Secular Babas: why some new-age Bhakti movements are actually harming Hindu Dharma

Secular Babas are a recent phenomenon. In the last few decades they have become a force to reckon with and have acquired a huge following. They have political patronage and their one nod can mobilize millions of devotees. Their followers may call themselves nominally Hindus, but the truth is they are fed a secular ideology and are prime targets for conversion to Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity.

Hindu Dharma prides itself on its adaptability. In response to challenges, it has always produced reformers, saints and scholars who reestablished the religion on a firm basis. When it was challenged by Buddhism in ancient times, scholars like Kumarila Bhatta and Adi Shankaracharya reestablished it. Nayanars, Alwars, Acharya Ramanuja and Acharya Madhwa and countless others brought the doctrine of Bhakti to prominence.

In next few centuries, Bhakti movement spread to north Bharat and we had such great saints as Tulsidas, Nanak, Surdas, Ravidas and Kabir. Kabir criticized all religious orthodoxy with equal vigor, but even he took deeksha from Ramanand. All the Bhakti saints were deeply Hindu in their outlook.

The new age movements by Secular Babas claim to continue the legacy of original Bhakti movements, but betray a lack of coherent worldview and attachment to Hindu Dharma. I will not take any names, but discuss the general features of such movements, reasons why these proliferated and how it is a dangerous trend for Hindu society.

SECULAR BABAS claim equality of all religions

Features of Secular Baba led movements

Though these movements are quite different in their leadership and membership, there are many common features associated with these movements. The main features of secular Baba movements are:-

  • The focus on Guru above everything. He is the supreme arbiter of truth and venerated just like a God. This is not unusual in many other sects of Hindu Dharma too. However, in case of these secular Babas, Guru is generally married. His place becomes hereditary, so spiritual merit is sacrificed at the alter of nepotism. This results in bitter fights for property once the founder of the sect is dead.
  • The focus on secularism and ‘equality of all religions’. Indeed, the claim that all religions, including Hindu Dharma, are partial truths and only the Guru of the sect knows the full spiritual truths. They openly disregard Hindu spiritual books or distort their meaning. This naturally does not fool any Muslims and Christians. Only spiritually bankrupt Hindus are convinced of this fraud and slowly the secular ideal of Ram and Raheem being the same is fed to them in heavy doses.
  • Many of these movements are in a nexus with local politicians. For many of these the primary purpose is money and that they do by demanding a certain percentage of devotees’ income, by illegal capturing of land and by selling various products. Some of these are daring enough to declare themselves incarnation of God politically powerful enough to secure election tickets for themselves or their supporters.
  • Their discourses are often filled with Islamist-sufi slogans even while not a single one of their devotees is a Muslim. When they are invited to a meeting of Muslims, one cannot be surprised if one hears slogans of Allah-o-Akbar from their mouth. Many of these secular sects even denounce murti-poojan!
  • Their followers are quite organised and in case there is some action against the Baba, you can be assured of  widespread violence. The organisation is also visible on social media where random twitter trends related to their sect become top in Bharat, at the whims and fancies of such Babas almost every week.
  • Naturally they also have a well oiled PR machinery. Their discourses are broadcast on TV and thus give revenue of crores to channels, so you can be assured that nothing negative is discussed about them at news channels, except in extraordinary cases.

Where did the Hindu society go wrong?

How did this come to pass? The secular Babas did not rise until the 20th century. However, the start had been already made in the 19th century. Consider the words of Keshub Chandra Sen, a great leader of Brahmo Samaj who later founded many religious organisations : “Our position is not that truths are to be found in all religions ; but that all the established religions of the world are true.

In the 19th century, people made fun of Sen, but in the 20th century, his words became an axiom of Bhartiya leaders. Mahatma Gandhi, a political and spiritual leader rolled into one, promoted this line of thought with all his goodwill. So we even had Quran recital in temples, though the reverse was never attempted. Famous bhajans like “Raaghupati Raghav Raja Ram”  were perverted with unnecessary insertion of Allah, Raheem and Kareem in its lyrics. Even when his disciple Muhammad Ali Jauhar declared that Gandhi was worse than a fallen and characterless Mussalman, Gandhiji continued on the same path.

