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The Hindus: An Alternative History von [Doniger, Wendy]

The Hindus: An Alternative History Kindle Edition

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You will learn a huge amount about both the main thoroughfares and neglected byways of Hindu history. Jonathan Wright, Sunday Herald It is one of the most profound and enlightening anatomisations of Hindu history I have ever read. Jonathan Wright, Sunday Herald Scholarly, witty, and even-handed... one of the most profound and enlightening anatomisations of Hindu history I have ever read. Jonathan Wright, Sunday Herald

Kurzbeschreibung

From one of the world?s foremost scholars on Hinduism, a vivid reinterpretation of its history

An engrossing and definitive narrative account of history and myth that offers a new way of understanding one of the world?s oldest major religions, The Hindus elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds.

Hinduism does not lend itself easily to a strictly chronological account: many of its central texts cannot be reliably dated even within a century; its central tenets?karma, dharma, to name just two?arise at particular moments in Indian history and differ in each era, between genders, and caste to caste; and what is shared among Hindus is overwhelmingly outnumbered by the things that are unique to one group or another. Yet the greatness of Hinduism?its vitality, its earthiness, its vividness?lies precisely in many of those idiosyncratic qualities that continue to inspire debate today.

Wendy Doniger is one of the foremost scholars of Hinduism in the world. With her inimitable insight and expertise Doniger illuminates those moments within the tradition that resist forces that would standardize or establish a canon. Without reversing or misrepresenting the historical hierarchies, she reveals how Sanskrit and vernacular sources are rich in knowledge of and compassion toward women and lower castes; how they debate tensions surrounding religion, violence, and tolerance; and how animals are the key to important shifts in attitudes toward different social classes.

The Hindus brings a fascinating multiplicity of actors and stories to the stage to show how brilliant and creative thinkers?many of them far removed from Brahmin authors of Sanskrit texts?have kept Hinduism alive in ways that other scholars have not fully explored. In this unique and authoritative account, debates about Hindu traditions become platforms from which to consider the ironies, and overlooked epiphanies, of history.

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 4561 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 804 Seiten
  • Verlag: Penguin Books (24. Februar 2009)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
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  • ASIN: B001TSZ688
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I had read about the supposedly scandalous nature of the book and was interested. Im sure the author has some good points oto make but it is very hard work to read. We have, as an example a paragraph discussing the meaning of PC (politically correct) and proposing, whimsically, other definitons around colonialism and finally ending with what I took to be a joke that in the UK it means Police Constable.
Then there is a whole chapter on misinterpretations of historical indian findings with pages and pages of reasoning why we should question the established interpretations but finishing up with the admission that actually the established views are probably correct.
Wendy Doniger seems to delight in word games and repeats no end of times her Rabbit/man in the moon thing which I found extraordinarily grating.

