Teaching and researching religions, languages, literatures, films, and ecology of India: http://philosophy.unt.edu/people/faculty/pankaj-jain

Dr. Pankaj Jain

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Dr. Pankaj Jain is the author of Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability (May 2011), which won the 2012 DANAM Book Award and the 2011 Uberoi Foundation Book Award. His 2nd book is Science and Socio-Religious Revolution in India: Moving the Mountains (Routledge 2017).

He is co-founder of American Academy of Indic Studies (www.AAIndicStudies.org) and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism (Springer).

He is Associate Professor in the department of Philosophy & Religion. He has published articles in journals such as Religious Studies Review, Worldviews, Religion Compass, Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Union Seminary Quarterly Review, and the Journal of Visual Anthropology. He also contributes to the Huffington Post, Washington Post’s forum On Faith, and Patheos.
 
His research has been supported by the Fulbright fellowship and by the Wenner Gren grant. His teaching interests include Religion and Ecology, Indian films, and Religions and Cultures of South Asia and South Asian Diaspora in North America. Before joining UNT, he taught at North Carolina State University, Rutgers, Kean, and New Jersey City University. Interested in connecting ancient practices with contemporary issues, he is exploring the connections between religious traditions and sustainability in Hindu and Jain communities in India and the Indian diaspora. He serves as a research affiliate with Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, as scholar-in-residence with GreenFaith, as a board member of the Society for Hindu Christian Studies, and as a board member of the Executive Advisory Council of Hindu American Seva Charities, an NGO working with the White House Office for the faith-based initiatives. He has presented his research at Columbia University, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, University of South Florida, Florida International University, University of Toledo, Texas Christian University, High Point University, Lancaster University (UK), Andhra University (India), Univ of Rajasthan (India), and several conferences, high schools, radio and TV stations, temples, churches, Yoga centers, and other community centers.
 
He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa and an M.A. from Columbia University (both in Religious Studies). In his “previous life” he had also earned a B.S. in Computer Science from India and had worked as a software engineer in India and in New Jersey. Dr. Jain is an active member of several academic and community organizations, is fluent in several Indian languages, and has published poems in Hindi. He was born in Rajasthan and had also lived in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Karnatak (in India) and in New Jersey, Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas (in the USA). Some of his papers and articles are at:http://unt.academia.edu/PankajJain/Papers and videos are at http://www.youtube.com/pj2017. The Facebook page for his book is at:https://www.facebook.com/DharmaAndEcology

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

इंडिया = भारत!

