Monday, July 1, 2013

Hindu month in California and the lessons from the textbook controversy


Already the younger generation asks what the California textbook affair was. Now that California has been endowed with a Hindu awareness month (in a resolution co-authored by the Hindu American Foundation, Indian Express, 26 June 2013), the first one scheduled for this coming October, Hindus are enthusiastic that they will be able to show off their culture. But past experience shows that Hindus are not good at selling Hinduism, both because they misjudge their audience and because they don’t know their own tradition very well. The California textbook affair was a painful case in point.



The California textbook controversy


During the cold part of 2005-2006, the Hindu community in the USA lived in expectation of a school history textbook reform in which Hinduism would get a fairer deal and no longer be reduced to hateful stereotypes. All it took was to use the opportunities provided by the system, viz. to propose edits that were historically and philosophically impeccable and then focus the attention on the dimension of equal treatment in the textbooks for all religions. After all, Christian, Jewish and Muslim lobbies were having a decisive say in the portrayal of their own belief systems, with the irrational or inhumane points whitewashed or kept out of view. Given the fashion of multiculturalism and cultural relativism, it was in the fitness of things that the judgmental Christian account of Hinduism would now be replaced with something more objective, even with a Hindu self-description. But that was not to be.

Two Hindu organizations, the Hindu Education Foundation and the Vedic Foundation, handed in a list of edits they proposed to be made to the extant Hinduism chapter. Some of these alarmed a handful of anti-Hindu pressure groups and a few like-minded academics, among them Michael Witzel and Stanley Wolpert. They pressured the California Board of Education (CBE) to reject the “Hindu communalist” proposals. Though entering the fray as accusers, they were then invited to sit in judgment upon the controversial edits. This led to Hindu protests, and after everyone had his say, the CBE let Witzel and pro-Hindu emeritus professor Shiva Bajpai work out a compromise. Where they did not agree, viz. on most of the really controversial points, the CBE kept the old version, or in other words, it rejected the Hindu alternative. All the anti-Hindu lobbies cried victory. So did the HEF, pleading that 70% of the proposed edits had been accepted. Yes, but those were only the non-controversial points. Wherever an edit had really been debated, the Hindu proposals had been overruled. Briefly, it was a smashing defeat for the Hindu parents.

The anti-Hindu hate group Friends Of South Asia observed in its comments on the proposed edits, they show a replacement of philosophical with religious views, e.g. substituting “God-realization” where the textbooks had “self-realization”. If there is any victory in there, it is that of a sentimental anti-intellectual Hinduism over the more mature (though more ancient) and more skeptical Vedic philosophies. To the enemy’s glee, the edits, while totally impotent in their pretence at replacing the established anti-Hindu views, were successful in settling some intra-Hindu scores. The most demeaning trends in modern Hinduism joined hands, esp. the Arya Samaj cum ISKCON adoption of quasi-Protestant monotheism, hence several replacements of ‘gods’ with ‘God’ or ‘various manifestations of God’, obviously stemming from an aversion to or embarrassment with the polytheistic term ‘gods’. Apart from being untruthful, such attempts at covering up Vedic polytheism are also downright silly for being hopelessly transparent and unconvincing. Any Christian or Muslim seeing a Diwali display (Saraswati, Lakshmi, Ganesha) will recognize Hinduism as polytheistic and idolatrous par excellence, and any denial of it in Hindu-dictated textbooks will only add the extra impression that Hindus are liars.

As the Wikipedia (California Textbook Controversy) points out: “The subcommittee approved some 70 changes but it rejected proposed major revisions from VF and HEF on monotheism, women's rights, the caste system and migration theories.” Wikipedia is not always reliable, but it is a good measure of the dominant opinion. In this case, it also happens to be truthful.


Hindu claims of victory

One of the odd things about the California textbook controversy is that the Hindu side refused to face its defeat. They went to Court to overrule their defeat at the CBE, then still refused to face their defeat at the Court. I made quite a few enemies by simply pointing out the fact of Hindu defeat. I am giving my feedback in order to spare Hindus a repeat of such defeats. But it seems some Hindus prefer more defeats to a critical analysis of where the past defeats came from.

