Aditi Banerjee’s Response To Shatavadhani Ganesh’s Review Of “The Battle For Sanskrit”

A Response to Ganesh’s Review of The Battle for Sanskrit

In recent days, an important critique of Rajiv Malhotra’s book, The Battle for Sanskrit, was released by an acclaimed and prominent scholar, Shatavadhani Ganesh.  The review is available here

Purism vs. Pragmatism — You go to war with the army that you have

Ganesh begins his review of The Battle for Sanskrit with a very strange musing.  He says, “Before the Great War, Arjuna developed cold feet and Krishna counselled him to lift up his weapons and fight. But how would have Krishna reacted if Arjuna had been over-zealous to battle the sons of Dhritarashtra even before the Pandava side was fully prepared? … In the battle for Sanskrit, Rajiv Malhotra is like an enthusiastic commander of a committed army whose strengths and weaknesses he himself is sadly unable to reconcile.”

Apart from the rank condescension in tone of the statement and the rest of the review, this reveals one of the fundamental flaws of Ganesh’s critique.  He prizes theoretical purism over the practical realities of the world and the battle we are in, whether we wish to be fighting or not, whether we are ready for the war or not.  Our only choice is whether we team up in the battle against Pollock and others, because they have already started the war against us.

Donald Rumsfeld once famously said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want.”  We can dither on the sidelines and engage in handwringing about whether or not we are ready, but the battle is going on with or without us!  We could stop writing against Pollock, but we can’t stop him writing against us.  To follow Ganesh’s advice, we should take a collective sabbatical for a number of years, do some deep navel-gazing, attain moksha or some level of ‘universal experience’ that quiets all words, and then we can respond to Pollock.

That might be intellectually satisfying, but that is not how the real world works.

What are the right qualifications for this battle?

Embedded in Ganesh’s critique is the allegation that Malhotra is not qualified enough for this work, because he is not formally trained in Sanskrit and does not have enough of a grounding in traditional Hinduism.  Ganesh claims that Malhotra falls short in establishing siddhanta / Uttara-paksha (i.e., giving a definitive rebuttal to Pollock) in many places and that where he does do so, it is ‘borrowed’ from other scholars.

But in fact Malhotra is quite candid in his book that the whole call to action of the book is to develop and empower a home team of such scholars who would be able to develop and deploy a siddhanta / Uttara-paksha in response to Pollock.  His aim in the book is to show what it is that the other side is saying about Hinduism and Sanskrit and to provide the outlines of a response from within the tradition.  Most of our traditional scholars to whom Ganesh points are not aware of Pollock’s work or the complexity and nuance of Western theories that underlie academic Sanskrit studies. Without knowing that, they could not offer a meaningful response to Pollock. One of the central aims of Malhotra’s book is to provide an overview and analysis of Pollock’s claims to help our traditional scholars enter the battlefield armed and prepared.

Moreover, Ganesh completely misses the fact that Malhotra does have strong qualifications for waging this battle that most of our traditional scholars today lack.  These qualifications are just as important, if not more so, than formal training in Sanskrit.  Most of our traditional scholars lack real-world experience in the global intellectual kurukshetra.  Malhotra has tirelessly battled in public with the other side and held his ground and has developed expertise and experience in debating with the other side effectively, a skill which most of our traditional scholars do not have.

It is one thing to have conclaves and discussions with like-minded people; but such discussions will not impact the academic discourse about Sanskrit and Hinduism going on in the world of universities and academia.  Traditional scholars who are cloistered in their own cocoons do not recognize what is happening in the world outside, and while they are extremely knowledgeable in their respective fields, this alone does not equip them to engage with the other side.  If they lack knowledge of Western thought, they cannot speak in the vocabulary that is needed to engage in this debate.  We do not yet have the power to dictate the terms of the battle, so we have to arm ourselves with Western models of thought in order to properly rebut them and create space for our own modes of thought.


While Ganesh says several times that the battle for Sanskrit is an important one that must be fought, he contradicts himself and seems to be lulled into a sense of escapism that all these battles are ultimately irrelevant and meaningless.  For example, he says,

“The means of transcendence may be through text, ritual, or art, but adherents aim to go beyond Form and internalize Content (by means of reflective inquiry into the Self), thus attaining what the Taittiriya Upanisad calls ‘brahmananda.’ This transcendental approach ensures that we neither harbour any malice towards divergent views nor give undue importance to differences in form. It helps us achieve harmony amidst diversity. … The idea of transcending comes neither from inadequacy nor from inability to handle variety. While the tradition respects diversity, its focus is on going within and going beyond.”

In other words, since our goal is to go beyond diversity, we should not get too bothered by Pollock and his divergent views.  In fact, he further criticizes Malhotra for “go[ing] against Gaudapada’s observation – ‘Dualists have firm beliefs in their own systems and are at loggerheads with one another but the non-dualists don’t have a quarrel with them. The dualists may have a problem with non-dualists but not the other way around.’ (Mandukya Karika 3.17-18).”  In other words, because we are so superior to the West, it is understandable for the West to have a problem with Sanskrit but we should not bother to have a problem with them!

It is precisely this kind of contradiction, complacency and escapism that has been the plague of Hindus for so long.  While Ganesh says this is a battle we should fight, he doesn’t seem to have the heart for it.  Ganesh’s goal seems to be inner peace and contentment – in which case one wonders why he bothers having this encounter with Malhotra in the first place. He concludes his critique with the following:

“That said, if we allow ourselves to be too troubled by such scholars and such debates, we will never be able to attain the peace of a contemplative mind. While we shall respect scholars like Malhotra and Pollock, we shall also remember Shankara’s insightful words: ‘The web of words, akin to a great forest, deludes the intellect. Seek thus to know the true Self, O seeker of Truth!’ (Vivekachudamani 60).”

That is great for Ganesh personally, but for those of us who care about the defense of Dharma, we do have to care about Pollock’s views, we do have to take them seriously, and we do have to counter them.

Mischaracterizations of Malhotra’s Work

Ganesh in many places mischaracterizes Malhotra’s positions or misunderstands them.

Ignoring Internal Differences

Ganesh accuses Malhotra of “clubbing all insider views” as the traditionalist view and reiterates that different schools of Vedanta have different interpretations of the Vedas but claim that only theirs is right.  He asks, “Who is to say what the right version is? Which of these schools qualify to be ‘the traditionalist view’? Who is the ‘ideal insider’?”

First of all, Malhotra has never glossed over the diversity within Indic thought.  His earlier book, Being Different, in fact goes through great lengths to contrast Indian diversity with the Western impulse towards homogeneity and the Abrahamic emphasis upon “one truth”.  In his subsequent book, Indra’s Net, Malhotra developed this thesis further into what he calls the open architecture of dharma systems, i.e., a framework and ecosystem that promotes the flowering of multiplicity of views and practices without competition or the need to assert supremacy.  Not only is there immense diversity, but at the same time there is profound underlying unity.

While respecting the diversity of Indic traditions, however, it is possible to find within them a harmonious ethos and value system that is consistent across them and that can be meaningfully contrasted with Western models without eliding the differences between the various darshanas, for example.  When Malhotra talks about the traditional view in the context of this book, he is not picking one of the darshanas as being the right and only one; he is speaking to a unity of thought behind all of the darshanas that bind them together and differentiate them from Western ways.

If Ganesh is offended at such a characterization, then such purism will render it impossible to ever engage in meaningful dialogue with the West or with any other tradition.

Ignoring Traditional Scholars

Ganesh accuses Malhotra of ignoring and looking down upon past masters and traditionalist scholars.  He provides a whole laundry list of scholars that he alleges should have been mentioned by Malhotra.  However, it is not clear what the point of this is.

Malhotra has never denied the existence of traditional scholars and when appropriate he always cites other scholars.  In fact, he always includes very extensive bibliographies and gives credit to other scholars whose ideas he uses—as Ganesh himself implicitly acknowledges elsewhere when he claims that Malhotra’s siddhanta is often ‘borrowed’ from other scholars that he cites.  Malhotra also explains in his book that he approached numerous traditional scholars for help in his research. But that almost every one of them came back after a few weeks to say that they could simply not understand Pollock’s heavy, jargon-laden writings.

Accordingly, in the context of this book, Malhotra was unable to rely on the traditional scholars he sought out to consult.  The process of writing this book revealed the shortcomings we have when it comes to our traditional scholars and how ill-equipped they are for the type of engagement and debate we need to have with the West.  Moreover, when it comes to this particular kshetra, the work of other traditional scholars cited by Ganesh is less relevant.  Malhotra is not discussing here the Aryan Invasion Theory or other specific issues; he is dismantling the very frameworks used by Western Indologists to study and interpret our traditions.  His approach is unique and new.

It is true that Malhotra critiques traditional scholars in his book.  This is not out of disrespect or dismissiveness of the role of the traditional scholar—to the contrary, Malhotra wants to empower them to take up the mantle of academic studies of Sanskrit and Hinduism that are currently dominated by Westerners.  The critique is meant as a call to action to develop a strong coterie of traditional scholars who can take this battle forward.

Why Study the West?

Ganesh takes issue with Malhotra’s proposition that traditional Indian scholars must study Western theories in order to be taken seriously by the West.  Again this is part of the self-contradictory nature of the critique, which at times acknowledges the importance of fighting this battle and at other times resorts to escapism.  Here again he takes an escapist approach:

“Malhotra’s pseudo-logic is like the trap of Nyaya that later advaitis fell victim to. See Shankara’s comment on nayyayikas in his commentaries on the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad and the Brahma Sutra. He says that logic can be used on both sides. It doesn’t rely on universal experience. Logic seeks proofs, which are external but spirituality seeks to go inward. Therefore, we have to consider all proofs in the light of universal experience. Nyaya operates at the level of adhibhuta, but Vedanta operates at the level of adhyatma.

“The same applies to the Western Orientalists or the Indian Leftists, who are crass materialists. And why should we use Western jargons and systems to study Indian works? We must work out our own way. Doesn’t Malhotra himself admit that the fundamental problem is the viewing of India through a Western lens? An ‘insider’ will use his/her experiential wisdom to silence the complex web of words.”

Ganesh uses pseudo-Vedanta to try to refute Malhotra’s alleged ‘pseudo-logic’.  But he totally misunderstands Malhotra’s position.  Malhotra is not saying that we should use Western jargons and systems to study Indian works.  He is saying the very opposite!  He is saying that viewing them through a Western lens distorts them.  But in order to remove the Western lens effectively and replace it with a traditional one; in order to counter the dominant academic discourse, one first has to understand the modus operandi of the opponent, their mental frameworks and ideology.  Without that, there can be no effective debate or rebuttal.  The very first step of purva-paksha is understanding the opponent.  Then only can a rebuttal be given!

Otherwise, we would continue to operate in silos; the difference is that the Western silo controls the academic system, the media, the educational system, and governmental policy.  We have our own little cocoons that have very little power or support.  If we do not take on the Western silo, we will just be conceding to them all power and let them become the sole dominant voice representing our traditions.

Missing the Forest for the Trees — Nitpicking without Purpose 

One of the most frustrating things about Ganesh’s critique is that instead of offering constructive criticisms that would strengthen the purva paksha, and which would be most welcome, most of his critique is merely nitpicking of different points that do not add anything of substance.

Sacred vs. Beautiful

One example is the following: “[Malhotra] says that the traditionalists see Sanskrit as sacred while the orientalists see Sanskrit as beautiful but not necessarily sacred. Why this divide between sacred and beautiful?”

This is a total non sequitur.  Malhotra did not in any way create a divide between sacred and beautiful; he simply said that Orientalists do not see Sanskrit as sacred while traditionalists do.  That does not mean traditionalists do not also see Sanskrit as being beautiful. In fact, a major criticism Malhotra has of Pollock is precisely that Pollock “removes the sacred” from his history of kavya.

