Can the flame of faith sustain the storm of helplessly witnessing one’s God’s idol smashed to pieces? Will an ideologue who witnesses the entire edifice of her perspective crumble under the weight of truth revert or revolt?
AAVARANA as Bhyrappa explains in the preface is an act of concealing truth. And our intensely ideological, middle-aged protagonist experiences a catharsis of sorts when confronted with truth, a truth that shines through the pervasive deception if only one looks for it.
Razia, an ex-Hindu who converted to marry her Muslim college-mate, has an ‘enlightened’ view of history, thanks to the ‘progressive’ arts course at the film-institute she and her husband Amir have been through. She finds her father’s fierce opposition to her marriage with Amir dogmatic. Aren’t all religions equally regressive and fit to be thrown into the dustbin of history? Surprisingly, despite the Marxist bent of both Amir and Lakshmi’s mind, Amir insists on her conversion to Islam. The stalemate is resolved when their professor Sastri intervenes and persuades Lakshmi to convert in the larger interests of the great progressive movement.
When Lakshmi’s father cuts off all ties with her and refuses to admit her very existence, she comes to hate her ancestral religion with greater vigour. That even her father, a Gandhian known for his social service and efforts to uplift downtrodden, cannot overcome his ‘bias’ is proof that his religion is at fault, she reasons. Though alive for 28 years since, they’re destined to never meet in flesh.
Presently, the celebrity couple are tasked with filming a government-sponsored documentary on (the ruins of) Hampi which brings the hitherto concealed and twisted facts to light. What remains of the famed city of great prosperity and rich architecture today? Mutilated sculptures, destroyed temples and the complete ruin of an entire civilization! It is said, that the invaders spent six months to raze it to ground. What meets our eyes today is but a caricature of once-glorious past. She recalls her father’s parting words, “…someone in some future generation that you both will give birth to will someday destroy our temples”. Was her father right after all?
Wisdom is a partial victory of age over youth. News of her father’s death reaches Razia and blood being thicker she drops her film-making efforts to visit her native village. Apparently, her father devoted the last few years in deep, rigourous study of history and had been making notes towards preparing a book. Shaken by his books and notes, Razia whose historical understanding was entirely informed by ideological pamphlets and sloganeering, begins to probe further. Her father refers to the original sources and quotes directly from them, something that hadn’t occurred to her despite being a professional.
In an endevour to bring to life the dull monotony of historical facts, Razia stitches them together through a fictional novel (a better exemplar of story-within-story concept will be hard to find). It begins with the earth-shattering destruction of one’s world and worldview; an overpowered Rajput prince sees his men slaughtered by Aurangzeb’s army, hears the cries of their women committing jauhar and sees his Kingdom’s chief diety Lord Vishnu’s idol being broken to pieces. Mentally, his manhood was broken, then and there; though it is also literally broken sometime later.
Welcome to the reality of medieval India where victorious Muslims kings attacked commoners, killed the adult males, and took the young and women as their slaves. These slaves were sold in foreign markets too; the Hindu Kush mountain range in present-day Afghanistan owes its name to the large number of deaths of these ‘Hindu’ slaves while transporting them through its difficult climate and terrains to foreign lands. The women from captured territory were distributed as spoils of war and traded between the victorious like merchandise; they had no say over these transactions. Young men were used like ‘women’ by many such sublords; oh yes, the homosexual (and bisexual) orientation of Muslim ruler-caste is a closely-guarded secret, but a grim reality nonetheless. Our prince is forcefully converted to Islam, castrated (replete with painful depiction of the process), and sold off (as high-worth eunuch) to guard harems of ruler-caste. Does he recover his strength and regain a purpose, a meaning of life?
History of negationism
Obviously, there are many layers and characters that are left untouched above. But AAVARANA questions the motives of ‘eminent historians’ in forcefully twisting history to suit their Marxist theory instead of letting facts speak for themselves. What is the motive of history-telling? Telling truth, whatever it means, wherever it takes us, avers Bhyrappa. Even an artist has the duty to choose truth over beauty, if and when such a dilemma presents itself. Indian historians are thus guilty of negationism. They actively deny, twist or re-frame the facts to fit their ideological template while ignoring facets that stand distinctly out from their narrative.