Overall possibly an intersting read for people who have a huge amount of time and enjoy an converstaional style which wanders around and (although well referenced) refuses to get the the point.
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Absolutely amazing historical scholarship - this book has been pulped by the publisher in India under threat from some organizations. All the more reason to read it, especially if you are interested in a historical account of "Hindus, caste, legends and Indian demography"
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Sie passt gut in die Gesellschaft anderer indophober "Gelehrter" wie M. Witzel oder Schreiberlingen wie Kripal! Habe selbst 2 x das volle Ramayana und 2 x das volle Mahabharata gelesen, etliche Upanishaden, Werke früher chinesischer Reisenden, Megastenes Indica uvm. Dieses "Werk" von Frau Doniger bietet keinen brauchbaren Einblick in die Geschichte Indiens sondern wie Menschen mit vorurteilsbehaftetem christlichem Hintergrund uns die hinduistische Spiritualität/Religiösität glauben machen wollen. Ashwameda Jagya als pervertierter Sex mit einem toten Pferd??? Diese Frau ist eine Gelehrte??? Es wurde ein Pferd frei gelassen und begleitet. Das hatte politische Gründe und wäre hier zu langwierig zu beschreiben. Die Bibel, der Koran bzw. die Hatiten und der Talmud sind voller grauenhafter Texte. Warum schreiben diese Leute nicht darüber? Politisch nicht korrekt? Es ist gut wenn sich Hindus (im Rahmen der gesetzlichen Möglichkeiten) gegen Angriffe auf ihrer Religion zur Wehr setzen! Heutige Werke vorurteilstriefender "Gelehrter" werden oft unter Zuhilfename anderer Werke westlicher "Gelehrter" produziert welche schlicht als indophob zu bezeichnen sind. Es ist an der Zeit das Inder endlich selbst ihre Geschichte erzählen dürfen! Werke indischer Gelehrter werden aber von den oberschlauen Herrschaften aus Harvard und co. überheblich zurückgewiesen, ignoriert oder gar lächerlich gemacht! Wer sich wirklich ernsthaft für indische Geschichte und Glauben interessiert findet brauchbare Werke. Wendy Donigers Werk gehört nicht dazu. Es wäre schade wenn Menschen mit Interesse an indischen Philosophien durch dieses Buch abgeschreckt würden.

Bild: Ashwameda, Pferd in Begleitung auf seinem langen Weg durch angrenzende Königreiche.
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Pg 468-469 -The mosque, whose serene calligraphic and geometric contrasts with the perpetual motion of the figures depicted on the temple, makes a stand against the chaos of India, creating enforced vacuums that India cannot rush into with all its monkeys and peoples and colors and the smells of the bazaar COMMENT: It is simply unacceptable that a scholar can flippantly, pejoratively and derogatorily essentialize the Hindus as monkeys and peoples, colors and smells.., and chaos in most insulting manner with the aspersion thrown at the entire Hindu culture and community all over the world. Such generalization has no place in serious scholarly work

Pg 571- It is alleged that in a hymn from Saint Kshetrayyas poetry, God rapes the women devotees. COMMENT: The hymn merely presents devotion using spiritual metaphors and the hymns of the Saint seen collectively depict it as a passionate love affair between the God and the devotees. No rape is implied in this hymn at all

Pg 40 If the motto of Watergate was Follow the money, the motto of the history of Hinduism could well be Follow the monkey or, more often Follow the horse. COMMENT: Very derogatory and offensive. The motto of Hinduism is to follow the truth and unite with God.
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HASH(0x99df6cb4) von 5 Sternen Where Exactly Is India, Ms. Doniger? 5. April 2014
Von Ali Sheikh - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Banned in Bangalore, the New York Times op-ed said. Why ban a book, no matter how offensive, the literati fumed. No one can truly ban a book in the Internet age, friends pointed out. Naturally, I bought a copy—and more to the point, read the book.

Before we proceed, let me say that I do not support banning any book (or even legally requiring a book to be withdrawn from circulation, as was the case with this book in India). But I do hold that every banned book isn’t necessarily a well-written, scholarly work. Indeed, a ban of any kind instantly confers an aura of hyper-legitimacy on the banned work, regardless of its intrinsic merit, and I believe that’s what happened with Ms. Doniger’s book. I contend that her book is biased and sloppy, and that’s what this review is all about.

Let’s start with the big picture. A well-written alternative history of anything, let alone Hinduism, generally has the effect of making the reader pause and think twice about what he may have held all along as the truth. From someone of Ms. Doniger’s stature, I was hoping to hear a serious insight or two that would make me go, "Gosh, I’ve known that story all my life, but why didn’t I look at things that way before?"

So, what major insights does the book offer? According to the author, the main aspects are diversity and pluralism in Hindu thought, treatment of women and lower castes, the erotic side of Hinduism, and the many tensions and conflicts within Hinduism.

