Ananya S Guha
The history of ‘God Men’ in India is not new. Dating back to the the 1980s there have been a plethora of them either claiming miraculous rites or professing to be sole authorities on the Bhagwad Gita. One was challenged by the then Vice Chancellor of Madras University who openly said that he too was adept at performing ‘magic’ and invited him for a debate. Needless to say, the God Man did not turn up at the designated venue. There had also been controversies raging around Swami Chinmayanda, a professed authority on the Bhagwad Gita. Later through decades many of them were involves in sexual dilettante, misuse of money and child abuse. This trend now, has reached a new peak with cultural symbols as a stoic representation of religion as well as yogic exercises to hoodwink people into thinking that they are not religionist but are spreading the doctrine of cultural humanism worldwide and, of course to a gullible West.
The latest is the World Culture event that took place on the banks of the Yamuna which in turn displaced people from habitats and settlements.
India has historically a rich heritage of God Men, although they never claimed to be so, nor were they indoctrinated into cult worship, rather men like Kabir preached religious egalitarianism, embedded in eclectic thought. The Bhakti Movement in different parts of the country helped in forging and popularizing new dialects and languages whether it be in Maharashtra, Assam or Bengal.
But the 19th and 20th centuries saw the revival of Sanatan Dharma embodied in figures such as Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Parahamsa. It is a travesty of belief that Vivekananda today is mis-represented as a cult figure of Hinduism. He was a staunch Hindu guided by ideals of humanism and equality of religions. So, was his mentor Ramakrishna who also believed in advocacy of Christianity and Islam. Vivekananda’s writings, his speeches thundered from North to South, his Chicago address and his letters to Margaret Noble evidenced a man not only of letters but deeply sensitive to his impoverished surroundings. What the Ramakrishna Mission is doing today is service to humanity – education and medical relief irrespective of ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Will the proponents of this ‘new’ culture and Nationalism care to look at the history of such spiritual leaders embedded in Hinduism, but not fundamentalism? Or, the spiritual outpourings of Sri Aurobindo, his complex philosophical and spiritual writing, nominated even for the Noble Prize? From an extreme Nationalist Aurobindo Ghose fell into the throes of spiritual science. Do we remember him today?
India did have God Men in the past, who never claimed this in their beings but no longer. That is the tragic path of a myth better if, broken.
What is taking place very subtly today is a Nationalism without proper history, disfigured and out of historical and cultural contexts. Firstly there was an attempt to promote a religious Nationalism, and now the crass promotion of people who have nothing to do with spirituality, culture or history. They could well have been the bearers of the past, a carry-on of the tradition of Bhakti and Sufi Saints or for that matter spiritual leaders like Vivekananda, Ghose or Ramakrishna. Through their insights we can well get a perfect blend of religion, spiritualism and culture. The dismantling of the past is an affront to history, meddling with it can only cause outrageous diversion, as is happening today. What is going to happen to text books? What will school children read? Will they know something of Tagore’s Internationalism, which was path breaking and composite global reality? Will they know of a Nehru who augmented the past by re discovering his India? Will they, when they grow up read Amartya Sen’s “The Argumentative Indian” which rests on the premise that Indian history has been one long argument of dissent? Or will they be told only that only infidels attacked the country, forgetting cultures that came out of synthesis ? The entire historical process shaping the destiny of a country arises out of dialectics and not subversion. Those who were plunderers, also came to stay and make homes. Tampering with history, quarrelling with it, distorting it is dangerous and asking for dire trouble. It is also meddling with the Constitution of a country which is a product of history.
Ananya S Guha lives in Shillong where he has been raised. He has over thirty four years of teaching and administrative experience. He has seven collections of poetry in English and his poems have been widely anthologized and published both in India and abroad.