The overall campaign from various fronts targetting Hindus is massive but that should only make us fight harder.
Many concerned friends ask me why I am becoming a vehement Hindu spokesperson on social media, why I am becoming increasingly vocal against the biased and incorrect portrayal of Hindu culture and practices, and why I keep sharing eulogies on dharma to the point of jingoism.
Whenever I face this question, my mind time-travels to a Navaratri several years ago. On the third day of that Navratri, I was at a very traditional Durga Puja held in a home here in a suburb in the US.
The mode of the puja was entirely new to me since it was being performed in a coastal Karnataka tradition. A silver image of the head of Goddess Durga was kept on a tall lamp with nine wicks, symbolizing Her nine manifestations (Nava Durga). The lamp was decorated with silks and flowers, and a glittering trishula and a small khadga (sword) were laid leaning on it. Multiple oil lamps were lit around the altar. The incense was emitting a pleasant fragrance.
The large room was packed to capacity with people in saris and dhotis, sitting cross-legged, knees pushing against each other. The priests chanted many profound mantras including various Vaidika Suktas and Chandi Path, and many people sang keertanas. The elaborate arati with many magnificent lamps was accompanied by various types of bells and drums.
In the middle of the ceremony, there was a Kanya puja, when a young girl was seated on a plank. Ladies dabbed kunkuma on her forehead, placed garlands on her neck and prostrated to her. Such kanyas are seen by devotees as a child form of Durga.
I whispered the significance of these mesmerizing rituals to my US-born children, who were watching with rapt attention, curious, but quietly accepting the various ways we approach divinity. It was truly an opportunity to feel the presence of Mother Goddess, who we believe is the very shakti that is the cause and the material of creation.
Yet, suddenly I felt a chill – a striking fear.
Fear that the smoke alarms will go off. Fear that the neighbours will hear the noise and lodge a complaint about some cult practice. Fear that somebody will see the Kanya puja and complain about some kind of abuse. Fear that we will be forced to abandon such ways of worship. Fear that one day, ancient Hindu traditions that have survived millennia through invasions and colonisation, will end up as dusty museum exhibits or boring research papers, much like most other lost pagan traditions.
I also feared that with such propaganda, my descendants will start feeling shame and start sanitizing our gods, our chants, our traditions. I feared that they would hide their Hindu heritage as something shameful or worse still, become a soul harvested by monocults or leftists.
Was this fear unreasonable? Was I over-dramatizing?
No. On the contrary, my fears are already becoming a reality, slowly and steadily.
Books are written by “eminent” Indologists psychoanalyzing Shiva, Devi, Ganesha and Ayyappa and even our gurus like Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Prominent academics like Audrey Truschke misquote our itihasas and puranas with impunity. Media manages to either exoticize Hindu traditions – like the cremation grounds and Aghoris – or attack them in the name of rights – like the Karwa Chauth or Jallikattu.
Even back in India, missionaries – almost all of them ex-Hindus – continue to bash Hindu gods openly, knowing very well that the secular government usually looks the other way. Mohan Lazarus, a Christian preacher in Tamilnadu, once a Hindu boy called Murugan, blatantly claims “Hindu temples are strangleholds of Satan”.1 And in a trait that is sadly unique to Hindus, there are a large number of self-flagellating Hindus who will happily join in the bashing.
Let’s play out my Durga Puja example above.
What would happen if a neighbour filed a complaint about this puja claiming it is a cult or a nuisance or abuse? The local police, with no awareness or sensitivity about Hinduism, would document the occurrence with a “Christian” lens: “There was a terrible monstrous face-mounted on this fire lamp with a sharp, horrific weapon. There was some kind of powdered blood on all the people’s foreheads. And for some strange reason, a young girl decked in flowers was seated on a pedestal and her forehead was smudged in blood powder too. They had several noise-making bells and drums, and the priest spoke in tongues. The people were all huddled together seated on the floor.” and so on. A case will be booked.
When this case is taken to court, the judge may call an “expert witness”. Who is most likely to be called? Not a local purohit or even a practising Hindu, but most likely, a professor of religious studies from a famous university may be the “expert”. And this professor will likely be one of Wendy’s Children – the Wendy being the Wendy Doniger who wrote that Devi worship indicates Hindu men have an Oedipus complex2 and who is now spreading her views across academia as the matriarch of a growing cadre of PhD candidates and professors.
This expert witness may even cite the Encyclopedia of Religion which says Durga is one of the “Tooth” goddesses (who) are sometimes dangerous and must be viewed with caution.3” With a good dose of postmodernist education, this expert may even conclude that this is a Brahminical ritual where the angry Brahminical Goddess kills a Dalit, citing the far-fetched evidence from so-called Dalit literature that Mahishasura is a Dalit.4 They could easily claim that Kanya puja is abuse and have it banned.
Even in the best-case scenario, we may be scared into toning down our practices. Years will pass and our Durga may well resemble a White Mary, white and blond with a beatific smile, at the most wearing a draped sari, as has truly happened with other cultures, for example, the Saint Sara La Kali of the Romani.5 Prayers may well be in English and the sounds may only be those of a tinkling bell.
There are major power centres which we have to fight against - western or deracinated Indian academia and media, Christian foundations, Islamic outfits, and shamefully, Indian politicians, who have learnt too well from the colonizers, the art of divide-and-rule. We have to fight them even though we are completely mismatched in our power, funding, access and support.
We have to fight, chipping away at this huge army, with scalpels, knives and hammers.
We have to fight, chipping away at their massive hegemony, with posts, blogs and tweets.
We have to fight, with Her in our hearts, Her in our words, Her in our hands.
It feels futile sometimes, yet I cannot give up the fight – even if all I can do is to be a social media armchair activist – writing a missive here, sharing an article there or tweeting against attacks.
Because the defence is about something precious. For me. For us. For humanity.