|CURRENT ISSUE DECEMBER 20, 2004|
| INDIASCOPE |
LOCOMOTIF: S. PRASANNARAJAN
Profanity of Power
Some of the first narratives of religion are about the karmic picaresque of the chosen one. Journeys powered by questions and denials, rejoinders and repudiations. Some reach the revelatory moment in the shadow of a tree; some end up on the cross. Still, they are united by the ways of the mind, by the seeker's struggle with the dead certainties of the times. More than two millennia ago, one such man, a Brahmin youth from north Kerala, walked from Kaladi to Kashi, all the while arguing to make the way clearer for those who doubted his mission. Conversion was quite an intellectual enterprise then. Adi Shankara, or the first Shankaracharya, was the philosopher saint, and the first reformist of Hinduism. What the modernist-mendicant had done to Hinduism was a kind of Vedic perestroika. And as a philosophical system, Advaita-absolute monism-was perhaps the finest expression of "being and oneness," of the harmony between the text and the context. That is the tradition, and it is being updated by reality-well, a reality edited by the Tamil Nadu Police, which today seem to be trained by Indiana Jones. The Shankaracharya has migrated from the Vedic scriptures to the police files.
The empire of faith and the perversions of politics made this inevitable. Of the tradition, the symbolism of the walking stick-always taller than the Shankaracharya-has survived. Everything else has changed. The highest seat of faith and wisdom caught up with the times by becoming more world-wise. The Shankaracharya may not have stopped wandering, but the arguments have gone far beyond the sacred script. The muth aspired to be the Vatican, and the aspiration was in combat with the Hindu spirit. And the Vatican, as Dan Brown and hundreds of conspiracy theorists before him have shown, is a permanent setting for the religious thriller. When power ceases to be spiritual, as the Kanchi muth is realising now, it becomes fallible, particularly so when it is happening in Tamil Nadu, home to the temptations of the Dravidian kitsch, which still cannot tolerate the idea of the Brahmin, the knowing one. The show trial-it is one if you go by the porous "investigation"-of Jayendra Saraswati is not about law-doesn't-have-a-divine-clause alone; it is a new twist to an old culture war as well. The Shankaracharya De-mystified is a necessary condition for the perpetuation of the cardboard divinity of the Just Leader. And for the Hindu, the just cause has never been a street fight.