Miracle That Is India As India turns 60, we present extracts from Ramachandra Guha's new book on India's history since 1947. It's a history we're still making. RAMACHANDRA GUHA
The Sikhs may try to set up a separate regime... and that will be only a start of a general decentralisation and break-up of the idea that India is a country, whereas it is a subcontinent as varied as Europe. The Punjabi is as different from a Madrassi as a Scot is from an Italian. The British tried to consolidate it but achieved nothing permanent. No one can make a nation out of a continent of many nations.
—General Claude Auchinleck, writing in 1948
When Nehru goes, the government will become a military dictatorship—as in so many of the newly independent states, for the army seems to be the only highly organised centre of power.
—Aldous Huxley, writing in 1961
The great experiment of developing India within a democratic framework has failed. (Indians will soon vote) in the fourth—and surely last—general election.
—The London Times, in 1967
***In May 2004, the Republic of India held its 14th general elections. Four hundred million voters exercised their franchise. The ruling alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, was widely expected to win by a comfortable margin, prompting fears of a renewal of the margin, prompting fears of a renewal of the 'Hindutva' agenda. As it happened, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance defied the pollsters and came to power. The outcome was variously interpreted as a victory for secularism, a revolt of the 'aam admi' against the rich, and an affirmation of the continuing hold of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty over the popular imagination. In the larger context of world history, however, what is important is not why the voters voted as they did, but the fact that they voted at all. Ever since the 1952 elections were described as the "biggest gamble in history", obituaries have been written for Indian democracy. It has been said, time and again, that a poor, diverse and divided country cannot sustain the practice of (reasonably) free and fair elections.
Yet it has. In those first general elections, voter turnout was less than 46 per cent. Over the years, this has steadily increased; from the late 1960s about three out of five eligible Indians have voted on election day. In assembly elections, the voting percentage has tended to be even higher. When these numbers are disaggregated, they reveal a further deepening. In the first two general elections, less than 40 per cent of eligible women voted; by 1998, the figure was in excess of 60 per cent. Besides, as surveys showed, they increasingly exercised their choice independently, that is, regardless of their husband's or father's views on the matter. Also voting in ever higher numbers were Dalits and tribals, the oppressed and marginalised sections of society. In North India in particular, Dalits turned out in far greater numbers than high castes. As the political analyst Yogendra Yadav points out, "India is perhaps the only large democracy in the world today where the turnout of the lower orders is well above that of the most privileged groups."
The institutions that keep us together are those bequests of the British: the civil service, the army, the railways, and cricket.
And yes, this too: the cricketing nation The Indian love of voting is well illustrated by the case of a cluster of villages on the Andhra/Maharashtra border.Issued voting cards by the administrations of both states, the villagers seized the opportunity to exercise their franchise twice over. It is also illustrated by the peasants in Bihar who go to the polls despite threats by Maoist revolutionaries. Likewise, in parts of the Northeast where the writ of the Indian state runs erratically or not at all, insurgents are unable to stop villagers from voting. As the Chief Election Commissioner wryly put it, "The Election Commission's small contribution to the integrity of the country is to make these areas part of the country for just one day, election day". That elections have been successfully indigenised in India is demonstrated by the depth and breadth of their reach—across and into all sections of Indian society, by the passions they evoke, and by the humour that surrounds them. There is a very rich archive of electoral cartoons, poking fun at promises made by prospective politicians, their desperation to get a party ticket, and much else. At other times, the humour can be gentle rather than mocking. Consider the career of a cloth merchant from Bhopal named Mohan Lal, who contested elections against five different prime ministers. Wearing a wooden crown and a garland gifted by himself, he would walk the streets of his constituency, ringing a bell. He unfailingly lost his deposit, thereby justifying his own, self-inflicted sobriquet of 'Dhartipakad', or he who lies, humbled, on the ground. His idea in contesting elections, said Mohan Lal, was "to make everyone realise that democracy was meant for one and all".
The hardware of democracy gives us reason to cheer. Not so its software. Most of our parties are family firms, most politicians corrupt.
Voice from below: India is the only democracy where the lower orders vote more enthusiastically than privileged groups Considering the size of the electorate, it is overwhelmingly likely that more people have voted in Indian elections than voters in any other democracy. India's success in this regard is especially striking when compared to the record of its great Asian neighbour, China. That country is larger, but far less divided on ethnic or religious lines, and far less poor as well. Yet there has never been a single election held there. In other ways too China is much less free than India. The flow of information is highly restricted—when the search engine Google set up shop in China in February 2006, it had to agree to submit to state censorship. The movement of people is regulated as well—the permission of the state is usually required to change one's place of residence. In India, on the other hand, the press can print more or less what they like, and citizens can say exactly what they feel, live where they wish to and travel to any part of the country.India/China comparisons have long been a staple of scholarly analysis. Now, in a world that becomes more connected by the day, they have become ubiquitous in popular discourse as well. In this comparison China might win on economic grounds but will lose on political ones. Indians like to harp on their neighbour's democracy deficit, sometimes directly and at other times by euphemistic allusion. When asked to put on a special show at the World Economic Forum of 2006, the Indian delegation never failed to describe their land, whether in speech or in print or in posters, as the 'World's Fastest Growing Democracy'.If one looks at what one might call the 'hardware' of democracy, then the self-congratulation is certainly merited. Indians enjoy freedom of expression and of movement, and they have the vote.However, if one examines the 'software' of democracy, then the picture is less cheering. Most political parties have become family firms. Most politicians are corrupt, and many come from a criminal background. The percentage of truly independent-minded civil servants has steadily declined over the years, as has the percentage of completely fair-minded judges.Is India a proper democracy or a sham one? When asked this question, I usually turn for recourse to an immortal line of the great Hindi comic actor Johnny Walker. In a film where he plays the hero's sidekick, Walker answers every query with the remark: "Boss, phipty/phipty." When asked what prospect he has of marrying the girl he so deeply loves, or of getting the job he so dearly desires, the sidekick tells the boss that the chances are roughly even, 50 per cent of success, or 50 per cent of failure.Is India a democracy, then? The answer is well, phipty-phipty. It mostly is, when it comes to holding elections and permitting freedom of movement and expression. It mostly is not, when it comes to the functioning of politicians and political institutions. However, that India is even a 50 per cent democracy flies in the face of tradition, history, and the conventional wisdom. Indeed, by its own experience, it is rewriting that history and that wisdom. Thus, Sunil Khilnani remarked of the 2004 polls that they represented "the largest exercise of democratic election, ever and anywhere, in human history. Clearly, the idea of democracy, brought into being on an Athenian hillside some 2,500 