Wednesday, 16 January 2008


I saw a news report yesterday about a division amongst Hindus over the appointment of a new head for a temple.
In the pilgrim town of Udipi, there is a temple dedicated to Krishna. A monk called Sugunendra Teertha is due to be appointed as the new head of this temple. Many Brahmins, however are opposed to his posting because they feel he is not worthy because he has been rendered permanently impure by a sin.

What is this terrible unforgivable sin?

He has travelled overseas.
No. That's it.

He has committed "sagarollanghana", the Sanskrit term for crossing the seas, an act that they said defied a centuries-old tradition and left him impure.
Although hardly practiced now, some conservative Hindu religious orders frown upon overseas travel because they claim religious scriptures make "crossing the seas" a sin.
Even Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India's freedom movement, was excommunicated by conservative Hindu members of his Bania trading caste when he went to Britain to study law.

So my first take on reading the story was "Hinduism - just as screwed-up as all the other religions" My scant knowledge of Hinduism certainly made me think it was more ludicrous than others, with its many gods, gods with lots of arms and gods with elephant heads. I thought the caste system alone was enough to condemn it as an oppressive theology.

But reading a bit about it in wikipedia it seems Hinduism is pretty complex. Still deluded and false, mind you, but there are aspects of Hinduism I knew nothing about.
The reasons for Hinduisms complexity are its great age. It's been going for so damn long that it has split into a myriad of denominations. It has a host of different scriptures. Some Hindus hold Vishnu
as the supreme being. Others go with Shiva or Shakti.
Hindus and scholars argue over whether the caste system is an integral part of the religion or just an outdated social custom.
On its positive side, Hinduism promotes the practice of ahimsa (non-violence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals. In accordance with ahimsa, many Hindus embrace vegetarianism to respect higher forms of life.
Of course this respect for all life didn't prevent bloodshed between Muslims & Hindus during the separation of Pakistan from India!

Hinduism is also particularly interesting in the figure of Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, or Vishnu come to earth in human form. There are many parallels between Vishnu and Christ, and people who argue that Jesus Christ never existed will cite Krishna as one of the sources for Christ. The Hindu pantheon is too confusing for me, I can't seperate the Devas from the Avatars from the Gods (supreme, greater or lesser)
And then there is Karma, and Samsara - the circle of life. The wiki article says "Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to reincarnation as well as one's personality, characteristics and family. Karma threads together the notions of free will and destiny."
Aaaargh! How does it do that?
It will take me months of study to get my head round this religion. And frankly, I can't be bothered. Because while the circle of life thing sounds cosy and warm, it is utterly unverifiable, and if it goes along with the multiple arms, elephant heads, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, temple & pilgrimages, they can keep it.


King Aardvark said...

HI Stew, I just noticed the new digs. Looking good, I must say.

I've never been able to get my head around Hinduism. It seems too convoluted to me. As Homer said to Apu, "when they were handing out religions you must have been taking a wiz."

So, let me get this straight - you aren't allowed to cross a body of water? That's interesting. What if you did it now and travel from India to England, crossing the channel using the Chunnel?

Anonymous said...

Respected Sir,
From your blog post, I can clearly deduce the fact that you don't know a thing about Hinduism. I am a Hindu and refute all your allegations against Hinduism. Just because you don't get the idea of Hinduism does not mean those who follow Hinduism are crackpots. Your idea of caste system is wrong. The Vedas classified people based on their occupation.What you see today was not prevailing at the age of vedas. A brahmin had knowledge but no land. A shudra had lands but not vedic knowledge. A kshatriya had the courage to fight in battlefield and so he had to protect people of his land. A Vaishya was a honest merchant. Each section of the society had equal advantages and disadvantages which made sure that one section cannot exist without other. With mounting greed for political power and the sweet promises made the by invaders, people gave in. yes! Hindu Kings fought with each other. But they had a code of honour. They will stop their battles at dusk. Never attacked women or children. Never ransacked property of people. Held their battles on barren lands away from the civillians. The defeated king was pardoned and was given his own territory to rule for a tax amount. The only reason for the degeneration of Hinduism is because of foreign invasion and not because Hindus were incompetent to preserve their lineage.

Anonymous said...

I will just comment on the main issue which triggered your diatribe.
A person was denied appointment to a post because of a certain disqualification.
Let us consider a non-religious scenario. We make up (arbitrary) rules. For example, Can a foreigner be a president of France?
You have a rule preventing that?
Why? If there is a qualified person of any origin, wouldn't it be prudent to make him/her the leader?
Having said that, religion is a matter of belief and faith. Even if it is rooted in illogical stuff or superstitions.
Can someone review all the edicts independent of the circumstances and revise the reflect the present state of affairs?
Most definitely, the rule to allow a person who has crossed the seas to head the said religious institution.
But, if someone were to amend the rules to suit the circumstance, then it would be arbitrary and partisan and wouldn't be acceptable.
Think about it.