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My views mentioned in Daniel Golden's article in WSJ 1-25-06

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  • Madhav M. Deshpande
    Dear List members, I have sent the following letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal. I am reproducing here so that the readers can see my views in my
    Message 1 of 4 , Jan 25 6:30 PM
      Dear List members,

      I have sent the following letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal. I am
      reproducing here so that the readers can see my views in my own words. Best,

      Madhav Deshpande

      To
      Editor
      Wall Street Journal


      Dear Sir,

      In the Eastern Edition of today's (1-25-06) issue of WSJ, Mr. Daniel Golden has
      published an important article: Defending the Faith: New Battle Ground in Textbook
      Wars; Religion in History; Hindu, Islamic, Jewish Groups Fault Portrayals of Events
      and Often Win Changes. In this article, Mr. Daniel Golden refers to his phone
      conversation with me and briefly describes my views on the current dispute in
      California regarding depiction of Hinduism. In abbreviating my views, his statements
      are likely to misinform the reader as to exactly what my views are, and hence it is
      appropriate to briefly state my views in my own words.

      I wish Mr. Golden had given me an opportunity to see the copy of his article
      before it was published. I may have been able to help him phrase my views with
      better clarity. In any case, the following is a gist of what I told Mr. Golden in our
      phone conversation. I am interested in a non-ideological matter-of-fact
      representation of Hindu history. On inequalities of caste and the status of women,
      all one needs to do is to read the Laws of Manu in all its details. Is caste part of the
      traditional Hinduism? The Purusasukta hymn giving origins of four castes from the
      mouth, arms, thighs and feet of the cosmic primordial being is as Vedic as it gets,
      and is repeated by Manu and other subsequent religious/legal authorities. As for
      polytheism/monotheism debate, there are sufficient studies of 19th century India that
      Indian religious reformers (e.g. Brahmo Samaj of Bengal, Arya Samaj of Punjab,
      Prarthana Samaj of Pune etc.) were directly responding to critiques of Hinduism in
      their environment and highlighting some aspect of the old tradition such as
      meditation on Brahman "primordial underlying universal reality" above all the
      contemporary diverse practices that have continued unabated to this day. The Hindu
      reformers of the colonial period projected all the religious and social reforms they
      were seeking back into ancient Vedic past, and that allowed them to claim that what
      they were proposing was not something new, but merely a return to a purer past, by
      discarding the unwelcome accretions of the medieval period. All social/religious
      dimensions such as caste, child marriage, burning of the widows, unequal treatment
      of women, etc. were deemed as having arisen in post-Vedic medieval times, and were
      claimed not to be part of true/original/ancient Hinduism of the Vedas. The Vedas
      were deemed to provide a form of modernity more modern than the contemporary
      modernity provided by the colonial rulers and missionaries. Every issue like caste,
      untouchability, child-marriage, was debated hotly in the 19th century and early 20th
      century India, where both the reformers and their orthodox opponents were making
      claims of going back to the purer past. Such is the complex history of these debates,
      and reforms, many of which fortunately were incorporated into the modern Hindu
      Code Bill, giving shape to modern Hindu society. My own grand mother was married
      at the age of 9 which was the norm in those days in India. The Hindu monogamy of
      the present day India is not a continuation of some classical tradition, but has been
      brought about only by relatively modern legislations, rather than the pre-modern
      tradition that clearly sanctioned polygamy. Such modern reforms, many now
      incorporated in modern Hindu laws (the Hindu Code Bill) passed by the Indian
      parliament are drastic changes from the prior norms, and cannot be imagined to have
      been effective all through the history of that tradition. Otherwise there would have
      been no need for reform movements. I am glad that I was born in a post-social-
      reform Hinduism, but that does not make these reforms part of the pre-reform
      classical and ancient Hindu history. And in the Madhva Vaisnava family of
      Deshpandes in southern Maharashtra where my grand-father grew up, the name of
      god Shiva was banned from the house, because they were worshippers of Vishnu. In
      the Madhva Vaishnava dialect of Marathi in our house, they would not use the
      common Marathi verb "shiv" to sew clothes, but found alternative words. Even while
      scrubbing floors, the Madhva Vaishnava women of my family many generations ago
      used to scrub floors with vertical motions of hand, rather than sideways, because that
      resembled the Shaiva marks on the forehead. Such was the Shaiva/Vaishnava divide,
      part of daily experience even within my own family a few generations ago. "Sages
      speak of one truth in various ways" is just one single statement of the ancient Vedic
      text of the Rigveda that stands besides the thousands of Vedic hymns and ritual
      sacrificial practices where making specific offerings to different specific gods is
      specifically required. There has been a wide gap between the philosophical unity of
      Brahman proposed by the Upanisads, and the diversity of actual religious practice of
      worshiping many different gods and goddesses. The typical phrases in most rituals,
      after worshipping various gods and goddesses is "sarvebhyo devebhyo namo namaH"
      (salutations to all gods) in plural. The term "monotheism" is inappropriate to describe
      the beliefs in one Brahman as the principle that underlies all reality, and creates and
      incorporates all gods without rejecting them, along with everything else. The best
      term for this form of "Brahman=Everything-ism" is perhaps, monism (advaita), rather
      than monotheism (eka-isvara-vada). That is why the 9th century philosopher
      Sankara, a proponent of this kind of monism, rejects the possibility of devotion of
      god in the ultimate state of Brahman-realization. No devotion is possible, when
      there is only one entity in real existence. Even then only Advaitins ever subscribed to
      this sort of monism. More Hindu traditions opposed it, including the celebrated
      Hindu traditions of Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, and Mimamsa, not to mention the
      Dvaita Vedanta, or the worshippers of many gods and goddesses. Plurality is the
      core of Hindu religious life of the masses, with only a rare philosopher claiming that
      all gods are in reality only different names of the same truth. If I had to write my
      own views in my own words, this is how I would write them. [These are my personal
      views and not those of the institution to which I belong.]