The best proof of the Hindu humiliation is that a group of Hindus went to court to get the CBE decision judicially overruled. They set up a pressure group, California Parents for Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM). In the phase called “discovery”, where both parties have to make available all documents in their possession demanded by the court, mostly at the request of the other party, some facts on the anti-Hindu lobby came out that ought to have been incriminating. A CAPEEM spokesman reported that a lot of evidence of the close cooperation between the court-appointed “experts” and anti-Hindu groups including Evangelical Churches and terrorist groups came to light. But that was not enough for CAPEEM to score a courtroom victory regarding the political issue at stake here, viz. the blatant inequality between the Abrahamic religions and Hinduism, which alone gets to suffer a schoolbook description imposed by its declared enemies. For a standard opinion, we may quote from Wikipedia again: “On February 25, 2009, the California Federal Court dismissed all CAPEEM claims and demands regarding content, and (…) the Court left the schoolbooks untouched. On June 2, 2009, the Court finally dismissed the case, with prejudice, meaning it cannot be raised again. (..) With this ruling the case was closed, nearly 5 years after the fact.”

The painful fact remains that all the suspense and the huge expenses incurred for the court proceedings could have been avoided, not by swallowing defeat but by achieving victory and justice to Hinduism in an earlier stage of the proceedings, free of cost. Namely, the edits proposed could have been crafted to such effect that they would have won the day, rather than having been such easy targets, indefensible even during litigation.

                Even after the CAPEEM defeat, many Hindus continued to claim victory. On the Abhinavagupta yahoo list, late March 2009, a US-based Hindu wrote to me: “You considered the outcome of the Hindu protests in the above controversy as a complete failure. But I wish to make the record straight as it is better to give the facts rather than making sweeping statements like you have done. We have been successful in correcting some of the horrendous mistakes. Instead of continuing the AIT as it is, the Witzel group was made to accept that the there are two points of view: the foreign origin of the Aryans and the indigenous origin of the Aryans.”

                Well of course, there is no indication that the Witzel group ever doubted the existence of the indigenist theory. Only, they think it is wrong as well as politically motivated.

He went on: “Though we could not get the AIT / AMT [Aryan Migration Theory, the velvet version of the AIT] deleted, the SBE president Glee Johnson announced that all textbooks will mention the contested nature of the AIT /AMT.”

                During a mass meeting, all Hindu parents could come and utter their complaint. They were appeased with sweet words and promises by the SBE spokespersons, only to see it all disregarded in the SBE's final decision. Note that this gullible Hindu doesn’t quote the actual textbooks, doesn’t prove (or even care to verify) that these promises have materialized. Hindus can be made happy with mere words.

                The American Hindu continued: “Further the Vedas will be mentioned as Sacred texts instead of calling them as poems, in spite of the opposition from the Witzel group. The gods and goddesses will be mentioned as deities. I hope these three points alone will show that the Hindu protest was not in vain like you wanted to project it.”

                Those two points are non-issues. Whereas Hindus apparently can be made to believe that there is a huge difference between ‘gods and goddesses’ and ‘deities’, as big as that between victory and defeat, Witzel c.s. are perfectly aware that these are simply synonyms. If Hindus are silly enough to treat as victory the replacement of a term by its synonym, all the better will they swallow real defeats. As for the Vedas, they are both poems and sacred, in the sense that there are people who revere them. This is a matter of observable status, not of history. Again, no controversy there, so no victory.

                The elevation of the Vedic poems to the status of ‘sacred texts’, while descriptively alright, is not that innocent either in the intra-Hindu quarrels. What is meant here, is that the Vedas are not of human origin but are a kind of Quran written by God Himself. In fact, the Vedic hymns are explicitly in the form of human poets addressing the gods (plural), contrary to the Quran where the imagined Allah is addressing His prophet or, through him, mankind. The Vedic poets' names are given in the Anukramanis and sometimes even mentioned or cross-referred in the hymns themselves. Composing poetry and chanting it was a profession that required payment, so we even have Danastutis in which poets by way of thanks praise their sponsors. Allah never did such a thing. But modern Hindus don't want to stand upright next to the Vedic poets, freethinkers who never crawled before ancient texts but composed their own. They want to crawl, to turn off their own thinking faculty and rely on texts, much like Christian Creationists. The great thing about Hinduism, at its best, is that it does not ultimately idolize a text but reveres a multiplicity of seers, a type of people that can be born anywhere and at any time. Modern Hindus could be seers, but instead they choose to be scripture quoters, or even just scripture worshipers. At any rate, their enemies do not feel defeated by this denial that the Vedas were compositions by poets.

