Hindutva is the awakened Indian culture. This may seem like an odd statement to make because a) Revival has a specific post-war American civil rights background and some have argued for a deeper causal link with Puritan Protestantism which roots it even further back, and b) it is a resolutely self-proclaimed left liberal movement. But if you’re willing to look past the superficial differences, I don’t think there’s much between them.
The word Hindutva is morphologically Sanskrit but has never been used in this language by anyone. It is a very modern Sanskrit neologism, formed by suffixing -tva (denoting the quality of) in the Hindi name borrowed “Hindu”. The word âHinduâ is a Persian borrowing, a reflex from the Old Persian hi (n) duÅ¡ as attested by the Achaemenid inscriptions, which in turn are a probable borrowing from Sanskrit sindhuá¸¥. Therefore, the word âhindutvaâ literally implies âheterogeneityâ.
Like the word, Hindutva is a relatively modern movement with classic vintage pretensions. There is a core of Hindu reformist thought that dates back to the state of Maratha, which in turn owes a debt to the Bhakti movement of the 14th-17th centuries. The Bhakti movement was a near-pan-Indian attempt at Hindu reform that was sparked when Muslims in South Asia consolidated political power in India and its ideologues range from Lalla DÄd in Kashmir, Mirabai in Rajasthan, Ramdas and Tukaram in Maharashtra, âSikhâ Gurus in Punjab, Guru Gorakhnath in Terai / Nepal, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Bengal, Bhakt Kabir in Uttar Pradesh, etc. the main body of guerrilla troops in the nascent state of Maratha under Shivaji.
The Bhakti movement was a proto-reform of Hinduism strengthening its grip on the masses and anti-caste because many Bhakti ideologues were non-Brahmins opposed to the old Hindu orthodoxy. The overall result of the movement has been to strengthen the devotional, personal-divine aspect of Hinduism, the popularization of epic narratives (Ramayana, Mahabharata, Hanuman Chalisa, etc.) and a deviation from the norm that the authorities on local religious thought / philosophy had to be born Brahmin.
The Bhakti movement had an aspect of competition with Islam, trying to absorb it into a wider Indian tradition (cf. Sikhism). He also had a role of proselytizing in the conversion of heterodox (âpaganâ) peoples to Hinduism (cf. conversions to gauá¸Ä«ya vaiÅnavisme in Bengal, Tripura, Hinduism of Gorkhas, Axom, etc.). Much of what we know about Hinduism today is the result of the reform of Bhakti that took place under the noses of the Moghales. Indeed, the Mughals were not completely unaware of these Hindu cults and the fear of the conversion of the Muslims was important (cf. Tuzk-i Jahangiri on the execution of the âSikhâ Guru Arjan). I say “Sikh” in quotation marks because the real bifurcation of Sikhism as a denominational belief distinct from Hinduism only occurred during the lifetime of the last guru.
There are obvious parallels between the Bhakti movement and European Protestantism, in terms of preaching the religion in local languages, the emphasis on proselytizing the faith, and rejecting the Orthodox priesthood. There are also key differences, mainly in that the monarchies of Europe were Roman Catholic instead of professing a separate religion (i.e. Islam) in India, and the ruling elite certainly was not. not beholden to the Brahmin priestly class to legitimize their reign.
Like the European Protestant movement, Bhakti reform was not peaceful and the Muslim ruling / military elite was not well disposed to this, especially if the new age Hindu gurus were seen as politically active, had supporters. Muslims or were trying to incorporate / comment on the Islamic canon. . The seeds of social / political resentment are therefore deeply ingrained in Hindutva’s core, and the struggle is against caste orthodoxy as much as against the Muslim political elite. Even though the poor Mughals slipped away, this resentment never did. The same kind of resentment fueled Hindu political thought at the height of the colonial period. This is demonstrated in the way Indian literature of the time revolved the Hindu view of British rule. Example: Anandamath used the failed Sanyasi (ascetic) rebellion against the British as a plot to highlight the political subjugation of the Hindu subordinate.
The generation of the westernized upper middle class elite that arose among Hindus in the half century between the Sepoy Indian Mutiny and the turn of the 20th century were a reformed (and uprooted) subject people. They were impressed by the Empire of which they were the subjects and very aware of their subordinate political status within it. The Congress Party represented the consensus of this pan-Indian Hindu elite, implicitly transferring this reformist / civilizing role to independent India. The irony of Indian independence, however, is that it represents the independence of Indian subordinates from their traditional Sahibs far more than the independence of Sahibs from the exogenous Empire. People who knew their place no longer knew it. It was only a matter of time before the followers of Hindu politics reaffirmed their supernumerary will against the elite.
The devotional stream of Hinduism prevalent among the masses also explains the obsession with mythological figures like rÄma or ká¹á¹£á¹a and the mass mobilization of lower caste Hindus and other backward castes who now form the bench force of the Hindutva movement. All the telltale signs of the Western awakening: deep victimization complex, destruction of symbols of oppression, prohibition / cancellation of culture, signaling of virtue and nativism (indigenous vs colonial debates, including the Aryan invasion-denial theory is a corollary) have exact analogies in Hindutva.
As the upper castes (especially the Brahmins) continue to play an important ideological role in Hindu politics and will do so for a long time, their power over the direction of the Hindu project has evaporated. As an example, the RSS chose its first non-Brahmin leader just after the demolition of the Babri Mosque in December 1992. The same can be seen in politics, as Atal Bihari Vajpeyee gave way to Narendra Modi in because of the latter’s ability to stir up crowds, as opposed to the former’s propensity for highfalutin Hindi poetry. The calls for the crushing of the âBrahmanic patriarchateâ by the Indian liberals completely miss because the Hindutva project is tempered by its Brahmins. It is the de-Brahminification of Hindutva that “liberals” should be really afraid of because it taps into all kinds of old and raw resentments.
Modern Hindutva is a pathology and little good results from it. The liberal sense of wanting it or denigrating people who hold such opinions will not work. What will work are institutional controls to limit / correct the bad effects of this worldview. The evolution of Hindutva politics will be a bumpy ride in India with lots of culture wars, occasional events resembling retrogressions and setbacks to one party or another and like a general pork breakfast to foreigners. . The answer to how Indian politics will face the Hindutva era lies in the fine institutional print of India. It might seem like simple details now, but it’s the little things like seat belts and helmets that mean the difference between life and death when the road meets rubber.
This article first appeared on Brown experts.