Saturday, February 27, 2010



To: Penguin Group USA Penguin Books India
SCANDALOUS cover jacket of the book - copy for ready reference at

Ms. Susan Peterson Kennedy
President , Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014, USA

Mr. Mike Bryan,
CEO & President, Penguin Books Pvt Ltd.
11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi 110 017

Dear Ms. Peterson Kennedy, Mr. Mike Bryan,

The following is a petition from concerned signatories to the Penguin Group asking for an apology for the publication of the factually incorrect and offensive book “The Hindus-An Alternative History” by Wendy Doniger. We expect Penguin Group to withdraw the book immediately.

“The Hindus: An Alternative History” is rife with numerous errors in its historical facts and Sanskrit translations. These errors and misrepresentations are bound and perhaps intended to mislead students of Indian and Hindu history.

Throughout the book, Doniger analyzes revered Hindu Gods and Goddess using her widely discredited psychosexual Freudian theories that modern, humanistic psychology has deemed limiting. These interpretations are presented as hard facts and not as speculations. Doniger makes various faulty assumptions about the tradition in order to arrive at her particular spin. In the process, the beliefs, traditions and interpretations of practicing Hindus are simply ignored or bypassed without the unsuspecting reader knowing this to be the case. This kind of Western scholarship has been criticized as Orientalism and Eurocentrism. The non Judeo-Christian faith gets used to dish out voyeurism and the tradition gets eroticized.


The following are a just a SMALL SAMPLING of examples of the factual errors that run rampant through this disgusting book. By due diligence that is badly overdue from your editors, you can either find for yourself, or we will be glad to direct you to, scholarly references so that you can verify these errors yourself and withdraw this obscenity.

[Page number precedes a reference to inaccurate statements in the book. This is followed by a comment citing verifiable facts.]

Maps in front pages: Maps titled ‘India’s Geographical Features’ and ‘India from 600 CE to 1600 CE’
COMMENT: In the first map, the Waziristan Hills area is marked erroneously as ‘Kirthar Range’. The Kirthar Range is at least 200 miles further south. In the third map, Janakpur, Nagarkot, Mandu and Haldighati are marked several hundred miles from their correct geographical location.

Pg. 67 - It is claimed that the entire Harappan culture had a population of 40,000!
COMMENT: This is estimated as the population of Mohenjo-Daro alone. The population of the entire culture is estimated around 500,000.

Pg 112 - Wheat is mentioned as a food item in the Rigvedic period.
COMMENT: Wheat is not mentioned in the Rigveda at all. It first occurs in the Maitrayani Samhita of the Yajurveda.

Pg 130 - The author claims that there are no Gods in the Vedas who are Shudras.
COMMENT: It is anachronistic to assign castes to Rigvedic deities, but nevertheless, Pushan, Vesmapati and others have been considered Shudra deities in later times.

Pg 194 fn.- Gandhi's commentary on the Gita (a sacred Hindu scripture) was titled 'Asakti Yoga' (translated as ‘the science of deep attachment’).
COMMENT: The title of Gandhi’s work is 'Anasakti Yoga' (trans. ‘Science of non-Attachment’).

Pg 206 - The book wrongly states that the Hindus had only a triad of passions.
COMMENT: Hindu scriptures list six main evils and the concept of shadripus (six internal enemies) is very well known.

Pg 441 - The book claims that Firoz Shah redeemed a number of Hindu slaves…
COMMENT: A misrepresentation of the fact that he employed (not ‘redeemed’) 12,000 of his 180,000 slaves forcibly in royal factories for producing articles of consumption by Muslim elites. No “manumission” was involved.

Pg 445 - Dates of Saint Kabir are given as 1450 – 1498.
COMMENT: His demise is believed to have occurred in 1518, and the traditional date of birth is 1398.

Pg 448 - In 713 Muhammad ibn Qasim invaded Sind.
COMMENT: Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sind in 711.

Pg 450- It is claimed that Emperor Ala-ud-Din Khalji did not sack temples in Devagiri.
COMMENT: His contemporary Amir Khusro clearly mentions that the Emperor sacked numerous temples and raised mosques instead.

Pg 459 - King Ala-ud-din Husain of Bengal patronized Saint Chaitanya.
COMMENT: Saint Chaitanya never met the king, and left his kingdom to avoid persecution, as did his disciples. The king had destroyed Hindu temples in Orissa.

Pg 532 - Emperor Akbar moved his capital from Fatehpur Sikri to Delhi in 1586.
COMMENT: Emperor Akbar moved his capital to Lahore in 1587, and thereafter to Agra.

Pg 537-8 - The Sikh teacher Guru Govind Singh was assassinated in 1708, while 'attending Emperor Aurangzeb'. Emperor Aurangzeb died in 1707.
COMMENT: Guru Gobind Singh was assassinated in 1708 during the reign of Aurangzeb’s successor, Emperor Bahadur Shah I. It is insulting to say that the Guru was ‘attending’ on the Emperor.

