Support for "The Hindus: An Alternative History" by Wendy Doniger

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To:
Ms. Susan Peterson Kennedy
President , Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014, USA

Mr. Mike Bryan,
CEO & President, Penguin Books Pvt Ltd.
11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi 110 017
India

Dear Ms. Peterson Kennedy, Mr. Mike Bryan,

We are shocked to see the way in which the book "The Hindus: An Alternative History" by Wendy Doniger is being targeted for withdrawal by petitioners claiming to represent Hindus and the Indian people.

This petition is a counter response to the shameful Taliban like demand for the withdrawal of this excellent book. We support much of what the book purports and even more importantly we support her right to write, publish and propagate her opinion without the misplaced intervention of xenophobes and Indic or Hindu arrogance. We urge Penguin not to succumb to the pressure of this group and instead encourage them to take the high road as well as the path taken by most Hindus throughout time and allow for the free exchange of ideas, discussions and dialogues. We are an inclusive faith and ever-absorbing people and do not condone xenophobia or prejudice of this kind.

We have gone through the arguments put forward by the withdrawal petitioners and find the majority of them inaccurate. Here is a point by point response to their petition demand for the withdrawal of this book as it insults and offends Hindus and Indians:

Maps in front pages: Maps titled Indias Geographical Features and India from 600 CE to 1600 CE
COMMENT: In the first map, the Waziristan Hills area is marked erroneously as Kirthar Range. The Kirthar Range is at least 200 miles further south. In the third map, Janakpur, Nagarkot, Mandu and Haldighati are marked several hundred miles from their correct geographical location.
OUR OPINION: How is this an insult to Hindus? At most an error that should be corrected in the next edition

Pg. 67 - It is claimed that the entire Harappan culture had a population of 40,000!
COMMENT: This is estimated as the population of Mohenjo-Daro alone. The population of the entire culture is estimated around 500,000.
OUR OPINION: There is no clear evidence of either position.

Pg 112 - Wheat is mentioned as a food item in the Rigvedic period.
COMMENT: Wheat is not mentioned in the Rigveda at all. It first occurs in the Maitrayani Samhita of the Yajurveda.
OUR OPINION: Wheat is in the Rig Veda: 10.42.10, 10.43.10, 10.44.10 says:
10 O Much-invoked, may we subdue all famine and evil want with store of grain (wheat) and cattle. May we allied, as first in rank, with princes obtain possessions by our own exertion.

Pg 130 - The author claims that there are no Gods in the Vedas who are Shudras.
COMMENT: It is anachronistic to assign castes to Rigvedic deities, but nevertheless, Pushan, Vesmapati and others have been considered Shudra deities in later times.
OUR OPINION: This is a theory and does not preclude the book's assumption. She is trying to say here that even Gods in Vedic times were subject to classification.

Pg 194 fn.- Gandhis commentary on the Gita (a sacred Hindu scripture) was titled Asakti Yoga (translated as the science of deep attachment).
COMMENT: The title of Gandhis work is Anasakti Yoga (trans. Science of non-Attachment).
OUR OPINION: In India, Yoga of this form of mental health is called Asakti or Anasakti - http://www.yogamag.net/aOur Opinionhives/1996/ajan96/menhelth.shtml - Gandhi did use Anasakti in his essay on the Geeta but the words are interchangeable.

Pg 206 - The book wrongly states that the Hindus had only a triad of passions.
COMMENT: Hindu scriptures list six main evils and the concept of shadripus (six internal enemies) is very well known.
OUR OPINION: The passions here referred to are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and we only have 3 - the Trimurthi - where each reflects a passion. Before the Trimurthi, the passions were mainly Indra, Vayu and Agni and the rest were minor. The passion also can refer to the 3 Gunas which are Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic and define the energy and spiritual levels in human activity.

Pg 441 - The book claims that Firoz Shah redeemed a number of Hindu slaves
COMMENT: A misrepresentation of the fact that he employed (not redeemed) 12,000 of his 180,000 slaves foOur Opinionibly in royal factories for producing articles of consumption by Muslim elites. No manumission was involved.
OUR OPINION: This is not insulting to Hinduism or India.

Pg 445 - Dates of Saint Kabir are given as 1450 1498.
COMMENT: His demise is believed to have occurred in 1518, and the traditional date of birth is 1398.
OUR OPINION: An error on the death date. How is this insulting?