That’s where my disappointment started—those are not major insights, nor do they add up to an alternative history. Let’s go item by item. Diversity and Pluralism? Caste system? Anyone with a passing interest in India knows about it. Treatment of women? I am not trying to minimize the importance of women, but what’s new here? Were the other ancient cultures any better? Conflict and tension within? Hardly surprising for a country of a billion people. Eroticism in ancient India? Oh please, who hasn’t heard of that? Yes, yes, Ms. Doniger adds a ton of detail, but my point is that things don’t become groundbreaking by adding detail. It’s as if someone wrote a very detailed book about the Mississippi river and Southern cuisine and called it "The Americans: An Alternative History."

All the detail opens up an even bigger disappointment. It appears that Ms. Doniger frequently cherry-picked the facts to suit her views, and on occasion, even twisted them to suit her narrative. I realize these are harsh accusations and the burden of proof lies on me, so please allow me to present enough examples to make my case (within the space limitations of an opinion piece).

Let’s begin with the epic Ramayana, with the king Dasharatha and his three wives. The youngest, the beautiful Kaikeyi, assists the king in a hard-fought battle. In return, the king grants her two wishes, to be claimed at any time of her choosing. Many years later, when the king is about to retire and Rama, his son from the eldest wife, is about to be crowned, Kaikeyi claims her two wishes: that her son Bharata be named king, and Rama be exiled to the forest for fourteen years. The king is torn between his promise to Kaikeyi and his obligation to name the eldest son as the next king, as convention dictated. When Rama hears of the king’s predicament, he abdicates his claim to the throne and leaves the city. This is a defining moment for Rama—the young man respects the king’s word (i.e., the law) enough to renounce his own claim to the throne and loves his father so much that he spares him the pain of having to enact the banishment. Indeed, this point in Rama’s life even foretells the rest of the story—that the young man would, in the years to come, make even bigger personal sacrifices for the sake of his ideals.

That’s the mainstream narrative. Let’s hear Ms. Doniger’s alternative narrative, in her own words. “The youngest queen, Kaikeyi, uses sexual blackmail (among other things) to force Dasharatha to put her son, Bharata, on the throne instead and send Rama into exile.”

Now, was Kaikeyi beautiful? Yes. Was the king deeply enamored with her? Yes. Did Kaikeyi lock herself in a room and create a scene? Absolutely. Was the king called a fool and other names by his own sons? You bet. But there is far more to Rama’s exile than sexual blackmail. Ms. Doniger covers this topic in excellent detail (page 223 onwards), but it’s interesting that she doesn’t bring up the king’s longstanding promise. Before we draw conclusions, let’s move on to a different story from the same epic.

Ms. Doniger retells the story of the ogre Shurpanakha, who approaches Rama and professes her love for him. Rama tells her he is a married man and mocks her. In the end, Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana mutilates the ogre. To Ms. Doniger, this data point (to be fair, not the only data point) indicates Rama’s cruelty toward women. Ms. Doniger then contrasts this story with one from the Mahabharata, where an ogre named Hidimbi professes her love for Bheema and is accepted as his wife—again underscoring the author’s point about Rama’s cruelty. All of this might sound reasonable at first glance, but let’s look closer.

This is how the story goes in the epic. Shurpanakha approaches Rama when he is sitting next to his wife, Sita. When Rama mocks her, the ogre gets angry and charges at Sita. Rama holds the ogre back to save Sita and then orders his younger brother to mutilate the ogre. Rama even says, “That ogre almost killed Sita.” One would think these details are pertinent to the discussion, but strangely enough, Ms. Doniger doesn’t bring them up. Also, Rama was a committed monogamist, whereas Bheema was (at that point in the story) a single man. Aren’t we comparing apples to oranges here? Isn’t this just the kind of nuance one would expect a researcher to pick up?

To be fair to Ms. Doniger, there are many versions of the Ramayana (and sadly enough, some scholars have received a lot of undeserved flak for pointing this out). So, is it possible that she and I were reading different renditions of the same epic? I checked. Turns out we both got our details from the Valmiki Ramayana (also known as the original Sanskrit version). What’s going on here?

