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By Nithin Sridhar
It is undeniable that Sanatana Dharma a.k.a. Hinduism has been under constant attacks for the last thousand years in one form or the other.
First, it was the brutal Islamic invaders who destroyed Hindu temples and killed or converted people using swords. Then, there was the Indian occupation by the British that gave a free run to various Christian missionaries to conduct evangelization.
And, now, we have various breaking India forces whose actual target for dismantling is Hinduism and its various institutions and structures because they realize that Dharma is at the very basis of Indian life.
It appears that the latest target in this dismantling project is the ‘Hindu Kumbh Mela’, according to a recent article written by noted Indologist and author, Rajiv Malhotra.
Western Academics, Christian Missionaries hand in hand in dismantling Hinduism
In this Western mission of dismantling Hinduism, the Western Academics, and Christian Missionaries have often complemented each other. This is not to suggest that all Western academics and Indologists have ulterior motives or that all of them have hidden connections with the Church. We have had and still have many genuine Western academics who are not only sympathetic towards Hinduism but also recognize and appreciate its richness and heritage.
But, what is also self-evident is the fact that certain sections of Western Academia are not only deeply connected with the Church and Evangelical organizations, one can also observe many trends in their activity which often complement each other, and has for their goal the dismantling of Hinduism.
First, the introduction of English education by the British resulted in the dismantling of Indian education system and the complete sidelining of Sanskrit language. Sanskrit was the storehouse and the preferred medium of transmission for all branches of Hindu knowledge: philosophy, mathematics, science, astronomy, medicine, law, and spirituality. Thus, by dismantling Sanskrit, they alienated Hindus from their own knowledge and education system.
Second, the Colonial Scholars introduced the concept of ‘Aryan race’ who invaded India and the ‘Dravidian race’ which was indigenous to India. The fruits of this division are visible even to this day. Using this Aryan invasion, the colonials denied both indigenousness and cultural continuity of Hindu traditions. This gave them a perfect excuse to take upon ‘White Man’s Burden’ at civilizing the ‘barbaric primitive society.’
This project of civilizing Hindu people was just another name for the Christianization of the society. The Western Academics prepared the ground for harvesting the souls for Christianity, by denying Hinduism its antiquity, continuity, indigenousness, and its tools for transmission.
Third, the inculturation attempts of Christian missionaries was complemented by the production of literature wherein various fictitious claims like Jesus came to India and learned Yoga, Saint Thomas came to South India and converted Thirukural, etc. were propagated. These myths were then used to implement the inculturation project by appropriating Hindu symbols like the saffron robe, bells, mantra, etc. for propagating the message of the Christ. Many of these myths and claims are being propagated even till this day.
Fourth, in the recent past, there has been attempts to remove Yoga from its roots. The Yoga is being now re-defined as Yoga for women, Yoga for pregnancy, Yoga for stress management, Yoga for weight reduction, etc. Various studies and literature have been written on the physical benefits of Yoga. By, this secularization of Yoga, it is being removed from its Hindu roots. This secularized Yoga is then appropriated by other religions. This is already happening in the form of Christian Yoga.
Fifth, a large band of scholars starting with Wendy Doniger and Jeffrey Kripal have carried out Psychoanalysis of Hinduism, its Gurus, Gods, and Symbols and have attributed all perverse meanings to them, thereby denying their spiritual and philosophical significance. Thus, Mother Kali becomes a Mother with phallus, Lord Ganesha’s trunk becomes his phallus, and Ramakrishna’s spiritual realizations become experiences induced by homoerotic and pedophilic passions.
Sixth, there has also been various attempts at discrediting the genuineness of various Hindu movements in the last century. Hence, Vivekananda’s teachings have been branded ‘Neo-Vedanta’ and “Neo-Hinduism’ which is something different from traditional Hinduism. It is further suggested that the Hindu reformation is largely inspired by Christian values.
These are all clear attempts at dismantling Hindu religious, philosophical, and spiritual foundations by reducing its religious symbols into aids for sexual fantasies, its practical systems of spirituality into physical exercises, and rooting its internal reformation in Christian values.
These various attempts at the academic dismantling of Hinduism, intentionally or unintentionally, prepare the ground for future evangelization. The Christian missionaries are well-funded and well spread across the world, and they are continuously involved in harvesting the souls through every possible means.