      Madhav M. Deshpande
      Professor of Sanskrit and Linguistics
      University of Michigan



      Madhav M. Deshpande

      *-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*
      Professor of Sanskrit & Linguistics
      Department of Asian Languages & Cultures
      The University of Michigan
      Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1285, USA
    • naga_ganesan
      ... The use of spellings like Buddh for Buddha in the recommended edits show that it is a north Indian effort where these 19th century adjustments to
      Message 2 of 4 , Jan 26 7:08 PM
        --- In Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com, "Madhav M. Deshpande"
        <mmdesh@U...> wrote:

        > As for polytheism/monotheism debate, there are sufficient studies
        >of 19th century India that Indian religious reformers (e.g. Brahmo
        >Samaj of Bengal, Arya Samaj of Punjab, Prarthana Samaj of Pune
        >etc.) were directly responding to critiques of Hinduism in their
        >environment

        The use of spellings like "Buddh" for Buddha in the recommended
        edits show that it is a north Indian effort where these 19th century
        adjustments to monotheism of colonial rulers took place. A popular
        book on the many, many gods and their qualities, attributes of India
        is Hindu polythesism (Danielou). Now, Hindu Polytheism is available
        as a paperback in Princeton Bollingen Series.

        >My own grand mother was married at the age of 9 which was the norm
        >in those days in India. The Hindu monogamy of the present day India
        >is not a continuation of some classical tradition, but has been
        >brought about only by relatively modern legislations, rather than
        >the pre-modern tradition that clearly sanctioned polygamy. Such
        >modern reforms, many now incorporated in modern Hindu laws (the
        >Hindu Code Bill)

        It was common for chiefs, land lords, ... to have many wives.
        Plus, some gaNikas, dasis too - well attested in sangam texts as
        well. I've seen early 20th century photos of elaborate wedding
        rituals to make a banana tree as a fourth wife. First a wedding
        ceremony with a kadali tree, and then the next (real) wedding to
        make a woman technically a fifth wife. For polygamy in Hinduism we
        can look at Hindu gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Murukan (Skanda) - a
        minimum of two wives. Since Gods are treated as royalty with temple
        as their palace, many correspondences between royal and temple
        processions and rituals.

