Category Archives: M. Colonization and Reform

Kabir

Kabir, also known as Kabir the Great, is one of the most famous saints in the Indian tradition (Partin 191). He is a unique saint because both Hindus and Muslims are attracted to his teachings as well as in his sayings (Vaudeville 5052). Some may say he was kind of a mystic poet due to his teachings. His teachings mainly consisted of poems and songs, which were in a language that most Hindus understood. He belongs in the category of the first generation Hindi poets, which contained a Hindi dialect. This dialect is not “amenable” to the classifications of linguists (Partin 191). His works are in the form of mystical poetry of various strengths, which allow the literary aspects to come across with philosophical and religious significance (Stahl 141). Kabir is an individual who was able to give expression to personal experiences of inner divine or absolute reality (Heehs 1).

There is little on the history of Kabir, such as what his personality was like, as well as a detailed biography on him. What is known is that Kabir was born as a low-caste Muslim, also known as a Julaha, around the city of Banaras during the fifteenth century (Vaudeville 5052). He was born in 1440, and passed away in 1518 (Stahl 141). It has been claimed that Kabir was born into a family with a Muslim father who greatly influenced his life (Stahl 141). We know that Kabir was born into a caste of weavers, who had recently become Muslim converts, and was raised in a Muslim lifestyle. It is also believed that Kabir was married, with children, and made his living as a weaver, as the rest of his caste did (Bly ix). However, it is unknown how many children Kabir fathered or who his wife was. Kabir’s family belonged to a caste of married “Jogis” or “Jugis”, which are devotees or performers of jog. By practicing this sect of yoga, they believed they may attain a union with the Supreme Being (Bailey 1). Kabir was also involved in the bhakti movement, which was a reaction against Buddhism, as well as parts of the Vedanta philosophy (Stahl 142). Bhakti was related to Vishnuite devotion, where God is seen as the main object of devotion (Partin 194).

Kabir viewed the world as a moment fading between two deaths in a world of transmigration. He discusses self interest, the woman as ‘a pit of hell’, and man turning to his innermost self in order to find what is true (Vaudeville 5053). He did not see the significance in bonds between family members, because he believed those relations rested on self-interest (Vaudeville 2052). Another main belief of Kabir was that death encompasses all, and there would be no escape for one except to its own heart. For example, the only way to rid one’s self of negatives in life, such as egoism, would be to search one’s own soul to find the answers (Vaudeville 2052). Only those who find the answers or the “diamond” within oneself, has a chance at achieving eternity. This is relatable to the idea of jivatma in Hinduism, which is representative of the individual soul. It was believed by Kabir that if man turned away from the outside world, and focused only on the interior world, then one could be drawn to his innermost conscience. One’s innermost consciousness is related to the status of God, according to Kabir (Partin 196).

The words of Kabir appear to be very tragic, but also show his uniqueness as a poet. The tragedy is present when he discusses the insignificance of family, and how many things remains a mystery in life (Vaudeville 5053). His words are full of metaphors and various rhymes. The works of Kabir are regarded for both their literary qualities, as well as their spiritual qualities (Heehs 26). As a person, as well with his words, he is compared to the Buddha, due to his great voice in India (Vaudeville 2053). Rather than having a positive outlook on the world like many do, Kabir was very pessimistic and focused on intrinsic actions. Some may call him ungodly, but he seems to be one of the masters of “interior religion” (Partin 192). There are many words of Kabir, also known as Kabirvanis. However, there is not a book or authoritative version of them (Vaudeville 2052). The poems, verses and songs recited orally by Kabir were collected by his disciples, as well as various followers (Hess 3). It is believed that Kabir had been illiterate and was unable to ever write anything down. Many followers and critics of his work say, “I don’t touch ink or paper, this hand has never grasped a pen. The greatness of four ages Kabir tells with his mouth alone,” in order to describe what Kabir may have been like, and why his works were orally passed on through generations (Hess 3). There is no way to prove that Kabir was illiterate. However, it is known that Kabir preferred his words to be passed on orally, rather than by paper. His message was so popular that they were widely imitated before they could be written down. Kabir’s works were largely an oral tradition in the beginning, and in most instances, still are. The main topic of Kabir’s songs seems to be that God is the ultimate truth (Dass preface). The oldest dated words of Kabir are found in the Guru Granth of the Sikhs, compiled by Guru Arjun in the Punjab around 1604 (Vaudeville 5052). The poetry was also a union of both the Islamic and Hindu traditions (Stahl 143).

There are many stories about Kabir, but the most famous one involves his death and cremation. It happened in the city of Magahar. As Kabir was about to die, two different groups gathered in order to fight over what would happen to Kabir’s body. The two groups were the Muslims and the Hindus. It is said that after Kabir went into his tent to die, his body vanished, and all that was left was a heap of flowers (Vaudeville 2052). The flowers were divided between the two parties as a way of symbolizing both groups’ possession over the body. The Muslims buried their half of the flowers, whereas the Hindus cremated theirs, and arisen a memorial tomb, also known as samadhi, over it. Since the time of his death, a story has circulated claiming that Kabir was born to a Brahman virgin widow, who committed him to the Gangas, and he was later saved and raised by Julahas. This story attempted to “Hinduize” the saint (Vaudeville 2052).

