In a recent tweet by former Union Minister P.Chidambaram he had defended E.V.Ramasamy Naiker (EVR) against a tirade against him by a BJP leader. The BJP leader had reportedly stated that one of the aims of the BJP is to cleanse Tamil Nadu of the ideologies of EVR.
In his spirited defense of EVR P.Chidambaram, among other things had tweeted that EVR "crushed the poisonous ideology of Sanatana Dharma".
Of late, particularly after Sonia Gandhi ascended to power in the Congress, the attacks on Sanatana Dharma by the alliance partners of Congress had intensified. In 2019 Tamil Nadu Congress leader Thirunaavukarasu attended the conference under a big hoarding that falsely juxtaposed ‘Sanatana ‘ as being anti-democracy.
During the colonial period there was a systematic schism created and 'Sanatana' was used in the discourse to refer to orthodoxy and more specifically, the socially stagnant sections of the society.
This was convenient for the colonial missionary strategy. They knew, either intentionally or instinctively, that by associating an ancient and sublime term of a culture with its social evils, which were themselves the result of colonial impoverishment, a massive psychological blow could be dealt to the indigenous civilisation.
So, the binary was born – of Sanatanis and reformers – mostly consisting of Arya Samajis. Since then, the term ‘Sanatana Dharma’ has been used to conveniently label, stereotype and damn Hindu Dharma.
But what is Sanatana Dharma?
Sanatana Dharma is conventionally the name of the Vedic stream of Hindu family of religions.
However, it is also the nameless primordial Dharma related to Rta the universal order.
Mahabharata frequently uses the term.
According to Savitri, being an equal partner in all the deeds of her husband is Sanatana Dharma.
According to Satyavan, destroying anyone completely, even by the State as a punishment to the guilty, is not Sanatana Dharma.
The much-hated and maligned Manusmriti uses the term ‘Sanatana Dharma’. So do the Buddhist scriptures – almost in similar import as Manu – as speaking truth and speaking it sweetly. Manu Smriti says Esha Dharma Sanatana: [4.138]
One should always say what is the Truth. But should say it sweetly. One should never say the Truth in an unsweet way. One should never say the untruth because it may be agreeable.
This is Sanatana Dharma.
This statement of Manu is also seen in the Buddhist tradition. Brahmin turned Buddhist monk venerable Vangisa (also in later Sanskrit Buddhist texts Vahiisa – also curiously the name of another Saivaite saint from Tamil Nadu) had the gift of pouring forth spontaneous poetry. According to Buddhist text Vangisa was listening to a talk delivered by the Buddha on the 'well-spoken word' (Subhasita) when verses of Subhasita Sutta were revealed to him.
After obtaining permission from Buddha he recited these verses. In this he states:
One should speak only pleasant words, words which are acceptable (to others). What one speaks without bringing evils to others is pleasant. Truth is indeed the immortal word.
esa dhammo sanantano.
Sweet speech and truth contained in Speech in a very crucial Vedic value which can be seen throughout the Vedic texts and later it emerges as the hallmark of Indian tradition.
Saraswati as the Goddess of speech is associated in Rig Veda itself with the twin qualities of truth and sweetness. Prof. David Kinsley explains in his book on Hindu Goddesses:
Even in the Rg-veda she is called impeller of true and sweet speech and awakener of happy and noble thoughts (6.61.9) ... The importance of speech in Hinduism is both ancient and central. The entire creative process is held to be distilled in the syllable om, and the idea of creation proceeding from sabda-brahman (ultimate reality in the form of sound) is often mentioned in Hindu texts. ... Speech is also important and revered because it permits communication between people. ... As the embodiment of speech, then, Sarasvati is present wherever speech exists. And so it is that she is preeminently associated with the best in human culture: poetry, literature, sacred rituals, and rational communication between individuals.
This importance of sweet and truthful speech that harms none but produces the highest and most universal good possible to all is then the essence of Sanatana Dharma.
It is not an accident that Thiruvalluvar, the great poet-seer dedicated one separate chapter on speaking sweetly and another on speaking truth and placed both these chapters containing ten couplets each in the section of Dharma or Aaram.
