REPORTS & ESSAYS


  • The Formation of Religious Identities in India

    Krishna Mohan Shrimali

    Krishna Mohan Shrimali at the Idea of India Conclave/ courtesy Newsclick.in

    I am extremely grateful to the Executive Committee of the Paschimbanga Itihas Sansad for bestowing upon me this honour of delivering the Keynote Address. Honestly speaking, the Honour is not only unexpected, but also perhaps undeserving. After all, I have not contributed in any manner to the writing of history of Bengal. Though my first foray in the writing of early Indian history was in the form of a monograph on Panchaala that could qualify as a work on a micro-regional history, I tried to juxtapose it to a broader macro-picture of North India. I suspect that such an approach may have prompted the authorities of this Sansad to do this honour on me. Over the years, I have noticed that only such regional history formations which have not functioned in a very closed and insular manner have thrived. They have kept their portals open to ‘the Outsider’ and ‘the Other’ like me. The Paschimbanga Itihas Sansad would certainly qualify this test with great distinction. No wonder, it has entered the fourth decade of its existence and is still going strong.

    I

    Historian’s Approach

    I have been a student, teacher and practitioner of people’s history writing for over half a century. During this period I have also been a witness to the growing frontiers of almost all disciplines in almost all branches of knowledge. History as a discipline within the broader canvas of social sciences is, therefore, no exception. In course of my teaching career spanning over more than four decades, I have had the privilege of teaching a variety of courses to both graduate and postgraduate students. However, the ones that stayed with me till the end of my teaching span dealt with evolution of early Indian religions at the Master’s level. This would probably provide a rationale for the choice of the theme of my presentation this morning, viz., “The Formation of Religious Identities in India”. The theme and its treatment may be taken as my homage to Professor Sukumari Bhattacharji whom we lost just a few months ago in May 2014. I haven’t had the good fortune of meeting or knowing her personally. However, in my distant view based on her numerous seminal writings, she was a Sanskritist, Indologist, a liberal Marxist and a Christian — all rolled in one persona. I do not know with which of these identities she would have identified herself and in what pecking order. I certainly would not like to pronounce any judgment on this vexed issue.   
                  
    A few decades ago, Thomas Coburn, who had by then acquired a name for himself for his masterly study of the Devii Maahaatmya1, delivered a lecture in Delhi wherein he expressed surprise and even lamented over the fact that Indian universities did not have separate departments for religious and theological studies. I was provoked to counter it by arguing that such insular centres of learning tended to breed sectarianism, conservatism and even ‘Holier than Thou’ attitude. This was in the early 1990s. By then, the courses on early Indian religions that I had been teaching for over two decades, had taken definitive shape. Being courses in the Delhi University’s Department of History Curricula, the focus was neither on theology nor on merely ‘teachings and doctrines’ of various religions that were being studied. Rather, these tended to underline people’s religiosities that manifested in societies of varied hues. This may well be called historian’s approach to religious phenomena, wherein the accent was on the following two principal elements, keeping the time and space contexts in view:

    (1) As the known history of humanity recognises Darwinian principle of ‘Evolution’, so do all religions practiced by humans all through the several millennia of their existence. The world of ‘ideas’ and ‘divinities’ in Indian mythologies (of all religious hues) has shown remarkable application of the Darwinian notion of the ‘survival of the fittest’. And here I would love to recall Professor Bhattacharji, who wrote, “Indian mythology was not a static affair, neither was it a luxury; it was linked with the vital spiritual urges and needs of the people, who projected their most haunting dreams, hopes and cravings into their myths… From the earliest times the pantheon is the product of a continual clash and friction… Those gods who could represent larger segments of life and experience, who could mobilise greater strength and significance, and, later, who could annex other gods by virtue of their greater potentialities, grew, while others faded out.”2 If ‘ideas’ and ‘divinities’ have been rising, falling and changing, so have been the followers and practitioners of all religions. These people, the real creators of the ‘world of divinities’, have never constituted a monolith — neither spatially, nor temporally.

    (2) Since we do not accept the notion of ‘autonomy’ of the ‘domain of religion’ and consider it as an integral component of the ‘social orders’, one is able to discern processes of interplay of several factors in the making and construction of religious identities. Lest the aforesaid process involving dynamism of Indian mythology creates the impression that the brute physical force determined the ‘fitness’ and ‘survival potentiality’ of any deity, we would like to underline a different modus operandi of this dynamism. Indeed, our understanding is that of all the factors, it is the material conditions that tended to have an edge over others in shaping the form and content of people’s religiosities through the millennia. That such factors do influence even the apparently dispensable components of daily lifestyle of ordinary people was brought to the fore in a very telling way when we visited the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto (Canada) in September, 2014. This museum, contrary to our expectation, did not trace the history of the growth of an industry that we have known from our childhood days as manufacturers of quality footwear. Indeed, Bata was conspicuous by its absence. Instead, the three floors of the Museum focused on how the footwear of hunters, food gatherers and cultivators evolved differently, depending upon climate, landscape, ecology and environment and other material resources. It was an incisive lesson about the role of material factors in the unfolding of historical processes influencing common humans when we saw that even amongst the hunters, the nature and specificities of the hunted animal influenced the choice of a specific type of shoes. Religious discourse does reflect societal processes that also include humanity’s struggles against, as well as adjustments, with nature. Since we are reposing considerable weight in contending that the ‘idea’ of the ‘unseen power commonly understood as God’ is a product of ingenuity of human mind, it may also be recognised that we would like to argue that conscious human actions also lay behind ‘material things coming into being’.3 

    Given such an approach to understand the dynamics of making of religious identities, we would like to focus on a few illustrative examples. Since we intend covering a vast chronological spectrum of nearly four millennia (from about the beginning of the second millennium BCE till this day), we shall refrain from being comprehensive or exhaustive in our treatment of the subject. Therefore, examples chosen here are very selective and perhaps also quite subjective, for which we would seek your indulgence.

    II

    Indra and Varuna

    Let’s begin our narrative with the Rigveda, the earliest known literary text of exceptional lyrical quality and high poetic value. On sheer those counts, it would easily rank amongst humanity’s extraordinary creative compositions. No wonder, the UNESCO was persuaded to accord it the status of world heritage and include its thirty manuscripts from the archives of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (Pune) in the Memory of the World Register in 2007. Ascribed to several centuries between circa 1800 and circa 1000 BCE, this compendium of more than one thousand Suuktas (hymns) and more than 10,000 verses in its extant form, presents a remarkable world view of principally pastoral people. Notwithstanding the very infrequent occurrence specifically of “Saptasindhu”, it is generally understood that, the “seven rivers” of the Rigveda covered an area that extended from the modern Afghanistan in the north-west to western Uttar Pradesh in the east. The river Ganga which is also mentioned rather rarely, perhaps constituted the easternmost frontier of the Rigvedic locale. Present day regions of Jammu and Kashmir, Panjab (pre-1947), and Rajasthan formed part of the geographical horizon of the Rigvedic people, who do not seem to be much familiar with Gujarat. The trek from Balkh to the land of the “seven rivers” has received some support from archaeological finds.4 It is well-known that out of scores of divinities that figure in the Rigvedic hymns, Indra is the most conspicuous — more than 250 (more than 25%) hymns are dedicated to him. Like most of the divinities, as the God of Rains, he is also personifying forces of nature. Of the numerous epithets bestowed upon him, he is best known as gopati (lord of cattle), which acquires special significance because cattle constituted the chief form of wealth for the people of the Rigvedic times.5 This gopati becomes Indra shunaasiira (Indra with a plough), who presides over the finale of the successive ceremonies of the raajasuuya sacrifice, the purpose of which is to “set in motion…the exhausted powers of fertility.”6 This transformation coincides with the dispersal of agriculture in the Ganga valley in the times of the later Vedic texts (circa 1000 – circa 500 BCE). Still later, during the centuries of feudal milieu (post-third century CE), Indra acquires the appellations of bhuupati (lord of land) and devaraaja (King of Kings). During the early medieval centuries, he is confined to his Indraloka surrounded by beautiful apsaras and becomes notorious for his lecherous behavior in Sanskrit puraanas only to pass into oblivion as far as brahmanic pantheon is concerned. He survives in the non-brahmanic traditions, which remember him very differently. He is Sakka in the early Buddhist narratives, where he is almost always spoken of as devaanam indo (chief or king of gods), who was far from being perfect and not free from three deadly evils, viz., lust, ill-will, and stupidity. Sakka was very susceptible to the charms of beauty.7As Saudharma Indra of the Digambara Jainas, he leads other gods in the celebrations at the birth of a tiirthankara – ‘Dancing Indra’ is a recurring theme in Jaina belief and practice. Professor B.N.Goswamy has recently  highlighted a panchakalyaanaka patta (measuring 1220 cm x 80 cm) of circa 1700 from possibly Aurangabad (Maharashtra). It beautifully depicts such a ‘Dancing Indra’ with as many as twenty hands on either side emanating from the elbows rather than, as generally seen, from the shoulders.8

    While still on the Rigveda, we must take up the case of Varuna, who is designated as an asura par excellence. If the Rigvedic Indra represented one pole, Varuna in the same text was the other pole and probably the god of another group of people. It is a well-known axiom of linguistics that words keep changing their meanings either because of natural process of evolution, or due to exigencies of a changed milieu of people.  In this sense, treating ‘asura’ in the Rigveda  as ‘demon’ requires a different look. Long ago, Dandekar had pointed out that the Vedic word asura was much older than the classical Sanskrit word sura (god) and that the former did not represent the opposite of the latter. Originally, the word asura stood for a being who possessed the largest amount of magical potency. It was only later when it acquired the connotation of ‘demon’ that the word sura was artificially coined.  Asu was sought to be compared with the magical potency of mana. On account of his enormous ‘magic power’ he creates the universe, regulates it into an orderly whole, and wields the most supreme sovereignty over it and his unique power is called maayaa. In Rigveda, VII.88.6, Varuna is called yakshin, a magician.9 Varuna, with his maayaa, was solely responsible for the maintenance of Rit, which was far more than moral and cosmic order. It was the material order that was under the charge of Varuna. One may not accept Dandekar’s contention about primacy of Varuna being superseded by Indra and their apparent conflict, but surely, the two seemed to have their roles clearly cut out. The declining Rit and fall in Varuna’s status belong to the same period, viz., the later Vedic times, when cracks emerged in the egalitarian social order and social stratification was becoming order of the day with its consequent emergence of exploitative classes.

