Hinduism will die, and Hinduism will live

Cham Hindus

Sometimes in these comments or on social media, I see Hindus bemoan the passivity and weakness of their religion in the face of faiths with greater vigor and asabiyyah. This is such a common occurrence that I don’t often comment on it. But I have to say ironically that these sorts of comments exhibit a narrowness of perception, and a broader cultural involution, that typifies so many Hindus and is why they are often caught flatfooted against the partisans of other religions, usually Christianity and Islam.

First, there are 1.2 billion Hindus in the world. There is no near-term future where Hinduism will go extinct. And this number of Hindus is the very source of the religion’s likely rebirth: evolution operates upon heritable variation to drive adaptation and change. In a cultural sense, Hinduism has a great deal of variation, whether it be obscure ethnicities like the Cham Hindus of Vietnam, or the expansion of ISKCON around the world.

ISKCON itself is interesting because its reactions illustrate the weakness and likely end of some forms of Hinduism in the Diaspora, and likely ultimately in India itself. Though from what I can tell ISKCON does exhibit a level of unpalatable cultishness, some of its orthodox Indian Hindu critics exhibit a literal reactionary mindset that illustrates why many forms of this religion are not long for this world. After the hammer blow of Islam in the Indian subcontinent around 1200 AD Indian religious traditions, what we call Hinduism, nevertheless preserved and survived. This very fact illustrates a robustness that was lacking in Near Eastern Christianity and Zoroastrianism. But that survival likely depended upon particular Indian institutions, like jati-varna, that were decentralized and flexible in a manner that allowed Hinduism not to be decapitated in the same manner that Persian Christianity and Zoroastrianism were in the centuries after the Islamic conquest.

The centuries of dhimmitude transformed Hinduism into a far more Indian religion than it was in 500 AD. This may sound strange, but the genetic and cultural evidence are clear that a massive cultural extension of Hindu Indian civilization existed in Southeast Asia during this period. If Islam had not interposed itself, and India itself become part of the Dar-ul-Islam during the medieval period, it is quite plausible that a Hindu-Buddhism dharmic condominium may have emerged from the Indus to the Gulf of Tonkin over the last few thousand years.

But that is not what happened. At the same time as the Turco-Muslims invaded India maritime Southeast Asia began to realign itself with the Islamic international, a trade network that was beginning to dominate the Indian ocean. After 1500 most of the Hindu kingdoms collapsed and turned to Islam (with Bali and Champa being the exceptions). The geographic purview of the religions that ultimately drew from the Vedic traditions became constrained, and within India cultural adaptations emerged that allowed the religion to resist the stress tests of Islam.

The centuries after the fall of the Mughals the rise of the British, and now the rise to political domination by Hindutva, are creating new cultural configurations. Many Hindus retain the cultural mindset of the past, denying that Hinduism proselytizes when the very faces of the Balinese illustrate that this was not so in the past. These traditionalists assert jati-varna in a time when even within India inter-caste marriage is eroding the power of this communalism gradually but inevitably. They also deny that non-Indians can ever be genuinely authentically Hindu, even when those non-Indians oftentimes show a vigor of belief and practice that put Indians to the same.

Those who value purity above all else will slowly fade and diminish as they look back to the past. A new future comes, and we don’t know what it will be, but cultures are resilient.

54 thoughts on “Hinduism will die, and Hinduism will live”

  1. On this topic, I read an interesting comment on Twitter by a Hindu blackpiller.

    There have been no great wins and no great losses in the last 50 years for the Hindu. A state of dull stagnancy pervades. There is no great animation. Neither there is great dejection. Which usually have the power to summon heroes from the ranks of society. Therefore the Hindu chases imagined grievances and victories at home and abroad.

      1. Ram Temple is one of approximately 2000 temples (Ram Swarup Goel).

        What is more problematic is that technological progress has not (yet) been fully co-opted into the mainstream Hindu’s parametrical view of a “win”. This was and remains a Savarkarite goal for Hindu society.

        For example, Train 18, even after 5 years of bureaucratic impasse and evolution – is a major achievement for Hindu society. Hardly any Arab society has achieved EMU trainsets. Nor have the subcontinental Muslims.

        The epistemic transformation of the Hindu observer is an honorable goal in itself.

