Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers prayers at Mahakal Temple, Ujjain on October 11, 2022. ANI
For those unfamiliar with India’s civilizational history and existential traumas, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mahakal moment in Ujjain would come across as an act of “Hindu revivalism”, as Jawaharlal Nehru accused KM Munshi when the latter was pushing for the restoration of the temple of Somnath to its original, pristine glory. It would also incense a large number of pretentious liberals who swear by secularism, not realizing that the notion has innate Christian roots and is inherently based on the “specific theological framework that was conceptually conceived during the Protestant Reformation”, as J Sai Deepak writes. in India is Bharat.
Prime Minister Modi’s Mahakal act will also dismay those who were born and raised with the idea of secularism which shamelessly gives minorities first access to the nation’s resources, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would say, and which , according to sociologist TN Madan, “stigmatizes the majority as being primordially oriented”. Then, of course, there are the political and ideological opponents of Modi who would view the development through a narrow political-ideological prism. A tweet from a veteran journalist, closely associated with the previous dispensation, on the day of the inauguration of the Mahakal Corridor exposes the divide:Kuchh TV channelon ne aaj dher saari afeem bechi (Today some TV stations sold so much opium).
The fact is that for the first time in centuries — ignoring the isolated cases of temple restoration and revitalization either in the 1950s by the trinity of Sardar Patel, KM Munshi and Rajendra Prasad vis-à-vis the Somnath temple, or the reconstruction work of the Kashi Vishwanath temple of Ahilyabai Holkar in the 1780s and Maharaja Ranjit Singh sending over 900 kg for the famous Varanasi temple in the 1830s – there was planned restoration work and ordained of the temple across the country.
Last year, Modi inaugurated the renovated Kashi Vishwanath Mandir complex and corridor. This project, completed in a record time of just over two years, recreated the precincts of the Varanasi City Shrine which, in the words of Mark Twain, was “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend. Varanasi is the oldest city in the world, with a history of continuous human habitation dating back over 5,000 years. “Twenty-six centuries ago at least it (Varanasi) was famous, when Babylon struggled with Nineveh for supremacy, when Tyne planted her colonies, when Athens grew in strength, before Rome was known or Greece was not had faced Persia, she (Varanasi) had already attained greatness,” writes M. A. Sherring, a missionary and Indologist who lived in Varanasi and wrote The Sacred City of the Hindus: A Narrative of Benares in Ancient and Modern Times.
Apart from the Rs 800-crore Mahakal project, which is four times larger than the Kashi Vishwanath corridor, the Kedarnath shrine in Uttarakhand – a “jyotirlinga” site like the previous two – is also witnessing major renovations and reconstruction under the Modi dispense. In November last year, Modi, while unveiling an idol of Adi Shankara at the spot of his ‘samadhi’ which was badly damaged in the 2013 flash floods in Uttarakhand, inaugurated several redevelopment projects related to the sanctuary. Meanwhile, works on Char Dham all-weather road are ongoing in Uttarakhand, which Modi also spoke about during his speech in Ujjain on Tuesday.
If we remove the politico-ideological blinkers that often prevent us from having a complete picture, the renovation and reconstruction works of Modi’s temples are the sign of a new India at ease with its civilizational past. It is no longer in denial of its roots, although there is still a long way to go before the distortions of Indian history are totally eliminated and the civilizational idea of India is organically understood, appreciated and internalized.
Modi’s battle is on two fronts: physical and psychological. When a civilization is attacked and nearly decimated, the physical signs of its endurance and excellence are selectively targeted and brought down. Some survive because they operate in a filthy, subhuman condition. A few others are forced to share space with the invading religion – such as the Kashi Vishwanath Temple side by side with the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, or the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple sharing land with the Shahi Idgah Mosque in Mathura. (Warning! Invested items may attempt to pass them off as Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb symbols.)
The Prime Minister has done a good job on the physical aspect of the battle, bringing some of the holiest Hindu temples out of the zone of darkness. These temples were the obvious sign of the awakening of civilization wounded on its glorious past. But the psychological battle has not yet resumed in any real sense. History books are always written from the point of view of the invaders. India is still projected as an eternally virgin land looking for invaders – from Dravidians and Aryans to Muslims and Europeans – to come and populate it. And all of this is taught without an iota of proof. For, the literary evidence in the epics and the Puranas suggests a migration out of India. And archaeological and genetic findings show that the subcontinent’s populations have remained unchanged for at least thousands of years.
If the normalization of Muslim and European invasions wasn’t bad enough, the Nehruvian dispensation patronized historians who blatantly pursued historical distortions and negationisms to subvert reality. Thus, a Muslim leader who never hesitates to wear his religion on his sleeve and whose main motivation has ostensibly been to wage a jihad against the infidels of Hindustan is humanized, secularized and sanitized. A Mahmud of Ghazni and an Aurangzeb would destroy several temples and proudly possess these wanton acts of terrorism in the name of religion, but our famous historians would seek the most insane and discredited evidence to prove otherwise. Oh Mahmud of Ghazni attacked the temples because of their wealth as Romila Thapar tells us even to the sea of evidence suggesting he refused to let go of Somnath temple even when offered all the wealth who were parked there. And “poor” Aurangzeb, according to Audrey Truschke (who is super active on social media and is a walkie-talkie on all things India), destroyed the temple of Kashi Vishwanath in order to save its citizens “rogue” Brahmins. . It was, after all, Aurangzeb’s “royal obligations” to “prevent their subjects from being deceived”.
Either way, the fact is that Modi managed to break the physical shackles of Hindu colonialism and victimhood. The Prime Minister’s renovation and reconstruction of historic temples and shrines marks a new civilizational journey for India which yearns to be new but is inspired to keep the old intact. Nehru’s India missed the opportunity at Somnath in the 1950s. Modi, with his historic projects in Ayodhya, Kashi, Kedarnath and now Ujjain, is ensuring that the world’s oldest living civilization does not forget its roots old while pursuing its modernity, 21st aspirations and goals of the century.
The author is Opinion Editor, Firstpost and News18. He tweets from @Utpal_Kumar1. The opinions expressed are personal.
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