The bells of Kashi: Vishwa Guru at work

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
20 Dec 2021

Shakespeare describes seven stages in the life of man. In contrast, a devout Hindu believes only in four stages. In the last stage, he aspires to go to Kashi. It is because he believes that bathing in the Ganga remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of his soul from the cycle of transmigration. Many Hindus, therefore, go to Kashi to die.

I have visited the Vishwanath temple at Kashi, walked on the ghats, seen the Aarti performed there and marveled at the people’s faith that it is the oldest city in the world. There are thousands of priests to help the devout perform his religious rites. People go to Kashi with Shiva’s name on their lips and in a state of total surrender to God.

Nobody makes a spectacle of his visit to Kashi because Kashi reminds him of the ephemeral nature of life in which health, wealth, beauty, knowledge, status and power do not count. What matters is one’s preparedness to surrender to God in all its senses. Once a person is in Kashi, he is at peace with God. There can be no rancor, no ill-feelings and, in fact, no worldly feelings.

Otherwise, a trip to Kashi is like my own trip as a tourist. Nobody has ever made a visit to Varanasi with as much pomp and show as Prime Minister Narendra Modi did a few days ago. Not even Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, the “philosopher-queen” who rebuilt the temple in the 18th century. 

She was a pious person who saw rebuilding and refurbishing ancient temples as her call. She did a wonderful job, as was the norm then.

Modi is altogether a different kettle of fish. He is a democratically elected leader of a “secular socialist” nation, who does not have the mandate to spend public money on religious pursuits. To be frank, I did not see his Kashi programme on television as I do not watch the idiot box.

When I received a link from the Prime Minister’s Office by email, I opened it to find an exclusive reportage that lasted more than two-and-a-half hours. I have never seen such a long programme focussing entirely on one person. 

Neither Bollywood, nor Hollywood has dared to produce a film that focuses only on one person. The film ‘Ten Commandments’ that depicts the story of Moses or the Malayalam movie Kumarasambhavam, based on Kalidasa’s work that describes the courting of the ascetic Shiva by Parvati, were not one-man or one-woman shows. 

The Kashi show was an out-and-out Modi show. Yes, there was a Yogi, whom he kept at a long distance, more than warranted by the pandemic. The message Modi wanted to send out from Kashi was clear to one and all. 

The Preamble of the Constitution may say that India is a “secular socialist” republic but he considers himself as the leader of a Hindu nation, empowered to spend money on his pet projects that has no bearing on the lives of the Daridra Narayans of this country, be they Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian.

Last week, I spent a few hours at Haridwar where I photographed a huge statue of Shiva that can be seen from a long distance. Very close to the statue was another, though smaller, of Swami Vivekananda. Modi may not know that Daridra Narayana is an axiom enunciated by the Swami, who taught that service to the poor is equivalent in importance and piety to service to God.

Where was Daridra Narayan when Modi changed his attire every now and then and had the movie and still cameras focussed on him? It is sacrilegious to compare him to Nehru, who refused to associate the government with the rebuilding of the Somnath temple in Gujarat. 

Haven't grand temples like the Akshardham temple in Delhi and Gujarat come up in the country without the involvement of the state?

What scriptural or legal right does Modi have to spend public money to promote one religion? The pity is that nobody — not even Opposition leaders — is prepared to question him for fear that they would earn his wrath. It is pitier that even large sections of the media find it convenient to eat out of Modi’s hands. India is a democracy but Modi did not allow anyone to share the spotlight at Kashi. Even the priests were relegated to the background!

No, I am not against building a temple corridor. Nobody in his senses would object to renovation of a temple. But I know what happened when in the same state of Uttar Pradesh the then Chief Minister Mayawati tried to build a “corridor” to the Taj. I know that she is now facing charges on account of the money spent on the corridor project to which archeologist KK Muhammed referred in detail in his autobiography.

Of course, nobody would ask how Rs 399 crore was spent on the Kashi project. Or, from where the money was sourced. How much is the Centre’s contribution and the State’s? When it comes to matters of faith, people are afraid to ask questions, particularly to a person like Modi who converted his first swearing-in ceremony into something like a coronation. No political leader in India has ever attempted anything as spectacular as his Kashi Yatra.

No one knows the media better than Modi. When he spent a few minutes at Kedarnath cave with cameramen following him to capture the moment for the world to see, he knew how it would fetch votes from the gullible. Nobody goes to the Himalayas in a helicopter to meditate in designer dress. He knows that wearing Hindutva on his sleeves would appeal to those who opposed the tricolor as the national flag and objected to the use of any reverential word while referring to Mahatma Gandhi.

Nehru described projects like the Bhakra Nangal dam and the Heavy Engineering Corporation (HEC) as the temples of modern India. Unlike him, Modi took 2,000 kg of sandalwood to be donated to the Pashupati Nath temple at Kathmandu on his visit to the Himalayan Republic. The children of Nepal would have been happier if he had donated 2,000 laptops which would have helped them to acquire knowledge that would stand them in good stead. 

