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Can Hindus be ambitious? -- A response


Vinod Kumar


Subj: Can Hindus be ambitious? -- A response

Date: 1/5/99 4:26:23 PM Pacific Standard Time

From: Vk1122


Dear Editor,

I am responding to the article "Can Hindus be ambitious?" by Mr. John Elliott in Dec 21, 1998 issue of your esteemed magazine. I believe the article is one sided, misinformed and misguided.

Of course the decision to publish my rebuttal rests solely with you but you should not deprive your readers a chance to read the other side too.

Thank you,

Vinod Kumar


Can Hindus be ambitious - A response


Vinod Kumar

I am writing in response to "Can Hindus be ambitious?" by John Elliott (Outlook Dec 21, 1998). While writing on India, it has become fashionable to blame Hinduism for all the ills of modern India and when someone points to the thousand years of Hindu slavery and what has it done to India, he is ridiculed as a "Hindu fundamentalist". John Elliott has fallen into the same trap.

Talking of India's "widespread poverty, illiteracy and general non-achievement" Elliott went on to write "Or are these the symptoms of something more, something rooted in the country's all-embracing Hindu

religion - a religion and a mindset that provides followers with the relatively soft, unambitious option of taking things as they come, hoping for something better in the next reincarnated life, plus a caste system

that defies ambition with a rigid hierarchical, and often feudal, class structure? Certainly India is unsuccessful by almost any yardstick."

Granting some of what Elliott says about India's poverty etc. to be true let me ask and answer if India was always so? There is not much extant literature - most it having been destroyed -- to know what India was like before it was subjected to slavery thousand years ago, almost to the date. But fortunately none other has preserved some of India's achievements in the intellectual and secular field than a man retained by the very man who plundered India - Mahmud Ghaznavi. The man I am referring to is, of course, Alberuni. Alberuni was a Muslim and as his translator, Edward Sachau observed, he "takes an occasion to point out to the reader the superiority of Islam over Brahmanic India".

"To Alberuni the Hindus were excellent philosophers, good mathematicians and astronomers. Though he naively believes himself to be superior to them and disdains to be put at level with them." wrote translator Sachau in his preface.

But still, no doubt, Alberuni was a scholar in his own right and without wasting much valuable space about Alberuni, let me come straight to the point and say what Alberuni writing c.1030 AD has to say about India and Hinduism.

On Hindu arithmetic, he wrote:

"The Hindus do not use the letters of their alphabet for numerical notation, as we use Arabic letters in order of the Hebrew alphabet….The numeral signs which we use are derived from the finest forms of the Hindu signs."

He went on to write:

"In arithmetic all nations agree that all order of numbers (e.g. one, ten, hundred, thousand) stand in a certain relation to the ten; that each order is the tenth part of the following and the tenfold of the preceding. I have studied the names of the orders of the numbers in various languages with all kinds of people with whom I have been in contact, and have found that no nation goes beyond the thousand. The Arabs, too, stop with the thousand, which is certainly the most correct and the most natural thing to do. I have written a separate treatise on this subject."

"Those, however, who go beyond the thousand in their numeral system are the Hindus, at least in their arithmetical technical terms…..They extend the names of the orders of numbers until the 18th order for religious reasons, the mathematicians being assisted by the grammarians with all kinds of etymologies."

The Europeans might know the present numerals as Arabic but the Arabs know they learnt these from the Hindus. The source of "zero and infinity" is also well known to modern scholars as originating with the Hindus.

On the art of construction, Alberuni writes: "In every place to which some holiness is ascribed, the Hindus construct ponds intended for the ablutions. In this they have attained to a very high degree of art, so that our people (the Muslims), when they see them, wonder at them, and are unable to describe them, much less to construct anything like them." He then goes on to describe intricate construction details.

Every child in the world today knows that the concept of gravity was a product of Newton's mind! But, wait a second let us see what Alberuni wrote a good five hundred years before Newton: "Such a disposition of the earth is required by the laws of gravitation, for according to them the earth is in the center of the universe, and everything heavy gravitates towards it. Evidently on account of this law they consider heaven, too, as having globular shape."

Brahamgupta wrote, Alberuni observed: "Disregarding this; we say that the earth on all sides is the same; all people stand upright, and all heavy things fall down to the earth by a law of nature, for it is the nature of the earth to attract and to keep things, as it is nature of the water to flow, that of fire to burn, and that of the wind to set in motion."