Some Muslims in the past viewed Kabir as being a Sufi because many of his “words” are similar to those of a traditional Sufi (Vaudeville 2052). Even though Kabir was opposed to some practices of the Islamic religion, he still associated himself with Sufi groups (Partin 195). Modern Muslims and Hindus, however, accept the “words” of Kabir. He is also seen as the unifying force between the two religions, even though he himself expressed rejection of “two religions”. Kabir was also against idol worship and caste distinctions, this was because he used several Vaisnava names to speak of God. He, in turn, saw the idols as lifeless stones (Partin 192). Kabir also discusses the importance of purity, fasting, pilgrimages and other ritual practices throughout his various works. A verse Kabir’s pertaining to the ritual washing, discusses the importance of physical and spirtual cleansing. Kabir states, “What is the good of scrubbing the body on the outside, If the inside is full of filth? Without the name Ram, one will not escape hell, even with a hundred washings!” (Kabir 192). His notion of God also seemed to be more than that of worshipping a personal god, as he alludes to a reality that is beyond words, rather than a god (Vaudeville 2052).

Another interesting fact about Kabir, and his poems, is that he sometimes speaks as a man, and other time speaks as a woman. An example is, “This woman weaves threads that are subtle, and the intensity of her praise makes them fine. Kabir says: I am that woman” (Bly xv). This is interesting because it gives Kabir various identities through his literature.

Kabir, who does not have much of a bibliography is seen as being very popular in various religions. He is one who, through his own intimate experience, believed that God is “the One,” “the True,” and “the Pure” (Partin 201). According to Kabir, God is the only one who is able to meet the challenge of death, because he is the perfect guru (Partin 201). Kabir believed the only way one can interact with God, was to delve into the very depths of one’s own soul, and only then, would God be able to speak with one. Even though Kabir may have rejected the teachings of other religions, he was still followed by many, and created his own group.

Bibliography

Bailey, Jan (2006) Jogis http://www.shivashakti.com/jogi.htm.

Bly, Robert (2007) Kabir: Ecstatic Poems. Boston: Beacon Press.

Heehs, Peter (2002) Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience. New York: New York University Press.

Hess, Linda Beth (2001) The Bijak of Kabir. New York: Oxford University Press.

Partin, Harry and Charlotte Vaudeville (1964) “Kabīr and Interior Religion.” History of Religions 3: pp. 191-201.

Stahl, Roland (1954) “The Philosophy of Kabīr” Philosophy East and West 4: pp.141-155.

Vaudeville, Charlotte (2005) Kabīr Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Vol. 8. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. p5051-5053

Related Topics

Jog

Bhakti

Vedanta

Sufism

Buddhism

Vaisnava

Samadhi

Guru Granth

Related Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabir

http://www.boloji.com/kabir/

http://www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/kabir.html

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/K/Kabir/

http://www.vidyasoft.com/interest/poems/kabir.html

http://philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/hindu/devot/kabir.html

Article written by: Megan Heck (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Guru Nanak

Guru Nanak was a very influential person during his lifetime. He lived during an age of change, and much of that change was due to his teachings. His main goals involved making the world a better place and trying to ensure that all people were equal. His ways of teaching were very effective and they challenged the way that people saw the world that they lived in. Guru Nanak’s lifetime can be divided into three parts; family life, travels, and retirement. It is during his travels that he did most of his teaching and during his retirement that he developed the basis for Sikhism.

Guru Nanak’s father wanted him to take over the family business and become an accountant, but Guru Nanak wanted exactly the opposite. He wanted to lead a religious life and stay detached from worldly attachments (Gurnukh Nihal 36). While he was growing up, Guru Nanak spent a lot of time with both Hindu and Muslim saints. During his childhood, he would gather his friends and discuss the power and greatness of God. He was not concerned with following what everyone else did; he followed his own path. For example, when it was his turn to participate in the Sacred Thread Ceremony, he refused to wear the traditional thread and said that he wanted one that would last for his entire lifetime (Gobind Singh 18). His father wanted to change Nanak’s perspective and decided to arrange his marriage to force him into a ‘typical’ life. Nanak was married early and his wife gave birth to two sons.

Guru Nanak spent the next ten years caring for his family (Gobind Singh 20). During these years, he spent a fair amount of time praying, as he still wanted to lead a religious life. One day after he was finished his prayers, he entered a cave and fell into a trance that lasted for three days. When he awoke from this trance, he ran out of the cave shouting “There is no Hindu and no Musalman.” With this phrase, it is believed that Guru Nanak had three meanings (Gurnukh Nihal 37). First, that all men are equal, regardless of religion or race. Secondly, that Hindus and Muslims had forgotten the true meanings of their religions and therefore no true Hindus or Muslims existed. Thirdly, that he felt he needed to end the hostility between the two groups. With this, he began his life as a missionary.

First he headed east for twelve years. He wanted to visit places that were holy in Hinduism. Along the way, he questioned Hindu practices and challenged the reasons for participating in such practices. Next, he travelled south for five years to see some important places to the Buddhist and Jain religions. After travelling south, he travelled north to the Himalayas for two years. Lastly, he travelled west to the Muslim countries for four years before coming home to spend his last years with his family. During his last years, he nominated his closest disciple, Bhai Lehna to be his successor (Gurnukh Nihal 46).