Downplaying the Importance of Sanskrit

Ganesh also takes issue with the following statement by Malhotra: “Traditionally, Hindus have read Sanskrit for the purpose of understanding the ideas of ultimate reality.”

One would think this is a relatively straightforward, noncontroversial statement.  But Ganesh nitpicks this to an extreme:

“The ultimate reality is beyond form – it is immaterial if Sanskrit is used as a means. Speaking about deep sleep, there is a famous passage that proclaims, “In this state, a father is no longer a father, a mother is no more a mother, the universe is no longer a universe, Vedas are no more the Vedas, a thief is no longer a thief, a sinner is no more a sinner…” (Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 4.3.22)

“Further, how does he account for the teachings of many poets and sages who were unaware of Sanskrit – be it the alwars, the vacanakaras, Mahalingaranga, Tukaram, or Ramakrishna Paramahamsa? And are they not a part of our tradition?

“In Devendra’s commentary on the Uttaradhyayana Sutra of the Jains, there is a beautiful quote in the second lecture – “When Mahavira spoke, his words were understood by gods and goddesses, men and women, forest-dwellers, and animals.” This is also a traditionalist view!”

Again, this is a very weird response.  Malhotra nowhere denies that deep spiritual experiences are beyond language.  He points out that the methods and processes and descriptions of these experiences used to reach these spiritual states were in Sanskrit, and that is why Sanskrit is known as deva bhasha.  Sanskrit was the language in which the Vedas were revealed to us.  That is why Sanskrit was sacred.  The fact that the state of consciousness in Samadhi is beyond any language, including Sanskrit, does not negate the status of Sanskrit as a language that was used for spiritual practice and development, for understanding and explaining the realm of adhyatma.

Furthermore, the primacy of Sanskrit in Hindu tradition in no way denigrates or denies the importance of vernacular languages.  Malhotra nowhere claims this, and this is yet another non sequitur.

Four ‘Levels’ of Speech

In yet another example, Ganesh quibbles Malhotra for referring to the four ‘levels’ of speech rather than the four ‘stages of speech’.  He says, “Malhotra’s explanation is incorrect (and he doesn’t give any references for this too). They are not four ‘levels’ of speech but rather the four ‘stages.’ From conception to utterance, an idea is said to pass through four stages – paraa (before thought), pashyanti (thought), madhyamaa (on the verge of utterance) and vaikhari (utterance). The ancient seers were able to go from paraa to vaikhari instantly (see Vicaraprapañca of Sediapu Krishna Bhat).”

In fact, based on the example provided by Ganesh, it seems that ‘level’ would be a more accurate rendering than ‘stage’ since one can go from one level to another without passing through all the levels in between, but one cannot do the same with ‘stages’.  However, that is beside the point.  This is such a meaningless, semantic quibble that it is hard to believe it is warranted to be included in this kind of a book review instead of a copyediting markup provided by an editor.

Being a ‘Sanskrit Fanatic’

Ganesh admonishes Malhotra for championing Sanskrit as a ‘Sanskrit fanatic’.  He says:

“Of course, we understand and agree in spirit with Malhotra but he should realize that the same tradition that he is defending has these diverse views. We are not anti-Sanskrit but we are also not Sanskrit fanatics. Here, the insightful words of M Hiriyanna prove invaluable – “When a new stage of progress is reached, the old is not discarded but is consciously incorporated in the new. It is the critical conservatism which marks Indian civilization…” (Popular Essays in Indian Philosophy)”

The ‘diverse views’ being referred to here by Ganesh are those views he claims that downplay the importance of Sanskrit.  In other words, Ganesh seems to be arguing that perhaps it is okay if Sanskrit is dead or is allowed to die since it is simply a ‘means’ and not the content to be preserved.  It is actually quite difficult to tell what it is that Ganesh means—in the beginning of the review, he disavows the death of Sanskrit but then are so many other places like this, where he suggests that Sanskrit is simply a means to an end, to be transcended, and therefore perhaps dispensable, that it is impossible to come up with a cogent, coherent critique out of these pages and pages of writing that could be considered constructive criticism.  And that is ultimately where the critique fails and misses its mark.


As Ganesh himself acknowledges, the battle for Sanskrit is one that must be joined.  In order for this to be successful, we need to join forces and work together.  We all want to build a strong home team that can reflect a diversity of views yet unite against our opponents strongly with one voice.  Critiques that are aimed at strengthening the response and arguments against Pollock are eagerly welcomed; however, critiques that simply demean Malhotra and his efforts without offering constructive suggestions and strategies backfire and strengthen our opponents instead.

Ganesh and Malhotra both agree that it is the job of traditional scholars to take up the mantle and move this battle forward.  While Ganesh seems to attack Malhotra for not having the right credentials for being a traditional scholar, he misses that point that Malhotra repeatedly says that he is having to do the job that traditional scholars ought to have done, but failed to do.

It is earnestly hoped that a constructive engagement and direct dialogue could be opened between Ganesh and Malhotra to join in the battle both acknowledge is urgent and necessary.

Author: Aditi Banerjee

Published: March 27, 2016

This entry was posted on April 17, 2016. 2 Comments

Rediscovering Rama (Part II)

January 12, 2016


Continued from Part-I

Even if, for the sake of argument, we do take into account the interpolation of the Uttara Kanda as part of the Ramayana, the story of Sita’s banishment cannot be read to be sexist or oppressive.  It is rather a tale of pathos, tragedy, and sympathy for the plight of both Sita and Rama.

Nowhere in the Ramayana do the main characters truly doubt Sita’s purity. What is being shown, however, is the fickleness of public perception, and the lesson being taught is the need to pay heed to the words and concerns of a king’s subjects, the duty to put the interests and desires of the subjects of one’s kingdom above the desires of the king and queen themselves. Lakshmana in many ways fills the role of everyman in the poem: his anger at the agni pariksha and banishment of Sita, his anger at Dasaratha for depriving Rama of his crown, his sense of despair when he must leave Sita at the forest, these are what we all feel upon reading the Ramayana.  This is indeed what the poet Valmiki intends us to feel.  The ability of Rama to, however, transcend these feelings, to put Dharma first, above his own heart and heartbreak—that is what makes him stand apart as the Maryada Puroshottam and what makes his reign forever hallowed as Rama Rajya.

Even in the worst moments of Uttara Kanda, the cruel, heartless Rama that others would have us believe hatefully cast away Sita simply does not exist.  There is a beautiful passage that describes the bliss shared by Sita and Rama during their time back in Ayodhya after Ravana was vanquished:

Rama and Sita would spend the second half of every day together in Rama’s Ashoka-grove, enjoying heavenly music and dance and partaking of gourmet food and intoxicating drinks.  It is said, ‘Taking in his hand the pure nectar of flowers as intoxicating as the Maireyaka wine, Rama…made Sita drink it, just as Indra does Sachi…Seated in the company of the celebrated Sita, [Rama] shone with splendour like Vasishta seated along with Arundhati.  Rama, steeped in joy like gods, afforded delight thus day after day to…Sita, who resembled a divine damsel.’ (Srimad Valmiki-Ramayana (With Sanskrit Text and English Translation), Gita Press, Gorakhpur (Sixth Edition 2001), Book 7, Canto 42, Verses 19 and 24 (Volume 2, p. 819))

It is at such a moment that one day Sita informs Rama that she is pregnant.  Delighted at this revelation, Rama asks her to name a desire of hers that he will immediately fulfil.  Sita responds, ‘O Raghava! I wish to visit the holy penance-groves and to stay, O Lord!, at the feet of sages…living on the banks of the Ganga … This is my greatest wish that I should stay even for one night in the penance-grove of those who live only on fruits and (edible) roots’ (Id., Verses 33-34, (Volume 2, p. 820).  Rama promises that she will be taken there for a visit the very next day.

Immediately afterwards, in the evening, Rama is informed by a spy of negative gossip surrounding Sita.  Rama is told that he is being rebuked by the people of Ayodhya as follows:  ‘Why does not Rama censure [Sita], who formerly had been forcibly carried away by Ravana? … Such conduct of our wives shall have to be suffered by us also, since whatever a king does, the subjects follow’ (Id., Canto 43, (Volume 2, p. 821).

When the gossip has been confirmed by others, Rama summons his brothers and tells them of the news.  He attests to his own certainty of Sita’s purity:  ‘To convince me Sita at that time entered the fire:  before you, O Lakshmana (son of Sumitra), Fire-god, the bearer of oblations to gods declared that Sita was free from sins, so also Vayu, who dwells in the sky, (so also) proclaimed the two—sun and moon, before the gods, Sita free from sins, before all the Rishis.  In Lanka, Sita, (Pure of conduct), has been handed over to me by Mahendra (the lord of gods), in the presence of the gods and the Gandharvas and my inner conscience bears testimony to her purity and nobility’ (Id., Canto 45, (Volume 2, p. 824).

However, it is the danger of infamy and the risk it poses to his ability to rule effectively that causes Rama to drive away Sita.  He tells his brothers, ‘O heroes among men, afraid of ill-report, I can even give up my life or all of you together, O bull among men, how much it is incumbent to leave Sita.  All of you see me submerged in the ocean of sorrow.  I do not see any greater misfortune than this’ (Id., Canto 45, Verses 13-16 (Volume 2, p. 825).

It is not doubt about Sita’s chastity that drives Rama towards this terrible deed but rather the dread realization that in order to safeguard his kingdom and his reputation among his subjects, he must go against what he knows to be true in the depths of his inner conscience.  The takeaway here is not that wives are easily discarded but rather the terrible price Dharma often exacts upon us, and more specifically, how beholden even the most powerful of kings are to the most humble of subjects.  It is after all in Rama Rajya that even a dog has a voice in court.  (Once, a dog appeared in Rama’s court to complain of being beaten by a man, and Rama duly gave the dog justice and punished the perpetrator).

One may also speculate that in accordance with the ancient principles of Garbhasamskar (prenatal education), Rama may have wanted to protect Sita from the distress of being surrounded by such poisonous rumours.  Stress and anxiety is not desirable during pregnancy, as every thought, feeling, emotion, action of the mother has tremendous impact on the child in the womb.  It may be that the ashram of Vasishtha was the best place for her during this part of Sita’s life and the best environment in which to raise Lava and Kusha to become the great heroes they grew up to be.

The Ramayana shows us that the king is beholden to the lowest of his subjects, even a crass, gossip-mongering person.  The cost of infamy, of earning a bad name before his subjects no matter how unfairly, is too dear to pay for a sovereign whose first duty must be to safeguard the interests of his kingdom and to preserve his reign.  A celebrated Sanskrit shloka proclaims, yatha bhumis tatha toyam, yatha bijam tathankurah / yatha deshas tatha bhasha, yatha raja tatha praja (As the land so the [ground] water; as the seed so the sprout; as the region [country] so the language; as the king so the people).  This is the entire theme of the Ramayana.  Rama must always hold himself to the highest standards, to be above reproach (even unfair reproach), to serve as the role model that the king is meant to be.

As  Sri Aurobindo advises in his writings on the Epics of India, while dealing with the human personality of Rama, one must take into account the  spirit  of his age and race:  ‘I  consider myself  under  an obligation to enter into the  spirit,  significance, atmosphere  of  the Mahabharata, Iliad, Ramayana and  identify  myself with  their  time-spirit before I can feel what their heroes  were  in themselves apart from the details of their outer action’ (Volume: 22-23-24 [SABCL] (Letters on Yoga), 419).  It is of utmost importance that we must have a thorough knowledge of the yugadharma of the age of Ramayana and interpret the events accordingly.  We create needless confusion and conflicts when we interpret ancient texts in the context of present times and present yugadharma.  When interpreted in light of the yugadharma of the age of the Ramayana, it is clear that every action of Rama was flawless and he followed the maryada of the yugadharma.