                So I stand by my diagnosis. On all substantive points, the Hindu position was soundly defeated, the Witzel side totally victorious. But by messing up this unique chance at improving the textbooks within the limits of what was possible and at establishing the Hindu community as a trustworthy partner of the education authorities, Hindus have achieved more than just a defeat. They have established for a long time to come the impression that Hindus are untrustworthy, wily schemers with a reactionary and obscurantist agenda.

                The Hindu unwillingness to face facts, not just the complicated fact of the Aryan state of the art but even the very straightforward fact of total defeat, does not bode well. Such denial of reality in an individual would be deemed pathological. Here it affects a great many members of the Hindu community. This fact should be the stuff of some serious soul-searching.


A prediction

                It is not as if they hadn’t been warned of this perfectly predictable outcome. All through this process, I knew and wrote that the Hindu side was sure to be defeated. On the IndianCivilization yahoo list, in early November 2005, immediately after the proposed Hindu edits for the CA textbooks became known, I diagnosed some crucial ones among them as wrong and as not having a chance to pass. The enemy can get away with lies, but the power equation is such that Hindus cannot. The smallest mistake they make will be fully and cruelly exploited by the enemy. The enemy was mobilized, and the Hindu proposals doomed, by a mere handful of less-than-impeccable edits:

1) To pretend that the Aryan invasion theory (AIT) has been discarded, was simply untruthful. The Hindu foundations could simply have stated that the issue of Vedic origins is disputed. More importantly, they could have delinked the origins of Hinduism from any theory regarding any “Aryans”, for, as Shrikant Talageri has convincingly argued, even the AIT itself accepts that a large part of Hinduism is of “indigenous”, non-Aryan’ origin. But they had been misinformed by OIT triumphalists, whose “little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. The Hindu tendency to make false claims of victory was one of the causes of the defeat. Several of the edits were premised on the assumption that “the AIT has been disproven”, that “nobody believes in it anymore”, so that the Out-of-India Theory (OIT) has come out victorious. It is these edits which had drawn the attention of Witzel’s group and set the ball of the controversy rolling. Now, the assumption is simply not true. There are strong arguments against the AIT and in favour of an Indian homeland scenario, alright, but AIT proponents tenaciously swear by certain types of evidence (horses, chariots) which the Indian homeland theorists have not yet convincingly accounted for. In fact, till today, many Indo-European linguists don’t even know about an contemporary Indian homeland theory. In Leipzig, Germany, an Indo-European conference takes place coming December, and from the call for papers it transpires that the organizers only know about the East-European and the Anatolian homeland theory, both of them amounting to an AIT for India. Moreover, in a debate, as distinct from a physical war, a party is only defeated when it concedes defeat. As long as it doesn’t concede, the debate is still on. Now, it is simply a lie to pretend that the AIT has been abandoned by everyone. It is defended pretty vigorously by powerful academics, as the California Hindus were to find out.

                2) To insist on presenting temple worship as “monotheistic” was untruthful, or at least an unwarranted generalization. First of all, with their hazy knowledge and presumptuous notions about other religions, Hindus don’t know that “monotheism” amounts to more than “belief in one God”. The Greek word monos does not mean “one”, it means “alone”. It refers to the “jealous God” who does not tolerate another. If Hinduism believes in such a God, Hindu claimants should have come equipped with scriptural quotes to this effect: “For the greater glory of Shiva, smash the statues of the false god Vishnu!” Failing this, Hindus will have to admit that even their theism is a different type of religion than monotheist Christianity or Islam. The claim that Hinduism believes in only one God, albeit an inclusive rather than a jealous God, is, to put it charitably, an unjustified generalization.  While I have learned in the ensuing discussions that there is such a thing as Vaishnava monotheism, exemplified by ISKCon (Hare Krishna), fact remains that many Hindu temple-goers worship plural gods and experience them as plural rather than as faces of a single “God”. The Vedic seers worshipped many gods, 33 in Yajñavalkya’s count. Some Vedic hymns are addressed to “Mitra and Varuna”, others even to “all the Gods”. If Hinduism is monotheistic, then the Vedic seers were not Hindus.

