When PM Oli held his rally on 5th February in front of the Narayanhiti Palace, the expectation was that an announcement would be made that Nepal was reverting back to being a Hindu Rastra. It did not happen.
The roots of Hinduism can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilisation of 3300 BCE to 1700 BCE.
The people of Aryan origin, living in ancient times south of the River Sindhu or present Indus in Pakistan, were referred to as Sindus. The word gradually became corrupted and became Hindus. Though not initially a categorisation of a group of people practising a certain faith, it came to be so in course of time. Wendy Doniger in her ‘On Hinduism’ states “The Persians called the region ‘Hindustan’ as did the Mugal Emperor Baber in his memoirs in the 16th Century.” Doniger also writes that Hindus sometimes referred to themselves as: ‘We are the people whose canon is the Veda.’ In another book ‘The Hindu – An Alternative History’, Doniger goes on to state, ‘What we need is a reformed Hindu, compatible with the present trends.’
There are supposed to be three Kotis – 333 million Gods in the Hindu firmaments. The Hindu religion is taken to be very liberal with the Gods being he, she or even it. The reason is said to be because there were on the Indian sub-continent, many religious groups with a large number of Gods to be catered for, if peace and consensus was to be maintained in the community. Thus, we have images of multiple-handed Gods and their consorts, both perhaps holding various objects signifying, power, wealth, knowledge and other attributes. The many animals or birds, considered also important, worshipped or even admired as a blessing were then included as bahaans and put into the conglomeration of heavenly figures!
I remember that when I was in Germany in 1955 my language teacher asked me what religion I followed. When I answered that I was a Hindu he retorted ‘Hinduism is not a religion, it is a philosophy of life.’ This surprised me. Is Hinduism a culture of the Hindus? Sometime later, an Indonesian colleague remarked to me that God was at the top of a mountain and that we people of different faiths had different paths to climb to the top! In similar vein, Swami Vivekananda taught about different streams originating in different places flowing into the same sea, denoting thereby that all paths lead to the same divinity.
In the Prologue of his book ‘The Hindu Way’ Shashi Tharoor writes:
“Hinduism is uniquely difficult to encapsulate for various reasons: no single founder or prophet, no organised church, no single holy book, and so on, the faith is almost Wikipedia like in the authorial diversity of its scriptures and tenets. He goes on to say: “The overwhelming majority of Hindus in the world were born Hindu. A small handful, inspired by marriage, migration or philosophical connection, has adopted the faith, usually by a process of ‘conversion’ unknown to most Hindus.”
Nepal known formerly as the only Hindu kingdom in world has had seven Constitutions to date. The first two in 1948 and 1951 were referred to as Government Acts. Immediate subsequent ones were in 1959, 1962, 1990 and then in 2007. The last drawn up by a constituent body in 2015 converted Nepal into a secular state. It was mainly due to the efforts of proselytisers from various nations, from different parts of the world who have descended on this land to convert the people. There was even connivance of some local leaders.
In this context it is worth noting that whilst some of the biggest, richest and powerful nations of the world are secular, many nations do still have specific state religions. There are pros and cons for secularity also. What then was the dire necessity for this landlocked developing nation – 93rd in terms of land mass and 49th in terms of population out of the present 195 sovereign nations to opt for secularism? After all many countries still have official state religions as listed below:
Buddhism: Official state religion in Bhutan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Kalmykia. Importance in Mongolia.
Catholicism: Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco. Prominence in many countries.
Greek Eastern Orthodox: Greece.
Islam: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran. Official religion in countries of the Middle East with its strictest application in Saudi Arabia.
Lutheranism: Denmark, Finland.
Having a state religion may alienate certain sections but what has to be accepted is the trend of liberalism and acceptance of the mores and customs of a society living together. Celebrating festivals of different cultures e.g. Baisakhi, Losars, Maghe Sankranti, Valentine’s Day, Eid, Dasain, Tihar, Nhoo Do yaa Vintuna and Christmas may serve to bring about social harmony. These are already all official holidays in Nepal.
Prominent Indian writer Gurucharan Das in the Prelude of his book sub-titled ‘The Subtle Art of the Dharma’ and writing about religion states:
- In despair I watched teachers – once revered as gurus and moral guides – fail their student, and political leader, who had a duty to uphold the law, become lawbreakers.
- Hinduism is not a ‘religion’ …. It is a civilisation based in a simple metaphysical insight about the unity of the individual and the universe and has self-development as an objective.
Nehru in ‘Discovery of India’ wrote of Hinduism:- “… a faith which is vague, amorphous, many sided, and all things to all men …… a relentless pursuit after truth.”
When the numerically 7th Constitution of Nepal was put before the public prior to it being official and legislated, it was suggested by a large number of people and feedback given that Nepal should be a Hindu Rastra. Such a major and important suggestion was not considered and quietly shelved! We are presently at the crossroads. Will this, our present 7th Constitution serve our purpose or will it have to have further amendments? Alternatively must we revert back to our 6th Constitution of 1991, labelled at one time by our present leaders as ‘The best Constitution in the World’?
The author is a retired medical doctor and writes fiction under the pen name of Mani Dixit also. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd