Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Banning Wendy Doniger's "The Hindus"

Numerous Hindus come across as jubilant and triumphant now that they, or some of them, have managed to pressure Penguin books into agreeing to withdraw Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: an Alternative History and destroy its stock. I am not that happy about it. And I agree with Wendy that the real villain of the piece is Art. 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits insulting religious communities and was successfully invoked by Dina Nath Batra to threaten the publishing-house with a judicial condemnation.

Art. 295A was never the doing of Hindu society. It was imposed by the British on the Hindus in order to shield Islam from criticism. The reason for its enactment was the murder of Pandit Lekhram in 1897 by a Muslim because Lekhram had written a book criticizing Islam. While the British authorities sentenced the murderer, they also sided with him by retro-actively and postumously punishing Lekhram.

Though originally and for a long time serving to shield Islam, Hindus gradually discovered that they too could use the religiously neutral language of this Article to their seeming advantage. Christians as well have invoked it, e.g. to ban Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. This creates a sickening atmosphere of a pervasive touch-me-not-ism, with every community outdoing the other in being more susceptible to having its sentiments hurt. 

American academics have a moral right to deplore this law, on condition that they have spoken out against it on the occasion of earlier conspicuous incidents of book-banning. Where was Wendy when Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses was banned? Not knowing her entire record, I leave it to her to provide the answer. At any rate, many Indian secularists, who mostly enjoy the support of those American academics, supported the ban, which was decreed by a self-declared secular Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi) and ruling party (Congress).

I remember Vijay Prashad and Biju Mathew calling for a denial of any platform to myself, and big professors like Michael Witzel and Robert Zydenbos seconding this call; but I don't remember Wendy Doniger coming out in my support. I was thrown off the RISA list by Deepak Sharma in violation of the list's own charter, and where was prominent member Wendy Doniger then? In most cases, the people clamouring "freedom of expression" on this occasion are very selective in their love of freedom, which they would gladly throw overboard as soon as it concerns the expression of an opinion less dear to them. I have the impression that Wendy herself is in this category too, but she may convince us otherwise by showing off her earlier acts of solidarity with besieged writers.

For the Hindus, this is a Pyrrhic victory. The publicity they gain worldwide is entirely negative, and it corroborates their image as authoritarian and intolerant. They also admit that they are unable to fight back with arguments. To an extent this is simply true, there is no level playing field, and the American academics including Wendy herself have done their best never to give the Hindus a fair hearing. On the other hand, this power equation is the Hindus' own doing. They have never invested in scholarship, and so they have to take umbrage behind a threatened judicial verdict now that they have the chance.

Individual Hindus who don't enjoy their enemies' institutional support have indeed presented strong argumentative cases: Arun Shourie, Rajiv Malhotra, Meenakshi Jain. A list of the numerous errors in Wendy's book has been compiled by Vishal Agarwal, an Indo-American engineer writing in his spare time. Most of all, he has shown how her book's treatment of Hinduism is unconscientious and flippant to a degree that would never be accepted from a professor of her rank for more established religions. But this is only a small counterforce against the massive anti-Hindu propaganda put out under the guise of scholarship by "Wendy's children". Here, Hindus only pay the price for their self-proclaimed leaders' non-performance during the last decades.

Building a scholarly challenge to the present academic consensus is a long-term project that admits of no shortcuts. By going to court and twisting Penguin's arm, Hindus think they have scored a clever victory. I think they have only demeaned Hinduism.

But the taste of victory has become so unusual for Hindus that even many people who I thought knew better, have jubilated over this book withdrawal. And of course, Art. 295A may be a bad thing, but as long as it is on the statute books, it should count for Hindus as much as for Muslims and Christians. But American Indologists including Wendy Doniger have always condoned religious discrimination on condition that Hindus are at the receiving end, so they may not applaud this plea of mine for even-handedness.

Briefly: while I do not support this act of book-burning, I don't think American India-watchers are really entitled to their much-publicized indignation.


Unknown said...

Sadly, Dr Elst this is indeed a very difficult situation to be in for those who support free speech. I believe in absolute free speech - but that right should include the right to criticise Islam. So long as that is not granted in India how am I to answer the Sanghists' claim that free speech in India exists so long as you only criticise Hinduism not otherwise.
Some Hindus, writing on this issue, have indeed stated that if Islam is allowed to be cricically examined in India, they are all for free speech...
However, it is indeed a Pyrrhic victory, for would Savarkar's writings on beef eating and the relevance of yagna etc. be banned today because these definitely hurts orthodox Hindus.
Secondly, the present situation may remain permanent. That is stop any critic of Hinduism and we shall stop any criticism of Islam. But what about a Hindu like me who is confident that Hindu civilisation will survive any amount of criticism but that Islam cannot withstand a sustained critism and will eventually collapse?

nkv said...

