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  • Writer's pictureAslam Abdullah

Sanatana Dharma versus Humanity

Amid a controversy over his remarks at a conference in Chennai, Tamil Nadu sports minister Udhayanidhi Stalin reiterated his 'firm opposition to Santana Dharma.' "I opposed 'Sanatana Dharma' but did not oppose people's worshiping rights.

India's Brahman leaders call their faith Sanatana Dharma, or eternal laws. India's non-Brahman leaders, including Dravids from South India, describe this upper-caste faith as demonic and responsible for the atrocities of those who questioned untouchability and the caste system.

Hinduism is not a monolithic religion. India's Hindu leaders claim they are about 80 percent of the population. Many of them no longer refer to their faith as Hinduism. Instead, they call it Sanatana Dharma, meaning the eternal laws. Who defines it, and in what context?

Sanatana Dharma is a controversial concept. Organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh, the Bharatiya Janta Party, the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and the Hindu Mahasabha call Sanatana Dharma the spirit of India. At the same time, several other groups, influenced by the thinking of the father of India's constitution, Dr. Ambedkar, and the great reformer of the 18th and 19th century Periyar, describe it as evil and demonic.

Dr Ambedkar said, "'Sanatan Dharma,' or Hindu Dharma, is a contagious disease. It should be eradicated and annihilated in the future. Then, only we can attain equality among the people. Periyar said that Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is not a faith.

The controversy erupted again in September when a minister in the DMK-led government in Tamil Nadu called for the eradication of Sanatana Dharma. He said that Sanatan Dharma is against equality and social justice. He equated Sanatan Dharma to coronavirus, malaria, and dengue fever.

A Sanatan Dharma saint in Ayodhya, the site of Ram Temple at the demolished and legally usurped 500-year-old Babri Masjid, immediately announced a 100 million Indian R.S. reward for Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin's head. Soon after, the B.J.P. and RSS leaders jumped in, condemning the statement and calling it a war on Hinduism. Former Judges, bureaucrats, and army officials also joined the chorus and demanded legal action against the young leader. Even India's Prime Minister, known as the butcher of Muslims in Gujarat, joined the debate by seeking an explanation from the Tamil Nadu Minister.

The controversy is ancient, as it has appeared in Indian history from time to time. It led to the emergence of Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, the Bhakti movement, and the mass conversion to Islam, Christianity, and atheism. However, in this age of social media, the popularization of social justice, and an assertive Hindutva it carries the seeds of fundamental changes in the future direction of Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism in Indian society.

To understand the concept of Sanatan Dharma, one has to look at its references in old Sanskrit scripture. Scholars suggest that the idea occurred in Valmiki's Ramayana, Rig Veda, Manusmirti, Srimad Bhagavatam, Ramayana, and Bhagwad Gita.

No one gives a definite date to the composition of the Vedas, a collection of hymns composed in archaic Sanskrit by Indo-European-speaking peoples between 1500–1200 BCE is acceptable to most scholars.

Ram existed only 7,100 years ago, in 5100 BCE, and ruled for 11,000 years. Balmiikis Ramayana was composed by the sage Valmiki, is one of the great epics of the Sanskrit language and is dated to approximately 200 B.C.E.

The Mānavadharmaśāstra, also known as Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu, was. Composed sometime between the 2nd century B.C.E. and 3rd century C.E.,

Scholars generally agree that the Bhagavata-Purana was probably composed about the 10th century.

In his book, 'Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices', Julius J Lipner, Emeritus Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion at the University of Cambridge, wrote that Gita used the term 'Sanatan Dharma. Some scholars accept dates from the 5th century B.C.E. to the 2nd century B.C.E. as the probable range.

The Aihole inscription of Pulakeshin II, dated to Saka 556 = 634 CE, claims that 3,735 years have elapsed since the Bharata battle, putting the date of the Mahābhārata war at 3137 BCE.

The origin of Sanatana Dharma's text is uncertain.


Sanatan Dharm in Sacred Texts

Rig Veda 3.3.1

To him who shines afar, Vaisvanara, shall bards give precious things that he may go on specific paths: For Agni the Immortal serves the Deities and never breaks their everlasting laws.

Manu Smriti 4.138

He shall say what is true and agreeable; he shall not say what is true but disagreeable; nor shall he say what is agreeable but untrue; this is the eternal law.

Srimad Bhagavatam 8.14.4

Upon seeing that the eternal occupational duties of humanity have been misused at the end of every four yugas, the great saintly persons reestablished the principles of religion.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a Brahman and prominent leader of the Indian National Congress, in his Gita Rahasya: "The Hindu Philosophy of Life, Ethics and refers to religion. As “Sanatan”, “Bhagavad” and “Narayan.” He highlights Karma as the core of Sanatana Dharma. The Karma, in his view, is fixed based on Rig Veda's Varna system and Manusmirti's explanation. The opponents of Sanatana Dharma call it an oppressive instrument in the hands of so-called upper cases to exploit so-called lower castes or no castes (avarnas) in the name of self-created deities. They argue that Sanatana Dharma is violent, misogynist, a promoter of slavery and inequality, and exploitative, denying justice.

The proponents call it the most humane faith that ever existed. They argue that Sanatan-dharma calls for one's spiritual identity as atman (Self). It promotes general duties, including honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism. These duties are specific to the individual at that particular time. One's "own duty" according to caste or Verna and stage of life should win when in conflict with Sanatana-dharma.

The controversy has far-reaching consequences, and it signals the process of the disintegration of Brahmanism or Sanatana Dharma.

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