Pollution of Hinduisim

Simply put it is an amazing gap between theory and practice. Yet it is one of the main reasons why India's environment is as degraded as it is today. Followers of the Hindu way of life have forgotten the emphasis that is laid on nature, the environment and the ecology. The social and spiritual tenets of Hinduism have been completely replaced by a convenience-driven attitude whereby Deepawali, festival of lights, becomes an ugly nightmare of noise and noxious smoke. Holi, festival of the colours of spring, has degenerated into an orgy of dangerous chemicals. How long can Hindus keep poisoning the Ganga and then take a dip in the same holy river to wash away their sins? Down To Earth reviews why most present-day Hindus have no right to call themselves so

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

Pollution of Hinduisim

pollutionEvery Hindu worth his/her salt will recount the story to you. When Lord Krishna was born, his father put him in a basket and crossed the Yamuna to reach the avatar of Vishnu to safety in the house of Yashoda and Nand. This was to escape the cruelty of Kansa, the evil uncle of Lord Krishna. All the tales of Lord Krishna's childhood have beautiful imagery of the Yamuna. In fact, in most Hindu minds, Yamuna and Krishna go together.

But take a look at the river now.

What if Lord Krishna were to come today and his father were to take him across the Yamuna! The putrid stench emanating from the water would be unbearable. And if the child Krishna were to sip the water, he would need to summon all the supernatural powers at his disposal to stay alive. The Yamuna has been polluted beyond imagination, mostly by those claiming to be Lord Krishna's devotees.

Keep flowing with the Yamuna till Allahabad, where it meets the river that is more than a mother to every devout Hindu, the Ganga. Go further downstream to arrive at the capital on the map of Hindu belief, the city of Varanasi. What this town in eastern Uttar Pradesh means to a Hindu cannot be explained to people from other cultures, especially not in a foreign language. It can only be hinted at by the fact that Hindus from across the country come to die here. Because death here means moksha , the ultimate freedom - a release from the cycle of birth and rebirth, a release from maya , the temporal world of the senses. The Hindu spiritual realm has, for millennia, been a world where contradictions can be reconciled. A world that any common person can resort to as a point of reference while sorting out and managing the problems of the real world in a real manner.

But use your eyes in today's Varanasi. Use your nose, your skin, the very senses of maya. And they comprehensively ruin any spiritual experience that you may be capable of. The filth of the sensory world assaults the mind so that any refined encounter with the sublime is crushed beneath the miseries of the material world. One is reminded of the encounter that the young prince Gautam had with the sufferings of the world in the 5th century bc , which resulted in the young prince walking out and founding what we today call Buddhism.

On the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi, standing on a platform overlooking about ten funeral pyres, one confronts what 'devout' Hindus have learned to ignore. Local people will tell you that this ghat, one of the 80 others in the erstwhile centre of scholarly learning, Kashi, gets about 80 bodies from neighbouring towns and villages for cremation every day. As a body arrives, a dom (cremator) takes charge of it. After the cremation, the ashes are supposed to be immersed in the Ganga. However, the dom s here do not have much time. Other bodies are lining up for cremation. One of the dom s takes a half-burnt part of a body and throws it into the Ganga. The body makes a splash. Some drops reach a person taking a holy dip in the Ganga and chanting verses for the eternal peace of ancestors.

Surely, this cannot be the edifice that has come up on the foundations of Hinduism. A river that is so sacred cannot be desecrated like this - and by its own devotees. Yet most Hindus do it. If we look at the practices and rituals that we carry out in the name of Hinduism, most are not even remotely connected to the teachings of the Vedas or the Bhagwad Gita. "Hindus have become champions at raping their own mother," laments Swami Srivatsa Goswami, a Vrindavan-based scholar.

The philosophy that is not practised
Conserve ecology or perish - this, in short, is one of the messages of the Gita , one of the most important scriptures of the Vedic way of life now known as Hinduism. The four Vedas and the Gita are two of the canons of Hinduism. "Vedas are fundamental to Hinduism, not the gods. The environment is seen as a part of one's family here," says Veer Bhadra Mishra, head of the civil engineering department of the Benaras Hindu University (bhu) in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. He is also the mahant (priest) of the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi.

"Throughout the human life, one only draws from nature in the form of the various natural resources. The Gita stresses the concept of yaja , whereby a human can repay the debt of the gods of the natural world by undertaking certain social and spiritual commitments.Through yaja , humans get an opportunity to give - and the giver's hand is always above the hand of the taker in our belief," says Pushraj, professor at the department of Sanskrit at the dav College, New Delhi.

In every aspect of the Vedas and the Gita , nature is an inherent, indispensable part. "One of the very basic concepts of the Vedic culture is the concept of the panchbhootas , the five elements of nature, which are to be revered. They are earth, water, air, fire and space. The idea behind this reverence is purely environmental," says Vedvati Vaidik, professor at the department of Sanskrit, Sri Aurobindo College, New Delhi.

"As we have always visualised ourselves as an integral part of the divine, and the divine as something which partakes in us, we have always maintained a harmonious relationship with nature. Indian literature, right from the ancient time to the present day, contains a detailed description of nature. Hardly any other literature from any other part of the world contains such an elaborate and intimate description," writes Banwari, journalist and scholar on issues of environment and religion, in his book Pancavati: Indian Approach to Environment.

"The Vedic culture is aranyak , a culture of nature. You learn everything from nature. The panchbhootas are to be revered, not exploited," says Swami Sevak Charan, an engineer-turned-environmental activist with the Sri Vrindavan Conservation Project in Vrindavan.

Forgetting Hinduism
While it is common to blame modernisation, commercialisation and changing priorities of the public for the social, cultural and religious degradation that we see today, scholars also question the role played by religious leaders. The general perception is that Indians are very sensitive about the matter of "religion", so leaders do not want to touch upon the aspects related to it. This has made things worse. Clearly, it is a huge task to take on religious matters, revive their link with the ecology and undertake the greater task of carrying it to people all over again. While people in the religious arena are afraid to shoulder this burden, some organisations and individuals have tried to integrate religion and the environment. And have succeeded.

But for a significant improvement in the country's quality of life - physical and spiritual - the message has to reach across to the masses. Several scholars say religion and environment can be re-integrated only if the clergy and the masses wake up to the Hindu traditions, shake off their falsehoods and take up their duties and their natural beings once again.

Till that happens, half-burnt bodies will continue to be dumped in the Ganga and sewers continue to desecrate our holy rivers. Uncontrolled use of fireworks will continue to pollute the air and deafen the urban population. Idols laced with chemical paints will be immersed in our water sources. If the mental and spiritual pollution of Hindus continues, India's environment will continue to degrade. The spiritual cost will be beyond calculation. The human cost will be terrible.

Defiling the sacred

Hindu devotees washing away th It has been noted for aeons that Hinduism emphasises concern for nature. Yet Hindu festivals are considered incomplete now without blaring loudspeakers, a cacophony of voices and songs from Bollywood films, and fireworks that can easily turn one mad, if not deaf (see box: Voices suppressed in noise). After the revelry of Deepawali, cities like Delhi breathe poison due to the blanket of smog created by the fireworks. Waters of lakes close to urban centres are polluted by the immersion of hundreds of idols after puja.

People well versed with issues related to religion and culture feel that Hindu festivals have been reduced to a show of pomp, which is accompanied by a sanctimonious sense of duty towards the gods. In the material world, this translates into pollution of the environment.The irony of ironies is that all the polluting rituals and festivities are carried out in the name of Hinduism, the inherent values of which stress keeping the environment clean and pure.

"Our rituals have become restricted to festivals without a trace of the spiritual core. This is not in good taste," says Veer Bhadra Mishra. The archetypal example is that of pollution of rivers. Ganga and Yamuna, the most revered of all the rivers, have been polluted beyond imagination. And all in the name of reverence. From immersion of bodies to mass bathing on auspicious occasions, several activities have led to a phenomenal increase in the microorganism content of the water, as indicated by the biological oxygen demand.

"Lord Krishna used to take up a degraded land and beautify it. He then used to move on to another place. Vrindavan was the place where he started it all," says Srivatsa Goswami. Now, Vrindavan languishes in filth. The Yamuna is a part of the National River Action Plan due to its filthy state, Goswami points out.

Mass bathing and pollution

The Central Pollution Control Board ( cpcb ), New Delhi, published in 1988 the results of its studies on water pollution in the Ganga due to mass bathing during three kumbh melas, which are held at intervals of 12 years and six years, at Hardwar and Allahabad from 1980 to 1986. "Mass bathing," wrote Paritosh C Tyagi, the then chairperson of the board, "is frequently held in India. On certain occasions, special importance is assigned to it and a very large number of people take bath during a short period in specific stretches of rivers, lakes, tanks and seacoast. 'Kumbh' and 'Ardh-Kumbh' are such occasions when millions take a dip at sacred spots. Water quality is seriously affected by mass bathing. Deterioration of river water quality may injure the health of the people taking the dip and also the population downstream which uses the river as a source of water for drinking and bathing." The cpcb studies showed that during the melas, faecal coliform organism count increased up to 200 times the normal count even at stretches where the water current was very fast.

Mass bathing is accompanied by mass defecation. Apart from that, the offerings of a plethora of materials - from ghee to flowers - are made to the river. This contributes high levels of organic matter to the river. As several infections are transmitted through water, and there are good chances that the bathers are infected by viruses and pathogens that cause diseases like typhoid, cholera, bacterial dysentery and jaundice.

The cpcb report points out that it is not only the bathing ghats that are severely polluted. The water 10-15 km downstream also becomes unfit for bathing. Studies also show each pilgrim can contribute up to 33 grammes of organic matter each day. The presence of even one million pilgrims a day would contribute up to 33 tonnes of organic matter in a day. And during melas, the number runs into several millions.

Disrespectful to the dead
Immersion of bodies is another major problem, as can be seen at cities situated along the banks of the Ganga. The issue was highlighted in Kanpur by an environmental organisation called Ecofriends. This organisation dredged out 180 bodies from the river in three phases. Although the practice of immersing the dead has reduced on some ghats of Kanpur, in some others it is still rampant.

In towns like Varanasi, one can easily come across a dead body even when the river is almost flooded. Several times, the reason for this is economic as the overall cost of the last rites is beyond the means of poor people. "However, even some rich people, who can easily afford to cremate their dead according to the norm, do not do it. They immerse the body in the river," according to Rakesh Jaiswal of Ecofriends.

Idols and chemical concoctions
The problem of pollution is also linked to the immersion of idols after puja. With growing urbanisation and increase in population, puja is increasingly becoming an individual affair wherein each family has its own idol, unlike in the past, when festivals like Ganpati Utsav were a social affair with the community participating as a whole.

But why immerse an idol? While Hindus consigned their dead to flames, mud idols of gods are immersed in water after puja because water and fire are considered purifiers. Earlier, immersing idols was not a problem as the materials used in making the idols were all natural and puja was a community affair. But now, nothing apart from the mud that goes into making an idol is natural - from chromium in paints to turpentine oil, as pointed out by a cpcb study.

Whatever be the content of the idols, mother Ganga, quite obviously, has to oblige its 'devotees'. In West Bengal, Hugli, a distributory of the Ganga, turns into a graveyard for thousands of idols. The situation becomes particularly serious on the culmination of the 10-day Durga Puja. A 1993-95 study by the cpcb , entitled Impacts of Dusshera Festival on the River Hugli: A case study , showed that every year at least 15,000 idols of Goddess Durga are immersed in the Hugli, the number increasing all the time. The study further states that this releases 16.8 tonnes of varnish and garjan oil and a whopping 32 tonnes of various colours. Along with other chemicals, colours contain a good dose of various heavy metals like manganese, lead, mercury and chromium. The study also found that during the festival of Dusshera, the oil and grease on the river increased by 0.99 milligrammes per litre (mg/l) and the concentration of heavy metals increased by 0.104 mg/l.

It is not only the rivers that suffer due to immersions. On September 9, 1998, the Mumbai edition of The Indian Express carried a report from Vadodara in Gujarat, pointing out how crude the whole exercise had become. In the Sursagar lake in Vadodara, lack of water made people push the idols with their feet into the water. Worse still, the lack of water in the lake was attributed to human-made pollution, largely from immersion of idols.

The report mentioned that several waterbodies were linked to Sursagar earlier and this used to keep the water resources balanced. But, in due course of time, the linking channels were blocked. The oxygen level in the only surviving lake, Sursagar, plummeted. This resulted in thousands of fish dying.

The lakes of Bhopal and Hyderabad also have similar tales to tell. With the thousands of idols that are immersed every year in the lakes, nearly a hundred tonnes of soil is added to the lakes of Bhopal. Here, it is not just the Hindu rituals that are polluting the lake. When Muslims observe the day of Moharram, tazia s (elaborately decorated representations of the tomb of Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammed) are immersed in the lakes. This makes the lake abundant with materials like clay, hay, cloth, paper, bamboo, wood, adhesive material and soluble/non-soluble paints containing various chemicals. In addition to the biodegradable material polluting the lakes, heavy metals like cadmium, chromium and zinc have also been detected in the lakebed. S C Gupta, superintending engineer with the public health and engineering department ( phed ), Bhopal, adds lead and arsenic to the list. phed reports blame paints used in tazias and idols for the pollution. The Hussainsagar lake of Hyderabad is also one of favourite places of immersion for devotees, Gupta points out.

Making the air noxious
It seems that the devout Hindu of present times is selectively targeting the sacred panchbhootas . So the air also has to bear the brunt of festive pomp. Fireworks worth several crore rupees are exploded on an occasion that was earlier celebrated by greeting people and distributing sweets. Before the jazzy lighting and fireworks became the norm, the festival of light was symbolised by lamps lit with ghee, points out Vedvati Vaidik. In Delhi, which is already reeling under severe vehicular air pollution, the festival of Deepawali is an assured nightmare. More so for those suffering from respiratory problems.

Studies by the cpcb show that the levels of air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, suspended particulate matter and carbon monoxide rise substantially during Deepawali, further deteriorating the ambient air quality. A 1997 study by the cpcb showed that at some places, the levels of pollutants went up to three times the permissible limit (see graph: Delhi, post-Deepawali ).

And, as if the nose and the lungs are not enough, the after-effects of the fireworks can also be felt resoundingly through the ears. A potential health hazard, noise pollution levels also register a substantial increase during Deepawali. A more common sources of noise pollution - also linked mostly to religious occasions - are the blaring loudspeakers that are put up on several religious festivals, in particular during Durga Puja.

Yet another festival, Holi, is showing how Hindus have drifted away from their culture and traditions. A festival of colours which follows the harvest of the rabi crop and the arrival of spring - just as Deepawali celebrates the harvest of the kharif crop - Holi was characterised by natural colours extracted from plants. Lord Krishna's mention is almost a must in most Holi songs. But today, the colours used include paints and dyes, in addition to a lot of synthetic colours containing a plethora of chemicals, many of them harmful. People often complain that while removing the colours smeared during Holi, the skin virtually comes off. Pranjal Sharma, a school student in Delhi, says, "After the last Holi, I have decided never to play Holi with colours again.

Erosion of values

-- (Credit: T NARAYAN / OUT LOOK)So, what is it that makes Hindus act against the philosophies of Hinduism? "Our minds have been polluted, so, how can the environment be in good shape? The values have suffered degradation," says Veer Bhadra Mishra. Although the fury of the flooded Ganga has not eroded the ghats of Varanasi, Mishra has seen widespread erosion of values at the same place.

Swami Srivatsa Goswami quotes an example from the Bhagwad Purana , wherein a disciple asks his teacher why Kalyuga (the fourth and final yuga , or era) is going to be so chaotic. The teacher replies that it will be because dharma will be the profession of those who have nothing to do with dharma.

Although people from different backgrounds cite different causes for the deplorable spiritual state of Hindus, there is unanimity on one count: the increasing commercialisation that is leading to degradation of values and ethics."All this is the gift of the so-called civilisation," says R R Pandey, professor of philosophy at the bhu. According to him, factors like globalisation have led to increased commercialisation of our traditions and rituals. People cannot see beyond money, he laments.

"The decline in values has led to increased greed and corruption. This, in turn, has made us forget our stewardship towards nature, leading to exploitation and degradation of the environment," says C M Jariwala, former registrar of the bhu . He attributes the sad state of religious and environmental affairs to the self-centred attitude that people have developed.

Pandey indicates that increased commercialisation is reflected during festivals in the spirit of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. "It is sad to think that all these stupidities have become status symbols. People display their status by spending money on fireworks or the size and gaudiness of the idols," rues Pandey. In fact, there is an entire consumer base catering to the booming business of fireworks and other materials that are used during celebrations. Millions are spent on polluting the environment, Pandey points out.

"Earlier, when people used to bathe in the Ganga, they used to take a bath in their houses before taking a dip in the holy river. Now, every kind of filth goes into the Ganga," says Mishra. According to Goswami, the kumbh mela, one of the most auspicious occasions in the Hindu calendar, is actually a congregation where things are supposed to be discussed in terms of society and a better world. "However, it has reduced to a 12-year economic cycle, an occasion to make money and create filth," he laments.

What has led to commercialisation of values? "The traditions and scriptures have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. This can be the problem with a primarily ritualistic tradition. The rituals might remain, but the values might decline," says Jariwala. So, who is responsible for this? The government, as usual, or the religious leaders?

The failure of religious leaders
Authorities tend to ignore environmental issues linked with religion, fearing that they might hurt the religious sentiments. In the September 1998 incident in Vadodara, the officials and the authorities reportedly shied away from the problem because the issue had to do with religion. "The reason," Goswami notes, "is that the people who know nothing about dharma, who have nothing to do with it, are the ones who propagate it now." According to S C Gupta of phed , Bhopal, politicians prefer to let religious issues alone as religion is a means to garner votes during elections, even if this destroys the environment. Says Goswami, "It is not that the religious leaders do not have power. However, they use it for their own petty interests."

Several mahants of Varanasi say the government has not paid any attention to the religious leaders and teachers. "They have given so much for education in English and all the other fields. However, there is hardly anything that they have done for traditional education," complains a mahant. Goswami is not willing to take that: "The religious leaders are equally responsible. Our leaders and teachers have failed us. They are not doing what they are supposed to do. Instead, they are busy hogging money and power, using religion to meet their own ends," says he. Mishra is of the same opinion, saying that even religious leaders fail to understand the connection between religion and environment.

Pandey pegs the ignorance down to religious teachers keeping people in the dark about the scientific aspects of things: "They told us the dos and the don'ts. But they did not tell us the whys." Mishra is of the opinion that educational institutions were not institutionalised, preventing education from trickling down to the masses. "The Hindu clergy is also responsible for what is happening. Their approach towards religious ethics has also been commercialised," says Pandey.

How will Hinduism face up to the challenges of the changing world in the new millennium?

The beacon

 Under the aegis of the Sri Vr People are becoming aware of the concepts of ecology and environment, though a little too late. Moreover, they have not learnt these from our traditions but because the West is talking a lot about environment now," says Swami Sevak Charan of the Sri Vrindavan Conservation Project. Yet some small results are showing According to him, teachings relating our traditions to the environment should be incorporated in school syllabi. "All these things have to be institutionalised," he stresses, adding: "Nature was the centre of everything. The deities and gods were symbols of natural forces. Some things were made mandatory to ensure that people follow them in the name of religion and help keep things in balance."

Another reason given for resorting back to religion is that religious sentiments are very strong. "All things sacred are ecological symbols. These are the components for protection of the environment. Education in terms of the traditions and drawing connections with the modern world are necessary," says Pandey.

"Nature cannot be conserved as a museum piece and that is exactly what is happening now. We have to integrate elements, which can make conservation sustainable, and one such element is religion. We have to reorient ourselves and others," says Jariwala. "Environment is not a lush green garden. Everything that we do to conserve the environment should be human-centred and sustainable," says Goswami. Not that it is impossible. Exnora International, a Chennai-based organisation working on socio-environmental issues, has successfully done it. To sustain the cleanliness of places they had cleaned, they made paintings of gods and goddesses, of religious symbols of all faiths, on the walls. These places have never been dirty since then.

Another case worth noting is from Patna, the capital of Bihar. A report published on January 1, 2000, in The Telegraph of Calcutta showed how Bikash Chandra, a Sanskrit graduate and a tantrik (who tries to harness supernatural powers), known as Guddu Baba among his followers, went on a 48-hour fast as part of a crusade to clean up the Ganga basin in the state capital. The tantrik was quoted in the report as saying: "I have seen people falling sick after bathing in the river... but no one bothers about the problems of the ordinary people." The report pointed out that at least 100 bodies are cremated on the banks of the Ganga everyday in Patna and that many dump the half-burnt corpses in the shallow stream, leaving them to rot. The newspaper quoted Patna's district magistrate, Goutam Goswami, as saying that the tantrik's stand may help mobilise public opinion in favour of the administration's drive to clean up the river basin. One outstanding example of improving environmental and public health along the lines of Hindu spiritual traditions is from a movement called Swadhyaya, which literally means study of the self.

Self realisation and a garden
One almost misses a board proclaiming "Patanjali Vriksh Mandir" on the Ahmedabad-Vadodara highway in Gujarat. For those who know of it, no directions are required. Faith guides them. For the curious, too, the going is not tough. A bumpy ride eight km off the highway takes one to Ajod, a little green world in itself. There are nearly 2,000 fruit-laden trees in the garden, interspersed with shrubs and herbs that grow as if naturally. A separate portion of land has been set aside for the purpose of growing medicinal plants, most of which find use in Ayurveda and homoeopathy.

Welcome to the world of Pandurang Shastri Athavale, also known as Dadaji, the founder of the Swadhyaya movement and winner of the Magsaysay Award. The beauty of the place is not just in the plants but in the way they are grown and the philosophy that nurtures this experiment. Started nearly 13 years ago, this garden is akin to a temple in the sense that each and every part of it is sacred and revered by all who visit. There are nearly 20 such gardens in Gujarat and Maharashtra. The movement has been instrumental in introducing a realistic social change in India's rural communities.

"Dadaji believes that selfless service, without expecting returns, is the mantra to bring humanity together," says Karsanhbhai Vaghela, a retired employee of the Gujarat State Fertiliser Corporation, who has been visiting the garden since its inception. "Apart from making me feel at peace with myself, it gives me an opportunity to be one with nature and meet a number of people from different fields," he explains. "For us, this is religion. Exercises of indulging in self-pity at temples are not for us. Here, it is the culmination of devotion. That "work is worship" is clearly manifest in this garden," he adds.

Systematic, scientific approach
The garden is based on scientific know-how, from vermiculture to drip irrigation to the sprinkling system. Nothing is wasted, little is bought and the produce, like fruits, is sold at nominal prices to neighbouring villages. Barter system is also practised. So, instead of selling the wild grass to the villagers, for whom it is sometimes difficult to dole out even a nominal Rs 60 a month, cowdung is taken as exchange for green fodder. Initially, a day-to-day system was followed. But this required a lot of planning and maintenance of accounts, so it was replaced by the barter system.

Sharing know-how
Swadhyaya does not need mahants or a hierarchy of priests. A system of "each one teach one" is followed. Those who know nothing about floriculture or forestry learn it here. And when they get back home, they utilise the knowledge and impart it to others willing to learn. The highlight of this experiment is that no pesticide or fertiliser has been used here. Instead, a preparation of bitter neem, garlic and cow's urine is sprinkled on the plants to keep pests at bay. "Initially, no villager living in the vicinity of Ajod believed such agriculture is possible. But once they saw the practical side of it, they took the experiment to their own farms," explains a regular at Ajod.

The fruits and vegetables produced here are of export quality and do not have any trace of contamination, as certified by the Food and Drugs Research Institute at Anand, Gujarat. However, Dadaji believes that this is not merely a money-making proposition but a system that brings humans closer to nature, whereby spare time is utilised constructively. The theme is to build relationships. Dadaji professes a vaicharic kranti , a revolution in thinking. And all this is based on bhakti (devotion) and the transformation of self and society. Dadaji's primary aim is to bring elevating thoughts to people who are completely ignored by all religious leaders and intellectuals. To bring people together and to rectify a system long-plagued by malpractices. Faith is a primary driving force and there is no room for unnecessary fundamentalism. The garden at Ajod reminds one of the sacred groves of yore, a popular Hindu way of protecting the environment in the not-so-distant past.

Time for a clarion call
While it is clear that most Hindu festivals and practices have been taken out of the context and perverted into extremely polluting rituals without spiritual meaning, several individuals and civil society groups are achieving what religious leaders have failed to do: make people aware of the foundations and traditions on which Hinduism stands.

If India is to have a clean and healthy environment, it is imperative that the spiritual force of Hinduism - hidden under the garb of polluting rituals - is brought to the fore again. Spirituality is a great force, and one person who resorted to it in India's hour of distress under the British colonial rule was Mahatma Gandhi, who many say is perhaps the greatest Hindu of the 20th century. The mahatma realised the force of a common person inspired by socio-spiritual energy, and created what was one of the strongest social movements in history.

Several individuals and groups are trying to do the same in their own ways. But they are too few and too far between. At the turn of the millennium, Hindu society needs to draw on its very best. It is time for another Hindu revival that restores the individual's link with the society and the environment, time for a fresh set of examples, a fresh set of heroes. This will have to take into account the scientific revolution that has changed the face of human civilisation, for good or for bad. It is time for Hindus to re-read the Bhagwad Gita .

Written with reports by Kazimuddin Ahmed in Varanasi and Vrindavan, Suverchala Kashyap in Vadodara and Samir Kumar Sinha in Patna

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