    III

    Shiva and Vishnu

    Shiva, the Mahaadeva — the Great God of modern day Hinduism, is conspicuous by his absence in the Rigveda. That text, however, knows Rudra, who is a dreaded god whose darts are sought to be warded off. Rudra in the Rigveda was the relentless destroyer of the sacrificial rites, a war-lord and cattle lifter.10 No Rigvedic god was so utterly gruesome, for whom the later Vedic Shatarudriya Hymn in the Vaajasaneyii Samhitaa says: “Homage to the cheater, the swindler, to the lord of burglars…the glider…the lord of cut-purses.” And yet, the hymn offers 425 oblations to Rudra. It is this Rudra who gets absorbed in Shiva. In the process of becoming Mahaadeva, Shiva had also absorbed numerous other contradictory cultic male and female deities by the time of the Puraanas (c.300 CE to c.1500 CE). Amongst such divinities that went into the making of the Shaiva pantheon are included Maheshvara, Vinaayaka, Ganesha/Ganapati, Murugan/Kaarttikeya, Manasaa, Ambaa, Durga, etc.11 While Shiva himself was located on the Mount Kailaasa and in the cremation grounds, most of his associated deities are specifically associated with tribals residing in forested and hilly areas. There are two very significant aspects of such an evolutionary process of Shivaism. First, perhaps pantheon would be a less accurate word to delineate this process. Though indifferent to worldly ties, Shiva is perhaps the only deity who has a family — wives, daughters, and sons. Such an accent on kinship ties may have something to do with their penetration in the tribal quarters. Second, the aforesaid assimilative process took distinctive shape during the centuries, which are supposedly the ‘dark age’ of early Indian history largely on account of the penetration of ‘foreign’ powers such as the Shakas, Kushaanas, Greeks, and so on. Dharmanand Kosambi (the senior Kosambi – father of D.D. Kosambi) has been quite specific in proposing that the transformation of Mahaadeva (fond of bull-sacrifice: see details of the Shuulagava sacrifice in the Aashvalaayana Grihyasuutra) into non-violent Maheshvara (who stood against sacrifices) was the result of Buddhist influence and can be ascribed to the times of the Shakas.12

    Another prominent god of modern day Hinduism, viz., Vishnu, though not absent, is an extremely obscure divine figure of the people who were responsible for the composition of the hymns of the Rigveda, — a text which we consider to have emerged from a relatively unstratified society. However, like Shiva, Vishu’s graph too kept rising high but in a very different milieu and through an equally different mechanism. Today, we do not strain ourselves too much to figure out that the Lakshmiinaaraayanaaya namah is nothing but our homage to Vishnu. But this identity was achieved through a long-drawn process involving cultic integration of significant magnitude. The absorption of Samkarshana-Balaraama, the haladhara, god of agriculturists, the cowherd god Gopaala Krishna, and numerous other totemic cults were appropriated through the unique mechanism of avataaras (incarnations or perhaps more accurately ‘appearance’ / ‘manifestation’). Both Shiva and Vishnu got rooted in different ecological zones — the former represented the vana (forest) and the latter got identified with kshetra (plains).13 People of the pre-class social formation created the retinue of Shiva’s kin, whereas spread of Vishnu’s net was in tracts that were getting socially stratified and equally significantly brahmanised, wherein brahmins specially acquired premier ritual status. It is not improbable that the followers of totemic cults such as those of kuurma, matsya, varaaha, etc. may have been presented with a fait accompli. We may draw some sustenance for such a possibility from the Buddha’s place in Vishuism. Though the Buddha is also included in the list of Vishnu’s avataaras, the narrative in the Kaashiikhanda of the Skandapuraana shows how Vishnu disguised himself as a Buddhist monk Punyakiirti, and preached essence of Buddhist philosophy which contested varnadharma to discredit not only Divodaasa, the ruler of Kaashii, but also the Buddha.14 Incidentally, this nefarious way of absorbing the Buddha in Vishnu’s fold was reversed in Sri Lankan history and Simhala Buddhist religious culture, where this brahmanic deity was transformed and subordinated to the Buddha as shown by Holt.15

    While there are dissimilarities in the growth trajectories of both Shiva and Vishnu, both owed considerable debt to the so-called ‘foreigners’ of the post-Mauryan centuries. The Yavanas, the Shakas and Kushaanas had also patronised Vishnuite divinities. To the well-known evidence of the Garuda pillar inscription at Besnagar (near Vidisha, Bhopal), wherein a Greek ambassador Heliodorus describes himself as a Bhaagavat, must be added the finds from the relatively more recent French excavations at Ai Khanoum in Afghanistan between 1965 and 1978, which had yielded six drachms of Agathocles (180-170 BCE) in a hoard excavated in 1970.The uniqueness of these coins lies in the fact that they are probably the earliest anthropomorphic representations of two popular deities of Vishnuite pantheon, viz., Vaasudeva-Krishna and his elder brother Samkarshana-Balaraama. The excavations at Malhar in the Bilaspur district of Chattisgarh between 1975 and 1978 yielded a stone sculpture of four-armed Vishnu (circa second century BCE) delineated in the mode of a / aka soldier.  In addition, the Shaka kings are known to have adopted Shaiva names and a good repertoire of Shaiva iconography appears on Kushaana coins. The impact of these ‘foreign’ kings is also traced in the invocation of the iconographic concept of ‘western’ goddess Cybele (seated/standing on a lion-drawn chariot) as a result of the Roman trade with western India before third-fourth centuries CE.16 Incidentally, the earliest image of goddess Sarasvatii, too, is dated in the (Shaka) year 54 (=133 CE), when the Kushaanas were ruling at Mathura, where the sculpture was found.17 Such evidences clearly show that the alleged villainous character and iconoclastic zeal of the Shakas and Kushaanas and the crocodile tears shed by K.P. Jayaswal on the alleged destruction of the so-called ‘Hindu’ religion have neither any justification nor any rationale.18

    IV

    Vibrant Religiosities

    Buddhism of the Buddha, and the Jaina system as developed by Mahavira (the 24th and the last tiirthankara), were received with great enthusiasm in the mid-Ganga valley by traders, peasants, workers and artisans of urban centres and new agriculturists because both these new religious thinkers recognised the economic value of cattle, the advent of money and other components of the new economic order.19 By circa 5th/4th centuries BCE the brahmanical religiosities rooted in rural milieu had lesser appeal, for, they despised all these new material factors that had come to the fore in the society. Under the influence of these new non-brahmanical religions, numerous gods and goddesses of popular character, and who were fond of violence, either got transformed into non-violent divinities, or became followers of new religions, but under no circumstance were they completely destroyed. An illuminating example, and a vivid description of the dynamism, variety and richness of the post-Vedic religious scenario is available in the Pali Chullaniddesa, which seems to be reflecting the preferences of people in the valleys of the Ganga and its tributaries. Generally, this text is placed between the third century BCE and the first century CE. In a rather long passage, it refers to five shramana (non-brahmanical) groups, viz., the Aajiivikas, Niganthas, Jatilas, Paribbaajakas and the Avaruddhakas. Further, it also enumerates as many as 22 sects. Those who kept vratas for/ worshipped the elephant were called the hatthivatikas and they may have given rise to the sect involving worship of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity.  Those who kept vratas for/ worshipped the horse were designated as assavatikas. In a similar way, we read about the govatikas (worshippers of the cow), kukkuravatikas (worshippers of dog), kaka(crow)vatikas, Punnabhaddavatikas, Manibhaddavatikas, Aggi(fire)vatikas, Naagavatikas, supanna(garuda)vatikas, yakkha(yaksha)vatikas, asuravatikas, gandhabba(gandharva)vatikas, chanda(moon)vatikas, suriya(sun)vatikas, devavatikas and disaa(directions)vatikas, and so on.  Other allusions to these multifarious sects are found scattered not only in rich and varied literature (e.g., Aataanaatiya and Mahaasamaya suttas of the Pali Diighanikaaya) but their existence is also corroborated through art remains and epigraphic notices. This scenario of diverse religiosities effectively demolishes the nomenclature “Buddhist India” that is often ascribed to centuries between circa 500 BCE and circa 300 CE. It may also be recalled that the evolutionary process noted in the upward mobility and rising popularity of Shiva and Vishnu also belongs to these centuries, which were marked by considerable flexibility and fluidity in people’s religious preferences.

