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The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger Review by: Ludo Rocher Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol

. 132, No. 2 (April/June 2012), pp. 302-304 Published by: American Oriental Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7817/jameroriesoci.132.2.0302 . Accessed: 12/02/2014 04:09
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Journal of the American Oriental Society 132.2 (2012)

in the present, and is a valuable resource for understanding the present and finding ways to a viable future” (p. ix). The book contains a useful bibliography (pp. 227–32), some entries of which are discussed in a preceding section on “Further reading” (pp. 220–23). I note the absence of the once omnipresent Columbia University’s Sources of Indian Tradition, and of such often re-edited general Indian histories as those by Stanley Wolpert (mentioned only for his book on Jinnah) and by Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund. Thirteen maps and twenty-one attractive drawings illustrate the volume. For a future edition, I would plead for a more comprehensive index. Important terms which are discussed in the text are missing in the index, e.g., Kalidasa (mentioned on p. 127), Panini (p. 123), Dara Shukoh (p. 159), Clive (p. 170), Warren Hastings (p. 176), Louis Mountbatten (p. 200). Ludo Rocher University of Pennsylvania

The Hindus: An Alternative History. By Wendy Doniger. New York: The Penguin Press, 2009. Pp. 779, maps, illustrations. $35. Immediately after its publication in 2009, Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus became the object of several reviews, some ecstatic, others generally positive notwithstanding various provisos; in the same year it also figured among the five finalists for general nonfiction of the National Book Critics Circle Award. It is a learned book: one cannot help being amazed by the amount and variety of source materials the author has at her command, many of which one would not find, or not expect to find, in a book on the history of Hinduism and its practitioners (see the bibliography, pp. 729–53). On the other hand, even as with Doniger’s other books, or, for that matter, her public lectures (remember the egg-throwing incident during a lecture on the Rāmāyaṇa at the School of Oriental and African Studies in 2003), the book provoked a negative reaction among conservative Hindus. The Hindu American Foundation, for example, strongly urged the National Book Critics Circle not to bestow the award (in a letter of 5 February 2009). Under the title “A Professor With a Taste for Controversy At the Expense of Truth,” on 9 January 2010 they posted a message, saying among other things, “As an academic and apparent non-believer, Professor Doniger . . . has completed her analysis from a Freudian psychoanalytical perspective with little or no regard or respect for the esoteric deeper meanings entrenched in the Hindu Faith.” And on 10 March 2010 they organized a protest march in New York. In the preface to The Hindus, aptly titled “The man or the rabbit in the moon,” Doniger faces her critics head on: “Nowadays most non-Hindu scholars of Hinduism strike the familiar religious studies yoga posture of leaning over backward, in their attempt to avoid offense to the people they write about. But any academic approach to Hinduism, viewing the subject through the eyes of writers from Marx and Freud to Foucault and Edward Said, provides a kind of telescope, the viewfinder of context, to supplement the microscope of the insider’s view, which cannot supply the same sort of context. Always there is bias, and the hope is that the biases of Hindus and non-Hindus will cancel one another out in a well-designed academic study of any aspect of Hinduism” (p. 13). She admonishes her readers: “I intend to go on celebrating the diversity and pluralism, not to mention the worldly wisdom and sensuality, of the Hindus that I have loved for about fifty years and still counting” (p. 17). Before I proceed, I must add that, as has often been done, it is wrong to equate Doniger’s Freudian approach to Hindu myths with a dislike of Hinduism and India generally. If that were the case, the British would have as much or even more reason to suspect her of a dislike of the British people and of Britain. Indeed, for British actions and attitudes in India, too, Doniger looks for the subtext, which “is less respectable, more self-serving, but also more honest, more real than the surface text. In India the British surface text —‘We are bringing civilization to these savages’—reveals a subtext: ‘We are using military power to make England wealthy by robbing India’” (p. 604).

