SIKHISM, PARSEEISM, JAINISM AND SOME MINOR CUL TS
Sikhism sprang from Hinduism’s contact with Islamic monotheism, but like Buddhism it does not reject the doctrines of Karma and transmigration or rebirth. It is sternly monotheistic and repudiates idol worship. It is the youngest of the creeds with a large following in India concentrated in Punjab and the surrounding areas and has had trom an early period in its growth a militant outlook which resulted from its confrontation with the Mughal rulers. It was historical vicissitudes rather than anything in its doctrines which were responsible for the adoption of the rules which give the Sikhs a distinctive physical appearance marking them off from others. They are required to adhere to five principles, usually referred to as five Ks because each of them is indicated by a name beginning with the letter K.Every Sikh must wear his hair long; this involves complete abstinence from the use of razors or scissors for the removal of hair anywhere on the body, head, face and other parts of a person’s anatomy; a distinctive type of comb is another requirement; so is the use of iron bangles even by males; a particular kind of shorts of underwear and kirpans, short swords. Those who donot conform are declared apostates.
The founder of Sikhism was Guru Nanak (1469-c-1538). He was a Hindu of the Khatri caste born in the village of Talwandi in Punjab into a poor family. It is from his Muslim teacher that he imbibed the principles of Islam. He is believed to have had undergone a conversion about the age of 35 and to have had a vision of paradise. He heard a voice commanding him to spread the name of God. Legend has it that he travelled as far as Mecca, a story on the basis of which sorne people think that he had embraced Islam. His body is said to have been claimed by both Hindus and Muslims.
Another person who also played an important part in the growth of Sikhism is Kabir who was undoubtedly a Muslim. He(1488-1512) was a weaver by trade and is known as the author of hymns which celebrate the unit y of God. Nanak was one of his disciples and was deeply influenced by his teachings.Kabirpanthis or the followers of Kabir today form a sect among the Vaishnavite Hindus. Among other things Kabir maintained that truth can be attained by any method, and that no particular religion should claim a monopoly of righteousness.
Nanak’s teachings betray a fusion of Islam and Hinduism. He rejected not only Hindu polytheism, but also such things as pilgrimage, bathings in sacred rivers, mendicancy as a virtue, and asceticism. He is known to have inveighed aganist the caste system, but it was so strongly entrenched among the Hindus who accepted his teachings that something similar to it persists among the Sikhs. Nanak also denounced Suttee, the custom of burning widows alive.
The Sikhs reject the theory of incarnation and conceive God to be a merciful providence, who solaces the paor and the needy. They have no revealed book. The Adi Granth which embodies the sayings of the successive Gurus is their counterpart of sacred scripture. It is regarded as holy and reading fram it is an act of piety prescribed for the good life.
Since Sikhism represents the crystallisation of the teachings of the Gurus, it can be best understood in historical perspective.
Nanak the founder was succeeded by Angad, one of his disciples. He invented a special script for the transcription of Nanak’s teachings, particularly the hymns composed by him, which were in Punjabi. The scirpt came to be known as Guramukhi, which means the vehicle of the Guru’s oral sayings. Angad was followed by the third Guru, Amar Das who was more outspoken in his dinunciation of Suttee. He held office fram 1552 to 1574, Amar Das was succeeded by his son-in-Iaw Ram Das in 1574. Under him began the building of the Golden Temple in Amritsar on land granted by the Mughal emperor Akbar. The temple is a huge complex in a style not distinguishable fram Mughal structures and is surrounded by an artificiallake called the Lake of Immortality. It was completed by Guru Arjun, the son of Ram Das. Guru Arjun was also the man who completed the compilation of the Adi Granth. His reign ended in 1606. He died in prison in consequence of his involvement in the politics of the day. For by this time the Sikhs had grawn into a powerful sect who became a challenge to Mughal authority.
Attempts by the Mughal rulers to contain the growth of the Sikh sect had the opposite effect of unifying them into a strang body under the next Guru, Har Govind (1606-1645). Govind was able to convert the Sikhs into a political power with a principality of their own. The community acquired a distinct identity by their way of living, their abstinence from liquor and tobacco and their habit of meat eating in contrast to the Hindus.
Har Govind’s successor was his grandson Har Rai (16451661) who in his turn was followed by his son Har Krishan, a boy of five. The boy died in 1664 but is sa id to have told his followers that his successor would be found in a certain village. The new Guru discovered in the village turned out to be a brother of the boy, Teg Bahadur. Teg Bahadur reigned from 1664 until 1675 and stiffened the organisation of the Sikh community further. His activities earned him the hostility of the Mughal rulers who naturally did not desire the growth of a millitant sect opposed to Muslim rule. Teg Bahadur was finally arrested and executed. What the Sikhs took to be religious persecution, thought in fact it was political in colour, served to alienate the community for ever from the Muslims.
This alienation was completed under the tenth and last Guru, Govind Rai, who succeeded Teg Bahadur. He instituted the Khandadi-Pahul or the baptism of the sword and established the Khalsa, the militant brotherhood of the pure as the Sikhs called themselves. The five K’s date from his time. He also sanctioned meat eating provided the animal were killed with a single stroke of the sword; the prohibitions on tobacco and alcohol were renewed. Govind Rai assumed the title of Singh or lion and called upon his followers to do the same. Every male Sikh is a Singh or lion, the title being an assertion of their commitment to militancy as a way of life. The Sikhs also wear a special kind of headgear or turban.
Govind Singh as Govind Rai is known in history appears to have owed to Islam the idea of declaring himself the final Guru in the manner that Prophet Muhammad (may God bless and exalt him) is regarded as the last in the line of prophets. Henceforth the Sikh community were to derive whatever guidance they needed trom the Granth Sahib which consists of the Adi Granth and an addendum by Govind Singh himself.
The special place the Granth Sahib occupies in Sikh is again reminiscent of the honour accorded to the Quran in Islam.
Govind died in 1708. He left behind a community weil organised as a martial sect which were able to establish a principality towards the end of the century which lasted until the annexation of Panjab by the British in the 19th century.
The Sikhs are divided into several sects, the most militant among them being the Akalis, a term which means immortals. The British treated them as one of the martial races from which they recruited soldiers for the British Indian army. The community was also recognised as one of the important parties with a right to a say in the framing of the future constitution of India when the British withdrew from the subcontinent in 1947.
Although the main place of worship in Sikhism is known as Mandir-or temple–a Sikh place of worship is generally called a Gurdwara or the home of the Gurus. The daily ritual prescribed for the community is: early rising, bathing in cold water, meditation on God’s name, and the recitation of prayers from the Granth Sahib morning and evening.
