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Hindu Revivalism and the Hindutva Movement

The members of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) whom I met in Calcutta in early March gathered in their yard every morning just at sunrise. They recitated Gita and sang patriotic songs. After the devotion they concentrated on physical exercises.

Each branch of the RSS ('Hindu home troops') organization acts in the same way throughout India. The Hindu communalism movement consists of the RSS, the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad, 'Hindu World Council') and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, 'Hindu People's Party'). The BJP is nowadays the largest party in the parliament of India.

In the Indian context communalism means belief that Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs form different and distinct communities, so that they constitute separate homogeneous and cohesive communities. The communalists also believe that in every religion the social and cultural identity is different, because religion forms the foundation for the basic social identity and is the determinant of the basic social relationships. According to the world view of Hindu or Muslim communalists, this means that a 'real' Hindu or Muslim can belong to only one party in the community and all Hindus and Muslims must think alike in politics because they are Hindus or Muslims (Chandra 1992: 1-2).

Hindu communalists carried out their old threat on December 6, 1992 and destroyed in Ayodhya. According to tradition, Rama, the incarnation of Vishnu, was born in the holy city of Ayodhya in the Treta Yuga, which would make it thousands of years before the Kali Yuga, sometimes calculated to begin in 3102 BC. Hindu organizations have claimed that Babri Mosque was built in 1528 by the moghul ruler Babur on the very spot where Ramajanmasthan (the birth temple of Rama) was located. In their world view Rama is the most important god among other Hindu gods, and Ayodhya is the holiest city among other Hindu holy cities. That is why Babri-masjid had to be demolished - in their vocabulary 'to be released'. We can interpret this as an eschatological process compared to the attitudes of Christians and Jews towards the holy city of Jerusalem (Panikkar 1991: 22-23; Bakker 1991: 96-97).

Ayodhya had to be released, because it was one of the most important signs that 'Rama Rajya' (the kingdom of Rama) could be realized in the near future. When the BJP won the last assembly election (in March 1995) in Maharashtra and Gujarat, their principal newspaper (Organiser) wrote that they celebrated the victory as being as meaningful a historical issue as was the release of the Ramajanmasthan temple. They argued that this means the beginning of a brand new era for Hindus: the Hindus will take their fate into their own hands, first in Maharashtra and Gujarat and then throughout in the country.

In this article I deal with the Hindu communalism movement from the revivalistic point of view. I try to show that its success is at least partly understable in the framework of revivalistic reaction to modern western-type society.

In South Asia, religious revivalism has taken many forms in this century, reflecting the multicultural and multireligious complexity of the whole subcontinent. Revivalist movements have also represented a wide spectrum of ideologies, ranging from defences of traditional orthodoxy to completely new formulations of traditional norms and practices (see Allen 1993; Das 1994).

Revivalism in the Nationalist Movement

The Indian nationalist movement arose in the second half of the 19th century, basically to meet the challenge of foreign domination. In December 1885 the Indian National Congress was born. Under its leadership Indians started a prolonged struggle for independence. National political consciousness concentrated on the National Congress, and from the beginning it was dominated by upper caste Hindus.

Until very late in the 19th century, most leading nationalists were willing to collaborate with the British colonial administration. A shift from collaboration to criticism came right at the end of last century. Two broad movements emerged among Hindus as a reaction to colonial rule: modernists and revivalists. The former movement adopted basically Western models for political and social change in India while the latter looked back to the roots, to Hindu antiquity. It is obvious that within both groups the ideological sphere was wide. Revivalism included those who wanted to preserve the traditional social order as well as Hindu reforms, whose basic aim was to strengthen Hindu solidarity (Andersen and Damle 1987: 10-11).

Hindu revivalists argued that the national identity could be recovered only by seeking the fundamental religious and cultural truths again. They idealized the past, and demanded a return to the older and purer forms of Hindu culture that had degenerated under foreign rule. The revivalists preferred a more aggressive, 'kshatriya' (warrior) world view than the modernists. Research by Western orientalists confirmed the faith of the revivalists in the achievements of Hindu civilization.

According to many leading revivalists, Hindu society had degenerated, because Hindus no longer followed 'dharma'. They claimed that India could not regenerate itself unless dharma was properly observed. For example Aurobindo Ghose emphasized that 'all great awakenings in India, all her periods of mightiest and most varied vigour have drawn their vitality from the fountainhead of some deep religious awakening' (Purani 1964: 81). Aurobindo Ghose and other revivalists shared the view that a good society can exist only when it is based on the correct principles of dharma.

