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Chapter 3


We mean by the word “religion” that which every religious-minded person considers essential, namely the relation between man and God or, more broadly speaking, the path that a man follows in view of his spiritual progress and salvation.

In this precise sense, most of the commonly called “religious” customs, practices, prejudices, discussions etc. . . . are not religious at all. They are social, ethical or metaphysical. They concern people’s group organisation, division of labour, individual and collective hygiene, moral conduct, logical reasoning and abstract fancies; but they have little to do with what religious intuition recognises as the soul. They are worldly topics in which man’s immortal (and eternal) self is not involved.

Every so-called religion contains something definitely religious along with an enormous amount of


things which would be better characterised as law, philosophy, custom etc.. The religious core is the solid part, which remains (or at least is supposed to remain) the same. The rest has an historical and a geographical value. From the religious point of view, it is much less important. It might, at most, “help” certain people in their spiritual evolution under certain circumstances and at a certain time. But it has no absolute value, from the spiritual standpoint.

In each one of the great “religions” the properly religious part is personal. It lies between each individual human soul and God. It would be a sacrilege, to ask any man to give up that which, in his “religion,” is purely religious. Therefore we do not attempt to do so. We do not ask a Christian, whether Indian or foreign, to give up his belief in salvation through Christ, nor a Mohammedan to give up his belief in the transcendence and oneness of God as revealed by the Prophet; nor do we ask the Sivaites, the Saktas, the Vaishnavas, the Sikhs, the Jains, the Buddhists or any people on earth to give up an inch of their religious knowledge.

We only ask them to not mix up “religion” with such worldly affairs which do not concern it. Our souls would be better off it only we knew how to


keep religion in its place. So would India. So would the world.

The things which concern the world and not the immortal man, and which we too often mistake for “religion,” can be roughly divided in two groups on one side, politics, on the other, culture:

Few people are actually religious-minded, even in India, and among those who are, very few possess a religious experience. But they imagine they do, because they have heard a lot of talk about religion and read a few books, perhaps. It is fiction, it is philosophy, it is culture that they speak about as “religion.” And as it is difficult to separate culture (a group product) from the idea of group and, nowadays, of nation, which is at the centre of political thought, it follows that we constantly use the name of religion in purely political controversies.

There is a lot to say in defence of the Hindus who do so, for there is no such thing as a Hindu religion. There is no one creed, no one religious path common to all the Hindus; the culture of our common Motherland is the only link between us.

But our Christian and Mohammedan brothers should know better. What they have in common is a particular religious faith, — a spiritual revelation. They should a understand that the things of


this world have no power to deprive then of such a treasure, and be less concerned over group-interests. Or at least, they should be concerned over group interests as members of a worldly group, — of a nation, — not as Christians or as Mohammedans. In other words, our politics and their politics should be the same: Indian politics; and our religion, whether Musulman, Christian, Vedic, Sivaite, Buddhist, Vaishnava, or any other, if religion it be, should be personal.

Let us consider for a while the subject of our recent quarrels: the Communal Award and the Pakistan scheme.

We have admitted that we are greatly responsible for the waste of time and energy over these topics by not having given, in the past, sufficient opportunities to the Musulmans. A Musulman of merit is perfectly justified, — as justified as a Hindu, if of equal efficiency, — to claim a job in the Calcutta Corporation, in the University, in the Civil Service or anywhere else. Only he should not claim it as a Musulman, but as an Indian. And the post should not be denied to him because he is a Musulman, nor granted to his competitor because he is a Hindu, but granted to the fittest Indian and denied to the less fit to hold it. The outlook of a man on the


Invisible should have absolutely no weight in the appreciation of his capacities.

The ideas of separate electorate, of separate nomination for employment, and finally of separate national territory are typical blunders resulting from the mixing up of religion with politics. The reasoning process at the background is the following “The Indians should ultimately become two politically and territorially distinct nations because eighty million of them share a certain idea about God which the others do not.” But why should any particular idea about God urge us to form in this world separate political groups? We do not form separate political groups on the basis of opinions and theories about material things, apparently much easier to know than God is. We do not say: “All those who believe that the Earth is flat shall vote together and all those who believe it is round vote separately, and they should ultimately form two nations,” or else, “Those who believe in the superiority of homeopathy, in the treatment of diseases, should form a separate political group (and ultimately a separate nation) from those who consider allopathic medicines more effective or solely effective.” This would be ridiculous. Why more ridiculous than our separate electorate, our separate nominations,


and our separate territorial scheme?