Unlike Hinduism Sikhism is a proselytising religion. Most Hindus in Punjab allow individual members from a family to join the Sikh church and still retain ties with the parent family. likewise, Sikhs sometimes are known to lapse into Hinduism. There is a kind of reciprocity between the two cuits not paralleled by any relationship between Hinduism and other Indian cuits.
The term Khalsa is used by the Sikhs in a sense corresponding to Ummah among Muslims. But it is slightly less comprehensive, for individual Sikhs can stay outside the Khalsa by not taking the necessary vows or undergoing the baptism of the sword.
The total number of Sikhs in India is estimated to be about 7 or 8 million. But in wealth and influence they far outweigh their numerical strength. Sikh colonies are to be found in Britain, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait and East Africa. Personally religious or not, they usually adhere to the five Ks: Kesh (hair), Kara (Bangles), Kanghi (comb), Kuch (shorts) and Kirpan (short sword). In spite of the community’s many links with Hinduism, the Sikhs are conscious of their individuality which has been greatly strenghened by events since India won independence in 1947. This sense of a distinct individuality is reinforeced by their memory of the period of Sikh rule in Punjab, especially of the acheivements of the Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh, who is their national hero. It was he who established the first completely independent Sikh kingdom in India in 1801 in Punjab. He later conquered Kashmir. Ranjit Singh died in 1839, and thereafter a series of defeats at the hands of the British culminated in the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849. The Sikhs had earlier given up Kashmir, which was sold to the Dogras by the English in 1845. But that briet period of political glory from 1801 when the Sikhs were able to lord it over Muslims in north-west India has left a permanent impress on their consciousness and given to Sikhism as a creed an impetus which has preserved it trom absorption by Hindusim which has been the fate of Jainism and other minor creeds on Indian soil.
Sikhism, must th us be judged as a religio-political movement. Few religions have been more influenced by the political fortunes of their adherents than Sikhism in the development of its rites and rituals. Begining as a protest movement within Hiduism, without however renouncing the Hindu doctrines of Karma and transmigration and insisting only on monotheism which it imbibed trom Islam, Sikhism soon became a political protest against the Mughals who were Muslim, and acquried features represented by the five Ks and the concept of the Khalsa which can be fully understood only in the light of history. Whether at any future date Sikhism will be able to evolve on a different track as a purely religious creed is impossible to predict. The history of Punjab as a province in the British Indian empire was marked by conflict between Sikhs and Muslims and this, reinforced by memories of past struggles between the Sikhs and Mughals, was responsible for the decision of the Sikhs to insist on partition in 1947 rather than allow the whole province to be included in the Muslim state of Pakistan. But events in the following decades showed that their relations with Hindus also proved stormy.
Parseeism which is the name given to the form of Zoroastrianism practised by the Parsees in India can claim to be one of the oldest religions in the world with a history of more than two or three thousand years. Muslims cali them Zindiq or fire worshippers. According to some commentators, though this is disputed by others, they are included in the meaning of the term Ahl-ul Kitab, which refers to those peoples who possess divinely inspired scriptures like the Quran. Alh-ul-Kitab communities-and that embraces the Christians and Jewshave been defined in the Quran as peoples with whom Muslims can intermarry and interdine freely. The early Muslims extended this privilege to the Zindiqs in some instances, but although marriages between Parsees and Muslims on Indian soli have occured, Muslim scholars by and large do not accept the community as Ahl-ul-Kitab.
Zoroastrianism is the religion founded by Zorosater or Zarathushtra as he was called in his homeland in ancient Persia. His historicity has been questioned, and there are great differences of opinion about the era to which to attribute him. Pliny the Eider, the Greek thinker, believed him to have lived 6000 years before Plato; Plutarch the historian thought he Hourished 5,000 years before the Trojan War. Those modern scholars who do not dismiss him as a myth put him around 1000 BC.
The core of Zoroastrianism revolves around the dualism of light and darkness. It interprets ail phenomena as reflecting the constant and unceasing struggle of these two forces, the forces .of Good and the forces of Evil, symbolised by Ahuramazda and Ahriman. Ahuramazda is responsbile for ail that is good and beautiful; Ahriman for ail that is ugly and hateful. Light as the symbol of Good deserves worship; hence the honour paid to fire which produces light. Zoroastrian temples-called fire temples-always contain an altar with a perpetually buring flame.
The Zoroastrians migrated to India soon after the conquest of Persia by the Arabs. Their descendants or the Parsees are settled principally in the Bombay area in the west. Zoroastrianism has been extinct in Persia for centuries.
Zoroaster is believed to have given his followers a holy book called Zendavesta composed in a language akin to ancient Persian or Pahlavi and translated into the latter tongue after the religion spread among the inhabitants of Persia. The Parsees cali it simply Avesta. The book consists of five parts as follows: the Yasna embodying liturgical matter read by Parsee priests in worship; the Vispered, consisting of invocations to Ahuramazda; the Vendidad or the Parsee priestly code; the Yashata, further invocations; the fifth book is the Khordah Avesta, a book of private devotions to be used by priest and layman alike. The other books are not allowed to be read by laymen.
The Avesta is only a fragment of the sacred literature of the Zoroastrians. Legend has it that Zoroaster composed 20 books, each consisting of 100,000 verses written on 1200 cowhides. These were, it is said, destroyed by Alexander when he conquered Persia. After the Greeks withdrew the priests collected the remains and out of them prepared the present Avesta.
The hereditary and professional priesthood in Zoroastarianism has played a part in the development of the religion comparable to the role of the Brahmins in Hinduism and the authors of the Epistles in Christianity. The translation of the holy books into Pahlavi took place between the third and tenth centuries. The Ravayats are a collection of answers by priests given to various theological questions submitted to them; it carries great authority.
But the most important section of the sacred literature is the Gathas representing the seventeen chapters of the Yasna, which are believed to embody the actual words of Zoroaster himself. The Gathas are regarded in the same light by the Parsees as the Vedas by the Hindus.
Although the central core of Zoroastrianism is the dualism of light and darkness, it has acquired in the course of centuries many features which betray the influence of other cuits, especially Mithraism which at one time spread over Persia and from Persia to the Roman empire. Mithra is the god of heavenly light whose counterpart is found is the god of heavenly Mithraism which at one time spread over persia and from Persia to the Roman empire. Mithra is the god of heavenly light whose counterpart is found is the Vedas. In the second century AC it looked like being firmly established as the offical creed of Rome. Mithra became an integral part of Zoroastrian belief. Other divinities also entered the religion. Among them were AmeshaSpentas, regarded as a group of Holy immortals, resembling Christian archangels, who wait upon Ahura-Mazda and do his bidding.
