First, a bit of history:
Almost exactly 1,700 years ago, the Roman Emperor of Britain & Gaul (France), Flavius Valerius Constantinus, is said to have had a vision while on the road with his army – of a cross over the sun, and next to it the words “in this sign conquer” (in hoc signo vinces). In a different version, a writer of the time says this came to Constantinus in a dream. No one is sure what the sign referred to in the dream/vision was, but it was a Christian symbol of the time – probably not the cross we are all quite familiar with today.
The very next day, at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantinus, and his forces routed the army of Roman Emperor Maxentius and the gates of Rome, the seat of the Roman Empire, were laid open to him. Constantinus, better known as Constantine the Great, became a Christian as a result of that vision or dream. It came to be seen as a capstone moment in world history.
The earliest version of the battle had no mention of a vision or a dream. But this was the 4th century CE, and such things as visions and dreams were much more saleable to the general public then. It was no doubt also convenient for Christian history-writers in the centuries after, as they worked to impose on diverse peoples monotheistic absolutism across what is now Europe, West Asia, and Northern Africa.
Constantine’s victory on Oct 28, 312 CE was a landmark moment in history. It resulted in the complete and utter destruction of the European civilization of that time over the following centuries. The period roughly between the 5th and the 11th century used to be known as the Dark Ages of Europe. That usage has fallen out of fashion of late, for obvious reasons. It is a story of incredible violence, and of the use of law to crush all existing forms of worship, rituals, customs and practices – and also in some cases the digested transformation of some of these rituals and customs.
To make matters worse for the old gods of Europe and Western Asia, in the early 7th century, a new monotheistic religion erupted out of Arabia: Islam – which had been forged on the caravan routes between Arabia and the Levant, where Christianity was born. This set the stage for a clash of absolutism, which persists to this day. But, caught in the crossfire, the polytheists of the area were defenseless. Their practices were rendered illegal and often the penalty of non-conversion was sub-citizen status or death. The legislative pen and the divine sword were used in the service of the expanding monotheisms.
In any case, you will be hard pressed to find a temple to Apollo or any of the Greco-Roman gods built in the last 15 centuries, anywhere in the regions where the Greco-Roman and the Judaic civilizations used to thrive. The Jewish people, monotheists themselves and in many ways the source of both Christianity and Islam, have just about managed to cling on, and are still on an existential cliff-hanger. Their predicament, in this writer’s view, can be whittled down to a single predominant factor: The Jews did not actively proselytize and try to increase their numbers.
Now, on to the present day, and India:
We are at a similar inflexion point. What India got in 1947 was independence only from British rule, not from its influence. The first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is on record as saying that he was himself only an Indian “by accident of birth”. In fact, he was a product of the British education system for its own elites, which looked upon the denizens of their colonies with a certain compassionate contempt.
Though a well-meaning man, Nehru started a dynasty that has since evolved into a byzantine monstrosity Constantine himself would have been proud of. That is to say a kleptocratic, opportunistic and cynical group of individuals (with a matriarch born in Italy, ironically enough). For 70 years, this dynasty has been – by commission and omission – undermining the Dharmic civilizational base of India, and promoting what they call the “Idea of India” as if there is only one.
Their idea of India is basically a summary of Nehru’s book “Discovery of India”, i.e. a sanitized and sterile India that the anglicized remnants of empire can live with, and more importantly, explain to their friends and acquaintances in the West, with the above-mentioned compassionate contempt, well-honed in British and American universities.
So here we are, seven odd decades later, poised to choose, yet again between a pseudo-Gandhi and a salt-of-the-earth Indian politician, Narendra Modi. Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear: a victory in which Rahul Gandhi ends up as Prime Minister of India will result in a vicious backlash against anything to do with the Dharmic civilization that is closely identified with the BJP and the RSS. “Hindutva” is actually just a euphemism for Hindu, a legitimized derogation.
Leading acolytes of the family, like Kapil Sibal, Randeep Surjewala, Sanjay Jha and Abhishek Manu Singhvi have gone on record warning about what is in store for those who get to close to the BJP and its leader Narendra Modi. They would not have said these things without approval. Three of them are lawyers. Edicts and laws are much more effective than violence in forcing change on a people because they carry the implicit threat of violence by the state. And that violence is regarded by the general public as worthy, exemplary and legitimate – because it has a state behind it.
That is how Christianity spread through Europe after Constantine, through edicts and laws which steadily and incrementally legitimized violence by the state against all who believed in other gods. (For more detail, read this book, the latest in a small list – The Darkening Age, by Catherine Nixey)
While everyone knows about the persecution of Christians between 200-400 CE (mainly), few know about the violent suppression of the “pagan” gods in the 15 or so centuries thereafter. This is why no one even bothers to ask “why were no temples to Apollo, Jupiter, or Athena built in the last millennium?” Faiths that sustained civilizations have been rendered museum memories, often with their heads, hands, noses chopped off. Sounds familiar? And while we, along with the world, mourn at the fiery collapse of the Church of Notre Dame in Paris, a monumentally beautiful edifice, let us also remember that underneath it was a temple to many gods, including Jupiter, Mercury, Castor and Pollux, and Vulcan, the old Roman god of fire.
The scrubbing out of civilizations was not just in Europe, but in the Americas, in Australia, Africa and parts of Asia. Wounds of the Goan Inquisition are still raw, and the ancient temples converted to churches may be far between, but not few. The impulse of the Abrahamic faith systems to gain access to legislative power is powerful, pragmatic and persistent. At the time of Constantine, Christianity was no more than 10% of the total population. It was political power, followed by edicts, laws and subtle amendments over decades that changed the world.
Although the people of the Dharmic civilization has been at similar inflexion points in the past – and have held fast to the Sanathana Dharma despite severe structural damage – the start of the third millennium presents us with an existential choice. And it is made at the press of a button. Vote wisely, choose well.
The Dharma cannot afford another millennium, or even another century, of suppression. It must survive or the last of the old gods of the world face a great suppression and then forgetting – as in Europe. Rescue is in your hands. Literally at your fingertip.
Pro Bono Consultant