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The Life of Hinduism

The Life of Hinduism

John Stratton Hawley
Vasudha Narayanan
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 337
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  • Book Info
    The Life of Hinduism
    Book Description:

    The Life of Hinduismbrings together a series of essays-many recognized as classics in the field-that present Hinduism as a vibrant, truly "lived" religion. Celebrating the diversity for which Hinduism is known, this volume begins its journey in the "new India" of Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, where global connections and local traditions rub shoulders daily. Readers are then offered a glimpse into the multifaceted world of Hindu worship, life-cycle rites, festivals, performances, gurus, and castes. The book's final sections deal with the Hinduism that is emerging in diasporic North America and with issues of identity that face Hindus in India and around the world: militancy versus tolerance and the struggle between owning one's own religion and sharing it with others. Contributors: Andrew Abbott, Michael Burawoy, Patricia Hill Collins, Barbara Ehrenreich, Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Sharon Hays, Douglas Massey, Joya Misra, Orlando Patterson, Frances Fox Piven, Lynn Smith-Lovin, Judith Stacey, Arthur Stinchcombe, Alain Touraine, Immanuel Wallerstein, William Julius Wilson, Robert Zussman

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94007-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    January 1, 2004, was a happy day for India’s surging middle classes. For the first time in history the Sensex, which measures investments on the Bombay stock exchange, was hovering on the verge of 6,000. Reports issued on that day confirmed that the country’s GNP had risen 8.4 percent in the year just past, and the news sent the stock exchange over 6,000 as soon as it opened on the second. Nowhere could the mood of optimism be felt more palpably than in Bangalore, the graceful southern city on the Deccan plateau that serves as capital of India’s information technology...


    • 1 The Experience: Approaching God
      (pp. 33-41)

      Having just shaved and bathed, Ramachandran wraps the three meters of his clean, freshly starched white cottondhotiaround his waist. He places a matching shawl over his shoulders, leaving his chest bare. He then steps into his rubber sandals and slips out the door of his home. Just in front of him, on the ground before the door, his younger sister has almost finished painting an elaboratekolam,a sacred design made with bleached rice flour (see figure 2). It is an activity that either she or his mother or his aunt performs every day of the year. As...

    • 2 The Deity: The Image of God
      (pp. 42-52)
      DIANA L. ECK

      The vivid variety of Hindu deities is visible everywhere in India. Rural India is filled with countless wayside shrines. In every town of some size there are many temples, and every major temple will contain its own panoply of shrines and images. One can see the silver mask of the goddess Durgā or the stone shaft of the śivalingaor the four-armed form of the god Visnu. Over the doorway of a temple or a home sits the plump, orange elephant-headed Ganeśa or the benign and auspicious Laksmī . Moreover, it is not only in temples and homes that...

    • 3 The Miraculous: The Birth of a Shrine
      (pp. 53-60)

      Some seventy-five miles south of Delhi, as the Yamuna River flows south from the foothills of the Himalayas and just before it passes the ancient and holy city of Mathura, it makes a loop to the east. This loop encircles the temple town of Vrindaban, where residents and pilgrims alike believe the god Krishna lived and played as a boy.

      On the north side of Vrindaban, there is a stretch of the riverbank that is particularly rich with stories about Krishna. Here, in November 1992, a gathering of his devotees witnessed his appearance in the form of abhramara—a...


    • 4 Marriage: Women in India
      (pp. 63-75)

      Munni had heard older girls whispering aboutmahinā, something that happened to a woman every month. She had an idea what it was, but still she was not prepared for its happening to her. One day she found a spot on her clothes. She knew it was something embarrassing and tried to hide it, but her cousin’s wife noticed it and took her aside. Bhabhi explained to Munni whatmahināwas and told her how to deal with it. She told her to use cotton batting or even fine ash wrapped in bits of old saris and other rags for...

    • 5 Death beyond Death: The Ochre Robe
      (pp. 76-88)

      The Panjab Mail is one of the three fastest trains in India. It took me to Banaras Cantonment in seven hours. I was now entirely on my own, for I did not know anyone here, except the monks of the Ramakrishna Monastery, and I would hardly seek their company. A monk is supposed to be on his own, and I felt strong and free. I thought of Ramakrishna’s advice: find a place to stay, in a new city, then put your bundle there, and, with that burden off your mind, go sightseeing. His counsel had been meant metaphorically: first place...