Pg 550 - The book claims that Mirabai lived from 1498-1597, and then on p. 568, the author claims that Mirabai lived from 1450-1525!
COMMENT: Both dates are wrong and the commonly accepted dates are 1498-1547.

Pg 552 - The book claims that the Ramcharitmanas was written at Varanasi.
COMMENT: Both modern scholarship as well as tradition accept that the work (or at least most of it) was written in Ayodhya.

Section on Bibliography: “Shekhawat, V. “Origin and Structure of purushartha Theory: An attempt at Critical Appraisal.” Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research 7:1 (1900), 63-67.”
COMMENT:The correct issue and year of this Journal issue are actually 8:2 and 1991. The bibliography has dozens of errors. Some references cited by Doniger simply do not exist.


Clumsily written, each chapter is a shocking and appalling series of anecdotes which denigrate, distort and misrepresent Hinduism and the history of India and Hindus. Doniger uses selective quotations from obscure and non-original, peripheral and ignorant references with a bizarre emphasis on sexuality and eroticism. Cited below are only a handful of quotes along with our understanding and interpretation, with references from Hindu scripture.

[Page number precedes the quote from the book. This is followed by a rebuttal comment.]

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.

Pg 112 - The author alleges that in Rigveda 10.62, it is implied that a woman may find her own brother in her bed!
COMMENT: The hymn has no such suggestion. It is offensive to suggest that the sacred text of Hindus has kinky sex in it.

Pg 128 - The book likens the Vedic devotee worshipping different Vedic deities to a lying and a philandering boyfriend cheating on his girlfriend(s).
COMMENT: This is offensive and ignores that fact that in the Rigveda, the gods are said to be all united, born of one another, and from the same source.

Pg 225 -“Dasharatha’s son is certainly ‘lustful’... Rama knows all too well what people said about Dasharatha; when Lakshmana learns that Rama has been exiled, he says, “The king is perverse, old, and addicted to sex, driven by lust (2.18.3)”
COMMENT: Sri Rama is revered and worshipped as a deity. The highly acclaimed and critical edition of Valmiki’s Ramayana records no such statement attributed to Lakshmana. An imagined phrase, 'kama-sakta' is mistranslated as 'addicted to sex' by the author whereas it normally means ‘filled with desires’. Valmiki uses a phrase 'samani-madhah' (trans. Possessed of passion).

Pg 467 - Harihara and Bukka (the founders of the Vijayanagara Empire that saved Hindu culture in S India) ‘double-crossed’ the Delhi Sultan when they reconverted to Hinduism.
COMMENT: The brothers committed apostasy as they had been imprisoned and forcibly converted to Islam, and immediately reverted to Hinduism when they were 1000 miles from the Sultan, under the influence of a Hindu ascetic.

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 509 - ”Shankara and the philosopher’s wife…This tale contrasts sex and renunciation in such a way that the renunciant philosopher is able to have his cake and eat it, to triumph not only in the world of the mind (in which, before this episode begins, he wins a series of debates against the nonrenouncing male Mimamsa philosopher) but in the world of the body, represented by the philosopher’s wife (not to mention the harem women who clearly prefer Shankara to the king in bed).” The author attributes the tale to Shankaradigvijaya of Madhava and to Ravichandra's commentary on Amarushataka.
COMMENT: The author concocts the story as a sexual orgy in which the Saint Adi Shankara and King Amruka take turns making love to the latter’s wives after he is tired. Both her sources however state that the King was already dead and the Saint transferred his soul into the dead King’s body through his yogic powers. There is no suggestion in the texts that the queens ‘prefer Shankara to the king in bed’.

Pg 571- It is alleged that in a hymn from Saint Kshetrayya’s 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.

Again, the above is simply a sampling of the scandalous and offensive statements in the book. By her own admission in the book, Doniger has no credentials as a historian and the title of the book is misleading as the book is not on the “History nor an Alternative History” of India. This shows that the author is not an authority on the subject as she is not able to understand the deep meaning of Sanskrit verses or Indian Concepts. These cast serious doubts about the author’s integrity as a researcher and ability to interpret accurately. Additional examples of the author’s shoddy scholarship will be made available upon request.

We emphasize that this defamatory book misinforms readers about the history of Hindu civilization, its cultures and traditions. The book promotes prejudices and biases against Hindus. Can Penguin’s editors really be incompetent enough to have allowed this to pass to publication? If this is not deliberate malice, Penguin must act now in good faith.

As concerned readers, we ask PENGUIN GROUP to:

1. WITHDRAW all the copies of this book immediately from the worldwide bookshops/markets/Universities/Libraries and refrain from printing any other edition.

2. APOLOGIZE for having published this book “The Hindus: An Alternative History”. This book seriously and grossly misrepresents the Hindu reality as known to the vast numbers of Hindus and to scholars of Hindu tradition. PENGUIN must apologize for failure to observe proper pre-publication scrutiny and scholarly review.


Your Signature

Monday, February 22, 2010


(Part II)

A quick preview for Warner Brothers' Ramayana to be released on Oct. 15, 2010




For Part I please click on:;postID=6522686463812268353

The simplified “matita-artha” (essential summarized meaning worth contemplating on) of symbolism in Ramayana was presented in Part I. Part II will require some prerequisite background.

The first fact that needs to be confronted is that once a translational flaw is entrenched then all semantics in the host language takes quite a different shape and distorts the appearance of the guest language and its perception. Here the host is the English or the European languages and the guest is the Sanskrit which is translated into English.

For example the word “deva” in Sanskrit is erroneously translated as “God” in English. God is an inoculated concept in Sanskrit. There is “Ishwara” in Sanskrit but even “He” is not a “deva for all” (more on it later – it is an optional “concept” –a vikalpa- as per sage Patanjali). The concept of “deva” clearly refers to an entity that is perceived as presenting “light” or “that which can enlighten”- an inherently bright one. Only when the human consciousness perceives this light in a “tatva,” these entities or tatvas can be called "Devas or Devis.” So, as an example, a mentally challenged individual (poor soul) who has no capacity to create poetry or appreciate a poem will never be in a position to comprehend “Saraswati” as a “Devi.”

On the other hand, a highly creative individual, who marvels at the speed at which he/she can create art, poetry, literature, poems, or even mathematics (as in the case of Ramaanuja, the mathematician) spontaneously without any efforts on the part of the creative individual, will begin to realize the power of Saraswati and if so enlightened will begin to understand the beauty of the concept of “Saraswati Devi.” In this sense, the deification (If you may call it) of the tatvas occurs purely in the subjective domain and whether the entity called Deva and Devi has a separate existence or not becomes a moot point for the individual who experiences it (anubhuti or anubhava). This concept is foreign to Western culture, and therefore, translation of deva and devi as God and Goddesses has led to great confusion in the English versions of Hindu philosophy. Western Theologists and Indologists have not comprehended this subjective domain of “God consciousness” as applicable to human mind including their own.

Another example is Agni. Ak (Ag) + Nee an agency named for that which transforms and takes one forward or beyond. Therefore, the entire universe that transforms from one state of existence to another, or even from nonexistence to existence, can be postulated to have a “transforming agency” like for example a catalyst or an enzyme (Jatharaagni, for example) that is a tatva which is universally essential. A tatva is a principle and cannot be put in a bottle to exhibit. It is an abstraction for those who have the capacity to abstract and comprehend. This tatva of Agni when recognized as essential for the manifest Universe to exist must be revered as a “deva” by only those who subjectively are enlightened to appreciate its existence in the Universe. It is so very important that the Veda (Knowledge) regards this principle as the foremost to be revered and the leader or in poetic term the “officiating principle” of the Universe. Hence, the very first declaration of the Rig Veda is “Agnim eele purohitam.” A gross injustice has taken place by translating Agni as the “Fire God,” it is needless to say for those who have followed the above discussion.

We now have to descend to Mahabharata wherein the author who composes it is Vyasa (Veda Vyasa meaning the one who is knowledgeable of Vedas) the grand-son of a “female fish.” His mother was the fisherwoman who was raised by a fisherman after she was found by him inside the mother fish. This symbolism would have escaped the mankind but for Darwin. The human race or species has evolved from the Pisces via Amphibians is a symbolism of Mahabharata. Of course, the son of a fisherwoman raised by his adoptive grandfather fisherman becomes the most knowledgeable scholar of the Vedas is a stunning challenge to those who harp on casteism in Hinduism. Vyasa had no caste and so also Valmiki. The usual wisdom is that one must not look for the origin of the Rishis and the (sacred) rivers. So, most Hindus habitually have repressed that Mahabharata was written by the grandson of a fish, the son of her daughter.

Similarly, the concept of test tube babies was totally a fiction until recently and even in current era it is still a science fiction. Those who have studied embryology will remember blastoma that has every cell capable of becoming an individual. The mother of 100 Kouravas raises them in the kumbhas. They are individual cells from the blastoma with one fifth not attaining full term.

The remaining one hundred are identical “centuplets” (one hundred simultaneously conceived babies) though raised in one hundred test tubes. Thus begins the story of Mahabharata giving details of science fiction around the mystery of reproduction.
Here one has to accept that there was no knowledge of “blastoma” with 128 equipotential cells that could produce identical 128 individuals and that each would need intrauterine environment for 40 weeks including continuous oxygenation with circulating blood exchanging oxygen from placental oxygenated blood for Oxygen (O2) and Carbon-dioxide (CO2) exchange and other nutrients and elimination of products of metabolic waste. However, one needs to marvel at the symbolism of biological adventure imagined in this story.

The symbolism here is the greed for hundred cloned male children to protect and expand the empire and how all hundred identical centuplet had all the instincts that could be qualified by the prefix “du” at the beginning of each of their names. This shows that there is a clear understanding that the human nature is biologically driven, potentially evil if unrestrained and all the “good” in human nature cannot be readily explained as a biological derivative. This is the mystery of Dharma in human beings and speculation regarding its origin. Mahabharata is the conflict between the Dharmic domain (Dharmakshetra) and the biological domain (We will call it Kurukshetra or the karmakshetra).

Let us not forget that the biological grandfather of all hundred Kaouravas and the five Pandavas, the main contesting characters at “war,” was no one else but Vyasa himself the grandson of the fish. Thus ironically the warring cousins are the fifth generation from the great-great-grandma fish.

Dhritarashtra stands for the blind (avidya) ego that holds on to the biological instincts and Draupadi stands for that aspect of ego who has access to Prajna that holds on to the five sons of the supramundane devas that guide the individual’s spiritual nature in the human beings. She is equally bonded to five of them. These five are the Pandavas who do not have the legitimate biological right to the rasthra but represent the Dharma and his brothers.

The story of Mahabharata is the eternal struggle in the human beings between the biological drives and the superior, uniquely human, qualities that make humans comprehend and follow Dharma. Draupadi is the Krishna Sakhi or the long time friend of Supreme Conscioiusness (that rescues her when abandoned by the five aspects of the human ego ideals or compassionate superego qualities that are essential to follow Dharma.) When so abandoned she becomes vulnerable to the abuse by all the base biological drives and needs to be rescued by the Supreme Consciousness (sublime or sublimated instincts which is possible only in the human beings and more so only in the civilized ones.)

This is also a psychoanalytic interpretation of the Ramayana and Mahabharata presented here as “Instant Ramayana and Mahabharata” in contrast to the “Id-Ball” Wendy Doniger’s interpretations. Wendy is preoccupied by all the morbid in the Id and sees no balancing act in her representation of these epics in her book, “The Hindus: An Alternative History”. If one focuses on the Id alone one is doing a great disservice to Freud and his psychoanalytic concepts. Hopefully Wendy and her children as well as all the Western Indologists who are lost in the Western Dandakaranya will come out of it one day to see the light which the beacons of Vedic wisdom presented as divya kathas in the form of Mahakavyas (epics) by the Rishis, Valmiki and Vyasa, both of whom were exalted long before Wendy’s empathy for the downtrodden Indians and Hindus emerged used by her as a justification to denigrate the divyakathas of Sanatana Dharma for focusing only on the imagined and alluded sexual aspects with her own imagination going wild.

Wendy does not recognize for a moment why there was not ever a single Mother Teresa in the Ghettoes of New York, Baltimore, and Chicago or in many Southern states or none was to be found in the Native American reservations when they faced the trail of tears, or when the slaves were lynched. Where is Wendy’s empathy for these down trodden or all the people subjected to genocides in the Western societies who consequently have no castes (?) because the unwanted were eliminated, segregated, aparthied, or extruded (into epileptic colonies or burned at the stakes as witches) for the elite to enjoy the fruits of their labor or their usurped land, properties, and even kingdoms, to be colonized and exploited? What moral ground does a Western Indologist like Wendy have to criticize the comparatively far less malignant “social evils” of other cultures when he/she has no awareness of the stinking excreta sticking to his/her own shoes?

Monday, February 15, 2010



(Part I)


A quick preview for Warner Brothers' Ramayana to be released on Oct. 15, 2010

(Confronting the frivolous erotic and morbid symbolism from the Unconscious
of Wendy Doniger in her recent book "The Hindus: An Alternative History")

Hindus have understood the meanings of Ramayana and Mahabharata for many millennia because they view both as products of the Prajna and Pratibha of two greatest Yogis, Rishi Valmiki and Rishi Vyasa. These are the divya kathas or enlightening stories told in a highly ornamental poetry. Prajna is that faculty of Dhee which leads to Jnana. Pratibha is the reflection of the light representing the Jnana.

Raama is the divine in each human being that is enjoying life. The word comes from the root,"rama," which is a verb meaning "to play." The concept is that every human being has this divine element that is residing in him/her. It is a tatva that Narada indicates as fully “seen” (drishtva) by Valmiki before he started composing this Mahakavya, as stated in the introduction to Valmiki’s Ramayana. (Tat sarvam tatvatah drishtva). In what state of mind did Valmiki “see” this? Valmiki is described by Narada as “Yogastha” or “Samadhistha.” After such "self-realization" Valmiki decided to write this perennial story of Rama.

Rama is abandoned or banished in the dandakaranya which is the darkness of the Unconscious in every human being and Rama lives in incognito form, struggling with many undesirable human drives and instincts for “fourteen"” years. The forteen years is to be understood as year after year just like the month after month the year passes imperceptibly. The Bhumi tatva or Prakriti is represented by Sita. The human body is the product of the earth with all elements in it originating from the earth. So, Sita is described by the pratibha of Valmiki as originating in the Earth. Simply speaking, the “Kaala-kshepa Ramayana” (Ramayana projected through time) sung in any temple in South India in the afternoon pravachana (lecture) year after year for many millennia or centuries gives this simple meaning for human existence which is evolving from the mundane to “spiritual” (no such word exists in Sanskrit) which is a close translation of Adhyaatmic.

Rama is to return to conscious awareness for the human being to realize his true nature (divine) in the domain of Ayodhya (the domain where there are no conflicts) where there is peace. “That is the way it is,” which in Sanskrit means “Itihaasa,” sometimes erroneously translated as “History.” It is in the nature of things that someday Rama has to distance himself from his earthly attachment. So Sita has to return to where she came from, which is to her mother, the bhumi or earth. In the Hindu tradition the body without Rama goes through the process of cremation or “chitaa” or Agni. So the union of Rama and Sita is a joyous one but not a permanent one.

In this plot then there are many subplots but they are all illustrations of this divya katha depicted in the Aadikavya by Aadikavi Valmiki who was incidentally a fisherman turned into a “highway robber” meaning given to robbing innocent travelers. This too symbolizes that even such base behaviors are modifiable when an individual is reformed by the blessing of realization of Rama. This is all explained in the introduction to Valmiki’s Ramayana and it is shown how after his reformation Valmiki became compassionate and cried with tears in his eyes when he saw a Hansa (swan) injured by a hunter’s arrow. The empathy for other living beings’ pain is a quality he experienced in himself, which he did not have when he was killing travellers to rob them. So, Valmiki then asks Narada to be introduced to an ideal man that has compassion for all living beings. Narada tells him the story of Rama which Valmiki’s pratibha (poetic inspiration) has elaborated in the most beautiful poetry which is even made sweeter by Santa Tulasidasa in Ramacharitamanasa.

Western culture will find this frame of reference from Vedic understanding gained by Valmiki in his Yogic consciousness rather difficult to comprehend although some of the Western Indologists may be recognized in the West as the “foremost authority on Hinduism” as Wendy Doniger is grandiosely described by her publisher. The Western Indologists lacking the cultural bearings and background will distort and may even demean this story, a divya katha. Indians and Hindus are to be urged not to pay attention to such corrupt and sexualized versions of this story as is depicted in the misrepresentations deliberately inflicted on the Hindu sacred epic in a recent book , “The Hindus: An Alternative History.” (Wendy insists that Lakshmana described his own father Dasharatha as a "sex addict", and Rama chased the deer to hunt it down to fulfil Seeta's taste for high quality Tiffany style clothes while banished in the forest!!!) May these individuals lost in the Western dandakaranya (dark forest)find their own Rama someday to achieve the "humanness" needed in all human beings including for those who call themselves Professors in the School of Divinity at University of Chicago (SEE ARTICLES POSTED ON WENDY DONIGER IN JUNE, JULY & AUGUST 2010 ON THIS WEBSITE).

Interesting take on fact and truth. Both refer to different aspects of reality. Both can be correct and can co-exist. So dvaita and advaita are two different ways of looking at the reality.

Please see the commnet by Desh Kapoor:

Very interesting take. But after reading the very fine translation of Yoga Vasishta by Swami Venkatesananda (himself a spiritual giant) - I am convinced that to understand Ram, one has to read Yoga Vasishta. It is BY FAR the most profound book ever written. Check it out here -, There are 36 reviews of it and except one (3 star), ALL are 5 stars.. never seen any book with that kind of rating on Amazon.

It is sad that our encounter and understanding of Ram has only been limited to Ramayana - which is exemplary, but Yoga Vasishta was at a different level...

As for what is often referred to as "Mythology" by others in Hinduism.. Sadguru Jaggi puts it correctly, when he says that Shiva created the world and can destroy it by just chanting Aum. Now this may not be a "Fact" but it is the "Truth". Just like - pointing to a lady - that you are a woman is a "fact", but inputs of both a man and a woman went into creating you.. so the "Truth" is that you are BOTH! Btw, anybody needing to know more on Karma/Liberation etc in detail may also like to read "Mystics Musings"... it should be a required reading along with Yoga Vasishta for everyone!

Desh Kapoor

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Wendy Doniger's Cross-cultural Vandalism


Vijaya Rajiva

Edited and modified by Shree Vinekar



Ms Jane Ciabattari,
National Book Critics Circle,
New York, U.S.A.

Dear Ms.Ciabattari,

Re: National Book Critics Circle Announces Finalists, Jan.23, 2010.

It has come to my attention that Dr. Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus : An Alternative History, has been selected as a finalist by the NBCC. in the non fiction segment.

I am writing to you as a Hindu academic, a Political Philosopher, and one well versed both in Western and Eastern Philosophy (specifically Indian Philosophy) and very familiar with the Hindu tradition, especially in its day to day practice by the everyday Hindu.

