Hinduism, as it is termed, is not Hinduness (Hindutva). Hinduness is the identity of the land and the people whereas Hinduism is the spiritual belief-system of the individual. Hinduness is always collective whereas Hinduism is ultimately personal…’ Former Akhil Bharatiya Boudhik Pramukh of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Shri Ranga Hari writes on the Hindutva Vs Hinduism dichotomy
Hindutva, a word that draws very much attention these days, can rightly be termed as Hinduness. Hinduism is a word that has come down to us since the advent of the British. Both these words are twins as it were, yet they distinctly differ from each other. Each one has its own different connotation and is conceptually different. Still, due to lack of understanding inherent or created, confusion at thought level does prevail. Here is a humble attempt to clear it.
Hinduness connotes the identity of a people residing in Hindoostan as it was known till the period of Clive and Warren Hastings. Since the collective life of the people in this part of the globe was millenniums old and the land stretching southwards was well-walled by The Himalayas in the north, an identity unique and abiding got evolved all along. Vedas, the first recorded thoughts of humankind moulded the life, vision and perception of the inhabitants. Their men of wisdom, Rishis as they were called, spelled out to them their revelations which were basically humanistic and universal. In due course, that became the legacy of the populace as a whole and passed on from generation to generation. That came down to them as their Dharma which in essence included the entire gamut of all the human pursuits, mundane as well as ultramundane. Resultantly that gave them a solid Value System beyond the limits of climes and times.
To cite a few of such values:-
- Readiness to accept noble thoughts from any quarter.
- Truth is one but termed differently by the different as per their inner light.
- The pursuits of the wise are as infinite as the tracks of birds flying in the skies and fishes swimming in the seas.
- The earth belongs to all whom it bears and rears.
- The entire creation has within the self same energy though in varying degrees.
- To visualise unity in multiplicity is true knowledge.
- Man can make or mar himself as he alone is his final master.
All such dicta were called Mantras. Mark them they never warranted any special type of worship. There was nothing dogmatic about them.
It is this value system that resulted in the evolution of a distinct culture, civilisation and social life in Hindoostan. It was quite natural that it got manifested in all the endeavours of the people. When it reached the realities of the relationship between man and his maker it took the shape of religious belief. All these things put together gave to this huge chunk of humanity its own identity, its own Selfhood - National Persona. Verily that is termed as Hinduness. Actually, it is not a product of human effort. Rather it is an unconscious organic consummation. It operates more at the psychic level than physical. Subtly but surely it influences all the pursuits of the people of Hindoostan, be it philosophy, religion, literature, art, politics, economics, even sports. Directly connected with the ever flowing life of generations, it is never static. It can never be. It has to be ever blossoming and so ever renewing.
History stands testimony to the fact that Hinduness is a movement and a growing tradition truly reflecting the uninterrupted life of this nation. It is the raison-deter of Bharat. In short, Hinduness is the selfhood of Hindoostan evolved and developed through centuries. It is the vital force that keeps the nation going and doing. It belongs to all the children of soil without any discrimination. It enters one"s inner being as a legacy and not as a choice. It creates in every child born in this land a sense of belonging to the nation. In other words, an individual develops into a national by inheriting Hinduness. The singular becomes the collective.
Hinduism, on the other hand, is a part of Hinduness in the field of religious belief. The spiritual craving of man is also an innate quality. In that direction when Hinduness guides and goads Hinduism comes up. In fact, Vedas of Hindus do not advocate any fixed form of external worship. The king among Mantras, the Gayatri is a prayer to the life-giving Supreme Energy to develop the human intellect to a sublime stage of enlightenment. Here no particular deity is invoked. Anybody belonging to any religion, even an agnostic need have no objection to such a prayer. It should be notified that there are hundreds of such Mantras in the Vedas. But as years rolled on Brahmanas, the procedural manuals were composed and Hinduness applied to religious impulses gave rise to very many forms of beliefs, rituals, functions and festivals. Eventually, Hinduism, as we see today, got stratified.
When the western colonialists landed on the shores of Hindoostan it is this Hinduism that they saw. For them virtually it was a forest of creeds with no elements of religion according to their yardstick that identified and defined Semitic religions. It was almost impossible for them to name it. So prudently they pushed these incomprehensible faiths and creeds under one single umbrella ‘Hindu,’ the name of the people and the land, and straitjacketed it as ‘Hinduism,’ all the while maintaining that it was no true religion at all. In fact, none in India said he was a Hindu when questioned about his religion. He always replied he was a Vaishnava, Saiva, Sakteya or the like. Truly, Hinduism is a misnomer. If at all one is insistent about the word Hindu, he may call it Hindu Religions, ever plural as in the case of some constellations like Saptarshis. That would be more sound and true. To be scientifically precise it should be called ‘Dharmic tradition.’ Anyway, right or wrong, Hinduism has come to stay well anchored in European Dictionaries.
Hinduism, as it is termed, is not Hinduness. Hinduness is the identity of the land and the people whereas Hinduism is the spiritual belief-system of the individual. Hinduness is always collective whereas Hinduism is ultimately personal. Hinduness is a legacy, a tradition whereas Hinduism is a matter of choice or as of today a patrimony. The mould of Hinduness is nature, history and tradition; the mould of Hinduism is individual family and society. Hinduness has been always inclusive right from Vedic times. But to say so of Hinduism can only be partially true. In the sense that Hinduism accommodates all the newborn religions or modes of worships it is inclusive. But when we think of it entering its worship rooms, it is as exclusive as the Semitic faiths even though not that intolerant. To dilate, in the Vaishnava Sanctum no Saiva is welcome and in a Tantric ritual, no Vedantist is admitted. Each one of the Hindu religions fastidiously keeps up its purity to the exclusion of the rest. Yet they all religiously hold on to the eternal values embedded in Hinduness.
Any individual belonging to any nation has the right to choose his religion. So anyone can become a Hindu from any corner of the world by choosing Hinduism. But his Hinduism as time passes by will be influenced to a certain extent by the National Identity of the chooser. In that sense, American Hinduism or Indonesian Hinduism need not be cent per cent identical with Bharatheeya Hinduism. It shall develop its own special features in tune with its national identity. Similarly, Christianity and Islam that have entered India from the land of their origin are bound to be different to the extent influenced by Hinduness. In fact, it is already so. Islam in India has to a certain extent accepted worshipping symbols and monuments as seen in the dargah worship all over. In Kerala, Islam has regular religious festivals exactly on the lines of Hindu temples. They have their own special names like Urus and Chandanakkudam. Caparisoned elephants are an inevitable item of those functions. The mosque on the way to the famous Sabarimala pilgrimage distributes Bhasmam (sanctified ashes) as prasadam to the devotees. As far as Christianity is concerned, one is liable to mistake it for a new sect within Hinduism. The flag masts of the church, the music, the gallantry, even the theological vocabulary so closely resemble Hinduism. Both the Semitic religions are influenced by the Hindoostan’s Hinduness. Without any fear of contradiction, one can say Indian Christianity and Indian Islam have upon them the indelible impress of Hinduness. This is not to say that they have changed their fundamentals regarding their philosophy and theology.
In short, Hinduness and Hinduism are not mathematically identical with each other. At best, you may say they are twins. Exactly because of that, a casual observer gets confused but not a keen one. And a true seeker is not expected to be simply casual.
(The writer is former Akhil Bharatiya Boudhik Pramukh of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)