Monday, December 21, 2009

Christianity: West's default religion?


I had to read and re-read Christianity: West's default religion by Sandhya Jain. On first reading, I took offence at the intimation that the problem of Islam should be sicced on the West – and it still bothers me.

Contrary to what the author says, the recent Swiss vote to ban minarets does not represent "a frontal return of Christianity." Europe is largely secular in its orientation and post-Christian (the same cannot be said about America). Since WWII, Europe has lost the will to fight, if it ever had the will to fight: the U.S. and British, in an opportunistic alliance with the Soviet Union, crushed Nazism on its Eastern and Western fronts. By abandoning Christianity, Europe has no ideology that can effectively counter Islam.

Western politicians have sold out their people through alliances with Muslim states for oil. The philosophy of cultural relativism has also eroded Western confidence in itself. I see the Swiss vote to ban minarets as a baby step by its citizens to reclaim its culture and its way of life. This does not mean a Christian resurgence in Europe, the return of The Crusades, and expanding missionary activities.

Upon re-reading this article, I do have to agree with the author on the following:

The Swiss vote has caused a frisson of excitement in traditional and secular circles in India, with some Hindus hallucinating about a ‘natural’ alliance with the Christian West to mutually crush Islam. This foolish hope once soared after the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York, and Hindus in particular and Indians in general failed to comprehend why Pakistan emerged as the West’s leading non-NATO ally.

… Should Hindus respond to a Western Crusade against Islam, the result will be similar to our experience in World War II, where the 2.5 million-strong Indian Army won the war for the colonial West, only to be betrayed back at home. The British eventually quit India in 1947 only because of the military mutinies inspired by Subhash Chandra Bose, and they successfully cut up the nation before leaving, retaining critical territory in the form of a land bank called Pakistan …

Neither the Government of India nor Western government have the guts or will to stand up to Islam and its expansionist aims on society. Both are in denial. Even if there were awareness and will, India is not strong enough on its own. India will have to employ cunning (something it lacks and which Pakistan and China have in abundance) and enter into opportunistic alliances, as the Americans and British did with the Soviet Union in WWII.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Vedanta Society and ecumenicism


I received an email announcing new titles in the Vedanta Catalog. Prints of this picture of the Madonna and baby Jesus are offered for sale as a greeting card or art print:

According to the Vedanta Catalog,

It was in Jadulal Mallik's garden house where Ramakrishna first saw the painting. He intently studied the image of the Madonna and Child thinking of the wonderful life of Jesus. Rays of light emanated from the bodies of Mother Mary and the child Jesus, entering Ramakrishna's heart. The overpowering experience forced Ramakrishna to forget his Hindu awareness. He even forgot to visit the Divine Mother in the temple so strong was his love of Christ.

I agree with Pt. Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley) that the Ramakrishna Mission ascribes too much to Ramakrishna's forays into other religions. According to him, Sri Ramakrishna's forays into other religions were highly unorthodox and lasted only a few days apiece: for most of his life, Sri Ramakrishna was content to be a priest for Kali at Dakshineswar.

On the basis of these brief forays into other practices, Vedanta temples are decorated with symbols of different religions. Swami Vivekananda expressed the need for a temple that united Hindus of all sampradayas under the symbol of "Aum."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Other reviews of The Hindus: An Alternative History


To follow up on my review of The Hindus: An Alternative History, here are links to two other reviews:

Doniger Imagined History
The Hindu American Foundation poses two questions to Doniger and the Academy:

1) Do academics that study religion as non-believers share a responsibility to consider or respect the religious beliefs ascribed by adherents to their scripture?

2) Is Freudian psychoanalysis relevant to deconstructing scripture, its divine and human characters (the latter now dead) and its earliest believers (also now dead) from several millenia ago, and what, if any value do these interpretations offer?

Oh, But You Do Get It Wrong!
Aditi Banerjee fisks (deconstructs) the points that Doniger made in an interview with Outlook India. Banerjee writes in her introduction:

[Doniger] (1) falsely and unfairly brands all of her critics as right-wing Hindutva fundamentalists, and (2) grossly mischaracterizes (and misquotes) the text of the Valmiki Ramayana, calling into question her “alternative” version not just of the Ramayana, but also of Hinduism and Hindu history as a whole.

Ms. Banerjee notes that Doniger plays "both the sex card and the race card" to claim that her critics ("the Hindutva types") are discriminating against her. More accurately, Doniger plays three cards: religion (she's not Hindu), caste (she's not Brahmin, which follows from her not being Hindu), and gender (she's a woman).

The second part of Ms. Banerjee's opinion piece is a lengthy descontruction of Doniger's interpretation of Valmiki's Ramayana. Doniger's interpretation is rife with inaccuracies, error, and of course, her obsession with sex.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Review of The Hindus: An Alternative History


The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago is really not a history at all. In her book, Doniger retells Hindu stories and provides snarky interpretations. One story is about fusing the head of a Brahmin woman onto the body of a Dalit woman. Doniger provides several variants of the theme of transposed heads.

As I read The Hindus: An Alternative History, I became aware of a pattern: it was as though several authors were writing as Wendy Doniger.

Chapter 18, Philosophical Feuds in South India and Kashmir: 800 to 1300 CE, follows the historical timeline, but is thematically out of place. This chapter discusses the influences that South Indian Shaivism and Kashmiri Shaivism had on each other. This topic could be the subject of its own book.

The whitewash of the plight of Hindus under Mughal rule in Chapters 19 and 20 should come as no surprise. Doniger dedicated her book to William Dalrymple, who romanticizes Mughal India. In her acknowledgements, Doniger singles out Dalrymple for giving her the inspiration to write this book. For a deconstruction of the coverage on Mughal rule of India in The Hindus: An Alternative History, read the essay Hinduism Studies and Dhimmitude in the American Academy by Professor M. Lal Goel.

On the other hand, Chapter 21, Class, Caste, and Conversion in the British Raj, is a sober, even somber exposition of the plight of Hindus and Hinduism under the Raj.

Chapter 23, Hindus in America, reads as though a high school student wrote it, as its skips through examples of how America pop culture has appropriated Hinduism. The chapter does not discuss the establishment of Vedanta centers (for example, St. Louis has had a dedicated building since the 1950s, and the presence of a swami since 1938), waves of Hindu migration to the U.S., acceptance in American society, or establishment of Hindu organizations and institutions, including temples. Although Doniger stridently defends her right as a non-Hindu to tell the story about Hindus and Hinduism, this is one chapter that a Hindu American should have written.

The changes in tone between chapters suggest that there were many writers. Doniger acknowledges the role of her students in contributing to individual chapters, but I suspect that there is more to it to that: namely, the time-honored tradition of having students doing the professor’s work. Call it Doniger's "transposed heads."

Doniger writes in her book The Hindus: An Alternative History, “…the wild misconceptions that most Americans have of Hinduism need to be counteracted precisely by making Americans aware of the richness and human depth of Hindu texts and practices” [page 653], which, according to her, is the purpose of her book.

After completing The Hindus: An Alternative History, I doubt that Americans who read this book without prior introduction to Hinduism would come away with any admiration for Hinduism. It saddens me that one of the appeals of this book to American readers is the dropping of references to pop culture.

I recommend The Hindus: An Alternative History only to those readers who have had a prior introduction to Hinduism. This book requires critical evaluation. Americans who would like a better understanding of Hinduism should consult sources like the Vedanta Catalog for good books on Hinduism. If I might be so immodest, I also recommend that they browse my website and blog, and shop my eStore for books about India and Hinduism.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hindus who complain a bit too much


Sheena Patel published this article Hindus who complain a bit too much on Hindu Voice UK, in which she criticizes efforts by Hindus to protest trivial issues.

Here is my response, as posted to the discussion forum:
I agree that some issues are not worth pursuing: for example, it was better to let “The Love Guru” die a natural death.

While I don’t agree with the tactics of
Hindu Jagruti Samiti, I do agree with the objections to the crude portrayals of Hindu goddesses by painter (and sensationalist) M.F. Hussain. The New York Times published an article about M.F. Hussain, but treated Hindu objections as being puritanical about nudity. The Hindu American Foundation sought a response, but didn’t get any. The sad part is that the NYT article was written by an Indian with a Hindu name [Somini Sengupta].