Normally, one would expect an alternative narrative to add nuance—as if to say, “There is more to the story than what you lay people know.” But Ms. Doniger manages to do the opposite—she takes a nuanced, compelling moment in the epic and reduces it to sexual blackmail or cruelty or sexual urges, whatever her current talking point is. Speaking of sexual urges, indeed there are no sex scenes in her book. But it can justifiably be called a veritable catalog of all the phalluses and vaginas that ever existed in ancient India, and there is no dearth of detail in Doniger’s book when it comes to private parts. She even cares to tell you whether any given phallus is erect or flaccid. Details, people!

But enough about men and women. Let’s move on to animals. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna burns up a large forest and many creatures die; the epic even describes the animals’ pain at some length. Somehow, Ms. Doniger finds this worthy of filing under the “Violence toward Animals” section. Was Arjuna supposed to first clear the forest of all the wild animals and only then set the forest on fire? Is that how other cultures cleared forests so they could grow crops and build cities? Has it occurred to Ms. Doniger the very fact that the narrator of the epic bothered to describe the animals’ pain (instead of just saying “Arjuna burned the forest”) indicates some sympathy toward animals in those times? Then the professor brings up—and this is a recurring talking point under the cruelty section—the line from Mahabharata that says, “fish eat fish.” Ms. Doniger calls it “Manu’s terror of piscine anarchy.” Oh, the humanity!

Yet there is no mention of what Bheeshma says in the Mahabharata (Book 13), over pages and pages of discourse, on the virtues of vegetarianism and kindness toward all animal life. Bheeshma calls “abstention from cruelty” the highest religion, highest form of self-control, highest gift, highest penance and puissance, highest friend, highest happiness and the highest form of truth. One would think this passage merits a mention when discussing cruelty towards animals in the Mahabharata, but it doesn’t get one.

Ms. Doniger uses the phrase “working with available light” when describing how she had approached her subject matter, which is very true when working with a complex topic such as Hinduism. But the problem is, she then proceeds to turn off many lights in the house and use a microscope to detail the bits she cares to see. She is of course free to do what she likes, but can someone please explain to me why the end result from such an approach qualifies as an “alternative” map of my home?

Still on the topic of animals, let’s discuss dogs, a subject Ms. Doniger covers in great detail. Even lay readers of the Mahabharata remember that in the end, Yudhishtira declined his chance to go to heaven unless the stray dog that had been loyal to him was also allowed in, and many Mahabharata enthusiasts may recall a different dog at the beginning that was unjustly beaten up. Ms. Doniger’s book mentions many other dogs as well, and for good measure, she even shares a weird story from contemporary India, 150 words long, quoted verbatim from an Indian newspaper, about a man marrying a dog.

What about Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad Gita, where he says wise people cast the same gaze on a learned Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog and someone who might cook a dog? Ms. Doniger does mention those lines, but with an interesting twist. She prefaces those 24 words with “though” and reverts to her chosen narrative without even waiting for that thought to finish: “though the Gita insists that wise people cast the same gaze on a learned Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog, or a dog cooker, the Mahabharata generally upholds the basic prejudice against dogs.” Has it occurred to Ms. Doniger that, while men were beating up dogs, God was professing a kinder, more egalitarian approach? The whole man vs. God angle escapes her, and in the end we are left with a world where “man marries dog” gets 150 words and God’s words of compassion are limited to 24, topped with a though.

Ms. Doniger calls her book “a history, not the history, of the Hindus,” which is, of course, fine. Further, I do not hold the mainstream narrative to be beyond reproach, nor do I expect an alternative narrative to merely confirm the status quo. Alternative histories do very frequently upset the balance, and, frankly, that’s how progress is made. But my problem here is that Ms. Doniger seems to think the mainstream narrative is ipso facto a biased one, and that her alternative narrative is more compelling, never mind the facts and the counterevidence. She draws the graph first and then looks for data points. That’s a very interesting trend you’ve spotted there, Ms. Doniger, but what about all those big, ugly blots of truth that don’t fit your graph?

