A few years ago, in 1991, the USSR disintegrated. It had come into being in 1917 but it went on to split into many nations. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were divided too. Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan as well. The Scottish and Irish people have been fighting against Britain for long and, in a few years from now, they will definitely become independent entities. The only reason behind this is that in these countries, there is an absence of respectful feelings that could hold together in a thread of unity the diversities among their people.
The constitution or a large army or a proper administrative system could not serve as a unifying factor in these countries. They could not stay united as intolerance over diversity kept rising there. It is Europe’s tragedy that it could not find any formula for unity in diversity. Its nations failed to instill in their citizens any sense of patriotism towards their motherlands. Bharat, in this respect, has been successful for centuries and remains united despite its multiple diversities. At the time of Independence, former British PM Winston Churchill had predicted that Bharat was headed for disintegration soon, but it did not happen.
Some people are actually amazed to see the unity of India, but it is a natural phenomenon for its citizens. It is a matter of great surprise for many scholars and political thinkers to observe how Bharat has seamlessly managed to keep itself united by effortlessly nurturing its diversity.
Bharat is a spiritual country. It is due to their spiritual bent of mind that her people consider god to be omnipresent. This devotion has made them accept their entire country as the land of the gods. Each and every particle of its vast expanse of land spread right from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, and from the banks of the Indus to Parshuram Kund in Arunachal Pradesh is considered pious by its people. A Vedic hymn, Mata bhumih putroham prithivya (Hey, motherland, you are our mother and we are your children), chanted by ancient sages as a prayer, inculcated a profound sense of faith and devotion in its populace over the centuries. In fact, deep faith for the motherland took the form of devotion. The banks of each of its rivers turned into pilgrimage sites and all its mountain peaks began to appear sacred to them. The initiation of its people as children of the soil led this faith to become deeper. The entire motherland turned into a temple of sorts for them.
This devotion had such a profound impact on the thousands of people that they became eager to go on pilgrimages in large numbers to different holy places across their motherland. Bharatiya society gave a concrete shape to spiritualism through its alluring imagination for religious expeditions. It led to the recognition of places of pilgrimages by the Shaiva, Vaishnava, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Nath and many other sects and religions.
Compared to an omnipresent but formless god, the living form of the divinity became more appealing to them. Scores of devout people began to trek to places such as Kedarnath and Badrinath located thousands of metres above on the mountains and also march on foot to distant pilgrimages such as Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari by the sea. Even though they had to endure unmitigated hardships through these pilgrimages, they experienced indescribable joy because of their devotion to their motherland. Pilgrimages are nothing but a manifestation of our devotion to the motherland.
Kumbh in Ujjain.
While on a pilgrimage, the pilgrims are overcome by their profound faith and devotion towards the motherland. Also, they become liberal towards people who speak different languages in different parts of the country. They inculcate a sense of fellow feeling for all the states in the country. They don’t mind any diversity and inconvenience over food, dialect or language that they experience along their way. Such arduous pilgrimages have been going on for thousands of years. Even when Muslim rulers sought to impose an inhuman jaziya or pilgrimage tax, it did not deter devotees. They chose to pay the taxes kept it going uninterrupted.
Pilgrimages help people get acquainted with different regions of the country. It makes them develop a natural affinity with the flora and fauna, ecology as well as traditions of different places. This is why idli-dosa from southern Bharat have found its way to the plates of people all over in northern Bharat, while paranthe-puri-samose of the North are being relished across the South. Even though languages of different regions are not understood, it does not cause any sense of alienation or friction. Pilgrimages make us familiar with each and every aspect of our motherland, and also remove fear of the unknown from our hearts.
Just think of it. When a devotee of Lord Shiva treks hundreds of kilometres, carrying the holy Gangajal along the way to offer it at the temple of his village, Gangajal in his mind is not merely the water from a river. For him, it is the water that has emanated from the locks of Lord Shiva, living somewhere in the Himalayas, before reaching his village through Ganga to enable him to offer it at his temple. The purity of Ganga water starts to flow from Lord Shiva, the supreme deity of his native place. It fills his heart with indescribable happiness. The peaks of the Himalayas, the Ganga, his village and Bharat all become one.
Kanwariyas, who march in groups to sacred places carrying holy water on their shoulders, have effortlessly united village after village with the Ganga. The people from Manipur, Assam and southern Bharat consider nearby rivers to be their Ganga and they carry their waters to their villages. These pilgrims have bestowed the Ganga-like purity on their rivers. Their devotion has turned the water from these rivers into Gangajal, to be offered to Lord Shiva at their temples.
The sight of the Kumbh in Prayag overwhelms everyone in this country. Millions of people from different states, languages, dialects, cuisines and sects march to take a dip in the holy Ganga while retaining their diversity. Whether the Ganga washes their sins or not is not known but it certainly fills their hearts with immense joy and satisfaction. Who will not be overjoyed at the sight of millions of people taking a dip in the holy river? An all-pervasive sense of faith and devotion makes us feel an unmistakable sense of unity in diversity in the face of innumerable diversities in the country. It bridges the gaps between rich and poor, literates and illiterates to make everyone equal. It also purges the hearts of all caste-related inequalities. This devotion underlines great uniformity. The entire country looks united on the banks of Ganga after sinking all differences in society. Is it not the foundation of Bharat’s eternal unity? A Prayag-like sight is witnessed every three years in places such as Haridwar, Nashik and Ujjain.