I'm confused about free speech,if freedom of speech should be so absolute that you can write absolute tripe and outright lies,then why are there anti racial discrimination laws,anti defamation laws,anti hate speech laws even in western countries,this book isn't just about some 'academic' theory is it,because it'll all add up to the pop culture.
I agree this is the result of hindus' own undoing,we were slaves for over a thousand years,unfortunately we have remained slaves even after 1947,albeit intellectual slaves.
Only thing I can find solace is in accepting darwin's survival of the fittest principle,they are strong we are weak,they'll flourish we'll perish.

S.N, Hebbar said...

The venerable writer should kindly note that the book was not banned by Govt under section 295A but it was withdrawn by the publishers after considering arguments in a petition submitted by concerned people against the contents of the book.There was no street demonstrations, no death warrants against the writer or any money on her head. Hindus are not like Muslims in this regard and the Doniger should be grateful to them that her life is safe and secure even after lampooning Gods currently worshipped by Hindus.

Unknown said...

Absolutely!only Sir Vidia can stand up in some manner to the elite liberal crowd in India.It is not just religion, they have fuelled a terrible class-caste war in India, that has entered Hindu homes and families.

Academic quality and the humanities did better in pre-independent India everybody loves to blame Victorian prudery but was Gandhism a healthy resurrection of Indian culture.Most people on the Right love to go on about JL Nehru but what about MK Gandhi ???

I always marvel at the manner at which the Dalai Lama and Tibetan have resurrected themselves.But then India is a much better host for outside faiths than she is for herself.

Thanks Mr Elst for sharing your views.

Arun said...

Hindus need to understand how the West has viewed them - the ordinary people, the intellectuals, and the elite who have their hands on the levers of the State.

Here is one brief article for the US, for a specific period.

Anveshana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anveshana said...

Why are you comparing Salman Rashdie's work with Wendy's? One is fiction, other is supposed to be History. First one was banned by government, in the second one publisher withdrew the book (not under fatwaa, instead refusing to continue the legal battle), Wendy's work can still be downloaded from Internet. Problem is/was always with her scholarly claim, that her version is the truth.

Having said, how Hindus are turning out to be exactly like the people whom they are opposing (for the same reason) is ironic. One should not say this this this. (Not because it would hurt me if they say so. Only because, they don't say this to other). Looks more like kids quarrelling (I want this toy not because I like it, but the other boy has this). Censorship has never been there in Hinduism. Bhasa, Kalidasa everyone have taken characters from Mahabharata, have created their own fictional stories, sometimes making antagonist as the lead or antagonising the protagonist. It indirectly implies, all these people considered these classics merely as fiction, not as truth. But now we are having protests against a work in a culture which never had a word 'ban' on any practice in its entire history. But Hinduism is all about being human. It can be protective (to other faiths), it can rebel, it can throw tantrums too. End of the days it moves on, does not remain static. That is more important.

Unknown said...

The Hindus: an Alternative History or The Da Vinci Code or The Satanic Verses –On the grounds of religious sentiments, human failure to face the truth and debatable opinions.

Unknown said...

Koenrad, i love you and i am an ardent reader of your books ! I agree that the answer to a book is a book, as Arun Shourie states; but if answer is truth , then truth alone shall prevail and reside in the society, not fallacy. Moreover many rebuttals had already been given to Wendy's works over past 15 years and she could not challenge a single book(rebuttal). Either she shall correct her factual errors or stop spreading her thought. She has done neither. Then one must follow Krishna's advice in the end given to Pandavas !

Anonymous said...

Well, I am not personally very concerned about this book. I have no time to read her book. My understanding of my Hindu religion or faith is a product of my living experience and it is not an academic experience. As an individualist, I respect the right to personal liberty and individual freedom. At the same time, I recognize that the human condition is conditioned. Man exists not on account of his rationality and knowledge. Man's Free Will does not account for his existence. Man has no choice other than that of existing as an Individual with Individuality and this existence is based on the experience of an Illusion rather than the reality of this fast, spinning object called planet Earth. Fortunately, for man, his existence is supported by God's Unconditioned Love and it does not demand that man must have the correct Knowledge about God or God's existence.

ysv_rao said...

I agree with Rahul Bhat particularly his use of Bhagvvad Gita to justify the pseudo ban.

I don't believe that Wendy Doniger intends to malign Hinduism. She is obviously fascinated and very fond of Hindu theology. That said she is rather arrogant and closed minded when she refuses to even acknowledge her errors or recant her inaccurate claims.

Therefore we have to resort to harsher measures so that she gets the message.

The support of craven,brain dead celebrities and media personalities(who were mysteriously absent for their support for the author of Satanic Verses) can be ignored.

Tomorrow some other shiny new paradigm can be dangled in front of them and due to their infantile nature they will be distracted and move on

Gururaj B N said...

At the slightest real or perceived offence, if going on rampage, rioting, arson, and murder does not embarrass Islam or Muslims, why should winning a legal battle against someone who offends Hindu ethos embarrass or demean the Hindus? These learned men are busy either praising Islam or keeping safe distance from it. Can't they maintain scholarly detachment at least while choosing the jacket of their books?

