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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 38 September 16, 2023

Re-imagining our Religion | Arup Kumar Sen

Saturday 16 September 2023, by Arup Kumar Sen


Very recently, the activist-singer, T. M. Krishna, has reminded us of the fluidity of our religious tradition. He argued: “Meanings are not constant; they are added, deleted, built upon, twisted, overturned. The import of a word also changes with place, time, context, and reason. This is true of Sanatana Dharma too…The words Sanatana Dharma and Hindutva have been coupled by the Hindu right wing. Many who spout these words carry out attacks on Muslims, Christians, and Dalits…Those desirous of protecting Sanatana Dharma must realise that people from within the Hindu faith have to work towards giving it profundity.” (The Hindu, September 12, 2023).
Krishna’s argument propels us to recollect Sanatan Dharma, as preached by M K Gandhi: “Sanatan Hindu Dharma is not circumscribed like the proverbial frog in the well. It is as broad as the ocean. Thus interpreted, it is the property of all humankind, no matter by what name it is called.” (Harijan, August 10, 1947, quoted in Tushar Gandhi, ‘Why the RSS needs to invent a Sanghi Gandhi’, January 12, 2020,

The recent political debate in India regarding Sanatan Dharma testifies that it does not carry any single meaning. This is true for all religious traditions. The eminent Marxist thinker, Antonio Gramsci, drew our attention to the fact that Christianity carries multiple meanings to different social classes/groups. Gramsci’s seminal reading of religion may be interpreted as a radical political statement of our time: “Every religion, even Catholicism…is really a multiplicity of religions that are distinct and often contradictory: there is a Catholicism for the peasants, a Catholicism for the petty bourgeoisie and urban workers, a Catholicism for women, and a Catholicism for intellectuals.”

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