  2. // Hinduism will die, and Hinduism will live // – It already is the case.

    Sorry to say but Indic & indigenous faiths have ‘fuzzy cores’ & thus Abrahamic faiths easily digest them while point fingers at non-abrahamic believers. Which is why politics as it emerged in modern time forced Hindus to ‘harden the core’ for political purposes. Africa failed to do so & thus got digested.

    If you think that people who are questioning current transformations due to purity alone {except maybe Brahmans} then you are mistaken since each region & it’s inhabitants developed regional rituals / beliefs which are unique spatially so deserve att. & preservation.

    E.g. – Seed banks, regional arts etc.

    But i agree that – “A new future comes and we don’t know what it will be, but cultures are resilient.”

  3. Sorry to say but Indic & indigenous faiths have ‘fuzzy cores’ & thus Abrahamic faiths easily digest them while point fingers at non-abrahamic believers.

    this is a stupid comment. there are 1.2 billion hindus despite Muslims dominating the subconintent for 500 years at minimum (1200 to 1700). obv Abrahamic faiths cannot easily digest indic faiths, because if it could then India would be muslim

    think before you comment.

    1. @Razib

      But they digested over 30% of it., 40%-50% if you are concentrating on Northern India where they ruled. Regardless of the actual historical percentage, this is a big chunk. However it seems true that Hinduism is more resilient than Zoroastrianism, Buddhism or other minor religions, and definitely more than any unorganized religion – for the reasons you mentioned. But while we compare how well Zoroastrianism fared with Hinduism, wouldnt you say that the Sassanid empire was more centralized and therefore its capitulation also led to the capitulation of the Zoroastrian faith?

      1. There seems to be rapid secularization taking place in the Arab world. Do you think something similar will happen in Pakistan as well once the economy gets back on track?

        1. No I think Pakistan’s identity is linked to Islam even if that is quite superficial. The entire state structure is inherited from the Brits so unislamic. Local cultural values dominate in rural social setup while Islamic ones are usually secondary or co-opted. Which is why rising middle class and urbanization will actually lead to greater Islamization because urban populations tend to look down on rural folk culture. Some will adopt westernization while many accept islamization. But both will retain Islamic identity. There is no top down approach to change this that I see so for at least the next two decades I dont think Pakistan will become secular. This will not lead to bad relations with India, because due to Urdu language becoming widespread, India still has familiarty and therefore goodwill.

          I also don’t think secularization in Arab world is deep enough or permenant, Arab world usually swings between secular and Islamic currents. The Arab secular nationalist movements of the 20th century were overturned by islamists. The GCC countries seemed to have avoided to secular movements back then but they are going through that phase right now. But don’t think this will be permanent, it will always fluctuate.

      2. @quereshi Decentralization is one reason but I think an additional factor why Hinduism survived is because it has a strong and popular Mythological base like Ramayan, Mahabharat etc. Myths and epics give people something more concrete to hold on to, give them some hope as opposed to more atheistic faiths like Buddhism. I’m not sure if Zoroastrianism has all that.

        Also, IMHO Iran(Persia) never really had a chance to resist the Arabs as it is very close to the caliphate(geographically) and with Sassanid empire already weakened severely due to their wars with the byzantine empire.

        1. the mythology thing is irrelevant. buddhism is not operationally atheistic, especially the Mahayana variants dominant in much of northern Asia. much of Christian and islam’s mythology comes from Zoroastrianism, which was salvific and millennarium far more judaism picked up on that (through Babylonian exile).

          Also, IMHO Iran(Persia) never really had a chance to resist the Arabs as it is very close to the caliphate(geographically) and with Sassanid empire already weakened severely due to their wars with the byzantine empire.

          wasn’t Byzantium close to the caliphate?

          the usual explanation is that the sassanid winter capital ctesiphon was close to the border with the arabs, while Constantinople is beyond the bosporus. i think we should be a little less deterministic than that, but the geopolitical exposure seems a plausible argument.

        2. Sameer… No I think even European pagan religions including Greek and Roman religions had great mythology ( that persists to this day) but the religions themselves got consumed by Christianity. It’s not mythology but the jati-varna caste system, the lack of exogamy in Hinduism that played a part. Also, India got Turks, not Arabs or Persians. The Turks seemed to overall prefer plunder over conversion, military innovation as opposed to scientific innovation.