I would appreciate it if you could circulate among the 20 plus Board members of the NBCC my observations on this selection of Dr. Doniger's book and yourself to kindly take note of the same.

In my opionion the selection of Dr.Doniger's book is seriously flawed for the following reasons:

1. It is not clear whether Ms. Doniger considers her book a work of scholarship or a work of fiction.

It would seem that she wants it to be considered a work of scholarship, albeit a pioneering and controversial work in a non main stream tradition of Hinduism, as she likes to think of it.

However, her qualifications for writing such a work derive from her ongoing work as a Sanskritist. Here her work even as a Sanskritist has been criticised for being inaccurate by Sanskritists and scholars, both Western and Indian.

Hence, the first criterion is : Does she know the mainstream tradition well enough, although she has been working in the field? Merely blurbs, by publishers describing her as the world's foremost authority on Hinduism and Hindus, are not sufficient to establish her credentials.

This lacuna is not uncommon in many scholarly works on India. As an example I can cite A.L. Basham's well known book, "The Wonder That Was India" (1954). In this book the noted scholar who taught in the London School of African and Oriental Studies maintains that the Vedic tradition did not give importance to female goddesses. And yet, a reading of the 1008 plus verses of the Rig Veda, show innumerable important references to the female goddesses and their role in the Vedic rituals.

I cite this an example to illustrate how even an acknowledged scholar can commit errors of scholarship. Hence, Dr. Doniger is equally capable of making errors and these have been pointed out by scholars and critics.

That being the case, her comparative study of the high traditions of Hinduism and everyday Hinduism is at best shaky. Nor does she do much better in her knowledge of the 'little' traditions of Hinduism.

Since her work is inadequate on both counts, her attempts to chart a pioneering course is somewhat dubious, and seems to be the result of what she wants to do rather("wannabe")than what she is capable of doing. The book, therefore, is neither fish, fowl nor red herring.

2. Secondly, Dr. Doniger fails to understand that the distinctions she draws between the high and low traditions are not ones that everyday Hindus observe or endorse. After more than 5,000 years of evolution, the everyday Hindu's perspective is one of a synthesis of beliefs, some of it which cannot be extricated, even by careful analysis. A great deal of work has been done on the origins of Hinduism which would challenge Dr. Doniger's own orthodoxy, one which she has worked with during her academic career.

And so, one wonders what value her work has except as a higly eccentric work that falls perhaps only in the category of fiction. (It has no place in the category of scholarly non-fiction books)

3. And if it comes under the category of fiction then the NBCC would be well advised to rely not only on relatively new fiction writers such Pankaj Mishra to evaluate it, but also consult well known and well established writers such as Nobel Prize winner Sir V.S. Naipaul. He is not only one of the foremost fiction writers in the English language but is also a writer of travelogues which establish connections with cultures around the world.

And if Dr. Doniger's book is a hybrid of social criticism and Sanskrit studies then some eminent sociologist might be consulted by the Board for a review. Pankaj Mishra is an interesting and entertaining fiction writer but is simply not equal to the task of a reviewer in this category. The Board has relied on his review. We may suggest Aditi Mitra, Sociologist academician who is familiar with the Hindu tradition to provide a more objective review of this non-fiction work if Doniger wants to categorize it as a scholarly non-fiction work.

4. There is a further dimension to the entire question. Since Dr. Doniger has sailed into the topic of the alternative history of the Hindus without due consideration of the sentiments of millions of practising everyday Hindus who if they came to know about her work would be deeply offended and hurt, it might be advisable to withdraw her work from the list.

Ms. Doniger herself must realise how deep the wound would be to the ordinary everyday Hindu who takes her/his religion seriously.

One has to only see the millions who congregate at the Kumbh Mela or who go on pilgrimages to the temples in Kashmir, despite great risks from terrorism, or those who simply worship their gods and goddesses with deep devotion both privately and publicly.

These are the silent, everyday Hindus whose voices must also be heard. And there are 800 million of them.

Is Dr. Doniger prepared to accept the moral responsibility of this situation, especially when she herself says she loves Hindus and Hinduism ? Is it a responsible position for her to adopt?

This is not simply a question of writing to some peer group (she is in a "69 position" with members of her peer group; see "Wendy's Children" by Rajive Malhotra) who may cheer her on. Or, be part of some charmed circle. It goes to the core of who she is as a human being and a person.

In my view, she should herself decline the honour of an award from the NBCC.

800 million Hindus will undoubtedly survive Ms. Doniger's work, as they have for millenia from other scourges, more deadly than mere fiction or scholarship. But, does she also want to deliver deep cuts, when these same 800 million everyday Hindus are already threatened by a thousand cuts from not so friendly neighbours who have openly used such threatening language.

By no stretch of imagination can her work be considered inoffensive to the sentiments of 800 million Hindus. I do not want to go into the lurid details.

Hindu India has been kind to Ms.Doniger and her Jewish people since time immemorial, especially during their time of travail and woe. Should she not reciprocate at this hour?

I believe that she should do the most honourable thing and withdraw her book herself from the list of books selected for award by the New York Times.

I would earnestly and respectfully request the Director and the Board of NBCC to give serious consideration to the issues I have raised above and withdraw her nomination for the award.


Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

Friday, February 5, 2010


Doniger does a doggie


Shrinivas Tilak*

Let me begin with a clarification of the title, which was suggested by an adult film that had gained certain notoriety back in the 1970s. "Debbie Does Dallas" was an all-time best-seller among adult movies released in 1978 and is about Debbie Benton (played by Bambi Woods) who is captain of a high school cheerleading squad that has won a place with a professional sports team in Dallas. Contrary to the title, the film is not set in Dallas nor does Debbie ‘do’ anyone in or from Dallas because the squad does not reach there. Debbie does not have enough money and her parents disapprove of the move and refuse to pay the fare to Texas. Debbie and other cheerleaders are forced to figure out ways to make extra cash on the side. One of them works in a library, another in a candle shop, and Debbie herself finds work in a clothing store owned by one Mr. Greenfield. Soon the girls realize that they can make more money by doing ‘favors’ for their bosses. One day Debbie comes in dressed as a ‘Texas Cowgirl’ cheerleader and waits for Mr. Greenfield after hours at the store. After preliminaries they engage in sex, first in the ‘missionary position,’ then ‘doggy style,’ and then with Debbie on top. Debbie has made enough money after Mr. Greenfield scores a ‘field goal’ and Debbie crowns it with a ‘touchdown.’ The film became an international sensation and spawned the sequels, remakes, and imitations including Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical, which opened at the Jane Street Theatre in New York City to receive rave reviews in October 2002.

‘Doniger’ in the above blog title refers to Wendy Doniger, who is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religion at the University of Chicago. The connection between ‘Debbie’ of the film and Professor Wendy Doniger (hereafter Doniger) is that they both are in the business of providing entertainment involving sex. Both employ bodies: Debbie her own; and Doniger the bodies of Hindu gods and goddesses. Ultimate goal eludes both: Debbie does not make to Dallas and Doniger fails to connect with the Hindus.

Dogs (along with horses and cows) loom large in Doniger’s latest work. The index contains a dozen or so entries under the main heading of “dogs,” for instance. The 779 pages book is officially entitled, "The Hindus: An Alternative History (New York: The Penguin Press, 2009; hereafter The Hindus). In Doniger’s ‘alternative history’(in reality it is more like a work of fiction) of India and Hinduism, “dogs” represent high caste Hindu males who have [allegedly] oppressed and repressed everybody else in India since the ancient Vedic times. In Doniger’s reckoning, in the traditional history of India (a product of Brahmin imagination as alleged by her), religious minorities and social outcastes are reduced to a status of a ‘scape-dog’ (p. 145) (these include Muslims who ruled India for most of the last millennium; I told you this is a work of fiction!). The main purpose of The Hindus, accordingly, is to provide, “a narrative account of alternative people who do not figure in her version of the ‘Brahmin-generated history’--people who are alternative in the sense of otherness, people of other religions, or cultures, or castes, or species” [including animals](p.1). Having read The Hindus from cover to cover, I can say that Doniger lives up to her promise but at a terrible cost for Hindus and India.

Under the guise of providing an alternative history, the real agenda of The Hindus is to drive a wedge between Hindus and non-Hindus in India and elsewhere. In order to show how Hindus are so utterly unlike ‘others’ Doniger engages in denigrating, distorting, and demeaning all Hindus (both low and high cast, as well as Hindu women) defrocking sexually their gods and goddesses.

Selectively picking mythic episodes from the Purana and the Tantra texts Doniger provides titillating details of liaisons between gods and gods, between gods and goddesses, between goddesses and animals. Here, a god beheads another god; there a goddess ‘hooks up’ with an animal [a buffalo demon] and so on (see chapter 14, ‘Goddesses and Gods in the Early Puranas’ and chapter 15 ‘Sects and Sex in the Tantric Puranas and the Tantras’).

I will leave it to professional psychiatrists (like Dr. Shreekumar Vinekar) to analyze and interpret Doniger’s preoccupation with sex and pervert joy she finds in abstracting from Hindu myths sexual encounters (natural and unnatural) between gods/goddesses and humans or animals. Doniger claims that she is a ‘recovering Orientalist.’ Orientalism, she asserts, refers to a cluster of attitudes that implicated the first European scholars of India in the European colonization of India, overwhelming reliance on textual studies being one of them, pp.34-35). After three hundred pages, however, Doniger has changed her mind. Orientalism began, she claims here, not with the British but with the Orientals themselves. In support for her claim Doniger refers to Vatsyayana’s discussion in the Kamasutra of the ‘lesbian’ practice of the women of the harem who give pleasure to one another using dildos, as well as bulbs, roots, or fruits that have the form of the male organ, and statues of men. “One can imagine,” adds Doniger [with a chuckle, I suppose] “little gardens of plantain and cucumber being tenderly cultivated within the courtyard of the palace.” Since Vatsyayana calls such practices and customs ‘Oriental customs’ (apparently they were prevalent in the ‘Eastern’ part of the Gupta Empire; 5.6.2-4), goes Doniger’s logic, Orientalism began in India and not in Europe (pp. 333-334).

