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It Examines The Cultural Resources Underlying Manifestations Of `Faith` In The Context Of Communalism And Fundamentalism

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The Question of Faith
 0863113923, 9780863113925

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B 4 094 548

RUSTOM BHARUCHA •

THE QUESTION OF FAITH •

THE QUESTION OF FAITH

Trained as a dramaturge, Rustom Bhartlcha has written extensively on indigenous theatres and the politics of interculturalism. Allthor of Reh,,anal.r of Rwolution, Tht..tn •nd th. World: Essays on Performance and Politics of Culture, The Theatre of Kanhailal: 1Pebe11 and 'Ml1'fl0in of Africa', and a forthcoming study on the dancer and choreographer, Chandralekha, he is now focusing on the cultural implications of 'globaliution' in the · Indian context.

TRACTS FOR THE TIMES Editorial Board S. Gopal • Romila Thapar i'

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Editor Neeladri Bhattacharya ALSO IN THE SERIBS

Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags Tapan Basu, Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar and Sambuddha Sen

E1111w01IW#ntal Cons,iOIU1MSS l#la Urban Planni,,g MN Buch KAJJ,,,,ir: T OUJt:1rds lns,wg,,,&y Balraj Puri

COVER: SUSE'I I A BOZZI

TRACTS FOR THE TIMES / 3

The _uestion o Faith RUSTOM BHARUCHA

Orient Longman

THE QUESTION OF FAITH Orient Longman Limited R,gist,nd O/fit1 3-6-272 Himayatnagar Hyderabad 500 029 (A.P.)

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Contents ••

Editor's Preface

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Preface

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1 Introduction

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2 Experience and Faith

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3 The World of the Believer

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4 Understanding Faith

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5 Politics and Faith

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6 Conclusion

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Editor's Preface TRACI'S Foll THE TIMES will attempt to provide meaningful infor-

mation, critical penpcctives, and theoretical reflections on various themes of contemporary concern. The tracts will seek to deepen our knowledge of crucial issues, query our common sense, re-think old concepts, and analyse the social and economic problefT!S we confront. This tract offers a double critique. It criticizes those who transfor111 faith into an instrument of communal politics, as well as those who inevitably associate faith with fundamentalism. It polemicises against a form of narrow, sectarian secularism which refuses to be sensitive to tradition and faith. It argues that secularism needs to be re-thought, and secularists.should take faith seriously. Only then can secularism reclaim the ideological space which 'fundamentalists' are threatening to take over, only then can secularists capture the minds of people. Through studies of Ramlila and Kumbha Mela, Bharucha suggests that it is necessary for non-believers to enter the world of believen to undentand how they experience that world and relate to it; how spectators are incorporated into a performance, how their involvement in a Iii. or a ,-/4 defines their experience and consciousness. Bharucha emphasises that tradition and faith need to be seen through the eyes of believen, that rituals which arc meant to be participatory cannot be judged from the outside. Believers experience and ~ faith in a variety of ways. Communal forces seek to erase this variety, homogenize ways of looking, and thus transfor111 faith into a communal and totalitarian phenomenon. But the ••

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EDITOR'S PREFACE

ambivalences of faith, the possibilities of alternate viewing, cannot ( be permanantly repressed. · ; From the world of Ii/as and me/as Bharucha moves to the realm of fiction and politics. He explores the richly textured novels of Anantha Murthy and the thoughts ofLohia and Gandhi. He reveals their serious efforts to grapple with the ..infinitely complex issue of faith, their ambivalences and their profound sensitivity. In their writings faith confronts reason, the believer faces the sceptic. Through a dialogue of conflicting voices the ambivalences of faith are represented and their opposing potentials are captured. Empathy and scepticism, a sense of belonging and distance combine in a simultaneous affirmation and critique of 6iith. Bharucha argues the need to recover this tradition of sensitive secular imagination. Bharucba will disturb the secular sensitibilities of many. •His arguments·· ·t or.empathy and understanding may be misunderstood. But Bharucha's critique is not anti-secular. It questions a. specific form of secularism and offers an alternate conception. If this tract disturbs secular minds in these communal times, it is partly because we take for granted the definition of secularism, it is because in the fight against communalism we are often apprehensive of querying the concept of secularism. • To confront t&i$is that secularism faces today, it has to subject •· . itself to a critique, revise its language and concepts. The question of faith has to be confronted with seriousness, sensitivity and understanding. Only then will it be possible to resist communal appropriations of faith.

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Preface Th\! political scenario addressed in this monograph has changed since I began to write about the politics of 'faith' jn March 1991. For a time it seemed that the upheavals in the stock exchange emerging from a 'multicrore bank scam' had somewhat neutralized communal and fundamentalist tensions. But the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi crisis remains unresolved with increasingly disturbing political implications, as indeed the 'question of faith' continues to be short-circuited by the nalpolitile of our times. Neither a historian nor a social scientist, I wrote this monograph not to outline a new theory of 'faith' but to confront the levels at which it could be questioned in a predominantly cultural context. I have learned much from the discussions generated around my writing, particularly from the detailed readings offered by NeeJadri Bhattacharya and Anuradha Kapur, which have alerted me to• the discriminations needed in protecting (and enhancing) the idea of the ' secular' . To Siddhartha Gautam, who read the earliest drafts of this monograph, I am particularly indebted for J}is reassurance that one need not lose faith in writing about it. In the void of his sudden death, there is the pain of a dialogue cut short, but also a deeper realization of his search for an emergent politics linked to 'other' ways of seeing and believing, which this piece of writing com• me111oratcs 1n retrospect. •

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1 Introduction In the best of times, writing ea~ be misunderstood. A writer may intend one thing and appear to say something else. Words and meanings do not necessarily cohere. This, however, is accepted as an axiom of writing. Only polemical texts are expected to be univocal. But the more reflexive pieces of writing are those in which one can say (and read) at least two things at the same time. That, hypothetically, is in the best of times. Today is a different story. Unlike earlier periods of censorship during the Emergency, for instance, when words were twisted, distorted, erased, and manipulated beyond recognition, it would seem that our own words today have become almost as slippery as the politicians manipulating them. We are not entirely in control over what we are saying as the events of our time are proving stronger than our capacity to express them. Inevitably, there is a kind of paranoia afflicting even the most liberal of our intellectuals, whose underlying tensions seem to mount in almost direct proportion to their proximity to political centres like New Delhi. I sense a new self-censorship in the name of vigilance which has resulted in an unusually emphatic rhetoric. Now our writers are almost duty-bound to affirm their secular credentials in countering the vicious cant of communalism and fundamentalism. An emphatic rhetoric, it is assumed, can only be dealt with emphatically. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, man • against man. In the act of writing these words, I am aware of the possible

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misreadings of my own essay, which is 'emphatic' in its own right, but in a rather different context from what one has come to expect from the recent surfeit of writings on 'secularism', 'communalism', and 'fundamentalism' .1 For a start, the subject of this essay is faith, an elusive reality affecting millions of people in increasingly incomprehensible and violent ways. What makes the question of faith so tricky to tackle these clays is the way in which it has been appropriated by fundamentalists and politicians in the name of religion and even future projections of the state. But these appropriations, however immediate and violent, cannot be the only source of our critical attention. It is equally important, I believe, to keep in mind those indigenous qualities and dimensions of experience in faith which are being brutalized. In this essay, I call attention to some of these dimensions and qualities, resisting the equation of 'faith' with 'fundamentalism' which is implied in much theoretical and poler11ical writing on the subject of religion and politics. Most advocates of secularism often assert (sometimes nonchalantly, at times with a touch of er11barrassment) that they are nonbelievers. This admission, however, is rarely confronted in their discourses on fundamentalism and communalism: it is taken fur granted. For my own part, I cannot take faith fur granted because I find it almost impossible to separate my secular being from what I am compelled to describe as the ambivalences of faith. One is and is not a believer, and consequently, one has no choice but to say at least two things at the same time. In this context, faith is not an absolute but rather a question that cannot be answered through an advocacy of 'black' and 'white' 'good' and 'evil' , 'secularism' and 'fundamentalism' and more crudely, 'pseudo secularism' and 'genuine secularism'. The question of faith is infinitely more complex than that which is determined by the dominant dichotomies of our time. If anything, we are living in between the confines of these dichotomies without wanting or , being able to embrace one position or the other. This does not mean that one is without a position or that one is advocating a Middle Path, the safe route of compromise. On the contrary, our position is being created, and constantly being questioned (and in the

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TIIB QUESTION OF FAITH

process, shaped) through the active process of confronting ambivalence itself. But can one afford this right now? Expediency demands that the steam-roller of fundamentalism be faced head-on. Ambivalence see111~ redundant, if not reactionary. To these charges I would counter that there are forums in which one may have to adopt a 'hard line', and others in which one can afford to be more subtle. In other words, .it may be essential to speak different languages to uphold the 'truth' of one's position. What matters is to know where and to whom one is speaking. With this qualification in mind, I believe that this forum of readers will per111it a questioning of the 'secular' from various perspectives and manifestations of faith. It goes witho~t saying that there are inherent dangers in viewing faith as a totalizing category, and that the thrust of this essay is directed against the monolithic use of faith, so rampant among fundamentalists. In this context, one immediate qualification that needs to be made at the start of this essay is that faith is always in the process of being defined within the specificities of particular contexts. If I use the word 'faith', it is not to deny the plurality of faiths. On the contrary, I am well aware that its assumed singularity can veer towards an essentialism which I have tried to resist. The next section deals more specifically with the problematic of 'defining' faith(s) in the first place. For the moment, it is worth acknowledging that apart from the low priority given to representations of faith in theories of oppression and resistance, there are no adequate languages in the social sciences to deal with its contradictions in the first place.2 This is the unfortunate residue of our continued dependency on derivative discounes, moribund Marxist models which seem to have succumbed to the 'opium' of their rhetoric. We ·need new sources of energy and vision, and if they do not come from aisting theories, then we may have to tum to those cultural resources which have sustained us through states of emergency. That is why in this essay I will not provide a critique of the existing critiques of communalism and fundamentalism because most of these writings do not deal with faith in the first place.3 Rather, I will question faith through a journey incorporating ,-/as, Ii/as, fiction, and politics

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which contain areas of experience and knowledge that have yet to be confronted in the established languages of the social sciences. In .searching for new languages of faith, I should like to stress their interventionist possibilities. One is compelled to fight if one wishes to contend with the increasingly public and political demands of fundamentalist forces. But how does one fight? And with what does one fight? If by 'secular' we mean a total avoidance of religious matten the secular weapons may not be enough. The point is that if we (and I include myself among 'secularists' here) do not intervene in the debates concerning the interpretation of religion, we are simply playing into the hands of fundamentalists. Merely upholding the norms of 'secularism' in predominantly non/anti-religious terms will only strengthen the deadlock. My purpose is not to demean the 'secular' but to find ways of enriching, or rather, grounding it within the specificities of our cultural context. This is not to undermine the role of the State in combating the menace of religious bigotry but to acknowledge the renewed tensions and problems that have emerged through its interventions. In this context, it becomes imperative to explore other modes and idioms through which fundamentalism can be opposed. For the purpose of this essay, I will confine my 'intervention' to a critical exploration of some of our cultural resources, whose are.as of autonomy, multivalence, and sheer creativity can help us to resist the violence of our times. Before attempting to define the shifting contoun of faith, a few words are necessary almost by way of explanation fur the apparent randomness of the selection of material in this essay. For a start, though I juxtapose different genres, I have consciously atte111pted not to 'mix'·thetn. But at the same time, it was necessary to confront the ubiquity of faith through different 'lang11ages', at once gestural, linguistic, perfurmative, fictional and political. At times, these 'languages' have echoed each other in vastly different contexts, revealing unconscious 'slippages' in my process of thinking about faith. However, I have not problei11atized this 'inner text' insofar as it exists, preferring to focus on the oven meanings and constructions of faith in a spirit of critical rather than epistemological inquiry. Clearly, I am aware that much more remains to be said and that my selection of specific writen and politicians

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(U.R. Anantha Murthy, Rammanohar Lohia, Mahatma Gandhi) will inevitably raise questions about those figures in our political culture who have been omitted in my discourse. All I can say is that these figures are distinctive in their own right, but they are not necessarily 'exemplary'. Linked and subtly differentiated, they have enabled me to problematize 'the question of faith' in a particular way. I do not rule out other ways in which 'faith' can be questioned. Another qualification ~hat needs to be made (because it is most likely to be misunderstood) concerns my focus on predominantly Hindu sources of faith. In this context, I would like to stress that, like any writer, I have my limits and choose to write about what I have tested through experience and research. Besides, if I have chosen to focus on religio-cultural phenomena like the Kumbha Mela and the Ramlila, it is not to assert their superiority over pilgrimages and performances in other religious traditions. As a non-Hindu, I have been drawn to these mass furums for the complex ways in which faith is affirmed and questioned, at once steeped in contextual specificities and yet related to ongoing debates of religion and politics in the world. There is also a strategic necessity in focusing on Hindu sources of faith insofar as the strongest articulation of political ideology in recent times has been cast in terms of a Hindu state. Since much of the essay deals with the relationship and opposition of '&.ith' and 'ideology', it becomes almost inevitable to contextualize these ter111s within the boundaries of a specific religious tradition and its pluralist manifestations. This is not to deny that the critical discoune of this essay could be considerably enriched and even contradicted through the inclusion of other traditions, beliefs, and 'languages' of &.ith. But as a 'beginning', which is how I would like to view this essay, I offer an examination of some of our cultural resources pertaining to ritual, performance, fiction, and politics through which 'the q·uestion of faith' can be confronted, and hopefully activated as a means of struggle and survival.

NOTES

1. A few clarifications of these terms are necessary for the reading of

TRACI'S FOil THE 'I IMF.S

this essay. One of the greatest problems that had emerged in our political culture over the years can be ascribed to a crisis in languase. The danser of terms like 'secularism', 'communalism', and 'fundamentalism' is that they are losins their specificities through political mis•ise and appropriation. All of them are political constructiom in their own right, which have become increasingly implicated through their mutual dependencies. 'Secularism', as is well known, has at least two distinctive meanings: one emerging from John Holyoake's c~nage of the term in 1850, in which there is a place for religion i'}#blic life, and the other more 'scientific' interpretation of the t,rpi put forward by Charles Braulaugh in which there is a clear separation between matters of religion and the state. It will becoo.c clear from my essay that I am in favour of a secularism that is not only 'tolerant' of but inspired by the pluralist traditions of religion in India. For a more detailed history of the term, read 'The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance' by Ashis Nandy published in

Altmwtiws XIIl, 1988, pp.177 -194.

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On the subject of 'communalism', there is a gratter comensus among social scientists in sit11ating the phenomenon in a purely political and socio-economic context. Therefore, Asghar Ali Engineer can define it 'forthrightly' as 'a political mobilization on the buis of religious identity of a community by its own elite in its (elite's) own interest'. (C•""""'liS111 11,uJ COt11111111U1I Viol111a ;,, I.Jill: A• AMlytie:.I App,ot,d, "' Hi,,d,,-M,u/i,,, Cnf/ia, Ajanta Books International, 1989). A more nuanced reading of the history of communalism has been provided by Gyanendra Pandey who bas shown how 'essentialist' readin3s of communalism by colonialist historians have contributed to more ff.cent 'economistic' readinss of communalism provided by nationalist historians. While accepting Pandey'a formulation that 'communalism' is best applied to 'organized political movements' operating in opposition to 'a real or ima3ined threat from another religious community (or communities)', I believe that the religious component in communalism should not be marsinalizecl in the analysis of the political and economic problems around which communal movements are organized. For more· details, read TI,, Co,utnldio,, of C /cn1 ;,, Nortl.,,,,, l""it,, by Gyanendra Pandey published by Oxford Univenity Press, New Delhi, 1990. In contrast to 'communalism', 'fundamentalism' is much less ri3orously defined in the social sciences. It• extremist reli1ioua

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ideology generally based on a literal or absolute interpretation of the scriptures, can be linked specifically to religious organizations that assert their idea of God over other religions, and at times, in opposition to more liberal intetpretations of the scriptures within its own religious tradition. However, as the reality of fundamentalism has been shaped in India over the years, it has become almost impossible to separate it from the political practice of communalism. 'Communalism' and fundamentalism' have conflated in religiopolitical movements, where, in the ultimate analysis, it is the seizure of state power that is the primary concern of the struggle. In this essay, I have attempted to discriminate between these terms as far as possible, but the 'crisis of language' · is directly related to our increasingly fractious and uncertain political sir•1ation. Today, all kinds of unlikely alliances are possible: communalist parties can be affiliated to fundamentalist religious organizatiom and advocate a 'ge0:uine' secularism at the same time. Secularists, on the other hand, may spurn any fundamentalist affiliation and yet engineer the worst kinda of communal riots while mouthing 'equal respect for all religions'. These are some of the contradictions that form the conceptual framework of this essay. 2. An impressive analysis of how 'reli3iosity' has been demeaned and misrepresented in historical writin3 is provided by Ranajit Guha in his classic essay on 'The Prose of Counter Insurgency' published in S,J,,,dur,, Sllllli,s, Volume 2, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, pp. 1-42. Aclcnowledgins that some cases of p,-asant insurgency have to be studied within the contradictions of 'reli3ious consciousness', Guba eumi.nes how •religiosity' has been dismissed as 'fanatical•, 'superstitious', and even 'mindless' not only by nationalist historiographers but by the more radical representatives of 'tertiary' historical discounc u well. In the latter form of historical writing, the inability of the historian to 'conceptualise imur3cnt mentality' outside of 'an unadulterM secularism• leads, in Guha's view, to flawed and even dishonest readiQ&s in which a 'wordly consciousness' is invariably ucribed to leaders of the peasant movement in opposition to the 'otherwordly consciousness' of their seemingly pes•ive and ignorant followers. While Guha's theorizing of these limitations in historical writins is ftluable, one wishes that there was more evidence within the historiography of the S•IMhm, Sllu/i,s that could convince us of its respect for 'religiosity' as an essential component of subaltern consciousness. One notes, however, a growins shift in attitude amons

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some of its members, which one hopes will lead not to an instrumentalist reading of religion as an adjunct to political activity, but to a recognition of the experiential contexts of religion providing new po.uibilities of representing 'resistance' and 'transcendence'. 3. A good example of this kind of writing is to be found in Gyanendra Pandey's essay 'Rallying round the Cow' published in S•btJ,w,, StMdiu, Volume 2, op.tit., pp. 60-129. In this most exhaustive analysis of the Cow-protection Movement in the Bhojpuri-speaking district of east UP and west Bihar in the late nineteenth century, we have a veritable mine of information on every conceivable social, economic, and political factor that contributed (or could have contributed) to the movement: social boycotts, cattle, frequency of cattle fairs, strategies of defence and attack, slogam, symbols, laws, edicts, caste and class affiliations of the organizers of the movement, business and trade conditions, demonstrations of wealth ...The research is •



VlrtUOSIC.

But at no point in the essay does Pandey confront the relig·ious significance of the co~ to the Hindus. Obviously he is aware of its ubiquitous mythology, which once compelled Mahatma Gandhi to invoke the cow as 'the giver of plenty', •a poem of pity', •the best companion', and 'mother to millions of Indian mankind'. Even if one accepts that Pandey chooses to situate his discourse on communalism within a specifically political and economic context, one wonders how the religiosity of the cow can be erased without divesting the Cow-protection Movement. of one of its most vital dimemions: the role of faith in transforming mythic realities into symbols of resistance. In evading a confrontation of the problematic of faith, Pandey seems to protect his own discourse within the boundaries of what Ranajit Guba has described as 'unadulterated secularism'. For a more self-reflexive and discriminatory acknowledgment of •peoples' attachment to particular cultural and religious symbols' read Gyanendra Pandey's more recent essay 'In Defence of the Fragment: Writing about Hindu-Muslim Riots in India Today,' EC01UJW1i, a1ld Political WMIJy, Annual Number 1991, pp.559-572.