Indeed, Rama’s life is meant to exemplify that of Maryada Purushottom.  He is the best among men who scrupulously observed and honoured the relevant ethics, customs and mores of the society in which he lived.  He is the one worthy of emulating—an ideal son, an ideal husband, an ideal brother, an ideal king, an ideal protector of Dharma, an ideal friend, who placed Dharma and honour above all else.  In this, Rama is different from Krishna.  Rama is Maryada Purushottom, whereas Krishna is the Sampoorna Avatar who often had to break the strictures of Dharma in order to protect Dharma.  Both are Vishnu, but their roles are different.  It is said that to approach Krishna, one must first worship and follow Rama.  Only then is one qualified to worship Krishna.

This is the worldview of Dharma that underpins Hindu thought and literature.  It is in stark contrast to Western individualistic romanticism that valorises the story of King Edward VIII of England who abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee.  In Hindu Dharma, a kingdom is not a toy or privilege to be thrown away at whim.  The totality of a king’s life must be devoted to his kingdom above all else; that is his svadharma that he must perform at all costs.

While the plight of Sita is truly terrible—she is perhaps Hinduism’s most famous and revered single mother—Rama is no less a victim.  He never takes another wife, so devoted is he to Sita.  Rather than take a second wife, he has an image of her constructed to be placed next to him during yajnas (because yajnas can only be performed by a man in the company of his wife).  Nor is his action in any way misogynistic.  It is not that Sita is badly treated because she is a woman and therefore inferior; in fact, later on in the Uttara Kanda, even Lakshmana is banished for the sake of preserving Rama’s honour and Dharma.  His entire life, Rama had to sacrifice that which was most beloved to him for the sake of Dharma—in order to protect his father’s word, he gave up the kingdom; similarly, when taking into account the Uttara Kanda, Rama has to sacrifice Sita and Lakshmana, those who were the closest to him.  As the Mahabharata instructs us, “For the sake of the family, the individual may have to be renounced; for the sake of the community, the family may have to be renounced; for the sake of the country, the community may have to be renounced; for the sake of the Self, the whole world may have to be renounced.”

My reading of the Valmiki Ramayana transformed my life.  I now turn to Rama for comfort, solace and peace, and always find it in his tender, compassionate gaze.  To know the love of Rama, simply chant the divinely powerful mantra, ‘Om Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram’.  This is one of the most powerful mantras, and the reason it is so often recited at the time of death is because of the ultimate peace it bestows upon the atman.

Do not just take my word for it.  Rediscover Rama on your own.  Dive into the ocean of the primary sources of the Ramayana.  It is a travesty that today the publication of our primary source texts and their authentic translations are languishing, while popular but unauthoritative interpretations or retellings are proliferating, leading to confusion and misperceptions of the truths of our shastras and Hindu tradition.  We must learn the Ramayana from the lips of Valmiki himself; the likes of Devdutt Pattanaik and Amish Tripathi cannot suffice or substitute.  We must go back to the source texts and traditions of Dharma to rediscover the glories of our Itihaasas and our deities.  With respect to Valmiki Ramayana, I would recommend the following as English sources (much better sources are available in Hindi and other vernacular languages; unfortunately, the choice in English is still rather limited): the Gita Press, Gorakhpur English translation of the unabridged text; the verse-by-verse translation provided on; Kamala Subramaniam’s English translation (which although abridged is quite comprehensive) of the text; and Lectures on the Ramayana by V.S. Srinivasa Sastri.



Rediscovering Rama (Part I)
January 10, 2016
Rama is one of the most exalted figures in all of Hinduism, yet we find him very much maligned today.  Scholars like Wendy Doniger accuse Rama of abandoning Sita because he was afraid of becoming a ‘sex addict’.  Movies like Sita Sings the Blues and Fire reinforce this stereotype of Rama as a patriarchal misogynist who oppressed and abused Sita.  Such interpretations have skewed public perceptions into thinking of Rama as a woman-hating, stuffy, self-righteous, sexist god-king.

In the face of such anti-Rama propaganda, it is hardly surprising that Rama has become unpopular in some pockets of the Hindu community.  As soon as his name is but uttered, modern Hindus immediately denounce him for his cruelty towards Sita.  But it is time that we start the process of rediscovering his glories, his true, effulgent nature, the sweetness and nobility of his personality and the manifold reasons why he is Maryada Purushottom.

A strange twist of events led me to Rama.  I have always been a devotee of Krishna, and up until several years ago, I thought of Rama as a stern, overly serious prince who could never laugh, sing or dance—in short, as a sad contrast to my ever mischievous and world-delighting Krishna.

Then, one day, my spiritual preceptor suggested that I add a particular picture of Rama to my puja room.  As I started worshiping that image, my heart began to soften towards Rama.  At the same time, I was reading a biography of a powerful siddha yogi who was a devout follower of Rama, and something interesting happened.  My iPod used to be on shuffle mode and I had thousands of songs to cycle through so that no one song repeated very frequently, but while I was reading that book, a particular kirtan on Rama (the Sri Ranamana Sankirtan as sung by monks of the Ramakrishna Mission) kept repeating on the shuffle mode, at least once a day and sometimes even more often.  That kirtan entranced me and made me love Rama and feel close to him.  I took it as a benediction from that great yogi.

Finally, I felt that I should read the Valmiki Ramayana.  I was determined to not rely on commentaries or popular retellings or heavily abridged versions, but to instead go for the most authentic translation that I could find in English of the unabridged text.  In delight, I discovered the Gita Press Gorakhpur translation.  I started reading it, and I was amazed.  Reading the Valmiki Ramayana is unlike reading any other book in the universe.  It fills you with tremendous peace and serenity.  The poetry of it is so pretty and poignant; the characters of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanuman, and so many others, shine forth with their idealism and nobility.  Most of all, the depiction of Rama is so utterly different from the vilified version of Rama fed to us by mainstream culture and media.

Valmiki’s Rama is tender, full of valour and noble idealism, deeply loving towards all of his family, a kind, compassionate, gentle young prince.  At the end of the war, when Indra grants him a boon, Rama asks that all the vanaras (members of the monkey army) who selflessly gave their lives for him in the war against the rakshasas be brought back to life.  That is the kindness of Rama.


The love and adoration Rama has for Sita is unparalleled.  In their time together, he is ever solicitous of her comfort.  One of the most renowned commentators of the Valmiki Ramayana, the eloquent orator, V.S. Srinivasa Sastri, describes the time they spent together in Ayodhya immediately after their wedding as follows:

‘The Poet has no words good enough to describe the closeness of the union, of the ways in which husband pleased wife and wife pleased husband. …  They read each other’s thoughts readily; in fact these told each other what they wanted.  The tongue and the lips did not play any part nor perhaps did the eyes; heart spoke to heart.  Hridaya and hridaya commingled.  The desire of each was known to the other.  It is difficult to say who loved whom the more’ (Lectures on the Ramayana, The Rt. Hon. V. S. Srinivasa Sastri, Madras Samskrit Academy, 2006 (pp. 23-24).

One of my favourite stories from the Ramayana is the story of the crow.  Once, in Chitrakuta, Rama was sleeping with his head in Sita’s lap.  A crow appeared and pecked at Sita’s chest with its beak, causing her discomfort.  When Rama saw the suffering of Sita, although it was not serious, he became as enraged as a hissing snake, and with eyes rolling in anger, he took a blade of grass and charged it with the power of the Brahmastra missile, making that blade of grass blaze forth like the fire of universal dissolution, and hurled it at the crow.  Such was Rama’s devotion to Sita.

When Rama learns of Sita’s abduction by Ravana, he is so distraught and devastated, so utterly lost without her, that he can hardly function for his grief.  It is Lakshmana who has to rouse him to anger, to fight, to take action to win her back.  Sastri again describes this beautifully:

‘We have seen already that the love that drew Rama and Sita together was most remarkable.  When she was lost to him there was no limit to the grief that he bore … He could not find any rest being away from her.  He nearly went mad.  He wandered from place to place in the forest.  He raved.  He implored the trees and hills and rivers.  He threatened the gods with destruction of the world.  He threatened to take his own life.  Lakshmana was hard put to it to comfort him in this extreme sorrow’ (Id., p. 26). 

This is not the mark of a misogynistic man; this is the story of a man who deeply loved his wife but who simply loved honour (Dharma) more.

And that brings us to the event that has become the stick with which modernists so gleefully beat and defame Rama today—the banishment of Sita to the forest after their return to Ayodhya.  The main point to be made here is that the entire section of the story in which this incident takes place, the Uttara Kanda, is not accepted by experts of the Ramayana as part of the original Valmiki Ramayana.  In other words, the main crime of which Rama is accused is not even part of the original tale!  It is held to be a later interpolation.

The original version of Valmiki Ramayana ends after the Yuddha Kanda, upon Rama’s victory over Ravana and his and Sita’s triumphant return to Ayodhya.  The phala shruti of the Ramayana is also included at the end of the Yuddha Kanda, making it the logical ending point of the story since the phala shruti must occur at the end of a text and not in the middle of it.  Further, in the summary retelling of the Ramayana that is included in the Mahabharata, no mention is made of the incidents (including the banishment of Sita) that take place in the Uttara Kanda.  Finally, there are references to certain kingdoms and peoples in the Uttara Kanda that identify the verses as being of later origin than the original Ramayana.

Part 2 of this blog will examine the events of the Uttara Kanda and show how, even taking into account that later interpolation, Rama cannot be accused of being a misogynist or in any way evil or oppressive.

to be continued…..


Menstruation & Ritual Purity

January 2, 2016

I find it crass to discuss bodily functions but feel forced to do so now. I was born and raised in the West, am not superstitious, work in a profession that requires logic and rationality and the ability to reason, believe in science and, as a working woman, am definitely not a sexist. But I believe devoutly in ritual purity, the observance of madi and achara, and, it would be absolutely haram for me to enter a temple (including my own temple room at home) when I am menstruatung. I cannot even bring myself to say the name of the Ramayana or the Gita at that time, let alone touch any of the holy books. There are sampradayas and paramparas that follow different observances, but that does not give license to attack and reform the orthodoxy.

This is not some myth or superstition or a relic from patriarchal oppression. It is not just about hygiene. Menstruation is not just a physical process but a psychic one. The mental and emotional state changes. My energies are different. Everything is magnified and heightened in sensitivity. At such times, when the entire system is going through a very subtle and powerful purification process, the best thing is complete rest. Even physical exercise should be kept at a minimum. I cook for myself so have no choice but to cook during those days, but even the quality of the food is different–not just the taste, but the psychic quality of it.

If I can feel the difference as a human being, how much more sensitive must the devas be?

It is not that menstruation is to be ashamed of. It is celebrated as a natural, powerful, auspicious part of life and nature. Hence the great temple of Kamakhya that reveres Devi in menstruation. Manasika japa (mental japa where the tongue does not move) is 10,000 x more powerful during menstruation. Men cannot even reach that psychic state. tongue emoticon

These observances are important for a woman’s wellbeing and to protect the sanctified energies of holy places (other than certain temples under Tantric traditions where the energies of menstruation are conducive to their paths and forms of sadhana).

No one loves visiting temples more than me, trust me. Yet I do not feel in the least disenfranchised or shunned or looked down upon because of these restrictions. I have had pilgrimages in India where I missed out on darshan after months of planning and a long plane trip and so much expense because of this, but I have not minded it. It is the play of leela and karma. Having darshan of powerful vigrahas is not a right or entitlement. The devas have to call you to them; you can’t just take an appointment and expect it to be met.

Our devas have infinite kindness and love. If for a few days I do not see or talk to my Krishna, how much sweeter and joyous it is when next we meet. smile emoticon

Through sadhana, one becomes much more sensitized to the importance of rules of ritual purity. Have faith in our acharyas, in the time-tested rules of our temples and mathas. They are there for a reason even if we do not yet have the wisdom to understand them.

