Sunday 2 June 2024

Vivekananda & the RSS

Vivekananda was a Hindu monk. To say he held Hinduism in high esteem is like saying that the Pope has a soft spot for Catholicism. Yet that is what does.

Vivekananda held Hinduism in high esteem but the RSS and Sangh Parivar’s claim to him is misguided

Anyone at all is welcome to be inspired to him by anyone at all. I am welcome to claim Shakespeare and Dante as my inspiration or role models. True, if I were a plumber rather than a poet, my claim would be misguided. But it is not misguided for a nationalist organization with a pronounced Hindu character to claim inspiration from a Nationalistic Hindu monk and spiritual preceptor.  

Vivekananda was also a sharp and at times even harsh critic of contemporary Hinduism.

It is the job of a Swamy or an Acharya to criticize contemporary mores or superstitious practices.  

Govind Krishnan V

The RSS and the Sangh Parivar claim Vivekananda as an inspiration;

They have made good that claim. Modi ended his election campaign by meditating at Vivekananda's rock.  

Vivekananda is most important in the Sangh’s pantheon of cultural figures. However, Vivekananda had no influence on the RSS in its formative years

because he died over a decade before it was formed. However, he was closely associated with Jugantar and the Anushilan Samitis which directly inspired Hardikar, founder of the Congress Seva Dal, and his close friend Hegdewar who founded the RSS a couple of years later.  

when it developed its political ideology of Hindutva, or in the years immediately following Independence.

Vivekandanda had two brothers who, like him, chose celibacy. The younger of the two was more inclined to Socialism and served as a bridge between Nationalism and a supposedly Scientific ideology which, it was believed, would deliver rapid Socio-Economic progress. RSS members frequently visited both brothers and also had strong ties to the Ramakrishna mission. I may mention that Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee was believed to have been a relative and great helper of, the revolutionary, Bagha Jatin. Ashutosh's son was the founder, with RSS help, of the Jan Sangh.  

The Sangh’s public adulation of Vivekananda seems to have begun in the sixties.

The Maharashtrian revolutionary tradition was less religious having been influenced by Herbert Spencer. However, Eknath Ranade, who became the RSS general secretary in 1956, was a great devotee of Vivekananda. Rajaji's Swatantra party had shown that religion and royalty could still sway voters. Moreover, Nehru's Socialism had run out of steam. Budgets matter. Plans don't if you run out of hard currency.  

He was presented as both a patriot and a glorifier of Indian culture and Hinduism.

Whereas actually he was a Jewish Rabbi who said Indian culture was shit- right?  

The Sangh tried to create greater recognition for a more Hinduised, nationalistic Vivekananda.

Whereas, the man was actually a Rabbi who lived in Seattle and hated darkies.  

A watershed was the movement led by the RSS and the VHP to install a Vivekananda memorial in Kanyakumari.

The Catholic fishermen had put up a cross on the island claiming it to be St. Xavier's rock. The Courts awarded it to the Hindus. Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam and Cabinet Minister Humayun Kabir opposed the Hindu claim but Ranade cleverly campaigned for the memorial in Kabir's own Calcutta consituency. Kabir did a volte face. It is said that Indira Gandhi was personally not opposed to the project and she signed off on it.  However, it may have been Bhaktavatsalam's devotion to the Paramacharya of Kanchi that led to permission for a larger memorial. 

The Tamil Nadu government was not keen, so the RSS was able to build a movement out of the Vivekananda memorial, making it into a national cause. They distributed lakhs of leaflets with quotations from Vivekananda, in the process impressing on people’s minds an association between Vivekananda and the Sangh.

But Ranade was already a devotee of the Swamy. However he built support for it from sects and seers traditionally opposed to the anti-casteist RSS.  

Having garnered support from across India, the RSS eventually got the memorial as well as a Vivekananda Kendra built.

Many Hindu Tamils gave Indira credit for this. My impression is that the RSS was seen as too radical and fanatically opposed to casteism. 

This allowed the RSS and its Sangh affiliates to forge an association in the popular mind between them and the figure of Vivekananda, giving the RSS’s claim of representing Hinduism legitimacy.