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2 Experience and Faith 'DEFINING' FArrH

What is ·faith? The question put baldly is reminiscent of those moral-science homilies I remember learning by beart. in school. This was the 'secular' alternative to the catechism taught to the Christian students. What was unbearable about moral science was the dry, colourless, totally academic reduction of 'faith' to an abstraction. To this day, I believe that the question of faith can best be approached outside of the strictures of an ·overly didactic and moralistic discourse. Faith, after all need not be linked to religion alone. As a term it has entered the public domain covering a wide range of beliefs and activities that are not necessarily centred in any acceptance of a transcendental or supernatural order. For instance, we can have faith in an ideology and not just the ideology of a particular religion. It is possible in this regard, to speak of a component of faith witltin Marxism that instilled a ql1asi-religious fervour among its earliest followers, who were bound through a collective loyalty and obeisance. In this context, the subterranean religiosity of Marxist philosophy has yet to be fully acknowledged along with its links to the Judaeo-Christian messianic ideology. 1 Today, however, as Lenin's corpse continues to be placed on display rather like the relics of an antediluvian saint, it appca" that 'the people have lost faith' in the socialist system. 2 From this political usage of 'faith', it is, perhaps, only appropriate

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that we acknowledge its cooption by the Market, the new God of our times. Long before the hegei11ony of the Market, however, 'faith' operated as a trope in the world of industry and merchandise. Indeed, businessmen continue to express faith in their clients, customers in particular products. All these manifestations of &i th have been absorbed in the subsuming rhetoric of advertising which has appropriated religion decisively. By transfurming subliminal feelings into catchy messages, the myth-makers of the media have succeeded in,, selling us 'energy', 'peace', 'freedom', 'blessings', and even washing powders that house wives can 'trust'. We can quote other examples of how '&ith' as an idea has been secularized (i.e. divested of religious content) through everyday usage. This, however, would not serve the purpose of this essay which focuses primarily on the religious associations of 'faith'. In this context, we learn from the E11&yClop,du, of RJigion edited by Mircea Eliade that 'faith' can be most meaningfully viewed u a 'cluster of concepts' rather than an omnipresent principle.3 For example, we can sec 'faith-as-faithfulness', .which is an attribute of loyalty both of the divine and of believers in the divine, who are bound together in a mutual fuulitas. There is 'faith-as-obedience', where a specific set of laws or dh.:n"' determines not only the rituals of worship but everyday codes of behaviour. Then there is the inextricable relationship of 'faith and work', drawing on that memorable .passage in the Bible which says that 'even devils have faith': what distinguishes man's faith is its actualization through work ('service to people', as Gandhi described it). For some, faith is an admission of 'dependence', for others, it is the upholding of a •credo'. For most writers and thinkers, perhaps, it is a 'species of knowledge'. And so on ...The ways in which faith 'defines' itself are seemingly limitless. Yet, despite the universal significances of faith, one cannot afford to ignore the contexual specificities with which it is understood in different parts of the world. On the one hand, fiuth is an intensely private concern, but it is also shaped according to the visions of particular religions and the rules and needs of specific communities. In India, these specificities are prodigious, making it almost impossible for anyone to generalize about the morphology of faith even within a particular religious tradition.

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To 'define' faith, therefore, one must accept that it is always in the process of being embodied, realized, or translated into something concrete. In itself the word is almost indefinable. Asthd, shraddha, bhalui are more convincingly demonstrated through action, prayer, and worship rather than through the mere definition of these tern1s. One should also accept that the 'languages' of faith need not be verbalized, which is one of the reasons why I choose to explore different idioms of 'faith' in this essay, at once gestural and nonverbal. Indeed, at the deepest levels of connection to a divine order, a person's faith could be silent.

FAITH -AND IDEOLOGY

'Faith' becomes a particularly contested 'language' and 'reality' in the _context of 'ideology'. Today, as fundamentalist forces collude with communalist parties to interpret religion for their. own purposes, the enigmas of faith have become almost totally vulnerable to manipulation. It would seem that we have no choice but to accept a 'split', in Ashis Nandy's words, between religion as faith, •a way of life, a tradition which is definitionally non-monolithic and operationally plural' and religion as ideology, which 'identifies' entire populations as 'sub-national, national or cross-national' for essentially 'political and socio-economic interests' .4 While accepting the juxtaposition of 'faith' and 'ideology', however, we should be careful not to reduce faith to an unchanging essence. One's faith after all is shaped from childhood through filiations to family, caste, class, and community. At a theoretical level, therefore, it would be difficult to deny the ideological base of 'faith' itself inso&r as the institutions of 'family', 'caste', 'class', and 'community' are products of ideologies in their own right. On the other hand, if we accept the total complicity of 'faith' to the larger structures and discourses of life in which it is grounded, then, at some level, we are foreclosing its capacities to resist these structures in the first place. In opposing the mystique of an a priori condition of faith, therefore, we also run the risk of inscribing 'faith' totally within a historical process. While this has its methodological and analytical

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TllACIS R>ll THB TIMBS

uses, it also assumes that 'faith' can be contextualized with the · categories of the social sciences, leaving no space for those upects of 'faith' which cannot be ttadily grounded i~ the language of Reason. Perhaps, in the inscription of 'faith' within existing rationalities, what is more evident are the ideological pret11ises of the writer in question nther than the ontological significances of 'faith' itself. Moreover, it is necessary to discriminate between those belief structures that shape a person's faith within the i.rnnlediat.e context of everyday life, and those ideological intct vaitions of a more explicitly political character. To spell it out more crudely, every devout Hindu is not neces,ar,ly a VHP activist, though the possibility of his or her devotion becomins 'activiv-xl' caof\Ot be ruled out. But then neither can the possibility of those residual elen1ents of faith resisting the new ideology be ruled out~ Ideologies of and faiths in particular religions cannot be conflated, though they do impinge on each other and affect each other's stabilities and power affiliations.5 With these qualifications in mind, I would uphold the cat.egories of 'faith' and 'ideology' in a preR. THE 'I IMES

exhausted' in an 'ontological, Parmenidean time' .20 Rather, it is a question of ext.ending the sacred that exists in everyday life to the particularly auspicious time-space continuum of the ""'4. It would seem that Eliade's formulations function within absolutes of time. While he is surely correct in indicating that 'nonreligious man' is aware of 'times of different intensities'21 he seems to deny this flexibility to 'religious man', who participates in an unchanging 'primordial time' that has no connection with the 'tc111poral duration' that precedes and follows it. This is, perhaps, too rigid a postulate revealing the kind of theorizing that operates ·'from above', without reconstructing the 'sacred' from within the experience of the believers. Besides, how is it pouible to deny the pressures of 'tc1,1porality' within the admittedly spacious, mythic time of the Kumbha Mela? We know that it takes place every twelve years rotating in four places Hardwar, Prayag, ~asik, Ujjain--ell of which furm part of a mythic story (that is authenticated through oral tradition rather than the scriptures), supple111dlted by intricate astrological calculations.22 But within this 'mythic time', the Kumbha Mela is very much part of a changing history in India that manifests itself through specific events and disturbances like riots, stampedes, conflicts between religious sects, and recent fundamentalist interventions. Within the 'sacred space' of the Mela, therefore, it is necessary to acknowledge both the incorporation of worldly activity and what could be described u intensifications of the sacttd within the topography of the Mela. From perigrinological studies -we learn that the sect.tingly boundless area of Prayag covering more than 2,000 acres is actually 'organa.ed' spatially through three wndA/t,.r circles within circles of concentrated divine power.23 Centering around the most auspicious point of the Mela, where the waters of the Ganga, Jamuna and the 'invisible' Saraswati meet is the Triveni, the 'Holy of Holies', the jagl.Jan. of the world. Around the Triveni is a larger 8ft2 called the Prajapati-Ksetra, which is in turn bounded by the Prayaga Mandala. Though the entire ground of Tirtha Raj (Prayag) is consecrated, there are gndstions of the •sacred' mingling with the 'ordinary', particularly in the outer periphery. This absorption rather than rejection of the 'ordinary' compels one to view the Kumbha Mela as the transcendence of ordinariness rather than a summation of the extraordinary.







.

J

18

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

TllANSPEllENCE OP SPACE: MYTH AND HISTOllY

Another aspect of 'sacred geosraphy' that needs to be Ciitphasiscd concerns its 'transference of space'. At one level, Prayag is geographically located neat All1h1bad, but that docs not stop it from existing in many other tirllNa that are also called Prayag-the Deva Pra)'l8, Kama Prayas, Rudra Prayag, Nanda Prayag, and Vishnu Prayag.24 Prajapati's 'great sacrifice' (from which Prayag derives its name etymologically) is extended even to _those tirll:Jas which are not named after Prayag. Indeed, the idea of geographical space completely dissolves in certain acts of faith in which interiori,r_d states of mind have as much validity (and corporeality) as fa■rbi,,g the earth of Prayag, Jren,g the confluence of waters at Sanpm, or /ltllhi,,g in the Ganga itself. Even if there are 'rules of behaviour' for pilgrims that have been codified in sacred texts, beginning with pre-pilgrimage rites, specifications for auspicious moments of departure, eating, fasting, clothing, travelling, maint.ainins iw,J,,,,«"'-"", then performing the smlMlgd/Jr"""""" ~ enteri03 Prayag, followed. by detailed rules fur naf#ld)/ " ' - • , ~ , p,,fa,, there is also an acknowledgment of the blessings received from solitude. Thus, the PM1"'1" MAIM""Y• S.1Mlh,41i, one of the most othoclox treatises on pil&rim behaviour act11ally leaves room fur an inner state of mind by questionins the validity of rules it so painstakiDBlY documents: In this place the sup1:et11e wudtti is obtained by those who think of me, without j,,.M, without sense-restraining, without yoga without Jhy111111, without wata-s and intense contemplation, without J.1111-s, without wealth, without using fire, without 1•P"', without destroying the body ...but by residing alone. 25 The very sanctioning of an 'inner pilsrimage' indicates the flexibility with which Prayag can be perceived and believed. It is precisely this freedom that enables Prayag to 'travel' and enter different states of consciousness in the course of everyday life. At the same time, one should acknowledge that the concept of 'transference of space' can be appropriated. fur other purposes of authentication and mystification. We are told, for instance, in one • version of sacred history, that Ayodhya was 'rediscovered'• after the

19

TRACI'S FOR THE TIMES

Treta Yuga during Vikramadityas reign. 26 And Tirtharaj Prayag himself was the intermediary, or more precisely, the authenticator of Ayodhya's supremacy. Unable to bear the burden of other peopte•s sins, or so the story goes, Prayag had left the Ganga to bathe in the waters of the river Saryu, thereby implying that the latter was more beneficiary than his previous abode. Inevitably, since Ayodhya is the very source of Saryu•s purity, it had to be sanctified in tum through Prayag's divine intervention. ~11 this can be dismissed as 'myth', but it also needs to be taken seriously not least because this myth is more 'real' to millions of people than any scientific analysis of Ayodhya's ancient history (in so far as it is possible to reconstruct one). This raises the very delicate issue, much debated in the context of the Bahri Masjid-Ram . Janambhoomi crisis, about the ~xact relationship between myth and history, and the boundaries by which they can be defined. Here, there can be no categorical response. Myths are infinitely varied and serve different purposes. Inevitably, they need to be read in different ways. There are also layers of invention in a myth, some of which have b~en passed down from time immemorial through a predominantly oral tradition, while others have been manufactured in recent years generally for political purposes. For example, it is possible to interpret Tirtharaj Prayag's meeting with Vikramaditya in Ayodhya as part of a legitimating device to authenticate the 'sacred history• of Ayodhya and the institution of 'kingship' attached to it. But this O}Yth is quite different in character ~nd effect from the one being propagated in recent years that the jamnasthan of Rama is situated at the exact spot where a Ramam1'f'ti was 'miraculously' discovered in 1949 within the larger structure of a mosque. . Whenever myths are literalized in such a manner, they invariably serve fundamentalist interests. However, when myths are allowed to rest in the imagination, which (as we shall discuss later) need not be regarded as the prerogative of poets, they can nurture the inner life and relationships of men and women with the ineffable 'truth' of poetry. Take, for example, that •patirlha in Prayag called Aksayavata. Its history, more imagined than real, offers many insights into the ways in which myths are created, destroyed,, and reclaimed. 27 The original Vata-tree, which Sita is supposed to have circumam-

20



THE QUESTION OP FAITH

and from which people committed suicide to 'free' thC1111 bulated selves, now exists (or so it is believed) as a stump in one comer of the Patalapuri temple inside the Allahabad fort. Sometime during the eighth century A.D., as the river changed its course, an earlier tree standing on the banks of the Ganga was washed away. A new sapling emerged by the tenth century. Many centuries later, it is said that the Emperor Jehangir ordered the tree to be burned to ashes. In the immediate aftermath of this incident, the trunk of a false banyan tree continued to be wonhipped to satisfy the religious needs of the people. And there is some historical evidence from the testimony of the fort commander as late as 1950 authenticating this practice of changing a 'spurious piece of wood' every three years. The pib e/4 nsistana of this story is to be found in the research ) of a botany professor who examined another banyan tree in the south eastern corner of the fort to discover that its stump was about 250 years old. Does this mean after all that a small root of the original tree allegedly burned in Jehangir's reign actually managed to survive? This question could easily frustrate historians, but it also stimulates the imagination to accept the Aksayavata as the 'undying Banyan tree' which will surely swvive the end of the world. And, as with the Aksayavata, there are many other •Jlalirlhas in Prayag like the Bharadvaja Ashram and Hamsaprapatna which form part of its 'sacred geography', inspiring the 'collective unconscious' of the pilgrims. So integrated is this geography that it inevitably prepares the ground for the «m1111Mnitas that western theorists of pilgrimage like Victor Turner have emphasized in their writings on t ritual and performance. Once again, I believe that this concept which emphasises the 'direct, immediate and total confrontation of human identities' is particularly valid in the western context where it combats (if not destroys, temporarily) the 'structures' of everyday life. 28 It is not that the pilgrims at the Kumbha Mela are incapable of a 'total' communion, but the point is that it exists so unselfconsciously that there is no particular reason to make an issue out of it. And if one does, then I think that we need to keep in mind that our 'communion' (which I would prefer to describe more simply as 'meeting', which is what me/a literally means) is not achieved in opposition to the existing social structures. Indeed, what the •la

) 21

TRACI'S FOR. THE TIMES

celebrates is the structure of life including its hierarchies, disparities, distinctions, which are allowed to coexist on the same ground. Paradoxically, this heterogeneity of identities is affirmed even when the lowest of the low and the highest of the high share that most privileged moment in their lives, when they bathe in the waters of the Ganga.

R.EsISTANCE WITHIN THE MEI.A

If the search is for a radical reversal of the social order, then the ,-/a is obviously not the site for. such a •revolutionary' process. What the ,.Ja does provide is the affirmation of life's possibilities and relationships. It is not so ·much a rejection as the apotheosis of an entire religio-cultural systo1, that can afford to celebrate difference because its 'imagined' unity is never in question. Let us not forget that the Kumbha Mela was first ordained (or so it is believed) by Adi Shankaracharya to &cilitate the meeting and exchange of ideas between different sects on a pen-Hindu level. The possibilities of self-realimtion in the Mela, therefore, are available only within this hierarchy of values, which may appear to be entirely informal given the camp-like living conditions on the Mela grounds, but which continue to assert priority and rank. The majority of conflicts in the Mela have emerged out,of hierarchical disputes as to which sect should bathe in the waters first at the most auspicious moment.2 9 Today, these disputes have taken on a very different significance as the Kumbha Mela has become a ground for fundamentalist proselytizing. The outcome of this religio-political propaganda cannot be fully determined at this point in time. Certainly, one has reason to be apprehensive about forums like the Kumbha Mela providing the t'aison d'ltn for HindutvL But if the recent Magha Mela in Prayag and the Purna Kumbha Mela of 1989 are any criteria, we can assume the difficulties involved in reducing the expansive field of vision and experience in the Mela to a forum fur any fundamentalist organization. Most recently, in the Ganga Sagar Mela held in January 1992, it is both heartening and instructive to note how the Vishwa Hindu 22

t

r

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

Parishad was boycotted by the vast majority of sadlnu and P,,jMis · attending the Meta. Among the.n was Mahanta Gyan Das, the p,,j,i of the Kapil Muni temple, who reiterated the need for the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi crisis to be resolved through 'mutual discussion · with the Muslims' in· a spirit of 'pre,os' rather than 'ja/Ja,-Jarti'.'° While such a response need not be valorized, it should not also be marginalized for it is through such 'resistances' that fundamentalism can be countered within the context of the Mela. Significantly, the VHP 'Mid y•tr•' on the Mela grounds turned out to be a 'flop' with barely 200 people participating in its 'lacklustre /,hog ceremony' commemorating those Mr slfldlu allegedly killed in Ayodhya. At the same time, three lakh pilgrims bathed in the SMlga.os of the Bay of Bengal and Hooghly on the occasion of Makar Sankranti. From t.his example, it becomes obvious that there is an inner resilience within the of the tnJ. that cannot be easily destroyed. Moreover, the tnJ. has its own indigenous· hierarchies and modes of socialization that are not likely to accept the strictures of a new fundamentalist administration advocating a centralized view of Hinduism. Somehow, one is compelled to accept that the spirit of the Ganga, which animates the multitudinous energies and configurations of the u1.J..,,, has the power to absorb any political ideology attempting to rule in the name of religion. Centuries of faith cannot be rctttoved overnight. Or to put to it more accurately, the sheer heterogeneity of faiths that have ei11erged through different -combinations, relationships and responses to historical proces• ses cannot be reduced to a uniform code of conduct and belief. If this sounds like wishful thinking, a part of my own myth-making process, I can only assert my need to believe in this myth to protect my sense of history.

-,,hos

NOO-ES

1. For a more .detailed account of how Marx's messianic ideology is concretized in 'the prophetic role and sotcriological function that he attributes to the prolewiat', read Th, SMntJ muJ II,, Pro/11111 by Mircea Eliade. New York: Harper & Row, 1961, pp.206-207.

23

• TllACl'S FOil THE TIMF.S

2. Quoted by Alevnder Yakovlev, who conceptualized the policy of gkmwt, shortly after he resigned his post as adviser to Gorbachov. In an interview with Tus, Yakovlev acknowledsed: •1 am increasingly convinced that our tragedy results from Marxi1t dogmas. The people· have lost faith.' (Th, S1"""""11, August 4~ 1991). 3. The Kction on 'Faith' in the E119'lop,,/ill of R,ligi°" (1987) edited by Mircea Eliade, pp.250-255, is written by Jaroslav Pelikan. 4. Ashis Nandy, 'The Poli ties of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance', A.l1mu1tif'II, XIII (1988), p. 178. 5. The last three paragraphs on 'faith' and 'ideology' have been particularly impired by the theorizing on 'popular beliefs' offered by Sudcsh Vaid and Kum Kum Sangari in their most thorough essay on 'lnsti~utions, Beliefs, Ideologies: Widow Immolation in Contemporary Rajasthan', Et'OII011U, 11,uJ Poliliul W ,JJy, Vol.~I, No.17. April 27, 1991, pp.WS-13 to WS-18. Contextualized.within the complex of social, economic and political forces that determine both the philosophy and practice of 11611 (which arc inseparable), the essay outlines some general premises of 'faith' and 'belief' that provide the problematic to some of the questions raised in my essay. For Vaid and Sangari, There can be no originary moment of the comtitution of faith', which is best viewed as •a specific process which is interacting with and activated by forces within a particular social formation and specifiable patriarchies'. Outlining the interdependence of faith, profit, and instrumentality, and the collusions of an entire community in the making of a 'voluntary', 'miraculous' event, the authors negate the possibilities of an •autonomous' faith by somewhat over-determinins their case. While the critique offered by Vaid and Sansari seems pertinenf in the context of S11li, it is questionable, in a larger context, whether fait~ has to be so repressively inscribed within the larger structures and discourses of its formation. This is, perhaps, more apparent in Kum Kum Sangari's seminal reading of Mw11btii 11,,J 11,, Spirillkll E"""""1 of Bh.ltti (Occasional Papers on History and Society, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, .Second Series, Number XXVIII) where, once again, the critique of transcendence leads almost to a denial of its possibilities, just as the inscription of Mira's bhaj1111J within the larger discourses of her political, social, and economic affiliations, resulu in a smothering of her 'voice'. Both these essays, however, are among the most serious attempts to come to grips with the enigma of faith within the larger historicity of iu constructions.

