The strength of Sanatana Dharma

1 August 2014 witnessed the annual celebration of the Naga Panchami (or Nagara Panchami) festival across India and the world.  It is also celebrated as Bhratru Panchami, an occasion where brothers are honoured by their sisters. Depending on where one is in India, Bhratru Panchami is more popularly known as Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi.

All Hindu festivals without exception underscore a key aspect of Santana Dharma: celebration. Of life, nature, the living and the non-living in all myriad hues—black, white, and all the shades of grey. The modalities, the manner, the custom, and the tradition of celebrating any Hindu festival widely differ depending on which part of the Indian geography one is located in but the festival is celebrated with the same fervour and devotion, and the celebrators are fully aware of the significance of the festival.

Perhaps Makara Sankranti is the best illustration of this.

Makara Sankranti is celebrated across India to both herald the beginning of longer days, and to reap the harvest of months of backbreaking work in the fields. But the greater significance of Makara Sankranti like most Hindu festivals, is to highlight another living instance of the cultural unity of India.

People in Karnataka exchange a mixture comprising sugarcane blocks–artistically moulded into various forms and figures and shapes of Gods, Goddesses, flowers, fruits, animals–white sesame seeds, jaggery, and a piece of sugarcane.

In Andhra Pradesh, sugarcane is replaced by the jujube fruit (Regi Pandulu), and sweets and delicacies are prepared and offered to God.

Assamese have on offer at least 10 different varieties of Pitha, a sort of rice cake.

To Gujaratis, Makara Sankrati is the occasion to fly kites, and make Undhiyu and Chikkis.

Maharashtra feasts on tilgul (sweetmeat made from sesame) and Gulpolis, and wish each other peace and prosperity.

Tamil Nadu feasts on varieties of pongal–thai pongal, mattu pongal and kannum pongal—each variety of pongal is a way of offering gratitude to the Sun, cattle, and friends and relatives for giving a good harvest.

Every state, city, and town—from Bundelkhand, Rajasthan, Punjab, Bengal, Goa, Kerala, to Odisha–has its own unique way of celebrating Makara Sankranti.

And all of these are connected by an invisible, ancient, and subterranean thread that binds them with India. The fingers that spin this thread even today are the same fingers that enabled India to withstand the most barbaric and sustained attacks in the history of mankind. These fingers are as gentle as they are incredibly strong.

Among other things, Hindu festivals provide a clue to this strength.

The greatest strength of Sanatana Dharma is its proven power of adaptability, which has weathered centuries’ worth of tsunamis hitting it from all directions. It is only Sanatana Dharma that has proven in a myriad ways the truth of the dictum that “change is the only constant.”

Sanatana Dharma responds to change in a manner and quickness that is unrivalled by any other religion. This adaptability as history shows us, is multipronged, multifaceted, and dynamic. It took varieties of forms in art, painting, music, epics, literature, religious practices, and social mores. It discarded practices that were no longer suited to the changed times but replaced them with suitable modifications and evolved newer ones. The underlying idea was a resolve that Sanatana Dharma was something worth preserving—and dying for its preservation if necessary.

The earliest, pre-Islamic threat to Sanatana Dharma came from an extremely degenerate “form” of Buddhism. The degeneration of Buddhism occurred when it became aggressively missionary in nature, and received state patronage. When Islam made serious inroads into India, they found hundreds of thousands of Buddhists as sitting ducks waiting to be massacred.

Needless, the next big threat to Santana Dharma came in the form invading Arab Muslims motivated by Islam and greed for looting India’s fabled riches. Islam’s grievous and protracted assault on Hinduism sustained because Hindus failed to realize its true nature.

Islam’s assault on Hinduism continues to this day in various forms–primarily, negation and distortion of history, and secularism as the state ideology that Jawaharlal Nehru thrust upon India.