So much for stories from ancient India. For the benefit of any kind souls from the Western world who have been patiently reading through all this, let me throw in an example from relatively recent times that involves America. No doubt you've heard what the physicist Robert Oppenheimer said while reflecting on the first nuclear blast he had helped spawn. He quoted a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." Why would he quote Gita? The simplest explanation I can think of is that Oppenheimer was a well-read man, and he felt the passage was appropriate when describing the unprecedented firepower he had just witnessed. It’s not much different from Carl Sagan’s quoting Mahapurana in his book Cosmos, one would think. But no, there is more to it. Ms. Doniger’s take:

“Perhaps Oppenheimer’s inability to face his own shock and guilt directly, the full realization and acknowledgment of what he had helped create, led him to distance the experience by viewing it in terms of someone else’s myth of doomsday, as if to say: ‘This is some weird Hindu sort of doomsday, nothing we Judeo-Christian types ever imagined.’ He switched to Hinduism when he saw how awful the bomb was and that it was going to be used on the Japanese, not on the Nazis, as had been intended. Perhaps he moved subconsciously to Orientalism when he realized that it was “Orientals” (Japanese) who were going to suffer.”

There you have it. Weird Hindu doomsdays. Sex-crazed kings. Cruel gods. Men marrying dogs. Phalluses everywhere—some erect and some flaccid. Ladies and gentlemen, we finally have an alternative history of Hinduism. And yes, left uncontested, in all likelihood these are the “insights” a whole new generation of students and researchers might learn, internalize, and cite in future scholarly works.

So much for an alternative history. Now, how about some mundane, regular history stuff? Let’s go back to the Mahabharata, an epic that Ms. Doniger brings up dozens of times in her book (she even calls the Mahabharata “100 times more interesting” than the Iliad and the Odyssey). Let’s ask two questions: When did the main events of Mahabharata occur? And exactly how long is the epic?

Ms. Doniger mentions the years as: between 1000 BCE and 400 BCE, most likely 950 BCE, or around 3012 BCE, or maybe 1400 BCE. That narrows down the chronology quite a bit, doesn't it? Really, there is more to writing history (particularly the alternative kind) than looking up the reference books and throwing in all the numbers one could find. But in Ms. Doniger’s defense, she is not a historian per se (and she clearly tells us so), so let’s let this one slide by. I’d even say she does deserve some credit here for at least bothering to look up things. On the next topic, she fails to do even that.

Ms. Doniger says the Mahabharata is about 75,000 verses long. Then she helpfully adds, “sometimes said to be a hundred thousand, perhaps just to round it off a bit." My goodness, 25,000 verses is some rounding error, don't you think? Most sources put it between 75,000 and 125,000. It took me all of two hours to find a very detailed account (not on the Internet though), compiled in the 11th century, putting the total at 100,500—and I’m not a researcher, not by a long shot. And yes, the exact number of verses is secondary to the big picture. What bothers me is the offhandedness with which Ms. Doniger brushes off 25,000 verses as a rounding issue. Why this half-baked research?

Oh well, maybe we expected too much from the bestselling book on Hinduism and it’s our fault. So, let’s try again, one last time. Where is India located?

Ms. Doniger states, very clearly, without any ambiguity, on page 11 (footnote): “Most of India… is in the Northern Hemisphere.”

I think I’ll stop here.
1.151 von 1.366 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0x917cf48c) von 5 Sternen Abundance of pettiness 25. Mai 2009
Von Spk - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
As someone who has grown up in an academic environment, I would like to think of myself as catholic in my outlook; but this book by Wendy Doniger was just off.

To start with I maintain two gold standards of writers from the west
writing on India. The first is Heinrich Zimmer who wrote 'Myths and
Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization' which I have gone back to
repeatedly over the past 20 years. The other is the works of William
Dalrymple and the work of his that I cherish the most is one titled
'White Mughals'.

