Rajeev Srinivasan on purity and other myths
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October 25, 2000


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Of God and Holy Water

A lot of noise has been made recently about an incident at the Guruvayur temple in Kerala. A Congress politician, Vayalar Ravi, had the humiliating experience of the temple authorities doing a punyaham (ritual cleansing of the premises with holy water) after the wedding of his son Unny there. I certainly sympathise with the man: this is highly insulting, being 'unclean' and 'impure'.

What makes this interesting is the fact that Vayalar Ravi belongs to the 'backward-caste' Ezhavas, who are numerically powerful in Kerala, and have been the mainstay of the Marxist party in the state. Many Ezhavas have been agricultural labourers and tenant farmers who benefited from the land-distribution and labour-friendly policies of the Left.

The Ezhavas also led the Vaikom Satyagraha of 1924 and the struggle that led to the epoch-making Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936 that threw open to all Hindus, regardless of caste, all of the-then kingdom of Travancore's temples. This singular event enabled Ezhavas in particular and the so-called 'lower-castes' of Kerala in general to gain self-respect, and to participate fully in the economic and political life of the state.

Kerala had a history of extreme caste prejudice concerning the 'pollution' of Nambudiri brahmins. There were detailed and precise rules as to the proper physical distance from the brahmins to be maintained by the different sudra castes such as Nairs, Pillais, Ezhavas, Pulayas, Parayas et al.: something like five feet, 10 feet, 15 feet, etc. This is so that they might not 'pollute' the brahmins by their shadows falling on them.

Thus, the initial press reports about the Vayalar Ravi incident were full of allusions to the bad old days of Kerala's caste-based apartheid. The conclusion drawn was that a 'backward-caste' person being in the temple caused it to be 'polluted'. But this is a very strange conclusion, because thousands of 'backward-caste' Hindus visit the Guruvayur temple every day. There is no way the temple can identify them as such, or require ritual purification. There had to be something more.

Then came further information. The temple authorities clarified that they did the ritual cleansing because the bridegroom was suspected of not being a Hindu. It turns out that his mother, Mercy, is a Christian. The Ezhavas are matrilineal, therefore the authorities felt that Unny had to demonstrate his Hindu-ness, as he might be considered a Christian by descent from his mother. They may have a point.

The Indian media dealt with this whole episode quite predictably; as usual, the 'secular' 'progressives' waxed indignant at the 'casteist' incident. Reams were written in high dudgeon about the obscurantist and reactionary priests of Guruvayur. But the issue of the Christian mother scarcely got any coverage. Railing about caste is more fun, I guess.

It is a fact that the Guruvayur temple takes a dim view of Christians and non-Hindus in general. It explicitly forbids non-Hindus from entering the temple. There is the famous case of the singer K J Jesudas who wanted to sing inside the temple, but was prevented from doing so. Jesudas is a practising Christian, but has sung a lot of devotional Hindu songs, including at other temples.

I have heard many arguments about this. But I come down on the side of the authorities: they have the right to restrict entry only to Hindus. For, Hinduism is not looking to convert anybody, unlike the semitic religions. Any non-Hindus coming into the temple, it can safely be assumed, are not coming there to pray to the Hindu deity. They must be coming in as tourists, to gawk. Since this is not a museum but a living place of devotion, I think the authorities are right to insist that only practising Hindus be allowed in -- presumably they will pray.

In Jesudas' case, the question was not whether he respects Hindu deities, but whether he is Hindu. Since he isn't, I think the authorities are perfectly within their right to not allow him in. If Jesudas really wanted to go to Guruvayur that badly, he could have converted to Hinduism.

'Secular' 'progressives' will jump on me for this opinion. They will crucify me for that oxymoron, 'Hindu fundamentalism'. But wait, the very same Jesudas had trouble getting his son baptised by a Christian church, because Jesudas sang at Hindu temples! Jesudas and his wife are card-carrying Christians. But the Christian church balked at the ceremony of sprinkling holy water on their son because Jesudas had committed the 'crime' of singing Hindu devotional songs!

Thus these Christians should be tarred with the same 'communal' brush as the Guruyavur authorities. But of course not; in the lexicon of the 'secular' 'progressives', only Hindus can be 'communal'.

Similarly, there was an incident in Pakistan after Prime Minister Vajpayee's ill-fated trip to Lahore. He visited the Minar-I-Pakistan, a tower in that city. I am told that there is some significance to this tower in regards to the creation of Pakistan. It may well be that the call for a "Pakistan" or land of the pure was first made at this tower. In any case, I got the impression that Vajpayee being there was a significant and explicit concession that Partition was irreversible.

