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Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | December 15, 2014 | 8 pm IST The head of the Nidumamidi Mutt in Kolar district of Karnataka Channamalla Veerabhadra Swami has been one of the most progressive voices within the religious establishment of the state for several years. For many years he has advocated not just for social change in terms of addressing the caste hierarchies, but also called for introspection within the religious establishment that he is a part of.  One of the issues that Channamalla Veerabhadra Swami has tried to address is the caste hierarchy prevalent in society. One of the ways he has tried to achieve this is by not discriminating among people of different castes. In many Mutts and temples of the state, there are separate dining halls for Brahmins and non-Brahmins. In the Nidumamidi Mutt, however, this system does not exist, and all visitors to the temple are provided meals in the same dining hall.  In an older interview with senior journalist and Editor of Kannada daily Vijaya Karnataka, the seer had said that the question of celibacy needed to be addressed. He said that young boys who were initiated into the Mutts for religious instruction took vows that they were incapable of understanding at such a young age.  More recently, he has led one of the movements against the practice of made made snana (pronounced madey mada snana), a ritual in which devotees roll over the leftovers of meals consumed by Brahmins. Performing the ritual is believed to have curative properties. Channamalla Veerabhadra Swami took the legal recourse and sought legal intervention to put an end to the ritual.  In an interview with The News Minute, the seer spoke about his views on religion, caste, the seer of the Pejavar Mutt, Hinduism and the need for an alternative national identity, the law and religious faith. Edited excerpts: In the context of the made snana debate, the Pejavar seer has said that the law must not intervene in religious matters. What are your views on the role of democratic values and the law, in matters of tradition and religious faith?  No faith should directly attack the feelings of another person. It should not trouble another person, or insult anyone. Faith should increase self-esteem, it should give courage, it should drive away helplessness, my belief should give me succor. But made made snana destroys the dignity of a human being, it insults communities, therefore, it should not be justified in the name of tradition or religion. There are those who say that law should not intervene in religion. When elements of adharma get mixed with dharma and destroy the health of the society, law should restrain (it)… that is the responsibility of the law. There was sati, (by following which) people died, (with) the devadasi system, we have seen entire communities being pushed into prostitution in the name of religion, the practice of untouchability, bettale seve, and so many other undesirable practices… weren’t all of these restrained by law? When unhealthy and dangerous practices are rampant, the law must intervene to stop them.  Who decides what is dharma and what is adharma? When you talk about dharma, it means to look at everyone equally, it does not discriminate. True religion is when there is a feeling that I should not cause trouble for anyone. I should be fine, and like me, everyone should also be fine. If one thinks that only I should be well, and everybody should do as I say, people should do what I that everybody should be beholden to me, then it is adharma. Sahabalve (collective living), sahachintane (collective thinking), sahapankti (common dining), sahajeevana (collective living), these are the elements of true dharma.  When innocent people or ordinary people are exploited and cheated in the name of religion and when the name of religion is misused, it is adharma. Dharma holds that all souls are equal, but they treat women are second class citizens. This is adharma. All religions show compassion towards, the poor, the weak and helpless, the marginalized. But the socially advanced and powerful groups within religions try to ensure that the weak always remain weak. That is adharma. Similarly, there is adharma within all religions.  What are your views on Hinduism and caste being perceived as inseparable? Jati and varna system have become an inseparable part of Hinduism. It is the view of conscious thinkers and intellectuals that Hinduism has no existence or being without jati and varna. This also true in practice. But I think that every religion must change in accordance with the times, the country, and the social conditions. Such a religion is a living religion. A religion that does not change in accordance with the times, loses its capacity to progress (chalanasheelathe), it becomes stagnant. Such a religion can be of little use to people. Our intellectuals have always said in the past that it is necessary to change with the times, but the people in power do not allow this to happen. The caste system came out of the division of labour (kayaka), but we now see that people are not continuing in those occupations, and that they have changed their occupations. For instance, the Brahmins who used to perform religious duties have gone on to become doctors and engineers, the leather workers have also taken up different occupations. But because of social causes, they are still seen as inferior. That is why I think that first, we must learn to see all castes as equal, and treat people of all castes with respect. Let us first come to that level first. Let us stop practicing untouchability. Unless we stop practicing untouchability, we are not fit to be called citizens (civilized).  