        >And in the Madhva Vaisnava family of Deshpandes in southern
        >Maharashtra where my grand-father grew up, the name of god Shiva
        >was banned from the house, because they were worshippers of Vishnu.
        >In the Madhva Vaishnava dialect of Marathi in our house, they would
        >not use the common Marathi verb "shiv" to sew clothes, but found
        >alternative words. Even while scrubbing floors, the Madhva
        >Vaishnava women of my family many generations ago used to scrub
        >floors with vertical motions of hand, rather than sideways, because
        > that resembled the Shaiva marks on the forehead. Such was the
        >Shaiva/Vaishnava divide, part of daily experience even within my
        >own family a few generations ago.

        Even in 6-7th century bhakti poems of Alvars and Nayanmars,
        the sectarian rivalry is evident as also in the Pallava & early
        Pandya monuments. Lingodbhava legend depicted behind any Shiva
        sanctum in the south India shows Brahma and Vishnu not able find the
        top and bottom of Shivalinga. In the Chola temples we find
        Sarabhamurti killing Narasimha avatar. In Srivaishnava temples,
        there is court cases running for more than a century to decide
        which Vaishnava mark (tenkalai or vaDakalai) should be adorning the
        processional elephant's forehead.

        >Even then only Advaitins ever subscribed to
        >this sort of monism. More Hindu traditions opposed it, including
        > the celebrated Hindu traditions of Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya,
        >and Mimamsa, not to mention the Dvaita Vedanta, or the worshippers
        >of many gods and goddesses. Plurality is the core of Hindu
        >religious life of the masses, with only a rare philosopher
        >claiming that all gods are in reality only different names of the
        >same truth.

        We don't find advaita books dating many centuries back in dravidian
        languages. Many advaita books are in English and this is
        largely a 20th century urban phenomenon. Maybe because of 19th
        and 20th century European interest in advaita, English educated
        urban elites started copying and this became popular in cities.
        Even in the internet e-lists, advaita groups exist in English, but in
        the mother tongues of various Indian states, advaita writings
        are indeed very small or do not exist. Earlier bhakti movements with
        temples and rituals was dualistic. While we find 1000s of
        inscriptions and bronzes of bhakti saints, Saiva siddhanta
        adheenams, Vaishnava Jeeyars etc., the notable advaita mutt of
        Kanchi is not mentioned at all until well into the British period
        (late 19th century). Historian R. C. Majumdar mentioned a possible
        influence of monotheistic religions like Islam from Arab traders in
        the Kerala coast upon Sankara to formulate advaita apart from
        obvious sources like Mahayana Buddhism.

        Regards,
        N. Ganesan
      • Valerie J Roebuck
        ... Why was this necessary? Was number four considered unlucky in some way? Valerie J Roebuck Manchester, UK
        Message 3 of 4 , Jan 26 11:57 PM
          At 3:08 am +0000 27/1/06, naga_ganesan wrote:

          >--- In Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com, "Madhav M. Deshpande"
          ><mmdesh@U...> wrote:
          >
          >......
          >The Hindu monogamy of the present day India
          > >is not a continuation of some classical tradition, but has been
          >>brought about only by relatively modern legislations, rather than
          >>the pre-modern tradition that clearly sanctioned polygamy. Such
          >>modern reforms, many now incorporated in modern Hindu laws (the
          >>Hindu Code Bill)
          >
          >It was common for chiefs, land lords, ... to have many wives.
          >Plus, some gaNikas, dasis too - well attested in sangam texts as
          >well. I've seen early 20th century photos of elaborate wedding
          >rituals to make a banana tree as a fourth wife. First a wedding
          >ceremony with a kadali tree, and then the next (real) wedding to
          >make a woman technically a fifth wife.

          Why was this necessary? Was number four considered unlucky in some way?

