Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wendy Doniger’s Book, Porn Fiction as ‘Alternative History’?


PORN FICTION AS ALTERNATIVE HISTORY?

Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ was released in India last year. Doniger is the ‘Mircea Eliade Distinguished Professor of the History of Religions’ in the Divinity School and in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.

OUTLOOK published an interview with Doniger (October 26, 2009) prominently highlighting this gem from her:

Ram Was Happy With Sita...Indulging In Every Way...And Then He Threw Her Out.

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, set the tone for the interview by Sheela Reddy, who declared Doniger to be an ‘acclaimed Sanskrit scholar and author’.The introductory write-up proclaims that Doniger 

… continued to infuriate the Hindutva brigade with her unorthodox views on Hinduism and its sacred texts, earning for herself the epithet: “rude, crude and very lewd in the hallowed portals of Sanskrit academics”.

DON’T NEED NO FACTS

On October 28, Aditi Banerjee, posted on the magazine’s website a critique on Doniger’s book, in which she cited a number of factual errors and instances where Doniger mauled the truth (Oh, But You Do Get It Wrong!). Banerjee is a London based Indian-American scholar and a lawyer by profession. She has gone to great lengths to consult Sanskrit scholars and Hindu religious pontiffs to verify her facts before posting them.

[For reasons best known to its editors / publishers, OUTLOOK did not carry the rebuttal in its print version although it is available online.]

An interesting feature of the rebuttal is falsification of facts not only by Doniger but also by the magazine – whether by the interviewer or the editor is a minor issue – right at the beginning. Doniger’s description as ‘rude, crude and very lewd’ attributed to the Hindutwa brigade was actually from the BBC website. This is how the website described the ‘acclaimed Sanskrit scholar and author’, in a write-up that accompanied Russell Peters’ interview with her, on March 27, 2002:
Professor Wendy Doniger is known for being rude, crude and very lewd in the hallowed portals of Sanskrit Academics. All her special works have revolved around the subject of sex in Sanskrit texts ranging from Siva: The Erotic Ascetic to Tales of Sex and Violence.

Fellow Sanskrit academics and Wendy herself feel it was only a matter of course before she got round to doing her pièce de résistance - the definitive English translation of that most famed sexual text, the Kamasutra.

Never one to shy away from sex, she threw herself into the job of translating the text...She was particularly interested by the parts that justify adultery and the list of ways to get rid of a man. She feels that the book is basically about how to live the good life, it’s about wooing, and power in a relationship.
...When she was translating it (over a period of a few years and numerous Sanskrit classes), she frequently found herself having to take cold showers.” [Emphasis added - VOXINDICA]


Banerjees says that Doniger falsely and unfairly brands all of her critics as right-wing Hindutwa fundamentalists and grossly 'mischaracterises and misquotes' the text of Valmiki Ramayana. She titled a lecture on the Mahabharata, she delivered in Chicago, ‘The Complicity of God in the Destruction of the Human Race’ because throughout the story, ‘Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors’. For her the Bhagavad Gita is a ‘dishonest book; it justifies war! This is an acclaimed Sanskrit scholar and author’!

Banerjee also cites a comment made by Prof. Michael Witzel, to a mailing list in which he said that Doniger's translations of Hindu scriptures were ‘unreliable’ and ‘idiosyncratic’. [Prof. Witzel is the Wales Professor of Sanskrit in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University.] He mentioned among other things that he counted 43 instances of wrong translation in one hymn containing 18 stanzas. This is an ‘acclaimed Sanskrit scholar and author’.

Appalled by the liberties Doniger took with Hindu scriptures Dr. Aseem Shukla, (Co-Founder and Director of the Hindu American Foundation) wrote in his Washington Post blog, ‘Whose history is it anyway?’:

Doniger represents what many believe to be a fundamental flaw in the academic study of Hinduism: that Hindu studies is too often the last refuge of idiosyncratic and irreligious academics presenting themselves as "experts" on a faith that they study without the insight, recognition or reverence of, in this case, a practicing Hindu or even non-Hindu striving to study Hinduism from the insider's perspective would offer.[Emphasis added - Vox Indica]

Dr. S. Kalyanraman, founder of the Sarasvati Research and Education Trust posted an online petition requesting Penguin to withhold publication of the second edition of Doniger’s book, as it is “rife with numerous errors in its historical facts and Sanskrit translations”, “intended to mislead students of Indian and Hindu history” and “analyzes revered Hindu Gods and Goddess using her widely discredited psychosexual Freudian theories that modern, humanistic psychology has deemed limiting”.