There have been, in the past, people persecuted by state authorities for their scientific outlook. But those days are gone. The days of political antagonism in the name of religion are also gone in most civilised countries. It is high time for them to go in India.

Political groups based on differences in scientific outlook would be ridiculous, surely. But is it not easier to know the nature of the Solar system than that of the Force who moves it? And is it not easier to judge between two medical treatments than between two religious attitudes? A common conception of Godhead can, at the most, help to increase sympathy among metaphysically-minded people. It can, by no means, be placed among the building factors of a modern nation.

The doctrine to be preached in present-day India is that of “no distinctions whatsoever on a religious basis, no ‘parties,’ no groups whatsoever in the name of religion.” Religion should remain what it really is: a personal matter. There is a sufficient number of common interests and common hopes to build the Indian nation upon, for us to not break our hearts over the absence of a common faith.


* * *

The essence of religion is as different from the idea of worldly culture as it is from politics. At every protest meeting against recent steps of the Musulmans, our Hindu leaders repeat that we must “defend our culture.” The Mohammedans speak also of their “separate culture,” which they have to “defend.” But, there is a difference, in that respect, between them and us: it is not their “culture” which makes them Mohammedans, but their faith; while it is not our various faiths which make us Hindus, but our common culture. Hinduism is not a religion; Islam is; so is Christianity. Such people, whose common link lies in a similar deep spiritual experience, should put, as followers of a certain creed, less stress upon language, literature, art, architecture, etc. What would they have to lose as Musulmans and as Christians if they put the national culture of India above all others, not because we share it, but because it is, in fact, their own culture, the culture of our common Motherland which they have forgotten? They would have nothing to lose. They would still be Indian Musulmans and Christians, probably more


consciously Indian than before, but no less “religious.” While if we were to say goodbye to our tradition of Sanskrit learning, to our worldly arts and thought, we might retain, individually, our conception of Godhead, — just as each Musulman or Christian would, — but we would be less Indian, definitely.

Broadly speaking, all cultures have their value. But each great nation has its own, and loves it. It is because it is Indian that we love our culture. We admit that there are many beautiful cultures in the world. But they are not ours. The one which is ours we love. Moreover, we do not deny the contribution of the Musulmans and Christians to our common cultural treasure. For instance, the poems of Kutuban, Manjhan, Malik Mohammad Joyashi and other Musulman poets of India, are Hindusthani poems; the same about those of Kalim, Rashan and their contemporaries. We are proud of them. Their thought, their style are a contribution to our country’s literature. We regret that most Hindus do not know them better than they do. In the same way, we are proud of Fatehpur Sikri; we are proud of the Agra Fort. This is Indian architecture of the greatest beauty. We only wish our Musulman brothers were as proud


of the temples of Bhubaneswar and Puri, Madura, Srirangam and other places, as we are of anything really worth admiring and typically Indian which Indian artists of their creed have built. We only wish they were as proud of the whole of Indian literature, both in Sanskrit and in the different provincial languages, as we are of their contributions in any tongue of our common Motherland. We only wish they were as proud of every Indian painter, writer, musician, dancer, builder, scientist, singer, etc., of every Indian creator of beauty or truth in every sphere, as we are of those of their creed who have enriched India’s endless creation.

There was a time, in Europe, when the marvellous sculptures of Greece were looked upon with suspicion by newly converted Christian Greeks. The guide still shows you, in Olympia, a ruined shrine “demolished by the early Christians in the fifth century.” But those days are gone. Now the Greek Christians are grieved at the idea of what their first co-religionists have done. They are the first people to curse anti-Hellenic religious fanaticism and to spend money and energy over both the study of their old culture and the preservation of their old Greek temples. They even re-erect their broken columns whenever it is possible. In this, great India


should take example from little Greece. Our days of religious fanaticism should disappear too. They have lasted long enough.

