Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jaffrelot, Chistophe. “The Vishnu Hindu Parishad: A Nationalist but Mimetic Attempt at Federating the Hindu Sects”

Jaffrelot, Chistophe. “The Vishnu Hindu Parishad: A Nationalist but Mimetic Attempt at Federating the Hindu Sects” in Charisma and Canon: Essays on the Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent, ed. Vasudha Dalmia, Angelika Malinar, and Martin Christof (New Delhi: Oxford Unviersity: 2001) 388-411.

Summary: This paper looks at the development of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). Jaffrelot argues that VHP imitates Christian organization as an ecclesiastical structure to unify Hindus to resist Christian and Muslim “aggressors” in India. Though it uses religion as a means to propagate its message, Jaffrelot believes VHP is really more of a political (Hindu nationalist) group. He cites several examples of specific swamis involved.

388-“The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP; World Hindu Council) can only be understood in relation to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Voluntter organization), of which, in many respects, it constitutes an affiliate. Not only does the movement draw its ideology from the RSS, its structure is also derived from it. Indeed, the backbone of the VHP is embodied in the figure of the pracharak, a full-time “preacher” and organizer of the RSS. These pracharaks are specially trained in Instructors’ Training camps and then at the Officers’ Training camps of the RSS…they have renounced career and family life to devote themselves more completely to the cause of Hindu nationalism. Besides, they are bound to an itinerant life because their mission is to pervade the network of RSS shakhs (branches).”

-they are like renouncers; some see them as gurus

-the RSS “constitutes a kind of nationalistic sect” because of this; and it also portrays itself as such

389-but “the VHP does not draw its inspiration from the traditional Hindu sect, except for the self-professed asceticism of its paracharaks.”

-VHP “has undertaken its mission by imitating the ecclesiastical structure characteristics of ‘semitic religions”, Christianity and Islam, so as to more effectively resist these very religions—which it perceives as posing a threat to Hinduism.”

-first project director of VHP, Shiv Shankar Apte, Maharashtrian Brahman, encountered RSS from 1940-73, became a paracharak

-in 1961 he published 3 articles calling for bringing together all groups of Hindus for “general coherence”

390-in the 1950s, Swami Chinmayananda was making sermons on jnana yajna (the sacrifice of knowledge); got “unforeseen popular success”, mostly addressed Westernized middle Classes; used English (creating outrage from Orthodox) and allowed all people access to his spiritual knowledge; disciples came from India, South East Asia, and US—van der Veer says he’s precursor of “modern guru”; “His spiritual practice rested on a discourse which valorized individual development and a moral code as a factor in social success.”; he had no precise religious tradition

391-Apte recruited him and 149 others (primarily “modern gurus”) for inaugural conference of VHP in 1964; the 2 men formed “the keystone of” VHP—“Hinduists and the modern guru.”

-main idea of VHP was Christian proselytism was threatening Hinduism, so they adopted similar proselytizing techniques, eg “the stigmatization and emulation of so-called threatening others”

-“its formation was precipitated in 1964 b/c of the Pope’s visit”—RSS spoke out against it, called it an “invasion”; (392) Apte said Christianity, Islam and Communism were trying to build empires so Hindu world had to organize “to save it from the evil eyes of these three”

393-At the inaugural conference in Allahabad (with 25K delegates), “The under-representation of spiritual masters at the head of prestigious sects suggests that the VHP attracted, above all, swamis who sought additional legitimacy or a valorizing platform. This was a question of weakness but not necessarily of an insurmountable handicap insofar as the authority of a Hindu spiritual master can be derived from a source other than official investiture at the head of a recognized sect. Knowledge of spiritual texts, an ascetic discipline, and rhetorical talent can compensate (393) for these and help make it possible to proclaim oneself as a religious spokesman.”

394-At the conference, there was a sub-committee to create a code of conduct for Hindu samskars, to simplify purification rites and to give official status to 5 Hindu festivals; the codes of conduct were explicitly explained in opposition to Christian practices; and they established its own authority as central for their whole religious network

-in 1979, they held a second conference w/ around 100K reps and more diverse religions—Dalai Lama went as well as other religious dignitaries
-For this conference, the VHP had 2 goals similar to those of the last conference: Because Christian proselytizing was threatening, end untouchability (which was a big factor in conversion) and have unification of Hinduism; (375) plus new code of conduct, identified the Bhagavad Gita as “the sacred book of Hindus, regardless of their sect.”

395-Though there were still few actual sect leaders there, just heads of asurams

396-Apte, to justify this new mass-organization, said modernization is essential for survival of Hinduism from this menace--despite India being 82% Hindu and 18% Christian and Muslim

-some people (eg Swami Chinmayananda) acknowledged the idea that the VHP (and religious organization in general) was inimical to Hinduism, but it is justified in this case; Apte also pointed out long traditions of Hindu assemblages during crises

397-The VHP helps the RSS Hindu nationalist movement “by bringing together notables and sadhus imbued with its ideology”

-men from RSS headed VHP

398-businessmen, landowners, local teachers, police and politicians are attracted to VHP because of its religious affiliation

-The VHP in 1981 established a Sadhu Sansad for its sadhus to “play a greater (399) role in the activities of national construction”

399-in 1984, the Sadhu Sansad changed its name to Dharma Sansad and had “hundreds of participants”, it met regularly

402-in the last 3 decades, there has been increased number of sadhus who are not gurus, and they are often more driven by national ideology than sectarian motivations

-but “the VHP has not been able to make exceptional inroads among the leadership of orthodox Hindusim”

403-the VHP has some meetings in a building that’s part of a temple in Ujjain—“This infiltration into a sacred space by an ideological movement aroused no objection on the part of the roughly fifty pundits officiating the temple.”

404-they also use festivals to spread their message by having special societies to oversee who comes to festival and what is performed

406-some individual sadhus have “denounced the political dimension of the movement”

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