Monday, June 17, 2013

Tantra for the practitioner


Christopher D. Wallis, Oxford graduate in Comparative Religion and assistant professor of Sanskrit in Berkeley, treats us to a very well-written book: Tantra Illuminated. The Philosophy, History and Practice of a Timeless Tradition (Anusara Press, The Woodlands TX, 2012). It is academically sound yet stands out among the dry academic works by being very engaged with the theme of the book.

The writer defines himself as a scholar-practitioner, initiated while a teenager. First off, he goes through a lengthy exercise of defining his subject, drawing on external and internal understandings of Tantra. The word, literally “weaving-loom”, means “system”, “handbook to a system”, and then simply “book”. It is a class of scriptures written in the second half of the first millennium and the beginning of the second. Its topic is how to achieve liberation and other things besides.

A necessary explanation here is that Tantra has nothing to do with the Kāma Sūtra and very little with sexuality. (And to the extent it has, it teaches intercourse with retention of semen, so what most men look for in the sex act is the one thing to be avoided.) Of course, New Age channels and the internet are full of disinformation on the matter, and for some more time we will have to live with the Western conception of Tantra as related to sex. Sometimes workshop on Tantra are announced by teachers unconnected with the legitimate tradition: “If you feel like testing them, you can ask them what Tantra [scripture] they are drawing on (…) and which Tantric mantra they use in their daily sādhana [regular spiritual practice].” (p.432) But at least this gives the writer the opportunity to unchain his devils against the internet, an endless source of false claims about Indian religions.

At the end of it, he clarifies that he will limit himself to one specific tradition within Tantra, one that he knows intimately by practice: Śaiva Tantra as (once) practised in Kaśmīr.  


A priceless compendium

The book contains a number of appendixes detailing the master-pupil lines of the different branches of Shaivism and Tantra. The height of this tradition was in the 10th century, with the Kashmiri polymaths Utpaladeva and Abhināvagupta. A quarter of the book (p.191-320) consists of a necessarily incomplete but already very detailed history of Kashmiri Shaivism and its offshoots in South India, Indonesia and Tibet.

To get a vivid picture of this tradition and of Indian asceticism in general, these biographical glimpses of its major figures are unsurpassed. Nine different traditions within Śaiva Tantra are described. Opposite poles are the orthodox or right-hand path, now still known as Śaiva Siddhānta, and the deliberately transgressive left-hand path of Kaula Tantra.  Some of its schools were imposing institutions, but “like [the Buddhist university of] Nālandā, they were destroyed in the Muslim invasions”. (p.196) However, Shaivism’s loss of ascendancy was not only due to Islamic destruction: there was a spontaneous shift to the devotional Bhakti movement (which teaches surrender to the deity rather than autonomy through techniques) and the rise of the Nāth Yogis with their simplification of Shaivism known as Haṭha Yoga.

Another quarter (p.321-420) is devoted to the practice of this path. At length the writer explains the concepts and actual performance of initiation (dīkṣā) and transmission of energy (śaktipāta), and all the other practices, including the devotional ritual before a likeness of the deity and the meditative visualization (dhyāna) that is so typical of Tantra. Ideally, one pictures the deity in detail, with all the iconographical information depicted nowadays on dog-posters, and then identifies completely with the chosen god. We also learn that Abhināvagupta already taught what we know as “affirmations” of “positive thinking” under the name of śuddha-vikalpa (“pure resolve”): if you are dogged by a negative thought or self-image, carefully formulate its opposite and then repeat it mentally as a mantra.

But first the author gives us an enlightening summary of the philosophy of Śaiva Tantra (p.45-191). The teachings are at once related to lived reality. Thus, the four states of consciousness (waking, dreaming, sleeping and meditation) are not only explained, as they are in many books, but their occasional combinations are elaborated on: dreaming-in-waking, meditation-in-dreaming etc. Everything east of the Indus is counted, so we get the 36 Tattva-s (“substance”, “thatness”), the 12 goddesses or Kālī-s, the 4 levels of language, etc. But the overriding feature of this worldview is the couple Śiva and Śakti, and what they signify.