Like the millennial movements in Europe (see Cohn 1972), the political character of Indian revivalism derived much of its strength from the importance of preparing for salvation. The 'Dharma-karma' concept was adjusted for political purposes mainly by three persons: Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) and Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920). They all legitimated their religious and political ideas by the 'Bhagavad Gita'. According to Aurobindo Ghose, the nation was a divine expression of God. That is why he could emphasize that 'nationalism is a religion that has come from God'. (Andersen and Damle 1987: 13-16).

According to Girilal Jain (1994: 45), there are three notable points in Swami Vivekananda's 'religion of patriotism': firstly his identification of Mother India with the supreme God, secondly his attempt to reintroduce the Kshatriya element in the Hindu psyche, and thirdly his conviction that India was destined to be a teacher of the human race in the spiritual reality. On his return to India from the meeting of the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, he declared that the indebtedness of the universe to India knew no bounds. While civilizations had come and gone, the civilization of India was 'indestructible and eternal'. And the message of this civilization had to be spread throughout the world.

The Indian National Congress was in the hands of modernists until 1916, although it also included many revivalists, who advocated a more militant style of protest and greater contact with the masses. In 1916 the political power passed to a group, whose leader was the Maharashtrian revivalist B.G. Tilak. Four years later Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi got the leadership of the Congress. (Andersen and Damle 1987: 12).

At the beginning Gandhi received widespread support from the revivalists when he appeared in India after World War I. Actually many revivalists believed him to be one of them. But quite soon many of them came to oppose him as they became better acquainted with his basic ideas. The revivalists felt that Gandhi's views were both contradictory to their ideology and what was worse, his ideas were in practice inefficient. They rejected his ascetic non-kshatriya style of leadership, his definition of dharma as the nonviolent pursuit of truth as well as his idea about the Indian nation as a brotherhood of different communities. They preferred 'himsa' (violence) to 'ahimsa', as they connected 'himsa' with Tilak's idea of 'energism' and the militancy needed to drive the British troops from the Indian subcontinent. Moreover, some revivalists claimed that the conception of ahimsa was Christian and not Aryan. The last straw for the revivalists were the riots between Hindus and Muslims which swept across India in the early 1920s. They felt that Gandhi was wrong. His noncooperation movement did not prevent the riots; on the contrary, it aroused and created communal rioting. Many revivalists believed that it was because of the 'weakness' of the Hindu community, and it could be overcome only if Hindus strengthened their community bonds and adopted a kshatriya outlook. (Andersen and Damle 1987: 19-27).

In this atmosphere in 1915 a new Hindu organization called Hindu Mahasabha was founded. It emphasized such Hindu interests as cow protection, Hindi in Devanagari script and caste reforms.

The leaders of Hindu Mahasabha were alarmed by the entry of Muslim 'ulema' into politics, for some Muslim leaders had expressed the need for a holy war and general pan-Islamic aims. The Hindu revivalists felt that they had to create an effective organization if they wanted to struggle against militant Islam. Hindu Mahasabha continued the revivalist tradition, which got its first expressions in Bengal in 1867.

The Hindu Mela organization was then formed to revive pride in Hindu civilization. Vinyak Damodar Savarkar founded the Mitra Mela in 1899 in Bombay. It was later known as the Abhinava Bharat Society (Young India Society). It advocated armed struggle to throw off the shackles of foreign rule. But the most famous of these revivalist organizations was the Arya Samaj. It was formed in 1875 by S. D. Sarasvati. Arya Samaj was a reformist movement which was popular in Northern India, especially in Punjab. It tried to change some basic elements in Hindu religion, for example the hereditary aspect of the caste system, the ritual supremacy of brahmins, child marriage, and idol worship. The organization also advocated strict monotheism and simplified ritual. It borrowed many organizational techniques from Christian missionaries. (Andersen and Damle 1987: 16-28; Hardy 1972: 139-141).