The Song of Krishna

December 21, 2015
Today heralds the global celebrations on the auspicious occasion of Vaikuntha Ekadasi and also Gita Jayanti— the day on which the Bhagavad Gita was expounded by Sri Krishna to Arjuna.  The Gita has an exalted position within the corpus of Hindu shastras.  It is one of the prasthana traya, the trio of Hindu texts that are the foundation of Vedanta—the Upanishads for Revelation (Shruti-prasthana), the Bhagavad Gita for Remembrance (Smriti-prasthana) and the Brahma Sutras for Reason (Nyaya-prasthana).  On this special day, it is important to honour the Bhagavad Gita, to invoke and inculcate its spirit and teachings in our hearts and to pay our homage to Sri Krishna, the deliverer of the Song of God.

arjunWhen we remember the Gita, we should remember it not as a dry, intellectual treatise but as a living dialogue, with the urgency and intensity of an epochal moment at the dawn of a great war, the greatest war the world will ever have seen, with the fate of one man’s soul and the destiny of humankind resting in the balance.  In the few hours it takes to unfurl the dialogue of the Bhagavad Gita, what began as a conversation between a charioteer and a warrior, between two friends, becomes an intensely mystical experience, a communion between the Divine and the human that is every bit as intimate and loving as the exchanges between Sri Krishna and the gopis, just expressed and manifested in a very different way, a propounding of Dharma so sublime and wide-ranging that it has and never shall be rivalled or equalled.

Imagine that you are Arjuna.  The battle, the great war, for which you have been preparing your entire life, which you dreamt of all those cold nights sleeping on the forest floor while in exile, for which you went to Svarga itself to retrieve the necessary weapons, is about to commence.  So many years spent in hiding, in wait, in humiliating exodus, at an end.

 You stand on a magnificent chariot, yoked to resplendent white horses, bearing proudly the flag of Hanuman.  The air is rent by the sound of the holiest and most powerful of conches being sounded in unison with bugles, trumpets, kettle drums and cow horns.

First, the eldest of the Kurus, the valiant grandsire, Bhishma loudly like a lion blows his conch to raise the spirits of Duryodhana, your principal foe.  This ushers in the tumultuous sound of other conches and drums and trumpets.  Sri Krishna and you let loose the roar of your divine conches, the Panchajanya for Sri Krishna and the Devadatta for you.  Your brothers follow suit—Bhima sounds the Paundra conch; Yudhisthira the Anantavijaya; Nakula and Sahadeva, the Sughosa and the Manipushpaka, respectively.  And the King of Kashi, wielding a great bow, the great charioteer Sikhandi, Dhrstadyumna, Virata, Satyaki the unconquered, Drupada and your sons from Draupadi and Subhadra, all of them together blow their respective conchs.

This sound is so thunderous and fierce, pervading the skies and the entire earth with its echoes, that the hearts of all of the Kauravas are pierced, including even Bhishma, Drona and other brave warriors.

For a few moments, everything is still and silent, before the tempest of the bloodbath begins.  You see your uncle’s army arrayed before you, standing in position, all weapons poised and ready for warfare.  Your mouth turns dry.  It is not fear of war, for you have fought so many times, against even more powerful foes.  But this is something different, something truly terrible and awesome.

Your eyes fall upon Sri Krishna, your dearest friend, your charioteer, the one who never fails to bring you comfort and succour.  You look at Sri Krishna, and ask Him to bring you between the front lines of the two armies so that you may look upon those whom you are about to fight.  He brings the chariot in the centre of the battlefield, in front of Bhishma and Drona and all the rulers of the earth.  He says to you, “O, Partha, see these assembled people of the Kuru dynasty.”

All of the millions of pairs of eyes of the humans and beasts assembled on this great field are turned towards you.  You see your beloved grandfather, your uncles, teachers, cousins, comrades, brothers, sons, fathers-in-law, comrades and friends, as well as so many strangers whom you have never met before.  So many of them will die at your hand.

And suddenly, for the first time in your life, your valour deserts you.  You lose your nerve.  You begin trembling in despair with a sudden angst, a doubt that you have never known.  You turn to Sri Krishna, and you begin to lament as you would to a friend, a confidante.

And after all, that is what he has been to you all this time—a friend.  With him, you hunted in the Khandava forest.  With Him and His wife, Rukmini, you and your wife, Subhadra, His sister, whiled away the few leisurely moments you enjoyed in this life.  With you, He could laugh and relax as with no one else.  With Him, you have a bond you have never shared with any other, not even your brothers.  You do not yet know that you two together are the divine duo, Nara and Narayana, yet the connection is irresistible, undeniable.  He is not a god yet, not to you.  In His own lifetime, hardly would He be accepted as a prince, let alone an avatar, the supreme avatar, of Vishnu.  Yet He has been the sole refuge, the saviour, the only one on whom you and your family can depend.

And so you turn to Sri Krishna, and you say that you do not want any of this, that you cannot bear to kill these people, that nothing good can come of it for anyone.  You say, O Janardana, although these men, their hearts overtaken by greed, see no fault in killing one’s family or quarrelling with friends, why should we, who can see the crime in destroying a family, engage in these acts of sin?  Better for me if they, weapons in hand, were to kill me unarmed and unresisting on the battlefield.  You carry on in this way for a while before finally casting aside your bow and arrows and collapsing on the chariot, overwhelmed by grief.

Sri Krishna looks upon you with such soft eyes, such compassion, and you wait for the balm of His comfort and consolation.  So it is all the more a shock, a dousing of cold water, when He speaks such hard words, berating you as a coward, as less than a man.  His words pierce you like arrows.  He says, “Yield not to unmanliness, Arjuna; this does not befit you.  Shaking off this weakness of the heart, arise, O scorcher of enemies.”

Gone is your friend, the one with whom you could joke and laugh so easily, replaced by this implacable divine figure, an unyielding force of power, the resplendence of Vishnu himself in the guise of Yogeshwara Krishna.

And yet you cannot stop yourself from asking the questions, that tumble out of you one by one.  Each and every doubt you ever harboured, each uncertainty that gives you pause, you begin to question and you cannot stop.  He answers rapid-fire and expounds the most beautiful, the most sublime philosophy, beyond anything you had ever conceived.  Sometimes He is gentle with you, and sometimes rough with impatience.  Sometimes He is your friend again, and sometimes He castigates you like a father would a misbehaving son.

It is not a smooth exchange.  You have so many questions, so many doubts, and His words are like quicksilver, hard to catch, even harder to hold onto.  Your mind is dense.  Philosophy only goes so far.  There is only so little your mind can capture and retain.  He senses this, too, that philosophy will no longer work.

You begin to wonder who is He, this one who has always been your friend but is now obviously so much more.  And so He begins to tell you.  He says—

I am the Self, O Gudakesha, seated in the hearts of all beings!  I am the beginning, the middle and also the end of all beings.

(Ahamaatmaa gudaakesha sarvabhootaashayasthitah;
Ahamaadishcha madhyam cha bhootaanaamanta eva cha (BG 10:20)).

Among the (twelve) Adityas, I am Vishnu; among the luminaries, the radiant sun; I am Marichi among the (seven or forty-nine) Maruts; among stars the moon am I.

(Aadityaanaamaham vishnur jyotishaam raviramshumaan;
Mareechirmarutaamasmi nakshatraanaamaham shashee (BG 10:21)).

Among the great sages I am Bhrigu; among words I am the monosyllable Om; among sacrifices I am the sacrifice of silent repetition; among immovable things the Himalayas I am.

(Maharsheenaam bhriguraham giraamasmyekamaksharam;
Yajnaanaam japayajno’smi sthaavaraanaam himaalayah (BG 10:25)).

Among weapons I am the thunderbolt; among cows I am the wish-fulfilling cow called Surabhi; I am the progenitor, the god of love; among serpents I am Vasuki.

(Aayudhaanaamaham vajram dhenoonaamasmi kaamadhuk;
Prajanashchaasmi kandarpah sarpaanaamasmi vaasukih (BG 10:28)).

I am Ananta among the Nagas; I am Varuna among water-deities; Aryaman among the manes I am; I am Yama among the governors.

(Anantashchaasmi naagaanaam varuno yaadasaamaham;
Pitreenaamaryamaa chaasmi yamah samyamataamaham (BG 10:29)).

And, I am Prahlad among the demons; among the reckoners I am time; among beasts I am their king, the lion; and Garuda among birds.

(Prahlaadashchaasmi daityaanaam kaalah kalayataamaham;
Mrigaanaam cha mrigendro’ham vainateyashcha pakshinaam (BG 10:30)).

Among the purifiers (or the speeders) I am the wind; Rama among the warriors am I; among the fishes I am the shark; among the streams I am the Ganga.

(Pavanah pavataamasmi raamah shastrabhritaamaham;
Jhashaanaam makarashchaasmi srotasaamasmi jaahnavee (BG 10:31)).

Among creations I am the beginning, the middle and also the end, O Arjuna! Among the sciences I am the science of the Self; and I am logic among controversialists.

(Sargaanaamaadirantashcha madhyam chaivaaham arjuna;
Adhyaatmavidyaa vidyaanaam vaadah pravadataamaham (BG 10:32)).

Whatever being there is that is glorious, prosperous or powerful, that know thou to be a manifestation of a part of My splendour.

(Yadyad vibhootimat sattwam shreemadoorjitameva vaa;
Tattadevaavagaccha twam mama tejom’shasambhavam (BG 10:41)).

vishwaYou are astounded, overwhelmed.  Yet, it is not enough.  You are overcome by desire to see His Cosmic Form.  In His infinite kindness, He grants you the yogic vision with which to behold His supreme divine form.  Even Sri Radharani and the gopis were not so blessed to have this darshana.

And what a glorious vision!  There He stands before you, with numerous mouths and eyes, numerous divine ornaments and weapons uplifted, wearing divine garlands and anointed with fragrances, endless, with faces on all sides.  If the splendour of a thousand suns were to blaze out at once in the sky, such would be the splendour of this Krishna.  You are filled with wonder, your hair stands on end, your skin covered in goose bumps.  You bow down your head to Him and say that you see in Him all the gods, all the sages, all the celestial beings—the Rudras, Adityas, Vasus, Visvedevas, the Asvins, Maruts, the manes and the hosts of celestial singers.  You see Him with the diadem, the club and the discus, blazing all around, burning like the fire and the sun, immeasurable.  He is infinite in power, of endless arms; the sun and the moon are His eyes; the burning fire, His mouth, heating the entire universe with His radiance.  He alone fills the space between the earth and the heavens and all the quarters.  The three worlds tremble in fear to see His wonderful and terrible form.  And so do you.

It is too much for you.  You are overwhelmed and frightened and ask Him to return to His familiar form, and so He does.  You are shaken, yet you continue with your questions, with the dialogue.  Like this it goes on for what seems to you to be an endless stretch of time, but in reality, it lasts for less than a few hours.  Finally, He says to you, “Thus, has this wisdom, more profound than all profundities, been imparted to you by Me; deeply pondering over it, now do as you like.”  (Iti te jnaanamaakhyaatam guhyaad guhyataram mayaa; Vimrishyaitadasheshena yathecchasi tathaa kuru (BG 18:63)).

No Book of Job this, no one-sided diatribe by an angry god at a devotee who dares to question his authority, his righteousness, who dares to ask of him a reckoning.  Sri Krishna’s occasional anger is at your ignorance, your inability to think clearly, not at your questioning of Him, not at your fundamental search for the secrets of the self and of life itself.  He does not ask you to succumb to His authority as the god of all gods; He asks you to reflect, to deeply think, to rely on your own free will and independence of thought, to search your own mind for an answer now that the confusion has been removed.  Ultimately, the decision is yours.

You look upon Him, at He who was once your charioteer, your friend, but who is now something more.  He is your teacher now.  For a moment, you surrender to Him in perfect saranagathi.  This moment, this feeling will not last, but it is here now.

You say something that will become one of the most famous lines of the Gita itself, that will be repeated with reverence by millions of people aspiring towards the same devotion and surrender, this same sense of utter clarity that you feel at this moment.