I agree with
Koenraad Elst’s comments, but I think that the rubric “fascist” comes from journalists and writers who apparently take their cue from Indian journalists and scholars who negatively label any Hindu group that’s the least bit assertive: for example, calling the RSS “chauvinistic.” Wendy Doniger is a good example: I’m reading her latest book The Hindus: An Alternative History, which features these labels.
ADDENDUM: I recommend Dr. Elst's article Hindu Studies: Warring with Words, as published in the July/August/September 2009 issue of Hinduism Today, as a guide for journalists and writers in covering Hinduism.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A tribute to Indian Independence Day


A.R. Rahman assembled India's pre-eminent instrumentalists and vocalists for Jana Gana Mana, but this little child blows his overwrought production out of the water.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How I came to love Indian classical music

When my brother-in-law and family visited the U.S. in 1995, he came back from California and brought back Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's Saradamani CD from Waterlily Acoustics as a gift for me. Through that CD, I developed a fondness for Indian classical music, and have since seen many of the luminaries of Indian classical music perform in concert.

The Bahu of Bengal (R) with Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt

I was thrilled to tell Pt. Bhatt that I was introduced to Indian classical music through his CD and developed a real love for it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Durga Temple hosts first ever Hinduism Meet in North America

Published at the request of Rajan Joshi of the Forum for Hindu Awakening:

Ashadh Krushna Ekadashi, 5011

July 18, 2009

The first ever Hinduism Meet in North America was held by the Forum for Hindu Awakening at the Durga Temple of Virginia, near Washington DC today. The aim of the Meet was to promote an understanding of the unique spiritual science and scienti­fic history underlying Hinduism, awaken to the misconceptions about Hinduism, demonstrate living simple practices and concepts of Hinduism in day-to-day life, preserve the sanctity of Hinduism from denigration and malpractices.

This historic event was inaugurated as per Hindu tradition by the blowing of the conch, recitation of auspicious verses, lighting of an oil lamp and recitation of Vedic mantras. The spiritual science behind all these actions was explained to the attendees.

Reston resident Bhavna Shinde observes the lighting of the wick lamp ... at the Forum for Hindu Awakening at the Durga Temple in Fairfax Station - Fairfax County Times

The unique feature of this Hinduism Meet was that it was broadcast live over the Internet. Hence, besides the 100 people who attended in person, over 250 people from around the world could attend it by watching the live broadcast.

The Hinduism Meet had the presence and blessings of many note-worthy people from various religious organisations. The media was also represented by the presence of members of Press from a local newspaper, an online radio station, an Indian newspaper and a TV station.

At the Meet, Dr. Siva Subramaniam, founding member of the Shiva-Vishnu temple, honored the speakers by presenting them Sanatan Sanstha’s Video CDs on the unique science behind Hinduism and spiritual practice, and the ‘Vishwa Hindu Ratna’ (Hindu Gem of the world) award. This award was presented to the speakers for their selfless and dedicated efforts for the cause of Hinduism.

There were thought provoking speeches, Powerpoint presentations and videos on maintaining a Hindu identity, Hindu practices like visiting a temple, the spiritual science underlying them, preserving various challenges faced by Hinduism today such as the threats to the existence of the ancient Rama Sethu bridge between India and Sri Lanka, denigration of Hindu Deities and Saints, and so on.

Rajan Zed, the acclaimed Hindu Statesman, spoke on how to be a good Hindu in the West and interfaith relations. Dr. M. G. Prasad, an active proponent of Hinduism spoke about the multi faceted Hinduism (Sanatan Dharma). Dr. Kusum Vyas, the founder and coordinator of the international Save Rama Sethu Campaign spoke on Ramsethu: the challenges and accomplishments. Maya Jairam of the Spiritual Science Research Foundation shared about the role of the spiritual dimension and Saints in all aspects of life. Dewang Gadoya of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti spoke on knowing and peacefully protesting denigration of Hinduism concepts and symbols. Bhavna Shinde of the Forum for Hindu Awakening spoke on how to understand, live and preserve Hinduism in today’s busy times.

The Meet concluded with the singing of an aarati (Hindu devotional hymn) and note of thanks to everyone that helped in organising the Meet. During the aarati many attendees had the spiritual experience of spontaneous tears.

The Forum for Hindu Awakening is considering holding such Hinduism Meets in other parts of USA during the course of the year, to propagate the understanding, living and preserving of the spiritual science behind Hinduism concepts and practices. Visit for more information.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Join my social networks

First there were web pages, but web pages, particularly those written in static HTML, became too time-intensive to update. That's why I quit updating the static HTML on my website.

