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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 
inflammatory assertions.

Chandan Bandopadhyay <cbando@lynx.dac.neu.edu> writes:
> 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
    holy war?

    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

    > who
    > 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.


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