Not really. You have to remember that the older generation had an atavistic belief in caste based restrictions. This was probably based on a primitive sort of pathogen avoidance theory. It was only once the Granny could see with her own eyes that Western medicine could cure diseases that she came to accept that caste restrictions were useless. You wouldn't get cholera or typhoid by 'inter-dining'. 

Vivekananda was already part of the national consciousness in the sixties.

He was part of global consciousness while he was still alive. Tolstoy and Brouwer read Vivekananda.  

With their tireless efforts to further iconise his image, the Sangh not only took credit for doing something for Hinduism, but also gained the legitimacy of association with one of modern Hinduism’s most revered and admired figures.

Why then did Bengal and Tamil Nadu not turn into RSS bastions? What has Vivekananda to do with Gujarat which did become an RSS stronghold? The plain fact is, Vivekananda's religious significance had faded. It was the traditional seers and Sadhus who commanded veneration. Indeed, even Western pop-stars were turning up to sit and meditate in their Ashrams. It was only after lots of smart Indians got Green Cards that suddenly Vivekananda's American sojourn made him relatable. Otherwise he was just a bombastic Bengali. By contrast Swamy Prabhupada had gained lots of American and European devotees and Hindu worship in the ISKCON temples was perfectly orthodox. I recall recoiling from the sight of muscular Sadhus with blue eyes but Mum pointed out that their Sanskrit pronunciation was perfect. Who cares if they are White or, like Swamy Ghanananda, from Ghana? They are proper Pundits and, what is more, aren't just trying to make a living. They are passionate devotees of the Lord. 

The history of a civilisation and the history of its dominant religion must necessarily overlap.

No shit, Sherlock! 

Vivekananda’s idea of a decline in Indian national life

it was ruled by a handful of Englishmen who, to our shame, knew our country better than we did. A.O Hume wasn't just an expert on Indian agriculture with a plan to make it much more productive (he advocated cow protection for an agronomic reason), he was also an erudite Vedantin. Sadly, Congress filled with barristocratic blathershites.  

reflected in his views on Hinduism and its evolution. Vivekananda, unlike Hindutva’s key thinkers, nowhere expresses the idea that Indians had a sense of political nationality before the arrival of the British.

But he was an Indian nationalist all the same. Politically, he was on the side of the 'Garam Dal' and similar to revolutionaries like Aurobindo and Bagha Jatin.  

He, however, seems to have extended the notion of nationality to include the cultural substratum on which political nationalism and the idea of a nation take root, and it is in this sense that he talks of the Indian nation and its life since the Vedic ages.

He was a Vedantin and admitted that political or cultural factors are 'samskars' which are sublatable.  

There is no doubt of the fact that Vivekananda held Hinduism in the very highest esteem as a religion.

He was a Hindu Swamy.  

He was proud to be a Hindu in an age when Western colonial discourse held Hinduism in contempt.

No. After the Darwinian revolution, Christianity was on the back foot. Hinduism and Buddhism were on the ascendant. Blavatsky & Olcott's Theosophical Society swept the world. Yeats and Strindberg- like Emerson before them- were deeply versed in Indology. TS Eliot went the extra mile and got an MA in Sanskrit. But that wasn't that unusual. Aurobindo's (and Chesterton's) headmaster had a similar qualification. People like Andre and Simone Weil grew up reading Sanskrit in the original. Rabindranath got a Nobel precisely because he was the hereditary leader of a prestigious Hindu sect- which is why he swanned around in a kaftan. 

He self-identified with the tradition of its spiritual gurus and part of his life mission was to regenerate Hinduism and give Hindus self-confidence. He was passionate about this cause and often exalted the spiritual greatness of the ideals of Hinduism in the most lyrical manner.

Because he was a Hindu Swamy. That's what Scroll doesn't seem to get. Many members of the RSS are devout Hindus. That is why they venerate Ramakrishna and Vivekananda whom they consider to be anti-casteist.  

But that is where the similarity of the historical Vivekananda with the Sangh’s picture of Vivekananda ends.

Because, historically speaking, Vivekananda was actually a Rabbi who lived in Seattle- right?  

For what is nowadays widely forgotten or ignored is that Vivekananda was also a sharp and at times even harsh critic of contemporary Hinduism.

All Swamys and Acharyas are sharply critical of superstitious customs or the performance of rituals for a materialistic purpose.  