Golden Reed said...

Say, Dr. Elst, isn't a post long overdue on an update on the latest research and findings regarding the Aryan debate? I would most appreciate it!

Koenraad Elst said...

All the justifications of the book's "withdrawal" amount to: "Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to insult." This just shows the speakers' illiteracy. All debates about book-banning at some point quote George Orwell's famous observation that freedom of speech doesn't mean much if it doesn't imply the freedom to offend. If the freedom to insult were forbidden, than anything meaningful would be found to displease at least someone somewhere and thus be forbidden. Moreover, Wendy Doniger honestly feels that she has done a fair job and that she has not "insulted" anyone. So, even the term "insult" is merely subjective: "insulting is everything that anyone feels insulted by". This makes the worst touch-me-not the arbiter of whether books are allowed to be published.

American said...


1. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to be heard or read or distribute. Freedom of expression does not mean freedom to express in your or my face, does it?

2. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to one speaker, but no freedom to other speakers. In other words, Ms. Doniger should have the freedom to insult some Hindus, and those some Hindus should also have the freedom to insult Ms. Doniger. No? Why not treat everyone equal, like blindfolded Lady Justice is supposed to treat anyone who comes before her?

3. Can freedom of expression be selective? Is it appropriate to ban criticism of Islam and all other religions, only allow criticism and defamation of a select group of people? Why does Europe or United States have hate speech laws, or anti-defamation laws?

4. Isn't there a difference between "banning a book" by a government, versus a society pursuing a publisher and author through civil means? even if, such a pursuit leads to the publisher withdrawing the book? In last 20 years, over a 1000 books have been withdrawn and pulped in the United States in exactly the same way as Ms. Doniger's book on "Alternate History of Hindus". For example, O.J. Simpson's book on his wife's murder was withdrawn and pulped in the United States, because people found it insulting that O.J. and Harper Collins would want to profit from a tragedy, and by mocking those who weep.

5. Imagine your neighborhood, or any city center. Now imagine abusive and hate speech graffiti everywhere - on walls, on people's doors, on the road, on sidewalk. Is this graffiti a freedom of expression? does a community have the right to say, "no graffiti on our streets"?

6. I believe Hindu groups are on to something here. They need to actively pursue civil means of poking back at those who poke them with misinformation, stereotypes, dehumanization and hate. These are all valid forms of freedom of expression for Hindus: publish a book in reply, question and refuse to accept nonsense intellectual graffiti being peddled against them, civil harassment of those who harass and spread misinformation/hate against Hindus to make profits and earn income.

7. The most effective way for Hindu groups is to identify the corporations and people who are profiting from these misinformation, hate, stereotypes and mockery of Hindu history/literature. Question their repute and methods of earning money. Dig into the finances and practices of the officials and CEOs of these companies, activists and NGOs; isolate them; question their income sources and who is financing them; let them feel the frustration and pain. Do not demand the government to ban books or anything; instead, follow the money trail - who is profiting from this nonsense; challenge, boycott and bring court cases against this "stereotypes and graffiti peddlers." Social isolation has been used for or against scholars who do serious work on Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.; this is a civil process. This is the tragedy of Gresham's law: the bad drives out the good. It is the reality of life. It is wonderful that Hindus are finally waking up to such civil process, are resisting the demonization and selective misrepresentation of their culture, history, and diversity in their core beliefs. Ignoring and silenting suffering is not the way. Peaceful, civil reply is more effective, necessary.

8. Of course, Ms. Doniger and others can continue to publish in journals and through their blogs for free. They have zillion means to express freely, for free. They have a right to insult there. Healthy scholarship will continue, even if Hindu groups stand up and express, "Enough, please stop making profits and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle by dehumanizing us; we are human beings like you, treat us with respect, try to know and understand us, we welcome an honest and healthy debate, but we will not ignore and will peacefully resist stereotypes and mockery about us."

Anonymous said...

hi all & koenraad elst

this is amazing, this is absolutely amazing.

no violence, no vandalism, no stones pelting, no street demonstrations, no hue & cry – forget everything else – not even a single non-violent, most peaceful – candle-light protest for banning this ‘dirt’- (which many others calls – a book – wendy doniger’s – the hindus) from any hindu political party or any hindu group or even from a single hindu person and yet you call hindus – authoritarian, intolerant.

Contrary to your belief, for the first time, hindus fought with arguments – yes, arguments – I guess, that’s what you do in the court of law – don’t you – and they won and you said they demeaned Hinduism by that.

unbelievable, simply unbelievable – so you can’t even go to courts – I mean – some hindus or just one hindu can not or should not even go to courts – even that is unacceptable, even that is intolerable and if those hindus or that one hindu happens to win that court case – then those hindus or that one hindu is a criminal, bigot, conservative.

What – if the courts would have pronounced verdict against those hindus – then the entire world would have celebrated it – as a victory of freedom of expression, victory of free media, victory of good over evil-hindus.

