“As most of them are trying to assert and make others believe that through this clever piece of craftsmanship congress is making efforts to hold ground and root itself in the awakened Hindu identity of India. I would say these are the comments from people who didn’t go beyond the cover page of the book…..”
I must not start by saying that there is no purpose of this review article. As this sentence very much kills the authorship. The popular propaganda that is unleashed with the release of the book WHY I AM A HINDU by the marvelous author, of which I got a pre-copy due to enormous efforts of a dear friend of mine, is sickening and worrying. As most of them are trying to assert and make others believe that through this clever piece of craftsmanship congress is making efforts to hold ground and root itself in the awakened Hindu identity of India. I would say these are the comments from people who didn’t go beyond the cover page of the book which actually brings out the idea of Hinduism meticulously without any drop of Hindutava. Reading this book in sequence of the brilliant works of P. Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations) and Devdutt Pattanaik (Jaya, Sita and Olympus) I find it a masterpiece with the wholesome political and spiritual menu. Only a person with clear understanding can pose a difficult idea and is able to bring forward the distinctions of it. I congratulate the author who has successfully accomplished this mammoth task.
Even a lay reader will be able to understand the essence of being a Hindu and will be lanced to shun the hindutava. The book is a timely savior and help for all those who want to distance from hindutava and at the same time want to be Hindu. The internet savvy and socially connecting author is using all the platforms like twitter, lit fests, interviews, public interactions etc. as springboards to serve the questioning minds and thinking souls. The merits of book are many and there is lot for the readers to read between the lines. Here an effort has been made to bring forward some.
The Isthadevta Ganesh reserves a left corner for himself on the cover page of the book which is dotted with multiple hues of the green color and a red entrance in the background. This framed picture of Ganesh is adorned with a peacock feather in his crown and it is an amazing start up point for anyone. As this very much blends in the effect of Krishna (who held peacock feather in his headgear) and Ganesha’s elder Brother Kartik for whom peacock serves as a vehicle. This peacock feather respecting Ganesha is also a connecting link between the South and North Hinduism. The corner where the Ganesh is placed is a left side wall shelf of an entrance and a small rusted iron plate serves for the dhup which a believer will light. The importance of the space comes up when a person comes out of the home because then the Ganesha is seated on the right side and it marks the prosperity and blessings. As history reflects the allotment of spaces on the either side; left or right was always crucial (Norbert Elias, The Court Society). The seven chapters of book are intelligently fixed in three sections and this makes the reading a living experience with clear chronological compartmentalization of historical and political growth.
As the simplest ideas are most difficult to explain the brief on ‘My Hinduism’ creates an understanding of self and later extends it to other members who surround us in form of various relationships. Narrating about the Hinduism of self the author brings out well that this particular religion is about reviving and revisiting self, understanding actions of others, self realization, and is an individual pursuit for exploring and interacting with your own divinity and divine; with whom you connect in person not as a unit of family or community. The spaces reserved for worship in homes is portrayed as a unique example of accommodating and accepting the liberalism, as all the family members have their own divines and no uniform method of worship is applicable. The transformation of author from an atheist school boy into a believing Hindu is a journey shaped by cultural reasons and intellectual fit. The efforts made while looking for an answer of the question (Why should a Hindu be good?) posed by the first boss indicates an impressive visible growth in our author and his start towards self-realization, who has come to terms with impersonal cosmic force (pp.88-92). The glimpses of personal development effected from interactions, run throughout the book. The subsection on Ganesh signifies much of knowledge and development of the emotional, psychological and physical self which denounces the dogmas, upholds the spirit of life with the imperfections that are constantly reoccurring maintaining the novelty every time.
“Further, the work is a gallop to express ‘who is a Hindu?’, and efforts to understand and pays respect to the Hinduism of Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak, Nehru, S.Radhakrishnan, Vivekananda even to the Hinduism of V.D. Savarkar.”
Swami Vivekananda inspires author and his belief as Hindu which he admits openly. The soft and hard touch-ups and effects of Adi Shankara’s personality and power of his reasoning and forces of his argument over the author are left to the reader for diagnosis. Touching upon the wide horizons of Hindu literature, themes of belief (Astik and Nastik), ritualistic Hinduism, schools of Hindu Philosophy, Hindu way of life without claiming monopoly, liberty to create and imagine personal divinity, four ashramas, incorporation of all forms of beliefs, significance of multiple divinities and the freedom from dogma which made Hinduism a forcible appeal for Mahatma Gandhi and provided him largest scope for self-expression. Further, the work is a gallop to express ‘who is a Hindu?’, and efforts to understand and pays respect to the Hinduism of Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak, Nehru, S.Radhakrishnan, Vivekananda even to the Hinduism of V.D. Savarkar. He categorically highlights the principle of Hinduism is ‘not just tolerance but acceptance’ as expressed by Vivekananda at Chicago Parliament of the world’s religions.
