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Tag Archives | Hinduism

The Man who came to destroy Hinduism – 2

The headquarters of thePropaganda fide in Rome

(Read Part 1)

It would be wrong to say that at that point in time Indians of the 1830s hated English. At the Hindu college, which was established by Indians, the British themselves admitted that the English education was as good as any school in Europe. When the Government decided to establish a new Sanskrit college in Calcutta, Ram Mohan Roy was disappointed. He wanted Indians to learn European math, science, chemistry instead of “grammatical niceties and metaphysical distinctions”.

After further objections to the “imaginary learning” of Hindu schools, he [Ram Mohan Roy] summarily assures Lord Amherst that “the Sanskrit system of education would be the best calculat-  ed to keep this country in darkness.” What he wants to see established is “a more liberal and enlightened system of  instruction, embracing mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, with other useful sciences.” This, he urges “may be accomplished with the sums proposed, by employing a few gentlemen of talent and learning educated  in Europe and providing a College furnished with neces- sary books, instruments, and other apparatus.” [The life and letters of Raja Rammohun Roy]

Mohan Roy’s letter to Lord Amherst did not get an answer. By then the fight between the Anglicists and Orientalists had reached a point where a decision had to be made. Macaulay arrived on the scene in 1834 and he had a clear idea about the future direction. Also Duff’s independent efforts had convinced Macaulay that an Anglical education system would succeed.

Macaulay was of the opinion that there was no point in perfecting the vernaculars, since there was nothing intelligent, but falsehood in them. In his Minute, he noted that he had no knowledge of Sanskrit or Arabic, but was convinced that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. On the other hand, whoever learned English had access to the vast intellectual wealth of the wisest nations of the earth and the literature available in English is valuable that the literature of all languages of the world together.[Macaulay’s Education Part 3: The Minute]

Lord William Bentinck signed Macaulay’s draft into law. While the goal of British Government was to promote European literature and science, the Oriental schools were not to be closed. Instead it was decided not to subsidize the students. The large amount of money spent on printing Oriental books were to be stopped and the money instead was to be used for promoting European literature.

Duff had already done this without any Government support and had solved many problems which the administration would face later. When a medical college was established in Calcutta there seemed to be a problem since Hindu shastras prohibited touching a dead body for anatomical purposes. To find a way out, the education commission visited Duff’s school. The students told the commission that it was a fact that shastras prohibited handling of a dead body, but they did not care. They wanted to take up the medical profession. Later orthodox priests told William Bentinck that there was no prohibition against touching a dead body for learning, but Duff was praised for showing that modern science was compatible with traditionalism.

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The Man who came to destroy Hinduism – 1


On Jan 15, 1823, Jean-Antoine Dubois, a French-Catholic missionary, who spent time in Pondicherry, Madras Presidency and Mysore left India for Paris, never to return again. During his time in India, he dressed like a native and preached the Gospel, but after 30 years in India, he was convinced that it was next to impossible to convert Indians.

But seven years later, on May 27th, 1830, a Scottish missionary arrived in Calcutta and his goal was to “prepare a mine which should one day explode beneath the very citadel of Hinduism.” This 24 year thought that the methods of other missionaries, like directly appealing Hindus to renounce their faith, would do nothing but anger the natives. Instead he claimed to have found a unique way to destroy Hinduism in a peaceful manner.

To understand how Alexander Duff came up with his recipe, we need to understand the India of 1830s.

  1. The language of the Government was Persian and there were a few educational institutions which taught Arabic and Sanskrit. The learned people spoke these Oriental languages and not English.
  2. Duff arrived at a time when there was a controversy in British India over the language to be used for Indian higher education. On the one side there were the British Orientalists who wanted to use Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic and on the other side there were the Anglicists who had scorn for Oriental languages and Indian culture and wanted to enforce English
  3. The missionary activities were not very successful. The missionary technique consisted of standing in the street corner and preaching which fetched an occasional convert or two, but nothing of great significance. Even in South India, where there were more converts, the converts came from the out castes; the Hindu masses remained unaffected.

Duff would take all these three ingredients to come up with a winning formula, which was eventually endorsed by the Lord himself – I mean Lord Macaulay. Looking back, the formula was simple.

  1. Provide English education for the masses
  2. Make Bible studies an integral part of this education
  3. Be non-apologetic about teaching Christianity.

Thus he would teach Western history, philosophy, and natural sciences and as per the plan Hindus seeing irrationality in their religion would discard their faith voluntarily. But this was tricky business. It was possible that a Hindu who had left Hinduism due to Western education could become agnostic. But Duff would fill that spiritual vacuum with the Christian view of life.

Duff was very clear about what Christian education meant: it was not secular education with some Biblical studies thrown in. For him Christianity contained all knowledge and his goal was to teach with Christianity revelation at the center.

When Duff first proposed this method, veteran missionaries did not find it appealing. Still he went ahead without any government support. Bengalis did not mind an English school, but had reservations about an English school where Bible was an important subject. This reservation made it difficult for Duff to get started; he could not even find a building to start his classes.