The fact is, Orientalism did not originate in India and is much more than what Doniger claims it to be. It stands for the body of knowledge that the European powers began to generate from the seventeenth century onwards with a view to consolidate the economic, military, and political gains they had started making in Asia and Africa. Thus, having acquired military and political control over a sizeable portion of India, administrators of the British East India Company began to cast doubt and sow divisions among the people of Asia (and Africa) concerning their cultures, religions, and societies by gaining exegetical control over their traditional systems of knowledge. The discipline of Indology, which is a modern product of Orientalism, demonstrates a clear instance of how Western scholarship appropriates to itself the power to represent Indians, to translate and explain their thoughts and acts.

Elsewhere Doniger does betray an awareness that Hindu views of animals are far more complex to capture by words like ‘sacred’ or ‘impure.’ Other people’s zoological taxonomies look bizarre only to people who view them through their own rather ethnocentric lenses (p. 659). In spite of such awareness, the sad fact is; Doniger continues to look at all Hindu taxonomies through her unique ethnocentric lens.

Here, I will deal with two specific instances where Doniger clearly abandons the role of an unbiased, academic historian. While discussing the Taj Mahal in chapter 24‘The Past in the Present’ she claims, “One advocate of Hindutva has argued, on the basis of absolutely no evidence, that the Taj Mahal, in Agra, is not a [sic] Islamic mausoleum but an ancient Shiva temple…” (p. 679). Doniger herself does not bring any clear evidence for her assertion that the Taj Mahal is an Islamic mausoleum.

To date, the Archaeological Survey of India has not carried out a systematic survey of the Taj Mahal. So, stories of the ‘Taj’ being a monument built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan in loving memory of his wife Mumtaz to immortalize her amount to just that—“stories” (and not a history). Doniger does not mention P. N. Oak by name (the end note does provide reference to his book Taj Mahal: The True Story, 1989). There is growing evidence suggesting that it still is not clear who actually built the Taj Mahal, which is seven stories tall and contains dozens of rooms (all locked up and not open to the public or to scholars), or what its purpose and function were (see my blog “P. N. Oak: the lone fighter, etymologist, and historian” at the web site,

After 686 pages, comes chapter 25 ‘Inconclusion [sic], or, The Abuse of History,’ which is only 3 1/2 pages long! It begins with a long and an entirely out of context quotation attributed to Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (1906-1973; the second leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) who, claims Doniger, used the justifiable Hindu pride in religious tolerance to justify intolerance (p. 687). I have seen this quotation attributed to Golwalkar in dozens of so-called “scholarly” monographs by Western and Indian academics, historians, and Indologists who conveniently create a ‘straw-man’ out of Golwalkar as an iconic Hindu fanatic.

Like others, Doniger demonizes Golwalkar and his thought as “intolerant” on the basis of just one paragraph from a small pamphlet We, Our Nationhood Defined (p 48-49). This is unhistorical, besides being incompetent and biased scholarship considering the fact that Golwalkar did not write this book. He only translated it. It was written by Balarao Savarkar, the younger brother of Vinayak D. Savarkar. It does not mean that Golwalkar, as the translator, necessarily endorsed or espoused all the ideas presented by Balarao Savarkar. Furthermore, Golwalkar was active in India’s public life thirty-five years after the pamphlet came out and his collected works run to thousands of printed pages collected in twelve volumes. One would expect a more nuanced assessment of Golwalkar from ‘one of the foremost scholars of Hinduism in the world’ as claimed in the blurb. Those interested in an ‘alternative’ perspective on Golwalkar may consult my Reawakening to a secular Hindu nation: M. S. Golwalkar’s vision of a dharmasapeksa Hindurastra (Charleston, SC: Book Surge Publications, 2008).

In sum, Orientalism remains alive and kicking in The Hindus with Doniger adding a sexual dimension to the Orientalist’s run of the mill textual one in her studies of India and Hinduism. Conceived in Doniger’s ‘missionary’ zeal, The Hindus is also a clear instance of how exegetical Orientalism can take away from a nationalist and patriot like Golwalkar his ability and right to speak for himself. Regrettably, those who will rely on The Hindus to learn about Hindus through Doniger’s history of India will do so at their own peril.

*Shrinivas Tilak holds a PhD in history of religions from the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University, Montreal and has taught India and Hinduism related courses at several Canadian universities. He is author of five books including Understanding karma in light of Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical anthropology and hermeneutics (Charleston, SC: BookSurge 2007).