Wendy Doniger and the controversy over Hinduism

This is a controversy that had been brewing for over a decade (mainly on the internet), but came to mainstream media attention after the book, ‘The Hindu: An alternative history’ by Wendy Doniger, a US academic, was recently withdrawn from circulation by its publisher. I wished to know what Doniger had to say about Holi, and found this reference to a now retracted note, which used to be on the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia. “Holi, the spring carnival, when members of all castes mingle and let down their hair, sprinkling one another with cascades of red powder and liquid, symbolic of the blood that was probably used in past centuries.” The problem with Hinduism, based on whatever I know, is its own syncretic history — it appears to have accumulated countless layers and sub-spheres within itself to lend to a single framework. And Tantric practice is a sphere where few tread. So practices like the rooster sacrifice of Kerala become a problem if it were...
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Movie review: 300: Rise of an Empire

A reviewer describes 300: Rise… as History Channel meeting the Saw franchise. Based on an upcoming novel, Xerxes, by Frank Miller, whose past works include Sin City and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the film gives a gore-ridden twist to a historical event, and throws in a fictional, love making scene between its principal warriors that has become the talk of town internet. When raging, free testosterones (Greek army, almost decimated) meet acid strong estrogen (Persian oriental navy with Artemisia as the leader), three dimensional heads float around in scenic, montage war scenes that appear to bear resemblance to historical artistic depictions of the battle. Comics have a way of making history come alive, and 300: Rise of an Empire does justice here, if only the script could stay true to the actual events. See 300: Five historical errors So it happens that Artemisia did not die in the battle. Her involvement and history are interesting to read. She did not implore Xerxes, rather...
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The heavens are still far away – 2

Shiva threw the shoulder bag onto the floor, and sat down on the muddy floor. The cave was narrow and unevenly cut, and tall enough for him to stand and make a palm impression on the roof. Outside, there was not a sound to be heard. The green water lake was out of sight, and from the floor he could see the opposite hill, and the long receding line of mountains that went as far as eyes could see. Shiva loosened his white sports shoes, and stretched his legs wide, reclining back on his hands. It had been a long, long journey. But he was free at last. Free of the maddening crowds, and into fresh air.  The winter was yet to set in, and the hills, after the monsoon rains had dripped them clean, appeared to long for their traditional soft coat of snow. How beautiful the hill women looked, whom he encountered while walking down the grassy mounds near the Kedarnath temple!...
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Little souls In Buddha’s garden – A picture story

Shravasti – Where Buddha walked in person Sravasti, or shravasti is where Buddha is said to have spent many rainy seasons. The monastery where he lived is in the centre of a garden donated by a rich man of his times. The two young girls climbed down from the trees when they saw me, and lured me to their village with a sweet local accent – “Follow us to the village; Mother Ganges has come to visit us.” They were referring to the flood in the local river that had submerged most of this district. To the faithful, a river flood is a visit by the goddess herself.  I followed them to join a group of shepherds led by an old man the girls were travelling with. The remains of the fort seen in the background were probably the palace of the king of this rich and vibrant trading city. Nothing remains of it now, and only grass and trees grow over the...
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A small temple that quenches thirst

If there is an oasis in the spiritual desert, then it is here – a small, beautiful piece of stonework that relives all stress when merely glimpsed. Stand on the stone steps and let the cool breeze moisten your skin. A place that satisfies equally the body, mind and soul. In the surrounding fields and villages, nothing like this exists — the architecture, the artistic stonework emerges from nowhere, making one wonder: What stories does the intricate artwork conceal? There used to flow nearby (or still is?) a small stream whose water was sweet. I can dimly recall tasting the water and its subtle sweetness when I was very young. On a subsequent visit, the stream had dried up, and the holed up water undrinkable. The heavenly fountain of life has an end too. Photo Courtesy: Peter & Jackie Main ...
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The pleasures and treasures of South India – Malabar