    V

    Bhakti and Tantra

    It is now well recognised that significant changes had taken place in the nature of land rights from circa 300 CE that remained quite firm, till at least circa 1500 CE. The tendency that had already started in the first century of the Common Era, got accentuated in the next few centuries. Grants of land were first made to religious beneficiaries — the Buddhists, brahmins, sanghas, mathas and brahmanical temples and other religious establishments and institutions. Later, several grades of saamantas (feudatories) and other officials of the state also received land, sometimes even in lieu of services. It was not just the kings, queens and members of the royal family who made such grants, we also know about saamantas themselves as grantors of land. The net result of this land grant mechanism was the creation of a huge class of landed intermediaries who tended to lord over peasants of different hues, artisans, craftsmen and other actual wealth producers. Subjection and immobility of these wealth producers were the hallmarks of this structure of graded land rights. Agrarian expansion involving newer lands being brought under cultivation, various technological innovations, and diversification of crops also constitute an important feature of the centuries that saw growing expansion of land grant economy. The whole socio-economic and political structure got saamanta-ised or feudalised.

    It is perhaps not a mere coincidence that the same centuries simultaneously witnessed the rise of two very distinctive forms of practices that permeated all religions, both brahmanical and non-brahmanical, and that too on an almost pan-India scale. Indeed, the contemporary forms of Buddhism and Jaina system also developed new ethics, where aparigraha (non-possession) was duly compromised and their followers had no qualms in competing with the brahmins in this land grab movement. The ideas of bhakti (complete devotion and surrender to god/goddess) and tantra (with special accent on the worship of goddesses) became pervasive features of all religious systems during these feudalised centuries. Given the aforesaid material base, two mutually reinforcing features, viz., the royalty of the juridico-political structure with its dependent hierarchical loyalties and the equally hierarchical divinity of the ideological apparatus determine the character of this new bhakti. As shown by Professor Rajan Gurukkal, “A well-known Tamil passage tiruvutal mannare kanal tirumale enrum means seeing the king in his royal attire is as good as seeing Lord Vishnu himself. A structural analysis of the iconic forms of the temple-deity brings out the idea more clearly. The chief attributes of the iconic form of the temple-deity are, the kiriita (crown), aayudha (weapons), bhuushana (decorations), the chaalaka, dhaaraka, parivaara (the regalia) and the parichaarana (services). Needless to say, that these are royal attributes. This is clearly the extension of the concept of royalty in its sublime form to iconography.”20 Another streak of bhakti may be seen in the rise of the Viirashaivas or the Lingaayats in the north-western Karnataka in the 12th/13th centuries. Later they spread to other parts of Karnataka and parts of Andhra Pradesh. The rise of new towns and revival of monetary economy, and concomitant emergence of traders and artisans provided a potent support base for this new sect. This was very similar to the material base of early Buddhism and Mahavira’s movement. Further, Basava, the founder of the new sect, like the Buddha, started off with a tirade against traditional Brahmanism and was even called an ‘axe to the root of the tree of caste’. Most importantly, he also rejected the authority of the Vedas.21

    Similarly, with the dispersal of land grants across the whole sub-continent and consequent agrarian expansion, the old symbolic association of the Mother Earth and the female fertility got further accentuated. This, in turn, gave a new dimension to tantric practices. Indeed, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that Tantricisation of all religions is an extremely pronounced feature of people’s religiosities. Further, this process ought not to be seen merely in the vulgarisation of the panchamakaaras (the five ma-s, i.e., matsya/ fish; maamsa/ meat; madya/ intoxicating drink; maithuna/ sex; and mudraa/ physical gestures). Instead, Tantricisation is signified more by the penetration of the female form and goddesses in both brahmanical and non-brahmanical religions. R.S. Sharma had shown the link between agrarian expansion and proliferation of mother goddesses in early medieval centuries and their intrusion in all religious systems. M.C. Joshi, too, saw the roots of Shaakta Tantrism in the concept of a fertile mother goddess.22 While brahminical religions accepted various goddesses as consorts, the Jainas created spaces for yakis of various Jinas as independent divinities. The Buddhists, too, gave rise to several ‘malevolent’ and ‘benevolent’ goddesses.23 If ever any mapping is undertaken, one would see the subcontinent dotted by the presence of the Taaraas, Daakiniis and Shaakiniis, the Shaktis, the Saptamaatrikas, the Dashamahaavidyaas, the twenty-six Vidyaadeviis, the chaunsatha (sixty-four)Yoginiis, the Graahiis and Bhairaviis, Jvaalaamaalinii, Padmaavatii and Kushamandinii, Ganeshinii, Indraanii, Varaahii, Vaishnavii, Vajravaraahii,  and  numerous unsung goddesses such as Nairaatmyaa, Chinnamundaa, Simhamukhaa, Kurukullaa, Deddarii, Thanii, Takarii and Ridhaalii, etc.24 While some expanded their earlier nebulous existence, others became components of the process of spoucification, and yet many others just managed to resist going into oblivion. Very few of these were ‘Mothers’ in the literal sense of the term. Drawing attention to verse 834 of the Shrii Lalitaa Sahasranaamaa, Yoginiis in particular, have been characterized as ‘unfettered’ (Om vishrinkhalaayai namah – Salutations to her who is ever unfettered).25 An important facet of the emergence of these numerous new female divinities is the process of cultural interaction of priestly Sanskritik and tribal elements. Thomas Coburn’s pioneering study of the Devii Maahaatmya of the Maarkandeya Puraana (circa sixth century CE) had argued that it was the first comprehensive account of the Goddess to appear in Sanskrit  —  the explanation was sought in terms of Sanskritisation since the basic impulse behind the worship of goddess was of ‘non-Aryan’ and non-brahmanical origin.26 A survey of Shakti sculptures in Madhya Pradesh alone refers to as many as 400 images and a great majority of their names such as Charchikaa, Umarimaataa, Bijasaniidevii, Behamaataa, Birasaniidevii, etc. link them with popular aboriginal deities.27

    VI

    Non-Indic Religiosities in India

    With the growing influence of the Arabs, Turks and the Iranians in the Indian socio-economic and political order, specially after the seventh century CE, interactions with Islam became a reality. About the same time, India also became home for the Zoroastrians, who came from the modern day Iran, settled in Sanjan in Gujarat and came to be later known as the Parsis. The history of Christians in India goes back to much earlier times — legend has it that St. Thomas landed in the modern day Kerala sometime in the first century CE. A king of Kerala welcomed the Arab traders on the Malabar coast several centuries before another king of the same region created space for the Portuguese, when Vasco da Gama landed on that coast in the late 15th century. Such interactions were bound to impact religious identities. While the material interests, specially compulsions of trade links, certainly provided occasions and provocations, the political exigencies, too, must have also acted as catalysts in forging mutual understanding between Indic and non-Indic religions. A 13th century bilingual inscription in Arabic and Sanskrit from Veraval (Gujarat), records that during the reign of Arjunadeva (Chaulukya-Vaaghela), one Naakhudaa (Commander of a ship) Noradina Piroja (Nuruddin Firuz) acquired a piece of land with the help of the local residents and funded the construction of a mijigiti (mosque) that was designated as a dharmasthaana (‘a site for religion’). The religious performances at the mosque consisted of daily worship and had provisions of offerings, light, oil and drinks. The juxtaposition of terms such as mahotsava, puujaa, diipa, taila, paanii which are used in the context of temple rituals with Arabic terms for Islamic religious observances and rituals is in keeping with the way mosque was being represented as a dharmasthaana. Like the sacred site, the Divinity too is represented as a locally comprehensible concept. The Batihagarh stone inscription of (Vikrama) Samvat 1385 (= 1328 CE) and the Burhanpur Sanskrit inscription of Adil Shah dated in (Vikrama) Samvat 1646 (=1590 CE) are other examples of the Islamic divinity being rendered in an imagery of ‘Hindu’ deities.28 A Sanskrit text Rehamaana-Praasaada-Lakshanam, deals with the principles of the construction of what is called Rehamaana-Praasaada (‘the temple of Rehamaana’, viz., Allah) or RehamaanaSuraalaya. Several Muslim saints and their shrines (dargaahas) came to be important sites in several sacred landscapes in different regions of the subcontinent.29

    A Sanskrit text is entitled Allah Upanishad or Allopanishad that was probably symbolic of cross-cultural pollination between the Hindus and Muslims, most probably during the times of Akbar. It seems to have created a genre that was also adopted by Dara Shukoh (Shah Jahan’s eldest son, who lost the war of succession to Emperor Aurangzeb), who had not only translated the Upanishads into Persian, but also wrote the Majma-ul-Bahrayn – a co-mingling of two oceans of Hinduism and Islam. Several texts of tantric and astrological hues use such vocabulary that sounds almost Arabic or Persian.

