Redefining Hinduism

July 06, 2007
B Shantanu

Tavleen Singh wrote a great piece in Indian Express a few days back titled, “A dark, distorted Hinduism“.

In that article, Tavleen talked about how “in these jehadi times, when Islamists run around the globe killing innocent people to prove that their Prophet and their book are the best, now and forever, the Hindu idea becomes even more relevant. What grander idea of faith can there be than that everyone is entitled to their own truth?“.

I was reminded of The Dangers of Monotheism in the Age of Globalization, in which Jean-Pierre Lehmann suggests that India (and the Hindu tradition) can be the new ethical and spiritual role model for the world.

Sadly, the only “brand” of Hinduism that does get publicity these days is either the ”make Shilpa Shetty apologise for kissing Richard Gere” variety or the “seeking guidance from spirits” variety.

In her story, Tavleen writes about her meeting with Rajiv Malhotra of Infinity Foundation who has made it his life’s mission to rectify misconceptions and mis-representations of Hinduism by, amongst others, “highly regarded American professors who have written scholarly tomes on Hinduism that make it sound like a mix of voodoo and pornography”.

As Tavleen writes, “Hindu gods and religious symbols have been put through Freudian analysis to establish such bizarre conclusions as Ganesha’s trunk representing a “flaccid phallus” and his love of sweets as a desire for oral sex….This Freudian analysis goes beyond the gods to actual Hindu religious practices, and it is then that these scholars show not just their abysmal ignorance but their deliberate distortion of reality.

They teach students in American universities that Brahmins drink menstrual blood and other human fluids and that this is Tantra. They teach that Shiva temples are dens of vice where priests routinely murder and rape unsuspecting pilgrims.”

Thankfully, Rajiv has decided to do something about this and “the result of his efforts is Invading the Sacred”, a book that I am looking forward to reading sometime soon (Karigar has reproduced the foreword here).

Tavleen also points out that “the reason why dodgy scholars from a distant land have succeeded in becoming ‘experts’ on our civilisation is because our own scholars do not tread in this territory for fear of being branded with that much reviled word — Hindutva.”

This fear of being branded a “Hindu fascist” keeps most people away from any serious discussion about Hinduism, Sanatan Dharma, its relevance to current India and the fear of secular fundamentalists is what shuts most serious scholars up.

As we know, of course, the fastest way to lose credibility in India today is to get branded a “Hindu fundamentalist” – which is ironic considering that the “fundamentals” of Hinduism are ideals which one can hardly find fault with.

But the real pity is not even that there are not enough indigenous scholars studying Hinduism, Sanatan Dharma and Indology…the real pity is that “these so-called experts …(are)…aided and abetted by Indians like Amartya Sen, who attend their conferences and support their ignorant theories.”

Rajiv mentions in his book a recent “conference at the University of Chicago, where, along with Hinduism ‘experts’ like Wendy Doniger and Martha Nussbaum, [Amartya Sen] backed the idea that Hindu fanatics were a bigger threat to Indian democracy than the Islamists.”

Nussbaum is quoted as saying, “Thinking about India is instructive to Americans who in an age of terrorism can easily oversimplify pictures of the forces that threaten democracy . . . in India, the threat to democratic ideals comes not from a Muslim threat, but from Hindu groups.”

That sounds like a joke, but you will stop finding it funny if you remember that the current dispensation in Delhi is supported by Marxists, who openly state that they consider Hindutva a bigger threat than jehadi Islam.

So true.

Tragically, the damage that the Marxists and communists “have done goes beyond the political, for it is largely on account of ‘secular’ leftist pressure that Indian civilisation remains untaught in our schools and universities”.

I realised this first hand several years ago when the only “popular” book available on Indian History (other than text books) that I used to find in shops was Romila Thapar’s The History of India.

As the foreword mentions,

“The standard textbook story, which has schooled multiple generations including mine, goes as follows: caste system dominates India, strange and grotesque deities are worshipped in strange and grotesque ways, women are discriminated against, the practice of widow-burning exists and corruption is rampant.

If these properties characterize India of today and yesterday, the puzzle about what the earlier generation of Indian thinkers were doing turns into a very painful realization: while the intellectuals of European culture were busy challenging and changing the world, most thinkers in Indian culture were apparently busy sustaining, and defending undesirable and immoral practices. Of course there is our Buddha and our Gandhi but that is apparently all we have: exactly one Buddha and exactly one Gandhi. If this portrayal is trus, the Indians have but one task, to modernize India, and the Indian culture but one Goal: to become like the West as quickly as possible.

However, what if this portrayal is false? What if these basically Western descriptions of India are wrong? In that case, the questions about what India has to offer the world and what Indian thinkers were doing becomes important.”

In fact one of the major reasons I started my blog was to help me understand more about our culture, tradition and religion because I found unbiased research and information increasingly hard to come by. This was also one of the major impulses behind Krishna’s initiative to start Hindupedia.

Today, more than ever, Hinduism is in desperate need of re-branding. Unless we take the initiative in redefining the core values of our great religion and tradition, we will forever be hostage to mis-interpretations, distortions and misunderstandings…

And the task is so urgent, and so thankless that it can no longer be left to academics, experts and government-funded scholars. Let each one of us try and do something about it.

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