WHY I DON’T SEE MANY NECKTIE-WEARING NEPALESE

Rarity of Wearing Tie in Our Society

men wearing suit and tie

In many occasions I’ve been confronted with a question: so you must be some Christian or Jewish preacher or some high-level employee elsewhere; are you? Their inquisitiveness springs from the fact of my being suave and neatly dressed in suit and necktie on most of my workdays. It’s quite a bit of an unfamiliar sight of a man in tuxedo walking on his feet or using a public vehicle.

Sometimes it feels suit topped off with necktie is reserved only for special occasions like formal parties, private school and college students and a handful of high-level executives such as those in banks. Other ordinary folks who try to maintain their appearance neat and suave with necktie don’t easily attract no-strings-attached endorsement from the public.

Why?

What you say about Former Iranian President Muhammad Ahmadinejad who never wore tie during his time in office? Was he right to portray necktie as a symbol of western imperialism? And, it would not be very wise to think rarity of necktie in our society is because we are the huge fans of Mr Ahmadinejad.

Western culture has long dominated our lifestyle. We find ourselves more modern and at higher level of civilization upon the replication of western ideas, values and tradition in our daily businesses. In a sense western culture has become a model to all to follow or replicate. But, we’ve failed to mimic some important aspects of the western culture like their industry, refinement, suit-wearing tradition (in daily businesses) to name a few. Deliberately or inadvertently, I’m not sure but our failure to mimic these essential western characters has certainly made a big dent in our overall replication.

Let’s get back to our discussion (of necktie). Why has necktie (coupled with suit) seemingly been confined within the realm of the well-heeled and white-collared? Even not all high-level executives go for wearing necktie. Last time I wrote an article for my blog. I talked about cars and SUVs being a target of vandalism in times of strikes and violent political movements. Even today cars represent the rich and powerful in our society and most of the vandals or political dissenters/protestors are from the lower class. Cars then fall easy victim to the dissidence of the protestors. So can we draw some parallel between cars and neckties as regards their exclusivity to the upper class?

Christian preachers have tried to some degrees to commonize the wearing of suit and tie. I admire their display of suit (and tie) because they wear it to look neater and more attractive as God has willed his people to be neater like him. But, I’m not implying one can’t be neater in other dresses. On the other hand, private school and college students do wear necktie but their wearing (of tie) is rather under a sort of enforcement by their institutions, not out of their free will. And, I don’t think Nepalese do regard necktie, even remotely, as a symbol of servitude hanging around a neck of a man like the manacles from the bygone slavery era.

And, for special once-or-twice-in-a-year occasions like wedding parties, necktie coupled with suit has become a sort of dress code. But this too is not done spontaneously and out of free will. People fear if they don’t throw on suit and necktie on such occasions, they will risk attracting undue attention from the rest. It’s because of this fear I see so many people attending parties without correct knot, tightening and proper selection of color and design of necktie and corresponding outfit. And, with this they make no less than a clown of themselves! It’s better not to wear at all than to wear it incorrectly and incongruously.

Our society is relatively primitive also in terms of dressing. Our traditional dresses like Daura Suruwal, Sari, Kachhad, etc. lack polished features like the use of buttons, complex stitching, folds, zippers, etc. In order to use these features one needs to have advanced level of industry and machinery and craftsmanship which our ancestors lacked. In contrast, western societies long ago rid themselves of Greek-era tunic or garb and began making clothes with complex features like the buttons, zippers, etc. as their industrial prowess and craftsmanship progressed concurrently. And, the result is suit and necktie along with other complex clothing items like trousers, jackets and so forth.

To put it short, our way of life and thinking are still very simple and our lifestyle doesn’t quite match with wearing elegant suit and tie as it demands a relatively higher level of sophistication (in thinking, doing, etc.). This means we still have to traverse a long way before we feel comfortable enough to make this common western attire a commonplace here.

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ANSWER TO MY CURIOSITY: STEPHEN W. HAWKING

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            [8 January 1942 – 14 March 2018]

How this wheelchair-bound Englishman came to impact my view of the cosmos, God and other seemingly inexplicable cosmic phenomena may not be a thing of interest or inquisition if you’ve read or listened to some of his lectures on cosmology and physical science. ‘A Brief History of Time’ is more than enough (a glut?).

I always found myself a curious child before him. I think I first learned about this English physicist in my mid-teen through a magazine (must be a monthly one). But it was not until I read his seminal yet popular ‘A Brief History of Time’ some years back did I begin to develop serious interest over cosmology. I was never a science student nor a man of science; yet Hawking provided me with his ground-breaking ideas about God and cosmology a safe refuge whenever I was tortured with the ever-lasting curiosity of the origin, development and the ultimate fate of the universe.