I mean for God’s sake – can hindus breathe or even that also is unacceptable – is not allowed.

regards, lots of regards to you.

ysv_rao said...


The Aswamedha yagna was indeed started by Dasratha to have sons. Dasratha
did not want children, he wanted sons who would be conquerors like kings of
his time. I am sure he took all precautions including astrological readings
before spending time with his queens. But the Ashwamedha was certainly not
a fertility ritual.

The preparations required inviting everyone and anyone who was anybody in
Bharata at the time. The kings of Kasi, Magadha, Sindhu and southern
kingdoms were all invited to a big party, as were Brahmins who were deemed
learned. And no there weren't three priests, there were thousands! They
had to guard against "ogre Brahmins," fool intellectuals such as you, who
despite knowing rites and rituals enjoyed finding faults in the proceedings
of the yagna rather than advancing society, putting hindrances to completion
of the sacrifice. This was an interesting aspect of yagnas and the
hindrances encountered by them in Puranic legends. One fault-finding
Brahmin and that's it, his challenge has to be answered.

The preprations took a full year, with buildings being constructed to house
all the newcomers, preparations for feeding them being made in earnest.
After the preparations taking one year, the yagna itself took another full
year. The Brahmins started debates on various subjects such as linguistics
and philosophy and proceeded to argue from one "savana" to the next. This
was the main purpose of yagnas, it gave society a chance to consolidate its
ideas, I doubt that the "mleccha" society of this demonic ogre has ever
heard of any such thing.

The conclusion of the Aswamedha included sacrificing many animals, one from
each species, with the most important being the horse -- the healthiest
horse in Dasratha's stable being chosen for the sacrifice. Most of the
animals were tied to sacrificial posts, sacrificial pits were dug and Rama
pointed to the remnants of the sacrificial altars after returning to Ayodhya
in the Pushpak from the sky. Altogether about 300 animals of various
species were sacrificed. The horse was the main animal of the sacrifice.
Kausalya touched the horse with three different swords and spent the night
with the horse to acquire "religious merit." Now before your demonic ogre
head gets ideas of sexual orgies at night, the other queens were simply
brought into contact with the horse and left and they also subsequently had
children. I hardly think that touching a horse with three different swords
is a prelude to a sexual act!

After the sacrifice, the priests cooked up some "aswagandha" roots and made
some sort of a concoction called payasa given to him by a messenger of Visnu
himself. Dasaratha then took the payasa and took it to his queens in his
chambers to be consumed there, notice that they didn't even seem to be
present at the time. In one year's time the queens had children.

ysv_rao said...

A more detailed and informative take

Kunal Singh


I have looked into this little business about the Queen sleeping with dead
horses. This whole nonsense takes advantage of some verses in the Yajur
which cannot be translated by Sanskrit scholars. Thus the verses which are
translatable are given below:
Starting from vii.4.19

O Amba! O Ambali! O Ambika!
No one leadest me.
The wicked horse is sleeping.
O fair one, clad in fair raiment in the world of heaven be ye two
.. several verses deemed untranslatable
.. various guesses of others with the orgy proposing scholar being a
westerner is given ..

When the deer eateth grain,
He deemeth not his flock fat.
When the Cudra woman is the loved of the Aryan,
She seeketh not wealth for prosperity ...

.. several verses deemed untranslatable ..

Dadhikravan have I sung,
The swift strong horse,
May he make our mouths fragrant;
May he lengthen our days.
Ye waters are healing;
Further us to strength;
To see great joy.
The most auspicious flavour that is yours
Accord to us here
Like eager mothers.
To him may we come with satisfaction,
To whose dwelling ye quicken us,
O waters and propagate us.
Bhuh! Bhuvah! Svar!
Let the Vasus annoint thee with the Gayatri metre.
Let the Rudras anoint thee with the Tristubh metre.
Let the Adityas anoint thee with the Jagati metre.

Now according to these morons, we Hindus should believe that Amba, Ambali
and Ambalika refer to the queens of the king. And that the talk of waking
the horse and covering the two with fair raiment implies copulation of the
horse with the queen. It is guessed that "no one leadest me" is uttered by
the queen, to express that she is under no compulsion to do so.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time, this rather controversial problem
with translation has come to my attention and it has taken me all of one
hour to find the verse but merely about fifteen minutes of thinking to give
it the right interpretation. As I've said before, I do not have a Satpatha
Brahman or whatever. But as the Yajur Veda was discussed and understood in
its entirety in the courts of Janaka, I am sure that the likelihood of
nonsensical acts which have no bearing within the context is not a viable

The Yajur Veda itself comprises of several sacrificial rites, the primary
being related to the cow and the horse with minor animals finding smaller
mention. Remember that both of these animals are the result of Samudra
Manthan, the divine cow and the divine horse are produced. The cow is
closely associated with Soma or the energy of the moon in the Yajur Veda.
It is explained that the cow due to its eating plants (assuming a grazing
animal of ancient times) and due to providing milk can provide soma as the
lunar energy is deemed to nourish the plants and cow's milk seems to be used
extensively in the rituals in addition to sacrificing the cow.

ysv_rao said...