          1. turkic conquest resulted in a persianate culture, so that’s a distinction without difference. and though turkic culture/lang was dominant in the military, large numbers of afghans, as well as even arabs and africans, were part of the muslim ruling class. and of course massive numbers of persians (who intermarried with the mughals, just like the rajputs).

      3. the conversion of the iranians to islam seems to have been due to two things

        1) the mawla conquest of islam under the abassids after 750 AD when the religion was totally reshaped by iranians (tho not necessarily persians)

        2) and the subsequent conversion of the rural nobility in the 9th and 10th century that ended patronage of Zoroastrianism

        this is clearly when you look at names in the local tax records

        (turan was islamicized faster than Iran for its own reasons)

    2. It is easy to overlook the issue because it does not fit modern frameworks esp. if you have not experienced the transition.

      Here are 2 anecdotal examples for consideration –
      All from within last 100 yrs {even less if one only considers period after region’s indipendence}

      1. Name one region from West or Islamic world where a part of a region / community has converted to non-Abrahamic faiths withlin last century ?

      Nagaland, India.

      2. Indigenous faiths as a whole {in India atleast} are moving away from {Indic framework} Hinduism especially & getting more & more inflicted by Abrahamic religions e.g. rise of Churches {even with Abrahamic faiths chequered history with indigenous people} due to current system’s incentives.

      How so many distinct beliefs & practices survived within Indic traditions unlike Abrahamic counterparts {distinctions survived but in heavily diluted forms with little to trace back to original sources} ?

  4. “…it is quite plausible that a Hindu-Buddhism dharmic condominium may have emerged from the Indus to the Gulf of Tonkin over the last few thousand years.”

    wonder why you keep ignoring lands west of indus. bamian buddhas were erected full 500 miles west of indus, and buddhist culture spread well into bactria and sogdiana. this is not even counting shahi dynasty of kabul who were authentically hindu.

    (this is not a hindu nationalist irredentist rant. people west of indus and east of zoroastrian dominated lands of central iran must have followed *some* religion.)

  5. wonder why you keep ignoring lands west of indus. bamian buddhas were erected full 500 miles west of indus, and buddhist culture spread well into bactria and sogdiana. this is not even counting shahi dynasty of kabul who were authentically hindu.

    as you know, i’m not a retard. i am avoiding talking about Buddhism because that is not hinduism, and the southeast asian buddhist cultures were more explicitly hindu in their influences than the Buddhist cultures of central Asia (mainland southeast asian kingdoms being explicitly hindu, often saivite, before shifting to theravada). in maritime southeast Asia hinduism remained more influential than buddhism, and even in places like thailand hindu religious ideas remain relevant in a way they were not in Buddhist bukhara (the thai royal family patronizes hereditary brahmin families as ritualists).

    i assume the difference here is partly demographic. the genetic evidence is now pretty clear 5-20% of the ancestry across large parts of southeast Asia are indian so the people brought their whole culture, it wasn’t just a diffusion of religion as was more true of northwest of the indus (there were large numbers of indian slaves in Iran and central Asia after mahmud of ghanzi, but these were not culturally impactful).

    1. so what is your point? that had islam not made a clean sweep of it, afg would have developed a very non-indic zen like buddhism? doesnt sound very plausible to me.

      afg has always been culturally closer to india than myanmar or thailand. isn’t the mainstream academic view is that sanskrit and associated vedic culture spread *from* afg to india, and not the other way round? sanskrit grammarian panini lived somewhere west of indus, and he presumably fixed the rules of sanskrit grammar based on the language spoken around him. there are references in indian texts of academics going to northern regions to learn a purer form of sanskrit.

      genetics argument doesnt matter. we are talking about culture here. but even genetically it is a safe bet to assume that a substantial indian-like people lived in these lands. pashtuns are migrants to eastern afg. yusufzais colonized swat valley as late as 1400s. pashtuns were actively colonizing eastern afg at the time of babur. before them who lived here? a common sense view is that they must be people akin to the nearest indian polulations like kashmiris, punjabis, hindkowans etc.