The Hindu way of life allows the diversity of the Gods to hang between 33 crores to 1; appreciates life as a whole recognizing lust, wealth, worldly desires; interpretation of the scriptures; storytelling for moral and ethical conduct; rituals to achieve divine; encourages action with conviction and courage; calls for identifying the philosophical reasons and wisdom and finally allows it to be a polycentric faith which is called as a selfish religion due to absence of the collective prayers (as Jumma-Friday Prayers and Sunday collective Churches). The clear understanding of concept reflects when he notes ‘Hinduism focuses on self-realization rather than collective advancement’ (p.68).
Throughout chapter-3 the brains of rational thinkers will tickle as it describes the caste in Hinduism, efforts of B.R. Ambedkar to diminish it, fitting in of caste system by British to control India in a better way and its hangover effects in twenty-first century India. The effects of the caste system are explained by highlighting the events such as appointments of 36 priests in the Travancore Devaswam Board including 6 Dalits, benefits of reservation to the Mennas, Yadavas and the alarming situations that are sprouting out of the present social settings in the form of demands for reservation by Jats, Marathas and Patels, and all this defines the struggling, balancing and forward moving India. The ‘rock star’ effect of Guru Ram Rahim and God Man’s are also treated briefly.
The brief history of Hinduism and efforts of Adi Shankara and his Dasanami Sannyasis (wandering monks, who are not militant ascetics), his four Mahakavyas; which later became guiding principles for the Hinduism are all presented in a connected manner and are of immense help for reader to knit across the timeline of the historical growth of this faith. This same philosophy also nourished the understanding of Mahatma Gandhi about Hinduism and its dynamism. The appreciation from Karl Marx for Hinduism comes as ‘a non-aggressive faith, took blows and battles on and rose again, always unbowed’ and ‘its unique renewal every time as a response’ (p.105). The saints namely Mira Bai, Ramanuja, Tulsidas, Surdas, Andal, Kabir and the numerous poets, philosophers, preachers and social reformers find their due in the extensive narrative along with the contributions made by the patrons of Bhakti movement in regard of the popular Hinduism that is prevailing today. The mother faith idea is made out well. The developments in Hinduism due to encounters and interactions with Islam and Christian missionaries are expressed with a sense ‘to connect with past’. The wisely chosen historical example (such as eighteenth-century Indian’s forbid travelling across the black waters, who were sending out envoys in the 300 B.C) to express the beliefs and their growth is a task of prolific writer. The revival of liberal legacy of Hinduism and the contributions to it by Swami Vivekananda, S.Radhakrishnan Sirpillai and M.Gandhi are highlighted with the contemporary political and social growths which make this book a reading for all; irrespective of class, religion and caste.
The hot serving of political Hindutava (in fact boiling and brimming!) appears after the detailed history of Hinduism. The lucid and simple presentation of the belief is followed by the smug of Hindutava and contributions made to it by various ideologues such as V.D.Savarkar, Golwalker, S.P.Mookerjee and Deen Dayal Uppadhaya. The historical journey of RSS and Jan Sangh which finally ended up in BJP is presented without dedicating a single impression of denigration to the aforesaid political party. This neutrality while assessing the events and narrating them makes this reading a more acceptable piece. The biopic of BJP and its activities is run with a constant eye on the socio-political effects that it bore out. The innovation of the terms such as Islamicized Hinduism, Hindu Pakistan and Sangh Semitic creed are loaded and do convey the meaning most appropriately. The interweaved secularism and syncretism which form part of Indian culture and runs throughout the history of India from Ashoka onwards till the coming of Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of UP is presented appropriately with the warning that the damage that Hindutava will do to India is ‘a partition of the Indian soul’ (p.210) and this reflects the farsightedness of a real Indian.
