It has come to the attention of HCCV, that there has been some backlash to an article printed in the media, stating Swami Shankarananda's view on the Ganesh Versus The Third Reich play. Swamiji was approached by a representative of the play and gave his honest opinion as posted on the HCCV website in our previous article: "Controversy over Lord Ganesh". His statement was then published in the media as being the view of the Hindu Community Council of Victoria.

In the process of defending what we hold dear in our faith, it is all too easy to let our emotions get in the way of taking the time to understand how swamiji's view could easily have been mis-represented. Swami Shankarananda is both the head of his organization Shiva Yoga as well as the Patron of HCCV. To a non-Hindu, all Hindus are... well... Hindus, a non-Hindu does not distinguish between one Hindu and another Hindu. But Hindus know that within Hinduism there is a vast variety of practices. There are Shaivaites, Vaishnavas, followers of Ma Kali, personalists and impersonalists, to name but a few.

The Hindu Community Council of Victoria is NOT a religious body in its own right, it is a council, a representation of various Hindu bodies coming together for the purpose of presenting our various views to the wider Australian Public and to gain financial benefits for the welfare of our wider Hindu community.

Not understanding this can easily cause a mis-representation such as the one that Swami Shankarananda experienced. My point is that someone looking for statements to validate their needs, will hear the title "Patron of the Hindu Community Council of Victoria" and without thinking anything of it, quote that title.

It could just as easily have happened to any of the HCCV executive committee members, as they all are representatives of their respective faiths, as well as committee members of HCCV.

HCCV asked Swamiji about the controversy and he has graciously supplied us with the following comment:

"To whom it may concern,

I’ve become aware that some in the Indian community were upset that my remarks about the recent controversy concerning the play, Ganesh Versus The Third Reich, were represented in some parts of the media as speaking for the whole Hindu community.

I want to make it completely clear that my remarks calling for tolerance and understanding were my own thoughts only. While they do represent my organisation of Shiva Yoga, they were not meant to represent the position of the Hindu Community Council of Victoria (HCCV). I am patron of the HCCV, but not everything I express represents the HCCV.

The HCCV is a wonderful and inclusive organisation. It represents all Hindus in Victoria. Hinduism is famous for its all-inclusiveness and tolerance. Indeed, there are very many types of Hinduism, and there are very few things about which all Hindus will be able to unanimously agree. This is one of the beauties of Hinduism. So the HCCV is a collective, and only in the rarest of cases will it speak with one voice.

I am sorry that the recent play or my remarks about it may have caused pain to some. I want to apologise, not for having an opinion in this matter, but if somehow I created or allowed the impression that I was speaking for the HCCV.

With love,

Mahamandaleshwar Swami Shankarananda

 

If you are interested in knowing the reasons for my stance, please read below:

While I regret that people experienced pain, I am also aware that most of those who had a strong opinion about the play had not actually seen it but were influenced negatively by the media.

I saw the play and found nothing offensive in it. In the new global culture, many elements from various ethnic and religious groups will be used in new ways. This is not a bad thing, as long as this use is respectful.

What drew me to Hinduism was precisely its openness and tolerance. In my opinion, Hinduism shines for this reason in comparison to other faiths. I call on my Hindu friends to remember this great spirit. I would hate to see Hinduism reduced to fundamentalism, crying out ‘Heresy!’ and putting out fatwas at every new development.

Without the slightest doubt, there can be an insensitive and even cruel and possibly racist misuse of religious symbols, deities and iconography.  When that happens it should be opposed. I believe that in this case, there was no such misuse or bad intention.

I try to look at the motivation of people, and I find in the creators of this play no negative motivation, and indeed quite a positive one. My understanding is that a number of people who helped create the play became devotionally interested in Ganesh and also pained by the Nazis’ theft of the Hindu symbol of the swastika. To this day, the swastika, a beautiful and divine symbol, has been ruined for the Western eye. The play goes some distance towards redeeming the swastika and restoring it to its proper godly position.

Indeed, the problem at hand could be mainly cultural. I come from an American and not an Indian background, and in my youth, I was very interested in avant garde theatre and the theatre of the absurd, and I saw many plays off-Broadway in New York.

In other words, I am familiar with some of the conventions of avant garde theatre. I can understand for a person unfamiliar with these conventions that the play may be seen as distasteful, or even shocking. However, within its own terms the play was not at all disrespectful.

For these reasons, I hope that we can agree to disagree and keep our powder dry for occasions when there is real misunderstanding and discrimination against Hinduism. Then we should respond with one voice and with great strength."

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