On the 15 August 1947, when India awoke to light and freedom, I, a college boy then, was not a citizen of India. I was a subject of the Maharaja of Travancore, a princely state, which had declared independence. The Maharaja of Travancore was a devout Hindu whose family deity was Sri Padmanabha of the temple of that name.
Not only was Hinduism the official religion of the state, the state itself was considered the property of the deity, having been dedicated to Him by an ancestor of the Maharaja. The Maharaja assumed the role of a servant of the deity and he and his successors attached the title “Sri Padmanabhadaasa” to their names.
But the Hinduism they practiced was not of the fanatic Hindutva variety but an embodiment of the vision of life as outlined in the Upanishads in which the oneness and omnipresence of divinity in the entire universe, were the foundations of faith. All religions were accepted as true and tolerated.
My schooling started with a government school at Kottayam. There were children belonging to all religions in the class. They freely mixed among themselves.
There was a morning assembly every day, but no prayer. The only ritual was the singing of the state anthem, “Vancheesa Mangalam.” The lunch breaks on Fridays were of double the normal duration to enable Muslim children to go to mosques.
When I was halfway through Class 3, my father was transferred and I had to change school. The new school was a modest private primary school. Although located in the compound of a church, there was no ritual prayer in the daily routine.
I remember that in our text book published by the government there was a short biographical sketch of Jesus Christ as one of the lessons.
There were many Christian boys in the class and we all mixed and played and studied together in total amity.
When I passed from Class 4, I had to move from the primary school to the local English high school which was run by a Protestant organisation called Church Mission Society owing allegiance to the King of England.
Here also, there was no prayer in the morning assembly except Vancheesa Mangalam. The extended duration of the lunch break on Fridays was in force here also.
After two years there, I was shifted to the St Berchman’s School in Changanassery consequent on my father’s transfer there. That was a Catholic establishment; a Catholic prayer in Malayalam was a mandatory part of the morning assembly in addition to the Vancheesa Mangalam. But there was no compulsion for the Catholic prayer. Non-Catholic students were free to remain silent.
After three years there I was shifted to the Model Government School in Trivandrum. The only ritual in the morning assembly was the singing of Vancheesa Mangalam. I wrote my ESLC examination in March 1947, and joined the University College in June 1947.
This secular policy, followed through centuries brought rich dividends. There was peace even in days of grave provocation.
In 1946 and 1947, when millions of innocents were killed in communal riots, there was total peace in the Malayalam speaking region even though a significant section of the population was Muslim.
Today, when there is much talk about Hindutva, which many communal minded ring leaders use to spread divisiveness, there seems to be a need to re-educate ourselves in the fundamentals of genuine Hinduism. There is no better way to do this than through the teachings of Vivekananda.
Swamiji had said, “It is love and love alone that I preach, and I base my teaching on the great Vedantic truth of the sameness and omnipresence of the soul of the universe.”
He also said, “Try to be pure and unselfish. That is the whole of religion.”
Now, 70 years after the “Hindu Rashtra” under the Maharaja ended, there is total communal peace despite efforts by fascist organisations to spread divisiveness.
The Hindu festival called “Aattukaal Ponkaala” celebrated in a mother goddess temple in the heart of Trivandrum, where a few million women assemble to cook prasaad in improvised fireplaces and offer it to the deity, illustrates this.
Premises of mosques and churches are thrown open for the Hindu worshippers to set up their fireplaces. This phenomenon repeats year after year. Well to do Muslims distribute fruit juices to the Hindu women worshippers working in the hot sun and waiting for the auspicious moment when priests from the temple will go round and consecrate the Prasad.
This repeats year after year.
A more touching incident happened recently. The marriage of a poor Hindu girl, daughter of a destitute widow was solemnized by a Muslim Jamaat, in the premises of a mosque. The invitation letter was issued by the Jamaat Committee.
A pandal was put up in the compound of the mosque and the marriage solemnised as per Hindu rituals in the presence of a Hindu priest and a mullah. A sumptuous Kerala style feast was served to all the guests. All expenses were borne by the Jamaat Committee.
Vivekananda, as quoted above, preached love and love alone. Isn’t that what all great prophets have really done through the centuries?
(SS Kaimal is former chief engineer of the Government of India and former chief technical adviser to the United Nations (UN). He is also the founder joint secretary of the All-India Confederation of Central Government Officers' Associations, which worked in the 1960s and 1970s for reforms in the administrative apparatus and to convert it into a modern people friendly organisation, liberated from the Macaulayan snail-paced red tape rituals.)