Wendy Doniger: images and ‘historical’ arguments

Wendy Doniger sees Krishna as a man who sits on the naked buttocks of a woman.  Millions of others see Krishna, their God who causes the Universe to be created and to be destroyed, as a bare-bodied, innocent infant lying alone on a heart-shaped leaf floating on the swirling waters of the Deluge.  For many millions of others, Krishna, despite being the Lord of the Universe, allows himself to be tied to a tree with a small piece of rope by the woman who believes she is his natural mother. He permeates every place, saturates every thing, says the saint-poet Nammazhwar – ‘karanda silidandorum idam thigazh porudorum karandengum parandulan’ – and adds that the divine is accessible to each one who wishes to see, in the form they wish to give – ‘avaravar vidhivazhi adaya nindranare’.

But the way of life that just was, and which came to be called ‘Hinduism’, is not merely about God.  ‘Samskruta Vedam teaches personal purification and Dravida Vedam teaches social upliftment even at the cost of personal prestige,’ is what I have been taught by my Acharya.  And Itihasa is not just a historical record; the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha seek to talk about events in particular time periods in order to draw timeless and universal lessons about human ambition and desire [artha and kama], what holds humankind together [dharma] and how to transcend these earthly bonds that are born again and again [moksha].  This being the case, a work of history such as Doniger’s can only claim to be an interpretation of history, and hence an argument that surely lends itself to disproof.  The subject matter of her book, ‘Hinduism’, not only has no known beginning but also has a wealth of literature too vast to imbibe in one lifetime,


3 thoughts on “Wendy Doniger: images and ‘historical’ arguments

  1. What a wonderfully scholarly and thought provoking post this is!

    I recently participated in a questionnaire survey for a sociological study of people in the scientific field. A section of the questionnaire was about religion. Some of the questions in this section made me reflect on what exactly religion means to me; what I would consider ‘religious activity’. There were questions about whether I practice any form of meditation, and how many times a week I read texts like the Ramayana. They were multiple choice questions, and so I couldn’t really tell the researchers that I spend time on meditation daily because it is just those few minutes of rest my mind gets in a day. I read the Ramayana seeking those timeless and universal lessons that Revathi has so elegantly written about, unspoilt by translation and interpretation. To me, they are not ‘religious activities’. But then, what is religion? What is even history? A billion Indians would have a billion answers. Hinduism, by virtue of having been a way of life for people since the dawn of history, is complex. One must have the humility to realize that what one sees can possibly be only the image of a wavelet of a mighty, deep and vast ocean.

  2. Thank you for visiting Pradeep. I feel that religions of the world are but pathways to goodness, and ‘understanding’ is a very subjective thing. However, a truly religious person would undoubtedly not wish ill for another, or seek to wilfully hurt or cause another to be hurt. Ahimsa is more than refraining from merely physical violence.

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