      1. so what is your point? that had islam not made a clean sweep of it, afg would have developed a very non-indic zen like buddhism? doesnt sound very plausible to me.

        the ghorids were buddhist until 1011 AD. the whole zone was buddhist if it wasn’t animist (sogdians in the west and north of afghanistan remained zoroastrian mostly) and it was mahayana. i have no idea what zen has anything to do with anything. there was still some contact with indian buddhist communities but those were going into decline already before the arabs arrived. turanian buddhism was quite independent and the predominent vector for the religion’s expansion into china.

        afg has always been culturally closer to india than myanmar or thailand.

        it was mostly under sassanid hegemony so if we think of an “alternative history” probably it would be a hybrid zone culturally. operationally large areas were never under persian rule, and these were often buddhist and proto-pashto. but a lot of them were of other iranian languages related to sogdian, and their cultural orientation was more toward persian zoroastrianism. in the medieval period the indigenous iranian languages north of the pashto zones died out and were replaced by persian (“dari”) so that indicates the power of iranian culture and its connection.

        basically the proto-pashtuns would probably have been mostly buddhist, while the proto-tajiks would have remained zoroastrianism (zoroaster is considered a national hero in tajikstan since he was actually turanian and not iranian in locale).

        as for myanmar and thailand, you have no idea, and neither do i. historians were totally ignorant of the mass migration of indians into southeast asia 2,000 years ago, and so were indians and native southeast asians, despite the legends of indian elites moving into the region that are preserved (e.g., the founding of the royal families of davrati and cambodia). perhaps the literate material was not preserved because of the medium that it was written down on, but what we know about southeast asia is mostly through chinese and a lesser extent indian chronicles. but before indigenizationan and the arrival of the thai from china it is clear now that the legends and myths of an indian elite bring their elite culture in toto were entirely correct.

        indian influence to the west occurred mostly through cultural diffusion except for perhaps the kabul valley. but indian influence to the east was through total colonization.

  6. indians need to make their mind up about Buddhism btw. i don’t care much myself, but they seem to shift btwn “actually buddhism is part and parcel of our culture” to “oh, forgot about that.” the number of times indians explain “we are the only nonabrahamic culture to survive” is bizarre. they just forget all about mainland southeast Asia, china and japan, which is kind of weird given the Buddhist character of a lot of these societies. this is, in short, westcentrism; only europe and the Muslims matter.

  7. Has to do with how history is taught and all our knowledge east of bengal is self taught, and not much. So, we forget that. I keep forgetting Indonesia when thinking about past. Our view is myopic as that is what was taught to us. And continues to be relevant in our day to day affairs. So, it gets reinforced.

    1. there is no excuse for this idiocy from indian ‘intellectuals’ who seem to forget that china just to the north has a totally indepenent abrahamic civilization. i try to be gentle when i point this out, but it’s ludicrous

      1. “we are the only nonabrahamic culture to survive”

        akchually.. the full argument is that we are the only non-abrahamic culture to survive 5 centuries of abrahamic rule.

        we will never know what would have been the fate of chinese culture under 5 centuries of dar-ul-islam, but my guess is that they would be laughing off confucius as the idiot from zamana-e-jahiliyat.

        1. akchually.. the full argument is that we are the only non-abrahamic culture to survive 5 centuries of abrahamic rule.
          Sri Lanka was under European rule for 500 years, starting with the Portuguese in 1505.
          Buddhism and pre Hindu practices still survive and is the majority cultural beliefs.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_Ceylon

        2. i’m directly quoting someone of some note in india. not redacting their quote. i omit the name to save the innocent (i actually like the guy).

          is this how you argue usually? just adding stuff i didn’t say to make a point? you are clearly indian

        3. read more history

          southern spain was under 550 years of Muslim rule (northern spain 300)

          the balkans was under ottoman rule btwn 1425 and 1850.

  8. we will never know what would have been the fate of chinese culture under 5 centuries of dar-ul-islam, but my guess is that they would be laughing off confucius as the idiot from zamana-e-jahiliyat.

    you are not very well informed in history from the past record of your comments, especially all things non-indian, so your guess adds almost no value.

  9. *they just forget all about mainland southeast Asia, china and japan, which is kind of weird given the Buddhist character of a lot of these societies. *

    It is not so erroneous perhaps.

    SE Asia, China and Japan might not have been Abrahamized but they have been thoroughly Indianized. And it hardly needs pointing out that only India remains Indo-European in ideal and aesthete.