    “Khallaasaram ruddamatho duphaalih kuttha\ tadutthotha diviira naamaa

    and

    “syaadikkavaalah isharaapha yogah”

    These are not verses from Quran or any Persian text but from Taajak Niilakanthii, an astrological text in Sanskrit.30 In an illuminating contribution, M.C. Joshi drew attention to the influence of Islam on what he called ‘Hindu Tantras’ and showed how this may be seen in both the “mantras including Quaranic-aayats and yantras to be used, respectively, for repeated recitation to achieve various ends and as protective amulets or auspicious charts” for getting desired results. Several examples of Shaabara mantras have been cited which invoke Ghaznavide Sultan Mahmud, who is compared with deities such as Hanuman and Narasimha, and whose blessings are sought to cure an ailing child:

    Bismillaahir-Rahimaanirrahim

    Seta ghodaa setaapalaan, taapar chadhe Mahmuud sultaan/

    Kaamru-desh kaa kodaa chalaave

    Gadh Ghazni kaa Kotwaal Kahaave// 31

    Richard Eaton’s study of the medieval city-state of Bijapur (1490-1686) explains how the ‘high’ tradition of the Sufi masters established links with the folk literature of certain sufis, largely sung by village women while engaged in various household chores. Full of indigenous themes and imagery, this literature (chakkii-naama, charkhaa-naama, suhaagan-naama, shaadii-naama, etc) became vehicle for the transmission of simple Islamic precepts. This was indeed the “Indian Islam.”32

    Lal Ded, the 14th century Shaiva mystic of Kashmir was a great influence on the Sufi Nuruddin in the valley and their relationship is described as that between mother and son. Ciiraappuraanam, the most famous work on Islam in Tamilnadu was composed by Umaru Pulavar in the 17th century. It incorporates Tamil literary conventions and customs and the Tamil landscape into the description of the lives of the Prophet and members of his family. Vocabulary, thoughts and ideas going back to the Sangam texts, early medieval bhakti saints such as the 9th century Nammaalvaar, and the 12th century Tamil Ramayana by Kampan inspired Umaru.33

    VII

    Voices From The Ground

    A long time ago, the self-professed Anglophile Nirad C. Chaudhuri suddenly emerged on the Indian literary scene with his The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian in 1951, when he was in his fifties. The dedication of the book read: “To the memory of the British Empire in India …all that was good and living within us was made, shaped and quickened by the same British rule.”  Later, his vituperative onslaught against the Hindus made headlines through his The Continent of Circe published in 1965. The focal point of this book is that every major ‘Hindu dynasty’ has followed the path of war to secure and capture new domains and that violence is very much a part of life in Indian society. We need not endorse this diatribe of a maverick “cartographer of learning” as Chaudhuri called himself. It would perhaps be more incisive if we contrast this with the outcome of a more recent attempt by Saba Naqvi, a relatively better-known and much younger Indian, who undertook a journey “in search of an unknown India.” Going beyond stereotyped exclusive religious identities and probing some deliberately manufactured fault lines, Naqvi’s In Good Faith (2012) brings out an India that defies any straight-jacketing of its exclusivist religious identity. It is an India of faraway shrines and practices in quaint little places or in established bastions of orthodoxy, where the most ordinary people battling with their daily problems of bread and butter reach out to a common God.

    Naqvi’s canvas is large — stretching up to almost all the four corners of the subcontinent and covering diverse religious communities; her style in somewhat anecdotal sans fabrication; and her expressions are experiential and quite forthright. “By no means an academic work…the sum of this work does give an insight into some of India’s little-known cultural pockets and raises questions about how traditions come to exist; and conversely, how they can begin to die or change into something entirely different.”34 Out of more than thirty case studies taken up by Naqvi, we give below some examples of common people’s religiosities.

    Let’s begin with Bengal. The Bauls, who have given Bengal some of its most beautiful songs and even inspired Rabindranath Tagore in creating ‘Rabindra Sangeet’, constitute a remarkable order of village singers. They are known for their persistent refusal to be bound by any of the conventional established religions. In the typical sant paramparaa, they abhor all rituals. A famous Baul song of Madan baul, the better-known Baul singer-composer, attacks formal religions thus:

    The way to Thee has been blocked by both temple and mosque;

    I hear you call, my God, but I cannot proceed to you,

    As the guru and murshid stop me.

    The door is fastened with many locks,

    Quran, Puran, Tashib and Mala.

    The path of initiation is the main problem;

    Afflicted as he is, Madan dies crying.35

    In the forests and swamps of the Sunderbans looming over the Bay of Bengal, people worship Bonbibi, who is a Muslim Goddess. And this despite the well-known fact that idol worship in Islam is blasphemy. The ‘Durgaa-like Bonbibi’ is known to have fought Dakshin Ray, a ‘tiger god’ after which the forests were duly shared by the humans and tigers through the intervention of Pir Ghazi Miyan.36

    In Andhra Pradesh, Moharram has got metamorphosed into something entirely different from the known practices of Shia Muslims. Generally associated with a period of mourning, it has got transformed into a joyous celebrations. Some tribal communities such as the Lambadies, Gonds and Pardies consider Moharram as important as Dussehra and Diwali. A Moharram song written by Balaiah, a Telugu folk poet says:

    Recite in the name of Allah,

    Then the Devata will bless you.

    The Ashurkhanas where the Alams, i.e., copies of the staffs carried by Imam Hussain and his followers at Karbala are housed, have popularised Moharram. The main Bibi ka Alawa Ashurkhana procession is about four hundred years old — much older than Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Puja processions. Inside the Ashurkhanas, people are allowed to worship the Alams according to their own customs without any restrictions. Non-Muslim women pray here to be blessed with children.37

    By now, it is well established that the Triad of Lord Jagannaatha, Subhadraa and Balabhadra installed at Puri grew out of the cult of Stambheshvariidevii of the tribal communities living in the area. The famed annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannaatha moves with great fanfare. Millions of people take part in this. On way, the Rath stops to pay respects to Salebeg, a Muslim saint-poet and a great devotee. He wrote several bhajans (devotional songs) in Oriya praising Lord Jagannaatha. While the priests at Puri have maintained brahmanic hold over the Jagannaatha temple, prevented entry of the lower social orders of the ‘Hindus’, and also closed their portals for the non-Hindus completely, they have not been able to eliminate devotional outpourings of the victims of these exclusions. In one of his bhajans, Salebeg bemoans:

    My father is a Musalman,

    My mother a Brahmin,

    But I, Salebeg, am only a poor devotee of my Lord Jagannaatha.

    And, in another song, he expresses his desire thus:

    O lord, I have waited the whole year long

    To behold you when you step out in your Rath.

    Do not deny me this vision,

    Cries your devotee, Salebeg.38

    The Shrirangam temple in Tiruchirapalli or Trichy in Tamilnadu has been a bastion of Vaishnavas for several centuries. Shriiranganaathaswaamii, the name of Vishnu in this sprawling and grand temple complex, is iconographically depicted as reclining on the multi-headed Shesha — the king of serpents. Shrii Lakshmii may be a better-known consort of this presiding deity, but during the Pagal Pathu festival that lasts for the first ten days out of twenty of the Vaikuntha Ekaadashii falling during December-January, Lord Vishnu is taken in a ceremonial procession to Thulukka Nachiyar, who is one of the main consorts of the Lord. She is a Muslim, whom the Lord serves during these ten days. Ironically, this ‘respected Muslim lady’ is housed in a special enclosure in the temple complex, which is otherwise not accessible to the non-Muslims. The temple tank of Kapaaliishvara, an ancient Shiva temple in Chennai’s Mylapore area, is used for the ceremonial immersion of the panjas or Alams carried by the Moharram procession. This practice was also followed, till at least the 19th century, at the tank of the Paarthasaarathi temple located in the Muslim dominated Triplicane area of Chennai.39

    The case of Kesariyaji temple near Udaipur (Rajasthan) has been cited  in making the point that it is important to locate religious shrines in a larger social context, and also important to unravel the multiple levels at which sacred sites interacted with a diverse range of communities,. The main image installed here is worshipped by the Jainas as the Jina Aadinaatha, while the local Bhils worship it as Kalaji or Karia Baba.40 Evidently, host of actors including the mortal upaasaka (lay worshipper), the priestly apparatus, as well as the artisans and the sculptor become important players in creating such multiple religious identities of one ‘monument’, where the voices emanating from stones need to be carefully decoded.

    VIII

    Sacred Spaces: Conflicts, Tensions and Desecrations

    Amidst narratives of mutual accommodation, inter-sectarian and intra-sectarian rivalries have never been absent in India. Nor can one deny the demolition of the places of worship and persecution of the followers of one faith by those of another in inter-religious divides. Even a hurried perusal of the eighteen mahaapuraanas brings into focus their utter sectarian character. Each of the three Gods of the Trinity depicted therein were in competition with one another and would never miss an opportunity to run down his opponent. Alternatively, the followers of Brahmaa, Vishnu and Mahesha (Shiva) would glorify and eulogise their ishtadevataa-s to such great heights that the other deities would feel considerably dwarfed. The asuras of the Rigveda, had by now got completely transformed. They were no longer ‘gods’ symbolizing the ‘good’. Instead, they were given singular identity of being ‘demons’ who represented the ‘evil’ that needed to be annihilated. No wonder, deva-asura sangraamas — conflicts between devas/ suras (gods) and asuras (demons) seem to be recurring motif of several Puranic narratives. Shaiva-Vaishnava conflicts assumed such massive proportions that the city of Kanchi was literally divided into two distinct quarters, viz., Shiva Kaanchii and Vishnu Kaanchii inhabiting the Shaivas and Vaishnavas respectively. Persecutions or ridiculing of the Buddhists and the Jainas by the trans-Vindhyan bhakti movement leaders between the ninth and the thirteenth centuries can be noticed in several literary compositions. The Mattavilaasaprahasana (attributed to the Pallava king Mahendravarman) and the Periyapuraanam (‘The Great Puraana’) or Tiruttondarpuraanam (‘The Puraana of Holy Devotees’) composed by Shekkilaar (12th century), a Vellaala from Tondaimandalam and a minister of the Chola king Anapayan identified with Kulottunga II (1133-50 CE) are just two such works.41 Many of these sectarian conflicts got manifested in iconographic transformations as well, which enveloped even non-brahmanical religious systems. To illustrate, Shaiva-Jaina tensions during early medieval times in Karnataka resulted in Lakuliisha images being decorated with a club in his hand.42

