The Swami’s idea of India
The common educated people of this country must raise their voice against fanatics, who are emboldened by the silence of the pseudo-secular intellectuals, the support of the vote-bank seeking political class and the crusades of a biased media
The country’s Left-wing intelligentsia and the so-called progressive media, which goes hammer and tongs every time any one talks of Sanskrit, Surya Namaskar, Vande Mataram or even Yoga, were strangely silent when a few days ago some Islamic radicals forced authorities at the Mahatma Gandhi University at Kottayam in Kerala to call off the inauguration of a Chair named after Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th birth anniversary the nation is celebrating.
The Chair is headed by Professor OM Mathew, a well known academic, who belongs to a Jewish family which subsequently converted to Christianity. The incident took place days ahead of the anniversary of the Monk’s address to the Chicago World Parliament of Religions, which catapulted Indian spirituality to the global arena.
Apart from the fact that Swamiji’s 150th birth centenary celebrations were inaugurated by none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, the youth icon has never been viewed by any section of the society as a sectarian or divisive personality.
In fact, paying rich tribute to Swami Vivekananda, Mr Abdul Salam of Kerala’s Calicut University had recently written thus: “His remarkable speech at Chicago on September 11, 1893, is a call for tolerance and universal brotherhood — the enduring foundations on which the modern Indian nation is built.”
Therefore, the so-called ‘Muslim opposition’ to Swami Vivekananda is beyond comprehension, if one takes into account the latter’s famous letter, dated June 10, 1898, written in Almora to Mohammed Sarfaraz Husain of Naini Tal.
“We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best.
“For our own motherland, a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope. I see in my mind’s eye the future perfect India rising out of this chaos and strife, glorious and invincible, with Vedanta brain and Islam body.”
The Swami had all along maintained that the only rational way to cope with differences was to accept them not only as inevitable but also as essential. “One must learn that truth may be expressed in a hundred thousand different ways, and that each of these ways is true as far as it goes. We must learn that the same thing can be viewed from a hundred different standpoints, and yet be the same thing...
“Suppose we all go with vessels in our hands to draw water from the lake. One has a cup, another a jar, another a bucket, and so forth, and we all fill our vessels. The water in each case takes the form of the vessel carried by each of us, but in every case, water, and nothing but water is in the vessel... God is like that water filling these different vessels, and in each vessel, the vision of God comes in the form of the vessel. Yet He is One...”
Could there have been a more stronger message of universal harmony and brotherhood? Yet, there cannot be anything more unfortunate than the fact that such a protest took place in the highly literate State of Kerala, where the Swami had lit the first sparks of social reform.
Shocked by the untouchability and casteism during his visit to the southern State, Swami Vivekananda described its social condition as a “lunatic asylum”.
In the words of Justice VR Krishna Iyer, known for his Left leanings, “The outright condemnation of the deplorable social condition in Kerala expressed by Vivekananda luckily acted as a clarion call for reform for the succeeding generation of Kerala. The generation that succeeded, I must say, rose to the occasion and an era of social and spiritual reform followed…in one sense, the emergence of progressive classes and high level education in India and Kerala especially can be attributed to Swamiji’s powerful campaign which created new thinking.”
There is growing concern over the Islamic radicalisation in Kerala, where majority of the Muslims are not only educated and prosperous but also politically influential, unlike in many parts of the country. Led by the Popular Front of India, these radicalised youth have spread terror not only among the Hindus and Christians in the State but also among progressive members of the Muslim community. It was not long back that a bunch of PFI cadres chopped off the right palm of a college teacher TJ Joseph for setting a question paper that allegedly insulted the Prophet.
Recently, attempts were made to include in the Calicut University syllabus the poem Ode to the Sea by the Saudi-born poet and Al Qaeda’s Mufti Ibrahim Sulayman Muhammad Arbaysh alias Ibrahim al-Rubaish. However, good sense prevailed and following nationwide outrage, the university withdrew the move.
Forewarning about religious extremism, Swami Vivekananda had said, “The greatest harm comes from the fanatic. We may not doubt the sincerity of the fanatic but often he has the irresponsibility of a lunatic. The fanatic is the greatest enemy of mankind.”
The protests against the Vivekananda Chair was also in a way an attempt to tear apart the State’s secular fabric represented by academics such as Mr Mathew.
Mr Mathew, who was deeply influenced by the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa during his days as an intermediate student, epitomises the universal values of tolerance and pluralism.
In fact, he not only preaches but also practices the same in his personal life. When it came to naming his three sons, who are Jewish Rabbis, he combined the names of Hindu and Judaist historical personalities. Thus, Rabbi Akkibangiras, Rabbi Brighu Hillel and Rabbi Maimonides Kashyap, have names of Hindu sages and Jewish personalities. His granddaughter, Jessie Hellel, is a singing sensation in New Zealand.
Unfortunately, such saner voices are getting suppressed in an increasingly radicalised Kerala society. As the Vice-Chancellor of the Calicut University, Mr Abdul Salam aptly put it in an article on Swami Vivekananda published recently, “The ideas of Swami Vivekananda continue to guide our nation in many ways. I wish that this year of celebration of his 150th birth anniversary be an ideal time to re-look at his ideals in constituting an India that is tolerant and inclusive and at the same time vibrant and challenging.”
As we commemorate Swami Vivekananda’s 150th anniversary, there cannot be a more befitting tribute than working for realising his vision of a universal religion. As he famously stated, “but is there any way of practically working out this harmony in religions? …I have also my little plan…In the first place, I would ask mankind to recognise the maxim ‘Do not destroy’…iconoclastic religions do no good to this world…
“Given these cleavages, is the idea of the universal religion realistic or just idealistic? But behind all these differences, we must recognise a deeper level of commonality that suggests that the universal religion already exists, and is constantly evolving and taking clearer shape. No two persons are exactly alike, yet, despite these differences, there is a common thread of humanity.”
It is high time the common educated people of this country stand up and raise their voice against fanatics, who are emboldened by the silence of the pseudo-secular intellectuals, the support of the vote-bank seeking political class and the unidimensional crusades of a biased media. These fanatics pose a threat to the very idea of India.
(The author is Senior Fellow and Editor at the Vivekananda International Foundation)
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