years ago, has travelled far—and today describes a disparate array of political projects and experiences. The peripatetic life of the democratic idea has ensured that the history of Western political ideas can no longer be written coherently from within the terms of the West's own historical experience".The history of independent India has amended and modified theories of democracy based on the experience of the West. However, it has even more frontally challenged ideas of nationalism emanating from the Western experience.Behind every successful nationalist movement in the Western world has been a certain unifying factor, a glue holding the members of the nation together, this provided by a shared language, a shared religious faith, a shared territory, a common enemy—and sometimes all of the above. Thus, the British nation brought together those who huddled together on a cold island, who were mostly Protestant, and who detested France. In the case of France, it was language which powerfully combined with religion. For the Americans, a shared language and mostly shared faith worked in tandem with animosity towards the colonists. As for the smaller East European nations—the Poles, the Czechs, the Lithuanians, etc—their populations have been united by a common language, a mostly common faith, and a shared and very bitter history of domination by German and Russian oppressors.By contrast with these (and other examples), the Indian nation does not privilege a single language or religious faith. Although the majority of its citizens are Hindus, India is not a 'Hindu' nation. Its Constitution does not discriminate between people on the basis of faith; nor, more crucially, did the nationalist movement that lay behind it. Gandhi's political programme was built upon harmony and cooperation between India's two major religious communities, Hindus and Muslims. Although, in the end, his work and example were unsuccessful in stopping the division of India, the failure made his successors even more determined to construct independent India as a secular republic. For Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues, if India was anything at all, it was not a 'Hindu Pakistan'.Like Indian democracy, Indian secularism is also a story that combines success with failure.Membership of a minority religion is no bar to advancement in business or the professions. The richest industrialist in India is a Muslim. Some of the most popular film stars are Muslim. Three Presidents and two Chief Justices have been Muslim. At the time of writing, the President of India is a Muslim, the Prime Minister a Sikh, and the leader of the ruling party a Catholic born in Italy. Many of the country's most prominent lawyers and doctors have been Christians and Parsis.On the other hand, there have been periodic episodes of religious rioting, in the worst of which (as in Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002) the minorities have suffered grievous losses of life and property. Still, for the most part, the minorities appear to retain faith in the democratic and secular ideal. Very few Indian Muslims have joined terrorist or fundamentalist organisations. Even more than their compatriots, Indian Muslims feel that their opinion and vote matters. One recent survey found that while 69 per cent of all Indians approve and endorse the ideal of democracy, 72 per cent of Muslims did so. And the turnout of Muslims at elections is higher than ever before.Building democracy in a poor society was always going to be hard work. Nurturing secularism in a land recently divided was going to be even harder. The creation of an Islamic state on India's borders was a provocation to those Hindus who themselves wished to merge faith with state. My own view—speaking as historian rather than citizen—is that as long as Pakistan exists there will be Hindu fundamentalists in India. In times of stability, or when the political leadership is firm, they will be marginal or on the defensive. In times of change, or when the political leadership is irresolute, they will be influential and assertive.The pluralism of religion was one cornerstone of the foundation of the Indian republic. A second was the pluralism of language. Here again, the intention and the effort well predated Independence. In the 1920s, Gandhi reconstituted the provincial committees of the Congress on linguistic lines. The party had promised to form linguistic provinces as soon as the country was free. The promise was not redeemed immediately after 1947, because the creation of Pakistan had promoted fears of further balkanisation. However, in the face of popular protest, the government yielded to the demand.Linguistic states have been in existence for 50 years now. In that time, they have deepened and consolidated Indian unity. Within each state, a common language has provided the basis of administrative unity and efficiency. It has also led to an efflorescence of cultural creativity, as expressed in film, theatre, fiction and poetry. However, pride in one's language has rarely been in conflict with a broader identification with the nation as a whole. The three major secessionist movements in independent India—in Nagaland in the 1950s, in Punjab in the 1980s and in Kashmir in the 1990s—have affirmed religious and territorial distinctiveness, not a linguistic one. For the rest, it has proved perfectly possible—indeed, desirable—to be Kannadiga and Indian, Malayali and Indian, Andhra and Indian, Tamil and Indian, Bengali and Indian, Oriya and Indian, Maharashtrian and Indian, Gujarati and Indian and, of course, Hindi-speaking and Indian.
Linguistic pluralism has worked. Instead of dividing, as elsewhere in the world, it tamed and domesticated secessionist tendencies.
Denominations on the Indian currency note are given not just in Hindi and in English but in all Indian languages
That unity and pluralism are inseparable in India is graphically expressed in the country's currency notes.On one side is printed a portrait of the 'father of the nation', Mahatma Gandhi; on the other side, a picture of the Houses of Parliament. The note's denomination—5, 10, 50, 100, etc—is printed in words in Hindi and English (the two official languages), but also, in smaller type, in all the other languages of the Union. In this manner, as many as 17 different scripts are represented. With each language, and each script, comes a distinct culture and regional ethos, here nesting more-or-less comfortably with the idea of India as a whole.Some Western observers—usually Americans—believed that this profusion of tongues would be the undoing of India. Based on their own country's experience, where English had been the glue binding the different waves of immigrants, they thought that a single language—be it Hindi or English—had to be spoken by all Indians. Linguistic states they regarded as a grievous error. In 1970, Bernard Nossiter of the Washington Post wrote despairingly that this was "a land of Babel with no common voice". From its birth the Indian nation had been "plagued by particularist, separatist tendencies", wrote Nossiter, and "the continuing confusion of tongues...can only further these tendencies and puts in question the future unity of the Indian state". In fact, exactly the reverse has happened—that is, the sustenance of linguistic pluralism has worked to tame and domesticate secessionist tendencies. A comparison with neighbouring countries might be helpful. Pakistan was created on the basis of religion, but divided on the basis of language. And for more than two decades now, a bloody civil war has raged in Sri Lanka, the disputants divided somewhat by territory and faith but most of all by language. The lesson from these cases might well be: 'One language, two nations'. Had Hindi been imposed on the whole of India, the lesson might well have been: 'One language, 22 nations'.That Indians spoke many languages and followed many faiths made their nation unnatural in the eyes of some Western observers, both lay and academic. In truth, many Indians thought so too. A popular slogan of the original Jana Sangh was 'Hindi, Hindu, Hindustani'. The attempt was to make Indian nationalism more natural, by making—or persuading—all Indians to speak the same language and worship the same gods. In time, the bid to impose a uniform language was dropped. But the desire to impose the will of the majority religion persisted. This has led to much conflict, violence, rioting and deaths. Particularly after the Gujarat riots of 2002, which were condoned and to some extent even approved by the Central government, fears were expressed about the survival of a secular and democratic India. Thus, in a lecture delivered in the university town of Aligarh, the writer Arundhati Roy went so far as to characterise the BJP regime as 'fascist'. In fact, she used the term 'fascism' 11 times in a single paragraph while describing the actions of the government in New Delhi.
