Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A religion of convenience ?

I happened to google 'Brahmo' today morning. And I am very happy to say that now there is a lot of material to read on the religion. I am also happy that pseudo-Brahmos like me can read up and know where we come from.

Brought up outside Calcutta all my life, I have never got a taste of what the religion I belong to is all about. I do remember that I used to participate in these cultural programmes . I once enacted a children's poem by Devendranath Tagore with 2 other girls. That's all I remember of my participation in an Brahmo social event. Every year my Uncle and Aunt call up from Calcutta to wish 'Shubho Magotsav'. That is all I know of the annual festival Brahmos celebrate. In Calcutta, the hot-seat of Brahmoism in India , it's a week long affair , where there are cultural get-togethers and music and 'aabriti' and of course, food. I am aware of 'rituals' during birth, marriage and death. I was married in a Brahmo ceremony in English. I could understand and appreciate every word of it.

Unfortunately , for all of us , Brahmoism has not been propagated in the right spirit. All I've ever heard from my seniors is that Brahmoism is a superior religion. Why ? The answer given is this : "We don't worship idols. We don't believe in ritualism. We don't believe in the Caste system. We do not believe in taking or giving dowry" etc. Do we define our religion by 'NOT' doing things ? Or is there deeper meaning to this ?

Once I had an argument with my husband. He asked me a very fundamental question . He asked "How does your religion become better just because you do not worship idols ? ". He was right ! That's exactly how Brahmos are looked at. To many who at least know that something like that exists , may be thinking it is a religion of convenience. No fasts , no ringing prayer bells in the morning , no maintenance of a family temple in the house, no photographs of gods in the house, nothing that will tell the world that you are a Brahmo ! I know a lot of Brahmos will tell me that 'we are Brahmo by our deeds' . Very nice , thank you , but what deeds ? Those who at all contributed to the society and brought about social reforms are dead 100 years back ! Those who did something for 'Widow remarriage' ,'Emancipation of Women' , 'Abolition of the Caste system', 'Simplicity and purity of public and private affairs' have done their job and gone ! What did people after them do? Nothing ! They are all sitting in their ivory towers and basking in their fore fathers' glory . All of the above are still very much existent in our society and I would go to the extent of saying that people in general are now leaning more towards fundamentalism. The same things Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Keshab Chandra Sen fought against 150 years ago they themselves been Hindus.

All I want to say that in this era of high fundamentalism in all popular forms of religion, Brahmoism should be highlighted, 'simplified' and propagated in the right way. All Raja Ram Mohun Roy wanted to say when he started Brahmoism was that life does not get better by doing 'Puja' every morning. Neither does it get better by observing fasts. Life dishes out equal measure of happy and sad moments to each one of us. It has always been and will be balanced. There is absolutely no guarantee that one will get a good looking husband if one observes a fast a particular day of the week. There is no guarantee that one will be rich if one worships Laxmi every Diwali. Says who ? It is simply a matter of faith and fear. More fear , less faith. No religion can get better by suppressing its women. Dowry only feeds ones greed. No one has become richer by living off others' money. No caste is better or worse. We do not get to choose which caste we would be born in. So why brag about something one had no control over ?

And no , Brahmos are not Hindus ! The Supreme Court rejected a plea by the West Bengal Government that Brahmos be classified as Hindus in 2004.


Roy said...

Just mentioning the word "superior" often indicates the end of any discussion on religion and raises many hackles. Best not to bring up that purely subjective word up at all.

Yes, Brahmoism is expressed more in deeds than in words. That's the whole point! It's what religions will eventually be when they get rid of all their cosmetic robotic ceremonies. It's major achievement is in proving that work is religion, duty is religion, honesty is religion, peace is religion. But it's difficult to conceptualize for someone who has been brought up as a worshipper of habit or schedule. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a matter of the defining influences one has as one grows up.

Sure the Brahmo Samaj have it's fair share of the "This looks cool and intellectual, let's just tag along" group but it's a direction marker towards what is inevitable. And there are similar movements within every religion so we are definitely not alone.

sarbajit said...


Would you like to join our tiny "Brahmo" Yahoo group where your blogpost is being appreciated ?