This blog aims at bringing out the past glory and history of India, Hinduism and its forgotten values and wisdom. This is not copyrighted so as to reach genuine seekers of these information. Its my prayer that only genuine seekers - and not vandals & plagiarists - come to this site.
In the heart of London, a British school has made Sanskrit compulsory subject for its junior division because it helps students grasp math, science and other languages better.
"This is the most perfect and logical language in the world, the only one that is not named after the people who speak it. Indeed the word itself means 'perfected language." --Warwick Jessup, Head, Head, Sanskrit department
"The Devnagri script and spoken Sanskrit are two of the best ways for a child to overcome stiffness of fingers and the tongue," says Moss. "Today's European languages do not use many parts of the tongue and mouth while speaking or many finger movements while writing, whereas Sanskrit helps immensely to develop cerebral dexterity through its phonetics."
The book "The Hindus: An Alternative History" by Wendy Doniger has created quite a flutter for the kind of decline in the writings of Indologists who lack the wisdom to understand the Indological topics through Indological background. The first one to do this was Max Muller who translated Rig Vedas with what he knew form his background, rather than with a grasp of how the Vedas were understood in the Vedic society. The result was the now deflated theory of Aryan invasion that in reality invaded all academicia for over a century that helped in only wasting scholarship on falsehood.
Mere knowledge of a language (Sanskrit in this issue) does not help in bringing out the essence of numerous writings of yore. The culture that gave those writings must be known and understood in right perspective. The various other sources that are connected with that culture also must be known. Only then any analysis of a text or a concept can happen meaningfully.
That Wendy Doniger lacked those basic requirements like many other Western Indologists is beautifully brought out in the two write-ups (by Mr Sandeep and Mr Shree Vinekar) given below. Before going through them, I thought of giving my own perceptions on a similar analysis.
Though I am not a scholar in Tamil – and not having any special degree in Tamil, my interest in Tamil right from my childhood with writing ventures into poetry as early as 13 years had seen me grow into reading and understanding Sangam Tamil – with the aid of commentaries given by stalwarts, that include the best of oldies like Parimelazhagar and Aduiyaarkku nallar. But this is not the only qualification that can make me write whatever is recorded in Sangam texts. The topic is on Vishnu, an important God of Hindu Thought. Unless I have some knowledge about Vishnu related views of Hindu Thought, I can not do full justice to this venture. In that case, I will be only bringing out the meaning and not the essence of the poems on Vishnu. This is similar to the accusation that these western Indologists can read Hindu texts and not grasp the import of them.
To cite an instance from my postings on Vishnu in Sangam texts, on how background knowledge of the culture, tradition and other related issues is needed for any translation, let me quote a part of the verse form my latest post. Snake God at Naagar nagar!
The first 2 lines in this passage describe how men and women sing and dance in the temple. This itself is a little odd because we don't see such a scene in Hindu temples, particularly in temples of snakes such as the one in Thirunageawaram where people can been seen in devout and pious mood.
But with background knowledge of astrology, we find that singing and dancing is also a way of offering prayers to Serpent God. According to a famous astrological text called 'Prasna Marga', one of the ways to propitiate Snake God for a specific 'curse of snakes' (sarpa dosha) is to arrange concerts of Gaana and narthana (singing and dancing) in the temple of the serpent god. Most people who to the temple of serpent, go for doing some propitiation only. So the scene described in the above poem makes it a part of the tradition of offerings to the God and not as gala party like thing – which is absurd in a temple worship.
The poem continues with some words such as "kaama" – a similar term that Wendy twisted out of context in Valmiki Ramayana.
The 3rd and 4th lines of the above quoted poem have two words that can be wrongly interpreted.
They are 'naravu' (நறவொடு) and 'kaamam' (காமம்).
Naravu means milk, sweet smell and also liquor!
Kaamam means wish, desire, enjoyment and also sex!
In this context, we can not take the meaning as liquor and sex.
The translation must be like this:-
"The garlands of the dancers were giving out sweet smell.
They, who have come to pray this god with their wishes for fulfillment, will get them fulfilled."