                3) To resort to weasel expressions like “different but equal” in order to deny the inequality of men and women in Vedic and later Hindu society was silly. And likewise for any hushing up of caste inequality. Instead, it would have been more correct to acknowledge that deliberate inequality was a feature of every single premodern society. Instead of being defensive, Hindus should have aggressively demanded that, as inequality was a feature of the other religions too, the textbooks should explicitly discuss it. At any rate, a certain rewording of the existing text in this sense would have been justified. But anything that even smelled of caste negationism was sure to backfire. Or have NRIs in all their years in the West somehow managed not to learn that caste is the one thing that most Westerners know and hate about Hinduism? Moreover, while Muslims are known as violent, Hindus are likewise stereotyped to be hypocritical, and articles about caste never fail to mention upper-caste hypocrisy, so being caught as whitewashing the Hindu record on caste is fatal. Again, certain corrections were possible, but denying caste inequality was inviting trouble.

                4) To insist on the Hindiwallah form "Buddh" instead of the proper Sanskrit form "Buddha", accepted in English and in most Indian and foreign languages, was boorish, fully living up to the stereotype of the backward Hindi belt. While not important in itself, this spelling betrayed the lack of alertness to the public's standards, and the limited horizon, nay the wilful self-centredness of certain Hindutva circles.


Hindu scholarship

There is also a political background to be taken into account. The charge of “history falsification” sounds very familiar in Hindu contexts because of the much-publicized effort by the BJP government in India to effect glasnost (openness) in the Marxist-crafted schoolbooks. The BJP badly mishandled the textbook reform process in India (2002-2004), a horror show of incompetence. The textbook overhaul under Murli Manohar Joshi ended in embarrassment, ridicule and an ultimate massive strengthening of the Marxist hold on the textbooks. The BJP had set a precedent and associated Hindu advocacy with history falsification in the minds of the public, a mental impression that could easily be spoonfed to ignorant outsiders like the California Board of Education.

At a Hindu history-rewriting conference in Delhi IIC in January 2009, the usual wailing could be heard about the anti-Hindu bias in the textbooks. No mention was made of the fact that the BJP had been in charge for six years and that the textbooks had been changed already, only so miserably that the subsequent Congress-Communist combine had no problem at all in justifying a return to the anti-Hindu textbooks. The conference had no session on: “What did we do wrong?” This time around, I suggest that all those involved in or cheering for the CA textbook edit proposals face their own failure and do some honest soul-searching.

In the 1990s, under Sita Ram Goel's guidance, an alternative Hindu school of history was emerging. Today, most people involved (Harsh Narain, AK Chatterjee, KS Lal, BR Grover, Goel himself) have left this world, and their precious legacy has been mismanaged and squandered. They have not been succeeded by a new generation of historians. MM Joshi and his acolytes in India and the USA have a lot to answer for, but they carry on regardless.

The Hindu defeat in the textbook controversy was nearly inevitable. Hindus have not invested in scholarship, so they can not pick its fruits. Let’s talk a language that successful Hindus will understand: organization, and money. They like to boast of their success in business, how they are the wealthiest immigrant community in the US, how India is becoming a superpower, and all that. But they spend their surplus money on other priorities than scholarship, such as bribing the powerful: whether the gods, by building temples, or the ruling party. They also fund anti-Hindu scholars, feeling flattered that somebody wants to study India at all, and not having the basic discernment to tell friends from enemies. At any rate, the bottom line is that they still haven’t spent any serious money on pro-Hindu scholarship, yet are surprised to find that all scholarship is in enemy hands. They also talk a lot about “organizing”, after the RSS fashion. The RSS mouthpiece is called Organiser, and their philosophy is that Hindus have all along lacked nothing but organization. Well then, organize a contemporaneous scholarly institute to carry out the research needed for your aims. Not one that you dictate to what it should find, but one that is guided by the realities it discovers. Better still, insert scholars sympathetic to the Hindu cause in mainstream institutions, as the enemy does. But if you are not willing to make the effort and put the money on the table (or squander it on wasteful court cases ending in total defeat), then expect to be defeated again and again. I am reminded of SR Goel's observation: “The RSS has a pickpocket mentality, they hope to get things on the cheap.”



Whoever will take charge of the “Hindu awareness month” should remain aware of the experiences with textbook reform. Those who took the initiative to propose the edits were religious people with limited knowledge of the way of the world, esp. of contemporary American sensibilities. They surely meant well, but if they had applied their minds to the question of how the American authorities would react, they could have foreseen the opposition they encountered. Whoever will take similar initiatives in the future will need to impress upon himself and on all his supporters that good intentions are not enough. The hostile power equation imposes serious constraints, which were ignored this time by the naive Hindu religionists. But the situation is not all-suffocating and leaves room for manoeuvre to those who know how to play by the rules.