When the Musulmans of India, like the Christians of Greece, feel actually grieved at the idea of their brothers in faith destroying, in the past, so many priceless works of art which, however “heathen,” were beautiful and were Indian; when they come forward to collaborate with us for the rebuilding of the famous Somnath temple or of the temple of Visvanath in Benares, in a spirit of national reverence similar to that of the Christians who have repaired the ruined Parthenon, then the Hindu-Moslem problem will exist no more. We will all be Indians, and nothing more.

* * *

But why speak of Christian Greece? Why speak of Christian Europe in general, where, since a long time, the use of Christianity has been confined to the private life of its followers?

There are countries nearer to India where Islam is the faith of the immense majority of people and yet where religious fanaticism has given way before the spirit of modern nationalism, namely Turkey and



No denying that they are “pakka” Musulman countries. Yet what a contrast between their attitude towards religion, politics and culture and that of our Indian Musulmans at large! Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s great national leader, was hailed by Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah as “the greatest of Musulmans.” Kemal Ataturk did in Turkey exactly what we would like the Indian Musulman leaders to do in India: he put Turkey, as a nation, above Islam, above religion in general; he pushed Islam back to its place, in man’s individual heart, and banished it from the marketplace, from the government building, from public life. Saint-Sophia, the most magnificent of all Greek churches, was used by the Turks as a mosque for more than four hundred and fifty years; but it still stood as a witness of Christian glories; its historic background was not that of a mosque. Kemal Ataturk had it turned into a museum. It is Kemal who forbade the wearing of the pan-Islamic “fez” in Turkey; who forced onto every Musulman of Turkey the use of the Turkish language in his prayers, instead of Arabic; — (more natural; more national, also). It is he who abolished “purdah” among the Turkish women; he who had a law passed, so that whichever Turk marries more than one


wife at a time should be prosecuted. And why such drastic reforms, upsetting the whole framework of Islamic civilisation within a few years? Because he considered that they were in the interest of Turkey. It mattered therefore little whether they were or not in the spirit of Islamic civilisation. In the eyes of the “greatest of Musulmans,” Turkey came first, Islam afterwards; for him, the physical, intellectual, social development of his nation were the important thing. Islam, or any religion, as a personal concern, was immaterial. The Islamic “faith” — as every other — could do no harm; therefore Kemal Ataturk did not persecute it. But the Islamic (that is to say, medieval Arabic) “culture” had to give way wherever it was in conflict with Turkish national interest, or whenever a desired Turkish “culture” could be expected to take its place.

The case of Reza Shah Pahlavi’s reborn Persia is no less interesting. It should even be more interesting to the Indian Musulmans, not merely because there exists a racial similarity between Aryan Persia and Aryan India, but specially because Persia, like India, has a glorious pre-Musulman past. The only difference is that pre-Musulman Persian culture has hardly survived, while pre-Musulman Indian culture is still the Indian culture of the present day. We


suppose this proof of its vitality does not make it any the less lovable. Does it?

It may not be totally useless to remember that the reaction of modern national spirit against the predominance of Arabic influence in Persian life and thought is not Reza Shah Pahlavi’s invention. It has roots deep in the past. We can trace it, to some extent, in the numerous free-thinking sects of Musulman philosophy originated in Persia from the very day Persia became a “Musulman country”; we find it in Babism, during the last century, and, today, in that astonishingly modern-minded religious and social synthesis which is Bahaism; we find numberless instances of it in modern Persian poetry and literature. The reforms of Reza Shah Pahlavi are only its latest expressions and the most well-known abroad.

What do those reforms consist of? Suppression of “purdah,” discouragement of the influence of the mullahs and such people, enforcement of such laws which aim at raising Persia from the level of an oriental-looking economic colony of foreign powers to that of a modern state, perhaps a little less oriental-looking, but more consciously Persian, no doubt; suppression of the international Mohammedan head-wear (the “fez”) and enforcement, in its place, of the


Persian “Pahlavi” bonnet, — a detail, but a symbol also. And the most important, from the cultural standpoint, the most significant as a national step, and the most eloquent example for the Indian Musulmans to follow is the systematical exaltation of all the Persian past, including the glorious days of the Sapors and Khosrus and those of remote Darius; of all the Persian art and literature, including the Zoroastrian Scriptures and the forgotten splendours of Susa and of Persepolis.

