At the 5th Gathering of the Elders (Mysore, 1-4 February 2015), I was originally only present as an observer. But when a Hindu lady speaker had addressed the social philosophy of the Gond tribe, I felt it necessary to give a fitting reply, as it was contrary to the whole aim and spirit of the conference. To my good fortune, the next speaker failed to show up, so the chair asked me if I could improvise a lecture.
How deep the Christian missionary influence has penetrated the Hindu psyche, was shown by this rendering of the Gondi worldview. The first aim of the missionaries is to convince the tribals that they are not Hindus. (After that, they will tell them that their religion is very close to Christianity, and that their self-acknowledgment as Hindus would constitute a “conversion” while their baptism would only constitute a “fulfillment” of their natural religion.) So, the lecture on the Gonds taught us that their religion is the very opposite of Hinduism because:
- 1. they worship Barâ Dev while Hindus worship Ishwar;
- 2. They consider the North auspicious; Hindus, the South;
- 3. They bury their dead; Hindus cremate them;
- 4. They believe in service to others (“jai seva!”), Hindus only in their own Liberation;
- 5. They believe the world is real, Hindus believe it is Maya (illusion).
- 6. They are divided in 12 exogamous phratries, Hindus in endogamous castes.
Against this, we notice that:
- 1. Barâ Dev, “great god”, is modern Indo-Aryan for Sanskrit Mahadeva, same meaning and a name for Shiva (“the benefactor”, which itself is a flattering name for the fearsome god Rudra, “furious”), for whom another name is Ishwar (“lord”). Within Hinduism, it is perfectly normal for a god to have different names, and for different divine personalities to overlap. There is simply no opposition between Barâ Dev and Mahadeva.
- 2. In Vastu Shatra, a front-door should not be built in the south, as it is deemed inauspicious, which is the same valuation of the south as among the Gonds. (For now, I take the speaker’s word for what exactly constitutes Gondi culture.) Even if it was different, it wouldn’t constitute a meaningful contrast: in China, the local habitat edology (fengshui) holds the south as positive and as the correct location of the front-door, due to a different climate: I the cold Yellow River valley, warmth was welcome, so the sunny south was good, whereas in hot India, men shield themselves against the sun. Yet, nobody derives therefrom a meaningful contrast between Indian and Chinese traditions, least of all the missionaries. Whether Chanakya or Confucius, all non-Christians are going to hell.
- 3. Hindus since Vedic times have known both cremation and burial. Infants and saints are still buried. In some corners, Hindu burials persist, e.g. among the Gonds.
- 4. Hindu society has always believed in social responsibility (Dharma, ca. “taking up your role as a specific part of the whole”), including the need for Seva, “service”, a genuine and ancient Sanskrit word (in contrast with Adivasi, “aboriginal”, which is a neologism devised by the missionaries in the colonial period). This was not put in the centre, and rightly so, but it was fully accepted. This duty was not discharged by clerics, as in Christianity, where hospitals were traditionally manned by nuns, but by laymen, mostly in the extended family. Ascetics, by contrast, were freed from social duty because they had taken up another duty, viz. pursuing Liberation, which to the laymen is mostly but a theoretical goal which they don’t actively pursue. Liberation is not “selfish” but impersonal, and requires a great deal of self-abnegation, even more than Seva.
- 5. Only a small percentage of the Hindus even know about Mayavad, the doctrine that the world is a fata morgana created by the magic power of the gods. It is a specific philosophy of Shankara, conditioned by his struggle against Buddhist idealism (Shunyavad, “doctrine of Emptiness”), which in turn is also not the whole of Buddhism (indeed, the Buddha himself would not have recognized it as his own teaching). Shankara is widely appreciated as a great debater and as the founder of the ascetic Dashanami order, but his philosophy has few takers. Gonds too are free to follow Mayavad, nothing prohibits that, but they too would by and large accept the world as real. And anyway, even if there were a difference in worldview pitting all Gonds against all Hindus, that would not save them: as long as they don’t believe in Jesus, they are all going to hell.
- 6. The Gonds are, like most tribes, an endogamous group, and this group is internally divided in twelve exogamous groups, which anthropologists have called phratries. Hindu castes are by definition endogamous groups, Jati-s or “castes”, and are divided in exogamous groups called Gotra-s. If you consider each caste separately, you could, by this logic, start saying that they “don’t have caste”, because internally they are not divided in endogamous groups, only in exogamous groups. So, the situation among the Gonds is exactly like in Hindu castes. Tribals are just as endogamy-conscious as Hindus. When a Flemish Jesuit in Chotanagpur ca. 1890 wanted to put his converts to the test, he had them sit together across tribal lines for a joint meal, a very small matter compared to intermarriage, and even this they found scandalous, so that most invitees did not show up and 7000 converts in the region defected. It is one of the many myths professed by the secularists to spite the Hindus that tribals are “noble savages” practising Ur-communism and not afflicted by social divides like caste.
The whole discourse on tribals is warped by the Aryan invasion theory. As a consequence of the hypothesis that speakers of proto-Sanskrit entered India ca. 1500 BC, the American situation is projected onto India: in both cases, a European population came to dominate the natives. Then, just like the European conquerors of America were considered civilized and Christian, while the Amerindians counted as tribal and Pagan, this cultural equation was projected onto India: the Vedic conquerors were non-tribal and non-Pagan, while the natives count as tribal and Pagan. So, working inside this paradigm, the missionaries tell the scheduled tribes to maximize their differences with the Vedic backbone of Hinduism, and the secularists have written a few times that Hindus cannot count as Pagans and that tribals who get “sanskritized” into the Vedic mainstream are “converts to Hinduism”.
The picture becomes very different when, as all evidence indicates, the Vedic Aryans were native to India. This implies that there simply were different tribes, including the Veda-composing Paurava tribe, some of which became more “civilized” than others, e.g. some became literate, others only later, yet others not until the modern state foisted literacy upon them; or some developed business acumen while others remained economically naïve. This is a normal development found on all inhabited continents.
That is why many features deemed tribal and contrasting with the image a foreigner gets of Hinduism when the taxi brings him from the airport to his hotel in the metropolis, also appear in Vedic tradition when you go and see it in the countryside, or when you study how it was in the past. Thus, worship in the open air is not a tribal feature contrasting with Hindu temple worship: in Vedic society, worship was equally in the open air. The tribal feature of aniconic nature worship, always contrasted with the Hindu worship of idols, was just as much in evidence in Vedic society and is still seen in the “primitive” layers of Hinduism, where you fing snake worship, tree worship, sun worship, etc.
Yet, even if there had been an Aryan invasion, that would not have made the Vedic Hindus any less Pagan. We have heard testimonies here from Latvian and Lithuanian Pagans, who take pride in their language being closely akin to Sanskrit. They are not Indian, yet they are just as much Pagan. If the Vedic Aryans had contrasted with the native Indian tribals, if they had been different in all objects and practical details of worship and of mores, that would still not have saved either the one or the other from hellfire. For that is ultimately the criterion for being Pagan or not, regardless of all the distinctions invented to confuse matters. You are a Pagan if you do not partake of Christian salvation, i.e. if you go to hell. And that is where they belong: being to a smaller or larger extent fire-worshippers, Pagans must feel most at home in the endless fires of hell.