Later, when he went to Japan, he donated to his counterpart, a special edition of the Bhagavad Gita. Earlier, visiting prime ministers and presidents used to be taken to the iconic Infosys campus in Bengaluru. Now, Modi takes them to Kashi to show them Aarti. 

Two days ago, I traveled by Metro which has posters of Modi and Yogi claiming credit for the Kumbh Mela. Such melas have been happening long before Savarkar wrote that Hindus and Muslims were two nations and, thus, sowed the seeds of Hindutva and the Partition.

Modi has thrown to the winds even the pretensions of secularism. Now it is clear to one and all that Hinduism has virtually become the official religion of the country. That is why Muslim refugees from Myanmar are unwelcome and Muslims cannot get citizenship under the amended laws of citizenship. 

Even if these are unacceptable under a secular system, many would not question it for fear of offending the majority community. While tens of millions of rupees are spent on beautifying temples and building roads to connect them in the high mountains, how are the minorities treated in the country? There is a minority commission for education which does not have a Christian representation.

Even the showpiece Christian KJ Alphons, who is ever-ready to play to the whimsical tunes of the BJP, is not considered worthy enough to be in the Union Ministry. Muslims in Gurgaon, now called Gurugram after someone who demanded the thumb of Eklavya, used to offer Friday prayers in public places. Now they can’t. They are ready to chip in money to buy a plot of land but that is not possible as the Hindutva-wadis won’t allow them to do that.

Nobody asks the government why it can’t allot some land to the Muslims so that they can offer prayers. When have prayers become a threat to the nation? Even stand-up comedians are not allowed to make a living. Christians have been feeling the heat for quite some time. When two nuns accompany a novice to her home, they are accused of conversion and taken to a police station.

I saw a video of some officials entering a children’s home run by a Christian organization and virtually ransacking the premises. I also heard them asking the stunned nuns why the Bible was kept there. I did not know that keeping the Bible or reading it was an anti-national act. In Karnataka, the BJP government is bringing forward an anti-conversion Bill to harass Christians. Why can’t the government know that anti-conversion laws have been in existence for many decades but till today nobody has been convicted of converting anyone.

The fact of the matter is that conversion is not possible through fraudulent means. Conversion happens only when a person feels like converting himself. That kind of conversion happened when Ambedkar renounced Hinduism and adopted Buddhism at a ceremony in Nagpur, where the RSS has its headquarters.

Modi thinks that the minorities do not matter in India. There are many states in India where the Muslims do not have any representation in the state legislature. He began his Hindutva experiment in Gujarat and he succeeded by marginalizing the Muslims. They are so underprivileged and scared that they are compelled to vote for the BJP. Studies showed that the Muslims who suffered during the Gujarat pogrom and have been living in camp-like conditions in Amit Shah’s constituency voted massively for the home minister.

It is this experiment that is being tried out at the Centre. The Muslims constitute about 15 percent of the population but they do not have virtually any representation in the Cabinet. All this is seen as an attempt to declare India eventually as a Hindu nation, where, as Guruji Golwalkar prophesied, the minorities would be treated as second-class citizens.

Muslim names for places, roads and institutions are being changed. I won’t be surprised if General Bipin Rawat’s name is given to Akbar Road in Delhi, as demanded already by some. Aurangzeb Road overnight became APJ Abdul Kalam Road.

The way the Prime Minister attacked Aurangzeb during his speech at Kashi, one got the impression that he was his contemporary and not someone who lived 300 years ago. The country saw him donning the robes of a priest when he laid the foundation stone for the Ayodhya temple at Ayodhya where even the district’s Muslim name was changed. Why is there so much of intolerance of Islam when Modi happily went to Saudi Arabia to receive a silly award given by an Islamic state? It was the same Modi who refused to wear a Muslim cap, when he was offered one with a lot of affection.

In his home state of Gujarat, Muslims are not allowed to sell non-vegetarian food on handcarts. Even eggs are declared as non-vegetarian. Even children in Lakshadweep who are used to eating fish and meat are not served non-veg items as part of  their mid-day meal.
While Christians are asked why they keep the Bible on their premises, Modi’s handpicked chief minister of Haryana says students in his state will have to learn by heart verses from Hindu scriptures from the next academic year. Neither Modi nor Khattar will read the memorandum given by Rajaram Mohan Roy to the British authorities that they did not want students to learn scriptures but science, philosophy, mathematics, English etc.

For Narendra Modi the model is the queen from Indore who with public money renovated temple after temple. If she had, instead, spent the money on education, hospitals and roads, it would not have been easy for the British or, for that matter, other European countries to occupy the nation. India was never poor. The wealth was concentrated in the hands of some, who splurged it on building massive temples, and feeding the heavenly-born, as in Travancore. That is why India remained a poor country. Alas, we are going back to the days when it was known as a land of snake charmers.

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