As a student of sociology, brought up in Gujarati culture I always wondered about existence and influence of gurus, pir and babas. Some iconic personalities raised to level of divinity and worshiped as god is still an avenue of my quest. People like Ramdev Pir, Jalaram Bapa, Sai Baba, Sitaram Bapa, Bhathiji Maharaj, Swaminarayan, etc. appeared during colonial times and are today praised as god. Till date, people like Pandurang Athaval, Swami Chinmayanand, Dada Bhagwan, Shiv Baba, Stya Shree Sai Baba, Sadguru, Shree Shree Ravi Sankar, Osho, etc. are popular across country as a god’s men who are leading various sectarian cults based on Hindu doctrines.
Recent outrage followed by arrest of Guru Ram Rahim Inshan and outrage followed before few years after arrest of Asharam Bapu presents an interesting grounds for sociological interpretations of process of legitimizing such bigoted institutions. Fortunately, evidences recorded by my favourite mythologist Devdutt Pattnaik served as great help for my sociological analysis of rise of such sub-culture.
Conviction of Ram Rahim Inshan as rapist followed by violent outrage presents inequality of thoughts of upper class and subaltern communities. The rise of gurus/baba in western India is rooted in such inequalities created by class/castes and rural/urban boundaries. For instance, the Dera (encampment) culture emerged around 10th Century is evident from stories of gurus like Gorakhnath.
The gurus used to setup Dera (camp) outside village where people can reach and seek spiritual or emotional guidance. The guidance was often combined with psychotherapy and magic. At superficial level, he speaks about meaning of life, about coping up with sufferings and give solace to miffed soul. He is believed as person who bring peace and fortune into lives of poor, grant children to childless and cure the sick through miracles. The stories of holy light emanating from his body, of walking on water, of flying through air, of communicating with god etc. influences people and he his observed as messenger, Pir, Sant, Baba, Prophet etc. by believers.
These gurus spoke in popular or simple which broke stranglehold of upper caste Brahmins who restricted knowledge of divinity through complex language like Sanskrit. These gurus where approachable and thus loved more than Kshatriyas or landlords. These gurus asked nothing in return and thus was more preferable over Bania or merchants who demanded payment for everything. Gurus like Guru Nanak appeared before 500 years ago very influentially rejected caste hierarchy.  
Hierarchies are deeply embodied Ancient and Medieval (and even modern) India. These Hierarchies became problematic in Post Vedic period and worsen after cultural contact with Greeks who introduced western idea of justice. Such ideas of Greeks were followed by catholic ideas of equality which is basically rooted in Arabic Tribal egalitarianism and prescribed in Abrahamic Traditions. It was obvious that to be treated equal, one has to member of tribe which chooses its directions under influence of tribal leader (believed as messenger of god) . Such ideas of equality in Christianity had shaken roots of Roman Empire while idea of Islamic equality shaken roots of the Persian Empire.  Guru Nanak ideas of equality of challenged Hindu caste hierarchy and religion of Sikhism came into existence which was combination of Hinduism( importance of documented knowledge, songs and music) and Islam ( importance of documented knowledge, saint leader and god with no personification).
Clever British colonial officers helped the process of institutionalization of Sikhism to ensure division among Hindu, Islam and Sikhism. But somehow old caste hierarchies entered Sikhism. With rising importance of land and trading, communities like Jats and Khatris established dominance. Neo communities like Dalit Sikhs consisting uneducated labourers, peasants, sanitary workers, etc. where pushed down in Sikh hierarchies and forcefully made aware about their subaltern status(aukaat) in new order. This established grounds for formation of new Deras which are focused on the poor, downtrodden and marginalised who are cheated with promise of equality.
The Deras started operating in ‘spiritual market’ which intended to create positive influence over subaltern communities like keeping them away from drugs, alcohol, following vegetarianism ( indicator of purity in India 😉 ) simple living, not to think hard work as sin, etc.  As they blindly believe and obey their Guru. Such positive practice gave subalterns a meaning of their lives and sense of belongingness which was/is further claimed as identity.  
This identity is based on allegiance with guru demonstrated through obedience. Absolute devotion therefore is observed to be translated as loyalty and thus, power is outsourced to the Guru. If Guru is able enough to handle such power of faith of followers, it can channelize positive change in society. But if such power is not handled or respected properly by the Guru, it can lead to deep dark social malaise like land grabbing or rape.
Inability or ability of Gurus to handle power entrusted by his followers gets reflected in changing meaning of transcendence. Some gurus assumes transcendence as ability to change laws of nature (water turning to wine, creating ashes from air, changing fortune of individual etc.) while some gurus assumes transcendence as ability to change laws of culture (challenging hierarchies, changing rigid norms, uplifting standard of living etc.). 
In either way of assuming transcendence, the Guru basically challenge fundamentals of civilization (Maya or worldly delusion) and gets entrapped within the same. Gradually, such men becomes history for communities which followed him. If he has chosen constructive path, he’ll be remembered for good or else he’ll be demonized by the society, paving way for another Guru. 

