One man’s view on why Hindus in Bhutan are becoming an embarrassment to themselves, and why the Hindu Dharma Samudaya must aim to cultivate a ‘one Hindu’ community
Generally, I strictly avoid both private and public meddling in the matters of religion because I consider myself too secular to dig its petty politics. But then, there is this nice little phrase in the English-speaking world – when push comes to shove – which means ‘when one must commit oneself to an action or decision’, and I have arrived at a decision point: to make my personal opinions public about the fractures and fault lines within the Hindu community in Bhutan.
Many of us were moved to a sense of deep shame and anger when we recently heard about the state of Thimphu’s first Hindu temple, the most precious gift to the Hindu community from the Golden Throne. Conceived as the finest objective correlative of the world’s ancient religion, the building of the Temple in Kuensel Phodrang began in 2012, and was to be completed two years later.
Unfortunately, the Temple was deep in controversy even before the construction began. Thanks to the disagreements and ego-clashes among the committee members and other self-styled kingmakers, chiefly among the self-righteous ‘by-birth’ high-caste Brahmins with the holier-than-thou attitude. What did the vocal infighters do? Raise one controversy after another; take ages for simple decision-making; mire the Temple in petty squabbling; make a snail’s progress on the construction (looks like they took Lord Krishna’s words on action in inaction literally); and finally, lo and behold, raise a structure that had to be torn down just as soon as it was up. What a farce! What a charade!
Indeed, the discord began right on the starting line of the race. The self-serving committee members argued and disagreed over the design, and they delivered a flawed blueprint; they argued and disagreed over the tendering process delaying the project by a considerable duration; and they were constantly at each other’s throats. The high point was the caste controversy that led to bitter mudslinging at a meeting. The upper cast Hindus said the innermost sanctum (called Garbhagriha in Sanskrit) should not be accessible to their low caste brethren. A small hell of sorts reportedly broke loose in Thimphu.
I believe that Hindus can be progressive too, and not always resort to extremist standpoint as often exemplified by the actions of India’s infamous Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) nationalists. Sadly, some traces of RSS-like religious vitriol seem to linger in our Hindu community. Can our purohits be more imaginative, perhaps bold enough to take Hinduism a take step forward in Bhutan? Can we have a temple that’s accessible to all human beings, and not just the Hindus of certain caste? We don’t need an inner sanctum. Let our hearts be the eternal inner sanctums of harmonious coexistence.
By the way, I hope the committee members responsible for the mess have made an apology to the Hindu community and to the nation. If not, they must be made to do so. We cannot condone moral unaccountability!
The Hindu Dharma Samudaya of Bhutan (HDSB, or the Samudaya) has failed to inspire national confidence ever since its establishment in 2007. Every time the Samudaya makes news, it’s basically to wash dirty laundry in the public.
A couple of telltale headlines in one of the local newspapers read like this: ‘Hindu Dharma Samudaya submits complaints against pundit’ (Kuensel, March 23, 2017); ‘Members accuse HDSB of mismanagement’ (Kuensel, January 9, 2016). The Samudaya has been accused of mismanagement, maladministration, operational lapses, illegal actions, and undemocratic decisions.
Personally, this is what I would expect from the Samudaya.
The Samudaya has to be representative of all Hindus, regardless of caste and other discriminatory inflammations. It must be inclusive, and it must be transparent. It must have an elected and secular administrative system, and the pandits must not meddle in its everyday operation. The Samudaya must have an independent ombudsman.
The Samudaya must bring the Hindus of all faith and following together under the banner of ‘One Hindu’ society. It must promote brotherhood with Buddhism and reach out to people in non-religious ways as well. It must have a social service wing to look after the welfare of the poor and discriminated section, and must find ways to bring them into the mainstream and give them an equal stake in flourishing the faith they are born into.
The Samudaya must make the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and other texts in the Śruti and Smriti canons accessible to the common people. It must find ways to make these ancient texts relevant to the modern audience, especially the younger generation. And it must devise ways to make religion relevant in a practical way rather than through the rendering of the ancient texts alone.
Hindus of Bhutan
In the article ‘Difficulties stall Hindu Samudaya’ (Bhutan Observer, December 1, 2009), a senior journalist, who is also a recently elected board member of the Samudaya, writes: “…less understanding, trust and unity among different sects of Hinduism, and no permanent site for a mandir have stalled the Samudaya.”
The ‘less understanding, trust and unity among different sects of Hinduism’ has deepened over the years. The Hindu community of Bhutan is deeply fractured and has serious fault lines. The sects are multiplying fast, and unity under a common Hindu banner is scoffed at.
This is how the Hindus in Bhutan have divided themselves, primarily based on gods, spiritual gurus, and ethnicity:
The sanathan Hindus: the majority common man group, still holding on to the original ‘one Hindu’ concept.
The Manav Dharma sect: a fairly big segment that follows the socio-religious reform movement started by Satpal Ji Maharaj.
The Sai sect: Perhaps the largest sub-group who follow late Sathya Sai Baba, the afro-haired Indian spiritual master. Sathya Sai claimed to be the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi who was regarded in turn by his followers as the reincarnation of Lord Shiva.
The Mata sect: Many in this group follow Nirmala Devi, the founder of Sahaja Yoga. Others follow Brahma Kumaris, a new religious movement founded in the 1930s by Dada Lekraj Kripalani.
The Hindus-turned-Christians group: Mainly overzealous converts, mostly of lower caste, discriminated by upper caste Hindus and lured economically by eager evangelists.
The Kirats: Indigenous ethnic groups, mainly of Rai and Subba caste, who worship nature. The grouping of Kirats in Bhutan is an off-shot of the Kirat awakening in the neighboring regions at the turn of the new millennium.
Others: Mainly leaning on individual gods, like the followers of Lord Shiva (Shaivites), Lord Vishnu (Vaishnavites), Lord Ganesh (Ganapatyas), etc. Additionally, there is also a small following of Guru Hajur God Angel.
It’s against this backdrop that fractures within the Hindu community must be looked at. For a small country religious divide of intolerant groups and sects means bad news. It means social disharmony. That’s why what we need is ‘one Hindu’ system and not a fractured, sect-based, intolerant community latching on to the vague roots of multiple faiths. This will be the biggest test of the Samudaya in the near future. Indeed, the Samudaya’s success should be measured by its ability to promote ‘one Hindu’ concept among the Hindus in Bhutan, and in its ability to unite and not divide the Lhotsham community.
Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world, and in Bhutan it co-exists peacefully and harmoniously with Buddhism, the main religion of the country. In the long run, these two religions must hold the country in a sovereign unity.
an independent consultant and freelance journalist.
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