (guru-shishya parampara) that Aslan subscribes to. So, Hindus should thank Reza Aslan, and take his timely reminder as an opportunity to examine the true sayings and history of Sufis and their silsilas from original sources, as also the accounts of the havoc that they wrought to Hinduism, rather than the homilies dished out by several negationists who also masquerade as “eminent historians.”  No Sufi is known to have protested the treatement of Hindus and Hinduism by any sultan—no wonder Aurangzeb was lionized as a “zinda pir”—a living saint. Aslan is truly a worthy heir to Sufi luminaries like Amir Khusrau and Ahmed Sirhindi who so eloquently expressed their contempt and detestation for the stench of idolatory and polytheism in the land of Hind.

Aslan’s preoccupation with the Hindu “obsession” with purity deserves close examination. While on that job, it might perhaps not hurt to remind Aslan that, in strains of traditional Islam, especially the Shi’ism rampant in his native Iran, the Kafir is also “Najis—impure—at par with urine and feces. This is also why Pakistan was so named, for the “Pak” or “Pure” thereby separated themselves from the “najis” Hindus. Incidentally, this objective fact of Islamic jurisprudence also gives the lie to Aslan’s sanctimonious statements about the allegedly unique Hindu “obsession with ritual purity.” Islam is also concerned with ritual purity, only it is based on different assumptions (or “obsessions”). And, the very ritual act of wudu (ablutions) performed by the believers before each of their five daily prayers are testimony to the selfsame “obsession” with ritual purity. Indeed, in this case at least, while “while we may speak in different religions, we are, more often than not, often expressing the same faith.” Or obsession, just for consistency. For those who care to inquire further, the hadiths are quite explicit about “correct” methods of purifying oneself after communing with nature, based on prophetic precedent and a traceable chain of transmission (isnad), no less. We hope Aslan will remember this during the next time he rolls out his prayer mat or ascends the metaphorical CNN tower for the broadcast of the next episode of “Believer.”

Aslan was apparently attracted to Aghora because he discerned in the members of this sect a group of proto-revolutionaries who actively flouted Hindu norms of purity and caste exclusiveness (i.e. “obsessions”). Now, Aghora literally means non-ghora i.e. “non-terrible.” The followers of the Aghora path, the Aghoris, literally try to view the entire world as “non-terrible,” not merely in a metaphysical sense or for reasons of political correctness, but also in a very physical sense. They seek to go beyond the “pairs of opposites” that, in their view, arise from the illusory sensory perception of differences, of personal likes and dislikes, and feelings of pleasure and pain. And, to truly follow this idea, they conduct themselves indifferently in the extreme, even eating substances that humans normally find bizarre or disgusting, which provides what presstitutes (journalists) call a “good copy” for Aslan and his handlers at CNN.

The Aghori sadhu in the CNN video first drank some of his own urine—as in his view—there was nothing that was intrinsically “disgusting” about it. We may say that he did not just walk the talk, but also drank it and lived it. Then, he graciously wanted to extend the same courtesy to his newest acolyte in the person of Reza Aslan who promptly voted with his heels. The urine in the Aghori’s palm was, to borrow Aslan’s cordial and engaging phraseology, a very unique form of water from a very unique well that exorcised Aslan of his revolutionary zeal.

Notes

  1. CNN: Face to face with a cannibalistic sect (video clip).
  2. Ishwar Sharan, The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple (2010), Chapter Nine
  3. CNN: Reza Aslan: Why I am a Muslim.