Skip to main content

The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger – Review & Free pdf Book Download

Those in Britain who evoke the majestic diversity of Hindu beliefs and practices usually incur the hostility of self-styled custodians of the religion. Outraged at deviations from an inflexible and remarkably uninformed understanding of the religion, these custodians have succeeded in shutting down an exhibition of MF Husain's paintings and forced the Royal Mail to discontinue a stamp showing a Mughal painting of the Virgin Mary wearing Hindu insignia.
<<Download pdf>>
Wendy Doniger's compendious account of religious traditions that constitute an "ism" only in the broadest possible sense begins with an account of being egg-pelted by one such hardliner who objected to her suggestion that some Sanskrit texts are interested in divine female sexuality. It is towards countering the contemporary straitjacketing of Hindu beliefs that she offers this Alternative History.

Beginning with the pre-Hindu Indus Valley civilisation and ending in the contemporary era when Hindu nationalists destroy an Islamic site as an act of reclaiming India for "indigenous" Hindus, Doniger's narrative spans centuries without claiming comprehensive coverage. It is conceived as a "pointillist collage, a kaleidoscope, made of small, discontinuous fragments" or, in an appropriate motif, a banyan tree with multiple roots and branches.

Though not an affiliate of the "subaltern studies" school of south Asian history, Doniger shares with it the principle that larger stories can be gleaned from studying fragments. In addition to recovering neglected works, attention to whispers and asides in the canon enables her to reconstruct voices (particularly of women and Dalits, formerly "untouchables") and insurgent traditions (like the Hindu-Islamic syncretism of Kabir) that have been subordinated by the Brahmin patriarchy.

With a readability that does not undermine its scholarliness, The Hindus marshalls significant historical and textual detail to establish the undeniable multiplicity not only of Hindu beliefs, but also of religious texts. This is emphatically not a religion of any single book, notwithstanding recent attempts to canonise works such as the Bhagavad Gita. Indeed, the very idea that Hindus needed to be identified as a specific religion tied to a book derives from British colonial rule, when the hideously misogynist and hierarchical The Laws of Manu was randomly privileged as "Hindu personal law". It was when British administrators "began to define communities by their religion" that Indians began "ignoring the diversity of their own thoughts and asking themselves which of the boxes they belonged in", a practice ironically continued by Hindu hardliners who see themselves as anti-colonial in doing so.

Doniger demonstrates a magisterial knowledge of textual traditions, which include the four Vedas, the Upanishads, Brahmanas, Puranas, Aranyakas, Shastras and, of course, the two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Arguing that the written and the oral interact constantly, as do the canonical and the popular, Doniger shows how Hinduism has always been porous, transforming itself in response to pressure from other religions and rebellions from within. The Ramayana elicited many retellings before being set down in the oldest surviving written version, by Valmiki; this, in turn, was reworked into new compositions incorporating changing historical circumstances. So too with the significantly longer Mahabharata.

Whether or not one agrees that the Hindu epics are "a hundred times more interesting than Biblical and Homeric texts", Doniger convincingly elaborates the complexity and range of the philosophical, moral and social dilemmas explored by them. Though they have been used to consolidate Brahmin and Kshatriya (aristocratic) male privilege, these texts also manifest questions and anxieties about, for instance, the treatment of women and lower castes.

A case in point is the story of Eklavya, the Mahabharata's accomplished low-caste archer whose teacher makes him cut off his right thumb to ensure that he cannot challenge his aristocratic rival. The story emphasises the need for social order by keeping the uppity low-caste in his place, yet the unmistakable sympathy of Eklavya's portrayal indicates conflict, that the text "does not like the way things must be". Eklavya becomes an icon for some disenfranchised groups, and later versions of his story "explicitly call out for justice". Similarly, the history of Hinduism suggests a creative tension between asceticism and sensuality, and yields a range of female prototypes from earthy deities and single mothers to polyandrous queens and naked poet-ascetics who spurn domesticity.

While hardliners accuse Doniger of reducing Hindu gods to "fictions", The Hindus actually shows how the interpretive diversity of the Hindu tradition is its strength. Its texts provide examples of wrestling with difficulty and dilemmas over crude certainties.

Doniger slightly weakens her argument by participating in the obligatory intellectual ritual of declaring that hers is just one version among many. But as she demonstrates, the deliberate falsification of history by Hindu chauvinists makes it imperative to underscore the accuracy of some accounts as opposed to others. This may not be the only good history of the Hindus, but it certainly makes for a more authoritative and respectful starting point for thinking about the subject than the self-serving baying of fundamentalists.

Review by Priyamvada Gopal is the author of Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence.
  1. hindus an alternative torrent francais
    The Hindus - An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger Penguin Books | November 2010 | ISBN-10: 014311669X | ePUB/PDF | 2.16/12.4 mb

    Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History ... Outcry as Penguin India pulps 'alternativehistory of Hindus

Popular posts from this blog

A historic moment in the Arab world

لحظة تاريخية في العالم العربي
As a democratic revolution led by tech-empowered young people sweeps the Arab world, Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera's director-general, shares a profoundly optimistic view of what's happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and beyond. In the first talk posted online from the TED 2011 conference in California, Khanfar describes the powerful moment when people realised they could step out of their homes and ask for change. "كما ثورة ديمقراطية بقيادة الشباب التكنولوجيا ذات صلاحيات تجتاح العالم العربي ، وضاح خنفر ، الجزيرة المدير العام والأسهم وجهة نظر متفائلة بشكل كبير ما يحدث في مصر وتونس وليبيا وخارجها. وفي اول حديث له نشر على الانترنت من مؤتمر تيد 2011 في ولاية كاليفورنيا ، خنفر يصف لحظة قوية عند الناس أدركت أنها لا يمكن الخروج من منازلهم ونطلب من أجل التغيير." This talk was given on March 1, 2011 in Long Beach, California. TED 2011 is taking place between March 1 and Mar…

Our Captured, Wounded Hearts: Arundhati Roy On Balakot, Kashmir And India

With his reckless “pre-emptive” airstrike on Balakot in Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inadvertently undone what previous Indian governments almost miraculously, succeeded in doing for decades. Since 1947 the Indian Government has bristled at any suggestion that the conflict in Kashmir could be resolved by international arbitration, insisting that it is an “internal matter.” By goading Pakistan into a counter-strike, and so making India and Pakistan the only two nuclear powers in history to have bombed each other, Modi has internationalised the Kashmir dispute. He has demonstrated to the world that Kashmir is potentially the most dangerous place on earth, the flash-point for nuclear war. Every person, country, and organisation that worries about the prospect of nuclear war has the right to intervene and do everything in its power to prevent it.  Keep reading  >>>>

India has built around itself an aura of a global power whose time has come. For at least the last t…

Kashmir Jihad - Analysis & Options


Kashmir is an incomplete agenda of partition of India. Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars on this issue. According to UN resolutions, Kashmiris have to decide their accession to Pakistan or India through impartial plebiscite, which could not take place due to Indian reluctance. Recently, India revoked Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special autonomous status to Kashmir, it was done to unilaterally integrate occupied Kashmir. This is a violation of the UN resolutions and the Simla bilateral agreement, which demands to maintain status quo until the final settlement. The US and world powers are emphasizing that Kashmir should be resolved bilaterally, though India has refused to hold talks with Pakistan. In the present scenario, while India has turned Kashmir into the largest prison of 9 million people, denying basic human rights and oppressing the Kashmiris' who want freedom from India, Pakistan cannot watch as a silent spec…