Clearly Thiruvalluvar recognised the spiritual and ethical dimension of speaking the truth and speaking it sweetly and speaking it in such a way as to bring maximum good to maximum people.
Yet the term Sanatana Dharma got associated during colonial period with social stagnation and reformers of Hindu Dharma were considered as anti-Sanatani.
This was a clever move by a conquering imperial colonial power when the domain of conquest was fast emerging as the conquest and colonisation of the mind.
Both the vested interests in the socially stagnant Hindu society as well as the proselytising enemies of Hindu Dharma agreed upon this narrow false stereotyping of Sanatana Dharma as nothing but birth- based discrimination, subjugation of women and worse of all, untouchability.
A perverted section of Hindus who had neither the guts for positive social reforming of the society nor the ability to understand the vastness and depth of their own culture and tradition embraced irrationally the colonial characterisation. EVR was a classical example of such perverted irrational demagogues.
At such times, two important seers came on the national scene and rescued and reinstated the term.
One was Mahayogi Sri Aurobindo. In his famous Uttarpara speech which he delivered on May 30, 1909, he said:
When you go forth, speak to your nation always this word, that it is for the Sanatan Dharma that they arise, it is for the world and not for themselves that they arise. I am giving them freedom for the service of the world. When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world. ... I say no longer that nationalism is a creed, a religion, a faith; I say that it is the Sanatan Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatan Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatan Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatan Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatan Dharma it would perish. The Sanatan Dharma, that is nationalism. This is the message that I have to speak to you.
Utttarpara speech became widely popular and since then has been animating the hearts of generations to this day. Sri Aurobindo too was a blessed by Saraswati. A prolific writer of epic poetry, his phenomenal outpouring of poetry anticipates a new dawn of humanity. That he chose to use and reemphasise the term ‘Sanatana Dharma’ associated with the deep inner qualities Vak is not an accident.
Then there was Mahatma Gandhi. Hence it is also not an accident that Mahatma Gandhi who strove all his life to speak truth and never to speak in a hurtful manner declared himself a Sanatani Hindu. And he was categorical:
I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, because, I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name of Hindu scriptures, and therefore in Avataras and rebirth;I believe in the Varanshrama Dharma in a sense, in my opinion, strictly Vedic but not in its present popular and crude sense; I believe in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the popular;I do not disbelieve in idol-worship. ... I am a reformer through and through. But my zeal never takes me to the rejection of any of the essential things of Hinduism.
In this statement Mahatma Gandhi had used every word with utmost care.
He had pointed out the essence of Sanatana Dharma and had stood as a Sanatani. He had shown that whether a person is ultra-orthodox or zealous social reformer they both could locate themselves within Sanatana Dharma. He had pointed out the non-exclusive and universally inclusive nature of Sanatana Dharma.
As against this if one looks at the ‘rationalist’ speeches of EVR, one finds two dominant features: falsehood and obscenity.
Pseudo-rational display of literal understanding of poetic genius of the past and a demagogic tendency to see Brahminical conspiracy in such misunderstanding as well as misinterpretation – EVR was essentially a caricature of the very same dark forces which went into the making of the Third Reich.
Consider for example one of the ‘rationalist’ quips of one of the lieutenants of EVR’s rationalist movement.
A sub-mediocre actor who was fancied by the Dravidianist movement as Dravidianist answer for Charlie Chaplin, N.S. Krishnan used to get whistles for his statement ‘If Saraswati resides in the tip of the tongue where would she go to answer her nature’s call?’
Such obscene statements of falsehood that appeal to the most depraved and perverted elements of the psyche were justified as fight for social justice.
Gandhians of that period in Tamil Nadu and real fighters for social justice like Kamaraj and Swami Sahajananda fought against such tendencies of the Dravidian movement.
They wanted this EVR-ism to be removed from Tamil Nadu lock stock and barrel.
However today, the Congress under Sonia Gandhi is more a replicate of colonial tendencies.
Now, there is one question we would like to ask P.Chidambaram who, before becoming a member of Rajiv and Sonia Congress comes, from a family of Gandhian Congress – the true Gandhian Congress. To what definition of Sanatana Dharma does he agree with – that of Mahatma Gandhi or EVR?
Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.
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