In the colorful tapestry of Tamil culture, the sixth month is called Purattasi, which usually graces us with its presence between mid-September and mid-October. Now, what makes Purattasi so intriguing? Well, it’s like a special diet challenge for Tamil Hindus. During this month, they switch to a lacto-vegetarian diet – no meat, no fish, just veggies, and dairy.
But here’s the twist: when Tamil Hindus in the USA celebrate Purattasi, they take it to the next level! It’s almost like a competition among the Tamil diaspora in the USA. Some of my friends even admitted that they don’t pay much attention to Purattasi when they’re back in Tamilnadu, but as soon as they set foot on American soil, they magically want to become very strict “Purattasi Month’s Tamil Hindu Vegetarians.” It’s as if the American air sprinkles extra devotion!
Wondering why this might be, I thought it prudent to delve into the philosophical connotations surrounding the concept of religion and its role in human happiness. Karl Marx’s assertion that “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness” takes on a nuanced perspective within the context of Hinduism. Unlike the Western context where the Church exerted significant influence and authority, Hinduism is marked by its intricate stratification, a concept aptly termed “graded inequality” by Dr. Ambedkar. It bestows distinct social, cultural, and material advantages upon the Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya classes over the Shudra, while simultaneously affording the Shudra certain privileges over the Dalits.
So when Marx, after saying religion provides illusory happiness, goes on to say that “To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions,” it applies to Hindus a bit differently. Because their religious condition is not just decided by a single all-powerful institution, but is decided by everyone around who happens to have been born in a caste “above them”, it’s not just them who needs to give up their illusions! For their reality to change materially, the illusion of religion needs to be let go by every “upper caste” person around them as well!
Dr. Ambedkar proposed a radical solution to dismantle the caste system by advocating for the demolition of the Vedas and Shastras, which he believed perpetuated a dogmatic denial of reason and morality. “How are you going to break up Caste, if people are not free to consider whether it accords with reason? How are you going to break up Caste if people are not free to consider whether it accords with morality?”, he asked. The metaphorical dynamiting of religious texts is aimed at freeing individuals from the shackles of tradition.
In a similar vein, Periyar articulated his stance, asserting that the eradication of untouchability was unattainable if the caste system and Hinduism endured. He contended that deities, religions, Puranas, and Shastras should be discarded to facilitate the obliteration of caste.
Moreover, it is crucial to recognize that both Ambedkar and Periyar scrutinized not only religion itself but also the sociocultural conditions enabling its perpetuation. They postulated that the system of Untouchability served as a source of prestige and dignity for the Hindu majority. They proposed constitutional safeguards to ameliorate the material conditions of Dalits. This, they believed, would prompt a reconsideration of religious convictions and consequently pave the way for substantial transformation.
In summary, while Marx once said that “the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism,” in India, this critique is an ongoing journey. Marxists, Periyarists, and Ambedkarites have been on a quest to keep questioning, poking, and prodding at religious norms until they see significant change towards a more humane world.
So, in the spirit of this critique, let’s not forget to question everything, even those Neo-Purattasi month’s Tamil Hindu vegetarians! After all, it is much needed for our society to break from the shackles of illusory happiness!
S Karthikeyan, Santa Clara, California.