Like the devotional tendency (Bhakti), Kashmiri Shaivism is quite popular with Indophiles from a Christian background, because its God-centredness feels so familiar. The fourth-highest of the 36 Tattva-s, “substances”, in the Kashmiri Shaiva system is Īśvara, “the Lord”. Wallis holds it equal to the monotheistic Deity, meaning Yahweh or Allah, but also Kṛṣṇa or Avalokiteśvara, “the Lord who looks down (on the people below)”, the Buddhist personification of compassion. “Īśvara is a generic, non-sectarian form of God”. (p.142) He also equates idam aham, “this I am”, with the Biblical Ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I am who I am”.

 “This I am” encapsulates the Upanishadic worldview in which everyone is a drop in the ocean of Brahma, and as such also related to one another. Thus, I am equal to the one in the sun: “Him am I”, So’ham. It has nothing to do with the Biblical concept of one jealous God. By contrast, “I am what I am” is what Moses imagines God answers to him when he asks for God’s name. The way the expression was used in similar contexts, it really means: “I don’t need to answer you, I can be anyone I want”. Many Christian theologians falsely translate it is “I am that I am”, which can be understood philosophically as “my essence is the fact that I exist”, at once an instant proof of God’s existence. They, and the Bible context itself, link it with a folk-etymology of the name Yahweh as “the being one”, “He Who is”, related to the verb form ehyeh. We have to get away from these exegetical concoctions and submit to the scientific approach of these texts. A century ago already, the Orientalist Julius Wellhausen showed that Yahweh comes from a Semitic root still preserved in Arabic and means “the blower”, “the storm”.

According to Wallis, the pre-Tantrik “Śaivas of the Atimārga were complete monotheists, some of the earliest monotheists in Indian ‘religion’.” (p.200) Well, no. It is already questionable whether they really worshipped strictly one God; but even if they did, it would not make them “monotheists”. The prefix mono- does not mean “one”, it means “alone”, and that is why Biblical scholars chose this term to describe the worship of a “jealous God” who tolerates no one beside Himself. No Śaiva text is quoted as calling on its readers to smash the idols of Viṣṇu. Moreover, we learn: “Some of them believed that Śiva had many lower emanations, called the Rudras, divine beings that ruled the various dimensions of reality.” (p.200) So, by Biblical standards, they were still polytheists. Note that many fashion-conscious anglicized Hindus claim that Hinduism is monotheistic, quoting the Ṛg-Vedic phrase: “The wise ones call the True one by many names.” This too will fail to satisfy Biblical monotheists, but it proves that Wallis only follows a widespread trend when he claims monotheism for his cherished tradition.

Kashmiri Shaivism is profoundly different from the Biblical religions, yet it has at any rate the element “theism” in common with them. But even this is not certain: a few scholars consider Kashmiri Shaivism as an atheistic system at heart. At any rate, the substance “God” is only number 4, and is crowned by three higher essences: Sadāśiva, “always/still Śiva”, Śakti, “energy, power”, and the highest, Śiva. Strictly, Śiva means “the auspicious one”, an apotropeic euphemism with which to flatter the terrible Vedic stormgod Rudra, “red (in the face)”, “angry”. But “Śiva is not the name of a god. Rather, the word is understood to signify the peaceful, quiescent ground of all reality.” (p.144)

At most, Śiva is a deus otiosus, “less likely to attract worship in a spiritual system that is focused primarily on the empowerment of its adherents.” Therefore, “it is usually Śakti who is worshipped as the highest principle”. (p.145) The role division is: “While Śakti is extroversive, immanent, manifest, omniform and dynamic, Śiva is introversive, transcendent, unmanifest, formless and still. Śiva is the absolute void of pure Consciousness.” (p.144) Typically, Śiva is depicted as masculine, Śakti as feminine. In some schools she totally eclipses her consort and acts as the first principle; this is called Shaktism.