24

THE QUESTION OF FAITH 6. Ashis Nandy, 'The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance, op.tit.p.179. As Nandy emerges as one of the most outspoken critics cL the 'imperialism ex categories' in the social sciences, he upholds an inc1rningly embattled position, at once 'anti-aeculariat' by his own definition, and yet fiercely, even derisively critical of the ways in which religious '7.ealotry' is 'a by-product and a pathology~ n.oclemity'. In tecent years, Nandy has turned his attention to the primacy of culture in providing sources of resistance to those social and political categories that have ceased to be 'emancipatory'. While I support the thrust of his argument, I am less optimistic about its location in 'popular culture', whose apparently pluralist and critical manifestations have 'internalized', in my view, their own modes of repression and capitulation to state power. Nandy, however, continues to raise important and formative questions, and I wish to acknowledge his influence in the thinking of some crucial areas in this essay . 7. For a fuller account read Neeladri Bhattacharya's cogent essay 'Myth, History and the Politics of Ramjanmabhumi' included in the collection of essays entitled A.11alo#ly of" C""fro,,t11tun,: Th, 8"'1ri MAsjid&,,,,j.,,,,,.1,1,,-; lss• edited by Sarvepalli Gopal. New Delhi: Viking Books India, pp.122-140.

8. Il,id. •

9. Surinder Mohan Bhardwaj, Hi,,a PI.ea of Pilgr3:: "I' i,, I.Jill, New Delhi: lnomson Press, 1973, p.86. 10. Ashis Nandy, 'The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance', op.tit., p.187. 11. It is interesting to note that the meaning of 'experience' docs not necessarily have to be restricted to "a particular kind of consciousness which can be distinguished from 'reason' or 'knowledge"'. As Raymond Williams informs us in his invaluable K,ywo,ds, 'experience' was originally associated with 'experiment', both of which ultimately derived from the Latin word, ,xpwiri, 'to try, to put to the test'. Along with the association of 'awareness', therefore, 'experience' can also be regarded as 'knowledge gathered from past events, whether by conscious observation or by consideration and reflection'. This latter meaning has yet to be taken seriously in the critiques of 'experience' offered by social scientists. 12. Sumit Sarkar, 'The Kathamrita as a teXt: Towards an understanding of Ramkrishna Paramhamsa', Occasional Papers of History and Society, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, No. XXII, p.6.

25

J

TRACIS FOR. THE TIMES

Mircea Eliade, TI,, s.,.,J "1UI tl,, Profa•, op.at., p.12. Ibid., p.14. Ibid., p.205. Entry on •Secularization• contributed by Bryan R. Wilson in the E11ty,lop,tlu, ,f RJigi°", op. al., pp.159-16 5. 17. Ibid., p.160. 18. Mircea Eliade, Th, SMntJ ll1lfl th, Prof••• op.tit., p. 92. 19. Ibid., p.69. 20. Ibid 21. Ibid., p.71. 22. For a detailed history of the Kumbha Mela, rcad Giorgio Bonazmli's essay on 'Prayaga and its Kumbha Meta•, P•""""• Vol.XIX, No. l, pp.81-179. Also, 'Kumbha Mela: Origin and Historicity of India's Greatest Pilgrimage Fair', by D.P.Dubcy, Published in Th, •t11ifllldl G,og,-11pl,i&dl JOllf7kJ of luill, Vol. 33, pt.4, December 1987, pp. 469-492. 23. D.P.Dubcy, The Sacred Geography of Prayasa (Allahabad): Identification of Holy Spots', Th, N11tioMI G,ogr11pl,iclll J•nwl of 1111iM, Vol. 31, pt.4, 1985, pp.321-23. 24. Ibid., p.320. 25. Quoted in the orisinal Sanskrit and translated into English by Giorgio Bonazzoli, 'Praya_ga and Its Kumbha Mela', op.at., p.151. Also see p.124 of this publication for specific slokas from p,."Y"I" ~ l "'1" sanctifying the acts of 'scein1•, 'touchins', 'remembering', and 'bathing' in the waters of the Ganga. 26. Thi1 myth is included by Neeladri Bhattacharya in 'Myth, History. and the Politics of Ramjanmabhumi', op.at. 27. All my information surrounding the mythical history of the AJc.. sayavata is from D.P. Dubey's painstakins research on 'The Sac~ Geography of Prayaga (Allahabad): Identification of Holy Spots•. op.at., pp.324-25. 28. For a detailed account of 'communitas', read the chapter on 'Liminality and Communitas' in Th, Rit•tt~ Proass by Victor Turner. Chicago: Aldine Publishing I-louse, 1969. 29. D.P.Dubey, 'Kumbha Mela: Origin and Historicity of India's Greatest Pilgrimage Fair', op.di., pp.481-84. 30. Quoted in report entitled 'Sagar priest flays VHP militancy over Ayodhya' published in Th, T,l,gr11pl,, January 15, 1992, p.2. 13. 14. 15. 16.

26

3 The World of the Believer MEL.AS/ LILAs We now shift our attention from me/as to Ii/as in order to examine the question of faith from a different perspective. From modes of organizing and conceptualizing the 'sacred', the focus is now on ways of seeing the divine presence. Sites like the Kumbha Mela provide panoramas of experience, but it would be rash, I think, to locate their multitudinous activities within predominantly perfurmative categories. This, unfortunately, has been the tendency in much journalistic writing on the ..Jas, where the religious processions of various sects, for instance, have become all too readily associated with •spectacle'. The pilgrims, too, become 'a cast of hundreds of thousands playing themselves in Tent Town', rather like extras in a film extravaganza. 1 But the more elusive .a nd critical issue here is that the millions of pilgrims are not 'playing' themselves. They an themselves. What the mJa instils in its participants is a profound sense of being. It is only voyeurs from the outside who mistake this 'being' for a kind of performance. In this context, it is well known that the Kumbha sadhus, fur the most part, resent being seen, particularly through the lens of a camera. Most reports of ..Jas over the yean invariably describe incidents in which enraged sadh,u arc depicted attacking photographers with their trisl»Js. One cannot explain this 'hostility to public exposure' as part of the sadh,u' 'unpredictability'. Nor can we ascribe it to their 'innate suspicion of the outside world', not least

27

UlACl'S POil THE 'I IMFcS

'the media mockery of sad-men'.2 The point is that ,-/as are not sites for seeing, at least not for the vast majority of its pilgrims. The ..Ja is about participating in a religious event where the distinction between 'actors' and 'spectators' completely breaks down, making it almost impossible to represent the zNw accurately within the pet fur111ative categories. The Iii. is a different story. Here the innate 'play, sport, and dalliance' of the gods are meant to be seen and enjoyed through the numerous performances that exist in various parts of India of which the Ramlila and the Krishnalila are perhaps the best known. There is intense participation in lilas but the distinction between those who 'play' the Ii/a and those who 'see' it is maintained, despite a deep empathy that can occasionally dissolve into moments of bliss and devotion. At times, the devotees can participate directly in the action, almost like actors or stagehands. But invariably, there is something to see that li~ outside of oneself, which gets transformed through the process of danl,a,,, the meeting of one's eyes with God, into a heightened communion with the divine order of the lila itself. Instead of generalizing about Ii/as, it would be useful to focus on one of the most celebrated Ii/as of India, the Ramlila at Ramnagar, which has received a most inspired reading by Anuradha Kapur. 3 Since her description of this Ii/a is the most comprehensive available, I will use it as a base to test my question of &ith within the larger ambivalences of the Ii/a. In the process, I will also comment on how Kapur herself has constructed the Ii/a, thereby reflecting on . multiple languages, at once gestural, performative, and critical. If at times the writing in this section veers in the mode of a critical review, I should acknowledge that I have no omniscient view either of the Ji/a or of faith in general. Wherever necessary I have relied on other readings of faith through different interpretations rather than uphold a unitary perspective.

MULTIPLE PERSPECIIV~ OF 'Goos'

A central source ~f ambivalence in the Ii/a concerns the representation of the gods themselves. Who are these gods? Young boys from the neighbourhood, whose voices have not yet cracked and who 28

THE QUESTION OF PAITH

do all the 'nor,,,al' things that boys are expected to do till. they are initiated into their roles as gods. This relationship between boy-actors and the 'divine presence' is extrw1ely complex and varies from Ji/a to Ji/a, and sometimes within the course of a specific Iii.. Though in principle the boys never cces~ to be gods for the duration of the JiL, in fact, &om Kapur's study we learn that they even lose their own names and are addressed as Ramaji or Lakshmanji according to their penonee (Kapur, 234)-, the actuality of the J;J. presents many more enigmas. At different points, the boys can be seen to be standing a part from their roles, at times forgetting their roles, at times playing the roles mechanically, and then submittiDB to the emotions of playing gods, and finally transcending all sea.1ing emotion to acquire an iconic state as worthy of wonhip as a ,,,.,.,; in the temple. (Kapur, 12-16) It should be acknowledged, ho•cver, that these shifting modes of representing God are as dependent on the perception of the viewer as the methodology of performance worked out by the acton and organizers of the Ji/as themselves. Though perfor1nance is ·intrinsic to the Ji.Ja, it is not so in any overtly formal way. Quite simply, a Ii/a is not naty• (a distinction that is blurred in Kapur's otherwise scrupulous theory). In the modes of seeing are more detcr111incd through the actual unfolding (Jw.yog•) of the performance itself, which is the product of a lifetime's dedication to the techniques and philosophy of a particular performance tradition. A Iii. functions in &r less 'formal' circumstances of training and performance. Indeed, it can be placed in between Mly11 and ritual, mixing the languages of aesthetics and religious experience. At this point, it would be useful to digress somewhat by providing one example from the tndition of Miya where the shifting modes of seeing et,terge from the perfor111ative idiom itself. The scene is from Avatharam in Krishnattam, which is perfor111«l every night in the Guruvayur Temple after the last p,,ja has been completed~ Here it would seem as if the actor playing Krishna is urging us to question the ways in which god is being represented. As we will examine, there is a certain self-consciotJsness in his representation that is textured very differently from the way Rama is represented in the Ii.Ja. We begin with Krishna being scolded by his mother for his

""'Y"',

29

TRACfS FOR. THE TIMES

numerous misdeeds. Like an ornate figurine, he stands before us, barely three feet high, resplendent in his elaborate costume and green mask-like face, accentuated by a facial border (ch1'ttt). Standing absolutely still, without responding to the p.Jam being sung in - the background, he radiates an almost iconic stillness. In this state, he is beyond questioning. But then, gradually, he begins to slide his foot, 'tracing patterns of dust on the ground'. This god seems to be subverting his own perfection through an ever-so-subtle hint of his guilt, which is later supplemented by a slow wave of the hand as if he is denying what his mother is saying. At this point, god is opening himself to being questioned. Later, the humanizing process is extended when he throws himself at his mother's feet (shortly, I should add, before she brandishes a real stick at him). And inevitably, she is compelled to pick him up and tuck him around her waist, not unlike any infant in a rural area or street. Finally, after he finishes his scene, Krishna abandons his divinity and becomes a boy-actor. But on the way to the greenroom, he is stopped by a devotee who prostrates herself before him. For her, he is still Krishna. As if on cue, the boy-actor reverts to his iconic state and receives the Jaluhina with dignified grace. Then, once more, he becomes an actor as he rushes into the greetiroom to remove his make-up. So 'god' is at once a boy, a boy-actor, a quality son, a repentant son, and an icon. Krishna exists on multiple levels, and we who watch him are compelled. to question these levels that form part of his divine presence. As we shall discuss later, it is precisely these multiple levels and angles of vision that prevent 'god' from being represented in a monolithic and over-determined. way, which is unfortunately what seems to be happening in the fundamentalist appropriation of religious imagery. At the same time, one should acknowledge that one's own seeing does not necessarily account for how other people (and particularly, believers) are likely to see the same image or scene. Though there is inevitably a context within which one has to ground one's seeing, there is always room'for individual and even contradictory insights. Indeed, is it at all possible to determine collective modes of seeing? At climactic moments in a Ii/a, such as Bharat Milap in the Ramlila at Ramnagar, thousands of eyes focus on the sight of two young

30

THE QUESTION OF FAITH

boys embracing each other, a fraternal 'union' which the devotees have waited for hours on end to see. (Kapur, 202-208) In a sense, everyone is seeing the same moment but from a myriad perspectives. Some don't get to see it at all, as Kapur informs us, but does that mean they cannot imagine that they have seen it? It would seem to me that the 'shared experience' of a Ii/a opens up many areas of ambivalence which have not been answered because we have yet to frame the questions.

'DEATHS' OF RAVANA

Within its spectrum of visual possibilities, ·it becomes obvious that a synoptic or all-seeing view of the Ii/a is neither possible nor particularly desirable. Not inappropriately, Kapur's ethnography, a model of 'thick description', offers a blending of views over two years of seeing the Ii/a. However, one wishes that the element of 'fJCtion' underlying such a syncretist discourse could have been theorized about a little more. Obviously, there was sufficient uniformity in the sequence and playing of events over the yean for the narration to fall more or less into place as a coherent whole. Or perhaps, as we shall discuss later, Kapur has not developed ways in which the Ii/a can be seen in response to historical and political changes. What she prefers to focus on are the dynamics of pcrfurmance that seem to 'cohere' from multiple perspectives. However, for two· particular ~cements of the Ramlila, Kapur realized that . she needed to represent two distinct 'viewings' of .the Iii.. At least one such enactment reveals how a change in performative conditions can alter the very meaning of the Ii/a. The performance in question is Rama's victory over Ravana, who was played, in 1978, by an old veteran of an actor, who had performed the demon-king for more than fifty years (Kapur, 182-188). From Kapur's description, we learn that the 'defeat' of Ravana, like most enactments of the Ramlila, was underplayed. After some perfunctory arrow-throwing, Ravana had his ten-faced mask and twenty hands removed by his attendants, whereupon the frail old actor (now without the slighest hint of arrogance) walked up to Rama and touched his feet. Performed in 'a quiet, decidedly untheatrical

31

TRACI'S FOil THE TIMES

manner', this gesture apprared like the very apotheosis of repentance. After this gesture, we learn that Rama m1braced Ravana to the 'deafening cheer of the spectators'. The embrace was more emblematic than real, with Rama 'remaining characteristically impassive, eyes remote'. (Kapur, 184) But there is something profoundly moving in the image when one considers that an old man (Ravana) is being er11braccd by a boy, who also happens to be a god. After this embrace, there is surely one of the most stirring exits in the world of performance u the actor playing Ravana disappears into the crowds, which for Kapur is a concrete sign that he has been 'absorbed into god's bountiful presence'. (Kapur, 184). The profound subtleties of this final meeting between Rama and Ravana seemed to be totally absent in 1979, at least from Kapur•s point of view. For one thing, she could hardly see the scene because of the obstruction of the crowds. More significantly, Ravana was no longer played by the veteran actor, but by his son who did not disapp,ar in the final moments, but rather, returned to his chariot looking at the spectators 'squarely in the eye, singularly unrepentant' (Kapur, 187). This attitude definitely alters the meaning of Ravana's defeat, but the question remains as to what extent one needs to read the particulars of a visual in order to realize its significance in the overall context of the Iii.. For those among us for whom the displace111ent of elements is a ·visual' matter, the·alteration in attitude represented by the second Ravana-actor cannot be ignored. One would need to probe it a little more: what,for instance, is the role of the actor's interpretation in the gestures and action of the Jiu,? To what extent , are the changes in 'interpretation' part of a _growing scepticis~ towards religious certainties? We all know that Ravana has· to die and will continue to do so, ~ut how will he die? And can one expect any change of response to his death over the yean? Significantly, there is a difference between how Ravana dies in Ramnagar and in other places where the Ramlila is celebrated. In Ramnagar, the spectacle of the 'defeat' is muted, as Kapur infur111s us, because it is conside.red 'human to err', and Ravana, after all, has to be respected as a k,ng. It is not coincidenc.l, therefore, that the Maharaja of Benares (who is the chief patron and spectator of

32

THI QU1ST10N OP PAITH

the entiie Iii.) docs not see Ra,r•a1'1 defeat not only beca11se he does not want to show him respect, but because, in Kapur'• telli111 WOids, he .'docs not wish to see the deeth of another king'· (Kapur, 182). A more genuine iapect for Ra\'Ula is revealed in the very separation of his 'defeat' from the actual presentation ex his 'death' itself, when bis fifty-foot effigy is J.,urned, culminating in the release of five gas balloons that drift into the night sky, signifying his 'release from the coils of a misguided life' (Kapur, 185). There is much generosity in this representation of death, of the tri11mph of good over evil, that one can only lament (if that is not too strong a wutd) the increasing intolerance with which intc1pretations of 'good' and 'evil' are aiFarn1ed today. At a time when . all battles (ideological or otherwise) are cast in the langW13e of violence and vendetta, one should note that Ravana's defeat in the Ramlila is presented in a decidedly non-militant manner. Rama .,,J,,.., Raven,. Though his victory is unquestionable, he never exults in it. Indeed, he docs not even appear like a waffior. In the tradition of Tulsidas, this Rama maintains a consistent gentleness and composure: he is somewhat distant, yet capable of crying. 'God's teaA', as Kapur intuits so perceptively, 'do not humanize god. Rather, they bring us closer to him' (Kapur, 163).

REALrnEs OF THE JJT.A

H there is a limitation, however, with Kapur's empathetic account of the Ramlila, it may have to do with the ontology of her gaze, which becomes so intense at times that the act of 'seeing' the Iii. overpowers a sense of the historical realities per111dting it. A more analytical view of the Jill, would necessitate a closer view of the configurations of social roles, classes, castes, professional groups that participate in the lila while profiting from it in various ways. To what extent does faith contribute to the economic base of the lila? For instance, w2 are told that after Ravana is 'defeated', he claims his dues from all the shops situated on his 'land', and that he is paid 'in kind'. A collection of toys, sweets and peanuts form part of his taxes. (Kapur, 187). Now this kind of detail (of which there are too few in Kapur'1 ethnography) could be dismissed as trivial, but thett

33

TRACI'S IOR. THE 1•1MES

are larger economic realities surrounding the -i. that could illuminate the links between myth and commerce, ritual and trade. Another detail that could have opened up an entire area of sociocultural investigation concerns the Muslim artisans who have manufactured the effigies and fireworks of the Ramlila for generations. Kapur informs us that one Muhammed Idris is the master technician of the lila's scenography and that he is assisted by at least twenty members in his family. Intriguingly, there is an oral history underlying Idris's art that goes back to one Lukman Hakim, (Kapur, 226-289) who is said to have 'baffled' Death himself by 'creating replicas of himself! Unfortunately, Kapur does not fnllow up on this history or cont.extualize Idris's involvement in the Ramlila within the larger spectrum of artisan culture in Benaras, which is shared by both Muslims and Hindus. In contrast to the upper and business classes of these communities, whose cultural identities are becoming increasingly defined on religious lines, the lower-class artisans define their identities not through the more recent categories of 'Hindu' and 'Muslim' but along more traditional lines, where the specific moha/'4, skill, and above all, affmity to Benaras as a city brings individuals and entire communities together. One could say that fur the artisan community at least, 'Bcnarasipan', the 'essence of what it means to be a penon from Benaras', is still capable of triumphing over sectarian and religious differences. 5 Unfortunately, when a history of the Ii/a is attempted without a feeling for this 'Benarasipan' (which Kapur evokes without theorizing about it), the reading is generally so crude that facts are imposed rather than inscribed within the experience of the lila itself. Of what use is it to learn, for instance, that the processions of the Ramlila performances in North India in 1911 included historical penonae like the Rani of Jhansi? Or that in Allahabad, the Rani and her attendant were played by 'compositors', who formed part of the 'semiliterate urban lower middle classes.6 These facts are of soci6logical interest at best: they could contribute to a theory of the 'real' in the Ramlila only if they could be perceived within the contours of its religio-cultural space. This is undeniably difficult, but unless social scientists are prepared to accept that religio-cultural phenomena are not just arenas of 'collective action• but offer areas of experience that incorporate and transcend this 'action', their

34

..

