The dark ages have descended upon the Hindus in full glory. While we can take comfort in the fact that this is not a new phenomenon, it is tiring nevertheless to see the same script play, again and again. This time it is the liberal tent of political Hindus and another child of right-wing politics’ success since 2014, weighing upon whether women can recite the Vedas, or not. A similar argument broke on Twitter recently, with several “liberal reformers” sharing their deep insights on how Hinduism should allow women to recite the Vedas. These self-indulgent Jnanis of Twitter are so self-absorbed in the luminous orb of their own self-importance, that they are too blinded to see the irony in their proclamations, when most of these Jnanis are themselves not eligible to study the Vedas. Even if they were, hardly anyone among this group could claim to have studied the Vedas for at least a decade under a competent Guru, to make the recommendations that they so confidently made.
We say that the phenomenon or the itch to reform Hinduism is not new, because we’ve seen several attempts in the past resulting in various degrees of disaster. From the Arya Samaj experiments which started with destruction of Hindu idols not unlike the Christian inquisition of Goa and Muslim raids on Somnath and appears to be ending with Kadai Yajnas along the roadside, to the secular state reforming the abodes of our Lord via a secular constitution, if only to corner what goes into the Hundis and not what happens in the sanctum sanctorum, we’ve tolerated assault after assault in the name of reform, but gotten a little weaker after every assault. However, like everything else, the internet/COVID era seems to have spread this itch to reform their religion far and wide among ordinary Hindus.
The complete deracination of the urban Hindu has led to a situation where he does not know who his Kula devata, Kula Guru, or Sampradaya is, and is forced to get his daily dose of spiritual but not religious wisdom from neo-Gurus who on occasion dress up like the mythical Santa Claus or worse, themselves have a deep urge to reform the very religion they claim to be serving. This has led to tragicomic situations where new Gods are invented, fantastic claims made, the neo-Guru himself claims to be God, claims false equivalences between a living, Idol-worshipping pagan religion and plagiarized, intolerant, eternal-hell cults.
The reform itch usually falls into 3 buckets: 1. Dissing regressive practices like ‘caste’ system 2. Questioning rationale behind every ritual or do and don’ts (ex: do not visit a temple during periods, do offer milk to a Shiva linga) and 3. Picking a standalone line from a scripture quote and applying it to all Hindu schools (ex: Ahimsa paramo dharma so animal sacrifice is anti-Hindu). We have written elsewhere about some of these diseases plaguing Hindus, and will continue to do so in the future.
The Oxford English dictionary defines reform as “make changes in order to improve it” – Hindus must realize that their religion has existed forever (Sanatana) and stands of the shoulders of giants like our ancient Rishis, Yogis, and uncompromised practitioners of Dharma in each age. So, the next time we suffer the itch to reform our religion, it is appropriate that we first weigh ourselves against Rishis such as Vāsiṣṭha and Visvāmitra, yogis such as Swami Sivananda, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Jnanis such as Ramana Maharshi, and Guru paramparas of several schools of philosophies which continue to exist today – and ditch the itch. The only thing that requires urgent reform today is the Hindu’s attitude towards his religion.