Pg 448 - In 713 Muhammad ibn Qasim invaded Sind.
COMMENT: Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sind in 711.
OUR OPINION: He raided Sindh three times starting in 710-11 and succesfull conquered it all in 713 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_bin_Qasim

Pg 450- It is claimed that Emperor Ala-ud-Din Khalji did not sack temples in Devagiri.
COMMENT: His contemporary Amir Khusro clearly mentions that the Emperor sacked numerous temples and raised mosques instead.
OUR OPINION: He destroyed temples in the North early on but in his invasion of Devagiri he took the area peacefully and di not destroy temples

Pg 459 - King Ala-ud-din Husain of Bengal patronized Saint Chaitanya.
COMMENT: Saint Chaitanya never met the king, and left his kingdom to avoid persecution, as did his disciples. The king had destroyed Hindu temples in Orissa.
OUR OPINION: (from Wikipedia) The reign of Husain Shah is also known for religious tolerance towards his Hindu subjects of Bengal. But during his Orissa campaigns, he destroyed numerous Hindu temples, which Vrindavana Dasa Thakura has mentioned in his Chaitanya Bhagavata. The celebrated medieval saint, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his followers preached the Bhakti cult throughout Bengal during his reign. Husain Shah, when came to know about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's huge following amongst his subjects, he ordered his qazis not to injure him in any way and allow him to go wherever he liked.[7] Later, two high level Hindu officers in Husain Shah's administration, his Private Secretary, (Dabir Khas) Rupa Goswami and his Initmate Minister (Saghir Malik) Sanatana Goswami became devoted followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Pg 532 - Emperor Akbar moved his capital from Fatehpur Sikri to Delhi in 1586.
COMMENT: Emperor Akbar moved his capital to Lahore in 1587, and thereafter to Agra.
OUR OPINION: He shifted to Agra after Fatehpur Sikri - agreed - how is this insulting to Indians or Hindus.

Pg 537-8 - The Sikh teacher Guru Govind Singh was assassinated in 1708, while attending Emperor Aurangzeb. Emperor Aurangzeb died in 1707.
COMMENT: Guru Gobind Singh was assassinated in 1708 during the reign of Aurangzebs successor, Emperor Bahadur Shah I. It is insulting to say that the Guru was attending on the Emperor.
OUR OPINION: He was returning from his attempted visit to see AUrangzeb who died and then he was stabbed by Jamshed Khan on his return journey.

Pg 550 - The book claims that Mirabai lived from 1498-1597, and then on p. 568, the author claims that Mirabai lived from 1450-1525!
COMMENT: Both dates are wrong and the commonly accepted dates are 1498-1547.
OUR OPINION: I am uncertain what is insulting about an error like this we should seek correction.

Pg 552 - The book claims that the Ramcharitmanas was written at Varanasi.
COMMENT: Both modern scholarship as well as tradition accept that the work (or at least most of it) was written in Ayodhya.
OUR OPINION: This is a wrong crticism - Ramchitranmanas was written by Tusidas sitting in his favorite room on the GAnag at Varanasi.

Section on Bibliography: Shekhawat, V. Origin and Structure of purushartha Theory: An attempt at Critical Appraisal. Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical ReseaOur Opinionh 7:1 (1900), 63-67.
COMMENT:The correct issue and year of this Journal issue are actually 8:2 and 1991. The bibliography has dozens of errors. Some references cited by Doniger simply do not exist.
OUR OPINION: This will require thorough investigation but this claim is most doubtful and not insulting at all.

B. DEROGATORY, DEFAMATORY AND OFFENSIVE STATEMENTS

Clumsily written, each chapter is a shocking and appalling series of anecdotes which denigrate, distort and misrepresent Hinduism and the history of India and Hindus. Doniger uses selective quotations from obscure and non-original, peripheral and ignorant references with a bizarre emphasis on sexuality and eroticism. Cited below are only a handful of quotes along with our understanding and interpretation, with references from Hindu scripture.

[Page number precedes the quote from the book. This is followed by a rebuttal comment.]

Pg 40 If the motto of Watergate was Follow the money, the motto of the history of Hinduism could well be Follow the monkey or, more often Follow the horse.
COMMENT: Very derogatory and offensive. The motto of Hinduism is to follow the truth and unite with God.
OUR OPINION: How is this derogatory. This looks at the myth of the Horse sacrifice and the coming of the Horse to India asa culutral phenomena that shows how India evolved with Vedic and then Persian influence. The Monkey refers to Hanuman and the culture of devotion in India. Appropriate terms if you ask me. As far as clumsy writing ios concerned this is no bible but a work of opinion and research and is allowed to have its own style.

