Sunday, 7 November 2021

Upinder Singh's silence on Sirhindi

Upinder Singh, daughter of former P.M Manmohan, writes 

The absorptive capacity of Hinduism is displayed in the Puranas,

No. The absorptive capacity of Catholicism is shown by the fact that there is are two Saints based on a Buddhist story and that the Jesuits wrote a 'Purana' in Sanskrit which fooled Voltaire. By contrast Hindu texts only arose a long time after the Hindu deities and practices they mention were well established. What Upinder means is that migrating Brahmins, while maintaining their own rituals and Scripture, adopted indigenous forms of worship and at a later stage their descendants, together with the priestly lineages of indigenous people, played a role in commemorating their common faith in devotional compositions of various types. 

which created pantheons

No. Pantheons were a feature of all indigenous religions- including that of the ancient Arabs who had Goddesses who were considered the daughters of the supreme deity.  

that brought together numerous gods and goddesses who were initially foci of independent worship.

There is no evidence for this whatsoever. At one time there was a theory that one or two tribes had always been monotheist. But this wasn't true of the Jews or the Arabs or the Nuer or anyone else. It simply isn't the case that an original monotheistic creed without any idols or demigods existed anywhere or at any time.  

The incorporation of the Buddha as an avatara (incarnation) of Vishnu is often cited as an example of the syncretic nature of Hinduism.

But the Buddha is also a Catholic & Orthodox Saint. The difference is that Buddhists also performed Hindu rituals and many Buddhist monks were Brahmins. To this day, Buddhists and Hindus worship in each others' temples. In Singapore, Chinese Buddhists visit Hindu temples. 

The question is: what sort of incorporation was it?

There was no incorporation. Like Sikhism, Buddhism began within Hinduism and some Hindus worshipped as Buddhists or Sikhs without losing their Hindu identity.  

The Puranic description of the Buddha is anything but flattering. He is supposed to delude the wicked in the Kali age and to pave the way for the arrival of the Kalki avatara.

In other words, like every other Avatar, he has a particular task which some may consider repugnant- e.g. having to kill demons etc. 

The early Bengal Upapuranas say many negative things about Buddhists; they describe them as symbols of evil, defiling, and to be avoided.

So what? Some Saivites and Vaisnavites traded insults but then every religion has some sectarian animosity. 

Even dreaming about them is inauspicious. The later Upapuranas offer a more positive image, describing the Buddha as an embodiment of peace and beauty, and connecting him with the compassionate aim of ending animal sacrifices. Nevertheless, in spite of being recognized as an avatara, the Buddha was never worshipped in Vishnu temples.

Which suggests that Hinduism wasn't 'syncretic'. It was merely fraternal to Buddhism. Prior to Muslim invasions it is likely that people went to Buddhist or other Shraman places of worship and instruction on some days and went to Hindu temples on other days. 

Incorporative and subordinating strategies were not only adopted by the Vaishnavas;

Different sects have taken over places of worship from each other in every religion. But Religion is a service industry. Which deities are represented in a Temple is a function of popular piety.  

they were also adopted by the Buddhists, interestingly, more vis-à-vis Shaivism than Vaishnavism.

Vaishnav's did feel Adi Sankara was a crypto-Buddhist. Since Shiva is an ascetic deity, there is a natural affinity with an ascetic sect. 

Buddhist texts narrate the Trailokyavijaya episode, where Heruka, an emanation of the bodhisattva Vajrapani, gets angry with Shiva Maheshvara and destroys him by crushing him under his left foot. He then resurrects Shiva and his consort as Uma Maheshvara and gives them a new name, Bhairava–Bhairavi, and admits them into the Buddhist fold as his followers. This event is also represented visually in many Buddhist images. Religious conflict is also reflected in the many images of wrathful Buddhist Tantric deities trampling on Hindu gods and vice versa.

No. Religious conflict is reflected in people of different religions actually killing each other. There was religious conflict between Muslims and Hindus but there wasn't any such thing between Buddhists and Hindus because most Indian Buddhists also participated in Hindu religious ceremonies.  

Inter-religious dynamics are relevant to the debate on the decline of Buddhism in India.

Only if you want to pretend that Islam did not exterminate Buddhism wherever it could. Why did Jainism survive while Buddhism went extinct? The answer is obvious. Buddhism had big Seminaries where the next generation of monks could be trained up. Destroying these Universities and killing the distinctively clad monks eliminated a source of educated opposition with international links. By contrast, the Jains developed a system of lay-man (shravak) instruction and thus was able to survive at the level of the family and the sept. Brahmanism, obviously, could survive because transmission was from father to son. Meanwhile Upinder can debate who killed Guru Arjan Das. It must have been Hindus, right? Sirhindi sounds like a Hindu name.  

Various factors have been suggested for this decline— the failure of Buddhism to maintain a distinct identity in relation to the Hindu sects; an alleged ‘degeneration’ brought in by increasing Tantric influences; an aggressive Brahmanism/Hinduism; and the Turkish invasions.

That's the only one that works. Sri Lanka wasn't invaded by Muslims. Buddhism survived. In the South, Buddhism certainly did decline as Saivism and Vaisnavism rose but Buddhism could always be revived with a little help from a South East Asian monarch. But its moment had passed. The future belonged to religion as an organizing principle for aggressive- or at least militarily capable- Nation States. Muslim domination of the Indian Ocean was terminated by the Portuguese and then the Dutch. However, the Brits reopened the door to a Buddhist revival in India. It attracted Hindu converts but not Sikhs or Christians or Muslims.  

Did Buddhism slowly fade out or was it pushed out? There is a view that it was pushed out and that this involved a great deal of very real violence.

Much of Hindu India was enslaved. Buddhism was a casualty because Buddhism had been attractive to the more intellectually inclined Hindus. Buddhism did flourish in Tibet- which preserved its independence. Then the Chinese took over and the Commies got busy. No doubt, Upinder's chums 'debate' why Buddhism might have declined in Lhasa. 

Upinder is a historian. She should know that violence means killing people. Saying 'Professor X crushed Professor Y' does not mean X actually smashed Y's head in with a rock. Nevertheless, she writes

The Mimamsaka Kumarila Bhatta is described in his hagiographies as defeating the Buddhists and establishing the supremacy of the Veda. Kumarila is said to have spent many years studying (undercover, so to speak) with a Buddhist teacher, and learning the doctrine in order to eventually refute it. He succeeded in defeating the Buddhists (and Jainas) in debate. The accounts of these debates are quite violent:

But unlike Sirhindi who actually got Guru Arjan Das killed, Kumarila didn't instigate any violence.  

“He defeated countless Buddhists and Jainas by means of different types of arguments in the various sciences. Having cut off their heads with axes, he threw them down into numerous wooden mortars and made a powder of them by whirling around a pestle. In this way he was fearlessly carrying out the destruction of those who held evil doctrines.”

This is like saying 'Professor X took down the pants of Professor Y and stuck it to him but good.' No actual buggery occurred. It's just a manner of speaking is all.  

Is this metaphorical violence or is it a reflection of violent religious conflicts on the ground?

It is metaphorical.  

There are also references to political persecution (discussed later) of Buddhism. But Buddhism did not disappear from India. The Buddhist monasteries at Sanchi and Amaravati continued to exist till the twelfth/ thirteenth and fourteenth centuries respectively. The thirteenth century Chachnama refers to Buddhism flourishing in Sindh in the northwest. In Kashmir, the Jayendra monastery at Shrinagara and the Raja vihara at Parihasapura declined by the eleventh century, but the Ratnagupta monastery and Ratnarashmi monastery at Anupamapura flourished in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In Bengal and Bihar, the Palas were patrons of Buddhism. Various monasteries such as Nalanda, Odantapura (near Nalanda), Vikramashila (identified with Antichak in Bhagalpur district, Bihar), and Somapuri (located at Paharpur) flourished in their kingdoms. In Orissa, remains of early medieval Buddhist stupas, monasteries, and sculptures have been found at Lalitagiri and Ratnagiri. Several Buddhist viharas were built during this period in Nepal, as well as in Ladakh, Lahul, and Spiti.

Buddhism was flourishing in Afghanistan. Zorastrianism flourished in Iran. Upinder's chums should debate what happened there. 

It was the Tantric form of Buddhism that flourished at most of the major monastic centres.

This was also true of some Hindu areas. 

It should be noted that some of the monasteries that were established in Tibet and in the western Himalayas during these centuries have a continuous history right down to the present.

Because the Muslims didn't conquer them. The Chinese Communist party, however, has certainly had an impact. 

So Buddhism did not completely disappear from the subcontinent, but it did decline and was relegated to the geographical, political, and cultural margins. There is much about the history of Buddhism in early medieval India, especially the reasons for dwindling lay support and patronage, that remains obscure.

But the reason for its extinction, which is also the reason for the extinction of Zoroastrianism, can't be gainsaid.

But although the texts may present a dramatized, exaggerated version of events, there is no doubt that religious competition and conflict are part of the story.

No. Competition is good for the vitality of sect. Being killed is not. It is the latter sort of conflict that Islam brought to India.  

It is worth noting that apart from the especially fierce Tantric deities, the iconography of many Indian deities includes weapons,

because those weapons refer to techniques to destroy obstacles to progress in spiritual meditation. 

and their mythology involves killing, even if those being killed are evil beings.

Whereas Islamic historians have gloried in the killing of kaffirs by their heroic Sultans.  

Why is there so much violence in representations of Indian gods and goddesses and in stories of their exploits?

Because there was no violence in real life. It was displaced into the realm of mythos. Nowadays, a lot of us watch movies and TV shows featuring a lot of violence precisely because there is very little violence in our own daily life. 

Even if these images are interpreted metaphorically—the defeat of evil, the passions, or the ego—the stark violence in them cannot be ignored.

Yes it can because no actual blood was shed. By contrast Sirhindi really did bay for the blood of Guru Arjan Dev. Upinder is silent about that real violence preferring to look at imaginary violence where it doesn't at all exist. Why? She and her profession are anti-Hindu and, in so far as Sikhs are on the same side as Hindus- i.e. are being killed because of their religion- then she is also anti-Sikh. But this was the ideology her father espoused. Upinder herself must have seen her father consorting with some of the 'Youth' Congress leaders who slaughtered Sikhs in 1984.  But she is silent about that. Interestingly, genuine Leftists like Irfan Habib weren't afraid to condemn Sirhindi. But Habib belonged to a more scholarly generation. Upinder's book demonstrates the imbecility and ignorance of the 'darbari' intellectual of a dynasty dying nasty. 

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