    • 6 Divali: The Festival of Lights
      (pp. 91-98)

      Divali marks one of the biggest and grandest celebrations in India. Divali is also known as the Festival of Lights. On this day, Lord Ram (the incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the Treta Yug) returned to his capital Ayodhya after the exile of fourteen years thrust upon him by his stepmother Kaikeyi in jealousy, because Ram would become the king and not her own son Bharat. Thousands of years have passed, and yet so ideal is the kingdom of Ram (ram rajya) that it is remembered to this day.

      Divali comes exactly twenty days after Dussehra on Amavas (new moon),...

    • 7 Holi: The Feast of Love
      (pp. 99-112)

      The intent of this essay is to interpret Krishna and his cult as I met them in a rural village of northern India while I was conducting my first field venture as a social anthropologist. The village was Kishan Garhi,¹ located across the Jumnā from Mathurā and Vrindāban, a day’s walk from the youthful Krishna’s fabled land of Vraja.

      As it happened, I had entered Kishan Garhi for the first time in early March, not long before what most villagers said was going to be their greatest religious celebration of the year, the festival of Holī. Preparations were already under...


    • 8 An Open-Air Ramayana: Ramlila, the Audience Experience
      (pp. 115-139)

      Ramlila is a generic name for the annual dramatic representations of the ancientRamayanastory performed in hundreds of places throughout North India, usually in September and October.¹ These Ramlilas are generally based on the Hindi version of the epic, theRamcharitmanas,composed by Tulsidas in the late sixteenth century. They go on for multiple days—from three days to more than a month. This essay focuses on a particular Ramlila, that of Ramnagar, just across the Ganga from Varanasi—the largest in scale, the most famous, and, as many participants say, the most vibrant withbhakti,or devotion. Its...

    • 9 A Ramayana on Air: “All in the (Raghu) Family,” A Video Epic in Cultural Context
      (pp. 140-157)

      On January 25, 1987, a new program premiered on Doordarshan, India’s government run television network. Broadcast on Sunday mornings at 9:30 A.M., it represented an experiment for the national network, for it was the first time that the medium of television was to be used to present a serialized adaptation of one of the great cultural and religious epics of India. The chosen work was theRāmāyana—the story first narrated in Sanskrit some two millennia ago by the poet Valmiki and retold numerous times in succeeding centuries by poets in every major regional language, most notably, for North India...

    • 10 Possession by Durga: The Mother Who Possesses
      (pp. 158-170)

      Although individual Hindu goddesses possess distinctive attributes, their identities also overlap to a considerable extent, and many—if not most—goddesses are, at least in some contexts, considered to be manifestations of the one Great Goddess, Devī. Similarly, goddesses tend to manifest themselves not in a single form but in multiple iconic forms, as well as in such natural phenomena as rocks, plants, rivers, mountains, and flames. This flexibility of identity and multiplication of form are nowhere more evident than in the phenomenon of divine possession.

      Divine possession is the most dramatic way to encounter the Goddess experientially, and it...


    • 11 Anandamayi Ma: God Came as a Woman
      (pp. 173-183)

      I begin by posing a provocative question: How would our lives be different if we had been raised with the conviction, the surety, that God exists as our Divine Mother, all-loving and all-powerful?

      Over the past two decades, this question has been posed by many Western feminist theologians who assume that a move away from patriarchal images of God as father and king toward powerful yet compassionate female religious images would empower women and help create a more balanced and humane society. It has provoked a passionate interest in and nostalgia for real and imagined ancient goddess cultures, such as...

    • 12 Radhasoami: The Healing Offer
      (pp. 184-196)

      I attended my first Satsang immediately after my arrival in Beas on a cold December morning. The Satsang was to be held in the large open space behind the Satsang Ghar, the imposing congregation hall built during the early part of this century that dominates the township and the plains around it. With its hundred-foot-high ceiling, marble floors inlaid with mosaic designs, and profusion of arches, columns, and towers, the Satsang Ghar is a medley of architectural styles. In fact, at first glance, before the aesthetic eye can become clouded over by the film of faith, the Satsang Ghar looks...


    • 13 A Dalit Poet-Saint: Ravidas
      (pp. 199-217)

      Benares, Hinduism’s oldest city and a citadel of the Brahmin caste, fits along the left bank of the Ganges as if it were an elaborately embroidered sleeve. A long and complicated city, like the religious tradition it symbolizes, it opens at its southern extremity onto the spacious grounds of Banaras Hindu University, and for most people it stops there. But just beyond the high wall that surrounds the university, at its back gate, there is one more settlement, a dusty little enclave called Sri Govardhanpur. It is the last collection of houses before the country begins, and there is a...