Islam is a living force, in Persia, as a religious faith in individual life; but in national life, no faith whatsoever is given preference, and culturally, the Aryan swastika is gaining land over the Arabic crescent in the country which recalls itself Iran, — not a question of Zoroastrian “religion” against Mohammedan “religion” but of Iranian nationality against Arabic cultural colonisation.

We ask our Mohammedan brothers, in India, we ask our Christian brothers, we ask our Hindu brothers, (too often, they also, inclined to forget India in the name of some religious idea or superstition) to stop, once forever, quarrelling over the Unknowable; to believe in whatever faith they like or in no faith at all, but, whatever may be their outlook on religion, to not let it interfere with our common social and


national life; to put, in politics, the interest of India alone at the centre of all their activities; to accept, culturally, and to love as their national inheritance, the whole bulk of Indian art, literature, ideals and thought, as far back as the remote Vedic days and even further; to feel themselves Indians in the same way as a Britisher feels himself British or as a German feels himself German etc. . . . ; — just as the modern Turks and Persians feel themselves Turks and Iranians.

* * *

The examples of Turkey and Persia may be of great persuasive value to some of our countrymen because these nations profess the Musulman faith. But if there is any country in the East whose spirit is, (and seems to have always been) what we would like the Indians’ spirit to be as regards religion, politics and culture, that country is Japan.

A country’s progress in free thought can be judged by the idea its people have of the relation between religion, culture and politics. If that be so, we can say that Japan was “modern” in outlook long before Commodore Perry forced her into competition with the wide world abroad; more modern than


Europe, indeed, for a Japanese has always admitted the separation of religious faith from politics, on one side, and the indissoluble link between culture and nationality on the other.

Even in an Indian colony abroad (in London or elsewhere) a foreigner soon gets to know who is a Hindu, who is a Musulman, who is a Christian. And not only by their names. They tell you themselves what faith they profess, as if it were the main thing to you. In a Japanese colony abroad, one Japanese does not even know what creed another professes and does not care. If you ask, they will find the question queer. As if it made any difference! Are they not all Japanese? When you know that much, you know enough to set them in their political and cultural background.

For Japan may, in the course of history, have assimilated more than one “religion”; she may tolerate all creeds. But she has one culture and one policy; she is one nation. That is what we want to become, along with our brothers. And we cannot become that, before we behave like the Japanese in our fundamental dealings among ourselves, that is to say, before we look upon one another and upon ourselves as Indians and nothing more, considering faith as a purely personal matter and


not even caring to know who is a worshipper of Allah or of Krishna, of Kali or of Jesus Christ.

Faith is a matter of personal interest in Japan (as nowadays in Britain, in France, in Germany) but not so culture and politics. And national politics and national cultural expressions are much more important even in the individual life of each Japanese than religious matters.

In ancient Rome, thousands of Christians suffered martyrdom rather than give a public and merely conventional recognition to the divinity of the Emperor, simply by burning a tiny grain of incense before one of his statues. In modern Japan, Japanese Christians willingly attend ceremonies in the imperial shrines, side by side with the followers of national Shinto and of Buddhism, and with no less reverence. When a new government is formed, the ministers all go and take an oath of loyalty to the Emperor, son of the Sun-Goddess, at the most holy temple of Ise. A ceremony according to Shinto ritual is performed there on that occasion. Another Shinto ceremony takes place in the same shrine whenever the Japanese government has to take some very important step (declare war on another power, or sign a treaty, for instance). Delegates are sent in great solemnity to ask the national Gods their


advice. In either case the instance has never occurred yet of a Japanese objecting to be present at such solemnities on the ground that he is a Christian, and looks upon them as “idolatrous.”