One Indian who helped get Duff was Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Mohan Roy who worked with Lord William Bentinck in suppressing sati and who believed that the pure faith of the vedas were corrupted by various cults had founded Brahma Samaj to teach the worship of one God. Ram Mohan Roy provided Duff with a hall as well as his first students. When parents learned that Bible was being taught there, they were reluctant to send their kids, but Ram Mohan Roy helped there as well. On the first day of school, Ram Mohan Roy, who had three more years to live, calmed the students who refused to read the Bible and appeared daily for the Bible class.

Though Duff was a proponent of higher studies in English, he did not hate Bengali. He did not want students to be alien to their culture and hence Bengali studies were an important part of the curriculum. After one year, Duff conducted a public exam  – in front of parents and the media – and students demonstrated their knowledge in language, science and Bible. This was a huge success and it convinced both Indians and the British. Soon the number of students started increasing.

Not everyone in Calcutta was his fan. One of the newspapers published an article suggesting that all students who attended Duff’s school be outcasted. This warning had an effect and the attendance dropped briefly, but later picked up.

Soon Duff encountered students —- not from his school, but from the Hindu college — who were enamored by Western thought and had a low opinion of Hinduism. These were the kind of people Duff wanted to seed Christian religion into and he invited them to his home to attend lectures on “God and His Revealing.” Hindus reacted strongly against Duff and asked the Government to stop this. Lord William Bentinck asked Duff to slow down and this crisis too passed.

But soon Duff got his converts — Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Mohesh Chunder Ghosh, Gopinath Nandi and Anando Chand Mazumdar  — and as he had expected they came from the higher castes. Some of them were Brahmins who ate beef to show their defiance against Hinduism and whose moral vacuum was happily filled by Duff.

By this time the Orientalist-Anglicist fight had reached critical mass. The East India Company needed a supply of qualified clerks and there were educational institutions like the Mohammedan college in Calcutta and Sanskrit college in Benares which provided the employees. The company even started a new Sanskrit college in Calcutta and Oriental colleges in Delhi and Agra. A large sum of money was spent in publishing books in the Oriental languages and translating European works into these languages. For the amount of money spent on education, there was not enough demand for these books.

In the language fight, the Government, missionaries and Orientalists wanted to use the Oriental languages, while Duff sided along with the Anglicists. If Indians were to learn Western culture and Christian theology, he said, it was not possible to do it in Sanskrit, Arabic or Persian or the vernacular Bengali. This decision on which language to choose for Duff was very critical and in a later speech given in Scotland, he said that it concerned the ultimate evangelization of India.

His arguments against Sanskrit were that (a) it was not perfect for Western education (b) ordinary people did not speak Sanskrit and (c) Western literature was not translated to Sanskrit. Since Sanskrit was tied to Hinduism, even if one were to teach Western literature in Sanskrit, the association formed in the mind of people would of an idolatrous and superstitious religion whereas English, would bring fresh ideas without the burden of association.

(Read Part 2)

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How did Adam reach Sri Lanka?

In this picture, taken in 1885, you will see a small ladder placed near the top-right window. In this picture, taken more than a century later, you can see the ladder exactly at the same position. The building is Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built where Jesus is believed to be crucified and burried, and in Jerusalem, moving even a ladder requires divine intervention.

There is another place in the world, which is holy not just for Christians and Muslims, but also for Hindus and Buddhists where such problems do not exist. Located in Sri Lanka and currently called Adam’s peak, it was called Samanalakanda by the Sinhalese and Shivanolipatha Malai and Shiva padam by Hindus.So connection does Adam have with Sri Lanka and how did it become Adam’s peak?

First, what’s at the top of the mountain.? Captain John Ribeyro who fought in the civil war in the 17th century described the summit[5].

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Hindus believe that this depression on the mountain which resembles a giant foot is the foot step of Shiva; for Buddhists it is the foot print of Buddha. Chrisitians believe that it belongs to St. Thomas and there are many other traditions which attribute the foot print to Jehovah, Eunuch of Candace and Satan[1]. It is Muslim tradition that attributes the foot print to Adam, their first prophet.

In fact there is an explanation for how Adam, a person from a middle eastern tradition, reached Sri Lanka. God, upset by Adam and Eve, threw them out of heaven and Adam landed in Sri Lanka creating an impression on the peak. He repented for a millennium when Gabriel took him to Arabia where Eve had landed. They both then returned to Sri Lanka and propagated the human race[4].

Soleyman, an Arab merchant who visited Ceylon in the ninth century, mentioned the Adam tradition, which suggests that it was prevalent within two centuries of Islam’s founding. Sindbad the Sailor’s tales, believed to be partly based on real sailors tales, also mentions a pilgrimage to the place “where Adam was confined after his banishment from Paradiese.” It is believed that this tradition originated among the Copts (Egyptian Christians) of the fourth and fifth centuries[4]. There is also a story which mentions that a group of three Arabs led by Sheikh Seijuddin, who according to tradition, converted Cheraman Perumal of Kodungallur, were on a pilgrimage to Adam’s peak.