What Vivekananda valued was what he considered the essence of Hinduism, which was constituted by the experiences of a line of spiritual mystics over the centuries; and the Vedanta philosophy expounded in the Upanishads, the metaphysical portion of the Vedas.

He was a Vedantin. Many Hindus are.  

Following the tradition of Vedantists like Shankara, Vivekananda considered the rituals and ceremonials of Hinduism to be devoid of any spiritual value.

Unless performed in the right spirit. But this is also the teaching of the Church. It is obvious that if light candles in Church in the hope that God will cause your business rival to have a heart-attack, then what you are doing is not religious at all. It is a depraved type of magic.  

Worse, an obsession with ritualism had, in his view, led to the moral decay of Hinduism.

Which religious leader says 'ritualism is cool. Go to Church and pray that your business rival gets raped to death by gorillas?'  

This ritualism, fused with notions of purity and those of caste, drew forth Vivekananda’s unalloyed scorn and anger.

Whereas what draws forth this nutters scorn and anger is the fact that most Indians are Hindus. Why can't they just kill themselves already or make a present of the place to the Caliphate?  

When he disembarked in Tamil Nadu after his first visit to the West, he received a welcome from the Hindus of Shivaganga.

Because Hindus like Hindu Swamys. How wicked of them! 

In his address to them, he remarked:

“Think of the last six hundred or seven hundred years of degradation when grown-up men by hundreds have been discussing for years whether we should drink a glass of water with the right hand or the left, whether the hand should be washed three times or four times, whether we should gargle five or six times. What can you expect from men who pass their lives in discussing such momentous questions as these and writing most learned philosophies on them!

But such discussions also occur amongst Muslims who have elaborated hygienic rules. Western Christianity was a bit different in that neglect of the body could be considered a higher type of Spirituality. Still, the fact is such discussions occupy very little of the time of savants. 

It must also be remembered that Vivekananda was a Kayastha and thus liked taking a dig at the Brahmins who, he supposed, were obsessed with such trivial questions. Anti-Brahminism was becoming popular in Tamil Nadu.  

We are neither Vedantists, most of us now, nor Pauranikas, nor Tantrikas, we are just ‘Don’t touchists’.

India is a hot country. We don't want to be constantly touching each other's sweaty bodies. What Vivekananda did not understand was that only productivity matters. Bengali blathershites are useless. Modi actually does his job. He isn't incessantly scolding everybody.  

Our religion is in the kitchen.

No. Our food is in the kitchen.  Hindus have a puja-room or niche. That is where their religion is. Still, Scroll's readers may not know this. 

Our God is the cooking-pot, and our religion is, ‘Don’t touch me. I am holy.’ If this goes on for another century every one of us will be in a lunatic asylum.”

Brahmins drool. Kayasths rule! The real problem for India is that it has too many bombastic Bengali blathershites.  

The idea that the modern Hindus’s religion was in the kitchen was one that Vivekananda expressed several times as a rebuke to disciples and devotees,

unless they rebuked him first.  

especially when he encountered narrowness of the mind and conservative attitudes. In a letter to Alasingha, he exclaimed, “You (Hindus), have no religion, your God is the kitchen, your Bible the cooking-pots.”

Alasingha, a foolish Iyengar, had collected money for the blathershite who wanted more and more of that commodity.  Writing from Paris, Vivekandanda told him that soon the West- which has lots of money- would heed his call. He didn't need India or Indians any more. 

You Hindus will see in a few years what the Lord does in the West. You are like the Jews of old — dogs in the manger, who neither eat nor allow others to eat. You have no religion your God is the kitchen, your Bible the cooking-pots.

 Apparently abusing devout Vaishnavites causes them to sell their wife's ornaments to supply you with funds. 

In an interview given to the Madras Times on his return from the West, Vivekananda made the same kind of remark about the Hindu religion having got into the kitchen. “The present Hinduism is a degradation,” he added.

Sadly, only a few Western spinsters heeded to the call of the blathershite. To India he had to return just like his brothers. Thankfully, he died young so that India could succumb to the toothless charms of a yet stupider Maha-crackpot. Still, if banging on about Vivekananda helps Modi get a bigger majority, I have no quarrel with him. But Modi works. He doesn't just scold.  

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