Hindutvavadis are not Bhakts

As an atheist, I don’t appreciate and understand religious leanings especially the spiritual and devotional aspects. But from time to time I obsessively listen to Devotional songs especially Marathi Abhangs. One of the earliest Marathi devotional songs I remember seeing is a song titled Tujhe Roop Chitti Raho. The song is a devotional song to the deity Vitthoba by a Bhakti saint Gora Kumbhar. The ghastly incident picturized in the song is

Once, his wife left her child in the courtyard where Gora Kumbhar was working and went to bring water. Gora Kumbhar was busy in preparing the mud required to make the earthen pots and was as usual engrossed in singing bhajans of Pandurang. His child playing near him, fell in the shallow ditch where the mud for preparing the pots was laid. Gora Kumbhar was churning the mud with his feet. While doing so, he accidentally crushed his child under his feet. He was so lost in singing the bhajans of Pandurang that he didn’t even hear the cries of his child.

Though as an 8-9-year-old boy, this song had a profound effect on me, the reaction I felt back then nothing compared to the one I felt last week as a father of an infant in the age of Helicopter parenting. The tale invokes comparisons to the sacrifice of Issac by Abraham to the one God. In the tale of Gora Kumbhar, his boy is brought back to life thanks to Vitthal while in the case of Abraham a messenger of God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son.

For all the 3 major dharmic faiths of the subcontinent at that time, this Bhakti might have been a surprising element. We don’t know much about the Brahminical response to this particular case, but it unlikely that it would have been positive given what we know about the Brahminical response to the Bhakti movement in general. In the Buddhist view of Karma, Gora Kumbhar might be dealt with less harshly as he had not intended to crush his son. The Jaina view however would result in significant negative Karma associated with Gora Kumbhar. In the Bhakti narrative, it’s penance (where Gora Kumbhar broke his arms) that started the annulling of his bad Karma. However, according to the tale, Vitthal only brings his son back to life when Gora Kumbhar’s wife who has been abusing Vitthal and her husband’s blind bhakti for the loss of her son, prays to the Lord Vitthal. The example of Gora Kumbhar crushing his child under the intoxication of Pandurang is extreme and strawman-ish for the sake of the argument but I use it nonetheless as the difference between this and the mainstream Bhakti movement is not one of quality but magnitude alone.

This is not a case of modern morals dissecting and judging medieval tales, but the criticism of the core idea of Bhakti itself. The suspension of belief, apparent transcendence felt while deeply engrossed in the Bhakti is physiologically not very dissimilar to the effects of psychedelics. Why then in a society where the latter is taboo while the earlier is revered? For this particular reason, for all the elements of social progressivism in it, (something I am partial towards), I have never truly had a fully positive outlook towards the Bhakti movement.

Unlike spirituality and religions, politics in general though rife with religion and demagoguery has counter-balancing pragmatic currents, especially in democracies. Coming to the title of the post, sometimes I wonder whether the pejorative “Bhakt” was used for Modi/Hindutva followers (implying their blind faith in Modi and the doctrines of Hindutva) is a harsh use of the word on Hindutvavadis. I have used the word as a pejorative and I have been called out by people of the Hindutva leanings for using a word with positive religious connotations as a pejorative. While I sometimes agree with this criticism, I do so for the exact opposite reason. I find a lot of even most hardline Hindutvavadis, rational in their personal lives and not prone to Bhakti – an exact opposite of the archetypical Bhakt.

For all the criticisms one can have of Modi, he has actually delivered quantifiable benefits to large masses of Indians. I cant totally put a finger on it, but I see a tangible difference between the adulation Narendra Modi receives from his supporters to the adulation South Indian leaders – Amma, MGR, YSR have received in the past. The second has all the tell-tale signs of Bhakti, while Modi’s support base and particularly the broader Hindutvavadis lack it. Though one might argue that the cult of Modi is barely ten years old, and it could reach new heights in the near future making my current assertion out of date – but that’s to be seen.

In retrospect, particularly in the state of Maharashtra, we can see the Bhakti movement as a catalyst that had magnified and spread confessionalism and devotion in a personal god into the ritualistic orthopraxy of elite-driven Hinduism thus making Hinduism competitive with monotheistic faiths. It also enlightened the masses to the political and social currents of their environment thus empowering the Rayat (masses) who got their Raja in the coming centuries. In other words, the Bhakti movement fertilized the ground on which the Maratha Hindavi Swarajya and later Hindutva germinated. This point has been more succinctly and coherently by @kaeshour in Hindutva is the woke culture of India.