Diego de Couto, a Portuguese writer of the 16th century did not believe it was the foot print of Adam; he thought it belonged to St. Thomas. Marco Polo had heard from Muslims and Christians that there was a monument to Adam, but he did not agree with that it had anything to do with Adam. This was because, according to the scripture of Marco Polo’s Church, Adam belonged to another part of the world. Instead he believed the Buddhist version and that the teeth, hairs and bowl of some “venerable figure” was commemorated[2].

When he heard about the relics, Marco Polo’s patron Kublai Khan sent emissaries to Ceylon
to ask Parakkamabahu II, a Sri Lankan King without a Wikipedia entry, for these items. It took three years for the emissaries to reach Ceylon and they got two molar teeth, some hair, and the bowl. According to Marco Polo, Kublai Khan received these items with respect[2].

Marco Polo never climbed the mountain, but Ibn Battuta did. He went to Ceylon specifically for mountaineering. With an entourage of 10 Brahmin priests, 15 porters, 10 courtiers and 4 yogis (provided by Martanda Cinkaiariyan of the Aryacakravarti dynasty) he made the trip to the peak and back. The final climb was quite hard  – a vertical ascent “by means of little stirrups affixed to chains suspended from iron pegs.” There he prayed with Buddhists and Muslims but does not mention seeing Christians[3].

The mountain was officially renamed to Adam’s peak by Major James Rennell, the British geographer who worked in India.

References:

  1. The History of a Mountain By Elise Reclus, Bertha Ness, John Lillie
  2. Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by by Laurence Bergreen
  3. The Adventures of Ibn Battuta by Ross E. Dunn.
  4. Adam’s Peak by William Skeen
  5. History Of Ceylon: Presented By Captain John Ribeyro To The King Of Portugal, In 1685 (1847)

(Image Credit: Munir)

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False Gods and Filthy Idols

Many pilgrims also put themselues vnder the chariot wheeles, to the end that their false god may go ouer them: and al they ouer whom the chariot runneth, are crushed in pieces, and diuided asunder in the midst, and slaine right out. Yea, and in doing this, they think themselues to die most holily and securely, in the seruice of their god. And by this meanes euery yere, there die vnder the said filthy idol, mo then 500.[Journal of Friar Odoric]

Those are the words of Friar Odoric, who traveled to India after 1316 CE. In writings by missionaries like him there is contempt for idol worship and polytheism; both are considered primitive.

So why is monotheism good and polytheism bad? The simple answer comes from these words in the Ten Commandments: “Do not have any other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

It was believed that there is a natural progression of religion from worshiping gods who are personifications of natural forces to a supreme God who is not limited by nature. Thus coming from a Europe which had abandoned Caananite religions tainted by polytheism and idol worship, the Friar was shocked to see people worshiping “a dead idole, which, from the nauel vpward, resembleth a man, and from the nauel downeward an oxe.”

In the 18th and 19th century, an evolutionary model of religion was put forward in which polytheism was considered primitive, monolatry an improvement and monotheism, the purest form. Instead of understanding them as two different ways, a value judgment was passed. It was during that time that Thomas Macaulay and his friends came to India. For them the task was clear: the primitive practices had to be stopped and the natives had to be uplifted to the purest form.

Prof. Christine Hayes at Yale explains what happened next and how this evolutionary model of religion evolved into a r-evolutionary model. This is part of her course on Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) which explains how the Bible was in fact adapted from various Near East traditions. The course is no MMW4, but worth listening.

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King Agathocles's Coins

(Balarama depicted on a 1st century BCE Maues coin. via wikipedia)

Between 190 and 180 BCE, towards the end of the Mauryan empire, there lived a king named Agathocles near Ai-Khanoum, in the Kunduz area of Afghanistan. There are no cities, monuments or accounts about him and he would have remained unknown if not for one thing – coins.

Some time in the 70s, archaeologists found two types of coins issued by him. One set was Greek silver coins depicting Zeus and Dionysos. He also issued bronze and silver coins, square or rectangular in shape, which portryated Indian gods like Vishnu, Shiva, Vasudeva, Buddha and Balarama. On these coins were written, in Brahmi or Kharoshthi, that the money belonged to Rajane Agathuklayasa.

“These square coins, dating back to 180- BC, with Krishna on one side and Balram on the other, were unearthed recently in Al Khanoun in Afghanistan and are the earliest proof that Krishna was venerated as a god, and that the worship had spread beyond the Mathura region,” says T K V Rajan, archaeologist and founder-director, Indian Science Monitor, who is holding a five-day exhibition, In search of Lord Krishna,’ in the city from Saturday. [New finds take archaeologists closer to Krishna-Chennai-Cities-The Times of India]

The images show Vasudeva carrying a chakra and sankha on one side and Balarama carrying a gada (club) and hala (plough) and are some of the earliest coins depicting Krishna and Balarama. But these are not recent discoveries as mentioned in Times of India; a paper on it (Narain, A.K. “Two Hindu Divinities on the Coins of Agathocles from Ai-Khanum”, Journal of Numismatic Society of India) was published in 1973.

References:

  1. Alexander the Great and Bactria By Frank Lee Holt
  2. Iconography of Balarama By N.P. Joshi
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