The former is a scholar who has sought to deeply understand Indian culture and the myths it has evolved and the latter is a fine writer first and foremost with a keen eye and love for all things Indian.

But what really makes their writings classic that wants me to go back
to them repeatedly is their generosity of spirit and largeness of
heart. They do not shy away from the warts, but you know what is
driving them to research and write their material is a genuine desire
to understand and the joy of discovery.

That brings me to Ms Doniger. When I came upon the book after reading a review of it in the NY Times, I rubbed my hands in glee. Ah, here is a book I thought to myself, that is going to present new and important insights, from a seasoned philologist, that is going to enhance
one's knowledge of Indian culture in new and important ways (good or bad - no matter).

What Wendy Doniger does do is that she applies all the tools and techniques and filters of 20th and 21st century social and cultural analysis to bear upon circa 500 BC India and then proceeds to sit in judgment. But it turns out that no wart is unworthy of examination and it is warts that are examined!

As an example, I opened the chapter on the Upanishads with a degree of anticipation hoping that a sociological context to the content of the Upanishads is going to present new insights. To one's great disappointment there is nothing on the sheer poetry of the verse or the metaphysics therein. Rather the good professor takes one or two of the Upanishads and
proceeds to see male chauvinism and cruelty at every turn.

Really, that's what she got out of the Upanishads? For example how about the Ananda Valli Kanda of the Taittiriya Upanishad - which defines
happiness. Not a word on that. How about the psychological complexity unveiled in the Mandukya Upanishad? Not a word on that. As someone who has lapped up all sorts of commentaries on the Upanishads for many years now (all takes welcome), this one was astonishing primarily for its wholly missing the point!

Doniger's pettiness contrasts with the generosity of spirit I have
mentioned above. Two examples here. She has comments to make on the
Ramayana and the Mahabharatha. She writes, introducing them,
'considered by some as epics'. Really? Only some people consider these epics? I am all open and eager for scholarly analysis of any subject matter - but throw us a bone here (more on dogs later...!) - give the Indians their epics!

Another example in the same vein. She reference Shankara later in the
book and while describing him as the founder of the Shankara Matts
/Schools. She in paretheses writes 'is said to have founded'. Again,
really? If the Professor doubts that Shankara founded the Matts, I am
very interested in knowing about this! Even if it is vague conjecture, tell me more - I fully agree that Indian history can be vague, so please throw some light. But instead of exploring the justifiable debate or controversy that exists, she just has a throw away line, for apparently no reason.

The attitude that comes through is one of hostility, contempt and
shoddy writing. And the dogs. There are several hundred references to Indian
view of dogs. Whats with that? I am a pet owner myself and
love my dog. But this was so discordant that I was just not getting it.

There is also a chapter on Hindus in America. This section is so superficial that it is laughable. It feels like the author has browsed a couple of websites and found that enough to channel her points of view.

A final note on sex. A three thousand year old mature civilization has seen a lot in its ebbs and flows and the land of the Kama Sutra is
going to have its share of views. But Doniger sees hostile,
vituperative sexual mores at every turn, even when such an
interpretation is not warranted.

A metaphor I want to use for Wendy Doniger is the following. When I
was a kid, visiting my grandmother in Hyderabad, India, I would love
going to the 'sugar cane stand'. There the sugar cane wallah would
take the sugar cane stems and crush them through two rollers and
collect the juice into a cup. On a sunny summer day it was the best
drink ever. Then all the crushed pith would go into a rubbish pile on
the ground.

Heinrich Zimmer and William Dalrymple get to the sugar cane juice.
Wendy Doniger rakes about in the sugar cane pith with no concept of
what the juice is all about.