It is important to note that although Guru Nanak grew up in a society where Hinduism was very prevalent, his teachings and ideas are not based on the Vedas or the Upanisads (Seshagiri 5). His concepts are based on his own thoughts and ideas, which he formed throughout everyday life; they “came to him as and illuminations of his entire life” (Seshagiri 5). Despite this, some of his ideas agree with the Vedas and the Upanisads. For example, both Guru Nanak and the Upanisads oppose being materialistic and self-centered (Seshagiri 5). On the other hand, Guru Nanak rejected the idea of rituals as he focused more on the internal and spiritual aspects of religion. He believed that the reason for living was only the search for Truth, (Seshagiri 5) and that a chaotic and impulsive life is not the way to find Truth. He is claimed to have said, “Truth is the highest of all but higher still is truthful living” (Seshagiri 6). But, what is this Truth that he speaks of? Guru Nanak believed that God is Truth; anything related to God is Truth (Seshagiri 7).

As most people do, Guru Nanak had strong views on God, creation, and the soul. He believed that there was one God who was the creator and governor of the world. He believed that the creator God was responsible for all the other gods and goddesses. It was his view that the God is able to create all things, and the God is fearless and infinite. He also believed that the God has no mother, father, son, wife or relative (Gobind Singh 7). With regards to creation, he thought that everything came into being at the God’s command and that how He did it is beyond our understanding (Gobind Singh 10). Also, he claimed that the limit of the creation is unknown. Guru Nanak thought that the God had created earth as a school for man to learn dharma. Guru Nanak was a strong believer that everything that we do, whether it is good or bad, makes an imprint on our soul (Gobind Singh 12). The imprints combine to form habits and therefore, have an affect of how we live our lives. He also believed that the soul does not die with the body, but transfers to the next body and continues in the next life (Gobind Singh 13). While Hindus believed that there are four different dharmas for the four different varnas, Guru Nanak believed that there is only one religion, and that religion is Truth and that Truth is for all (Seshagiri 8). One of his most apparent beliefs was that men should not be divided by race, religion, or any other such division (Seshagiri 8). He said that there are two different kinds of men; God oriented and self-oriented. Guru Nanak thought that a man’s religion is not defined by words such as ‘Hinduism,’ or ‘Buddhism,’ but by the actions that he performs. He also believed that by thinking of and remembering God alone, the heart becomes pure.

In Guru Nanak’s lifetime, there occurred many social, political, and spiritual advancement, and Guru Nanak is honored for many of these advancements. He helped people notice the flaws that existed in their ways of life. He made it a goal to help people improve their lives and improve the way they treated the people around them. Overall, he tried to expose and correct the negative aspects of life that he saw developing around him. Politically, people were ignorant as to what was going on around them. He began to show people what was really going on and encourage them to change it for the better. Guru Nanak’s goal was to change the outlook people had on life. This increased religious tolerance. He had made a strong impact with his messages and any future attempt to change things back to the way they were before were expected to meet great resistance.

Guru Nanak influenced many lives and many aspects of life that continue to the present. He was a man of action and refused to sit by the side and let the world continue as it was. He had many strong ideas to get his world to live at peace and he did his best to spread those beliefs.

Bibliography

1. Mansukhani, Gobind Singh. (1968) Guru Nanak, World Teacher. Delhi: Light Press

2. Singh, Gurmukh Nihal. (1969) Guru Nanak, His Life, Time, and Teachings. Delhi: The Raisina Printery

3. Rao, K L Seshariri. (1991) Guru Nanak and the Vedantic Tradition. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials

Other Readings

1. Mansukhani, Gobind Singh. (1974) Life of Guru Nanak. Delhi: Everest Press

Related Research Topics

1. Sikhism

2. Religions in India

3. Sikh Gurus

4. Religions in Asia

Related Websites

1. The Sikhism Home Page

http://www.sikhs.org/guru1.htm

2. Guru Nanak

http://www.dlshq.org/saints/gurunanak.htm

Written by Caitlin Duncanson (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Hindutva

Hindutva is the essence of what it means to be Hindu. There is deliberate deviance from the term “Hinduism” because of the common association with “isms” as Western manifestations (Bhatt 85). Hindutva seeks to define a Hindu not through religiosity (as most would identify a Hindu as one that practises Hinduism) nor through geography; as India is the home to the largest population of Hindus, but rather on ideals that are an aggregate of the two concepts.

