Any civilization is characterized by a continuity of culture, the sum total of its values, norms, institutions, modes of thinking, customs and practices to which successive generations in a given society have attached primary importance. It encompasses a world view and a way of life that is distinct and unique to a particular people and their original, creative process. It encompasses shared forms such as language, art, architecture, song, music, aesthetics, food, history, religion, philosophy, mythology and spirituality.
India"s civilizational character, is patently and dominantly Hindu. Whether we call this Hinduism, or call this Sanatana Dharma, or Arya Dharma or the Indic Civilization, or Hindutva, it does not really matter. These days, the word Hindu has become too politically charged with meaning - One can only say that India is not predominantly Hindu by mis-representing what Hinduism is fundamentally; by narrowing down what is meant by the term Hinduism into a creed or religion comparable to Islam and Christianity; There have been endless argument around this - Vinayak Damodar Savarkar made a fine distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva; the former having a more "religious" sense, while the latter has a more encompassing sense i.e. geography, culture, history and spirituality. Yet these distinctions are artificial, for who can adequately define what Hinduism is and what it is not ?
It is common to hear people say "Hinduism is not a religion - It is a way of life"; Yet even that is inaccurate. Perhaps it would have been better to say "Hinduism is not just a religion - It is much more than that". Even the best minds have struggled with this question "What is Hinduism ?". In his "Discovery of India" Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru grapples with this question. "Hinduism, as a faith is vague, amorphous, many sided, all things to all men. It is hardly possible to define it, or indeed to say definitely whether it is a religion or not, in the usual sense of the word. In its present form, and even in the past, it embraces many beliefs and practices from the highest to the lowest, often opposed to or contradicting each other. Its essential spirit seems to be to live and let live".
And yet we have to recognize right at the very beginning of his thesis, he commits an error - for that Hinduism is not just a faith; It accommodates those who believe and those who do not; and those who believe differently; There are those within the Hindu fold who are guided by faith alone; And yet there are those who come to Hinduism through the exercise of reason alone; And still others who pursue their Dharma or Yoga. It indeed is "amorphous, many sided" and that is its very basic character. It"s many sided-ness allows Hinduism to hold within its perspective both the narrow and the dogmatic, and the vast and philosophic. When I say I am a Hindu, I may mean that in a narrow sense, of a highly ritualistic, traditionalistic and conformist sense; I may yet mean that in an expansive mystic sense; Hinduism verily encompasses Bhakti, Jnana, Yoga and Tantra, Upanisad and the Bhagvad Gita, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Hindu saints include Vyasa, Vashishta and Vishwamitra, and equally Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhvacharya. The concept of Karma is Hindu essentially, so is the idea of Dharma; Our songs that celebrate the lives of Rama and Krishna are Hindu; Sanskrit is Hindu and so is the entire corpus of Sanskrit literature. And within this corpus we find all manner of secular knowledge as well, such as Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Tarka, Mimamsa and so on. We also have Charaka and Sushruta, Sayana and Kalidasa; Who can say Kalidasa was not a Hindu when he wrote Raghuvamsa, Kumarasambhava and Shakuntala ?
If we argue the case that all of this is somehow not Hindu, and Hinduism is a much narrower creed, (frequently called Brahminism by other authors) then we must deal with the question what is not Hindu - and why ? We think Buddhism is somehow not Hindu; yet its Nirvana is just another way of saying Moksha; It completely accepts and assimilates Karma, Dharma, Yoga and Dhyana into its philosophical framework. Ahimsa is a Hindu value; So is the notion of Sangha - as in Satsang; It may have de-emphasized Bhagavan or Brahman, but what it did emphasize is entirely contained within the Upanishadic thought process. Buddhism verily came from Hinduism; and the relationship between the two is more one of mother and daughter; and less one of equals. Sikhism then is even more a daughter, than Buddhism is. Hinduism is much more like a family of Sampradayas, a family of traditions, and in this family, Buddhism, Sikhism is all "sister" and "daughter" traditions. The daughter may say I have no relationship with my mother - but the mother cannot ever say "she is not my daughter".
Every which way we look, in India, it is filled with the history, geography, tradition, mythology, philosophy and culture of Hindu Dharma. We must therefore acknowledge that India is a Hindu country that has in its midst, the presence of many religious minorities, both those which descended from Hinduism, but are claiming separateness and those who descended from outside of India"s geographical boundaries. But ultimately, even the vast majority of religious minorities of India also descended from people who were originally Hindus. A conversion of religion, whether of the heart, of induced by force or allurement, renders a person religiously different; but culturally largely the same. This cultural sameness may disappear over time, and the Muslim or Christian of successive generations may become progressively differentiated, from the mother culture; Even then racially they continue to be the same.
