Thursday, May 31, 2007

Who is a Hindu?

Question revisited in the wake of Guruvayoor Controversy

Who is a Hindu, asked my friend, as we sipped our coffee watching a news story that said non-Hindus cannot enter Guruvayoor temple. While agreeing that it is the prerogative of the priest and the community to say that non-Hindus are not welcome, my friend insisted that I explain who is a Hindu.

Well, I could have put on the all-encompassing, secular garb and said all those who follow the Hindu way of life and added that more than a religion, it’s a culture. But I stopped short of it, as he explained the controversy that got the Guruvayoor head priest to reiterate the age-old stand.

For the uninitiated, Guruvayoor temple authorities performed purification rites last week saying that the temple was defiled by the entry of Ravi Krishna, son of Central Minister and a senior politician from the state, Vayalar Ravi, for the first-feeding ceremony of his son. We know that Ravi Krishna’s mother is a Christian, Mercy Ravi, who too is a senior politician from the State. But, as many of us have understood from newspaper reports—well, the first round of that was seven years ago, when the purification was carried out after Ravi Krishna’s wedding—, he was neither baptized nor brought up the Christian way. A practicing (for whatever that means) Hindu, married to a Hindu, at Guruvayoor temple, that too with the blessings of SNDP (the organization set up by Sree Narayana Guru, a social reformer who is considered to be the spiritual leader of Ezhavas—a backward caste to which Ravis belong, SNDP has the de-facto authority in some parts of the State to formalize weddings among the members of ezhava community), Ravi Krishna has nothing but his mother’s religion against his claims and rights as a Hindu

But then, except for the Nairs in Kerala, for all other communities, including the Ezhavas, the inheritance is patrilineal. Children inherit the caste from their father. And then, Ravi Krishna is an ezhava, a Hindu. My friend asks, so who decides who is a Hindu? And based on what?

And I pause. What was this way-of-life thing about? Is there some way of induction like baptism or circumcision to Hinduism? Is it something that comes as a birth right? If yes is it matrilineal or patrilineal? Who takes the call? Would the high priests please clarify these before they once again parrot the non-Hindus cannot enter the temples line?

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Sandeep said...

Like lots of words, definition of 'who is a hindu' depends on who is asking and what does he want to understand. A hindu, the word coined by primarily the invaders, meant the people living on land east side of Indus valley. He can be anyone who believes in hinduism the philosophy. Why not a believer in Hinduism the religion ? Because the standard definition of religion can not be applied to Hinduism. If not all then 95% believer of Jesus or judgement day can be hailed as Christians, similiar method for other religions. Can we do this for oldest philosophy ? Hinduism is a mix of myriad Gods and deities : convenient and localized , million philosophies and mythologies, and numerous cults lead by incarnated saints. There are divisions in Islam and christianity but not like ours. And I dont want to speak of still strong presence multifold casteism, a virtue of divisive doctrine. You will get null set when you attempt to bring 1 billion people on a common religious notion. But If I wish, I would term anyone who loves this motherland be called a Hindu irrespective of the philosophy he practises.

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Unni said...

Today all communities are patrilineal. In the past Ezhavas followed both matriliny and patriliny. Ezhavas were matriliear north of Kollam, both matriliear and patrilear between Kollam and Neyyatinkara and south of Neyyattinkara all patrileneal. There may have been some exceptions here and there where some families were different from the rest. But generally this was the case.