The Hindus: An Alternative History

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"Don't miss this equivalent of a brilliant graduate course froma feisty and exhilarating teacher."
-The Washington Post

An engrossing and definitive narrative account of history and myth, The Hindus offers a new way of understanding one of the world's oldest major religions. Hinduism does not lend itself easily to a strictly chronological account. Many of its central texts cannot be reliably dated within a century; its central tenets arise at particular moments in Indian history and often differ according to gender or caste; and the differences between groups of Hindus far outnumber the commonalities. Yet the greatness of Hinduism lies precisely in many of these idiosyncratic qualities that continues to inspire debate today. This groundbreaking work elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds, the inner life and the social history of Hindus.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
Wendy Doniger's erudite "alternative history" shouldn't be anyone's introduction to Hinduism. But once you've learned the basics about this most spiritual of cultures, don't miss this equivalent of a brilliant graduate course from a feisty and exhilarating teacher.
—The Washington Post
Pankaj Mishra
…staggeringly comprehensive…it is impossible not to admire a book that strides so intrepidly into a polemical arena almost as treacherous as Israel-Arab relations…This book will no doubt further expose [Doniger] to the fury of the modern-day Indian heirs of the British imperialists who invented "Hinduism." Happily, it will also serve as a salutary antidote to the fanatics who perceive—correctly—the fluid existential identities and commodious metaphysic of practiced Indian religions as a threat to their project of a culturally homogenous and militant nation-state.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

Doniger's "alternative history" of Hinduism takes a closer look at how outsiders contributed to its evolution. The term outsiders is used very broadly here. Some have been the marginalized people within mainstream Hinduism itself, such as tribal people and Dalits(Untouchables) or women (within a strongly patriarchal society). Others have been believers in other religions-notably Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Sikhism-or alien conquerors and rulers, such as the Greeks, Moghals, and British. All these and more have influenced Hindu faith and practice and have in their turn been influenced by the Hindus. As shown here, outsiders and mainstream Hindus have dealt with one another at times violently and at times peacefully. A respected historian and a translator of several important Sanskrit works (e.g., Hindu Myths), Doniger (history of religions, Univ. of Chicago) takes particular pains to show the outsider influences in Hindu literature, a tall order at which she mostly succeeds. There are times when the reader may feel overwhelmed by the wealth of information, so this sizable text is not for the casual reader. Recommended for academic and public libraries with strong religion collections.
—James F. DeRoche

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594202056
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/19/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 800
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Wendy Doniger holds two doctorates in Sanskrit and Indian studies from Harvard and Oxford. She is the author of several translations of Sanskrit texts and many books about Hinduism and has taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and at the University of California at Berkeley. She is currently the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago.

