Updated: Jul 12, 2021
The Western world has a very stereotypical image of “Hindu” or India. This image typically includes Holy Cow, Snake Charmer, Elephant-headed God or having Millions of Gods. Recently Charlie Hebdo (CH), the famous satirical cartoon magazine based in France, used the rhetoric image of Millions of Gods to comment about the Covid-19 pandemic situation in India in the second wave in the April/May 2021 . Here is a reply from the perspective of the Hindu Dharma, Hindu religion, to the cartoon of CH.
All beings, great or small, are equal manifestations of God; the difference is only in the manifestation.
The concept of God is sought differently in different religions. The above meaningful definition of God coined by Swami Vivekananda in his Work “Prabuddha Bharat: or Awakened India” summarizes the meaning of God for Hindus. Hindus believe that the supreme God, the Brahma, is without any attributes, beyond comprehension of senses and always present. Each and every being and/or things, living or nonliving, constitute of him, making the God omnipresent. For Hindus to understand and to realize his omnipresence is the highest and purest form of the knowledge. This philosophy is open for any questions, cross debates and scientific or logical scrutiny. Comparatively, in the Abrahamic religions which are originated from same root, God, the Almighty, is perceived in different ways. Different doctrines in the Christianity as per their belief argue about the constitution of God with single, double, triple or more entities. However, Islam and Jewism believe in monotheism, God as a single entity and that being the supreme. All of these 3 religions doesn’t possess any knowledge about the incarnation of God and this mainly results in the misinterpretation of millions of Gods of Hindu religion.
CH posed totally illogical and nonscientific question in its cartoon by asking the help of the 33 million Gods for Oxygen. In addition, numerically and also theologically this is completely incorrect. Hindu belief states that there are 33 Koti elemental Gods. The word Koti is from Sanskrit and numerically Koti means Crores. 1 Crore is 10 Million. In satirical zing sometimes easy mathematical calculations can be tedious to solve. So not just 33 Million but 330 Million gods are ready to save us all. The word Koti has also a meaning of different type. 33 different types of elementary Gods evidently represent the formless and shapeless Brahma and help in sustaining and completing vital functions of the whole Universe. As discussed in Brihadaranyak Upanishad between Verses No. 3.9.2 to 3.9.6, one of the scriptures explaining foundation of Hindu Dharma, 5 basic elements of fire, earth etc. and the Sun, the Moon and the pole star; 5 sensory organs and 5 organs of action and the soul; 12 time wise divisions of an year; clouds or a vigor and a Yajna or a Sacrifice make this list of 33 Gods complete. All these 33 Gods are essential constituents of any human being and his daily existence. Similarly, these Gods are key elements of different deities of Hindu Dharma and their incarnations. Whether millions or singulars, it is important to believe in the existence of God in all sorts. BhagvadgeetaVerse No. 4.39 explains श्रद्धावान् लभते ज्ञानं (Shraddhavan Labhate Gyanam), meaning the one who has strong reverential faith, he will surely attain the highest and purest form of the knowledge. So let’s start having faith in the God, as he is everywhere and in all the things, hence he will surely help us to overcome all sorts of troubles, even a pandemic.
Image by Abhishek Deshpande
In Rigveda, one of the fundamental scriptures of Hindu Dharma, Verse No. 1.164.46 says एकम सत विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति (Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti), meaning that the true God is only one or the same, sages who understand it call it in different ways. This saying accepts each and every conception of God presented and believed by all creeds, sects and religions in the World. In the similar way, the satirical criticism by CH is also accepted and taken with completely open heart. This global acceptance and tolerance of the Hindu Dharma is also mirrored in the Indian laws. The definition of “Hindu” for different Hindu laws also show this acceptance. For example, Hindu marriage act accepts anyone as a Hindu who is atheist or not believing in Islam, Christianity or Jewism or who just accepts his faith in Hinduism on a simple bona fide.  There are multiple examples where faith in the Hinduism of the eminent personalities were accepted by Indian Judiciary just on the bona fide. One of such examples is of Saint Yesudas, Christian by birth, however declared his faith in Hinduism on a bona fide to serve in a Temple in India. If CH is ready to bona fide his faith in Hinduism, CH is always welcome!