Next comes the horse. The horse is itself associated with the Sun. In
Hinduism, the Sun rides a chariot led by steeds. The horse's association
with the Sun is clearly made at the beginning of the sacrifice.
"On the instigation of god Savtr, I take thee with the arms of the Asvins,
with the hands of the Pusan." -- Savitr is propitiated in a Gayatri mantra
dedicated by Hindus to the worship of the Sun.
... after a few oblation verses ..
"Man throughy thy dam, powerful through thy sire, thou art a horse, thou
art a steed, thou art a
runner, thou art a male, thou art a strong horse, thou art a racer, thou
art powerful, thou art a
stallion, thou art heroic-hearted; 'goer' is thy name; do thou follow the
course of the Adityas."
The "Adityas" are twelve in number as the Sun or Surya is deemed to chart
the path across the twelve months, he is given different names across the
different "Sun signs."
.. after quite a few verses involving hails ..
"With the Rudras, the gods, as deity, with the Tristubh metre, I yoke
thee; with the summer season as oblation I consecrate thee."
"With the Adityas, the gods, as deity, with the Jagati metre, I yoke thee;
with the rainy season as olbation I consecrate thee."
"With the All-gods as deity, with the Anustubh meter, I yoke thee; with
the autumn season as
oblation I consecrate thee."
"With the Angirases, the gods, as deity, witht he Pankti metre; I yoke
thee; with the winter and
cool seasons as oblation I consecrate thee."

The above verses obviously describe the horse carrying the chariot of the
Sun and causing the seasons. Given the above information, the reader may
now please reconsider the verses above:

O Amba! O Ambali! O Ambika!
No one leadest me.
The wicked horse is sleeping.
O fair one, clad in fair raiment in the world of heaven be ye two

The horse is supposed to be "dead". Amba may refer to something related to
the sky,
and those monks who typically walk around nude are considered to be
"digambara" meaning clad in the heavenly sky (only of course). Or it could
also refer to Amba, the mother nature form of Parvati the consort of Shiva.
Likewise, there is nobody to lead the Surya, as the horse is "sleeping!"
"O fair one, clad in fair rainment in the world of heaven.." Yes, exactly.

"May he make our mouths fragrant" refers to eating the horse.
"May he lengthen our days" -- yes the Sun's steeds can do exactly that.
"Ye waters are healing" -- even Soma in the various rites is said to be
purified by the rays of the Sun. The Hindu worship of the Sun is typically
done on a river bank or near another body of water and is considered good
for the health.

Then of course it seems that as part of the translation Amba, Ambalika etc.
may respond to the Surya's complaint that nobody is leading him anymore.
And quite like mothers, I am as of yet unsure of the exact relationship --
it may very well be addressed to the Amba as in the form of mother nature --
but decisively some Shakti aspect of the Surya is saying:

Like eager mothers.
To him may we come with satisfaction,
To whose dwelling ye quicken us,
O waters and propagate us.

This should remind any devout Hindu of the arghya offered with the water in
the mornings to the Surya, the waters themselves are said to propagate some
aspect of the Sun's energy. Then of course other versus make even more
sense. "Bhuva, Bhvah, Svar" is itself part of the Surya Gayatri.

ysv_rao said...

Let the Vasus annoint thee with the Gayatri metre.
Let the Rudras anoint thee with the Tristubh metre.
Let the Adityas anoint thee with the Jagati metre.

The Adityas are typically twelve, one for each month in the solar year.

Now, at this point, given this controversy created by a western translation
with the mindset of orgies, I cannot even honestly blame the Muslims for
being so misled. But, I would like to point out why foreigners and those
who were deemed outsiders were traditionally not allowed to even touch a
sacred Hindu text much less read and interpret it. It is indeed unfortunate
that these Hindu Brahmins, mentally incapable vegetarians that they are,
should sell the various texts, knowledge of Sanskrit to foreigners and
assume an inferior position to them allowing them to write various kinds of
nonsense degrading the rest of the Bharatiya Vedic population and their

ysv_rao said...

A qualifier which I forgot to mention:
Kunal Singh refers to foolish Brahmins as responsible for much of the mistranslation of the Yajur Veda texts. To put these anti Brahmin statements in context. He refers to various Brahmin and upper castes during the Muslim and British who played footsie with the occupying powers and were utterly lacking in scholarship and discernment.

I agree with some reservation , it was mostly North Indian Brahmins who were involved in politics were responsible for such nonsense as they lacked the proper training.
South Indians Brahmins as per dharma were less involved in worldly matters and more on scholarship and priestly duties (an exception is my caste Niyogi which took up secular vocations including the military)and were less likely to propagate such silliness

Eventually he revised his anti Brahmin opinions

Why South Indian Brahmins were more orthodox is an open question.

