I recently read, and started thinking about, A.K. Saran’s proposition that, today, we cannot be practising Hindus because Hinduism is inextricably linked to a Hindu samaaj* and today there is no functioning Hindu samaaj left. I got to thinking about all the still surviving parts of our Hindu samaaj. These would be our languages with their stories and songs, our puja and temple practices, our festivals, our food practices, our women’s dresses, our sadhus and their satsangs etc. You can easily add many, many more items to this list. Then how are we to believe that there is no ‘living’ Hindu samaaj left? Let me use some examples to explore this.
1. A friend of mine who is married to a Chinese lady told me about his marriage rituals. He said that they had a registered marriage but they had a choice of what dress to wear for their wedding celebrations. They could choose dresses from any of the various Chinese dynasties. The process included trying out various options and narrowing down on the one they liked. The photographs he showed me looked very ‘traditional’!
2. Yesterday, I was at a friends place and his children go to a school that openly talks about ‘Bharatiyata’. All the adults, parents and teachers, of the school are ‘didi’ and ‘bhayya’ to the children. This, however, only works inside the school boundary and the children call all adults ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’ when they are at home. This is no problem if it does not confuse us that we are developing our ‘Bharatiya’ identity in school with this artificial behaviour.
I hope that you get the point. A traditional samaaj is not something that we can artificially create by choosing practices from an existing set of options according to our liking, like a buffet meal. It is something that has evolved organically over countless generations. A random set of surviving ‘traditional’ practices does not imply that we are part of a living traditional samaaj. Extrapolating from Saran saab’s idea, we can see that what we have today are the pieces of a broken samaaj. There is no way that these pieces can be reverse-engineered to arrive at a ‘living’ samaaj. There is no going back!
So, given these realities, what can we do? Firstly, we can try to understand things AS THEY ARE (however painful or confusing that is) and not construct false or rosy images about how we think they SHOULD be. And over the next two-three generations, if there appears a strong, clear-headed, confident, rooted generation of men and women, then Bharatmata may start speaking to (and through) them again and a samaaj may again be born. Today, we can perhaps hope and pray and work towards imagining this generation into existence. What do you think?
[* What is meant by ‘samaaj’ here is the social, economic, material, interconnected, comprehensive, web of human relationships that Ravindra Sharma Guruji used to talk about from his eye-witness perspective. Unlike other ‘religions’, everything related to what we call Hinduism was inextricably woven into this samaaj. For example, the Jajmani system, that ensured honourable and sacred work (and exchange of commodities) for everyone, cannot be segregated from the practice of Hinduism. Or, in celebrating a festival, the goods that would come to our homes included artefacts made by many Jatis and this was an integral part of the festival]