    Within these narratives of tenuous relations of Shaivas/ Vaishnavas vs Buddhists and Jains, one must also take note of some recent writings that have focused on identities of shramanic religions in the Tamil-speaking South India between the sixth and eleventh centuries CE, whose presence is prolifically noted in Tamil inscriptional, archaeological and literary records. Nearly two decades ago, John Cort edited a volume, suggestively titled Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History (1998), which took into account the “challenging, borrowing, contradicting, polemicising, appropriating, and modifying that goes on across religious boundaries.” Leslie Orr’s contribution in this anthology deals with Tamil epigraphic evidences from the eighth to the thirteenth century which shows that the Jains were far from being annihilated despite the bhakti saints treating them as ‘the Other’ and works out interactions of Jain and ‘Hindu’ ‘Religious Women’.43 More recently, Anne E. Monius’ study of two Buddhist texts of the same period, viz., Manimekhalai and Viiracoliyam has also located the relevance of the Buddhist religious community within the broader sectarian groups with different devotional affiliations. Both Buddhist texts suggest a profound ethics of compassion that impacted brahmanical religiosities. Thus, the king of Puuhar in the Manimekhalai, for example, remains a follower of Vishnu but converts his royal prison into an abode of ascetics.44

    The long history of India is replete with numerous examples of conquerors stamping their authority and suzerainty over the conquered through the utilisation of old monuments and symbols and refashioning them, quite often to humiliate the vanquished, and mostly, to serve their own political interests. The pillars of emperor Ashoka occupy a distinctive place in the history of Indian monuments. It is, by now, fairly well established that the emperor made use of many pre-existing pillars, which may have been the remains of a ‘pillar cult’, for the dissemination of his own message of ‘dhamma vijaya’ (conquest through dhamma –righteous conquest). The famous ‘Shore Temple’ of the Pallavas (7th/ 8th centuries) at Mahabalipuram near Chennai was originally dedicated to Vishnu. Later, it was converted into a Shaiva temple.45 Similarly, one of the ayaka stambhas of the Buddhist stuupa at Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh), which constituted the most important architectural characteristic of this Buddhist monument, was removed and installed in the neighbouring grand temple as Amaralingeshvara — a Shiva linga — by the 13th century Kaakatiiya monarch. During the long-drawn political struggle (6th to the 8th centuries) between the Pallavas and the Chaalukyas, victors of every generation would lift some monumental remain as a war trophy and install it at a prominent place in his own empire as a symbol of his victorious power or even engrave his own record in famous monument inside the territory of the enemy as a perpetual reminder of the humiliation afflicted on the adversary. Such examples of transformation / distortion of religious monuments and remains can always be multiplied.46

    With such a long history of ‘theological iconoclasm’, the ‘temple desecration and destruction’ by the Ghaznavids, Ghorids and the Mughals from the tenth century onwards can be located in historical perspective. This wanton destruction cannot be denied. Locating it within a larger historiographical context, Richard Eaton has undertaken an extensive documentation and mapping of as many as eighty instances of temple desecration between 1192 and 1760 CE. Arguing that this phenomenon was not undertaken indiscriminately, but only in such cases where it was strategically imperative insofar as it happened in the territories of powers that came in the way of the state building exercise. “Temple desecrations also occurred when Hindu patrons of prominent temples committed acts of treason or disloyalty to the Indo-Muslim states they served…These patterns also suggest points of continuity with Indian practices that had become customary well before the thirteenth century. Such points of continuity in turn call into serious question the sort of civilisational divide between India’s ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ periods first postulated in British colonial historiography and subsequently replicated in both Pakistani and Hindu nationalist schools.”47

    Notwithstanding this grand saga of religious madness inherent in inter- and intra-sectarian rivalries, inter-religious acrimonies sometimes leading to physical violence and even extermination of adversaries, and humiliating acts of desecration of sacred spaces even if rationalised in terms of political expediency or mere continuation of Indian practices; one feature that stands out quite prominently concerns the great space that has always been accorded to voices of dissent and alternative visions. No wonder, Amartya Sen could postulate the perennial ‘Argumentative Indian’, whose unthreatened existence may be located even in the Rigveda. Though, as seen above, Indra was supreme therein, yet there was no dearth of people who ridiculed him and made fun of his alleged exploits. The famous ‘Frog Hymn’ of the Rigveda, which compared Brahmins with croaking frogs was also an early attempt to ridicule the Vedas and their reciters. There is a long litany, even in the Sanskrit textual tradition, that questioned the authority of the Vedas.48 One of the cardinal contributions of the Jainas has been their exposition of the Syaadvaada, which was a direct and the most potent onslaught on all notions of absoluteness of the Truth, especially the ones that were enshrined in Vedic traditions. The Jaina view, on the other hand, focused on the relativity as well as infinite-sidedness of Truth — ananta-dharmaatkameva-tattvam  — as they called it. Truly speaking, this was intellectual ahimsaa of the highest order which treated multifarious alternative point of views with the utmost respect. That it was no wordy promise, is shown by more than 1500-year long debates amongst Jainas of different hues on the question of women’s potentiality to achieve salvation.49

    IX

    The Idea of Indias 

    Given this long history of undulating formations of religions in India one might get the impression that the life of common people just revolved round that. The ground reality has all through been far from that.  Even in the Rigveda, when people of different clans and tribes were invoking scores of forces of nature as their divinities, the material concerns were never forgotten. Signs of rank materialism can be seen in demands for cattle (the chief form of wealth at the time), horses, sons (patriarchy seems to be quite pronounced) made to almost all deities. The millennia long histories of the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent show that they have been known through several identities, and sometimes all at the same time. Mlecchas in the Shatapatha Braahmana (circa 800- circa 700 BCE), for example, were called so because they had  subterranean burials of a different shape and spoke a different language than was the case with the ‘Sanskrit’ speakers, whom we generally tend to identify as ‘Aryans’.

    Once speaking on the occasion of the launch of the Linguistic Survey of Punjab under the joint venture of the Punjab Government’s Language Department and the Punjabi University, Patiala, the noted litterateur Professor Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, drew attention to perils involved in naming linguistic identities — his argument being that very often such identities are not only thrust upon by outsiders but also in a somewhat contemptuous manner. The Bengalis calling the language of the people of Bihar as ‘khotaa bhaashaa’ or some people of Bihar identifying Maithili as ‘chhikaa-chhikii’.50 We may, in this context, remind ourselves how some tribal groups were castigated by the ‘Sanskrit’ speakers as ‘mridhrvaachii-s’ (speakers of false/corrupt language). The exercise of establishing identities has been quite onerous. Getting to know about the self perceptions is all the more problematic. Ethnic, linguistic, regional, cultural, sectarian, etc. — these have been some of the modes in which people have been situated. Diversities in each of such labels have recently been expounded by Professor Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya by retrieving ‘voices from India’s ancient texts.’51 Two points, however, need to be underlined. First, the considerable accent on the so-called ‘regional’ identities that seem to be subsuming other identities. Second, even when religious identities are sought to be invoked, they are far from being monolithic and are often ‘sectarian’ in character. Of the ‘regional’ identities, their expositions in the Sangam literature and Raajashekhara’s Kaavyamiimaamsaa provide two temporal and spatial poles. The composition of Sangam poems, if not their compilation into anthologies which may have taken shape at a later date, has been dated to the period between 300 BCE and 300 CE and located in the modern state of Tamil Nadu. Raajashekhara was a Kaviraaja (poet laureate) at the court of Mahendrapaala of the Pratiihaara family with its sway over Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, and is generally placed in the late ninth/early tenth century. The five tinais of Sangam texts are eco-geographic and cultural zones that were distinguished on the bases of their landscapes; flora and fauna; peculiar form of economic activity for subsistence (agriculture using irrigation and plough cultivation in marudam); their cultural equipment; their principal communities (kuravar in kurinji, idaiyar in mullai) and also their deities Mayon=Krishna in mullai and Varuna in neydal). Tinais also constituted a literary genres since each had its distinctive poetic mood — romantic dalliance of the kurinji (forest tract), separatism of the palai (arid zone), and conjugal as well as illicit love of the marudam (settled agrarian tract).52 Following Bharata’s Naatyashaastra, Raajashekhara’s Kaavyamiimaamsaa, too, talks about regions on the bases of vritti (nritya-giita-kalaavilaasa-paddhati), pravritti (vesha-vinyaasa-krama) and riiti (vachana-vinyaasa-paddhati). Essentially, it is an attempt to establish regional identities taking cognisance of people’s life-styles — their dress, hair-styles, language and speech, their love for dance and songs, and so on. Religion as a factor is apparently of no consequence in this criteria.53

    Coming to religious identities per se, we need to take note of the following: (a) Not too long after the mahaaparinirvaana of the Buddha, his followers got split into several sects — Theravaadins, Sarvaastivaadins, Mahaasaanghikas, etc., which in turn were further split into several sub-sects, which  rarely identified themselves as Buddhists; (b) the case of the Jainas is no different. While the Digambaras, Shvetaambaras, Yaapaniiyas represented the better known sects, the medieval Shvetaambara Jainas were characterized by a division of the monastic community into several rival lineages or gachchhas, which argued vociferously over who among them represented the true practice and understanding of the teachings of Mahavira54. (c) When Islam entered India, we talked more about the ethnic identities of its followers, viz., Arabs, Turks, Turushkas, Afghans, Iranis, Turanis, Uzbegs, Mongols, Mughals, and so on and not of Muslims or Mussalmans. (d) We had to deal with the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, and the French as traders before encountering them as Christians. (e) Indeed, even amongst the so-called ‘Hindus’, sectarian labels alone mattered, which they displayed through their forehead marks. Broadly, they were Shaivas, Shaaktas, Vaishnavas (with their further sub-divisions), rather than omnibus ‘Hindus’. This was the case at least till the arrival of the Arabs (7th – 9th centuries), who were the first to use the expression ‘Hindu’ but that too in a geographical and ethnic sense rather than the religious. One would look in vain for any reference to a ‘Hindu’ in any pre-Arab text. No wonder, some distinctive stages in the evolution of Sanskrit texts-based religions have been identified as ‘Vedism’, ‘brahmanism’ and ‘Puranic religion’, and so on.

