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The Unending Debate on Secularism

India is a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic country where religion is central to the life of people. The Upanishads propound it profoundly as Sarva Dharma Samabhava which means equal respect for all religions.

India fortunately has not become a religious or a theocratic state like Pakistan. The Constitution declares India to be a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality and liberty. The Fathers of the Constitution were visionaries and were hopeful that there would be no discrimination based on religion. Though it was only later with 42nd amendment that the words, 'socialist' and 'secular' were adopted in the preamble, they had emphasised the secular foundation of the Indian state.

Secularism is an ideology that holds that religious issues should not be the basis of politics, or in the extreme sense, that religion has no place in public life. Secularism has been a widely debated subject in India particularly since 1963. Everyone claims to be a secularist. Even Hindutvavadis insist that they are true secularists. Unlike the West, the secularism in India is more political than philosophical.

It was George Holyoake (1817-1906) who adopted the word secularism in the early 1850s in a doctrine proclaiming science as the true guide of persons, morality as secular in origin, reason as the only authority, freedom of thought and speech, and all efforts to be directed to this life only. Secular attitude arose as a reaction to the religious domination during the medieval period.

Secular societies were founded in the 1850s based on this doctrine. Holyoake was sentenced to six months imprisonment for making the statement that "God should retire". His secularism was concerned with "this world without denying any other world---". On the other hand, Charles Bradlaugh who founded the Central Secular Society in 1866 held that "the logical consequence of secularism is the absolute denial of Providence".

While for Holyoake, ignoring God was enough, Bradlaugh insisted that God should be banished. Secularism for both meant a complete separation of the Church from the State and the abolition of all privileges granted to religious organisations.

Secularism in India has different meanings and implications. The word is never used like in the West - in the sense of atheism, or purely this worldly approach, rejecting otherworldly beliefs. It is not anti-religious. It means equal respect for all religions and cultures and that, therefore, there is no official state religion, or religious interference in government affairs.

According to Article 25, all those who reside in India are free to preach, practice and propagate religion of one's choice, subject of course to social health, and law and order. Secularism is an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution and the Indian people.

In spite of this, there has been large scale religious intolerance and violence in India. Secularism is endangered. Politicians and political parties are playing the communal card and thus damaging the very basic nature of secular polity and plurality. They deliberately provoke religious fanaticism for political gains. It is now secularism versus communalism.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a blow to Indian secularism. The Gujarat carnage of 2002 is still vivid in our minds. More than 2000 innocent people lost their lives and hundreds of women were raped and murdered most barbarically under the very nose of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The Spirit of secularism needs to be revived and strengthened. As Asghar Ali Engineer observes, “In the eyes of people, religion, not politicians, come to be blamed. Religion per se, cannot be responsible for communal malaise. It is like a tool, which can be used either way.”

Religion is for spiritual guidance and growth of people. It is a major resource for promoting peace, liberty and justice. We must use religions to maintain our plurality, which is our asset. Our response must be based on respect, tolerance and compassion. Persons are sacred, unique, irreplaceable, and irreducible.

We need to build and promote a spirituality that is acceptable to all. It is an essential part of an individual’s holistic health and well-being. It plays a major role in human and societal governance and development. After 9/11 terrorist attack, “God bless America” came easily to the lips of all Americans. Spirituality came alive. It established the fact that human beings can not do without it. The great scientist Albert Einstein once said that his every effort was to “know God’s thoughts”. Spirituality is to be “God – intoxicated” as it happened in the life of Spinoza, an ardent atheist.

Spirituality is often understood to do with escaping from life’s temptations and challenges by going off to deserts and mountaintops to pray all day. It is often identified with matters other worldly, something to do with spirits, something associated with pious and religious observances and activities.

Spirituality is, according to Ursula King, “Anthropologically an exploration into what is involved in becoming fully human” and fully alive (spirit-filled). It points to something central to human life. It is the experience of being unique, being human, being something – a power, energy, presence, drive – that shapes one’s actions and cultivates his or her life. It is what St. Augustine called as “restlessness.” It is a path to God and to become gradually God-like. It is that which pertains to self or soul (atman).

