Digestion of the Hindu Festival of Onam

The discussion started off with a reaction to the terribly biased NY Times article on Indian politics, then somehow switched toward a familiar theme in the last year or so: 'digestion': what it is, what isn't etc. This is a sufficiently important topic and one that we will continue to highlight. Here, we summarize the digestion of Onam into some secular 'feel good' festival.

October 2013
Protest against New York Times unfair/biased newspaper article
this is the article in question. shocking misrepresentation. Rajiv provided a link to a response to the article in India's arguably most popular media watchdog site 'mediacrooks' that has more than 5 million hits to date

Rajiv Malhotra: "One good rejoinder against NYT's white supremacist production of Atrocity Literature - http://www.mediacrooks.com/2013/09/imported-garbage-from-new-york-times.html#.Uj2S4z-yk0c

Now we come to the discussion of Onam that was triggered by this post.

Chandra notes: "The Guruvayurappan Temple Web site in Dallas has an announcement for Onam celebration at a local church.

It appears the Church is encouraging these kinds of celebrations and this trend is recent and over the last few years..."

Rajiv's response: " I am glad members here are picking up instances of digestion. 99% of the Hindus who have not read and understood digestion are still joyful when the tiger praises their culture. "I like your looks and aura", the tiger tells the stupid goat/deer, who goes about bragging to his fellow prey, "how lucky that the king of the jungle likes me". When invited to the tiger's dinner table, such a fool is convinced that the tiger has become his friend"

patrika adds: "... there is opposition in these public meetings for the City Council to give these local Hindus the permit to build Hindu places of worship. In many of these meetings, almost always, ordinary local citizens, mostly Caucasian Christians of liberal outlook,have supported our cases in City Council meetings when there was opposition from other sections of society.

I need to stress that these mainstream citizens supported the Hindus for the temple request in their capacity as ordinary citizens, and only rarely, if at all, they came representing their faith.

In our interactions with the outside organization Christian institutions, we will be better served if we keep these in mind and preface our discussions suitably. As Shri Malhotra has repeated stressed, we only seek mutual respect, nothing more, and nothing less either. ..."

Rajiv comment: "
I agree. Liberal Americans are polite, and often open minded. We have failed to negotiate our place. It is our own leaders who have lacked the knowledge, courage and articulation to represent us well. That we are getting digested is the result of not knowing what differentiates us in ways which are non-negotiable. It is not that others have denied us the right to be different. Sikhs demand it as do Jews and Muslims. Only Hindus among the major faiths are confused, muddled up - the leaders who have enjoyed prestige and ceremonial pomp over the past few decades are accountable for this confusion because most of them are confused as well. The general public lacks the culture of accountability of leaders. There is too much sucking up to leaders - the blind leading the blind."

Mira: "...I don't think Christianity is tiger at all that can digest The universal truth carrier Sanathan Dharma that stood, Stands and will stand for ever as Drubotara. Nothing can Digest the Mighty truth..."

Rajiv comment: "
This is very typical confusion. But I cant go on and on repeating the same arguments on digestion. So I wont bother. The individual needs to become more logical. For example;
- differentiate between truth and truth-claims;
- look at the history of being digested;
- go beyond simplistic slogans.

These are convenient ways to evade the issues: We have devatas on our side so lets not bother. We have eternal dharma which by definition cannot be destroyed, so why all this fuss. (We are morons after all, and hence whats the difference?)  "

Sukumar: "I was told by a friend who has settled in Canada that the local
church allowed them to conduct Sudarshan kriya classes of Sri Sri
Ravishankar in a local church. He said that there are no believers visiting the church and all those including the priest were keen on attending the kriya. How do we distinguish between such efforts and an effort towards 'digestion'?"

Rajiv comment: The same was true of RK Mission in USA until many decades back. Churches sent their members to RKM to learn meditation because demand was high and churches did not teach meditation. But then the churches sent their priests to learn how to teach meditation. In fact, Maharishi's TM movement and other Hindu groups are where they went openly sent to learn. But today, the RKM is empty in north america (except old folks from the past). The RKM leaders will tell you the reason is that now churches are teaching meditation which they learned from RKM. So church members do not need to go to RKM to learn.

Moral 1: Digestion is not usually instant. Like a chess game you must learn to think many moves ahead. Digestion usually comes later in the exchange. Very few Indians have the strategic vision to be able to figure out the long term trend. Most of them look at the immediate situation only.

... That's why I developed the Uturn Theory to explain the DIFFERENT STAGES at work. I have yet to edit and post that video. It makes this point clear.

Moral 2: The persons digesting often do not have bad intentions. You will miss the point if you evaluate based on "they are nice people who mean well" type of reasoning. It is to be seen clinically....

Chandra follows up:
"Onam is clearly a Hindu Festival...see the link on its origins at :  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onam

Rather than strengthening the Hindu Roots of Onam and proudly proclaiming its Hindu Identity, We seem to be discussing that other faiths are also celebrating it in Kerala these days. Is it not the very root of the problem, not that other faiths are celebrating it, but Hindus are loosing the ability to Identify it to Hindu Traditions and Heritage."

Surya adds a couple of FAQ:
"1. Are Hindus against others celebrating Hindu festivals?
No, provided Hindu festivals are celebrated as Hindu festivals, with respect for Hindu traditions and beliefs.

Onam is not just a festival. It is a Hindu festival. That is how it should be celebrated.

