By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, September 13 (IANS) Diplomat-politician-author Shashi Tharoor says he is no scholar of Hinduism and only seeks to give his readers an overview of the faith "as I understand it".
"I am neither a Sanskritist nor a scholar of Hinduism and did not set out to write a scholarly exposition of the religion. Mine is a layman's view of Hinduism, and my exposition seeks to give the reader an overview of the faith as I understand it, as well as accessible summaries of its main features," Tharoor, a three-term Lok Sabha MP from Thiruvananthapuram, writes in his just released "The Hindu Way - An Introduction to Hinduism (Aleph/pp 305/Rs 799).
"My narrative weaves between personal witness and an attentive reading of the relevant scriptures and academic texts, their development by many thinkers and the practices and the challenges of Hindutva ideology," Tharoor writes, adding his approach os to present both the ancient texts of Hinduism and the modern beliefs of Hindutva descriptively and on their own terms, rather than through the theoretical approaches of historians, theologians and social scientists.
Taking this one step further, Tharoor said during a panel discussion after the launch of the book on Thursday that the recent incidents of lynching were in no way representative of the fundamental core tenets of Hinduism.
Releasing the book, Senior Congress leader Karan Singh was equaly harsh, saying that forcing people to chant "Jai Shri Ram" and "Jai Hanuman" is an insult to not only Hinduism, but it is an insult to the deity.
What then, is the essence of the book, which follows the "tremendous response" to his previous work, "Why I Am A Hindu" that was intended to contrast the Hinduism that Tharoor gre up with, professed and practised "with the narrow-minded faith of the Hindutvavadis".
It is this:
"In the twenty-first century, Hindusim has many of the attributes of a universal religion - a religion that is personal and individualistic, privileges the individual and does not subordinate one to a collectivity; a religion that grants and respects complete freedom to the believer to find his or her own answers to the true meaning of life; a religion that offers a wide range of choice in religious practice, even in regard to the nature and form of the formless God; a religion that places great emphasis on one's mind, and values one's capacity for reflection, intellectual enquiry, and self-study; a religion that distances itself from dogma and holy writ, that is minimally perspective and yet offers an abundance of opinions, spiritual and philosophical texts and social and cultural practices to choose from.
"In a world where resistance to authority is growing, Hinduism imposes no authorities; in a world of networked individuals, Hinduism proposes no institutional hierarchies; in a world of open-source information-sharing, Hindusim accepts all paths as equally valid; in a world of rapid transformations and accelerating change, Hinduism is adaptable and flexible, which is why it has survived for nearly 4,000 years," Tharoor writes.
It is essential, the author notes, that if one desires to portray a Hindu vision to come to terms with the diversity within Hinduism itself.
For instance, the faith is practised differently by people in different parts of the country, or worshiping different manifestations of the Divine, or adhering to different castes or faiths. Even the Brahmins manifest diversity in their social practices: while the Malyali Brahmins grow their tuft of hair at the front, most orthodox Tamil Brahmins wear it at the back; while Iyengar Brahmin women regard white as the colour of widowhood, the Namboothiri Brahmin bride wears white at her wedding. Each Hindu may have a different concept of his/her own dharma.
"I am a Hindu who is proud to offer such a religion to the world. I do so conscious that Hinduism does not seek to proselytize, only to offerm itself as an example that others may or may not choose to follow. It does not share with the Abrahamic faiths a desire to universalise itself; yet its tenets and values are universally applicable. But first, it must be revived and reasserted, in its glorious liberalism; its openness and acceptance, its eclecticism and universalism, in the land of its own birth. As the Hindu hymn (from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad), says, in words that resonate with meaning for every human being on the planet:
"Asato ma sad gamaya/Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya/Mrityor ma amritam gamaya (Lead me from Untruth to Truth/Lead me from darkness to light/Lead me from death to immortality)," Tharoor concludes, while also including eight pages of notes and three pages of further reading.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)