The cartoon from CH presents India, Bharat, as a Hindu Rashtra – Hindu Nation, by critically asking millions of God for help in the current pandemic. Since thousands of years, people from different faith or religions have been living in harmony in Indian subcontinent. In spite of multiple invasions on this geographic region and the Hindu Dharma, both are still existing. This is mainly due to the teachings and the values of the Hindu Dharma. Hindu Dharma as stated before in its teaching itself is inclusive, tolerant and secular by its own. The country formed after independence i.e. India is made constitutionally secular. However, your cartoon reestablishes the image of India in the world as a Hindu Nation. Thank you for that.
Going by facts and figures, based upon UN estimates just before start of this pandemic the population of India was 1.38 billion and that for whole of Europe was approximately half of it, 748 million.  The latest numbers of deaths by Covid-19 in both the geographic territories from , underlines the fact that India has managed this crisis in 2020 as well as in 2021 in a much better manner as compared to the EU or most of its member countries. Deaths per million in India due to the Covid-19 are currently at 212, whereas for France – 1649, Germany – 1034, Italy – 2058, Switzerland – 1234 and for whole of the Europe – 1415.  In this number crunching exercise, no one should forget two facts. Firstly, each life lost is very precious for the close family members, society and the nation. Secondly, overloading till collapse of the systems, due to uncontrollable population is longstanding problem in India. For this purpose strong constitutional amendments are in the pipeline. This can cause a huge turmoil in India and on international platforms as experienced recently in the start of 2021. The French and German governments were always there with the Indian Government through the thick and thin. We wish it remains so.
The Government of India (GoI) is taking huge steps to control the outbreak of second wave of the pandemic in India. To mention a few, Proactively in October 2020 itself GoI started initial procedures to setup at least 162 medical oxygen plants of over 150MT capacity all over the India.  In April 2021 GoI also allocated approx. 6500 MT of medical oxygen for all the states.  Currently, world’s third largest national population by numbers which has received at least a single dose of any vaccine is in India.  Apart from governmental support many doctors, medical staffs, security forces and millions of volunteers (Karyakartas) from and outside of India are standing up strong to help fellow Indians. Kathopnishad Verse No. 2.2.12 says “एकं रूपं बहुधा यः करोति ” (Ekam Rupam Bahudha Yaḥ Karoti) meaning the God multiplies his one form into infinite forms. Hence, we know that this whole voluntary force is nothing but incarnations of God.
It gives a lot pleasure to state the fact that numerous Trusts of eminent Temples in India also came forward and helped in numerous ways such as by building special hospitals, providing isolation facilities, supplying oxygen, medical devices, medicines and food to the poor and needy people for free of cost. In addition to this, crores (Millions) of rupees to different relief funds in India were also donated by these trusts.  It must be mentioned that in India there is no deduction from the income of individuals against “Temple Tax” and temples hardly receive any governmental aids or funds, but they have to pay taxes to the government on their income through funds or donations. Doesn’t this generous support from temples comes directly from God?
How can one forget the most recent contribution of India in providing the amassing 6 Crore doses of vaccines to at least 70 countries in the World almost free of cost?  Realizing the need of the hour about the dire situations in other countries, over criticism or media hype India chose to stick to the principle from Mahopnishad Verse No. 4.71, “वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्” (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam), meaning whole planet is one family and became a new pharmacy of the World. However, instead of helping India to overcome current situation, few nations thought of their own interests and initially denied medical help or vaccine raw materials. France or Germany extended their whole hearted medical support to India and we, Indians, thank their respective governments for this help.
In the current situations the last thing people need is a satire. Hence, we urge CH team that instead of condemning other cultures, join the voluntary force in a way you can and help the world to safely get through this pandemic. You, yourself will be perceived as a God, who is not just providing the oxygen but all the essential life supports.
 Swami Madhavananda, „Section IX - Yajnavalkya and Vidagdha,“ in The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: With the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Advaita Ashram, 2018, pp. 558 - 563.
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Authors: Gunesh Tallu and Shrikant Kadam
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