Thursday, March 20, 2008

Survival of Hinduism in Islamic India...

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Prolonged Abrahmic onslaught is one of the definitive feature of Indian History. Ever since conquest of Sindh by Mohd bin Qasin in 711 AD, although partially, India has been subjected to Islamic brutality. Arabs could not conquer India from 700's to 1000's. This was the time when they reached their Zenith with Caliphate stretching from Indus in east to Spain in west. Almost all land in between these two points was completely converted to Islam in these years. Their past whitewashed and identity lost. The only identity that these regions showed thereafter was that it was an Islamic Land. Dar ul Islam.

Although Arabs could not conquer India, the neo-converts from central Asia like Pathans, Mughals, Turks, invaded India and established their dominion. Although most of India was eventually brought under Islamic rule, somehow, Islam could not repeat the results of Persia, Egypt, North Africa in India. The complete Islamization of India failed.

This was due to certain inherent characters of Hindu religions. One very basic tenet of Vedic philosophy which makes up the backbone of Hinduism is, Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma. - Everything is brahman.. And second is, Eko Sat vipra bahudha vadanti - Truth is one, different people refer to it by different names.

It is very much logical to compare Zoroastrianism with religions belonging to Hindu conglomerate. As both of them had to face the sword of Islam, the results in these two lands were completely different.

Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion with a strong center based upon the ultimate reverence of Ahura Mazda as one true god and ultimate reverence to the words of Zaratushtra as a final word.

Hinduism is not such centralized religion. It is amorphous religion. A hindu can easily say that allah is god. what he will think is, we call it vishnu, they call it allah.

Arabs attacked on this center of Zoroastrianism. Hence it fell. There is no such central authoritative underbelly in Hinduism. Hence, it survived. Arabs could never conquer India. They just conquered Part of Sindh for few centuries and were replaced by Sumer Rajputs.

This is the fact for all Monotheistic religions, especially, Islam and Christianity and early Zoroastrianism. Disprove prophet and Koran, and entire Islam falls into shackles. Disprove the divinity of Christ, and entire set up of Christianity falls down to nothing. Hinduism and to some extent Judaism have shown the resilience and lack of such soft underbelly under the hard shell. This is what I mean when I say that Hinduism is amorphous religion which changes with time.

Unfortunately for Zoroastrians, the Arab juggernaut fell on the soft underbelly. The tough shellof military might was weakened due to wars with Romans. So, Iran had to face a tough time.

There were many changes that were introduced in Hindu society as response to Islamic onslaught. The morality in warfare hit Indians very badly too. Perhaps, that was a concept which was outdated when Islam fell upon the world. Hinduism moved ahead, and became experts in the so called immoral warfare too. Shivaji is brilliant example. So are Kings of Vijaynagar.

The changes, good or bad, that got introduced in Hindu society were as follows.

Development of Caste System.

You may be surprised when I say that caste system strengthened as response to Islamic invasion. There is subtle different between Varna System that is mentioned in Vedic literature and present caste system.

Varna of a person is not based upon his birth, but upon his basic nature and more importantly, the profession he takes up. So Shudra's being considered as dirt of feet is all crap. Nothing of that sort is mentioned in Shrutis.

Caste, as we know today, is a closely knit community which interbreed and gives a legitimacy to a person. The punishment of being Outcast was more painful than death penalty. Because, the very identity of person finishes off, when he is excommunicated.

Let me give u one example. The Catholic Christians of Goa proselytized more atrociously than Muslims. A priest used to come in village, and put pieces of bread and wine in the wells of people. Mostly, in the wells of the people from lower castes. After the people of that community had drunk the water from that particular well, it was declared that the community has been converted to Christianity and have been saved from Eternal Damnation. Of course, other forceful measures were always at disposal.