Via the Brahmanas we see in the Vedic era Brahmins consume beef and liquor.
Meanwhile the southern regions meanwhile were usually far more violent and warlike than the North.

From Al Basham's The Wonder That Was India

"Their(Southern) kings, and many lesser chieftains who are also mentioned, seem to have been more bloodthirsty than those of the North, and the literature contains hints of massacres and other atrocities such as are rarely heard of in Sanskrit literature; one passage even suggests cannibal feasts after battle.

The ancient Tamil, by no means perfectly Aryanized, was a man of very different stamp from his gentle and thoughtful descendant. Wild, ruthless, delighting in war and drink, worshipping fierce (non Hindu) gods with bacchanalian dances, passionate in love, he compares strikingly (different) with the grave and knightly warriors of the Sanskrit epics... a streak of ruthlessness and disregard for individual life is evident in the Dravidian character down to the fall of the Vijayanagara"

Perhaps there is some exaggeration(cannibal feasts?! Tamils gentle? Ahem LTTE,Ahem Veerappan, Varadaraj Mudaliar, Maravar vs Mudaliar clan wars)

The description applies with varying degrees to Andhras(Satavahana empires which conquered Magadha) ,Karnataka( Rashtrakutas and Chalukyas who conquered Northern India and were the ancestors of the most heroic Rajput dynasties) as well as the constantly warring Nairs of Kerala

The South Indians were not considered foreigners but "Vratya" or fallen Kshatriyas. So in order to promote the more gentler Vedic religion ,its missionaries in this case Brahmins were compelled to live a more austere life to set an example for the rest.

ysv_rao said...

Coming back to Wendy Doniger. The problem is her emphasis on sexuality and sexual imagery of the various Hindu dieties and her near pornographic exposition on them which offends us

But I think Hindus are being offended for the wrong reasons. Wendy is wrong because her interpretations are thoroughly inaccurate and her inferences therefore are very flawed

From the unusual stories of coupling of gods and goddesses, she comes to the conclusion that bestiality, incest and homosexuality were the norm

Lets take an example of Shiva and Ganga
Ganga is identified as Shivas wife and another time his daughter.
Before one invokes the ending of Roman Polanski's Chinatown, one should remember one is speaking of dieties not people.And as such dieties represent concepts and ideas as imagined by sages and scholars.
So one sage would identify Ganga as Shivas daughter as her earthly manifestation.But the celestial Ganga is given to Shiva as a wife to represent another idea which their union will create.

Similar case with Brahma and Saraswati
And no sorry captain ,it has nothing to with Abraham and Sarah

Vraja said...

This is a 3 part comment on the controversy.

But first, Hinduism teaches to see equally everyone and everything, all is Brahman the Upanishads tell us. Krishna tells to see the sage, cow, the dog and dog-eater with sama, equanimity. Not that everything is without difference at all, but still everything is connected to the same source and acting under the same power. There is a reason that Krishna says that the enlightened person sees all type of people and all actions equally - they are all under his control, all manifesting the will of Bhagavan, Krishna states to Arjuna:

isvarah sarva-bhutanam / hrid-dese ‘rjuna tishthati bhramayan sarva-bhutani / yantrarudhani mayaya

The supreme controller is at the heart of all beings Arjuna, isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrid-dese ‘rjuna tishthati, driving the movements of all living beings, bhramayan sarva-bhutani, who are mounted on the machine of his universal potency, yantrarudhani mayaya.

Part 1

I just started reading the book, and as others have pointed out, by banning the book you are making it much more popular and famous -- because everyone wants to see what the fuss is about!

So score a victory for Ms. Doniger. I read the original complaint by Dinanath Batra, and it was making claims of basically 3 types.

1) Claims of factual historical, geographic, or factual errors.

Dinanath is is right, there are many. I opened the book at random to get an idea of her style and right off I see that it says that Radha (from Krishna lila) was married to Arjuna's son Abhimanyu.

Arjuna's son and Radha's husband are both named Abhimanyu, but they are different people. As is commonly known. Arjuna's son Abhimanyu was married to Uttara, and he died at Kurukushetra, a very famous part of the Mahabharata. His son was the famous Maharaja Parikᚣit, heir to the thrown of Hastinapura - even and more famously the person whom the Bhagavat Purana is being recited to in the Purana itself (the entire Purana is being recited to him by sage Shuka in the Naimisha forest).

I think possibly those types of factual mistakes (literary, geographical, historical) may be due to Ms. Doniger giving work to her graduate students or editors to research names and places in the book, and then add the info to the book. Someone unfamiliar with Hindu stories, geography, or history, would look up things and get it wrong due to many names being the same for different places, people, etc.

For example - they need background on Abhimanyu and see him listed as Arjuna's son. Not knowing that Radha was not closely involved with the Pandavas and that part of Krishna's life, they would just assume that she was married to the prince Abhimanyu of the royal Pandavas, rather than another Abhimanyu who was a cowherd of the village where she grew up.

