The proof of divinity

 Each one of us needs a hero. An idol, a point of reference, a larger brand identity about which we feel proud to call ourselves fanatics. You get to choose some of these for yourself. Like your favourite song, or your favourite author. For some things, however, the idol or larger identity is thrust upon us. Your religion, your nation, your sect, your football team - you don't really have a choice in these: you inherit them. And, unless you are fiercely independent in thought and had the conviction of your beliefs even during your adolescence, you have also picked up cultural icons simply because your peers believed in them. In a sum total therefore, we all have some larger identities who we simply "belong" to, or our lots are thrust in with them no matter what.

 Any such idea or identity whose inception happened within us is usually a stronghold. We do not seek reassurances from outside that indeed our choice is good. Consider your favourite trip you have had so far in life. No contention, no pressure. It was purely yours, based on your own experience and judgement - and you will be able to defend it logically with someone who perhaps accompanied you on that or some other trip as well. You will have an opinion of your "own".

 On the other hand, an idea or ideology which you were forced on to, or happened to be attached to by fortune, will always need defense by external means. "Defending" a perceived choice is achieved through a repertoire of facts which someone higher up the chain told you. I belonged to this camp once: fiercely arguing with anyone that I shouldn't (and neither should anyone else) watch any movies because they are inherently bad and cause the society to go astray [Yeah don't ask and I wouldn't tell]. The other form of defending is when you try to convince others actively into buying the same thing you did because of someone else's sales pitch. Remember trying to convince your friend to buy that same overpriced TV you bought because it came with "hyper-anti-aliasing"?

 The last example brings us to the intent behind this post. Consider this: one of the greatest sources of adjectives and adulation about the king Harshavardhan who was defeated at the hands of Pulakesi II of the Chalukya dynasty, is ironically, from the annals of Pulakesi II himself. The court poet of Pulakesi II, Ravikirti, had his verses etched in stone on the walls of the Jain temple of Aihole [source]. How did the court poet of the victor end up lavishing praise upon the defeated? The answer: "Look how great our king is... he defeated this other king who was sooooooo powerful".

 I therefore consider my friend's mother foolish whenever she starts touting her husband's ability to lift a bicycle up with just his pinkie. The fact that she is so eager to tell everyone about it is the disgusting bit. People who swear by their film star because he can flip a cigarette, or people whose idols can mouth meaningless nothings and still inspire awe - I pity them, because perhaps they don't really believe in their idol. If this is the proof of your hero's divinity, then you are being scammed - whether you accept it or not. Run, every time someone tries to sell something or someone desperately to you. It is a scam. Put your idol to the test, hold their feet to the fire before you believe in their ideas.

 To end this post, I quote from Swami Vivekananda, my idol: "Let none regret that they were difficult to convince. I fought my Master (Sri Ramakrishna) for six long years, with the result that I know every inch of the way. Every inch of the way".


  1. I get your gist, but deep down I am still not convinced that we need our idols (false though they might be) shattered in order to pander to our rationality, power of reason or reality so long as the ideal (or let us say, myth) is not a destructive obsession. When a idol or ideal inspires us to do something better, why is it bad?

    Who is to say which is superior: reason or emotion? I think that emotion is far more powerful than reason in our current state of human evolution. This might sound wrong, but my own thought is that a vast majority of people need irrational ideologies to keep them grounded and avoid too much turbulence in life and society. I gladly accept that this might be the case even for so-called educated people like me.

    I personally have not imbibed any higher philosophy to such an extent that I can detach myself from the power of emotion which drives the instinct of idol-worship (figuratively speaking).

    Until human intellect can reach greater heights than currently possible, we seem to need props along the way.

  2. Hari, it is not a debate of reason vs emotion, and neither am I speaking of (or against) idolatory per se. My qualm is against blind worship. If your idol (living or dead) inspires you to be good and do good, great! However, before choosing an idol, I would want to test him inside and out. And any given day, I should also be able to defend him or his views.

    Some of us may just need to have "some" idol and the belief in any such idol itself can power us through life. I simply am not one of them.

  3. Very impressed with this post!

    Yes, it's true that most people don't question the idols (and 'ideals') that are thrust upon them. It's pathetic to see people substitute a sense of their personal worth with that of a 'collective' worth. Perhaps, you didn't venture into that, but the same phenomenon in my understanding also gives rise to what we otherwise call 'communalism' in India or sectarianism.

    On an entirely different note, glad to discover your blog, and quite surprised that I'd not been knowing of it for *so* long. :) But it's easy to understand why, going by your twitter activity, because you keep so low profile. ;)

  4. Ketpan, welcome onboard! And thanks for linking the part 2 of this post up on twitter as well. :)

    I wouldn't consider the linking of personal and collective worth pathetic. Sometimes they are good - consider the rise of nationalism during the Indian freedom struggle or the sense of ownership we require of our leaders. Without this extension of identity and therefore perceived worth, the rise of India as a nation would not have happened. However, communalism, sectarianism and for that matter racism also share a common root as you rightly point out. The essential distinction is the human element, wherein you and I can judge these ideas and choose to partially or wholly follow them.

    Also, thanks once again for all the praise. I have been kind of inactive on twitter and also on the blogosphere lately. Hopefully 2011 will be a more active year.


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