          Valerie J Roebuck
          Manchester, UK
        • naga_ganesan
          ... Perhaps, because four people carry a dead body to cremation ground. In Tamil, we commonly hear, naalu pErAvatu irukkaNum (at least you need 4 people
          Message 4 of 4 , Jan 27 8:34 AM
            --- In Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com, Valerie J Roebuck
            <vjroebuck@m...> wrote:


            >> It was common for chiefs, land lords, ... to have many wives.
            > >Plus, some gaNikas, dasis too - well attested in sangam texts as
            > >well. I've seen early 20th century photos of elaborate wedding
            > >rituals to make a banana tree as a fourth wife. First a wedding
            > >ceremony with a kadali tree, and then the next (real) wedding to
            > >make a woman technically a fifth wife.
            >
            > Why was this necessary? Was number four considered
            > unlucky in some way?

            Perhaps, because four people carry a dead body to cremation ground.
            In Tamil, we commonly hear, "naalu pErAvatu irukkaNum" (at least
            you need 4 people (finally) ) and "anta naalu pEr enna colluvaar?"
            (what will those four people talk (in the society)).


            ---

            The use of plantain tree in the (substitute) wedding reminds us
            the use of plantain trunks by devadAsis beating sivacaryar priests
            in Siva temples on the Tiru-uuDal utsavam functions. In tiruvUTal
            festivals, Parvati leaves Siva for his affairs with Ganga
            and refuses to leave her quarters to meet Him. To calm her anger,
            Sundaramurti Nayanar acts as the go between. This Nayanar, a
            Sivacharya gurukkaL by birth, is famous for his own love stories and
            his life legends form the framework for Periyapuranam.

            In tiruvuuDal functions, there is lots of music and dance by
            devadAsis in the goddess sannadhi. When priests (in the robe
            of Saivaite Nayanar) arrive kadali plantain trunks are used by the
            dasis Interestingly, kAdal is love, kAdali is lover in old Tamil.
            (devadAsi is a 20th century translation term from tamil
            tEvaraTiyAr/tEvaTiyaaL as per Leslie Orr's book (on Chola era
            women) ). The songs and prose used in these festivals are almost
            gone now. I've some collections from 6 or 7 temples.

            Obviously, plantain trunk and women connections are ancient.
            There's a MaNimekalai buddhist epic in Tamil.
            MaNimekhala is a sea divinity in Cambodia.
            Manimekhala, a Divinity of the Sea
            By Sylvain Levi, The Indian Historical Quarterly
            Vol.VI, No.4, 1930.12, pp. 597-614
            http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-ENG/levi.htm

            [Begin Quote]
            the Siamese edition of the Jataka, published from
            Bangkok in 1922, which gives a carefully established
            text, reads here (instead of suvannakkhando viya)
            suvannakaddali (sic) khando viya, "like the trunk of
            a plantain tree in gold," a detail, which completely
            modifies the spirit of comparison. The plantain tree,
            in the whole Sanskrit literature, is a symbol of
            illusion; it has the appearance of a tree but is
            simply constituted by a bunch of leaves. Buddha on
            different occasions (Majjh. I, 233; Sam. IV, 167)
            uses the parable of the man who went with his axe in
            search of good wood (Sara-) and cut only the trunk of
            a plantain tree. The trunk of
            the plantain tree reappears again in the enumeration
            of illustraions along with wave, bubble of water,
            mirage etc., in the Samyutta, II, 141 and in the
            Sanskrit Mahavyutpatti, 2826 (edition of Sakaki). The
            trunk of the plantain tree is also the mark of
            physical beauty; the dictionary of "the Pali Text
            Society" quotes the authority of the commentary of
            the Vimanavatthu, p.280. In fact, the commentator in
            this passage explains the expression sampanna-uru
            -thana of the text by kadalikkhanda-sadisa-uru (a
            Woman who has her thighs similar to trunks of banana
            tree). The same expression occurs in a witty stanza
            introduced by the commentator Ravicandra in his
            edition of Amaru, but not known to other
            commentators:

            urudvayam mrgadrsah kadalasya kandau
            madhyam ca vedir atulam stanayugmam asyah/
            lavanyavariparipuritasatakumbha-
            kumbham manojanrpater abhisecanaya//
            [End Quote]


            N. Ganesan
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