Ban on Durga Puja: An assault on the core of Hindu civilisation [Part II]

This piece has been co-authored by Shanmukh, Saswati Sarkar and Dikgaj.

 |  Breaking views  |   Long-form |   20-11-2015
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In the prequel to this article, we have shown that the worship of Shakti (strength or valour) as Goddess has inspired principal Hindu resistances across ages and throughout the civilisational land of the Hindus. It is perhaps this worship that has inspired Hindu women to militarily defend their civilisation against invaders, along with, and many times leading their male counterparts. In this piece, we show that in contrast, Abrahamic religions exhibit a deep-rooted aversion towards worship of Goddess in any form, and provide theological sanctions for disrupting Hindu public worship and festivals, which has in turn inspired dastardly attacks on the same since the beginning of India’s subjugation to foreign powers (Islamic and British). In the sequels we show that the tradition of denial of  the right to practise religion in general, and worship the Goddess in particular, continues till date, through active collusion of India’s political class with Abrahamic fundamentalists, or complicity of silence in the face of grave atrocities. The state of the affairs is in sharp contrast to the values that India’s genuine freedom fighters had lived, fought and died to defend. The anti-Hindu nature of the Indian polity may in future alienate Hindus vested in the freedom to practise their religion from the polity.        

Section B: The Abrahamic aversion to the worship of the Feminine  

All Abrahamic faiths characterise God as a masculine and dislike idol worship. We will, however, focus on the Islamic theological antagonism to the Goddess, as most of the attacks on her worship in India have been led by fundamentalists adhering to Islam. Nonetheless, Christian fundamentalists are not innocent in this regard, as [72] reveals, and we will cover the atrocities perpetrated by them as well; hence we chose the generic characterisation in the title above.   

The worship of Goddesses is specially frowned upon in Islam. Thus Durga Puja is not only damned for being a Kafir festival, it is doubly damned since it is the worship of a female deity. We elucidate the aversion Islam has shown towards Goddesses by studying the interaction of early Muslims led by their prophet, Muhammad, with pagan Arabs. Pre-Islamic Pagan Arabia worshipped a multiplicity of Gods and Goddesses. Many scholars argue that Al-lah was the principal among them pp. 278-279, [42]. The Goddesses who received the most veneration in Mecca and elsewhere in Arabia were Al-lat, Manat and Al-Uzat. Some Quranic verses suggest that they were regarded as Allah's daughters pp. 282-285, [42]. "The name Al-Uzza means most mighty"; p. 285, [42]. The significance of Al-Uzza can be comprehended from the fact that the military commanders, who opposed the Prophet of Islam in wars, often invoked her, eg.: "Before his conversion to Islam, Abu Sufyan of Mecca set out to attack Muhammad with the war cry that 'Al Uzza is for us and not for you'. He took the symbols of Al Uzza and Al Lat with him"; p. 285, [42].

The Prophet of Islam started preaching his new monotheistic religion in Mecca, one of the principal centres of pagan polytheist Arabia. Quoting Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, the earliest biography of the Prophet, "They (the residents of Mecca) said: 'Muhammad, come let us worship what you worship, and you worship what we worship. You and we will combine in the matter. If what you worship is better than what we worship we will take a share of it, and if what we worship is better than what you worship, you can take a share of that.' So God revealed (to Muhammad) concerning them, 'Say, O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship, and you do not worship what I worship, and I do not worship what you worship, and you do not worship what I worship; you have my religion and I have mine', i.e. if you will only worship God on condition that I worship what you worship, I have no need of you at all. You can have your religion, all of it, and I have mine"; p. 165 [60].

