Having Your God And Eating Him Too
It was fear, faith and dependency that combined to force the people of the Indian subcontinent to worship nature. If they did not venerate and propitiate the natural world it would be neither kind nor generous.
Gratitude too triggers reverence. Witness this god-fearing man in the Gorumara National Park, West Bengal, subjugating himself before stones that personify Shiva, as he asks for a child, escape from disease, food, fuel, fibre, or thanks his god for a new home or motorcycle!
A combination of ancient pantheistic (nature is god) worship and relatively recent Aryan cultures, such worship is now practiced by innumerable tribes – Bodos, Rabha, Mech, Toto, Koch, Tamang/Murmi, Limbu, Lepcha and Rajbongshi. For their ancestors, the forest was life itself. Anything seen to possess super-human powers was life, and therefore worthy of worship. The Meches deified rivers like the Teesta and Torsha. Also the sun and moon. Their forest god, Hagra Modoi, kept them safe from dangerous beasts. Manasha, the snake goddess, was a powerful protector and Bathou, (Euphorbia), or sij, was not plant but god!
Pantheism gave way to Vedic influences, which had less to do with western invasions and more with eastern environmental changes and withered rivers. Pantheistic worship began to erode, and forests, rivers, oceans and the sky itself became imbued with Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti.
Thus, the ebb and tide of religion flows on as those who once worshipped the forest now hack it down to create ever more fruitless farms destined to fail.
But now a new god has made his appearance – Economics! Like wildfire, Economics has crazed the minds of a billion Indians and before its onslaught, the inspiration for all early religions – nature – is in sharp retreat. When challenged about their false god, like all charlatans before them, the high priests of Economics have taken to making fanciful promises to gullible congregations: “You can have your god and eat him too.”
We know better. We also know that like most charlatans of yore, the propagators of such myths too will be driven from their pulpits and pantheism, as practiced by the likes of Albert Einstein, D.H. Lawrence, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, will rule.
Bittu Sahgal, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXII No. 4, August 2012