Brahmanic Hinduism and the Rise of Hinduvata Nationalism

Categories: Nationalism

India is a land veiled in rich history, diversity and cultural practices. With over 1.2 billion people it is the first largest parliamentary democracy, the second most populated country, and the seventh largest country in the world by area of 1.269 billion square miles. India is a resource plentiful country and geographically centralized in Asia. Surrounded by three oceans: the Indian, Arabian ocean, and Sea of Bengal it is easily accessible for trade. It is also has the Himalaya and Hindu Kush mountain ranges which act as natural barriers from the Northern forces.

The Indian subcontinent was home to one of the worlds earliest civilizations in the Indus River Valley area during the Bronze Age (3300-1300 bc). It is from the Indus people themselves that the name India is derived from. The creation of large early man settlements along the Ganges River in the first millennium BCE lead to the creation of the Mahajanapada tribes, and Vedic religions such as: Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

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It was during the next millennium that the earliest scriptures associated with traditional Hinduism were first formed, and is why scholars consider it one of  the “oldest religions in the world.” (Wolpert 3.)

Hinduism Facts and History

Although it is not considered a religion by western terms, “Hinduism is the largest practiced religion in India, with over 79.8% of Indians identifying as Hindi, (which accounts for nearly 966 million Hindus in India). About 14.2% of India’s population follow Islam and the remaining 6% belong to other religions sects such as Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity and other various indigenous ethnically-bound faiths like Atheism and Irreligion” (India’s religions by Numbers).

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“The vast majority of Hindus in India belong to Shaivite and Vaishnavite denominations. India is one of the three countries in the world (Nepal and Mauritius being the other two) where Hinduism is the majority” (Major Branches of Religions).

Hinduism started out as animistic worship of local village gods, but has become one of the most renowned polytheistic traditions and is still avidly practiced throughout the world. Overtime all the local beliefs began to commingle under the Veda writings. “The Vedas consist of: Brahmanas and Upanishads. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are Indian epics separate from the Vedas, and the Bhagavad Gita is the most renowned.  It is in the great epic the Bhagavad Gita, that it is explained that “through deep devotion (bhakti), and performing ones primary duty (dharma), that one can be released from this world of suffering (samsara) transcend the cycle of death and rebirth and attain a perfect calm of eternal peace/nirvana (moksha)” (Wolpert 81). All topics relating to Morality, Dharma, Karma and Samsara are codified within these sacred texts. Hinduism became more solidified as a belief system in response to outside influences ie: Imperialism, forced conversions, and colonialism. Buddhism which can be seen as a denomination, is certainly an offshoot, as well as Jainism, Islam is the longest religious stressor on Hinduism, Christianity was aligned with Western Imperialism, and Sikhism is a blending of Hinduism and Islam.

Unlike other neighboring religious beliefs, Hinduism implements a religious caste system which has not only social but political effects. “There are four Caste/Classes (Varnas) consisting of: Brahmins which were Priests, teachers and scholars, Kashatriyas whom were Warriors and rulers, Vaishyas were farmers, merchants and artisans, and Shudras were laborers and physical service providers. The Dalit were considered “Untouchables” and were forbidden to communicate with” (Zaehner 1-7) Within the religious caste of Hinduism there is no social mobility. An individual is born within their specific varna based upon incurred past-life karma. This caste system is an example of economic stratification within India’s social structure.

Although Hinduism is the most prominently practiced religion in India, we see that many of these religions socially amalgamate together in unison. In his article, Religion in India: a Historical Introduction author Fred W. Clothey explains that “These religions did not merely co-exist but have encountered each other, calling forth various responses from each of them… We see examples of accommodation, appropriation, syncretism, conversion, conciliation..etc” (Clothey). Rather than straining for the position of singular religions superiority, different Eastern based sects of faith such as Buddhism and Jainism have been known to share many similar beliefs and often work co-operatively with one another. However the theological frameworlk of Islam and Hinduism couldn’t be more opposing, and relations are in a constant state of dismay and conflict.