Arundhati Roy used the word fascist 11 times in a speech on the BJP after Gujarat. That is careless borrowing from European history.
A Bajrang Dal activist in the Gujarat riots
Here again, Indian events and experiences were being analysed in terms carelessly borrowed from European history. To call the BJP 'fascist' is to diminish the severity and seriousness of the murderous crimes committed by the original fascists in Italy and Germany. Many leaders of the BJP are less than appealing, but to see the party as 'fascist' would be both to overestimate its powers and to underestimate the democratic traditions of the Indian people.Notably, the BJP now vigorously promotes linguistic pluralism. No longer are its leaders from the Hindi heartland alone; and it has expanded its influence in the southern states. And it is obliged to pay at least lip service to religious pluralism. One of its general secretaries is a Muslim; even if he is dismissed as a showboy, the ideology he and his party promote goes by the name of 'positive secularism'. The qualifier only underlines the larger concession—that even if some BJP leaders privately wish for a theocratic Hindu state, for public consumption they must endorse the secular ideals of the Indian Constitution.Finally, despite all their best efforts, the BJP was not able to disturb the democratic edifice of the Indian polity. A month after Arundhati Roy delivered her speech, the BJP alliance lost power in a general election that it had called. Its leaders moved out of office and allowed their victors to move in instead. When was the last time a 'fascist' regime permitted such an orderly transfer of power?The holding of the 1977 elections—called by an individual who had proven dictatorial tendencies—and of the 2004 elections—called by a party unreliably committed to democratic procedure—were both testimony to the deep roots that democracy had struck in the soil of India. In this respect, the country was fortunate in the calibre of its founding figures, and in the fact that they lived as long as they did. Few nations have had, living and working at the same time, leaders of such acknowledged intelligence and integrity as Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and B. R. Ambedkar. Within a few years of Independence, Patel had died, and Ambedkar had left office; but by then the one had successfully overseen the political integration of the country and the other the forging of a democratic Constitution. As Nehru lived on, he was kept company by outstanding leaders in his own party—K. Kamaraj and Morarji Desai, for instance—and in the Opposition, in whose ranks were such men as J.B. Kripalani and C. Rajagopalachari.Of course, there has been a rapid, even alarming, decline in the quality of the men and women who rule India. In a book published in 2003, the political theorist Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote feelingly of "the corruption, mediocrity, indiscipline, venality and lack of moral imagination of the (Indian) political class". Within the Indian state, he continued, "the lines between legality and illegality, order and disorder, state and criminality, have come to be increasingly porous".That said, the distance—intellectual or moral—between Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, or between B. R. Ambedkar and Mulayam Singh Yadav, is not necessarily greater than between—say—Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush. It is in the nature of democracies, perhaps, that while visionaries are sometimes necessary to make them, once made, they can be managed by mediocrities. In India, the sapling was planted by the nation's founders, who lived long enough (and worked hard enough) to nurture it to adulthood. Those who came afterwards could disturb and degrade the tree of democracy but, try as they might, could not uproot or destroy it.
Parts of Kashmir and the Northeast may be in trouble; Maoists hold a bit of central India. But India remains 80 per cent united.
Kashmir: a question of territory
If India is roughly 50 per cent democratic, it is approximately 80 per cent united. Some parts of Kashmir and the Northeast are under the control of insurgents seeking political independence. Some forested districts in central India are in the grip of Maoist revolutionaries.However, these areas, large enough in themselves, constitute considerably less than a quarter of the total land mass claimed by the Indian nation.Among the institutions that keep the country together are those bequests of the British—the civil service, the army, the railways, the English language and the game of cricket. Working with—or in subordination to—a democratic and federal Constitution, these institutions have ensured that in over four-fifths of India, the elected government enjoys a legitimacy of power and authority. Throughout this territory, the citizens of India are free to live, study, take employment and invest in businesses.The economic integration of India is a consequence of its political integration. They act in a mutually reinforcing loop. The greater the movement of goods and capital and people across India, the greater the sense that this is, after all, one country.Apart from elements of politics and economics, cultural factors have also contributed to national unity. Pre-eminent here is the Hindi film. This is the great popular passion of the Indian people, watched and followed by Indians of all ages, genders, castes, classes, religions and linguistic groups.Each of the formally recognised states of the Union, be it Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bengal, Orissa or Kerala, says the lyricist Javed Akhtar, "has its different culture, tradition and style. In Gujarat, you have one kind of culture, then you go to Punjab, you have another, and the same applies in Rajasthan, Bengal, Orissa or Kerala". Then, Akhtar adds: "There is one more state in this country, and that is Hindi cinema."This is a stunning insight, which asks to be developed further. As a separate state of India, Hindi cinema acts as a receptacle for all that (in a cultural sense) is most creative in the other states. Thus its actors, musicians, technicians and directors come from all parts of India. Thus also it draws ecumenically from cultural forms prevalent in different regions. For example, a single song may feature both the Punjabi folk dance called the bhangra and its Tamil classical counterpart, Bharatanatyam.Having borrowed elements from here and there—and everywhere—the Hindi film then sends the synthesised product out for appreciation to the other states of the Union. The most widely revered Indians are film stars. Yet cinema does not merely provide Indians with a common pantheon of heroes; it also gives them a common language and universe of discourse. Lines from film songs and snatches from film dialogue are ubiquitously used in conversations in schools, colleges, homes and offices—and on the street. Because it is one more state of the Union, Hindi cinema also speaks its own language, this, however, understood by all the others.
Javed Akhtar calls Hindi cinema 'one more state in this country'. It has done more for the acceptance of Hindi than any official fiat.
Bollywood: an idiom for all of India
