A recent article in propaganda portal The Wire, by a controversial American scholar named Christine Marrewa-Karwoski piqued my interest. I had seen her tweets about the Nath Sampradaya and Yogi Adityanath claiming that the tradition was not part of Hindu Dharma. One of such tweets can be seen below:-
Okay, for everyone going crazy of the Nath article… you don't have to take it from me. Take it from the Gorakhbani. Take it from Hindi professor P.D. Barthwal who compiled this edition of the GB in 1942. Looks like it says they aren't Hindu or Muslim. pic.twitter.com/sDpI9oFXhL
— Christine Marrewa-Karwoski (@CMarrewa) September 26, 2020
Let me just say here that in Bible, Joshua, commonly known as Jesus, says that he is “son of man”, and yet every Christian believes he was the son of God. Ms. Marrewa-Karwoski is clearly not a scholar of religions and does not understand that religious language is often symbolic and not literal. In any case, let us come to her article and see how she attempts to distort history and like Audrey Truschke, tries to school Bharatiyas in their own traditions.
At the start of her article, she says that “History employs evidence, facts, and reasoning, while propaganda aims to distort even basic truths.” Her article in The Wire, titled ” By Attacking the Mughals, Adityanath Is Erasing the History of His Own Nath Sampradāy” is a fine example of propaganda that distorts basic truths.
The article is political in nature and the writer tries to score political brownie points by referring to an intolerant Bharat which does not respect Mughals anymore. The writes clearly has a problem with Yogi Adityanath and his politics and the article reads like the Communist propaganda that the likes of D N Jha used to write.
Factual mistakes and distortion in the article
There are numerous factual mistakes in the article, and a lot of false interpretations. However, due to paucity of time, I will point out only a few of these.
- The article says that Nath Yogi tradition “dates back to around 13th century.” It is worth remembering that Guru Matsyendranath is considered to be from 10th century. But if we refer to books of Nath Sampraday, on which Ms. Marrewa-Karwoski claims to builds her thesis, he was born in Satayuga! Guru Gorakhnath and Matsyendranath are considered to have extraordinarily long lives and their influence was spread in a very large area of Bharat. Matsyendranatha is mentioned as a siddha in section 29.32 of the 10th century text Tantraloka of the Advaita and Shaivism scholar Abhinavagupta. So, clearly the tradition of Nath Yogis is much older that she claims.
- The article further says that the beliefs of Nath Yogis overlapped with “Jain, Tantric, Muslim, and Sikh communities”. Here, the author makes multiple deliberate distortions. She does not mention Hindu, which was the primary identity of these Yogis. She does not mention Vajrayana Buddhism, probably because Muslims violently erased Buddhism from Bharat and the author’s purpose is to show Muslims in better light in the article. Also note that, although Jain and Sikh are part of larger Hindu Dharmik continuum, they are mentioned seperately. Tantric Hinduism is mentioned separately as if it is a separate religion. Perhaps more deviously, she has taken care to insert Muslims in the sentence. It must be noted that no Muslim belief finds its place in Nathpanth. In fact, some Muslims borrowed the yogic practices to impress Hindus.
- She writes that “Often the ideas of Sufi mystics and Nath yogis overlapped with one another as they continued their dialogue.” It must be remembered that the name of the path, Yogi itself comes from Yoga. It is one of the orthodox Hindu philosophies and has nothing to do with Muslim beliefs. Of course, Yoga and Yogic beliefs are also practiced by Buddhism and Jainism since ancient times, but no other religion can have a claim over it. Sufis in Bharat learnt Yoga, but Naths did not include any Islamic practices in their sect. So this was borrowing of some practices by the Sufis and not a “dialogue”.
- The biggest lie she writes is that “Nathsampradāy eschewed an emphasis on Hindu or Muslim identity”. The basis for her saying that is mentioned in the tweet we read at the start of this article. By these standards, Bulle Shah “eschewed an emphasis on Hindu or Muslim identity” and yet he was a Muslim Sufi! Advaita has such universalistic teachings and yet it is part of Hindu Dharma. The author needs to read more about nature of religious language, and Hindu Dharma, before commenting on things she has little knowledge about.
- In the very next line she says “In the case of Nath yogis, the goal was not only to reach god, but through yogic practice, become one with god.” and ” The ultimate aim of Nath doctrine was the transcendence of all paradoxes and to become immortal gods on earth. “ This is a decidedly Hindu aim, through Hindu means which was followed by Hindu sadhus. Had she read Advaita Vedanta, she would have found similarities with the concepts she has mentioned in the article. Perhaps, she should show where this concept is found in other religions.
Muslim patronage to Nath Yogis
The article puts particular emphasis on the “patronage” of Nath Yogi centers by Muslim rulers. In fact, it seems as if the author wants Yogis to be eternally grateful to Muslims, specially Mughals, for their “generosity”. Let us see how cleverly she tries to portray Mughals in good light here. It must be stressed at the outset that she is a great fan of Mughals and completely believes in Richard Eaton’s contention that Mughals were secular and broke “only a few” Hindu temples! The truth is that Muslim historians themselves gleefully give list of thousands of temples destroyed by Mughals!
1/5 If the author had done even a simple search, he would know that Richard Eaton published his research detailing the few temples (not the 40,000 alleged) destroyed by Mughal emperors and noted that these temples were largely destroyed not due to anti-Hindu sentiment.