    X

    Where do we stand today?

    The Anthropological Survey of India had launched ‘The People of India’ (POI) Project in 1985. Colonial ethnography studied communities in isolation and covered British India and a few Princely States. In contrast, the POI project covered the whole country, each state and union territory. The project aimed at studying the impact of change and the development process on all communities and to establish linkages that brought them together. In the process, it could identify 4,635 communities, 325 languages belonging to 12 different language families, with incidence of bilingualism as high as 65.51 percent, and as many as 24 scripts all over India. Further, the Survey identified 91 eco-cultural zones — obviously several Indian states had multiple cultural zones (e.g., six each in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and as many as seven in Tamil Nadu).55 Quite evidently, a poly-religious, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic identities that have evolved over several millennia, has defined India. This can truly be called THE IDEA OF INDIAS, with India in plural – an India of diversities, of conflicts and tensions.

    Can we rest contented with that? Perhaps we can do so only at our own peril. This Idea of Indias is under severe threat since the late 1980s, when the movement for the ‘Grand temple of Lord Rama at Ayodhya’ was launched by chauvinistic ‘Hindu Nationalists’. Recall that our present Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi also identified himself with such an appellation a few months ago. Till the mid-1980s, both Shriirangam and the Rock Fort temples at Trichy used to send their elephants to the Nathar Vali dargah for the annual Moharram procession. The practice has now stopped. In 1990, Chennai recorded its first communal riot in recent history. The reason: the Vinayaka Chaturthi procession passing through the Muslim dominated Triplicane area raised provocative slogans and went on a rampage that resulted in three deaths. The grand old legend that Snowy Shiva Linga Cave at Amarnath was discovered by a Muslim shepherd named Adam Malik is now being contested. Baba Ramdeoji, a folk hero of Rajasthan (with his temple at Pokharan in the Jaisalmer district), who has been worshipped by lower caste Hindus and Muslims for the last several centuries, has been brahamanised – the lower caste pujaarii has been replaced with a brahmin priest and the Baba is now being projected as an avataara of Lord Rama, and his pir aspect has been completely purged off. In a sort of proselytisation, quite real and concrete, gods and goddesses of numerous adivasis (tribals) in Gujarat, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bundelkhand, Manipur, Odisha are being ‘Hinduised’.56

    The last three decades have seen violent cultural policing in the form of prescriptions of dress code for women; protests against the celebrations of the Valentine’s Day, ‘Honour Killings’ and ‘Love Jihad’ against Hindu-Muslim marriages (very often fake ones); burning of churches in Gujarat, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, and now even in Delhi; passage of Anti-Conversion Laws in several states under the charge of the ‘Hindu Nationalists’, and the latest campaigns of the so-called ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (‘Return of the prodigal son’ — pseudo-name for reconversions) and ‘Shuddhikaran’ (‘purification’). Nathuram Godse, the killer of the Father of the Nation, is being hailed as a ‘Patriot’, and his statues are being installed. The entire Indian cultural landscape is being transformed radically and lamentably into a regressive mould. The space for dissent is diminishing by the day. The voices of ‘reason’ are getting feebler quite rapidly. Are we going to lose the millennia old ‘argumentative Indian’?

    The last three decades have also seen new ‘cult of sants’ and other religious preachers entering our living rooms through television channels such as “Aastha” and “Sanskar” where the new age religious gurus are encashing the growing sense of insecurity and anxiety that are creeping into the minds of a large populace of this nation, due to the neo-liberal and market-oriented economic policies. Religious fundamentalisms of all hues are marketing themselves in huge packages. All religious fundamentalisms are rooted in patriarchal and anti-women discourses. These dharma ke saudagars (merchants of dharma) are spewing venom. Tthey seem to have forgotten the dicta of Ashoka’s edicts and the Mahabharata. King Piyadassi, Beloved of the Gods said in his Rock Edict XII  : “…Growth of the essentials of Dharma is possible in many ways. But its root lies in restraint in regard to speech…Truly, if a person extols his own sect and disparages other sects with a view to glorifying his sect owing merely to his attachment to it, he injures his own sect very severely by acting in that way…”57 And the Great Epic, too, reiterates in the same strain:

    dharmam yo baadhate dharmo na sa dharmah kudharma tat /

    avirodhii tu yo dharmah sa dharmah satyavikrama //

    “Dharma that stands in the way of another dharma is not dharma at all. It is evil dharma. O one for whom valour is based on truth! Dharma that does not conflict with anything is the right dharma”58

    Those who claim that the entire world was originally inhabited only by the Hindus and utterances such as “everyone is a born Muslim” are two sides of the same coin.

    The decades since the 1980s have also rejuvenated Vir Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, whose vision of India stands in total contrast to the Idea of Indias mentioned above. While the RSS supremo has, of late, been openly talking about ‘Hindu Rashtra’, our ‘Hindu Nationalist’ Prime Minister masquerades as a ‘Vikas Purush’ — the ‘Development Man’. Behind this façade of ‘Development’ they are out to create a ‘monolithic Hinduism’, which it has never been. Homogenising several identities into a single mould is being undertaken brazenly. More importantly, the ‘Nation’ is also being sought to be identified with a particular religious identity: BEING HINDU IS BEING INDIAN. Some people seem to have arrogated to themselves the right to impose such a religious identity upon others — calling the Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, etc as ‘Hindus’ despite their protestations. The Sikhs had once proclaimed loudly – ‘maans gau ka khaayenge, Hindu nahin akhwaayenge’ (‘we shall eat beef and would not let any one call us Hindus’). The followers of all non-Indic religions (Islam, Christianity, etc) are being demonised and labeled as ‘The Other’. With these new demons in mind, new iconographies are being created, where Raama, Durga, and even Ganesha are given violent and ferocious forms. The Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevaka Sangh with their slogan of ‘Hinduise India and militarise Hinduism’ constituted only a fringe element of the early 20th century nationalist movement in India. Then they represented ‘fragmented nationalism’. And now they stand for fascistic ‘homogenisation’ in the name of singular religious identity. Today there is every danger that they may come to occupy the centre stage and demolish the millennia-old ‘IDEA OF INDIAS’ in the same way as they demolished the 16th century Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on the 6th December, 1992. We need to have the ‘Idea of Conflicts and Tensions’ inherent in numerous diverse identities, for, in such conflicts, tensions,  and struggles, lie the potential seeds of fresh and enriching creation of compassionate humanism.


    Notes and references:

    1. Thomas B. Coburn, Devii Maahaatmya: The Crystallization of the Goddess Tradition, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1984.

    2. Sukumari Bhattacharji, The Indian Theogony: A Comparative Study of the Indian Mythology from the Vedas to the Puraanas, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1970, pp.12-13.

    3. For our detailed understanding of Marxian historical materialism versus Weberian ‘religious anchorage’ and its more recent appearance in the form of Mircea Eliade’s ‘phenomenological’ approach to study religious ideas and practices focusing on ‘autonomy of religion’ as an independent ‘determinant’ of both human ‘ideas’ and ‘material conditions’, see Krishna Mohan Shrimali, ‘Kosambi and the Religious Histories of India’, in D.N. Jha, ed., The Many Careers of D.D.Kosambi: Critical Essays, LeftWord Books, New Delhi, 2nd revised ed., 2012, pp.86-133. Our reluctance to concede ‘autonomy of religion’ must be distinguished from autonomous role of ‘human consciousness’, which can be a subject for separate discussion.

    4. Saptasindhu’ is used at one place in RV, VIII.24.27. References to the so-called “seven rivers” lie scattered and their identifications with present day rivers are fraught with conflicting interpretations. Sometimes, even the much eulogised Sarasvatii is also included amongst these “seven” and located somewhere in Afghanistan.

    5. K.M. Shrimali, ‘The Rigveda and the Avesta: A Study of Their Religious  Trajectories’, in Irfan Habib, A Shared Heritage: The Growth of Civilizations in India & Iran, Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2002, pp.28-29.

    6. Cf. J.C. Heesterman, The Ancient Indian Royal Consecration, Mouton, The Hague, pp.222-23.

    7. Rhys Davids had suggested that Sakka and Indra are independent conceptions, cf. G.P. Malalasekera, Dictionary of Pali Proper Names, Luzac & Co., London, 1960, Vol. II, p.965.

    8. B.N. Goswamy, The Spirit of Indian Painting: Close Encounters with 101 Great Works, 1100-1900, Allen Lane – Penguin Books India, Gurgaon, 2014, pp,212-215.

