The religion of Hindus before Hinduism


India in the Persianate Age: 1000–1765 is a good read and I recommend it. But the author, Richard Eaton, is not a guru or a sheikh, and should not be taken as such.

A comment Eaton makes offhand several times is that the conflict between Turks and Indians should not be understood in confessional terms. This is a commonly asserted, and on some level, it reflects elements of the truth. Hindu Rajputs served under Muslims, and Turkic soldiers served under Hindus. You can’t reduce everything to confession.

But, it is clear that confession and civilizational identity did exist, and it was robust. Going from the specific to the general.

  1. A great deal of text given over to Man Singh’s glorification of his conquests as an Indian warrior, and his patronage of Indian religion, in particular Vaishnavism.
  2. Eaton highlights the rapid Indianization of practices and hegemonic motifs present among the Turks and Afghans who were born and raised in India. And yet despite the syncretistic tendencies which occurred, ultimately these ashraf elites remained identified as Muslims and often were pulled back to world-normative Islam over the generations.
  3. Vijayanagara persisted as a Hindu polity for three centuries. The cross-cultural analysis shows that recalcitrant pagan powers always convert to the religion of their enemies eventually. The leader of the pagan resistance in Saxony became a Christian. Pagan resistance to Christianity in Sweden, Lithuania, and ancient Rome were only temporary, as resistant lineages eventually were assimilated into the new order. Resistance to Buddhism in Japan and Tibet was initially violent, but futile. In iterative games, paganism is the eternal ‘beatable’ strategy.

The only point to posting this is that there is a common assertion that Hinduism as a religion or identity only emerged in the 19th century. I am now convinced that this confuses the name of the phenomenon for the phenomenon. The Indian religion of the Hindus was clearly bundled together in a way that allowed for their elite deployment as a meta-ethnic identity that separated them from the Turks and Afghans who ruled them. Similarly, the Islam of the Turks and Afghans (and variegated Ethiopians, Arabs, and Persians), separated them from the Indians whom they conquered to prevent full assimilation as an Indian elite with popular roots in early modernity.

There is a major issue where our conception of religion qua religion is conditioned on an intellectual revolution rooted in the Second Reformation of the Calvinists. But, I think it is important not to get carried away with this construct, and assert that Calvinist religion is qualitatively different from pre-Calvinist religion. I don’t think it is. Rather, it simply shifts some of the parameter values within the model. Similarly, the identity of a coherent Hindu Rashtra with a post-caste socio-religious identity is an invention of modernity, but its roots are ancient and indigenous, and not postcolonial fictions.


The anxieties behind narrative of “Love Jihad”


I finally completed Dr Ambedkar’s fascinating book on Pakistan after reading it on and off for years. Though he comes across as an essentialist in some of his arguments, many fault-lines Dr. Ambedkar points out hold true even 70 years after the publication of the book.

(I plan to write about that book sometime later – but especially for those who don’t identify with Hindutva I will highly recommend that book)

Dr. Ambedkar says the following in this book PAKISTAN OR THE PARTITION OF INDIA during his polemic against Purdah.

The evil consequences of purdah are not confined to the Muslim community only. It is responsible for the social segregation of Hindus from Muslims which is the bane of public life in India. This argument may appear far fetched and one is inclined to attribute this segregation to the unsociability of the Hindus rather than to purdah among the Muslims. But the Hindus are right when they say that it is not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims because such contact can only mean contact between women from one side and men from the other

This is the core motivation that has lead to the popularization of term Love-Jihad. The anxieties of Hindus are not motivated largely by the fear that “Muslims will abduct their daughters and sisters and forcibly convert them”. That exists largely in the straw-man.

Their anxieties stem from the following

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Why Hindutva Worries me: Annual Onam debates


This is first in the series of blogposts I plan to write about my worries with Hindutva.

Every year on Onam, social media witnesses flame wars between Hindutva and Anti Hindutva forces. The point of contention often is the Hindutva assertion that Onam is Vamana Jayanti and the counter to that is Onam is a secular harvest festival of Kerala. BJP handles have been tweeting their versions of Onam ever since they have been active on internet. The level to which both sides are unwilling to compromise on occasions of festivals – which ought to reflect human community celebrations, is petty. This year Arvind Kejriwal, flush with his success as modeling himself as a Hindu (or Soft Hindutva), took to twitter with this. It was met with a reply from Shashi Tharoor which in turn was countered by ever growing internet Hindutva – including the widely popular TrueIndology. One cant expect these flame wars to subside anytime soon, given the interest people have been taking in history & hindutva these days.