    In sum, what that comment really points out is the continued flourishing of the IE praxis via the agency of India.

    1. SE Asia, China and Japan might not have been Abrahamized but they have been thoroughly Indianized. And it hardly needs pointing out that only India remains Indo-European in ideal and aesthete.

      china is thoroughly indianized? do you know anything? there is a massive difference between how indianized thailand is, or japan. this assertion is so trite there’s no substance.

      and what the hell does indo-european ideal and aesthetic mean? india is unique as a place where the priestly caste has higher status than the warrior caste. it certain preserves as lot of indoeurpean customs but they’re also obviously very transmuted.

      1. The Indic influence on China exceeds any Abrahamic influence many times over. Hardly in doubt! And the Indic-Sinic interaction sphere is a one-way street.

        1. if you dodge my question and answer a different one that i DIDN’T POSE like that again i will block your commenting abilities on this website. (if you respond to this comment i will block you too)

  10. It’s not the jati system that explains the survival of Hinduism, it’s the strength of the psyche of the people. We may be many things, but the Dharmic culture is strong in it’s philosophy. We never needed any philosophies from the Middle East to make sense of our life.

    Otherwise the people would have been easily overpowered and converted. While there were some forced conversions, the Muslim rulers were clearly not hell bent on converting everyone.

    You know, Zoroastrians and Christians will have had local priests and communities, so it wouldn’t have been so easy to centrally ‘decapitate’ the faith as you seem to describe.

    Tribal decentralisation is not the source of Hinduism’s resilience.

    1. Caste system was weak in the east and the west which explains why east and west Hindustan converted to Islam. Even in the Hindu heartland, Muslim % is higher in urban setting probably because caste is relatively weaker and inter-caste marriages are relatively more common amongst urbanized population.

      Westernization that took place during the Raj, or the one that is still taking place is doing so in a similar fashion today.

      1. the genetic data tho shows massive genetic stratification in Muslim pakistan on a par with hindu India. if it’s not caste what is it? (Bangladesh does not show this at all)

        1. Could also be that Pakistan (east of Indus) was under direct Islamic rule for much longer than 500 years. Sindh/South Punjab since 712 CE, North/West Punjab since 1021 CE.
          Sufi masters that proselytized Islam in India almost always had patronage from the Sultan directly or indirectly so time under direct Muslim rule also matters.

  11. It’s not the jati system that explains the survival of Hinduism, it’s the strength of the psyche of the people. We may be many things, but the Dharmic culture is strong in it’s philosophy. We never needed any philosophies from the Middle East to make sense of our life.

    most people in most places don’t know jack shit about philosophy. most people in most places were illiterate too.

    1. “most people in most places don’t know jack shit about philosophy. most people in most places were illiterate too.”

      You don’t need to be educated or literate to have a spiritual sensibility. People have their own culture, they tend to resist cultural imposition…

      1. this is sort of true, but the populace always converts easily when the subelites convert. there is a massive literature on this which you obviously don’t know and i don’t give a shit about your naive intuitions.

        1. wow, what a completely rude comment out of the blue – it sounds like you’ve got serious issues…

  12. Is conversion affected by absolute population? If so, then the sheer population of India would have prevented Islamization. It’s estimated that India had a population of 75 million around 1000 AD. Persia on the other hand only had about 10 million. Easier to convert 10 million than 75 million.

    1. this is almost certainly not an issue beyond very small numbers. human networks saturate and absolute numbers is irrelevant once you hit exponential rates and it propogates through the network. the key is that in India Muslims somehow never got into some networks/nodes.

  13. “Caste system was weak in the east and the west which explains why east and west Hindustan converted to Islam.”

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc. The west (Punjab, Balochistan etc) was a lot closer to the Persian empire so much more influence there… as for the East I don’t know much about that TBH..