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Table of Contents

India's Major Geographical Features xi

India from 2500 BCE to 600 CE xii

India from 600 CE to 1600 CE xiii

India from 1600 CE to the Present xiv

List of Illustrations xv

Preface: The Man or the Rabbit in the Moon 1

1 Introduction: Working with Available Light 17

2 Time and Space in India: 50 Million to 50,000 BCE 50

3 Civilization in the Indus Valley: 50,000 to 1500 BCE 65

4 Between the Ruins and the Text: 2000 to 1500 BCE 85

5 Humans, Animals, and Gods in the Rig Veda: 1500 to 1000 BCE 103

6 Sacrifice in the Brahmanas: 800 to 500 BCE 135

7 Renunciation in the Upanishads: 600 to 200 BCE 164

8 The Three (or Is It Four?) Aims of Life in the Hindu Imaginary 199

9 Women and Ogresses in the Ramayana: 400 BCE to 200 CE 212

10 Violence in the Mahabharata: 300 BCE to 300 CE 252

11 Dharma in the Mahabharata: 300 BCE to 300 CE 277

12 Escape Clauses in the Shastras: 100 BCE to 400 CE 304

13 Bhakti in South India: 100 BCE to 900 CE 338

14 Goddesses and Gods in the Early Puranas: 300 to 600 CE 370

15 Sects and Sex in the Tantric Puranas and the Tantras: 600 to 900 CE 406

16 Fusion and Rivalry Under the Delhi Sultanate: 650 to 1500 CE 445

17 Avatar and Accidental Grace in the Later Puranas: 800 to 1500 CE 473

18 Philosophical Feuds in South India and Kashmir: 800 to 1300 CE 503

19 Dialogue and Tolerance Under the Mughals: 1500 to 1700 CE 527

20 Hinduism Under the Mughals: 1500 to 1700 CE 551

21 Caste, Class, and Conversion Under the British Raj: 1600 to 1900 CE 574

22 Suttee and Reform in the Twilight of the Raj: 1800 to 1947 CE 610

23 Hindus in America: 1900- 636

24 The Past in the Present: 1950- 654

25 Inconclusion, or, the Abuse of History 687

Acknowledgments 691

Chronology 693

Guide to Pronunciation and Spelling of Words in Sanskrit and Other Indian Languages 695

Abbreviations 696

Glossary of Terms in Indian Languages and Names of Key Figures 697

Notes 704

Bibliography: Works Cited and Consulted 729

Photo Credits 754

Index 755

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The Hindus as seen through jaundiced eyes

    This book is presented to the world by Penguin, the publisher, as scholarly opinion on Hinduism from a prolific scholar. It is quite likely that it is written mainly for readers in the West, and it's certainly not for the novice. And if the reader has a lot more than mere rudimentary knowledge about Hinduism, it certainly helps. However, if one is not endowed with sufficient knowledge about Hinduism, often it would be impossible to comprehend what the author has written:
    "The marginalized people in the lowest social levels of the Veda--Dasas, Shudras--may have included people who were Other not, or not only, in their social class but in their religious practices, such as the wandering bands of warrior ascetics the Vedas refer to as the Vratyas ("People Who Have Taken Vows"), who practiced flagellation and other forms of self-mortification and traveled from place to place in bullock carts."
    Parts of the book are well written, but there are many parts that I found quite troubling also. I was impressed, too, with the occasional display of her wit and word-play; but, alas, a streak of bias flows through her witticisms, too. Her interpretations and opinions about some events depicted in Hindu scriptures and epics remain as distorted, askew, and perverted as ever (as in her other books about Hindus); and she sees things that simply do not exist. For example, she states that Sita, the heroine of Ramayana, was more sexual than she appears to be and insinuates that Sita's feelings for her brother-in-law, Lakshmana, might well be more than sisterly. Doniger sees a hidden sexual meaning behind several episodes.
    This book wonderfully illustrates the fact that merely possessing two Ph.D. degrees, from prestigious universities though they may be, doesn't necessarily free one's mind from deep rooted biases and prejudices. I am not the only one who has ventured to criticize Dr. Doniger's views on Hinduism; she has been criticized by scholars from academia, scholars such as Nicholas Kazanas, Antonio De Nicolas, and Michael Witzel, and several others, for her negative portrayals of Hinduism. It is not out of place to mention here that her article on Hinduism for Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia was criticized and shown to be so biased that Microsoft removed it and replaced it with an article by Aravind Sharma, Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University.
    The publisher has stated that this book "offers a new way of understanding one of the world's oldest major religions." I beg to differ; in this book Dr. Doniger has offered her same old jaundiced view of Hinduism, but much more elaborately than ever before. I think this book is as delectable as a half-baked potato.
    Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2010

    hinduism ; pandering to hatemongers

    Wendy doesn't have even a glimmer of insight into the soul and spirit of hinduism . Attempoting to educate her would be like expecting a color blind person to appreciate a Monet. Freud has long been discredited in mainstream neurology , psychatry and psychology but Wendy is obvoiously still in the 19th century
    VS Ramachandran Md PhD DSc Padma Bhushan
    Distinguished professor and director Center fr bain nd cognition, university of california San Diego La Jolla CA
    I recommend Zimmer's book on Hindu art and civiliation and John Keay on History

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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