Does this mean that I do not recommend you read this book. Not at all. I am not one to shy away from a variety of perspectives or debate. So please do pick it up from the library and give it a glance. Just don't expect to walk away from it with new insights other than the fact that the author has an agenda and Indian culture happens to serve it in this case.
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HASH(0x917a8a38) von 5 Sternen Not a Good Introduction to the Spirituality of Hinduism 16. November 2009
Von GregJS - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
If you are drawn to read Wendy Doniger's The Hindus - as I was - because you see in Hinduism an example of a cultural-spiritual tradition that has managed to keep alive - right into modern times - a view of a sacred universe (sacred time, sacred geography, sacred cosmology, sacred social customs and social roles, sacred geometry and architecture, rites, rituals, and celebrations, etc.) and a robust set of experiential spiritual practices (puja, kirtan, yoga, meditation, etc.) then you are likely to be disappointed by this book. It is written, as far as I can tell, entirely from within the same western, modern, secular-academic point of view that has largely rejected a sacred vision of the cosmos and that has largely dismissed whatever tried-and-tested systems of spiritual practice we may once have had. Doniger conveys almost none of the spiritual vitality and seems not to recognize any of the practical spiritual knowledge that other writers and teachers show to be embedded in Hindu scriptures. If anything, she belittles these aspects of Hinduism in just that sort of way that modernized people as a group tend, unfortunately, to do, believing themselves to "know better" and to be more "sophisticated" than people who maintain their ancient traditions. So if you are looking for a view of Hinduism that will lead you beyond the limitations of the modern materialistic-mechanistic worldview, this is not the book for you.

Here is just one example: On page 176, Doniger quotes, from the Kaushitaki Upanishad, a description of the sort of experience one might encounter after bodily death that determines the trajectory of one's soul. This upanishad says that upon dying, one goes to the moon and must answer its question, and that answering correctly or incorrectly is what determines the soul's next steps. Now, obviously, from a modern, materialistic, rationalistic point of view, this is all silly, superstitious nonsense and so it would be very easy to dismiss it as such. But we should expect more than this kind of knee-jerk, superficial response from a person who holds herself up as a serious scholar. But rather than exploring what these strange (to modern, western ears) ideas and images might refer to in metaphysical terms (for example, I happen to know that there is a strong connection between the moon and the mental faculty in Hindu metaphysics; so this passage from the unpanishad could be a way of saying that the trajectory of the soul after death is dependent on the level of mental development one has attained during bodily life), Doniger takes the easy way out - the way that will find easy acceptance among her readers who hold modern, mechanistic rationalism to be the only valid viewpoint - and treats as silly the idea that "just one final postmortem exam...determines everything" (and then, in a telling footnote, likens this to a British school exam, clearly demonstrating how Doniger misconstrues and minimizes what may be another culture's rich spiritual wisdom by filtering it though her own referents while maintaining a distant, scholarly, and disdainful stance.) If it ever occurred to Doniger that the people who authored Hindu scriptures were simply far more open to a broader range of (non-physical) experiences than herself (and, by extension, most westernized, modernized people) she never hints at this possibility in her writing. In my opinion, this is a major fault.

For similar reasons, if you are drawn to this book primarily because of its subtitle "An Alternative History," and are hoping for insight into more primal forms of Hindu spirituality - before the sanitized, homogenized, overly rationalized form of "Hinduism" as so many of us know it today emerged under the influence of Christianity and western colonialism - then you too are likely to be disappointed. True, Doniger does bring out various strands of the Hindu tradition that are often overlooked, but again, not in a way that demonstrates their spiritual vitality. Her aim seems to be to support the modernist agenda that wants to say, "Look - since there are so many seemingly contradictory strands within this religious system, it's all obviously just a bunch of made-up hooey and has no real truth." In other words, Doniger presents the "alternative" Hindu tradition as mainly a complicated tangle of "myths" - in the negative sense of that word - that are best left to scholars like herself to figure out and that have no value other than providing a historical record of various peoples' literary imaginings. I got the feeling that to Doniger, Hinduism is nothing but a huge body of literature waiting to be analyzed.