God and Her Son

One thing is insufferable about this book, and another one deserves to be noted because it is not so innocent. Firstly, the politically desirable use of “she” when a person of unspecified gender is meant, and where proper English would require “he”, e.g. “each individual must decide for herself” (p.433), is already bad in general. Regularly, even for the Supreme Being “She” is used. Thus, in the middle of a discussion on Śiva, he speaks of “Her power”, and how we can “realize Her as formless”. (p.187)  By contrast, the goddess Kālī is properly described as “She”. (p.189) Sometimes, the writer seems to realize the awkwardness of this practice of his (hers?), so we suspect some self-irony in a sentence like: “merely a temporary part He played, a dance She danced”. (p.162)

If anything, tinkering with God’s gender should take the Germanic etymology into account, which used the word God, meaning “worthy of worship”, “the sacred” (corresponding to Sankrit huta), as a neuter noun. Christianity made it masculine, as a translation of Deus/Theos. The Bible, both in its Hebrew and in its Greek parts, and every known religion that pays respect to it, exclusively uses the word “God” as masculine.

The role reversal with God as feminine is especially inept in the present context. Tantra sets particular store by sexual symbolism and counts God/Śiva as male, his manifestation and energy/Śakti as female. If I hadn’t read that elsewhere, I could have learned it in this very book. In India, Śiva is always indicated as “He”, eventhough he is the god who sometimes appears as one with his consort, Ardhanarīśvara, “the Lord who is half woman”. Here, at any rate, we see him in another appearance: Śiva as the perfect male united with his female counterpart. He gives a signal, she carries it out. It is like in procreation, where the man performs ten minutes’ play while the woman goes through all the motions of pregnancy, childbirth and suckling. Or if you prefer, it is like in ballroom dancing, where the man indicates the moves and directions while the woman does a lot more of the actual moving.

Overruling a venerable Indian tradition thousands of years old, with a profound symbolic structure, just to be on the safe side of a contemporary American fad, does not show much respect. Serious practitioners of that same tradition will doubt the writer’s assurance that he himself has hands-on experience of it. Rather, he is one of those Westerners who stays in his comfort zone when tasting at elements from an Indian tradition, which he adapts to his own (or his culture’s) idiosyncrasies.


Hatred of Hinduism

Secondly, many readers will overlook it, tucked away as it is in a half-sentence on p.112, and otherwise not realize its broader ideological significance: “In mainstream Hinduism – which incidentally has almost nothing to do with Śaiva Tantra except that it has sometimes been influenced by the latter – destruction is considered the special purview of Śiva when He is placed on a par with Viṣṇu and Brahmā.”

Most non-academic readers will be surprised to hear it, but the ruling convention among India-watchers is to have and express a fierce hatred of Hinduism. “South-Asian Studies” is one of the rare disciplines where the so-called experts actively work for the destruction of their major object of study. So, the one and only way of making the study of Śaiva Tantra respectable, and to be seen practising it, is to distance it as far as possible from “Hinduism”.

The statement that “mainstream Hinduism has almost nothing to do with Śaiva Tantra” is ridiculously untrue. The general Tantra and Yoga tradition is thoroughly Hindu, and most of Kashmiri Shaivism’s concepts existed before in Hindu scripture and still exist in other Hindu traditions. For instance, the central concept of the 36 Tattva-s (“elements”, “substances”) fully incorporates the older Sāṁkhya system of 25 Tattva-s without altering anything about it. The remaining Tattva-s too are familiar from other branches of Hinduism: rāgā (non-specific desire), māyā (manifest reality as the magic power of the deity), vidyā (systematic knowledge), Īśvara (Lord), Śakti, Śiva. Of māyā, he claims that “in other tradition, māyā means illusion” while in Tantra it means “”the Divine’s power to project itself into manifestation” (p.140). In fact, “illusion” is the meaning specific to Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedānta, while the general Vedic or “Hindu” meaning is “a conjuror’s power to take any form”, and more precisely the alleged Tantric meaning of “the Divine’s power to project itself into manifestation”.

