Recently Nawajuddin Siddiqui, the prominent film actor, was prevented from
playing the role of in Ramlila in his village UP. This is one more instance
of attack on the cultural traditions of India. Ramlila in India has
transcended religious boundaries and has become a part of culture of the
area, celebrated and participated by many irrespective of their religion.
At the same there also news about Hindu Muslim interactions in celebrating
each other’s functions and sharing their joy at different occasions.

One hopes the attacks on syncretic traditions is countered and
inter-religious interactions are strengthened.

Circulating one of my earlier articles on the topic from The Citizen


*Assault on Syncretic Traditions*

*Ram Puniyani*

The country is undergoing a regressive attack in different fields of life.
Apart from the political undermining of secularism, pluralism and Indian
nationalism, the cultural pluralism and valued syncretic traditions are
also under severe attack. The intensity is increasing. On the back of the
murders of dissenting rationalists (Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and
M M Kalburgi), the bans on food,, a literary siege is being erected. The
writers steeped in a multicultural, plural milieu are under attack on
sectarian grounds.

>From Kerala known for the culture which has kept the identity of different
religions and has also led to their intermixing, comes the news that the
renowned literary critic and Malayalam scholar, Dr. M.M. Basheer was
threatened and told to stop his column on Ramayana, Ramayana
Jeevithasaramritham. There have been major non Hindu writers like Thomas
Mathew, poet and popular lyricist, the late Yusuf Ali Kecheri who have
contributed to such themes which so far have looked beyond the religious
divide. Basheer got abusive phone calls as to how a Muslim like him has any
right to criticize the Hindu God. He was just commenting on Valmiki’s
criticism of Lord Ram to call Sita for Agni Pariksha(trial by fire).
Basheer, a practicing Muslim, for the first time was made to feel that he
is a Muslim. Unable to bear the barrage of aggression of Sangh Parivar
elements, Hanuman Sena in particular, he stopped his series. As such he has
contributed over 50 articles on the theme.

There are two major points which are very disturbing in the ongoing assault
on plural ethos of the country. The first one is that there are innumerable
literary people and saints, who irrespective of their own faith have
contributed to the cultural aspects of religion in the sub continent. The
legendary classic contributions of Rahim and Raskhan on the life of Lord
Krishna cannot be eroded from the literary history of the sub continent.
Who can forget the contributions of Dara Shikoh’ in translating the
Upanishads into Persian. The Nawab of Bijapur had number of Veena players
in his court for invocation of Goddess Saraswati. Even a decade ago we
enjoyed the richness of Bismillah Khan’s shehnai, many of his compositions
are dedicated to deities.

Shiekh Mohammad a saint from Maharashtra has been the major figure in the
Warkari tradition, built his work around god Vithoba (God standing on
brick), which is the major part of Bhakti tradition in Maharashtra. Saints
like him and others like Ramdev Pir, Satya Pir stand tall in synthesizing
the trends of cultural integration. We have Miyan Mir, another Pir in
Punjab who was invited to lay the foundation of Golden temple. Even today
villages and towns of different parts of India have Sufi shrines and Bhakti
saint memorials, where people from all religions throng and pay their

This syncretism was deeply expressed by Kabir, Nanak and Tulsidas in
particular. They reflected the synthetic trends and the influence of both
religions in their lives and works. Nanak went on to pick up from Hinduism
and Islam both, while Tulsidas mentions in his Kavitavali about living in a
mosque. Kabir communicated with people in simple Hindi and reflected the
‘building of bridges’ between the two communities.

Communal politics in India, which began in the colonial period went on to
associate culture and traditions exclusively with religion. Today the seeds
of division have gone so deep that in recent times we saw the eminent
painter M.F. Husain being hounded to the extent that he had to leave the
country. His roots were in the village where there was a serious mix of
Hindu-Muslim traditions and he regarded Hindu themes as part of his
heritage. Interestingly his work did not come under attack till the decade
of 1980s, when the communal cauldron started affecting different aspects of
our society and vehemence of intolerant elements went on destroying the
creations of people like Husain. Hindi film and TV world has the best of
such traditions in likes of Shakeel Badayuni (Man Tarpat Haridarshan ko
Aaj-Baiju Bawra) and Javed Akhtar (O Palanhare Nirgun aur Nyare-Lagan)
writing beautiful devotional songs and Rahi Masoom Raza scripting B.R.
Chopda mega serial Mahabharat.

Another aspect related to attacks on Basheer is also related to the
interpretation of the Lord Ram story. In the subcontinent and even in the
far East hundreds of versions of the Ram saga are prevalent. The Hindutva
politics has picked up a version of Ram story which is that of Ramanand
Sagar's serial. The classical essay of A. K. Ramanujan, ‘One hundred
Ramayanas’, was forced out of the curricula in Delhi University. This
brilliant essay narrates the beauty of the diverse telling of Ramayana.
Ambedkar’s ‘Riddles of Hindusim’ criticising Ram for banishment of Sita and
punishing Shambuk, also met with a hostile reception.

How do we restore the complex cultural, religious, literary pluralism of
India is something which the social movements need to ponder over in times
to come.

Key words- # Hindu # Muslims# Communal Politics # Food habits # cultural
traditions# Ramayana

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