Pg 112 - The author alleges that in Rigveda 10.62, it is implied that a woman may find her own brother in her bed!
COMMENT: The hymn has no such suggestion. It is offensive to suggest that the sacred text of Hindus has kinky sex in it.
OUR OPINION: A bizzare interpretation but not offensive when taken in the vein of the passage in her book which refers to feminism.

Pg 128 - The book likens the Vedic devotee worshipping different Vedic deities to a lying and a philandering boyfriend cheating on his girlfriend(s).
COMMENT: This is offensive and ignores that fact that in the Rigveda, the gods are said to be all united, born of one another, and from the same souOur Opinione.
OUR OPINION: This is called literary license and all authors use it. It is an opinion and not gospel.

Pg 225 -Dasharathas son is certainly lustful... Rama knows all too well what people said about Dasharatha; when Lakshmana learns that Rama has been exiled, he says, The king is perverse, old, and addicted to sex, driven by lust (2.18.3)
COMMENT: Sri Rama is revered and worshipped as a deity. The highly acclaimed and critical edition of Valmikis Ramayana records no such statement attributed to Lakshmana. An imagined phrase, kama-sakta is mistranslated as addicted to sex by the author whereas it normally means filled with desires. Valmiki uses a phrase samani-madhah (trans. Possessed of passion).
OUR OPINION: again the criticism is on interpretation and not fact -Dasharatha was certainly addicted to sex when infatuated by Kaikai

Pg 467 - Harihara and Bukka (the founders of the Vijayanagara Empire that saved Hindu culture in S India) double-crossed the Delhi Sultan when they reconverted to Hinduism.
COMMENT: The brothers committed apostasy as they had been imprisoned and foOur Opinionibly converted to Islam, and immediately reverted to Hinduism when they were 1000 miles from the Sultan, under the influence of a Hindu ascetic.
OUR OPINION: They had both first allied themselves with the SUltanate and then on the teachings of Vidyaranya, a monk at the Sringeri monastery, they were drawn back into Hinduism - I see nothing wrong withe assumption that they turned on teh SUltante and then conquered the South as Hindus.

Pg 468-469 -The mosque, whose serene calligraphic and geometric contrasts with the perpetual motion of the figures depicted on the temple, makes a stand against the chaos of India, creating enfoOur Opinioned vacuums that India cannot rush into with all its monkeys and peoples and colors and the smells of the bazaar
COMMENT: It is simply unacceptable that a scholar can flippantly, pejoratively and derogatorily essentialize the Hindus as monkeys and peoples, colors and smells.., and chaos in most insulting manner with the aspersion thrown at the entire Hindu culture and community all over the world. Such generalization has no place in serious scholarly work.
OUR OPINION - I agree with this analysis that she should not have expressed it in this way but that said there is the issue of free speech and opinion which Indian authors express all the time including Shashi Tharoor and Gurcharan Das - why don't we go after them too....

Pg 509 - Shankara and the philosophers wifeThis tale contrasts sex and renunciation in such a way that the renunciant philosopher is able to have his cake and eat it, to triumph not only in the world of the mind (in which, before this episode begins, he wins a series of debates against the nonrenouncing male Mimamsa philosopher) but in the world of the body, represented by the philosophers wife (not to mention the harem women who clearly prefer Shankara to the king in bed). The author attributes the tale to Shankaradigvijaya of Madhava and to Ravichandras commentary on Amarushataka.
COMMENT: The author concocts the story as a sexual orgy in which the Saint Adi Shankara and King Amruka take turns making love to the latters wives after he is tired. Both her souOur Opiniones however state that the King was already dead and the Saint transferred his soul into the dead Kings body through his yogic powers. There is no suggestion in the texts that the queens prefer Shankara to the king in bed.
OUR OPINION: again creative license in interpretation - no insult to Hinduism at all.

Pg 571- It is alleged that in a hymn from Saint Kshetrayyas poetry, God rapes the women devotees.
COMMENT: The hymn merely presents devotion using spiritual metaphors and the hymns of the Saint seen collectively depict it as a passionate love affair between the God and the devotees. No rape is implied in this hymn at all.
OUR OPINION; This passage in the book shows how the worship of Krishna has been used to justify the sexual subjugation of women in India due to the interpretations of the Shrimad Bhagwatam to show divine love and sexual love between Krishna and the Gopis and later the wives of his vanquished foe. It is understandable in the context she used it here. Kshetraya was using metaphors of love and ex to show spiritual love but of the kind that shows unwllingness at first - that is rape.

Please join our petition and let all your friends know that we cannot allow free speech to be threatened in this way and we also will not tolerate the Talibanization of our most inclusive religion Hinduism.