I was born in a village in what is now Sivagangai District, then in Ramanathapuram District, Tamil Nadu. I am proud that Kaniyan Poongunranar was born a few kilometers away in a village called Poongunram (now Mahibalanpatti) in the same district. He was a poet who lived in the time of Sangam between the 6th century BCE and the 1st century CE. He is best known for his 13-line poem beginning with the words “Yaadum oore yaavarum kelir”. A simple translation is “Every place is my village, everyone is my relationship”. There are other gems in the poem.
The first line is inscribed on the walls of the United Nations. The poem is believed to reflect the way of life of Tamils 2,000 years ago and earlier.
The word ‘Hindu’
Tamil literature records religions of this age as Saivam and Vaishnavam. Samanam (Jainism) and Buddham (Buddhism) were later religions. The words Hindu and Hinduism are not found in ancient Tamil literature. According to Mr. Shashi Tharoor, “the word ‘Hindu’ did not exist in any Indian language until its use by foreigners gave Indians a term of self-definition.”
Most Tamils were born into families practicing Hinduism. They worship many gods (including village deities), celebrate festivals like Pongal and Deepavali, and observe rituals like pongal, pal kudam, and kaavadi. Tamil Hindus have lived for centuries with people of other religions, especially Christianity, for over 2,000 years and Islam for over 800 years. Muslim and Christian scholars and writers have made remarkable contributions to Tamil literature and the development of the language. To my knowledge, no Hindu Tamil king has waged a war to establish the supremacy of the Hindu religion over other religions.
What is Hinduism other than the name of a revered religion? Although I have read books by Dr S Radhakrishnan and Swami Vivekananda, I never thought it necessary to undertake this investigation. From what I have read, heard, collected and gleaned, it seems to me “What is Hinduism? can be answered in a few simple paragraphs:
* Hinduism does not claim to be the only true religion. Swami Vivekananda said, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We not only believe in universal tolerance, but we accept all religions as true. “
* Hinduism does not have a church, pope, prophet, holy book or ritual. There are many of each, and a Hindu is free to choose from among the many or reject all. Some scholars have argued that one can be a Hindu as well as a believer, an agnostic or an atheist!
* In its secular aspects, Hinduism does not prescribe a marriage system or a system of succession / inheritance. The reforms of Hindu law (1955-1956) attempted to ensure uniformity, but there are still a myriad of variations today.
* Hinduism allows a Hindu to worship other gods and saints. Thousands of Hindus come to the shrine of Velankanni, pray at the golden temple of Amritsar or pay homage to Dargah Sharif in Ajmer. Historians do not agree as to whether Shirdi’s Sai Baba was a Muslim or a Hindu; maybe he was both because he saw no difference between the two. One of his famous epigrams was Allah Malik (God is King).
* Dr Wendy Doniger, professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, who has studied Sanskrit and ancient Indian religion for over 50 years, observed: “Scholars have known for centuries that the Indians of the ‘Antiquity ate beef. She cited texts such as Rig Veda and Brahmanas as well as Yajnavalkya and MN Srinivas. Currently, most Hindus eat meat, fish, and eggs, but no beef; many Hindus are vegetarians.
* Dr Doniger also points out that Gandhiji never called for a ban on the slaughter of cows, and quotes him as having said, “How can I force someone not to slaughter cows unless they are he himself is not willing? It’s not like there are only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here. However, many Muslims and Christians do not eat beef, and many non-vegetarians do not eat red meat at all.
I don’t need Hindutva
In his famous unspoken speech (1936) “The Annihilation of the Castes”, Dr BR Ambedkar, after tracing the conflict between the Indian National Congress (founded in 1885) and the Indian National Social Conference (founded in 1887), and noting with regret that the “political reformers” had defeated the “social reformers”, posed a series of questions to the “politically minded Hindus”, including the following: “Are you fit for political power even if you are not not allow them to wear what clothes or ornaments? they like? Are you fit for political power even if you don’t allow them to eat what they like? These questions ring true even today, but in a different context.
Like Mr. Tharoor, “I was born a Hindu, grew up as such, and considered myself as such all my life.” I am among the 81.6% of Hindus who said in a Pew poll that they were raised as Hindus and currently identify as Hindus. I am satisfied with my Hinduism and Kaniyan Poongunranar’s simple lesson “everyone is my relationship”. Why do i need Hindutva?