That the Prophet of Islam rejected the religion of the pagans of Mecca estranged them from him. His God came to his rescue and sent him verses that honour the principal Goddesses of pagan Arabia,  Al-lat, Manat and Al-Uzat. "Now the apostle was anxious for the welfare of his people, wishing to attract them as far as he could. It has been mentioned that he longed for a way to attract them, and the method he adopted is what Ibn Hamid told me that Salma said MB Ishaq told him from Yazid B Ziyad of Medina from MB Ka'b al-Qurazi: When the apostle saw that his people turned their backs on him and he was pained by their estrangement from what he brought them from God he longed that there should come to him from God a message that would reconcile his people to him. Because of his love for his people and his anxiety over them, it would delight him if the obstacle that made his task so difficult could be removed; so that he meditated on the project and longed for it and it was dear to him. Then God sent down, 'By the star when it sets your comrade errs not and is not deceived, he speaks not from his own desire,' and when he reached His words 'Have you thought of Al Lat and Al Uzza and Manat the third, the other, Satan, when he was meditating upon it, and desiring to bring it (sc. reconciliation) to his people, put upon his tongue "these are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved'. .... Then the people dispersed and Quraysh went out, delighted at what had been said about their Gods, saying, 'Muhammad has spoken of our Gods in splendid fashion. He alleged in what he read that they are the exalted Gharaniq whose intercession is approved"; pp. 165-166, [60].

But very soon we note that God would annul the verses honouring the three Goddesses as those interjected by Satan: 

"Then Gabriel came to the apostle and said, 'What have you done, Muhammad? You have read to these people something I did not bring you from God and you have said what He did not say to you.' The apostle was bitterly grieved and was greatly in fear of God. So God sent down (a revelation), for He was merciful to him, comforting him and making light of the affair and telling him that every Prophet and apostle before him desired as he desired and wanted what he wanted and Satan interjected something into his desires as he had on his tongue. So God annulled what Satan had suggested and God established His verses, i.e., you are just like the prophets and apostles. Then God sent down: 'We have not sent a prophet or apostle before you but when he longed Satan cast suggestions into his longing. But God will annul what Satan has suggested. Then God will establish his verses, God being knowing and wise'"; p. 166, [60].

Thus the contempt for worship of Goddesses has sanctions in core Islamic theology. As the Prophet of Islam won battle after battle in pagan Arabia, a total destruction of the shrines of the Goddesses  and the subsequent extinction of the worship of these Goddesses followed. Its true that the shrines of pagan Gods weren’t spared, but pejorative physical characterizations were almost exclusively reserved for the worship of the feminine form:

  1. "The expedition to Manat was sent under Sa'd b. Zayd al-Ashahli in the Ramzan of AH 8.... It was the idol of Ghassn, Aws and Khazraj in al-Mushallal...Sa'd started with twenty cavalrymen and reached there at a time when the priest was in attendance. The priest asked them, 'What do you want?' They said, 'Destruction of Manat.' The priest exclaimed, 'You, and want to do this!' Sa'd approached the idol. A black and nude and disheveled woman came out and advanced towards him, cursing and beating her breast. The priest said, 'O Manat, manifest your might.' Sa'd started hitting her, and she was cut down. He had asked his companions to take care of the idol in the meanwhile. They smashed it. But the treasury yielded nothing"; p. 485-486 [61].  "Other sources attribute the destruction of the sanctuary of Manat in Qudayd to Ali bin Abu Talib, still others to Abu Sufyan";  pp. 231-232, Vol. V,  [62]. "One wonders whether more than one temple of Manat was destroyed"; p. 360, [42].
  2. When the army of the Prophet of Islam arrived at Ta’if, his court poet Ka'bb Malik sang:  "Till you turn to Islam, humbly seeking refuge.

We will fight not caring whom we meet

Whether we destroy ancient holdings or newly gotten gains

….Al-Lat and Al-Uzza and Wudd are forgotten,

And we plunder them of their necklaces and earings

For they had become established and confident 

And he who cannot protect himself must suffer disgrace.’’ p. 588, [60] 

And Shaddad B. Arid al Jushami said:

          "Don't help Al-Lat for God is about to destroy her          How can one who cannot help herself be helped ?          

She that was burned in black smoke and caught fire,           

None fighting before her stones, is an outcast,          

When the apostle descends on your land          

None of her people will be left when he leaves.’’ p. 588, [60]

       "Muhammad could not however subjugate Taif on this occasion and Al-lat survived." p. 362, [42]

  1. "While Initiating, Ali B Abu Talib into Islam, Muhammad said: 'I call you to God, the One without associate, to worship him and to disavow Al-Lat and Al-Uzza.' When Talib agreed after some deliberation, Muhammad said to him, 'Bear witness that there is no God but Allah alone without associate, and disavow al-Lat and al-Uzza.' p. 350 [42]
  2. "Then the apostle sent Khalid to Al-Uzza which was in Nakhla. It was a temple which the tribe of Quraysh and Kinana and all Mudar used to venerate. Its guardians were B Shayban of B Sulaym, allies of B Hashim. When the Sulami guardian heard of Khalid's coming he hung his sword on her, climbed the mountain on which she stood, and said:

O' Uzza, make an annihilating attack on Khalid,             

Throw aside your veil and gird up your train.             