You say, “Destroyed is my delusion as I have gained my memory (knowledge) through Thy Grace, O Krishna! I am firm; my doubts are gone. I will act according to Thy word.” (Nashto mohah smritirlabdhaa twatprasaadaanmayaachyuta; Sthito’smi gata sandehah karishye vachanam tava (BG 18:73)).

This feeling that Arjuna experiences in the final moments of the Gita does not last very long.  In the fighting of the war, Arjuna again forgot who he was and who was Krishna.  At the end of one of the final days of battle, Sri Krishna steered the chariot to a remote place and suddenly told Arjuna to dismount first.  (Being the charioteer, it was Sri Krishna who had always dismounted first.)  Arjuna was puzzled but obeyed.

Sri Krishna released the horses and dismounted.  The banner of Hanuman vanished in an instant, and in just a few moments, the entire chariot erupted into flames and burnt to ashes.  Sri Krishna explained, “Arjuna, this chariot has been attacked by so many different kinds of weapons.  It is only because I had sat upon it during battle that it did not fall into pieces.  Now it has been reduced to ashes upon My abandoning it after your success has been ensured.”

Hearing the words of Sri Krishna, Arjuna was humbled by how much he owed to Sri Krishna and was ashamed of his pride, his arrogant assumption that it was his valour alone that was winning the war for the Pandavas.

After the war has ended, Arjuna confesses to Sri Krishna that he had forgotten what He taught him when He espoused the Gita to him.  Sri Krishna sternly tells him that the Gita was spoken from a very high state of absorption and that it would be impossible for Sri Krishna to repeat the Gita again.  But, out of compassion, He proceeds to give him a summary of what He had said in the Bhagavad Gita, in a discourse known as the Anu Gita.

The lesson here is that even though Arjuna cannot in any way be said to be an uttama adhikari (a person of highest qualification for spiritual teachings and practice), even though he lapses again and again, it does not matter—one does not have to be perfect in order to have a moment of perfection.  Increasing the frequency of such perfect moments is the work of sadhana or spiritual practice.  Through that process, we evolve and attain mukti.

The dialogue between Sri Krishna and Arjuna gave birth to the most renowned philosophical tract and spiritual discourse in the world – the Bhagavad Gita.  What transpires is so sublime, so powerful and inspiring, that it causes Sanjaya, the other most famous charioteer of the Mahabharata, to utter the famous concluding verse of the Bhagavad Gita:

“Yatra yogeshwarah krishno yatra paartho dhanurdharah;
Tatra shreervijayo bhootirdhruvaa neetirmatirmama”

(Wherever there is Bhagavan Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, and wherever there is Arjuna, the wielder of the Gandiva bow, goodness, victory, glory and unfailing righteousness will surely be there: such is my conviction. (BG 18:78)).

The uniqueness of the Gita is that it does not glorify Sri Krishna alone; it glorifies Arjuna also and the very process of dialogue and discussion between him and Sri Krishna.  It does not treat Bhagavan’s words as prescriptions on a stone tablet but as a living dialogue between the individual human being and his or her ishta devata (chosen deity / form of Iswara for one’s personal worship).

And the question that leaves each of us to answer in our own lives is whether, in those turning points that will come in the Dharmakshetra of our lives, those times of momentous decisions, when the god of gods stands behind us and whispers wisdom into our ear—will we listen?  Will we understand?  Will we hesitate, or will we act?


Fierce Is Beautiful

October 12, 2015

The most important force we have to unleash in Hindu society is our women as Hinduism has never seen women as weak.

That Goddess became very angry with her enemies and her face became as black as Indian ink. From her broad forehead, bent by her curved eyebrows, emerged Kali, armed with sword and a rope. She was holding a very peculiar sword, wearing a garland of human skulls, dressed in the hide of a tiger, with no flesh in her body, with very terrible looks, with a broad face, who looked very fearsome moving her tongue, with sunken red eyes, filling all the directions with roars from her throat.  That goddess went straight and fast, warning the great asuras, and started eating the enemies of devas whom were part of the army.

She caught hold of huge elephants along with the trainer with his long spear and the hero riding on it and crushed them and put in her mouth. Similarly she started chewing the charioteer along with horses terribly with her teeth. She killed one Asura catching hold of his hair, another catching his throat, another by kicking with her leg and another by pressing his chest.  She caught hold of the arrows as well as weapons sent against her by those asuras (Chanda and Munda) and broke them to pieces by her teeth.

She beat the entire Asura army consisting of big and strong-bodied asuras. She ate some of them and severely others. Some of the asuras were punished by sword, some by Gadgayudha (sword with curved end) and some by her teeth and all of them were destroyed. – Description of Manifestation of Ma Kali from Devi Mahatamyam (adapted from here)

The twin strengths of Hinduism through millennia have been its sublime philosophy and its multiplicity of worship—the worship of multiple deities through multiple paths and methods of worship. The Hindu pantheon is vast, stretching up to 33 crores of devas. The benefits of polytheism (not an exact descriptor for Hindu worship, but close enough for this purpose) are manifold. Multiplicity of worship in the Hindu tradition recognizes that individuals are different and allows them to worship those devas that are most suitable for their spiritual evolution in accordance with their personality and psychological needs. Worship is customized for the individual and is not a one-size-fits-all imposition.

The Hindu way promotes diversity and inclusiveness; heterogeneity of worship promotes heterogeneity of mind and philosophy. It teaches us to see beauty and divinity in all forms, even those that may not readily appear beautiful or divine to us. It teaches us unity through diversity. It also helps us reach balance, by cultivating various good qualities through worship of different forms. All of the powers and forces in the cosmos become accessible to us when we worship them. Unfortunately, the breadth and depth of the Hindu pantheon is under attack. There is a concerted effort to sanitize the Hindu pantheon, to reduce its size and diversity, to prize the saumya (gentle) over the ugra (fierce), to falsely equate spirituality with sattva only.

There is too strong a desire to Westernize, to conform to a monotheistic worldview, driven by our own inferiority complex. There is a visceral discomfort with the idea of being idol worshippers and polytheists, perhaps out of a fear of being seen as heathen and kafir in Western eyes. There is thus a compulsion to pretend that we are monotheist, and in so claiming, a lot of confusion and misconceptions about Hinduism are created. We are not worshippers of one true God in the Abrahamic sense; to pretend otherwise is to distort our tradition.

In the process, we are destroying that which makes us unique, strong and resilient, that which makes ours the longest continuously surviving religious tradition in the history of the world, the greatest and last of the truly pagan traditions to survive. One of the latest trends in this direction is the makeover of our devas, to make them more peaceful and politically correct. Recently, in Bengal, there has been a push to create more ‘peaceful’ Durga vigrahas for the annual Durga Puja, replacing her traditional weapons with flowers and jewels. Connected to such moves is the selective outrage over bali or animal sacrifice that takes place on some days in some places of Hindu worship—in very limited numbers.

An assortment of environmental activists, secularists and would-be Hindu reformists, who dare not call out for bans on slaughter during Eid, who vociferously promote the basic human right of people in India to eat beef, who see non-vegetarianism as ultra-progressive, but who, in the peculiar double standard that applies to Hindus, are morally outraged if Hindus simply follow their ancestral ways of worship and offer bali. Apparently, it is okay to senselessly slaughter animals for our sensory gratification—for hunting and eating—but haram to do it for sacred purposes. This unwarranted interference in the private religious affairs of Hindus has resulted in the disruption of the ways of worship in many Hindu temples.

This movement to make over Hinduism undermines that which makes Hinduism beautiful, which distinguishes it from other religions, like Jainism and Buddhism. It is an injustice to the oldest living religion in the world to confine it to what we find politically correct and palatable today from a Western perspective. The fierce, the bloodthirsty, the weapon-brandishing, the bloodcurdling forms of our devas are a core part of the Hindu pantheon. The paths of the Tantras and the Natha sampradayas are a vital part of Hinduism and must not be whitewashed away. Animal sacrifice is as important a part of Hindu worship as Satyanaryana puja.

The onset of Navaratri is an auspicious time to remind ourselves of the hallowed place of ugra devatas (fierce/tough deities) and their modes of worship in our sacred traditions. While most devatas have both saumya (gentle) and ugra (fierce) rupas, it is especially in the representation of the various forms of Devi that some of the most prominent ugra forms are found. Navaratri celebrates the worship of the Nava Durga (nine forms of Ma Durga), some of which are exceptionally fierce. For example, the seventh form of Ma Durga, worshipped on the seventh day of Navaratri, is Kaal Ratri. She is dark with dishevelled hair and an expression of utter fearlessness. Her necklace flashes with lightning, and her breath emanates terrible flames.


Similarly, among the Dasha Maha Vidya (the 10 Devis of Wisdom), there is Chinnamasta, the self-decapitated Devi who holds her own severed head in one hand and a scimitar in the other. Three streams of blood spurt out of her bleeding neck and are drunk by her own head as well as her two female attendants. She stands on a copulating couple. She is depicted naked with disheveled hair.

Then there is Dhumavati, depicted as an old widow who is always hungry and thirsty. She is prone to starting quarrels. She is depicted as old and ugly, thin and emaciated, with a pale complexion. She wears no jewellery but only dirty, old clothes. Her hands tremble, and she rides a horseless chariot.


The iconography of each of these devis is extraordinarily intricate and rich with many layers of meaning. Each and every detail carries meaning and power. These forms have not been created wily nily; they are revealed through the Agamas, Puranas and Tantras with very specific visualizations, iconography and procedures for worship. Changing the iconography of these Devis to suit our aesthetics or whims is especially dangerous—it detracts from the underlying divinity of the nama and rupa and also is a violation of the traditions we have inherited by which we are to worship them.

This is especially dangerous when it comes to worship of the ugra forms, because it is held that the consequences of mistakes in worship of these fierce deities are especially dire. It is therefore even more important that our shastras and traditions of worship not be tampered with, as one must not play lightly with the devas, especially the ugra devatas. To imagine one can remove the weapons from Devi’s hand and replace it with something of one’s fancy, be it a flower or a flag or a gemstone, is to corrupt and violate the Hindu tradition of worship. It breaks the continuity of tradition from our ancestors thousands of years ago, as passed down generation to generation, linking us to our ancient rishis and forefathers who first had revelation of these divine forms. It turns what is sacred into mere art. It turns vigrahas into mere statutes.


It denigrates our devas into dolls we dress up per our fancy. We must respect our time-hallowed traditions, the injunctions of the shastras as to the specifications of worship, the methods and procedures laid down by our sampradayas and acharyas. That is what gives our worshiped images their power, sanctity and auspiciousness. It is not for everyone to worship the ugra devatas. It depends on adhikara, personal inclination, one’s samskaras and inner qualities. But as Hindus, we must have respect and honour for all aspects and paths within our tradition.

We must not shy away from the fierce, from what appears shocking or ugly or even frightening. We must learn to see the beauty beyond the superficial appearance. It is a mistake to equate spirituality only with sattva. As Sri Krishna instructs Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita,

Traigunyavishayaa vedaa nistraigunyo bhavaarjuna,” (The Vedas deal with the three attributes (of Nature) (tamas, rajas, sattva); be thou above these three attributes, O Arjuna!) (Bhagavad Gita, 2:45).

In other words, one should not become too attached to the quality of sattva—all the three modes of nature are all to be transcended. This is especially important in the situation in which we find ourselves today. What Sri Aurobindo once so eloquently and passionately proclaimed in 1907 still holds true today:

What India needs especially at this moment is the aggressive virtues, the spirit of soaring idealism, bold creation, fearless resistance, courageous attack; of the passive tamasic spirit of inertia we have already too much.

We find ourselves today mired in inertia and passivity, in ignorance and apathy. In such a state, it is not possible to transition to sattva directly. One must go from tamas to rajas to sattva. What is needed now is the passion and energetic activity of rajas, to rouse us from our collective deep tamas. Upasana awakens in the upasaka the vrttis (vibrations, waves) and lakshanas (qualities) meditated upon in the object of upasana.

