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Human Voices
By Gautam Siddharth
The Pioneer,
Saturday, January 22, 2000

The beginning of the new millennium should be of a special significance in the context of the Indic civilization. The celebrations heralding it must remind us, in this part of the world, how we have divorced ourselves from our own history and culture. When we observe the onset of the third millennium along with the Western world, we are actually travelling back in time, for the Indic civilisation is a lot older than two thousand years. Then why are we indulging in this exercise in collective self-hypnosis, of willy-nilly tending to believe that we are younger than our age? The answer lies in a complex of loss: The loss of the idea of who we as a people are, and a concomitant failure to relocate our space in the history of time.

It is an engaging irony that the people living east of the river Sindhu, south of the Brahmaputra, spanning more than the entire length of the Ganga, and down to the Vindhyas, were given their civilisational identity due to an error of phonetics. A people who called their land Aryavarta, and later Bharat, and were practitioners of
Sanaatan dharma, came to be recognised as Hindus because the Persians, an equally ancient civilisation, referred to their eastern neighbours by the name of the river Sindhu. Due to an inability to pronounce the first sound Sa in the Sanskrit word Sindhu, they altered it to the convenience of their tongue to say Ha . This is the short exegesis behind the origin of the word Hindu which, of course, is well known. 

In this process, that could well have lasted hundreds of years, not only did the land begin being called Hindustan, the religion its people practiced too was given the term Hindu , and later Hinduism. The reason behind this too is clear: With the movement of people from the west and central Asia to the region across the Sindhu, the cultured inhabitants of the land, who knew themselves as followers of Sanaatan dharma and as
inhabitants of Bharatvarsha which was a civilisation, not a nation were caught in a great flux and, faced with the changing ground realities, had to reinvent themselves. Thus was the Sanaatani reborn as the Hindu.
 
With its fruition, this process led to a momentous happening. The practitioners of a dharma a word which incorporates the Western concepts of religion, duty, law, right, justice, practice and principle were understood to be, or perceived as, followers of an ism. But Sanaatan Dharma was not in the least an ism; it was partly knowledge from the well-springs of deep human antiquity, and partly an unending preoccupation with myths. At its dharmic centre was the Truth as it was revealed to the Vedic seers. There was not one seer; there were seers. Their dharma did not have a central figure or a single book. The understanding of these people, Vedic people, about man, creation and universe clustered around one central idea. It was not just a credo or a faith; it was a fount with a worldview and conviction about existence, life and human experience. It is this self-knowledge, eternally at the moment of self-actualisation, that has been at the centre of Sanaatani values as consciousness.

If this civilisational continuity gave rise to rituals of the mind-boggling sort, it also proferred the seeker-practitioner ways and means for gnosis, austere, inspired and inspirational. Sanaatani life was wallowing in ideas and verities; it was most notably not an ism. An ism is a closed system of belief, distinct from living out an idea intellectual action which springs from memory and imagination. The institutional structure of Hinduism was gradually devised to keep the historical memory of the deep antiquity behind creation revealed in the Vedas and the Upanishads, alive. It was a Hindu tribute to the memory of creation and human existence, whose one
unshakable pillar was intellection. Unfortunately, this intellection has become a thing of the past. The disorientation that we are witnessing today in our civilisation which is played out in people s lives more than mutely captured in monuments is a result of this collective Hindu amnesia.

Our quest to answer for our identity gets obfuscated with the understanding of Hindutva without its central precepts that lie in Sanaatan dharma. (The calcification of the adherents of the dharma on caste and creed lines, for instance, is not Hindutva.) But the singular unifying point with us who are all Bharatiya, or Indians is
gradually being located today in what can be called an early phase of Hindutva, or Hindu resurgence. There are, though, people who doubt whether such a unifying point a centrality exists, a point common with all inhabitants of this large and diverse subcontinent. They say that Hinduism cannot be that unifying factor, arguing that Christianity never could unite Europe, and that its nations have till this century fought long and destructive wars.

This argument is specious. Christianity could never have united Europe because it never originated in Europe and Christianity is not ethnic to Europe like Hinduism is to India. Hinduism took birth, as Sanaatan dharma, in the land that is Bharat. In that sense, in the sense of having a defined geopolitical boundary, Hinduism stands alone in the pantheon of the great religions of the world. This alone reveals the truth that if there is any one single factor that unites the people of Bharat, or India, into forming one over-riding identity, it is the civilisational identity steeped in the universalism of Hindu thought. It is in the consciousness of our Hindu civilisation that our collective identity resides. And it this consciousness that has to be recreated. For, the neglect of the search for a locus has wounded the Indian civilisation.

If we are to make the new millennium of any relevance to us, then we must first recognise that the five-thousand year-old civilisational plate has been reinforced with the fifty-year-old national plate both of which form the bedrock of our existence today. And if our historical memory is not too short; if we dissolve small discords and instead look at the vastness of the dharma that binds us as sentient human beings above all, we will have not only paid our debt to the punyabhoomi that is Bharat but also resonated our timeless message: A worthwhile effect is born only out of a noble cause.
 

 

 

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