In the same way, there is no social separation between those who follow the Shinto cult, — a non-creedal cult much like popular Hinduism, — and the Buddhists; and there has never been. Religious rites at the time of birth and marriage are performed according to Shinto tradition, even in one hundred percent Buddhist families. There is no “disgrace,” no “scandal” and there arises no “problem,” in Japan, if a Buddhist girl marries in a purely Shintoist family or vice-versa, or if a girl brought up in a Shintoist home marries a Christian. Buddhism is a philosophy, Christianity a creed; Shinto is more or less the synonym of Japanese culture. Even if the girl does “become a Christian” that only means that she will adopt the Christian “creed.” That is left to her, because that is immaterial. But, whatever creed she may follow, nothing will change in her social life; she will not feel any difference; her children will have Japanese names — not Latin ones, not Hebrew ones, not American ones, — for this is the law of the state; and when they go to school, whatever may be their parents’


personal faith, they will read the Kojiki, record of the lives and deeds of the Japanese Gods and Heroes, — something equivalent, in its style, to the Hindu “Puranas.” And dare one of them say it is “rubbish” because his parents happen to be believers in the Bible! The whole of Japanese society, (his parents, first of all) would soon teach him to be loyal and polite, and to talk more respectfully about the old national Scripture, most venerable, most sacred because it is national.

A Japanese may profess any creed, accept any personal philosophy he likes. But his political outlook is national: “All for the glory of the Emperor and the greatness of the Empire”; and his culture is one: traditional Shinto culture, coloured by Indian thought in the past, by Western thought in the present, by all the world’s progress, but unshakably faithful to its fundamental outlines.

* * *

But just try to transpose this national outlook in India and see what happens. You criticise, for instance, an Indian Musulman or Christian who makes fun of the Hindu legends. More than one fifth of the whole Indian population will say that he is


right, not you. Moreover, among those who are likely to stand by you in your criticism, — the Hindus, and not even all the Hindus, — the majority will do so for the sake of purely religious reasons, not out of wounded national pride. They will organise a meeting at Sraddhananda Park (Calcutta) to protest against the awful irreverence of a third-rate local Musulman paper in which souse unknown journalist has called Sri Krishna “the gay Lothario of Brindaban.” And every speaker will attack either in Bengali or in English, the shameless newspaper which has insulted a Hindu God and the “insensate” government who has left the editor unpunished. They will express their indignation on behalf of the “religious feelings” of the Hindus. But not a word to express the grief of Indians when hearing other Indians speak lightly of one of the greatest national Heroes; not a word to say that we feel indignant about the local paper’s joke not because Sri Krishna is a Hindu Incarnation, but because he is a very great figure in India’s past, — in that very past which the forefathers of the present-day Indian Musulmans have built, along with the forefathers of the present-day Hindus, — and that his greatness as a man should be sufficient to snake his memory sacred to all Indians irrespective of creed.


The attitude of our non-Hindu brothers towards Hindu mythology and practices should be the same as that which the Japanese Buddhists and Christians (and Mohammedans too, if any) observe towards Shintoist mythology and practices. No more; no less. This is the way to become one nation.

And first of all, all Indians should know the essential of Hindu mythology and what it means. In all Indian schools the study of the great national epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, should be compulsory. All Indians, whether followers of one of the various Hindu cults or Mohammedans, whether Christians or Zoroastrians, should count the story of Rama, of Arjuna and his brothers, of Krishna, among the impressive remembrances of their childhood — just as young Greeks do the story of Achilles, young Germans the story of Siegfried, young Japanese that of Yamato Dake. Whether history or fiction (or both) the lives of these heroes belong to India’s past, and the poems that relate them are masterpieces of old Indian literature. It is a shame for an Indian not to know anything about them, whatever may be his personal creed, if any.

Not only should the national epics and other great works of Sanskrit literature be more or less known to all Indians, but the essential of what can


be said about each one of the most popular of the “Hindu” Gods, Goddesses and Heroes should be known to the non-Hindus; known, not as the Gods of particular community, but as poetic creations of India’s collective self, symbolising unknown realities, and as deified heroes of the Indian soil. Let those Hindus who feel like doing so worship them; but may all Indians, regardless of creed, look upon them with respect, — like the Japanese do upon the Shinto Gods.