(Hindu Human Rights, 30 June 2013)


Incognito said...

Dear Dr.Elst,
I've been a follower of your blog for quite sometime and it has been a privilege to read about your thoughts on sanatana dharma. As you have succinctly argued in this post we have been guilty of shoddy scholarship in most cases which has resulted in a terrible loss of credibility. We have not invested much of our time and money on things which are really important. Even in India there are hardly few people who have studied the primary sources in detail. gone are the days of people like Prof.M.Hiriyanna, A.K.Kumarawamy, P.V.Kane, SR Goel, Ram Swarup etc. who were know for erudition and deep knowledge of primary sources. If we can't even set our own house infested with marxist scholars right how can we even dream of standing up against them in a foreign land where we would be even less understood. I think the first step for us would be to throughly study our primary sources and also encourage people to do so.


American said...

I became aware of California textbook controversy in early 2013. Out of curiosity, I obtained all source documents relating to the controversy and studied them.

My observations generally mirror those in the blog above by Elst, with some disagreements, and some additional points.

My comments below, refer to the pages numbers and content of this final Feb 2006 document released by California Department of Education:

Please note that the above link includes comments and corrections proposed by equally controversial groups representing Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

While the Hindu groups who challenged Cali Dept of Education and the State Board (CDE/SBE) made some mistakes, in my view, they did succeed in several major constructive changes, along with some of their failures. For example,
* The original draft of school book claimed "Hindi is written with the Arabic alphabet, which uses 18 letters..." (see page 19 and 96). They succeeded in correcting this.
* The original draft of school book claimed "The monkey king Hanuman loved Rama so much that it is said that he is present every time the Ramayana is told. So look around—see any monkeys?" (page 107) They succeeded in getting this strange offensive mockery out of the textbook.
* The original draft of school book had a picture of a mosque, which was called a Hindu temple. They succeeded in correcting this.
* etc

The final document, linked above, shows a remarkable difference in the approach taken by other religious groups (pages 16-93) versus Hindu groups (pages 93-126). Wherever there is significant change proposed by other religious groups, the proposing group cite relevant literature. In contrast, significant change proposed by Hindu groups read like wishful personal opinion (even if they may have been partially right). If Hindu groups want to succeed in representing their side, this representation has to be done in a scholarly, data-driven fact-driven way, with traceability to reputable published sources.

Continued below...

American said...

Continued from above...

I now switch gears for two additional comments,

* I am confused by one of the claims of Elst in the above blog. In California controversy, one of the proposed changes by Hindu groups was not "polytheism to monotheism"., or "gods to god". On page 102, #48, for example, the Hindu group proposed the corrected version should be: "Hindus believe in many gods and goddesses. We know about Hindu religion from ancient Vedic hymns and poetry, especially Hindu epics." So the Hindu groups proposing the changes were not pretending temple worship as “monotheistic”. In fact, the word monotheistic isn't there in any of the proposed changes by Hindu groups. Or, did I miss it?

Is Elst referring to item #47, page 122?

* For what it is worth, Indonesia's constitution recognizes Hinduism as monotheistic, along with five other official religions
(see: 1.

FWIW, Hindu temples and Hinduism in Indonesia, Cambodia and rest of south Asia offer interesting historical insights into Hinduism's history, extraordinary achievements in architecture, engineering and arts 1000-1500 years ago.

Finally, I must say the real issue here isn't anti-Hindu versus pro-Hindu. Because, some of those who cook up nonsense and false claims about Hinduism seem to be motivated by pro-Hindu sentiment, while some seem to be motivated by anti-Hindu sentiment. What matters for Hindu Scholarship is truthful, verifiable study of Hinduism: its history, its evolution, its current form, what is it, how do we know, who, when, where, why?

We must seek to know the truth, because truth sets us free.

Rita Narayanan said...

I have never been able to understand too why hindus want to fit in the monotheistic realm.

from my professor in California adept in philosophy explaining Hinduism to students to numerous Hindu sants and gyanis.

specially with regard to my readings of Vishnu and I don't know why we want to be seen as something.

on the other hand I do not like Hindus walking around randomly sounding superior to the Christian or Islamic view of life.It has become a sort of fashion to sound superior, it is the one thing we never did.