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Reviews of Books

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The Hindus is, and is meant to be, An Alternative History. Even “the privileged male who recorded the text” was bilingual and had access to written and oral sources in other languages than his professional language, Sanskrit. “This gives me a double agenda: first to point out the places where the Sanskrit sources themselves include vernacular, female, and lower-class voices, and then to include, wherever possible, non-Sanskrit sources. The (Sanskrit) medium is not always the message; it’s not all about Brahmins, Sanskrit, the Gita. I will concentrate on those moments within the tradition that resist forces that would standardize or establish a canon” (p. 2). Typical in this respect is her treatment of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. The main characteristics of the schools are summarized in just over one page, probably not enough for newcomers to this field. Instead, claiming that she is not a philosopher and that her book is not about philosophy, Doniger announces that she “will deal with philosophy only when it gets out of the hands of the philosophers and into the hands of the people who tell stories about the philosophers and incorporate philosophical theories into their myths” (p. 504). So, we are presented with a series of myths about Śaṅkara, Rāmānuja, and Madhva, especially myths told about each of them by the followers of the other two. The book proceeds, more or less, in chronological order, no less than from 50 million B.C.e. Even though almost all chapters are assigned specific periods in their titles, “I have . . . provided not detailed histories of specific moments but one or two significant episodes to represent the broader historical periods in question. The result is not a seamless narrative that covers the waterfront but a pointillist collage, a kaleidoscope, made of small, often discontinuous fragments” (pp. 7–8). Based on David Grene’s analysis of Herodotus’ History (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987), David Shulman has described Doniger as “surely no Thucydides, but, in my view, a loyal follower of Herodotus, in more ways than one” ( New York Review of Books, November 19, 2009). I am tempted to propose a different comparison. While reading the book, I repeatedly had the impression that I was listening to a purāṇa storyteller; in fact, that Wendy Doniger was not writing for readers, but that she was addressing a live audience. Hence, subtitles such as “Lions and Tigers and Rhinos, Oh My!” (p. 93), or, after pointing out the subtlety of an apparent riddle: “Got it?” (p. 601). At times the storyteller can be witty, but occasionally flippant (linga franca, in modified Latin, p. 22) and irreverent (“The theory of renunciation, a recycling not of tin cans but of souls,” p. 170). The storyteller delights in startling the audience with plays on words (“By the Grace of Dog,” p. 499). She especially loves to illustrate ancient stories by interjecting comparisons with situations with which the audience is familiar: Doniger commands an unbelievably vast array of comparable material, often, though not always, from American popular culture. Doniger acknowledges that the book was not meant to be as long as it turned out to be, “but it got the bit between its teeth, and ran away from me” (p. 1). Several pages are indeed filled with “good stories” that are only loosely, some very loosely, related to the history of the Hindu religion. Going into detail on the drinking and other vices of the Mughal emperors, even though carefully documented, is a case in point (pp. 539–41). The Black Hole of Calcutta may have been “one of the great British icons of the historical mythology of the Raj” (p. 382), but it involved only the temporarily victorious Muslim Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daula, and British prisoners, no Hindus. “The best pun in the history of the Raj” (p. 600), i.e., the message peccavi (“I have sinned/Sind”) attributed to Charles James Napier, also appears to be given more attention than it deserves in a book on Hinduism. Since Wendy Doniger openly disclaims any ambition to have written a conventional history (“my training is as a philologist, not a historian,” p. 3), minor historical slips may be forgiven. Yet, there are some that deserve to be rectified. Warren Hastings may be accused of having done many objectionable things, but labeling him “a brute of the first order” when talking about his exalted preface to Charles Wilkins’s translation of the Bhagavadgītā appears incongruous (p. 596). And, even though this, too, has been held against him, it might have been worth mentioning that it was Hastings who successfully promoted the idea that “in all suits regarding inheritance, marriage, caste, and other religious usages and institutions, the laws . . . of the Shaster with regard to Gentoos shall be invariably adhered to.” When it comes to legal history in the colonial period in particular, there are passages that are bound to raise the eyebrows of Doniger’s once coeditor Duncan Derrett. Sir William Jones was not the chief justice of the High Court of Calcutta (p. 595); the “High Court of Judicature at Fort William” was established in 1862. King George III appointed him as a puisne judge of “His Majesty’s Supreme Court

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of Judicature at Fort William.” Also, the history of Hindu law was more complex than it is represented in this volume. Anglo-Hindu law was far more than “the British interpretation of Jones’s translation of Manu,” and what the British did was far more than “to replace the multiplicity of legal voices [of local indigenous courts] and the centuries of case law with a single voice, that of Jones’s Manu ” (p. 596). Jones knew that the Manusmṛti was an inadequate tool for British judges to decide cases involving Hindus. After Halhed’s CODE of Gentoo Laws, and his own INSTITUTES of Menu, Jones went to work on a DIGEST of Hindoo Law—one cannot help being reminded of Tribonian—which was translated into English by Henry Thomas Colebrooke. Dissatisfaction with the unwieldy Digest in turn led Colebrooke to translate two specific treatises on inheritance, a publication Doniger incorrectly alludes to in connection with Rammohan Roy’s tracts on Hindu law. In it Colebrooke translated the section on inheritance in a commentary, titled Mitākṣarā, written by Vijñāneśvara, on the Yājñavalkyasmṛti, not on the Manusmṛti, and Jīmūtavāhana’s Dāyabhāga, a nibandha entirely devoted to the law of inheritance, not of marriage (p. 616). Ludo Rocher University of Pennsylvania

Parallels and Comparisons: Conference on the Sanskrit Epics and Purāṇas September 2005. Edited by Petteri Koskikallio. Zagreb: Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2009. Pp. xxiii + 550. Even as the proceedings of the preceding Dubrovnik conferences (cf. JAOS 126 [2006]: 131, and 127 [2007]: 91–93), those of the fourth DICSEP have been painstakingly edited, by the general editor Mislav Ježić and volume editor Petteri Koskikallio, and superbly published in Zagreb, with the support of the Croatian Ministry of Science, Education and Sports. After “composing a tradition” (1997), “stages and transitions” (1999), and “continuities and ruptures” (2002), the theme of the 2005 conference was “parallels and comparisons.” The volume contains twenty essays, representing the outcome of too much detailed research to be summarized in a review. The essays can be subdivided into three groups. The first nine concentrate on “parallels and comparisons” in connection with topics related to the epics: the meaning of the term itihāsa in the Mahābhārata and the phrase ity udāharanti (Muneo Tokunaga); the origin of the triṣṭubh verses in the Bhagavadgītā in an independent religious hymn (Mislav Ježić); the epic hero Balarāma (Georg von Simson); the parable of the man hanging from a tree over a pit, compared with an episode in the Odyssey (Nick Allen); the epithet mahābhāga in the Mahābhārata (Yaroslav Vassilkov); Bhīma’s royal instructions to Yudhiṣṭhira in the Śāntiparvan (Adam Bowles); the careers of Bhāradvāja and some members of his lineage (Simon Brodbeck); factors determining the use of terms for mental phenomena such as hṛd, hṛdaya, manas, buddhi, and dhī in the Mahābhārata (Sven Sellmer); and, in the single essay on the Rāmāyaṇa, the four jumps of Hanumant (Danielle Feller). The next five articles shift to “parallels and comparisons” connected with puranic texts: the various reasons for the descent of Kṛṣṇa in the Harivaṃśa (Andreas Viethsen); the concept of tejas as an attribute of the parameśvara in the Purāṇas (Paolo Magnone); the several “replays” of the Mahābhārata in the Bhāgavatapurāṇa (Kenneth R. Valpey); two stories about the Śaivite sage Upamanyu in a wide variety of texts (Chistèle Barois); and three Hindu and one Buddhist Māhātmyas from Nepal (Horst Brinkhaus). The final six essays reach out into “parallels and comparisons” in a variety of texts: Tantric texts (Olga Serbaeva Saraogi); corresponding stories in the Jātakas and the Mahābhārata (Renate Söhnen-Thieme); parallels between the Vidhurapaṇḍitajātaka and the game of dice in the Śāntiparvan (Klara Gönc Moačanin); Jaina Kṛṣṇacaritas (Eva De Clercq); Jaina stories about Kṛṣṇa’s childhood (André Couture); and the modern Hindi poem Jay Paraśurām, which presents itself as a kind of Paraśurāmapurāṇa (Nicolas Dejenne). In addition to a list of frequently cited works (pp. xix–xx), each article is followed by its own bibliography.

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