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Hinduism is not A way of life: Hindus celebrate Deepavali on different days and yes some Hindus eat beef!

One Hindu festival that is celebrated all over India is called Deepavali in Tamil Nadu and Diwali in the North India and there may be more variations. Even when I was young, I knew that there was a difference of one day or perhaps morning/evening between Tamil Nadu and Delhi, for example. As kids, we have stayed awake the night before bursting crackers and chatting around. Around 4 am, we would take oil bath and start with an ‘atom bomb’ an apt name for one of the loudest cracker. We wear new dresses and have lots of food, snacks and sweets. We exchange sweets/snacks with all our neighbours friends and relatives.

One thing I fondly remember is having idli and mutton gravy, more like a stew. For some reason, only on Deepavali day, it was made like this and on other days, mutton ‘kulambu’ (gravy) was made differently, to be mixed with rice. On those evenings, I used to enjoy dosai with mutton kulambu. Other than Deepavali, we had mutton mostly on a Saturday. Deepavali used to be one day and the legend we had was that Narakasura was conquered and the day was called Narakachaturthasi (14th day of the declining moon). Some parts of India celebrate it on the new moon day, perhaps.

In North India, Diwali is a festival of light, as widely known in the world. Most families lit lamps all over the house but not in Tamil Nadu. Our light festival usually comes during the next or following full moon day known as Karthikai. Karthikai Deepam is a big festival in Thiruvannamalai and all over Tamil Nadu Hindu families celebrate it. Lighting lamps in front of the house for the whole month and all over the house on the full moon day is a common practice. I am not sure it is celebrated in other states. Some save a few crackers, especially the ones producing more light than sound for Karthikai. For us, Deepavali is a festival of sound! What is common everywhere is new clothes and lots of food, snacks and sweets.

Now I work in Bangalore. Mysore is the major tourist attraction in Karnataka, which is about 140 km from Bangalore. Both cities are closer to the southern border with Tamil Nadu. During my first Deepavali in Bangalore, I was surprised to find that it is celebrated for 2-3 days. Crackers would go on for three days unlike in Tamil Nadu when I was young. The day after Deepavali is called Bali padyami in Karnatka, named after the demon king Bali. I had not heard of this until moving to Bangalore. The nearest town in Tamil Nadu, which is just 40 km from Bangalore is called Hosur. I realized a few years ago that Hosur is basically the word in Kannada for ‘New Town’ and the Tamil word for the same is Pudur, which is found in many parts of Tamil Nadu. Hosur is part of Tamil Nadu though. Kannada is the language spoken in Karnataka.

Hindus in India have a large number of ‘local’ festivals many of them coinciding with the full moon day. To repeat myself Deepavali is celebrated in most parts of India. It was indeed surprising to see such a big difference in Deepavali days between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. This year, IISc has a holiday on 11th November for Deepavali. Tamil Nadu has a holiday on 10th November for Deepavali,. This difference of one day has happened most of the years. What surprised me more is Mysore Medical College has holidays on 10th and 12th for Deepavali and Balipadyami but 11th is a working day!

If you have been reading newspapers or watching Television in/from India, you could not have missed ‘Hindutva’. Those who are fond of this ideology are eager to make India a ‘Hindustan’ as they seem convinced that is the right thing to do as Muslims got Pakistan. What they forget is the fact that the number of muslims who chose to stay in India was more than the population of Pakistan at the time of partition and independence. Our founding fathers decided that India will be a secular country and religion would be a personal choice. I am very happy and proud of that.

I would indeed be happy if some body in India could announce that Deepavali is on a particular day for all of India. Having lived in the USA for some time, I have seen how families got together for Christmas. Christians around the world have evolved and 25th December is celebrated as Christmas in most parts of the world now. I thought Australia was celebrating it on a different day as December is summer there.  I was there a few months ago and found out that Australia does celebrate it in December summer. No white Christmas but the same day. In India, some one working in Bangalore having parents in Madurai, finds it difficult to plan a family get together for the most celebrated of ‘Hindu’ festivals. We have different ways and different days to celebrate the most common festival, Deepavali/Diwali.

It is a pity that India today has to depend on words given by observers from outside to describe itself. I am not a historian or a social scientist. As a scientist by training, I read, observe, question, think and analyze. The word ‘Hindu’ apparently appears first as a Persian geographical term for referring to the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sindhu). ‘Hinduism’ has become a religion today in the world. I was declared a Hindu in my school certificates and that is what I write when I choose to fill ‘religion’ in forms. Apparently, the Indian Supreme Court has declared that ‘Hinduism is a way of life’.

I wonder how a Supreme Court can answer this question! Are the Judges experts on religion? They are expected to be experts on our Constitution. I have not read the Constitution in full and so I wonder if our Constitution declares that ‘Hinduism is a way of life’. If that were to be the case, the Supreme Court could be well within its purview to make this statement. But then, as an evolving democratic nation, we go to Court with all kinds of questions. Judges in their own wisdom accept many such cases and declare a verdict.

