Thursday, 22 February 2018

Do prayers have a religion?

M Rajaque Rahman
The fuss over the secularity of the morning prayers in the state-sponsored Kendriya Vidyalayas is not just hawkish, but also a marked display of ignorance of the very concept of prayer itself. And as it stands, the Supreme Court will have to rule on whether prayer has a religion. I pray (pun Intended) the Apex Court would go by the spirit and save the education sector from getting trapped in the polarised and prejudiced milieu in the country.


For the record, the prayer in contention is a combination of a song in Hindi preceded and followed by a Sanskrit sloka. The song is a simple call of the heart to fill it with knowledge and purify the soul. The opening sloka is the popular “Asato ma sad gamaya…” which is an expression of the longing to move from untruth to truth; from darkness to light and from death to immortality. The closing sloka is a prayer seeking to move together and not to hate each other.

The prayer doesn’t invoke any deity or God. There is no polytheism, no segregation, no discrimination. And that has been the core of all common prayers of this nation. Take for example the most popular Gayatri Mantra.  It doesn’t invoke God for any small individual comfort. Instead, it calls out for inspiration and guidance for our intellect. And, where else can one find a more inclusive wish for well-being of all than in the meaning of “Sarve bhavantu sukhinah…”? This elementary prayer wishes happiness, goodness, and freedom from misery for all.

If such genuine calls for righteousness, wisdom, eternal light, happiness and wellness of all beings are to be called non-secular and unconstitutional, then the cry for amending the Constitution will only start looking justified.

The point is that these prayers are universal in the language and the content. They unite the entire creation into a bond of divine blessing, and they nowhere limit whom you should pray to. Allah, Jesus, Krishna, Ganesh or Shiva don’t seem to matter. Hence, there is no question of contravening with the Article 28(1) of not providing religious instruction.

The ignorant attitude that everything that has its origin in India is Hindu and non-secular has done a lot of harm to the nation. In the guise of being secular, we have denied the nation from making such deep prayers  for righteousness and wisdom a part of the national consciousness. Those who protest such prayers in the name of secularism not only expose their ignorance of their meaning but also do the biggest disservice to the ideals of secularism. If everybody is blessed with these attributes, the essence of secularism will be a fait accompli.

The prayers which are the being questioned are more of spiritual pursuits of attaining highest attributes in life rather than being ritualistic and superstitious. They are an important part of the indigenous repository which is full of values that are essential for promoting unity and universalism and weeding out fanaticism from young minds. It’s a national tragedy that an aspiration for such higher attributes isn’t inculcated through our education system.

The time has come to sensitize all Indians to praying for the highest attributes in life and imbibe the human values of compassion, caring and sharing. That alone can prevent fanaticism in young minds. The best place to do it is at schools. And, it’s not a tall order. We just need to find non-controversial ways of spiritualising Indian education. The need of the hour is to shift the national discourse from saffronisation to spiritualisation and come up with a policy that will integrate the ancient treasures for which generations of people from all over the world have been coming to India.

(The author keenly follows and write on issues that are relevant to the Idea of India. He tweets @rajaque)

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