The last sentence is meant literally as well as metaphorically. Hindi cinema provides a stock of social situations and moral conundrums which widely resonate with the citizenry as a whole. But, over time, it has also made the Hindi language more comprehensible to those who previously never spoke or understood it. When imposed by fiat by the central government, Hindi was resisted by the people of the south and the east. When conveyed seductively by the medium of cinema and television, Hindi has been accepted by them. In Bangalore and Hyderabad, Hindi has become the preferred medium of communication between those who speak mutually incomprehensible tongues.Finally, one might instance the banning of Hindi films, DVDs and videos by insurgents in the Northeast: this, in its own way, is a considerable tribute to the part played by the Hindi film in uniting India.One might think of independent India as being Europe's past as well as its future. It is Europe's past, in that it has reproduced, albeit more fiercely and intensely, the conflicts of a modernising, industrialising and urbanising society. But it is also its future, in that it anticipated, by some 50 years, the European attempt to create a multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, political and economic community.It is tempting to compare India with the United States, a country justly celebrated as "the planet's first multi-ethnic democracy". Born nearly two centuries later, the Republic of India is today comfortably the world's largest multi-ethnic democracy. However, the means by which it has regulated (and moderated) relations between its constituent ethnicities have been somewhat different. For, as Samuel Huntington has recently argued, the American nation has been held together by a "creedal culture" whose "central elements" have included "the Christian religion, Protestant values and moralism, a work ethic, the English language, British traditions of law, justice, and the limits of government power, and a legacy of European art, literature, philosophy, and music". Indeed, "America was created as a Protestant society just as and for some of the reasons Pakistan and Israel were created as Muslim and Jewish societies in the twentieth centuries".The United States is, of course, a nation of immigrants. For much of the country's history, the new groups that came in merged themselves with the dominant culture. "Throughout American history," writes Huntington, "people who were not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants have become Americans by adopting America's Anglo-Protestant culture and political values." Of late, however, newer groups of immigrants have tended to maintain their distinct identities. The largest of these are the Hispanics, who live in enclaves where they cook their own food, listen to their own kind of music, follow their own faith and—most importantly—speak their own language. Huntington worries that if these communities are not quickly brought into line, they will "transform America as a whole into a bilingual, bicultural society". The older American model of assimilation was called 'the melting pot'. Individual groups poured all their flavours into the pot, then drank a single, uniform—or uniformly tasting—drink. Now it appears that the society, and nation, are coming to resemble a 'salad bowl', with each group starkly standing out, different and distinctive in how it looks and behaves.Huntington himself is less than enthusiastic with the idea of the salad bowl. For him, America has long been, and must always be, a "society with a single pervasive national culture". He observes that Americans identify most strongly with that culture when the nation is under threat. War leads not merely to national consolidation, but also to cultural unity. The original American creed was forged as a consequence of the wars against the Native Americans, the English colonists and the southern states. The events of 9/11 once more brought patriotism and national solidarity to the fore. Concerned that these energies shall dissipate, Huntington urges a more thoroughgoing return to the creed that, in his view, was responsible for "the unity and strength of my country".Samuel Huntington's line of argument is, of course, quite familiar to students of Indian history. It has been made here by political ideologues such as M.S. Golwalkar, and by political parties such as the Jana Sangh and the BJP.They have believed that India has "got to have a dominant culture", and that this culture is 'Hindu'. As it happened, those views were not endorsed by the founders of the Indian nation, by those who wrote the Indian Constitution and led the first few governments of independent India. Thus India became a salad-bowl nation rather than a melting-pot one.And it has stayed that way. It has sustained a diversity of religions and languages, precisely the diversities the likes of Huntington deem inimical to national survival and national solidarity. It has resisted the pressures to go in the other direction, to follow Israel and Pakistan by favouring citizens who follow a certain faith or speak a particular language.The most eloquent tribute to the idea of India that I have come across rests in some unpublished letters of the biologist J.B.S. Haldane. In his native Britain, Haldane was a figure of considerable fame and some notoriety. In 1956, already past 60, he decided to leave his post in University College, London, and take up residence in Calcutta. He joined the Indian Statistical Institute, became an Indian citizen, wore Indian clothes and ate Indian food. He also travelled energetically around the country, engaging with its scientists but also with the citizenry at large.Five years after Haldane had moved to India, an American science writer described him in print as a 'citizen of the world'. Haldane replied:
"No doubt I am in some sense a citizen of the world. But I believe with Thomas Jefferson that one of the chief duties of a citizen is to be a nuisance to the government of his state. As there is no world state, I cannot do this.... On the other hand I can be, and am, a nuisance to the government of India, which has the merit of permitting a good deal of criticism, though it reacts to it rather slowly. I also happen to be proud of being a citizen of India, which is a lot more diverse than Europe, let alone the USA, USSR, or China, and thus a better model for a possible world organisation. It may of course break up, but it is a wonderful experiment. So I want to be labelled as a citizen of India."
On another occasion, Haldane described India as "the closest approximation to the Free World". An American friend protested, saying his impression was that "India has its fair share of scoundrels and a tremendous amount of poor, unthinking and disgustingly subservient individuals who are not attractive". To this, Haldane responded:
"Perhaps one is freer to be a scoundrel in India than elsewhere. So one was in the USA in the days of people like Jay Gould, when (in my opinion) there was more internal freedom in the USA than there is today. The 'disgusting subservience' of the others has its limits. The people of Calcutta riot, upset trams, and refuse to obey police regulations, in a manner which would have delighted Jefferson. I don't think their activities are very efficient, but that is not the question at issue."
As a modern nation, India is simply sui generis. It stands on its own, different and distinct from the alternative political models on offer—be these Anglo-Saxon liberalism, French republicanism, atheistic Communism, or Islamic theocracy. Back in 1971, at the time of the Bangladesh crisis, when India found itself simultaneously at odds with Communist China, Islamic Pakistan, and America, an Indian diplomat captured his country's uniqueness in this way:
"India is regarded warily in the West because she is against the concept of Imperialism and because she 'invented' the 'Third World'.India is looked on with suspicion in the 'Third World' because of her (subversive) sentiments for democracy, human rights, etc; the Muslim world is wrathful because of our secularism.The Communist countries regard India as insolent—and potentially dangerous—because we have rejected Communism as the prime condition for Progress.We are, of course, on the side of God. But is God on our side?"
The great 19th-century poet Ghalib thought that God was indeed on the side of India. All around him there was conflict and privation, but doomsday had not yet come. "Why does not the Last Trumpet sound?", asked Ghalib of a sage in the holy city of Benares. "Who holds the reins of the Final Catastrophe?" he continued. This was the answer he got:
The hoary old man of lucent kenPointed towards Kashi and gently smiled.'The Architect,' he said, 'is fond of this edificeBecause of which there is colour in life; HeWould not like it to perish and fall.'
Ghalib and his interlocutor were speaking then of India, the civilisation. Speaking now of India, the nation-state, one must insist that its future lies not in the hands of God but in the mundane works of men. So long as the Constitution is not amended beyond recognition, so long as elections are held regularly and fairly and the ethos of secularism broadly prevails, so long as citizens can speak and write in the language of their choosing, so long as there is an integrated market and a moderately efficient civil service and army, and—lest I forget—so long as Hindi films are watched and their songs sung, India will survive.
(This essay is adapted from Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, Picador India, 2007.)