  14. A stray conjecture here about what inhibited conversion to Islam over the 5+ centuries of political patronage. Can we consider language? Had the Quran been translated to sanskrit, the apabrahmsas , and major dravidian languages, it would have nativized, penetrated much deeper, and been evaluated based on its principles more than its cultural valence. I’m skeptical of the view that hindus were so intrinsically pluralistic is their thought that they had complete immunity to an absolutist creed. Sure, some of that was in play, but alternatively it may have been the resistance to erasure of identity. Not sure if others agree, but to the hindu chauvinist mind (not the victimized, revanchist hindu), an indian muslim is hollowed out culturally, with no spiritual autonomy or authority in the broader faith community. By studiously cultivating distinction from all native traditions, they’ve traded whatever they ever were for something they can never be. I could sit with the most chauvinist hindu elder folk and praise islam and compare some of its strengths favorably to our own. The ideas are not the problem. If I were to convert or marry a muslim, it would be fair to wager that thousands of years of heritage are soon at risk of termination. To indic muslims, their hindu ancestors are phantoms. I think this informs the psyche of resistance.

  15. Had the Quran been translated to sanskrit, the apabrahmsas , and major dravidian languages, it would have nativized, penetrated much deeper, and been evaluated based on its principles more than its cultural valence.

    it wasn’t translated into the Iranian languages. nor into turkic.

    1. This is not true, Salman Farsi (A persian companion of prophet Muhammad) translated some chapters of Quran into Farsi, so basically there was no taboo on translations in early Islam. Tafsir e Tabari is a surviving Farsi translation and exegesis of the Quran from the 10th century.. I’m sure there were other translations during 700-1000CE, especially those of the Mutazalite, that didn’t survive the Mongol invasions.

      I have no idea why the Quran was not translated into Sanskrit, or perhaps it actually was and we don’t know about it yet. Dara Shikoh translated Upanishads into Farsi. To me it seems like Sanskrit was a guarded language, and as Al Biruni mentions – Brahmns who were gatekeepers of Sanskrit were usually uninterested in outside religions.

      1. Sanskrit translation may as well have been Arabic for the masses.

        Brahmins who are familiar with Sanskrit are also more likely to be familiar with Hindu philosophy and epistemological reasoning.

        And frankly Islam is far less philosophically sophisticated than Dharmic religions which the Brahmins would be familiar with.

        ( I think this is because a lot of intellectual energy of Muslim scholars was spent on minute legalistic interpretations, rather than bigger picture stuff. )

        In any event the important thing would have been to translate the Quran into local vernacular and provide the masses with a simple, egalitarian faith. And then slowly coalesce that into a hardened identity.

        This did sort of happen with Sufi saints, who championed popular Islam in the subcontinent. Ironically many modern Muslims hate practices like offering chadars at Dargahs of Sufi saints, as they consider it a form a Shirk / idolatry.

        But many of these modern Muslims descendants of Hindus whose first introduction to Islam would have been these more familiar syncretic practices championed by a saintly person.

  16. If Bangladesh does not have caste structures then it’s an interesting case. Although Hinduism in Bangladesh rapidly declined during the British rule, it was doing quite well till 1800. Even in 1871 close to 40 percent of the BD population were officially Hindu, and at that time most people believed that the official figure was too low to be true. The skepticism was completely justified because during the 1871 census anyone following a mixed religion was classified as a Muslim. In any case it’s almost certain that in 1764, when the Islamic rule in BD ended after 500 + years, BD was still a Hindu majority region. So the resilience of Hinduism can not be entirely attributed to caste structures.

    1. . In any case it’s almost certain that in 1764, when the Islamic rule in BD ended after 500 + years, BD was still a Hindu majority region.

      this sounds plausible and that’s my prior…but according to eaton Portuguese reported that the area around dhaka was dominated by Muslim peasants by the mid 16th century. his argument is that the eastern part of bengal was not well populated until Muslim polities began sponsoring peasants settlements and these peasants were converted to Islam as a matter of course. he does give examples of hindu sub-rulers doing the same, and those peasants were orthodox hindu.

      anyway, i’m not sure tbh.

  17. Global religions every year growth;
    Hindus grow at 10 million,in 10 yrs its 100 million hindus(1 Billion in 2010 to 1.4bn in 2050)
    Muslims grow at 30 million,in 10yrs its 300 million muslims(1.6bn in 2010 to 2.8bn in 2050)
    Chrisitians grow at 18 million,in 10yrs its 180 million christians..(2.1bn in 2010 to 2.8bn in 2050)
    So no religion be it hindu or christian or muslim will go extinct even in 22nd century..So stop crying..

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