Ahura-Mazda is also called Ormuzd. He is the Supreme Creator, constantly at war with Ahriman, but this ultimate victory is certain. Ormuzd created man who was endowed by him with free will. Zoroaster’s three commandments were: good thoughts, good words and good deeds. Zoroastrians believe in an afterlife in which man will have to account for ail he did on earth, his virtues and sins.Those who have led a virtuous life will enjoy eternal bliss in heaven and those who have sinned will be in hell forever. The soul will have to pass over a bridge, hair-thin; the souls of men who are righteous will find the passage over it easy and the sinners will be plunged into the abyss of hall. If the evil and the good in a man’s life are in the same proportions, the soul will pass into a purgatory. The concept of accountability is clearly one comman to Zoroastrianism and Islam, Christianity and Judaism and even Hinduism where it takes the form of the law Karma. Likewise, there are other features of Zoroastrian eschatology, such as the belief in a heaven and a hell which are similar to Muslim beliefs. The idea of the hair-thin bridge in the after world has also found a place in popular Islam.
Ormuz is thought to be incapable of being apprehended by human senses. This also is an idea not dissimilar from Muslim beliefs, but where the Zoroastrians differ sharply from Islam is in holding that Ormuz needs man’s help in his struggle with Ahriman. The man who lives a life of righteousness can by his actions help defeat Ahriman; for righteousness strengthens the power of good and weakens the the power of evil. Ahriman, however, as the embodiment of evil is a concept which is not different from the notion of Satan in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Interestingly, although the idea of evil as a force is not unknown to Hinduism, it has nothing in its mythology resembling a single figure in whom evil is concentrated. It is also fair to say that althought Islam does not elevate Satan to the level of an adversary to God who needs to be assisted against him dualism-interpreted as a feature of human existence in that man is always prone to fall into the clutches of Satan unless he is vigilant-is present in the Muslim religion. Muslims believe that the licence given to Satan to tempt man is an aspect of the choice man can enjoy between good and evil on this earth.
Here the similarities between Islam and Zoroastrianism appear to end. Somtimes the Amesha-Spentas are likened to angels, but actually it is impossible to carry the apparent similarity far. Amesha-Spentas are also sa id to be those attributes of Ahura-Mazda which can find a place in the human soul. They are divided into two sets of three, those on the Father-side which are male, and those on the Mother-side which are famale. Asha, the eternal law of God. Vohu-Mano, Love, and Kshathra, loving service are accounted male; and Armati, faith in God, Haurvatal or perfection, and Amerat or immortality are female principles. With Ahura-Mazda, the above six constitue a Heptad or aggregate of seven, ail of them representing aspects of deity to which man should offer worship.
These seven are to be added to Atar of fire and Sarpasha or willing obedience to God which are also to be regarded as divinities.
These factors introduce complexities into the idea of a single Gad or the unity of Godhead and make it impossible to consider Zoroastrianism monotheistic.
Basically an Aryan religion, Zoroastrianism was further influenced by another Aryan creed, namely, Brahmanism, as a result of its contact with Hinduism on Indian soil. The hereditary character that the priesthood acquired is believed to have been one of the effects of this contact. So was child marriage, a practice widely prevalent among the Hindus. Among other practices which reformers in the 19th century condemned was the practice of washing in the urine of an ox or a she-goat every morning for purification and saying masses for the dead.
The Parsee priesthood is a hierarchy. The highest class consists of the Dasturs or High Priests; the next class is represented by the Mobeds who officiate in fire temples; the Ervads are the lowest class.
Parsee temples, which are simple structures, must always have a fire-altar before which worship is offered to AhuraMazda. The Parsees claim that while they regard fire as sacred they do not worship fire itself, but treat it as a symbol. Their rituals are also simple. Apart from affirming their faith in AhuraMazda before the sacred fire, they make offerings of homa juice, sacred bread, butter oil, and holy water.
The greatest Parsee festival is the Day of Yazdegard, the day that the last Sassanian king of Parsis was dethroned by the Muslims in 640 A C. A difference of opinion over the fall of Yazdegard has led to the emergence of two sects among the Parsees, the Shahanshahis and the Kadmis. The Yazegard Day is treated in its social aspect like the Muslim festival of Idulfitr; social visits are exchanged and reunions among families and friends take place.
Like the Muslims the Parsees can offer their prayers anywhere and are not restricted to their fire-temples for this purpose.
An important Parsee belief is that the elements, earth, fire and water are ail sacred and should not be poluted. This accounts for their custom of not burying or cremating the dead but exposing them to vultures on towers to be eaten. After the flesh has been picked clean, the bones are collected and thrown into a pit.
Belief in immortality is of course a concomitant of the belief in a heaven and a hell for the dead according to their deserts. But Parsees do not accept the theory of reincamation.
The community numbers less than two hundred thousand in the whole of India. Centuries of endogamy and inbreeding, sorne exceptions notwithstanding, have given them a clearly indentifiable physiological appearance. Many use a distinctive kind of dress.
Parsee children are formally indoctrinated between the ages of seven and fifteen. They are required to repeat the creed and vow to adhere to the perlect religion given to the world by Zoroaster. The child is then invested with the Kusti, the sacred cord or girdle, which he has to have on his person ail his life. He has also to promise to perlorm good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Daily prayer includes the repetition of this declaration three or four times every twenty-four hours.
The Parsees are one of the smallest religious communities in India. But they are weil established in business and are weil known for their philanthropy.
It is perhaps the only community which is entirely urban with no representation in agriculture and similar rural pursuits. Its survival on what initially was foreign soil in the face of adverse circumstances testifies to the tenacity of the faith of those few who believe in Zoroaster.
Jainism as it is practised today is hardly distinguishable from Hinduism, but it claims to have older origins. Its relation to Brahmanical Hinduism is however a matter of dispute. What seems clear to outsiders is that they have many features in common including the belief in rebirth and Karma. Hindu priests can and often do officiate in Jain temples; many Jains join the Hindu fold; and Jain ascetics are venerated by both classes. The exact number of Jains in India has not been computed. But the most prominent group of Jains is the Marwaris, who dominate Indian commerce.
The most important tenet in Jainism is Ahimsa or nonviolence based on the theory that ail life is sacred; the worst sin is to harm or destroy life in any form, be it never so humble. Pious Jains carry a broom with which they sweep the path before them as they walk, lest they should unwittingly kill insects; some wear a net on their faces to prevent any invisible germ being breathed in and destroyed. Even vermin and insects which are injurous to hujmans must be fed and protected. Well-to-do Marwaris engage poor people by the hour to sleep on bug-ridden beds in order that they themselves might be spared at night when they use the sa me beds. The cow is venerated and Marwaris patronise cow-protection societies in India in concert ,with the Hindus who regard the animal as a god.