I have deep respect for major religious scriptures of the world. They are a beautiful guide to understanding the God to some extent if not in entirety. And there was this scientist who gave me an option whenever I couldn’t slake my raging thirst (of curiosity) only with the help of the scriptures and (with) my own reasoning. It’s like a child running to its parents for safety when it feels it is under threat. My curiosity poses a threat to me and I rush to Mr Hawking for refuge.

I conclude with a statement from him: “If we find the answer to the question why the universe exists, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God”

Some famous quotes of Mr Hawking:
On black holes:
Einstein was wrong when he said, ‘God does not play dice’. Consideration of black holes suggests, not only that God does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen” 

 

On God:

It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going” 

On humanity…

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special” 

On space colonies…

“I don’t think the human race will survive the next 1,000 years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars”

On death:
“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first”.

 

On the end of the universe…

“It will take about a thousand million million million million years for the Earth to run into the sun, so there’s no immediate cause for worry!”

[Quotations copied from theguardian.com and bbc.co.uk. Obituary written by U. Khanāl]

MY INDIFFERENCE TO TEACHERS

WHY DON’T I REGARD THEM VERY HIGHLY

Well, some of you could come lunging straight at me with the intention of arguing heatedly regarding the topic of this essay. Or you could laugh at my stupidity at discounting those people who hold seemingly high reputation in our eastern society as our society has been dominated by the long-held tradition of venerating teachers of every realm as ‘Guru’.

But, wait! We need to be mindful of changing times and consequently the changing roles of teachers. I don’t mean to be disrespectful or ungrateful to my teachers, for I know I value their time and energy they sacrificed to their duty. In today’s times, however, teachers are largely undermined in their roles on account of easy availability of materials beyond the teaching-learning spheres/institutions. Proliferation of printing, electronic media including the new media, widespread and within-easy-reach communication systems have rendered the roles and jobs of teachers largely nominal, especially in terms of textbook teaching. This is specially the case in upper level education.

Well, here I’m summarising some of the causes behind my little regards to my teachers- both school and university (but strictly not those from my elementary levels). The ideas expressed here are my very own and are genuinely grounded on my experiences both as a student and a teacher.

1. Besides your degree how much knowledge you do possess?

Well, it’s not possible to have (sound) knowledge on everything on Earth or beyond. Unlike God we’re not omniscient. If to borrow the words of English theoretical physicist Steven Hawking: ”In Newton’s time it was possible for an educated person to have a grasp of the whole of human knowledge, at least in outline. But since then, the pace of the development of science has made this impossible. Only a few people can keep up with the rapidly advancing frontier of knowledge, and they have to devote their whole time to it and specialize in a small area. The rest of the population has little idea of the advances that are being made or the excitement they are generating.”

Granted, you can’t keep up with all the knowledge being discovered, invented every moment or two. But this doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be a teacher just because you’ve a university degree. Striving for having as much knowledge as possible is a must for a teacher. In my schooldays (and later in college) my teachers lacked any substantial knowledge in their subjects. They were mostly confined within the textbooks. I recall one of my Social Studies schoolteachers in Grade 5 who upon being asked why the Moon looked white replied it was because of having white-coloured rocks and soil there! In Grade 8 there was a lesson about different holy men in Civics book. Jesus was shown crucified but my teacher never bothered to explain why he was crucified and I was too timid and shy to ask. I still feel bitter to recall this. I can state very assertively here that I learned very little of mathematics from my schoolteachers; I learned most of mathematics largely myself.

Later in college, there was a lesson about hydraulics (or mechanics); it was all about more numerical and less theory. I never understood hydraulics (or mechanics) even in its most bare sense. Teacher would come, give his lecture or solve some numerical and leave. Only after many years I came to know about hydraulics (or mechanics) in its broader meaning all on my own.

In retrospect, I think they were just doing their jobs (of teaching) as they were required to do.

In essence, I was hardly impressed by my teachers ever. The only remarkable thing I’ve learned from my schoolteachers which was not in the textbooks was about LTTE rebellion in Sri Lanka. I remember Mr Ramchandra Naral for this.

2. Remote and cold: In order to maintain discipline and silence, most teachers avoid cultivating any sort of closeness or proximity with the students. This is the reason why children view their teachers not as their mentors and guardians but as lords lording over them. Most even avoid touching their students. Respect begets respect, love begets love. But my teachers were largely remote and cold to me.

As a small and timid child, I longed for affection, care and attention from the teachers but to my great dismay I never got them. Teachers wouldn’t even look at me (they would often look at the few prominent boys/girls) while lecturing. I craved for attention and glances from my teachers but there was no such thing in store for me. How poor and miserable little Mr Khanal was!

Teaching course materials is one thing but cultivating a close connexion with the children also matters a lot (to the children) in their elementary or formative years. Fondling or patting in respectable manner certainly proves positive to them. It can give them encouragement. We teachers often avoid being polite to our children. Instead we love appearing like a lord, preferring to lord over.

In college, teachers were even more remote and colder as is the custom in higher level education. They have very little or no share in whatever I’ve achieved in my academic journey.

