How Hindutva kills Hinduism

I.

In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4, the sage Yājñavalkya decides to retire to the forest after dividing his property between Maitreyī and Kātayāni, his two consorts. Maitreyī then gets into a discussion with Yājñavalkya on whether the property would keep her happy forever. She asks:

yan nu ma iyaṃ bhagoḥ sarvā pṛthivī vittena pūrṇā syāt kathaṃ tenāmṛtā syām iti.

“Would I become immortal if all the wealth of the world were to become mine?” Yājñavalkya has to make a clear choice between artha and moksha here, and this is what he says in response: no.

neti hovāca yājñavalkyaḥ. yathaivopakaraṇavatāṃ jīvitaṃ tathaiva te jīvitaṃ syāt. amṛtatvasya tu nāśāsti vitteneti.

“No, your life would be like that of those who have rich possessions. There is no hope of immortality through wealth.” And then the Upanishad goes on with Yājñavalkya revealing, upon request, one after the other spiritual truth to Maitreyī.

This short episode should clarify beyond doubt that the true focus in this, as in every, Upanishad is moksha, not arthaamṛtatva, not vitta. If it weren’t for this focus on deliverance or salvation, the Upanishads would have lost meaning long ago, as many of the other parts of the Vedas have.

Noise can make us forget that the Upanishads, not other texts, are central to Hinduism. But in reality, one cannot claim to uphold Hinduism but let go of Upanishadic messages. It is impossible to uphold some other text or portion thereof, if it contradicts the message of the Upanishads, and claim to uphold Hinduism.

II.

Why am I writing this? This is to set the record straight after reading an article titled ‘The Desirability of Artha’ by Bibek Debroy. I would perhaps not have bothered if it were from someone else, but for such a prominent public intellectual to let go of the centrality of the Upanishads in advocating for Hinduism illustrates that the intellectual disaster that has struck India’s right-wing elite is of a greater magnitude than I had imagined.

In an article which sets out to establish the desirability of artha, which desirability is, of course, not questionable, Debroy makes the point that the superiority of moksha in Hindu scriptures is ‘superficial’. This is an unpardonable mistake. There is no question of comparing artha to moksha in the core of Hinduism; the latter wins hands down, and explicitly.

After having made this seminal mistake, Debroy’s article gets entangled in a mess of absurdities.

Take, for example, the idea that the Varna system represents ‘nothing but economic specialization’ if we were to consider it ‘without defending its subsequent hereditary aspects’. This is like saying cyanide represents harmless matter if we were to consider it without defending its poisonous character.

Debroy also claims to give the original meaning of Brahmacharya. According to him, it need not necessarily involve celibacy. No doubt one can achieve moksha even while being a gruhastha, but that does not mean you go and preach sexual intercourse to the Brahmachari.

Continuing, Debroy argues that Hinduism is quite concerned about wealth creation (one could argue it’s always transformation); the impression that it isn’t concerned comes, according to Debroy, from a selective and biased reading of Hindu texts. Well, one can argue without end about which texts are part of Hinduism and which aren’t, but there is no doubt that the Upanishads are. There is also no doubt that they are central to the religion; any selective reading must involve them in order to remain meaningfully Hindu. In such a situation, to bring the limited scope of a couple of parvas from the Mahabharata as proof that ‘Hinduism’ cares for wealth-creation – so much that moksha loses its supreme position among the purusharthas – is to give up the core of Hinduism and wallow in superficiality.

Debroy even pushes his economic agenda into the mouth of the scripture. According to him, because public works were driven by individuals, not kings, we must take it as an acknowledgment by scripture that there should be little State involvement in public works today, too. I am not opposed to the proposition itself, but the farce of deriving it from the Mahabharata.

And what is that reference to the Buddha doing in the last paragraph of the article? The claim is that the vaishyas supported Buddha. So what? That makes moksha‘s superiority superficial as claimed? Or is it that we should welcome the author’s economics as ancient and absolute truths which supported the Buddha? Or is it a way to draw to his brand of western economics those who are concerned about the economic state of the Dalits?

Why is this intellectual disaster happening? Why are the self-appointed protectors of Hinduism themselves defaming Hindu scriptures (Debroy is apparently translating the Mahabharata and it is said to be a seminal work in Indology)? Why are the Hindutvavadis defending the indefensible exterior of the religion and discarding the perfect core, i.e., the Upanishads? Why do they not even hesitate to deny supreme importance to moksha to argue for their brand of artha?

The reason is that they try to approach Hinduism through the politico-economic lens. What appears through it is the monster created by the British and worshipped by Indian nationalists – the Indian Nation. This monster is their God. In singing its praise and positioning themselves as its high-priests, they do not seem to understand that they are destroying the impeccable spiritual core of Hinduism.

One question you must ask about Aryan Migration

The whole debate on Aryan migration, as it runs today, focuses on the northwestern border of the Indian subcontinent. While most scholars claim that the Aryans traveled from the west to the east of that border (i.e., Into-India), Hindutvavadis claim that they traveled in the opposite direction: native to India, they went westwards (i.e., Out-of-India) to civilize the world.

I have listened to both sides of the argument, and I find the Into-India claim more convincing than the Out-of-India claim. This is because of the linguistic, archaeological, literary and genetic evidence that the adherents of the former theory provide. It’s all in the public domain, so I don’t need to elaborate on it. The Hindutvavadis, on the other hand, have little more than pride in Akhand Bharat to offer. Obviously, I am open to scientific evidence from them in case they happen to provide it. I read nearly everything Shrikant Talageri, David Frawley, Koenraad Elst, and others write.

In The Pyramid of Corruption I take the Into-India view as the default model but make it clear that nothing in the book requires it. The Out-of-India model is equally good for the purposes of the book. Neither camp opposes Aryan migration itself. However, there is no agreement on what the words Aryan, Dravidian, etc., mean. This is because they came from linguistics and it is the Into-India folks who understand it to any significant degree, not the Out-of-India folks. The latter most often dismiss it as pseudo-science. When I say Aryan, I mean the speakers of Indo-Aryan languages (I drop the Indo because the book is about India); and when I say Dravidian, I mean the speakers of Dravidian languages.

After this rather long preface, let me make a very simple point about the geo-location of the whole Aryan migration debate. It is actually quite baffling for a South Indian like me. It is this, that both sides of the debate are focused on one particular region of the Indian subcontinent: the northwest. Nobody seems to be interested in Aryan migration into South India and yet all of India, which is so huge, is called into attention whenever this debate surfaces.

The Hindutvavadis have this idea of one-nation-one-everything which takes them understandably away from the idea of Aryans migrating anywhere within India. That would mean they weren’t already there. But even the Into-India folks seem to have lost interest in Aryan migration to the south. So the whole debate centers around the northwest, taking South Indians quite far away from it all but still telling them it’s related because they’re also Indians.

What is even more baffling is the fact that it is this Aryan migration to the south which is beyond doubt. There is linguistic evidence available, even today, which conclusively proves that the languages of South India are structurally unrelated to those of North India. There has been give and take of words here and there, but in terms of grammar and etymology of native words, the two are different language families. There is no disagreement on this.

Yet, Aryan migration to the Dravidian south, together with the Sanskrit language, is hardly a topic of scholarly discussions today. Instead, the whole Aryan migration debate is restricted to a region admitted to be Aryan by everyone! This has to change because Aryan migration into non-Aryan regions is more important and interesting than into Aryan regions. Even the Hindutvavadis have no option but to start using that bad word – Dravidian – if they want to appear even slightly scientific in their approach to Indian languages.

So, next time someone talks about Aryan migration, I think it’s a good idea to ask: To where? To South India?