But, despite pouring enormous money and manpower over last 200 years, their evangelization project in India has been only a partial success bordering on failure. This failure has not demotivated them. Instead, it has further strengthened their resolve to find different ways and form different strategies to achieve their goal of Christian India.
Thus, we can see a clear relationship between the attempts at the academic dismantling of Hinduism by the western scholars and the evangelization activities of the Christian missionaries who are trying to dismantle Hinduism at the ground level.
Is Kumbh Mela the new target for dismantling Hinduism?
The latest target of these ‘dismantling Hinduism’ forces appears to be the sacred Kumbh Mela. Kumbh Mela is one of the most sacred events in Hinduism. Millions of Hindus from across India come and gather once every three years to take a ritual bath in the river and participate in other religious activities.
It is not only the world’s largest congregation of people but is also the largest congregation of saints and Yogis, belonging to diverse sects and schools. It is held in Haridwar, Prayag, Nashik, and Ujjain respectively on a rotational basis. According to some scholars, the earliest historical references to this sacred event is in the 7th century.
On the other hand, the Puranas record that, when the gods and demons churned the milky ocean for Amrita (the nectar of immortality), they began to fight with each other over drinking the Amrita. Then, Lord Vishnu, who appeared in a female form as Mohini, took away the pot containing the Amrita. It is said that, during this flight of Mohini, few drops of Amrita fell at four places on earth. And the Kumbh Mela is organized at these four places.
Now, it appears that the very foundation of this ancient and sacred event of Kumbh Mela may now be under threat. In 2013, Harvard University initiated a major project to study and map Kumbh Mela called ‘Harvard Kumbh Mela Project’.
The project not only brought worldwide attention to the Kumbh Mela, the initiative was also appreciated across the world. The initiative, which involved 50 academics from multiple disciplines, ‘mapped’ the Kumbh Mela by first recording various trends and observations on various aspects of Kumbh Mela and then analyzing them by categorizing them into various themes: Environment, Urbanism, Business, Public Health, etc.
Though, from the outset, the initiative appears to be genuine and useful, this intervention along with many similar western interventions may ultimately lead to the dismantling of Kumbh Mela, warns Rajiv Malhotra.
Malhotra says that the western interventions in Kumbh Mela may lead to distortion, secularization, and commercialization of the Mela. This may in turn prepare a ground for Christian missionaries to function.
Regarding the multidisciplinary approach of the Harvard project, Malhotra says: “Each lens is highly secularized, lacking even an iota of shraddha (Conviction) for our traditions. They are looking for “interesting specimens” to study.”
He further points out that the Western interventions try to analyze Hindu traditions using lenses of feminism, environment, sociology, etc. These interventions are devoid of Hindu philosophical insight and understanding and hence will lead to digestion and distortion of Hindu practices. This is nothing but another form of colonialism.
The Harvard project’s first phase was limited to mapping. Now, in the second phase, they will undertake prescriptions and interventions to remove the shortcomings in the Mela and supposedly improve them. In other words, Hindus will be told how to practice Hinduism and conduct sacred events. This is not to suggest that Kumbh Mela is without its shortcomings, but that a solution to these shortcomings must be evolved from within the tradition by taking into account all aspects of the event. But, this is not the case with western interventions. They break down Hindu practices into various themes and analyzes those practices using western lenses, and many a times they deliberately ignore Indian realities and Hindu worldviews.
Malhotra maps the trajectory that many of the western interventions adopt in their approach to Hinduism and other eastern cultures and how this will eventually result in the dismantling of those cultures.
He says that Western interventions start as curious field trips that record exotic aspects of the native culture. Then, academics from multi-disciplines like sociology, anthropology, etc. will create various frameworks and map their observations into those frameworks.
These frameworks form the basis on which the whole culture is analyzed and conclusions drawn. It is necessary to highlight that, these frameworks have no connection with how the native traditions perceive themselves and their practices. Thus, the frameworks act as tools for imposing western ideas and perceptions on native cultures.
Slowly people from native culture are made to adopt these new frameworks. This ultimately results in the western narrative of native culture becoming mainstream and the indigenous narrative of their own culture becomes sidelined and suppressed.
Further, the western narrative will absorb all that it finds as useful from the native culture into its knowledge systems and suppresses and finally discards those elements of native culture that does not fit into its frameworks.