Keshav Baliram Hedgewar founded RSS in Nagpur in 1925. From the beginning the organization was connected with the epic story of Ramayana. According to his biographer, he 'chose the sacred day of Vijaya Dashami for the historic occasion' (Deshpande and Ramaswamy 1981: 82). That day of Vijaya Dashami when RSS was founded traditionally symbolized the conquest of good over evil, Rama's victory over the demon king Ravana. The rest of the most important festivals are also celebrated on the sacred dates connected with the life of Rama (Basu et al. 1993: 39). Hedgewar emphasized the need to develop members of the RSS both physically and spiritually. 'All of us must train ourselves physically, intellectually and in every way so as to be capable of achieving our cherished goal,' he declared in 1925 (Deshpande and Ramaswamy 1981: 82).

Wearing uniform (khaki shorts) during parades soon became obligatory for the Swayamsevaks. A special training programme for selected members was begun in 1927. The object of the programme was to equip the Swayamsevakas to enable them to carry on the RSS activities on their own, wherever they might go. The first training camp in the same year included physical exercises from 5 to 9 in the morning and again in the evening. The afternoon hours were spent in discussion and writing. The traditional Hindu gymnasium is closely associated with the ksahtriya life style all over India. These training camps have continued right up to the present day. The daily activities could start with the following kind of prayer:

Salutations to the Motherland where I was born.
Salutations to the Hindu Land where I was brought up.
Salutations to the Land of Dharma for which may my body fall.
To Her, I salute again and again.
(Deshpande and Ramaswamy 1981: 84-86).

In the RSS organization the basic units are called 'shakhas' (branches). The membership of each shakha varies between 50 and 100 male participants. Nowadays it is estimated that there are around 300 000 shakhas all over the country. Each shakha is further divided into four age groups: 6-10, 10-14, 14-28 and over 28 years. The age groups are further divided into 'gatas' (groups), which are composed of a common age group, and the members tend to live in a particular locality. Above the shakha in the pyramid of RSS is the 'mandal committee' (formed from participants from three or four shakhas). And then representatives from 10 to 12 mandals form 'a nagar' (city) committee. Above the city committees there may be 'zilla' (district) and 'vibhag' (regional) committees, but most of the daily work takes place at the city level. There are also the 'prantiya pratindhi sabhas' (state assemblies) and the 'Akhil-Bharatiya pratinidhi sabha' (central assembly), but they have no real power.

At the top of the organization is the 'sarsanghchalak'. In their constitution he is called the 'guide and philosopher'. Sometimes he is also called 'guru' or even 'avatar' (the incarnation of Vishnu). M. S. Golwalkar was chosen to this position by Hegdewar in 1940, and B. Deoras was chosen by Golwalkar only a few days before his death in 1973. They claim that a competitive election would be considered a disruptive catalyst, resulting in the disunity of the organization (Andersen and Damle 1987: 84-89).

In the nationalist movement the RSS remained rather nonpolitical until India's independence in 1947. For example V. D. Savarkar, who was elected president of the Hindu Mahasabha, frequently denounced the RSS for its 'purely cultural' orientation (Andersen and Damle 1987: 36). In 1948 the organization was banned, because the government suspected that the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha had both been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi. The assasinator Nathuram Godse had previously been a member of the RSS, but had left the organization because he felt it was not radical enough. At the time of the assassination Godse belonged to the paramilitary Hindu Rashtra Dal organization, which he had formed in 1943. He was also at that time an editor of a pro-Hindu Mahasabha newspaper in Pune (Basu et al. 1993: 23-24).

After the ban RSS was more actively involved in day-to-day politics. They also began organizing various social welfare activities in order to give a new and less paramilitary orientation to the RSS. The results of the new political orientation were seen in the early 1960s. The RSS got more public respect, most dramatically demonstrated by the government's decision to permit its participation in the 26 January Republic Day parade in 1963. The organization clearly benefited from the upsurge in nationalism during the Sino-Indian war in 1962.

By the mid-1970s, when a state of emergency was declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the RSS was banned a second time among other political parties. During the Emergency years 1975-77, the RSS and the whole Hindutva movement adopted a more liberal interpretation of Hindu nationalism. This also meant that the mutual suspicions of the RSS and its political opponents were reduced significantly. The organization took at least partial credit for the defeat of Prime Minister Gandhi in 1977. The Janata party then won 298 out of the 542 seats. The share of the Jana Sangh party was 93 seats in the Janata alliance (Andersen and Damle 1987: 109-114; 208-214; Ahuja 1994: 17-22).