There has been criticism questioning Bhyrappa’s motive in digging the unpleasant past which might give a fillip to the rise of Hindu nationalism and encourage the ‘tyranny of the majority’. Of course, any theory or philosophy can be appropriated. But does that reduce the efficacy of the truth by any measure? For instance, does the fact that a string operation that caught a minister red-handed is politically-motivated make him innocent?
Despite the “terrorists have no religion” sloganeering by leftists, the propaganda develops cracks when commoners observe that coincidentally most terrorists belong to one particular religion. Indeed, the temple-breaking proclination of medieval invaders is forcefully attributed to ‘economic’ reasons (the loot from the temple’s riches) whereas the invaders themselves honestly proclaimed their intention to destroy temples as a part of their religious duty and gleefully noted the havoc they wrecked on the holy sites of Hindus. The more sacred the temple, the more motivated the invaders were in destroying it to humiliate the kaffirs and demonstrate their religion’s supremacy over theirs. As Koenraad Elst pointed somewhere, if India were a Muslim-majority nation, Babri Masjid would become the national monument showcasing the victory of one-true-religion over infidels. This was a systematic activity carried out by every pious Muslim king (with an exception of Akbar who earned the ire of traditionalists for this reason), and can be traced to the very origin of Islam in Arabia.
Indeed, Sita Ram Goel’s “Hindu Temples - What happened to them” which produces a list of temples that were destroyed to make way for Islamic structures was met with stony silence by the very same ‘eminent historians’ who attack Hindus for questioning their stranglehold in history-telling. These historians for once had an excellent opportunity to permanently dislodge ‘Hindu nationalism’ by debunking his technically falsifiable thesis. Yet, apart from the standard dust raising fare of allegations of Hindu chauvinist trying to ignite communal strife, little was done by way of refuting his actual thesis by proving that the mentioned Islamic structures were not built on Hindu ones. In fact, these historians are rendering great disservice to the nation by aggravating communal imbalance by unabated appeasement of certain communities and ruthless attack on the better-deserving majority.
Dharma vs. religion
If Hindus were indeed spiritually mature, why did they face defeat after defeat? As one who pondered over this question often, the book has some answers. Does the failure of Hindu kings to defeat the invaders reflect unfavourably on their spiritual underpinnings? Do the continuous victories of Muslim kings imply their religious superiority? Razia (rather Bhyrappa) chooses a sadhu in Varanasi to voice the wisdom of Sanatana Dharma to enlighten the prince, “We create our gods based on which stage development we are with respect to ethics, morals and spirituality. Worshipping only one god also means that you worship the god I ask you to worship. …true spirituality doesn’t need God.” That’s the gist, but it goes on and explains the nuances of Dharmic battles very well. Commoners were seldom touched after battles, and the children and women of defeated kingdom were treated with respect and let off to lead a life of their own.
Bhyrappa takes a more nuanced approach to history when he makes Razia speak at a conference where she unambiguously states that present-day Muslims in no way are responsible for what their ancestors did. As a matter of fact, many Indian Muslims were born-Hindus who converted to Islam. They’re the primary victims of forceful conversion than the aggressors themselves. However, the key to stop identifying with such a legacy. None hold present-day Germans responsible for Nazi atrocities because they’ve strongly dissociated themselves with the past, condemned it and have moved on.
The book closes with a very pertinent quote by Swami Vivekananda about the danger of an untrained yogi stumbling upon the superconscious state [full quote here]. Used as we are to seeing Hinduism dissected through Abrahamic lenses, it is insightful to observe as to what the reverse yields. Sentimentalism has long blunted the Hindu intellect, and it is time for purva paksha, an ancient dharmic technique (restored to currency by Rajiv Malhotra) where a debater must first authentically understand in the opponent’s perspective, test the merits of that point of view and only then engage in debate using his own position. If only Hindus were to fully read the Abrahamic books in their own context and perspective, many myths would readily have been dispelled.
A word about the English translation by Sandeep Balakrishna - I’ve acknowledged him among my influencers who enabled me to be an informed, unapologetic Hindu and unveiled the ‘truth’, long before AAVARANA (originally written in Kannada) was translated to English. He does a yeomen service in encapsulating the spirit of the book without letting his artistic sophistry outshine its essence.