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When a statesman distills the essence of Hinduism

by Team@Lotus
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At the release in New Delhi of his new book, ‘The Eternal Religion: Glimpses of Hinduism’, Dr Karan Singh stuck to his core convictions, not fighting shy of responding to how the most ancient living religion is being treated by some on the left and the right.

The oldest living religion in the world, and the third most populous, Hinduism is also widely regarded as the most inclusive, despite the distortions that creep into any faith over time. A recent challenge has been its political appropriation by the right. The latest was an attack from the left criticizing it as being discriminatory to the lower castes and the oppressed.        

To clear the fog and help us understand the true essence of Hinduism, Indian statesman Karan Singh is uniquely positioned. His biographer Kishore Gandhi has described him as ‘a man of great learning, of great wisdom, of great liberalism and great humanism’. Now 92, Dr Karan Singh, PhD, born to be Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, a former Indian minister and envoy to the US, has been writing about Hinduism for the last 70 years. He has a grander vision of it. He wrote in his 1987 book, ‘Essays on Hinduism’ (published by Ratna Sagar), “My interest flows not only from the fact that I am a Hindu but also because, as a global citizen, I am convinced of the universal aspects of Hinduism which are specially relevant in this nuclear age.”

Dr Karan Singh’s new book ‘The Eternal Religion: Glimpses of Hinduism’ couldn’t have come at more fraught times, in India and internationally. According to his publisher (Speaking Tiger), the book shows why he believes that “the spiritual equality that [Hinduism] teaches is more egalitarian than perhaps any other concept known to man”, and why it “still has the power to provide inspiration and illumination to many millions throughout the world, whether or not they formally belong to the Hindu faith”.

At the book release function at India International Center on November 28, Karan Singh was at hand to answer even the tough questions.   

Some Hindus want the term Hinduism to be shunned in favor of Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Religion). Singh qualified that it is an “eternal religion because of both its antiquity and inclusiveness.”

Hinduism, he explained is a “multi-faceted, extraordinarily diverse” system that even gives its followers the freedom to worship without a physical representation of a god or goddess being around.

“It is a great tragedy that people rush through life without once looking inward. That is the essence of Hinduism — looking inwards,” Singh said, as quoted by IANS news agency.

“In my view, it is the only religion that allows for multiple paths to the divine… this choice that Hinduism offers is unique, so putting it in a single mold would be doing injustice to it.”

Karan singh book release pic wth book cover

Hinduism is the only religion that allows for multiple paths to the divine. This choice it offers is unique, so putting it in a single mold would be doing injustice to it, Karan Singh said at the release of his new book, ‘The Eternal Religion: Glimpses of Hinduism’ in New Delhi.

Discussing the book, former diplomat, MP, and celebrated author Pavan Varma brought up the recent inflammatory remarks of DMK leader Udayanidhi Stalin, Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Youth Welfare and Sports Development, comparing Sanatana Dharma to ‘leprosy’ which should be ‘eradicated’.

Karan Singh said he was appalled and angry at the young leader’s statement, especially given that Tamil Nadu is a repository of some of the most significant Hindu temples and boasts a rich cultural legacy.

He agreed that there are terrible things like untouchability – an abomination – associated with Hinduism. Likening it to ancient Greece, where the culture was based on slavery, he said, “Untouchability is an insult and a disgrace to Vedanta and the Upanishads.”

He, however, pointed out that “you cannot speak against casteism — it is not just legalized but also constitutionalized!”

Pavan Varma asked whether provocative remarks, as often seen floating about in India, are responsible for the ‘weaponization of Hinduism’.

Singh reiterated that “India has been subjected to barbaric invasions”, and has seen its temples and cultural heritage damaged. It does create the ground for a backlash, “But it has got to be a measured and mature backlash, not one that is wild.”

Singh’s book serves as a timely source of insights into the profound and inclusive cultural, social, intellectual and philosophical legacy of Sanatana Dharma. In these times of war and social strife, the book seeks to bring some sanity.

The publisher’s introduction to the book says that ‘The Eternal Religion: Glimpses of Hinduism’ opens with a comprehensive introduction to Hinduism. This is followed by essays on some defining ideas, texts, and exponents of Hindu philosophy: Vedanta, the Upanishads, yoga, vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world as a family), Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. There are also essays on how secularism and diversity are fundamental to Indian democracy. The concluding sections of the book comprise fascinating recollections of travels to some sites of Hindu pilgrimage—including a visit to Bali in Indonesia—and a personal selection from sacred and secular texts of Hinduism.

Karan Singh’s Hymn To Shiva

I am your plaything

You can breathe into me
The fire of eternal life
Ad make me immortal
Or You can scatter my atoms
To the far corners of the universe
So that I disappear for ever.
You can fill me with light and power so that I shine like a meteor
Against the darkness of the midnight sky;
Or You can extinguish my spirit
So that I sink for ever
Into the deep and fathomless ocean of time.
You can set me among the eternal stars
resplendent with your divine fire;
Or You can hurl me
Into the abyss of darkness,
So that I can never again be visible,
To mortal eyes.
You can come to me
With the glory of a thousand cupids;
Or You can turn from me
And leave me stranded
In a grey and ghastly desert of despair.
You can smile at me
with the radiance that kindles the universe;
Or You can open your eye of fury
And reduce me to a heap of ashes
I am your plaything;
The choice is yours.

(from ‘Hymn To Shiva and Other Poems, Vikas Publishing House, 1991)

Shiva dances as his consort, Parvati plays the music. (Kangra miniature from the 19th century. Wellcome Library)

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