RSS should look at the other “Five Ms” that threaten Hindutva.
Within the first few months of him taking office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was ridiculed for his alliterative acronym affliction. The five “Ts” that would salvage India’s economy, the five “Fs” that can push growth, the three “Ds” that are India’s biggest strengths and so on. Thankfully, Modi ji seems to have paid heed to the criticism and we don’t hear him coming up with more alliterations now.
But it seems the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has now jumped on the annoying alliteration bandwagon. As reported, at the recently-concluded World Hindu Congress (WHC) in New Delhi’s uber swanky Ashoka Hotel, the Sangh released a “Thought Paper” that identified five Ms as the biggest threat to Hindutva in India.
The “malicious-5”, or M5, are — Marxism, Macaulayism, Missionaries, Materialism and Muslim extremism.
Before we wince or applaud (as our political affiliation may be) we need to remind ourselves that this isn’t the first time the RSS has blamed the thirteenth alphabet for being the devil’s cue. The Sangh has merely added two more words — Missionaries and Materialism – to its long-time troika of the terrible – Marx, Macaulay and Madrasa.
Now, knowing history in general and that of Hinduism in particular hasn’t really been a strong point of the RSS; but if they took time off from banning books on Hindu theology and instead read a few, they’d see that the threat to their politics comes from an entirely different set of Ms – and they come from within Hinduism.
The other five
Somewhere between 1690 and 1780, Brahmin scholar Bhaskararaya travelled the length and breadth of the Hindu realm and worked on collecting material and writing on subjects spanning grammar, theology, literature and so on.
Funded largely by the Hindu king Serfoji I — whose Maratha-Thanjavur kingdom encompassed much of present day Maharashtra and quite a bit of Tamil Nadu — Bhaskararaya put together a huge body of work detailing the philosophies and practices of Hinduism.
Much of what we know about the Hindu concept of the Mother Goddess or Shakti is based on the voluminous and encyclopaedic work of this one man.
With his works on Sri Vidya (knowledge of the Mother Goddess) and Sakta (worshippers of feminine divinity) theology, tantra and vamachara (left-handed path and other antinomian practices of religion), the kaula and other Upanishads (vedantic philosophy that went beyond just urbane sensibilities), Bhaskararaya’s oeuvres are the encyclopaedia on which generations of historians and religious scholars have built their work worldwide.
In his expansive treatise on sakta tantrism, he enlists the panchamakara that were/are considered the essential rites of enlightenment and liberation. He lists them as: mamsa (meat), matsya (fish), mudra (fermented grains), madira (liquor) and maithuna (sex).
Needless to say, each of these five Ms are severely at odds with the RSS’s version of adarsh Hinduism.
They want to ban non-vegetarian food if possible – so there’s bound to be a conflict with mamsa and matsya.
The Sangh has stated on occasion that it is against alcohol consumption – meaning the intoxicants mudra and madira are not allowed (ganja of the Shaivas is anyway illegal).
As for the last M, people who get all worked up about two people kissing each other, maithuna, which is sex for pleasure not procreation, is beyond taboo. And, of course, salvation through maithuna (orgasm) that was often achieved with the aid of a yogini/dakini (women who are independent worshippers themselves and not legally-wedded wives) is a catastrophe of cosmic proportions!
The biggest tragedy for the RSS is that Bhaskararaya is none of the five Ms, which the RSS would have us believe to be anti-Hindu.
Marx was born over three decades after Bhaskararaya died – so unless, like plastic surgery and airplanes, The Capital and The Communist Manifesto were written in ancient India, there really is no way Bhaskararaya could be a Marxist.
Baron Macaulay came to India in 1834, again, well after Bhaskararaya died, so we can tick that M off as well.
Missionaries? Are you kidding me? Bhaskararaya devoted his entire life to the worship of the Mother Goddess and was a yajna-performing Hindu. He devoted his entire life to the study and propounding of Hindu theology in a country full of Muslim rulers. If anything, he’d probably have cast a spell of everlasting hell on Christian missionaries – sacred thread firmly in hand.
The next M, materialism, doesn’t fit in either. Materialism has come to mean two things in our times. One is the everyday use of the word that implies a materialist person is one who is attached to amassing material wealth and material goods – capitalist/consumerist/great Indian middle class for short.
In philosophy, materialism means one who interprets history and society based on the interaction of tangible and material things (things one can see and feel or mathematically deduce) and rejects intangible things. But even this version doesn’t work for Bhaskararaya.