2) Another type of mistake is repeating assertions about things with little or no context, and without alternate explanations.

For example I saw she claimed that Sri Chaitanya (circa 1500 c.e.) had epilepsy. No context, just a statement of fact. People have speculated on that in the past, but it's known that Sri Chaitanya would use that as an excuse sometimes for his outlandish behavior. For example when Muslim soldiers saw him being cared for by 4 followers during his trance state, after coming back to consciousness they asked him if he needed help against the 4 men with him. He told them they were his associates, and he blamed his passionate trance induced "ecstasy," on epilepsy. He She just states he had epilepsy, with no other context.

Vraja said...

Part 2

She does that a lot in the book it seems so far, stating various things as facts when the truth is there is often conflicting versions of those facts. For another example Dinanath complains about a verse in the Ramayana factually not saying what Wendy states it says. The truth is that there are so many different versions of the Ramayana that no one version can be said to be the authentic one. She would have been wiser to mention that when quoting a book famous for it's countless recensions.

3) Another type of mistake is making assertions on the meaning of shastric texts, rituals, philosophical teachings.

For example Dinanatha complains how she describes the horse sacrifice as being without basis in fact; or his claim that the shivalingam does not represent anything outside of deep philosophy, instead of Doniger giving it it's obvious anatomical context.

As a scholar on Hinduism she should know better than to present as a fact blanket assertions when she knows that the varieties of Hindu sects tend to have their own interpretations of those type of knowledge. Some may agree with her, others will disagree. She should make that point that her interpretations are not THE factual interpretations.

As for the other charges, they appear to be based on the idea that she is denigrating Hinduism - especially in her interpretations of the erotic angles of Hindu teachings - but also a slew of other complaints about her attitude which caused her to be misleading, e.g. the lack of factual representation of Muslim influence and rule; making statement about attitudes of people long ago that she would have no way of knowing, e.g. her claims of knowing how Brahmins saw themselves, how other people saw Brahmins, and how Brahmins saw other people, etc.

The complaints about the sexual stuff are clearly based on sectarian views since there are Hindu sects and teachers who agree with her take. Some sects present a more sexualized version of Hinduism than others. They are not literal distortions of a monolithic "Hinduism" because no such entity exists.

No one can claim to represent "Hinduism" with a sectarian spirit, to do so makes you not representative "Hinduism," you are just representing your specific or your sect's or guru's vision. There are countless disagreements within the Hindu fold, most famously the difference in beliefs in the very nature of the self in relation to God (Adwaita Vedanta vs. Dwaita Vedanta)

What the book needs is a good editor. Was she being sloppy, or was she leaving a lot of incidental fact checking and research to editors without much or any knowledge of Hinduism?

Banning the book is obviously counterproductive as banning something always makes it more seductive. Those who sought to ban it achieved the exact opposite of what they intended. Now everyone who never heard of the book, i.e. most of the world, now wants to to read it. Karma anyone? Also what is popular today maybe less popular in 20 years, will they come after your books next?

I don't know the people who sought the ban, nor their reasons beyond what they stated - but there may be more reasons then what they stated. I know there is a lot of backlash in recent years in response to how feminist and western concepts of womanhood are gaining ground in Hindu culture.

Vraja said...

Part 3

I know that there are a lot of very passionate people who believe that women should be closer in lifestyle to that of women in Arab countries then the more modern world. Those types of ultra-conservatives will often take any type of representation of Hinduism outside of a very sectarian take on shastras , or outside of what they consider Hindu morals, to be an attack on Hindu culture in general. What is interesting is that they are almost always unaware of many other Hindus and Hindu sects who disagree with their version of Hinduism. So invariably, these issues are also of a sectarian nature, it's not just Hinduism vs. "the modern world," but Hinduism vs. Hinduism. To every Hindu whom the shivalingam is not a male member, there is another to whom it is. To every Hindu who sees sexuality in shastra one way, there is another who sees it in another. The nature of Hinduism is that there is unity in diversity, that doesn't give license to demand submission to a sectarian view in the name of Hinduism.

I don't think Wendy is consciously denigrating Hinduism, or maybe not all at all. It depends on your vantage point. She has dedicated her life to the study of Hinduism, so why would she do that if she hated it? If you are an enlightened person according to most schools of Hindu thought, then you will see all actions and everyone being guided by the same power, under the same restrictions of karma and gunas.