3. There was something I could’ve learned from my teachers?

Whenever my schoolteachers visited my parents, I would often become pale with fear and apprehension. If they had been a model to me I wouldn’t become so. I now think my respect for teachers was expressed largely out of fear and apprehension. It was not genuine.

Being democratic in classroom activities is important for winning the hearts of the children. But my teachers were like either dictators or too ineffective to be effective. I seldom got any encouragement from them. In schooldays, I recall being the leader of the ‘Mangal House’ (houses were named after planets) as I was the second boy in my class (top four boys/girls from Grade 10 used to be made leaders of four different houses). As a leader I had to preside over the things and it was like a Herculean task to a timid, shy and self-effacing boy back then. But I got no encouragement; I was never assisted and groomed to be a leader. I wonder what it would be if I had been duly assisted in taking leadership.

At this stage I’m still searching for my glory and success seems to be nowhere near. Instead it looks evasively elusive. I think success wouldn’t be this much elusive (to me) if they had taught me to be brave, to take leadership and take chances.

But, alas! There was no such thing. They were confined to teaching textbooks only. They had made prisoners of themselves, imprisoned within the big, impregnable walls of the textbook teaching.

4. Do my teachers have any claim in whatever I’ve achieved in my academic pursuit?

Well I was one of the few first-rated boys in school in terms of discipline and good behavior. Being a small boy I would often sit either in the front or second row. I cannot exactly remember how much attentive I was as I have no strong memories left from those days. But what was true is whenever exam would come I needed to shoulder it all on my own with no aids from no one. Teachers were no help. I wouldn’t understand most of the things teachers said in the classroom and as a timid and introvert boy I didn’t have no stomach to be inquisitive with them. This would put a great pressure on me especially during exam times. In retrospect, I often came to overcome the pressure virtually all on my own thanks to my ability to improvise and inventiveness (in writing answers).

I’m still trying to resolve the question: Where was the flaw, in my learning or in their teaching? What is tellingly true is it is not possible for a teacher to make all the students in a classroom with diverse backgrounds and different levels of understanding understand him.

So what I can derive from my personal experience is learning in its true sense is largely an individual undertaking. And, children in their small age should be attended to individually for their effective learning.

For me books (of all sorts) came to be my real teachers. Nonetheless I hold teachers from my early school years in high esteem. I especially remember Mrs Junamaya Shrestha and Mrs Durga Khanal (who happened to be my aunt) with honor and respect who proved to be the trail blazers in my learning.

5. They had little or no interest in children!

It’s said interest in children is the sine qua non of school teaching.  Here I’m not delving deeper on why most people before the serious beginning of their job career dabble in school teaching, for we all know something or more of it. As school teaching involves children from their early years to mid-teen [years], without having enough interest [in children] it’s going to be not a cakewalk but a stumbling block for anyone trying to be successful in this field.

In retrospect, most of my schoolteachers lacked interest in children. As I’ve already mentioned, as an innocent child I craved for their attention but it was hardly granted. Maybe it was their compulsion- like it is for many today- to take on school teaching to earn their living. I’m not saying they’re not responsible and good in their job. What I want to emphasize is without serious interest in children you’re not going to be closer to them, hold sway over them and without this teaching is going to be anything but effective.

Generally we grown up people do have tendency to brush aside the children and their inquisitiveness as of little worth as we feel more comfortable to remain reclining on our high armchair of maturity than to descend down and be a part of their world.

How Muhammad has put Buddha and Jesus in the Shade

With this remark: ‘The ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr. The man reading is handsome in the side of God. So learn to read and after you’ve learned, teach.’

I chanced upon this remark upon the viewing of 1976 historical epic ‘The Message’ from the director Moustapha Akkad just a while back.

They’re f**kin’ up Everything!

Previously there was a nice little traditional resting platform (चौतारो) dated not later than early 2000s (BS) . Sandwiched between two equally old-looking houses, the platform was not without the two big sacred fig and banyan trees; a rare sight of greenery and abundance of oxygen in the thick of the suffocating human settlement.  Now the old heritage razed to the ground, trampled on by the monstrous machines and converted into a beastly car park. And they call it modern and they are more than modern.

Feel pity for those cocksuckers. O Almighty God, rain upon them the baddest of the hellfire and rid this mother Earth of those devilish creatures.

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                                                  Now

 

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                                               Then

Road to Ruin

Pristine Countryside at the Mercy of Marauding Modernity

Do you remember the track ‘Long Road to Ruin’ from Foo Fighters – an American hard rock/heavy metal band? The title of this essay is inspired from the very track.

Well, here I’m not talking about thrashing and thundering hard rock music though I’ve been an ardent fan of AC/DC –other renowned hard rock artists from Australia. Their music is like a tonic to me: whenever I feel low and down I find my solace in their thundering guitar chords and crashing cymbals. You know some people dismiss hard rock music as nothing more than ‘pollution’- noise pollution. To respond to the critics, AC/DC then had to prepare the track ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ for their best selling studio album ‘Back in Black’ in 1980 as a counter argument.