This resulted in people of different castes uniting and securing their own water sources. The converted people became a new caste in themselves and had to interbreed as no other person will indulge with them in food sharing OR marital alliances. So, today, we find castes in converted Muslims and Christians too who have similar thoughts of social heirarchy as their Hindu Counterparts have. I have a Friend who is Roman Catholic from goa and is a Kayastha Prabhu. She said, she will marry only to a person who is Prabhu-catholic. This is how, it limits the overall spread alien religion to other communities in such tightly knit medieval society.

Hence, although an evil practice in Hindu society, Caste helped a lot indirectly in preventing the mass conversions to Abrahmic faiths. This system was not always so evil. It grew evil. But, given the features of Hindu society, if it can be incorporated when it was required, it can also be thrown out when it is no longer required. The works of great people like Savarkar, Ambedkar, Phule and many others initiated this process. As a result, the influence of caste system is greatly reduced as compared to 1800's. In urban India, caste is not at all cared about, except during arranged marriages. In love marriages, who cares about the caste.

Second most important reason of survival of Hinduism ability of Hinduism to produce time and again the radical reformers who shape up the society.

There were people like Bappa Rawal in Rajputana, who organised reconversion of Muslims to Hindus. Many Muslims were reconverted to Hinduism by many reformers time and again. Shivaji and other Marathas sponsored such ceremonies from state's fund.

The founders of Vijaynagar empire, Harihar rai and Bukka Rai were forcibly converted to Islam. Vidyaranya Swami, the Shankaracharya, converted them back to Hinduism, and they founded one of the greatest Hindu Empires in medieval India.

Then there was Khushro Khan of Khilji dynasty, who proclaimed to be a Hindu Emperor of India after a coup and usurping the power from son of Allauddin Khilji.

There are many such examples.

Thirdly, the disparity between Hindus and Buddhists was very important reason. It is well documented fact by many people including Al beruni, that Buddhists offered very little resistance to marauding Islamic hordes. The places where they were in majority, like Afghanistan and Bengal, quickly got converted to Islam.

Sufism was very important factor as well. Hinduism developed Bhakti Movement as a response to Sufism. So, it did not have as much effect on Hindus, as it had on Buddhists.

Hinduism changes demographically as well as with time. The Hindus of Ajmer had no issues in visiting Dargah of Moinuddin Chisti. It is against the principle of Islam to worship a man. But, Hindus were OK with it.

The inherent social mobility of Hindu society is also responsible. When Elite Kshtriya people of India died out with Guptas fighting Huns, rajputs were elevated to the status of Kshtriyas.

Similarly with Marathas. Shivaji had no relation whatsoever with rajputs. If you have read my article on Shivaji, his grandfather was ordinary bargir who did not even own a horse. But, Shivaji was coronated as Kshtriya King and thus heralded the new era of Hindu revival.

Many castes which can be apparently called as Shudras were elevated to Kshatriya hood. Many Brahmin people denounced their Brahminism and became Kshtriya. Most famously, the Peshwas and their Brahmin sardars.

Other castes like that of Shephards (Holkars), farmers (Scindhias), and others became to be known as Kshtriyas after they proved their mettle.

Thus we see that, there was always some one who took the place of the line that fell in previous onslaught. This inherent mobility of Hindu society and ability to change with time was the main reason of Hindu survival in India, Islamic OR christian.

This does not demean the attrocities committed upon hindus by Muslims and Christians. But, Hindus outlasted all of them. Today, average Muslim society is far lagging behind the average Hindu society in terms of education and openness of mind.

It is seen from the trend all over the world in all times that if left alone, Hindus tend to prosper along with others peacefully. Followers of Christianity and Islam usually can't..

According to V S Naipaul, Islam is a Arabic Nationalist Movement. Somehow, every muslim is forced to revere the Arabic lands, even if he is not even remotely associated with Arabia.  Although the invading Arabs were marauders, they were more concerned with having a cultural impact of Islam on the cultures they conquered. Look at Iran, Egypt and entire North Africa, and medieval Spain. All these cultures lost their very identity due to Arabic Invasion. All of them were molded in Arabic Culture. So such an extent that Egyptians consider themselves as Arabs and forget their own glorious heritage. So is the case with Iran, except for Shia-Sunni Problem.