There are four fathers of Hindutva: Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, and most formidably, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (Sharma 4). They prescribed six elements of Hinduism that needed modification in order to unify Hindus under a common cause, Hindutva. Hinduism is inherently diverse; there are endless variations within the faith. To the fathers of Hindutva this was seen as a weakness. Hinduism needed to be transformed into a rigid and codified belief system. “To admit to infinite variations within the faith was seen as a sign of weakness” (Sharma 9). It was also imperative that Hinduism abandon its adherence to non violence; the second element of modification then is to take up a masculine, aggressive, and violent faith. “Hindus had to learn to live and die for an ideal” (Sharma 9). The third characteristic of the Hindutva vision was to place “Hinduness” relative to other faiths. It was a common thought among these founders of Hindutva that Hinduism was the oldest and most perfect faith. It was in essence the “mother of all religions.” As such, Hinduism only had wisdom to share with others and nothing to learn from them (Sharma 10). This was an attempt to subordinate all other faiths and reinforce Hindu supremacy. This plays into the fourth element; a constant sense of threat to the survival of Hinduism. Perhaps because of the colonial past of India and the seemingly endless threats coming from all angles; Christianity/Western influence, or Islamic fundamentalists from within the country it was thought that the constant sense of threat would revitalise Hindus to be defensive to perceived threats of dilutions to their faith (Sharma 10). The fifth feature of the ideal Hindu nation was the end of theology. “Hinduism had been perfected in the Vedas and the Upanishads. The question of discussing doctrinal issues therefore did not arise. Answers to every question about modern life, science and technology were to be found in the Vedas” (Sharma 11). The last characteristic of the Hindutva ideal was brutal honesty. Abuse and contempt were legitimate tools of conversation and discourse. “Everything had to be stripped to its basics and presented” (Sharma 11).

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the self proclaimed father of Hindutva furthers his recommendations with four additional essentials to Hindutva. The first essential to Hindu identity was “a citizenship of paternal decent within a physically bounded territory” (Bhatt 94). India’s physical geography is one that is defined by boundaries; the Himalayas in the North, the Bay of Bengal to the East, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea to South and West respectively. However, as was mentioned previously, geography alone cannot define a Hindu. The second criterion is one that Savarkar deems the most important: “the bond of common blood” (Bhatt 94). He argues that Hindus were not only a nation (rastra) but a race (jati) (Bhatt 94). The third essential to membership of the Hindu nation is the idea of a common culture and civilization that Savarkar claimed bound all Hindus, regardless of caste. This clause has Vedic roots inasmuch as a civilization is by definition composed of a common history, literature, laws, customs and festivals which share the same mother tongue [in this case Sanskrit] hence the common civilization was sankriti (Bhatt 97). This would seemingly include the Muslim and Christian population within India; however, they are effectively excluded in the fourth and final criterion of Hindutva. Savarkar’s concluding definition of a Hindu is one who “looks upon” and “considers” the land that is India as his Fatherland (pitribhu) and Motherland (matribhu) (Bhatt 99). The Muslim and Christian population within India would obviously consider India a homeland because that is where they live but the foundations of their faith would lay outside of the Indian subcontinent [Motherland and Fatherland in this sense essentially make reference to the exact place where the various religious were created E.g. Christianity would be said to begin when and where Jesus was born].

The ideal of Hindutva has been a political issue in India since its inception in the early 1920’s [V.D Savarkar’s book of the same name was published in 1923] (Bhatt 78). The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS] was founded in this time period and will become the foundational organization in the Sangh Parivar [the “family” of nationalist organizations] (Bhatt 4). In the decades to come the Sangh is thought to become a formidable force in Indian politics. Democracy is believed to be a by-product of British colonialism in India. However Hindutva and a democratic political system are conflicting ideologies. Religion and politics are said to not function symbiotically; India is no exception; “democracy in India is perceived to be in danger because the Sangh Parivar” (Bhambri 3). The foundational principle of democracy is rule of law and equality. The Hindutva ideology is one that is committed to “One Country, One Culture and One Nation” (Bhambri 4). The Sangh Parivar reinforces this motto and is hostile to the idea of guaranteed rights for all groups in society (Bhambri 4). The very constitution of India is rejected by the followers of Hindutva [ergo the Sangh Parivar]. They believe that Christians and Muslims have a homeland that is outside India, and therefore should not be granted the same concessions regarding equal citizenship. In Sangh ideology, “India belongs to Hindus and other minority groups should win over the goodwill of the majority and will willingly accept their minority status” (Bhambri 4). The Sangh Parivar believes that a pure Hindu state shall mean the total destruction of the culturally pluralist and diverse society of India. The forces of Hindutva will not be able to achieve their goal of establishing a Hindu nation-state without a violent civil war within the country (Bhambri 5). India is an inherently pluralistic society, with over 500 seats in its legislature [Lok Sabha]; India has made considerable efforts to ensure that all groups are represented. Hindutva’s ideal of eliminating all cultures that are not associated with Hinduism would prove to be a daunting task considering the constitutionally entrenched features of India. The nationalist movements do, however, pervade the system. A particularly contentious issue among Hindu nationals and the government of India is the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya (Bhambri 21) The Sangh Parivar was successful in reviving this movement which was described by the Prime Minister as an “initiative that reflected national sentiment” (Bhambri 21). The Prime Minister clarifies that it was not the temple construction that would be particularly contentious, but the rights to perform puja on the site (Bhambri 21).