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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Diwali, the Biggest Indian Festival

Diwali the festival of lights – apart from being the most widely celebrated is perhaps one of the prettiest Indian festivals. It is a festival of joy, splendor, and brightness. Diwali is celebrated in various parts of the world, including South Asia, South-East Asia, North America, Europe, Australia, Caribbean countries, Middle-East, and Africa. With more Indians now migrating to various parts of the world, the number of countries where Diwali is celebrated is also increasing. While in most countries it is celebrated mainly by Indian diaspora, in others it has become part of the general local culture, especially in the South-East Asia. In addition to South Asian countries, Singapore and New York City has included Diwali in the list of public holidays.
The uniqueness of this festival is its harmony of five varied philosophies, each day for a special thought or ideal. Diwali is a time when every Indian house and shop is illuminated with oil lamps and every heart is filled with joy. Delighted children set off fireworks in the spirit of festival. The word Diwali comes from the word Deepaawali, i.e., series of lamps. It falls on the last day of the last month of the lunar Indian calendar.
The five-day celebration of Diwali begins with Dhanteras, the day to worship Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. Indian culture has not considered wealth to be corruptive; on the contrary Vedic sages have sung praises of various types of wealth in the Shrisuktam hymn of Rig Veda. According to Indian culture a wealthy person is considered to be God's beloved child, he is rewarded for the good karmas done in past life. This is indicated in the verses of Bhagavad Gita "Shuchinaam Shrimataam Gehe" (6:41). In Shrisuktam, Vedic people asked for wealth that would never turn away from their houses: “Tam maa aavah jatvedo...purushanaham". In another verse of Shrisuktam, it is asked: “God grant me wealth, which is beyond destruction and with which I can acquire gold, cattle, horses and sincere friends.” According to Indian perspective, wealth in itself may not be corruptive, but a wealthy person's attitude leads to corruption. The financial power can lead a person higher towards divinity or lower towards evil. When somebody uses wealth as a means for material gains alone, one may be paving the path to self-destruction. On the other hand, wealth is to be revered as the divine mother and to be regarded as a blessing from God.
Money used destructively is called Alaxmi or impure wealth that which is used for selfish reasons is money or Vitta. Money that is used for the benefit of others is referred to as Laxmi or wealth and ultimately wealth used in cultural work attains the status of Mahalaxmi or divine wealth. Those who invest wealth for divine work enjoy the wealth for several generations. Since wealth has such tremendous strength it should remain in the hands of good people who would use it appropriately. Indian culture has sung praises of the Rajashri. This can be compared with the Greek thinker Plato’s term "philosopher king".
The second day is celebrated as Kali Chaturdashi, the day to worship Kali, the goddess of power. Physical strength used to harm others is called Ashakti or impious strength that which is used for selfish reasons is strength, Shakti. The strength to protect others is referred as Kali, and if it’s used for spiritual purposes, it is called Mahakali. In the Mahabharata, Vyasa has given examples of human life by skillfully portraying three diverse characters of Duryodhana, Karna and Arjun. Duryodhana the eldest of Kauravas, who used his strength only for selfish motives, Karna who had vowed to use his skills in the service of the Kauravas and Arjun who dedicated himself to Lord Krishna. These three can be considered as the examples of ashakti, kali and mahakali respectively.
Another name by which this day is remembered is "Narak Chaturdashi". The story goes that Narakasur the ill-famed king of Pragjyotishpur was creating havoc in the society by the excessive use of his powers. He was responsible for the imprisonment of 16000 young women. Lord Krishna had decided to destroy this evil dictator. Satyabhama, wife of lord Krishna, took up the challenge of rescuing the innocent women and Lord Krishna fully supported Satyabhama in her mission. This day is celebrated as freedom from the tyranny of the evil king. People free from atrocities of the evil ruler joyously celebrated the event by lighting lamps to illuminate the night sky. Adorned in new clothes they set out on the streets to express their happiness.
The third day is the main day of Diwali festival. It is the festival of light. Thousands of lamps are lit in every home to mark the return of Rama, Laxmana and Sita to Ayodhya from their exile. Lamp is also the symbol of knowledge. Lighting the lamp of knowledge means to understand and reflect upon the significant purpose of each of the five days of festivities and to bring those thoughts into daily lives. The day of Diwali is to remember the mantra - Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya, lead us from darkness to light. It is very important day for business community as it is the end of the fiscal year. Old accounts are settled, new books are opened. Account books are worshiped in an elaborate ceremony. It is time to take account of one's life also, to reflect upon life and remove anger, hatred, jealousy and callousness from life and have renewed hope from the New Year.
The day following New Year is celebrated as Balipratipada. People who are blinded by kanak - wealth and kaanta – lust become demons. Lord Vishnu had destroyed Bali and this day is a reminder to have proper outlook towards wealth and beauty. The final day of Diwali festival is Bhai Dooj. This day symbolizes the respect for all women. The day gives every man the noble outlook to consider every woman as his mother or sister.
Although Diwali is considered as a Hindu festival, the origin of this word actually comes from the Jain tradition. Although in the two major versions of the Hindu Ramayana, the return of its heroes Rama, Laxmana and Sita is celebrated with grant festivities, there is no mention of the word related to lighting the lamps. The word was first mentioned to celebrate the nirvana of the 24th Jain Tirthankara Mahavira Swami which had occurred on this day. And the day following Diwali marks the beginning of the Jain calendar Vira Nirvana Samvat, in the year 527 BCE. In the Sikh tradition, it is celebrated to mark the return of the Sikh Guru Hargobind Sahib to the city of Amritsar who is believed to be freed by the Mughal emperor Jahangir on this day in 1619. With different kinds of communities of different religions and different regions celebrating Diwali in different ways, it can rightly be called as the “national” festival of India and Indian diaspora around the world.