Notwithstanding the pre-eminence of the Jains in commerce and industry in modern times, Jainism is essentially an otherworldly cult which rejects the whole concept of civilisation as it is understood by other societies. They consider dress utterly superfluous and the most orthodox among them, the Digambaras, go entirely naked. A true Jain should according to their beliefs own nothing and not even eat. It was not until the establishment of Muslim rule in India that the Jains were forced to cover their nakedness in public for decency’s sake. But even now some Digambaras live apart and refuse to conform. The sect which wears clothing is called Swetambaras; they do not insist on nudity, but their beliefs are the same as those of the Digambaras. A third group which arose in the fifteenth century among the Swetambaras is known as Sthanakavasis. They maintain a belief in nonidolatrous worship in contradistinction to the other two groups who practise image-worship.
Ordinary Jains, especially the business community, adore the Hindu god Ganesha who is regarded as the patron of wealth and worldly success, but in general the images installed in Jain temples are those of the Tirthankaras, the saviours of humanity who dwell, liberated from human bondage, in the upper skies. They are perfected men who have achieved Moksha or eternal salvation. In Jain belief they are the only ones worthy of adoration.
The Jains believe in there having been a long line of Tirthankaras stretching back into prehistory. They were twenty-four in number. The first twenty-two are entirely mythical and belong to the so-called Solar Dynasty. Parsva, the twenty-third Tirthankara is semi-historical, but scholars have expressed strong doubt about his historicity. Mahavira, the twenty-fourth Tirthankara, is however fully historical, a contemporary of the Buddha, with many similarities to him. He too was the son of a prince; he renounced the world in circumstances analogous to those cited in the history of the Buddha; and the manner in which he achieved his spiritual goal is again similar. This has led sorne scholars to think that Mahavira and the Buddha might in tact be the sa me person, though neither view as to their true identities can be substantiated. The greatest point of similarity between the two consists in the fact that both religions are atheistic; neither postulates the existence of a single Supreme Being, the sovereign of ail visible and invisible phenomena. The universe itself is regarded as eternal and indestructible, which has always been and will always be. It is however divided into two categories, animate and inanimate, Jiva and Ajiva. 80th are equally indestructible. The Ajiva category consists of Pudgala or matter, Dharma or motion, Adharma or rest, Akasa or space and Kala or time.
The Jains assume that ail living beings are at the same time matter and soul. What binds them together in a subtle nexus is the law of Karma. It is Karma which is responsible for the long chain of births that men go through, gradually working off the effects of sin, till they reach stage when soul and matter are liberated from the chain which ties them together. This stage is Moksha, but unlike the Hindu idea of Moksha the liberated soul is not absorbed into any greater soul. These liberated souls retain their individuality in an existence no longer subject to rebirth. The belief that liberated souls achieve a perennial life, freed from the bonds of death and rebirth, and still retain their identities, is an idea which differentiates Jain metaphysics from both Hindu and Buddhist metaphysical systems where absorption in a Brahma or a World Soul is postulated.
Jainism is pessimistic in outloook. Its whole philosophy is a metaphysic centred on man’s struggle for liberation trom a round of births and rebirths which only strengthen our bondage. This view is partially shared by Hinduism and Buddhism, but whereas Hinduism and Buddhism prescribe laws as to how life can be lived weil on the individual and the social plane, and how man can use his time on earth to create beauty, Jainism encourages him to do as little as possible to sustain what others cali civilisation. Civilisation is an evil, to be eschewed as best man cano The Jaina doctrine of bondage is the most important aspect of Jajnism;s metaphysics.
The Jaina rules of living make a distinction between laymen or Sravakas and Sadhus or monks. The community lays the greatest imphasis on Daya or sympathy towards ail, human and animal beings. No killing is permitted for any reason. Even predatory animais should not be destroyed, flies crushed. The true Jain is expected to abstain from Iying, duplicity in his conduct, sex, he may not see as many people as he likes; he must fast for long periods, sit in meditation for hours on end, absolutely motionless; he must not acquire property. He must also rid himself of his hair by force once a year. The rules are more strict for monks and nuns than for ordinary men and women. Ali that ordinary men and women are permitted is that they can, if necessary, engage in an occupation which does not involve any killing.
Individual Jains may be found in other parts of the world, but there are no Jain communities outside India. Nor is it possible ordinarily to differentiate between Hindus and Jains even on Indian soil. They are, unlike the Sikhs in this respect, content to be regarded for ail practical purposes as Hindus politically and culturally. The Jains sometimes endow temples where Hindus worship. Jain temples follow the same architectural style as Hindu temples; the images installed are however those of the Tirthankaras, especially Mahavira.
Ahimsa, like the belief in rebirth and Karma, is common ta Hinduism and Buddhism but it receives more emphasis in Jainism and Buddhism than in Hinduism.
The attitude of the Jains ta Islam is not any different from that of the Hindus. Bath regard the Muslims as the perpertators of the greatest sin in their religions-that is, cow-slaughter, and when riots occur over this issue bath communities react alike.
It is not ta be supposed that Jains in general are really other-worldy. They abstain from meant and fish but they are not total vegeta ri ans in that they do not abject ta milk which is an animal product. In dress tao they are indistiguishable from the Hindu community. This is testimony ta the capacity Hinduism has displayed down the ages ta absorb imperceptibly any creed which subscribes ta any of its major beliefs, even the faiths which as in the case of Jainism claim to antedate it. Socially it has absorbed even Christianity but not doctrinally. Jainism is thus best understood as one of the varied facts of the religious mosaic which characterises Indian society outside of Islam and Islamic subsects.
Whether to regard theosophy as a religious sect proper or as a philosophy is a debatable question. It has never been a cult with mass appeal. But for a short period towards the end of the 19th century it fascinated sorne educated sections in India and Europe, thanks largely to the personality of Madame Blavatsky, one of its founders. Mrs. Annie Besant who was involved in Indian politics was also a theosophist.
The careers of these two ladies help explain both the nature of the theosophical movement and also the reason why it won such success as it was able to achieve.
Helena Petrovana Blavatsky was a Russian emigre, daughter of Col. Peter Hahn, of a noble family of Mechlenburg settled in Russia. She married at 17 a husband of 60, but they soon separated. Blavatsky devoted the rest of her life to travel in Europe, America and Asia; she visited Tibet in disguise via Kashmir in 1855 and appears to have absorbed a great deal of ancient Tibetan lore, which was a mixture of Buddhism and Tantrism and other spiritualist cuits prevailing in inaccessible parts of China and Mongolia. She became a naturalised American citizen and live for a long time in New York. Blavatsky was one of the chief founders of the Theosophical Society of India at Adyar in Madras in India in 1875. Her principal aide in
this venture was an Englishman, Col. Dicottt. Blavatsky, who was born in 183, died in London in 1891.
The other lady, Annie Besant, was born in 1847. She was the daughter of William Page Wood, was educated privately in England, France and Germany, and married at 20 to Rev. Frank Besant whose name she bore throughout her career though the marriage did not last for more than five years. Annie Besant was involved in social work in England and upon her arrivai in India became associated with the Indian struggle for freedom. She joined the Theosophical Society in 1880 and was a devoted pupil of Madame Blavatsky.
