Social Scientist. v 21, no. 240-41 (May-June 1993) p. 82.

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Advaita's Waterloo

Ramchandra Gandhi, Sita's Kitchen: A Testimony of Faith and Inquiry, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1992, pp. 127, Rs. 85

In the long history of India as a civilization, the honour of her traditions of spirituality and cultural accommodation has many times been put to the test. The history of any civilization can be written as a history of how it has marked the 'other', confronted the alien or the invader, treated the stranger, and defined the boundaries of exclusion and inclusion. Although the genius of Indian civilization, and her exemplary contribution to the narrative of humankind, may well be advaita (non-dualism), an ethic of inclusiveness, a philosophy opposed to the annihilationist destructiveness of the dualism of 'self and 'other', 'me' and 'you', one moment when India's honour was surely compromised befell the country on 6 December 1992 when a large crowd constituted predominantly of Hindus tore down, in rude and militant defiance not merely of the law but of norms of civility, moral conduct, and cultural pluralism, a sixteenth century mosque—otherwise known as the Babri Masjid—described by certain Hindu organizations and their supporters as having been built on the very spot where a Hindu temple which once stood to commemorate the birthplace of Lord Rama was then demolished to make way for the religious edifice representing the faith of India's new conquerors. As the proponents of the 'temple theory' were keen to argue, such a monument to the enslavement of Hindus, and a perpetual reminder of their subjugation in the land of their birth, could not be allowed to stand; and in place of the mosque, they have insisted, a temple must be installed in resplendent homage to Lord Rama, glorious scion of the Suryavamsi kings and a principal deity of Hinduism. Their ambition has already cost several thousand lives, as the carnage in the wake of the destruction of the mosque indubitably and painfully testifies;

moreover, as this ambition has not seen its fruition yet, and a resolution to the problem seems far from being achieved, we can expect the strife, in however attenuated a form, to continue.

* Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles

Social Scientist, Vol. 21, Nos. 5-6, May-June, 1993

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