Perhaps a western Indologist will translate this passage like this:–
"Drunken men and women with an intention of having sexual union were singing and dancing in the temple of Snake God!!"
My God! This is the way the likes of Wendy are exhibiting their scholarship!!
Wendy Doniger has bestowed a rather flippant interview in Outlook India on the eve of the release of her new book, The Hindus: An Alternative History. The title is sufficiently pompous, entirely faithful to Wendy Doniger's career as an Indologist. Aditi Banerjee responded with a comprehensive rejoinder that yet again demonstrated Wendy's credentials as an honest scholar of Indology. Aditi's almost line-by-line dissection of the interview makes a good, although old observation: a scholarly work should stand or fall on its own merit, and using victimhood both as a means to deflect valid criticism as well as to artificially inflate the value of scholarship is in poor taste. However, Wendy Doniger or her scholarship is not quite the problem. It is a syndrome of which she is the contemporary, and loudest representative.
But it is truly amazing how Doniger manages to brand even serious and erudite scholars who criticize her work as fanatics, Hindutva agents, right-wingers and BJP members. This form of branding is, unless I'm mistaken, a tactic perfected by the Communists: recall Lenin's famous technique of "sticking the convict badge" on his opponents. Of course, I don't imply that Doniger is a Communist but the tactic is eerily familiar.
Indology was flawed from the start
Wendy Doniger's credentials are pretty hoary–with numerous seminars and papers and books and publications in scholarly journals to her credit. As an Indology expert and scholar, she has peer-reviewed other scholarly work but has consistently shown intolerance towards criticism of her work by (mostly) Indian scholars. As Rajiv Malhotra and others have shown on several occasions, this phenomenon owes to an imbalance in the academic narrative and is fundamentally about power.
The element of power dates back to the founding days where entire departments of Indology, Sanskrit, and Oriental studies were liberally funded by the British colonial administration. They were liberally funded because British imperialism needed these Indologists to interpret the local customs and laws that in turn helped them shape policies to rule over the natives (sic). Indologists were naturally obliged to keep their masters happy. From the time of William Jones, who is justifiably called the father of (modern) Indology right up to the likes of Wendy Doniger and Michael Witzel, the research, narrative, and interpretation was, unsurprisingly, colonial in both colour and flavour–Eurocentric, if you will. It was not so much from a spirit of free and objective inquiry that research in Indology progressed but more to meet political and missionary ends. This trend continues today where new scholarly papers and books are written with an express intent to "reinterpret" or provide an "alternative interpretation" of Indian mythology, the Vedas, Puranas, symbolism, sages, Gods, and Goddesses.
It is therefore no coincidence–or any sinister cabal at work–that almost all of these scholarly works meet with such intense criticism by not just scholars but by practicing Hindus. The answer to that is found in Aurobindo's caution: in his time, he said that these [scholars] lacked the background necessary to properly read this largely spiritual literature [Vedas]. Aurobindo spoke on the authority of the native Indian tradition, which prescribes the prerequisites to understand and interpret these texts. In general, anybody who wants to write any commentary or similar work, especially on the Vedas should at the minimum know these Vedangas (literally, the limbs of the Vedas) apart from knowing the Vedas themselves:
§Shiksha : phonetics and phonology (sandhi)
§Chandas : meter
§Jyotisha: astrology and astronomy, dealing particularly with the auspicious days for performing sacrifices.
Every single work that is considered as authoritative today by Hindus stem from this tradition–from the three major schools and other work by later scholars demonstrate adherence to these prerequisites. Works by scholars in British-ruled India like Ananda Coomaraswamy, M.Hiriyanna, P.V. Kane, and Ramana Maharshi (who largely spoke through silence and in the oral tradition) contain the same strand of fidelity to this tradition. These prerequisites is also known in general as Adhikari bheda, which simply means that a student should first successfully complete all the previous courses before attempting to sit for an Engineering exam.