In the petition, Dr. Kalyanraman - a Sanskrit scholar in his own right,  historian and an authority on ancient Indian civilizations - cites numerous factual errors and ‘derogatory, defamatory and offensive statements’. He has included in his petition a small sampling of the errors, misrepresentations and derogatory, defamatory and offensive statements, against each of which he has given cogent arguments as to why it should be deleted.

For the benefit of readers, we have provided online links for the two articles mentioned earlier and reproduce the online petition in full with a request to sign it, by clicking on the link. It has been signed by more than 9000 people so far.

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Oh, But You Do Get It Wrong! By Aditi Banerjee (OUTLOOK, October 28, 2009)


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WHOSE HISTORY IS IT ANYWAY? By Dr. Aseem Shukla, Co-Founder, Hindu American Foundation. (Washington Post, March 30, 2010)


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Online petition by Dr. S. Kalyanraman, founder of the Sarasvati Research and Education Trust requesting Penguin to withhold publication of the book:

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TEXT OF THE PETITION

To: Penguin Group USA Penguin Books India

SCANDALOUS cover jacket of the book - copy for ready reference at http://www.scribd.com/doc/26565460/Scan-0002

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,

The following is a petition from concerned signatories to the Penguin Group asking for an apology for the publication of the factually incorrect and offensive book “The Hindus - An Alternative History” by Wendy Doniger. We expect Penguin Group to withdraw the book immediately.

The Hindus: An Alternative History” is rife with numerous errors in its historical facts and Sanskrit translations. These errors and misrepresentations are bound and perhaps intended to mislead students of Indian and Hindu history.

Throughout the book, Doniger analyzes revered Hindu Gods and Goddess using her widely discredited psychosexual Freudian theories that modern, humanistic psychology has deemed limiting. These interpretations are presented as hard facts and not as speculations. Doniger makes various faulty assumptions about the tradition in order to arrive at her particular spin. In the process, the beliefs, traditions and interpretations of practicing Hindus are simply ignored or bypassed without the unsuspecting reader knowing this to be the case. This kind of Western scholarship has been criticized as Orientalism and Eurocentrism. The non Judeo-Christian faith gets used to dish out voyeurism and the tradition gets eroticized.

A. FACTUAL ERRORS

The following are a just a SMALL SAMPLING of examples of the factual errors that run rampant through this disgusting book. By due diligence that is badly overdue from your editors, you can either find for yourself, or we will be glad to direct you to, scholarly references so that you can verify these errors yourself and withdraw this obscenity.

[Page number precedes a reference to inaccurate statements in the book. This is followed by a comment citing verifiable facts.]

Maps in front pages: Maps titled ‘India’s 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.

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.

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.

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.

Pg 194 fn.- Gandhi's commentary on the Gita (a sacred Hindu scripture) was titled 'Asakti Yoga' (translated as ‘the science of deep attachment’).

COMMENT: The title of Gandhi’s work is 'Anasakti Yoga' (trans. ‘Science of non-Attachment’).

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.

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 forcibly in royal factories for producing articles of consumption by Muslim elites. No “manumission” was involved.

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.

Pg 448 - In 713 Muhammad ibn Qasim invaded Sind.

COMMENT: Muhammad bin Qasim invaded Sind in 711.

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.

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.

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.

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 Aurangzeb’s successor, Emperor Bahadur Shah I. It is insulting to say that the Guru was ‘attending’ on the Emperor.

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.

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.

Section on Bibliography: “Shekhawat, V. “Origin and Structure of purushartha Theory: An attempt at Critical Appraisal.” Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research 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.

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.

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.

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 source.

Pg 225 -“Dasharatha’s 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 Valmiki’s 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).

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 forcibly converted to Islam, and immediately reverted to Hinduism when they were 1000 miles from the Sultan, under the influence of a Hindu ascetic.

