By Promod Puri
The expression Hindutva emerged from Hinduism, meaning a state or quality of being a Hindu. However, going through its etymology Hindutva sought a wider demarcation to move free from Hinduism while keeping a bonded identity with it.
The Hindutva ideology was first introduced in 1923 by Maharashtra-based Hindu social and political activist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. As an advocate of sovereignty, Savarkar started his public life as a radical freedom fighter for the liberation of India from British rule. During this stint, he spent several years in jail, including the infamous and torturous cells of the Andaman Islands, from where he sought clemency with a promise to renounce revolutionary activities. After the release, Savarkar’s temperament turned to creating Hindu nationalism by identifying and promoting its heritage and civilization.
Savarkar had an inherent conservative vision of Hindu social and political consciousness to perceive a Hindu Rashtra (nation). His Hindutva doctrine is based on the hypothesis that India’s religious and cultural diversities are fundamentally rooted in its collective Hindu identity.
“Common Rashtra, common race and common culture” are the three cardinals identifying Hindutva nationalism
In line with the Hindutva’s concept, Hindu means a nationality of Hindu Rashtra, a motherland or fatherland with its geographical boundaries. And in terms of “common race and common culture,” Hindu means a correlative genealogy or ancestry, sharing its cultural heritage, beliefs, and ethics.
Correspondent to that, the followers of all the India-born religions and sects are included in the Hindutva fold. But it excludes those who belong to foreign-born faiths like Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism.
Hindutva tries to portray itself as a cultural and nationalistic conception to mark itself as India’s identity. Still, it does not assume a theological categorization. In its expansive role, Hindutva believes in the existence of a collective Hindu culture or way of life which is also being shared and practiced by compatible non-Hindu communities. In social environs, Hindutva is everything that is Indic.
Savarkar explicitly proclaimed, “Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded with the other cognate term Hinduism, but a history in full”.
Savarkar’s approach incidentally confined Hinduism within its religious and spiritual order. And let Hindutva play a wider role in defining India’s nationalism, its people, history, culture, and traditions.
Savarkar argued, “Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by Hinduism. An ‘ism’ is generally meant a theory or a code more or less based on spiritual or religious dogma or creed. Had not linguistic usage stood in our way, then ‘Hinduness’ would have certainly been a better word than Hinduism as a near parallel to Hindutva”.
He declared, “Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva. … Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race”.
In India’s cultural, linguistic and religious diversities, Savarkar believed the existence of a strong underlying Indian tradition based on his vision of Hindu values. In his view, Hinduism reflects the cultural and political nationality of India.
With that premise, Savarkar tried to secularize Hindutva. Under that platform, he could include Muslims, Christians, and Parsis, believing these communities were Hindus too, from cultural and historical perspectives.
According to Hindutva, being a Hindu is more than a religious engagement. It is a cultural concept not only of Hindus but of other communities residing within the Hindu social order, irrespective of their religious affiliations.
Inspired by Hinduism but having its fundamentals in culture, history and civilization, Hindutva finds some parallels with existing Bharatiya and Hindustani appellations. The latter represents India’s diverse cultural and social values in more secular and unequivocal terms than Hindutva.
While restricting it in the theological domain, Savarkar’s attempt to whip the Hindutva ideology from Hinduism perplexes the Hindu mind. Neither can be classified as a reform movement in Hinduism.
With his literary background in Indology, it is confusing why Savarkar was unable to realize that the uniqueness of Hinduism lies in its totality which covers not only rituals, philosophies and spirituality, but its traditions, cultural and social trends.
Hinduism is not merely a religion. And it is not only a way of life either. It goes beyond rituals, customs, and traditions. The depth and vastness of Hinduism touch every aspect of human observation and activity.
From rituals to murti-puja, mantra and metaphysics, karma and moksha, to meditation and yoga, and all its recreational aspects like music, dance, and drama, Hinduism is a disciplinary and a comprehensive experience of spiritual development in the liberal and progressive regime.
This expanded definition covers the cultural, religious and philosophical aspects to present a collective identity of Hinduism for ritualistic, theological and academic pursuits. Taking out the social segment or any other aspect from it goes against Hinduism’s very spirit and integrated constitution.
Besides treading through its rituals, customs and traditions, being a Hindu is an engagement in philosophies for analytical debate about life and our relationship with nature and the universe. It is a fascinating journey in spiritual knowledge.
This pilgrimage offers a meaningful perspective of the religion, which recognizes the universal connectivity in nature, including our relationship with fellow human beings. Savarkar’s fenced Hindutva ideology, which bars non-Hindus, denies that universal connectivity.
The Upanishadic vision of our togetherness as one human race irrespective of our colour, creed or religious beliefs is very wisely expressed in the following mantra:
“ Om purnam adah purnam idam
purnat purnam udachyate
purnasya purnam adaya
The mantra affirms that the universe is a totality, indivisible and an organic whole where plants, birds, animals, humans, mountains, and stars are all together in His manifestation
The mantra’s accent is on complete balance in all of His universal creations, from the elements of nature to mankind. For humanity, the mantra conveys that every human being is equal in his or her completeness as manifested by Him.
Savarkar talks about the exclusivity of membership in Hindutva and shares “common Rashtra, common race and common culture.” In all these commonalities, the underlying link is a separate Rashtra, a separate race and a separate culture of Hindutva.
Culture is a distinctive feature of one group of people comprising several aspects. One is religion, and the others are language, cuisine, social habits, music, and arts. Obviously, one aspect of a culture does not represent the whole.
The expression “Hindu culture” is as vague as saying Hindu cuisine (except by international airlines referring to “Hindu meal”). And it is as much eluding as trying to contrive a language, music, arts, customs, etc. with a suffix of Hindu like saying Hindu music or Hindu language.
Culture, in most cases, is secular in nature.
When we talk about a cultural community, we mean an all-inclusive explicit way of life. It represents all groups of people sharing common identities despite belonging to different religious denominations. But all speaking the same language and sharing the same social and cultural traits.
Often people of one cultural community have several religions.
The unity of India lies in its cultural plurality. The denial of that plurality and imposing a monolithic Hindutva hegemony fragment the nation’s multicultural fabric. Social unity and coherence are advancing society’s natural needs and dependencies.
In its present avatar, Hindutva’s ideology of non-inclusiveness conflicts with Hinduism’s secular, liberal and democratic spirit. Hindutva needs an ideological reconstruction which can be an effective and dedicated institution in the service of Hinduism.
But if it does not and sticks to its stand that “Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva, ” it can find some archive space in Hinduism. In its vast open structure, Hinduism has always accommodated diverse ideologies. And kept them as part of its history and ever-evolving constitution. That is the tradition in Hinduism. Hindutva can rest in that tradition.
(Promod Puri lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is a writer, former editor, and publisher of the South Asian Canadian newspaper, The Link, and ex-editor of Native Indian newspaper, The New Nation. He is the author of the recently published book titled “Hinduism beyond rituals, customs and traditions”). His website: promodpuri.com, progressivehindudialogue.com