For decades, liberals have critiqued the Hindutva project as exclusionary. The Hindutva response is – wrt Abhrahamic faiths – if that only these people (religions) connected with the culture on ground and accepted native customs along with their own customs, we wouldn’t protest. For the Hindutvavadis, the said project was always Indianize (not Hinduize they claim) these monotheistic faiths, so that these faiths are more integrated in the larger Indian society. By that train of logic the Hindutvavadis should be happy if Keralites Christians & Muslims celebrate Onam as a Secular festival. Couldn’t this be held as a beacon of syncretic Keralite culture which the country should follow ? For most times, festivals evolve and change with times, their origins though not irrelevant, tend to become less salient as time goes on. The origins of Christmas are testament to the fluid nature of festivals. Onam in Kerala is a truly spectacular festival full of dances, food, music, boat racing and many things, not unlike Diwali. Across the world, harvest seasons have festivals and religious significance because of the underlying material importance. Do contested origins of festivals matter or the human community experience of festivals matters?  Nowruz (whether that is an Iranian mirror of Holi is something that interests me) celebrated by the broader Iranian people, after a millennium of Islam is a testament to the longevity festivals rooted in culture. The insistence of always getting sole ownership of the Onam story comes of as toxic chauvinism & deliberately exclusionary IMO. Yet every year, there are the same debates around Onam with Keralite Christians and Muslims abused for trying to own Onam in a way they have come to define it. (Ricebags and other demeaning words are often used). 

The apparently ironic way the Hindutva movement is becoming very much like its primary enemy is not really unprecedented. VD Savarkar, the foremost and most intellectual ideologue of Hindutva was critical of Muslims and Christians putting their religion above the country. Sadly during the negotiations of princely states, Savarkar himself campaigned for independent Hindu Travancore against the plans of Sardar Patel. It can be alleged he put Hindutva before the country at that moment – exactly what he accused Muslims of for all those years. Yet Hindutvavadis have no qualms putting Patel and Savarkar in the same tent – while claiming Patel and Nehru had irreconcilable differences.

These flames wars were merely part of twitter for a few years but now they’re penetrating larger audiences via whatsapp. While this may be a symptom of taking trivial social media more seriously than it deserves, the point I am arguing is beyond the flame wars of twitter. There is a deliberate and uncompromising framing of Hindutva underway – which covers a variety of tropes from calling Jains/Sikhs Hindus to soft diktats against celebrating Christman/Eid. I consider these manifestations of the nascent ideological moorings, troubling. In  a weird way at times, I hope Hindutva remains REACTIONARY and resists ideological framing, for I am more wary of deep ideological movements than mere reactionary ones.

While its not my argument that their might not be any deliberate maneuvering by the liberals in framing of the Onam as a secular festival – I dont know and I dont care enough to investigate. If the world Hindu is defined as broadly as some do, everything east of the Sindhu will be Hindu & most festivals will have some connection to traditional Hinduism/native religions. At end of the day what matters is Onam is a harvest festival for Keralites.

Post Script:

I personally have tried to indulge in the so-called Dharmic/Indic arguments for India (Harsh Madhusudan& Rajeev Mantri are publishing a book i am looking forward too), put they also indulge in unnecessary labeling IMO. I find the use of these labels – Dharmic/Indic – churlish at times.

As usual all comments short of abuse are welcome.


The Middle Path: Towards a Liberal Conservatism in India (Part 1)


I listened with interest to Brown Pundits’ recent podcasts with Gaurav and Tony on the current state of Indian politics. I could relate to some of their agonies and predicaments, although I profoundly disagree with some aspects of Tony’s worldview.  Slapstik’s recent post Indian woke wears saffron also contains some good insights on the nature and roots of the current Hindutva movement. In this post, I have picked on three strands of Slapstik’s argument: the comparison between Hindutva and woke culture, the genesis of the Bhakti movement and the nature of the leadership of the Indian National Congress both before and after independence.

While I share Slapstik’s assessment of the importance of the Bhakti movement, I do not regard the Bhakti movement as a radical rupture from the pre-Islamic Dharmic traditions. I also argue that by only highlighting the role and influence of the liberal modernist elements of the Indian political leadership in the colonial and early post-colonial periods, Slapstik overlooks the equally if not more salient part of the leadership that sought its inspiration from the country’s indigenous Indic heritage. In doing so, I seek to highlight the deep and abiding roots of India’s Dharmic consciousness that is characterised by cultural continuity.

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Citizenship Amendment Act – the straw that broke the camel’s back


Since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, nothing has polarized Indian politics and society as much the Citizenship Amendment Act. On its own, its fair to assume that CAA is not  a particularly insidious piece of legislature, but when it gets combined with National Register of Citizens (NRC) as explained by Amit Shah below, it becomes some to be vary of.

