Report of Meeting on November 19th 2019
We welcomed Mrs Santosh Kundi for a second visit to SAIF, and fresh from her investiture with the British Empire Medal, awarded for services to teaching and interfaith understanding. With her was Harish Dhokia, well-known to me from the days when I worked at Coventry Cathedral, and co-operated with Harish in our joint efforts for inter-ethnic and interfaith harmony.
Santosh had brought with her a number of small brass figures of Hindu gods, Ganesh, Krishna, Durga and others, and the Hindu symbol OM. She handed one to each of us and talked about them, their stories and their significance for Hindus. We learnt about the Hindu ‘trinity’ of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, of how Ganesh, the son of Shiva with a child’s body and elephant’s head, sits in the entrance to many Hindu homes, ready to listen to your problems, and of how Hanuman, the monkey god protected Ram, the avatar or manifestation of Vishnu, with his allies in the monkey world.
This linked to the recent decision by the Indian Supreme Court that the site of the destroyed mosque at Ayodya was indeed the birth-place of Ram, and that the disputed site should be awarded to the Hindu community, with Muslims being given an alternative place for a new mosque.
In this way the rich stories and traditions of Hinduism are alive and significant for the 80% of Indians who identify themselves as Hindu, while Santosh insisted from the outset that the multiplicity of gods and their images simply represented one real deity. The soul takes different forms as it reincarnates, but Santosh was much less enamoured of the other well-known characteristic of Hinduism, the caste system. Harish explained that varna or caste was originally an occupational category, enabling society to function smoothly, but this had long since ceased to prevent people born into one caste from taking on employment in the traditional business of another, except for the work of the Brahmins, the priestly caste. Even so, the policy of reserving places in colleges and government jobs for people from the lower castes remained controversial after 70+ years of independence.
Between them Santosh and Harish gave us a warm and richly textured account of the faith of their nearly one billion fellow-Hindus.