Punya Bhumi

published on November 4, 2009
By Dr Vijaya Rajiva

Although many people referred to Bharat/Hindustan/India as Punya Bhumi  or Holy Land, it was Damodar Savarkar who articulated it clearly and forcefully in his work The Essentials of Hindutva (1923). The inhabitants of the land mass which stretched from the Himalayas to the southern seas and from the Sindhu to the Brhamhaputra shared a common culture, shared memories and a shared history, which made them think of the land as holy. Savarkar surveys this history in poetic terms, especially when he speaks of the many saints and sages of the country and the sacred figures who have incarnated in the land. They have made the land holy by their presence.

A contemporary scholar (Dr. Shrinivas Tilak) has returned to this theme of Punya Bhumi in his erudite and original  book ‘Awakening to A Secular Hindu Nation (2008)’. Dr. Tilak sets this theme in the context of defining and explaining the Hindu Nation (Rashtra) and thus clarifies the reason why the love for the motherland is intertwined with viewing it as holy land and why Hindu Rashtra is to be understood essentially as a Hindu Nation (p.20).

Being Hindu then is not simply living in a certain geographical landscape as space. While the geomorphological features of the landscape are there shaping lives and providing cultural and historical experiences, what makes Bharat a Hindu nation is that Dharma infuses the land. This Dharma is universal and transcendent and provides the unity in difference. But it  is also  simultaneously embedded in the many ethnicities and peoples that inhabit Hindustan. It is also the source of ethical interactivity between individuals.

Thus Bharat is not simply a nation of Hindus but is a Hindu nation. Here, the word ‘nation’ is to be distinguished from the ‘state’ (rajya). Western political thought does not make this clear distinction and uses the phrase the ‘nation state’. In that secular sense India can also be described as a nation state. But the West has a limited idea of ‘nation’ and views it merely as a conglomerate of peoples living together in a particular geographical area, with certain political institutions and a certain economy. This is also the criticism of the West by another famous Indian thinker, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. His 4 Lectures on Integral Humanism expound the theme of Nation and  State (1965).

Unlike the West , the Hindu nation is bound together by the bond of Dharma, which is simultaneously  other worldly and this wordly. Material values and day to day living are Punya when suffused with Dharma. Being secular in a truly Hindu /Dharmic way is therefore possible in a Dharmic society which does not reject the concrete dimensions and problems of living. One does not have to reject the world.

Today,  India,  after the many vicissitudes of history, is still vibrant. It has now incorporated some important values of  modern secularism and in that sense has returned to the Dharmic values of the Veda. There is no contradiction between saying that all men are equal and the Vedic value of the unity of being. It is precisely because of the latter that the former is possible. There is no contradiction in Savarkar’s belief that  the citizenship rights of independent India would be equal for all inhabitants of Hindustan, Hindus and non Hindus alike, and yet speak of a Hindu nation. What is the way forward ? It is still the only country with a long civilization history and now can look forward to  a future where ,as Shri Mohan Bhagwat has put it, it can potentially be a Viswa Guru. That can happen only when the Hindu nation, takes its responsibility seriously, that Hindus have a Punya Bhumi which draws the devotion of all Indians to Dharmic values. These can be summed up briefly as : the equality and unity of all beings, the ethical values of love and compassion, the respect for Earth and all living creation.

(The writer taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university)

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