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

historical evidence is a mere imposition on a complex of relationships. · If social ~ientists, for the most put, fail to see the dynamics of a particular event, performance theorists like Kapur, perhaps, sec too much of one thing at the expense of confronting the larger historicity of the event. In reality, the faith embedded in the lilt, is the affir1nation not only of a divine order, but of a social cosmology in which the king is also the prlllarltA., or symbol of.Shiva, the patron deity of Benaras (Kapur, 20). The contradiction, of course, is that the Maharaja·of Benaras, who 'plays' this surrogate divine figure, is deposed in the eyes of the Indian state. So .how docs one perceive his 'power'? In what political context is 'Mahadeva' to be placed? What, if any, are the shifts in perception of the Maharaja before, during, and after the Mela? Does he vote for the Congress or the BJP? Instead of confronting these questions, Kapur .prefers to describe, and very movingly, the ritualistic role of the Maharaja particularly in the final rites of the Ii/a (Kapur, 217-19). Here we see the Maharaja prostrating himself before the gods, garlanding them, applying tilalt to their foreheads, and even washing their feet. But significantly, after the pwashltAr has been handed to the sUldl•Jkls, they return the garlands to the Maharaja and his family who 'blessed by their divine visitors' retire into the palace. Now this is undeniably a most graceful exit, but what, if any, ~ the repercussions of this ritual in the political culture in and around Benaras? Can ritual significance be separated from its action and extended to political discourses and activities? How stable is the image of the 'king' today caught as it is between mythic sanctification and secular demystification? What arc the possible appropriations of gods sanctifying royalty at a time when politicians are legitimating their authority in the name of gods, and specifically, Rama?

BEYOND THE LU.A

It will be critical, I believe, to follow up on these questions in future Ramlilas at a time when the entire system has been shaken by the communalization of politics in the 'Hindu h«"Jlrtland'. Kapur herself

35

TRACI'S FOR. THE TIMES

has been compelled to add a short preface to her book in which she acknowledges that 'while the theatric conventions that give the performance significance may not have undergone change, a great deal has occurred (by way of the Bahri Masjid-RamJanambhoomi crisis) that might change the way the epic motifs are constructed' (Kapur, Preface). Already in Ayodhya, as she has observed along with other writers, a totally different image of Rama is being proselytized in which his gentle, seemingly impassive, and palpably human qualities, so visible in the Ramlila, are being replaced by a masculinist, warrior-like figure. Instead of the predominant sb.,,t. f'tml that one associates with Rama, according to Kapur, we now have to confront a god who is (angry), a somewhat muscle-bound fighter who rises from the flame of a diya containing an image of a temple that inspires the slogan: 'Gh.r gb, s, Ayodhy• jd,-gs, h..ts

•gr•

mandir 1Jahin banaymg,.1 In this critical reading of the new imagery of Rama, however, one needs to acknowledge the unquestioned assumptions as to how religious imagery is perceived in the fint place. All mythic figures from the past are associated with certain signs that make the1i1 instantly and intensely familiar. Traditional iconography though infinitesimally varied, still works within definite notions of measurement, colour, scale, and temperament. Moreover, this iconography has been internalized over centuries, and not just through te111ple art but through its ot;f'-shoots in modem technology: prints, posters, calendars, stickers, emblems. More recently through the trajectory of mythological plays of the Pars~ theatre and religio-cpic films, 'faith' has received new manifestations in the television serials of Hindu epics. Here, for all the technical gimmickry and novelty of the medium, the gods were so profoundly recognizable to millions of people that they became sources of J.nb.,,. Arun Govil may not be a particularly subtle actor, but his 'smile' worked, evoking one of the most deeply entrenched signs of Rams's gentle demeanour. But-and this is the point in which one may find a possibility of resistance Arun Govil's •smile' did not work when he canvassed in his Rama persona -for the Congress in the 1989 elections. So, it does suggest that eternal signs like R.ama's •s~ile' do not necesse!ily work as magic formulae. People are not fools, and they know (without necessarily theorizing about it) that there are contex~s in

36

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

which 'gods' have to be placed. It could be argued, of course, that they were not so pcnpicacious in the case of Deepika Chikaliya whose Sita-image may have contributed partially to her winning a Seat in Parliament. But the same cannot be said of Ashok Trivedi, for no one in their right minds would vote for Ravana. The point is that, as yet, the Indian electorate is able to differentiate between television and 'reality', though as political power becomes increasingly inscribed in the mass media, this differentiation may be harder to sustain in the coming yean. At a more general level, it may be worth considering that traditional icons of faith need not be obliterated through fun~entalist appropriation. How can we be so sure, for instance, that traces of an earlier Rama are not being seen through the guise of his new constructions? Once again, I am compelled to question how and what people see in religious imagery. It is true that political pressures can be collectivized and organized to make certain fixed viewings almost mandatory, but religious images cannot be straitjacketed altogether, or at least for not too long. We should remember that fundamentalists do not create these image$, they merely manipulate elements within them. If they manipulated too much, they would be disposing of the earlier images altogether, which would not serve their purpose. . Though a detailed study.of changing perceptions of the Ramlila is not yet available, particularly in the aftermath of the communalization of electoral politics in Benaras, it would seem that there was no significant difference in the construction of the Jj/a in 1991. Nor was it visibly appropriated by any political party for the propagation of a particular ideology. But these are suppositions based at best on the absence of verifiable evidence. What has yet to be probed arc the largely unconscious processes by which the Jj/a is perceived through an accumulation of political and social tensions. What can be acknowledged (precisely because it is verifiable) is the actual outbreak of communal violence that followed the Ramlila in Benaras on November 9, 1991, when 'a procession carrying the image of Goddess Kali was atcacked' by 'another community.'8 Though the Director General of Police attempted to explain the riot as 'the handiwork of some vested interests who were hell-bent to create disturbances on the eve of the by-elections,' there were no

37

TllACIS FOil THE TIMES

by-elections either in Benaras or in the neighbouring areas to validate his statc111~nt. Today, social scientists are beginning to explore the more 'unverifiable' reasons for communal outbreaks that cannot be easily rationalized. Much remains to be probed about the ways in which myths and divine figures serve as catalysts, or more precisely, pretexts for communalist abuse. Even less researched are those elements within myths that resist this abuse through perceptual processes that remain largely undocumented. . In the meantime, we are compelled to admit that the closure of communal tensions on mythic sites like the Ramlila seems to be intensifying, but this does not mean that the life-nourishing, creative, and above all, playful principles of the Ji/a have ceased to be effective. While it will become critical to examine how the seeming 'autonomy' of the lila will be affected in the coming years, one should not cease to deny the possibilities of its resilience.

NOTES

1. Samir Dutta, 'Theatre of Faith in Tent Town', Th, S11,uk,y S111t1S111a11 Misall.-,, February 19, 1989, p.3. 2. Ibid., p.4. 3. Anuradha Kapur, A.aors, Pilgri"", Kn,gs 11,uJ Gods: Th, RMJil. Id &,,aag11,. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1990. All quotations from this book, which is my primary source of material for the Ramlila in this section, are cited u 'Kapur' followed by the appropriate pase numbers. 4. A detailed history of Krishnattam is available in my essay entitled 'Preparing for Krishna' included in Th1111n 11,uJ 11,, World: EsS11ys of PnfOf7lM"" 11,uJ 'foliti&s of C11/111n. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 1990. 5. For a most perceptive and thorough study of artisan culture in Benaras, read Th, A.,1isa111 of 811111,11s: Pop.I., C•/111,, 1111d ldntity, by Nita Kumar. Princeton University Press, 1988. The term •Benarasipan', in particular, receives an inspired interpretation in her work. 6. These facts are included by Sandria B.Freitag in her brief discussion of the Ramlila in Co//,ait,, A.ain """ CM111111111i1y: P,J,/i, A,111t1s 11nd

38

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

II,, B ua11,an of C li:tt£ ;,, NtJl'IJ, 111&. New Delhi: Oxfotd Univenity Press. 1990. 7. Anuraclha Kapur. Militant· lmaaes of a Tranquil God'. 'The Ti•u of l■iio, January 1991. 8. R.epon entitled •5 dead as riots rock Varanui' published in TIH Dlmlll HmJJ. Noftmber 10. 1991. p.1. 1

39

4 Understanding Faith A crucial element of faith, as may be evident from my reading of 1114/aJ and Ii/as, concerns its overwhelming ubiquity, at least in the socio-cultural context of India. As I have examined, faith is so variable in its manifestations that it becomes almost impossible to deter111ine what believers 'see'. Indeed, religion offers some of the greatest possibilities of 'fiction', involving colour, texture, sensation, fantasy, and transcendence, which are all aspects of the imagination. It is worth acknowledging in this regard that people are capable of imagining realities that poets may neith.e r sec nor record, and yet, invariably, it is poets who claim imagination almost as their birthright. For most believers, the imagination works silently and within circumscribed frameworks of belief. But despite these 'rules of seeing', which have been so deeply internalized that they cease to be 'rules', there is, I believe, an intensely private space in the believer's consciousness that is activated during prayer, worship, meditation or ecstasy. It goes without saying that different religious traditions have different ways of structuring and legitimizing the modes and manifestations of faith. Some of these traditions could be opposed to the very idea of visualizing and enacting gods as in the tradition of the Ii/a. But even those traditions with a more rigorous codification of rules that would almost seem to collectivize the worship of God would not deny the 'private space' of their believers in which faith resides. It would seem to me that any writer attempting to represent 'faith' through fiction would have to confront this 'space'

40

THE QUESTION OF FAITH

in varied ways. One cannot legislate how this should be done, but the most textured and nuanced representations would have to be motivated, to my mind, by a certain empathy for the believers and faith in question. Empathy, I should add, does not necessitate blind faith; it can coexist with criticism, but one grounded in the living history of a particular faith, not advocated from outside with a purely rationalist logic. It is this criti&AI anpathy that I would like to explore with particular reference to the fiction of U .R. Anantha Murthy, whose acknowledgment of 'ambivalence' in addressing issues of faith is a valuable contribution to the increasinsly acrimonious and polarized debates on the relationship of politics and religion. I have chosen to focus on Anantha Murthy rather than attempt an overview of fiction in order to study the ways in which ambivalence can be textured in particular narratives. This is not to assert that these are the only ways of representing 'ambivalence' or to deny that there are no other attitudes to the issue of faith worth discussing. But, for the argument of this essay, which attempts to question faith within the cultural context of India, and more specifically, within a secular consciousness open to the ambivalence of faith, I can think of no other contemporary Indian writer who is more appropriate to the discussion than Anantha Murthy. It is my· hope that the predominantly descriptive analysis of his fiction will suggest both a 'language' and vision against which the premises (and prejudices) of theories of faith can be questioned with greater rigour and sensitivity.

REFLECI"10NS OF THE 'CRmCAL INSIDER'

Anantha Murthy's life of the mind is decidedly ambivalent. Though he calls himself a 'democratic socialist', his work could also be read as mystical. Rejecting the dominant tendency in 'social realism• to reduce religion to a superstition and source of oppression, Anantha Murthy is capable of blending his critique of religion with a surrender to its innate, revelatory qualities. In this context, his work is known to shift between a scepticism nurtured, in his words, through the 'Baconian-Cartesian epistemology of the scientific

41

J

TR.ACl2S POil THE TIMES

west',1 and a surrender to rituals and myths, which are at once the sowce of his n,e and the stimulus of his dreams. One way or the other, h~ position cannot be 'fixed', which is why he tends to tantalize both his SUflpotters and critics. In his work, the li3ht can re"'81 darkness, and the anxiety to believe can get tran1furo1«l into belief. These shifts in consci0111nea are not so much wcillations as they are elements in a dynamic process of thou,ht, at once fiercely, yet vulnerably secular. Before addressing Anantha Murthy's fiction, it would be useful to preface the discussion by referring to his essay'Why not wonhip in the nude?' in which he offers a spectrum of critical attitudes to faith. Almost like a fiction with several voices, the essay is held together by Anantha Murthy as much through his inteNentions as his capacity to listen. From the essay, we learn how the rural worshippers of the saddess Renukamba, including men, women, children, both old and young, get possessed in the river Varda and then run naked up a hill to worship the deity in a state of ecstasy.2 In 1986, this age-old ritual was violently and perversely exposed to the eyes of the world through the direct interference of Indian activists, politicians, policemen, and press photographers, who were all more or less unanimous that the ritual was 'wrong' and 'inhuman'. (Anantha Murthy, 96) Most insidiously, the photographs of the nude wonhippers were splashed on the pages of'socially concerned' news publications, thereby increasing sales. But at least some photographers had their cameras 'smashed' like the 'coconut offerings to the goddess', to use Anantha Murthy's vivid phrase_ Nor were the policeinen spared, as they were stripped along with the deputy superintendent of police by the jogithis, priestesses who 'danced gleefully waving police pants and helmets on iron tnshllklS'. (Ibid.) The whole event is sharply evocative of the Dionysiac violence inflicted on Penthcus by the Bacchantes, which Euripides dramatizes in his immortal play. Here the arch-rationalist:, Pentheus, spies on hi_s own mother, who rean off his neck and sticks it on a thyrsus. Of course, there is a profound uagcdy here insofar u Agave fails to recognize her own son, who appean like a voyeur. But the subtle comment of the play SU&Jelts that religious states

42

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

of abandon cannot be interrupted or regulated by the laws of the state without resulting in calamity. In Chandragutti, there was physical violence which some devotcx:s ascribed to 'the fury of the Goddess Renukamba'. (Anantha Murthy, 97) But perhaps, the real violence had to do with the killing of a myth that mattered deeply to an entire community of people. This psychic violence cannot be adequately expressed in words, least of all through the well-meaning commentary of the intelligentsia and activists. In claiming to understand the ritual within their own conceptual categories and values, they only succeeded in censoring it. Before providing an analysis of the critical attitudes to this ritual of wonhip, it is necessary to stress what I had emphasized .earlier in my reading of ..J.s. Rituals and community celebrations are, for the most part not meant to be seen from the outside. In most rituals, there are no spectaton, and hopefully, no voyeun (though the role of Pentheus now seems to be taken over by tourists). Essentially, rituals are participative eyents in which the individual merges his or her identity in a group ethos. While some rituals are ecstatic, enabling the bclic\'er to stand apart from himself or herself, others are more utilitarian and grounded in the sanctification of everyday activities. Whatever the ritual, the point is to be a put of it, not to watch and judge it from the outside. Significantly, the objectification of rituals has become legitimized through the profession of anthropology and a larger critical bias cutting ■cross disciplines which assumes that in any representation the writer is necessarily 'outside' of what is being addressed. While this continues to be assumed by a vast majority of historians and social scientists, despite the new interventions in critical theory concernins 'reflexivity', 'subjectivity', and 'desire', the same cannot be said for areas like fiction and the perfor111ing arts, where it is almost mandatory for the artist to 'enter' a particular subject either through an imaginative process or an actual psycho-physical transformation. No process of transformation, however, is infinite or necessarily continuous. Therein lies the ambiguity of arts like fiction and theatre, because they compel their practitioners to be both 'in' and 'out' of their respective subjects. At times they can blend with their subjects or withdraw completely. More intricately, as we shall examine brief-

43

TllACIS FOR THE TIMES

ly in connection with Anantha Murthy's fiction, a state of •immersion~ can be deflected or cut through another narrative strategy within the same fictional continuum. Though Anantha Murthy does not theorize his position as a critical insider, he is tactfully critical of those 'outsiders' who presume to represent the needs and future of an entire community. In his essay, we meet anthropologists who use their expertise to contextualize rituals and then accept their gradual disappearance in accordance with changes in the environment and the social system. Opposing this objectivity is the feminist in Anantha Murthy's essay, who equates nude worship with crimes like sati, untouchability, and prostitution (thejogithis are also worshippers ofYellamma to whom women offer themselves only to be trapped in the 'flesh-market' of Bombay). (Anantha Murthy.100). The feminist may be conflating different social realities, but her indignation is r5l, and Anantha Murthy seems to respond to it with more warmth than to the anthropological clarifications. At the same time, however, he cannot help questioning the feminist's seeming dismissal of worship. 'For us', says Anantha Murthy equating his own male response, perhaps, too readily with the feminist position-'A woman's naked body is an erotic object, or exceptionally an aesthetic experience'. But for 'them', the body is neither 'erotic' nor 'aesthetic' but sacr,d. (Anantha Murthy, 104). Though Anantha Murthy does not question the erotics of the female body from male andjemale perspectives, preferring to suggest that 'modern civil~on' has demythologized men and women in the same way, he does imply a tremendous sense of loss in abandoning a 'feeling of religious awe'. Because, as he is compelled to confide to one of his friends, he does believe that Y ellamma is 'true'. (Anantha Murthy, 107). But then, almost immediately, he is compelled to recall his own sceptici m that has nurtured his career as an academic. More disarmingl , he remembers the time in his childhood spent in the village when he .would 'urinate stealthily and secretly on sacred stones' to prove that they are not omnipotent. (Ibid). It is precisely this ki_nd of detail, so grounded in the very soil of Anantha Muthy's world, that enables him to write about faith with the intensity and intimacy of a 'critical insider'. In this world, the ,

44

THB QUESTION OF FAITH

reality of faith is much too palpable to be treated as an issue. It can be more meaningfully perceived. as one of the essential ambiguities in Anantha Murthy's attempt to combine 'Marxism' with 'mysticism'. This project may not hold up theoretically, but it con.tains moments of profound ambivalence in which we can reflect on the possibilities (and interpenetration) of resistance and transcendence in our world.