So was the case with Arabs who conquered Samarkand and central Asia. But, most of the central asians were tribals. So, the Central Asian Muslims right from Sabaktijin to Ahmadshah Abdali, were relatively less cultured than Arabs, and definitely less cultured than Hindus. So, although, they tried to follow the tenets of Islam as they understood it, by destroying the temples, killing people, forcible conversions by sword OR blackmail, imposition of Jaziya. They were more in Awe with India. Be it Mughals Or their predecessors.

But, they could not destroy the culture. And irony of Muslims in India is, they could not Destroy Hindu Culture in thousand year stay. Nor they have assimilated in Hindu Culture like Huns, Kushans, Scythians, greeks and others. That is why they are suffering from such huge identity crisis.

Jainism remained a faith of Classes.. It was not a religion of masses like Hinduism (in all its forms) and Buddhism (Once upon a time for short period). Secondly, it blended into Hinduism beautifully and did not pose itself as an idealogical threat to Hinduism.

Thirdly, there are few instances wherein Buddhists helped invaders due to religious allegiance. Most famous example is Menander OR Milinda, a bactrian greek invader who conquered region all the way up to Ayodhya and Buddhist emperor of Magadh, Brihadratha Maurya, did nothing. Pushyamitra Sunga had to carry out a coup to replace this dysfunctional monarch and defeat Menander.

Hence, Buddhism was virtually non existent in Mainland India from 1300's to 1956. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism and resurrected it in India. Most of Buddhists were converted to Islam in Bengal and Northwest Frontier as they offered very little resistance to Invading Muslims. This Buddhist complacency is seen time and again in Ancient phase of Indian History and India has paid heavy price for this.

Jainism simply did not grow that big and huge as Buddhism. So its fall was not very complete and it survived in form of few communities in Western India. I wonder, many jains today are gujaratis. However, many holy Jain places are in Karnataka like Shravan Belagola.

Lastly, Hinduism (in all its forms) does not proselytize as much as Abrahmic faiths. The conflict was mainly ideological, and these two religions were vanquished by means of soft power, instead of hard power.. They were assimilated in mainstream and were allowed to maintain their distinct identity as well.. Buddha became 9th incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna became a Teerthankara of Jain as well. Krishna's second Guru, Ghor Angirasa, was a Jain teerthankar himself.

All these characteristics present in Dharmic tradtions of Hindu-Conglomerate, enabled the survival of Hinduism in one of the worst phases of Indian history.

3 comments:

Raja Ram said...

Good article Chiron, I enjoyed it. One small point about Jainism. It cannot be dismissed as not being a religion of the masses.

One of the lesser known aspects was the extant and spread of Samana matha, as Jainism was known, in the South. It is indeed something that I do not know much about.

But Jainism spread to such an extent in ancient Tamil Nadu that temples were changed and monastries were built. The great Pallava Emperor Mahendra Varman was a Jain and it was in later days that he converted back to Saivaite Hinduism.

The Pandya emperor at the time of Nayanmar Saint Thirugnana Sambandar was a Jain too. Sambandar cured the emperor when every one had given up by composing a famous verse on the power of the Vibhuti and anointing the King

Later the Jain elders challenged Sambandar and the Dravidasisu defeated them. The Jain elders had taken a vow to kill themselves if they lost and they honoured their word.

The great Ilango Adigal, the royal Chera prince who wrote the Ayinperrumkapiyam or the five great epics was also a Jain.

The great masses that were under the thrall of Jainism was brought back into the fold of Saivisim through the great Alwars (Vaishnavites- 12 in number) and Nayanmars (Saivaite saints - 63 in number)

Chiron said...

Thank you Rajaram ji,

This article was written quite a while ago. And I must accept that I did not know about the expanse of Jaina tradition in South before reading your comment.

I stand corrected.. Thank you.. :-)

hypomaniac said...

you forgot the greatest evolution or mutation of hinduism due to threat of islam...
sikhism..