A Wonder that is India!

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Amit, our Editor-at-Large (Europe), highlights the schism between Hindu politics (Hindutva) and Hinduism, the Sanatan Dharma. This article is an attempt to highlight how Hindu and other Indian religious traditions contributed to communal peace and harmony. A Different Truths exclusive.

Amidst rising intolerance against religious minorities, increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and speech in the country- prime facie- it may appear, Hindu religion (Sanatan Dharma) is gradually metamorphosing in a version of Islamic Taliban. However, that’s not the case. What we are witnessing: cow vigilante, mob violence, intolerance against religious minorities, suppressing opposing voices, anti-Romeo-squad, and thought policing by religious fanatics, does (all in the name of Hindutva) not represent Hindu or Sanatan Dharma. All these and similar events or tendencies may be a part of political Hindutva – manipulating and polarising people on religion lines, cherry-picking concepts of nationalism to rule the nation.

However, religious Hinduism is somewhat very different.  It is all about promoting principles of the global family (Vasudhav Kutumbakam), stressing on interfaith dialogue, pluralism, openness, and peace. While religious differences could be the cause for violence, however, scholars started to recognise religion as a potent force in peaceful resolution (Upadhayaya, 2016). In this context, due to its pervasive appeal to the religious community, Sanatan Dhrama has played a significant role. This article is an attempt to highlight how Hindu and other Indian religious traditions contributed to communal peace and harmony.

India is well known for its multicultural and multi-religious fabric. For centuries, it has been home to all great religions of the world. Christians, Jew, Muslim, and Baha’i are some of them. Under the enlightened wisdom of Sanatan Dhamra – Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism nurtured and thrived. The spirit of respecting diversity, dialogue and pluralism has throughout inspired the rulers and spiritual leaders in the long annals Indian civilisation.

Emanating in the foundational Hindu scriptures, the spirit of diversity and pluralism proliferated in the medieval era through spiritual movements like Bhakti and reflected in modern times through Gandhian values of tolerance and non-violence.

Vedas and Upanishads are replete with visions of peace and sought the essential unity of the entire humanity in the spirit of ‘Live and Let Live’. The respect for plurality has been equally matched by the spirit of dialogue as the best course of learning and education (Sen, 2005).

Traditional Hindu texts are replete with dictums such as: Vade Vade Tatva Bodho – through continuous dialogue alone one arrive at the core truth. The willingness to receive worthy ideas from all quarters is the common theme in Rigveda: ‘Ao no bhadrah Krtavo yantu Vishvatah’ (May noble and auspicious thoughts come to us from all over the Universe). The tolerance of difference has traditionally inspired different walks of life including poetry and drama. It inspired such epics like Sudraka’s Mricchakatikam and Kalidas’ Meghdutam, which ridiculed the parochialism and celebrated diversity and the beauty of varieties of human customs and behaviours (Sen, 2005).

Romila Thapar has noted the ‘the striking absence of fanaticism in the Hindu tradition. The quest for truth through a reconciliation of diverse viewpoints has been intrinsic to Hindu thought – even the nature of divinity has been the Upanishads through medieval Sufi and Bhakti mystics to saints and religious leaders (cited in Upadhayaya, 2016).

Jainism and Buddhism, the non-concurrent religious espousing non-violence have also enriched the quest for peaceful coexistence. Buddhism places ashimsa in a primary position and sought conquest through and by the power of true faith, compassion and love. King Ashoka propagated spiritual and social peace across his vast empire beyond the subcontinent in South East and Far East Asia, making its influence felt even in Greece and Rome.

For Jainism, nonviolence is the ultimate ideal in thought, word, and deed. Mahavir, the main protagonist of Jainism, made the non-violence as one the five intrinsic virtues to attain inner peace and happiness. Sikhism, to emphasises on interfaith understanding and social harmony and blends of Islam and Hinduism. Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Scripture of the Sikhs embodies contributions from followers of varied religions, castes, and classes. One of the Shabad (Holy Verse) says: Someone is Hindu and someone is Muslim, then someone is Shia, and someone a Sunni, but all human beings, as a species, are recognized as one and the same.

Many saints and thinkers have inspired interreligious harmony. Sri Ramakrishna, for instance, propagated freedom of an individual in choosing one’s path of devotion and asked others to be respectful of the same ‘as you remain firm in your faith and opinion’. Swami Vivekananda echoed that God is one. In his speech at ‘World Parliament of Religions’ at Chicago in 1883, he stressed, ‘may he who is Brahman of the Hindus, the Ahur Mazda of Zorastrians, the Buddha of Buddhists, the Jewoha of the Jews, the Father in Heaven of Christians, gives strength to you to carry out your noble ideas. He further said, ‘we believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. Our civilisation is great as it is based on the idea of the coexistence of faiths- Sarva Dharma Sambhava. This notion implies that we have equal respect for all Dharmas.