Once, the western narrative becomes a dominant narrative, it is then used to modify various practices of Native culture. This modification is then portrayed as ‘reformation’ though in reality it uproots the native practices from its foundational ethos. This in turn prepares the ground for appropriation by Christian and other western religions.
In the case of Kumbh Mela, if these western interventions are not stopped and if they were to follow the above-mentioned trajectory, then the very Dharmic foundation of the Kumbh Mela will be first discredited by raising various social and environmental issues as a pretext. Then, the event will be secularized by removing those elements which are important to Hindu tradition, but which does not fit into the western secular framework. The Mela will then be commercialized by reducing it to a simple tourism activity. Finally, the ground thus prepared will be used by Christian missionaries for conversion activities.
It must be remembered that the scenario of the digestion of Kumbh Mela presented above is only a possibility at this moment. It may not materialize into reality. Yet, considering how western narratives have colonized Indian discourse in almost every aspect of life, there is a strong chance that dismantling of Kumbh Mela may indeed become a reality. This possibility is further strengthened by the Christian missionaries’ attempts at converting people in Kumbh Mela as part of Project Thessalonica.
According to Alex Pomero, Project Thessalonica is a sub-project of Joshua Project II that aims to convert all non-Christians into Christianity. He writes: “Project Thessalonica aims to stop or limit Hindu activity by converting people who form the pillars of Hindu culture, festivals, traditions, and activity. Traditionally missionaries hate any public expression or display of heathen religions in the form of festivals and temples. Missions want to ensure that no new temple construction activity starts. With this objective, they are converting masons, craftsmen and others involved in temple construction activity.
“The First Baptist Church of Nashville, Tennessee adopted towns where the annual Kumbh Mela takes place and has been actively converting the locals so that visitors face extreme hardship during their next visit trying to find services and supplies. Another mission group is adopting boatmen of Kasi where Hindus drop rice balls in river Ganges as an offering to their forefathers. The boatsmen are being trained in other fields so that they abandon this profession. They are making environmental groups raise the voice so that Ganesh processions, Kumbh Melas, and Jagannath Rath Yatras are limited.”
Therefore, considering how Western academic narratives and Christian missionary activities have gone hand in hand in the past, and how missionaries are already present in Kumbh Melas, it is better for Hindu leaders to wake up and assess the issues affecting Kumbh Mela and be attentive to any attempts at hijacking of the Mela by secular and liberal forces backed by western academia. As the saying goes, ‘better be safe than sorry.’
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,
Jack Daniel's is the world's most popular whiskey brand, but until recently, few people knew the liquor was created by Nathan "Nearest" Green, an enslaved Black man who mentored Daniel.
"We've always known," says Debbie Staples, a great-great-granddaughter of Green's who heard the story from her grandmother. … "He made the whiskey, and he taught Jack Daniel. And people didn't believe it … it's hurtful. I don't know if it was because he was a Black man."
But people believe it now — in large part because Brown-Forman Corporation, owner of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, has acknowledged the foundational role Green played in the brand's development.
"The truth of the matter is, Nearest Green was the first head distiller of Jack Daniels whiskey," says Matt Blevins, global brand director for Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. "We're very proud of this story and are very committed to amplifying it and acknowledging that. In the past, we did not amplify it the way that we could have in earlier eras, but we're about the future and moving forward."
America's first-known Black master distiller
The story begins in Lynchburg, Tennessee, current home of the Jack Daniel Distillery. In the mid-1800s, Green's slaveholders hired him out to a local preacher named Dan Call. Green, who had a reputation as a skilled distiller, made whiskey for Call, using a sugar maple charcoal filtering process that is believed to have originated in West Africa. Daniel, a boy who worked for Call, became Green's apprentice and learned the special technique that gave the Tennessee whiskey its smooth taste.
After emancipation in 1863, when all enslaved people were freed, Daniel purchased Call's distillery and hired Green as Jack Daniel Distillery's first master distiller.
"The best knowledge that we have is that they had a mentor-and-mentee sort of a relationship, and I would say, a friendship," says Blevins. "The stories that have been passed down [talk] about the care that Jack Daniel took to always acknowledge … the Green family."
Historic photo of Jack Daniel (in white hat) seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan "Nearest" Green Image source: VOA
There are no known pictures of Green, but there is one of Daniel with Green's son, George, sitting next to Daniel, rather than being relegated to the back.