The Jana Sangh party was formed in 1951 to act as a political wing of the RSS. Some leaders felt that 'though the RSS had mass following, it had no political voice' (Ahuja 1994: 17). But the new party was also strongly opposed by some senior RSS leaders. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) replaced Jana Sangh in 1980. Before the Jana Sangh party the Hindutva movement was enlarged by a student organization 'the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad' in 1948. And again in 1955 the Hindu 'family' got a new member: they decided to form a new labour movement, 'the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh'. The trinity of the Hindutva movement was complete when Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was formed in 1964.

The RSS was banned a third time after the demolishing of Babri Mosque in Ayodhya. The national government also declared the VHP an illegal organization. Actually the demolishing was basically organized by the VHP. It organized the worshipping and consecration of bricks in every village with a population of over 2000. These bricks were subsequently to be sent to Ayodhya for the construction of the temple. In this way a large number of Hindus were politically mobilized (Engineer 1991: 191).

The Concept of Natural Order

The concept of dharma is one of the most important concepts in Hindu world view. Its meaning differs slightly from one religious or philosophical tradition to another, but all interpretations share the view that it means something like 'natural order' or 'innate law' in a special individual, society and in the universe. The Hindu communalists also emphasize the concept of dharma (see Hellman 1992).

The second leader of the RSS, M.S. Golwalkar, defined dharma as the innate and fundamental law of the universe and human nature. According to him, this very law of dharma is the standard for deciding the propriety of behaviour in various situations. He argued that "if we carry this concept of Dharma even further, not only the State and the Nation, but the nature of entire mankind will have to be considered. In other words, the constitution of a nation cannot be contrary to the natural laws" (Golwalkar, Upadhyaya and Tengadi 1991: 48). And he emphasizes that since dharma is the supreme law, their ideal of the state must be 'Dharma-Rajya'. The rulers ought to follow those innate laws. Hence even omnipotent God "who can do everything cannot act contrary to Dharma" (Golwalkar, Upadhyaya and Tengadi 1991: 49).

In practice this has meant that the Hindu communalists have tried to define the natural inhabitants of Hindustan and the natural borders of the country as well as the natural order in the society ('Dharma-Rajya or Rama-Rajya').

In 1915 V. D. Savarkar wrote a book called 'Hindutva'. The book deeply influenced the ideas of the RSS founder Keshav Hedgewar. It was precisely the question of who was a Hindu that Savarkar tried to resolve in Hindutva. He declared that the problem came into being because of the loose and eclectic usage of the terms Hindu, Hinduism and Hindutva. Savarkar begins his book with a long discourse on the importance of a name, because "the thing gets mystically entwined with the word that signifies it, the name seems to matter as much as the thing itself" (Pandey 1993: 247).

Savarkar tried to adjust to political sphere the idea of mystical unity of 'word' and 'thing', the idea which is similar to Sufi tradition and certain Hindu bhakti practices. Firstly he tried to choose the proper name for the country. He considered the names applied to India: Aryavarta, Brahmavarta, Dakshinapath, Bharatvarsha and Hindustan. He chose the last one which was, in his reading, the original, the authentic and most sacred name of this sacred land.

In Hindutva Savarkar accepted the common argument that the terms 'Hindu' and 'Hindustan' were derived in the distant past from 'Sindhu', which was given by Aryans to the river Indus and, later, to all rivers and seas in the subcontinent. Savarkar writes that "it is quite probable that the great Indus was known as Hindu to the original inhabitants of our land and owing to the vocal peculiarity of the Aryans (the easy conversion of the sound 'h' to 's', and vice versa) it got changed into Sindhu. Thus Hindu would be the name that this land and the people that inhabited it bore from time so immmemorial that even the Vedic name Sindhu is but a later and secondary form of it" (Pandey 1993: 247-248).

According to Savarkar the term Hindutva does not mean only the religion Hinduism; it covers the complete Hindu civilization and history. Hinduism is only a fraction of the civilization called Hindutva. That is why he used the term Hindu to refer to the collectivity of the people of India - Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsees, etc. In the rising nationalist movement at the end of last century there are some examples proving that this kind of 'loose' vocabulary was accepted among different religious groups. For example, the Muslim nationalist leader Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) used the term Hindu to mean 'the inhabitants of Hindustan' (Pandey 1993: 245).