In other words, we manifest that which we worship. In the current state of affairs for Hindus today, worship of that which is fierce and rajasic will help awaken the qualities in the collective consciousness that are needed for Hindu society today. We need assertiveness, bravery, valour, the strength of conviction, confidence and, as Swami Vivekananda so eloquently said-

vigour in the blood, strength in the nerves, iron muscles and nerves of steel.

For this, we need deities who inspire us to stand our ground and fight when needed, to promote within us the noble values that will make us Kshatriyas who will defend and propagate Dharma. Right now, Hindus are mired in shame and self-hate. Just see what is happening in front of our eyes today. What was an unfortunate incident in Dadri has become a convenient whip with which to beat up Hindus for the crime of being Hindu. Now Hindus are fascists for honoring the cow.


Now Hindus are fundamentalists for wanting to ban cow slaughter. It is okay when secularists protest against dog or horse or polar bear killing–that is lovable and enlightened but we Hindus are primitive barbarians when we seek to protect the cow. We tolerate others’ religious observances without complaint, but we dare not light a cracker on Deepavali or follow the ancient rites of bali that are part of our sacred tradition. The rest of the world is shedding the disease of Western modernism–they are looking to the East for answers, to their own native and pagan traditions for meaning. And we are throwing away the greatest spiritual and civilizational heritage the world has ever seen.

The other day, I saw a fairly recent South Indian film where the hero was dressed in traditional clothes, and in a song, the heroine crooned about how much better he would look in modem dress. Is this what we have come to, to prize jeans and t-shirts over the traditional sari and dhoti, to see beef-eating as secular and progressive, to feel shame at the beauty and power of our ways of worship, to esteem ourselves based on how well we mimic the norms and customs of alien lands? There is nothing more pathetic than self-hate.

In this scenario, where Hindus are mired in this spiral of shame and self-hate, where tamas reigns supreme, too much focus on sattva without an appropriate dose of rajas ends up being nothing more than escapism. The stillness and serenity of sattva is all too easy to confuse with the lazy inertia of tamas. This is where remembrance and honor of the rajasic deities is so important to provide the right balance, to awaken us from the slumber of tamas. This operates both on the collective and individual consciousness.

The darker, deeper aspects of our nature are not to be shunned or suppressed. These recesses of our personalities are storehouses of immense amounts of energy that can be conducive and important to our spiritual and psychological development when appropriately channeled. That which is represented by the ugrata devas and their worship can be instrumental in balancing our personalities and psyches. The most important force we have to unleash in Hindu society is our women. It is a lie to say that our women need to be ‘empowered’. Only the weak need to be empowered. How can our women ever be considered to be weak? Hinduism has never seen women as weak or meek and these ugrata forms of Devi remind us of this truth, that women are the very embodiment of Shakti, that which is the greatest force in all the worlds, that power that is behind all energies, all activities in the cosmos, without which Shiva is but a corpse, without which there is no life, no creation, no leela.

How can we empower that which is power itself? Woman is not to be adored for her beauty alone, for her feminine charms. She is to be revered in all forms, from the most sublimely beautiful to the frightening, from the young girl child to the old crone, from the bloodthirsty to the motherly, from the gentle to the fierce. That is what Hinduism teaches us; Hinduism is itself the best form of feminism. There is something so beautiful and captivating about worshiping Ma in her fierce rupa that can only be understood and felt through experience. Most of the time, I am a Vaishnava, but in every Bengali runs the blood of Ma Durga, and during Navaratri, only Devi exists for me. When we worship Ma Durga during these nine days and nights, it is no dry ritual, no symbolic offering.

When we bow before Her, when the conch sounds, when the drums beat, when the ululating reaches its fevered pitch, when we look upon Her golden countenance, the radiance emanating from Her every pore, the sword and all Her weapons poised to vanquish all of our enemies, external and within; when we worship Ma Kali, with Her hair unbound and loose, Her tongue hanging out, the garland of skulls hanging from Her neck, Her foot resting on the chest of the supine Shiva, the blue-black of Her complexion shining brighter than a million moons—there is awe, there may even be a frisson of fear, but most of all, beyond the weapons, beyond the fierce expression, beyond the warrior pose, beyond the fearsome aspects of their visages, is that softness in the eyes, that small smile, that tenderness beyond the fierceness, that fierce compassion of which only Ma is capable, She who slays with a smile.


With this, the beginning of Navaratri, may we remember that fierce is beautiful, that the ugra forms of our devatas are as important a part of our tradition as the saumya forms, that we must never shy away from the ferocious and warrior-like aspects of our deities and our traditions, that we must never compromise on or apologize for the paths and methods of worship that have been entrusted to us by our forefathers, that constitute a core part of our sacred heritage, that our pantheon is not to be compromised or corrupted, that ours is a tradition of multiplicity of worship as much as it is one of unity of philosophy.


The Need for Hindu Leadership: Vision, Strategy, Confidence & Unity Hinduism As Vishwa Guru

August 30, 2015

Leadership has been on my mind lately. A few years ago, I joined a Fortune 50 company and I’ve been surprised at how important leadership training is to the company and senior executives. It is the number one legacy that our chairman wants to leave.

The idea is that as technology advances and human efforts are only needed for creativity and innovation, as competition increases, the only real differentiator is talent. And talent is not just about who can program code faster, who can run a project efficiently, or who has the best credentials. Talent is about who has vision, who can think strategically, who can make difficult decisions under pressure, who can exercise sound judgment, who can motivate and manage a team.

Intuitively, this makes sense to us when we think about business. We understand the need for mission statements, of having strategic vision, of learning in-depth about target markets, of studying our competitors and doing SWOT (strength / weakness / opportunity / threat) analyses. We understand that the top company will not be the one who comes up with the best cell phone or computer; it will be the one who has a Steve Jobs at the helm who understands that what is being sold is not the phone, but a brand, a lifestyle, a value system that happens to be manifested in the form of a phone.

That is nothing new to us. But do we Hindus ever apply this same model, of leadership, of strategic thinking, of vision, of branding and marketing, of competitor analysis, to the marketplace of religions and to our Dharma?

Almost never. Perhaps we shy away from mixing business with Dharma. But it is the height of naiveté to think that religion in the real world is not intimately tied to economics and business models. The proof is in the history of India, the history of colonialism, the history of Western expansion across the globe.

Everyone else playing in the game of religion has a clear business model. The Christians look upon India as a ripe market, ready to be plucked. They have done intensive research on how to penetrate the most remote of villages and have developed different strategies to gain market share. The Joshua Project, for example, has an extensive and extremely detailed database of the “least-reached” groups in India by Christianity, and missionaries use this information to develop targets for conversion. They even have a Progress Scale to measure their success. If that is not a business model, I don’t know what is! Similarly, the Muslims have figured out strategies on how to cross our porous borders and how to fund mosque-building and terrorist plots within Indian soil from abroad.

And we Hindus? We are always on the defense. We are always reacting to others’ moves, but we are never making moves of our own. We decry predatory evangelism and Islamic terrorism, but why blame others when we have no strategy of our own? They have clarity and conviction, they have set objectives that they are trying to achieve; they understand their agenda and are simply following it. Why complain about them? The fault is in us.

Where is our grand strategy? Where are we on the offense?

Let me give a small example. In the past few days, Iran has released a $40M movie on Mohammed. This is a slick production, several years in the making, that has the explicit purpose of reclaiming Islam’s rightful portrayal in the world. A.R. Rehman has created the musical score and soundtrack for the film. This has already generated quite a bit of buzz.

And yet we do not have any such movie on Shiva or Rama or Krishna or Devi that is a blockbuster hit. Is it not mind-boggling that a religion that prohibits visual depictions of the Prophet has beaten us, the religion with the longest tradition of image-worship in the world, to the punch? We fail to capitalize on the inherent power of the arts to strengthen the image and brand of Hinduism, which is a shame, because ours is the tradition that most easily lends itself to positive portrayal in the arts with the beautiful alankara of our deities and the splendor of our temples and rites.

This is just one example of lack of strategy.

We all know the incident in the Mahabharata when Krishna offered to Arjuna, on behalf of the Pandavas, and Duryodhana, on behalf of the Kauravas, that he would give one of them his armies and for the other, he would be on their side but unarmed. We know that Arjuna chose Krishna and Duryodhana was happy to receive the armies instead. Krishna is the consummate leader, the one who understands strategy, who is willing to do whatever needs to be done without hesitation or qualms, who knows what is to be done when, who is willing to break the codes of Dharma in order to save Dharma itself, who leads others into performing their svadharma. Such a leader is worth more than all the armies in the world.

Today, we have armies; we have the RSS and VHP and their amazing grassroots organizational power. This is laudable indeed. But we lack leadership. We have no Krishna in our midst to guide us. We operate in kneejerk fashion, reacting to what is happening around us without ourselves taking control of the situation. We operate by emotion rather than coldblooded strategy. That makes us mostly ineffectual.

Let me give an example. Many of you, like me, were staunch supporters of Modi-ji for PM. Many Hindus volunteered time to campaign on his behalf in the hopes that he would further the Hindu cause from the PMO. Many people even went from the U.S. to spend 6 months or more in India to do grassroots campaigning. This is all wonderful. This all needs to be done.

But let’s take it to the next level, the level of real leadership. Beyond nebulous feelings of having ‘one of us’ in India’s most powerful office, did we arm Modiji with a specific Hindu mission to achieve? Did we develop a 10-point policy agenda for the Hindu cause to be fulfilled by him? Did we create set milestones with timelines? This is common practice in the U.S., to have report cards for political leaders on how well they have represented a particular constituency’s interests. This helps move the agenda along and keep focus on the things that really matter.

After Modiji completes his term, what are the metrics by which we will measure his success as a Hindu leader rather than an Indian politician? So many of us just emotionally looked to Modiji to be some kind of savior for the Hindu people; but true leadership would have been to make an objective assessment of what should have been his deliverables in exchange for the Hindu vote and support.

Instead, we have earned a reputation as bhaktas, as people simply emotionally attached to Modiji, who will defend him no matter what. Unfortunately, there is some truth to that. Let me be clear—Modiji must unequivocally be supported but we must be strategic on how to support him and how to help him further the Hindu cause.

We cry and cry about presstitutes (i.e., sold out media people), but we do not form our own media powerhouses or have even an effective media strategy or spokesperson. Had even a small percentage of the vast amounts of time and energy spent on his campaign been devoted to such strategic considerations, we would be much better off today.

We as Hindus are excellent executors.  We keep winning spelling bees. We are fantastic engineers and doctors and lawyers. We are excellent research scientists. If someone gives us a goal, we will accomplish it. But more important than achieving a goal is knowing which goals are to be achieved. An army can take a hill, but a leader is needed to tell the army which hill to take.

A leader cannot afford to always be in a reactive mode. A CEO is not judged on how well he or she deals with day-to-day fire drills. He or she is judged on what goals are set—e.g., a particular Return on Equity (ROE) or launch of a new product—and whether and to what extent such goals have been achieved.

We cannot consider ourselves effective as Hindu leaders if all we do is react to what is happening around us. No doubt that when Wendy Doniger and her like put out books, we can discredit them. No doubt that when the next variation of the AIT (Aryan Invasion Theory) comes, we will have excellent rebuttals.

But that is not enough. That is being reactive to someone else’s leadership and strategy; that is simply playing defense on someone else’s terms and turf. We have to be ready to turn the tables.

We cannot go on simply rejecting what other people say about us and Hinduism; we have to put forth our vision, our views, our definitions and agenda for Dharma.

