(By insisting that Hinduism’s…)

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Charmy Harikrishnan

On this election eve, tell me, who among you would come out in support of Wendy Doniger, whose carefully titled book The Hindus: An Alternative History is getting ready to be pulped by publishing behemoth Penguin? You who cannot stop speaking of India becoming a superpower, you who would almost write an ode to the Right to Information Act, you who rage against corruption at the drop of a hat and the digging of an oil well, you who incessantly look back at the glorious past of Bharat – who among you would speak up for that little big thing called free speech in this country? But this is a land where intolerance has been institutionalised by the very people who wield power.

Perhaps the Gandhis will speak up for Doniger. But how will they, when the Congress’s own spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi went to court against Spanish writer Javier Moro’s novel The Red Sari, as it was probably based on Sonia Gandhi‘s life? In 2010, the Italian and Spanish publishers of Moro – who co-authored Five Past Midnight in Bhopal with Dominique Lapierre – got a court order from Singhvi demanding the withdrawal of the book from the stores. When pointed out that the book was a novel, not a biography, Singhvi then told me, “There is no question of fictionalising a living person.” No, the Congress won’t speak up for Doniger.

Perhaps the NCP, that political bulwark against the RSS in Maharashtra, will speak for Doniger. But how will it, when its own businessman-politician Praful Patel just last month went to court against The Descent of Air India by a former Air India executive director, because it blamed Patel for the misfortunes of the carrier?

Will the BJP — whose prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi made a politically canny speech in Kerala that “the dominant voice of the next decade in India will be that of the Dalits, backward castes and other oppressed sections” — acknowledge that there are alternate visions and versions and revisions of Hinduism? Can Modi tell those who come to drink tea with him at the Chai pe Charcha — from Siliguri to Silicon Valley — that he does not believe that the book should be pulled out? But how can he, when his own government banned Joseph Lelyveld’s book The Great Soul on the faintest suspicion that it implied a homosexual relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach? Modi then said, “The depiction about Mahatma Gandhi made by Lelyveld deserves to be despised. We wish that the author and the publisher of the book accept their mistake and render a public apology.” No, the BJP won’t speak for Doniger.

India has institutionalised half knowledge. The government is reluctant to regularly declassify documents. That lodestar of scholars – the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in Delhi — will not open up its entire repository: to view certain Nehru papers, one still needs permission from the Gandhi family. Instead of bringing out volumes that are carefully curated by Sonia, how about throwing the archive open? But no, stories and histories should fit the mould approved by the powerful.

On one hand is the silence of the powerful. On the other hand is the noise of hecklers.

Dina Nath Batra, whose organisation Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti sued Doniger’s Hindus, and who, according to the online daily Scroll.in, plans to file a case against her new book On Hinduism is quoted as saying, “Freedom of speech does not give anyone the right to selectively talk about sexual references in religious texts.” He took offence to eroticisation in the book, even the rather unexceptional cover image of Krishna sitting on a horse made of naked women.

But when was eroticisation alien to Hinduism? You who rage at the sight of a naked goddess painted by a non-Hindu and you who shudder at the sight of Krishna sitting on a naked woman on the cover of a book written by a non-Hindu, wouldn’t you blanch at the very title Saundarya Lahiri? But it is by Adi Shankara. It is devotion at its finest. It is poetry at its finest. And there are graphic descriptions of the goddess that you would not be able to handle, Batra. Try shlokas 78 and 79. Will you attack your Shankara, Batra? Will you ban Saundarya Lahiri?

Sloka 78 –

Oh mother! the only permanent refuge


स्थिरो गंगावर्त: स्तनमुकुलरोमावलिलता-

कलावालं कुण्ड्म् कुसमशरतेजोहुतभुज:

रतेर्लीलागारं किमपि तव नाभिर्गिरिसूते

    बिलद्वारं सिद्धेर्गिरिशनयनानां विजयते  ॥  ७८


Sthiro   Ganga-varthaha  Sthana-mukula-roema-aavali-lathaa-

a-kalaavaalam   Kundham   Kusuma-shara-taejo-hutha-bhujaha

Rathae-r-leela-aagaaram   Kim-api   Tava   Naabhi-r-giri-sutae

Bila-dwaaram   Sidhae-r-girisha-nayanaanaam   Vijayathae


Oh Mother


Daughter suthae

of the mountains giri



Your Tava

navel Naabhi


From where arises aalavaalam

a row of fine hair, roema-aavali

like a creeper, lathaa

the buds mukula

of which are your breasts. Sthana


To the devotee,

it always Kim-api    

prevails; Vijayathae



It is an  everlasting Sthiro 

whirl-pool varthaha

in the Ganga, Ganga


It is the furnace Kundham

where the fires taejo-

of  Kaama deva  Kusuma-shara

burns hutha-bhujaha;


Wherein, plays leela-aagaaram

Rathi,  the partner of Kama deva Rathae,


It is where the Tapas done Bila-dwaaram

by the eyes nayanaanaam

of Shiva girisha

attains its fruits Sidhae

Sloka 79–

Oh mother !  May I meditate on the beauty of your waist

निसर्गक्षीणस्य स्तनतटभरेण क्लमजुषो

नमन्मूर्तेर्नारीतिलक ! शनकैस्त्रुट्यत इव

चिरं ते मध्यस्य त्रुटिततटिनीतीरतरुणा

       समावस्थास्थेम्नो भवतु कुशलं शैलतनये  ॥ ७९  


Nisarga-ksheenasya   Sthana-thata-bharaena   Klama-jushoe

Naman-moorthae-r-naaree-thilaka   Shanakai-s-trutiyatha-iva

Chiram   Tae   Madhyasya   Trutitha-thatinee-theera-tharunaa

Sama-avasththaa-s-tthaemno   Bhavathu   Kushalam   Shaila-thanayae



Oh mother


Daughter thanayae

of the mountains Shaila-


The most beautiful, naaree-thilaka  

with a slightly bent Naman

physique moorthae


your Tae  

waist  , Madyasya

naturally Nisarga

frail,  ksheenasya


(And further) debilitated Klama-jushoe

by (the weight of) your bosom Sthana-thada-bharaena


Like Sama-avasththaa-s- ththaemnao

a tree tharunaa

on the eroded Trutitha,

shore theera

of a river, thatinee

as if iva

about to  collapse trutiyatha

slowly. Shanakai


To the devotee

may it  Bhavathu

prevail Kushalam

for ever Chiram 

Then go to Kumara Sambhava (The Birth of Kumara) by Kalidasa. Canto 8, please. “Nabhidesa nihitah sakampaya/ Sankarasya rurudhe taya karah/ tannitambam atha c’abhavat svayam/ duram ucchvasitanivi bandhanam.” Here’s the translation: “When Shankara put his hand/near her navel/ she quivered and pushed it away/ and then her buttocks/ of their own accord/ far undid the petticoat string.”

Will you sue Kalidasa, Batra, for eroticising Shankara and Parvati?

By insisting that Hinduism’s stories and histories should fit the narrow cast of your ideology, you haven’t proved to be a bigger Hindu, Batra. You have only proved to be a bigger bigot.

Read more here — http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-02-12/news/47269836_1_air-india-book-javier-moro

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