It took a few centuries, but Sanatana Dharma responded by evolving the Bhakti movement and a widespread retelling our epics. The Bhakti movement arose in the wake of Islam’s homicidal record of destroying Hindu temples and not allowing new ones to be built. Additionally, the Dhimmi status thrust upon Hindus made it almost impossible for Hindus to even give expression to their deepest religious needs. The Bhakti movement stepped in to check the real danger of Sanatana Dharma eroding forever. The Bhakti saints exhorted people to preserve their way of life and worship in whatever form–nothing was taboo. They worshipped our Gods and Goddess in songs composed in simple and/or rustic lyric in the local language. Rama became every Hindu’s neighbour and Krishna was just waiting on the other side of the river. These saints drew parallels, analogies, and illustrations from everyday life, which helped retain Sanatana Dharma as a living and lived tradition.

Thanks to their efforts, the sword of Islam was blunted to a great extent. South India saw a host of poets and writers and saints embark on a retelling of our epics.

In the 19th century, the British takeover of India witnessed the unprovoked attack by Christianity upon Sanatana Dharma. Conversions was an accepted—if not officially endorsed—organ of British imperial policy. It was indeed a renewed attack—as Jadunath Sarkar says, the British takeover of India was an event during which India merely changed masters.

Christianity’s attack was sophisticated but equally brutal. India is still, yet to recover from the damage it has wrought. In the early days, when Christianity failed to persuade Hindus to convert through various devices and sustained efforts, it reclothed its message and equated its Prophetic preaching with whatever parallel it found in Sanatana Dharma. In effect, it claimed that Christanity was no different from Santana Dharma–only the Gods and saints were different.

Initially, significant numbers of “upper caste” Hindus converted. However, the gains were insignificant because almost in no time, the Hindu response was swift. A strong tide of Hindu resurgence led by the likes of Swami Dayananda Saraswathi and Vivekananda pretty much scuttled such conversion attempts. The Church then realized that it could not win converts if it met Sanatana Dharma purely on philosophical grounds. That was when missionaries targeted the poorer sections of Hindu society, a tactic that remains unchanged till date.

However, the greatest damage that British rule did to India was to carve out what is now infamously known as the Macaulayite class of Indians. Needless, majority of this Macaulayite class are upper caste Hindus. Today’s Marxists are the descendants of the worst of this Macaulayite class. To their credit, creating this class was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the British, something that the 800-year long brutal Islamic rule couldn’t accomplish by force: pitting Hindus against each other by making them ashamed about their own identity.

To meet this challenge, Sanatana Dharma responded at multiple levels. The likes of Swami Vivekananda reawakened Hindus to their own past glory, which was followed by a whole galaxy of scholars who began investigating different aspects of their past and publicizing their findings to the world, as also freedom fighters who found inspiration in Sanatana Dharma‘s epics, scriptures, saints, and warriors.

Post-Independence, the Nehruvian regime continued this project of destroying Sanatana Dharma that the British abandoned when they left India. Till the late ’80s, this Nehruvian discourse ensured that Hindus were continually put on the defensive. However, as a parallel development, an unpopular section of academics, thinkers, writers, and scholars worked silently and did two things, primarily: they produced well-researched volumes in the defence of Sanatana Dharma and exposed imperialistic ideologies like Islam, Christianity, and Communism. Equally, various organizations defended and championed Hindu causes in the political and social spheres. This paved way for yet another resurgence of Sanatana Dharma in the ’90s. Obscure but valuable Hindu traditions, texts, and knowledge bodies were revived, and focussed research began in areas like Ayurveda, astronomy, metallurgy, education, architecture, etc.

Most importantly, the 90’s resurgence of Sanatana Dharma, which continues as we speak, has given tremendous international exposure and support for Hindu causes to the extent that India is now in a truly post-Nehruvian era.

Yet, the roots of mental colonization of Hindus are deep and widespread, and will take a few more decades to completely cut them.