— Christine Marrewa-Karwoski (@CMarrewa) September 26, 2020
Needless to say, that she is beholden to an ideology that has tried to distort historical truths in Bharat. It includes western as well as Bharatiya historians and has worked hard to ensure that a bigot like Aurangzeb is made respectable. I offer following points against her erroneous contentions:-
- The author in the article describes visit of Mughals to Gorkhatri, a place of importance for Nath Yogis. However, she does not tell that in times of Aurangzeb, the temple was destroyed and a Mosque raised at Gorkahtri, currently in Peshawar. The Sikhs made a temple adjacent to it when they captured Peshawar. Similarly, Khilji destroyed a Nath Yogi temple at Gorakhpur and Aurangzeb again destroyed it in during his reign, when he found that Hindus had reconstructed it.
- The author mentions that Akbar gave patronage to Yogis, and seeks to prove it by grant of land by the King. As a student of history, she might do well to know that “one swallow does not a summer make!”. Akbar may have made some donations to the Yogis, but in general Mughals destroyed their centers. An exception only proves the rule. There is no trace of Yogis left in current day Pakistan due to Mughal persecution!
- She seeks to prove that even Aurangzeb patronized Yogis. However, it should be noted that in the early years of his rule, Aurangzeb was not confident that he could impose Islamist policies without opposition. Thus he sought to maintain cordial relations with even those whom he greatly detested. This includes many Rajput Kings like Jaswant Singh and also Nath Yogis. The relationship was based not on reverence, but practical considerations. One can say the same about other Mughal rulers too. Another famous example can be of Tipu Sultan. He tried to appease Hindu maths when he wanted their cooperation, but in general massacred lakhs of Hindus in Malabar and Coorg.
- She produces a letter, in which Aurangzeb requests mercury from Nath Sect, maybe for some ailment. For this he makes a payment of twenty five rupees, which is shown as proof of Aurangzeb’s reverence. I would say this is a business transaction. Although, one thing is quite amusing in the letter. It refers to leader of the Nath Sampraday as “Shiva Murat” i.e. “Shiva Murti“. Maybe, Ms. Marrewa-Karvoski would be so kind to enlighten us about the meaning of this title in plain English and how it is not a title for a Hindu saint, but for someone who “eschewed an emphasis on Hindu or Muslim identity”.
- In the article she falsely claims that Nawab Asaf Ud Daula of Awadh granted land to Gorakhnath Math for temple at Gorakhpur. There is not a shred of proof for this legend. Temple was standing there even before Alauddin Khilji, so the land was also already there in possession of temple since centuries. What is not understood is that Mughals and Muslims had a penchant for “reconfirming” Jagirs and lands. This means that every new ruler just “confirmed” jagirs/lands given by previous rulers. More often than not, the jagirs/lands of Hindu temples were confiscated and these converted into mosques.
- What she neglects to mention is that Asaf Ud Daula, Nawab of Awadh built an Imambara in Gorakhpur over a temple! Asaf Ud Daula is famous for his generosity and built many buildings in his new capital, Lucknow. But, he also sent a large amount of money, extracted from Bharatiya taxpayers, to Iraq. The purpose was projects to make pilgrimage for Shia pilgrims comfortable. It is interesting how the Nawab came about this money. He, along with his British friends, tortured his mother and grandmother and compelled them to surrender their property to him and his friends. Warren Hastings was even impeached in England for this and Edmund Burke and James Mill famously spoke against him.
Who is a Hindu?
As Ms. Marrewa-Karvoski has tried to prove that Nath Sampraday, and by extension Yogi Adityanath, are not Hindu, let me quote the great Hindu saint of 14th century Jagadguru Vidyaranya.:-
गोभक्तो भारतगुरुर्हिन्दुर्हिंसनदूषकः |”
While attempting to define who is a Hindu, the Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Sringeri Peeth, Vidyaranya enumerates five conditions for being a Hindu:-
- One who believes in “Omkar” mantra.
- One who has firm faith in reincarnation and by extension, law of karma.
- One who venerates cows.
- One who considers Bharat to be a holy land.
- One who keep away from violence.
This definition by a great Hindu teacher aptly puts all the Dharmic paths under the overall umbrella of Hindu Dharma. It must be remembered that Vidyaranya was not only was a religious teacher, but also the inspiration behind foundation of the Vijayanagar empire. He reconverted Harihar and Bukka from Islam to Hinduism and guided them on their path to establish Hindu sovereignty in the south after Khiljis and Tughlaqs had smashed the old Hindu Kingdoms to annihilation. The empire was bulwark against Jihadi hordes for about two centuries before it succumbed to treachery of its Muslim contingent in army during Battle of Talikota.
The attempt by Ms. Marrewa-Karvoski to portray Yogis as different from Hinduism and glorifying Mughals is not a unique or new phenomenon. The influence of Islam on Hinduism, and how some of its sects are different than mainstream, is quite an old lie. The Acharya of Dwaita philosophy, Sri Madhvacharya was said to be inspired by Islam and Christianity as he believed in ideas like a supreme personal God different from man. However, it was a figment of imagination as much as the thesis by Ms. Marrewa -Karvoski is. Hindu Dharma has always had diversity and dialogue as its salient features.
Wise readers might already be aware about the reason for peddling such false narratives. “Breaking India” forces are trying very hard to create more faultlines in the Hindu society and exploit the same. It is important that such efforts are countered in a credible and comprehensive manner.
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