God is Spirit. He cannot be conditioned by space, form, time, sex, caste, color, religion, and so on. He is beyond all these. The word spirit is to do with wind, the air we breathe in, and therefore life. Spirit is life and so God is life. Spirituality unfolds life that calls for transcendence - experience, awareness and appreciation of life beyond self. It helps a person to experience God as truth, love and peace. It takes him or her to something greater and higher. It takes a person beyond his or her egocentric nature and fills with other-centric attitude.

Spirituality is not opposed to religion. It is regarded sometime not as religion per se, but as the active and vital energy that transforms life. It is also not identical with religion. As William Irwin Thompson put it, "Religion is the form spirituality takes in civilization". It is also regarded as a two-stroke process: the "upward stroke" of inner growth, changing oneself as one changes one's relationship with the external universe; and the "downward stroke" of manifesting improvement in the physical reality around oneself as a result of the inward change. We all have spirituality whether we are religious or not. It is that which unites all as human family from disintegrating and puts people in harmony with the universe.

The earth is one, but the world is divided. Religious leaders therefore should come together and take a bold stand against communal violence and promote harmony and peace. In a climate of acute crisis, they must show the way to the future. They must promote spirituality at the political level to liberate and empower politicians and leaders through a sense of shared purpose. Such a sense of purpose is a pre-requisite for good governance and national unity.


Religion and Secular State
Dr. D. John Romus

Secularism, like religion, is much discussed, but understood differently in different cultural zones of the world. In our post-modern world, known for multiculturalism, the debate on secularism is focused on the "mode of separation" between state and religion, whereby the state is expected to guarantee fair treatment to all religions in the political community. This was also the original goal of secularism when it was invented as a political instrument for the governance of the state.

The historical narrative of political secularism goes back to the age of denominational wars of religion that shattered Western Christendom. Hence, the need arose for a new kind of political order where the people of competing confessional persuasions might live in amity, free from religious wrangling and violence. This meant, in practice, to separate the state from religion in some form so that the public domain might be governed by some political norms which might be either independent of all confessional allegiance, or based on a certain common ethic of peaceful coexistence agreed by all sects. These norms must be beyond revocation by any rival confessional claim and must ensure public order.

Out of these basics, two primary models of secular state developed as we have them in the liberal democracy. The first model equates separation as "complete exclusion" of religion from the public sphere by relegating it to the private sphere. Thus, religiously defined-goods have no place in the catalogue of ends the state promotes. When this position is extreme, the state becomes anti-religious. Moreover, its approach to religion is problematic, because in real life it is different to find instances in which there is a total separation between pubic and private spheres of belief.

The second model interprets separation as "principled distance" that the state keeps from religion in the public domain. Here the goal is not to make religion less relevant to public life and social policy, but to prevent the state from being unfair to any religion. This model holds that state and religion constitute two distinct spheres co-existing in the society with their respective areas of jurisdiction to care for people's temporal and spiritual needs. Both respect each other's values as well as their limits.

In the governance of the state, the principled distance model itself operates in two ways, namely, by being neutral to religions or equidistant from them. Positively speaking, both maintain a reasonable approach towards religion. The purpose of neutrality is to avoid state's interference in the religious affairs, and that of equidistance is to avert state's partiality to any particular religion.

The Constitution of the United States of America is considered to be the classical example of state's neutrality towards religion. The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution prohibits the state to interfere in religious matters, either in establishing a religion or its free exercise.

Secularism is central to the Constitution of India. The Indian version of secularism is a synthesis of two streams of thought, the Western and the Indian. The Western model of principled distance variety has been taken and contextualised in harmony with India's composite culture and in defense of essential human values enhancing human dignity. Consequently, the Indian secularism stands for the separation of the state from religion, equal protection of all religions and active opposition to communalism. It is rightly known in popular parlance as equal regard for all religions (Sarva-dharma-sambhava).

Precisely, this sort of secularism calls for the separation of the state from religion to make this sort of polity to function so that the political goods of all communities are protected by the state. This happens only when the state in India is non-sectarian, which requires, in the logic of its operation, distancing the state from religion. However, Indian secularism neither subscribes to a policy of neutrality nor it is at parity with a policy of mere equidistance from religion, but keeps a strong sense of principled distance from all religions.