O Uzza, if you do not kill this man Khalid            

Then bear a swift punishment or become a Christian.

When Khalid arrived he destroyed her and returned to the apostle." p. 565, [60], p. 359 [42]

       Then "He (the Prophet) asked him (Khalid), "Did you see anything?" Khalid  replied, "Nothing." He (the Prophet) said, "Go again, and smash her to pieces." Khalid went back, demolished the building in which the idol was housed, and started smashing the idol itself. The pagan priest raised a cry, 'O Uzza, manifest your might.' All of a sudden a nude and disheveled black woman came out of that idol. Khalid cut her down with his sword and took possession of the jewels and ornaments she wore. He reported the proceedings to the Prophet who observed: "That was Uzza. She will be worshipped no more."  pp. 404-405, [63], p. 359, [42]

  1. "Strangely enough, a deputation came to Muhammad from Ta'if soon after he had suffered a  repulse outside that city. It seems that the morale of the people in this town has collapsed as they saw what was happening all around. ... Finally, a deputation consisting of six chiefs reached Medina and met the Prophet." p. 366, [42] "Among the things they asked the apostle was that they should be allowed to retain their idol Al-Lat undestroyed for three years. The apostle refused, and they continued to ask him for a year or two, and he refused; finally they asked for a month after their return home; but he refused to agree to any set time. All that they wanted as they were trying to show was to be safe from their fanatics and women and children by leaving her, and they did not want to frighten their people by destroying her until they had accepted Islam. The apostle refused this, but he sent Abu Sufyan b. Harb and al Mughira b. Shuba to destroy her. They had also asked that he would excuse them from prayer and that they should not have to break their idols with their own hands. The apostle said: 'We excuse you from breaking your idols with your own hands, but as for prayer there is no good in a religion which has no prayers.' They said that they would perform them though it was demeaning." pp. 615-616  [60]. The chiefs decided to accept Islam. Subsequently: "When they had accomplished their task and had set out to return to their country the apostle sent with them Abu Sufyan and Al Mughira to destroy the idol.....When al Mughira entered he went up to the idol and struck it with a pickaxe....The women of Thaqif came out with their heads uncovered bewailing her and saying:

        O weep for our protector                        

Poltroons would neglect her                       

Whose swords need a corrector.

             Abu Sufyan, as Al Mughira smote her with the axe, said 'Alas for you, alas!' When Al Mughira had destroyed her and taken what was on her and her jewels he sent for Abu Sufyan when her jewellery and gold and beads had been collected." pp. 616-617 [60]

These are only a few of the instances detailed in the life of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.  However, it clearly establishes his deep discomfort with the female deities of Arabia.

Section C: The theological sanction and history of Abrahamic attacks on public worship of infidels  

There is a further motivation to Islamists' assaults on the temples of the heathens.  The first move to destroy Pagan traditions is to stop their celebrations and order their religious practices stopped and/or to be respectful of Muslim sentiments. This emerges from the sanction provided by Islamic theologists on attack on public observance of religious practices, including the festivals, of the infidels. This has been demonstrated time and again in the history of India:

