The Mongol empire founded by Chingiz Khan and furthered by his sons and grandsons was remarkable in practicing religious freedom as a state policy. The early Khans did not enforce their ancestral Altaic religion of Tengriism on their subjects and allowed them to follow their own religions towards which they maintained a curious but largely non-interfering disposition.
Indeed, when asked by Christian missionaries from Europe to convert, Möngke Khan, the grandson of Chingiz Khan, at the pinnacle of Mongol power, told them that the Mongols held that there were several valid paths to heaven even as the five fingers of the hand are all not the same. This policy of the Mongol Khanate was the same as what is peculiarly termed as true “secularism” in the modern Indian state. Many Hindus are of the view that this is indeed to solution to India’s religious fissures and the ideal policy for a state. However, history teaches us that Islam was successful in destroying the religiously tolerant system established by the Mongols and establishing itself as the exclusive religion of many of the successor Mongols states.
With that in place many of these states became Jihad states which waged war for the establishment of Islam, for example the Timurid state, which gave rise to the Mogul empire in India. Thus, in the match between “secularism” (as desired by many Hindus) and Islam, the verdict clearly favored the latter. Moreover, despite repeated overtures of the Mongols to the Christian Europeans form a common front against their Islamic enemies, such an alliance never fructified. The cause for this is largely attributable to Christianity coming in the way of a meaningful alliance with heathens.
By and large, Hindu rulers, even when they had their own strong personal religious preferences, followed something similar to the practice of the heathen Mongol Khans. In the early historical period, this applied both to indigenous religions with divergent views from the āstika core, such as the systems founded by the Tāthāgata, Maskarin Gośāla and Vardhamāna, as well as foreign religions brought by culturally and linguistically related peoples like the Greeks and Iranians.
Notably, the early Greek and Iranic immigrants were entirely integrated into the larger Hindu system, while contributing some elements to it (e.g. horoscopic astrology). Thus, they were assimilated (of course one can still detect some genomic signals of their origins) with only a few distinct cultural traces remaining behind (e.g. the śākadvīpin brāhmaṇa-s). Hindu rulers also extended similar freedoms to the Abrahamic religions that reached India at different points in history. While some followers of these religions might have outwardly acquired Hindu paraphernalia, we argue that their case is rather unlike that of the earlier heathen immigrants.
To get a picture of this, we may start with the case of the southern Indian province of Cerapāda (roughly modern Kerala). In 1502-1503 CE the Portuguese marauder Vasco da Gama was visited by Kerala Syrian Christians from Kodungallur. These Christians had been living there for centuries, having been given shelter by the Cera rulers. They imitated many Hindu practices such as pūjā and the infantile rite of annaprāśna. When they met Gama, they offered him a red wooden staff with silver ends and three silver bells on it as a ceremonial indication of their accepting the overlordship of the Portuguese king Manuel. They proposed an alliance with the Portuguese marauders on the basis of their shared faith against the Hindus under whose refuge they had so greatly prospered.
Further, four Syriac bishops Mar Jaballaha, Mar Denha, Mar Jacob and Mar Thomas wrote a letter to the Portuguese calling them their brethren, expressing their wish to bring spices to them, and seeking the support of the “King of the Christians” against the pagans. Ironically, the first Syriac Christians to reach India were fleeing the Zoroastrian Sassanian emperors, who clamped down on them for aiding their enemy, the Christian Byzantine Empire, from within. After being provided refuge by the Hindu rulers for long, they now turned against them, even as they had done earlier against the Iranians. This happened right after their first ever contact with the alien Portuguese, who ironically were to eventually declare their own church as being full of heresies.
Moving forward a few centuries, in 1766 Nawab Haidar Ali, the Mohammedan warlord from Karnataka, made an incursion into the Malabar region of Kerala. Here, he was joined by a force of about 10,000-strong armed Moplahs. These Moplahs as their name indicates (from māppilai: son-in-law) were Mohammedans of mixed descent from Arabs and coastal folk from Kerala. They had been provided shelter by the Sāmūtiri for centuries. Thus, they had thrived as a community, achieving a high degree of mercantile success under benign Hindu lords, and had even been appointed to high commissions in Sāmūtiri armed forces. However, at the arrival of an invading Mohammedan, they turned against their neighbors, joining arms with their coreligionists to commit terrible atrocities against them. It did not end with that—the Moplahs continued the war against their neighbors all the way until they established the Caliphate in Eranad and Walluvanad under Mohammad Haji as part of the rebellion to revive the dead Osman Empire of Turkey (1919-1924 CE).