This means that, as the Constitution has it, freedom of religion is guaranteed to all, but the state is not prohibited from providing religious assistance –(including financial) provided it is on reasonable grounds and on non-sectarian basis. Moreover, the state in India is empowered with extensive powers to intervene in matters related to religious practices. In the scheme of separation understood as principled distance from religion, the state's intervention or non-intervention depends on which of the two better promotes a set of humanistic values for a life of equal dignity for all in the society.

It is exactly, this motive that impelled the state to undertake socio-cultural and religious reforms in the country and to introduce affirmative action for the marginalised. All this is done to protect the ordinary but dignified life of its citizens in the civil society. I believe that this delicate but humanizing secular fabric of our country can be maintained only by strengthening the forces of participatory democracy in the country. I wish that all who respect the dignity of every human person - believers and non-believers alike - shoulder their due responsibility in this national task.

Source: D. John Romus, Human Dignity in Indian Secularism and in Christianity (Bangalore, Claretian Publications, 2007), pp. 1- 497.

Abstracts of Brahmabandhab Upadhyay

Brahmabandhao Upadhyay and Questions of Multiple Identities.
George Pattery,s.j.

Brahmabandhao Upadhyay (Kalicharan Banerjee) is interesting and intriguing figure. Let us attempt an overview of his life from the point of view of Identity.

  1. Discovering and Reconciling Multiple Identities. First phase is when he is in a sense accepts ‘multiple identities of being a Hindu, a Christian and an Indian’. Apparently he is comfortable with all three and is making a conscious effort to reconcile these multiple identities. This was a period when he is excited at the Bengal renaissance, in its Vedantic re-rooting; in its embrace of Western rationalism and in its uprising for Indian liberation.

  2. The Dominance of a Catholic Identity. Second phase is when the Catholic identity seems to dominate when his faith in Christ apparently over-rides the rest. At this phase he is an eminent Christian thinker and was eager to root Christianity in Indian philosophy and customs. He found Vedanta (advaita) as the suitable vehicle for this. Sophia is the mouth-piece of this; he adopts Indian sannyasi dress and wanders as a Hindu-Christian sannyasi.

  3. Conflict (Irreconcilable) of Identities. Third phase is when these multiple identities bring conflicts in him and with other identities. First his enthusiasm to root Christianity in Indian ethos is met with opposition from Zaleski the nuncio; the latter finds that Hindu philosophy and custom are incompatible with Christianity. His initial enthusiasm to defend himself and get approval from the West did not find much support. At this juncture, his national identities come into the fore. He becomes a vocal critic of the West and the British and is disillusioned with Catholicism of the time.

  4. Multiple Identities and Attempts to reconcile. This conflict brings forth the questions of multiple identities: His national aspirations conflict with his Catholic identity where Catholicism was identified with the west; his religious identity as a Christian is coming in conflict with his cultural identity where culture and religion is identified in Hinduism; his cultural identity as a Hindu and Indian brings him in conflict with the political identity of the western powers. In principle BU accepted his multiple identity; but he discovers that each of these identities have multiple identities and layers.

  5. Question of Identity. Identity is a multiple and open-ended construction and not a watertight, compartmentalized, single, closed entity. In the S.Asian context identities refer to a variety of social phenomena, such as caste system, strong cultural values, ethnicity, nation, religion, descent group, class, occupation, lifestyle, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. They are often interconnected. One dimension influences the other. Despite the multiplicity of identities each one of us has a dominant identity enabling us to read the world from a particular perspective. Globalization sharpens the question of identity and interrogates the status of religions in forming identities.

  6. Why Identities Bring Conflicts. Identities refer to the way one defines oneself in relation to the other, and in the process one constructs ‘boundaries’. Consequently we get constructed and dichotomized notions of "insider-outsider", "same-different", "me and the other", etc. While a sense of belonging to one’s community can be seen as a resource, it can also firmly exclude other people. This is particularly true when a singular identity is taken to override the rest. ‘The Clash of Civilization’ projects a singular identity on people and presumes that humanity can be easily classified into civilizations based on a singular identity of religion or culture. This ignores the fact that there are multiple diverse identities that a people possesses.