Sanatana Dharma today, more than at any other time in history, is being relentlessly assaulted from almost all quarters: the global threat of Jihad, the Church, Marxists, media, politicians, academics, and NGOs. What is worse is the fact that most of these attacks originate from Hindus themselves. In the words of the eminent demographer, Dr. J.K. Bajaj, the physical space of Hindus has been shrinking continually under their noses. Hindus have mostly lost large parts of the North East to Christianity and continue to witness the results of a massive, ongoing conversion drive often with the active support of the Government—Andhra Pradesh is the most glaring example of this fact. Islam continues to gain ground through the power of sheer numbers. Repeated attacks on Hindus, their way of life, places of worship, and institutions are denied, justified, obfuscated, or brazened out.

Hindu response to these acts meets the same fate, and neither is the response significant. The best minds that can mount an effective counter to such a multi-pronged assault have been lost to lucrative careers in worldly life.

We only need to wait and watch how the innate strength, flexibility and adaptability of Sanatana Dharma is capable of reasserting itself in our own time, and showing the world the value it offers for eternity.


Sandeep Balakrishna is a columnist and author of Tipu Sultan: the Tyrant of Mysore. He has translated S.L. Bhyrappa’s “Aavarana: the Veil” from Kannada to English.
  • LogicalLiberalAtheist

    I am surprised – what is the basis of your sentence “Bhratru Panchami is known as Raksha Bandhan”? Rakhi is celebrated on Shraavan poornima. A panchami is by definition not a poornima. I am disappointed that you chose to open your piece with a factually dubious sentence.

    And can you elaborate on how “extremely degenerate forms of Buddhism” contributed to harming sanaatan dharma? Is it individual rulers who harmed sanaatanis, in which case it is individuals against individuals? Is it that there were tenets in said forms of Buddhism that incited hatred and violence against sanaatanis, in which case it is a philosophy against individuals? Or is it merely philosophical debate (most likely) between two rival schools of thought?

    I would have thought Buddhism is part of Sanaatan Dharma, to be honest – its practices and most of its underlying beliefs are so identical to Sanaatan Dharma as to be almost indistinguishable. Likewise Jain siddhant and Sikhism as well.

  • sadhana D

    It is a sad situation around the world. How many christians know that JEsus was in India doing spiritual practice for 18 Years in his childhood. He wandered himalaya and did spiritual practice under the guidance of yogis. After he was spiritually enlightened he traveled back to spread the word. All this was in bible after his passing. Soon after 500 yrs of his passing church started to remove that matter. Swami yoganada travelled west to restore the original teachings of christ. Autobiography of Yogi is a wonderful book giving us a glimpse from yogananda about Jesus. Later he restored original teachings from bible. 2 volumes named second coming of christ. It’s shame almost all christians do not even know the real meaning of bible or teachings that it contains.

    You can learn more about sanatan dharma by looking at the work done at present by Sanatan sanstha and spiritual science research foundation.org At this very moment seekers are able to tap the universal knowledge interact with deities just like rushis and great saint of the past did. It’s amazing information that is going to transform the world. And it’s happening in INDIA as we speak. Very soon staring 2015 world will enter third world war that will last 9 years and starting 2023 world will look at India for divine knowledge and spiritual guidance which is the goal of humanity in the first place.

    • malavika

      There is no evidence of historical Jesus. He is more of a myth. So, this Jesus visiting India is a fabrication like “Myth of saint Thomas”. This ploy by some missionary minded folks is to convert Hindus nothing else.

  • Kishore Chandra Das

    Wonderful! Hope, ‘educated’ Indians will at least try to understand and appreciate this. This understanding will help them realize their role and responsibilities as torch-bearers of a great Dharmic tradition as yet unparalleled in the history of human civilization.

