The Hindus must remember their past - not through the atrocities of the oppressor, but through the sacrifices of their forefathers.
Every Hindu pilgrimage centre must house a museum that showcases the resistance of Hindus to invasions, and is this too much to ask?
The recent sacking of a celebrity chef by a JW Marriott hotel for his alleged anti-Islamic tweet, despite his profuse apology, is an important lesson for Hindus who are conscious of their history. The tweet said how Islam terrorised Hindus for 2,000 years. The chef repeatedly apologised, yet was sacked. This brought back memories of a similar incident.
In 2008, an exhibition was held in Chennai on Aurangzeb and his orders to demolish Hindu temples. It was organised by FACT (Foundation for Advancement of Cultural Ties) run by journalist-turned Hindu activist Francois Gautier. He was originally the India-region correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro. The exhibition had displayed paintings of temple destruction as well as replicas of original farmans issued for it by the Mughal emperor. Soon, a cadre of radical Islamist outfits, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) and Manitha Neethi Paasarai (MNP, which would later become the dreaded PFI) assembled at the venue of the exhibition.
At that time United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-partner Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was ruling in Tamil Nadu and was in alliance with the Congress at the Centre. Already the DMK government was on a spree of freeing jihadists earlier arrested over various terrorist activities. So when the radical Islamist political outfits demanded that the exhibition be called off, the state machinery obliged. Policemen entered the building, removed the paintings and threw them down. What’s more, the volunteers, most of whom were women from a middle class background, were forced to present themselves at the police station after sunset.
There was absolutely no outcry then about freedom of speech or expression. The reason given by the establishment media was that the exhibition was an assault on communal harmony - a hate propaganda, depicting a Muslim emperor as a villain. The reason the establishment media gives now is the same. That brings us to the question, should or should we not talk about atrocities? Were they just mediaeval atrocities resulting from political and economic factors rather than the 'communal' ones? By rekindling the past memories, are we creating a 'communal' divide between Hindus and Muslims today?
While it is absolutely wrong to attribute the horrors of Islamist invasions of India centuries ago to the common Muslim today, it is absolutely right to expect the Hindus to remember and venerate the memories of the sacrifices made and sufferings undergone to protect their culture and spirituality through the ravages of history. The emphasis needs to be on the sacrifice and suffering of the Hindus irrespective of who did it and why.
Consider the following example:
This is what Job Thomas, director of South Asian Studies Program at Davidson College and who was also the assistant curator at the National Art Gallery, Chennai, has to say about the discovery of a group of bronze idols at Thiruvengadu - a village in Tamil Nadu:
Surprise and speed characterized Muslim attacks. Often the plundered temples had little warning. The growing frequency and severity of these raids compelled the temple authorities to take preventive steps to save the temple treasures. Some images were sent from the temples to safe places: others were hidden in secret chambers within the temples. ... When the invaders descended on the temple, they often tortured the priests to elicit information about the whereabouts of the images; priests who were unyielding were put to sword. In 1327 finding no valuable objects at the Srirangam Temple, the ill -tempered Ulugh Khan, according to temple chronicles, killed 12,000 Brahmin priests in a day. [And in the end-note to this passage, Thomas adds] In 1979 and 1980 large hordes of bronze images stored in concealed chambers in the Nataraja temple, Chidambaram and in the Siva Temple, Nallur have been discovered. Over eight images were found at Chidambaram ; sixteen at Nallur. Most of the images belong to the Chola period and no one knows when they were hidden. That they have remained unnoticed even in these busy temples would attest to the effectiveness of this method.
Now let us read how the archakas (priests) of the temple embraced martyrdom instead of revealing the idols’ hideout, which was the very temple premises where they were being tortured:
Mailk dug up the foundation with the greatest care, and the heads of the Brahmins and idolaters danced from their necks and fell to the ground and their feet, and blood flowed in torrents.Amir Khusru, Tarikh-i Alai (History of India as told by its own Historians)
The cruel pun of the chronicler is on the word ‘danced’ - after all, the presiding deity is a dancer. The primary emphasis Hindus need to make, again, is not on the cruelty of the invaders but on the sacrifices our ancestors made to protect the divine vigrahas, so that the future generations can draw strength from them for their spiritual well-being.
Thiruvarur hosts one of the greatest Saivaite temples of the world. In 1758, this temple came under attack from the French, who too searched the premises for treasures. Infuriated that they could not find any treasure, the soldiers of the Christendom ransacked houses. They imagined that the Brahmins should be very rich but found otherwise. The archakas, meanwhile, had effectively hidden the temple idols in secret chambers and had fled. Later when they returned to find out what had happened to the temple and deities, they were captured by the French army - labelled as spies and “were blown off from the muzzles of the field-pieces”.
To this writer, such contempt comes from the Evangelist hatred for the pagan Hindu culture and spirituality. The apologists for colonialism, both Marxist and evangelical scholars, may argue that the execution was purely a secular affair. But from a Hindutva point of view, it does not matter what the inspiration was for the French army men to kill the unarmed temple archakas. What is important is that they were martyred in the protection of the deity of Thiruvarur, and hence deserve to be remembered by every devotee of Siva. They must be honoured with a traditionally-built memorial stone with the moksha deepa in the temple town of Thiruvarur, which every devotee who visits, should pay obeisance to.
So all these raise the question that do the Hindus, the last standing and highest of the pagan civilisations, have the right to remember their past - and if so, how?
The Hindus need to remember their past - not through the atrocities of the oppressor, but through the sacrifices and sufferings of their forefathers. Every Hindu pilgrimage centre should house a museum that showcases the resistance of Hindus to the invasions. It does not matter who the invaders were and what their motive was. What matters is how Hindus resisted, suffered and made sure our spirituality and culture are handed over to the subsequent generations. Our children need to be told that they are Hindus today because of such sacrifices.
Ultimately, Hindus need to have a museum each in their holiest temple cities, which showcase relentless sacrifices and resistance - from the demolition of temples in Somnath to the resistance of Jamatiyas to conversion in Tripura; from Hindu temples destroyed by Portuguese during Inquisition to the destruction of temples in Tamil Nadu villages, where Hindus have become a minority. Again, the emphasis should be not on who committed the crime - but on who resisted through the ages against the persistent onslaught.
And remember, for the Hindus, atrocities and ethnic cleansing are not just tragic memories from the past, they form the present reality - like what is happening in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and in many villages of India.