By Swami Harshananda
The word ‘conversion’ is derived from the Latin root conversio.
- It means a change of direction and a complete re-orientation of one’s personality towards God.
- It is a purely spiritual process of turning away from the mammon towards God. It has nothing to do with proselytism. Identification with it is a later development.
Practice of proselytization by the religion has existed for two thousand years and has been recorded in shastra including conversion into the believes of the ‘yavanas’ and ‘mlecchas’. These races were considered to be barbaric or less civilized. Hence they had willingly adopted the ways of life.
But the problem which has often caused unrest in the society is that of conversion into Semitic religions. The factors affecting this conversion are:
- Socio-economic factors
- Efforts put in to rectify the imbalances
- Mind of the religious leaders
Re-conversion or home coming
- A study of the ancient Brāhmaṇas or dharmaśāstras shows that re-conversion was not an unknown phenomenon. The sacrificial ceremonies called ‘vrātya-stomas’ aimed to purify and bring back the ‘vrātyas’ into the Aryan fold.
- The Viṣnu-dharmottara-purāna (A.D. 500) and the Devalasmṛti (a.d. 1000?) give specific instructions for purifying and bringing back into the religious fold, those who had been forcibly converted by the ‘mlecchas’.
- During the recent past Maharṣi Dayānanda Sarasvatī (A.D. 1824- 1883) started the ‘śuddhi’ movement which became quite vigorous for some time.
Efforts for re-conversion, often called ‘parāvartana’ or the return to the original fold, still continue. Standardization of the procedure has also been attempted.
- Renegades as well as foreigners
- Races like the śakas, yavanas and pahlavas also forced this conversion.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore