Swami Swarupanand is an embarrassment to acharya parampara
by M Pramod Kumar on 26 Jul 2014 28 Comments

Hinduism is the only religion in the world which has the beautiful concept of Ishta Devata - of choosing a favourite personal deity towards whom the devotee can direct single minded devotion. Yaska, the 9th century philosopher, comments that when the population of India was 33 crores, the Indians also worshipped 33 crore Gods and goddesses! Sanatana Dharma grants the freedom to all its practitioners to choose their own ‘god’ or even create a new form to invoke Ishvara!


Ishvara, the intelligence which governs and pervades this universe, can be invoked through any form – this is the simple and yet profound principle on which is based the Hindu culture of broad minded acceptance of all sects.


Adi Sankara, who revived Sanatana Dharma from the jaws of decay and decline, established the shan-matas or six forms of worship which have come to occupy a central place in Hindu religion today – Ganapatya (invoking Ishvara in the form of Ganesha), Kaumara (Kartikeya or Murugan), Shaiva (Shiva), Shakta (Goddess Durga), Saura (Sun).


Our shastras emphasise that while single minded devotion to a particular form (Ishta Nishtha) is necessary for a spiritual novice, but to encourage intolerance or hatred towards worshippers of other forms is unnecessary.


The place accorded to a Guru in Hindu tradition is even more significant. The guru who removes ignorance and bestows the highest spiritual knowledge is regarded by the disciple as equal to greater than God himself. Thus, Guru Bhakti (devotion to the Guru) is as much an established practice in Hinduism as murti puja.


The Bhagavad Gita lays down this golden principle of non-interference in matters of faith:

“Let not the wise create any disturbance in the understanding of the ignorant who are attached to the results of action.” (Gita, 3.26)


Commenting on this verse, Swami Dayananda elaborates: “People who are thought to be enlightened, are considered to be the elite in a given society and whatever they do tends to become law for the others. Therefore, such people are leaders, sresthas. And these leaders... should not disturb the minds of those who follow them. Just as you cannot alter the direction of a river unless you do it very gradually, so too, the direction that a person’s life is taking can only be altered gradually. A sensitive person, one who really cares for another person, brings about a change in that person by going with the flow, altering the direction of his or her life, little by little, in a helpful way.”


This indeed has been the wise and mature approach which all the great spiritual leaders and reformers took to bring about a positive transformation or a lasting change in society. They never condemned or cursed the faith of the masses, but if they felt the need to reform some practices, they did it gently without causing hurt or agitation to their followers.


Swami Swaroopanand’s hate-filled campaign against Shirdi Sai Baba and his devotees has demeaned the sanctity of the Sankara Peetham and is clearly aimed at driving a wedge into Hindu society. His statements prohibiting the worship of Shirdi Sai and exclusivist interpretations of Hindu shastras are reminiscent of Abrahamic cultures.


What is the basis for Swarupanand’s claim that Rama and Krishna alone are allowed to be worshipped as deities? Which scripture says so? The majority of devotees who owe allegiance to the four Sankara Peethams established by Adi Sankara are predominantly Shaivas. But even Mahadeva Shiva does not seem to find a place in Swarupanand’s myopic and distorted understanding of Advaita.


Going by this logic, Swarupanand will also eventually attack other Hindu movements centred round saintly figures like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharishi or Swami Narayan. None of these saints went around tom-tomming their divinity, but their followers recognized their extraordinary character and contribution and continue to look up to them as God incarnate even today.


All centres of Sri Ramakrishna Math have a shrine with only the murtis or photos of Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi or Swami Vivekananda. On festival days like Rama Navami or Krishna Janmasthami, an image or photograph of Rama or Krishna is kept in the shrine and special worship offered to it. This does not in any way mean that devotees and disciples of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa considered Rama or Krishna as inferior deities. A typical puja room in any Hindu household is adorned with the pictures of at least a dozen deities. In order not to displease any of them, the average Hindu lights a camphor and waves an arati around each deity and makes sure that each picture gathers an equal amount of black soot emanating from the karpura arati!


All Akshardham temples of the Swami Narayan movement have an image of the child saint Nilkanth who came to be known as Swami Narayan after taking sannyasa under his guru Swami Ramanand. Devotees of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi look upon her as an incarnation of Devi and Krishna. Ammachi occasionally gives darsan to her devotees in ‘Devi Bhava,’ in which she even assumes the attire of Goddess Durga including a crown and other ornaments which Durga is usually adorned with.


Will Swaroopanand now start issuing fatwas against the Ramakrishna Math, Swami Narayan Sanstha and scores of other smaller sampradayas which worship their own saints, looking upon them as incarnations of divinity?


It is disappointing that with the sole exception of Uma Bharati who challenged Swami Swaroopanand openly, Hindu organisations and leaders are keeping a studied silence over the controversy. Earlier, when Swami Swaroopanand objected to the use of the slogan ‘Har Har Modi’ during the run up to the Lok Sabha polls, Hindu leaders meekly submitted to his bullying. If a section of Hindus look upon Modi as an avatar purush, who has come to rescue them from corruption, terrorism and a host of other ills plaguing the nation, so be it. They have the right to adore their hero and acknowledge him as an expression of divine intervention.


Swami Swaroopanand’s divisive agenda must be exposed and refuted decisively. If Hindu society succumbs to such bullying, we will soon be on the road to irreversible decline and disintegration. 

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