  7. The Question of a Dominant Identity. A person’s religion needs not be his or her all encompassing and exclusive identity (Sen, p.14). The notion of a singular dominant identity is very divisive. Plural affiliations are more realistic. “Civilizational partitioning is a pervasively intrusive phenomenon in social analysis, stifling other – rich - ways of seeing people. It lays foundation for misunderstanding nearly everyone in the world, even before going on to the drumbeats of civilizational clash’. (Sen, p.42).

    The advocates of singular identity skillfully cultivate it in order to foment hostilities. In making a Hindu a Hindu, a Hutu a Hutu, a Tamil Tiger a Tamil Tiger, a Serbian a Serbian, ‘a Born again Christian a Born again Christian’ a specific identity is separated in one’s self-understanding and the relevance of other affiliations are ignored. The ‘sole’ identity is instrumentalized; human being is miniaturized. (Sen, p.185).

    Asian can be seen only as Asian, not in any of her other affiliations; hence at best, is capable of talking about Asia and nothing more and beyond. The surprising phenomenon in a globalizing world is that there are many who would define themselves primarily in terms of their religious identity. The religious identity becomes the dominant identity among the multiple identities. Imposing a singular identity on a gullible people is the best guarantee of championing terrorism. Whereas “the recognition of multiple identities and of the world beyond religious affiliations, even for very religious people, can possibly make some difference in the troubled world in which we live”. (Sen Amartya, p.79).

  8. Challenge of Identities:

  1. enable people to see differently, in their diverse affiliations, rather than in singular identity;

  2. inculcate that another world is possible and that one can have global identity without losing other loyalties and identities;

  3. Challenge for religious Identity is relate to and contain other identities without compromising its religiosity.

    Will it be too much of reductionism to claim that Sp. Exercises begin on a universal identity of ‘Creator and creature’ and ends with another universal identity of ‘finding all in Him and in Him all’. Other loyalties and identities are preserved and fostered within the universal one. An important challenge for us will be to define our identity in a globalizing world of economies, cultures and religions.

  1. Some Methodological Questions. i) Was BU phenomenon a result of the oriental fascination for the West and its rationality? ii) was BU part of the ‘Orientalism’ that found the Orient valuable and significant only in relation to the Occident? Creating a body of knowledge and studying it and naming it was part of this orientalism; is BU victim of that? iii) was he following the Christian missionary apologetics and a as a result trying to formulate a Christian identity?


Brahmobandhab Upadhyay

The history of the freedom movement in Bengal points out that, revolutionary terrorism (1908 – 20), was a very significant chapter. The terrorists were often put behind the bars or deported to the Andamans after 1908. In the first place, Alipore bomb conspiracy case led to much excitement throughout India. [1]

Journals like Bepin Pal’s `New India’, Aurobindo Ghosh’s `Bande Mataram’ (published in English), Brahmabandhab Upadhyay’s `Sandhya’ and the `Yugantar’ (brought out by a group associated with Barindrakumar Ghosh) from 1906 onwards called for a struggle for Swaraj.  [2]

In practice, as later events showed, many of the extremist leaders would agree to settle for less – Tilak in January 1907, for instance, exposed his willingness to take `half a loaf rather than no bread’, though with the intention `of getting the whole loaf in good time’.  [3]

`Sandhya’ was a daily newspaper, published in the evening. [4]

Its editor Brahmabandhab Upadhyay was a liberal-minded writer, and the chief characteristic feature of this paper was to explore significant ideas by sarcastic commentary. According to Dr. Amales Tripathi, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in his novels referred to the `Geeta’, to progress towards a new `Kurukshetra’ by making the dream of Mahabharata successful  [5].

His bold imaginations influenced the later ages. Hindu extremists like Tilak, Aurobindo, Lala Lajpat Rai, Brahmo Bepin Pal and converted Catholic Brahmobandhab were no exception.
Abanti Adhikari, Lecturer in History, Narasinha Dutt College


A Prophet to Reclaim
K. P. Aleaz

In 1907, Bipin Chandra Pal wrote in his paper, New India: “It was this sturdy patriot, whose almost unaided exertion, has brought the people of Bengal to a practically resistful attitude today. Of all men, it was he who imparted a militant character to our Swadeshi Movement.” Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya, the man thus eulogized, contributed significantly to the nationalist movement. The nature of this needs reexamination today as we proceed towards commemorating his 100th death anniversary.