Next came blogs. Blogs, such as Mera Bharat Mahan, were much easier to update than traditional web pages.

But what if one wants to post and share occasional items of interest that don't need a lot of explanatory text? That's where social software, such as Facebook and Twitter, comes in handy.

I'm proud that my friends on BlogCatalog come from various parts of India. This blog is intended to have a pan-India scope.

Join my social networks listed on the widget on the sidebar at right: scroll down if necessary. Female voices are especially welcome!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Bengali patas

Last Thursday, my husband and I went to an extraordinarily well-attended talk on and exhibit of Bengali patas at the Gandhi Memorial Center in Washington, DC. Patas, a Bengali folk art form, are hand-painted scrolls that illustrate stories.

Patuas roam from village to village to tell stories as they unroll the scrolls vertically (story panels go from top to bottom). Sadly, they are too often regarded as beggars (to understand, read this analogous story about kalamkari artists). The art of pata is local to the districts of Midnapore and Birbhum.

For us, no trip to India is complete without a visit to Birbhum, the home of Tagore's Shantinekitan, but this was our first exposure to pata. We are more accustomed to seeing batiks and terracotta objects in the stalls on the road between Shantiketan and Bolpur, the nearest train station.

Panel of a Bengali pat
Jetayu tells Ram about Sita's abduction

Many of the traditional Bengali patas cover episodes from the Ramayana. Natural disasters, such as floods, cyclones, and even the freak tornado are also covered. More recently, pats address social issues such as the status of women and AIDS: in fact, NGOs have commissioned patuas to create patas on social issues.

The pats that were exhibited at the Gandhi Memorial Center belong to Dr. Geraldine Forbes, a professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oswego. Dr. Forbes has traveled through Bengali villages collecting patas for 30 years.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

INDIA'S BISMARCK: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Cover of INDIA'S BISMARCK: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

I received an email from Indus Source, a book publisher in Mumbai, alerting me to the publication of INDIA'S BISMARCK: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, in response to my article The Assertive Indian.

INDIA'S BISMARCK covers Sardar Patel's career as a satyagrahi, creator of the Indian Administration Service (IAS), and Congress Party boss. Given their strong wills, it should not be surprising that Sardar Patel clashed with Netaji when Netaji presided over Congress, my article on The Assertive Indian notwithstanding.

The most important part of INDIA'S BISMARCK covers Sardar Patel's leadership as Unifier of India. He used Indian troops to compel accession of Junagadh (in Gujarat) and Hyderabad. His lasting achievement was the accession of 560 princely states to form the geographic whole that is India.

Westerners know about Gandhi and Nehru, but don't know about Sardar Patel. While the widely read Freedom at Midnight discusses Sardar Patel, his leadership as Unifier of India gets short shrift and ultimately, he is treated almost as an afterthought in the epilogue (Sardar Patel died in 1950, only three years after Independence). Even many Indians might not be familiar with Sardar Patel's accomplishments. I recommend INDIA'S BISMARCK to these reader audiences.

You may purchase INDIA'S BISMARCK on

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Being the Bahu of Bengal is no longer a joke

I chose the screen name Bahu of Bengal as a joke. I extended that joke with a reference to Amitabh Bachchan, who worked as a shipping agent in Calcutta before he went into movies and met and married Jaya Bhaduri.

True, I am married to a Bengali and I have a loving relationship with my husband’s parents, who still live in Kolkata, so there’s the sentimental attachment. I realized that calling myself the Bahu of Bengal was something other than a joke when I reacted to this story about Muslims taking over a historic terracotta mandir in Bangladesh to build a madrassa.

Terracotta temple in Birgonj, Dinajpur, Bangladesh

We had visited this mandir (which is similar to those in Bishnupur, Bankura District, West Bengal) when we traveled to Bangladesh to see where my father-in-law was born and grew up. I was indignant and shocked to learn that this mandir has been appropriated to serve as a madrassa. These stories hit home when there's a personal connection.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


As Sri Aurobindo went deeper and deeper in the spiritual life, he turned over operation of his ashram to The Mother née Mirra Alfassa.

Some years after Sri Aurobindo's mahasamadhi in 1950, The Mother had a vision for a utopian community to bring people from all over the world together for spiritual evolution. This was the beginning of Auroville.