  1.  Sir Jadunath Sarkar has this to say about Islamic practices: "In addition to the obligation to pay this poll tax [Jizya], the Hindu was subjected to many disabilities by the very constitution of the Muslim theocracy.  ... Finally, in the exercise of his religion, he must avoid any publicity that may arouse the wrath of the followers of the Prophet" [2].  This view of Islamic practice regarding the Hindus is borne out by the writings of Hamdani, "There is another mandate relating to those who are unbelievers and protected peoples. ... Rulers should impose these conditions on the zimmis of their dominions and make their (infidels') lives and property dependent on their fulfillment." [3]. Among the conditions listed by Hamdani are "a) They (zimmis) are to build no new homes for images or idol temples;  b)  They are not to rebuild any old buildings (temples) destroyed." [3]. Further, Zia-ud-din-Barani writes indignantly, when Islamic kings were unwilling to or unable to impose the Islamic ban on temples and Hindu festivals, "How will the true faith prevail if the rulers allow the infidels to keep their temples, adorn their idols, and make merry during their festivals with the beating of drums and dhols, and singing and dancing?" [4]
  2. Historically, Bengal, in particular, has seen several episodes of assaults on Hindu public festivals. Vijaya Gupta, a contemporary of Husain Shah, Sultan of Bengal (1494-1519 AD),  details one particular incident, "On one occasion, a Muslim Mullah happened to pass by a hut in a wood, where a few shepherd boys were worshipping the Goddess Manasa, with the symbol of sacred earthern pots to the accompaniment of music. In righteous indignation, the Mullah attempted to break the pots, but was severely trounced. The Mullah brought the matter to the notice of the two Qazi brothers, who exclaimed, 'What! The haramzadeh Hindus make so bold as to perform Hindu rituals in my village? The culprit boys should be seized and made outcast by being made to eat Muslim bread!' So, the two brothers gathered a large number of armed Muslims and proceeded towards the shepherd's hut. The mother of the Qazis, a Hindu girl forcibly married by the former Qazi, vainly tried to dissuade her sons; they demolished the shepherd's hut, broke the sacred pots into pieces, and threw away the offerings to the Goddess. The affrighted shepherd boys had concealed themselves in the woods, but some of them were hunted out and seized"; [5]. There is an instance narrated by both Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata, where Sri Chaitanya's attempts to sing kirtans in public in the streets of Nadiya (Nabadweep), with the accompaniment of special musical instruments, was attacked by Qazis, but the attack was beaten back by the Hindus. RC Majumdar has recounted many more instances of similar dread in which the Hindus of Bengal lived, even during the reign of Husain Shah, a supposedly enlightened king.
  3. The disdain for Hindu festivals continued in the British times. An incident is narrated in [41]. "Rani Rasmani’s family was at first Vaishnavite (Bhakti cult). Once during the Durga Puja ceremony at her Janbazar Road house, some Europeans were very angry about the terrible noises made by the trumpets (dhak, dhol, etc) especially during the Navami Puja and Sandhi Puja at midnight. Some of them ordered the trumpeters to stop that noise but they kept right on playing. One angry English sahib came with some associates to attack her house. Then Rani, with a sword in her hand, appeared before them as Asuradalini (destroyer of Asuras). The Englishmen had to retreat. After this affair, she became a devotee of Kali, the destructive goddess, whose other name is Bhabatarini (saviour of the world). This goddess in our Bengali tradition has 12 forms, varying from affectionate saviour to destructive deity"; [41]].
  4. Throughout the Muslim and British regimes, Hindus were often denied permission to play music in proximity of mosques even during Hindu festivals. In late 1920s, Satindra Nath Sen led the Patuakhali Satyagraha in Barisal, Bengal, which was based on the demand of Hindus to be allowed to play music before mosques. Quoting the Calcutta High Court judgment on Satindra Nath Sen And Ors. vs Emperor on July 14, 1930: "The appellants are said to have associated together in what is known as the Satyagraha movement which started at Patuakhali in the Backergunje District in 1926 in connexion with a dispute between the Hindus and Mahomedans because the latter objected to Hindu processions with music passing a certain mosque. The authorities intervened and, in order to prevent breaches of the peace, such processions were prohibited. The members of this movement defied the law and a number of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment;"  [63].  On July 7, 1928, Government of Bengal withdrew the charges, possibly under public pressure, but rearrested Sen again in March 1929. Subsequently, throughout 1929, Subhas Bose campaigned vociferously against the Government of Bengal's unfair treatment of Satindra Nath Sen of Barisal, and demanded national support, notwithstanding the fact that it appeared to be a narrow Hindu issue for the appeasement politics that was in full swing even then; pp. 200-201 [47]. 

 [All references can be found in Part IV of this sequence.]

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