Is the Shankaracharya being Hindu enough? And What if truth hurts someone’s religious sentiments?

July 5, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

A recent controversy about Shirdi Sai Baba started by Shakaracharya Swami Swaroopanand shows the intellectual, spiritual and tolerance level of the religious minded in our secular democratic country.

First a few facts

Set A from two Hindu sanyasins:

1. The Shankaracharya said “Sai Baba was a Muslim Fakir”

2. So he “ cannot be compared to Hindu deities or worshipped like them”

3. According to him certain forces are corrupting Hindu religion by arbitrarily creating new gods.

4. Uma Bharati thinks that “looking upon someone as a god was people’s personal opinion …”

5. However, the Shankaracharya is worried that “Statues of Sai Baba were being installed in homes. What if they were installed in our temples?”

6. He accuses Bharati of being “worshiper of a Muslim”

Set B from Shirdi Sai Baba worshippers:

1. “The Sai Temple authority in Lucknow has filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court demanding an FIR against Shankaracharya of Dwarkapeeth Swaroopananda Saraswati for hurting religious sentiments” of thousands of Sai Baba devotees.

The first question: Is the Shankaracharya being Hindu enough?

One can hardly fight with the fact that the individual remembered as Sai Baba was a Muslim fakir. His worship by many Hindus (perhaps very few Muslims) does not change this fact. We do not know much of his belief system in detail though.

But rest of the Shankaracharya’s claims hardly hold any water. The ancestors of the people today called Hindus have been too good at creating and worshipping gods. Right from the Vedic era they have run a virtual industry of this. Surely, the economic gains and power over peoples’ thinking have been the main motives. It is always doubtful—in all religions—whether the creation and worshiping gods is necessarily an act of faith or more motivated by possible socio-political-economic gains.

It is a well-known fact that Shiva and Ganesha are not Vedic gods, they were introduced in the Hindu pantheon much later. They have many temples devoted to them and form part of set of idols in many others. More recently Santoshi Mata has been created and fitted in the company of Devis smugly. Now she has temples devoted to her. A section of modern Hindus has a craze for building temples to politicians and even to film stars. So what danger a poor Muslim Fakir can cause to either Hindu mind-set or to their temples? How addition of one in tetees-caror can manage to corrupt Hindu religion? If the number and variety of gods corrupt it then it is already unredeemable corrupted.

For a change Uma Bharati is right when she says that “looking upon someone as a god was people’s personal opinion …”. That always have been the Hindu view regarding gods. There are plenty of Muslim fakir and even worriers who are being worshiped by Hindus in rural India, albeit at a smaller scale and in a local population.

It seems the Shankaracharya is deviating from Hindu attitude to creating and worshipping gods. We all have our right to create as many gods as we please, and in as many shapes and size as we please, to boot. Our gods do not even need to be all good, they can happily have some elements of maliciousness in them.

The second question: When the truth contradicts religious sentiments which should have priority?

We are living in a secular democracy. The claim that the Sai baba was a man, and a Muslim fakir is true enough. That worshiping Sai Baba is corruption of Hinduism is the Shankaracharya’s opinion. So are her claims that (i) a Muslim should not be worshipped, (ii) Sai Baba temples are being created to deflect attention from Rama Temple, and (iii) Sai Baba is no symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Now the issue is: if the one true statement and several opinions of the Shankaracharya hurt Sai Baba devotees’ sentiments can one file an FIR and drag him to the court?

As I said above we are living in a secular democracy, which guarantees freedom of expression. That right is extended to all citizens of India, the Shakaracharya included.

Sai Baba was a human, was a Muslim fakir and could not have been a god, as there is no such thing as god. If all this hurts Sai devotees’ sentiments, too bad. They should either change their belief system or learn not to get hurt so easily. However, they have a perfect right to worship Sai Baba as god if they like; after all everyone is free to be deluded or even a hypocrite.

The Shakaracharya of course is free to express his views, in this matter. But he can hardly be said to be following Hindu cannon in holding and expressing the beliefs that a Muslim cannot be worshiped by Hindus as a god, or that creating new gods will corrupt Hindu religion.

I don’t even think that there is such a thing as THE HINDU RELIGION. What we call Hinduism is more like a basket of several religious sects exhibiting a family resemblance. There is plenty of room in this basket for many more panthas. So don’t torment yourself, Your Holiness, as long as this creativity and variety is allowed Hinduism is in no danger.