Really, what this book is about, more than anything else, is Wendy Doniger and her particular interests. Hinduism almost recedes into the background, seemingly serving merely as a stimulus for her to talk about what matters most to her (mainly: women, oppressed groups of people, and animals). Nothing wrong with those interests at all; but the way in which Doniger talks about Hinduism does not seem to come from Hinduism itself. I feel that she has imposed her interests upon Hinduism in an unnatural - and therefore misleading - way. (Also, if you do not share her strong interest in these things, you may find her continual focus on them tedious.)

On the positive side, I did get out of this book an even stronger sense of just how diverse a tradition Hinduism is and how it evolved over time. Many people will present Hinduism from one particular point of view (polytheistic, monotheistic, dualistic, non-dualistic, Vedic, Vedantic, yogic, tantric, philosophical, ritualistic, brahminical, populist, Shaiva, Vaishnava, etc.) as if any one of these points of view is the "true," "authentic," "original," or most comprehensive form of Hinduism. But while Doniger does present a fairly broad spectrum of Hinduism, she does so, as stated above, while missing the inner heart of it all: the spirituality.

In other words, in my opinion, she misses the point.

Anyone out there have any recommendations for an overview of Hinduism?
95 von 131 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0x917a9660) von 5 Sternen did Penguin fire all of its editors? 29. August 2009
Von Philip Greenspun - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
This book is 800 pages long. That seems reasonable given the length and complexity of Hindu history. At least half of the words are irrelevant, redundant, or unnecessary, however. Let's take the first page of Chapter I. One third of the page is recounting a Sufi (Muslim) parable about a mullah who looks for his house key somewhere other than where he dropped it, because the light is better where he is looking. She then talks about "what photographers call available light" (misusing the term says this reviewer, who happens to have been a camera nerd since 1973). An entire page is thus spent to say what could be said in one sentence: previous scholars (with inferior educations to the author's own, presumably) have spent too much time looking at the most readily available sources. Doniger never gives a specific example of a scholar who came up short in this manner and the entire point could be dropped. If she is doing a better job than previous authors, could she not simply do her job and let the reader compare her towering intellectual achievement with the flawed narrow views of the mediocrities who went before her?

The average Facebook page is much more tightly edited than this $35 book. Exactly what value did Penguin add to justify abusing readers first with the cover price and then with wasting several days of their time?

It is books like these that make television so popular.
8 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0x917a9810) von 5 Sternen Not History At All 2. Februar 2016
Von MechPebbles - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
After a work visit to Mumbai, I wanted to read a book on the history of India but was fascinated by this book instead when I saw the astounding number of hostile reviews posted. Most of these reviewers seemed to have Indian names and after reading some of them and not being able to find anything substantial in their criticisms (other than some vague accusations of inaccuracy) and especially since I was a non-Hindu myself, I thought the book might be promising. I really wish I had someone to warn me of the things I'm going to write here.

This is probably the worst or perhaps second to the worst (the worst being James Reston Jr's childishly dramatic "Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade") history book I've ever read. In fact, I should say this is not a history book at all. It's more of an overly long op-ed by a Western liberal feminist. It reminds me a lot of Toby Wilkinson's "The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt" but at least there, Wilkinson takes a few chapters to perform his dutiful preaching of the values of liberalism before settling down to narrate the history while here, Doniger never stops her preaching of the holy religion of liberalism and feminism. Everything you would expect from a liberal feminist is here: how awful and cruel men are, how faithful and self-sacrificial women are, how awful Christianity is, how awful Christians are, how awful Christian missionaries are, how wonderful Islam is, how tolerant Islam is, how awful the British are, how awful British imperialism was, how wonderful and enlightened the Muslim conquerors were, how intolerant Hindu dogma is, how wonderful religious pluralism and syncretism are.

Let me repeat this: this is no history book. The book is almost 700 pages thick. Almost every single page is a pain to read. I consider my having read every word in the text an act of pure endurance.
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