Upadhyaya made his Bengali daily Sandhya into a popular newspaper, which drew the masses into the mainstream of the political movement. He lent the Bengal partition agitation of 1905 so much strength that its ultimate success may, with fairness, be traced back to him. He gave Indian nationalism a mass appeal that anticipated Gandhiji’s own move by decades. His fearlessness and selflessness were a tremendous inspiration to the nation.

On September 20, 1906, Upadhyaya through Sandhya called for complete independence-“impossible at present. But nonetheless, that is the goal we should always keep before our eyes.” He was the first national leader to suggest this. Aurobindo Ghose had not yet entered politics, having arrived in Bengal only a month earlier. Upadhyaya became a symbol of the desire for Swaraj.

The gulf between extremists and moderates widened since the Congress session at Benares in 1905. Upadhyaya took the initiative to invite Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Kharpade to Bengal and organize the Shivaji Festival. In 1906, he opposed Surendranath Banerjea’s scheme for a dominion status and was instrumental in engineering the disengagement of the extremists from the moderates. The final split came at Surat in 1907.

The extremists, with Tilak as their leader, now demanded full administrative control of the government. But Upadhyaya was not happy with this demand. Tilak’s Swaraj envisaged only administrative autonomy. In contrast, Sandhya declared in 1907: “We want complete independence. The country cannot prosper so long as the veriest shred of the Feringhi’s supremacy over it is left.” There came into existence in Bengal many secret societies such as the Anusilan Samiti which preferred the cult of the bomb and the revolver. They needed a philosophy and Sandhya met this requirement. The extremists avidly read the stirring articles Upadhyaya wrote.

The agitation against the partition gathered strength from August 7 and reached its peak on October 16, 1905. It had by then merged with the boycott and swadeshi movements. Gradually, it outgrew provincial limitations and broadened into Gandhiji’s national campaign for freedom. But its roots lay in the movement of Bengal and in such patriots as Upadhyaya, who first conceived its aims and methods.

In August 1907, the premises of the Sandhya were searched. In September and October of the same year two sedition cases were filed against the editor, manager and printer of the paper. One of the articles forming the subject matter of the prosecution was entitled ‘Ekan theke gechhi premer dai” (now I am stuck on account of love) and this appeared in Sandhya on 13th August 1907.

Upadhyaya wrote: “We have said over and over again that we are not Swadeshi only so far as salt and sugar are concerned…. What we want is the emancipation of India. Our aim is that India may be free, that the stranger may be driven from our homes, that the continuity of the learning, the civilization and the system of the Rishis may be preserved…”

“O Mother! Let us be born again and again in India till your chains fall off. First, let the Mother be free, and then shall come our own release from the worldly bonds…. O Feringhi, … Our power is more than human. It is divine…. We have all the advantages of the ancient greatness of India on our side. We are immortal…. We hereby summon you to battle.”

Bail was granted to the accused, but daily they had to attend the court from morning till evening and this weary waiting made Upadhyaya’s hernia worse and worse. The case was put off till after the Puja holidays, and so he could get himself admitted to what was then called Campbell Hospital. Upadhyaya was operated on October 22. But post-operational complications set in, and on Sunday, October 27, 1907, at 8.30 a.m., he died with the word by which he usually referred to Christ – ‘Thakur” – on his lips. Amid the pomp befitting a national hero, Upadhyaya’s body was cremated according to Hindu custom.

Why was Upadhyaya so soon forgotten? Why was no attempt made to perpetuate his memory? Why are India’s own historians so unaware of his contribution? Tarachand, R.C. Majumdar and A.R. Desai talk about Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghose, Surendranath Banerjea and Rabindranath Tagore. But the name of Upadhyaya is missing in their accounts.

Pal himself had declared before independence: “The ideals of our present nationalism have been obtained from Upadhyaya Brahmabandhav to a very great extent. But it seems that people are forgetting about it. We are trying to keep alive the memory of so many people, but as regards Upadhyaya Brahmabandhv we did not have even a condolence meeting.”

Shyam Sunder Chakravarty wrote in The Bengalee on October 26, 1924: “Upadhyaya Brahmabandhav is now an almost forgotten man. In his case we find a complete justification of the adage that the world knows very little of its greatest men”. Mohitlal Majumdar wrote in the Bangadarshan in Magh 1355 (January-February, 1928): “That lion-man, the heart dedicated to the country, that sannyasi … Bengal has forgotten. They do not commemorate or remember him.”

