Secular Hinduism?
   Mani M. Manivannan
Fremont, CA, USA.

"Secular." We run into this word often in the current cultural war in India.
What does it mean?  The dictionary does not offer much help.  In the online Merriam-Websters dictionary (, the word has the following

Etymology: Middle English, from Old French seculer, from Late Latin saecularis, from saeculum the present world, from Latin, generation, age, century, world; akin to Welsh hoedl lifetime
Date: 14th century
1 a : of or relating to the worldly or temporal <secular concerns> b : not overtly or specifically religious <secular music> c : not ecclesiastical or clerical <secular courts> <secular landowners>
2 : not bound by monastic vows or rules; specifically : of, relating to, or forming clergy not belonging to a religious order or congregation <a secular priest>
3 a : occurring once in an age or a century b : existing or continuing through ages or centuries c : of or relating to a long term of indefinite duration

In a heart wrenching story <>
about the tribals of Katch who are divided by the Indian Pakistani border,
Virendra Pandit writes:

"Muslims here are truly secular in their approach to religion, regularly visiting the Rudra Mata and Dattatreya temples which they also revere as the Peer Pachhmai shrine -- in the memory of a saint who once lived there.
Being cattle-breeders, they also worship the cow and refrain from eating beef."

I am not an authority on Islam.  But even I can see that these practices are
in violation of what is commonly understood as Islamic religious principles.
One cannot say that there is no God but Allah and then worship Rudra
Mata or the cow and still be a muslim.  And by this definition, syncretic
Hinduism * IS * secularism!

Nevertheless, it is this syncretic aspect of Hinduism, its ability to combine
radically different forms of beliefs and practices and its genius at fusing
multiple cultures and faiths to create a "practical" religion, that I treasure
so much.  Strictly speaking, this syncretic aspect of Hinduism may not
be acceptable to orthodox Hindus, the Vaidhikas, Saiva Siddhantins,
Vaishanvaites, advaitins, vishitadvaitins, shaktas and various other
sub sects of Hinduism. But then I am always suspicious of the pure
black and white dichotomy prescribed by the orthodox religions; a clear
cut good vs evil, a chosen few vs the condemned masses, etc.  The
universe is far too chaotic to fit this model.  Evolution is messy.
And "good" guys don't always win.  And the orthodox religions require
you to believe in not just a god but also a worthy rival, an evil incarnate
adversary, to believe in a good god vs a bad god, devas vs asuras.  Yeah,
like the Katch muslim tribals, I am comfortable with the spectrum of
divinities.  Somehow that makes sense in this impersonal universe where
sentient beings have evolved enough to wonder about the universe
and their role in it.