Why should the Bhagwad Gita or any other sacred book get designated as national scripture? Why does one have to learn Sanskrit? With self-proclaimed Hindu nationalists assuming the right to decide who is a Hindu, the question arises: what does it really mean to be Hindu? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder, Art of Living Foundation, tells Narayani Ganesh that any political party that seeks to represent the Hindu way needs to celebrate its diversity rather than limit it.
Why do we need to establish a certain Hindu identity?
Hinduism should be seen as a transcultural way of life. If you tie it up with a certain culture, its scope becomes very limited. This is what happened to Judaism and to some extent, to Islam. Christianity, on the other hand, has seeped into every culture — you may wear a skirt and be Christian, or wear a sari and blouse and still be Christian. Similarly you may wear a suit and tie and still be Hindu. Your dress does not matter, unlike what was promoted by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness that brought in cultural Hinduism. They insisted that people wear the dhoti-kurta and sport a shaven head with a tuft, even in cold places. They took the Bengali culture with Hinduism — there is nothing wrong with that, but it limits the purview of that philosophy. The uniqueness of Hinduism is that it transcends the cultural and generational time barrier. Fashion is a time-bound thing but if you attach religion to fashion, then there is a problem. In Chanakya's time, the tuft (at the back of the head) was the fashion, and a particular way of wearing a dhoti was the fashion. But sporting a tuft or shaving your head does not make you a Hindu.
The way one chooses to dress or eat is all part of culture, and culture is dynamic. If we embroil Hinduism in all of this — clothing, food, language and so on — we are not doing justice to its universality, to the vastness that Hinduism stands for. If we limit its scope, then its universal nature of thought gets lost.
What does vedanta say about Hindu identity?
Even among south Indian states, the culture is so different. And the culture of a Tamil, Bengali and Punjabi Hindu are also so very dif ferent. The same Krishna Yajurveda mantra is chanted differently in Kerala, in Andhra Pradesh, in Tamil Nadu and so on. So Hinduism is full of diversity and no one can make it into a uniform something. For instance, in Karnataka, the Hindu bride wears white and the widow or a sanyasi wears red whereas in TN, the Hindu bride wears red and widows wear white! It's totally the opposite, just across the border!
Wearing this colour or that, sporting a tuft or earrings is not part of religion. That is fashion. What do the Vedas say? "Krinvanto Vishwam Aryam" (Let us make this world a noble place to live in, let us give highest knowledge to the whole world). The upanishads say, "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" (the whole world is one family).
So you are saying there is no uniformity in Hinduism?
It is impossible to bring uniformity in Hinduism. The shakhas and branches are all different.
Can there be one single sacred book of the Hindus?
In Hinduism, there is no one central book, and no one specific culture. Therefore, those who are trying to bring unification are doing injustice to the very structure of Hinduism. Celebrating diversity is in the very DNA of Hinduism; that is the reason why it is most needed today in the whole world. The world is diverse — but all conflicts are about trying to make the world monolithic. Celebration of diversity is the only way to counter extremism.
What should a party that calls itself a Hindu political party be doing?
It has to honour diversity; it is the only way because otherwise, we will be narrowing the scope and reach of Hinduism. Celebrate diversity, and don't try to limit the universality of being Hindu.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.