Let’s say that today we have at our disposal $100M, a dozen classically trained Sanskrit and Vedic scholars, dozens of PhD students in all fields of linguistics, history, religions studies, etc., and access to all the libraries of the world. Do we have a strategy on how to use these resources? Do we have a vision, a set of concrete objectives, which we want to achieve through our own scholarship? A list of translations to be done; field studies or experiments we would like to undertake; research topics critical to Dharma in the 21st century? Do we have any ideas for original path-breaking scholarship of our own?

If I said to you that today we have the ear of the U.S. Congress, that any three pieces of legislation that we wish to be enacted on behalf of Dharma will be passed and signed by the president, would we be able to come up with anything?

Many of us complain that funding is not there. Actually, funding comes automatically when ideas are there, when there is vision and strategy and clarity of thought.

In the absence of this, when we have not even answered these basic questions and do not even have our own agenda or mission, what business do we have running around setting up university chairs controlled by non-Hindus to study Hindu traditions? Without a clearly formulated strategic policy agenda, how effective can any Hindu advocacy or lobbying group be?

Clarity of vision is what we lack the most, and it is clarity of vision that is the bedrock of strong leadership.  Vision is a grand narrative, an end state that is tangible yet all-encompassing in its breadth. Vision is not just a series of milestones to be achieved or obstacles to overcome. It is a dream that inspires and motivates people, something for which people live, breathe and work. Management gurus often talk about the importance of being able to paint a picture in this regard.

Vision has to be forward-looking. We cannot ever be licking our wounds and thinking where we were 2,500 years ago and how low have we fallen now. We cannot look backwards all the time. No, we must instead ask where shall we be 2,500 years from now and how will we get there?

If we dream of a Hindu rashtra or India / Hinduism as Vishwa Guru, what exactly does that mean? As beautiful as these lofty concepts are, we have to make them a little bit more tangible and concrete to make a true vision.

I dream of a world where the fire of agnihotra burns in every Hindu home. I dream of a world where sandhyavandanam is performed without fail by our Hindu men. I dream of a world where the custodians of our traditions, our samskriti, are not the Wendy Donigers or Sheldon Pollocks of the world, but our own ghanapathis and classically trained panditas. I dream of a world where Sanskrit and the study of the Vedas flourish not in Germany or the halls of Harvard University, but in our own India, the eternal homeland of Hinduism. I dream of a Nalanda that is not just a fabled university from the past but a thriving university of today, the most prestigious educational institution in the world for learning about not just India’s but the world’s traditions, operating at such a standard that the Harvard’s and Yale’s of the world cannot even compete. I dream of a world where authentic English translations of our shastras are easily available and accessible. I dream of a world where Sanskrit is studied and honored as a living sacred tradition, not a dead language like Latin or Greek.

There is an initiative on now in India to develop 100 smart cities. Well, I dream of an India with 100 Sanatani cities. One hundred cities—such as Kashi, Ayodhya, Tirumala, Rameshwaram—our sacred cities, where no mosque or church or foreign landmark of invasion and oppression will be allowed to stand, where no missionary activity or non-Hindu religious activity will be permitted, where the architecture, customs, language, dress and traditions will be in accordance with the sampradaya / parampara and sacred history of that particular site. This is the only way that Bharata will survive with its Sanatani civilization intact.

My dream is not limited to India alone. The role of vishwa guru to me means that Sanatana Dharma must awaken other nations and communities to their ancient pagan pasts, to rediscover their true heritage. As Dr. Swamy has informed us, according to UNESCO, India is the only country having unbroken continuing civilization out of the 46 civilizations of the world. That unbroken civilization is Sanatana Dharma, and it is the role and responsibility of Sanatana Dharma to carry forward the banner of the values for which the ancient civilizations stood—the worship of nature in its multiplicity of forms, worship through mysticism, and worship of the sacred feminine as goddesses. I dream of a world where people may practice yoga and the traditions of Tantra and meditation without necessarily becoming Hindu, but they do so in the acknowledgement that they are practicing Hindu traditions that they are not at license to misappropriate or misrepresent at their whim. I dream of a world where the sonorous chants of the Vedas resound in temples and homes, and where the Vedangas flourish in every area—in the fields of astronomy, astrology, psychology, the arts, politics, law and sociology. I dream of a world where we dismantle the monopoly Abrahamic thought has over modern hought, where the Chaturvarna system is studied alongside capitalism, where secularism based on Judeo-Christian tolerance gives way to a Vedic model of religious pluralism and multiculturalism, where the aim of life is not the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness / property but the Purushartha of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.

My dream may differ from yours, and that is fine. So long as all of our visions are rooted in Dharma, they will converge and harmonize into a Hindu renaissance and revival.

Another important aspect of leadership is confidence and conviction.  Research shows that 70% of communication is body language, 23% is voice tone and inflection, and only 7% is your spoken words. What does that mean? How you carry yourself, your conviction and attitude, is vastly more important than the content of what you say. It means that when you respect yourself, when you have pride and confidence in yourself, others will follow you, whether or not they even agree with what you say. It means that even if your ideas are brilliant and logically sound, if you do not carry yourself with confidence, no one will follow you.

Today, Muslims are not beating us because they have better ideas or a more appealing philosophy. Au contraire! Muslims are winning because they have nishta or rootedness. They have conviction in Islam. Here in America you will find that so many Muslims meticulously observe Ramadan, no matter what constraints they have for work or school. If it is time for their namaz, they will even get out of their cars on the highway to perform namaz on the roadside. They will religiously read the Quran.

If we had even one tenth of their nishta, we would have won the war already! We grumble at observing Shivaratri once a year, and there too, we will take all kinds of shortcuts. We find it too inconvenient to do sandhyavandanam. We are too lazy to read our Puranas. We neglect learning our mother tongues and Sanskrit.

When we do not have even that little conviction in ourselves or our samskriti, then how can we expect anyone else to respect us?

Without Shraddha, there is nothing. Shraddha is not blind faith, which is a common misconception. Shraddha is trust, reverence, honor for the traditions and an unshakeable conviction in their rightness.  With Shraddha, everything comes, including direct realization of the truth of our Vedas. Our Vedas are the only scriptures in the world that say they are irrelevant once enlightenment is attained, just like shoes are unnecessary once one has reached the temple. Blind faith is not required; but nishta and shraddha are required while one is on the path.

True leadership and confidence requires authenticity and being comfortable in one’s own skin. People can tell when you are being fake or trying to be something that you are not. We must let go of our inferiority complex about that which makes Hinduism different and unique. Too often, in our impulse to conform and assimilate out of weakness, we end up distorting the meaning of Hinduism to try to make it fit into a Judeo-Christian framework. Hinduism cannot be reconciled with Judeo-Christian frameworks.  When we try to do so, we are only distorting and desecrating our own traditions.

To say that Hinduism worships one god and is therefore monotheistic is not accurate. The concept of being anything-theistic does not apply to Hinduism. Within the umbrella of Hinduism are found devout theists, agnostics and atheists—though none of those terms perfectly fit. To say that we do not worship idols or graven images is a gross over-simplification.  We Hindus have a continuous unbroken tradition of  worship through symbols, whether through fire or vigrahas or upasanas (visual constructs given through our shastras). If others want to call us idolators, so be it. Also, to say that there is no such thing as caste in Hinduism is to misrepresent Hinduism—it is correct that caste as it is understood and defined in the West did not exist, but the Chaturvarna system is a core part of Hinduism. Confidence means pride in our authenticity and uniqueness without compromise, without apology.

Confidence also means trusting that victory will be attained. First you must have a vision, then you develop conviction in it, but ultimately you must also believe that the vision will be achieved. That is what drives execution. If Muslims did not believe that there were 72 virgins and other benefits waiting for them on the other end, there would be no jihad. But we Hindus today are like Arjuna at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita, sitting in despondence and confusion, refusing to fight the battle it is our duty to win. We are riddled with doubts.

Doubt is the most corrosive force in the world. There is no place for doubt in our hearts when it comes to Dharma. Dharmo rakshati rakshitaha (Dharma protects those who protect Dharma). As Sri Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, we are entitled to our actions only but not to the fruits of our actions. Our duty is to Dharma alone; the fruits and effects of it are in the hands of Iswara. We must act with confidence, with full trust and Shraddha. As Sri Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita (2.37), “Killed, thou wilt reach Heaven; victorious thou wilt enjoy the earth.  Wherefore, O Son of Kunti, arise, resolved to fight!”

The final aspect of leadership that I want to talk about today is perhaps the most important—the need for Hindu unity, the cause for which we have all gathered here today. By unity, we mean oneness which is different from sameness. Unity does not mean the abolition of differences. Diversity is a trademark of our Dharma.  It is a sign of our strength.  It cannot and must not be discarded.

Unity means that we must care for the whole, that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Unity means that when Hindu women are raped in Bangladesh, we all suffer; when stones are thrown at pilgrims en route to Amarnath, we are all attacked; when an ISKCON temple is threatened with closure in Moscow, all of our temples are at risk. This is where Islam shows its strength which we do not see in Hinduism today.

It is to foster this unity that Adi Shankara established his four mathas in the four corners of India. It is out of this unity that Maharani Ahalyabai Holkar of Indore contributed to the construction of a new temple at Somnath after it was razed down by Aurangzeb, even though it was outside of her kingdom. It is out of Hindu unity that the maharajahs of Rajasthan took in, protected and worshipped the vigrahas of Krishna under threat by the invading Moghul hordes in Vrndavana and surrounding areas.

Hinduism is an intensely personal religion with tremendous variety according to region, ethnicity, sampradaya and parampara. This diversity and heterogeneity must be preserved at all costs. Unity must not come at the sacrifice of this diversity. But unity requires that we must care for the whole. At least 10% of our time and energy should be committed to the cause of Hinduism overall, something that goes beyond any particular organization or lineage. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

It is good to publish books glorifying one’s guru and lineage history, but is it right that hundreds of such books are proliferating today and yet we do not have any good English translations of the 18 Mahapuranas and our Itihasas?

Twice in the past year, the Gita Press of Gorakhpur has been on the verge of closing. It is widely recognized as one of the very few if not only traditional publishing houses for Hinduism. How can it be that we have no other well-funded and professionally managed institutions, no properly set up trusts, to act as custodians for our core texts? How weak and vulnerable are we if a petty labor dispute is all it takes to destroy one of the last remaining custodians of our sacred texts? What a sorry state of affairs it is that in the last so many years we have yet to produce any good translations of our Vedic texts. Even today, the best translations for our Vedic texts appear to be Max Muller’s. Can you imagine the most authoritative translation of the Bible being produced by a Muslim out to insidiously destroy Christianity?   This precisely was Max Muller’s denominational objective.

For the health of a tree, the roots must be nourished. We must tend to the core Vedic traditions and shastras that are the root source from which all of our sampradayas hail in order to preserve the entirety of the Hindu samaja. Without the constant strengthening of these roots, ultimately all the sampradayas, all the paramparas, all the organizations that have branched out from the Vedas will wither and die.

Can we not devote at least 10% of our time, energy and resources to those issues and goals that are common to all of us as Hindus? Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswatiji is on all of our minds these days, and one of his most notable achievements is the creation of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (HDAS), where all the great acharyas of different sampradayas convene to address the issues affecting us all. It is up to us to strengthen such initiatives and create new ones. We will be weak and ineffective if we operate in self-imposed silos; we must develop policy agendas and institutions as a unified Hindu base. It is not enough for non-affiliated Hindus to contribute to these causes; the sampradayas and paramparas that are the bedrock of power in Hindu society must lend their weight and authority. Kanchi, the Ramakrishna Mission, BAPS, Gayatri Pariwar and others must all come together to protect Dharma on a mutually agreed common platform with flexibility to accommodate their individual concerns.