The most important thing is that 'real' Hindus accept natural and thus right attitudes towards their land. Savarkar emphasizes that "a Hindu means a person who regards this land of Bharatvarsha, from Indus to the seas as his Fatherland as well as his Holyland, that is the cradle land of his religion".

Since Savarkar the RSS leader M. S. Golwalkar has stressed the importance of defining the natural borders of Hindustan. In his most famous book called 'We or our nationhood defined' (1939) Golwalkar means by India or Hindustan the 'lands from sea to sea' (Golwalkar 1980). In fact, the map on the cover of the book gives the outline of his geographic limitations of India, which stretches from Afghanistan to Burma and also includes Sri Lanka (Yechury 1993: 6).

In the caste system of India it has been a very common expression to argue that 'everybody had to follow his/her caste dharma'. If you did not respect your caste duties, then you were acting against the natural order. According to varna dharma ideology, mankind is divided into four categories, varnas, which are ranked according to their religious purity. In Hindu literature and in popular Hinduism there are numerous examples which try to legalize and naturalize the caste system by using anatomical and zoological metaphors. Like other animals or species of animals, men have different and unequally important capabilities and potentialities. The popular metaphors may express this: 'you cannot train a tiger to nibble grass, or you cannot train a goat to hunt'. In the same way people belonging to Vaishya varna are the best generators of wealth because they are naturally acquisitive. And Shudras are the best servants because they are naturally servile (Stern 1993: 56).


Both individuals and society have to follow their dharmas. The ideal society acts according to the natural order. In the vocabulary of the Hindutva movement the ideal society is called Rama-Rajya or Dharma-Rajya. They believe that the kingdom of Rama really existed once. They describe the Rama-Rajya in a way that is common to numerous descriptions of earthly paradises or the golden ages of mankind (see Eliade 1960; Tamminen 1994).

Their mythic story of history used to begin with the pre-Muslim period. It was an age when India was studded with temples. It was a time of growth and development, a time of progress, of high levels of cultural and intellectual achievements. But then came the Muslims, the golden age was over. India declined from the age of civilization to the age of barbarism. The Muslim era meant death and destruction as well as cruelty, forced conversations, religious repression and economic collapse. The destruction of the temples epitomized this cultural decline (Bhattacharya 1991: 132-33).

Now the only way out of this cultural collapse was through a return to the origins of the Hindu culture, a recovery of the original glory. That is why Rama's birth temple had to be 'released', because it meant that the Hindus had taken the first steps towards Rama-Rajya, towards the culture where they can again feel pride in their origin and cultural achievements. Their mythic history concentrating on the struggle between heroes and villains represents the deeper conflict between the forces of truth and falsehood, justice and injustice, dharma and adharma, order and disorder. Muslim rulers are transformed into archetypal villains, and Hindus who fought the Muslim rulers become the heroes.

The story of Ramjanmabhumi revolves around several myths: the myth of ancient Ayodhya, the myth of its loss and rediscovery, and the myth of the miraculous appearance of Rama's idol.

Rama was born in the Treta Yuga in Ayodhya, where he spent his childhood. When King Rama moved his capital to Saketa, Ayodhya went into decline. But the Rama's temple, Ramjanmabhumi, survived in anonymity, although its location was lost. Then a man called Vikramaditya miraculously rediscovered Ayodhya, and built a temple at the Janmasthan. After him Ayodhya again went into decline but the temple and the place at the Janmasthan survived. According to the story, when Babur came to India he pillaged and plundered like all Muslims. He destroyed the temple at the Janmasthan and built a masjid. In the Muslim era and under British rule Hindus made repeated efforts to recover control over the Janmasthan, but the temple could not be liberated. In 1949 Rama himself appeared there to remind the Hindus of the sacred history of the place and their duty to liberate it (Bhattacharya 1991: 132).

According to them, the city of Ayodhya is more sacred than all other sacred places in India. Ayodhya is the source of origin of all the worlds: Brahmalok, Indralok, Vishnulok, Golok. It was the original nature from which the human world was created. To create the cosmos, Manu needed a place to work. That is why Manu brought Ayodhya from heaven and placed it on earth. The city of Ayodhya is also sacred, because it is located on the right bank of the river Ghagra, as it is called within the sacred precincts, on latitude 26 48' north and longitude 82 13' east (Bhattacharya 1991: 134; Srivastava 1991: 38).