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) [a frontal organization in the Sangh Parivar] openly communicated with the Prime Minister regarding these rights. They also sent a warning to the government not to create obstacles in the way of constructing the temple at Ayodhya (Bhambri 21). Communications between the VHP and the Prime Minister came to a halt when the VHP confessed that they did not have the authority to negotiate matters pertaining to temple construction; that decision was made by the Dharmacharyas [Hindu religious heads] (Bhambri 22). On the surface, this issue seems quite benign; a religious movement wants the rights to perform their rituals without government involvement. What is disturbing is the infiltration of religiosity into politics especially in the area of policy making. It would seemingly be a step backwards to have religious heads paramount to government functioning. The Dharmacharyas are Saints and Sadhus that have been elevated to the position of real decision makers by the Sangh Parivar (Bhambri 22). The Sangh has a Hindutva agenda which, was previously described as being counteractive to democracy, yet the very those principles of democracy have enabled the Sangh and its various entities to pervade the system and push through very undemocratic policies. The constitution has created a sovereign, democratic, republic state which is the legitimate guarantor of the rule of law and the rights of the citizen. The basic structure of the Constitution is threatened if priests and not an elected Parliament become the representatives of the will of one particular group of people in India (Bhambri 23).

The foundations of Hindutva, by nature are confoundin. In essence, Hindutva can be interpreted to be a reaction to British colonialism posing a threat to the distinct society that is India. Hindutva’s nationalist appeal does not permeate throughout the country; some of its more aggressive policies do not have the breadth of appeal that is necessary to drive a uniform nationalist movement. It was British rule over India that introduced some of the country’s most unifying principles. Innovations such as transportation and communication technologies between regions as well as literacy in the populous were all facilitated by British colonialism. These features knitted together the vast political and economic region that is India, for the first time in its history (Krishnan 129/130). It was through the dynamic influence of Christianity and Western domination over the subcontinent in the 19th century that a sense of unity and national consciousness developed among Indians (Krishnan 133). Without the influence of the West, it would seem that Hindutva has no premise. The religion that is Hinduism is one that reflects a polytheistic system of worship. Hindutva seeks to undermine that important facet [if not defining feature] and move towards a more monotheistic, Judeo-Christian system of belief. The extreme nationalist movement that is Hindutva is greatly indebted to the influence that it seeks to abolish. While the issue of Hindu nationalism and the ensuring movement has many more underlying comprehensive features it is a contentious issue that will continue to infiltrate all aspects of Hindu life.

References

Bhambhri, Chandra Prakash (2003) Hindutva: A Challenge to Multi-cultural Democracy. Delhi: Shipra Publications.

Bhatt, Chetan (2001) Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths. New York/Oxford: Berg.

Krishnan, O.N. (2005) Hindutva or Dhammatva. New Delhi: Asian Publication Services.

Sharma, Jyotirmaya (2003) Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism. India: Viking.

Other Related Topics

Abhinav Bharat

Bharatiya Jana Sangh

Bharitiya Janata Party (BJP)

Dhammatva

Hindu Rashtra

Lok Sabha

Mitra Mela

Sangh Parivar

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)

Noteworthy Websites

http://www.hinduunity.org

http://loksabha.nic.in/

Written by Kim Welby (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Related Readings (On Mahatma Gandhi)

Chatterjee, M. (1983) Gandhi’s Religious Thought. South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press.

Desai, Mahadev (1946) The Gita According to Gandhi. Amhedabad: Navajivan.

Erikson, E. H. (1970) Gandhi’s Truth. New York: W. W. Norton.

Fischer, L. (1959) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. Reprint Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Gandhi, M. K. (1982) An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Harmondworth: Penguin.

Tendulkar, D. G. (1952-58) Mahatma: Life and Work of M. K. Gandhi, 8 vols. Bombay: V. K. Jhaveri.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar India. Gandhi was the youngest child of his father’s fourth wife, and it was his mother who taught him about the inner strength and sacrifice he would become known for (Watson 7). Belonging to the working class, the Vaisyas, Gandhi grew up in a well to do family as his father Karamchand was a successful businessman (Fischer 1950:12). While his father owned homes in Porbandar, Rajkot, and Kutiana (Fisher 9), Gandhi lived an ordinary childhood. In school he was a mediocre student, sometimes having learning troubles. As Gandhi himself once remembered “My intellect must have been sluggish, and my memory raw” (Fisher 1954:9). At the age of 13 Gandhi was married in an arranged marriage to another 13 year old named Kasturbai; a match made by their parents. Gandhi was not aware of the arrangement until all the plans were complete and later said his marriage was as if “two innocent children all unwittingly hurled themselves on the ocean of life, with only their experiences in a former incarnation to guide them” (Fischer 1954:10). Later on in life, Gandhi became a bitter enemy to child marriage because sex had obsessed him greatly in his child years (Parekh 1). After he finished school, Gandhi was faced with the decision of what career he would pursue. He thought of medicine but his father objected to the dissection of dead bodies; subsequently, he turned his attention to law. Gandhi learned about an English law course and degree that he could obtain and quickly jumped at the opportunity (Fischer 1954:12). However, elders in his caste rejected, in vain, the idea of him leaving for England because they believed the English had different morals. However, in order to gain acceptance and go, Gandhi made an oath that he would not touch meat, alcohol, or women. In September 1888, he set sail from Bombay for England (Watson 9).

