Makarand Paranjape talks to Hindol Sengupta about why Hinduism and its core values need to be understood and celebrated in new, myriad ways in the 21st century India.
Makarand Paranjape – professor at JNU, has been in the news for giving an alternative perspective to the Left in the nationalism debate in India. He is a scholar of Hinduism with several books to his credit.
I requested Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Makarand Paranjape for some time after listening to his erudite lecture in the series on nationalism at the college. I felt that his talk gave the other side of the story from the Leftist perspective and it was intelligent, well-researched and lucid.
Paranjape who has written extensively on Hindu traditions, seemed like the best person to discuss the issues and challenges of contemporary Hinduism.
During the course of writing this book, I went to meet Makarand Paranjape, the professor of English and scholar of Hindu thought at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. He reminded me of a shloka,
Mata cha Parvati Devi, Pita Devo Maheswarah
Baandava Shiva Bhaktyascha, Svadeso Bhuvanatrayam
(My mother is Parvati, my father Maheshwara or Shiva; All my friends are the devotees of Shiva and all the three worlds are my home.)
‘Think of this,’ said Paranjape, ‘as a sort of post cosmopolitan Hindu thought.’
This, therefore, led naturally to the question – but what about caste? Caste discrimination has been, and is, the biggest black mark against Hindu society.
Paranjape reminded me of two things which I think are critical to appreciate in this debate:
1.Caste or by-birth discrimination is not unique to Hindu society. Old Islamic and Arab societies were some of the biggest slave owning people in the world, and in Christianity of course its history is scarred with slavery including in America the curious case of Thomas Jefferson who even while writing ‘We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable that all men are created equal’ (it was Benjamin Franklin who changed the text to changed it to ‘self evident’) was a slave owner. As, incidentally, was Franklin.
2.Babasaheb Ambedkar was not the first caste reformer in India. He was, in fact, following on the footsteps of a large number of Hindu caste reformers – from the mystic of the Bhakti movement Sri Chaitanya to Narayan Guru in Kerala.
For instance, take the case of Narayan Guru, the enlightened Ezhava leader in the southern state of Kerala. Even though he came from an ‘untouchable’ caste, Guru set up temples across Kerala. In 1887, on Shiva Ratri night, Guru, it is said, discovered a Shiv linga in his meditation. He woke from his reverie and jumped into a nearby river to emerge with a statuette. Around this idol, the famed Aruvippuram Shiva temple was built against all odds because here was an untouchable building temples, i.e., doing the task of the highest Brahmins.
When questioned by Brahmin priests, Narayan Guru said – don’t worry this is not a Brahmin Shiva, this is a temple to the Ezhava, the untouchable Shiva!
This, now, could not legitimately challenged because conceptually at least the Shiva is everywhere. Chidananda Roopah Shivoham Shivoham, as the Adi Shankaracharya sang – there is nothing in anything but the Shiva, the ultimate truth of the all pervasive Brahman.
Paranjape’s larger point through this frank and forthright interview is that Hinduism needs to be reconsidered as one of the world’s great plural and scientific faiths, and without ignoring or papering over any of its problems.