Temples’ Religion and Religion’s Temples
The Governor has expressed deep concerns with regards to the continued lockdown of temples, and therefore, according to him “our Gods and Goddesses have been condemned to stay in the lockdown.” This precisely has been the argument of Prabodhankar Thackeray that the Brahminical order has confined the existence of Gods and Goddesses only to the temples, as the temple economy then benefits the most. Religion doesn’t need temples. But temples certainly need religion.
Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s response to the Maharashtra Governor’s letter has earned him much praise. However, his grandfather, Prabodhankar Thackeray would have responded to the Governor very differently on the issue of temples. When Hindutva was not a popular word, Prabodhankar Thackeray often used the term against ‘Hinduism’. A ‘radical reformer’ as he called himself, Prabodhankar was perhaps the strongest critic of the Hindu tradition of worshipping of Brahmins after Jotirao Phule, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Periyar. What sets him apart from the rest was his unflinching faith in Hindutva and his strong Hindu identity.
This may create an impression that he was a Savarkarite in his approach towards the Hindu religion. After all, V D Savarkar advocated the unity of Hindus and denounced the caste hierarchy that has been a political obstacle in uniting Hindus. Savarkar’s priority was the political unity of Hindus and he was deeply critical of the caste system and of superstitions that were prevalent in Hindu society. Critiquing the caste system as well as the prevalence of superstitions became conditional in 20th century India in order to make progress in politically uniting Hindus. This is why Savarkar embraced it. If criticising caste or outdated traditions and superstitions would have become an obstacle in achieving the political unity of Hindus, Savarkar would have opted for not projecting ‘rationalist’ views for the sake of Hindutva. Therefore, Prabodhankar would have asked the honourable Governor, “Votary of which Hindutva?”
The fundamental differences between Prabodhankar’s Hindutva and a popular notion of Hindutva are two-fold. One, on the main enemy or enemies of well being and dignity of Hindus, and two, on the origin of the Brahminical dominance in Hindu society. In the popular notion, as propagated by Savarkar, the enemies of Hindus are Muslims and Christians. For Prabodhankar, the main enemy of non-Brahmin Hindus are Brahmins. His thrust, like that of Jotirao Phule, was on exposing the exploitation of non-Brahmins at the hands of Brahmins. Hence, critiquing Brahminical dominance and Brahminical traditions was essential for Prabodhankar, unlike Savarkar or the RSS discourse. For the latter, sins within Hindu religion were mostly the results of Muslim aggression. Prabodhankar, on the contrary, clearly analyzed that the Brahminical traditions and dominance came to prominence to ensure that there would be no resurgence of Buddhism in India.
In a booklet titled ‘Temples’ Religion and Religion’s Temples’ (Devalaanchaa Dharma ani DharmaacheeDevale), Prabodhankar narrated the emergence of the importance of temples in India. He claimed that prior to Buddhism, there was no place for temples in India. He claimed that the counter-revolution against Buddhism resulted in the capture of Buddha-Viharas. The Buddha-Viharas were converted into places of worship for newly created gods and goddesses and the offering of animal sacrifices to them was completely at odds with the Buddhist practice of knowledge-seeking and knowledge sharing, lamented Prabodhankar.
Most significantly, Prabodhankar wrote, the temples had become places to store wealth in the form of gold, silver, jewellery and documents of ownership of land. Mahanmad Gaznavi’s discovery of massive amounts of wealth inside the Somnath temple led to the plundering of temples by Muslim aggressors, along with their conquest of the Indian subcontinent. Prabodhankar said that prior to Gaznavi’s discovery of magnificent wealth inside the Somnath temple, the rulers coming from the west had no interest in the temples. He claimed that the Brahminism had become so exploitative by the 7th century that the Rajput rulers, in their anger against the Brahminical system, had no inspiration to fight against Gazanvi and alike. Today, Prabodhankar would have posed a counter question to the Governor of Maharashtra, which would have asked, “Why not seize all the wealth of the temples to use it for Covid-care? Why not convert temples into temporary hospitals?”
In fact, in the same booklet, Prabodhankar asked the question as to what is to be done of the temples that he characterized as the epitome of exploitation and hierarchy in Hindu society. He said that there could be three ways of dealing with this question. The first one is the boycott of temples by non-brahmins. But he mocked this method by calling it the ‘liberal-ism birbal-ism’ of moderates in Hindu society. It would not be an effective method simply because the owners of temples have already garnered so much of wealth that their next seven generations could do nothing and still live a lavish life. Those who have mastered the art of ruling through religious places could also go on constructing new innovative structures like large statues and will continue the same political economy through it, he warned. The second method could be by laying claims to the ownership of all the temples by non-Brahmins. While this could be a revolutionary way, according to Prabodhankar, however, he ultimately questioned the necessity to confine gods and goddesses within four walls. Perhaps, for him, it results in the narrowing down of human thoughts rather than their expansion and explosion. As a result, Prabodhankar proposed the third method. He advocated the conversion of all temples into schools/libraries/hospitals/science laboratories/eateries for poor people/ recreational centres etc. He proposed to construct a mammoth museum at any one place in India with a dignified display of all the idols and artefacts from the temples for the benefits of researchers and common Hindus to understand the development of idol-worship and temple traditions in India. Today, Prabodhankar certainly would have proposed this method to the Honourable Governor.
The Governor has expressed deep concerns with regards to the continued lockdown of temples, and therefore, according to him “our Gods and Goddesses have been condemned to stay in the lockdown.” This precisely has been the argument of Prabodhankar Thackeray that the Brahminical order has confined the existence of Gods and Goddesses only to the temples, as the temple economy then benefits the most. Religion doesn’t need temples. But temples certainly need religion. More than this, as the Honourable Governor’s letter ironically implied, the Gods and Goddesses could be locked down and could not be free. This is what the RSS’ Hindutva has done to the Hindu religion - from the proud understanding of Kan kan me basatehai Ram to being convinced about the confinement of Gods and Goddesses inside the four walls of temples.