'CONSTRUCTION' OF FAITH

More often than not, these moments of ambivalence occur as junctures in Anantha Murthy's novels, when interventions of a religious nature impede or emerge from the larger social concerns of his narrative. Or, it can be the other way around, since a reflection on secular politics can be inserted as an ironic footnote to a mystic revelation. Perhaps the most 'constructed' of ambivalences concerning faith is to be found in Anantha Murthy's second novel BharathipNra. In one of the central events of this novel, we confront a showdown between faith and reason with the most intricate reversals of meaning.3 Jagannath, the hero of the novel, returns to his village from abroad with a desire to build a new social order. Almost as a challenge to the entire system, he wants the untouchables to enter the sanctum of the temple. Most 'social realists' would construct their fiction on this premise alone. But Anantha Murthy complicates it with a demonstration of hNbris as it were, where the hero extends his process of 'de-casteing' by bringing the Saligram, or household deity, out of the hallowed confines of the P*ia ghar. In this act of desecration, he instils a sense of horror not only among members of his family but the untouchables as well. Far from convincing them that the Saligram is only a stone, Jagannath succeeds in making it more potent for the villagers. In Anantha Murthy's words, 'The very attempt to destroy the myth, paradoxically, enhances the sacredness of the stone' (Anantha Murthy, 98) .. And then-most brutally and painfully-we see the untouchables succumb to Jagannath's fury by touching the Saligram passively. It is a profound cruelty, and one 45

TRACIS FOR THE TIMES

that merely extends the intrinsically feudal power that Jagannath embodies, contradicting his secular ideals. So much is packed into this confrontation that one can only admire thc ·sheer economy with which Anantha Murthy makes his icleas· and feelings collide. The fiction of the Saligram is asserted, almost theatricalized in its concentration on gestures, but more invisible are the shifts of consciousness underlying the gaze by which the Saligram is transformed from an auspicious symbol to a stone to an 111111 """' ampidOIIS symbol to a ""'"' stone. In this flux of perceptions, we can trace an entire history of religious images functioning like 'hierophanies' (to use Mircea Elide's term) and their steadily denuded significance through an imposed rationality. Counterpointing the inner tur111oil of emotions is the subtle social commentary that illuminates the struggle of wanting to end superstition and determining the nature of one's intervention. Anantha Murthy is acutely aware that a mere imposition of one's assumedly superior consciousness on others can be violent in its own right. On the one hand, one is compelled to intervene, but on the other, one can never be absolutely sure of the modalities and ethics of one's intervention. At .the most critical need to act, there may be the most intense doubt of the validity of one's action.

'AWAS'l'HE': THE PROBLEMATIC OF FAITH

Interventions constitute ·the basic structural device of Anantha Murthy's narrative in A.UNUth,, which I would like to examine in some detail with specific reference to the 'question of faith' .4 Here there is no temple that functions as the locus of religious and social power as in Anantha Murthy's earlier novels, Stati/,,aw, and Bharathiptwa, where the very sanctity of the tet,1ple becomes the source of pollu~ion, disillusionment, and defiance. The 'temple' in Auwth, is more like an inner state of consciousness punctured with mo11ories, wish-fulfilments, fantasies, and dreams. 'Punctured', I emphasize, not 'punctuated', because Krishnappa, the protagonist of the novel, has an uncanny ability to dart as it were fro111 a critique of parliamentary democracy to the most intense longing for another state of being. Some of the interventions are almost didactic, as the)'

46

THB QUESTION OF FAITH

direct our attention to social and political oppression. Others are more ambiguous, e111erging from within the political unconscious of the protagonist, who is startled into recognizing the myths underlying life, the faith buried in reason. Significantly, the protagonist is a socialist politician who is, nonetheless, aware of some divine intervention in life. Krishnappa's moments of being are deeply interiorizcd not least because he is suffering from a paralytic stroke that leaves him more or less immobile. Thrust as he in the stasis of his condition, both personal and political, he derives strength from his inner world, nourished by memories and sensations of his childhood in the village, and his affinity to 'the ecstatic poetry of Kabir and Allama' (Awas the, 9). The two most influential menton in his life include a radical • activist who initiates him to Marx and revolutionary politics, while the other, a mysterious benefactor called Maheshwarayya, is a 'secret devotee of the goddess Durga' who is also attracted to 'smutty' verses in Sanskrit and horse-racing. An even more enigmatic figure on the periphery of the novel is the sanyasi, who gets transformed from a state of near muteness into the incarnation of 'a serpent on God Ishwara's head'. (Awasthe, 123). His divinity lies outside of human categories, and though it gets advertised in the 1//,atrat,d W.Jtly of lndid, the sanyasi himself seems oblivious of secular interventions as he sits on the branch of a tree scratching himself like an ape, a 'supre.,1ely happy being'. (Ibid.) Unable to fully reject the sanyasi as an embodiment of 'blind faith' or accept him as a role-model, Krishnappa has no choice but to inscribe his own mith within the contradictions of his worldliness. Indeed, his fint experience of the ~life divine' occurs almost through a coincidence. On being insulted by a hotel owner, he casually predicts that the hotel will catch fire. When this actually materializes, the young Krishnappa. -(the very embodiment of the angry student leader) imagines that he is 'the child of destiny' (Awasthe,13). Inspired by Mahcshwarayya's P,,j"1, he enters into an elaborate ritual after drawing a 111"""""4 on the floor. At one level, the ceremony is a kind of 'madness' but Krishnappa's divine performance is also directed against his stingy relatives in whose house he has been insultingly treated. In addition, as a 1J.dr11, Krishnappa flaunts all rules of the sh.str111 by performing

47

TllACI'S FOil THE 1IMFS

p.;.

the in the presence of the higher castes. It is not surprising, therefore, that his assertion of faith acquires a social power as it becomes an act of revenge against the ritualistic order of his world. But, characteristically, Anantha Murthy balances Krishnappa's inner rage with a state of abandon in which he experiences 'the free state of mind'. (Awasthe, 15). So, along with the denunciation of rituals, there is also an admission of their energizi1_1g power. Later in the novel, when Krishnappa's political consciousness has deepened, he is able to separate the oppressive dogma of rituals from the grace contained in tt.a,1. Strategically, he knows how to appropriate the dogma and transfur111 it into a weapon. When the agent of the matb, Narasimha Bhatt, for instance, oppresses the villagers, Krishnappa's point of attack is the very ritualistic code of purity that endows Bhatt with a false power. Krishnappa advises the villagers to beat Bhatt with a broom-stick dipped in dungwater. As he knows only too well, 'That will make the Brahrnin miserable' (Awasthe • 113). The villagers obey his instruction and humiliate Bhatt whereupon they organize thet11selves to form a kind of Telengana' movement with the active support of socialists. There is some irony in the outcome to this 'revolutionary' process, but suffice it to say for the purpose of this discussion that Krishnappa's political career is made. At thjs point, one needs to emphasize that Anantha Murthy never allows his critique of religion to degenerate i~to mere ridicule. Not only is he prepared to acknowledge the ·authenticity' of a person's faith, he even respects the mediating power of the ritual itself. It could be argued, of course, that 'respecting' the ritual is not enough. What matters ~e the specific ways in which a ritual gets inscribed in a particular representation. Once again, it is not just the 'local knowledge' of the 'critical insider' that enables Anantha Mruthy to place rituals within the context of peoples' lives, but the larger ironies of his fictionality which enable him to surrender to what he is capable of demystifying. In the most ambitious religious intervention in the novel, Anantha Murthy almost luxuriates in the description of a particular ritual by entering the trance-:-like state of his protagonist.(Awasthe" 9193) What saves the description of the ritual from becoming self-indulgent is the opposition provided in the very •real' location of the 1

48

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

'

ritual a prison cell in a police station. Here in the midst of utter squalor and filth, Krishnappa confronts the very ·'crystallization of 1a11111s•, which constitutes everything that is 'trivial, mean, and low' . . His one urge is to transcend la1NIS so that it doesn't 'envelop' his 'mind' and 'soul'(Awasthe,90). In an almost eerie surfacing of myth, Krishnappa finds himself tracing the sbri chll.t:r-11 on the floor. Tracing patterns in the dust, he for111s a myriad triangles, lines, entrances, and exits, in which he is able to invoke the goddess Parvati Kameshwari. Chanting venes, he begins to recreate her, describing every limb of her divine body from the crown to the eyes to the lower lip and eventually to her feet. As his divine ardour increases, he becomes 'intoxicated' with the thought that IMIIIIJ is being destroyed. 5 Conceptually, the religious intervention is most daring as Anantha Murthy deliberately breaks the naturalism of the prison scene with a meditation that emerges from a different language, another source of energy. More conctctely, he inscribes the vision of the sbri c-hdl!na in the dust of the prison floor, grounding its transcendent realities in the 'lower depths' u it were of the state machinery. ff this appears as if Anantha Murthy is affirming the transcendence of religion, ·he very strategically counterpoints Krishnappa's religious experience with a different kind of religiosity that occun almost simultaneously, but in a different place. This is how he inscribes his own position as a 'critical insider' by consciously cutting his sense of 'belongingness' to a religious experience with a more ironic representation of religiosity. Thus, the ritual in the prison cell is juxtaposed with a drunken soiree which is_.held in the house of a famous poet, 'an ashtawadhani, a real devotee of the goddess'(Awasthe, 98). We are informed that this poet has dedicated his PanJali Pannaya to his close friend, the Home Minister, who ensures that he gets a state award for his poem. It is through these ironic details that we learn how it can be lucrative to aestheticize religion, particularly if one is connected to the appropriate officials in power. The transformation of religion into politics via literature, therefore, becomes the main source of Anantha Murthy's meaningful satire. Approached by Maheshwarayya to intercede on Krishnappa's behalf, the poet telephones the Minister from the home of a Vaishya

49

TRACI'S FOll THE TIMES

merchant, who stands on 'tip-toe' in a state of 'ecstasy' as he listens to the poet narrate bis latest composition to the Minister. Finally, after the necessary phone calls to the police superintendent have been made, Krishnappa is freed. Absurd as this fiction may seem, it is disturbingly plausible. If a telephone call is all that is needed to get a man out of prison, then one wonders about the accountability of such a system. Indeed, Krishnappa despairs about the internecine collusions and deals that animate the system (of which he is a part), but his own revolutionary ideas are not without deception. So, caught between political praxis and vision, he can only think his thoughts aloud without necessarily completing his sentences. On the one hand, he doesn't have the innate faith of the believer for whom the 'dead certainty of God" is like 'keeping money in the bank where the interest accumulates' (Awasthe, 124)-surely a very secular image of absolute faith. But at the same time, along with the 'anxiety of belief, there is a 'longing to believe' (Awasthe, 190). This ambivalence does not make Krishnappa cynical: rather, he continues to believe that the oppressed will 'bum away the smallness and meanness of society' with their 'anger' and 'indignation'(/bid.). The novel ends with Krishnappa literally taking the first steps towards activating this vision, as he fights his paralysis by cmwling on the floor like a child.

COUNTERING THE ASUllAS

From this descriptive analysis of AUJl'»th,, we can perceive the multiple level at which 'the question of faith' can be fictionalised-as revelation, as social critique, as catalyst for inuospective thinking and didactic analysis, as autobiography and as fantasy. What is particularly admirable about this multi-levelled perspective of faith, however, is the way it 'holds together" without succumbing to a positivist or totalizing .v iew of faith. Interrupted judiciously, yet daringly, the novel never loses sight of the larger contradictions of its vision. And con·s equently, it has no need to make the 'fictionality' of fiction an ·issue. At one level, this can be ascribed to the particular mode of fiction in which AWtlSth, is cast, but it also reveals Anantha Murthy's resistance towards fetishizing self-

50

THE QUESTION OF FAITH

reflexivity as a literary value, which hu become somethins of an indulgence in post-modem fiction. In this context, it should also be stressed that Anantha Murthy continues to work within a narrative tradition that implicitly upholds the idea of the 'whole' which post-modem fiction has questioned., if not negated. In this context, I am reminded of a myth that could serve as a metaphor for the problematic of this discussion. It concerns a tumult in the heavens, when the first theatrical performance in the presence of the gods (as recorded in the N111y111astr11) was interrupted by the .,.,.,, or evil forces. So virulent was the attack that the actors were paralyzed and struck dumb. Later, on seeking Brahma's protection, they were advised to build a playhouse. The as,was, on the other hand, were reassured by Brahma that they, too, would be represented in """'"'· The evil spirits were, perhaps, too naive to question how they would be represented. Instead, they accepted Brahma's word, and the history of theatre was allowed to continue ostensibly without inteffllption, though the first tumult in heaven is always inscribed in the performance of any play, just as it is visibly embodied in any ritual or ritual paformance. The lesson to be lcerned from this myth suggests that the agents of interruption are always hovering around fiction. It is fatuous to pretend that they do not exist. One option is to fight them consciously or through strategy (which is what Salman Rushdie seems to revel in by 'reclaiming the languase of the opponent' or mimicking the satanic forces themselves), so that there is a very real possibility of the narrative disintergrating or risking a destruction of 'self. The other option involves an absorption of those negative energies of the 11111.-111 and their subsequent transformation into something positive. Anantha Murthy, to my mind, uses this strategy in his fiction. He opens his narrative to all kinds of interruptions and ruptures, but somehow they are absorbed i~ his fiction through a surfacing of symbols and myths. The doubts, ambivalences and contradictions in his vision cohere, testifying to a certain 'faith• in the possibilities of remaining whole in an increasingly violent world. This 'faith' is not that of the believer, but of a writer in a particular possibility of the imagination, which Rushdie h-5 attempted to evoke in ter111s

51 ·

TRACI'S FOR TH.E 'I'IMFS

of 'secular definition of transcendence'. It would seem to me th•t Anantha Murthy has come closer to confronting this 'definition' than Rushdie, whose possibilities as a writer remain almost.perilously open to the unknown of his future. To locate my own preference for alternative fictions, specifically in the Indian context, I would acknowledge that new risks will inevitably have to be taken in decentering and disl()(:ating narratives, in making the ruptures more visible, but not at the npense of denying or demeaning those cultural resources that have sustained us through states of ettt\!rgency. Anantha Murthy's fiction is a testament to the endurance of these resources through rituals, myths, and icons that he celebrates (and demystifies) without succumbing to any false euphoria of their permanence. Indeed, at a time when we are no longer in control over what we are saying, fiction becomes through Anantha Murthy's example not just a valid response to the traumas in our world, but perhaps one of the most subtle ways of cla:rifying and transforming these traumas into new possibilities of transcendence and resistance. In this vision we find some truth in the radical belief that poets can be regarded as 'the unacknowledged legislators of our world'. In the following section, we will examine the corollary to this statement by showing how some 'legislators' can be viewed as the -u nacknowledged 'poets' of our world.

NOTES

1. U.R. Anantha Murthy,-'Why not Worship in the Nude? Reflcx:tions of a Novelist in his Time', &.'-*"'-- Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal, February 1988, p. l 07. 2. All information relating to the ritual of nude-worship in Chandragutti is taken from Anantha Murthy, lbia',pp.95-117. All quotations from this essay will be indicated by the author's name Anantha Murthy followed by the appropriate page numbers. 3. The central event in Bharathipura is described by Anantha Murthy in 'Why not Worship in the Nude? Ibid. As yet the only 1eetion from the novel that has been translated into English, it has been included in A.11othw lnditl, a collection of modern Indian writing, edited by Nissim Ezekiel and Meenakshi Mukherjee, New Delhi, Penguin Books India, 1990.

52

THE QUESTION OF FAITH

4. All quotations from A.w,,sth, (The Condition) are taken from the edition translated by Shantinath Desai, published by Allied Publishers Limited, 1990. The quotations are cited as 'Awuthe' followed by the appropriate page numben. To situate A.W1111J,, in the larger context of Anantha Murthy's oeuvre, ·read K.V. Subbanna's comprehensive essay on l11111g1 of Mot/J,u J,u&,: Dr.A.••tb,,,,.r,by's Trilogy. Translated by Jaswant Jadhav, Alcshara Prabshan, Heggodu, Karnataka. . 5. The sensuousness of the verses chanted by Krishnappa in prison is later echoed when he repeats them in a very different context to his lover, Lucina. During bouts of love-making, he compares the parts of her body to 'the description of the Goddess he used to meditate upon in the Warangal police-station' (Awasthe 133). The 'languases' of divinity and sexuality seem interrelated for Krishnappa insofu as one defines the other.

53

5 Politics and ·Faith We begin this fourth and last section on the 'question of faith' with a piece of writing that bridges the realities of 'fiction' and 'politics'. I have in mind Rammanohar Lohia's extraordinary essay entitled 'An episode in Yoga', which is a relentlessly unsentimental and analytical reminiscence of his imprisonment in Lahore in 1944.1 Not only does the essay have strong resonances of the police-station •. episode in Awa.11h,, revealing Anantha Murthy's close affinities to Lohia's ideas) it illuminates a most nuanced fur11, of socialist thinking that is, on the one hand, rationalist, and yet open to the enriching power of traditional Indian concepts concerning being and time. Though obviously, the kind of sensuous description so evident in the shri chakra episode of Awaitbe is not to be found in Lohia's essay. 'An Episode in Yoga' can be read as a 'fiction' in its own right a documentary n,C111oir in which Lohia submits the memory of his imprisonment to the most rigorous critical scrutiny. But within the objective perspective, there are flashes of consciousness in which poetry and philosophy become one. In this writing, we realize the validity of the axiom that truth can be stranger than fiction.

LOCATING loHIA

Before entering a discussion of 'An Episode in Yoga', a few words are necessary to contextualise Lohia's location within the larger framework of this ess~y. As I have pointed out in the introduction,

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THE QUESTION OF FAITH

what concerns me are not the mechanisms of the rulpolitik but tho~ cultural sources that underlie acts of resistance and contribute to the shaping of an alternative politics. As the pressures of sustaining our political system from one election to another become more apparent, it may be necessary, I believe, for us to develop a stronger awareness of those integrative possibilities in our culture, which are in the process of being attacked. An appraisal of these possibilities can help us not only to resist the pervasive violence of our times but to illuminate what is being lost in the political process, and thereby enable us to develop a new kind of praxis more grounded within our cultural resources. I deal with ~hia and specifica~ly, his cultural writings because they offer rich insights into the interconnections of politics, culture, and indirectly, religion. Since much of the writing continues to be unknown outside of the few Lohia circles in die country, I have attempted to provide a descriptive analysis of his cultural critique focusing on religioll THE 1 iMES

socialist in 1957 looking back on an episode in his life from which he derives a philosophy that see1ns politically valid in this time. The fnctious political tensions of post-In e India do not enter the argument of his essay. What concerns him is something more vital for our political culture that cuts across party lines. Risking a ccxtain paternalism in giving 'advice' to those who want to hear him, Lohia recommends that we 'attempt to control the trends of the mind and the will' without succumbing to 'the fear and greed that belong to the future' (Lohia, 87). In eoiphasizing these inner resources of consciousness; Lohia is calling attention to a way of disciplining the self without which politics becomes fragmented and crude. It is the underlying ethics of politics that he upholds u a value, substantiating the principles of 'Work, Resistance, and Character-building', which he had addressed in an essay written a few months before completing •An Episode in Y03a'. In the stirring conclusion to this essay (which I quote at length), Lohia reyeals how polities can be energized like 'religion' and 'a.rt': The discipline of turning the mind inward, of contemplation must be brought into politics ...Truth, work, generosity and other elements of character-building should become the primary concern of politics, not of course in thejr truncated forn1. They must be made as universally valid as possible. During all this political activity, man will have to learn to be generous and to base his whole being and action on · the philosophy of good will ... The scn.t iment of good will must apply to all mankind. Only then will politics acquire apart of that attraction which religion or a.rt has always exercised fur its quality of solace, of going beyond one's skin, of feeling whole and at peace (Lohia,70-71).