What was the source of Upadhyaya’s courage and strength? None other than his religio-cultural convictions. Since they represent a dynamic process of growth, it is a difficult task to pin point them. To begin Upadhyaya originally Bhabani Charan Banerji, had been a disciple of Keshub Cunder Sen for some time. He was a friend of Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore. It was with him that Tagore founded Santiniketan.Upadhyaya came to know Jesus Christ through Sen and through his own uncle, Reverend Kalicharan Banerji. In 1891, he received baptism from an Anglican priest but, in the same year, he became a Roman Catholic. In 1894, he became a Sannyasi and adopted the new name, which meant “friend of God”.

From 1891 to 1901 God was his focus, God as experienced in Jesus and interpreted in terms of Hindu thought. His literary activities of this period included the editing of Sophia (January 1894 - March1899), a Catholic monthly journal; Sophia (June 16, 1900 – December 8, 1900), a weekly; and The Twentieth Century (January 1901 – December 1901), a monthly. Because of total discouragement from church authorities he almost stopped his theological writing in 1901. Upadhyaya then became fully engaged in the nationalist movement. In November 1904 he brought out Sandhya (1904 – 1907) and in March 1907 Swaraj, a Bengali weekly.

From 1891 to 1901 Upadhyaya had been making a distinction between Samaj dharma and Sadhana dharma. He was a Hindu-Christian or rather a Vedantin-Christian. Samaj dharma, which implies living manners, customs, eating and dressing, all of them based on the observance of the caste system, pronounced him a Hindu. In terms of spiritual practice (sadhana) and the quest for salvation (mukti), he was a Christian.

Till about 1898, Upadhyaya had the idea that the Vedas should be the basis for Christian theology in India. He also thought that, as opposed to theism, Advaita Vedanta propagates pantheism. But, as he came to study Advaita Vedanta more closely, it become his firm belief that pantheism would be crushed out of existence by Advaita Vedanta, and true theism could be made to flourish in India.

According to pantheism, the universe is the necessary and intrinsic life of God; God is nothing more than the universe and the universe is nothing less than God. True theism, for which Advaita stands, holds that God transcends the universe. Creation is not necessary for God to live. Being of the finite is derived, dependent and contingent, while that of the Infinite is self-existent, independent and necessary.

Upadhyaya felt that Advaita Vedanta would make the natural truths of theism and the supernatural dogmas of Christianity more explicit and consonant with reason than was done by scholastic philosophy. Advaita Vedanta is to supply a new garb to the religion of Christ.

The main contribution of Upadhyaya to Indian Christian theology lies in his explanation of the doctrine of Trinity as Saccidananda and the doctrine of creation as Maya. True, he is following here the basic method of putting an already formulated Christian theology in Vedantic terms. But, in effect, his effort has accomplished much more than this.

Upadhyaya never tried to reinterpret the Advaita Vedantic concepts. What he establishes is, that Trinity is Saccidananda and that Creation is Maya. From such a conclusion the way ahead is clear. It is possible to shed new light on the mysteries of Trinity and Creation from the Vedantic doctrines. Vedanta, to some extent, receives authority to formulate an understanding of Trinity in terms of Saccidananda, of Christ in terms of Chit and of Creation in terms of Maya.

Of course, Upadhyaya has not explicitly proclaimed so. But he has indicated the way forward. Inasmuch as he was the first to indicate such a way he is truly the Father of Indian Christian theology as well as Indian dialogical theology.

In Advaita Vedanta, Sat-Chit-Ananda (Being-Intelligence-Bliss) indicates the Supreme Being, Brahman. According to Upadhyaya, to speak of Brahman as Sat-Chit-Ananda means that Brahman knows Himself/Herself and from that self-knowledge proceeds His/Her eternal beatitude. Brahman is related of necessity only to the infinite image of His/Her own being, mirrored in the ocean of His/Her knowledge. This relation of Being (Sat) to itself in self-knowledge (Chit) is one of perfect harmony, bliss (Ananda).