Both ladies wrote books in which they offered and exposition of their beliefs. Annie Besant was joint editor of the Theosophical Review.
Judging by the contents of their writings, Besant seems to have been more of a Hindu than Blavatsky who was more cosmopolitan in her choice of gods and deities. Blavatsky claimed to be in contact with spiritual forces rather like the enfranchised souls who are believed to lead a disembodied existence in the upper regions. She called them the Supreme Masters or greater Ones or Mahatmas who influence the course of history by guiding humanity towards the evolution of the perlect Man. Considering that the search for the Perlect Man has been a feature of both legend and history from time immemorial, evident as much in the Hindu legend about great Munis or sages who were in certain repects more powerlul than gods, as in the dream of the German philosophers, Schaupenhauer and Nietzsche or even in the Muslim idea of Insani-Kamil, it is not surprising that Blavatsky was able to win converts by appealing indirectly to that vein of idealism which is laternt in ail men. This has nothing to do with the progress of science and technology. On the contrary, there are many who either somehow acheive a personal reconciliation between the demands of science and technology and faith in the occult, or bend purely scientific data to non-scientific uses to justity belief in demons and Mahatmas. Another source to which theosophy appeals for support is the unsolvable riddle of birth and death, the mystery of the relationship between mind and matter, soul and body. Madame Blavatsky went further in her claims th an many. Instead of advancing only speculations she asserted that she had personally been in touch with sorne of these great spirits in Tibet in their mountain retreats. This is perhaps not very different from the claims of those who invoke spirits by means of planchets or mediums.
Quite possibly sorne of her ideas or ideas from similar sources were made use of by Rider Haggard in his novels, particularly She and The Return of She in which ancient Egypt and Tibet figure prominently. What Haggard presents as fantasies seems to appear in Blavatsky’s writings as realities, great souls who have conquered death and assumed astral bodies which enable them to move freely across time and space.
Theosophy also accepts the theory of rebirth and thus can draw support from beliefs common to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainsim. It believes like Buddhism and Hinduism that rebirth depends on Karma. The quality of every successive reincarnation is determined by a person’s acts, thoughts, and desires in a previous birth. But theosophy takes the theory further by asseverating that a human being in his physical aspect is a combination of three kinds of body-a purely physical body, an invisible astral body and another invisible mental body. They inerpenetrate. When a person dies, his death means only the casting aside of the physical body and entrance into another. The soul is immortal, it has human form but is sexless; its exists surrounded by an avoid of luminous matter. The physical body enables man to act, the mental body to think, and the astral body to feel. The soul’s permanent habitation is the causal body.
As in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the round of births and rebirths can have an end only when ail impurities have been washed away. The soul thereupon returns to its permanent habitation in the causal body in the sphere of eternal reality. It is this stage which the Hindus cali Moksha but it is different from Nirvana which implies extinction in a world soul.
Theosophy is not heard of much these days, but in the last decades of the 19th century it was an influential force and to a certain extent it influenced the writings of Yeats, the Irish poet, who developed an original theory of spiritualism under the inspiration of Madame Blavatsky.
Theosophical societies existed at one time in the USA and Britain in the West while the real home of the ·creed was in Madras. It attracted quite a few educated people, some of whom have expounded its teachings in their writings. Among them the most prominent after Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant are A.P. Sinnet; C.W. Leadheater, George S. Arundale, Jinarajadasa, Bhagwan Das and W.O. Judge.
One of the interesting facts about theosophy is that while its founders speak of a Wisdom Religion which is the ultimate source of Divine Truth upon which great religious teachers down the ages have drawn for inspiration, its list leaves out any reference either to the Prophet of Islam or any of the prophets mentioned in the Ouran except Jesus. Those mentioned in theosophical writings include the Buddha, Confucius, Zoroaster, Manu, the mythical Hindu law-giver, Pythagoras, the various Hindu avatars, Jesus, and even Sankaracharya, the Hindu theologian. Of course, it is said that thinkers other than those specifically listed have also at different times contributed to the understanding of Divine Truth. The theosophists claim that theirs is an ancient tradition going back to the earliest civilisation which embraces ail genuine mystics, the Gnostics, the Neoplatonists, such men as Paracelsus, Bruno, Boehme, and even the Engilish mystical poet Henry Vaughan. This claim is based on the meaning of the world theosophy, which signifies knowledge of God. It is thus a theistic creed. Its inclusion of the Buddha who avoided specific reference to God in his teachings is inspired by the theory that he believed in primordial reality’s being spiritual.
Theosophy is best understood as a school of mysticism representing an amalgam of most theistic creeds except the purely monotheistic ones. Jesus owes admission to its order by virtue of the theory of incarnation which is central to Christianity as weil as the doctrine of the Trinity. On both questions Islam’s stand is uncompromising. It neither believes in incarnation nor does it countenance the doctrine of the Trinity. As a school of mysticism theosophy ranks as an offshoot of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism.
QADIANISM OR AN ISLAMIC HERESY
Ali orthodox Muslims regard Oadianism or the Ahmadiyya movement as a heresy. Following Pakistan’s decision in the 19705 to declare its adherents a non-Muslim group, most Muslim countries no longer recognise the right of the Oadianis to describe themselves as Muslims. They are forbiden to enter Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage or Hajj. Few Muslims would knowingly intermarry with them, and in Pakistan where the heresy originated they are apt to be viewed with great suspicion.
The sect was launched by one Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889 in a town called Oadian when it was part of India. Ahmad (1835-1908) claimed that he was the recipient of divine revelation in the manner of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless and exalt him) and that he had been sent into the world in the power and spirit of Jesus just as John the Baptist had been sent in the power and spirit of Christ. The so-called revelations were later compiled into an addendum to the Ouran.
Gulam Ahmad of course insisted on calling himself a Muslim; his followers do 50 to this day. But in claiming to be a prophet himself, he repudiated what is considered one of the fundamentals of Islam, namely, that Muhammad (may Allah bless and exalt him) was the last of the divinely inspired
prophets, and that the Ouran was the last of the divine Books. The principle of Risalat, founded on the belief that Muhammad was the last of the prophets, is as basic ta Islam as Tauhid or faith in the unit y of Gad. Ta rejcet either doctrine is ta strike at the root of Islam. While there are people who would not interfere with the practice of Ahmadiyyanism as a separate cult, it is its claim to be not anything different from Islam which is challenged and has frequently led ta violence. In the 1950s, saon after the establishment of Pakistan as a new state, antiAhmadiyya riots caused many casualites and necessitated the temporary imposition of maritallaw in Punjab.