In order to fit into English culture Gandhi found himself wearing a top hat, morning coat, striped trousers and spats, as well as participating in dancing and elocution lessons (Watson 9). However, it was a Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita, which Gandhi read while in England that shaped his inspiration in life (Fischer 1954:15). The Bhagavad-Gita, an exquisite poem about the science and practice of yoga, inspired Gandhi. He felt that it was a metaphor in which the battlefield was the soul and Arjuna, the protagonist, was man’s higher impulses struggling against evil (Fischer 1954:16). Mahatma Gandhi could be regarded as a karma yogi; one who used the Gita to define the perfect karma yogi.

“He is a devotee who is jealous of none, who is a fount of mercy, who is without egotism, who is selfless, who treats alike cold and heat, happiness and misery, who is ever forgiving, who is always contented, whose resolution are firm, who is dedicated mind and soul to god, who causes no dread, who is not afraid of others, who is free of exultation, sorrow and fear, who is pure, who is versed in action yet remains unaffected by it, who renounces all fruit, good or bad, who treats friend and foe alike, who is untouched by respect or disrespect, who is not puffed up by praise, who does not go under when people speak ill of him, who loves silence and solitude, who has a disciplined reason. Such devotion is inconsistent with the existence at the same time of strong attachments” (Fischer 1954:18).

This is how Gandhi lived and he used this ideal of desirelessness to teach others of ahimsa (non violence). Gandhi said that “one person, who can express ahimsa in life, exercises a force superior to all the forces of brutality” and even though it seems that passive resistance seems very ineffective, it is really intensely active and more effective in ultimate result (Misra & Gangal 52-53). In addition to nonviolence, Gandhi also taught satyagraha (adherence to truth) (Pant 5). Satyagraha is a combination of two words, satya (truth) and agraha (taking seizing, holding) and that one seizes hold of the truth (Hardiman 51). Gandhi knew that reason itself could not win an argument so to aid in his quest for truth he would often go through self inflicted suffering such as fasting (Hardiman 52). Gandhi believed greatly in adherence of non violence. As he once said, “truth is God and there is no way to find truth except the way of non violence” (Woodcock 7).

Before the great strides Gandhi made in his later years, his early career in London was not a success because he was too shy to voice his opinion in court. Therefore, in 1893, when he was sought after by a Muslim firm in South Africa, he was thrilled with the new job prospect and accepted the offer, sailing off to South Africa that same year (Parekh 2-3). While in South Africa he went through several experiences and challenges that would change the way he thought. Gandhi quickly learned of the racial prejudice that existed in South Africa because of the British and Dutch colonial activity. The first day of traveling to work on a railway carriage, Gandhi was beaten because he refused to give up his stage coach seat (Watson 9). In another situation where all Indians had to register and be fingerprinted, Gandhi used his method of satyagraha. Included among his non violent resistant acts were picketing in front of registration centers, burning cards, courting arrest and gracefully accepting punishment and suffering from police officers (Parekh 3). Gandhi realized that his methods of ahimsa and satyagraha worked because it reversed the “eye for an eye” mentality which, in his opinion, just makes the whole world blind (Fischer 35).

While still married, Gandhi gave up sexual intercourse at the age of 36 from 1906 until his death (Fischer 1950:72). This practice, known as brahmacharya, gave him a spiritual and practical purity that would purge him from weakness. Gandhi saw brahmacharya as a means of making himself equal to his tasks instead of being engaged in the pleasures of daily life and the propagation and rearing children (Watson 13). It signifed control of all the senses at all times and at all places in thought, word, and deed (Fischer 1950:72).

After twenty one years in South Africa Gandhi returned to his homeland in India. After his arrival, he traveled around India with “his ears open and mouth shut” to see what the social situation of India was like at the time (Parekh 6). After four years of being back in India he became an influential national leader because of his morals, visions, manners, self confidence and courage to stand up against established leadership (Parekh 11). After several years of using his approaches of ahimsa and satyagraha Gandhi was able to teach the meaning of swaraj or “self governance” to the Indian people by showing them what they could do (Pant 5). He believed that India needed general principles on how to govern the society, and then allow India to comprehend them in their own way (Parekh 75). Gandhi, like every Indian, wanted to be free of British domination, but also wanted more for his country. Gandhi said “I am not interested in freeing India merely from the English yoke. The movements, political freedom and social and economic freedom must go together” (Pant 16). Finally, on August 15th 1947 India gained independence from England because of the tireless work of Gandhi (Watson 57). He was a crusader for equal rights, respect for women and had removed the untouchability and thus he was given the title “Father of the Nation” (Pant 16).

The name Mahatma Gandhi is often thought to be Gandhi’s real name, however the name Mahatma is taken from Sanskrit meaning Great Soul. It is used to honor the man who gave Indians and the world self-respect and hope through his beliefs and actions. Interestingly Gandhi never personally thought that he deserved the honor of the title (Woodcock 2).

On the evening of January 30, 1948 during a prayer meeting Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead by a young Hindu by the name of Nathuram Godse who belonged to an extremist party (Watson 61). As Gandhi fell to the ground his last words were “He Ram, He Ram” (Oh God, Oh God) (Fischer 1950:505). His life journey was now over; Gandhi had left his mark on the world. He had left home as a young, timid man and through non-violence, adherence to the truth and belief in his people, he ended it as a Mahatma.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING

Fischer, Louis (1950) The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Harper and Row.