As Amit Shah stated, CAB(A) will be applied before carrying out the process of NRC. In his own words, the refugees(non Muslim migrants) will be granted citizenship and the infiltrators (Muslim migrants – he also referred to them as termites at one instance) will be thrown out or prosecuted (there was some talk of throwing them into the Bay of Bengal).

Its clear to conclude that by refugees – he means Bangladeshi Muslims who reside illegally in India as almost no Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan come to India illegally with an intention a  better life. (When they do cross the LOC illegally, they’re treated as enemy combatants or terrorists)

The ACT: 

The instrumental part of the act reads

any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act

While this amendment to the ACT is seen as problematic, one must point out that large portions of the existing ACT are also extremely problematic – most of which were added after 1955 under various governments at various times. In particular the 1986 amendment (under Rajiv Gandhi) – which meant children born to both illegal immigrants wouldn’t get citizenship. This is seen as a contradiction with the Birthright naturalization (Jus soli ) principle of the Constitution. The 2003 amendment (under Vajpayee) further restricted citizenship to children, when either of their parents is an illegal immigrant.

The 2003 amendment also prevented illegal immigrants from claiming naturalization by some other legal means. So in short with the CAA 2019, this particular amendment (2003) has been annulled for Non Muslims who have come to Indian sovereign land from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In other words, the CAA facilitates the imagination of India as the natural homeland of subcontinental Non-Muslims (but not a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu State).

Objective Reasons for opposing the CAA:

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Getting beyond the nerd understanding of religion


Since about 2006 I’ve had to write the same post again and again due to the nature of my audience: religion is not the purview of technically oriented nerds, and technically oriented nerds just don’t “get” it intuitively. This is something that is relevant to me personally, because I am myself a technically oriented nerd, and I just don’t “get” religion.

A few years ago I was asking a co-worker whey he believed in ghosts, and he stated: “because I’m human.” This is actually a good response, as all societies have the sorts of supernatural beliefs that we might categorize under beliefs about gods, spirits, and demons. This is the cognitive raw material of religion, which is a universal feature of human cultures.

Do you believe this stuff???

A minority of people lack such intuitions. At least with any strength. I am definitely one of those. My realization that I was an atheist occurred when I was eight, as I thought for a few moments about the idea that God might not exist. At that moment I realized I did not think God existed, and, I also realized I hadn’t really thought about it before because religion was simply something I never really gave much thought to.

When I began to give more thought to religion when I was a teenager in the 1990s it was due to its cultural salience. By this, I mean two things. First, the rise of Islamic terrorism and political violence. Second, the emergence of the Christian Right in the United States. In my personal and private life, I had many conservative Christian friends and would engage them in the discussion from my atheistic vantage point.

Between 1995 and 2005 I went through a “Richard Dawkins” phase. As it happens, I met Dawkins casually in 1995 at a talk and had been reading his biology works. I was not particularly interested in his religious commentary. Rather, I read books such as Atheism: A Philosophical Justification or relevant portions of Summa Theologica. I plumbed the depths of ontological, teleological, and cosmological arguments. I engaged with the works of men such as Norman Malcolm and Richard Swinburne.

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Yugant / युगान्त : Book Review/Recommendation


Yugant / युगान्त is a critical and rational analysis of Mahabharata by the Irawati Karve – the anthropologist, sociologist, educationist and writer from Maharashtra, India. She was the daughter in law of Dhondo Keshav Karve – a reformer from Maharashtra.

Yugant confronts various versions of Mahabharat analytically and tries to make sense of character arcs and motivations. Intelligently analyzed without religious respect but with literary respect. The motivations of Pandavas for marrying Draupadi as the Royal Queen are very well explained. The literary accounts of chats between Dhritarashtra and Gandhari & those of Draupadi’s death are very well written and move your heart. Krishna (Vasudeva) stands out not only because of the brilliance of his character but the wonderful analysis and the crisp unraveling of his motivations. The Arya (Kshatriya) Dharma is explained in Krishna and Yugant chapters. The author enthralls with deep and intelligent writing in the final chapter that resonates wonderfully even in the 21st-century internet age. The sincere and irreligious comparisons of Mahabharat Era – Arya Dharma to contemporary Hindu religion and other Prophetic Faiths are interesting. Throughout the book, the author refrains from applying current Zeitgeist as a yardstick – something which is refreshing in 21st century polarized analysis and debates which always have political undertones. Even without a direct running story arc – the arrangement of essays offers a wonderful climax – especially Krishna and Yugant chapters.  With recent elevation of Heroic Karna in Indian literature and thought, a look back of the character of Karna as seen in 1950s-60s is a pleasant change.
Surprisingly the argument for conservatism offered at times by the author towards the end – is also a stimulating one.  Further readings of Mahabharata (Bhandarkar critical edition) may lead to various disagreements with author’s positions at various points – but that has to be expected, especially for a text as dense and significant as Mahabharata.

