Senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader leader Bhaiyyaji Joshi recently made a rather controversial quip. He said that those who view India merely as a land of bhog, or consumerism, are the ones who refuse to say Bharat Mata ki jai!

Really now?

Hindu scriptures describe achieving dharm (religion or duty), arth (money power), kaam (physical pleasure) and moksha (ultimate release through renunciation) as the four major and honourable goals for all human beings. There are well-known Sanskrit texts such as Kautilya’s Arth Shastra, Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, and a whole body of works known as Dharma Shastras that focus on these goals in isolation, or a complex combine. But even a cursory reading of these texts will make it obvious even to a lay reader that bhog, or consumption, is a many-layered word that is definitely not limited to mindless and greedy consumption, and overindulgence in pleasure.

The word bhog comes from the Sanskrit root bhuk, meaning to eat or consume (hence the word for meals – bhojan). The consumption can be physical as in partaking of bhog as prasad blessed by a divine being or guru, or it can be an abstract act of the mind such as a yogi consuming and enjoying thoughts: “Avdhoota, yugan yugan hum jogi, shabad anahad bhogi.” O guru, I have been a yogi for aeons, savouring the consumption of the unheard sound!.”

From the Guru Granth Sahib to Google, the word bhogi also reveals countless deep linkages with holy offerings of a variety of food that Hindus and Sikhs take to their deities or spiritual gurus to be blessed. These offerings are later distributed as prasad among all worshippers and consumed with joy. In Nathdwara or Vrindavan, it means a sumptuous vegetarian feast served to the deity, Lord Krishna, comprising 56 of his favorite dishes. In Kashi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, joyful bhakts of Lord Shiva routinely offer him his favorite intoxicants – hemp and bhang – as bhog. Of course, they partake of it later as prasad among loud chants of Bol Bum! And Shaktas in eastern India and Uttarakhand do not consider a ritual bhog for the Mother Goddess complete without meat and fish and wine.

Why, even the word utsav or festival, so dear to the Hindus, comes from savan – the cousin of bhog – which means extracting heady juices (of soma, the drink of the Gods) till they overflow! Hindu Gods, so fond of soma, certainly would consider it odd if someone said that those who revelled in things that taste “good to the last drop” should be branded traitors.

The Brihadaranyak Upanishad narrates a story about how once, when gods, asuras and human beings approached the creator for a boon after a long penance, he spoke to all three through the clouds saying “da, da, da”. For humans, da means to give, for the asuras it is advice to show more daya or compassion, and for the gods, da was a message to try and indulge a little less in sensory pleasures (daman).

So if it was the gods who were viewed to be consuming too much too often and were brought down a peg or two, Joshi sir, aren’t we berating a divine predilection as unholy and vice invoking? Why showcase the dear term bhogvad, or materialism, that’s been for so long closely associated with gods, humans and asuras as a pejorative that signals a predilection for harbouring anti-national thoughts (Jawaharlal Nehru University, are you listening?) Especially when a prime minister who has risen from the RSS’s own ranks, avidly cheered by various food producer babas, is travelling the entire globe soliciting foreign funds, and encouraging the domestic production and consumption of all kinds of consumer goods from noodles to steel?

Here, as the panelists on television say, it may also be pertinent for erudite Hindus to recall how revered Bharatiya Janata Party leaders of stature have also often been offered sweets equivalent to the number of years they have completed on a particular birthday by way of special bhog. For instance, a huge laddu weighing 75 kg was offered to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his 75th birthday.

After such knowledge, dear readers, please tell us how justified are we really in stigmatising poor bhogvadis as the non-bhakts of Bharat that is also mata today?