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Sefie, Self and Society

Few weeks ago, I met an old friend of mine in canteen…with a sip of tea she said… “After looking to your selfie…it feels to meet you daily…but looking to you in real…all such feeling vanishes off… ” we all at that breakfast table giggled at this lame comment on my early morning look but the word selfie stuck in my mind.
Do a public image of yours really affects opinion of people about you?  That made me curious about “selfie”. I came across papers/articles by social scientists discussing on Selfies on various theoretical and intellectual grounds. Such debates generally term selfie as obsession to self and pseudo individuality.
The basic question is, what selfie is? This actually in itself is big question, potent enough to invite big discourse from social sciences. As of now, selfie is understood as picture of self, taken by self. Surprisingly, I found blogs, messages and mailers suggesting “methods” of taking selfie, electronic market is full of accessories for extending devices to take selfie, even giant corporations and producers of mobile devices are forced invest heavily in developing selfie friendly gadgets. Series of questions flooded my mind when I consciously mull upon the idea/concept/notion of selfie.
There is constant conflict between society and individual. Society (as a web relationships) always tends to judge an individual against the standards laid as an ideal. For instance, I need to have “acceptable” body shape, or I need to have symmetric and well-groomed face, why!? So that I can get more acceptance in society. My heart do not really bother about all this, but I HAVE TO. Such conflict forces an individual to submit social standards. Acceptance and compliments on selfie shared publically ease this conflict.
The word of caution is that, it ease the conflict, it do not assure acceptance in society. That’s why one may have hundreds of likes on selfie but no one actually calls him/her for celebration because of that selfie. So that selfie is replaced by another selfie which may be comparatively better but that also do not assure acceptance…this cycle goes on…and selfie keeps on getting replaced by another selfie…
Another problem with human societies is that they judge people from things they HAVE and not from things they ARE. If I possess good amount of material property like big car, big house, costly clothes, etc. I would be judged better as compared to a person who may not have all material things which I have. Our image in selfie, contains such obsession of HAVING instead of BEING. Most of selfies are taken in grand fat occasions, where a person is properly (sometimes costly) groomed or where ambiance is glittering/lavish. Such things show cases what “we have” and not “we are”.
That also reminds me of editing tools like crop and filters. These tools are at rescue of psychology to remove “unwanted” things/people/places from your picture. Why we remove such unwanted stuff?? Because we don’t want to be judged or object mockery by single “background” distorting element.
Another sub-trend of selfie is taking selfie with important or significant person. That’s a wow thing…one having selfie with prime minister/president or celebrity will fetch you more likes. The more likes…the more important one feel… is it?? really?? ;) People who hits like button on your selfie with celebrity or selfie with important person (it may also be parents, old friends, teachers, etc) are actually liking “their picture” “with yours”… here also social acceptance through selfie remains dicey.

I don’t have conclusion to make, selfie is not a problem to society but relying on social media or society to validate our own self thorough consciously taken image is a big problem.  In life, we don’t require hundreds of likes or comments…we require few people who remains with us not for the things which we HAVE but for the things which we ARE….  Selfies is things which we HAVE it’s not things which we ARE. 

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Why I praise Raam and not Ravana?