    9. R.N. Dandekar, Select Writings, Vol. I, Vedic Mythological Tracts, Ajanta Publications (India), Delhi, 1979, pp. 53-61. Dandekar clarifies that ‘magic’ is not to be understood in its vulgar, popular sense.  Rather, it should be taken as one of the three stages (the other two being ‘religion’ and ‘science’) in the evolution of human thought particularly in respect of man’s relationship with the world. On Varuna’s maayaa, see also Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, Lokaayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1959, pp.622-665. See also Wash Edward Hale, Asura in Early Vedic Religion, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1986.

    10. R.C. Hazra, Rudra in the Rig-Veda, Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar, Kolkata,2003, passim.

    11. In addition to the classic work of Sukumari Bhattacharji, op.cit.; see also Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Shiva, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1973; Anita Raina Thapan, Understanding Ganapati: Insights into the Dynamics of a Cult, Manohar, New Delhi, 1997; Nilima Chitgopekar, Encountering Shivaism, The Deity, the Milieu, the Entourage, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1998; Richard D. Mann, The Rise of Mahaasena: The Transformation of Skanda-Kaarttikeya in North India from the Kushaana to Gupta Empires, Brill, Leiden-Boston, 2012.

    12. Dharmanand Kosambi, Bharatiya Sanskriti aur Ahimsa, translated from Marathi by Vishwanath Damodar Sholapurkar, Hemachandra-Modi Pustakmala Trust, Bombay, 2nd reprint, 1957, pp. 145-148.

    13. On the concepts of vana and kshetra, see Gunther-Dietz Sontheimer, “The vana and the kshetra: The Tribal Background of Some Famous Cults”, in Heidrun Bruckner, Anne Feldhaus, Aditya Malik, eds., Gunther-Dietz Sontheimer Essays on Religion, Literature and Law, Manohar, 2004, pp.353-382.

    14. Cf. Diana L. Eck, Banaras: City of Light, first published by Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1983, reprinted in India by Penguin Books India (P) Ltd., New Delhi, 1993, pp.209-10. It is generally accepted that though some puraanas occasionally mention Shiva’s avataaras, the mechanism was not accepted universally by the Shaivas. For some relevant allusions and their discussion, see Geoffrey Parrinder, Avatar and Incarnation – The Wilde Lectures in Natural and Comparative Religion in the University of Oxford, Faber and Faber, London, 1970, pp.88-89.

    15. John Clifford Holt, The Buddhist Vishnu: Religious Transformation, Politics and Culture, first published by the Columbia University Press in 2005, Indian Reprint, Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi, 2008.

    16. M.C. Joshi, ‘Goddess Cybele in Hindu Shaakta Tradition’, in B.N. Saraswati, S.C. Malik and Madhu Khanna, eds., Art, The Integral Vision: A Volume of Essay in Felicitation of Kapila Vatsyayana, D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd., New Delhi, 1994, pp.203-09. A reference has been made here to an inscription dated 491 CE from Chhoti Sadri (Rajasthan) mentioning a goddess riding a chariot drawn by lions.

    17. M.C. Joshi, ‘On the Presence of a Brahmanical Tantric Goddess in Jainism’, in Adalbert J. Gail and Gerd J.R. Mevissen, eds. South Asian Archaeology 1991, Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference of the Association of South Asian Archaeologists in Western Europe held in Berlin, Franz Steiner Verlag Stuttgart, 1993, pp.473-480.

    18. For further details, see K.M. Shrimali, ‘Religions in Complex Societies: The Myth of the “Dark Ages”,’ in Irfan Habib, ed., Religion in Indian History, Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2007, pp.56-61, specially fn.42 & 43.

    19. Despite our great fondness for the philosophy and theology of the Buddha, we shall refrain from getting into the details of that in the present context. And yet, we do feel the need to recall that in the long history of India’s philosophers and thinkers, he perhaps remains exceptional and unequalled in attaching primacy to human mind. Since he came to be known as mahaabhishaja (the great physician) because of his understanding of human suffering, its cause, diagnosis and its treatment, there may have been certain kernel of scientificity in his discourse. This probably accounts for modern day psychologists’ fascination for him.

    20. Rajan Gurukkal, “From the Royalty of Icons to the Divinity of Royalty: Aspects of Vaishnava Icons and Kingship in Medieval South India” in Ratan Parimoo, ed. Vaishnavism in Indian Arts and Culture, Books and Books, New Delhi, 1987, p.123. For another discourse involving more extensive discussion of links between feudal milieu and south Indian Vaishnava and Shaiva bhakti saints (Aalvaars and Nayanaars respectively) see, M.G.S. Narayanan and Kesavan Veluthat, “Bhakti Movement in South India”, in D.N.Jha, ed., The Feudal Order: State, Society and Ideology in Early Medieval India, Manohar, New Delhi, 2002 reprint, pp.385-410.

    21. For an intensive discussion of the material base of this powerful movement of new Shaivas, see R.N. Nandi, ‘Origin of the Viirashaiva Movement’, in D.N. Jha, ed., The Feudal Order…, pp.469-486.

    22. R.S. Sharma, ‘Material Milieu of Tantricism’, in D.N.Jha, ed., The Feudal Order..., pp.441-454; M.C. Joshi, ‘Historical and Iconographic Aspects of Shaakta Tantrism’ in Katherine Anne Harper and Robert L. Brown, The Roots of Tantra, State University of New York Press, Albany, 2002, pp.39-55.

    23. Such ‘binary’ categorisations need to be revisited, for, these labels are very subjective and relative. For other examples of similar subjectivity, see Sontheimer’s discussion of ‘ugra’ (‘fierce’, ‘ogre-like’, ‘shocking’, etc.) and ‘saumya’ (‘peaceful’, ‘auspicious’, etc.) in “Hinduism: The Five Components and Their Interaction”, in Heidrun Bruckner, Anne Feldhaus, Aditya Malik, eds., op.cit., p.402.

    24. Cf. Rana P.B. Singh, ed., Sacred Geography of Goddesses in South Asia: Essays in Memory of David Kinsley, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, U.K., 2010, passim.

    25. Nilima Chitgopekar, ‘The Unfettered Yoginiis’, in idem, ed., Invoking Goddesses: Gender Politics in Indian Religions, Shakti Books – Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi, 2002, pp.82-111.

    26. Thomas B. Coburn, op.cit., see specially the Prolegomenon. Other works that highlight the Goddess tradition in early medieval times are: Alain Danielou, Hindu Polytheism, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1964; D.C. Sircar, ed. The Shakti Cult and Taaraa, University of Calcutta, 1967; Cheever Mackenzie Brown, God as Mother: An Historical and Theological Study of the Brahmavaivarta Puraana, Hartford (USA), 1974; H.C. Das, Tantricism: A Study of the Yoginii, Cult, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi, 1981; John Stratton Hawley and Donna Marie Wulff, eds. The Divine Consort, first published from California in 1982 and reprinted in India in 1984 by Motilal Banarsidass; Vidya Dehejia, Yoginii Cult and Temples, A Tantric Tradition, National Museum, New Delhi, 1986; David Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition, University of California Press, 1986, First Indian ed., Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1987; Elisabeth Anne Benard, Chinnamastaa: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1994; Miranda Shaw, Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism, Princeton University Press, 1994 (Indian Reprint, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1998); Tracy Pintchman, The Rise of the Goddess in the Hindu Tradition, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1994; Steven J. Rosen, ed., Vaishnavii: Women and the Worship of Krishna, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1996; Vijaya Ramaswamy, Divinity & Deviance: Women in Viirashaivism, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1996; Douglas Renfrew Brooks, Auspicious Wisdom: The Texts and Traditions of Shriividyaa Shaakta Tantrism in South India, Manohar, New Delhi, 1966; David Kinsley, Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahaavidyaas, University of California Press, 1997, First Indian Ed., Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1998; Masakazu Tanaka and Musashi Tachikawa, eds., Living With Shakti: Gender, Sexuality and Religion in South Asia, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, 1999; N.N.Bhattacharyya, ed., Tantric Buddhism, Manohar, New Delhi, 1999; Nilima Chitgopekar, ed., Invoking Goddesses: Gender Politics in Indian Religions, Shakti Books — Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi, 2002; Ellen Goldberg, The Lord Who is Half Woman: Ardhanaariishvara in Indian and Feminist Perspective, State University of New York Press, Albany, 2002; David Gordon White, Kiss of the Yoginii :“Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Context, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago-London, 2003; Miranda Shaw, Buddhist Goddesses of India, Princeton University Press, 2006 (Indian Reprint, Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 2007); Geoffrey Samuel, The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008.

    27. O.P. Misra, Mother Goddess in Central India, Delhi 1985, passim; see also Maheswar Neog, Religions of the North East, Delhi, 1984, chs.5, 10, 11 & 12. R.N. Nandi’s Religious Institutions and Cults in the Deccan, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1973, pp.114-17 and Ram Bhushan Prasad Singh’s Jainism in Early Medieval Karnataka, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1975, pp.23-60 show the incorporation of mother goddesses and tantric practices as a result of land grants even in the puritanical non-brahmanical religions in the trans-Vindhyan regions.

    28. D.C. Sircar, ‘Veraval Inscription of Chaulukya-Vaaghela Arjuna, 1264 AD’, Epigraphia Indica, Vol.34 (1961-62), Delhi, 1963, pp.141-50; Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, Representing the Other? Sanskrit Sources and the Muslims, Manohar, New Delhi, 1998, pp.70-78, specially fns.29, 31 & 32.

    29. For dargahs, such as those of Nathar Vali in Trichy and another Sufi saint at Nagore in Tamilnadu, and encounters between Hindus, Christians, and Muslims in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, see Susan Bayly, Saints, Goddesses, and Kings: Muslims and Christians in South Indian Society, 1700-1900, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, specially chs.3 & 4.