Rita Narayanan said...

as a south Indian and having lived mostly outside the south, I found the Sangh's Hinduism too North Indian Hindiwallah. I would be told by my Hindi teacher(in an english speaking convent)that I should be ashamed to call myself Bharatiya for speaking Hindi so badly. Hardly an attractive model for a teenager.

I also can't match the sophisticated philosophy, art and other facets of Hinduism with the leaders of the Hindu right.The Gita's philosophy of Dharmaraksha is quite complex and requires great reflection.

I enjoy this blog precisely because I feel that often people on the outside(if I may put it as such) have a better grasp of the meaning of such a complex faith.


Yash said...

the problem with hindus is that they are extra defensive.thus in a debate an rss man would be busy explaining they are not anti muslim instead of refuting . whether hinduism is monotheistic or not does not matter. what matters is that it is far more truthful and inclusive than Abrahamic religions. we must know our religion and other religions and spend some time studying.that would help us in defending our dharma.this controversy teaches us that for us to be taken serious we must develop an intellectual culture and avoid looking our culture through others' eyes. it reminds of Field Marshall Cariappa's call to RSS volunteers-'Don't be disturbed by uncharitable comments by interested persons. Look ahead, go ahead'

ysv_rao said...

as a south Indian and having lived mostly outside the south, I found the Sangh's Hinduism too North Indian Hindiwallah. I would be told by my Hindi teacher(in an english speaking convent)that I should be ashamed to call myself Bharatiya for speaking Hindi so badly. Hardly an attractive model for a teenager."

There is no end to the stupidity,boorishness and short sightedness of the north Indian Hindu right. I remember Advani pleading for north Indians to accept south Indians as their brethren because the Aryans have finished their work of civilizing the Dravidians.
They utter nonsense like this and are shocked SHOCKED! that south Indians on the whole are lukewarm to their agenda

There are various other factors which dictate the South Indian less enthuastic clamoring for Hindutva

1) Hindutvadis are prominent in Gujarat,Punjab,Rajasthan,UP and Maharashtra. States most affected by Islamic invasions
Vijayanagar aside and the plundering of Madurai aside, the south was never as badly affected because they were more effective at fighting the invaders
2)Hindutvadis were originally AIT and Aryan supremacy enthusiasts and this naturally appealed more to North Indians
3)South Indians viewed Hinduism as seperate from politics,as per traditional Hindu beliefs, and hence are reluctant to mix the two

I also can't match the sophisticated philosophy, art and other facets of Hinduism with the leaders of the Hindu right.The Gita's philosophy of Dharmaraksha is quite complex and requires great reflection."

The average Hindutvadi doesnt seem terribly knowledgable about Indian history,art or architechture.Especially the western educated Hindutvadi is more concerned with PR campaings for Hinduism and parrots whatever praises foreigners like Schopenhauer,Ralph Waldo Emerson ,Oppenheimer have lavished on Hindu philosophy without examining it himself.

I enjoy this blog precisely because I feel that often people on the outside(if I may put it as such) have a better grasp of the meaning of such a complex faith."

People like Koenraad Elst present a eagle eye view of Hinduism and as a foreigner a fresh pair of eyes which always welcome. But he often misses the forest for the trees in interpreting the more religious aspects of Hinduism.But that is western materialist bias.

Rita Narayanan said...

South India and the Middle east:

South India's links with the ME have been historically very ancient....all the older societies in the ME and religions have had trading ties with the coastal areas.

Christianity & Islam were fairly new entrants into the scene.

Nehru's own writings show this confused mindset..on one hand he writes about Arabs trading with the SI before Islamic invasions and on the other he writes a long paragraph on the North India being more syncretic :)

we have to remember that this great inclusive India had a long pre-1947 relationship with the world.Infact a lot of superficiality crept into this forced milap.

the North Indian bent of Hindu right:

It was rather shocking for me growing up for a decade in Delhi that the South Indians were considered rather uncivilised...all the more because I knew that a great deal of people were both educated and the shlokas were recited better in the temples down south.

this is not a battering of North Indians on the contrary it is plea to recognise that a lot of internal work needs to be done instead of just blaming this one or that.Not just of the North and South but East/West both literally and figuratively.

Being Hindu:
I do not feel that a person has to be born as a "technical" Hindu to know the faith well,Hindu schools have made enough place for atheism.

I myself have benefitted from my grandparents in a gramam in South india and the wonderful works of CG Jung, Heinrich Zimmer and Joseph Campbell.