From the various definitions of Tantra which Wallis gives (p.33-34), the elements “theism”, “kuṇḍalinī yoga”, “mantra-science”, “yantra-s/maṇḍala-s”, “the gurū”, “bipolar symbology of god/goddess”, “secret path”, “initiation”, “ritual, esp. evocation and worship of deities”, “analogical thinking including microcosmic/macrocosmic correlation”, “mudrā-s”, “linguistic mysticism” and “spiritual psychology” will be familiar to practitioners of other Hindu traditions than Śaiva Tantra. Most of these components are already attested in the Veda Saṁhitā-s, the Upaniṣad-s or the Mahābhārata. Similarly, the four levels of understanding language and scripture, discussed at length on p.163-174, are already part of the Vedic tradition. When Śaiva Tantra became a distinct school, it simply continued most concepts and practices that it found. If Tantra must perforce be non-Hindu, fact remains that it borrowed just about everything from Hinduism.


Disparaging Hinduism as non-existent

A very common expression of this officially-sanctioned anti-Hindu attitude is the denial that Hinduism even exists. This writer pretends to be very original when he, predictably, takes this same position. For the benefit of the ignorant reader he starts “clarifying the biggest misunderstanding: there is no such thing as ‘Hinduism’”. (p.37) 

Of course “Hindu” is a foreign word not used by Hindus referring to themselves in the classics. But it is not a “European” or “colonial” (meaning Portuguese or British) term. This Persian geographical term, meaning “people living at or beyond the Indus river”, was introduced by the Muslim invaders and already used by the Muslim scholar Albiruni in the 11th century. It meant every Indian Pagan, i.e. every Indian who was not a Jew, Christian or Muslim. That same negative definition is used in the political definition by Vināyak Dāmodar Sāvarkar in his influential book Hindutva (1924) and in the Hindu Marriage Act (1955). Practitioners of Śaiva Tantra will therefore commonly be designated as “Hindus”, whether they like it or not. And they like it enough when they solicit donations from the Hindu public, though (like the Hare Kṛṣṇa-s) they claim to be non-Hindu before a Western academic or Christian audience.

Moreover, modern scholarship has acknowledged Hindu attempts at defining a common ground since at least the 13th century.  The several compendia of philosophies, typically treating Buddhism on a par with Sāṁkhya and other schools, served to see a common ground and aim in the different schools of what is now called Hinduism.

It is not necessary to espouse a common belief or ritual to share a common culture. Wallis uses a Christian definition of “religion”, viz. a common truth claim regarding the ultimate questions, and applies it to the Indian situation where it has no relevance. This assumption of Christian categories is typical of “Nehruvian secularism”, the state ideology in India and in the South-Asian Studies departments of the West. It does profound injustice to the Indian traditions (pantha) which share a common respect for the sacred (dharma) and a “live and let live” attitude to each other.



So, if the writer is a man of honour, he will apologize for these two cases of abject conformism. He will also correct them in a future edition. For, in spite of these mistakes, it is still to be hoped that this pleasant book about a momentous and little-known subject will go through many reprints.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

The difference between Dharma Yuddha and Jihad


Many people from very diverse quarters say that all religions have a concept of “holy war”. In this, at least, they are all equal. Thus, the recent cases of self-defence against Muslim attacks by Buddhists in Thailand and Myanmar are taken to prove that even the ostensibly non-violent Buddhists have their notion of “holy war”, now on display. Similarly Hinduism has its own dharma yuddha, literally (they say) “religious war”.

Some add that the one exception to this rule, hence the most peaceful religion of all, is Islam. We have all heard about jihad, thinking this is the “holy war” par excellence, but now we are told that we have been mistaken all along. Even Osama bin Laden didn’t know true Islam, he was wholly wrong about the meaning of jihad. They assure us that jihad is merely an inner struggle against the evil in ourselves, not a war against unbelievers. At the very most, it can be a struggle in self-defence when the unbelievers attack us. Let us see what the truth of this can be.