South India – Travel Itinerary Travelling through India is a taxing affair, as people travel here mostly for religious or family reasons, which means the ‘tourist’ – not yet a very respected figure – must be prepared for all eventualities while travelling, stay and shopping. I went on a Malabar coast trip in 2009, touching and spending a day or two at some of the major and lesser known coastal towns and cities on the Malabar or western coast of India. This is the treasure house of nature, and the fortunes of the West were partly made here – on spice trade. The weather here is sunny and coastal, and the people in small towns and hamlets live a relaxed life, though the pouring in of money from Arab countries means even these have taken on a commercial, advertisement laden look. Poverty is visible though on the way through the countryside, surrounded and hidden by the lush green natural treasures. Only a botanist...
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Odyssey

Tribal Odyssey – Yawalapiti – YouTube. We are the children of civilization. Pursuing our dreams, living with ambition, observing the world go round… Our eyes carry a history, and we breathe ourselves to self-awareness everyday. We spend the day working for others, and make a living for ourselves. Could things be different from what they are today? Were they any different in the ‘beginning’? What would it be like to live among the tribes in the rain forests of the Amazon? What would life be life in 3012? 4012? It’s not given to us to know these things. And that’s the greatest thing about life and living. It means no one can conquer or destroy the spring from which mankind has emerged. Was man better off when naked than he is today? Our clothes seem to have made a big difference. Our writing made us more human. The tribes had to actually live out their culture. We can do with mere recordings. So...
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A walk in time

It was Dr Vasudevan of the city college who discovered the old settlement of Balagarh near Tikri, locally known as “the mound of the ancestors”, while doing community service in the neighbouring villages. Taking a walk over the hilly terrain, he had spotted narrow, finely carved stone blades that indicated man’s presence in the old times. A team from the University, led by its chief archaeologist, was quick to arrive and digging began in earnest. The yield so far had been siginifcant. It included three skeletons, bronze knives, daggers and arrows, pieces of pottery, beads and metal jewellery, burnt bones, and earthen pots for the dead containing small bones and ashes. From deep underneath came a large amount of burnt cowdung and cereals, a discovery that had confounded the experts. With the onset of winter the University announced its field trip, and most of the second semester students reached the base camp, except Arth Malhotra. Deciding to make the trip alone, he...
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The Historical Indian Cities – that Continue to Be in 21c

Travelling in North India can be tough. One has to battle against heat, dust, the crowds, and agents and touts. Moreover, these are not cities famous for scenic beauty, though historical monuments like the Taj Mahal do provide occasional relief. If travelling in cities like Lucknow, Varanasi, Kanpur and Allahabad is to be enjoyed, one must know their history and culture, much of which is shrouded in the dark. Varanasi, the oldest of the old cites of the world, sits adoring the Ganga river. Its mornings are famous, and the betel nut (paan). The narrow streets might be filthy, but on the other side of the river stands the Ramnagar fort and museum. Religion is life here, and the burning of the dead on the ghats. Near Kanpur lies Brahmavarta. Legend says saint Valmiki lived here, and so did Sita after she renounced Rama. Many legends of the Hindu myth find home in this hilly terrain adjoining the Ganga. Shravasti is where the...
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So, where do you come from?

I always thought modernity and being educated was all about being an individual, knowing and seeing oneself for what one truly is, rather than identifying with linguistic or ethnic identitites. The modern world however runs with a different understanding, proving me wrong all the time. The first thing people want to know, whether they are employers, colleagues, friends or neighbours, is which part of the country I come from. In a country which is linguistically divided, with over a dozen major language groups who now have their own separate states and governments, it all boils down to which linguistic community I come from. The question itself is appears innocuous on its face. Anyone meeting a stranger or a foreigner would ask them where they came from. What remains hidden is the context in which a person actually gets defined in terms of ethnic and linguistic identities. A context in which even nicknames are used to label others, it being irrelevant whether or...
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