Islam vs. Hinduism Conflict

Origins of this conflict date back to the 7th and 8th centuries when Islam was first introduced to India from the Middle East. Merchants of that time were predominately Arab Muslims and established trade routes throughout Eurasia and India. The Islamic religion came with them and grew rapidly in multiple areas, arising concern of conquest from Hindu followers. Muslim/ Hindu tensions proliferated during the Mughal invasion of India. “The Mughal Empire was an territory in the Indian subcontinent, founded in 1526. It was established and ruled by a Muslim dynasty with Turco-Mongol Chagatai roots from Central Asia” (Richards 6). “With the rise of Islamic caliphates, essentially meaning Islamic empires, Indian kingdoms were subject to military invasion by Islamic forces for centuries.” (Muscato). From an outside prospective the Mughal Dynasty can be mistaken as a period of peaceful religious and cultural flourishing between the Hindus and Muslims. However, “the last Mughal Emperor’s policy of intolerance towards the religious plurality is what led to the fragmentation of this cohesive system, which continued to deteriorate for centuries” (Sarafan). The Mughal Empire’s Golden Age as the leading world economy of industry, and production declined following the rule of Aurangzeeb, and the final Mughal rural was deposed by the British following the Indian Mutiny of 1857. These events ushered in direct crown rule of India by the British.

Colonial Era and Activist Leadership

From the early 17th century the Dutch, French, Danish and British forces all established trading routes to India. European dominance was exerted by both conquest and trade. In the 18th century the British recognized the vastly untapped resources, strategic location, and manpower within India. In conjunction with the East India Trading Company, Britain colonized the region and claimed India as “the Jewel in the British Crown”. The British were both appalled and fascinated by the excess of gods, sects and cults they found in India. “With increased trade also came the implementation of western education and the influx of Christian missionaries, with the sole intention to unequivocally remove the traditional unfair Hindi caste system from society, and supplement it with a Christian based faith” (Sharma R. N and Sharma R. K. 356)

Retaliating to the rate of religious conversions during the Muslim Mughal and Christian British rule, Hinduism in India and abroad underwent a series of social reforms. In 1828, Rammohun Roy established the Brahmo Samaj, an organization dedicated to reform religious society and rejected caste and polytheism. Roy directed his work at the religious and unfair gender practices of Hindu society, responding to British missionary activities in Bengal. The organizations leading the forefront of the rebellion were: Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj. Scholar Nadini Deo explains that “The earliest demands for women’s rights and Hindu politicization grew out of reform movements in response to British colonialism. The Brahmo and Arya Samaj are the common ancestors of both Indian feminism and Hindu nationalism” (Deo). In 1875, Dayananda Saraswati established the Arya Samaj. “The Arya Samaj was an Indian Hindu reform movement that promoted values and practices based on the belief in the infallible authority of the Vedas” (Hastings and Selbi 57) Saraswati’s intention was not so much as to measure up to Protestant missionaries, but more so to assert the superiority of Hinduism over competing religions ie. Islam and Christianity.  Other prominent religious leaders such as: Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo also called for reformation of British India’s social structure.

In the late 19th century a nationalist movement emerged which later, under the direction of spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi, led to India’s independence in 1947. His success came from the effective implementation of nonviolent resistance among his constituents. Writer Sushil Mittal notes that “Gandhi did not invent or reinvent religion. But he did invent a new concept and form of politics. Before Gandhi no one had ever succeeded in spiritualizing power, in whatever state, in whatever culture, in the entire past of world history. Gandhi continued to exert political influence while not being bound to an administrative office. He saw no difference between political action and religious commitment” (Mittal 339-340).

The Partition of Pakistan and India

Amidst the aftermath of WWII, Great Britain could no longer effectively manage such a global widespread rule, and withdrew their imperial reign over the Indian subcontinent. Based on region wide Hindu or Muslim majorities, the partition involved the division of three provinces, Assam, Bengal and the Punjab. This separation divided the country into two main regions: India and Pakistan. The recession of Bangladesh followed decades later in 1971. Author Catherine Hartnack explains, “The majority of British India’s population did not strive for or initiate the Partition. Rather, the Partition of British India was externally imposed and internally sanctioned. Based on the assumption of a deeply rooted animosity between Muslims and Hindus, the last British Viceroy Lord Mountbatten pushed through the hasty decision to separate the South Asian population according to religion” (Hartnack 245).

The British Raj partition displaced over 14 million people along religious lines, which created overwhelming refugee crises in the newly constituted dominions. “Along with large-scale violence, the estimates of death accompanying or preceding the partition are debated between between several hundred thousand and two million people” (Talbot, Ian; Singh, Gurharpal). The violent nature of the partition created an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that plagues their relationship to this present day. Scholar Tahir Kamran explains that due to these unresolved issues, Pakistan is a failed nation state, arguing that “the real bane of Pakistan’s existence in its first 70 years has been the rise of political religiosity, which has undermined the development of the nation state. It has formed a culture of intolerance, sectarianism and the ever-increasing need to keep religious forces well-provided for” (Kamran 24).