During the week-long election holiday I was on a day-long hike to the hill of Kahu in the northeast of Pokhara valley. I loved the hike very much. But together with the joy of hiking, I came to confront, much to my chagrin, the harsh reality the development efforts had brought to that place. The beautiful hill of Kahu, however, was not the only and the first place where I witnessed the local development effort at its most brazen and crudest form.

As we reached the crest, we found a drab-looking viewing tower there- which looked as if it was hastily- built- closed and the area littered with plastic wastes. Later we also found the hill was criss-crossed by a dusty country road which leads from Phoollbari area to the very top of the hill. The road snakes through the scattered settlements on the steep eastern side of the hill with sharp bends and countless potholes.

Some vehicles, mostly motorcycles, were parked on the crest of the hill which had some level grounds- I don’t know whether those level grounds were bulldozed so as to make room for parking or naturally occurring. Seeing those machines at the top of the pristine hill, a strong feeling of repulsion took hold of me. Didn’t those roaring modern machines look like a sacrilege to the tranquil, pristine crest? Didn’t those machines disgrace the rustic feel of the hill? Oh I felt so bad to see those ugly machines resting at the top of the beautiful hill like a victor standing proud at the top of the pile of the corpses of his defeated victims. Here those ugly machines appear as the victor and the poor hill as the victim.

The white-washed watchtower, on the other hand, was a sorry sight, not in any way in harmony with the rustic surrounding. The tower appeared to be hastily and badly built with no attractive features and in no way matching up to the bucolic environment there. The tower could have been built using local materials using local style of architecture which would be compatible with the pristinity of the hill. But, alas! the tower was nothing more than a pitiful sight of a lone ugly pile of concrete completely alienated from its surrounding.

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                             (A moment during the visit)

With development comes destruction. This newly-coined refrain quite well exemplifies the development practices in our country. We know road building and other infrastructure works have taken their damaging toll on the natural state of many places. So far I think in the name of promoting tourism, bringing road to every [possible] tourist destination is not a wise idea. First, it kills the pristinity of a place as more people flock to the place. More people mean more pollution – of every sort- and undue pressure on the natural environment. Big number of tourists alone doesn’t ensure tourism development. What matters more is spending capacity of tourists. A few tourists with taste for refinement and luxury can spend more than a thousand backpackers. Some places like the hill of Kahu are better suited for a small number of epicurean tourists, not for mass tourism.

Second, tourists travelling on vehicles have little interaction with local people and local culture thus preventing them from having the better understanding of the locality. They are also less likely to contribute significantly to local economy. Third, it discourages hiking or trekking which is one of the major forms of recreation/tourism. Examples are already evident in major trekking areas like Annapurna Circuit. Previously several weeks- long Annapurna trekking has now been shortened to a mere week thanks to the road building efforts in many of the places there. As a result, there is a massive drop in the number of trekkers. The other disadvantage of building roads in such places is it becomes an easy means for bringing in alien and incompatible things like concrete in the remote, unspoilt countryside.

Granted, local people do need basic facilities like roads. But the problem we have here in our country is we have already become too much infatuated with roads that we see the building of roads as the foremost condition for development. Efforts for building roads even in the most impossible landscapes like Mid-west and Far-east have not only guzzled financial resources but also have overshadowed other vital aspects of development like water supply and sanitation, health services, etc. I don’t think early 19th century English people were less developed with no motorways or only a fewer railway lines than we 21st century ‘modern’ Nepalese today are with all these black topped roads and vehicles.

The pristine Rara Lake is also facing the same problem. Construction of a country road which passes from near the lake can in future bring in more travelers resulting in mass tourism and killing the pristinity of the lake for good.

Well, do I look like a neo-Luddite? I’m not opposing the construction of roads or use of vehicles as it has become inalienable part of our lives. What I want to emphasize after my visit to the hill of Kahu is some places are better left with no or little human intervention so as to preserve their pristinity and attract the epicurean tourists.

But the marauding modernity in Nepal, it seems, is all set and determined to rip through the remaining bastions of natural beauty and pristinity.

Primitivity of Hinduism: How I Came to Confirm It

It’s a well-established fact that what we call ‘Hinduism’ today is actually a conglomeration of numerous different, separate faiths that scatter across the whole of the Indian Subcontinent. Some worship Shiva (known as Shaivas), some Vishnu (Vaishnavas), some others Shakti (Shaktas), still some others Sun, etc. There are Dvaitas (dualists) and Advaitas (non-dualists), too. Some believe on creator god; some other reject the idea of creator deity altogether. There are both avid theists and atheists (for example Charvakas were atheists).

