Pankaj Mishra's essays on Communalism in India; Vivekananda and Religious Modernizers
Mishra has written on the subject of the misuse of "Hinduism" several times before. You can find a Feb. 2002 article from the New York Times here. And then an April 2002 a two-part piece on the same topic, this time for the Guardian. He also wrote a piece for the Boston Globe in December 2002 on the same topic (no longer online). And then a Feb 2003 piece for the New York Times Magazine (via SACW), on the anniversary of the assasination of Mohandas K. Gandhi.
These various essays use some of the same material over and over again. Most have one or two immediate anecdotes and first-hand interviews, while relying heavily on accounts of the history of the RSS, V.D. Savarkar, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, Nathuram Godse, a small host of familiar suspects. Most essays also place the movement to take down the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya at the center of the current history of the Hindu right. Ayodhya casts the longest shadow for Mishra: one finds explanations of Ayodhya even in the pieces written in the wake of the February-March 2002 riots in and around Ahmedabad, Gujurat.
Don't get me wrong -- this is all good work. Mishra is performing a valuable function in educating western readers about the history and current status of communalism. But it gets a little repetitive. I'd been longing to see him approach the communal question somewhat more deeply, or with a fresh perspective.
The most recent piece (in Axess) partially fills this demand; it has some surprises in it even as it also rehashes. Most importantly, perhaps, Mishra writes approvingly of people like the poet Mohammad Iqbal (one of the patron saints of Pakistan), Swami Vivekananda (one of the sources of inspiration for the Indian nationalist movement), and Angarika Dharampala (a major figure in the Buddhist-Sinhala nationalist movement in Sri Lanka). All were roughly contemporaneous -- they were active in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Both Vivekananda and Dharmapala made a big splash at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. Most importantly, however, all were reformers and modernizers. In Mishra's interpretation of Vivekananda in particular, the emphasis is on the inspiration taken from the west, not on the personal connection to Hindu spirituality. Mishra posits a divergence between Vivekananda's approach to worldly sprituality and his master's (Ramakrishna's) inward-looking mysticism. For Mishra, Vivekananda's desire to indigenize western civilization was secondary.
This contradicts what some other recent critics have said about Vivekananda (most notably Meera Nanda, who is directly hostile to both Vivekananda and Gandhi).
For me personally, it raises a 'half-empty/half-full' dilemma. Are religious reformers who develop a modernized theological language to be placed in the camp with the modernizers and secularizers, or are they in fact mainly motivated by strong, primoridal religious feeling, which they merely market with modern trappings? Mishra puts them in the former camp; critics like Nanda place them in the latter.
But this is a manichean question, which overlooks the possibility of situating reformers in between the religious and secular viewpoints. People like Vivekananda and Dharampala are secularizers, but specifically within their respective religious communities. By ignoring this middle-ground, I think Mishra oversimplifies the history of religious reform movements in South Asia. He makes this oversimplification for a good reason -- he wants to show that the stories told by the Hindutva advocates today about the history of the concept of "Hinduism" are on very thin ice. But the oversimplification leads to a somewhat patchy history.
|Date of birth||(1863-01-12)12 January 1863|
|Place of birth||Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India|
|Birth name||Narendranath Datta|
|Date of death||4 July 1902(1902-07-04) (aged 39)|
|Place of death||Belur Math near Kolkata (Calcutta)|
|Known for||Speech at the Parliament of Religions, Chicago|
|Quotation||Come up, O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter, ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter.|
ঀঀSwami Vivekananda (Sanskrit: स्वामी विवेकानन्द; Bengali: স্বামী বিবেকানন্দ, Shami Bibekānondo) (January 12, 1863–July 4, 1902) was the chief disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. At birth, he was called Narendranath Datta (Bengali: নরেন্দ্রনাথ দত্ত). He was the founder of Ramakrishna Mission. He introduced Hindu philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and America. He brought Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the end of the 19th century. Vivekananda is considered to be a major force in the revival of Hinduism in modern India. He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech beginning with "Sisters and Brothers of America". Through this he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World's Religions at Chicago in 1893.
Childhood[change | change source]
Swami Vivekananda was born in Shimla Pally in Calcutta on 12 January 1863. He was named Narendranath Datta. His father Vishwanath Datta was an attorney of Calcutta High Court. His mother was Bhuvaneshwari Devi. Narendranath's thinking and personality were influenced by his parents—the father by his rational mind and the mother by her religious temperament. From his mother he learnt the power of self-control. Young Narendra was an expert in meditation and could enter the state of samadhi very easily. He saw a light while falling asleep. Once he had a vision of Buddha during his meditation. During his childhood, he had a great fascination for wandering ascetics and monks. He was also an expert in games and naughty things. Even in his young age he showed remarkable leadership qualities. His childhood friend was Kamal Reddy.
Youth[change | change source]
In his youth he visited the Brahmo Samaj and later he came in contact with Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna initiated him, and after his death Naren left his house. He took the monk-name ogivami Vivekananda and stayed at the Boranagar Monastery with his monk-brothers. Later he set out for touring India. He wandered from place to place until he reached Trivandum and decided to attend the Parliament of Religions at Chicago. He delivered the great speech at Chicago and brought Hinduism to the status of a major religion.
Foundation of Ramakrishna Mission[change | change source]
Vivekananda became very popular after delivering lectures at many places of America and England. He came back to India and founded the Ramakrishna Maths and Mission in 1897. He also founded the Advaita Ashram in Mayavati, near Almora on March 19, 1899. The Ashram was a branch of the Ramakrishna Math. He composed the famous arati song, Khandana Bhava Bandhana
Last Days[change | change source]
On 4 July, 1902 he woke up in the early morning, went to the chapel at Belur Math and meditated for three hours. He taught Shukla-Yajur-Veda, Sanskrit grammar and the philosophy of yoga to pupils, later discussing with colleagues a planned Vedic college in the Ramakrishna Math. At seven p.m. Vivekananda went to his room, asking not to be disturbed; he died at 9:10 p.m. while meditating.
Famous Quotes[change | change source]
- You cannot believe in god until you believe in yourself.
- Each soul is potentially great.
- The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal.
- Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free.
- This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.
- So long as even a single dog in my country is without food my whole religion is to feed it and serve it, anything excluding that is unreligious.
- Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.
- Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man.
- Religion is the manifestation of divinity already in man.
- Serving man is serving God.
- to stir up the religious awareness of the masses and generate pride in their legacy.
- to amalgamate Hinduism by highlighting the common bases of its sects.
- to focus the attention of educated people on the plight of the oppressed masses, and to elaborate his plans for their uplift by applying the principles of Practical Vedanta.
- Strength is life, Weakness is death.
- The brain and muscles must develop simultaneously. Iron nerves with an intelligent brain—and the whole world is at your feet.
Works[change | change source]
Vivekananda's books on the four Yogas (Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga) are still seen as fundamental texts for anyone interested in the Windfall practice of Yoga. His letters are of great literary and spiritual spirit. He was also considered a very good singer and a poet. By the time of his death, he had composed many songs including his favorite song "Kali-The Mother". He used humor for his teachings and was also an excellent cook. His language is very free flowing. These all works were compiled to form a 9 volume set "The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda". A book titles 'Selections from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda' is also very popular, knowledgeable and inspiring.