If independent India had elected to declare itself a Hindu country, (albeit with a few minorities) would it have become suddenly less tolerant of its minorities? When it comes to religious tolerance and acceptance, when it comes to accepting and acknowledging a multitude of paths and means to the one same truth, the record of Hinduism is infinitely superior to other religions especially those that came from the Middle east. Could it be argued, that a Hindu India would have become less tolerant, and thereby endangered its minorities? Yet this was the very "fear" that was at the source of the partition of India into Pakistan and later Bangladesh. One can understand the minorities being thus "afraid" of their future - but the majority Hindus succumbing to that fear, only betrays a poor understanding of Hinduism altogether. Hindu history has been one of being conquered, and brutalized - Never have Hindus brutalized other people, in the name of their religion. Never have Hindus claimed some special status for themselves, simply for being Hindu. And yet we did not assert that truth.
In declaring ourselves a Secular State, we necessarily had to diminish Hinduism, to reduce it to the same status of the other religions of the world. In saying we look upon all religions equally, we necessarily had to betray the religion of India - We necessarily had to take the view that it mattered little to us that the Vedas and Upanisads originated in India; but the Bible and Koran originated outside India. In embracing this European concept of Secularism, we had to assert that we as a state, owed no special responsibility to the entire body of the creative output of our native civilization - we had to reject Sanskrit, the Bhagvad Gita, Upanisads, Yoga, and all of the different Sampradayas of our tradition. We had to make a distinction between the sacred and the secular, when no such exists in our scripture, where all things animate and inanimate are considered equally a manifestation of the divine. Where ancient India saw the divine in all things; modern India had to reject that idea completely, and diminish all thought pertaining to the divine into the narrow realm of religion. We had to say that the future generations of our children will grow up not even having a basic grasp of their Hindu Dharma; For that knowledge they will have to go elsewhere outside the realm of their secular minded schools. Is this not a colossal betrayal of our own past? In our hurry to modernize, and integrate with the world, we have committed a grievous injury to our society. This is what rankles most about India"s "Secularism" - It has no respect for itself; for its own past; it has no capacity for self-reference. Everything it stands for is borrowed from elsewhere, from Europe, from Karl Marx, from the west - from sand castles that cannot even last a couple of centuries.
Jawaharlal Nehru continues in his Discovery of India - "It is therefore incorrect and undesirable to use "Hindu" or "Hinduism" for Indian Culture". And that was his great discovery! That there is an India distinct from its Hindu past! That India"s legendary tolerance and acceptance of others, is somehow not Hindu. That India"s capacity to assimilate and synthesize many diverse cultures and traditions, even attempt such a synthesis with inassimilable religions foreign to it is somehow not Hindu. For he later waxes eloquently about these intrinsic capacities latent in the Indian people - yet he is careful to distance those capacities and tendencies from anything to do with Hinduism, calling them "Indian".
Thus, the modern secular state of India began with an error, a lack of understanding, and ended with a betrayal. For those who truly understand the nature of Hinduism, its Upanisads, its Bhagvad Gita and Vedanta, its vast philosophic framework, its capacity to synthesize different paths and sampradayas into a harmonious whole, its emphasis on the life of the spirit, and its legendary pluralistic view of this world - this error remains a historic betrayal that needs to be addressed. For we have in our midst generations of Hindus growing up, into a new ethos of capitalism, consumerism, and Bollywoodism - They have not even the basic knowledge of their extra-ordinary Dharma.
Hindus can be blamed for being too divided; too fragile; too soft; too gullible; too pacific and too fatalistic - but to say that India is not Hindu, is to betray even a basic understanding of Hinduism or of India"s past. India needs to be Rediscovered, by Hindus, on their own terms; for their own people - not as the Chinese saw us, or the Islamic invaders and scholars saw us; or the British imperialists saw us, or even the alienated westernized Indians. This is the unfinished work of our time - India must reclaim its Hinduness fully even as we modernize; for the full measure of what India may contribute to the world at large, does not lie in our secular institutions, nor our industries, nor our new found prosperity or in our Information Technology accomplishments, nor in Bollywood - The full measure of what India has to contribute to the world cannot be measured in economic terms at all - For that we will have to return to our core, to our spirituality, to our scriptures, to our native "Shakti".