"That photograph shows the respect that they had for one another and for their families," says Stefanie Benjamin, an assistant professor of tourism management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "To be not only allowed in that photograph, but also positioned in the foreground and sitting right next to Jack Daniels himself."
Search for the truth
Green's role in the history of the brand was uncovered by a writer and entrepreneur named Fawn Weaver, who became fascinated by Green's unheralded contribution to the world's most popular whiskey. After extensive research, including interviews with Green's descendants, Weaver shared her documentation with the company.
"I was very pleasantly surprised when they embraced my research and updated their records to reflect that," Weaver told VOA via email. "I think it said a lot about the character of their company that they moved that quickly to course correct."
Jack Daniel's has incorporated Green's contributions into the official history of the brand, but Weaver has gone a step further. She invested $1 million of her own money to establish Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is now the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history.
Fawn Weaver (center in red) with her leadership team at Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, including master distiller Victoria Eady Butler (far left), the great‐great‐granddaughter of Nearest Green. (Photo courtesy Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) Image credit: VOA
The company's master distiller is Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great‐great‐granddaughter.
"Uncle Nearest is the most-awarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the fact that it is the bloodline of Nearest Green blending and approving what goes into our bottles is something I marvel at regularly," Weaver says. "Victoria is an absolute natural when it comes to blending, and to watch her work is to see something pretty darn close to perfection."
Seven generations of Green's family have worked at the Jack Daniel Distillery, a tradition that continues today with Staples and two of her siblings. But the Green family did not benefit when the Daniel family sold the Jack Daniel distillery to Brown-Forman for $20 million in 1956.
"Although they [the Green family] were very well off in terms of finances [in the 1800s] in that time, they were not the owners or co-owners of the Jack Daniel distillery," Benjamin says. "And so, those millions of dollars have been passed down through generations of the Jack Daniel family, and not necessarily the Green family."
Maturing barrels of whiskey in a barrel house on the grounds of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Jack Daniel's) Image credit: VOA
Weaver's Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has joined forces with Jack Daniel's to launch a program that provides support, expertise and resources to African-American entrepreneurs entering the spirits industry.
Staples says her family is thrilled their great-great-grandfather is finally being recognized.
"It's kind of mind-boggling … and we are so proud," Staples says. "And to think that from here to Africa, that recipe goes all the way back. And to think that he played such an important role in establishing this company. It sometimes seems unreal. It really does."
Because of Weaver's tenacity, Green's story, although left untold for more than a century, will not be lost to history. But that's not the case with so many other stories of Black achievement and contributions to the nation.
"Part of telling his story and sharing his legacy is to give credit and to give attention to a person who, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have the Jack Daniel whiskey as we know it today," Benjamin says. "It showcases yet another example of how formerly enslaved people, Black people, African American people who have really built this country, are left out of the dominant narrative that we tell." (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally written by Dora Mekouar)
Keywords: Jack Daniel's, Whiskey, Nathan Green, Slavery, Black achievement
Cricket fans can now book the ultimate experience with the official accommodation booking partner for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup, Booking.com. The T20 Pavillion, a bespoke cricket-themed luxury stay that transforms the Presidential Suite at Grand Hyatt Mumbai Hotel and Residences into a classic cricket stadium.
The suite offers guests an all-inclusive once-in-a-lifetime experience during the India vs Pakistan ICC Men's T20 World Cup match on October 24, 2021, packed with quirks and luxuries that is sure to satisfy even the biggest cricket enthusiast. Additionally, as a part of the experience, guests will also have the exclusive opportunity to meet Bollywood actor Shraddha Kapoor at The T20 Pavilion.
The booking window that opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021 and check-out on October 25, 2021. | Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash
For one night only, guests can soak in the energy of a roaring stadium to enjoy the epic match on a life-sized screen while seated on comfortable sofas -- just like the luxury box seats at the stadium. They can also head to the locker room (dining room) next to the field (living room) to have some energy drinks, just like a cricketer would do or head to the bedroom, transformed into a net practice area. It's got the field, the pitch, the locker room, pitching nets and cricket memorabilia infused in every element of the room.
The booking window opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021, and check-out on October 25, 2021. The T20 Pavilion is priced at Rs 6666 only in honour of all the great sixes smashed at the T20 World Cup. The T20 Pavilion can accommodate up to four guests. Cricket fans can visit the website or mobile app to book this cricket-inspired stay. (IANS/ MBI)