An unpaved road lined with shops that cater to "counterculture" types leads to Auroville. On the day we visited, it was pouring, and the road was gutted. When we ventured out of the car, red clay mud clung to our shoes.

The centerpiece of Auroville is the Matrimandir, a dome-shaped building with a golden exterior. One can go inside the Matirmandir to meditate only at certain hours of the day, and then, only with permission. In fact, one can view the exterior of the Matrimandir only at particular hours of the day.

Matrimandir, Auroville

No flowers, incense, or images are allowed in the Matrimandir. If meditation is withdrawal from sense-objects, the Matrimandir enables it!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mahakavi Bharathi Memorial Museum

Sri Aurobindo was not the only nationalist to flee to Pondicherry. The Tamil Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi also found refuge in Pondicherry.

My husband and I visited the Mahakavi Bharathi Memorial Museum and Research Centre in Pondicherry. It's not easy to find: our driver had to ask for directions several times before we found the museum.

The museum is housed in the home where Bharathi lived in Pondicherry. It is very small, consisting of only three rooms. We went about the three rooms, and nothing was intelligible to us, as neither of us read Tamil. We mentioned this to museum staff, and they showed a well-produced video in English about the museum.

In one room, photographs of people who had influential roles in Bharathi’s life are hung on the walls. In the display cases are journals and other publications for which Bharathi wrote and served as editor. In the largest room, there is a large oil painting of Bharathi, surrounded by pictures of his family. In another room are letters he wrote to other notables.

Subramanya Bharathi
We love checking out museum shops, but alas, the only publications for sale were in French and Tamil. A few CDs of Bharatiyar kritis for purchase would have been great.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sri Aurobindo Ashram

The Union Territory of Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry) is a former French colony that provided refuge to Indian nationalists who fled prosecution under British rule.

Sri Aurobindo settled in Pondicherry in 1910 and stayed there until he left his body in 1950. He withdrew from politics and devoted himself to spiritual work in the forty years he lived in Pondicherry.

On a previous trip, we visited Sri Aurobindo Nivas in Vadodara (formerly Baroda), where Sri Aurobindo lived from 1893-1907. It was a logical progression that we visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry.

Our visit to the Ashram was a short one. We had darshan at the cenotaph for the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother

Then we went into the bookstore, which has a comprehensive collection of books by or about Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. In a room off the bookstore, the chair in which Sri Aurobindo is seated in the photograph below is preserved:

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Last month, I realized a long-standing ambition to visit southern India. India is endlessly fascinating in its variety of ethnic groups and languages, and I believe that the common thread that runs through these groups is Hinduism.

My husband and I flew from Kolkata (Calcutta) to Chennai, from where we took road trips to Mahabalipuram, Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry), and Auroville.

In this post, I will discuss our visit to Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram hosts many rock-cut monuments that date to the Pallava dynasty of the 7th century CE.

Mahabalipuram is somewhat of an anomaly: while it is located in southern India, the monuments make references to the Mahabharata.

Arjuna's Penance

Arjuna is the emaciated figure standing on one leg on the upper left. Wikipedia states that one interpretation of the Arjuna's Penance relief is that "[Arjuna is] performing an austerity Tapas to receive a boon from Shiva as an aid in fighting the Mahabharata war. (The boon which Arjuna is said to have received was called Pasupata, Shiva's most powerful weapon)."

However, the Wikipedia account is not consistent with the account given in the translation of The Mahabharata by Chakravarthi V. Narasimhan, which is based on the critical edition from the Bhandakar Oriental Research Institute in Pune. In the latter account, Arjuna meets Shiva, who is in the guise of a hunter. Shiva bests Arjuna with his prowess with bow and arrow and hand-to-hand fighting, but nonetheless praises Arjuna's skills and bequeaths the Pasupata to Arjuna.

Above is the panch ratras, each dedicated to one of the Pandavas. From left (foreground) to right: Draupadi's ratha (resembling a thatched roof house), Arjuna's ratha, Bhima's ratha, and Dharmaraja Yudhisthira's ratha. To the right of the elephant is the ratha for the twins Nakula and Sahadeva, sons of Madri.

There is so much more to Mahabalipuram - for example, the rock relief showing Krishna's raising of Govardhan hill, the "Butter Ball," a huge rock resting precipitously on a slope, and the Shore Temple - that I encourage the reader to Google Mahabalipuram.