Indian New Year

According to Vikram Samvat, Indian New Year starts from the Shukla Pratipadaa of Kaartik month. This day is also called as Bali Pratipadaa. Bali was the son of Virochan. Ironically, Virochan was atheist son of the legendary devotee Prahlaad whose devotion was instrumental in killing his father Hiranyakashyapu by the Narasingha incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Bali was influenced by his father and systematically removed the importance of spirituality and scriptures from the society. He also disturbed the Varna system in the society by making people change their traditional jobs. He reduced the importance of Brahmins in the society. Kshatriyas slowly turned into autocratic officers and leaders. Business leaders became greedy capitalists. Overall, all the sections of the society turned towards evil and ignored social welfare. To reform the society, Aditi and Kashyap asked for a boon about a son. Aditi and Kashyap become parents of Vaaman, the dwarf incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Eventually, Vaaman asks for three steps from Bali and sends Bali away down south. Thus, society is rescued from the malevolence of Bali and importance of spirituality and scriptures is restored in the society.
Another legend associated with this day is about the celebration of Govardhan. It is believed that Lord Krishna had asked people of Vrindavan not to worship Lord Indra. Indra responds by heavy rains for several days. Krishna protects the people by lifting Mount Govardhan and giving shelter under it. This tale has now been connected with ecological importance of mountains.


Bhaiya Dooj

The Shukla Dwitiya of Kaartik month is called Yama Dwitiya and is celebrated as Bhaiya Dooj as a mark for love of brothers and sisters. It is believed that Yamuna had invited her brother Yama for dinner and Yama in turn responds by granting her two boons. Yamuna asks that Yama should visit her every year on this day for dinner and secondly, to grant happiness to brothers who would visit their sisters on this day. Sisters traditionally worship Yama on this day for the longevity of their brothers. There are several examples of brother and sisters in Indian culture. For example, in the Mahabharata, Draupadi is also known as Krishnaa due to her great love for her brother Krishna.
Significance of moon on this day is also important. The phase of the moon on Dwitiya or dooj, the second day of Shukla fortnight marks the increment in the moon which denotes development and growth. In Ramayana, Ravana once asks Sita to compare himself with Rama. Sita calls him the moon of full-moon night whereas Rama is compared with the moon of Dwitiya. Moon of the full-moon night quickly starts decreasing and loses itself completely while the moon of Dwitiya is set to increase itself culminating on the full-moon night. Lord Shiva also is usually depicted with the moon of Dwitiya on his head. Perhaps this is why moon of this day is considered benevolent in Indian culture and even in Islam. Moon has special relationship with the sisters and this is reflected in Indian children calling Moon lovingly as chandaa maamaa (moon as maternal uncle).
Overall, this day associates brother with the moon of Dooj symbolizing the importance of efforts and sacrifice.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

विश्व हिन्दी सम्मेलन, न्यूयार्क

शनिवार जुलाई १४ को मॆं न्यूयार्क में आयोजित आठवें विश्व हिन्दी सम्मेलन में गया था, यह मेरा पहला अनुभव था। १००० से कुछ ज़्यादा लोग थे व सभी का जोश दर्शनीय था। संयुक्त राष्ट्र में हिन्दी भी अन्य भाषाओं की तरह काम में ली जाए, यह एक मुख्य बिन्दु था। कम्प्युटर व इन्टर्नेट पर हिन्दी का प्रयोग अधिक हो, यह भी एक चर्चा का विषय था।

मिट्टी - सोना


मेरे वतन की स्मृति, मेरे वतन की मिट्टी है,
इस देश की पहचान, इस देश का सोना है.

वो मिट्टी बारिश की सौन्धी मधुर महक है,
यह सोना तो बस बाहरी चमक दमक है.

वो मिट्टी अमर ममता का खज़ाना है,
यह सोना तो आज पाना और कल खोना है.

उस मिट्टी के गागर मॆ सदियो का ग्यान सागर है,
यह सोना तो मात्र भौतिक-सुख-रत्नाकर है.

