The anti Hindu Professoriate: Dalrymple,Nanda,Thapar

via Dr Vijaya Rajiva published on January 14, 2010

What do these 3 academics have in common ?  To begin with, they are pseudo secularists (O happy phrase !) And they have a deep dislike/hatred of Hinduism which they try to disguise by pretending to be merely academics in pursuit of higher learning ! They are also united in their lack of familiarity with Hinduism, and pass this off by presenting to the world that they ‘know’ popular Hinduism as opposed to ‘ Brahmanic ‘  Hinduism (their own creation) and more recently  the  Rama-fication, word used by Dalrymple (whatever that might mean !) of Hinduism. In reality all three share a deep desire to attack the heart of Hinduism (its Vedic centre) and have tried to enlist the everyday Hindu in this ignominous enterprise.

The fact that  everyday Hindus  have rejected them and continue to worship their gods and  goddesses is testimony to the  reality of Hinduism, which since its Vedic beginnings has a long history of worship among the masses, and has continued to this day. Much to their chagrin Hinduism will not go away !  And the everyday Hindu has no time for the fine distinctions they have created for political reasons.

By now, the ruses are commonplace: we are not attacking Hinduism, we are attacking only Hindu nationalism; this is about rational inquiry ; this is about neo liberalism and the prevalence of poverty etc. Eeerily reminiscent of Arundhati Roy who when asked why with all her concern about India’s poverty she continues to publish with the multinationals, (unlike Vandana Shiva, a true stalwart on behalf of the masses, who publishes with small town publishers) is reported to have airily replied : sometimes one has to compromise !

The target is always the same.

William Dalrymple (author of The White Moghuls) is an historian and writer who has traveled extensively in India but still doesn’t get it. Meera Nanda is an academician at the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) who clings to the orthodoxy of an outdated philosophy of science. The last of the die hard philosophers of science from the Vienna Circle, Sir Karl Popper, has passed on (1994). So has Herbert Feigl (1988). Both, especially Sir Karl, modified their earlier dogmas. And the orthodox claim that philosophy should limit itself to be the handmaiden of science, should  only study and propagate scientific method has long since fallen by the wayside. Both the enormous advances in the hard core sciences and mathematics have entered into the nebulous realm of field theory etc. which defy oversimplifications. Today, philosophers of science make only modest claims about their enterprise. Neverthless, armed with this orthodoxy Nanda has criticized Hindu  ‘superstition’  in previous writings.

She continues to work within this dogmatic framework and  with  a hodge podge of Left theory added for good measure,  has pronounced on various topics, the most recent being her book  The God Market : How Globalisation is Making India More Hindu .

Indeed, a tragedy from her own perspective !

Nanda’s stats. are somewhat dubious and her methodology is flawed since she seems to have neglected the various South Indian states, especially Kerala where her state-temple-corporate template does not work. Here, the Hindu temple and devotional sites are used by the state against the Hindu population and the temple. Her main argument that the state-temple-corporate nexus has produced god caplitalism simply does not fit the facts of the case.

It is this book that Dalrymple reviews in (Jan.10, 2009).

He on his part, takes a detour into his own concern with present day Hinduism : “ the homogenizing tendencies of modern Hinduism and the way local cults and variants are falling out of favour as faith becomes more centralized. Small deities and devi cults giving way instead to the national hyper-masculine hero deities, especially Lord Krishna and Lord Rama, a process scholars call the ‘Rama- fication’ of Hinduism. “ (Review )

What on earth is the man talking about ?  Both Rama and Krishna have been worshipped by Hindus since time immemorial. And Devi worship has been with the Hindus since time immemorial ! And continues to this day. Hindu worship has not waited around until Mr.Dalrymple or some social scientist from nowhere came along to  pronounce : Rama and Krishna are now worshipped by Hindus !

Along the way,  he invokes the support of the dean of anti Hindu sentiment, the historian Romila Thapar, whose article ‘ Somanatha  and Mahmud ‘  (Frontline, 1999) and her book Somanatha , the Many Voices of History (2005)  are  good examples of the politicization of academic research.  They are ostensibly well researched, but then she attempts to argue (flying in the face of evidence)  that Mohammed Ghazni’s destruction and plunder of the famed Somnath temple was merely an act of conquest and had nothing to do with the Muslim conquest of Hindu infidels (this despite the contemporaneous evidence, where the Muslim writers extolled Ghazni as a defender of the faith). Her History of India (1990) and the Penguin History of early India till 1300 (2003)  both have some curious omissions and distortions.    She has also taken to making sociological observations about Hindu nationalism and the Hindu religion, some of which Dalrymple quotes in his review.