This lack of knowledge of these prerequisites is a highly notable feature of Western Indology. Their claim of scholarship and/or expertise in Indology rests almost wholly on their knowledge of Sanskrit. But as we've seen above, mere knowledge of the language of Sanskrit isn't enough. It sometimes leads to rather laughable results:
Having established this similarity between bird song and mantra, the theory then takes off with a life of its own. There are vedic rituals for making rain and curing illness and similarly birds sing for building nests or attracting females; there are rituals and bird songs for various occasions. Then it was also found that bird sing – believe it or not – just for pleasure. So Staal extends the theory to say that, similar to skiing, dancing and music, mantras and rituals too are done for pleasure.
Between Staal's athirathram in 1975 and Wood's in 2006, one was held in 1990 near Thrissur which I attended for a day. This athirathram, which was extensively covered in Malayalam newspapers, was highly respectful and the words I heard were not "playful" or "pleasurable." I can understand singing for pleasure, but am yet to meet a priest who said, "it's a weekend and raining outside, let's do a ganapati homam for pleasure." [Ed: A highly recommended reading]
Besides, there's an entire cultural, philosophical, and spiritual heritage that cannot be understood merely in theory and bookish learning–it requires living the tradition. Even their knowledge of Sanskrit is suspect–for someone who holds sufficiently intimidating titles such as Mircea Eliade Distinguished Professor of the History of Religions, it is rather shameful to commit such blunders:
According to Doniger, the concept of a "sex-addict" is introduced into theValmiki Ramayana by Lakshmana calling Dasaratha kama-sakta, which she defines as "hopelessly attached to lust."
It is not clear where Doniger picks up the term 'kama-sakta'-the term does not appear upon a search of the text of the Valmiki Ramayana as given in the Titus online database, which is based on the following version of the text: G.H. Bhatt e.a., The Valmiki Ramayana, (Baroda 1960-1975), prepared by Muneo Tokunaga, March 12, 1993 (adaptations by John D. Smith, Cambridge, 1995.)…
I will give the benefit of the doubt to Doniger and assume that the term kama-sakta has been used by Lakshmana to describe Dasaratha in the Valmiki-Ramayana. That in and of itself does not imply that Dasaratha was "hopelessly addicted to lust."
Kama-sakta simply means an attachment (sakta) to desire (kama). Kamadoes not itself necessarily refer to sexual desire, or even erotic or romantic desire.
Dasaratha's reluctance to allow Rama to serve as guard over Vishwamitra's yajna, for example, or Lakshmana's unwillingness to be parted from Rama, could equally be characterized as kama-sakta.
To assume it to mean "attachment to lust" is another in a pattern of Doniger's ex-cathedra translations in variance with traditional Sanskrit nirukta (etymology) for which she has been repudiated before.
[Aside: For a more detailed treatment of her Sanskrit knowledge, this is a good place to head to.]
Which is also what propels them to look for things in the most unlikely places. For instance, Doniger looks for information about temple architecture/temple-building in the Kama Sutra instead of the vast corpus of the Pancharatra and Vaikhanasa Agamas!
She makes a superfluous reference to the fact that the Kama Sutra does not discuss temple worship-one wonders why the Kama Sutra would be a relevant reference for discussion of temple construction…
Contribution of Western Indology
Whatever the faults of Max Mueller and similar folks, they couldn't be accused of this kind of shoddy, unreasonable, and distorted scholarship. Continuing the observation on Sanskrit, it is amazing that most of these Western Indologists / Sanskrit experts and scholars have never written anything in Sanskrit despite their praises for the language's beauty, structure, and mathematical precision. We're talking a period of roughly 100 years at the least. On the contrary, a single generation of English education produced an enormous body of original English prose, poetry, scholarly work, and other non-fiction work entirely written by Indians in an astonishingly short period. The same explanation holds true for this dichotomy: politics and balance of power. At least Max Mueller honestly admitted his lack of command over Sanskrit.
I am surprised at your familiarity with Sanskrit. We [Europeans] have to read but never to write Sanskrit. To you it seems as easy as English or Latin to us… We can admire all the more because we cannot rival, and I certainly was filled with admiration when I read but a few pages of your Sundara Charita. [Max Mueller's letter to a Nepalese scholar and Sanskrit poet, Pandit Chavilal; undated but written probably around 1900.]