For the next exhibit from Cerapāda we shall move even closer to our times. The shrine atop the Śabari hillock houses the image of the god Ārya, who is rather popular in Southern India. In 1950 CE this ancient shrine was broken into and set on fire. The investigation by the team of Kesava Menon, the Inspector-general, CID revealed that this act of arson was the deliberate handiwork of Kerala Christians, some of whom ran a poaching ring in the forests around the shrine. This is what the Hindus got in return for their peaceful coexistence – indeed the very epitome of what is today called “secularism” in India.
The case of Cerapāda is important because it is one place where both the Christians and Mohammedans initially came as refugees or peaceful immigrants and had coexisted with their Hindu hosts for a long time. Yet none of this mattered much when they indulged in violence against their hosts inspired by their religions.
Not surprisingly, similar events have repeatedly played out all over India. For example, one could cite the critical betrayal of the Vijayanagara army by two large Mohammedan divisions at the ill-fated battle-ground of Talikota. In the early 1800s, during the Anglo-Maraṭhā wars, the intelligence leaks and unreliability of European mercenaries against their coreligionists, the English, were major factors in the loss of the Maraṭhā-s. In both these cases the Hindus acted keeping with the tradition of “secularism”, hiring only by merit and not based on religious considerations. However, the religion of their mercenary hires played a major role in precipitating their ultimate actions contrary to the interests of their employers. In contrast, one might note that the Mongols who joined the Rājpūt ranks during the life-and-death struggle between the Chāhamāna-s and Alla-ad-din Khalji were faithful to their employers despite many attempts by the Mohammedans to entice them to their side with promises of high office with the Islamic system.
A person with a secular bent of mind might post a retort saying that we are being selective and point to a list of examples such as Āmbhi of Takṣaśila, Jayacandra, certain Reḍḍi-s, Śilāditya or Sūryājī Pisaḻ. We argue that these are acts of individuals and very much unlike the religiously approved betrayals of trust by the Mohammedans or Christians employed by religiously tolerant heathens.
To understand this better, one must get to the pith of what is termed the principle of Mosaic distinction (vide Jan Assmann) which sets apart the Abrahamisms from the natural religions of the heathens. To quote from Assmann’s work on the topic, The Price of Monotheism:
Before this shift [i.e. origin of monotheism and the Mosaic distinction] there were only tribal and “polytheistic” cult and national religions, which had evolved over time; afterwards, new religions emerged to rival and increasingly supplant these historically evolved religions, several of which still survive in various cultures today. These new religions are all monotheisms, religions of the book (or revealed religions), and world religions… What all of these religions have in common is an emphatic concept of truth. They all rest on a distinction between true and false religion, proclaiming a truth that does not stand in a complementary relationship to other truths, but consigns all traditional or rival truths to the realm of falsehood. This exclusive truth is something genuinely new, and its novel, exclusive and exclusionary character is clearly reflected in the manner in which it is communicated and codified. It claims to have been revealed to humankind once and for all, since no path of merely human fashioning could have led from the experiences accumulated over countless generations to this goal; and it has been deposited in a canon of sacred texts, since no cult or rite would have been capable of preserving this revealed truth down the ages. From the world-disclosing force of this truth, the new or secondary religions draw the antagonistic energy that allows them to recognize and condemn falsehood, and to expound the truth in a normative edifice of guidelines, dogmas, behavioral precepts, and salvational doctrines. The truth derives its depth, its clear contours, and its capacity to orient and direct action from this antagonistic energy, and from the sure knowledge of what is incompatible with the truth. These new religions can therefore perhaps be characterized most adequately by the term “counterreligion.” For these religions, and for these religions alone, the truth to be proclaimed comes with an enemy to be fought. Only they know of heretics and pagans, false doctrine, sects, superstition, idolatry, magic, ignorance, unbelief, heresy, and whatever other terms have been coined to designate what they denounce, persecute and proscribe as manifestations of untruth. [Underlining added]
The key point here is that with the Mosaic distinction, which defines the Abrahamic religions, there automatically emerges an enemy who needs to be battled. When the followers of such religions live in the midst of heathens (e.g. in Hindu India, the ancient Roman empire, the early Mongol empire, pre-modern China or late medieval Japan) this enemy becomes very visible to them in the form of the heathens who surround them in flesh and blood. No longer are these heathens a matter of mythic satire alluded to in their religious book. Thus, the potential to fight this enemy, which is inherent to their ideologies now openly manifests itself. This is especially the case whenever they sense gaining the upper hand as seen in the cases alluded to before.