In Upadhyaya’s opinion, the Christian doctrine of God as Trinity is “exactly the same” as the Vedantic conception of Brahman as Sat-Chit-Ananda because in the Trinity (Father, Son and the Spirit) the knowing self is the Father; the known self or the self-begotten by His knowledge is the Son; and the Holy Spirit is the spirit of reciprocal love proceeding from the Father and the Son. Upadhyaya wrote a Sanskrit hymn, “Vande Saccidanandam” in adoration of Parabrahman who, in Christian faith, is referred as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This hymn is now very popular among Indian Christians.

According to Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya, Maya signifies the will-power (sankalpa) of God. It means that creation is by the power (sakti) of the will of God. Maya involves three truths: God is not necessarily a creator; creatures are non-beings, transformed as it were into being; and this transformation is caused by the mysterious power of the will of God.

It is Upadhyaya’s contention that Maya, which explains creation and the Christian doctrine of Creation, are identical because, according to the Christian doctrine also, God does not create out of necessity but through the overflow of his/her perfections. Creations has no being in itself, what it has is derived being and is the effect of the divine thought. Upadhyaya even said that Maya could express Creation in a far better way than the Latin root, “creare”.

Upadhyaya’s religion was not sectarian but universal. He encouraged a dialogue for relational convergence of religions. Today, when India strives for communal harmony, Upadhyaya’s life can give at least useful pointers. If Hinduism and Christianity can be unified, as he demonstrated, there is no reason why the same cannot happen between Hinduism and Islam.

His political commitment to his motherland again was total, for her complete liberation. He wanted us to be born again and again till Mother India’s chains fall off completely. Independence we got, but still is not our country, our Mother, in chains even today? Mother, give us some more Upadhyayas to fight for the total independence of our people today.

(For further reading with elaboration and all references, Cf. K.P.Aleaz, “The Theological Writings of Brahmabandav Upadhyaya Re-examined”, The Indian Journal of Theology, Vol. 28, No. 2, April-June 1979, pp. 55-77; The Gospel of Indian Culture, Calcutta: Punthi Puatak, 1994, pp. 214-56; Christian Thought Through Advaita Vedanta, Delhi: ISPCK, 1996, pp. 9-44.)

(The Rev. Dr. K. P. Aleaz is Professor of Religions at Bishop’s College, as well as Professor and Dean of Doctoral Programme of North India Institute of Post-Graduate Theological Studies, Kolkata)


Brahmabandhab Upadhyay: The Light of the East (1861-1907)
Dr. Biswanath Ghosh

Rabindranath Tagore said Brahma Bandhab was a Roman Catholic sanyasi on the one hand and a Vedantist on the other. Brahma Bandhab was worshipper of Christ and remained a Roman Catholic to the end. What he did was to synthesise Catholic religion and Vedanta.

Hinduism is a very broad religion. While enforcing perfect conformity in external matters, it allows every one to follow his Guru in matters of belief and conscience. Upadhyay made a very generous use of Hindu Tolerance. He chooses Christ as his Guru and became a Roman Catholic for the salvation of his soul, but in civic matters he remained a Hindu for the Salvation of Hindu society.

Brahmananda was ahead of his time – miles ahead. He was powerful, he was fearless, he was detached, he was unselfish. It was his strength – the strength of his entire ramification. He was a bold pioneer of Indian independence but our focus of attention is his spiritualism and unique synthesis of Hinduism and Catholic Christianity.

According to Upadhyay, Hinduism, Theosophy and Christianity were all three names covering the same reality; three forms of religion, three ways to God; three rivers leading their waters to the same ocean.


Brahmanbandab: The Contextal Martyr
Jai Veeramani

The influence of Brahmabhandab Upadhyaya extends from the time of his generation until today. As a Hindu of Brahmin origin growing up in the simmering cauldron of philosophical and political unrest of late 19th century West Bengal he grew up with a variety of influences around him, such as luminaries like the well known Christian leader Kali Charan Bannurji, the Brahmo Samaj and Naba Bidhan leader Keshub Chandra Sen, the mystic Kali devotee Ramakrishna Paramhans, his fervent Vedantic disciple Vivekananda and dynamic educator Rabindranath Tagore.

