Many of us participated in the awe-inspiring World Hindu Congress (WHC) in Thailand and were enthused by the sights, sounds, and profound discourses on various aspects of our dharma. While the attack on us is relentless from adharmic forces, the resolve to defend it is equally bold and concerted. True to the motto “Dharmo Rakshati Raskshitah”, the dharma sangha is mobilizing across the world to protect what is good, noble, and frankly only worldview that seeks the betterment of all of humanity and not just the followers, all living beings not just humans, and the universe in its entirety and not just earth.
The resurgence of Hindu dharma is liberating itself from the derogatory labels imposed by invaders and colonialists through reductionist theorizing. The WHC played a pivotal role in deconstructing one such term – “Hinduism.” The essence of this deconstruction lies in understanding “Hindu” as an unbounded word, signifying the eternal sustenance of individuals, families, communities, societies, and nature, both animate and inanimate. In contrast, the term “Hinduism,” suffixed with an “ism,” carries the baggage of oppressive and discriminatory connotations, a context we must be mindful of.
Emphasizing “Hindutva” over “Hinduism” becomes imperative, as Hindutva encapsulates the essence of Hindu-ness without the negative baggage associated with the term “ism.” Alternatively, the term “Sanatan Dharma” serves as an adjective, indicating the eternal nature of our beliefs.
We find ourselves at the brink of a historic moment as the divine child form of Lord Ram returns to his birthplace in a grand abode befitting Maryada Purushottam (the perfect man). This juncture calls for celebration and reflection on the 495 years of struggle. Our cultural emphasis on internal spiritual gains should not overshadow our responsibility to address challenges posed by adharmic forces. The grand Ram Janma Bhoomi temple stands as a testament to the triumph of creation over destruction just as in Somnath Temple, reinforcing that dharma will always prevail but battle needs to be fought.
Continuing the exploration beyond the WHC, my journey led me to the enchanting island of Bali, home to perhaps the only native Hindu culture surviving outside of India and its diaspora. The Balinese Hindu dharma is vividly ritualistic, woven seamlessly into daily life. You cannot miss it irrespective of the routine being pursued; whether taking a taxi, walking on the street, visiting a park, or eating at a restaurant. I couldn’t help but contrast this with the Hindu Dharma practiced in India and other places where the rituals are confined to a room in a house or the temple in a neighborhood. This stark contrast prompts contemplation on whether the victory flag fluttering atop Ram Janma Bhoomi encourages us to bring our religious expressions out into the open, akin to the Balinese Hindus who have preserved their dharma amidst challenges.
Reflecting on external pressures that may have subdued our expression of religious symbols in public spaces, examples like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul offer poignant insights. I visited Istanbul, Turkey during my return trip to the USA from WHC. The conversion of this grand Orthodox Christian Church into a mosque, with Christian symbols defaced, serves as a stark reminder of what could have happened. It was the grandest Orthodox Christian Church in Constantinople now Istanbul and the seat of power of eastern Christianity.
I picked up an official brochure on the structure that pointed to remaining Christian motifs. I was able to locate many of the symbols on the vestibule but could not see the picture of baby Jesus in the arms of Mary. It was supposed to be in the central hall of the structure. On close examination, I found that it was covered with white clothes because the ancient church had recently been opened for Muslim prayers under the Islamist president Erdogan. The religious figures are forbidden (“Haram”) for Muslims so the beautiful mosaic had been covered.
As we celebrate the hard-fought reclamation of Ram Janma Bhoomi, let us ponder how best to practice the inward serenity of quiet contemplation and bring back the boisterous celebrations of our cultural expressions. It’s time for a collective “coming out party,” where the rich tapestry of our heritage takes center stage, resonating with the world in all its glory.