I thank Mr Elst for the time he has taken to share his reflections and insights with all of us.Always a learning experience.

Gururaj B N said...

Unfortunately, Dr.Elst's observation about the Hindus understanding their culture the least is a painful truth. Perhaps, the diversity and complexity of Hinduism makes it a difficult task even for educated Hindus. Hindusm as practised, ranges from disgusting superstitions to lofty Advaita philosophy. But, people like Michael Wetzel devote a whole life for learning India and Hinduism only to condemn it. Iskcon or Arya Samaj are the Rodents that eat Hinduism from within, mimicking Islam or Protestentism. They do more than good to Hinduism. Dr. Koenraad Elst has been one of the great defenders of Hinduism, but more criticised by both sides.

Karthikrajan said...

Nice tongue-lashing you have given. What has gotten into the heads of these jokers? Anybody visiting the temples in south india can easily see the polytheistic worship going on there. Then on what basis do they say temple worship is monotheistic? And, what great truth have these joker indians discovered in monotheism which only they seem to understand? It is indeed a howler. North indians have a lot to learn from south about hinduism itself. A considerable soul searching should have been done when the atheistic Dravidar movement gained prominence in the 60's in tamilnadu targeting hinduism, mainly braahmans. But strangely nothing of that happened. It was this south indian journalist cho ramasamy who did some soul searching and came out with a book 'yengey braahmanan' (where is the braahman) which was also made into a tele serial. Some north indians are pompous speakers with little brain work. I am afraid most california hindus are these types.
'Different but equal' is another fantastic howler, as if talking of high and low class people is a serious crime. It was the commies who wanted to create an 'equal' society and flopped miserably. Couldn't hindus see even this?
But , on hindsight, does this controversy matter any more? With internet flooding information everywhere the truth can be told easily to anyone seeking it.

American said...

@Karthikrajan writes: "Anybody visiting the temples in south india can easily see the polytheistic worship going on there. Then on what basis do they say temple worship is monotheistic?"

But, the California groups representing Hindus never claimed or said "[Hindu] temple worship is monotheistic." In fact, check the source documents at this link below; you will find that the word "monotheistic" or "polytheistic" was never used by Hindu groups in California textbook controversy.

The other fact to remember is that Hinduism is not limited or unique to India. Before Islam was created, and long before Columbus set sail, Hinduism had already spread and established itself in most of southeast Asia. In these lands, Hinduism developed in some distinct flavors. Evidence, majestic evidence I must say, of this can be found, even today, in Bali, in Java, from northeast Thailand through Cambodia to west Vietnam. If you look there, you will find the concepts of Harihara (fusion of two Hindu gods) and Acintya (the supreme god, Sanghyang Widi Wasa), and many others. There are those who suggest that this flavor of southeast Asia Hinduism is monotheistic. FWIW, Indonesia declares Hinduism practiced in Indonesia as monotheistic.

The Hinduism of Indonesian islands is no less important or no more important than Hinduism of India.

In other words, Hinduism is not only polytheistic as in India, but also monotheistic in other nations. Can it be that Hinduism even accepted / accepts atheistic form as a spiritual movement - one where all that matters is 'meditate on eternal questions of morality, of good, of social existence, of life'. Is Hinduism "variable theistic" - where each individual can choose what the value of that variable is?

Does the controversy matter? To most, no. To some, yes. Just like the California textbook controversy on Islam, Christianity and Judaism is hardly a topic that most Indians are aware of, or care about.

Karthikrajan said...

@American: Agreed, and 'different but equal' also doesn't appear. I wonder what KE was referring to. Thanks for the link, interesting to read.
Yes, hinduism has placed a theistic variable at the altar to which anyone can assign any value , including zero and infinity , and allowed others to accept or reject it. It is in fact associated with paganism. At best, hinduism can be defined as a reform movement started by a group of people from north india , who called themselves braahmans, with the aim of reforming paganism (& themselves perhaps !) without explicitly saying so. Vedhic braahmans were fire worshipers , pagans were idol/stone worshipers. Later, the braahmans adopted idol+temple worship and promoted it in a big way simultaneously taking up priesthood in temples. Due to geographical distance of tamilnadu, fewer braahmans settled down in this state (about 5%) which preserved paganism to some extent. Both pagan and hindu temples flourish side by side in tamilnadu, rest of India has mostly switched over to Hinduism. The Indonesian pagans also were influenced by Hinduism , adopting hindu deities and retaining some of their pagan ones. They undertook hindu way of worship before islam came along with its sword and established its kingdom. As KE says their description of monotheism is nothing compared to the dogmatic description given by these religions from middle east.
And , Why are the hindus still allowing the word ‘braahmin’ to be used ? Rhymes derisively with the word ‘vermin’ !!

