By Anjan Roy
If you are thinking of the Hindus as a homogenous and monolithic cohort, you are wrong. Even in case of their choice of Gods, Hindus are as divided as the country itself.
And the Godhead, around whom the nation had gone turbulent and a subsequent movement changed the political character of the Indian state, is the least popular among all the Indian Gods and Goddesses. Shakespeare wrote his play, Much Ado About Nothing, couldn’t be more true than this.
This has been revealed in a survey by an American research body, which is well known world over for its popular opinion surveys. Pew Research Centre has done an eye-popping popular opinion survey in India on religion and its influence on the general public, and the extent of religiosity among the people.
Rama, whose birthplace in Ayodhya had once raised the body temperature of the Indian body polity, is the least popular among all the major Gods of the Hindu pantheon. Only 17 per cent of the people feel close to Rama, as opposed to other major fountainheads of veneration among the Hindus.
Whatever you can think of Lord Rama’s birthplace and century old feud over it, obeisance to Lord Rama is confined only to Central and North India. In the south only 13 per cent are Rama devotees and in the western part of the country only 12 per cent are Rama worshippers.
And we are building such a mammoth, sky-kissing temple to Rama in Ayodhya at a stupendous cost. What for? Would L.K. Advani have undertaken his nationwide Rathajatra had he known this little fact.
Ironically enough, Rama’s aide, Hanuman, who defined himself through his love and devotion to Lord Rama, is far more popular than the Lord himself. A full 35 per cent of Hindus believe or feel close to Hanuman, against only half those many following the Lord, Rama. The Pew Research does not attempt divining the reason for this differential treatment, but any devout Hindu will know the usefulness of Hanuman over Rama. He is strong and sure shot for overcoming problems.
Leaving aside the north-east, Hanuman has the most widespread following in the country, with the highest number of devotees in the north (43 per cent) and central, eastern and western parts (35 per cent, add one or two points). Going by the throngs of people in the Hanuman mandirs on Tuesdays, for example, on Baba Kharag Singh Marg in Delhi, there is no doubt about his popularity.
Who will not feel like getting closer to mother Lakshmi. Across the country, 28 per cent feel close to the Goddess of wealth. Her following is highest in the East, no wonder, given the relative backwardness and widespread poverty in the entire region.
The Western region being most affluent does not apparently bother much for the Goddess Lakshmi, though they are the devotees of her brother Lord Ganesha.
But the most popular of the venerable Gods in the Hindu pantheon is Shiva, who has the largest number of devotees, across all regions. Of course, Shiva, the myths and stories around Him, has been a great influence on Indian culture.
One of the greatest thinkers of India on religion and the Hindu culture, Adi Shankaracharya, had travelled across the country in the late ninth century AD, preaching orthodox Hinduism.
He started his journey from present day Kerala and ended, rather his journey terminated, with his death at Kedarnath in the high Himalayas. In between, he re-established orthodox Hinduism when India was going predominantly Buddhist.
Among the moderns, Rabindranath Tagore, modern India’s iconic poet, was a conservative Brahmbho, thereby accepted only the purist form of impersonal and formless abstract concept of Brahmha, yet was enthralled by the legends around Shiva. He felt spiritually akin to Shiva in his form as Rudra and composed a song around the legend of the dance of Shiva.
Even otherwise, there are scores of poems an songs around the various legends of Shiva, which expresses Tagore’s obeisance to an all pervading, omniscient, impersonal supreme creator. This body of Tagore literature gives expression to his wonderment at the vastness of the cosmos and a supreme intellect which is the infinite in the shape of the infinitesimal.
But it is an irony that the most popular Godhead of Hindu pantheon, Lord Shiva, is not originally a hardcore original Vedic tradition. Concept of Shiva, as Rudra, is found in a much earlier period, during the Indus Valley civilisation, pre-dating Hindu civilisation by almost a thousand years.
This is what one of the most authentic and scholarly modern commentators on the Hindu religion maintains.
Acharya Kshiti Mohan Sen, vice chancellor of Viswa Bharati University in Santiniketan, wrote in his monumental book, Hinduism, that the “crude” concept of Rudra of Indus Valley —who was conceived as a god of storm— was later “sublimated” into the changed idea of Shiva.
Whatever you say about K.M. Sen will be euphemism. This hardly 150-page book —published sixty years back in 1961—is so terse and shows such brevity that most often a sentence in the book could easily be explained only in a whole chapter. It is no easy read. You have to read, re-read and pause and reflect to comprehend what he is saying. Once you are launched into it, this is freedom and ecstasy.
An interesting sidelight. In his acknowledgement for his book, Archarya Sen cites two people, one of which is his grandson, Dr Amartya Kumar Sen, fo his help in the presentation and arrangement of the book. No wonder, the Nobel laureate economist has by now emerged as the most well known public intellectual fighting for retaining the diversity of the Indian culture against the attacks by fundamentalist forces. (IPA Service)