Iconoclasm: What It Means
(Mr. C. S. Pani writes in the Justice)
I am constrained to offer to the public my few thoughts on a subject, which seems to me of the most vital consequences, the present attack on temple worship. Mr. Swami Venkatachalam during his lecture on the Self-Respect conference, pointed out much that was defective or objectionable in the resolutions passed at the conference. Whatever the nature of his criticisms on other resolutions might be, that relating to Temple worship seems to me, to be woefully below the mark and to savour too much of what they call fighting in the last ditch. Mr. Swami seems to be quite a pitiful figure, having one leg in the very front of our political strife and the other in the extreme back woods of social reform. Undoubtedly the intermediary is an ugly feature of the temple; but he is by no means the one such feature. He is a part of the whole obscene drama that is enacted in temples of today. Before I attempt to reply to Mr. Swami’s criticisms, I shall offer my few thoughts about the present decadent state of our religion.
It is clear as daylight to every common Hindu that our religion consists essentially of two aspects – the spiritual and the mythical. The spiritual aspect of our religion is indeed our true religion. It is founded on an indestructible rock of truth. It is the very sap of our soul which our ancient sages have lived by and died for. To make a sincere confession of it, I doubt my ability to break ground even on that great subject.
I shall now pass on to the other aspect of our religion – our mythologies. If the spiritual aspect is considered to be the sublimest by all the world, our mythical is considered to be the absurdist. Such a jungle of wild thought and fictitious figures as to beat Odinism (to do with Norse mythology, centring around the god Odin – editors) itself, hallow, innumerable paradoxes and conflicting views perceptible in these tales. It is not Mr. Swami alone, I confess, but it is the whole Hindu Nation that lives by this mirage as the food for the soul. There is a substance neglected by all. Here is a shadow hankered after by all. A melancholy fact indeed! There are some who contend, that these tales represent allegorically the tenets of our religion. I admit it may be true and I also admit that there might have been times, when the ordinary Hindu found divine inspiration in and through them all. But the modern world stands on the knife edge of rationality and discrimination. The old faith is gone for good or for bad, never more to return. The soul of our Mythology is gone away. It has become a dead thing. The sooner it is cremated the better.
Let us, at this stage, endeavour, to examine in brief, the mischiefs that are wrought by our mythology; the exhalations of the poor putrefying dead thing. Even here I do not think, I need be exhaustive. He who runs may read them, provided he is willing to do so. They fall, to my mind into two distinct classifications. The one I conceive to be mischiefs that are wrought by the “inspiration” we derive from the characters of the stories. The other by the mythologies themselves. Belonging to the first, I may cite three of the grossest instances: (1) Narada, a God by himself, the son of Brahma, could not live a single day without tale bearing, Good God! How rightly is he fit to be the follower of Milton’s fallen Archangel, than the beloved son of the great Brahama! (2) Almost all gods are given to mean spite and hatred, which give rise to internecine feuds. (3) Most of the Gods are polygamists (if one could use the word for those mighty celestial beings.) What is worse, a few of them are given to concubinage and worse still are “brothel hunters.” I am not venturing upon any irresponsible statement. There is a celebrated “Utsavam” (an annual temple festival – editors) held in the very heart of Madras, I may say, one held under the very nose of Mr. Swami, of Vishnu going to a brothel and poor Amman (the consort goddess – editors) chastising her truant lord. Why need I multiply instances? These are the essences of our mythologies. The common Hindu is thus taken in and sanctioned by their divine precedents pauses not to grovel in the sway of immorality and corruption. Of course learned pandits are not wanting, who at the mention of all these, last themselves up into the white heat of eloquence, and with countless legerdemains reveal, what they say the spiritual significance of all these stories (sic). Good God! What could the innocent common man know of all these quillet and quiddits! Such is the state of our mythologies. On the face of them rankly immoral or at best absurd stories; the truth of which, so it is professed, is more difficult to divine than the bare facts of the spiritual side of our religion. Let our fellow men choose the better of these two.
I shall now come to what I consider to be the mischief wrought by the spirit of these mythologies. The Gods are represented in them, with all the human weaknesses. The very natural propensity therefore arises in the common Hindu to purchase off their favour for his material gain. If the Gods are represented as the very emblems of all that is purest, just and truest man dare not make gods his confidant in his moral dereliction nay, would not foster any such at all, for fear there are Gods! But alas! Now there are Gods and Gods, countless perhaps are the forest leaves; yet we have no mentor, no moral guide. How tragical! How many of us have thought of breaking one hundred cocoanuts and burning a maund of camphor as expiation for past crimes or what is worse, for success in future ones. Let anybody who is prone to laugh over this cocoanut-camphor affair, laugh enough, but pray, let it all be grim, wise and serious, indicative of repentance and remorse. Are we not vain men who imagine that prospective penitence can afford a present violation of duty and that the pure nature of the heavenly powers would admit of compromise and dispensation for sin. Dispensation for Sin, sale of Indulgences is going on in the twentieth century. If not in ink and parchment, surely in camphor and cocoanut. And that with the connivance of our mischievous priests! Indulgences! Everywhere indulgences! Buying off of God’s favour. And what are our temples, but the Pulpits where these indulgences are sold. Where are our Luthers? Do they still lie hidden in the womb of future? The sooner the iconoclast comes, the better for honesty and purity in life. Iconoclasm, Sansculottism (a term from the days of the French revolution, referring to ideas of radical equality invoked chiefly by the very poor – editors), I am not afraid of these words; much less of the things.
– Revolt, 17 April 1929