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Gem in the Lotus: The Seeding of Indian Civilisation Paperback – March 1, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A readable, lucid and comprehensive account of the origins of Indian civilisation." HISTORY TODAY --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Abraham Eraly, who was born in Kerala, has taught Indian history in Madras and the United States. He lives in Madras.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 484 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 075381854X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753818541
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,513,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I had tried a couple of times to find a book on India, informative and easy to read, and I had failed.
César González Rouco
There are plenty of better books on Indus and Saraswati valley civilizations one can find unless you have already had the kool-aid.
S. Kumar
His choice of phrases is sometimes puzzling, often irreverent and inappropriate, and sometimes irrelevant as well.
Sanjay Agarwal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is, on the whole, a very readable introduction to the earliest history of India, though in a few places it is a little dense, while in other places the quotations from Indian texts are perhaps rather too long.

The book begins with an account of the geological formation of the subcontinent, itself a fascinating story, well told. Equally interesting is what we can deduce from archaeology about its earliest, the Indus or Harappan, civilization, from ca.2250 to ca. 1550 BC: its pictographic texts have not yet been deciphered, and little of them survived anyway. The Aryan invasions submerged, without totally drowning, that civilization, and produced that astonishing corpus of the Vedic hymns to their deities, whose transmission, on the insistence of the Brahmins or priestly caste, was entirely oral for nearly a thousand years. During that time the Brahmins were challenged by Jainism and by Buddhism. For Eraly Buddhism is the "gem" in the Hindu lotus, and he gives a good and sympathetic account of what the Buddha taught. Buddhism received an enormous boost when the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (3rd c. BC) espoused and propagated that faith throughout an empire that covered almost the whole of the subcontinent. By that time there were already schisms in Buddhism. Although Ashoka insisted on tolerance towards all the Indian religions, he himself played a significant role in making Theravada Buddhism the orthodox version. At that point Eraly's story ends, and so we do not learn from it anything about the rise of Mahayana Buddhism from the 1st c. BC onwards, or about what caused Buddhism largely to collapse in India and to find new foci in Sri Lanka, Tibet, Burma, China, Indochina, Thailand, Japan and Korea.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kim Burdick on October 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Eraly's book is a comprehensive and seemingly well-researched history of ancient India. Eraly offers an excellent bibliography and the index is well-done.

The author's enthusiasm particularly shines forth in his chapters on Asoka, Buddha, and Alexander the Great. I especially enjoyed Eraly's discussion of the classical Greek interpretation of Indian civilization. This section contains fresh scholarship and new thinking.

The book desperately needs hacking and pruning to expose its true beauty. Sentences of twenty-five to thirty-five words are Eraly's norm, and an excessive number of clauses obscure meaning.

If this volume had not come from Penguin, one could almost believe it to have been self-published. Promoted as a book for the general audience, it is too scholarly in tone to be a "David McCullough;" too poorly documented to appeal to the academic audience. Much of the material presented in each chapter could have, and should have been, tucked into a handy section of end notes to which even the most general reader could refer.

Eraly is a decent scholar who deserved and needed a harsher, more experienced editor.

Kim Burdick
Stanton, Delaware
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By César González Rouco on December 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It must be pointed out that data on Ancient India seems to be rather scarce if compared to other civilizations (such as China , Egypt or Summer). I had tried a couple of times to find a book on India, informative and easy to read, and I had failed. Abraham Eraly's Gem in the Lotus happens to be the book, able to expose available knowledge without making you fall asleep. So I daresay that this is a book that can be savoured by the professional historian and educated layperson alike.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By humanobserver on September 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book. For anyone wanting a detailed, unbiased, and objective look at the mystery-shrouded pre-Islamic Indian history, this is the definitive volume. The descriptions are rich, detailed, and entertaining. Particularly gratifying is the comprehensive description of the Indus-Saraswati civilization. I am glad that the author does not succumb to crackpot theories that Aryans were indigenous and migrated outward when there remains ample evidence to support the invasion. As regards the description of the Indus period criticized by the previous reviewer, of course Indus civilization was moribund. That it is described as such should be reason to praise the author's objectivity, not criticize. [By the way, I am a Hindu born in India.]
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12 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Sanjay Agarwal on September 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Abraham Eraly's acidic views on current affairs and the various malaises that India presumably suffers from are well-known. This also makes him noticed in the left-leaning press circles. He has earlier written a book on Mughal period of Indian history. The present volume goes back to beginning of history (Genesis) and covers the period upto Alexander's invasion.

When I picked up this book, I had great expectations. Some of these were met. Mr. Eraly offers a grand vision, and writes on a sweeping canvas. This book has therefore the makings of a good history for the general reader, containing mostly a gist of the current theories of Indian history.

Mr. Early begins the book with an overview of its geological history, talks about the Vedic period, and moves on to the Upanishads. He then moves to Buddhism (the gem in the lotus), and devotes considerable time and effort to it over four chapters. He closes the book with two chapters on the Kautilyan state, and Alexander's invasion.

The book often uses Biblical terms (genesis, savior, prophets), and essentially follows the religious developments in India, from Vedic times to the coming of Buddha. His choice of phrases is sometimes puzzling, often irreverent and inappropriate, and sometimes irrelevant as well. For instance, the composers of epics, and the Vedic seers are called 'Sanskrit writers' (p.9). Vedic seers and sages are mostly addressed as 'poets'. At one stage, he finds that the Vedic poet was `gloating' (p.25). This is of course based on the assumption that the Vedas are a set of historical poems or ballads, rather than being religious or inspired spiritual texts in verse, as most Hindus hold.
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