    30. Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Bhasha, Sahitya aur Desh, Bharatiya Jnanpitha Prakashan, New Delhi, 2nd ed., 1998, p.16.

    31. M.C. Joshi, “Islam in the Hindu Tantras”, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay, Vol. 58, 1983, pp.51-56. See also Romila Thapar, Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History, Penguin/Viking, New Delhi, 2004, pp.160-168.

    32. Richard M. Eaton, “Sufi Folk Literature and Expansion of Indian Islam”, History of Religions, Vol.14, no.2 (November 1974), pp.117-27, reprinted in Eaton, Essays on Islam and Indian History, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000, pp.189-99. See also Babli Parveen, “The Eclectic Spirit of Sufism in India: An Appraisal”, Social Scientist, Vol.42, Nos.11-12, November-December 2014, pp.39-46.

    33. Vasudha Narayanan, “Religious Vocabulary and Regional Identity: A Study of the Tamil Cirappuranam”, in David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence, eds., Beyond Turk and Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities in Islamicate South Asia, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2000, reprinted in India by India Research Press, New Delhi, 2002, pp.74-97. Kampan is ascribed to the ninth century in this. There is, however, greater consensus on his placement in the12th century. This essay has also been reprinted in Richard M. Eaton, ed., India’s Islamic Traditions, 711-1750, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003, pp.393-410.

    34. Saba Naqvi, In Good Faith: A Journey in search of an unknown India, Rupa Publications, New Delhi, 2012, pp.21-22. This work captures the spirit of the television serial “Mera Bharat”, which Saba’s father Saeed Naqvi made for the Doordarshan in the mid to late 1980s.

    35. Ibid., p.37.

    36. Ibid., pp.31-32; for a different version of this legend and extensive discussion of the “Cult of Pir” designated as “Pirism” in Bengal, see Asim Roy, The Islamic Syncretistic Tradition in Bengal, first published by the Princeton University Press, 1983 and reprinted in India by Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi (n.d.), chapter 6.

    37. Saba Naqvi, op.cit., pp.60-66.

    38. Ibid., pp.67-72.

    39. Ibid., pp.73-81.

    40. Cf. Michael W. Meister, ed., Ethnography and Personhood: Notes from the Field, Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2000, p.24 cited in Himanshu Prabha Ray, “The Archaeology of Sacred Spaces in India: From Multi-Religious Sites to Monuments”, Presidential Address at the Indian Archaeological Society Meeting (2013), Puraatattva, No.44, 2014, p.2. See also, Himanshu Prabha Ray and Kapila Vatsyayana, eds., Sacred Landscapes in Asia: Shared Traditions, Multiple Histories, Manohar, New Delhi, 2007, passim.

    41. Richard H. Davis, “The Story of the Disappearing Jains: Retelling the Shaiva-Jain Encounter in Medieval South India”, in John E. Cort, ed., Open Boundaries: Jain Communities and Cultures in Indian History, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1998; Indira Viswanathan Peterson, “Shramanas Against the Tamil Way: Jains as Others in Tamil Shaiva Literature”, in ibid., pp.163-185. For a recent enumeration of these Shaiva-Vaishnava sectarian conflicts and the hostile attitude of the bhakti saints towards the Buddhists and the Jainas, see Noboru Karashima, ed., A Concise History of South India: Issues and Interpretations, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, pp.106-11, 153-54.

    42. For some more details of diverse religious identities and sectarian tensions and conflicts, see Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, "Interrogating 'Unity in Diversity':Voices from India’s Ancient Texts", General President’s Address, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Platinum Jubilee (75th) Session, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi,2014, (Aligarh, 2015), pp.10-13 and D.N. Jha, “Of Conflict, Conversion, and Cow”, in Idem, ed., Contesting Symbols and Stereotypes: Essays on Indian History and Culture, Aakar Books, Delhi, 2013, pp.52-63.

    43. Leslie C. Orr, ‘Jain and Hindu “Religious Women” in Early Medieval Tamilnadu’, in John E.Cort, ed., op.cit., pp.189-212.

    44. Anne E. Monius, Imagining a Place for Buddhism: Literary Culture and Religious Community in Tamil-Speaking South India, Oxford University Press, Oxford-New York, 2001, passim. It may not be out of place to mention that the ‘ethics of compassion’ (karunaa) has a long history and goes back to the Buddha himself. It may have also provided foundational roots to his idea of all-pervasive ahimsaa towards both humans and animals. Even in the Buddha’s recognition of the economic importance of cattle, whom he called annadaa, vannadaa and sukhdaa — givers of food, beauty and happiness respectively, possibility of his innate karunaa at work cannot be ruled out completely.

    45. John R. Marr, “Note on the New Excavations at the Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol.54, No.3, October 1991, p.574-576.

    46. Richard Davis, “Trophies of War: The Case of the Chalukya Intruder”, in Catherine B. Asher and Thomas R. Metcalf, eds. Perceptions of South Asia’s Visual Past, Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi-Bombay-Calcutta, 1994, pp. 161-77.

    47. Richard M. Eaton, “Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States”, in David Gilmartin and Bruce B. Lawrence, op.cit., pp.246-281; this essay has also been reprinted in Eaton’s Essays on Islam and Indian History, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000, pp.94-132 . See also Romila Thapar, “Destroying Shrine”’, Frontline, January 9, 2015, pp.51-56.

    48. For a recent enumeration of such allusions, see D.N. Jha, “Eternal India and Timeless Hinduism”, in idem, ed., Contesting Symbols…, Aakar Books, Delhi, 2013, pp.32-36.

    49. Padmanabh S. Jaini, Gender & Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women, first published by the University of California Press, 1991, reprinted in India by Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1992.Padmanabh S. Jaini, Gender & Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women, first published by the University of California Press, 1991, reprinted in India by Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi, 1992.

    50. Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, op.cit., pp.45-52.

    51. Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, “Interrogating ‘Unity in Diversity’:Voices…, pp.10-13. A case for diversities in religious practices has also been made on the basis of form and structure of early ‘religious’ architecture in Himanshu Prabha Ray, “The Archaeology of Sacred Spaces…”, Puraatattva, No.44, 2014. However, Ray’s indiscriminate use of ‘Hindu temple’ throughout this ‘Address’ is absolutely unwarranted and, therefore, not acceptable.

    52. Cf. Noboru Karashima, ed., op.cit.,p.45; Rajan Gurukkal, Social Formations of Early South India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp.77-94, 136-54; Vijaya Ramaswamy, Historical Dictionary of the Tamils, The Scarecrow Press, Maryland-Toronto, 2007, pp.278-81. Recently an attempt has been made to study textual evidence on tinais in the context of material remains from excavated burial and habitation sites belonging to the iron age and early historic period in the Thondaimandalam area of Tamilnadu (cf. Smriti Haricharan and Naresh Keerthi, “Can the tinai help understand the Iron Age Early Historic Landscape of Tamilnadu?”, World Archaeology, Vol.46, No.5, December 2014, pp.641-660). The study brings out some perils involved in establishing a direct correlation between the two sets of evidences.

    53. Pandeya Rameshwar Prasad Sharma, Rajashekhara aur unka Yuga, Bihar Hindi Granth Academy, Patna, 1977, chs.2 & 3.

    54. P. Granoff, “Other People’s Rituals: Ritual Eclecticism in Early Medieval Indian Religions”, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol.28, No.4, August, 2000, pp.399-424.

    55. K.S. Singh, People of India: An Introduction (National Series,Volume 1), Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, 1992, pp.13-16, 102-107.

    56.Cf. Dharmendra Kumar and Yemuna Sunny, Proselytisation in India: The Process of Hinduisation in Tribal Societies, Aakar Books, New Delhi, 2009. See also Arvind Sharma, Hinduism as a Missionary Religion, first published in 2011 by State University of New York, Albany, Indian Edition, Dev Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 2014, where distinction is made between ‘missionary’ and ‘proselytising’ religions and Hinduism is put under the former category.

    57. D.C. Sircar’s translation in Inscriptions of Ashoka, Publications Division, New Delhi, fifth edition, 2009, p.42.

    58. Mahabharata, Critical Edition, VI. (Aaranyakaparva) 131.10: translation: Bibek Debroy, The Mahabharata, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2011, Vol. 3, p.144.

    Krishna Mohan Shrimali (b.1947), former Professor of History at the University of Delhi, has written several research monographs and papers on ancient Indian history and archaeology. He was the President of the Ancient Indian History Section, Indian History Congress; General President of Numismatic Society of India; and History Congresses of Uttar Pradesh; Madhya Pradesh; Punjab; and West Bengal. He was also the Secretaryof the Indian History Congress from 1992 to 95.

    This was the Keynote Address delivered at the 31st Annual Conference of the Paschimbanga Itihas Sansad, Kolkata, held from January 22 to January 24 in 2015. The author also writes, "An earlier version of this address was presented at the York University, Toronto (Canada). I am extremely grateful to the Directors of YCAR (York Centre for Asian Research), The Graduate Program in Geography and the South Asian Studies Program of the York University for providing me this opportunity. I am especially grateful to Professor Raju Das, Director of the Graduate Program in Geography, who provoked me to make that presentation and subsequently made me rethink about several postulations through his extensive and extremely searching questions. I have neither been able to answer all his queries, nor do complete justice to his suggestions involving some redoing of theoretical Marxism. My apologies to him on that score. Obviously, this leaves me with further opportunity to fine tune this presentation, which shall be my endeavour in coming days."

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