Savitri Devi, chapter 3 of A Warning to the Hindus (
Another, and perhaps a more expressive word for Hinduism would be: Indian Paganism.
The Christian missionaries call "Pagans" all those who are
neither Christians, nor Mohammadans, nor Jews, that is to say, all those whose
religious tradition has no connexion with the Bible and tradition of the Jews.
We accept the word, because it is a convenient one. It points out some sort of
similarity between all non-creedal religions of the past as well as of the
present day. [Image: Devi in
Once, practically all the world was "Pagan." Now that half its people have been converted either to Christianity or to Islam, the number of Pagans is less. That is no proof of the lesser value of different Paganisms, compared to the great creedal religions. It is surely an advantage, to be numerous; but it is no virtue. And therefore the number of its followers has nothing to do with the value of a cult.
We have remarked that among the so-called Christians, there are more and more people who are no total believers in the Bible at all, but "free thinkers." And we have said that free thought in all matters, including religion, is a feature of Hinduism. This does not mean that we consider all the free thinkers of the World as Hindus.
Philosophically, Hinduism is an attitude of mind, and an outlook on life. But it is not only that. It is a number of cults, among which one may choose. And, whatever cult it may be, it is a cult, one of the immemorial Pagan cults, surviving in the midst of the modern world. The Hindus are one of the few modern civilised people who are openly Pagans.
The Japanese, with their official Shintoic ritual, are another of these
people. And they being one of the leading nations of the modern world, their
example is priceless. They show magnificently that, even if it be indispensable
to adopt any new mechanical inventions, in order to compete with other nations,
and live, yet it is not necessary to adopt the religion and the civilisation of
the inventors, wholesale. Aeroplanes and war-tanks, and modern banking business
on a broad scale, can perfectly go together with the existence of a Solar
dynasty of king-Gods, in whose Godhood everyone actually believes, as
well as an Egyptian did, six thousand years ago. When
In the meantime, she remains the last great country of Aryan
civilisation, and, to a great extent, of Aryan tongue and race, where a living
and beautiful Paganism is the religion both of the masses and of the
We like this word "Paganism," applied to the Hindu cults. It is sweet to the ears of more than one of the fallen Aryans of Europe, accustomed to refer to "Pagan Greece," and to "Pagan beauty" as the most perfect expressions of their own genius in the past. That is also why we use the word, preferably to any other.
Very few people have grasped the spirit of Christ as well as Mahatma Gandhi, and several other prominent Hindus of the present day and of the last century. And among the few Europeans who have been sincerely attracted by Hinduism, practically all have sought, in it, if not a doctrine, at least a moral creed, or, better say a moral attitude of love and kindness -- the very same thing they could have found in Christianity, if only they took the trouble of separating the simple and luminous personality of Christ from all theological and heretical entanglements. In other words it is, generally, the dream of a better Christianity that brings fair people from across the seas to "serve mankind" in the Ramakrishna Mission, or to express their pure devotional love as inmates of some Vaishnava Math.
The Hindus of the present day like such admirers. Many of them also like
the idea that there is more true Christian spirit among outstanding Hindus,
than among most Christians. There is nothing to say about these likings, if not
that they are, to a great extent, a subtle expression of unfortunate
Pure spirituality (realisation of one's soul) naturally transcends
creed, as well as ceremonies. So a realised Hindu will look like a realised
Christian. That is true. It is true also that, in such a complex set of
teachings as those contained in the innumerable Hindu books (including Jain,
Buddhist, Vaishnava etc., scriptures), there are many elements which are to be
found also in Christianity. Others will say that there are a great deal of
Hindu elements (or Buddhist elements) which have creeped into Christianity, and
there are theories to prove this influence of Indian thought. And one may
safely assume that the failure of Christian preaching among the educated and
fully conscious Hindus, is mainly due to the existence of these elements. A
religion of love is not a new thing to
But all this does not lessen the fact that the Hindu religion, both as a
set of philosophies and as a cult, has also the characteristics which
Aryan Paganism had, before it was overcome by Christianity in the West. We find
here, like in ancient
Visible beauty leads to the invisible, says Plato.
Nowadays, when people speak of
But nobody puts stress upon the physical beauty of the Hindu people. Yet
they are Hinduism, they are
To a great number of Hindus, the Hindu ritual has a great symbolical value. To the large majority of the Hindus, it is practically everything. Yet, nobody puts stress upon the visible beauty of the Hindu daily "puja," of the Hindu festivities, of the Hindu ceremonies. Many educated Hindus seem to think it below their dignity to praise, in their religion, what appeals to one's eyes and ears, what is "exterior."
But it is not possible to deny the attraction of beauty.
We have mentioned the burning regret of the past, among some
This Ancient World had its shortcomings. It had its vices also, which
brought its down-fall. But its wise men were the pride of human intelligence.