Second, the exploitation of the poor, and the weak and helpless should stop. Let us learn to respect and treat all castes as equal. Casteism, the idea that my caste is superior (to others), which stems from ignorance and arrogance, should go. If that goes, this country will prosper. Do the demographics of a place affect the activities progressive religious leaders take up? Do they face resistance from their followers? For instance, Kolar district, where your Mutt is situated, has a substantial population of lower castes, whose lives are directly impacted by your activities.  When seers who have undertaken progressive issues and face resistance from people, our forum of seers has taken up the responsibility of going to the people in situations are attempting to make them understand. You have criticized Hindutva and have spoken of the necessity of an Indian identity. Why this emphasis? Often, identities can be based on the hatred for others. Firstly, Hindutva is an identity based on religion. Second, it is a principle that has been formed by political objectives. You cannot unite anybody with that (sort of a religious identity). You can’t even unite Hindus with that identity. Because among Hindus, there are Vedic Hindus, there are non-Vedic Hindus. At present, only Vedic principles and Vedic ideas are being given importance. But the majority of Hindus in this country are non-Vedic Hindus and neither they, not their thoughts and ideas get any importance. If importance is not given to the welfare of non-Vedic Hindus and their ideas, their (Hindutva’s) Vedic principle is incomplete. It will not be successful. Because of it, society will become even further divided. That is why, to unite all these people, you need an Indianness. Everyone who lives within India is an Indian. This Indianness should develop as a cultural Indianness (Bharatiyate). We don’t need nationalism or even patriotism, or Hindutva either. If we talk about Indianness instead, all those who have been left out, the Dalits, backward peoples, the marginalized… the divisions within society, I think we need the idea of an Indianness to sort these problems out. You have said that the Pejavar swami is the only one who has the capacity to respond to social issues, but there is a mismatch between his actions and his words. Because of this I called him “dwandwacharya” (creator of confusion) long ago. He does not have clear vision, he will change his views according to current social climate. Even though he has been talking about Dalits for 40 years, he hasn’t solved even a small problem they face. He speaks about so many problems in the country, but he has not (tried to) solve any of those problems. There is no unity in his speech and actions (nade-nudi), he comes across as an intelligent politician who speaks according to the current social climate. I have criticized him for this in the past. So have others. But when we talk about the Ashta Mutts of Udupi (eight mutts), when social problems, religious issues or controversies arise, he has the willingness to respond, to engage in debate. The other seven Mutts are always silent. They only engage in religious activities. They do not attempt to engage with social change or religious change, they are only bothered about religious activities. You may agree or disagree with his (Pejavar’s) views, that’s a different matter, but he will engage. At least, he will accept the views of the majority of people. He will not be rigid or stubborn, he does not have a sense of (false) pride. He too is under pressure, and he has never come to any decision whole-heartedly. He will make decisions under pressure, but I think that is because of his position, and it places limitations on him. He definitely has the ability to respond and I respect that.  You have said that the real power lies in politics. Last year, at the Jananudi programme, senior journalist Dinesh Amin Mattu had said that there are invisible forces that remain constant even as governments change. When the system of administration first came into existence, religion controlled power. In the 18th century, there was a clash between the Pope and the English rulers who thought that administration is the real power. The English ruler hit back and rose against the Pope. This cold war between religion and power has always been there. The merchant classes, the elite classes have always been aligned with power. When administration is powerful, religion takes a backseat, but when administration is weak, religious forces become stronger. When there is political will, these problems can be addressed. In my view, there should be no connection between religion and politics. They should be separate. Religion should work in its own sphere, and politics in its domain. It is immoral to mix politics and religion. Tweet
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