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Truth Seeker said...

The sloppy approach to correcting the text books by the California Hindus which you have written about is by and large correct.But the mother of all blunders that the California Hindus had committed,or rather the blunder here is omission,has not been given the importance it deserves not only by you and also by one and all commenters in this blog. I am referring to the absurdity of the contestants being made the adjudicators on this issue.Could there be a greater farce than this?If you say that the California Hindus had been foolish,then is not accepting their opponents as judges for their case the ultimate example of idiocy in this world? You talk about presenting the right arguments, but if the opponent is the judge then how will the argument succeed even if it going to be highly reasonable? You say that you had been following their case and had also been trying to put sense on the Hindus of California.Then you should have hectored the Californian Hindus to be truculent against the ultimate insult that had been dished out for them by the authorities there."Appoint knowledgeable and neutral people to adjudicate the matter or simply get lost". This should have been the sine qua non demanded by the Californian Hindus.Didn't you force those people or anyone of those relevant people to accept this most fundamental point? What is the use of discussing or commenting on other points when the most crucial issue had not been addressed?

You say that you are interested in learning about various religions and cultures especially the Hindu and other Indian religions.Are you aware of what Sri Chandrasekhara Saraswati, the famous pontiff of the Shankara Mutt of Kanchipuram till his death in 1994,had said about Brahmma, Vishnu and Shiva?The Hindu trinity corresponds to the roots,trunk and the canopy of the tree.Sri Chandrasekhara Saraswati is renowned not only for his intense and austere TAPAS but also for his deep knowledge of the Hindu religion.So the above explanation on the Hindu trinity cannot be dismissed as Sri Chandrasekhara's own twist on the subject.So why shouldn't the Hindu religion also be deemed monotheistic?Is it really a lie or kowtowing to the Abrhamic religions to say so? And, even Christianity has got more than a semblance of similarity with Hinduism,viz.the trinity of god, Jesus Christ and the holy ghost.Christians aver that all the three are the same and god himself was born as Jesus Christ, that is Jesus Christ is an avatar of god.So the division of one god into plural entities is also there in Christianity albeit the plurality being restricted to three.So why not the Hindus call themselves monotheists with a straight face?Are you really aware of the beliefs of different religions?

About the textbook reform during the previous BJP regime, you say that it was a glasnost but also call it as a botched endeavour, doomed to fail, and therefore susequently the Congress along with the Communists had no difficulty in dismantling it.The long standing text book policy as I understand and had also experienced myself, is out and out Communist and also pro-Muslim (pax Islam). Obviously the history what is taught does not correspond to truth.Corresponding to facts and truth is the sine qua non for history writing,at least in free countries.So if Murali Manohar Joshi had attempted to reform the history text books,then how did he botch it up resulting in short lived reform and the swift return to the bad old days?On this point you have given absolutely no detail but you keep drumming up the same point viz.botch, blunder, ham-handed, clumsy etc,etc,etc.To reform the sorry state of history studies, not only you but also your guru the late Sita Ram Goel want Hindu inspired academics.Don't you feel that this is just asking for history distortion in a different way? Don't you think that all that is needed is, academics who are neutral and are also of impeccable character who would do a fine job if only they are given the freedom to do so?

Truth Seeker said...

In a debate unless one of the debating parties accepts defeat there is no Victor?Well,this idea is new and strange to me,because, even a debate is presided over by a judge who passes his verdict after hearing all the arguments.Okay, going by your argument the Hindus are also entitled to stick to their guns in the AIT issue.Is it not?Then why should we bother about the contention of the pro-AIT scholars who are after all lacking in sufficient strength for their arguments? Moreover Mr.Elst, history is also an exact science where strong proofs are required to support any postulate.It is not a matter of vacuous arguments leading to nowhere.Either some theory is true or untrue (in which case it ought to be discarded), but no room for in between.Btw Mr.Elst, how is it that hardly any linguist entertains the idea of OIT which is espoused by yourself and a couple of others?