The traditions of India were rich as can be. They
had attained insights of the first order. A person who has reflected
on what the Buddha has to say on the workings of the mind for
instance, one who has even a little acquaintance with Buddhist works
on psychology will find the writings of, say, Freud to be
high-school level reductionism. The traditions informed all of life:
The mingling of literature art, music and religion is a ready
And they were inclusive. A person devoted to a tree
was not traduced as an "animist", a person devoted to a bull or an
elephant, or a lion, or a snake or even the lowly mouse was not
The objects of his devotion were received with
reverence -- they became parts of a rich pantheon: The bull was
honored as the mount of Shiva and one could approach Shiva only
after paying obeisance to Nandi, the elephant became the head of
Ganesha and the mouse his mount, the lion became the head of
Narsimha and the mount of Durga, the swan of Saraswati, the peacock
of Kartikeya, the snakes became the necklace and amulets of Shiva,
the girdle of Ganesha.
As a confluence of the colors of the people, Rama
and Krishna were pictured as having been blue, Venkateshwara at
Tirupati, the child Krishna at Nathadwara, Kali in the East were
pictured as pitch dark...
Nor was this artifice. The inclusiveness flowed
from deep conviction, from what had been experienced at the deepest
-- it flowed from experience which yielded premises which were the
diametric opposites of the religions originating elsewhere.
There are many levels to reality, the traditions
taught. There are many ways to realise it. The ones who have gone
before have left books and suggested practices which will help you.
But these are just aids, and there are many of them as persons with
different tempraments, at different stages of preparation will find
one device more helpful than the other.
You must yourself understand yourself, and gauge
the stage at which you are. By dividing your nature and your
progress you must assess the suitability of the device, of the text.
All this was not licence, it was assigning responsibility, it was
the call to be "mindful" to look within. It gave an unassailable
sphere of autonomy to the individual.
Everything in human affairs ossifies. Many things
in this tradition did too. But no one could impede reform by an
appeal to the "fundamentals", for these fundamentals made the
individual's own, inner experience the ultimate referrant.
That everything should reform and transform, the
tradition regarded as natural. Differences were harmonised through
discourse -- witness Shankara's journeys and the shastraarthas on
Even Islam was eventually tempered: The Sufis who
had been set upon in one Islamic country after another, so much so
that secretiveness had become their mark, they did not just find a
home here, they found honour, reverence.
But all this, the missionaries traduced. The
inclusiveness they condemned as being a sinister stratagem to
swallow up other religions. The efflorescence of different
speculations they condemned as cacophony. The openness and
tentativeness they condemned as intellectual flabbiness. The
inner-directed search they condemned as morbid life-denial. The
offering of many ways they condemned as unsettled mush.
The many gods and goddesses they condemned as
chaos. What had become the norm for Islam was now made the norm for
Christianity: Freedom of speech meant the freedom only to laud it,
freedom of inquiry meant the freedom to discover only its
The pressures were less subtle than they had been
in the case of Islam, but they were no less potent. Asymmetry was
the principle: As in the case of Islam, conversion was held to be,
and acted upon as something that was an essential principle of
Christianity; but when a person like Swami Vivekananda or Swami
Shradhanand argued in favor of taking back into the Hindu fold the
converts who wanted to return, they were condemned as persons who
were inviting a practice for which there was no warrant in
The viciousness of the distortions and
misrepresentations of the missionaries, the virulence of their
abuse, the length of time over which they kept up the barrage -- we
cannot imagine these today. Swami Vivekananda had to face these at
every turn, Gandhiji knew them well.
"If all India stands up", Swami Vivekananda told
the Christians in America about this propaganda, "and takes all the
mud that is at the bottom of the Indian ocean and throws it up
against the western countries, it will not be doing an infinetesimal
part of that which you are doing to us..."
"It is not true that I am against any religion,"
the Swami told the Madras audience on his return from the USA. "It
is equally untrue that I am hostile to the Christian missionaries in
India. But I protest against certain of their methods of raising
money in America."
"What is meant by those pictures in the
school-books for children where Hindu mother is painted as throwing
her children to the crocodiles in the Ganga? The mother is black,
but the baby is painted white, to arouse more sympathy, and get more
money. What is meant by those pictures which paint a man burning his
wife at a stake with his own hands, so that she may become a ghost
and torment the husband's enemy?"
"What is meant by the pictures of huge cars
crushing over human beings? The other day a book was published for
children in this country (America), where one of these gentlemen
tells a narrative of his visit to Calcutta. He says he saw a car
running over fanatics in the streets of Calcutta."
"I have heard one of these gentlemen preach in
Memphis that in every village of India there is a pond full of the
bones of little babies."
"What have Hindus done to these disciples of Christ
that every Christian child is taught to call the Hindus 'vile', and
'wretches', and the most horrible devils on earth? Part of the
Sunday School education for children here consists in teaching them
to hate everybody who is not a Christian, and the Hindus especially,
so that, from their very childhood they may subscribe their pennies
to the mission..."
That is Swami Vivekananda talking about missionary
propaganda a 100 years ago. And here is what Ram Swarup reads in a
recent pronouncement of the Texas- based Gospel for Asia:
"The Indian sub-continent with one billion people, is a living
example of what happens when Satan rules the entire culture... India
is one vast purgatory in which millions of people... are literally
living a cosmic lie!"