If a Japanese Christian has no objection to his son studying the “Kojiki” in school, why should an Indian Musulman or Christian see any harm in his son reading a few stories out of the “Puranas”? Now it seems certain that he would object. But he will not when India has become a modern country like Japan or even like the “Christian” countries of Europe; not any more than a modern Roman objects to see his son read about Jupiter Capitolinus and look with respect upon the old deities, creations of the Latin soul, whose ruined temples cover his soil; not more than an Iranian of the present day (a more familiar example for our Mohammedan friends) would object to his son studying the Avesta and whatever is connected with Zoroastrian worship, one of the expressions of the


Iranian soul.

* * *

We want to see the pride of Indian nationality and Indian culture take, in India, the place of religious fanaticism and social superstition; we dream of a day when there will be, among Indians, no cultural, political or social distinctions whatsoever, connected with their different creeds.

For that to be achieved, we must have something in common to love; let that be India, with all her beauties, with all her glories, with all her possibilities; we must have something in common to hate; let that be all what opposes itself to India’s greatness.

We have a common Indian culture, coloured by all the great thought-currents that have come in touch with it: ageless Dravidian thought, so old that its contribution is indistinguishable from Hinduism itself; Islamic thought; Western thought. Let the Musulmans and Christians of India, let the Zoroastrians, let all those who are Indians by nationality without professing any of the religious tenets of the Hindus, share with us that common Indian culture, which is theirs. To the extent that


they will share it, love it, and be proud of it as we are, India will be theirs as well as ours. Let them take part freely in the time-honoured festivities, linked with Hindu legends, which have been, from century to century, the occasion of public rejoicings. Does not a British atheist buy toys for his children when Christmas comes? And do not Japanese Christians take part in all the popular festivities of their country, regardless of their non-Christian character?

In spite of what most Hindus may think, at present, of such a revolutionary idea, we invite our non-Hindu Indian brothers to enter our temples. We ask them to look upon the deified heroes of India as theirs no less than ours; we urge them to force their entry into their shrines, not with a view to destroy or to ridicule their inadequate images, but to pay a public respect to their memory. There should be, at the entrance of our temples, no such notices as: “No admittance for Mohammedans, Christians, Untouchables etc. . . .”; at most we could put up: “None but Indians allowed inside, without special permission.”

Let the “topic” and other such visible distinctions between Musulmans and non-Musulmans, as well as the “tilaks” and other such visible distinctions


between Hindus and non-Hindus disappear from India. Let all Indians, Hindus or not, bear Indian names, including names of national Gods and Goddesses, if they please. No “idolatry” in that. Modern Greeks call themselves Herakles, Artemis, Athena, and are Christians. A German can (and does sometimes) call himself Baldur or Siegfried, and is a Christian. Then why cannot a Musulman call himself Syam Sundar or Ram Chandra, if he be an Indian, and still believe that God is one and that Mohammad is His Prophet? Why cannot all. Indian Christians call themselves by Indian names and still believe in Christ?

More we think about it and more we are convinced that the source of all India’s misfortunes lies in her lack of adaptability to new world conditions; in her incapacity to learn quickly enough the great lessons of each epoch. Through subjection or otherwise, over and over again in contact with the leading peoples of the world, India seems to have taken practically nothing from them; at least nothing essential, nothing worth taking. Many praise her for that reason. We do not. Had India, at her first contact with Islam, learnt the lesson of Islam: fraternity, she would have avoided Mohammedan domination, or, at least, freed herself rapidly


from it and become a nation a thousand years ago. Had India learnt from the Europeans the lesson of organised national life, of combined efforts for a common political and economic aim, she would never have fallen prey to the Europeans. And now that the centre of the world seems rapidly shifting from the West to the East, if only present-day caste-ridden, sect-ridden, quarrelsome, chaotic India would learn from Japan the lesson of unconditional nationalism and of iron discipline, then she would become not only an independent nation, but one of the world’s great ruling powers.

But are we ready, we pious people, to renounce our controversies over caste-marks in the South, over municipal bills, in Bengal, and over the nature of God, all over India, for the sake of such an earthly ambition?