The concepts of Nation and Religion are a western world view imported into the Indian society. So saying that India is a mere nation or Hinduism is a mere religion would be a very narrow definition attributed to them. India is not a mere nation. It is a civilization unified by its diverse culture. Hinduism is at the root of this ancient Indian culture, and is not a religion. Let us see why.
Why is India not a mere Nation?
A nation is a western concept, as a political geography united in a “nationalist” idea. But a political nation need not necessarily always mean a unified society. Take the case of United Kingdom which is a nation, and Scotland which is a part of it, where a demand for a separate statehood exists, because there is no cultural unity or similarity with the larger nation of UK.
Nor do two nations living side by side mean their societies are not culturally unified. East and West Germany were separated as nations but they were a unified society and hence became unified later. So was North and South Vietnam which was artificially separated by political ideologies. People of North and South Korea have a lot more in common than the boundaries that separate them today. The society in India is lot more diverse than all the countries in Europe put together and still we are a single nation!
India is not a mere Nation, but a unified civilization
Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion (in its popular perception as being a religion) after Christianity and Islam. However, an overwhelming majority of Hindus live as a single nation. On the other hand you have Christian majority countries and Muslim majority countries that are a fraction of the size of India living as separate nations next to each other.
Hindus in spite of being such a diverse population in terms of language, geography, practices continue to live as a single nation. The reason? All Hindus share a common civilization which gives them a diverse yet unified culture, a common co-existing origin. They speak so many different languages and yet think as a single society.
Mere Religion can never be a unifying force, only a common culture springing out of a common civilization can be. Else the entire Europe could have been a single nation, so would have been a large part of the middle-east. We have a classic example in our neighborhood in how Bangladesh separated from Pakistan, because to be together you need an unifying culture, not religion.
And it is not just Hinduism alone. Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, all co-exist as a single diverse society in India, because they all share the same culture. Even religion and culture which entered India from outside like Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity all have been one in the diverse Indian society and yet maintain their unique identity. Be an invader or a refugee, neither can you destroy the Indian civilization nor does it destroy you. Everybody gets absorbed into this great Indian civilization, and the civilization remodels itself to adapt to the changes, absorbs the best aspects of the incoming wave and grows even more stronger.
Like the ancient Sanskrit Saying goes “Aano Bhadrah Krtvo Yantu Vishwataha” which means
“May noble thoughts and good things come to us from all directions, from all around the world.”
What started as the Vedic civilization has overtime become an integration of cultures across space and time, and has today evolved into a beautiful assimilation of cultures across the world. The beautiful Taj Mahal, the Sufi music, the Hyderabadi culture, the Parsi tradition, the Cochin Jews, the Portuguese Culture of Goa, the Chinatown in Kolkata, the French culture in Pondicherry, the Bahá’í in Mumbai, Delhi, the refugees from Tibet – all are part of this great Indian civilization today.
Civilizations have risen and fallen across the world – Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Sumerian, Roman, Persian all have had their times and vanished – Indian civilization continues to flourish magnanimously since time immemorial irrespective of whether it is a nation or a collection of kingdoms, rising and falling empires, invaders, refugees, doesn’t matter. For India is not a mere nation, but a grand culture with its roots firmly set in the welfare and well being of not just humanity but all life forms. The very idea of the Indian culture is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – The whole world is a family.
Why is Hinduism NOT a religion?
Try answering these questions, and you will see why Hinduism is NOT a religion.
- Who is the founder of Hinduism?
- Which is that single holy book in Hinduism which all Hindus have to abide by?
- Who is that almighty single personal God in Hinduism?
- Which is that single central religious institution of Hinduism?
- Who is that single religious head in Hinduism?
Answers to all these questions are in the negative. Hinduism has no single founder, no single holy book, no single religious head or institution, no single personal God. And there is even more, you can be an atheist and still be a Hindu. Yes, read about Charvaka school of thought in the Hindu tradition. You can disagree with all the popular holy books and still be a Hindu. You may have never visited a Hindu temple, and still be a Hindu.
It is not about doing Pooja and saying prayers. It is the way you live your life as a Hindu. You can be a Hindu and still go and pray at a Church, nobody can stop you! There is no blasphemy in Hinduism. You can criticize and debate about every aspect of it without any fear. In fact texts like Upanishads, Gitas are full of extremely critical debates and discussions on various core aspects of Hinduism, including the idea of GOD.
Why is Hinduism a Culture?
You practice your religion, but you live your culture. In Hinduism you don’t practice anything, it is your lifestyle. There is nothing like converting to Hinduism. You do not have missionaries in Hinduism. No where do you find in any Hindu text about how one can convert to Hinduism. You just live your life as a Hindu.
Every aspect of nature is divine in Hinduism which means nature should be respected for it provides us shelter, food and a life supporting system in this Universe. So Hindus worship rivers, mountains, trees, air, water, even other animals, Sun, Moon, planets, knowledge, wealth. For a Hindu, everything in the Universe is divine. So you respect nature, follow the laws of nature, and don’t be greedy. Tarudevobhava – trees are divine. You don’t cut trees just like that if you are a true Hindu. In fact you will do everything you can to preserve every aspect of nature around you. Birds build beautiful nests without damaging or altering the surroundings nature around their nests.
In Kerala and in the coastal belt along Karnataka every ancient family settlement has a backyard area which is called Kaavu in Malayalam (in Kerala) and Haadi in Kannada (in Karnataka). This Kaavu or Haadi is a mini forest area untouched by humans and left for wild animals. Kaavu or Haadi are home to many wild life forms. When the ancient Hindus started building urban areas, human settlements, they were quite aware that they were encroaching into the land of the wild animals and birds. So they created these mini forests and ensured continuous protection to these areas throughout generations. Such forest areas and trees were tagged sacred, to ensure people didn’t go and encroach them again. Do you see the reason why they paint the images of Gods and Goddesses on walls to prevent people from littering around?
You treat your guests like Gods – athithidevobhava. You wake up early in the morning in the Brahmi Muhurtha. Ayurveda and Yoga is your life style to be healthy and sound – both in mind and body. Ayurveda is not a medicinal system, but a natural life style you live so that you don’t ever need medicines. Yoga is not just an hour a day physical fitness session, it starts with teaching you how to breathe. And you breathe throughout your life, not for just an hour a day. So they are part of your life style. Hinduism is the way you live your entire life, not the way you pray once in a while at some temple.
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam , the entire world is a family is what you abide by if you are a Hindu. Not just all humans, but all living beings are created equally. So we say Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, may all living beings live happily, in peace, may good happen to all, may all prosper and live their lives to their fullest potential.
And all this is done without any prayer to a personal God or without following any religious rituals. Religious rituals are just that, original life styles with rational reasons which overtime become practices irrespective of whether they still hold good or not. Religions are stagnant, always have fixed set of laws, culture is not. Culture evolves, religion does not.
Hinduism is a culture that constantly evolves, you can discard earlier lifestyles which are no longer applicable or valid in your times or in your place. Which is why you find different sections of Hindus in different geographies having their own lifestyle which is so diverse from others.
A Hindu has no difficulty performing online pooja via the Internet to his favorite deity. Lifestyle in Hinduism is both time bound and geography specific wherever applicable – again the reason why it is a culture that evolves with numerous branches and not a religion.
And if you want a constitutional approval of Hinduism being a culture, below is an excerpt from a 1996 judgement by the Supreme Court of India on what Hindutva or Hinduism means
Hinduism is a culture not a religion, and India is a culturally unified civilization not a mere nation.