Dharma Yuddha

The proverbial war in the Hindu worldview is the great war of the Bharata clan, on which the mega-epic Mahabharata elaborates. This epic philosophizes profusely on the principles of dharma yuddha even as it describes the successive episodes of a real-life war. Yuddha means “struggle, war”. Dharma, “sustenance, that which sustains”, effectively means “maintaining the correct relation between the part and the whole”, “playing your specific role in the whole that you are part of”. It approximately means both “religion” in the sense of “relating to the cosmos” and “ethics” in the sense of “correctly relating to the beings around you”. Dharma yuddha means “struggle in accordance with ethics/Dharma”, “chivalrous war”. But does the epic describe a dharma yuddha at all?

First off, there is no religious conflict on the horizon. The Bharata war pits two branches of the same family against each other. They practise the same religious tradition, just as they have the same teachers, live in the same area, speak the same language and share the same ethnicity. Clearly, dharma yuddha does not mean “war against the unbelievers”. No command is given anywhere to take up hostilities with a religious out-group, nor with any linguistic or ethnic or any other group either. Coincidence has it that two groups of cousins are in a position to compete for the same throne, and attempts at finding a peaceful compromise fail.

But secondly, the actual war is only partly a dharma yuddha. The rules for a dharma yuddha are articulated, but fall into disuse the longer the battle rages. The reader is treated to a complete contemplation of the principles of dharma yuddha, but the epic’s characters are shown as practising them less and less. During the build-up to the war, the Pandava brothers with their friend and adviser Krishna make several attempts to solve the conflict peacefully, and are rebuked by their Kaurava cousins even when they express willingness to make great concessions. They only resolve to make war once they have no other option. And even when the war starts, Arjuna finds all kinds of reasons to forfeit his claim and withdraw from the battle, until Krishna convinces him that it has become necessary.

During the war, however, they let the rules of “justice in war” relax gradually, commensurate with the other party’s breaches of the code of chivalry. Thus, when the enemies’ leader Duryodhana has fallen from his chariot, the rule that someone in an incapacitated state should not be attacked, would normally apply. Yet, Krishna orders to strike him while he is down. Duryodhana had been a party to the forced disrobing of princess Draupadi, an un-ethical act, so Krishna is not impressed when he now invokes the well-known rules of ethical warfare: “Where was your Dharma then?” So, the other side’s breaches of Dharma are increasingly used as a justification for breaking Dharma too.

The battle rages for eighteen days. The change it has wrought, is best realized by Krishna’s brother Balarama, who has missed the battle. He has gone on pilgrimage along the Saraswati river and returns just at the end of the hostilities. He is amazed and indignant at the size of the destruction and the decline into non-Dharmic behaviour. But that is how war goes: at the start, as in 1914, you march off with a flower in your gun, singing songs of victory, you even play football with the enemy soldiers during breaks; but as soon as you have seen some of your comrades die, you get angry and eager for revenge by any means, so war becomes more cruel the longer it lasts.

The epic is by no means a children’s story in black and white, or a hagiography for a saintly Krishna. The bad guys always have a decent motive or a legitimate excuse for their conduct (for instance, Duryodhana has welcomed the illegitimate son Karna after the latter was spurned by the Pandavas), and the good guys have their own past to blame for the misfortunes that befall them. They are all far from perfect, and the dharma yuddha is an ideal which they try to uphold as long as the going is good, but which they betray more and more as the battle gets grimmer. 

 The concept of Dharma Yuddha is akin to the later European concept of Just War. The Just War theory is linked with names like Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Hugo Grotius. It lays down that war should only be started in self-defence, after attempts at a peaceful solution, and with a real chance of victory. During the war, the means used should be commensurate with the aim, non-combatants should be spared, and peace overtures from the other side should be answered. The same principles are already articulated briefly in the Dhanurveda and the Mahabharata.