Why all these diversification? Don’t they worship a single universal God as people from Abrahamic faiths do? Why there are so many distinct faiths with equally distinct ideas, treatises, rituals, etc.? Why is it that these myriad of faiths cannot trace the date of their origin (Hinduism is without its date of beginning on account of this)? How come there are some shocking similarities between Hebrew (or Jewish) tradition and these faiths? My puny little attempt at reacting to these questions will take hold of the following paragraphs.

Prologue

My good friend TB Nepali is who I drew the inspiration from to scrawl this essay. During one of our spiritual discourses, he came to heavily impress on me, with his succinct account of Abrahamic faiths, the possible intimate connection between those Abrahamic faiths especially Judaism and numerous local traditions in Indian Subcontinent otherwise known (collectively) as Hinduism. I came to ponder upon not only the idea of the possible connection and striking resemblance (between them), but how these local Indian traditions might have been the mere and corrupt derivatives of those Middle Eastern ones, too.

Even more serious thought he stirred in me was whether the tradition I’d been following was a genuine one i.e. it was devoted to the service of God. We claim our religious traditions to be an instrument for keeping the God happy and pleased and celebrating his grandeur and glory; but are we doing so faithfully or within the set of the rules outlined by the God himself? Or how many of us believe at all on the idea of a single, omniscient, omnipresent, both immanent and transcendent God?

Well, here’s a caveat: my knowledge on religions, theology, the divine and other spiritual aspects is very shallow and not in any way different from that of what we call a layman. This essay represents my personal views which are purely based on my own experiences and knowledge accumulated over all those years of (my) striving for learning.

1. Fertile Crescent Vs. Indian Subcontinent Civilisation(s)

It’s been theorised, and largely proven, too, that Fertile Crescent (i.e. present day Middle East extending along the eastern and southern coast of the Mediterranean) Civilisation was the first ever human civilisation in real sense that ever developed on Earth. That from animal and plant domestication to the invention of wheel, to the invention of writing system (the Phoenicians were the first to do so as per the archeologists/anthropologists), to the invention and development of so many other things including the Jewish tradition took place there. Judaism and Hinduism are often considered two oldest religious traditions. What I’ve found is there is either no or very little mentioning of possible civilisations in Indian Subcontinent among the archeologists and anthropologists compared with other civilisations like Fertile Crescent, Hwango-Ho Valley, Nile Valley, etc. Indus Valley Civilisation in Indian Subcontinent was one of the great ancient civilisations (still archeologists and anthropologists are all but unanimous that it began a few thousand years later than Chinese and Fertile Crescent) but we cannot trace the possible root of Hinduism in IVC- in fact there has been no or only scant evidence of possible link- and hence prove its much purported antiquity.

If there was a great civilisation in Indian Subcontinent (except IVC) to which we could link the origin and development of Hinduism, it would be the matter of more interest, research and discussion among historians, archeologists and anthropologists. But there is almost no or very scant attention paid to such possible civilisation (in the Subcontinent). This boils down to a bitter fact – bitter for those who take pride on the so called antiquity of Hinduism – that civilisation started much later in Indian Subcontinent and so did what we call Hinduism. So here are we comfortable to say that Hebrew (or later Jewish) religious tradition might have predated the development of Hinduism by a few hundreds to thousands years?

2. Antiquity of Hinduism: Why we cannot trace the origin of Hinduism?

Answer is simple: that there were hundreds of tribal groups scattered all across the subcontinent and it was not possible to keep record of which group started what religious tradition when. What we call ‘Hinduism’ today is a collection of myriad of local tribal traditions which once dotted (and are still) the landscape of the subcontinent especially the Gangetic plains. Moreover as those tribal groups were in their primitive stage of development and as writing and record keeping system might have still not developed well until much later – oral tradition of Vedas testifies to this – it was very difficult to trace the date of the beginning of all those local religious traditions.

And, it was easier for us to clothe Hinduism with a garb of ‘the oldest religion’ as the date of its origin remained elusive to us (because of the above-mentioned reasons).

3. Cultural exchanges between Hebrews (later Jews) and Hindus: Striking similarities in both traditions

a) Animal sacrifice is found in both traditions (in order to propitiate the God or gods) performed amazingly in all but same fashion.

b) Segregation of menstruating women for at least five or seven days is strictly followed in both societies.

c) Consumption of meat and dairy products together is often forbidden in both traditions. I recall my childhood days when my mother would forbid me from having milk together with meat.

d) Both traditions have the legend of the Great Flood; Noah being the rescuer in Jewish flood and Manu in the subcontinent version.

e) Pronunciation of Jewish God YHWH and ours BRHMA, Noah (pronounced as Nuh) and Manu (pronounced as Mnuh), Christ and Krishna; and many others seems to be very identical or influenced by each other.

f) We can also draw parallels to some extent, if not in their entirety, between the Jewish Ten Commandments and our Ten Avatars (Dashavatars).

g) Consumption of pork is considered taboo in both societies by the priestly class (and other socially advantaged classes, too).

h) Star of David- a six-pointed star, the symbol of Judaism – has been commonly in use in the Subcontinent traditions, especially in academic fields. For example logos of schools and universities in Nepal and India consist of six-pointed star.

i) Both Jews and Brahmans (the priestly class in the Subcontinent traditions) claim themselves to be the chosen ones.