The stories of Ramayana has always stirred my thoughts since childhood. Different characters of this epic, whether its Manthara, Dashratha, Viswamitra, Janak, Bharat, Guha,  Jatayu, Hanuman, Angad, Shugriva, Vibhishana, Surpanakha, Sabari or any other  are interwoven in my decision making in personal and professional life. This Dussera, I received many WhatsApp memes, Facebook and Twitter posts praising Ravana and accusing Raam for not taking care of his own wife. This forced to me share my thoughts here.
First admiration of Ravana is found in argument that “Ravana respected Sita though he abducted here”. It is clear from stories that Ravana kidnapped Sita. But it’s not Ravana who respected Sita, its Mandodari (ravana’s wife) who didn’t allowed her husband to bring “other women” in house without consent of that women. Mandodari forced Ravana follow basic rules of household (were one cannot forcefully bring women in house) and told him that if fails to abide these rules, the city of Lanka will burn to ashes. That’s why Sita was kept in courtyard and Ravana strived to get her consent to his wife. Raam ofcourse “Won” Sita, but married to her with consent and commitment (of not allowing other women in his life), while Ravana cheated Sita as well as his own wife. Cheating a women and showing her respect stands as invalid principle for me.
Another interesting argument exists that  “Ravana was great scholar and devotee of Shiva”.  A person who has abducted someone’s wife, a person who has urged a war wherein his sons, brothers, soldiers & subjects died and still don’t want to let go his desire and ego is definitely not a scholar.
Some folklores about Ravana says that Ravana demanded Parvati (wife of Shiva) to be his wife, Shiva (since Shiva is beyond social definitions, he don’t understand concept of wife) says its ok…Ravana can take away Parvati…Parvati gets furious on this boon and scolds Shiva…on what basis he gave away his wife…Shiva said…he can’t understand idea of wife…wife is not property nor its responsibility… nothing is wrong in gifting best creation of nature to a devotee like Ravan …Shiva said it a gentle smile….and also said, that he cannot take back his boon…so Parvati creates replica of her from female frog…which was given to Ravana as a wife named Mandodari. This makes it clear that Ravana worshiped Shiva for the sake of fulfilling his desires and lusts which do not make him true devotee.
The episode of “Agnipariksha” is also very popular and debated. The recent versions of Ramayan (especially Tulsidas Ramayan which appeared after Manu Smirit upholds caste system and patriarchal values) focuses an idea of chastity of women. It says that Raam forced Sita to walk through fire to prove her chastity as she stayed in someone else’s house for a year without her husband. But in original version (Valmiki Ramayana) it’s a very romantic episode where Sita intends to purify herself as soft and shining as gold before meeting her husband after long time. The romantic scene of wife dressing up (purifying) for her husband is interpreted in very narrow terms. Raam and Sita never had an issue of trust, they both trusted each so well that they never ever demanded proof of commitment or chastity from each other (some tv series used Agnipariksha incident to spice up melodrama).
The most important episode of Ramayan which influenced me a lot is when Raam asks Lakshman to takeaway Sita from palace of Aayodhya and drop her in forest. Raam justifies this act by saying that he cannot compromise with ideals of serving people as a king. As a king, he has to support ideas of his subjects however cruel it is and however personal sacrifice it demands. Sita understood dilemma of her husband and moved away from palace to forest without any argument. She knew that Raam is ideal king of Aayodhya (unlike Dashratha who fought many wars and had three wives or unlike Bharat who set entire administration of Aayodhya on “auto pilot” mode when Raam was in forest) , and if she’ll argue to stay with him, Raam would also join her in forest. She wanted to Raam to serve Aayodhya and became role model for upcoming generations. Thus, Sita resolved the conflict between professional life and personal life for Raam. Also, Raam fulfilled his commitments to Sita by not re-marrying to other women after Sita left.
Raam thus choose his professional life over personal life… principles over rule…. sacrifice over pleasure…. duties over desire…. loved with empathy...allowed his kin to flourish...he served his nation…with all wholehearted support from his beloved wife, family and clan….
On other side… Ravana choose personal life over professional life…broke rules…sacrificed others for own pleasure…loved with lust…choose exploitation over empathy…forced his kin to die for him…. he ruled his nation…with no support from his wife, family and clan…

and that’s why I follow Raam and not Ravana…..

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