Nobody calls these millions of people to the Kumbh, nor does anyone pay their fare. There is not even a permanent arrangement for their stay. And yet, devotees have been following this tradition for thousands of years. It is nothing but a great example of unification based on faith and devotion.
Take Krishna Janmashtami, for instance. Millions of people march to Mathura-Vrindavan to see the birthplace of Lord Krishna. Chanting Radhe-Radhe, they move around Govardhan hill, believing that Lord Krishna had saved the Braj region, their motherland, by lifting this mountain. It is not merely the sea of Krishna devotees who converge there, but is a manifestation of a pious flow of devotion.
Intolerant invaders had razed the Mathura temple to the ground many times but they could never crush the sentiments of the devotees who waited for the construction of a new temple on the ruins of the demolished one and built one whenever they got an opportunity. In countries of Roman and Greek civilisations, nobody ever came forward to rebuild a temple lying in ruins. They did not have the faith and devotion towards their motherland. Bhakti or devotion is the hallmark of Bharat alone. It is because of their devotion to Lord Krishna that people of Bengal christen their sons as Kanu and those from Kerala call them Kannan. It is just an example of how bhakti binds people from different regions!
On Ram Navami, lakhs of people march to Ayodhya for a glimpse of Lord Ram at his birthplace. Many of them are economically poor, but there is a palpable sense of happiness in their hearts. Woman devotees sing bhajans while circumambulating the holy town. They also chant Ram Mandir ba kab bani (when will a new Ram temple be built). Women living in and around Ayodhya provide food accommodation to thousands of pilgrims in their homes even though they cannot converse with each other because of language barriers. Many karsewaks or volunteers to build a Ram temple had come here from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, but the locals were always too happy to welcome them. It is the love flowing from the bhakti ras that binds people together irrespective of unfamiliarity and language hurdles.
One can find Ram in the name of former Tamil Nadu chief ministers M.G. Ramachandran and Jayaram Jayalalitha, or their Andhra Pradesh counterpart N.T. Ramarao. The popularity of this name indicates that the devotion to Ram has united the nation right up to Rameshwaram. There is Parshuram Kund in Arunachal Pradesh. The cursed battle axe of Parshuram had been left behind in the Lohit river. Every year, lakhs of people go there to take a dip in its water. Kerala is also considered to be Parshuram’s region. Kerala and Arunachal are so far away from each other, but they appear as unifying jewels of national integration.
It is imperative for every Lord Shiva devotee to undertake a pilgrimage to the 12 jyotirlingas across the country. Lord Ram had himself consecrated it at Rameshwaram. Shankaracharya had breathed his last at Kedarnath. Mahmud of Ghazni had come to plunder Somnath temple, which was demolished many times but it could not shake the faith of the people. Who will not get overwhelmed by the aarti of Mahakaal in Ujjain and Rudrabhishek of Lord Vishwanath in Kasi? A pilgrimage to all these 12 places enables devotees to get to know the people and their states in different regions from close quarters.
In fact, devotion to Shiva, Ram, Krishna and various shaktipeethas has linked the villages of this country to one another. Socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia used to call himself an atheist, but he once got overwhelmed when he witnessed the country’s diversity turning into unity through these pilgrimages. As he writes in Bharatmata Dhartimata, “I ran towards Rameshwaram like the calf of a cow. India’s pilgrimages give a lot of solace…Just stand in a corner of a great temple and you can see the entire Hindustan on the move from there in an hour or so…. We are one and so united that in times like that we feel that there is no power who can divide us into two. …From Kailash to Rameshwaram and also beyond its two flanks, the country has been united by religion more than anything else.”
Lohia had no hesitation in writing about this unity through dharma. “At least in its bhakti form, Hinduism is a fine story about the all-round unification, from north to south to east and west and all over.”
Had it not been the panacea of devotion, narrow parochial thoughts and vested interests would not have taken long to tear our social fabric and nationalism apart. It is because of this devotion to our motherland that the hearts of millions of people were filled with pious sentiments and became one.
One motherland, one country and one people…this has been the perpetual truth of our nationalism. Anything against this ethos is untrue and meaningless. Our devotion to the motherland has been a blessing of our forefathers. This devotion towards the land is akin to holy Gangajal, which can get rid of all the ills and also provide proper remedy to all the problems. When we limit our thoughts only to the interests of our village, state, language, clan, then we show irreverence to our great motherland. It is our devotion to it that has kept unity and integrity intact.
History has witnessed many a storm. At times it seemed as if everything would be destroyed but this devotion made lakhs of people rise in unison, ready to sacrifice their lives to protect its honour. ‘Vande Mataram’ was one slogan that had fired nationalism in the hearts of lakhs of youngsters. Scores of them sacrificed their lives for their motherland before the dark nights ended and a new dawn came.
The fundamental unity of this country is much more valuable than our lives. Some people with vested interests are always conspiring to cause social strife by taking advantage of the discrimination in society. But we all have to safeguard our unity in diversity and serve our motherland like its true children.
Remember, this unshakable faith and devotion towards one’s motherland is a unique hallmark of the people of Bharat. We can resolve all our issues so long as we retain this virtue. It is like an urn of nectar which has blessed this country to remain immortal. The USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia did not have it and that is why they did not stay united. Let’s resolve to keep this urn full to the brim. Vande Mataram!
(Dr Krishna Gopal, 64, is joint general secretary of the RSS. He has a PhD in botany and joined the Sangh in the 1970s. Views are personal.)