So which influenced which? Through ancient trade between the Sub-continent and Fertile Crescent region, this exchange of traditions must have been largely from west to east, i.e. Subcontinent traditions might have taken certain elements in from Fertile Crescent.  Some cultural exchanges nonetheless took place from east to west: incorporation of Trinity in Christianity must have been inspired from Subcontinent one.

4. Polytheism Vs. Monotheism

Anthropologists and sociologists believe that polytheism indicates the early state of civilisation whereas monotheism means more advanced one. Until the authorship of Upanishads Hinduism was deprived of its essential philosophical interpretation of a single, either immanent of transcendent, God. It was the authorship of Upanishads that ushered in the idea of a single God more profoundly. And Upanishads were written sometime later. Brahma, not to be confused with Brahma, the creator deity, as we know has become to epitomize the idea of indivisible, eternal, immanent God through the vast corpus of Upanishadic writings. Before the authorship of Upanishads, Vedas had dominated the Subcontinent traditions with their extensive Vedic rituals and sacrifices which still continue today among Brahmanic traditions.

It was the same extensive performances of Vedic rituals and animal sacrifices that Buddha greatly despised and sought to change. As a result, a new tradition of Buddhism was founded on the principle of rejection of Vedas and peace and nonviolence.

Vedas principally eulogised a few major gods such as Yama, Indra, Shani, Rudra, Agni, etc. who lost their eminence to the later gods like Vishnu, Shiva, etc. as exemplified in Puranic, Epic (like Ramayana, Mahabharata) and other literature.

Even though the idea of single omniscient God might have been mentioned in many occasions in the Vedas, it was solemnized formally in Upanishadic writings much later. Intellectual deprivation of Hinduism was at last ended by the authorship of Upanishads and later literature. It would hardly be excessive to say Hinduism got its ‘maturity’ only after the authorship of the Upanishads.

Some scholars believe Hinduism is still largely a polytheistic religion. In contrast, Judaism holds the reputation of being one of the oldest monotheistic traditions.

5. Why Hinduism is riddled with rampant superstition?

The Subcontinent has its infamy as one of the most superstitious regions. Scholars are unanimous in the fact that superstition is the legacy of primitive societies. Rampant superstition, poverty and underdevelopment thus created here in the Subcontinent testify to this fact then?

So all those Subcontinent traditions otherwise known as Hinduism were not yet organised into what we call a religion and they were grounded on the belief in supernatural and magic? Our Hindu society has yet to achieve that level of civilisation where superstition no longer holds currency? Seems so as we (in the Subcontinent) are still a long way off from doing away with all those superstitions.

6. A ten-headed, thousands-limbed god: Gods in Hinduism don’t look like humans!

This is in sharp contrast with that of Abrahamic faiths in which God or lesser gods are almost always represented as lookalike to human beings. Gods are often personified in the Subcontinent traditions in different incarnations (avatars) with different forms which look more mythical, magical and typical of tribal lords and less sympathizing to human existence on Earth. Certainly there are some positive sides of this, too. For example, Shiva wearing only a loincloth, smearing ashes and wandering around represents the pastoral, vagrant lifestyle of the time whereas Vishnu reclined on the slithering bed of serpents and clad in opulence of jewelry and fine garbs with his consort Lukshmey almost always sitting by his side massaging his limbs exhibits the pampered lifestyle of the rich back then.

Gods (here lesser gods) in Abrahamic religions are more encouraging in that they often live and interact among the common people. Prophets like Moses, Jesus were born as ordinary men and spent their life among the populace. They were endowed with great powers but they rarely flaunted their powers in a way which could have amounted to an excess or vulgar show. They appear more civilised, genial and acceptable to the populace.

In the Subcontinent traditions Krishna and some other gods appear to be gregarious and living among the populace. Krishna acts both as a king and the leader of herdsmen. But his having many female cowwomen (called ‘Gopinis’) as his romantic consorts (though this could have purely been symbolic) makes him look primitive and less acceptable. Polygamy was common in primitive tribal societies- it is still common in backward societies- and Krishna seems to be testifying to the time then.

Even lesser gods in Hinduism seem to be possessing great powers which they sometimes use indiscriminately. Alien-like appearances make these gods in Hinduism look less compatible and less sympathising to human existence (on Earth). Their ethereal, outlandish appearances are hard to swallow for a common man. Such outlandish appearances of gods can be found possible only in superstitious, primitive, tribal societies! What you say?

7. Vedas were originally ambiguous over the Creation!

The famous Nasadiya Sukta in Rig Veda questions like this:

But, after all, who knows, and who can say
whence it all came, and how Creation happened?
the gods themselves are later than Creation,
so who knows truly whence it has arisen?

