Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stay religious, stay cool!

I write this as Mumbai pays last respects to Bal Thackeray, one of the last few Indian politicians who was also an ideologue. A respect well earned, for he stood for something. People these days don't stand for anything. Being apolitical, secular or somewhat mono-religious, nearly monolingual and salari-olic, with hardly any cultural indulgence is the default lifestyle. Boring people!

I traveled in Gujarat recently, visiting the Indus-Saraswathi city of Dholavira and the Solanki dynasty's Sun temple in Modhera, besides Hathi Singhji Jain temple in Ahmedabad. It was heartening to observe the vibrant religious life of Swaminarayan followers. I hope to visit Dwarka (esp for its Sankara math) and Somnath someday.

But back in Bangalore, we went thru the motions of the most boring and meaningless festival in the modern Indian calendar, "Diwali" and watched on TV, some utterly unphilosophical and uneducated controversies about Ramayana and abortion. How bland have we become?

I wonder how many among the millions who celebrated Deepavali, spared a thought for the mysterious antiquity of this festival of Light, instead of spouting some mythical garbage added to the festival's history. I prefer celebrating light during Karthigai Deepam, on a full-moon night instead of the new/no-moon, focused on light and unsullied by noise and non-sense.

Back in the days when people were fighting for freedom, people drew inspiration from religious philosophy. Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Radhakrishnan, Besant, Dayanand Saraswathi, Rajaji were philosophers who used religion to lead people. For Tagore, Bharathi, Periyar, Nehru and Gandhi, social and cultural reforms were inseparable from Politics.

Unfortunately this tradition seems to be lost. While Arun Shourie and Markanday Katju are capable, its very hard to find someone analysing national issues with tools available in religious philosophy or our cultural history. If Aakar Patel wasn't there, some of us in the cities will be living in a cultural desert.

With the passing away of Bal Thackeray, Karunanidhi remains the last politician of the cultural kind. Both Akali's Badal and the Sindh-born Advani could have provided such cultural leadership, but perhaps lacking the intellectual capacity, they merely used religion for power grab.

Ofcourse, Karunanidhi's family has ruined the DMK and I wouldn't recommend anyone to vote for his party. But he deserves kudos for laying a Dravidian claim over the Indus valley civilization! When I attended the Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore, I wasn't impressed by Indus valley seals used in the official conference hoardings. But having read the latest academic literature, I now believe, Karunanidhi's boldness wasn't misplaced.

Here we have to especially thank Iravatham Mahadevan, who's mastery of epigraphy and deep insights into the Indian religious traditions, as chronicled by classical Tamil and Sanskrit literature, is helping to solve the Indus-Saraswathi and Tamil-Brahmi mysteries. Mahadevan's recent work draws heavily from Kosambi's massive contributions a few decades earlier.

Its facinating to follow our cultural history over 4000 years, juxtaposing folk tales and the totems of our tribes with the recorded history in the Vedas and the Sangam anthologies, creating a picture of the Indus-Saraswathi lifestyle and corroborating that with meticulous work in epigraphy and archeology.

We are forever in debt to Mahadevan, Asko Parpolo and Michael Danino. Their efforts are leading to a thrilling conclusion that we still live the Indus-Saraswathi civilization! I highly recommend following the works of the above scholars, but here's a gist.


Indus-Saraswathi civilization could have been a dravidian civilization. And their religion very similar to Sumerian and other middle eastern relgions, involving god-kings, water nymphs and ceremonial sex. Aryans and later Tamils seem to have followed the lives of these Indus-Dravidians in the vedas and sangam poetry. For example, the Velirs of the Tamil country (think Agathiar, Adhiyamans and Cheras) seem to be descendents of the Indus people. The Vedas offer a very vivid picture of Indus cities lying in ruins and their inhabitants scattered across the countryside. But the Vedic Aryans seemed to have entirely absorbed the Indus religion from Apsaras to the measurements of the yagna kundas. More on this in a later post. But you may want to visit the Madurai Meenakshi (fish-rule) temple, the porthamirai kulam (bath) in the ancient kadambavanam forest area and also notice the god-king Sundareswarar!!



I consider myself to be a religion enthusiast, however I don't follow any religion 'religiously'. While Advaita Vedanta is my native religion, I consider myself to be a Jain and Epicurean too. My interest in the early Vedic and the ancient tamil religions (murugan, kottravai) is now revived. I find mono-lingual and mono-religious people to be sad losers.

It pains me to see other people's poor tastes in religion. In Gujarat, despite the abundant choices in better religions, we saw few dumb-fucks in Godhra killing the Rama crazies returning from Ayodhya, followed by a AD 21st Century pogram. Hello?! And that state's utterly uneducated, mass-murderer is now a favorite to be this country's leader!

Becoming secular is more natural, yes. But if only uneducated morons follow religion, and use some pathetic religions for their political ends, its gonna hurt us all. We need to hold on to the philosophies in our religions and culture. And despite what western atheists might say, world will be a better place if it derives its morals from (good) religions. Stay religious, stay cool!

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