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 enforced 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.

Pg 509 - ”Shankara and the philosopher’s wife…This 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 philosopher’s 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 Ravichandra's 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 latter’s wives after he is tired. Both her sources however state that the King was already dead and the Saint transferred his soul into the dead King’s body through his yogic powers. There is no suggestion in the texts that the queens ‘prefer Shankara to the king in bed’.

Pg 571- It is alleged that in a hymn from Saint Kshetrayya’s 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.

Again, the above is simply a sampling of the scandalous and offensive statements in the book. By her own admission in the book, Doniger has no credentials as a historian and the title of the book is misleading as the book is not on the “History nor an Alternative History” of India. This shows that the author is not an authority on the subject as she is not able to understand the deep meaning of Sanskrit verses or Indian Concepts. These cast serious doubts about the author’s integrity as a researcher and ability to interpret accurately. Additional examples of the author’s shoddy scholarship will be made available upon request.

We emphasize that this defamatory book misinforms readers about the history of Hindu civilization, its cultures and traditions. The book promotes prejudices and biases against Hindus. Can Penguin’s editors really be incompetent enough to have allowed this to pass to publication? If this is not deliberate malice, Penguin must act now in good faith.

As concerned readers, we ask PENGUIN GROUP to:

1. WITHDRAW all the copies of this book immediately from the worldwide bookshops/markets/Universities/Libraries and refrain from printing any other edition.

2. APOLOGIZE for having published this book “The Hindus: An Alternative History”. This book seriously and grossly misrepresents the Hindu reality as known to the vast numbers of Hindus and to scholars of Hindu tradition. PENGUIN must apologize for failure to observe proper pre-publication scrutiny and scholarly review.

Sincerely,
The Undersigned

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According to Dr. Kalyanraman, the foregoing is only a small sample of factual errors, derogatory, defamatory and offensive comments in Doniger's  book. If he were to list out all the 'factual errors, derogatory, defamatory and offensive comments', then perhaps his book would be as large as the one he is commenting upon. 

In a reply to Dr. Shukla's article in Washington Post, Doniger argued that her book did well in India, it was on the best-seller lists and sold 10,000 copies. The figure could well be an exaggeration; she might have taken the same liberty with truth in boasting about the sales of her book as she did with much of what is in it. For with a price tag of Rs 999, it is doubtful so many Indians had a taste for the bilge that it contains. The curiosity aroused by the title and the rave reviews of some magazines which have a penchant to celebrate anti-Hindu calumny might have sold a few copies. 

TAILPIECE:

I found this sloka in Calling Her Bluff, Ms. Chitra Raman's appraisal of Wendy Doniger's porn-fiction in the garb of "alternative history". It is so apt to the context that I reproduce it here with her English translation, because many scholars of Indian mythology claim scholarship without even a nodding acquaintance with Sanskrit. I salute her for her wit and sense of humour in selecting this sloka.

Ushtraanam cha vivaaheshu geetham gaayanthi gardabhaah I
Parasparam prashamsanthi "aho roopam!" "aho dhwanih!" II

At the wedding of camels, the donkeys perform songs.
Each praises the other: "What beauty!" "What melody!"

"Camels and donkeys may well bask in mutual self-admiration. But this should not hold the rest of us back from seeing them as they are.

2 Comments:

  1. The Namboodiri-s of Kerala used to use a word when they were really angry at someone's stupidity: Arasika.

    I take the liberty of using that adjective in describing Wendy Donger --the subject of all this controversy: Arasikaa.

    My reasoning is this: Her writings do not give even an iota of the feeing that she enjoys in any real way any element of Indian culture let alone the beauty and majesty of Samskrta language or the Indian Darshana-s or any of the Indian arts.

    The great Mark Twain once said and I am paraphrasing: If your only tool is a hammer you see everything around you as a nail.

    Ms. Doniger's only tool is psychoanalysis and she sees the whole world through its categories of analysis and is utterly incapable of any true enjoyment--Rasaasvaada-if her writings are any evidence because of that paradigmatic obsession.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very Good Article. Keep up the good work Sir. We need more people like you to expose authors like her

    ReplyDelete