Therefore the philosophy teaches us that blaming or becoming angry are signs of a delusional state. You either know that everything is one in Brahman, acting under a higher power to fulfill their destiny - yet forget at times, which leads to anger and blame directed at people; or you don't understand the nature of reality that the teachings describe in the first place. Acting either out of rajo-guna or tamo-guna, uncontrolled passion or ignorance, creates incentive to accept what you see as the absolute truth of reality. The truth isn't out there, it's within, manifesting as the controlling principle to our fate. Therefore no one is to blame, that is the vision of Vedanta, that is the meaning of :

brahma satyam jagan mithya

Brahman (God) is reality, the world is unreality - Like a magical trick or illusion, the world is designed to to appear real in the sense of duality between people, places, and things - but it's a sophisticated trick, the reality is that it's all very tightly controlled and therefore is nondifferent from (manifesting) the will of Brahman.

tat tvam asi

You are that - you are also a part of and controlled by Brahman, whatever you do is also the manifestation of Brahman.

sarvam khalv idam brahma

In truth everything is Brahman - Brahman is not just the underlying impersonal substance of all things, many people mistake Brahman for prakriti (underlying substance of the world, subatomic ground of being). Brahman is described sat-chit-ananda, a blissful conscious being, i.e. the supreme being, also called Ishvara (ruler).

Karthikrajan said...

It is a ‘consolation’ victory for the hindhus that they could force penguin to withdraw the books. Reminds me of M.K Gandhi’s assassination ! MKG had accumulated enough ‘mahaathma’ certificates with his ahimsa sermons to hindhus that only the martyr tag was missing to complement it. The hindhus betowed this favour on him thro Godse. Like wise the west had accumulated enough ‘freedom’ to indulge in non-sense against hindhuism that now the hindhus have returned the favour using a supposedly nonsensical law. By the way , how is the title of the book correct ? It is not ‘alternative history’, it is only her view about hindhism.
You need to modify your view about the right-to-insult. Uncharitable but truthful remarks are acceptable, but mis-information and dis-information campaigns are not. Wendy is resorting to the latter.
I think it is a trick employed by the secularists themselves to escape embarrassment. If the court had ruled against wendy that would be a body blow to the secularists in this election year which would queer the pitch towards Namo. Probably it is those guys who pressurised penguin to withdraw citing the law. It also comes in handy to them to indulge in different kind of wailing : that , Penguin withdrew due to violent threats from hindhu groups and not due to the law. One cry-baby referred to the thrashing of Prashant bhushan’s office for suggesting referendum in Kashmir to ‘prove’ how violent hindhu groups are !
I can understand your criticism against hindhus for not investing in scholarship to analyse hindhuism, but i don’t understand your logic when you say that withdrawal of wendy’s book has exposed hindhu’s poor scholarship. Is it necessary at all to dig so much into the past , especially about religion , when people are looking at the future ? Especially when modern science has opened a new and effective channel to explore the divinities rather than resorting to the boring philosophical channel called religion. Are the western scholars sore with their hindhu counterparts for not dismantling hindhuism the way they have done with churchianity and islam ? May be wendy is so worried about rape cases being reported at an alarming rate in india that she is convinced about Hinduism being the real culprit behind it and hence her latest book. She is playing into the hands of lunatics who can now conveniently blame and denigrate hindhuism for all the sex abuse against women. Perhaps this is what irked hindhus who went to court against the book.
About the siva lingam, yes some intellectual hindhus do have the view that it represents eternal cosmic copulation of siva and sakthi which is reason for procreation of humans on earth. Hence the auspicious time called ‘shaanthi muhoortham’ after marriage, when the act has to be performed for child bearing by invoking the divine siva. To some of the not-so-intellectual hindhus, it simply represents the wet flour grinding machine made of stone which every household maintains. In a tamil pagan temple with a siva deity, the devotees regularly donate this machine as offering. But, ask the hindhu public on the road about siva lingam, most will give a blank look. To them what they worship is immaterial as long as it is not objectionable. But if wendy says that hindhus worship siva lingam because they are intrinsically sex maniacs then she is indulging in slander. In this modern era where test tube babies and cloning have succeeded , the siva lingam has lost its relevance. Interestingly , a tamil history professor maintains that there were Vishnu lingam too in the earlier periods. Later , during the tug of war between vaishnaviites and saiviites, the vaishnaviites surrendered the lingam to the saivaiites and took to the Conch and SriChakra – the circular saw !
Anyway, wendy has the right to demand that her books be available for reading , not selling. And internet is obliging her, hence no hue and cry need to be generated about penguin’s withdrawal. This won’t wreck wendy or penguin economically.

bennedose said...

Dr Elst, I presume you have had a chance to read Wendy Doniger's alternate history?

I have started reading it and have hardly reached the 10% point but one thing stands out from the first chapter. It is a political work rather than a scholarly one. Doniger has an agenda and as part of that agenda she has, in her mind and in her book, classified Hindus into two broad categories, of which one are the "Hindutva-vadis". Doniger does not like them and believes she is handing Hinduism to the non Hindutva-vadis by means of her book.

Anyone who spends five minutes watching TV at election time in India knows how vicious the rhetoric can get - and Doniger has no business calling herself a scholar if she is playing an open political game.

Her book is "an alternate history" which is deliberately designed to turn some people off and upset them. Fr a scholar who wants to be read it is a mistake to simply go and alienate a large segment of the society that might read the book by joining a political game.

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