Born in British India, Monier Williams, a British scholar and Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University, in his book “Religious Thought & Life In India” has written extensively about Hinduism.
Explaining about Hinduism, he writes, “it must be borne in mind that Hinduism is far more than a mere form of theism resting on Brahmanism. It presents for our investigation a complex congeries of creeds and doctrines which in its gradual accumulation may be compared to the gathering together of the mighty volume of the Ganges, swollen by a continual influx of tributary rivers and rivulets, spreading itself over an ever-increasing area of country and finally resolving itself into an intricate Delta of tortuous steams and jungly marshes…….. The Hindu religion is a reflection of the composite character of the Hindus, who are not one people but many. It is based on the idea of universal receptivity. It has ever aimed at accommodating itself to circumstances, and has carried on the process of adaptation through more than three thousand years. It has first borne with and then, so to speak, swallowed, digested, and assimilated something from all creeds.”
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Although, I do not agree with many of his explanations on Hindus, but his one thought is clear that Hindus are not one, they are many. Calling ‘many’ defines the universal identity of Hinduism. It cannot be defined in one term of idol worshipping religion.
Is Hinduism Actually A Religion?
The origin of Hinduism cannot be traced back to any time line. Neither, one can define Hinduism in terms of any singular idol worship nor in terms of any singular preacher. Then, what is the basis of calling Hinduism a religion?
First of all, let us understand the etymology of religion. What is the origin of the word religion? Like other English words, religion also has its origin in the Latin, it is religiō. This word comes from relegere: re – meaning again + lego – meaning read.
It is connected with social obligation. But, as the worshiping pattern of European society developed around the church and Christianity, the religion became synonyms of monastic orders. By that time west exploration of the east had started, and in order to symbolise the worshiping pattern of people living in the Indian subcontinent, they used the term Hindu.
As it is evident from Islamic history that they called people living east of river Sindhu, ‘Hindus’. The same was extended in the form of religion by European travelers. Without understanding the worshipping pattern of the people, they compartmentalised Hindus in religious terms on their own accord.
First of all, Hinduism is not a religion. It was the common convenience of foreigners that termed Hindus ‘a follower of religion’. It was the convenient imagination of foreigners that manufactured a religion called Hindu. Hinduism as a religion never existed.
Furthermore, in the definition of Hinduism, they also categorised Hindus as a community of idol worshipers. Abrahamic religious communities like Judaism, Christianity and Islam have often defined Hinduism in terms of idol worshipers.
But, if you look at Christianity and have ever been to church, then you must have seen Jesus Christ on the Holy Cross and also, Mother Mary. In fact, when Christians go to church to pray, they worship by looking at the Holy Cross and Jesus Christ. They worship them in idol form in an institution called church.
Moreover, in Islam, they also categorise Hinduism as idol worship. They even oppose this practice and view Hindus’ from a dogmatic stand point. But when we look at their worshipping patterns then they themselves seem to be a follower of idol worship.
Have you ever noticed the direction they face when they offer prayers in the mosque? It is worth noting that they pray facing the direction of the Kaaba of Mecca. Is the Kaaba not a form of religious icon?
If we critically analyse the principle of these Abrahamic religions, then it clearly reflects a common tendency of exclusion. Idol worship is worshiping a non-living object associated with some kind of preaching.
Both, Christianity as well as Islam have a universal preacher and they do worship them in some form, be it an idol on cross or a structure or a direction. Their religion is organised and institutionalised in the most exclusive form. If we remember the actual interpretation of word ‘religion’ then both, Christianity as well as Islam, are religion.
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What is Hinduism?
If we critically look at the worshipping pattern of Hindus then categorizing it in any form is simply impossible. Hindus worship trees, animals, people, books, sun, idols, nature and countless living and non-living objects that fall under and beyond the sun. It is said that Hindus worship over 330 million gods and goddesses.
But have they ever been counted? No! It is merely a number that represents the level of faith. Hindus worship the supernatural cosmic belief. A Hindu worships anybody he wants to worship. There isn’t just one preacher. There is no single god. There is no single religious theory or set of beliefs. Everything a person imagines or believes in has some sort of Hinduism substance.
Either in form or formless, we worship everyone. The rich scriptures like Vedas, Upanishads, and other historical stories have helped in the evolution of our belief system. The upright, truthful and ethical life story of Ram and Krishna makes him a universally recognised god.
Worshipping them in idol form means worshipping their ideals and taking inspirations from them. Theism believes in god, Atheism is non-existence of god and agnostic refers to those who neither believes nor disbelieves in a god or religious doctrine.
If we look at the living doctrine of Hinduism then it reflects the confluence of all of them. Either you are theist or atheist, you are a part of Hinduism. Even agnostic principle of existence is reflected in Hindu belief.
The religious definition set by the west does not fit in Hinduism. That is why calling Hinduism a religion itself is a misrepresentation of Hindus’ worshipping style. The Supreme Court of India on various occasions has termed Hinduism ‘a way of life’. So, if Hinduism is not a religion then terming it as an idol worshipping religion is a distant question.
Moreover, idol worship is creation of an idea, principle and thought of a person into a statue from which some universal knowledge emits. And, there are countless people in the history of India that are worshiped based on their principles and knowledge.
Idol worship is the devotee’s imagination of their ideal in some definite form. Consequently, it will be true to say that Hinduism is not a religion, it is way of life and idol worship shaped creation of Hindus’ belief.
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