We recently visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in New Mexico near Albuquerque and saw the exhibit on the culture and history of the ancient pueblos. We learned of the massive destruction of Native Americans at the hands of successive waves of colonization from Spain, Mexico, and the United States. There has been willful genocide of people for their lands and natural resources, alleged unintentional mass deaths through exposure to foreign pathogens brought by the colonizers, exploitation of natives for labor, and destruction of their culture and religion through forced religious conversion. The story was sad and heartbreaking.
However, the Pueblo Indians have survived and are currently practicing some of their original cultures, passed down through successive generations of oral traditions. They now practice Catholicism as a hybrid of Roman Catholicism and indigenous rituals. On the contrary, all remnants of pre-Islamic culture in the Middle East1 or pre-Christian European religions2 were almost completely destroyed. There are no practitioners of indigenous Arabic polytheism or ancient Semitic religions. There are very few, if any, practitioners of Mandaeism, Manichaeism, or Zoroastrianism. Practitioners of Zoroastrianism called Parsis exist and thrive in India (one of the largest business houses in India – the Tata family is Parsi.). Pre-Christian European religions such as Norse Forn Sidr, Druidism, and Roman polytheism, among others, were completely wiped out, except for some marginal elements of society.
In India, the almost two-thousand-year onslaught of Islam led to widespread conversion and the destruction of cultural and religious buildings. India was divided into Islamic Pakistan, Islamic Bangladesh and Hindu-majority India. Most of the major Hindu places of worship in North India were destroyed by the religiously intolerant invaders, causing such intergenerational psychological trauma that Hindus established very few major religious structures even after independence in 1947.
The geographical extent of Hinduism, which once stretched from modern Afghanistan to Indonesia3, is now largely confined to India and diaspora spread throughout the world. In the hundred years of British colonization of India there was no widespread conversion or destruction. The British colonizers committed countless atrocities in India. Well known are the three million avoidable deaths during the Bengal famine of 19434, which stole nearly a trillion dollars worth of material wealth and destroyed the ancient Hindu education system6. But they were benign compared to the other colonizers like the Belgians in the Congo, the Spanish in Central and South America, and the Portuguese in Goa, Angola, and Mozambique.
The Macaulay education system destroyed the Hindu education system, resulting in self-doubting generations of Hindus who, to this day, seek validation from the West in every aspect of life. However, the destruction was not so complete. I can speak, read and write in my native language, Marathi. However, India would have been in a far worse situation had Spain or Portugal ruled India. I tremble with misery when I read about the actions of the Spanish in South and Central America and the Portuguese in the Indian states of Goa and Angola. I am grateful that I still have my Hindu name and access to the philosophical treasure of ancient Hindu wisdom.
We cannot change the painful history of oppressed groups, but we can work to protect ourselves in the future. The people who follow these ancient traditions need to come together and support each other. There is a sizeable silent number of good people in this world who are outside of these traditions but are good people. As they become aware of their numbers and strength, these people can pressure their governments to form a bulwark against current and future attacks on the ancient traditions. As I waited on the bench near the exit, I heard angry murmurs from the group of young adults visiting the museum from other states, and some from other countries, expressing the need to do something for the downtrodden. I smiled with hope in my heart for our future together.
One organization trying to unite ancient traditions is the International Center of Cultural Studies. https://www.iccsglobal.org
(Top photo, a “Pivot Skateboard Desk Art Exhibit – Celebrating the Rapid Transition Between Traditional and Modern Native American Life” exhibit – at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in New Mexico)
Mandar Pattekar is a radiologist by profession. His service interests include educating children in underserved urban areas of America and improving urban food deserts. He likes to share the universally valid Hindu Dharma principles with interested people.