  • Satchitanand

    very well written article. It should hindus who, just to get accepted by the society they live in are giving up their religion – especially in US and also people who are naive about the essence of dharma ! God Save

  • Soul in Exile

    Sanatana Dharma imbibed a way of life – which merged logic, values and science together, in day to day living… Alas! a lot of this understanding is lost today… often leading to sneering at the practices and traditions followed by Sanatani’s…
    Last week – came across a lunch table discussion at work – when one colleague mentioned about his mandatory vegetarianism thru Sharavan-masss… As usual, was laughed at by some.
    Following some strict dietary rules in this period made scientific sense at a time. Sharavan-mas largely coincides with monsoons in most of India as well… and that meant floods/water-borne diseases/dead cattle etc… In such scenario – ensuring quality supply & storage of non-vegetarian food would have been unreliable in past – thereby making sense to totally ban it for a while… Of course, the reasons may not be valid anymore (hopefully) – but thats our failure that we havent cared to analyse the reasons… But its not blind superstition.

    Similarly – reminds me of a Hindu practice in Kashmir. If one was visiting a family to pay condolences to a family – you were forbidden to take food or water at that home or even food touched/prepared by that family – for a few weeks post death. Also staying overnight at that house was forbidden… While modern-iasta’s laughed at this as a kind of sudden untouchability… it definitely made scientific sense in past, when epidemics and contagious diseases would cause huge casualities. In such env – it was a reasonable logic to maintain a reasonable safety gap… not an untouchability – but a preventive caution. Very logical…!
    Alas! Macaulites have converted it all as Superstition…

  • RVenkatanarayanan

    A nice over-view by Sandeep. Sanaatan Dharma survived despite past onslaughts because of the continuing faith of the masses at the grass roots despite very heavy odds. Rootlessnes among Hindus was not so strong or so sophisticated. But the British destruction of our education system and Western influence on Indian educated class have been so comprehensive that Indian mind has not yet been decolonized fully. Now, those who are working to root out Hindu Dharma from India are working to a much sophisticated agenda. Islam is flooding its mobilization with money in large volumes and Christian Missionaries too. They could have been neutralized but for the rootless Hindu intellectual and the Marxist mind-set among many educated Hindus. No doubt the inherent strength of Sanaatana Dharma will prevail but a lot more alertness and effort are required. In my view the most effective step is to write in our national languages Hindu history over the last 700-800 years in all its truth and in local contexts and make it available to millions and millions of Hindu youth and growing adults. Sandeep’s translation of Bhyrappa’s Aavarana and book on Tippu Sultan are some examples, but a small beginning. True Hindu history should not be confined only in scholarly tomes and only to libraries and certainly not confined only to English writing.

  • Dharmo Crat

    The one thread running through this article, what really makes Sanatana Dharma really eternally Sanatan, i.e. ever-new, is the fact that at all times there are beings who devote their lives to realizing the core truths enshrined in its texts & traditions, growing & expanding both the corpus of texts as well as the lines of traditions to evolve more powerful & wonderful forms of these same truths. This was true for sages like Adi Shankracharya following on a period of Buddhist dominance, for the Bhakit Saints during the era of Islamic tyranny, as it was for Yogis like Swami Vivekananda & Sri Aurobindo at the dawn of the modern age. The secret to the immortality of Sanatana Dharma is exactly this that it is not a mere belief-system that fights & asserts itself against other world formations & ideologies in the manner of doctrinaire religions like Islam & Christianity, but a Knowledge-system, a body of experience & derived wisdom comparable to science, that has an eternal validity & applicability for all times & for each milieu.

  • Jithu

    Great article.

  • bvp

    Extremely well written. Thanks Sandeep, you have pretty much summarized 2k yrs of history. Article moved me and me remember what Sadguru said about Sanatana Dharma:
    “Hindu dynamism is not extinct. Our ability to absorb and integrate is not lost. Our progress has not come to an end. Sanatana Dharma is perpetually progressing and perpetually rejuvenating itself. It never stops.”
    Sadguru Omkar