Response to David Frawley's Book
David Frawley makes many good points in the following excerpted
article, but I fail to see the logic behind some of his more
Chandan Bandopadhyay <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
> QUESTIONABLE PERCEPTIONS OF HINDU TRADITIONS: LEFTIST SCHOLARSHIP IN INDIA
> by David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)
(1) Are we supposed to take it on his authority that Romila Thapar
is a "notable Marxist"? I see no evidence for it in his review
of her book, other than her criticisms of his (apparent) beliefs
about the nature of Hinduism. Such unsubstantiated accusations
really have no place in a purportedly scholarly review.
(2) Does Communism/Socialism immediately imply a rejection of all
religion, as Frawley seems to believe? Assuming we can all agree
that a rigid hierarchical caste/class system is undesirable, why
does the Socialist vision come under a priori criticism by Frawley?
Perhaps he is ignorant of the fact that some of the Saiva Mutts
of Tamil Nadu have long allied themselves with the Communist
ideology. I have also personally met individuals who describe
themselves as "Vedic Marxists".
A far greater threat to the spirituality and diversity of the
religions of India is the usurping of the "cause of Hindu religion"
by the nationalist right-wing. Their sense of what constitutes
"Hinduism" is extremely vague, undefined and in a sense, warped,
and for good reason, from their point of view; their main goal
is not to teach Indians and others about the diversity of Indian
religion, or the uniqueness of its particular expressions, but to
use it to gain more political power. I have found that they seek
to define Indians as Hindus in ways that no one has ever done
before, and in doing so, they are poised to destroy much of the
colorful tapestry of India's peoples.
(3) Aside from his almost casual remark that Hinduism's essence is
the "recognition of God as the Self of all being", why does
Frawley never confront the assertion of Thapar (whose works I
have never read, aside from what I learned from Frawley's review)
that Hinduism as a religion is a recent invention? If anything,
Hinduism describes an enormous culture, but to call it a religion
is extremely misleading. Frawley writes:
> She doubts
> whether Hinduism as a religion really existed until recent times.
> She portrays Hinduism not as a comprehensive tradition going back
> to the Mahabharata or earlier to the Vedas, but as a relatively
> modern appropriation, and therefore misinterpretation, of older
> practices and symbols mainly for social and political exploitation,
> whose real meaning we can no longer know as we are not products of
> that cultural milieu. She tries to point out that Hinduism is
> mainly a vehicle of social oppression through the caste system, and
> is not worthy of much respect for any modern rational person.
The fact is, Thapar happens to be largely correct on this point.
I suspect Frawley views Hinduism from a Sanskritic/North Indian
angle, a viewpoint which, I must add, excludes in large part the
religious beliefs of a great number of Indians who are de facto
Hindus in his eyes.
To explain: a vast number of Indians (restricting ourselves for obvious
reasons to those outside of the Muslim, Christian, and Parsi faiths),
especially non-brahmins of the south, do not even pay lip service to
the Vedas. There are even some brahmins of the south who do not
revere the Vedas in any real way. So, how can the Vedas be the textual
"patriarch" of Hinduism, as Frawley clearly implies? The Mahabharata,
assuredly containing large amounts of religiously inspired material
(though not purely so), is not accepted by many religious traditions
of India as having any scriptural or canonical validity.
In point of fact, his definition of the "essence" of Hinduism as being
"the recognition of God as the Self of all being" is so vague that
it is meaningless. Most village and tribal people in India, once
again considered de facto Hindus, do *not* hold that there is one
Super Entity that constitutes the "Self" of all being, however these
terms are construed. Even those who do admit to some belief in this
"essence" (and it is only the learned few who do), vary so much in
their interpretation of what it means and what it implies in terms
of religious behavior that one would hardly think of them as having
the same religious beliefs, or constituting the same community.
Catholics, Sikhs, and others would agree with this statement of
"essence"; I doubt Frawley would consider them Hindus.
Perhaps the single unifying quality of all de facto Hindus is the
concept of caste. Caste (and by this I do *not* mean the Sanskritic
four-fold division of brahmin, ksatriya, etc.) sets them apart from
Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, etc., and in this sense, Thapar
is once again correct. The statement that "Hinduism is mainly a
vehicle of social oppression through the caste system", if an
accurate reflection of her thought, is a gross misreading of the
social situation in India. Caste was at times very oppressive; but
it was not purely so, and to analyze it in such a one-sided manner
demonstrates either ignorance or academic dishonesty. However, one
cannot deny that caste is pervasive in "Hinduism" as practiced
today, and has even infected Christian converts in some areas.