In Islam, the first blood that flows is that of an unbeliever who laughs at the Muslims praying with their bottoms up in the air: he is hit by the Muslims with an animal’s bone. There is no trace of self-defence: an unbeliever exercises his freedom of expression and the Muslims decide to become violent. Later, Mohammed would have a handful of critics assassinated and another handful formally executed. This is the model and justification for the murders or attempted murders of writers, cartoonists, film-makers and other critics of Islam during the modern age.

When Mohammed and his followers migrate to Medina, they are welcomed but soon realize that unlike the natives, they have no source of income. So, they start attacking caravans. Mohammed is credited with organising 82 raids (ghazwa, hence also razzia) and with leading 26 of them in person. The passengers were held in captivity until their families paid the ransom. Mohammed gave permission to his men to rape their hostages. At first he instructed them to practise coitus interruptus (often cited in pro-Islamic arguments as proof of how progressive Mohammed was, even condoning birth control!), later he decided that it didn’t matter.

These raids set the pattern for “holy war” against the unbelievers. They were called jihad fi sabil Allah, “exertion on the path of Allah”. Mohammed used the money gained to buy weapons and horses to equip his growing army. Nothing “internal” there, no character struggle against the evil tendencies within oneself, only an external military endeavour. Given the repeated Muslim initiative to strike first, it is also not required that the other side commits aggression; self-defence is no requirement. All Mohammed’s subsequent struggles against various categories of unbelievers are called jihad. So we have it on Mohammed’s own testimony that jihad means a military struggle against the unbelievers.

When Islamic or pro-Islamic apologists (such as David Cameron in May 2013, after a British soldier was murdered by two Muslims in Woolwich) say that an act of violence against unbelievers is a “betrayal of Islam”, they imply that an Islamic court would punish the murderers. But in fact, before an Islamic judge, the culprits could easily invoke the precedent behaviour of Mohammed himself. The words and acts of the Prophet are the basis of Islamic law. All fatwa-s (juridical advice) ultimately answer the question in this form: what has Mohammed done in a similar situation? The only reason for doubt in some judges’ mind could be that in a particular case, an act of violence would yield such negative publicity as to do Islam more harm than good. But the mere fact that the Islamic cause was furthered by violence against the unbelievers would be a sound emulation of the Prophet’s precedent. Whether it was strategically wise to kill soldier Lee Rigby (and thus mobilize British public opinion against Islam) is questionable, which is why the British Muslim Council tried to limit the damage by falsely swearing that the act was un-Islamic; but it was at any rate fully in accordance with Mohammed’s precedent and hence with Islamic law (shari’a).     

There are hundreds of farewell letters, farewell video and suicide notes in which Islamic fighters and terrorists explicitly say that they are going to pay the ultimate price for the sake of Islam. For instance, Mohammed Atta of 9/11 fame and Mohammed Bouyeri, who killed Theo van Gogh, said that Islam made them do it. Not “Islamism” or “fundamentalism” but Islam. I take them seriously and believe them at their word. By contrast, the “experts” overrule these men’s first-hand testimony and assure us that it may have been any reason but not Islam.

Wherefrom then the claim that this jihad is merely the “little jihad”, while the real jihad or “great jihad” is an internal struggle? Firstly, note that all the above is not really being denied by this claim. Jihad is relabelled as  “little jihad”, but is acknowledged nonetheless. Preachers who have to motivate their flock to overcome the evil tendencies in themselves like to picture this as a heroic enterprise, so they compare it to a war. But of course, the metaphor of a figurative holy war is only possible because the physical holy war exists.

The comparison happens to be particularly popular in Sufism, a movement originating in the grey zone around Islam. Mostly, Sufism drew from East-Persian Buddhism and from Turkic Shamanism. The ecstatic trance pursued by the “whirling dervishes” is nothing but the shamanic trance witnessed in e.g. Genghis Khan. The fana’ (annihilation) described by the Sufi poets is an adaptation of the Buddhist nirvana. This preservation of non-Islamic influences was aptly recognized by wary Islamic theologians. Mansur al-Hallaj was beheaded for saying: Ana’l Haqq (“I am the True One”/Allah), an adaptation of the Upanishadic saying Aham Brahmasmi, “I am Brahma”. Only after Sufism was sufficiently assimilated did orthodox Muslims judge it useful for propaganda purposes among the masses.