It has been argued that the Hindutva movement has placed one sacred book, Ramayana, above the other sacred scripts. The story of Ramayana is well known and popular all over India (Richman 1994). When Indian television began to show a serial based on the Ramayana story in 1987, the serial became maybe the most popular programmr ever shown on Indian television. It has been said that never before had such a large percentage of South Asia's population been united in a single activity. Observers estimated that over eighty million people watched the serial every week. In a land where most people do not own televisions and electricity is in short supply, many watched the programme at the homes of relatives or at tea shops, or entire villages joined together to rent a television set.

I once arrived in Delhi on a Sunday, the day the serial was shown, but unfortunately people could not follow the programme on that Sunday because of the shortage of electricity. Some people got so angry that they blew up a local electric plant out of revenge.

Despite the fact that the goverment network had only contracted with the producer for one year's episodes, the audience demanded more. For example sanitation workers in Jalanhar went on strike because the serial was due to end without depicting the events of the final book of the Ramayana. The strike spread to sanitation workers in many major cities in North India. And the government was forced to sponsor the desired episodes in order to prevent a major health hazard. Many people became so religiously involved in the story of Rama that they used to bathe before watching, garlanded the set like a shrine, and considered the complete viewing to be a religious experience (Richman 1994: 3-4).

The Rama cult originates from the fifth and sixth centuries AD. According to Hans Bakker, the myth of Vishnu's incarnation as Rama became popular in the Gupta age. But the cult in which Rama was worshipped as the supreme form and main manifestation of Vishnu did not rise until the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It began to emerge in the latest period of independent Hindu rule in North India and before Muslim power was firmly established (Bakker 1986: 63, 66; Srivastava 1991: 39).

The spread of devotion to Rama within Hinduism was a gradual process which evolved over a period of several centuries. The widening process was concurrent with the spread over North India of an emotional type of devotion. One important factor of the religious life during those centuries (13th-16th) was the rise of the cult of the name: the practice of repeating the name of god (Rama), conceived of as a sadhana, a way to release. And in the 15th-16th centuries Rama had become the most common word to denote 'God' (Bakker 1986: 119-124).

The deification of Rama started gaining acceptance in the 13th century. The importance of the festival of Rama's birth was duly recognised by Hemadri, who wrote his book on Hindu dharma between 1260 and 1270. After the 16th century, the story of Rama became so popular that it wove its way inexctricably into the fabric of rural culture and religion. Rama came to be worshipped as the ideal man, hero king, and an avatar of Vishnu (Srivastava 1991: 42).

It is interesting to note in what way the Hindutva movement has changed the traditional iconography of Rama. According to popular Hinduism, icons are believed to represent the essential features of a deity. The body, posture, gestures, face, and even costume are styled so as to transmit the meanings of the godhead. Traditional icons tended to represent Rama, Janaki, and Laksman standing shoulder to shoulder, gazing outward, smiling serenely. Hanuman was in profile, sitting at their feet. It was usual for Rama to have a bow but unusual to be shown using it. Quite evidently the figures represented compassion and benevolence, 'the shanta rasa' (Kapur 1993: 74).

We may consider, for example, two popular posters, the traditional one and the modified one. In the first poster Rama (figure 1), Sita and Lakshman are facing us frontally. Frontality is crucial to the relationship between the devotee and the icon. Hanuman is in profile, kneeling at the feet of the trio. Rama and his companions quite obviously represent grace, benevolence and serenity.

In the modified posters that have emerged directly out of the Ayodhya controversy the mood of the pictures is anything but tranquil. Rama is often heavily armed, ready for war, and alone. Rama is crusading for a temple against all evil forces. Traditional posters represented Rama almost with an androgynous, unmuscled, somewhat disengaged body. Now the popular posters in the Hindutva movement represent Rama as an angry, aggressive, and masculine figure (Kapur 1993: 100-105).

In the second poster (figure 2) Rama is shown alone. His several weapons bring to mind a warrior. His 'dhoti' is flying, his chest and legs are bared, hair unrolling in the wind. He is determined, a crusader who is ready to punish. Now he is not fighting against Ravana but against Muslims. The stormy weather is a symbol of the contemporary cultural crisis in India. The nation and the Hindu culture are in danger. The practical message of the poster is obvious: every Hindu male has to follow the example of Rama, and fight with arms if necessary against the evil, the Muslims.

Figure 1. Rama, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman in a conventional iconic poster (Kapur 1993: 101).

