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The Hindus: An Alternative History Paperback – November 30, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

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Note that Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of Religions at the University of Chicago and the author of many books. Note that alternative neatly defines her. Learned, fluent, and entertaining in spite of the complexity of this ambitious undertaking, Doniger is also controversial, a role she embraces, confident that fresh viewpoints are essential to understanding the worlds that shaped the Hindu tradition, and the ways Hindus shaped society. While Doniger delves deeply into the Vedas and the “two great poems,” Ramayana and Mahabharata, she searches other spheres for clues to the lives of women and the lower castes. She also analyzes depictions of animals, which are central to Hindu tales and the “cultural ideal” of nonviolence. As she energetically parses the relationships between gods and humans, karma and renunciation, asceticism and sensuality, priests and kings, men and women, she is also seeking glimpses into everyday Hindu life during each of India’s empires. Lavishly detailed, dynamic, and encompassing, Doniger’s multidimensional history celebrates Hindu wisdom, diversity, and pluralism with knowledge, insight, and passion. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This is history as great entertainment! Unlike the usual, arid accounts of dynasties, Wendy Doniger's double vision of Hinduism is about women, merchants, lower castes, animals, spirits and , of course, Dead Male Brahmins. This lively, earthy account explains why ancient India is the world's richest storytelling culture." --Gurcharan Das, author India Unbound

"Wendy Doniger's enthralling and encyclopaedic book reveals her vision of a Hindu culture that is plural, varied, generous, and inclusive. Hinduism, in her view, is an intricate weave of the diverse localities and communities of Indian culture. This is a rich text that will encourage dialogue and conversation among a wide range of scholars." --Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

"With her vast erudition, insight, and graceful writing laced with gentle wit, there is no one better than Wendy Doniger to convey the richness, depth, and diversity of Hindu texts and traditions to international audiences. The Hindus is destined to become a classic that will be discussed and debated for many years to come." --Sudhir Kakar, author of Indian Identity

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (November 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014311669X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143116691
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (268 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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359 of 407 people found the following review helpful By Ali Sheikh on April 4, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Banned in Bangalore, the New York Times op-ed said. Why ban a book, no matter how offensive, the literati fumed. No one can truly ban a book in the Internet age, friends pointed out. Naturally, I bought a copy—and more to the point, read the book.

Before we proceed, let me say that I do not support banning any book (or even legally requiring a book to be withdrawn from circulation, as was the case with this book in India). But I do hold that every banned book isn’t necessarily a well-written, scholarly work. Indeed, a ban of any kind instantly confers an aura of hyper-legitimacy on the banned work, regardless of its intrinsic merit, and I believe that’s what happened with Ms. Doniger’s book. I contend that her book is biased and sloppy, and that’s what this review is all about.

Let’s start with the big picture. A well-written alternative history of anything, let alone Hinduism, generally has the effect of making the reader pause and think twice about what he may have held all along as the truth. From someone of Ms. Doniger’s stature, I was hoping to hear a serious insight or two that would make me go, "Gosh, I’ve known that story all my life, but why didn’t I look at things that way before?"

So, what major insights does the book offer? According to the author, the main aspects are diversity and pluralism in Hindu thought, treatment of women and lower castes, the erotic side of Hinduism, and the many tensions and conflicts within Hinduism.

That’s where my disappointment started—those are not major insights, nor do they add up to an alternative history. Let’s go item by item. Diversity and Pluralism? Caste system? Anyone with a passing interest in India knows about it. Treatment of women?
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1,131 of 1,343 people found the following review helpful By Spk on May 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As someone who has grown up in an academic environment, I would like to think of myself as catholic in my outlook; but this book by Wendy Doniger was just off.

To start with I maintain two gold standards of writers from the west
writing on India. The first is Heinrich Zimmer who wrote 'Myths and
Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization' which I have gone back to
repeatedly over the past 20 years. The other is the works of William
Dalrymple and the work of his that I cherish the most is one titled
'White Mughals'.

The former is a scholar who has sought to deeply understand Indian culture and the myths it has evolved and the latter is a fine writer first and foremost with a keen eye and love for all things Indian.

But what really makes their writings classic that wants me to go back
to them repeatedly is their generosity of spirit and largeness of
heart. They do not shy away from the warts, but you know what is
driving them to research and write their material is a genuine desire
to understand and the joy of discovery.

That brings me to Ms Doniger. When I came upon the book after reading a review of it in the NY Times, I rubbed my hands in glee. Ah, here is a book I thought to myself, that is going to present new and important insights, from a seasoned philologist, that is going to enhance
one's knowledge of Indian culture in new and important ways (good or bad - no matter).

What Wendy Doniger does do is that she applies all the tools and techniques and filters of 20th and 21st century social and cultural analysis to bear upon circa 500 BC India and then proceeds to sit in judgment. But it turns out that no wart is unworthy of examination and it is warts that are examined!
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347 of 468 people found the following review helpful By GregJS on November 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
If you are drawn to read Wendy Doniger's The Hindus - as I was - because you see in Hinduism an example of a cultural-spiritual tradition that has managed to keep alive - right into modern times - a view of a sacred universe (sacred time, sacred geography, sacred cosmology, sacred social customs and social roles, sacred geometry and architecture, rites, rituals, and celebrations, etc.) and a robust set of experiential spiritual practices (puja, kirtan, yoga, meditation, etc.) then you are likely to be disappointed by this book. It is written, as far as I can tell, entirely from within the same western, modern, secular-academic point of view that has largely rejected a sacred vision of the cosmos and that has largely dismissed whatever tried-and-tested systems of spiritual practice we may once have had. Doniger conveys almost none of the spiritual vitality and seems not to recognize any of the practical spiritual knowledge that other writers and teachers show to be embedded in Hindu scriptures. If anything, she belittles these aspects of Hinduism in just that sort of way that modernized people as a group tend, unfortunately, to do, believing themselves to "know better" and to be more "sophisticated" than people who maintain their ancient traditions. So if you are looking for a view of Hinduism that will lead you beyond the limitations of the modern materialistic-mechanistic worldview, this is not the book for you.

Here is just one example: On page 176, Doniger quotes, from the Kaushitaki Upanishad, a description of the sort of experience one might encounter after bodily death that determines the trajectory of one's soul.
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