Whence all Creation had its origin,
he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,
he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,
he knows – or maybe even he does not know.

Here we can see the clear ambiguity of the Vedas over the Creation. We can interpret it either as an instance of skeptical inquiry which constitutes an important aspect of Indian philosophical tradition or simply a lack of surety. In contrast, Abrahamic faiths especially Judaism authoritatively and prescriptively speaks of the Creation as a benign and heedful act of God.

8. Primitivity of Hinduism: Worship of Devi indicates matriarchal society

Worship of Devi as the female aspect of the divine is deeply entrenched in most of the Subcontinent traditions. Along with the major male gods, Devi holds an important position among the pantheon of gods (and goddesses) in those traditions. With countless names and forms – like self-indulgent Kali and Durga exhibiting the wrath and brute power, Prithvi appearing as somber and doting, Shakti as a dedicated consort of Shiva, etc. – worship of Devi as lording over the tribes has come to symbolize the dedication of the society not only towards the women’s roles but the primitive characters of the society, too back then as matriarchal society represents the early stage of evolution of human civilization.

Worship of Devi hence proves the primitivity, early stage of the Subcontinent traditions and what’s more Devi with her different aspects was incorporated into the pantheon of gods only later during Puranic age.

9. Cow worshipping: Pastorality of Hindu society

Cows revered as holy in the Subcontinent traditions symbolize the pastoral nature of those traditions back in those days. As domesticated animals provided people with meat, fur, milk, hide, etc. people would have thought it right to pay homage to those animals and the cow as being one of the largest of early domesticated animals in the Subcontinent proved the suitable candidate deserving veneration

There could be many judicious reasons why the cow was chosen but it nevertheless epitomizes the then pastoral, animal herding society of the Subcontinent. Pastoral societies are regarded as at the early stage of evolution (of civilization). Lord Krishna probably most famously represents the pastorality of the Subcontinent traditions with his playful cow herder character.

10. Fire: A wonder to Hindus

Not only to Hindus fire was actually a wonder to every primitive man back then. Early humans craved for it, fought for it and got hell of wild amazement at its sight. This is not unreasonable as fire has proved to be one of the few essential tools of human progress and achievement. Humanity is heavily indebted to fire for its progress. Humans, however, never invented fire for fire was already there in its natural states like volcano, naturally occurring fires in the wild, etc.; they only learned to control and use it for their benefits.

But the people in the Subcontinent were excessively enamored to the peculiarity of fire! They admired fire to such a degree that building of fire has now become an indispensable part of their every single ritual. The Vedas also showed their honour (to fire) by eulogizing it as ‘Agni’. Rig Veda has eulogized fire (Agni) by mentioning it right at the beginning of its hymns.

Eulogizing fire has nonetheless been grounded on practical and genuine belief. Fire (or heat) is essentially a vital element in all living beings. Plants and animals both possess certain amount of fire (or heat) within them. Living beings without certain amount of heat (a feature of fire) in them is impossible. Fire is a purifying agent, too as it destroys almost everything. Even the origin of the Universe, according to both science and creation stories of major faiths, encompasses the great tale of a very hot and dense state of fire which suddenly, either arbitrarily or at the wish of God, burst off into what we now call space-time. There are great fires in the form of countless stars like our Sun in the universe.

Hindus are excessively in love with fire which somewhat shows their rudimentariness. Extensive use of fires in ‘yajnas’ -o1_ and other Vedic rituals hints at the Subcontinent’s obsession with ruddy incandescence. Vedas have their own recipe for building fires for different rituals which usually consists of using flint stone or other special types of dried wood.

11. Vedas are off-limits to women and ‘untouchables’!

This is the reason why Hinduism has never taken its firm root among the people other than Brahmans, Kshetris and few other advantaged ones. Great knowledge contained in the Vedas, Upanishads and countless other literature has remained confined within the grip of those advantaged peoples thus depriving others from enjoying it. Other people─ like women, Sudras, Vaishyas, ‘untouchables’─ have essentially been living without proper moral guides and directions from the scriptures as they are barred from reading and reciting the scriptures thus keeping them from getting the moral guides and ultimately the truth glorified in the scriptures. This could be the reason why women, untouchables and other disadvantaged peoples here are living in far more substandard condition than in other parts of the world.

Even as the Brahmans and other advantaged peoples have enjoyed their exclusivity in reciting and interpreting the Vedas and other scriptures, their moral standard has consistently been on its downward course. Knowledge gives you power and certain advantage over others. But if you ain’t good enough to hold it, let’s say you being abusive; you become a piteous victim of its corruption. In today’s Subcontinent the priestly class, including other advantaged peoples, is more corrupt because of its being abusive with the knowledge that it had its hands on.