Fischer, Louis (1954) Gandhi; His life and message for the world. New York: Mentor Press.

Hardiman, David (2003) Gandhi in his time and ours. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mirsra, K. and Gangal, S. (1981) Gandhi and the Contemporary World. Delhi: Chanakya

Publications.

Pant, Jitendra (2002) Gandhi; Messiah of Peace. Toronto: Lustre Press.

Parekh, Bhikhu (1997) Gandhi. New York: Oxford University Press.

Watson, Francis (1967) Gandhi. London: Oxford University Press.

Woodcock, George (1971) Mohandas Gandhi. New York: The Viking Press

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Satyagraha

Brahmacharya

Ahimsa

Bhagavad-Gita

India Independence

Mahatma

Sanskrit

Vaisya

Websites Related to Topic

www.mkgandhi.org

www.engagedpage.com/gandhi.html

www.mahatma.org.in/

www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/ History/Gandhi/gandhi.html

www.gandhiinstitute.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandhi

www.gandhiserve.org/

www.kamat.com/mmgandhi/mmgandhi.htm

www.mkgandhi-sarvodaya.org/

www.gandhi.ca/

www.mahatma.com/

Article written by Travis Petrisor (April 2006), who is solely responsible for the content .

Ram Mohun Roy and the Brahmo Samaj

As the nineteenth century dawned, Western economic and religious ideals began to impact India as the British spread throughout the country. The establishment of the East Indian Trading Company by the British, as well as the spread of Christian missionaries throughout India, provided many Hindus contact with European education, religion and economics (Leneman 22). Although Christian missionaries were adamant in pushing the Christian religion upon those in India, there were many Hindus that opposed such attempts at conversion. They desired to remain loyal to their Hindu faith despite verbal persecution by the British (Leneman 22) [Many did not agree with the Western idea of an all encompassing law, as dharma and the belief in karma are the only real laws in traditional Hinduism. See Leneman (1980)]. Many individuals began to speak of reshaping their Hindu beliefs and political ideals to create greater economic advantage as well as social and religious comfort (Bhatt 24, Leneman 22). Among these individuals was Ram Mohun Roy, who was born a Rarhi Brahmin from Bengal (Killingley 5) [Many different spellings of the name Ram Mohun Roy occur due to translation differences. See Killingley (1993)]. Roy believed that India could develop only through learning from the Europeans, and consequently he looked to reform Hinduism (Kopf 313). The Brahmo Samaj is an Indian religious movement started by Roy in Calcutta in 1828 based on this idea of reformation that he saw as being necessary (Bhatt 24, O’Malley 224).

Ram Mohun Roy was born a Rarhi Brahmin in 1774 in Bengali in a Vaisnava family. Many of his ancestors held positions of high esteem among the Mughal rulers in Bengal (Killingley 5) [See Killingley (1993) for more on the debate as to the year Roy was born]. Little is known about Roy’s early life except that he was educated in a number of languages, both Indian and European, and opposed aspects of the Hindu faith such as Idolatry (Leneman 22) [Due to his opposition to idolatry and other Hindu practices, Roy was not allowed into his own house for four years from age sixteen to twenty. See Leneman (1980)]. He traveled through much of the area near Calcutta and Bengal where he first came into contact with the British through the East Indian Trading Company (Killingley 6). Roy was considered a political liberal, and opposed the East Indian Trading Company economic ideals as he favored free trade (Killingley 8). Although he opposed the East Indian Trading Company, Roy was receptive to Western ideas and incorporated them into his beliefs (Killingley 57). He became outspoken in the political world and was desirous to more fully empower the upper class of India by pushing European education and striving to get the East Indian Trading Company to grant privileges to Indians (Bhatt 24).

Although Roy turned primarily to the Hindu Vedic scriptures for his belief, he incorporated much of Christian and Islamic thought. He said that he would borrow books and ideas from other religions to “purify Hinduism” (Killingley 59). His primary belief was in the worship of the God of Nature who was the only true God and creator of the universe. He formed a small group in Calcutta based on this belief called the Atmiya Sabha, who in 1828 changed their name to the Brahmo Samaj (Killingley 10, O’Malley 224) [Brahmo Samaj has been translated as “House of God,” “society of the believer,” and “society of the worshippers of the One True God.” See O’Malley (1935), Bhatt (1968) and Leneman (1980)]. The Brahmo Samaj stated their objective as: “The worship and adoration of the eternal unsearcheable, and immutable Being who is the Author and Preserver of the Universe” (O’Malley 224). They believed that God was a father figure and that all humans were in fact brother and sister (O’Malley 224). It was open to any who wished to join, no matter their caste, skin color, or previous religious beliefs, and attempted to strengthen the relationship between people of all religions (Bhatt 24, Leneman 23).