Upadhayaya, or rather Bhabanicaran Bandyopadhyay, as he was known before his conversion to Christianity, was an tireless educator and social worker with a genuine spiritual dimension as a Brahmo missionary. In spite of his later being a convert to the Christian community he never abandoned his Hindu cultural identity. This cultural identity is something that blurred the lines of Hindu and Christian culturally and it seems his blurred vision wrought an incredible tension within him.

The extreme pressure and suppression of his writings by the very Roman Catholic church he had come to love made his writing become even more caustic. The growing unrest in the country and specifically West Bengal certainly influenced his even more confusing step of undergoing a prayaschit sanskar and entrance back into the Hindu community.

How much both Christians and Hindus in his geographical area would understand this step in light of his desire to be involved in the country's freedom movements from within Hindu community is unknown to us. It is known that this martyr of the freedom movement, who penned the great sanskrit hymn to the Trinity Vande Saccitananda, was also a contextual martyr for all of us to learn from today as well.

Result of the Essay Competition


Prize Winners:

1st prize (Rs. 3000) : Saurav Bajaj, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata

2nd prize (Rs. 2000) : Debleena Banerjee, National Institute of Technology, Durgapur

3rd prize (Rs. 1000) : Abhishek Mukherjee, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata

Fr. Felix Raj, Director, Goethals Indian Library & Research Society, met the winners on August 4, 2007. Saturday at 3.30 pm at St. Xavier’s College Parlour and handed over the prizes personally to them in a function.

Congratulations to all participants especially to the winners.

The Library thanks Fr. Anil Mitra, SJ for donating the book “A Handbook for Correctional Officers” by S. Ramakrishnan, Kolkata, 2007.


New Arrivals

Christianity in India, by Fernando Leonard and Sauch G. Gispert. 2004.

Hindu Wisdom for All God’s Children by Clooney Francis X. S.J.

India Remembered by Mountbatten Pamela, London, 2007

Passenger Transport Subsidy in West Bengal, by Gupta Sudakashina, 2007.

A hand book for Correctional Officers by Ramakrishnan, S., Prisons Directorate, West Bengal, 2007


Researchers at the Goethals

Agniv Ghosh, B. B. Sarani, on Modern View.

Br. Rory Higgins FSC. Philippines, on connection between Catholic Church in Bengal and Australia during 1840-1870.

Cregan Peter, Australia, on Colonial India

Dr. Ananda Lal, Kolkata on Michael Madhusudan Dutt.

Moutusi Deb Ghosh, Kolkata, on General topic.

Mr. Adity Syam Dua, Chandigarh, on Influence of Bengal Missionaries on Punjab.

Niraj Anurag Lakra, Jharkhand, on Schedule Tribes.

Prof. Rajib Choudhury, St Xavier’s College Kolkata, on Novels of Rabindra Nath Tagore.

Rahman Kazi Mizanur, Bangladesh, on Life and works of Sarat Chandra Das.

Shane Skaria, Kolkata, on general topics.

Shri Kumar Chattopadhyay, Kolkata, on general topics.

Sr. Roseline Jose CHF, Farakka on Trade and Commerce in Bengal.

Stefano Vecchia, Italy, on Asian Studies.

Vineet Bruno Ekka, Assam, on general topics.


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, Farrakka

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Thank you very much for sending me the "Goethals Newsletter" on Kolkata. The facts and figures about the city is very informative. Attributes given to the city by various people from across the centuries as brought out in your article is also interesting to read.
John Romus

Thanks for your newsletter, which you just sent me. I discovered Goethals Library only recently, since I am reviewing Sean Doyle's book on Fr Johanns, and he mentions you and the Library. (I have printed off your article on Fr. Antoine.) In any case, since there seem to be so few Jesuits in India interested in history, I am glad to know more of you and your work at the Library. I am primarily a comparative theologian with expertise in some aspects of Sanskrit and Tamil Hinduism, but I also have some interest in Jesuit missionaries in Tamil Nadu.
Francis X. Clooney, S.J., Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge

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Goethals Indian Library & Research Society, St. Xavier’s, 30 Mother Teresa Sarani, Kolkata-700 016, India.
Tel: 0091-33-2280 1919; email: goethals@vsnl.com  Web-site: www.goethals.in 
Director: Dr. Fr. Felix Raj, SJ; Staff: Mr. Sunil Mondol and Debu Mondal.



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