And above all, it is lovable for what
This cult is to be found nowhere, nowadays, except in to last sunny home: Hindu India.
It is said that, one day, Julian tried to organise a procession through
the streets of
But it was already too late, and the attempt proved a failure. The procession was but a ridiculous show, and when returning, at evening, after it was finished, Julian was as sad as if his eyes had embraced the whole gloomy future of the Mediterranean World. It is said that he was sitting in the gardens of his palace, in front of old blocks of marble, half-hidden with ivy, when a faithful friend, guessing the cause of his sadness, asked him: "What else did you expect? These are the days of our death. What was your aim, in ordering this procession? What did you want?" The Emperor looked at him silently; then, pulling aside the ivy, he pointed out to him what was behind: a master-piece of some artist of the ancient days: a procession in honour of Dionysos, carved out in white marble; a smile of the World's youth; a thing of beauty: "This is what I wanted."
This was at the time when the great Samudra Gupta was ruling over
Oh! if only Julian could have seen what a display of beauty, in daily
life and in festivities, and in processions in honour of Gods and Goddesses
much akin to his, was going on, over there! If only he could have seen that
Aryan Paganism would live and flourish forever, in that luxuriant land; that
Then, certainly, he would have blessed the great country, with tears of joy.
Just go to Madura or to Rameswaram, nowadays, and see a real Hindu
procession there, with elephants bearing immemorial signs of sandal and
vermillion upon their foreheads, and draperies of silk and gold flowing over
their backs, down to the ground; with flutes and drums, and torches reflecting
their light upon the half-naked bronze bodies, as beautiful as living Greek
statues; with chariots of flowers, slowly going around the sacred tank. Just
see the pious crowd (hundreds and thousands of pilgrims, gathered from all
Just watch an ordinary scene of Hindu life: a line of young women
walking into a temple, on a festival day. Draped in bright coloured sarees,
sparkling with jewels, one by one they come, the graceful daughters of
One by one they come ... like the Athenian maidens of old, whose image we see upon the prize of the Parthenon. The lover of Beauty, Julian, the Sun-worshipper, if only he could have seen them, would have said, beholding the reality of his own dream: "This is what I wanted!"
But it is not through the forms and colours of popular Hindu cult alone that Hinduism is a religion of beauty. Its conception of God, creative and destructive, is the expression of a broad artistic outlook on life and on the universe.
In creedal religions, the centre of interest is man; the background, man's short history, man's misery, man's craving for happiness; the scope, man's salvation. God, man's Father, has a particular, and somewhat partial tenderness towards this privileged creature of His.
In intelligent Hinduism, this anthropomorphic view has no place. The centre of interest is this eternal universe of Existence, in which man is only a detail. God is the inner Force, the deeper Self, the Essence of that Existence -- the "Greatest Soul." (Paramatma).
No personal likings and dislikings, in Him. No special favour to any of the creatures that appear and pass away, in the course of time. Nothing but an endless succession of infinite states, of infinite expressions of the unknown Thing, which is the reality of all things; a dancing succession of birth and death and rebirth, over and over again, which is never the same, and yet, is always the same; a play, (lila) which has no beginning nor end, nor purpose, but which is beautiful, whatever may be the temporary fate of any particular species, in its course.
The fate of all species, of all individuals, is to grow slowly more and more conscious of the beauty of the Play, and, at end, to experience their substantial identity with the Force which is playing -- playing with its own Self. Nobody knows what this Force is, except those who have realised it in themselves. But we all adore It, and bow down to It. We do not bow down to It because we know It, and because It is God. It is because we bow down to It, that we call It God. And we bow down to It and worship It, in its millions and millions of expressions (those which destroy us, as well as those which seem to help us), because, in its millions and millions of expressions, It is beautiful.
Creation is only half the Play of Existence. Men thus generally worship only one side of God. But the Hindus praise Him all round, for the beauty of His Play. They praise Him in Destruction, as well as in Creation. They praise His Energy (Shakti) in Mother Kali, in Durga, in Jagaddatri, in Chinnamasta, continuously destroying and recreating Her own Self; in all the ten "Mahavidyas," who are one and the same. They praise Him in the Dancing King (Nataraj), whose feet are over-treading life, and destroying it in a furious rhythm, ... while His dispassionnate face, expressing Knowledge, is as calm as the smiling sea. [Image: Shiva, god of cosmic destruction and renewal, as Nataraj.]
Creation and destruction are one, to the eyes who can see beauty.
And the greatest praise to India is this: not only are her people beautiful; not only are her daily life and cult beautiful; but, in the midst of the utilitarian, humanitarian, dogmatic world of the present day, she keeps on proclaiming the outstanding value of Beauty for the sake of Beauty, through her very conception of Godhead, of religion and of life.