S.ECULAlUZING 'TllADmON'

Apart from the categori~ of •work, resistance, and character building,' which need to be reclaimed in politics, Lohia acknowledges sources of energy and inspiration to be found in areas beyond 58

THE QUBSTION OP PAITH

politics. Nirvikalpe Samedhi, for instance, is one source of revitalization. Even if the thought of being able to 'hold time' can be i_n ternalized, it 'might', in Lohia's words, 'enable us to achieve that immediacy of good conduct, every act justifiable in itself. 2 Of coune, this could be dismissed as a 'myth', but it is worth affirming if only to hypothesize the possibility of a 'life lived at full point, individually as well u collectively' (MGS195). It is at this 'point' that philosophy can be appropriated from 'academicians' and become a 'song sung by millions (Ibid). Though, obviously, this 'song' is something of a socialist fantasy, which Lohia would prefer to view as a 'philosophical hypothesis,' it reveals his ability to seize on a traditional concept like s"'1klllbi and stretch it to meet the de,nands of history. Therein lies the particular ingenuity of his secular consciousness. Lohia knows how to intervene in areas that have been relegated to 'religion' and appropriate concepts that have wider philosophical resonances. It could be argued, of course, that these concepts arc not utilitarian and have no immediate political efficacy. But they prepare the ground for the nurturing of a certain political tc111perament and discourse grounded in the primary energies of our culture. · Yet another example of 'tradition' inspirins Lohia's political vocabulary can be found in his interpretation of 'equality'. This most maligned and hackneyed of terms in political science actually begins to acquire a resonance through the mediation of Indian philosophy. Linked as he is to ideas of 'modernity', Lohia is not reluctant to acknowledge that 'the modem mind' has 'forgotten' the 'most inward meaning' of equality in which 'contrary conditions of pleasure and pain, heat and cold, victory and defeat' constitute an 'inward eq,1animity'(MGS240). For 'the ancients in India', this 'inward eq11animity and outward equality were two sides of the same coin'. (Ibid.) Significantly, there was one word to designate both these

swes:s""""4 or '"""""""'· Once apin the rationalist in Lohia intervenes to question the viability of slMIIIIIII in a conte1I1porary context: Inner 'tranquillity' may not be 'possible' to achieve or sustain in the rough world of politics·. But this seeming impossibility is precisely what Lohia finds so challenging. At one level, it is part of his Gandhian legacy in positing an unarwnable state in order to define the struggle of 59

TRACI'S FOR. THE '1 IMF.s

moving towards it, but it is also his way of throwing out a challenge . to his colleagues and opponents. If 'tranquillity' has been attained in the past by those who have 'prepared' themselves for it, then why should it not be possible for 'all or almost all mankind' to attain this condition? (I/,id.) One need hardly add that the vitality of the concept seems to inspire Lohia more than its methodology, and therefore, it is not surprising that he docs not elaborate on how one 'prepares' to arrive at such an 'equanimity of contradictions. It is the possibility of the thought rather than its actual execution that stimulates him. Indeed, much of his cultural writings could be described as a tribute to the idea of politics as 'the art of the possible'. This is the unspoken, frequently unacknowledged component of politics wit~ut vision. Lohia's reflections on culture provide a base from which politics can be imagined. Apart from secularizing traditional sources of knowledge by questioning concepts like sl#IIMlhi and S"'11dla within his own critical framework, Lohia also has a way of responding to traditional artefacts sensuously, rather than reverentially. This was yet another way in which 'tradition' could be secularized and grounded within the worldliness of his desires. Thus in his unabashedly male gaze at sculptural forms, for which feminists could take him to task, traditional Indian sculpture is crystallized through the bodies of women.3 In Bhojpuri, for instance, 'she' (the 'spirit' of Indian history) is 'shrunk and delicately beautiful'; at Mahabalipuram, Ajanta-Ellora, Hrµebid, and Kel&Bumalai, 'she' resembles a •chaste virgin ·o f shapely limbs' and predictably in Khajuraho, 'she' is the ultimate anbodimcnt of 'exuberance' (Lohia, 177). It is obvious from these cumples that Lohia is respondins to temple sculpture not for its religiosity but for the sheer joy of its 'forms'. For him, it is the 'aesthetics' of experience in watchins sad• and goddesses in a state of play that matters, not the acn11l state of belief. And yet, if one rememben Abhinavagupta and other learned commentators on the qtJation of ,..,.► the aesthetic experience is very closely linked if not analagous to the religious experience. To this day the religious component in aesthetia is either all too readily assumed (by traditionalists) or rejected outright (by secularists). I

60

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

Though Lohia does not enter the controvcny, he clearly prefers to separate ~thetics from faith. . Yet alons with the 'vibrantly celestial fum1,' in Khajuraho, be is also open to the experience of 'total peace' to be found in the inner sanctum of the temples. More movingly, he s«s in the serene coupling of Shiva and Parvati 'a state of complete contentment'. And here again, the concept of 'time "tanding still' is reasserted. As in the Yoga at Lahore prison, 'the moment is the eternity' in Khajuraho (Lohia,174). In the presence of Shiva and Parvati, th~ is to be found the wne crystallization of 'immediacy', where the 'act is complete in itself and is its own justification' (Il,iJ.). From· this example, one can observe Lohia's uncanny ability to connect seemingly different contexts through a concept. Yoga, sculpture, and the politics are 'yoked' together, however momcnwily, through the concept of'immediacy'. This intrinsically eclectic process of thinking is complemented not just by a spirit of openness but .by a very real endorsement, if not celebration of the interrelatedness of different disciplines and their contributions to cultural -p luralism.

A CllITICAL OPENN~ Along with his profuse references to Hindu tCJI19le architecture (for which he feels no obligation to apologize), Lohia is equally generous in his evocations of Buddhist, Jain, and Islamic architecture. Attentive to the inscriptions of their individual histories in stone, he is able to embrace their differences within the boundaries of a larger cultural continuum. Like a true secularist, Lohia does not evaluate architectures on the basis of their religious histories. The Qutub Minar has its own 'stately grace' that has to be appreciated in its own right, just u the monolith in Shravanabelgola 'awes' the viewer with its particular embodiment of a 'tense and eternal vigilance' (Lohia, 173). Nor is there a need on Lohia's part to set up a false hierarchy of taste by comparing Buckµ1a, Mahavira, and Shiva, who live 'cheek by jowl,. in coloun and in stone' in the spacious environs of Ajanta-Ellora. .. Clearly, the .'India' invoked in Lohia's reading of sculpture

61

TllACl'S POil THB 'IIMBS

radiates a vitality in its celebration of difference. Never is it reduced to a unitary construction wh~by 'India' becomes a sign as it were for the most ubiquitous of slogans in post-Independent India: 'Unity in Diversity'. lohia never allows his concrete observations of culture to congeal into such epithets. His respect for the specificities of cultures, however, docs not blind him to the possibilities of their sectarian misuse. For all the ardour of his aesthetic response, he is aware that even architecture can be politicized through a manipulation of religious sentiments. Thus, in reflecting on the shrine of Ketara Kesavdeo near Mathwa, Lohia chooses to affir,11 their value in terms of 'cultural history' rather than as embodiments of particular religions. While being fully aware that Mathura has been 'sacked' at least eighteen times in its history, this observation docs not lead him to denounce any community. What concerns him is the excavation of the ancient remnants of Mathura that lie buried under layers of its history. Instead of investigating the past, however, the local politicians of Mathwa are more concerned with commemorating its confusions through the construction of a 'Muslim Idph and a freshly built · Krishna te111ple' (Lohia, 188). Openly critical, Lohia describes both these edifices as 'vandalisms', one of power and the other of •ignorance' (Ibid). The 'right thing' to do, according to lobia, would be to excavate the 'treasures of ancient art' that lie buried in the ground of Katara Kesavdeo. In this assertively secular position, it becomes clear· that what· matters to Lohia is a deepening of knowledge of our cultural history rather than pandering to the politicization of local religious sentiments. At a certain level, Lohia's attitude is ret11iniscent of the somewhat peremptory 'solutions' put forward by secular historians in their advocacy of converting cQntroversial shrines into 'nati•o nal monuments'. What makes Lohia's position diffi::rent, however, is the very real concern he had for architecture itself. Indeed, at • time when communal tensions in Ayodhya have almost totally oblitemted any regard for its cultural history, it is positively moving to re111e111ber how Lohia once playtd the role of the amateur archaeologist in its environs. He informs us that he has 'looked at some hopefullooking mounds in Ayodhya• (Lohia, 187). That is all. These mounds, which could reveal the 'secrets' of our most ancient history 62

..

THB QUBSTION OP PAITH

in India, are obviously of no concern to most secularists and fundaroentalisa today. Now the entire history of Ayodhya hu been reduced to ui edifice that is a mosque to some and a temple to others with vety little room fur undentanding of a shared space and history. _ Once a.pin it needs to be emphui7.ed that Lohia wu writing at a very different point in Indian history when one could be openly appreciative of Hindu temple architecture or Islamic art u a socialist without being branded a religious reactionary or a chauvinist. One could also be a non-believer and yet address the social and cultural implications of religion without necessarily being considered iireverent or dangerously prone to fundamentalist beliefs. Though Lohia was not a believer, it is important to stress that be did not deny the belief of others. As he once ret11inisced: •1 have seen people who believe in God, ordinary people, who get such solace and peace out of visiting a mosque, a temple or church that I would be the · wt person to deny them that. For, they look entranced, and on their faces is a delight which is totally outsicle power to give thei11. Who am I to become a bar to that?' (MGSl 73). However, while respecting the fundamental right of others to believe in God, he was, nonetheless, compelled to add that •if it ties up pe"ersely with social ordering and political affairs, I would certainly counter it' (Ibid.). So faith was for believers. For socialists like himself, religion was, at best, a source of philosophical concepts which could illuminate ways of dealing with the present political condition through potent energies and insights. At another level, religion offered possibilities of sensuousness, fellowship and fun. When Lohia advocated the development of pilgrimage centres, for example, in places like Sarnath, Benaru, Bodh Gaya and Rameshwaram, he envisioned forums for 'play and prayer', where people from all over India and abro.d could participate in 'annual feasts of dance, drama, music,poetry and philosophy and just simple fun' (MSG 381). The idea is great, but judging from what hu been made of pilgrimage centres in the name of development, one wonders if Loh~ would not have regarded the111 u 'vandalisms' promoting the crudest varieties of tourism and junk art. Likewise, when ta11ples have been used as sites for dance festivals, u in Khajuraho and Konarak, this has resulted in a rather

my

63

TllACI'S POR. THE 'l'lMES

tasteless and hypocritical resurgence of religiosity that has noc served to enhance our dance tnditions in any significant way. In such forums, a religious backdrop is used to enhance our sense of 'tradition', which in actuality is • most complex blend of many layen of'invention', but which appean to be 'organic' and 'timeless•. It is to Lohia's credit that for all his faith in the 'continuity' of cultural processes in India, he never essentiali1.e1 'tradition'. And this is possible only because he is able to relate its dynamics to the process of history itself. •

One other source of clarification that substantiates Lohia's secular response to religious material concerns his discrimination of' images• and 'myths'. Though he offen no theory in this regard, his critical position is most clearly articulated in his memorable essay on 'Rama, Krishna and Shiva'. For believen, Rama, Krishna and Shiva are gods embodying ultimate realities, but for Lohia, they are 'images' which '&scinate' him almost more than anything else in the world of ideas. He is very clear that 'images' are not 'gods', aod thereby distinguishes himself from those millions of believers in sites like the Ramlila where the sUN1••Jkls are perceived u the very incarnations of the gods themselves. Asserting his secular priorities, he envisions Rama, Krishna and Shiva as 'limited', 'exuberant' and 'non-dimensional· personalities respectively. His sheer interpretive brilliance, however, does not allow him to reduce these gods to mere figures of history. Deeply responsive to_the vitality and validity of myths, Lohia knows that 'Rama and Krishna and Shiva are draged clown if men try consciously to turn them into models of behaviour or thought. They arc the tissue, the flesh and blood of all India (Lohia, 31). Significantly, when Lohia speaks of 'myths' becoming a ~part of people's tissues,' mixing with 'their flesh and blood', he docs not restrict this process of interiorization to any particular community. Rama, Krishna, and Shiva are ·reference points for all Indians regardless of their specific faiths. If Lohia had affin11ed these mythic presences u gods, his position would have been more wlnerable to

64

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

criticism from fundamentalist sections of society. But Lohia prefers to reflect on them as personalities with human traits. His questioning of their norms and actions is uncompromisingly blunt, but never disrespectful. Like Anantha Murthy, Lohia is too much of an 'insider' to allow his criticism to transgress the limits of demystification. And therefore, he can afford to dwell on Rama's 'submission to rules• and his one serious •crime', when he kills Bali from behind a tree. This ignominious breach of etiquette can, of coune, be justified on political grounds insofar as Rama needs-the military support of Sugriva and his forces in order to defeat Ravana. Perhaps, as Lohia indicates with a most insightful use of political anachronism, Rama is no different from Frederick the Great of Prussia, who upheld the 'difference between the morals of the state and those of the individual and, arising out of this difference, the possibility of preventing mass slaughter or enslavement through a lie or breach of promise' (l..ohia, 39). Likewise, though Lohia is acutely aware that Krishna is a thief a liar, a cheat, a killer' (Lohia, 42), he makes no attempt to 'justify' these misdeeds like Krishna's fullowen. In the ultimate analysis, it is the 'pure song' of the Gita that triumphs over Krishna's 'exuberant' and perhaps flawed personality. It could be argued that Lohia posits a kind of master narrative in the Gita, but it would be wrong to assume that in-doing so he is affirming a dominant mode of Hinduism as opposed to other forms of Hinduism. Nonetheless, the sheer brevity of his comment is open to being misundentood. On the subject of Shiva, whose 'non-dimensionality' &scinates him more than anything else, Lohia is even les~ analytical. Shiva, after all, is 'the ei11bodiment of the principle of immediacy', whose acts contain 'their own justification' (Lohia, 48). And yet, is Lohia not evading a judgement on Shiva's challenge dance with Panati in which there is some reason to doubt that God is a good loser? It could be argued, however, that there are many versions to this myth, among.other myths, that keep proliferating in accordance to the changing needs, expectations, and beliefs of people and the power-structures in which they ~ placed. Enamoured as he is of , myths, Lohia is also aware that they need not be life-sustaining. On the contrary, they are capable of degenerating and validatins the

65

TllACIS FOR THE TIMES

worst kinds of injustices .and perversions. Perceptively, he notes that 'devotees of Rama have intermittently tended to become wifebeaters, those of Krishna, stealers, and of Shiva, lovers of carrion'. (Lohia, 48) And in this 'process of degeneracy', the very 'personalities' of the gods get distorted so that the 'limited' is reduced to the 'narrow', the 'exuberant' to the 'dissolute', and the ·non-dimensional' to the 'amorphous' (Ibid.). Myths, therefore, are not ·as eternal as 'the sun and hills and the fruit trees', which Lohia had invoked in the early part of his essay. They are man-made constructions, not organic phenomena, and therefore · subject to the manipulation of political, social and religious forces. Today, in particular, we cannot afford to be overly euphoric about myths, but neither can we live without them. Our response to Rama, Krishna and Shiva cannot remain at the philosophical level of Lohia's ideas, as much as they can nourish us. We are compelled to be more vigilant as to how the divinity of gods can be politicized. But, as I have argued repeatedly in this essay, this vigilance cannot become a pretext for paranoia. Somehow we have to protect the life-sustaining elei11ents of myths from fundamentalist and political appropriation. This can materialize, however, only if we acknowledge these elements in the first place, and thereby ground our understanding of the 'secular' in a more concrete awareness of our cultural resources and history.

• • •

CONTEXTUALIZING GANDHI

· It is at this point that I would like to break. my narrative on Lohia and move on to addressing the '&ith' of one of his greatest menton, Mahatma Gandhi, for whom the ceaseless task of questioning was

66

THE QUESTION OP PAITH

related not so much to myths as to the inner necessities of the self. A vital reference point for the entire framework of Gandhi's thought and action is God,_viewed at different points in his life as Truth, the inner voice, conscience, the self, .and manifest concretely through symbols like the spinning wheel, and above all, service to people. In Gandhi we find the strongest affirmation of faith, so much so that he found it difficult to distinguish between religion and politics, or fur that matter, dietetics, education, medication, among other numerous experiments with Truth in his life. As we shall ~ine later, 'religion' and 'faith' are not necessarily synonymous for Gandhi. But before getting to that point, it might be useful to recall a few ~changes between Gandhi and his obstreperous young follower, Lohia whom he lovingly called Ravaria. If in Lohia we find a strong example of a non-believer addressing and adapting the religious cont.ext of traditional concepts within a secular historical consciousness, in -Gandhi we find an even greater example of a secular politician who lived by his faith in God. 'Do you believe in God?' Gandhi had once asked Lohia, who replied that he did not (MGS, 173). Whereupon Gandhi proceeded to express his doubt whether a 'good satyagn,l,i' could exist without believing in God. But he also added that 'one did not know' (Ibid.). In an even more enigmatic exchange, Gandhi had reprimanded Lohia for being addicted to cigarettes, coffee and tea. After e111phasizing the health hazards of such vices and recommending prescriptions from Japan and China to counter them, Gandhi then linked Lohia's bad habits to the practice of socialism itself. How could Lohia justify cigarette-smoking in India, which 'debarred' him from 'completing a process of identification' with the mass of his 'hungry' and 'poverty-stricken' countrymen? (MGS, 167). At a purely rationalist level, Gandhi's equations between politics, behaviour and faith defy comprehension.· But within the extremist logic of his vision, he is affirming the principle "pf self.discipline without which no revolutionary process is complete. Predictably~ Lohia is unable to answer Gandhi's questions though he doubts whether the particular 'conduct' of Gandhi's style is mandatory for 'identification with the spokesmanship of the people' (Ibid). The most telling detail in the episode concerns Lohia's decision to give up smoking which he resumed on the very day that Gandhi was

67

TRACI'S R>B. THE 'I !UBS

assassinated. Somewhat unconvincingly, Lohia justified this decision in response to bis sense of 'betrayal' arising from Gandhi's sudden death (MGS, 168). The betrayal, of course, is not Gandhi's but oun, and it cannot be restricted, u Lohia would have us believe to upholden of 'governmental'· and 'priestly' Gandhism (MGS, XILuv). The socalled defenden of 'heretic Gandhism' centred in the Socialist Party have appropriated the Mahatma in their own ways. Perhaps, from all sides, the betrayal of Gandhi has emerged through a basic misapptehension of his faith which has been de11,eaned, misrepresented or rhapsodized. Those who have ruled in Gandhi's name have marginalized his faith as 'mystical', 'obscurantist' and •nactiooary' while of course, marvelling at Gandhi's 'instinct' to feel the 'heart of the people'. In contrast, the more 'heretic' amons the Gandhians have attempted to implement his social vision without realizing the faith inherent in his concept of action. As for the most arden_t of his followen, it is well-known how they have deified him and com11,01,orated his memory ·chrough meaningless acts of piety and movements without a base in the lives of people. As always in the case of Gandhi, the totality of his life poses problems insofar as it resists categorization. While the source of his faith is God, an Absolute Reality transcending all human categories, his own faith is less a permanent substance than a fluctuating essence. Indeed, Gandhi's faith is always being tcrlel'J in public arenas like meetings, rallies and riots, as well as in the more private confines of his ashram and the inner recesses of his mind. Not a moment ~ms to pass in Gandhi's life, not a decision made without a consultation with the inner self. Faith is Gandhi's constant guide, his 'tr~e friend and companion' as he discovers even in the darkest days of the Partition when his 'faith in God' became 'deeper and deeper'.4 In this section, I am not attempting to provide a new theory of Gandhi's faith. Rather, I am risking a certain banality in providing a brief overview of some of the central aspects and enigmas of Gandhi's faith, which tend to be glossed over by social scientists in favour of more controversial political matters. The primary purpose of this overview is to provide a context in which to counter some of the dominant assumptions of Hindu fundamentalism being