In terms of overall contribution, Western Indology has pathetic little to show when compared to Indian Indologists and scholars who not only studied the methodology but applied it effectively and accomplished far more. Even in a work like the Arthashastra, Shyama Sastri draws from an astonishing diversity of sources in his lengthy preface. In reality, today's Western Indology is facing terminal, and irreversible decline. In the last three years, the Sanskrit Department at CambridgeUniversity and the Berlin Institute of Indology, two of the oldest and prestigious Indology centers in the West have closed down. Other universities in Europe and the US share this fate: the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, once a respected leader in Oriental studies has cut down its Indology programs; the Sanskrit Department at Harvard, one of the oldest in the US is trimming its Sanskrit programs and has stopped its Summer program of teaching Sanskrit to foreign students. This partly explains why scholars like Wendy Doniger and Witzel are increasingly becoming aggressive. Majority of these universities no longer enjoy colonial funding, and the scholarship they produce is rarely seen outside their own academic circles.
In closing, Wendy Doniger is a classic illustration of what happens when somebody is confronted with a superior culture. The initial state of dumbfounded ness gives way to irrational hatred towards the thing that such a mind cannot comprehend. This was pretty much the reaction of Islam when it first set foot in India. Her incredible felicity for detecting only sex in everything that India has produced should qualify as the scholarly equivalent of the wonders of the world. Her refusal to engage her critics in debate and to tar them as fanatics and fundamentalists is the other side of the same coin. But she has been quite successful in creating an aura of trendiness around her books in the fashionable circles in urban India. Needless, secular magazines like Outlook lap her up with some glee because she has shown to be quite adept in the Art of Indian Secularism.
The fact that in an epic work of 24000 verses, which has stood the test of time, the only worthwhile thing she found was Rama and Sita's sex life (as she imagines it) speaks eloquently about her own Alternate History.
The Departments of Religious Studies and many other departments have little to produce of value than vicissitudes of their imagination and their theorizing about the past, as religion itself is losing much of its pride of place in the lives of modern generations. In addition, the Universities, Departments, and Academicians are rated with statistical measures rather than the depth of their scholarship, academic integrity, and the value of their contribution to new knowledge, or even the quality of their work. It is a form of academic prostitution but the bean counters rate them by the number of citations in other academicians' publications and peer reviewed journals and drive their behavior. That has given rise to this unconscious or conscious conspiracy of academic cartels to publish something "controversial" not unlike the "yellow journalism" or sensationalism of the modern day journalists and writers. In this manner they (the academicians) have devised a way to survive in this bean counting world or even to get promoted academically, if they are not full professors, or not tenured ones, etc. That is what I mean by academic prostitution. When the academicians degenerate to that level, the "academic freedom" becomes a great defense to promulgate "crap" like "Paul Courtright, Lane, Kripal, and even Witzel" do.
Wendy has not been any different. Writing style and readability makes the works attractive and they cater to their admirers and their "Churchy" or "Eurocentric" pride. The book will sell and there will be many citations securing Wendy's academic standing in her own world. To say the least, Aditi Banerjee's response is scholarly and to the point. However, it is up to us to publicize such responses widely. As a trained Addiction Psychiatrist, and more familiar with Psychoanalytic discipline in treating patients rather than doing wild analysis of myths like these scholars of religion claim to have the freedom and authority to engage in, let me say that "Kama" is not "Sex" and "Aasakti" is not addiction.
The concept of "SEX ADDICTION" is a "BASTARDIZED" CONCEPT emerging in the psychological watered down folklore literature (of the least trained Chemical Dependency counselors who are not psychoanalysts) and it is NOT A PSYCHOANALYTIC CONCEPT. To make it worse, it is not even in the terminology or vocabulary in the traditional English language nor in the traditional Western world view leave alone in the psychoanalytic parlance. It is a concoction of the 1980's when the political power of the alcoholics and drug addicts in the American Mental Health Field became more and more perceptible and their concepts were enlarged to treat the "gambling addiction" and later "sex addiction", expanding the applicability of the twelve step programs and AA, etc. which are both rationalizations for irresponsible pleasure-seeking behaviors so the "sufferers" can take a sick role and claim helplessness.