What was quite interesting was that after Vajpayee left the tower, a group of Muslim fundamentalist Jamaat-I-Islami activists descended upon the place and cleansed it with holy water! I guess this was because Vajpayee was an 'infidel' kafir even though a missionary religion should welcome infidels to come there to be converted to become one of the faithful.

Once again, there was deafening silence from the 'secular' 'progressives' in the Indian media about this act of Muslim extremism. I am not surprised. This is to be expected.

The lengths to which these 'secular' 'progressives' go was demonstrated tellingly recently. The motley crew named SAHMAT protested vociferously at the Millennium Peace Summit in New York City that the Vishala Hindu Parishad, those dreaded communalist-divisive-fundamentalists, were allowed to co-sponsor the event. Fair enough.

But a couple of days later, the Catholic Church came out with the 'Iesus Dominus' document, which states that Catholics have an exclusive hotline to heaven, and that all other religious paths are false, including their fellow Christian sects. This is a document of truly breathtaking chutzpah, obtuseness and arrogance, especially in this sceptical world of today. Naturally the Vatican has no proof for their direct line to their God, or even for the existence of their God: it is pure blind dogma. And the Vatican makes no apologies for this extremely divisive document. Of course, SAHMAT did not find it in their hearts to protest against the Catholics, who also co-sponsored the Summit! By 'secular' definition, Catholics couldn't possibly becommunalist-divisive-fundamentalists.

It just goes to show, there just isn't enough holy water going around to drown all these communalist and hypocritical fools collectively.


Sushama Londhe has an impressive site called a Tribute to Hinduism which is a veritable treasure-trove of information about the religion. I found it very interesting to browse through.

The BBC reported on October 2 that a group of Christian terrorists, the National Liberation Front of Tripura, has 'banned' the Hindu festival Durga Puja in Tripura. They have warned any tribals that those celebrating this festival will be shot. They declare that they want all of Tripura to be Christian.

It is the same terrorists who shot and killed a Hindu priest a few weeks ago, in his own temple. Similarly, Bineshwar Brahma, a Hindu Bodo activist and litterateur, was shot dead by Christian militants in Guwahati in August, explicitly based on his religion. None of these incidents has been reported widely, or at all, in the Indian print media. I read about them at the BBC's online site.

Christians are on a rampage in the Northeast, indulging in ethnic cleansing and religious violence, killing Hindus, supported by white fundamentalist churches, especially American ones. The human rights of Hindus are being violated: for instance, there are the Reangs who have been ethnically cleansed from their homes. But this is not news for the 'secular' 'progressives'.

There seems to be a conspiracy of silence in the Indian print media about the activities of the Christian Taliban of the Northeast. I wonder, is this silence being bought with cold cash? Or is it purely ideological? Why isn't anyone demanding the kind of action that was taken when that Australian Christian missionary was murdered? Am I wrong in concluding that the life of a white Christian is worth far more than the lives of religious Hindus?

The assault on Hinduism continues elsewhere, too. Here is an e-mail that reader Sridhar forwarded me. I have not verified these facts about the books mentioned, I am merely forwarding the message.

September 27, 2000

We are enclosing the following information that has appeared in the `Letters to the Editor' column of Hinduism Today. Please lodge your protest with Encyclopedia Britannica. We also urge you to forward this message to as many persons as possible requesting them to lodge their protests.

Yours in the Lord
Swami Gautamananda
Sri Ramakrishna Math
Mylapore, Chennai-600 004

September 27, 2000 Encyclopedia Britannica

If you boot up the Ramakrishna Page of the Encyclopedia Britannica online, you can see that Kali's Child (whose thesis is that Ramakrishna was homosexual) is the first book recommended and also the fourth book recommended. Narasingha Sil's appalling book Ramakrishna Revisited is number two. While we find these two books offensive, we nevertheless are not requesting that they be stricken from their list. What we would like is a representative list of the books concerning Sri Ramakrishna. Naturally we would hope that they would include the basic source books concerning Sri Ramakrishna: The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna: The Great Master and The Life of Sri Ramakrishna along with more contemporary books such as Christopher Isherwood's Ramakrishna and His Disciples or Richard Schiffman's Sri Ramakrishna: Prophet for the New Age. I'd like as many Hindus as possible to respond en masse the Britannica's site ( While they can ignore 20 letters from irritated or offended Hindus, they might not be as cavalier with 1,000 letters. I would like ideas and lists of Hindu organisations or individuals that might be interesting in responding to this issue. It's bad enough that Kali's Child was highly touted in academia and assigned in college classrooms, having it recommended (twice!) by the Encyclopedia Britannica on their website is even worse!


Rajeev Srinivasan

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