68

THB QUBSTION OP PAITH

proselytized uwley. I •m also interested in juxtaposing Gandhi's lans••g~ of faith to the more reant ideology of the nation-state, thereby questioning whether it is at all possible to retrieve •the lans•••gr. of 'reli,ion u faith' u opposed to 'religion as ideology', catesaries which I bad discussed in the fint put of this essay. IN SJLU.CH OP PAITH

are

To begin the overview, one could say that there levels of faith to be discovered and tramforn1ed in Gandhi's world. 'Paith p. s,' is 'mere belief without any real introspection or commitment. Somewhat opp>rtunistic in its reliance on false re11sunnces, it is, in Gandhi's. words, a kind of 'poor faith' for it 'needs fair weather to stand flffll.'5 The mechanics of this faith art:'icd to excess can lead to a 'blind faith' where rin11lism substitutes the validity of prayer and purity. In contrast to these imperfect faiths, there is a 'living faith' in God that is more dynamic, more tuned to the 'living wideawake consciousness -of God within.'6 This is a practising faith which gets translated into concrete acts of social service and piety. But higher than this 'living faith' is what Gandhi chooses to call a 'superior faith' which facilitates the 'absolute surrender to God' .7 It is at this inaccessible level that faith becomes self-realization, an almost 'supersemuous' reality that is more real than what can be experienced in the world.8 · Though Gandhi's faith never evolved to this stage by his own admission, it is interesting to speculate on the nature of his lifelong goal: a meeting with God face to face. In the supreme clarity of this desire, it becomes obvious that Gandhi was not interested in mediations of any kind in his meeting with God. And therefore, much of what I have discussed in the essay so far n!das, Ii/as, fictionwould be of no real concern to him in his pursuit of Truth. On the subject of ll#kU, Gandhi's comments are both cursory and critical. They can best be placed within the context of his home coming in 1915 when Gandhi visited the Kumbha Mela at Hardwar.9 l stress this historical moment in Gandhi•s life because it becomes obvious from his description of the Mela that he suffered it almost like a foreigner. The overall impression one gets of the

69

TllACI'S FOil THE TIMES

Mela is oppressiveness. Gandhi is simply appalled by the crowds, the dirt, the absence of sarutation. 1ne 'absentmindedncss, hypocrisy and slovenliness' of the pilgrims see1il more conspicuous than their 'piety' (Gandhi, 352). The sedh11S, on the other hand, scx111 to enjoy 'the good thinss of life' a little too much fur Gandhi's taste (Ibid). 'Then there is the barbarity of grotesque sights like a 'cow with five feet' (Ibid). With his characteristic candour, Gandhi admits that he had not gone to •'H ardwar with the 'sentiments of a pilgrim' (Gandhi, 353). Indeed, he doubts whether pilgrimages can answer the needs of his faith in the first place. Speaking five years later on October 27, 1920, at a public meeting in Dakor, where he addressed devotees of Ranchhodji, he was openly critical of pilgrimages: 'I can see with my own eyes that places of pilgrimage have lost their _purity and, instead,. become nuneries of hypocrisy. When will God deliver us from this evil, this sin'. 10 Addressing a women's meeting at the same pilgrimage site, Gandhi was equally stern: 'I wish to make it clear to you that so long as the heart is not pwified and the mind not cleansed, darshan of Ranchhodji or bathing in the Gomti can bear no fruit'. 11 Brabm«Jxwya is the necessary precondition for a pilgrim. Without controlling the 'desires or senses' (which seertt rampant among the pilgrims according to Gandhi's puritanical standards), pilgrimages become c111pty rituals. Apart from distrusting the mediation of pilgrimages in his pursuit of Truth, Gandhi is equally sceptical of the symbols that are mandatory for devout Hindus. In this context, the sacred thread is unacceptable to him because it clearly designates the superiority of the higher castes over the sbwiras. On the other hancl, Gandhi is sufficiently selfa do3ma. His Truth is never fetishized. Rather, it remains a point to aspire to for the enti~ty of one's life. Truth itself may be immutable but the 'experiments' involved in ralizing it are agonizingly mutable and even flawed. If Gandhi has proposed to speak for Truth or'" Truth (which some of his disciples would have us believe), then he could very easily 1-ve become a fuoderneotalist avatar. But the point is that Gandhi is constantly ;,,

73

TllACIS FOil THE 'IJMES

,if Truth without claiming to be its representative or CJ11bodiment. Therefore, unlike fundamentalists, who speak as if Truth it-

Jl"f'Ch

self is being voiced through their beings, Gandhi is painfully·aware of his limits within 'relative truth', despite his inten11ittent connections to the Inner Voice. Apart from being immutable, Gandhi's 'Truth' is also unverifiable. There can be no 'tangible proof of God as in a theorem, nor any 'tangible results' to prove his divinity in a purely scientific way.21 In the final analysis, God eludes our calculations. The issue of providing historical data to substantiate His divinity (which has become a fundamentalist obsession in India today) has no place in Gandhi's acceptance of mith. Indeed, he reveals his innate commonsense by dismissing that one god can be considered more 'true' than another just because we happen to know more about his life. Displaying his rhetorical skills to advantage, Gandhi claims: 'To say that Jesus was 99 per cent divine, and Mahomed 50 per cent, and Krishna 10 per cent is to am>gate to oneself a function which docs not really belong to man'.22 What might seem like a simplistic argument is, in actuality, the simplest (and strongest) way of refuting the fundamentalist claim that one god is superior to all othen. So, despite the immutability and unverifiability of Gandhi's 'Truth', it becomes clear that for him there is no o,u single manifestation of Truth, no,,,,, interpretation of Truth, no o,u name for God, and no o,u scripture. The Vedas are as 'divinely inspired' as the Koran, the Bible, the Zend Avesta, among other religious texts.2 ' Inevitably, this pluralism of modes and structures of perceiving God defies the monolithic categories of fundamentalist discourse where there is o,u God, o,u scripture, and on, Truth that is unequivocally upheld. . But it could also be argued that Gandhi's religious pluralism could emerge because he worked within the specific framework of Sanatana Hinduism where there are particular rules and codes to be followed. Likewise, if he could tolerate differences in religious opinion, it is because he had total faith in what he called the 'eternal verities' of Truth. It is at this point that Gandhi risks the greatest criticism from both believen and bigots. He seems to place these 'verities' above the man-made constructions of religion. Very few believen in the history of religion (and perhaps even in the history

74



TIIE QUESTION OP PAml

of politics) have daP!d to discriminate as Gandhi did in the absolute faith be placed in God and the somewhat sceptical, questioning attitude he adopted towards certain aspects of the scriptures and the shastrdl in particular. He had the courase to say that while all religions are 'more or less true', they are all 'impc:,fect' in their own right.24 Fmt•• such stateinents, which could be regarded as h~tical in s01nc quarters these days, we realize that Gandhi's struggle was not just with politicians and religious bigots but with the sb.strtu tha11selves which he refused to regard as sacrosanct and beyond • • questioning. What was the discriminating factor in Gandhi's consciousness that made him distrust the shtutr111? How did he express this disuust? As such Gandhi did not analyse his resistance, he simply responded to what he believed was •wrong'. He is content to say that the sh.s1r111 'offend' his moral sense'. 25 One could say that this 'sense' is as much a product of Gandhi's faith in Truth as a conscious rejection of what went against the ·tenets of civil law. Untouchability is at once a 'canker' within Hinduism and the ll)OSt blatant of social injustices. It is both a sin and a crime. But if this criticism would seem as if Gandhi would reject religion on account of such sins and crimes, we are mistaken. In one of his most outstanding clarifications on the matter, he says: •... if I came to the conclusion that Hinduism sanctioned untouchability, I should denounce it. But even then I would not go so far with them as to say that religion itself is useless and that God is not God but the devil. For me the result would be that I should lose faith in Hindus and Hinduism, but my faith in God would be strengthened'. 26 There could not be a stronger testament of the endurance of faith beyond religion. Almost defiantly, Gandhi's faith survived like 'the Himalaya mountains which cannot possibly change'. 27 Despite its fluctuations, it never left him even when his own ethics was called into question. When his experiments in nature cure failed, for instance, resulting in the deaths of some inmates in the ashram, he refused to resort to vaccination. For him, this was as 'filthy' as eating beef, a total affront not only to his vegetarianism but to his faith in God without which nature-cure has no significance. Predictably, Gandhi chose to meet the gravity of the situation with the extremity of his faith. Even with 'child after child passing away', he questioned 75

TRACI'S FOR THE TIMES

rhetorically, 'docs that mean I must therefore lose faith in the tffatment and faith in God?'28 The cogent solution was not to abandon faith (which, indeed, had grown stronger through the trial), but to 'regard the epidet,iic as a trial and preparation' .29 At this point, one could say that Gandhi's extreme adherence to faith borders on becoming fanatical, or so it see111s to those among us who view medication in purely scientific ter11,s. But it is obvious that Gandhi's attitude to nature-cure is a &ith in its own right. And therefore, it needs to be contextualized within the ethos of that particular system of knowledge. Likewise, it needs to be situated within the collective faith of his organization, which was not a 'party', or a 'social group', or 'activist forum' but an ashr... As a socio-religious structure, the ashram has its own ways of dealing with internal crises that cannot be judged summarily from the outside. The laws of everyday life and mutual support in any ashram are of a different nature from those to be found in more secular structures of communal living and work. Significantly, though Gandhi recommended an ashram-like existence as a model of community living, he never institutionalized it. Despite the strong emphasis in his ashram on prayer and purity, it never became an exclusively religious organization. This is because Gandhi had no desire to found a sect or promote a 'new religion'. 'I represent no new truths, he emphasized, 'I endeavour to follow Truth as I know it'. 30 It is precisely this subjective qualification that makes Gandhi's pursuit of Truth so essentially different from the objectification of Truth upheld by fundamentalists in recent times.

STRATEGIES OP FAITH

Not only does Gandhi acknowledge the 'relativity' and 'imperfc:ction' of his perception of Truth, he views it in opposition to the established tenets of religion, most specifically, the strictures of caste. Indeed, Gandhi is most et1,phatic in separating his notions of 'faith' and 'religion' from caste. In a famous statement, which has not ceased to be problematic, he once said: 'Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is a custom whose orisin I do not know and do

76

THE QUESTION OF PAITH

not need to know for the satisfaction of my spiritual hunser. But I do know that it is harmful both to spiritual and national good.'3 1 And yet, this opposition to 'caste', or more specifically, to the social and political determinants of jati, did not stop Gandhi &om affirimins that there is no """"" (and thereby, no occupation) that is 'too low' or 'too high'. 'All are good, lawful, and absolutely equal in status'.32 It is not possible to fully enter the political ferni~t that led to this defence in 1936, but suffice it to say fur the purpose of this discussion that it fullowed one of the most fractious, and pt,l1aps, threatening periods in Gandhi's career when he resisted the proposal in the Round Table Conferences of 1930-32 to legislate n:sc1ved seats and separate elcctontes for the deptessed classes. In reaction to this proposal, his 'epic fast', u Pyarelal described it, can be ttgarded almost as a last-ditch defence (and implicitly, an attack) on Ambedkar's growing power which was negotiated sc,11iewl1at ignominiously in the Poona Pact, wticn the 'politics of inclusion• sccm"'1 to triumph over the 'politics of division•, but at the cost of granting political autonomy to the Dalits within the national movement. 33 In this struggle, it becont~ obvious that the primary issue at stake is no longer &ith or religion but the representation of an exploited people by an upper casre/class hege,11ony. It is precisely this kind of political rtality that impinged on Gandhi's conception of 'faith', challenging its sccm~ng autonomy and connections to an 'inner voice•. In this regard, the gre-atest task of Gandhi was to hold on to his &ith without allowing it to be totally circumscribed by the exigencies of the ,,.,/politii. But in order to sustain this task he bad to resc.nt to the most subtle strategies in rcprcsmting his ·&ith• through the existing political discourses_ Gandhi knew that he had to confront the language of politics if only to protect his &ith. It is in this conu-xt that he never failed to qualify himself, lxca,1se he (more than anyone else) knew the danger of being misunderstood. Most of his inconsistencies (very consciously pointed out by him, one should add) are part of his ceaseless attempt to keep clarifying his discourse. This is not beca11se his posi tioo 'fteillatcd, but bcca11SC! be ,,aliud the strategic necessity of rewording his star.ements in ,espouse to the UIUJ'lediacies of the hiscorial

of..,.,

77



TIAC11 POa THI 1

moment. At tim~, he anticipaced the misttadina of his 1tab.1:aent by placina • puticvler eanpbuis or iascrtins • puallel or contradictory fact to nuance bis arsument or position. On the one band, for er•rnple, be Wuuld soc1:1 to place bis 'personal salvation' above eYetythins else, but alflY)S,. immediately he would point out that this wa imepuable fiom .'India's political salfttion. "4 At other times, be would appear to set up hierarchies by 'holding religion deerP.r tb•n my country', but this woJld immediately be qualified by the assurance that 'the intera.t s of my country are identical with those of my religion'.35 At no point were Gandhi's strateg~es in defending bis sense of Truth more keenly cballensed than in c..on,muaal conr.exts. For instance, when be was once asked by Dr. Cnne to comment on a putic11l1r incident of communal violence, it is instructive to note how Gandhi dealt with the question. Describins the scene of violence, Dr. Crane told Gandhi: 'I counted 37 cows slain on the streets by Muslims in the name of religion, and in offence to Hindu sentiment•.36 (Note how Crane emphasixs the 'offence' instead of usuming it.) Instead of soliciting Gandhi's response to the sit111tion in specific ter1111, Crane chose to ask a more provocative question: 'Do you think all this is counter to the Koran?' To which Gandhi responded, 'I do indeed', Ind 1,us.,~tduitJy he added, 'just as many Hindu practices eg. untouchability~are no part of Hindu religion, I say that cowslaughter is no part of Islam. But I do not wrestle with the Muslims who believe that it is part of lslam.~7 One can only admir~ the consummate tact of this language of conciliation. Gandhi counten violence by scrupulously avoiding the language of violence. His acknowledgment of the wrong in the 'other' religion does not lead him to denounce it or to seek converts for his own religion. Rather, it strengthens his perception of similar wrongs. within his own faith.

APPllOPlllATIONS

OF FArrH

This capacity of Gandhi to embrace the wrongs of others and transform ,·them through a process of self-discipline into something potent, is without precedent in political history. The process is not 78 •

nll QUIS'IION OP PArrH

so much • self-fla3ellation u it is • way of restorins order to the self and the wmld. Suanse u his acts of peneoce may set:1.1 • and one is ren.pted to think of Gandhi u • shaman in his ability to absorb and emrcitt states of 1ufl'erin3-one cannot deny that even the most secular of politicians realized the political effix:tiveness of bis dc:111oosuations of prayer and &.tins, particularly durins the darkest days of communal violence. At one time, despite misgivings and secret en1borrassments, our nationalist leadets could accept that Bapu could restore sense to warrins communities by fastins till the violence in entire cities stopped. This 'miracle' worked more than once, and was more effixtive than any other political solution. But in the aftermath of Gandhi's death, we set:111 to have forgotten the effectiveness of his experiment~ with the Self, which have been relegated to the somewhat nebulous areas of the •mystical' and the 'obscure', categories of experience that lie outside of the rationalist framework of the • naaon-state. More crucially, our politic;ians seem to have forgotten that Gandhi's 'faith' was grounded in the economics of the char~. His 'Ramrajya' was not remotely connected to the nation-state or the Hindutva being envisioned so insidiously in his name. Rather, in its most abstract representation, devoid of patriarchal associations, it 'WU envisioned as a 'structure comprised of innumerable villages', with 'ever-widenins, never-ascendins circles' .58 Like the 'impossible' yet 'necessary' postulate of Euclid's 'point' without which the thinking of geometry is not possible, Gandhi is not a&aid to fantasize about the 'oceanic circle' of his independent India, where 'the outer111ost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it.'35 Visionary words and dreams, alas, do not enter the rationale of the nation-state, which is also an 'imagined' construct (like Gandhi's 'Ramrajya') but with very different aspirations of economic growth, industrial development, social equality, centralization of political power, which are the very antitheses of the 'imagined community' of Gandhi's dreams. Yet, such is the power of nationalist discourse that it is capable of subsuming even those contradictory visions that defy its r,re111ises.

79

TllACfS FOR THE TIMES

Thus, less than a decade after Gandhi's death, it becomes possible for his most illustrious follower, Jawaharlal Nehru, to inaugurate a factory for making rail coaches on Gandhi, s birthday, and to endorse Gandhism within the larger programme of the nation-state.40 'I am quite sure', says Nehru, 'that if it had been our good fortune to have Gandhiji with us today, he would have been glad at ttie opening of the factory. 41 Commenting on what I would choose to describe as the quintessence of betrayal, Partha Chatterjee uses the language of the social sciences to rationalize Nehru's statement within the larger growth of nationalist discourse: From now, Gandhi's Truth had surrendered the specificity of its moral critique: it has been cleansed of its religious idiom and subsumed under the rational monism of historical progress. Was it not true, after all, that Gandhi's 'real' objective is the welfare of the masses? Was it not possible then, to interpret Gandhi's opposition to machinery in its rational context? ... Indeed, once the Truth of Gandhism had been retrieved from the· irrational trappings of its 'language', the possibilities were endless: it could justify everything that was 'progressive' .42 While these comments are most pertinent to the discussion, it is significant how Chatterjee totally avoids criticizing the obvious disparity between Gandhian ideology and what his 'political successon had made of it'. Instead, he calls attention to 'the dangers of overlooking the very real -effectivity of the new nationalist state ideology', which should not be viewed as ' a massive and cynical fraud perpetrated on the Indian pcople'. 43 What would be more _cogent is to situate Gandhi's ideology as a 'necessary' intervention in the nationalist process, at that 'stage in the passive revolution' when it was possible for 'the thesis to incorporate a part of the antithesis' .44 One wonders if this is not too neat a reading of nationalist history, and whether Gandhism can be slotted so conveniently as a 'necessary stage' to fit into Chatterjee's overall thesis. For those among us who believe that considerable damage has been done to Gandhi in the name of the State, it is particularly disturbing to note how the question of ethics never enters Chatterjec's political

80

THE QUESTION OF FAITH

analysis. While criticizing the strictures of the nation-state, he works totally within its premises and tcrn1s. At best, he is ironic about how Nehru separates Gandhi•s •&ith• from his 'politics•, but he takes no oppositional position flis a flis this false distinction, and thereby perpetuates it through his justificatory stance. A reading of Gandhi•s religion on its own ter111s is particularly absent from Chatterjee•s critique because it would unavoidably open up the limitations of his own mtionalist categories. Inevitably, we are compelled to ask whether the existing languages of the social sciencescan be used effectively to address areas of thought and experience that challenge, if not negate the dictates of Reason? Is 'nationalist discourse· the appropriate arena in the first place to situate the ideas of Gandhi who operated, for the most part and as Chatterjee knows so well---1outside of the 'problematic of nationalism?• Is it not Chatterjee who is not being somewhat 'cynical• in assuming that we can accept the 'effectivity of nationalist ideology' in the context of what politicians have made of it in their systematic denial of Gandhi's 'language' of &ith?