There may or may not be such thing as a gambling addict, and Yudhishthira cannot be judged to be one by using the concept of the twentieth century folklore psychology.
Similarly, to say that Lakshmana had knowledge of the word "Sex Addict" to describe his father "Dasharatha" (when the epic Ramayana was composed by the sage Valmiki) as one of the "Sex Addicts of his time" is a wild leap of imagination.
There is nothing psychoanalytic about it and one needs to explore the unconscious of the writer and see if she is dealing with sex addict ex-husbands, or friends, and/or has suffered from such ailment some time in her own life, and has not recognized that her imagination is a product of her own cultural upbringing and her own past experiences. Fortunately, psychoanalysis is only a tool for her, and if she wants to use it, she should know that it reveals the deep recesses of her own Unconscious more than the reality outside. That is the wonderful power of Freud's discovery and that the therapist has to be very careful that his/her interpretations of the patient's problems are not his own projections from his own past and are truly objective and applicable to the patient's problems without contamination from his own unconscious.
Wendy is, of course, not trained in these matters, and therefore, cannot even see how far away from reality she is in her own La-la Land when she attributes such meaning to the word "Kamaasakta." Her knowledge of Hinduism with all due respect to her scholarship and her knowledge of psychoanalysis too are at a very elementary level but highly inflated in her own self-estimation and in the estimation of her similarly ignorant colleagues in the field of religious studies who have traditionally dreaded Freud all these years and denigrated his theories because the Western Religions are fully rooted in the concept of sex as "BAD" and the guilt about sex from Adam downwards to the point of their concept of immaculate conception all being indicative of their pathological handling of "sex" as a sin.
When they run into "Kama Sutra" they cannot place it in proper perspective nor do they have any healthy perspective for Tantrism (Vama Marga). They do not realize that their value-based explorations in these areas of Hindu thought spring from their voyeuristic drives of their own phallic-oedipal phase and because of their cultural background they lose their ability to be non-judgmental.
That also means that unconsciously they are exhibitionists at the core when they make wild interpretations revealing in a strange way their own Unconscious like Paul Courtright did and no one so far has pinned him down or challenged him to see how much "cock sucking" he was exposed to in his own upbringing and in his own culture before he wildly proclaimed irresponsibly, without any authentic references, that ("non-human character like Winnie the Pooh") "Ganesha" was a "homosexual." Publishing readable material about sex and such is a million dollar sport in the American culture (by writing books that are semi-pornographic a la Monica Lewinski). Wendy's unconscious exhibitionism similarly is nothing but a money making sport and to obtain more academic citations and that is what I mean by "academic prostitution." The more one becomes aware of the psychopathology of such people like Wendy, more one would need to keep away from them and leave them alone. These academic prostitutes like Wendy, Paul Courtright, Lane, Kripal and even Witzel need no more respect than what they deserve for what they really are.
These "pissing mares and horses"(other species deliberately ignored)that are pissing on Hinduism are depleted in their estrogens and testosterones in their stage of life and have to resort to what Freud called "upward displacement" to become obsessed with morbid perverted sexuality in their preoccupations to get their base pleasure instincts satisfied. They are not true scholars although they have the credentials in their own disciplines, and even that is doubtful, but not at all in the field of psychoanalysis and even less so in Indology. They cannot hold candle to Sigmund Freud and not even to Joseph Campbell. It is a shame that they are invited by the Indian scholars to have a dialogue with them in respectable Indian Universities.
Wendy is exposing strangely her own encounter with exhibitionism, her own exhibitionistic drives, and exposure to chemical dependency (addictions) and profound guilt over her own sexuality from her own past, and I can bet my booties you will find these all in her background if you analyze her or if she comes out clean with her background. Her fascination for Hindu thought and culture is to be praised only by her Western colleagues but her rendering of these is replete with sadistic pleasure derived by invading the sacred with garbage from her own Unconscious, willingly, knowingly, and deliberately designed to offend those who respect and revere the Hindu thought and culture.