There was a huge amount of materialist philosophy in India since the dawn of history – in fact, at times we find proto-materialism in Hindu society predating the Greco-Roman schools of materialism.
Bhaskararaya could have chosen to be part of any of those schools of philosophy if he had wanted. But he was, in fact, everything opposed to materialism. He was a faithful and ardent devotee of the Mother Goddess. So much so that texts on him are full of references about how he saw the Goddess with his mortal eyes, and how he was haunted by her. His Tripurasundari Bahya Varivasya was allegedly narrated to him by the Goddess herself!
So, yes, this M too gets struck off. And the last M – Muslim extremism? Well there’s not even an iota of chance for that to be possible (unless of course a photoshopped picture of Bhaskararaya holding an ISIS flag emerges on social media).
So what does that leave us with? A staunch Hindu Brahmin who could quote scriptures even if woken up in the middle of the night, a man who knew his Hinduism so well that political debaters and pundits of his time steered clear of his immensely vast reading and intensely sharp tongue (the Goddess answers through him, they said, petrified).
That, in turn, leaves us with the conclusion that if the RSS is looking for a set of Ms that are the undoing of their three Ms, Maharani Victoria morality, Mein Kampf politics and Mussolini pants, they are looking in the wrong places. The undoing of their Italian fascism plus German Nazism mix, masquerading as Hinduism lies in the isms of the land of Hindus itself.
The riddle that is mainstream
One may argue here that all this tantra and panchamakara are not part of mainstream Hinduism and are therefore something we can ignore and continue with the standard version. But to that I would ask – what is mainstream? What is the standard?
One fact is that wars waged with the pretence of religious identity or the primacy of one myth over another are riddles that refuse to be solved. Another is that we don’t really leave our history behind as much as we are often led to believe. These two facts together keep up a state of perpetual war in the name of religious identities that change all the time.
For example, through its press releases at the WHC, the RSS would have us believe that it’s an all-Hindus versus all non-Hindus war and it’s been like that forever. But that’s not true.
Hindu–Muslim conflict has existed historically – there’s no denying that. But so did Hindu-Buddhist conflict and Hindu-Jain conflict and so on and so forth. Most importantly, alongside these, there have always been conflicts within each religion. “Virat Hinduism”, which the Hindutva brigade keeps harping about in the media, is but a temporary ploy of first dealing with the Muslims and then moving on to others within Hinduism.
The saktas (the worshippers of the Feminine Shakti), the shaivas (the worshippers of the Masculine Shiva) and the vaishnavas (the followers of the urbane and much later day religion organised under the name of Vishnu) have always been ill at ease with each other.
The famous vaishnava evangelist, Chaitanyadev, of Bengal, faced stiff opposition from the saktas and shaivas of his time because it was they who ruled the roost.
Things changed for the better when he got the support of the Muslim (yes, Muslim!) Nawab of Bengal, a friendlier space in Nilachal (present day Orissa) than Bengal and its Brahmins and the following of the cash-rich trader community (the Vaishyas).
And we still see that conflict alive when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a leader of the trader community, gifts the Gita (Hinduism from a Vaishnava perspective) as the de-facto religious book of India and not, say, a Shiva Purana or a Chandi Mangal Kavya.
What remains constant is the rejection of the cultural practices of those who aren’t in power by those who are. Those in power declare themselves “mainstream” and those out of power as “the others”. They hold up the practices of this mainstream as ‘the standard’ and denigrate the practices of others as ‘deviant’. Soon enough, the power of the State is used to outlaw ‘deviant’ cultures and an imposition of ‘the standard’ happens (IITs must not serve non-veg because the Vaishnavas and Jains in power do not eat meat.
Bhaskararaya himself acknowledged the dialectics of being an orthodox casteist Brahmin in public and a liberated adept of the Tantric way, which rejects both the centrality of the Brahman and caste as a denominator, in private.
He lived a dual life and reasoned that the ways of tantra are not for everyone and hence need not be talked about openly. A few hundred years down the line, Bhaskararaya’s sounds a bit hypocritical – or, at best, like a man who is scared of being politically persecuted for his non-conformist, non-brute, liberal opinions. What he was doing is what we see a lot of amongst the elite in India, Pakistan and other countries today – they espouse majoritarian and pro-moral policing ideologies in public, but are very liberal in private. For being on the right side of power and the good books of benefactors they carry on with this Bhaskararayan duality.
But what should deeply worry the RSS is that no matter what is stamped as “mainstream”, “standard” and “compliant”, the others and their deviations do not go away. There is a good chance that the “malicious-5” will outlive the RSS.