“Why I Am a Hindu” By Shashi Tharoor
In his book, “Why I Am a Hindu” the author Shashi Tharoor, gives us a very clear and detailed sketch about one of the world’s oldest and great religion Hinduism.
He has also made an in-depth study about some of the Great personalities like Shri Shankara, Swami Vivekananda, Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramanuja, Patanjali and many others who made major contributions to the essence of Hinduism.
In essence, he delves deep into Hinduism’s most important schools of thought like ‘ Advaita Vedanta ‘.Through this book, he explains the important aspects and concepts of Hindu philosophy like the Purusharthas and Bhakti.In a very intellectual way, he summarizes the lessons of Gita and Swami Vivekananda’s ecumenism and explores with sympathy the ‘Hinduism of habit‘ as practiced by ordinary believers.
Tharoor also goes deep into the myriad manifestations of political Hinduism in the modern era including violence committed in the name of the faith by the right-wing organizations and their supporters.
He analyses Hindutva, explains its rise and dwells at length on the philosophy of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, its most significant ideologue.
The book is divided into three sections. In the first section, entitled ‘My Hinduism’, Tharoor takes us for a leisurely walk through the various aspects of Hinduism—its principal schools, tenets, teachers, and teachings as well as some of its more questionable social practices.
In the second section entitled ‘Political Hinduism’, he explains the way political leaders, strategists, thinkers, and their religious allies have attempted to hijack the faith for their ends. He concludes that Hindutva as politics simply dos not cohere to the precepts of Hinduism.
In the third section, ‘Taking Back Hinduism’, Tharoor talks about how we might free Hinduism from the excesses and perversions that it has been subjected to, and restore it to its truest essence, which in many ways is that of an almost ideal faith for the twenty-first-century world.
He initiates with the Vedas, guides us through myths and popular practices, elaborates the thoughts of prominent expounders, and tells us about his devotion.
The problem, as Tharoor himself, accepts.is that Hinduism is composed of many and often incompatible strands. It is therefore difficult to find an authentic and authoritative tradition that can hold up a mirror to Hindutva.
What is regarded as a dominant tradition, the Vedanta — highly metaphysical, Brahmanical and Sanskritised – was constructed by colonialists. Even as Orientalists, colonial administrators, and intellectuals in Western universities set about translating, codifying and reducing a complex philosophic system to manageable proportions, we witnessed the creation of a homogenized Hinduism. This was upheld by nationalists as the anchor of an Indian identity. That’s the power of intellectual colonialism.
In the process, a highly documented Hinduism was abstracted from the social context as well as from contestations. According to philosopher J. N. Mohanty, the wisdom of the Vedas was constantly challenged both by supporters and opponents of the philosophy. The main division was between philosophical schools that believed in the Vedas, and those that did not: believe in the tradition.
Within the Vedic tradition, we discern considerable self-criticism. For instance, Sankhya philosophy that belonged originally to the Vedic tradition developed a strong strain of atheism and naturalism. The construction of a hegemonic tradition has spectacularly marginalized critical philosophies within and outside Hinduism.
For instance, Tharoor reiterates Vivekananda’s thesis that Buddhism completed the work of the Vedantic tradition. But Vivekananda’s thesis neatly flattened out the challenge that Buddhism had posed to Brahmanical power, the monarchical state, ritualism and caste discrimination. It simply assimilated Buddhism into Hinduism.
The exclusion of critical and rational philosophies from Hinduism gives us cause for thought. If a rational, materialistic, empiricist and skeptical philosophical school such as Carvaka had been given prominence in the forging of a Hindu tradition, perhaps India would have escaped being slotted into the spiritual versus materialist dichotomy.
India with all its materialist inequities, communalism and casteism has been stereotyped as exotic and otherworldly.
Tharoor is unsparing in his criticism of extremist ‘ bhakts ‘, and unequivocal in his belief that everything that makes India a great and distinctive culture and the country will be imperiled if religious ‘fundamentalists’ are allowed to take the upper hand. However, he also makes the point that it is precise because Hindus form the majority that India has survived as a plural, secular democracy.
The book ‘Why I Am a Hindu’ in short is a robust defense of Hinduism in all its vibrant, pluralistic glory. It is a must-read for every politically curious Indian.
Tharoor’s compilation, with its expansive case studies and citations and sustained argument, all augmented by his felicity of language, may just come as an eye-opener to all of us.
by Gopakumara Panicker.K.S.