Any socio-political rational thinker, reader and a history adherent will find there feed throughout the book and the most intense reading loaded with the logic and reasoning will take its ground in the second last chapter. It is a work for all the sections, groups, religious associations & sects, rationales, logic oriented souls, every age irrespective of gender and socio-cultural settings. It is enormously full with Religious narrative, Scriptures, Songs, Toxic and Non-toxic political events, Historical developments, Politics of banning and permitting alcohol, Elections of Indian democracy, Temples, Mosques, Gurudwaras, Gods, Artists, Politicians, Godmen, Actors, Films, Newspapers, Magazines, Monuments, Air pollution, Traffic jams, Anti-historical claims,Hindu brigades manhandling valentine lovers on Kamdivas and curbing the Public Display of Affection (PDA), Chauvinism of BJP leaders, Sect. 377 of IPC, Beef, Cow, Cow vigilantes, Love jihad, Religious conversion, Grah-vapsi, Sages, Warriors, Hero making in history, Communalism, Terrorism, Inducements for conversions, Suffocations offered by a few religions, Distinction between Hindu nationalism and Indian Nationalism, The Secular occasions, Jews in India; so on and so forth, the list is exhaustive. Even the pen of author denied escape to the controversy that surrounded the famous Rajput queen Padmavati recently.
“It is natural work from intellectual faith of a true Hindu who has written so well about the Hinduism without being motioned by Hinduatva. It is similar to a lotus flower that blooms out from the muddy waters without any stain of mud and muddy waters on itself.”
Overall the Hinduism of author is large, eclectic, agglomerative and a faith which is matter of hearts and minds, not bricks and stones, a culture and heritage of pluralism and acceptance which survived for nearly 4000 years through constant evolving guided by destiny, knowledge of vast scriptures and texts, reflections which accommodate and celebrates diversity, respects environment, a life affirming religion of joy and leela which permits the material fulfillment, analysis, and criticism, it denies to ceded in fanatics, fundamentalists and totalization of the belief system, not monolithic, denies to use past to justify bigotry, do not standardizes the religious practices and a belief system that never launched an apocalyptic war for religion, and a path of ultimacy who holds each individual as a unique personality and appreciates wide endeavors of each being to reach Divine and to find peace of mind and this influences one’s conduct in career and life.
Getting true to my work I would say it is sailing board for all those who were drowning away from the Hinduism due to the flooding force of Hindutava and its magnetic appeal to settle things through violence. Speaking personally the book will immensely inspire many, as it has come out from the heart of a wise learned enterprising sage who corresponds with the faith, knowledge and discipline without being immune to analysis and criticism. It is natural work from intellectual faith of a true Hindu who has written so well about the Hinduism without being motioned by Hinduatva. It is similar to a lotus flower that blooms out from the muddy waters without any stain of mud and muddy waters on itself. The minor factual error creeps in when Uttar Pardesh (p.201) is called as the biggest state (presently, this boost of geographical size is crowning the state of Rajasthan). Secondly the poison sent to Mira by Rana should turn into nectar not honey (p.107) in the otherwise scholarly work.
“This book is a praise worthy and remarkable effort to rise and re-invoke the incredible past of India, Hinduism and their laurels.”
The metaphor, similes and examples embedded in the reading every now and then are powerful expressions to convey the feelings, sense, empathy and sympathies. The motivation and respite for the readers runs parallel due to non-usage of farrago1 English vocabulary by our revered author. This book is a praise worthy and remarkable effort to rise and re-invoke the incredible past of India, Hinduism and their laurels. Subsequently, it answers many questions with the deliberations which keep appearing constantly. The distinctions of Hinduism are upheld with the affirmation supported by affluent syllogisms that have never vehemence this culture to indulge in The Clash of Civilizations and the remaking of World Order.
In nutshell it can be asserted that this book is no effort by Tharoor to depict congress as a political party with adherence to Hinduism and not even a project to put self at par with C.Rajagopalachari. It is a solely effort to extend that why he is a Hindu and what is Hinduism to him and what Hinduism aims at and nothing beyond it! To end it can be said that ‘his faith I shall reinforce’ (p.33) and ‘the historical evolution of Hinduism testifies of its adaptability’ (p.111) and endurance.
Details: Book- Why I am A Hindu, Author- Shashi Tharoor, Pages-320 (2018), Price– Rs 699/- (Hard Bound), Publisher-Aleph Book Company
(Dr. Manisha Choudhary is an Assistant Professor in the History of Medieval India, CAS-Department of History, University of Delhi. She is presently a Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.Views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Chaupal)
Chaupal Ki PathShaala:-
Farrago1– A Confused mixture