With success, for Sufi music, though only superficially Islamic, is very popular in Pakistan and Bollywood. Sufi phrases have hoodwinked many would-be “experts” into exclaiming that here is the “real, peaceful Islam”. In reality, Sufis mostly became sweet-talking Muslims who were just as hard-headed when it came to fighting the infidels. The Sufi master Muinuddin Chishti, venerated even by silly Hindus, acted as a motivator and spy in the conquest of North India by Mohammed Ghori. At any rate, if you think that “peace” and “inner struggle” are the real Islam, take the test and try to convince a shari’a court that war against the unbelievers is un-Islamic.


Khalistani dharma yuddh

The Sikhs are a Hindu sect particularly devoted to Vishnu in his incarnations as Rama and Krishna. Most of the Sikh Gurus are named after them, e.g. Guru Govind Singh was named after Krishna, the “cowherd” (govind). He founded a military order, the Khalsa, in order to defend “Hindu dharma”. But in the 19th century, the Sikhs, with their history of resistance against the Moghul empire, saved many British colonizers during the Mutiny, perceived as an attempt to restore the Moghul empire. Out of gratitude, the British decided to upgrade Sikhism, not just by reserving many army jobs for Sikhs, but by turning Sikhism into a separate religion.

This Sikh separatism caught on, and by the 1920s Sikhism was led by a faction pushing for a distinct religious identity. Since they could not start altering their holy Granth, a collection of hymns with Hindu themes, and standing proof of Sikhism’s Hindu character, they altered or reinterpreted everything else. Thus, for their holiest shrine, the Sanskrit name Hari Mandir (“Vishnu temple”) was replaced with the Urdu name Darbar Sahib (“revered court-session”). Hindu icons such as the Vishnu statue in the Hari Mandir were removed, along with the Brahmins serving them. To take distance from Hinduism, Islamic concepts were borrowed or Hindu terms were reinterpreted in an Islamic sense. Thus, an Islamic fatwa became the Sikh hukumnama (“command-letter”).

In this climate, it was inevitable that among separatist Sikhs, dharma yuddha (in its Panjabi pronunciation: dharam yuddh) would be emptied of its Hindu content and take on the meaning of jihad: war against the unbelievers. In India this means in effect: war against the Hindus.  In the 1980s, this term was used for the wave of terrorism against the Indian state and for the creation of a Sikh state called Khalistan (“land of the pure”). This struggle was supported by the global hub of terrorism, Pakistan (also “land of the pure”), eventhough there is a historical hostility between the Sikh community and Pakistan, the successor state of the Moghul empire. It also had the sympathy of many Sikhs in the West as well as from poorly informed Westerners. Though the Khalistani struggle in India died out in the early 1990s, there still are some centres of Khalistani ideology in the West.

The Khalistanis’ sense of religion is proverbially crude. This recrudescence resonates well with the cluelessness about the fine points of religion among the “secularist” class, which holds the reins of power in India. Every hazy prejudice by a Western tourist can also be heard from the mouth of Indian journalists and cabinet ministers. Government-sanctioned schoolbooks teach that all religions are basically the same. They are all assumed to preach government-sanctioned ethics and, except for casteist Hinduism, they are all presented as egalitarian. Since the existence of jihad cannot be entirely denied to any Indian who follows the news, the next line of defence is to shield Islam from criticism by alleging that all religions are the same. One way to do this is to spread the false notion of “Hindu terrorism”, another is to blur the terminology and equate Hindu “chivalrous war” with Islamic “holy war”. The use of dharma yuddha as a synonym of jihad, “war against the unbelievers”, is unhistorical and incorrect.

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