Redefining Secularism Through Music

Swati Jha, Associate Lawyer, Kaden Boriss

I was neither a Hindu nor a Mohammedan. I was both. I was nothing. I was all. I discern God in both. There is no Hindu and no Mussalman. To him who is free from delusion, Hindu and Mussalman are the same. Remove the shroud and behold the miracle!”- The spirit of KabirDas

It is considered that after the death of the great poet Kabir Das, Hindus and Muslims had claimed his dead body in order to perform their respective funeral ceremonies. But, when the sheet covering the body was removed flowers were found instead of the body. They distributed the flower among themselves and completed the funeral according to their respective traditions and customs. And an end was put to the question that whether great poet Kabir Das was a Hindu or a Muslim. Later, a temple of Kabir Das was made at the Kabir Chaura in the Kashi which has now become the great pilgrimage place for the people from all over India as well as from outside India. Also, a mosque was built by the Muslims over the grave of Kabir which became a pilgrimage for Mohammedans.

Similarly, Bharat Ratna Awardee Ustad Bismillah Khan, a pious Shia Muslim was an Indian Shehnai maestro. However, similar to many Indian musicians, regardless of religion, he was also a devotee of goddess Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of wisdom and art. He often played Shehnai in Hindu temples, for the pleasure of God and his devotees. He used to give prominentperformances, especially at the Vishwanath temple of Lord Shiva at Varanasi. Bismillah Banarasi was a Muslim blessed by Hindu Gods.

Above mentioned are two magnificent examples of how music inspires and elevates the soul of mankind by removing hostility and casteism. India is a diverse country where music and religion has co-existed beautifully and are not in conflict. Music has managed to be of equal value to a religious and a secular person. Music in all sense brought out the real meaning of being SECULAR which is as follows:-

samanata (equality) which is incorporated in article 14 of our Indian Constitution;

prohibition against discrimination on the ground of religion, caste, etc., which is incorporated in articles 15 and 16;

freedom of speech and expression and all other important freedoms of all the citizens under articles 19 and 21;

right to practise religion under articles 25 to 28;

However, the secular character of our society underwent threat; when endless hatred and violence in the name of religion was seen in the burning issue of rebuilding Shri Ram temple in Ayodhya as it became a national goal. Hindutva vision in India found a major symbol in what use to be an obscure mosque in Ayodhya. A renewed focus on Ayodhya burst in the Indian politics in 1990s, when Bharati Janta Party leader Shri L.K Advani took a rath yatra that would catapult this party into national prominence and the nation into chaos. However, India has witnessed sustained periods of gruesome violence and awful disregard for human rights that question the very secular fabric of the country and its history of peaceful coexistence for eons. To mention some,Calcutta Riots of 1946, Bhiwandi Riots of 1970, Moradabad Riots of 1980, Anti-Sikh Riots of 1984, Bhagalpur Riots of 1989, Kashmir Riots of 1989, Gujarat Riots of 2002, Aligarh Riots of 2006, etc have been the most prominent stains in the clean secular image of the country.

Secularism & its Constitutional Precepts

“I do not expect India of my dreams to develop one religion, i.e., to be wholly Hindu or wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religious working side by side with one another”. By Mahatma Gandhi.

In S.R. Bommai v. Unionof India it was stated that Secularism (whatever it may mean) is a basic feature of the Constitution [(1994) 3 SCC 1, AIR 1994 SC 1918]. The Constitution of India stands for a secular State; and has no official religion. Secularism pervades its provisions which give full opportunity to all persons to profess, practise and propagate religion of their choice. The Constitution not only guarantees a person’s freedom of religion and conscience, but also ensures freedom for one who has no religion, and it scrupulously restrains the State from making any discrimination on grounds of religion. But the reality is however quite disappointing, people kill each other in the name of religion and the religion of the ruling party tends to become the state religion. It seems India is a secular country only on paper or pseudo- secularism prevails here. Post independence and in the era of globalisation even though our constitution was still secular but the system, the office bearers, politicians, administrators were intruded by communal elements. Article 25(1) of our Indian Constitution imposes certain restrictions on the freedom of religion in Venkataramana v. State of Mysore, [AIR 1958 SC 255: 1958 SCR 895] it was stated that freedom of religion should be subject to public order, morality, health and other provisions of article 25 (2)(b), but we have witnessed how political parties instead of protecting our basic structure became the torch bearer for these communal violence in our country. In the name of religion, one such monstrous riots was witnessed by Gujarat in 2002 where the state has emerged as a major player and actor in violence by mobs. A mob of protestors went on a charge, destroyed Muslim homes and businesses, killed Muslims, including men women and children and drove thousands of people away from their homes. The apparent reason for this anger was the burning of a train coach that was carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya.

Role of Music in redefining Secularism in India

The holy war, dharmayudh and jihads have been happening since ancient times and have also been glorified by its perpetrators and sympathizers, which is a shame to humanity.  Music taught us to be truly religious, to name a few great musicians such as Bismillah Khan, Kabir Das, Bulleh Shah and their approach towards spiritualism, Malik Mohammed Jayasi, Sufi and Bhakti traditions and many more has taken an inward step by teaching the world to be truly religious; they through soulful music taught the whole crux of religion. Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb is a unique composite culture which has it essence in:-

post 1992 when there were calls of garv se kaho hum Hindu hain and garv se kaho hum Musalman hain, those deeply soaked in Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb had replied garv se kaho hum insaan hain.

The city of nawabs during navaratra witnesses the deep routes of Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb when the Hindus abstain themselves from non-vegetarian food for nine days the Muslims shut down there meat shops keeping up with the century old culture of oneness.

In the end secularism harbours in the heart of every individual and there should be no feeling of ‘otherness’ as we all have a shared history. In words of Vivekananda, “We are all sparks of infinite divine fire”. India is a society where Sufi and Bhakti saint has brought in a cultural acceptance for each other and we should embrace it and not let it go. Music has always provided solutions to any secular turbulence in the country. It has the power to unite humanity; music doesn’t have a caste and is truly secular in nature.


Views of the Author are personal and the institution she is associated with may not necessarily subscribe with her views.

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