Post Script:

I have not read the English edition. I cant vouch for the  English version. The analysis is very well explained in the original Marathi editions. Some of her work – especially on Anthropology is hotly contested today, but IMHO her MO is very relevant even today.

A recent twitter thread on the Author:

This book is easily available on Amazon in India in both languages. The price on appears unreasonably high.



A note for Traditionally inclined Hindus  – None of the analysis is reverential but it avoids the viewing of Mahabharata from western lens. 




Why Hinduism is not inchoate paganism


An individual, who I have come to conclude is a troll after further comments (they are banned), mentioned offhand that Hinduism and/or Hindu identity is reactive Islam and the British, and that its origins are in the 19th century. This is a common assertion and presented recently by one of our podcast guests. I myself have entertained it in the past. It’s not prima facie crazy.

But I have come to conclude that this is not the right way to think about it. Or, more precisely, it misleads people on the nature of the dynamic of Indian religious identity and its deep origins. This is why I think Hindus themselves self-labeling ‘polytheists’ or ‘pagan’ can mislead people. Not because these are offensive terms. People can refer to themselves however they want. But these terms have particular relational resonances with other groups, periods, and peoples.

One can point to al-Biruni’s external observations about Indian religion, or Shijavi’s personal opinions in his correspondence, to make a case for Hinduism and Hindu identity (using both terms to avoid troll-semantic ripostes) being older than the 19th century. But this is not the argument that is strongest to me. I have spent many years and books reading about the cross-cultural emergence of religious identity, and its change, in places as diverse as Classical Rome, post-Arab conquest Iran, and 7th century Japan, to name a few places. Many of these places and times had local religious cults and practices. In all of these places, they were assimilated and absorbed into the intrusive “meta-ethnic” religion. In Rome, Tibet, and Japan, the religion had major initial setbacks, but eventually, the meta-ethnic “higher religion” came back and captured the elite.

In the modern world, we see massive Christianization, and to a lesser extent Islamicization, in Sub-Saharan African. The traditional religions persist, in particular in West Africa, but history is clearly against them. Importantly, most of the religious change occurred after the end of colonialization.

The relevance of this is clear. The Indian subcontinent would be an exception for all these above cases if the vast majority of people were unintegrated animists with only local religious cults. The precedent from Europe and the world of Islam is that Brahmins and a few other pan-Indian groups (e.g., Jains) would persist as religious minorities, while the vast majority converted to the newly introduced meta-ethnic religion.

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The Indo-Pakistan problem — To be or Not to be

Wagah Border

THIS ESSAY WAS WRITTEN IN 2016 in the immediate aftermath of the URI ATTACKS with the aim of bringing some nuance in the increasingly binary discussions of Pakistan. Looking back at it in 2020 there are a few points in the essay I mildly disagree with but on the whole, I stand by my arguments. 

For anyone willing to read a shorter -TL-DR version find the link HERE:

Note: This is not a scholarly analysis of Indo-Pak question but an essay ((*mildly subjective)) on the question with references being presented for most of the essay. 

Every well-read Indian who has thought enough about the India-Pakistan issue will have faced Hamlet’s dilemma — “To be or not to be”. It’s fair to assume that national patience, with everything related to Pakistan, is waning very fast nowadays aided by the explosion of social media. Simply put — most Indians have had enough of this shit for 69 + years (the Idea of Pakistan being older than Pakistan). The leftist solution to the Pakistan problem has always been the Aman ki Asha narrative. The reactionary position of some of the Right-wing is to totally boycott anything related to Pakistan every-time a terrorist attack takes place in India. This position though backed by popular opinion at times like this seems to be no closer to a permanent solution to the problem. To come up with potential solutions for this problem, we need to discuss both these approaches and we also need to dig deep into the Nation-state of Pakistan.


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Belief and Reclamation


For eons, ascetics and wanderers would journey to the sacred snow-clad Himalayas to test the fires of their belief. Where the skies met the earth and the heavens met the material world, humans met enlightenment; and their discoveries would cascade down the subcontinent. These beliefs would be ossified by ritual and rite, and a culture would engulf the land between the great Himalayas and an endless ocean – India, that is Bhārata.

And it is this legendary journey from the foothills of the Himalayas to the tip of the subcontinent that a civilizational epic takes place – the Rāmāyana. On August 5th, 2020, the ancient song of Valmiki will echo in the villages, in the cities, in the deserts, the fields, the jungles, the mountains, the waters, and especially in the minds of those who believe. A civilization will enact its long-awaited reclamation.

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