उस मिट्टी के कण-कण से हमारा हर जन्म का रिश्ता है,
इस धरती पर तो हर रिश्ता सोने से सस्ता है.

वो भूमि हर भाषा, हर धर्म, हर विद्या की मूल भूमि है,
यह भूमि भी हमरी मातृ-भूमि की खोज की निशानी है.

सफ़र

सफ़र


मेरे कदम तो ज़माने की चाल में नही.
क्या इन्हे हमकदम मिलेगा?

मेरे जज़्बात तो दुनिया के मोहताज़ नही
क्या इन्हे हमजज़्बा मिलेगा?

मेरे ख्वाब तो वक्त की बाज़ुओं में कैद नही
क्या इन्हे हमपरवाज़ मिलेगा?

मेरे अल्फ़ाज़ को ज़ुबां की दरकार नही
क्या इन्हे हमज़ुबां मिलेगा?

मेरा साया तो रोशनी में गिरफ़्तार नही
क्या इसे हमसाया मिलेगा?



अकेली राह है, तन्हा सफ़र है,
गुज़रे मकामों की तलाश बरकरार है.

एक नदी कभी निकली थी वादियों से,
अपने उद्गम में समाने को बेकरार है.

सुना था खिज़ां के फूल पे बहार नही आती,
यहां सुने सेहरा में गुलशन का इन्तज़ार है.

न कोई हमसफ़र है, नही कोई रहनुमा,
बस चल पडा हूं, अपने कदमों पे इख्तियार है.

उभरती हुई कश्ती, भडका हुआ शोला

एक कश्ती

एक कागज़ की कश्ती है, धीरज की पतवार है
आशाओं के मल्हार है, साथी जिसका मझधार है

हवाओं को है काटना, पानियों को है चीरना
बाज़ुओं की ताकत से, तकदीरों को है बदलना

एक शोला

कोई झिलमिलाता जुगनु नही, नही कोई टूटा हुआ तारा
ये तो है वो शोला, जो किसी तूफ़ां से ना हारा

माना की वक्त की गर्द तो, आज इस पर छाई है
फिर एक सुबह होगी, आशा ये सन्देसा लाई है.

उभरती हुई कश्ती, भडका हुआ शोला

नही है इसे किनारों का शौक, कि वो तो है मृग-मरीचिका
नही है इसे अंधेरों का डर, वो भी तो है बस वहम मन का

ये नौका फिर बीच भंवर से उभरकर नई धारा बनेगी
ये चिन्गारी फिर घने अन्धेरों से निकलकर नई ज्वाला बनेगी

फ़कीरी

फ़कीरी

जाने क्या ढूंढता है दिल इस फ़कीरी में
जाने किसकी तलाश है मुझे बेकरारी में

सितारो से परे कुछ तो है जो पाना है
जो नही है हासिल दुनिया की किसी अमीरी में

वो हो गर शामिल मेरे खयालात में
तो हो तासीर मेरी बन्दिशो-शायरी में

वो गर दे संगत मेरे जज़्बात में
तो हो असर मेरे इश्को-वफ़ादारी में

कोशिश है आफ़ताब को पाने की हर कदम पर
माना की ज़र्रा हूं उसकी बराबरी में

रीढ सदा सीधी रखना

भले हठीली हकीकते हो हरदम
ख्वाबो को खिलाते रहना

चाहे सख्त सचाइयां सताये
सपनों को सजाते रहना

भले तमाम तूफ़ान टूटे
उम्मीदों की नाव बनाना

चाहे पथरीले पर्वत हो पथ मे
नई मन्ज़िलों को पाते जाना

भले मुश्किले मन्डराये कितनी
सदा मुस्कानें महकाना

चाहे कांटों की चुभन हो पर
कुसुम क्यारिया लगाना

न कभी झुकना, न ही रुकना
रीढ सदा सीधी रखना

न डरना चिन्ताऒ से कभी
सीना तान सर ऊंचा रखना

Dvaita Advaita

द्वैताद्वैत

जब तक मां से हम जुदा नही
उसकी ममताको हमने छुआ नही

जब तक मातृ-भूमि से हम दूर नही
उसकी मिट्टी की महक से हम मगरूर नही

अद्वैत भले हो अटल अनन्त सत्य
द्वैत है लीलाधारी की क्रीडा का कृत्य

ब्रह्म हो या मां या हो मातृ-भूमि
अद्वैत नही, द्वैत ही जगाती प्रेम अनुभूति

Agni

अग्नि

अग्निदेश से आ रहा मै
अग्निपथ पर जा रहा मै

अग्निवीरो की सन्तान मै
अग्निपत्रो का फ़रमान मै

अग्निकणो की इज़ाद ये इरादे
अग्नि-दग्ध फ़ौलाद ये वादे

अग्निसम उर्ध्वगामी है जीवनपथ
अग्नि तेजपुन्ज मन, तन श्वेद लथपथ

NRI: Saanskritik Doot

हम सब हैं भारत के सांस्कृतिक दूत़
हमारी मातृभूमि के हम सच्चे सपूत.

हमारा है यही एक कतर्व्य यही उत्तरदायित्व
पुण्यभूमि के सन्देश से लाभान्वित हो सारा विश्व.

सदियों के पूर्वजों ऋषियों की हम है आशा़
अगली सभी पीढीयोंकी हम हैं अभिलाषा .

सदियों के पावन भण्डार के हम उत्तराधिकारी़
वेद- उपिनषद- गीता रुपी अमृत के हम पुजारी.

संस्कृति के जीर्णोधार का हमें मिले आह्वान
भारतीयता के पुनरुत्थानका हम मांगें वरदान.

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