If my memory serves me right, a High Court was approached to decide what kind of a ‘naamam’ (symbol on it’s forehead) should an elephant in Tirupati Temple have. But then, in India, we do not have one authority who can decide. If the Supreme Court had said Hinduism represents all ways of lives followed by Indians who are not Christians, Muslims, ….? Sikhism and Jainism are not Hinduism, are they? Budhism cannot be Hinduism as Buddha revolted against Hindu religious rituals.  However, Buddha has been accepted as a Hindu God. In some versions, Buddha replaces Balarama as one of the 10 Avatars of Vishnu. India had Shaivam and Vaishnavam as religions with the Supreme God being Shiva or Vishnu. I come from a Shaivite family and perhaps that is my religion.

It seems like the world has accepted that Hinduism is a way of life. I have been thinking about it and it did not make sense. I see that the way of life that most of us live have some things in common and many things that are not common. It appears to me that ‘caste’ defined a way of life in the India I was born and raised. I don’t know the origin of Caste. May be it gave one way of grouping people. Caste in the past defined a profession for the male. As a friend pointed out recently, it makes sense as much of the teaching and learning were happening at home. Father teaches the son the life skills he had learned. Today it should have no place in our society but it seems well grounded.

As many have pointed out, ‘caste’ has been a bane on Indian society and it has a hierarchy. It seems like some are trying to blame the west and moguls for the caste divisions in India. I know old poems in Tamil which mention ‘saathi’ a word used in Tamil for caste. One starts by proclaiming that there are only two castes: Those who give/share what they have and others. People who give are superior to those who don’t! In recent times, the revolutionary poet Bharathiyaar had thundered ‘there are no castes and claiming superiority by caste is a sin’.

A vocal and influential minority has managed to convince the world that ‘Indians are vegetarians and they don’t eat beef’. Every day some one is shouting now ‘Hindu feelings are affected’ when some one eats beef. I am astonished at their arrogance. A lot of Hindus do eat beef and when a chief minister mentions this fact, he is accused as being a traitor to the Nation! The Prime Minsiter condemns him of insulting Hindus. Is the Prime Minister not aware of Hindus who eat beef or he, his party and the Hindutva groups do not consider Hindus who eat beef as Hindus? This is a significant number and in 2015, nearly seven decades after Independence, they have no voice in our democracy?

All those who make such loud statements do not seem to consider the feelings of a significant number of Hindus who do eat beef. While beef eating Hindus can be from any caste, among the poor, beef is perhaps more commonly consumed as a cheap source of nutrition.  When I was young, there was always a suspicion when we order mutton in the Hotels. Are they selling beef in the name of mutton, which was more costly?

Recently, I was intrigued to read a poem by Digumarthi Suresh Kumar in Telugu which I first found in the movie made by the students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences titled ‘Caste on the Menu card’. Our Finance Minster who accuses others of being ‘intolerant to the views of Hindus’ appears to have banned this movie. (http://roundtableindia.co.in/lit-blogs/?tag=digumarthi-suresh-kumar). A large number of Hindus don’t seem to matter for a few Hindus who speak louder. They just don’t care about the feelings of other Hindus. No wonder Ambedkar converted to Buddhism and some others converted to Christianity. If the Hindu organizations do not consider the feelings of all Hindus, we can’t blame the British and Moguls! I hope all Hindus realize this.

Some say our constitution bans cow slaughter. It appears that it is not true. It has been suggested and States are supposed to act as they feel. Many states have banned cow slaughter but buffalo meet has not been banned anywhere in India. India became the second largest exporter of beef this year. Kerala allows slaughter of cows beyond 10 or 12 years. We are living in a time, elderly parents are not taken care off by and left to mend for themselves. A small minority is violently emotional about protecting cows. They won’t raise a finger to protect cows and take care of them either. They beat the poor who own cow below their belt.

The two poems I have mentioned above are given below in Tamil for those who can read:

Avvayyaar (?), many centuries old

சாதி இரண்டொழிய வேறில்லை சாற்றுங்கால்
நீதி வழுவா நெறிமுறையில் இட்டார் பெரியோர்
இடாதோர் இழிகுலத்தோர் பட்டாங்கில் உள்ளபடி

Bharathiyaar in 20th century
சாதிகள் இல்லையடி பாப்பா
குலத்தாழ்ச்சிஉயர்ச்சி  சொல்லல் பாவம் பாப்பா
நீதி உயர்ந்த மதி கல்வி
அன்பு நிறைய உடையவர்கள்  மேலோர் பாப்பா

The movie star turned former chief minister of Tamil Nadu MGR in one of his film says. There are only two ‘saathis’, one is male saathi and another is female saathi.

I wish this meaningless debate about food habits and religion are suspended by the Supreme Court. Let all parties give their plans for development of India and let the people choose the party whose plan appeals to them most.

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