LANGUAGES OF 'FAITH' AND 'NATION'

It would seem to me that what we are seeing in India today is an upheaval that is, in part, caused by the very rigidity of the State in dealing with the unanswered questions of faith. To a large extent, this rigidity is embodied in the language of the nation-state itself. When the State has attempted to counter the fundamentalist misuse of religion, the irony is, as we have discussed earlier, that the fundamentalists have appropriated the language of the State. 'Secularism' is being bandied on all sides, and in increasingly different varieties too, as politicians advocate 'true•, 'genuine', 'pseudo', 'false•, 'Hindu•, and 'Indian• secularisms. Undeniably, there is a crisis of values within the vocabulary of the nation state, and social scientists, partly out of commitment but also with a degree of panic, have begun to reassert their hegemonic' ter111~ in defence of the State. Even those critics of nationalist discourse among the social scientists have not been able to find a language to counter the imperialism of categories' that permeates their discipline.45 1

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It is at this point that we have to reiterate whether there is any possibility of the language of the nation-state responding with greater sensitivity to the language of faith-as-politics so stininsly represented by Gandhi. This would not appear to be possible unless, in concrete tcr11i1, the State actually ci11bodics Gandhi's principles instead of paying lip-service to his memory. Regardless of our capacity to adapt Gandhi meaningfully, however, it could be argued · that nationalist discourse is inimically opposed to the diverse and elusive languages of faith. No one, to my mind, was more aware of this than Rabindranath Tagore, who in the very thick of the .n ationalist movement had the extraordinary courage to denounce the idea of the Nation in a critique that has not been surpassed fur its sheer intensity. Here one confronts a most enigmatic relationship: the arch-critic of Nationalism was also one of the deepest, if not most respectful critics of the Father of the Nation (the title thrust on Gandhi). An entire essay could be written on the inner complicities and ambivalences of this relationship, but for the pwpose of this argument, I will restrict myself to examining the lang,u,g, used by Tagore to express his total antipathy to the idea of the Nation. I have in mind his essays on Nationalism which were originally delivered as lectures in America and Japan in the midst of the First World War in 1916.46 It is perhaps inevitable, yet significant, that Tagore addressed his critique of Nationalism to the strongest representatives of nationalism in English. This was the predominant language in which the structure of the nation-state was cast, influencing its adaptation in the Indian context particularly through the model of Westminster parliamentary democracy. CJearly, Tagore's critique is a poet's denunciation of an 'alien' concept that represents in the totality of its 'organized power; everything that is soul-denying and anti-human. The primary metaphors and images used by Tagore to evoke the Nation are contextualized within vocabularies of mechanization and violence. In a highly rhetorical mode of speech, Tagore elaborates on the Nation's 'tentacles of machinery', 'wealth-producing mechanism', 'applied science', 'monster organization•, 'iron chains', and 'federation of steam-boilers', among other choice epithets. Counterpointing this 'mechanistic' idiom is an almost Hobbcsian invocation of 82

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savagery, in which Ta,oie envisions nations '&.xfillB upon other nations', their 'ugly teeth and claws ready for rearing open each other's vitals'. In such a pred,,.ory scenario, India is reduced to 'predigested morsels' ready to be rwallowed by other monstrous nations, its 'energy' and 'life-blood' drained by 'economic dragons'. And the centnl cause of this state of destruction is to be found in the 'self-idolatory of nation-worship' u opposed to 'faith in the human soul'. What needs to be stressed about this impassioned polemic is its singular avoidance of ambivalence. The subtleties come from Tagore's discriminations between the 'spirit of the W~t' and the 'Nation of the West', the more beneficent aspects of modernity and science, and, as always, his visionary capacity to be in touch with the Universal Spirit by l,eartng, for example, the 'music of eternity' on the outskirts of Yokahama town 'bristling with modern miscellanies'. But at no point is there an attempt on Tagore's part to negotiate or come to terms with the specific construction of the Nation. It remains the ·Other of the Self, the Mechanism of the Soul, the very anaesthetization of the jilHm~ ('life-god'), which he does not specifically invoke in his critique of Nationalism but which provides the life-energy of his faith in humanity. I have deliberately inserted Tagore's position on nationalism in this essay to remind ounclves of his voice. Located as we are very differently in the 'growth' of our nation, we are nonetheless compelled to listen to his pret11onitions: 'Are we to bend our knees to the spirit of this nationalism which is sowing over all the world seeds of fear, greed, suspicion, unashamed lies of its diplomacy, and unctuous lies of its profession of peace and goodwill and universal brotherhood of Man? Can our minds be free from doubt when we rush to the Western market to buy this foreig~ product in exchange for our own inheritance?'47 These questions resonate strangely in our cont.ext today when the 'stability' of the nation-state has to be guaranteed by new 'protective' forces of the 'Western market' like the IMP. Meanwhile, on a day to day level, while the idea of nationalism has been centralized, its reality is being challenged through new modes of violence unleashed by secessionist and· terrorist forces, compounded by the regimentation of the state. ,

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Tagore's voice compels us to rethink the pret11iscs of nationalism and, more specifically, the language of its propagation. Today, it would seem that one's resistance to communalism and fundamentalism can no longer be cast entirely within the language of the nation-state. Their sec:,11ingly conflicting interests have become totally implicated in a common discourse, where in the final analysis, it is the seizure of state power that is the predominant concern. To counter this impasse, alternative languages are needed, and if they cannot be found in the existing languages of politics and the social sciences, then we will have to tum to other sources that are capable of sustaining us through our relentless crises. In this context, this entire essay can be read as a search for such languages drawing on some of our cultural resources containing possibilities of transformation and resistance. It is my belief. indeed, ·my &ith-that these resources are very much alive, and that they sustain us without our knowledge and, at times, in spite of our indifference· to their innate power. The point is not to take thei11 for granted by wallowing in a false euphoria that India is integrated culturally. As the violence of politics impinges on everyday life, these resources, too, are under attack. What we need is to find ways \ of protecting them not through blind wonhip, or a crass insuumentality in the tradition of the State •using' culture for official purposes. Rather, we need to d~velop a more critical consciousness of the principles and energies underlying our cultural resources that . .animate and bring people together through an intrinsic respect for -differences.

NOTES

1. •An Episode in Y01a• (September 195 7) is included in a volume of Rammanohar Lohia's cultural and political writinss· entitled 11'lmWI D•n•g Po/ilia. The second edition of this book wu published in 1985 by the Rammanobar Lohia Samata Vidyalaya Trust, Hyderabad This volume of essays also includes 'Ram and Krishna and Siva' (July 1956). 'A call to Truth, Work, Resistance and Character-Building' (June 1957), and 'Meanin1 in Stone'. All these writings are discussed in my essay.

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2.

3.

4.

5. 6.

Quotations from theie essays will be identified with the Lohia, followed by the appropriate page numbers. Rammanohar Lohia, 'A Philosophical Hypothesis', ~'-", Gll#UIJ,i 1111d Socid/is,,,. Hyderabad: Rammanohar Lohia Samata Vidyalaya Nye•a, 1978, p.194. This volume of essays also includes 7he Meaning of Equality', 'Materiality and Spirituality', and 'Anecdotes of Mahatma Gandhi'. All these writings are discussed in my essay. Quotations from this volume will be identified by the initials MGS followed by the appropriate page numbers. It would be remembered that Lohia was one of the fint male politicians in Jndja (apart from Mahatma Gandhi) to consider the problems of Indian women seriously. His landmark essay on 'Beauty and Skin Colour' is at once a critique of the 'tyranny of colour' and a defence of dark-skinned feminine beauty. Lohia's nasc'ent feminism, however, is not without its ambivalences, and is a subject well worth an independent study. Quoted from Pyarelal's account of Gandhi's last years by Sushil Kumar Saxena in E!tM U111o GOii: E!s111ys n G11,uJl,i 11,ul R1/igit111. New Delhi: Indian C:Ouncil of Philosophical Research, 1988, p.105. Ibid., p.140. Excerpt from Young India, 24.9.25, included in T,-.d:, is God, a collection of Gandhi's writings compiled by R.K. Prabhu. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, May 1989, p.86. Sushil Kumar Saxena, 1!1M U1110 God, op.at., p.140.

7. 8. Ibid. 9. See the chapter on 'Kumbha Mela' in A• A.11Jobiogr4",: TJ,, Slllf1 of 1J,, My E!xp,ri,,,.,,,s flli1J, Trath, Penguin Boob, pp.350-53. All quotations from Gandhi's autobiography are indicated by the Gandhi, followed by the appropriate page numben. 10. Speech at public meeting, Dakor,~October 27, 1920. Included in • Col"'-J W°"'1 of M11.l:w""' G11""'1i, Vol. p.384. 11 . llnd., p.391 . 12. Yoag I1111M, 13.11 .1924, included in My God, a booklet published by Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, November 1990, .p.50. 13. Ibid 14. Excerpt from Yoa•1 JwJi,,, 1.10.1925, included in My God, op.cit.,

pp.46-47. 15. IInd., p. 51. 16. Mahatma Gandhi, 'What is God?', Th, &11.-, of Hi""'6in,,, compiled

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17. 18. 19. 20.

21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

26.

and edit~ by V.B. Kher. Ahmrdebad: NaYajivan Publilhin1 House, 1987, p.47. Jl,ul., p.46. p.45. Manubebn Gandhi, TI,, Minul, of C11-la,.11111, Ahcsw.deb ■d: Na•jivan Publishins Hniasc, 1959, p.99. Mahatma Gandhi~ H11-rijM,, February 24, 1946. Included in FJ/ow-sl,ip '1/ Pll-ill,1 MIil U•it, of RJigins. New Delhi: Gandhi Book House p.49. Y••i J,,,tli.,.. May 12, 1920, included in FJlt11111/Jip of P11-idu, op.at., p.4. H11-rij,.• .. March 6, 1937, included in PJJt11111l,ipofF•illn, op.at., p.33. Mahatma Gandhi, TI,, l!SJ.2aa of Hnultti,., op.a1., p.31. Y••I l•tii•• May 29, 1924, included in PJJ.W11,ip -.f P•iuu, op.al., p.6. Y ••1 l,uli,,, $eptember 2, 1936, included in PJl,wsl,ip of P•iuu, •"'-• p.10. H•rijM,, January 26, 1934. included in PJIOlllll,ip -f p.ilJJ,. op.al., p.23.

1-...

27. IINI. 28. Mahatma Gandhi, 'Test of Paith', Th, Bss«L"f of Hi,,d,,;n,,, op.al., p.96. 29. Jl,;J. 30. Y••g l,u/i,, August 25, 1921, included in FJ/owslnpof P11-ilhs., .p.at, p.5. 31. Mahatow Gandhi, 1)r.Amb,adbr'1 Indictment of Hinduism,' TI,, 1!.sSMa of H ittti,,;n,,, op.al., p.12. 32. Jl,;J. 33. For a pithy account of dii• historical proa:11 and ia political implications, read 'Gandhi, Ambedbr, and Sepatate El«t~ laue,' by DN published in &s•oua;r _,. PJilial W,JJ1, Vol. XXVI, No.21, pp. 1328-30 34. y,..I l•di•, Pebnwy 23, 1922, lbicl., p.6. 35. llliil. 36. HMijM,, March 6, 1937, PJlt11111lnp of P•iuu, op.cit., p.34. 37. I.I., p.34-35. 38. Quoted by Partha ll THB 'l DGS

alluded briefly in our section on the Kumbba Mela to its 'sacred geography' that incorporates a multitudinous range of social activities and individual &eedoms, all of which coc x,st within the resimentation of the Mela by the State. The Kumbha has its own 'sacred order' which should not be conflated with the idea of 'regimentation'. Nor should it be equated with the recmt intet vention of fundamentalism whose difficulties in negotiating new power relationships within the traditional hierarchies of the Mela cannot be ruled out. Likewise, when dealing with the mythic/divine presence of Rama, one must keep in mind the 'autonomous' levels at which be can be perceived through his constructions. In the section on the Ramlila, I had pointed out the multivalence of religious imaserr and the levels at which it can be interiorized and transfonn"'1 through processes of identification and fianwy. Much more thought needs to be given to this area of consciousness, which will surely require an opening of critical languages to the disciplines of psychology and psychoanalysis, which have been neglected in social and political readinss of religion. What is at stake here, after all, is not just the construction of religious images, but the levels at which they can be perceived. While a fairly comprehensive terminology and met_h odology has been developed to study ways in which religious figures ve manufactured, manipulated, and sold, much more work needs to be done on the perceptual possibilities of these construe• ttons. The other factor that needs to be kept in mind concer1a1 those interventions by which concepts can be 'freed' from the dogma arid ritual of religious orthodoxy and appropriated within secular discourses. We have ad.dressed this issue through the ways in which Lohia confronted traditional concepts. What needs to be further probed is the process by which these transformed concepts which constitute a political philosophy are actualized in the ntJpolitil,. In a related, yet different context, I also examined how Anantha Murthy's fiction is grounded in the n••ances of myths and religious symbols. This is what makes his secularism (along with Lohia's) so vibrant as opposed to the 'unadulterated' secularism that maintains a fastidious distance from confronting and absorbing religio-cultural sources. The challenge is to evolve a critical consciousness that

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'bounces ofF these sources rather than surrenders to their hold. And, as always, we have to be vigilant about those poina when our intervention ceases to be respectful or even sub~a,;ve and becoo11S an ab11se of traditional wlues and codes. In this contrxt, the role of the 'critical insider' need not be fetishiud, but it is certainly one way through which 'tradition' can be questioned within the dialectic of 'distance' and 'belongingness'. Yet another area that deserves detailed analysis coocems the subaltern. consciousness of religion. How is faith perceived and u.-:d by 'the people' to strengthen their capacities of survival and modes of res_istance? Here it would seem that the vast majority of our critiques of faith have endorsed the intrinsically Marxist (and Eurocentric) assumption of religion u 'a massive demonstration of self-estrangement'. In the absence of a theory of religion grounded in the minutiae of our own cultural context, where the categories of 'transcendence' and 'self-realization' have yet to be problematized meaningfully, there continues to be a censorins, if not dismissal of 'faith' in academic and political circles, which totally contradica its ubiquity in the everyday structures and activities of life, particuler\y among subaltern communities. So, on the one hand, to demonstrate its secular zeal, the Left Front government of West Bengal resolves to ban all religious images and pictures from government offices, while these a11blems of faith continue to be visible in wayside shrines on busy thoroushfares, in the interion of almost any vehicle, in meeting places like rJl:NJNn, not to mention the more 'private' spaces of p,,fa, glw,, that probably exist in the homes of those very people proscribing the demonstration of faith in public spaces. This atteo,pt to separate the 'private' from the 'public' is almost as ri3id u the principle, described earlier in the essay, to uphold the dichotomy of the 'sacred' and the 'profane'. In my examination of 'sacred space', I bad indicated how such a dichotomy dissolves in the lar3er . multi. tudinous realities of a religio-cultural space like the ,,.., wh~ worldliness and divinity coalesce in fluid combinations. Bven in , more secular spaces, the 'private' and the 'public' impinge on each other's preoccupations as is only too evident· on our streets, the unacknowledged MIIS of our time. • It would seem to me that instead of concle111oing faith, its poten-

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tial to be mdnli11:d could be eq,lond on the line, of the 'liberetiQD theology' mmement pnctisecl in certain 1etin Amerta" couatties. · Here we have strong examples of a people's ltruBBle in which religion hu been activiu,d not only apinst the md»l,my but the capitalist fi>rces supporting it. In this contnt, it is bet,~nina to acknowledge the incn:■scxl scholarly and actiffst interest in the radical religious movements of OW' put histDiy, m01t 'M'Obly in stud!es of ~b.r.ldi. ~ have also been a ft courageous atteinptl to muorer the mis111e of the scriptures by a cor1upt clergy, u in the Bobia community, by positing alternative relisious inteipretatioo• . But for the most part, there hu been vay little thoorizina or even speculation about the possibilities of COl•teilai"Orary religio,so cial movc,a■ents that resist fundamentalism and the he~aaony of the State. In this context, the 'secular' politics of chari,m1tic figures like Baba Amte needs to be further probed in the larger contest of faith and ecology. Needleu to say, almost all the energy of our writers has gone into countering fundamentalism on ri3iclly political lines inst.ead of exploring alternatives within the larger scxuler drives of neo-religious forums and philosophies. This is not to deny that for a 'secular theology' to exist in India, there would have to be a theory that could be adapted within the multireligious contnt of diffaiins faiths. The buis for such a dMuy is less likely to be found in the existing political rhetoric of 'religious tolerance', cban in the vision of saints like Kabir, Guru Nanik, and Cbaitan,a who, u Tasc,re understood so well, 'prcKhed one God to all nces in India,' 1d9P'ing difk.rent idioms of co-1■munication. Sc.cularists have a lot to learn &om the idioms of 'tolerance' e111bedded in every religious faith. As Ashil Nandy ri3htly points out, one can only hope that 'the state sysu-,aa, in South Asia may learn something about religious tolerance fmaai eva yday Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Sikkhism rather then· wish tbet the ordinary Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs will learn tolerance from the various fashionable secular theories of 1t1t«nft.' At the same time, it should be acknowledged tbet 'eveiyday Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Sikkbism' have b«n politic·red through religious ideologies that have been created by fundamentalist organizati~ns at once linked to communal parties and atremist elements of the religious orthodoxy. It is no lon,er a

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question of 'religion-as-faith' surviving independently of 'religionas-ideology'. New tensions and modes of violence have emerged to which one must acknowledge the right of the State to intervene when religion ceases to be religion and becomes a political force. But at what point should the state intervene? From recent examples of our · turbulent history, we have seen that it has always intervened too late, allowing its complicity with fundamentalist forces for short-term electoral gains to get 'out of hand' before disassociating itself from these 'anti-national' forces. So to question the intervention by the state, one is obliged to acknowledge its prior associations and negotiations with fundamentalist forces. But in less obvio~s instances of the State's complicity, one would need basic guidelines that would determine the discriminations between &ith and its pa 7ersions. AJ in the earlier discussion of images and narratives, we have to ask ourselves when the ideology of a particular religion, which may be stmngc to 'us' from our particular viewpoint, actually becomes threatening. When d0C$ it cease to be 'another' religion and become the 'other' religion, setting itself off as superior to other miths (and peoples) through a systematized process of differcn• • tuition. These are some of the discriminations that need to be more decp1y pondered in determining the validity of interventions in matters of religious violence. In the absence of discriminations, those critical junctures when religion ceases to be religion and becomes something politically volatile are likely to be missed, conflated, or else anticipated to such an extent that the fear of fundamentalism becomes 'fundamentalist' in its own right, assuming a form of paranoia. So, to 'protect' secularism in the Indian context, it would seem that some theory or at least perspective of religion is almost mandatory. One has to know what religion is before one can determine what it is not. This may be spelling out the problem too directly, but one must stress that a definition of the boundaries of religion can only enhance one's vigilance of its political misuse. From these comments, I think it becomes clear that what I am arsuing fur is not a diminution of the 'secular', but rather, an enlarging of its responsibilities and a more thorough grounding in the cultural resources of our country and the belief-sys.t ems of our people. A confron~tion of religion, if not existential then at least

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theoretical, can actually help us to 'separate' it from politics. It can , also teach us a new humility in deter111ining futures for an entirt= people. No one can force ·religion on those who don't believe, bu : the right to believe, which is shared by millions in our country, has to be more than a matter of mere 'tolerance'. In this context, before one finds political solutions to our religious controversies .through the creation of civil codes, one has to prepare the ground for such a constitution. This can materialize only through the actual process of confronting specific religious beliefs, customs, taboos that continue to have significance for particular communities. If this significance contradicts larger societal norms, a process .of negotiation should be initiated within the context of particular communities. lnst.ead of imposing uniform codes, which can be appropriated by communal parties for their own purposes, we need to ask ourselves how people arrive at them. How.can codes evolve through a process of conscientization inst.cad of action? Instead of lamenting the organizational hazards jn 'reaching' people, is it not also necessary to ask how processes of change can emerge , from the people themselves? I end, perhaps, with t.oo many problei11a and unresolved ques- . tions. It is not that, Hamlet-like, I like my questions to be unanswered. Quite simply, more time is needed to create a &ame of reference in which the ambivalences of faith can be accommodated to counter the steadily decreasing morale in our country. Today, more than ever, we need faith which is constantly being denuded and betrayed by the manipulations in our political system. Consensus is the new illusion, but it keeps eluding us. In such a massive breakdown of trust, one is unavoidably reminded of luminaries like Gandhi and Tagore, whose differences merged through a deep and abiding faith in the111selves, in each other and the world. 'The wont form of bondage', as Tagore once reflected, 'is the bondage of dejection which keeps men hopelessly chained in loss of faith in themselves'. If this statement still resonates for us in India today, it is because with all our loss of faith in existing governments, ideologies, and pwer systems, which have determined the 'mindforg' manacles' of our consciousness, we simply cannot afford to lose faith in ourselves'. Somehow we have to cross the 'barriers in our mind' to keep the question of faith alive.

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