(4) Why does Frawley see "Hinduism" as essentially being a holier
religion than any other? Witness his quote:
> There is
> no Hindu or Buddhist tradition of crusades or holy wars like that
> of Western religions.
If only we had a Holy City like Jerusalem that was taken over by
"infidels", and there actually existed a unified entity such as
"Hinduism", we perhaps would have had crusades! The lack of holy
wars by "Hindus" is more a testament to the nonexistence of this
"ism" as an entity, rather than a pervasive ethic of ahimsa.
The Vaishnava philosopher Ramanujacharya (c. 1017-1137) was driven
out of the Chola kingdom in Tamilnadu because he refused to admit
the supremacy of Shiva. Some of his followers died in the conflict.
There is evidence that many Jains (and perhaps Vaishnavas and Saivas
as well) died in the religious conflicts in the Tamil country at the
turn of the millenium. And lest we forget recent history, could not
the conflict at the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya very well be called a
In my experience, other than having a large number of vegetarians,
Indians are no less violent than the average civilization in the
world. Indians, whether "Hindus" or not, have proportionately as
many violent, evil, cunning people among them as any other.
(5) Why the conspiracy theory?
> Thapar's recent
> historical accounts are clearly meant as attacks on the Hindu
> revivalist movement in India, which the communists have always
> regarded as their main enemy.
> Marxist atheists like Thapar like to appear as social liberals
> and objective academicians and some intellectuals trained in the
> Western tradition may be taken in by this ploy. She does not parade
> her Marxism, particularly in recent years, and her criticism of
> Hinduism, though harsh, is presented in an indirect scholarly
> style, which makes it appear less obvious. We should understand the
> background of such thinkers.
If Frawley presented a shred of credible evidence as to this hidden
Marxist/intellectual conspiracy, we could then discuss it. Mere
allegations without evidence smell of McCarthyism.
Many other groups besides Communists do not like the "Hindu revivalist
movement" as seen today (as if there was anything to revive!). I'm
certainly no Communist; at the same time, I find the politically
motivated invective propagated by Frawley, et al, extremely
distasteful. I find his ignorance of the variety of Indian religious
experience dangerous. I find his high-handedness nauseating.
(6) Why does Frawley ignore the lamentable social situation existent
in most of India (an end product of certain religious/sociological
beliefs), and emphasize purely the spiritual ideal of one part of
the religion? He accuses these "Marxist" scholars as being ones
> as products of materialistic Western academia are also likely to
> analyze religion not as a spiritual phenomenon but as a purely
> social-political institution devoid of any real transcendence.
Frawley seems to be ignorant of the fact that most people, whether
Indian or not, or not as serious about their religion as he seems
to be. People in India, whether Sanskritic Hindus or not, do *not*
constantly worry about their "karmic" activity, or their spiritual
state. This is something that phenomenologists of religion have long
recognized. Given this understanding of religion, the impact an
institution like religion has on the average human is far more
sociological than spiritual.
Further, the most obvious and *analyzable* aspect of Indian
religion is its sociological side, since the record of its impact
is verifiable to a much larger extent. We can even consider two
of the greatest examples of the "modern Hindu revivalist movement",
the Shiv Sena and the VHP/BJP/RSS group. Aside from Frawley's
insistence on "ahimsa" as being a cardinal tenet of "Hindus",
how much of the leadership of the Shiv Sena/VHP/BJP/RSS practice
ahimsa in their day to day lives, or as an expression of their
Rather, their expression of their Hinduism largely consists of
violent militancy, precisely because their Hinduism is mostly
a socio-political movement, *not* a spiritual movement. Frawley
cannot have it both ways.
(7) Finally, lest I be accused of being Marxist in the following vein:
> As a Westerner writing on Hinduism in a positive light it is
> strange that the main opponents I have run into are Hindus
> themselves, that is the Marxist Hindus, who like many rebels are
> the most negative about their own cultural traditions which they
> have but recently abandoned.
Let me say that I am in no sense a Communist or a Marxist, and I am
very happy in this market democracy. The only reason I say this is
to ward off non-sequitirs and red herrings in any possible discussion
that may ensue from this posting. I have not abandoned my cultural
tradition; most people who know me consider me extremely religious.
Thankfully, I am not religious in the way that the "Hindu revivalist
movement" wishes me to be.
Comments, criticism, reaction all welcome.