In the past decade, the UPA government with its Italian leader used the Hindu fascination for what is called “secularism” in Indian usage to sneak in a wide range of individuals and provisions to favor the cult of Jesus and Mohammedanism.
Even before this, the fascination for secularism under the earlier Congress and NDA governments had led to some such appointments. This included people in positions of power and influence, such as the chief of the Indian Navy, a high-ranked police officer, a chairperson of the Censor Board (all three Christians), a chief justice of India (a Mohammedan) and other judges (Christians). With the coming to power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, two of these have made statements claiming persecution of Christians by Hindus in India – the martyrdom narrative is an inherent feature of Jan Assmann’s “counterreligions” evolving with the emergence of the Mosaic distinction. These statements have clearly been made in response to incitement by the West, which has always used Indian Christians as an extension of their power to force decisions in India.
In light of the evidence from history as well as recent times (e.g. the West-backed Christian role in protests against a nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu), and the ideological foundations of Mohammedanism and the Jesus cult which derive from the Mosaic distinction, appointments of followers of these religions can prove detrimental to the Indian state. In particular, appointments to the judiciary have the potential of being doubly pernicious in their effect. The renowned legal scholar Werner Menski states in Comparative Law in Global Context:
Hindu legal concepts are inherently inimical to strictly monotheistic revelation-based legal regulation or Austinian positivism. Current fears that a resurgence of Hinduness would lead to dramatic legal changes are therefore quite baseless, even frivolous. Some academics seem to have become masters at playing with such confusions for the sake of academic proﬁling, without checking their understanding of Hindu law.
Such dramatic positioning on many stages shows that Hindu law is still being challenged, and is on the defensive today, over specific issues and as a legal system in its own right. To many Hindus, however, their concepts of truth seem so universal that they are unchallengeable. All others are happily invited to state their own positions within this universalising Hindu ambit, one aspect of the well-known Hindu ‘tolerance’ towards other traditions. Thus, as long as Christians and Muslims are prepared to accept that their respective Gods are but one of many, and respect the Hindu method of postponing ﬁnal judgment on Truth into limitless eternity, co-existence and toleration can be practised. But if non-Hindus seek to ridicule Hinduism and its underlying values, insisting that they alone are right, then defence mechanisms can be triggered off and there may be violence.
Thus, the appointments of Mohammedans or worshipers of Jesus as judges would not just be a weak link in system but would also threaten the very fabric of law of India by unthinkingly forcing fundamentally incompatible legal positions on the underlying Hindu system. This can take India closer to violent upheavals.
In conclusion, going entirely against “secular” positions, Hindus should limit the role of monotheists in their political, legal and administrative apparatus. Failure to do so will only help the West use the Christians as a potent force to tie down India and help Mohammedans control even larger chunks with of territory in Jambdudvīpa. Finally, it should be borne in mind that the demographic projections suggest that the issue is only likely to worsen rather than improve going forward.
- The Career and Legend of Vasco Da Gama by Sanjay Subrahmanyam
- Malabar and the Portuguese by KM Pannikar
- Recruiting, Drafting, and Enlisting: Two Sides of the Raising of Military Forces By Peter Karsten
- The Price of Monotheism by Jan Assmann
- Comparative Law in Global Context by Werner Menski
The author is a practitioner of sanAtana dharma. Student, explorer, interpreter of patterns in nature, minds and first person experience. A svacchanda.