12. Hinduism looks more humanist!

Not because it shows humans the path to liberation/salvation. Some people like to say Hinduism is more a way of life than a religion in its strict sense. Traditions, rituals and practices (in Hinduism) are based on the realities of everyday life and thus favour human existence on Earth more than the gods in the heaven. For example planting and watering holy basil in the vicinity of a house looks more a practical approach than an offer of worship to God or gods as the basil has been proven to be one of the two plants releasing more amount of oxygen into the atmosphere─ the other being the peepul (a sacred fig tree).

Similarly, scrubbing the floor, before performing rituals, with green cow dung has its own practical meaning. Green cow dung can act as a purifying agent as it possesses pest or vermin repelling characteristic.

These traditions are the product of the everyday experiences accumulated over the hundreds or even thousands of years of living in either fixed or semi fixed or nomadic settlements. These types of practical traditions are found in other societies, too especially those living intimately with the nature. Nomadic Aboriginals in Australia and New Guinea also have numerous such traditions based on their experiences living in close proximity with the nature.

13. Hindus are nature worshippers

Not unusual as the essence of Hinduism regarding the cosmology is that this universe has been made up of two different entities: Purusha (i.e. consciousness) and Prakriti (i.e. material realm, the nature). Purusha represents the male principle whereas Prakriti the female principle. As Prakriti (i.e. the nature) is what humans find abundantly around them in their close proximity assisting in their everyday life Hindus might have thought it wise to worship the different aspects of the nature: fire (Agni is the personification of fire), water (Barun personifies water), holy basil (Vishnu personifies this), air (Maruta represents it), rain (Indra), etc.

Thus nature worshipping is deeply rooted in Hindu societies as earlier Hindus might have thought it right to pay their homage to the Mother Nature and its different aspects. Nature worshipping (or animism) indicates the early stage of human evolution and the Subcontinent traditions with all their primitivity exemplify this.

14. Why Hindus worship a pantheon of lesser gods?

This makes Hinduism look more like a mythology. Yama, Shiva, Ganesha, Devi, Indra, Rudra, Agni, Barun, Chandra, Shiva (riding a bull and living in the Himalayas), etc. are some of the lesser gods in Hinduism who hold sway over most of the worshipping. Sometimes I think we Hindus are not worshipping the true Creator; instead we are busy deifying and personifying the elements of the nature. Showing our gratitude to the elements of the nature is always just and right but brushing the true Creator aside and giving more prominence to the nature nevertheless makes us primitive and devoid of the idea of the Creator.

Our apathy or ingratitude towards the Creator is evident on the fact that Brahma, the creator deity, has lost his prominence among the Subcontinent traditions. Brahma is not worshipped in most of the traditions. This adds to the already telling evidence of ignorance of God (the Creator) among the Hindus.

Epilogue

Granted, idolatry makes the traditions in the Subcontinent appear more primitive. Rampant superstition and the poverty and backwardness thus created rob the traditions of their honour and glory. Alien-looking gods with their equally crazy acts – like bereft Shiva wandering aimlessly carrying the corpse of Sati- have made the traditions the butt of foreigners’ rather curt jokes. Polytheistic nature of the traditions keeps them from concentrating on monotheism. All these make the Subcontinent traditions look less civilised than that of Fertile Crescent. As we know transfer of culture almost always happens from more developed, civilised ones to less developed ones. So are we ready to accept our Subcontinent (religious) traditions most probably drew inspiration from those of Fertile Crescent sometime in the distant past?

Whatever happened in the past should be left behind in the annals of history. As of today, we can claim with a sense of smugness that we the people of the Subcontinent now boast one of the most elaborate, in-depth and admired philosophical and spiritual writings in the form of Upanishads, Itihasa and other countless texts and treatises.  Thanks to all those authors, philosophers, pundits, spiritual gurus, saints and sages, within a short span we have achieved such a height of spiritual and philosophical excellence that the social ills like superstition, poverty, etc. which remain today as the legacy of our ignominious not-so-distant past have now been dwarfed to the point of little regard.

But Mr Nepali with his spiritually worthwhile discourses has nonetheless seriously stirred me from within. He made me review the traditions I’d been following without ever questioning. I’m still stuck in limbo not knowing what the real truth is. Nonetheless, I’ve already been on a long journey to finding the cosmic truth.

I’m both a creationist and an evolutionist in that God created humans- including other things like universe, different life forms – in their primitive forms and now they have evolved to be what we call modern humans with all those modern marvels. Yet I’m not sure on the aspect of God: immanent or transcendent; personal or amorphous.

Personally I don’t think God made humans to be self-indulgent and this much corrupt with knowing no bounds of their misdeeds. Animals (on Earth) seem to be living within their limits following certain natural laws but humans? We have transgressed all those bounds and laws for merely the personal benefit. On account of human activities animals and plant species here are facing danger while countless others have already become extinct. The Earth itself is at the receiving end of human misdeeds: global warming, climate change; pollution, etc. are taking their devastating toll on the overall well being of the planet.

God certainly didn’t expect this level of corruption and decadence to take hold of one of his great creations.