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Customer Review

517 of 732 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars History or HerStory?, February 3, 2010
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This review is from: The Hindus: An Alternative History (Hardcover)
I have read the book from cover to cover, and am afraid
that it has literally hundreds of factual errors that will
be noticed by anyone who has even a mediocre knowledge of
Indian history. Just to give a FEW examples (for chapterwise review, see hindureview.com/2010/04/02/%c2%91the-hindus-alternative-history%c2%92-prof-wendy-doniger-chapter-wise-review ):

I. In the Map titled "India From 600 CE to 1600 CE" at the
beginning of the book, at least four sites (Janakpur,
Nagarkot, Mandu, Haldighati) are marked literally hundreds
of miles from their correct geographical location.

II. In the chapter XIX titled "Dialogue and Tolerance Under
the Mughals", the errors would shame even a Graduate student
of Medieval Indian history. E.g.

1) Doniger (on the title page of the chapter) says that Emperor Humayun ruled from 1530 - 1556
AD. Actually, he ruled from 1530-1540 and for a few months
in 1556 AD. He lived in exile in the intervening years as he
was deposed by Emperor Sher Shah Suri (who in turn was followed by several rulers before Humayun returned from Iran).

2) On page 532, she claims that Emperor Akbar moved his
capital from Fatehpur Sikri to Delhi in 1586. In reality, he moved it to Lahore and then to Agra. And she has got the year wrong too!

3)On page 534, she claims that Emperor Akbar was saved by
Hindus from a Muslim rival. In reality, it was his father
Humayun who was saved by the Hindu King of Umerkot. Unless, she wants to term every instance of Hindus fighting in the Moghul army as a life saving event for Akbar.

4) On page 536, she claims that Mumtaz Mahal (whose tomb is
the famous Taj Mahal) died during the birth of her 13th
child. The correct fact is that she died during the birth of her 14th child.

5) On page 537, she claims that Emperor Aurangzeb started
persecuting Hindus, Sikhs and Shiite Muslims in 1687.
Actually, he started doing this several decades earlier,
destroying numerous Hindu temples while he was the Governor
of South India (even when he was a Prince, and before he became the ruler in 1658 AD) and
getting the Sikh teacher Guru Tegh Bahadur beheaded (for his
refusal to convert to Islam) more than a decade earlier.

6) On pages 537-538, she claims that the Sikh teacher
Govind Singh was assassinated in 1708 while 'attending
Emperor Aurangzeb'. In reality, Emperor Aurangzeb had died a
year earlier in 1707 and Govind Singh was assassinated
during the reign of his successor Emperor Bahadur Shah I.

7) On page 539, the author implies that 'Jahandah Shah'
(sic!) became the ruler after Emperor Aurangzeb. In reality,
Aurangzeb was succeeded by his son (and the father of
Jahandar Shah, not Jahandah Shah) Emperor Bahadur Shah I.

You can find such historically untenable statements page
after page in her book. I have given a few examples from just
1 chapter because this review to you is not the appropriate
medium to point out the errors in all chapters and pages of the book.

To cap it all, she claims on page 446 that there is a
controversy as to whether Mahatma Gandhi uttered 'Ram Ram'
or 'Ram Rahim' when he fell to his assassin's bullets. In
reality, the controversy is totally artificial (and largely
non-existent) and is mainly encountered in agenda driven
atheist or crackpot websites. His last words are said to have been "Hey
Ram" and the same are inscribed on his 'Samadhi' (his
memorial) in New Delhi. His followers sometimes say that he
uttered 'Ram Ram'. Or her laughable claim (page 194n) that
Gandhi's commentary on the Gita (a sacred Hindu scripture)
was titled 'Asakti Yoga' (=The Science of Deep attachment -
she even explains the word ungrammatically!) when in fact
the title of Gandhi's work was 'Anasakti Yoga' (= Science of
Non-Attachment). Surely this cannot pass for an 'alternative
history' because this is just bogus fiction.

Let me not even go into the racist and hateful tone of her chapters when she actually deals with Hinduism. Her claims that she loves the Hindu culture is like a Pedophile claiming that he 'loves' children.
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Showing 1-10 of 79 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 3, 2010 10:27:44 PM PST
Zenman says:
Thank you for your exposure of Doniger's blatantly clear anti-hindu bias. I'm not going to waste my money on this book and am advising all my friends likewise.