Gandhji was instrumental in mainstreaming this idea of ‘secular’ Hindu Dharma. He did what Keshub Sen could not do, but the genesis of the problem is much deeper. Before 1830s, education in Bharat was traditional and imparted by village schools called pathshala. Contrary to what people claim today, these pathshala were open for all Hindus and imparted worldly as well as spiritual knowledge. According to Dharmapal, a Gandhian scholar, Bharat’s literacy rate was much more than that of Europe in the 18th century! Indeed, many of the innovative features of these pathshalas were copied by the British themselves.

The British uprooted this system in 19th century and replaced it with Macaulay’s system. The aims of this system were: “... to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, –a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” It is to be noted that the high officers of East India Company like Charles Grant were also energetic evangelists. Macaulay himself called Hindu Dharma a “false religion” in his famous minute. Naturally, their education system was geared towards making Bharatiyas sympathetic to Christianity and to detest their own religion.

Until the onset of 20th century, it did not work very much. The enrollment rate in schools was low and those who enrolled, also got some form of religious instruction at home or the village pathshala. In 20th century, certain factors including the communication revolution by TV and radio, spread of literacy and cinema helped in spread of these distorted ideas. The temples were taken over by the governments and Hindu children were deprived of religious instruction. This spiritual vacuum was filled by the half baked ideas of secular Babas.

Loss to Hindu society

The spread of influence of secular Babas is a loss to Hindu society in many ways:-

  • Hindu Samaj has never been extremist and exclusivist. Extremism and exclusivity has been a hallmark of Abrahamic religions. The sects founded by secular Babas are both. One can see their extremism in their violent ways and exclusivism in the way they claim monopoly on the complete truth. For many of them, being called a Hindu is not acceptable. They generally intermarry within their own sects.
  • These sects promote superstition and blind obedience to the head of the sect. Many a times power corrupts and the head is found to be involved in immoral/illegal activities. The blind followers still do not accept that and continue supporting them in their misguided devotion.
  • Ultimately, all this results in embarrassment and disgrace for Hindus. These secular babas and their followers are now labelled Hindus and their practices blamed on Hindu Dharma.
  • The followers, already primed for conversion by heavy doses of secularism and now disillusioned by the cases against the head, become excellent targets for conversion.

What could be done?

It is clear that these secular Babas and their circus has to be stopped. However, Hindu Dharma is not a strictly defined religion. In any other religion, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism etc, such Babas and their followers would have been excommunicated. Hindu Dharma has to deal with them in a different manner.

  • The saints and important scholars of Hindu Dharma can come together and start a centralised list of such discredited Babas, along with reasons for declaring them as ‘fake’. This list might be updated from time to time. This might dissuade people from seeking spiritual advice from them and rob them of moral authority.
  • Normally Babas do not make news unless they are involved in some serious crime. If the Hindutvavadi digital media exposes such Babas on a regular basis, people might become more aware of their antics.
  • Denial of any religious authority to these Babas at Hindu events, specially the Magh and Kumbh fairs. Many of these use the places allotted there to spread their propaganda and establish their authority.
  • Make provisions for religious instruction of Hindus. Hindu Temples earn enough revenue to ensure that basic religious instruction can be imparted to Hindus living in nearby areas. The attraction towards these Babas is a symptom of spiritual vacuum in Hindus, that needs to be addressed. The best way to address this is freeing the temples from govt control.

Conclusion

The secularization of Hindu Dharma, that started in the 19th century has taken epidemic proportions in the 21st century. Secular Babas run business empires of hundreds of crores while being involved in all sorts of immoral/illegal activities and when caught, Hindu Dharma is blamed for their indiscretions. There is no legal way to stop them, but efforts by Hindu organisations, media and general public can expose them and in time make Hindu Dharma stronger.


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About the Author

Pawan Pandey
Pawan Pandey is an Educator based in Dehradun, currently working as Senior Staff Writer with HinduPost. He is an Engineer by training and a teacher by passion. He teaches for Civil Service Exams as well as for Common Law Admission Test. He has deep interest in politics, economy, culture and all things Bharatiya. He fancies himself to be a loving husband and doting father. His weakness is Bharatiya food, particularly sweets. His hobbies include reading, writing and listening to Bharatiya music.