The Ahmadiyya theory of prophecy turns on a subtle interpretation of a Ouranic verse. The sect maintains that the verse leaves room for the appearance of prophets after Muhamammad (may Allah bless and exalt him), a view which no orthodox Muslim will accept. They say that the channel of communication between Allah and man is always open for the transmission of new messages.
The Oadianis are divided into two principal sects; those who give Ghulam Ahmad the status of a full-fledged prophet, and those who believe that he was only a reformer or Mujaddid. Neither claim is countenanced by the mainstream of Islamic thought.
Not only did Chulam Ahmad claim ta have received revelations from Allah, he also advanced a new story about Jesus. He taught that Jesus did not die on the Cross, but was taken down unconscious from it and for the next 40 days continued ta see his disciples in secret. When his wounds were healed he left Palestine to preach among the lost tribes of Israel, and eventually arrived in Kashmir.
Christ, the Ahmadiyyas further believe, lived to a great old age and passed away at 120. His tomb is also said to have been identified. No Muslim or Christian has accepted this story. Even those who believe in the reappearance of Jesus as the Messiah do not think that the Ahmadiyya version of the life and death of Jesus has any historical basis.
When Ghulam Ahmad died, a disciple was elected his Khalifa or successor in the same way as Abu Bakr succeeded the Prophet as his Khalifa. When the Khalifa died in 1941, the Ahmadiyyas found themselves divided into two groups. One group elected a Khalifa based at Lahore, while the other installed in the office a son of the first Khalifa at Oadian. The name of the Lahore Khalifa was Mirza Bashiruddin Mahamud Ahmad.
Doctrinally the Ahmadiyyas accept ail the principal Islamic beliefs, do not reject the Ouran; their forms of prayer are identifical with those followed by the rest of the Muslim community. They insist on fasting as an obligatory dut Yand also believe in the Hajj. But quite naturally the affirmations of faith called Kalimas are differently worded and in their prayers Ghulam Ahmad is invariably invoked as intercessor.
The Ahmadiayyas subscribe to the importance of congregational prayer and hold a service on Fridays, again like the Muslims. Their mosques, as they cali them, have the same architectural features as mosques proper, characterised by minarets and domes.
The Ahmadiyyas, especially the Lahore group, maintain missions abroad in Europe, America and Africa. Some have published translations of the Quran, some engage in exegesis. Nothing pleases them more than being considered good Muslims but having challenged and rejected one of Islam’s fundamental doctrines, they are not in the unanimous opinion of ail Muslim theologians and scholars, entitled to claim the designation of Muslim.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad believed himself to be not only a prophet but also Jesus reincarnate. His knowledge of Arabic in which he wrote his revelations lent him in the eyes of his followers an extra claim on the loyalty of Muslims, but the orthodox counter this by saying that his use of Arabic is itself a rebuttal of his pretensions. There has been no prophet who used any language but his own to communicate his meassage.
The finality which Muhammad (may Allah bless and exalt him) claimed as prophet is so central to Islam that any departure from it would open the doors to religious anarchy. It would create the possibility of an endless succession of pretenders claiming the right to alter and distort the Quran and its message. It wouId also mean that the basic truths embodied in the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet were not basic after ail, that Islam could some day merge into something else. No wonder orthodox Muslims find Ahmadiyya beliefs unacceptable and intolerable.
The Ahmadiyyas are themselves conscious of a sense of guilt in advancing the claim that Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet. They try to conceal or disguise it as far as practicable in order that they might pass for goOO Muslims.
There has been a tendency in recent times to present Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as only a reformer, the promised Messiah to whose appearance many Muslims look farward. Ta this end innumerable miracles are attributed to him; the claim that the Mirza was a full-fledged prophet is either not mentioned or toned down. Stress is laid on his services in the advancement of Islam. Care is also taken to say that the revelations communicated by the Mirza were due to IIham, not WahL Wahi is the inspiration of prophets proper whereas IIham is the inspiration of saints. But the retreat from Wahi to IIham is interpreted by orthodox Muslims as a device whereby to lull the suspicions of the community and deceive the unwary, for no saint in Islam ever claimed the kind of status that Ghulam Ahmad claimed.
It is imposiible to say with any certainty how large the Ahmadiyya community is. For in India, Bangladesh which in spite of its character as a predominantly Muslim society refuses to have the Ahmadiyyas recognised as a separate religious group, and non-Muslim countries in general, they get themselves registered as plain Muslims. The Ahmadiyya missions in Africa are known to have achieved considerable success. Ahmadiyya propaganda is usually directed at the educated whom it is easier to influence by subtle interpreations of Quranic verses concerning Risalat or the status of prophet Muhammad.
The present headquarters of the Ahmadiyya movement is in a place cailled Rabwa in Pakistan.
Bahaism, a cult born in the 19th century, has links to Oadianism in that it owes its origin to a new theory of prophetie inspiration. It rejects the belief that Muhammad (May God bless and exalt him) was the last of the inspired prophets, and maintains that the door of communication between man and God will always be open, with successive prophets receiving direct revelations from God. Like Oadianism again it began as a kind of reform movement within Shia Islam, its founder Mirza Ali Muhammad (1820-1850), a native of Shiraz in Iran, claiming to be the promised Imam who was to pave the way for the advent of one greater than himself. He assumed the name of Bab-ud-Din or Gate of the Faith and was initially hailed as a religious leader. The response to his preaching soon led him to announce drastic changes in Islam itself, to abrogate Islamic laws, and finally to subsititute a new holy book for the Ouran which he said was no longer suited to the needs and demands of the age. This produced an immediate reaction. He was denounced as a heretic and eventually shot in the public square of Tabriz on July 9, 1850. The 18 chosen disciples whom the Bab had sent out to preach his message and to proclaim the advent of the One whom God shall manifest were also executed.
The next stage in the history of the cult is marked by the appearance in 1863 of the one whose advent was predicted 174″
by the Bab, and it was also this which led to a change in its nomenclature from Babism to Bahaism. Mirza Husain Ali (18171892), one of the disciples of the Bab who had been exiled to Baghdad, came forward to claim that he was the Imam who had been expected by his Master. He styled himself Baha-Ullah or Glory of God and from this time onwards Babism came to be known as Bahaism.
Bahaullah seems to have been an extremely energetic man and is reputed to be the author of several hundred books. The three basic ones which he wrote in Baghdad are: Hidden Words, Seven Valleys and The Book of Igan. These constitute Bahai scripture and the rest are commenta ries on Bahaullah’s teachings. The entire corpus of Bahai scripture consists of the writings of the Bab, Bahaullah and Bahaullah’s son, Sir Abdul Baha. But Bahai doctrine is actually the work of Bahaullah who after leaving Baghdad went first to Adrianople in Turkey and then to Acre in Palestine, them a Turkish principality. Here he along with his followers was confined to a penal colony for 24 years.