"Could Satan have devised a more perfect system for
The blacker they painted -- and paint -- India, and
Hinduism in particular, the better the sincere are inspered to leave
their homes and take up the task of saving souls that are in such
torment so far away, the easier it is to raise funds, and all means
are automatically rationalised.
That is one point: The calumny was based on
falsehood through and through. But there is another point too: Was
the Christianity of the missionaries different from what they were
A Hindu bowing to a statue of Durga was a
superstitious idolator. But a Christian beseeching a statue of
Virgin Mary was touched by divine devotion?
A Hindu bowing to a stone as Hanuman, and
circumambulating it was an ignorant idolator. But a Muslim
prostrating to the Black Stone at the Kaaba and circumambulating it
was one who had broken through to a higher level of
A Hindu bathing in the Ganges and taking its water
for rituals and ablutions was a primitive, superstitious
nature-worshipper. But the Christian seeking cures from the water at
Lourdes, and the Muslim seeking it from the water of the Zam Zam at
Kaaba and taking it for ablutions and the rest, they were merely
The rich symbolism of the Hindu rituals, of the
motifs was dismissed as mumbo-jumbo. And what of the symbolism of
the Euchrist -- of eating the "body" of Jesus and drinking his
"blood"? Caste and untouchability are the peculiarity of Hinduism,
the missionaries insisted. Christianity (and of course Islam on the
telling of its advocates) is the religion of equality -- it does not
In fact, castes survive among Christian and Muslims
to this day -- as the Supreme Court has narrated in its recent
judgement on reservations. And the Church (as well as advocates of
Islam), having proclaimed for two centuries that untouchability was
a curse peculiar to Hinduism, has been in the forefront in demanding
that benefits given to Schedules Castes and Scheduled Tribes must be
made available to Christian Scheduled Castes and Christian Scheduled
Not one missionary organisation has protested that
by extending caste-based Reservations to Christians (and Muslims),
the Supreme Court has put the axe to a basic tenet of Christianity
Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji and other reformers
often drew the attention of the missionaries to these blind-spots.
They made another vital observation. In condemning and calumnising a
Hindu practice like idolatory for instance, and the beliefs behind
it, the missionaries missed the deep potential which was inherent in
As the same human pains and predicaments made their
communities -- and them personally -- seek the same sorts of solace
in the same sorts of devices, they soon enough became idolators of
the most primitive kind. The idol as an aid for gathering one's
awareness, as the embodiment of values which by honoring it and
reflecting on it one imbibed; the reverence for all animal life, the
reverence for the peepul as the entry-point from which to develop
reverence for all inanimate nature; each of these as a device to
break down the barriers between man and animals and inanimate
materials; the harmonious view of life which resulted from these in
contrast with the instrumental view of the latter which man-centered
traditions (Christianity, Islam more so, and Marxism-Leninism most
of all) inculcated; each of these as a device, a stepping-stone in
breaking mind and matter -- this great healing potential, this
potential for opening horizons of a vast and deep knowledge was
foreclosed by the calumny. And the statue of Virgin Mary became a
mere wish-fulfilling thing.
How true the warning of the Dhammapada: "A wrong
action may not bring its reaction at once, even as fresh milk turns
not sour at once; like a smouldering fire concealed under ashes, it
consumes the wrong-doer..."
Missionary scholarship, or scholarship inspired by
the missionary impulse, has been even more lethal than the calumny.
Its effects have lasted through the century, and they have reached
matters far afield. A number of the notions which color our minds to
this day can be traced to the seeds that were sown by that
scholarship: That the white Aryans massacred and drove away the
dark-skinned Dravidians, that India is not a nation but a heap, a
zoo of different nationalities...
As has been shown, there was not the slightest
evidence for the notions, on the contrary all the evidence pointed
the other way: For dating scriptures like the Vedas, for instance,
Max Mueller is the foundational authority; he dated the Rig Veda to
1200 BC not because of any evidence, he had none -- neither
archaelogical nor any other kind; he put the date of 1200 BC because
he firmly believed that the world had been created at 9 am on 23
October 4004 BC, and that because the Bible says so, that given the
intervals mentioned in the Bible for events down to the Flood, the
Vedas could not have been composed before 1200 BC! Moreover, the
ones who put the notions in circulation did so, in many cases, with
specific objectives - of undermining the regard of the people for
their own culture, of pitting sections of them against other
sections. They often explicitly acknowledged these motives in their
private correspondence, which, as in the case of Max Mueller, has
since been brought to light. Recall, for instance, what Max Mueller
wrote to his wife about his translation of the Rig Veda: "...this
edition of mine and the translation of the Veda, will hereafter tell
to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions
of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion and to
show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of
uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3000
(For a telling and succint accounting in the case
of one of these seeds, see Dr Navratna S Rajaram's important
lectures: Aryan Invasion of India, The myth and the truth, Voice of
India, 1993, from which the Max Mueller examples are taken).
So deeply have these notions got imbedded in our
discourse, so potent is the divisive politics that swirls around
them that today to show these notions up as having been put out
without any evidence, as being contrary to all evidence which has
come to light in the last century, as having been put out for the
specific and conscious purpose of dividing and undermining India --
to do so is denounced as chauvinism and communalism!
That these notions remain so lethal to this day is
not, of course, the doing of the missionaries: The principal
responsibility for that lies with Indian intellectuals. But while
one lense of the spectacles of these intellectuals has been
fabricated by the Marxists, the other one, the original one, was
certainly fabricated by that missionary-imperialist