Although the beliefs of Roy and the Brahmo Smaj were predominantly based on the Hindu religion, they opposed many traditional Hindu beliefs and practices such as reincarnation, animal sacrifice, and sati [The practice of sati involves a widow throwing herself on the cremation fire of her husband, allowing herself to be consumed by the flames, and thus freeing her husband from his sins and moving on into eternity together]. The Brahmo Samaj believed that salvation was obtained through worship of God and that a person could have direct communion with God (O’Malley 225). In a type of afterlife, an individual’s soul would be punished or rewarded for their dealings in this life, although the traditional Hindu view regarding the transmigration of souls was not incorporated into the belief (Killingley 46-47, O’Malley 225). In his first writing, Tuhfat al-Muwahhidin, Roy speaks about that afterlife of the soul and the punishments and rewards received (Killingley 46-47) [For more on the teachings of the Tuhfat al-Muwahhidin, see Killingley (1993)]. Roy also became extremely vocal in his opposition to the practice of sati, and his persistence lead to the practice becoming illegal in 1829 (Leneman 23). Roy was also very concerned with the education and increased economic opportunities granted to women and this carried through to the beliefs of the Brahmo Samaj (Kopf 314, O’Malley 226).

Among the traditional Hindu practices that were most opposed by Roy and the Brahmo Samaj, was that of polytheism and the practice of idol worship (O’Malley 224). Roy argued that idol practice was extremely inappropriate because it gave God a visible form. As Roy and the Brahmo Samaj believed in the spiritual, yet unseen existence of God, this contradicted their belief (Killingley 74). Roy used the Upanisads, which he had previously translated into English, to validate his belief and opposition to idolatry (Killingley 74). He taught that one should turn to contemplation of the Eternal Being as the proper way of worship. This would lead to actions of charity, morality and virtue leading to salvation (O’Malley 224).

Upon the death of Ram Mohun Roy in 1833, the Brahmo Samaj which had flourished in Bengal began to decline. In 1843, Devendranath Tagore, who previously had adopted the beliefs of Roy, added further aspects of Orthodox Hinduism and Christianity to the Brahmo Samaj which led to resurgence in the movement (Leneman 23). A number of years later Keshab Chunder Sen joined the movement and aided Tagore in this resurgence. Sen was influenced by Christianity a great deal in his younger years and brought many of his Christian beliefs with him when he joined the movement. In 1867, Tagore felt that Sen had become radical and extreme in his Christian influences and a split in the Brahmo Samaj occurred (Leneman 23). Tagore held on to the more traditional aspects of Hinduism and started the Adi Brahmo Samaj, while Sen took his Christian influences and started the Brahmo Samaj of India (Bhatt 24-25, Leneman 23). The younger generation, who had grown up with heavy Western influence followed Sen, while others in the movement who could not give up the majority of traditional Hindu beliefs remained with Tagore (Leneman 23). Under Sen, the Brahmo Samaj of India turned to radical social reform, considered Christ an ideal Hindu Yogi, and held Sen in a type of deity status (Bhatt 25). Sen eventually adopted a greater belief in Christ and this led to a split in the Brahmo Samaj of India. This split led to the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, started by those who opposed Sen and the adoption of a belief in Christ as more than a yogi. Sen, and his followers founded the Church of the New Dispensation (Leneman 24).

Today, the Brahmo Samaj and the various branches that occurred through these divisions are considered to be more of a religious movement than a sect or group (O’Malley 225). It has mostly been confined to Bengal, and has never obtained full status throughout India (Bhatt 26). The political beliefs voiced by members of the Brahmo Samaj as well as the changes to the traditional Hindu religion have led many to believe that Brahmo Samaj is a socio-political movement that acted as a force in Indian nationalism (Bhatt 24, Leneman 30). Ram Mohun Roy and the Brahmo Samaj defended aspects of Hinduism while reforming other aspects that they felt would benefit India (Leneman 30). Although not popular throughout India today, the Brahmo Samaj and the work of Ram Mohun Roy were instrumental in Hindu Renaissance and reform in Bengal during the nineteenth century (Kopf 313).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bhatt, Gauri Shankar (1968) Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, and the Church-Sect Typology.

Review of Religious Research, Fall 68 Volume 10.

Ghose, Jegendra Chunder (eds.) (1982) The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Killingley, Dermont (1993) Rammohun Roy in Hindu and Christian Tradition. Newcastle: Grevatt and Gravatt.

Kopf, David (1979) The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Leneman, Leah (1980) “The Hindu Renaissance of the Late 19th Century.” History Today, May 1980 Volume 30.

O’Malley, L.S.S. (1935) Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses. Cambridge University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Arya Samaj

Adi Brahmo Samaj

Brahmo Samaj of India

Church of the New Dispensation

Dev-Samaj

Debendranath Tagore

Dayanand Saraswat

Gayatri

Hindu Renaissance

Indian Nationalism

Keshub Chunder Sen

Orthodox Hinduism

Sadharan Brahmo Samaj

Vedanta

Notable Websites

http://www.chanda.freeserve.co.uk/brahmoframe.htm

http://www.thebrahmosamaj.org/

http://www.wmcarey.edu/carey/philnum/roy.htm

http://www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/rajarammohunroy.html

http://dcwi.com/~uuf/Sermons/012305.html

http://nichirenscoffeehouse.net/gen/rajah1.htm

http://voiceofdharma.org/books/hhce/Ch8.htm

http://ram-mohan-roy.biography.ms/

Article written by Brett Steed (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.