    • 14 A Brahmin Woman: Revenge Herself
      (pp. 218-228)

      Lalitambika Antarjanam was born in 1909 in the Kottarakara district of southern Kerala of literary parents who both wrote poetry. She herself had little formal education. In 1927 she was married to Narayanan Nambudiri. She was an active participant in the Indian National Congress and was later associated with the Kerala Marxist Party. All through her life she was a political activist and social reformer. Her published works consist of nine collections of short stories, six collections of poems, two books for children, and a novel,Agnisakshi(1980), which won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for the best literary work...


    • 15 Hinduism in Pittsburgh: Creating the South Indian “Hindu” Experience in the United States
      (pp. 231-248)

      In southern India, where the landscape is studded with temple towers and where deities are said to have manifested themselves spontaneously, it was hard to live in a town where there was no temple. When the early Saiva Brahmins crossed the seas to Cambodia and Indonesia in the fifth and sixth centuries C.E., they carried on their temple-building activity. It may never be known whether these early emigrants ever considered leaving the land that Manu, the lawgiver, describes as “where the black antelope naturally roams.” Manu urges members of the higher classes to dwell in the land that extends as...

    • 16 A Diasporic Hindu Creed: Some Basic Features of Hinduism
      (pp. 249-254)

      Hinduism is a monotheistic religion in which God is believed to manifest Himself or Herself in several forms.¹ One is supposed to worship the form that one finds most appealing without being disrespectful to other forms of worship. The religion has evolved over thousands of years with a spirit of tolerance toward different ways of spiritual fulfillment.² This explains why Hinduism does not lend itself to conversion to or from other religions, for it holds that religions are alternate ways of worshipping the same divine principle and thus should not claim monopoly of spiritual wisdom. Hinduism believes in a continuity,...


    • 17 Militant Hinduism: Ayodhya and the Momentum of Hindu Nationalism
      (pp. 257-265)

      The galvanizing event in the recent history of religion in India was the destruction of the so-called Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, a sleepy pilgrimage town on the Gangetic Plain southeast of Delhi. There, on December 6, 1992, Hindu militants pulled down a Mughal mosque stone by stone as two hundred thousand people watched and cheered. They were clearing the ground for a massive temple to Rama on the site they believe to be this god’s birthplace—a site, therefore, where no mosque ever belonged.

      The dispute about Rama’s birthplace is a long and intricate one. Many Hindus would date it...

    • 18 Tolerant Hinduism: Shared Ritual Spaces—Hindus and Muslims at the Shrine of Shahul Hamid
      (pp. 266-270)

      In contrast to what is commonly perceived as Hindu-Muslim conflict in the Indian Subcontinent, the sharing of a metaphoric world and the mutual adaptation of religious vocabulary and ritual among Hindus and Muslims may be found in the Tamil-speaking region of South India. A striking example of this mutual adaptation can be found at thedargah(shrine) of Shahul Hamid (ca. 1513–1579) in the city of Nagore.

      Nagore is on the eastern coast of South India, and the dargah is right on the Bay of Bengal. This is where Shahul Hamid lived in the later part of his life,...

    • 19 Hinduism for Hindus: Taking Back Hindu Studies
      (pp. 271-287)

      This essay is a response to writings by Rajiv Malhotra on RISA-L scholarship and Hinduism that appeared on the Web site¹ I have written it in my capacity as a Hindu living in the diaspora and as a member (albeit marginalized!) of RISA-L. The essay is addressed to the readers and members of as well as those Indians and other scholars, researchers, and sympathizers of Hinduism who work with, alongside, and for disciplines that may come under the rubric of Hindu studies as part of the larger discipline of Indology. More particularly, it seeks to initiate a dialogue...

    • 20 Hinduism with Others: Interlogue
      (pp. 288-300)

      This essay is presented as a prolegomenon to building constructive and collegial relationships between Hindu and non-Hindu both inside and outside the academy. Our work was born out of a set of conversations and experiences among the three of us that we believe to be far more extensive and everyday than is usual in the present intellectual climate, where there is suspicion on one side and resentment on the other. This essay is an attempt to put the Gandhian principles ofsatyagraha—which were articulated at one scholarly meeting in 2002 and are now sadly at risk of being mired...

    (pp. 301-306)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 307-324)