The Rise of Hindu Nationalism

Although India is considered a secular democratic nation, the alt-right ideology of Hindu Polity has grown in popularity and become highly influential in national politics. Popularized by Hindu nationalist Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the term Hindutva (meaning Hinduness), is the predominant form of Hindu Nationalism, and is championed by right-wing Hindu nationalist organizations thorough out India. “While the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) is the main political party associated with the Sangh family, most identify the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as the primary ideological source. Other members include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal” (Anand 2).

It was Hindu Nationalists that first questioned colonialism and fought for a sovereign India apart from the British Raj rule. While they inspired independence movements ranging from economic improvement to social reformation through non-violent protest and corrosive politics, not all of their actions have been morally outstanding or beneficial to all their constituents. Because the BJP and the RSS disavow liberal secularism, reject religious pluralism, and fully support the archaic Hindu caste system, many view this as a step backwards towards obtaining individual progressive freedoms. Author Dibyesh Anand explains “Hindu Nationalism normalizes a politics of fear and hatred by representing itself as a defensive reaction to the supposed threats posed by Muslims to the security individual Hindus as well as the Hindu collective” (Anand 1). Ultimately the nationalists extreme ideological outlook has negative effects internally within Indian social constructs, but also causes political tensions internationally because they often resort to violent protests, and radical discrimination among religious sects and peoples.  Author Scott Hibbard states that, “While Hindu nationalism was an effective means of appealing to to the popular sentiments of the Hindu majority, the chauvinistic elements of its ideology had limited appeal in India’s multi ethnic, multi religious society” (Hibbard 123).

A lack of tolerance and cooperation among neighboring nations has led to many conflicts over religious rights and territorial boundaries, including the Indo-Pakistani wars and the continued battle over the border region of Kashmir.


Looking at the comparative aspects of religion we discussed in class, we can deduce that Hinduism is more communal in action rather than agentic. India is a Parliamentary Democracy centered around religious neutrality within their constitution, however within recent politics, we witness a political trend of exclusiveness, re-defining the Indian state around a single religious entity. Indian secularism is violated when a singular religious identity is politicized in a manner that causes injustice to other communities. Although there are emergent secular organizations contesting communal religiosity within India, as a whole Hindu nationalism is entrenched in the state institutions, and the political spectrum is based upon sectarian lines and factions, (i.e., caste and economic stratification).

Comparing also the vertical vs horizontal relationship we can see that Hinduism is quite Horizontal. “Vertical” worship’s main connection is focused between the individual and the divine, from individual to God, so to speak. “Horizontal” worship focuses its connection between the individual and others within the community. The Hindu concept of atman (our soul self) being but a small fragment of our Ātman (our true godlike nature) is different than the western concept of God being a separate external force that we must learn to obey and build a personal relationship with. Hinduism believes that ultimate infinite truth and universe (Brahman), resides in ourselves/humanity. The religious term “Namaste ॐ”, refers to the acknowledgement of the lifeforce/ god (atman) in others, being the same lifeforce/god (atman) that resides in ourselves. Therefore, it is due to this ideological form of social inclusiveness that Hinduism can be considered relationally horizontal.

Another assertion we can make from Hinduism is that it is more Comfort than Challenge based, and is more Priestly rather than Prophetic. In regards to Hindu Nationalism we can see that the Indian people find solace within their own Hinduvata identity. It is a comfort to know that ones culture and religious  affiliation are secure within government rule. We also note that ‘there is no such thing as proselytism in Hinduism” (Arvind 31). Classic Hinduism is diverse in its views and theology, by allowing its followers to follow any type of belief, philosophy or ideology. Although it allows conversion, missionary work is almost unheard of.

In conclusion, The Parallel Authority model shows that the Indian state co-ops Hinduism. Hindu Nationalists are currently the largest political faction, and are supported within the current Indian government to ensure Hindu polity. The relationship between the state and religion is cooperative by dismantling a pluralist religious market in favor of a singular religious monopoly. By doing so they maintain ultimate power, not only by religious leadership but also democratically via government control.

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Brahmanic Hinduism and the Rise of Hinduvata Nationalism. (2021, Oct 04). Retrieved from

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