Radical chic from an uber minimalist

  • Renuka Narayanan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 19, 2014 14:31 IST

"Our women must give up their fondness for diamonds and silks. This will be a great help to our family and social life. Indeed womanhood itself will stand to gain and stridharma will flourish.

Women should think of the millions of silkworms killed to make the sari with which they drape themselves. They claim that they are vegetarians. So should they not feel remorse about being indirectly responsible for the destruction of countless silkworms because of their love of silk saris? If women of well-to-do families realise this and stop wearing silk, they will no longer set a bad example to their less fortunate sisters. It is because of the example of the wealthy that the poor too hanker after silks and diamonds."

That was the view of the previous Seer of Kanchipuram, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati (1894-1994), fondly and respectfully called Periyar or Periyawal (The Elder).

Even those who were not his followers related to his genuineness. For instance, he did not support 'miracles' by


s, be it




mysteriously appearing on photographs or other acts of showmanship to impress and attract the public.

He "was known to have requested his followers not to meet him wearing silks — he said that he could feel the suffering emanating from the fabric they wore," went the post I’m quoting from, shared from a Facebook discussion on a friend’s thread. Some of the women on the thread had actually refused silk saris at their weddings, to the consternation of their families.

These women were not judging others, just sharing an alternative view, and that from the heart of traditional Hinduism.

With festival frenzy building up, I’m reminded of something else that Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati would repeatedly tell followers — to practice ‘

atithi bhojana'

('feeding of guests', a mannerly way of saying 'feeding the hungry') because one day God would appear as a guest at their homes and how sorry they would feel to have missed out on serving God because they had not got around to cultivating the habit of hospitality.

Every religion and culture upholds this


and one of the most touching stories about it is Tolstoy’s, about Martin, the Russian cobbler, who dreams that Jesus will visit him. While eagerly awaiting Jesus, he sees a poor old soldier shovelling snow outside and invites him in for tea. Then he spots a hungry mother and child walking by and feeds them and gives them a little money from his small purse. Eventually he discovers that he was actually visited by Christ in the form of these poor and tired people.

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me." (Matthew 25:35, ESV)

Many Indians are already engaged in

atithi bhojana

and earning merit thereby. In case we have not had the time or opportunity to practice that ourselves, reviewing our attitude to fine clothes and jewellery and dedicating a portion of those expenses as

'Dipavali zakat'

could be an elegant personal way to light up, by lightening up.

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