William Dalrymple, ofcourse has no qualms about confidently  asserting that the worship of Devi has been neglected in present day India in favour of worship of the male gods, notably Rama. The misguided political implications of this statement need not be elaborated upon since Ramajanma bhoomi is only one aspect of Hindu nationalism and Hinduism.

And Devi worship, notwithstanding Dalrymple, continues unabated as can be seen in the millions that throng to the Vaishnavo Devi temple , despite great odds. And in every nook and corner of India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from east to west, the Devi is worshipped with deep devotion in her various manifestations. The famed Madura Meenakshi temple is another example. The number of Devi temples  big and small in India count by the thousands. The everyday Hindu is loyal and devoted to his/her tradition which is several millennia old. Mr.Dalrymple simply cannot understand this, nor the reasons why Devi worship is so predominant in Hinduism, unlike any other religion.  And every village temple has its own  Devi ( Read my article ‘ The Hindu Struggle for Survival ‘ in which details the struggle of the everyday Hindu to carry their traditional procession for the Devi in Kanyakumari , in spite of  opposition from the small Christian community living in that village, and in spite of police brutality.

The worship of Devi is a Vedic heritage and indeed the reason why Dalrymple does not recognize this (apart from his erroneous observations about contemporary Hindu life) is that from earliest times Western scholars, Sanskritists, Orientalists and so on have seen the Veda through a certain prism. They saw what they wanted to see : a male dominated Aryan set of texts where female deities were virtually non existent. This is an astonishing purblindness on the part of these scholars, as is evidenced by the text of the Rig Veda !

There are two errors here , first the myth of the Aryan invasion of India has been exploded by Indian scholars in the last two decades, especially after the discovery of the ancient river Sarasvati, mentioned some 75 times in the Rig Veda and which disappeared subsequently. Satellite photography and  related scientific  disciplines have established that the ancient river existed and that it was the centre of the Sarasvati Sindhu civilization (until recently called the Indus Valley Civilisation). The results of these studies have been presented at the Vedic Sarasvati Conference in 2008 held in New Delhi (see my presentation of the main issues in Sarasvati Regained ,in Today, in 2010 the government of India recognizes the validity of these findings.

Since there was no Aryan invasion and since the Vedic tradition is an indigenous one inextricably mingled with the Sarasvati Sindhu civilization it is natural to conclude that the worship of female deities is also to be found in the Rig Veda. At any rate, the internal evidence from the Rig Veda itself is overwhelming. The female deities are mentioned and invoked in the 1008 plus hymns of the Rig Veda : Ushas, Prithvi, Aditi, Sarasvati, Vac, Ratri, Aranyani, Purandhi, Parendi, Raka, Dhisana, Ila, Bharati, Mahi and Hotra, Bhu, Bhumi.

This raises the question once again as to why eminent Western scholars, not only of the 19th century but even  at present , continue to propagate the theory that there was no worship of female deities in the Rig Veda. Two examples will suffice. Venerated  British Orientalist and Sanskritist A. L. Basham, author of the well known book The Wonder That Was India (  1953, 1964 ) maintains that the Rig Veda just barely mentions two or three minor female deities. Astonishing statement coming from such an eminent source !
 Daniel H.Ingalls in his Preface (1982) to Thomas Coburn’s work The Crystallisation of the Goddess Tradition (1984) makes similar observations.

( It may be of interest to the reader that A.L.Basham was Romila Thapar’s professor  in England. Much of  her knowledge of Hinduism is coloured by those early perceptions ).

Not only does the Rig Veda invoke female deities but the entire ethos of the text is the celebration of the conjuncture of cosmic, atmospheric and terrestrial deities. Vedic environmentalism is closely linked to the idea of the sacred as manifested in Nature.
Hence, the idea of Punya Bhumi (sacred land) which all Hindus associate with the Indian subcontinent. Down the centuries the sacred powers became personified and were worshipped both in their masculine form and their feminine form and as well both masculine-feminine forms.

Sacred centres are scattered all over India but the most important ones associated with the Devi are to be found in  52 centres.  Both men and women worship the Devi throughout the year and at special times such as Navaratri. Every village has its own chosen deity. And every town and city has its Devi temple.

The existence of centres of sacred power became linked to the notion of Bharat Mata as the personification of the divine female principle as the presiding deity of the subcontinent.

Hence, also the song Vande Mataram, greetings to the Mother, is basically a greeting to that sacred power, Bharat Mata. Today, out of deference to the sentiments of minorities, this National Song is restricted to the invocation of the natural phenomena associated with the motherland, its rivers, streams, forests, mountains etc. Neverthless, for the Hindu the association of Vande Mataram with the most ancient of the texts of Hinduism , the Rig Veda, cannot be forgotten.

( The writer taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university).

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