Bahahullah died in 1892 and was succeeded by his eldest son Abbas (1844-1921) who gave himself the title of Abdul Baha or The Servant of Baha.
The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 resulted in the release of the Bahais from imprisonment. Thereupon Abdul Baha moved his headquarters to Haifa and set out on a three-year journey to Egypt, Europe and North America on an evangelical mission. He returned home on the eve of the First World War and during the war worked for the Allies. His reward was a kinghthood conferred on him in 1920. Upon his death he was buried on Mt Carmel. His last testament to his followers was The Divine Plan which was an exposition of his father’s teachings. Shoghi Effendi, his grandson, succeeded to the office of leader in 1921. Nominated by Sir Abdul Baha himself, he is styled the Guardian of the Bahai Cause.
While Oadianism persistently continues to claim that it is nothing but orthodox Islam, the Bahais no longer consider it necessary to preserve any link with Islam and have established themselves as a completely separte religion. They too are engaged in proselytising work, but they have not won even a fraction of the success that the Oadianis have achieved. There is a small Bahai community in Iran to this day, but they live a part from Muslims as a separate group subject to many restrictions. The administrative centre of Bahaism is in Haifa. Bahai missions are maintained in most European countries, and there is a Bahai temple on Lake Michigan near Chicago in the U.S.A. There is another temple in Russian Turkistan.
The Bahais are an influential group and have won recognition at the United Nations.
The main emphasis in Bahai teaching is on internationalism. The community looks forward to the establishement of one single world order based on Bahai principles, which will come about through the work of the Chosen Mouthpiece. Like the communists who believe in the inevitability of a communist order the Bahais also think that a unified world is inevitable. The Bahais believe in the unity of God, accept ail prophets and maintain that ail religions teach the same truth, and that their differences are superlicial. They condemn ail superstitions, subscribe to equal rights for men and women, insist on their teachings being in harmony with science. Among other things Bahaism rejects polygamy, discourages divorce, and bans ascetisism and religious mendicancy. Like Islam, they do not have a hereditary or individual priesthood, but unlike Islam they dispense with ritual altogether. One of the interesting Bahai goals is the development of an international language as a means of international understanding, and they support the cause of Esperanto.
Bahaism has won more success in the USA th an elsewhere. Its appeal is directed to the urban classes rather than to the less educated classes who live in villages.
One of the reasons why Bahaism is tolerated and even encouraged in the West is that it inveighs against political rebellion and urges its followers to obey the government under which they might find themselves, a theory which is calculated to suit the interests of ail governments in power.
While present day Bahaism lacks the mystical fervour of its founders it supplies an equivalent in the docrine that Divine Revelation is a continuous process and that the Head of the Bahai church, the guardian, is in sorne sense a vehicle for it.
Bahaism is not a potent religious force anywhere today, but it is more in evidence in UN lobbies in New York than elsewhere, and on this account can influence decisions. Because of the persecution it suffered in Iran, a Muslim country, relations between Bahaism and Islam have always been strained, and like Oadianism it is not allowed to conduct its evangelism in any Muslim country. The exception is Bangladesh where soon after East Pakistan (Bangladesh now) broke away trom Pakistan, a Bahai centre was opened at Dhaka the capital.
Bahaism is not as great a threat to Islam as Oadianism which pursues an aggressively active evangelical policy, but it is not to be discounted as a force tending to erode the intellectual foundations of the Muslim faith. It illustrates the manner in which sects taking their rise in Islam can gradually diverge from its basic doctrines and evolve into independent religions. The vague resemblances between them are likely to obscure the fact that such sects cannot be regarded as legitimate schools of thought within Islam. That is how in many cases they present themselves to the Muslim world. Hence the risk of confusing them with Islam.
Nearly every one of the known religions, major faiths and minor cuits, are represented in India in one form or another. The total number of sects in Hinduism is impossible to compute with absolute accuracy. There are areas where Hinduism, with its mythology and its established doctrines, shades off into animistic beliefs not yet assimilated to the mainstream of Hindu thought. But Hinduism owed its growth and expansion to the fact that, unlike religions with set tenets, rigidly maintained, it has always shown the capacity to absorb and attract new elements; its hierarchy of mythical gods and goddesses expands continually with new deities added when any new group is assimilated. It is difficult on this account to draw a line between Hinduism and animism.
The main animistic groups consist of the numerous aboriginal tribes who live apart from the rest of the population and preserve a primitive way of life, sorne not even having learnt to wear any clothes. Or if they dress at ail, it is only to cover the loins. These groups range from those who practise such cuits as cali for the ritual sacrifice of human beings to groups who participate in many Hindu festivals, bringing to them an extra touch of colour. They are an object of inexhaustible fascination to anthropologists.
Ethnically the aboriginals comprise a wide variety, from the Gonds in Madhya Pradesh in India to Hajongs and Murungs in
Bangladesh, from the Nagas and Mezos to even more primitive tribes which inhabit the Andamans, a small group of islands in the Bay of Bengal. Naturally they do not share a common pantheon. Since these group live close to nature the spirits they worship and seek to propitiate are associated with trees, plants, crops, streams, hills, and such other natural phenomena as they encounter.
The general animistic belief which in one from or another is found among ail animistic groups is that every objcet in nature has an indwelling spirit which guides its soul and which, unless propitiated with appropriate rituals, might harm man, render him infertile, make his lands barren, cause his livestock to die, in a word ruin his life. No distinction is made in this respect between animate and inanimate objects. An enormuos block of stone excites the same fear and veneration as a large animal. Certain hills and streams are believed to be possessed of special powers; similarly certain knids of tree are regarded as the habitation of invisible deities. Offerings are regularly made to them.
While certain animistic beliefs are to be found in Hinduism also they are different in their impact on practical life. The animists properly so-called do not share the Hindu inhibitions regardiing the consumption of meat. Nearly ail are beef-eaters. Some of them eat carrion. Snakes are considered good sources of nourishment. Many wild animais which no civilised community hunts for food are also eaten. These include porcupines, iguanas, and crocodiles. Tribes in eastern India love dog flesh. It goes without saying that no animist groups consider swine flesh taboo. But particular communities may have their own sacred animais, which they would on no account harm of slaughter.