Yet it is fair to say a sense of historical injustice and insecurity is the sentiment that drives Hindutva not Bhakti, but that’s a separate discussion. Is it fair to see the term Bhakt as a pejorative, If yes then for whom? Anyways in the woke currents of times we live in, I cannot see any other beneficiary of the current use of the word Bhakt* than Hindutva. Not that any partisan liberal will see this.

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11 thoughts on “Hindutvavadis are not Bhakts”

  1. Is this the official Brown Pundits reponse to Slapstik’s claim that “Hindutva is a pathology and nothing good can come of it!!” In other news, he has been identity-fluid (?!?) for quite sometime….Slapstik, Udravainhiya and now Kaeshour.

    The use of the word Bhakt to label Modi followers was started by liberal media, who were perhaps startled by the adulation being reserved for a non-Nehru/Gandhi dynast in national politics. Nehru, Indira had tons of blind followers but the liberal media never called them as such. Even today, I cannot imagine how Rahul or Priyanka Gandhi can have dedicated followers. Aakar Patel also tried to analyse if the usage of this word was appropriate with unsurprising conclusions.


    Asking if Hindutva has bhakts or not is missing the point. It is the coping mechanism of liberals in India who have to contend with the disintegrating architecture of secularism and eurocentric values. By labelling opponents as psychedelic, woke or irrational – they hope to be labeled inversely as rational, objective and pragmatic.

    Advice to liberals – Hindutva is a roadroller, don’t stand in front of it and indulge in sophistication. Reason – there is no driver in the cabin – you can pretend that it is Modi but Hindutva is older than Modi.

  2. Sorry to distract from the topic of the post but Gora Kumbhar is proper chiselled in that image. Wonder how modern a depiction it is.

  3. raj kumar palyed that role in an acclaimed kannada film named ‘ bhakta kumbara’. itd somgs are still played in ganesha and other public mass worship pendals. so the portrait gets reinforced. although the child getting mixed up was not shown very graphically as shown in this picture.

  4. raj kumar palyed that role in an acclaimed kannada film named ‘ bhakta kumbara’. itd somgs are still played in ganesha and other public mass worship pendals. so the portrait gets reinforced. although the child getting mixed up was not shown very graphically as shown in this picture.

  5. I thought “bhakt” in the political context was short for “Modi bhakt” i.e. someone with devotion and faith towards Modi, treating him like a god?

  6. From a pure statistics, nehru/indira & MGR/NTR (percentage of population wise) received more adulation at their peak political careers. Heck sizeable population in telugu states used to consider NTR as god incarnate. However “bhakt” was never used for any of them. I think using of bhakt for modi supporters is because of an in-built anti-hindu bigotry some left/liberal classes in India have.

    1. Yes. Radical leftist islamoapologists view Hindus and capitalism as enemies aka banias are their most personified objects of hatred

  7. Oh didn’t know that our resident Pundit @kaeshour is on scroll now. Wow, good move up.

    I just know of one colleague who writes for wire and national herald sometimes. But that’s as close as i know someone who writes for national publications

  8. Religious bhakt as a term is for most part positive, Modi bhakt is a negative term. To be a bhakt in the religious sphere has one connotation. In Hinduism, bhakti is purely and completely personal. In the political sphere, being a bhakt has a negative connotation. It implies unquestioning obedience to a political leader (subsuming one’s personal material interests and political identity in the person of another human being) and not keeping it personal, ie punishing/berating others for not displaying similar submission. That’s not bhakti, but that’s what you get from a Modi bhakt.
    So bhakt in political sphere is not the same as bhakt in the religious sphere, the sad accident described above, notwithstanding. But it still fits, since the users of the term know the context is political, in which even Dr Ambedkar wrote that bhakti is dangerous and counter productive.

  9. Reasonable post, once again, the aim is not about facts, logic, coherent views. All that requires good philosophical, logical value. Philosophy/logic is not part of default education or even of value in India unlike in west. Here , left/libs dont hold themselves to any degree of consistency, they dont see the value of consistency, they believe in victory by any means.
    Until you get this, you will find it difficult to understand why Indian liberals are not actually so, including left. West has a view of its past, it reveres its hellenic past, value is given to aristotle, plato, socrates. After Bible, these figures are important, in India, you will hardly hear much about nyaya, very little about philosophy, rules of debate etc, its just not there in our culture, so anything goes. Logical consistency is not there in press, its not there in anything, even in history either. Hence I advocate India should teach basic logical fallacies, philosophy course in schools, colleges, this is necessary to get people to adopt basic common language of accountability.
    The idea is simply to rub hindus in, casual bigotry, nothing more.
    P.S.: Twitter has restricted my account, no reason has been given, asking for phone number. I will see how many days it does this. If it ends here, i am fine with it.

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