Date: 7/24/2006

Comment //////////// How non-violent were Hindus historically?//////////// Sandeep Sharma/////////// The image of the mild, non-violent, vegetarian Hindu animates many history books as well as the self-image of many Hindus. The image of a barefoot Mahatma Gandhi taking on the might of the world's largest empire has been etched into the history of mankind. But how accurate is this image for Hindus as a whole? The striking aspect of the development of the Hindu ethos has been its ability to adapt with the tides of history, while always maintaining continuity with the past. The reason why spiritual and ethical teachings transmitted by enlightened sages thousands of years ago are still capable of inspiring and shaping the lives of millions of Hindus is because the philosophical and spiritual teachings of the ancient Vedic sages were universal in a way that could be adapted to different circumstances at different points in history. ////////////// The history of Hindu civilisation is spread over ten thousand years. During this huge span of time, there have been many ups and downs. Some periods were prosperous; others less so. Some were peaceful; others were periods of war and struggle. ////////////// The ancient Hindu texts refer to many epic struggles and battles. Shri Rama wages war with the despicable Ravana in order to preserve dharma. The Bhagavad Geeta, the greatest treatise on the nature of the universe and man's place within it was given by Krishna to Arjun on the epic battlefield of Kurukshetra.///////////// Interestingly, these texts also praise non-violence (ahimsa) and gentleness as a great virtue. The concept of ahimsa did not rule out the use of force to maintain a lawful society, and to punish who that tried to harm others./////////////// In later history, there were repeated attempts to invade India by ambitious rulers of other nations. Some of these, such as the Greeks, Huns and Sakas made significant inroads into India. However their gains were only temporary. Hindus rose to fight off the yoke of these invaders. For example, Chandragupta Maurya, under the inspiration of Chanakya, united most of India before proceeding to drive out the remnants of Greek rule from the North-West India. Skandagupta of the Gupta dynasty routed the Huns, the tribe who were responsible for the destruction of the Roman Empire. ///////////// Some believe that the influence of Buddhism and Jainism in medieval India accentuated the spread of the Vedic concept of ahimsa - or non- aggression. This term was interpreted by some as non-violence to the point of not harming insects and other animals let alone fellow human beings///////////// The eruption of the Arab and Turk Islamic invaders into India however changed the geopolitical landscape of the sub continent. Buddhism as an all Indian religion was almost wiped out under the feet of the Turks. After conquering Central Asia and the Middle East and defeating the combined forces of Western Europe in the Crusades, a branch of the Turks turned towards India. After liquidating all cultures and religions in their path, the resistance they faced from the Hindu kingdoms was radically different. A long saga of almost unparalleled brutality then began which was sickeningly repeated generation after generation.//////////// Numerous Hindu clans fought and contested the supremacy of the Islamic Turk invaders, but were unable to unite and effectively present a united front against the massed heavy cavalry that had marched from Western Europe to Asia. Many Hindus continued the fight from the hills and forests taking advantage of each opportunity to dispute the tenuous Islamic hold. ////////////// It was a great many years before the Hindus managed to adapt their tactics of warfare to score lasting victories against the Islamic armies. It was in the 1600's in which certain groups of Hindus, of which the Marathas were the greatest example, employed a radically overhauled and less scrupulous system of warfare. This led to the fall of the Mughal Empire and the rise of a rejuvenated Hindu warrior class./////////// In those medieval centuries, while civilisations clashed and atrocities abounded in the Indian subcontinent, Hindu spirituality adapted giving rise to what is known as the 'Bhakti movement'. Saint after Saint arose who emphasised love and devotion to God as the sole means of salvation. Examples of such saints are Ramananda, Meerabai, Ravidas, Kabir and Nanak. //////////// The Bhakti movement placed more importance on internal spirituality rather than outside circumstances. The influence of these medieval saints spread rapidly throughout Hindu society. This re-inspired a sense of cultural pride and confidence in the fatigued Hindu society of that era. It also allowed Hinduism to weather the storm, by contracting inwards and placing less emphasis on external aspects of religion. However, a disregard for politics, economy and worldly prowess was often a feature of the teachings of these saints. This began to dominate the Hindu psyche, giving rise to the image of India as a land immersed in spirituality with little regard for the external world.//////////// During the British colonial era, a time when India was politically and economically weak, many Hindus began to embrace the idea that the meek, mild, metaphysically orientated and non-violent nature of Hinduism is what is responsible for this, but also that far from being a bad thing, it reflected true spirituality. This romanticised view of India was also projected to the outside world, so that it became the image that many people from all around the world hold of India. Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent leadership of India's freedom struggle has been an important aspect of this image. ///////////// The ground reality of India however does not reflect this view. Violent aggression on the streets of most Indian cities reflects the complex realities of modern India and the sometimes brutal and casual violence in the countryside hardly lends to the image of the non-violent Hindu. /////////////// Some Hindus have opined that most Indians are generally very peaceful but can react violently if they see a threat to the social order. Others postulate that the image of the mild non-violent Hindu comes from the elite sections of Indian society, which hardly reflects the lives and aspirations of the average man. ///////////// The truth is that Hindus are on the whole much like any other people with the same lapses of character and vice. The Hindu ethos has an important place for the concept of ahimsa, but also for the use of force to uphold self-respect and dharma. Hindu society has thrown up people who have excelled in the religious, political, scientific and military spheres each of whom have an equal space of honour in the Hindu world.///////////////000000000