Apart trom the tact that ail animists believe ail things to be endowed with souls and practise magic, it is difficult to deduce a common pattern from their religious rites and ceremonies such as would be applicable to ail tribes and communities spread over the Indien subcontinent. These rites vary according to the degree of sophistication that each group possesses. Some subscribe to well-defined creation myths and have what might be called an eschatology. They are the nearest to Hinduism. But many do not have any theories about a definite afterworld in which the pious and the sinful are rewarded and punished. There is however a common belief in the survival of the soul after death, and it is also held that the spirits of the dead should be propitiated. There are two kinds of spirit; the spirits of ancestors and spirits such as ghosts and fairies which have existed from an unknown period and are part of the world of nature. While the animists have a sense of right and wrong, many do not understand the concept of sin. Wrong is what injures the group physically or mentally, instead of sin, they firmly adhere to the idea of taboos, which may be animais or inanimate objects, trees, stones, whatever may have been associated with a tribe’s growth or history. The taboo animal is not killed; if the taboo is a tree it is avoided, never eut down, if the taboo is a metal, it must not be touched in a state of ceremonial impurity. The Agarias of Central India are ironsmelters and strongly believe in the efficacy of iron nails as ari insurance against the evil eye. When a new hou se is built a nail is driven into the ground in front; nails are inserted into cots on which people sleep.
Most animists also believe in ‘possession’, Certain incantations or dance movements can cause a man or woman to be temporarily possessed by a spirit, when he or she behaves abnormally and is feared and avoided. A possessed man (or woman) can perform miracles, cure illnesses, cali down on individuals and communities the blessings or curses of the indewelling spirit. Such persons go into a trance, and whether as a result of auto-suggestion or heavy intoxication they actually lose control over their normal faculties andutter sounds, shrieks or moans suggestive of ecstacy.
Ritual dances are common. There is hardly a tribe or group which does not have its own traditions of dancing. Amont sorne groups the dances are participated in by ail members of the community, while among others, it is only the unmarried who enjoy the privilege of dancing.
Image worship is much less common among animists than among Hindus, but where a Hindu deity has a temple dedicated to it and enjoys great popularity animists would not mind paying homage to it on ceremonial occasions. This usually marks the beginning of the process whereby such groups gravitate towards popular Hindui.sm.
Animists do not normally observe caste distinctions, nothing like untouchability, but as they move gradually closer to Hinduism they are content to be classified as lower caste Hindus subject to the restrictions which they must not violate. This is an interesting anthropoligical process constantly at work.
Animists represent the oldest stock of Indian inhabitants but they are not ethnically of the same origins. Sorne, like the Gonds and Agariahs of Central India, are believed to be the descendants of the ancient Dravidians, some are of Mongoloid stock; sorne are Tibeto-Burman. They can be usually identified by their physiognomy. Such aboriginals as the Nagas and Mezos in eastern India are today largely Christian. Similarly the Garos and Santhals who live in West Bengal and Bangaldesh, and occupy parts of Bihar have converted to Christianity. The same is true of the Hajongs. But it is said that conversion has not gone far in changing the basic pattern of their lives. Those who receive education in missionary schools may change outwardly in certain respects, but as far as their be/iets concerning the power of animais and inanimate objects are concerned, these are retained underneath the superficical veneer of Christianity. A large number ot tribes in south eastern Bangladesh are Buddhist in faith. Their Buddhism is also a compromise between animistic beliets and Buddhism. There have been few conversions to Islam, but where a tamily or individual embraces Islam it always leads to a break with their pagan or animistic past. Kinship ties among these people being much stronger than among settled people, individual conversions to Islam which tend to cut a person off from his tribe are seldom noticed.
There is a particular class of animists who consider themselves to belong to a category apart. They are the Lallegis who perform the offices of sweepers and cleaners and handle night soil and other filth. They do not live in large groups apart on the outskirts of villages and towns or in forest areas. Instead they live in ghettos in almost every town, in an area which other communities avoid, they breed pigs, and eat whatever is available. They have no food taboos. They have their own priests who officiate at marri ages, but no specific places of worship and resent being identified either with Hindus or with Muslims. Their ancestral occupation for ages past has been scavenging. They themselves are conscious of their low social status but do not attribute this to Karma. It is i:lccepted as a fact of life which cannot be altered.
ln census reports animists are classified as aboriginals. They represent a stage in the groiNth of societies dating back to the earliest times. Animism is not a religion but a way of life. Naturally these primitive peoples have not formulated their beliefs into a philosophy. The nudity of Digambara Jains is a conscious rejection of civilisation; the nudity of many animistic tribes is a survival from the period of barbarism that most societies passed through in their progression from dim antiquity to modern times. What must be rememberd is that no study of religion in the Indian subcontinent would be complete unless one took note of the existence of animism as a fact which lends variety to the religious scene. The Indian subcontinent is 50 large demographically that it is doubtful whether the animists will be assimilated into one or other of the major religions in the near future.
The best way of understanding the essence of Indian animism, and perhaps of any kind of animism, is to watch the religious rituals connected with the principal rites of passage in the life of animistic tribes, birth, puberty, marriage, and death. Each of these things is viewed with some awe, as a manifestation of those powers of Nature which man cannat control. They consequently cali for the propitiation of deities and spirits, offerings of rice or other things which are designed ta keep the forces of evil at bay either by prayer or by magic. Magic and religion, as Sir James Frazer points out in The Goldern Bough, aim both at the control of nature but by different means; magic by incantations and other actions which are sc effective that the forces of evil dare not contravene them. Riligion, on the other hand, relies for itsresults on petitionary pl’ayer. The bifurcatin between them widens as societies develop, but according ta Sir James, primitive man does not differentiate them, and that is the stage at which animists exist to this. day. The Agaria who fears the malignity of gods alsc know that iron offers a protection which cannot fail. In the same way Gonds, Santhals, Hajongs, Murungs have ail evolved magical devices whereby to avert evil at the same time that they do their best to placate the spirits who dwell in trees, hills, rocks and other natural phenomena.
Belief in magic in parallel with faith in gods is particularly strong among lower caste Hindus. It is not surprising that when they enter the fold of Christianity or Islam they find it imposible to discard overnight centuries-old habits of thought. That presumably is one important reason why certain classes of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims, converts trom lower caste Hindus or animists, tend to adhere to magic as a means of protecting themselves from evil, sorne consciously, sorne unconsciously, without any idea that magic and Tauhid cannot go together. Sorne ingenious people have invented a special species of magic supposedly based on the Quran itself. Certain, verses are read backwards, and the gibberish that results is believed to have greater potency than normal Quranic verses are thought to possess. Vet others have hit upon the theory that when certain Quranic words are repeated an odd number of times they acquire an extra power. Importance is also attached to such numerals as 70, 100 and 1000. Of these again 70 is most trequently used in Islamic magic. There is a who le elaborate system of magic of this kind whose origins must be sought in animistic practices. It is discussed in detail by Shaikh Abu Muwaiyyid in a 15th century work entitled Jawahirul Khamsa. We must, however, guard against the conclusion that ail magical systems are wholly explainable by reterence to primitive animism. For they sometimes undergo considerable development of which only civilised man is capable. But it is not wrong to bear in mind the origins trom which ail magic and ail occult sciences as they are called have sprung.