Violence of Monotheism – M. Rajivlochan

Sitala Temple, Lahore, Pakistan. Photo (C) Haroon Khalid

M. RajivlochanIndic texts never valorised acts of desecration as bringing glory to God – Prof. M. Rajivlochan

The latest controversies around Gyanvapi, Qutb Minar and the masjid at Mathura have given new life to the accusation that Hindus committed violence in the past against Buddhists and Jains. The evidence for such violence comes from a few stray references in the Divyavadana where Pushyamitra Sunga is said to have hounded Buddhist monks and a few references that tell us that the Huna ruler Mihirakula destroyed Buddhist monasteries and killed monks. Romila Thapar also cites references to Ajaypala in Gujarat who desecrated Jaina temples. In all of 3,000 years of recorded history, these are the only instances of evil behaviour in the name of religion in pre-Islamic India.

Nowhere in Indic texts were any acts of desecration valourised as bringing glory to god. Richard Eaton does refer to incidents where the idol in a temple was kidnapped by a rival king and installed in a temple elsewhere. In the early 10th century, the Pratihara king Herambapala seized a solid gold image of Vishnu Vaikuntha when he defeated the Shahi king of Kangra. By the mid-10th century the same image was seized from the Pratiharas by the Chandella king Yasovarman and installed in the Lakshmana temple of Khajuraho. However, this is very different from images being broken and used by the invaders to wipe their feet on.

Nor are there reports of mass murders in the name of religion. This is what distinguishes these acts from what India saw in the course of the Turkish and Afghan invasions starting from the 11th century till the Marathas put an end to it in the late 17th century. The contemporary Islamic chroniclers who wrote about these events, indicated clearly that murder and temple desecration was entirely justified in a religious jihad and that non-believers were a lesser category of human beings.

In her book Somanatha, Romila Thapar does not deny that the temple of Somanatha was destroyed and the Shiva lingam broken, the upper half being taken to Ghazni for people to walk on. Nor does she deny that the priests of Somanatha had earlier supported the efforts of Persian traders to set up a mosque in the vicinity of the temple. But she does her best to find what can at best be called justifications for Sultan Mahmud’s actions. Isn’t it feasible, she suggests, that the Turko-Persian chroniclers were exaggerating in order to glorify the sultan as the founder of Islamic rule in India? Besides, she points out, Mahmud desecrated mosques of Muslim minority groups like Ismailis and Shias too.

Is someone scared to acknowledge that there indeed was/is a body of people in India who imagine their religion to be the only possible truth and who think that it is alright to wage war against those who believed differently?

The idea that God takes multiple forms, that there are multiple truths, is ingrained in the Indic mind. Whatever be the text you might choose to pick up, be it any of the smritis or the Vedas or anything else, you will easily find an equal and opposite view. Even the parody of Hinduism as an Abrahamic religion that was sought to be created during British rule found little resonance among the masses. Scholars like Raja Ram Mohun Roy claimed that the Advaita philosophy of Sankaracharya, the Vedanta were living proof that Indic religious tradition had the idea of a single God. But Ram Mohun did not find any takers for what he said, even among his own family. A belief in monotheistic Hinduism remained confined to an Indian elite reeling under the impact of British rule and eager to claim that the Abrahamic benchmarks of religion also existed within Hinduism.

The Hindu reluctance to acknowledge that Muslims were willing to kill for their beliefs did not make such beliefs go away. In a survey of opinions of Muslims in 21 countries conducted between 2008 and 2012 by the Pew Research Center, support for suicide bombings against civilian targets as a justification to defend Islam against its enemies was found in 39 per cent of respondents in Afghanistan, 26 per cent in Bangladesh and 13 per cent in Pakistan. Scholar Christine Fair, who used this data set, finds a high correlation between such views and scriptural literalism—what is said in the scriptures is to be taken literally.

It does not matter whether you believe in peace or not, the Taliban have named a military contingent in Afghanistan as Panipat recently. – The Indian Express, 22 May 2022

Prof. M. Rajivlochan teaches at the Department of History, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Desecrated Bhagat Prahlad Temple and Shah Rukn-e-Alam Shrine (background), Multan, Pakistan. Photo (C) Alie Imran

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