–Written By C V Srikar
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत। अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदाऽऽत्मानं सृजाम्यहम्।
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम्। धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय संभवामि युगे युगे।
These are the words of Shri Krishna in Bhagavat Gita. Here he is giving guarantee not just to Arjuna, but to the billions of people subsequently, in every generation, that to establish Dharma, He will take Avatar and come on Earth. A line of particular interest is परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् which means, to protect the sadhu, or the ascetics or, those with righteous mind and to destroy the wicked, I (Krishna) shall come on Earth from time to time. When I saw the video of Swami Kalpvriksh Giri being lynched mercilessly by a mob, I was waiting to see where is Krishna! Alas, had He not promised that He will come to protect the sadhu?
Asceticism and renunciation have been the marrow of Indian life from time immemorial. And the sadhus and sadhvis are the living examples of such sacrifice. The Ashrama Dharma of Sanatana Samskruti calls for everybody to renunciate after going through the ups and downs of life and seek liberation. So, even an emperor and his gardener both became equals once they adopted asceticism. Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan dynasty, left everything and adopted Jain ascetism and left for Karnataka’s forests. He ended his life by practising Santhara. Not just that, every new generation of young leaders of every domain were supposed to learn wisdom from such ascetics. Even after many of these became great kings, these leaders consulted the hermits and ascetics on almost every aspect of public governance. Moreover, every time India faced a crisis, it was an ascetic, who rescued the nation and sailed it through the portals of time. Every new ascetic learned and was guided by a previous generation of ascetics.
As we go deep into the past, we see sages praying Maha Vishnu to take Avatar and redeem the Earth from degeneration. Much later, Mahatma Buddha transforms Indian society by pushing radical reforms in a then society neck deep in hedonism. Adi Shankaracharya, through Vedanta dharma and his commentary of Vedas and Upanishads, turned the wheel of Indian society. This time, the country, in a dilemma of ascetic pacifism and duty, is guided by this great soul. In order to keep guiding the societies, Adi Shankaracharya established various mathas in different parts of India, each led by a monk of the highest order. Then, when the country witnessed the onslaught and deadly violence of the Islamic invaders, it was the Naga sadhus, who protected the temples and mathas. These Naga sadhus also saved many lives of ordinary people as the Islamic invaders slaughtered Indians and the many Indian kings simply looked unable to save ordinary Indians. It is said that Aurangzeb destroyed Kashi Vishwanath temple in revenge against Naga sadhus, who revere Baba Vishwanath. The Islamic invasion had a very strong impact on the Hindu society. Many of issues in the religion creeped during those testing times, sometimes as a coping mechanism, some other times out of ignorance. Women slowly started becoming more and more ‘caged’ inside houses. Caste system got more radical. Many blind superstitions popped into the Hindu society. It was as if India was slowly degenerating into an anarchic civilization. Most importantly, Indians could no more perform pooja or, pilgrimages for fear of persecution. It was then that Bhakti movement began. Once again, it was the ascetic community or the sadhus and sannyasins, who were leading the Hindu society towards reforms and regeneration. Be it Gyaneshwar, Tukaram, Kabir, Ramanujacharya, Muktabai, Atukkuri Molla, Basaveshwara, Guru Nanak or, Chaintanya Mahaprabhu, each played a pivotal role in bringing the Hindu society from darkness.
More recently, India’s independence struggle was led by people, who could easily be categorised as ascetics/ sadhus. Rani Lakshmi Bai, was a renunciate, who didn’t care for anything in her fight against the British. Gopalkrishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were amongst the first to ask the nation to renunciate everything for the liberation of the country. Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose were the next generation leaders of India’s independence, who again were amongst the greatest ascetics in a generation. I wouldn’t be surprised, if India didn’t face colonial struggle, these great souls would have taken saffron robes. Even after India’s independence, it was the ascetic-class, which was called upon to lead during a crisis. Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan was the ascetic called upon to lead India during the dark days of emergency. In Kerala, the first opposition against the communists’ crooked democratic regime, way back in 1959, was led by Mannath Padmanabhan, another ascetic of impeccable integrity and perhaps the only one who could have led the Vimochana Samaram (liberation struggle).
This article would be a void without the mention of Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda could easily be termed as a new age Adi Shankaracharya. At a time when Hinduism was being attacked left, right and centre, especially from the Christian missionaries, who were hell bent on defaming the religion and culture, Swami Vivekananda re-instilled in Hindus a confidence in their own religion. Yes, we were dealing with systems well past their expiry date (the caste system) and yes, we had numerous blind superstitions and con sadhus, yet Swami Vivekananda assured the Hindus that the religion is much beyond these. Because Indians had lost confidence in everything Indian and they used to only believe in anything if it was told by the White people, Swami Vivekananda travelled to America and told about the greatness of this country from there. I sometimes wonder if the real reason for Swamiji’s travel to America was more to convince Indians of their own greatness than to tell the Occidental world about our culture and religion. Swami Vivekananda also established an order of monks (much like Adi Shankaracharya) to ensure that the society was always working towards Dharma, or righteousness. The entire Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is an alliance of ascetics, who are devoted to nation-building. Every Sarsanghchalak of the RSS has been an ascetic of highest order, who renunciate everything for Bharat. Much like Adi Shankaracharya’s order of monks and Swami Vivekananda’s Ramakrishna Mission, RSS is also an order of monks and ascetics created with the soul aim of nurturing the nation with leaders of integrity and patriotism. Once again, as the nation faces the major crisis of Coronavirus, India is again looking for guidance from an ascetic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that the Indian society could break down without its ascetics and sadhus. Indian society puts a big premium on sacrifice and renunciation, which is why we see parents sacrificing their pleasures for their children. We see teachers sacrificing for their students. We see young people sacrificing their youth for the country. In this order, the sadhus and sannyasins are the people, who sacrifice everything for a higher purpose in life, and hence are the leading lights for the nation (I am not talking about fake babas). And therefore, Indian society always considered them as gods. It is precisely why many people are lamenting at the mob lynching in Palghar, where two sadhus and their driver, all innocents, were brutally murdered in the presence of police. It is even more sad, when some people of the so-called ‘liberal commentariat’ say that Hindus are communalising the incident. It must be asserted that no one is communalising the incident and pointing fingers on any minority community. Is calling for justice for the sadhus and the driver killed mercilessly, wrong?
This certainly calls for another period of reform and regeneration in Hindu society. Perhaps, I will try to attract attention of readers to another of Krishna’s words in Bhagavat Gita- कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन, which means to keep doing one’s duty without being attached to the fruits of one’s duty. Perhaps, we will have to do our duty of righteousness and keep seeking justice. Only that may calm the soul of the sadhus. Om Shanti.