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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri




by T.N. Dhar ‘Kundan’

Nobody can deny the fact that faith is one’s own private affair. Normally a person owns and adopts the faith of the parents who have given him birth. Of course in cases where the father and mother belong to two different faiths, it is open to their child to adopt either of the faiths. In later years a person may decide to get converted to a different religion and adopt a faith of his choice different from the one he was pursuing from his birth. How far this conversion is logically correct and justified is a matter of debate. But one thing is very important in this regard and that is the reason for conversion. If we take statistics of conversions in an area over a period of time we will see that the higher percentage of conversions is because of coercion, force, inducement, financial benefit by way of employment etc; and marriage. Cases of conversion on principle of religion and spiritual advancement are rare. A study of the history of the world will bear witness that the conversions have largely been the result of coercion, inducement and the threat to life and honour. Be that as it may.

In a recent case the High court of Delhi made some very important observations in this regard. It said that the primary reason for conversion ought to be spiritual advancement and to seek God from another platform. It went on to say that ‘unfortunately today proselytization is being done for reaping benefits and in some cases to manoeuvre the law.’ It follows that while it is the privilege of an individual and his right of freedom to profess any faith to get converted in order to be able to get spiritual advancement or to try and seek God from a different platform, no civilized society can allow conversion to reap benefit or to circumvent law of the land. Nor can conversion be allowed through coercion, inducement or threat to life and honour.

I was once directed by H.H. the Shankaracharya of Shringeri to translate a book titled ‘Dialogue with the Guru’ written by one Mr. Iyer, into Hindi. The book contains an anecdote, which goes like this: A European gentleman, Christian by birth, was so impressed by the discourses of the then Shankaracharya that he volunteered to get converted to Hinduism. He expressed this resolve to the Acharya, who was quick to enquire, ‘why?’ The gentleman replied, ‘in order to seek God’. His Holiness asked, ‘who has given you birth in a Christian family? The answer is, the same God, who you want to seek. That means you want to seek the same God, whose discretion of giving you birth as a Christian you are challenging. Is it not a paradox?’ The Swami went on to add, ‘there is no need for you to get converted since you are already a Hindu; the Hindu faith is all embracing with a world view. It is without a beginning, without an end and includes all shades of faiths.’ This raised a question in my mind whether we are entitled and justified in changing the faith of our birth for any reason whatsoever. I am still trying to find an answer to this question.

I am, however, aware of the social changes that have taken place over the centuries. At one time in India marriages between different castes, ‘Varna’ were largely prohibited. The progeny of mixed marriages was called ‘Varna-sankara’ or cross breed and was looked down upon since he would ignore his ancestry and his ritualistic responsibilities towards the dead ancestors. Even so normally he would be counted in the caste of his father. In India, there was only one faith practiced throughout the length and breadth of the country and that was ‘Sanatana Dharma’ and, therefore, even in the case of the off-shoots of the mixed marriages, the faith was the same. The question of the change of faith did not arise. In due course of time two heterodox faiths developed in the form of Buddhism and Jainism but these were treated as only off-shoots and extensions of the mainstream faith ‘Sanatana Dharma’ and following either of these faiths did not amount to conversion or change of faith. Buddha is regarded as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu. It is an open secret that the Buddhism, which originated from India, did influence first the faiths and doctrines prevalent in Burma, Sri Lanka, Tibet, China and Japan and in due course those in other countries of the East. It is equally known that the non-dualist philosophy of India also influenced the Sufi cult of the Middle East. Soon the two religions, Christianity and Islam which originated from there, began spreading in various continents and also spread Eastwards. This gave rise to changing of faiths, which is known as conversion. History is replete with the instances of mass conversions, systematic conversions over a period of time and forcible conversions after conquests of territories. There are also instances of religious intolerance, whereby people of one faith not only consider their faith as the only true faith but deny the people following other faiths even the right to live and to exist.

Times have changed. The countries of the world have come closer and the world has become a global village. There is so much inter-dependence and interaction socially, economically and politically that the differences of faiths practiced by various groups of people have gone into background. Practising a particular faith has been relegated to the privacy of one’s personal life. The need of the hour is not only co-existence but mutual respect and acceptance of the validity of all faiths. In the theocratic countries where one faith is given official recognition by the government, respect for other faiths has to be enforced. In secular polities the best tenets of all the major faiths of the world should be taught through the school curriculum. The ideologies may be different in the matter of spirituality, in relation to the Divine, His relationship with the creation and the ways and means of seeking Him and His position in our lives. Yet there are similarities in the mundane aspects and prescriptions in different faiths. These include the tenets of truth, morality, behaviour , ethics and the like. This similarity can and should be highlighted for the benefit of the mankind at large. Moreover, practice of a faith and adoption of a method of seeking spiritual advancement goes with personal qualities of the seeker, his capacity, tenacity, acumen, receptivity, inclination and his bent of mind as also likes and dislike. So no faith can be thrust upon him by coercion or compulsion.

 Economic situations have played havoc in the societies. These days, the faiths and castes, which used to be of paramount importance in the past, have lost much of their sheen. Class-distinction has taken the place of caste and faith distinctions. In Hindu societies there was anger in the so called lower castes because of the treatment meted out to them by the so called upper castes. (The division was supposed to be on the basis of characteristics and deeds, ‘Guna-karma vibhagashah’ and not on the basis of birth). This resulted in large scale conversion from Hindu faith to other faiths. To their chagrin, however, the neo converts found that the discrimination still persisted even after their change of faith. The people of higher economic class in the society of the adopted faith looked down upon them in the same manner as they were looked down upon in the society of the previous original faith. Many of them wanted to get re-converted because of this bad experience but the religious rigidity and conservatism prevalent in Hinduism did not allow this to happen with the result that they got alienated and inter-society and intra-society conflicts increased.

There is no doubt that conversions world over were most successful among the tribes, who were primitive yet had their own form of rituals, set of beliefs and ways of religious celebrations. They were lured into conversions because of the glamour and economic advantages. In the process they lost their distinct character as tribes. The simplicity and straightforwardness of their life style were replaced by greed, ostentation and duplicity. No doubt economic packages for them were needed that would give them the comforts and facilities of the modern times. But all the same there was also a need to safeguard their distinct character and cultural uniqueness, which includes their faith. Large scale conversions played havoc with them and they lost their roots and moorings. There are certain organizations active in the field working for restoration of their original faiths, character of their culture and pristine purity of their faith while simultaneously ensuring that the fruits of advancement of the modern times are not denied to them. These efforts are laudable if these are without any political motive or sectarian aggrandizement, and are purely on anthropological considerations. There is also a need for enactment of laws to put a full stop to un-ethical and fraudulent conversions by coercion and threat to lives. 

T. N. Dhar Kundan's Articles


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