Similar sentiments echoed by Mahatma Gandhi who said, ‘I believe in the Bible as I believe in the Gita. I regard all the great faiths of the world equally true as my own. It hurts me to see any one of them caricatured as they are today by their followers’. Gandhi has stressed the underlying unity of all religions.  Jiddu Krishnamurti gave a spiritual dimension to religiosity and felt that what is scared could not be conditional, culture-bound or time-bound (Upadhyaya, cited in Forbes 1997). Sai Baba to acclaims intercultural understanding as peacefulness, Mata Amritanandamayi finds diverse religious and spiritual practices having a convergent aim to seek purification of human mind.

The encounter between Hinduism and Islam inspired a range of multi-religious rituals and practices. The two most outstanding proponents of interreligious peace in India civilisation King Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty (2nd Century BC) and Akbar, the Mughal emperor (16th Century AD). Ashoka in his rock edits encouraged concord between all religions. Akbar campaigned for a plural and secular state while insisting the religious impartiality of the state (Sen 2005). Din-i-Ilahi, the universal religion proposed by Akbar contained aspects of Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism. His grandson, Dara Shikoh, exemplified the interfaith in his life and work. Major Hindu treaties such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagvat Gita and the Atharva Veda were translated in into the Persian language during his time. His distinguished work: Majma-ul-Bahrain encouraged the absorption between Hinduism and Islam and how both absorb each other’s good practices.

Mystic poets and saints such as Kabir, Chaitanya, and Guru Nanak with their condemnation of caste, Hindu rituals a, d idolatry appeared to be reaching towards Islam, from within Islam the mystic appeared to reach out towards Hinduism that prepared the ground for the peaceful co-existence of Hindus and Muslims.

During the medieval (a misnomer phrase) phase of Indian history, many Muslim scholars wrote in Hindi poetry, while Urdu become a favourite with such scores of Hindu scholars. The medieval saints and singers including Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas, Malik Mohammad Jayasi, Raskhan, and Rahim wrote in Awadhi and expressed devotion for lord Krishna – a Hindu god. Such streams of shared religious and cultural practices dominated the public space and facilitated a peaceful transaction of intercommunity demotic superstitious and local practices (Ahmad, 1984, cited in Uphadhayay). The cultural crossover encouraged the participation of diverse communities in each other festivals and rituals. While Hindus joined in Muharram and Urs-celebrations; Muslims participated in Ram Lila and other Hindu festivals. Thus the foundations on which Hindu-Muslim cultural solidarity/friendship based, are strong and has historical roots.

Lived History

The ‘lived history’ of Hindus despite vastly disparate viewpoints contains distinct streams of social and multicultural peace. Hinduism quintessentially and it does not ordain its adherents to accepts anyone singular path of worship. Hinduism embodies a range of creeds and cultural norms and ‘little traditions’, which imbue the quotidian life of its followers. The intrinsic countenance of plurality and multicultural living relates perhaps to the fact that Hinduism did not exist like a single uniform religion in ancient India. There is a general endorsement to the diverse and accommodative character of Hinduism notwithstanding the political mobilisation by the so-called forces of ‘Hindutva’ (Freitag, cited in Upadhayaya, 2016) in the recent past and also in the current political situation[1].

However, in contemporary times, we observe a consistent pattern of attack from the right winger and extremist- on those who preach and practice multicultural philosophy. Either in Pakistan or in India, the situation seems similar. In Pakistan, religious conservatives and extremist attack on religious minorities such as Hindu and Christians even on liberal Ahmadiya Muslim community; while in India, R.S.S, V.H.P. supported by ruling Bhartiya Janta Party are following the same course of the line.

Indian history demonstrates extremism, intolerance and hatred to opposing views and religious minorities were never dominant part of the Indian culture; characterized by the religious tolerance and peace, India has been home to almost all the religions of the word.  History has proved, ethos of Indian plurality and harmony is survived since ages; and it will always be a prime identity of all Indians – even in the face of rising intolerance in cotemporary India.   


Sen, Amartya (2005). The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture, and Identity. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Upadhayaya, P. (2014) Peace Pedagogies in South Asia

©Amit Singh

Photos from the Internet

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Amit Singh is a human security and social justice expert. He is a doctoral candidate at University of Coimbra, Portugal; hold master degrees in history, human rights, and multiculturalism. He is a columnist for several newspapers in Norway and India.