New Delhi, Nov 28

T

he statesman and philosopher, Dr Karan Singh, was in full flow at the India International Centre not to launch someone else’s book, as he's wont to do, but his very own.

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'The Eternal Religion: Glimpses of Hinduism' (Speaking Tiger) is a collection of essays and experiences of Karan Singh that are made available conveniently, seven decades since the time when, as a 22-year-old, he wrote his first newspaper article that was published in installments by a national daily.

Karan Singh’s shorter popular pieces are available and easily accessible, but his elaborate compositions seemed difficult to lay hands on, until the publication of this book. Sharing his thoughts and interpretations at this particular point of time is also significant at a time when religion and politics are mixed to make a deadly cocktail.

Singh's endeavour has always been to rescue a faith that is as pluralistic and inclusive as Hinduism from distortion by politicians. Hinduism, he says, is an "eternal religion because of both its antiquity and inclusiveness."

He explained that Hinduism is a "multi-faceted, extraordinarily diverse" system that even gives its followers the freedom to worship without a physical representation of a god or goddess being around.

"It is a great tragedy that people rush through life without once looking inward. That is the essence of Hinduism -- looking inwards," Singh said.

"In my view, it is the only religion that allows for multiple paths to the divine,” he summed up, emphasising that "this choice that Hinduism offers is unique, so putting it in a single mould would be doing injustice to it."

Joining Karan Singh in the discussion centred around the book was the former diplomat and Rajya Sabha MP, and celebrated author, Pavan Varma. Pertinently, he brought up the recent inflammatory remarks of Udayanidhi Stalin, the DMK's youth wing leader and Tamil Nadu's Minister for Youth Welfare and Sports Development, on Sanatan Dharma.

Singh said he was "shocked beyond belief" at the comment of "responsible ministers and MPs" (referring to Stalin) and added how appalled he was at the young leader's statement, especially given that Tamil Nadu is replete with significant temples and is home to a rich cultural legacy.

"It is very rare that I get angry, and this got me angry," Singh said, referring to Stalin's much-criticised remark that Sanatan Dharma is like "leprosy" and should be "eradicated".

He pointed to the possible consequences if such a remark were made against Islam. "Kya battamizi hai, sahab (it is most uncivilised),” he said.

Karan Singh agreed that “there are terrible things like untouchability” associated with Hinduism, likening it with ancient Greece, where the culture was based on slavery. He called it an “abomination”.

“An abiding disaster in Hinduism is untouchability. It is an insult and a disgrace to Vedanta and the Upanishads." Singh said.

He, however, pointed out that "you cannot speak against casteism -- it is not just legalised but also constitutionalised!"

Varma queried if provocative remarks, as often seen floating about, are responsible for the "weaponisation of Hinduism".

Singh reiterated that "India has been subjected to barbaric invasions", and has seen its temples and cultural heritage damaged. Does this, however, create the ground for a backlash?

"Yes," he said, "But it has got to be a measured and mature backlash, not one that is wild.”

Singh's book serves as a timely source of insights into the profound and inclusive cultural, social, intellectual and philosophical legacy Sanatan Dharm has left for all of us. In these “violent times,” this book seeks to bring some sanity.

Book: The Eternal Religion: Glimpses of Hinduism

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Price: Rs 599

Pages: 278

(Kavya Dubey may be reached at kavya.d@ians.in)

Karan Singh distills his understanding of Hinduism over 70 years

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