Posted on Mar 5, 2010 11:55:24 PM PST
For just the sheer amount of factual errors you have listed, the editors of this book deserve to be fired. Were they so focused on getting this hit job through to the stands that they neglected proper due diligence? Or maybe Wendy and her publishers knew that this tome would end up as a paperweight anyways and no one would bother to read it cover to cover.

Posted on Apr 26, 2010 8:58:39 AM PDT
goethean says:
nice cut-and-paste job.

Posted on Apr 8, 2011 12:48:16 PM PDT
AGAM BRAHMA says:
"Her claims that she loves the Hindu culture is like a Pedophile claiming that he 'loves' children." is obviously not related to the book in anyway -- sure, there are typos -- if you claim that having these typos is a reason not to read the book, that is a completely reasonable opinion.

But going from those factual errors to a "racist and hateful tone" is unwarranted leap, not supported by actual content in the book.

Posted on Jun 15, 2011 9:32:45 PM PDT
Dear Vishal,
It seems that you have a pretty good knowlege of Indian History...for someone looking for a good book of ancient history of India, wich one will you recomend?. if any....
Thanks a lot.

Posted on Sep 28, 2011 1:09:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 28, 2011 1:35:05 PM PDT
I'm puzzled. Yes, errors of fact are problematic, and a second edition will correct them. But in no way do the errors you cite, Mr. Agarwal, affect any matter of interpretation: you are in fact allowing the "alternative history" of Prof. Doniger - whose name you could not even bear to utter/write - to stand without laying a glove on it. The undocumented, fussily pedantic claims of "bogus fiction" and inappropriate ad hominem references to pedophilia and racism are directed at an author who has dedicated a lifetime of study toward a culture and people she must surely detest. (Surely that deserves a little nit of respect, although Doniger's is denied all credit in most of these threads [one writer, my favorite, a Chicago grad, even claimed - on his/her own authority, without a word to support the claim - Doniger's tenure at Chicago was the result of an affirmative action measure and that her poor scholarship is widely recognized at U of C! At least she wasn't likened to a low pervert...])

All that said, like many of the reviewers who detested Doniger's book, I haven't read it either and am trying to make a purchasing decision. You very obviously know the terrain. Help me: what history should I read as an antidote to Doniger? I've read a great deal on India but very little specifically on Hinduism. Which authorities do you regard as reliable?

In cases like these I get the nagging sense that the rancor generated comes from a very different place than its expositors suggest: skeptic that I am, I'm prone to suspect that in many instances, the offending words - part of an offending interpretation, not Truth, because as we can see from all these postings, the favorable and the negative, truths varies by witness and isn't some QED at the end of a math problem - the offending words may in fact cut very close to the bone. There's also an element of inverse...what? not racism, nor anti-Imperialism, but something, something along the lines of "how dare this Wendy Doniger, this American, this smarty-pants 'Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions' at the University of Chicago, where she's taught since 1978, this...this...FREUDIAN...tell us Indians anything about ourselves!"

So: enlightenment please. Give me an author and title.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2011 2:13:17 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 28, 2011 2:18:44 PM PDT
Vir says:
Wrong "facts" lead to wrong interpretation. It is like reading "Twelfth night" and then interpreting Hamlet as a comedy. You don't need to read any other book to understand this basic law I hope.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2011 2:54:50 PM PDT
Zenman says:
Start with Nine Lives by William Dalrymple- A very interesting read on nine people living their ancient religious traditions.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2011 3:12:44 PM PDT
@Zenman: Thanks. I liked City of Djinns and once had Nine Lives, a widely admired book, on my wish list. I'll pick it up. (I note, however, that you skipped this Doniger on the basis of her " blatantly clear anti-hindu bias" (which you seem to have learned of from Mr. Agarwal's review) yet gave three stars to a Doniger anthology of translations and declared "her perceived 'agenda', if there is one," to be no matter. A puzzlement that for me doesn't need resolution, but a puzzlement nonetheless.)

Posted on Feb 11, 2014 12:58:17 PM PST
Atulya says:
"Her claims that she loves the Hindu culture is like a Pedophile claiming that he 'loves' children" - Totally unwarrented. Infact, your review loses its credibility because of the above sentence. You have every right to be critical but not hateful.
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