Even the "central" position of the earth in the universe was put in question. Brahamgupta says in Brahamsiddhanta: "Some people maintain that the first motion (from east to west) does not lie in the meridian, but belongs to the earth." Hindu astronomers were discussing the 'motions' of the earth long before Alberuni came to India in c. 1020. Many of these theories were at least several centuries old at the time of Alberuni

All this was so confusing to him that he went on to write: "Supposing this to be true, and that the earth makes a complete rotation eastward in so many breaths as heaven does according to him (Brahamgupta's) view, we cannot see what should prevent earth from keeping an even and uniform pace with heavens."

True, Puranic tales contain different ideas about the shape of the earth and the universe but that did not stop the Hindu astronomers' search for the real shape of the universe. The point is India was not static, its astronomers were far ahead of their contemporaries anywhere in the world before India was plundered and enslaved. Hindu puranic tales did not stop the Hindu astronomers in their search of the truth and the nature of the universe, with whatever little means they had at their disposal.

Regarding the rigidity or fluidity of Hindu society, let me quote Alberuni again:

"Such was the case with the Greeks, and it is precisely the same with the Hindus. For they believe that their religious law and its single precepts derive their origin from the Rishis, their sages, the pillars of their religion, and not from the prophet, i.e. Narayana, who, when coming into this world appears in some human figure. But he only comes in order to cut away some evil matter which threatens the world, or to set the world right again when anything has gone wrong."

"As for the question of the abrogation of laws, it seems that this is not impossible with the Hindus, for they say that many things which are now forbidden were allowed before the coming of the Vasudeva, e.g. the flesh of the cows. Such changes are necessitated by the change of nature of man, and by their being too feeble to bear the whole burden of their duties…"

This is not what rigid static society does. Compare all this with the fates of Galileo to Salman Rushdie.

And one more thing. Before India was plundered, by any means India was not poor. Had it been so, plundering a few cities of India would not have made Mahmud "the richest monarch the world has ever known". I would like to ask a question - what happened to the riches plundered from India?

What goes by the name of Hindu society today is not really Hindu society. It is merely a carcass, left by the hyenas, of what the Hindu society and Hinduism used to be. To blame Hinduism for ills of India today is ignorance of Hinduism and Hindu society, at best. Hindu society was a progressive vibrant society that failed to protect itself as Alberuni observed:

"On the whole there is very little disputing about theological topics among themselves; at the utmost they fight with words, but they will never stake their soul or body or their property on religious controversy." This was incomprehensible to scholar Alberuni. Why would not people fight and give up their lives for their beliefs?

True, as Alberuni observed, Hindus did not see any sense in fighting for the religious or theological topics and still they do not.

This was India and this was Hinduism before it fell to slavery.

True, India is poor, illiterate and has not achieved much in the last fifty years. As a matter of fact India has not achieved much in the last thousand years. Its genius stopped growing when, as Alberuni wrote "Mahmud utterly ruined the prosperity of the country, and performed those wonderful exploits, by which the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions, and like a tale of old in the mouth of the people. Their scattered remains cherish, of course, the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims."

Mahmud was in turn followed by others one after the other. The Hindus were not afraid of the warfare, they have had their own warfares but it was the kind of warfare that Mahmud brought with him. The warfare of plunder, rape, destruction, and religious zealotry - a completely non-Hindu concept and inhuman as far as Hindus were concerned. The Hindus could not comprehend it then and they have not been able to understand it today. The shock Mahmud gave to humanity reverberates in the Hindu's soul even today.

Yes, it is true the Hindus immigrants have had great success working abroad. It is because these countries are free from the shackles of slavery that still persists in India even after fifty years of freedom. The progress of India also would have been great had India decided to rid of every atom of slavery. The failure of India is not due to Hinduism but it is only because Hinduism has not come to India. Indians have forgotten Hinduism after thousand years of slavery.

After all is said and done, I wonder which country has done better after thousand years of slavery and still in the shackles of slavery than India has. Just compare it to the conditions existing in Pakistan and Bangladesh - the two break-away countries that gave up Hinduism - even the decadent one. How many of those who blame Hinduism for the ills of India would like to go and live in these two countries? Or Afghanistan which used to be Hindu country before it fell to Islam?

I would still embrace the carcass of Hinduism any day, and I am sure so would the writers who see Hinduism as the cause of all the ills of Indian society -- given the choice they have.



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