Figure 2. Rama. A popular poster from Ayodhya.

It has often been argued that Hinduism is getting semitic features at the hands of the Hindutva movement. There is one god, Rama, and one holy script above the others, Ramajana. And one holy place, Ayodhya, where the complete cosmos and the Hindu civilization were created. According to Hans Bakker (1991: 84-88), the concept of holy war was inconsistent with the early Hinduism before the 13th century. The concept of truth in Hinduism was diffuse and inclusive, contrary to the two-fold exclusive truth concept. This kind of world view cannot include the powerful duality between good and evil. The individual Hindus basically tried to release their individual souls. That is why the cohesive religious community did not have the same meaning as in Semitic religions.

In the Muslim and British era the situation gradually changed, however. In Northern India especially there evolved a new Hindu identity formed basically on Rama's devotion. That is to say that in this process and particularly in the 20th century, the importance of the religious community increased. The 'holy war' of the Hindus culminated in the release of the Ramajanmasthan in Ayodhya. The process can be compared to the Christian crusades in the Middle Ages, one of their basic goals being the release of Jerusalem.

Since the early 1980s there has been a new phase in Hindu communalism. They have, for example, organized Hindu Samajotsavs (Hindu Unity Conferences) and different 'rath-yatras', as Vishal Hindi Aikya Yatras, Rama Ratha Yatras, and Ekatmata Yatras. In these political rituals they have tried to reach new bonds of unity through such sacred symbols as earth (consecrated bricks), water (ganga-jal), fire (torch-lights), blood, and ashes of the dead (Bhattacharya 1991: 30).

The last Ekatmata Yatra began in September 1995. It lasted 25 days and ended at Nagpur, where the RSS headquarters are located. This Ekatmata Yatra, or actually yatras because it consists of nine yatras, followed the same pattern as the previous yatras with their slogans raising religious and social issues with political overtones. According to VHP leaders, the aim of the Yatra was essentially to create public awareness of 'anti-national activities such as cow-slaughter, proselytisation by Muslim and Christian missionaries' (Ramakrishnan 1995: 17-19). The Ekatmata Yatra was obviously a beginning of the pre-election campaign. The parliamentary elections will be held next March. One of the main themes of the Yatra was also a demand to construct the Rama temple in Ayodhya and to liberate the temples at Kashi (Varanasi) and Mathura (Krishna temple).

During the past few decades the Hindu communalists have repeated once again that Hinduism is in danger. They have argued that experiments in modernism have failed in India: such western concepts as rationalism, secularism, materialism and consumerism have led to a civilizational crisis in India. According to Richard Fox (1990: 73-76), the changes in social structure have created the foundation for Hindu nationalism. The traditional rural elites have lost their economic and social positions since the 1960s, especially in Northern India. Members of the rural elites have claimed that agricultural and caste policy has essentially favoured the middle classes ('the Other Backward Classes'). The rural elites have traditionally consisted of upper caste people. And the upper castes have mostly supported the politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The modernization process in India also breaks the basic social elements, such as the traditional extended families and the economic structure of villages. It has caused a rapid urbanization process. Migrants are easily alienated in big cities. This social uncertainty favours the Hindutva Movement, which at least on grassroot level emphasizes antimodern practices and values.

In summary, we can say that Hinduism gradually changed in the Middle Ages. The resistance to the new Muslim rulers posed challenges for the Hindus in Northern India, and the importance of the more cohesive religious community became obvious in this process. The cult of Rama arose in those centuries. Late in the 19th century the revivalist movement idealized the past, and demanded a return to purer forms of Hindu culture. The RSS and the whole Hindutva movement continued this revivalist tradition in the early 1920s. The cult of Rama became the central element in their modified and political Hinduism. They emphasized the natural order in society. The ideal society has to be based on the laws of dharma, just as individuals have to follow their dharmas. From this point of view they have tried to define the natural inhabitants of India and the natural borders of the country. During the past few decades the number of communal riots has increased alarmingly. The contemporary rise of Hindu communalism can be seen as a reaction to modern society.


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Personal Interviews
Prof. Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Director of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (1995).
Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, Director of the Institute of Islamic Studies, Bombay (1995).
Prof. Triloki Nath Madan, University of Delhi, New Delhi (1995).
RSS officials, Keshal Bhawan, Calcutta (1995).

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