2. Why are Hindus concerned about Christians celebrating onam?

Three reasons.

(1) Christian history has shown that they took pagan festivals and traditions, stripped them off the original tradition and merely kept the celebratory aspect..

(2) Christians have used inculturation as an instrument to convert. The idea is not to assimilate Christianity into native traditions but make it look alike...

(3) Christians are exclusivists. They do not entertain other religions as valid in their own right. ...there is no legitimate way for them to celebrate Onam as a Hindu festival..."
Rohit asks:
"Recently, I've been noticing the lines "Onam is a secular festival"/"Onam is also a secular festival" getting added/deleted to Onam article on Wikipedia. Can any learned Keralite friends please throw some light on how "secular" is Onam? Has it always been "secular" or is it a more recent phenomenon? A basic google search reveals numerous articles, all of them assert that Onam is a secular festival. If the argument is that since it is a harvest festival and hence secular, then by extension, every harvest festival becomes secular. That way a good amount of festivals go out of the ambit of dharma and join the secular league -- and we know where it goes from there."
Karthik adds: "....the idea of Onam being "secular" is invalid here. All festivals will have both laukika aspects in its celebrations (like new clothes, sweets, meeting with friends etc.). But that by itself does not make a festival "secular", if it has "non-secular" elements to it. In the case of Onam, the festival is connected to the Vamana-Mahabali incident from the puranas..."

Ram further notes:

"Mahabali is said to have ruled over Kerala. Onam is celebrated by the
malayalis to welcome their king mahabali who was sent to pathaala loka (
nether world) by Vamana avatar of Mahavishnu,.... Similar attempts to secularise Makar Sankaranthi / Pongal in tamil nadu was carried during last Karunanidhis term where he abruptly shifted the tamil new year nearby to pongal ( jan 14-15 thiruvalluvar day) and english new year instead of the tradition april 14"
Indra comments: "Let's not stretch this issue too far lest it should invite ridicule or a complex hue. Festivities of one religion into other(s), even up-to celebratory tone should be welcome to foster good inter-relation amongst communities and a feel-good environment."

Rajiv comment: "Please take time to understand how digestion works. It is a long term process. The export-import of such things results in asymmetric outcomes depending on the relative levels of power, strategic vision and leadership of both sides. These are not "mergers as equals". The side with clarity of self definition (e.g. via Nicene Creed or similar doctrine) has an advantage over the side with confused leaders who preach sameness. The side whose activists are a trained sales force (or army) wipes out the side that has confused activists.."

Yegne adds:
"While it is incorrect to call Onam a secular festival because of its Hindu mythological underpinnings,the adoption of its cultural ,regional aspects is a natural for the inhabitant original converts here and their descendants over centuries.
This is common in many christianized countries of Europe and all countries of South America,Africa,even after full digestion into Christianity;So-called Pagan festivals of yore,frowned upon by the catholic church, continue happily.
I am sure many cosmopolitan-minded Hindus join in Christamas festivities of close friends or even set up the christmas tree in their own houses,without accepting their tenets & canons or any fear of digestion into christian faith.
RM's explanation of digestion by stealth is not relevant here,I would say."

Rajiv comment: Digestion is not necessarily by stealth. Where did I say it was stealth? Christian Yoga, Christian Bharat Natyam, and many other examples are all out in the open. What does stealth have to do with the consequences - i.e. that the digested entity disappears as a self or loses its standing. Once again, you are mixed up on what point is being made.

That European pagans faced similar plight does not mean that we ought to follow suit. European pagans did disappear or at least became marginalized. So their example only proves our concern...." 
Manish notes: "I have received an invitation for Dandiya Raas Nights... and now after reading the discussion about Onam celebrations I realise that this Navaratri celebration in all big cities is a clear example of the digestion of a great spiritual and cultural tradition. Now it does not talk anything about any worship or  Pooja or Arati but instead talks only about  fun and food and rocking the floor. The highlights of the event are no more than Live Orchestra, DJ & Singers, best dancer competition, best dressed male / female etc... "

Koti adds: "I think this is an inevitable outcome. Same thing has happened to Holi, Christmas, Easter, Mardi Gras....even Iftar.
That alone is not evil, ..."

Rajiv comment: "What matters is the lens through which future generations will interpret these symbols, celebrations, festivals, sacred sites, rituals, etc. Future tour guides (trained by pseudo-sec or Abrahamic academies in India) will explain the Hills of Solomon instead of Tirupati; Festival of color instead of holi, festival of light instead of divali, and so forth. Look at the new vocabulary being taught under Christian Yoga and bharat natyam. In the first stages they add this new vocabulary in addition to the old one, so as to not sound suspicious. This can easily be sold to stupid Hindus as "sameness" or as "secularism". Some foolish leader can be cited and some verse quoted out of context... Over time. gradually the old vocabulary fades away, and the new becomes cool and fashionable among the youth and media. This is what digestion is about. IT IS BEYOND THE GRASP OF THOSE WHO CANNOT SEE LONG TERM AND THINK AHEAD IN MULTI-STAGES, AND CAN ONLY SEE WHAT IS IMMEDIATE. By the time such persons can see whats going on it is too late. Sadly most of our leaders are of this sort as the public has not demanded competence."

1 comment:

  1. Well written and an informative post! I have a keen interest in this topic and have written several blogs on Hindu calender and zodiac sign, as well. You can check them at mPhanchang.