In the recently concluded, the biggest, the most well organised Kumbh Mela ever; I got to be up close with the modern-day Hindutva brigade, and it was a lesson in Hinduism my parents never gave me.
I am a Hindu, a Brahmin at that, but being born in a family that always treated Hinduism more like a bunch of philosophies that were discussed and debated rather than an ‘ism’ a religion, I never felt like I was bound to any religion, ever. Going to a temple was optional, god, after all, was everywhere and in all of us- religious festivals were more about having fun with family and friends, god after all wanted us to be happy and make others happy- the temple in my house was home to all gods, Christ, Allah, Guru Nanak, they were all at power with Krishan and Shiv Ji, being a god after all was no one’s monopoly. It was this that I loved most about me being born in a Hindu family; I did not have to fight any regressive ideologies, there was no one talking about punishing homosexuality or adulterers, there was no part of the religion/ideology that was out of bounds for being questioned. And there was no such thing as a – good or a bad Hindu; there were liberated Hindus and the ones still stuck in the never-ending cycle of life and death.
Photo by K M Asad/LightRocket via Getty Images)
In February this year, I was quite surprised to be invited at the Kumbh by the ‘Ganga Mahasabha’. Like most Indians, I too fantasised about going to the grand Kumbh Mela one day, being from a Hindu family only added to the desire. And here I was being invited for a talk to what was being called the most well organised Kumbh ever. The fact that I was to talk about my book ‘Pornistan’ and the impact pornography is having on India, made the whole thing almost too good to be true.
The Kumbh surpassed my expectations in how breath-taking and well organised it was. The colours, the positive energy, the overwhelming display of belief and faith, the dip in the chilled Ganga, the beautifully lit banks at night, and of course the opportunity to sit beside a Naga Baba and smoke some of the blessed green stuff, it was a dream come true.
At the Ganga Maha Sabha though, I was given a lesson on the trending philosophies of Hinduism. The Sabha was full of young and old men and women, who were well educated, smart and well spoken. They were articulating their thoughts on the subject extremely well, they were all on point with the current politics, and they all had strong views on a vision for India’s future.
The group had many long-time RSS workers, several prominent BJP members and some saffron wearing religious gurus. Through various talks and long private discussions with the members, I received the following lessons on being a Hindu that my parents had never given me:
‘Gautama the Buddha the one who made us soft’
True Hindu life was being lived a long, long time ago. Before Gautam Buddha came and corrupted the whole landscape with his softness. Before Buddha, that is about two thousand and six hundred years back, we Hindus were following the Gita as a way of life, and we were doing great, fighting invaders, having prosperous lives and all that other good stuff. “I hate Gautam Buddha” one animated speak shouted and a round of applause followed.
‘Ram Mandir is a done deal, and it is only the start’
The Mughal invaders had conquered big chunks of the Indian subcontinent, this I knew, it is a fact. What I did not know is, that building a ram mandir where once Babri Masjid was, should be a non-negotiable truth for Hindus and that my fellow Hindus have already started talking about the other potential sites where temples need to be rebuilt. The idea is to make the country look like a Hindu Rashtra again. The demolition of Babri Masjid is only the start!
‘Now is the time for us Hindus to unite and fight back. Brains and strength, both must be used’
Between light banter about the weather and things to see in Kumbh, the need for Hindus to unite and ‘fight’ kept coming up. We were losing our way; we had been oppressed and misrepresented for thousands of years, now was the time for the start of Hindu glory.
‘BJP/Modi don’t matter all that much’
What was possibly the most significant learning for me during those days with the Hindutva group was the lack of sycophancy for Modi or even BJP for that matter. Sure, they supported them both, but only because they were the only option, for the Hindutva brigade. In an ideal world, one of them said ‘Both the single largest parties in the country will be Hindutva parties. A lot like Mumbai, where two major parties BJP and Shiv Sena are both Hindutva parties.”
‘Taking over the Indian intellectual space’
“The current bunch of Indian intellectuals, visionaries, are obsolete. It’s time for Hindutva to spread to all spheres of modern India.” The fact that we humans are struggling to make sense of the exponentially changing world we live in was not lost on them. In fact, one of their primary goals for organising the event was to start building a forum through which Hindu philosophies can be spread amongst the youth of the country. Hinduism can and should guide the future course of India, is what everyone there agreed upon.
Newly initiated Naga Sadhus perform rituals at the bank of river Ganga during the Kumbh Mela festival, on February 6, 2019 in Prayagraj, India. Photo by Sheeraz Rizvi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
I have never felt the need to go to a temple and ring the dong for blessings. But being from a Hindu family, where discussions about Karma, Moksha, the cycle of life and death were common, I have felt less flustered when faced with the constantly changing world around me. I have been more open to different thoughts and opinions; I have been more open to the ideas of spirituality and the practice of meditation. I have resisted the urge to judge others and have felt the need to critically examine my own life and my own actions, which is what my parents taught me was at the core of the Hindu way of life.
If true Hinduism is everything I learnt at the Ganga Mahasabha, if I need to stop seeing the good in all religions, if I need to hate Buddha and Islam and all westerners and if I need to passionately want temples to be rebuilt where they once might have been, then I don’t want to be a Hindu. Then everything that I saw as good about being a Hindu disappears and being a Hindu starts looking exactly like being from any other dogmatic religion/belief system on the planet. I choose to follow what my parents taught me and I choose to oppose everything this new Hindutva brigade stands for.