There is a popular saying in South India, that one goes to the Shiva temple in the morning to learn Vedanta and then to the Vishnu temple for lunch as the Vaishnavas make the best food. Of course, this is a joke but there is some truth to it; the truth is that the secret of Hindu unity is complementarity, that we all have different strengths and competencies. The reason we are stronger together is because we have strengths that others lack, and when we come together, we are strong in all dimensions. Our unity is through diversity and complementarity. The kshatriya’s dharma is different from the brahmana’s; both are different from the vaishya’s, but all need to come together to protect and further Hindu dharma. The path of stree dharma is different from the dharma of the man, but both the masculine and feminine are equally needed for the furtherance of Dharma.

And yet, while we must celebrate and honor our differences, our first and foremost identity must be as Hindus and our first loyalty must be to Hindu Dharma.

The most dangerous myth that we have been fed is that there is no such thing as Hindu unity and that such unity is not possible. Our enemies have focused on this, our Achilles heel, in attempts to divide and conquer us through history, whether it was the invaders or colonialists or today’s western influenced Indologists. Because they all recognize one thing—that if Hindus are united, there is no stopping us.

In business, there is such a thing called a poison pill.  Basically, it is a defensive tactic or scheme embedded in a company’s governance documents that protects it from being taken over by another company. It is Hindu unity that is our most potent poison pill.

The day that we stand united as a block, as brothers and sisters, that day itself our enemies will be defeated; that is the day our dreams will be achieved.

We must unite. There is no Aryan or Dravidian; there are only Aryaputras and Aryaputris. There is no neo-Hinduism or Classical Hinduism—there is only Sanatana Dharma. There is no Shaiva vs. Vaishnava divide; they co-exist harmoniously within the panchayatana system of worship of Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesha and Surya. There is no conflict between rituals and Vedanta; both together constitute the Vedas. The continuity and inherent unity of Hinduism cannot be denied if only we delve into it.

With clarity of vision, with confidence in ourselves and our samskriti, with the conviction that no obstacle in our path is too great to overcome, our shared dream of a resurgent Hindu Dharma, a Hindu renaissance, a world with India as the homeland of Hindu Dharma playing the role of the vishwa guru, can and will be achieved.

Vande Mataram!

Adhikara And the Academy – The Bogus Controversy over Rajiv Malhotra And ‘Plagiarism’

July 29, 2015

This hullaballoo over plagiarism is just a fig leaf for a deeper fundamental problem that these scholars have with Malhotra and other practitioner-scholars.

Rajiv Malhotra has been a ground-breaking thinker and writer on matters related to Hinduism and Indian civilization for decades now. He has single-handedly and courageously challenged a coterie of Western Indologists and associated forces bent on denigrating Indic traditions and denying the national and civilizational unity of India and Hinduism. Because of Malhotra’s work—encapsulated in books such as Invading the Sacred, Breaking India, Being Different, and Indra’s Net—there has been a resurgence of confidence and assertiveness among the Hindu and Indian communities.

Nor is this confidence based on chauvinism, on simple sloganeering or xenophobia. Malhotra first reversed the gaze on the West and showed how these Western Indologists distort and denigrate Indic traditions by viewing them through Eurocentric paradigms—such as using Freudian theory to analyse our deities (producing such gems as Ganesha’s trunk symbolizing a limp phallus that represents his jealousy over Shiva’s sexual prowess)—and how these theories trickle down to mainstream culture through media and school textbooks.

He showed how an axis of forces from the West has been using these ideas to foment separatism within India in attempts to break up India. He highlighted the importance of Sanskrit non-translatables—certain aspects of our traditions that cannot easily be translated into English or Western concepts and must instead be understood on their own terms in order to retain their authenticity.

In this way, by challenging the dominant Western discourse, he has been helping Indians and Hindus recover their own indigenous understanding of their civilization, history and religious and spiritual traditions.

Because Malhotra’s work has been so pivotal in challenging the dominant academic discourse about India and Hinduism, it is no surprise that he would be under constant attack by those very academics he has been directly challenging. That has indeed been the case. This newest controversy is part of a pattern of mudslinging by leftist scholars that began decades ago, when Malhotra first began writing on these issues.

This latest attack on Malhotra is being timed to coincide with his forthcoming book, which will show how the language and traditions connected with Sanskrit are being attacked by a cohort of leftist Indologists who are attempting to de-link Sanskrit from its Hindu spiritual and religious roots by characterizing Sanskrit as a language of political oppression used by kings to maintain their power.

Malhotra had presented these ideas at the recently concluded 16th World Sanskrit Conference in Thailand. Though the talk was well-received by Sanskritists worldwide, it infuriated a number of Western scholars whose pet theories denigrating Indic traditions were now under attack.

Rather than take on Malhotra’s views head-on, they took the cowardly route and made up a case of plagiarism against Malhotra’s last book, Indra’s Net. Mind you, Indra’s Net was published eighteen months ago with nary a complaint about any ‘plagiarism’ or uncited sources to date.

But suddenly, and so very conveniently, these charges of plagiarism have appeared so soon after the conference in Thailand! These charges were set forth in a petition to Harper Collins India, the publisher of Indra’s Net, with a demand that the publisher issue a formal apology and withdraw the book from publication.

This is nothing more than gross slander worthy of being sued in court. Objective observers who have reviewed the petition have dismissed it as meritless. The claims are mere quibbles over citation styles rather than any serious charge that Malhotra has stolen someone else’s ideas and passed it off as his own.

A point-by-point analysis as noted by Malhotra’s copy-editor for Indra’s Net, Thom Loree:

“To his credit, Mr. Malhotra prefers not to insult his readers’ intelligence with a barrage of footnotes — only when they are required. And so there are several places where the references to Nicholson are implicit, as opposed to explicit. These references are obvious to anyone who reads the passages in the context of the preceding passages and the overall chapter. This all strikes me as pretty plain. Mr. Malhotra’s accusers in this matter are being unreasonable and grossly unfair, to put it mildly.​”[1]

It is also impossible to take the petition seriously when its major proponents have distinct ulterior motives and can hardly be regarded as objective observers concerned with academic integrity. For example, one of the main backers of the petition who has taken to Twitter wars over it, is Richard Fox Young, an Afro-Dalit activist at the Princeton Theological Seminary (which is simply named after the town of Princeton and has no association with Princeton University) who works closely with John Dayal.

The Afro-Dalit Project is a U.S.-run and U.S.-financed project that frames Dalits as the ‘blacks’ of India and non-Dalits as the ‘whites’ of India, thus superimposing the history of American racism and slavery onto Indian society. John Dayal is Secretary General for the All India Christian Council and a controversial rabid anti-Hindu / anti-India activist.

Indeed, the underwhelming substance behind the petition may explain why it has gotten less than 250 signatures to date while a counter-petition by Malhotra’s supporters has garnered over 10,000 signatures.

However, this is not a game of mere numbers. Malhotra’s critics have at their disposal greater resources and influential supporters—for example, Wendy Doniger, Sagarika Ghose and several others have already waded into the fray to throw their clout against Malhotra.

Is it not convenient that these scholars suddenly discovered this alleged ‘plagiarism’ in Indra’s Net one and a half years after its publication, right when Malhotra’s next book is about to be released? This is nothing but a naked power play to squash the voice of an independent scholar who threatens the very foundations of their work.

If they have issues with Malhotra’s work, they should engage those issues and debate with him openly and freely. Indeed, Malhotra has always invited and welcomed such debates on the substantive issues. But they do not have the intellectual integrity or courage to stand up in debate with their critics.

Instead, they stoop to petty ad hominem attacks designed to destroy the credibility of their critics’ voices rather than address the content of what they are saying. If these nefarious schemes are allowed to succeed unimpeded, if this stranglehold over academia by this mafia of leftist scholars continues unchecked, no pro-India /pro-Hindu scholar will have a strong voice in academia or the mainstream media.

This hullaballoo over plagiarism is just a fig leaf for a deeper fundamental problem that these scholars have with Malhotra and other practitioner-scholars. The heart of their attack is that Malhotra does not have the ‘credentials’ to discuss and debate with their hallowed, Ivy League-pedigreed selves. One such critic recently scoffed that he does not debate with plumbers.

Let us be clear—they are not saying that Malhotra is wrong, that he has not done his research or homework—they simply dismiss him on the grounds that he does not have the appropriate background. Even the charges of plagiarism they are hurling against him are quibbles over academic etiquette.

Is this not like an academic caste system? Is going through the heavily politicized, ritualized process of doctoral studies, tenure and ‘peer review’ by a small, insular coterie of similarly pedigreed scholars the only legitimate way to be a recognized intellectual?

This is a terrible double standard. On the one hand, these scholars establish arbitrary barriers to entry for their critics. On the other hand, they reject the notion of having to have any kind of adhikara (authority based on qualification and competency) as defined within Hinduism for the study of Hindu shastras (texts).

They take a cavalier attitude that they are free to conjure whatever interpretations they like about this sacred tradition, irrespective of the fact that the tradition itself would not consider them to be qualified voices of authority on Hindu shastras.

In our misguided zeal to conform to Western ways, we must never forget that we have our own standards for adhikara. Vedanta cannot be learned at Harvard or Oxford; it must be learned at the feet of a guru who is a Srotriya Brahmanishta (one who is both a master of the shastras and who has sakshatkara (self-realization)). The Vedas cannot be understood merely through poring over texts in a library.

There must be transmission, from guru to shishya, according to sampradaya and parampara so that the tradition is not corrupted. Even if one has proficiency in Sanskrit and is well-read, without the requisite level of antahkarana shuddhi (purity of the mind / senses through sadhana (spiritual practice)) and aparoksha-anubhava (direct experience), one will be a mere pandit rather than an acharya.

A pandit can point to several different meanings or interpretations of a given shloka or passage; an acharya will know which meaning to be given when, depending on the circumstances and context, and thereby speak with an authoritative voice. Even a pandit in the Dharmic tradition has to go through very rigorous training in the traditional ways. That is what brings qualification to teach and be an authority on Hinduism.

In the absence of this adhikara, all sorts of distortions and fundamental misunderstandings take place, as we have seen with scholarship of India from the West. This is what causes Pollock to see Sanskrit as primarily a tool of political oppression rather than as a medium of transmission for the spiritual, civilizational and literary samskriti of Hindus.

As brilliantly explained by Prof. Antonio di Nicolas, this lack of adhikara is what causes Doniger to translate aja eka pada (aja = unborn, unmanifest; eka = one; pada = foot, measure—meaning the unmanifest one-foot measure of music present in the geometries of the ‘AsaT’, meaning the Rg Vedic world of possibilities where only geometries live without forms) as “the one-footed goat” because “aja” in Hebrew means goat.[2]

This lack of basic competence by Doniger has given us ‘gems’ of her scholarship, such as the Gita is a dishonest book; the coloured powders and liquids used for Holi are symbolic of the blood that was ‘probably’ used in past centuries; and Sri Rama abandoned Sita because he was afraid of becoming a sex addict like his father, Dasaratha.

These scholars refuse to take into account our notions of adhikara and instead insist on replacing it with their version of adhikara, i.e., credentials based on the Western academic system where Westerners decide who is qualified or not to speak about Hinduism (a non-Western tradition) by presiding over doctorates, tenure and the peer review process in a system where there is no voice at all for indigenous scholar practitioners who do not kowtow to Western academic ways. Westerners thus conveniently become the judges of their own ‘adhikara’.

For example, Doniger arrogates to herself the right to say whatever she wants about Indic traditions:

I don’t think there is any substance to the argument about Western scholars “appropriating” Indian texts—the texts are there for anyone to write about them, if he or she simply takes the trouble to learn Sanskrit or Telugu or whatever, and a bit of the historical and social context. … Western scholars can’t damage the texts they interpret, no matter how wrong their ideas about them may be … Indians can air their views at any time.[3]

In claiming that anyone can write whatever they want and “Indians can air their views at any time” to counter Western scholarship,[4] Doniger conveniently ignores the asymmetric balance of power between Western scholars and indigenous scholar practitioners. The colonialists dismantled the traditional educational institutions of India. In their absence, the pandits and other traditional custodians of our samskrita do not have the resources or backing of strong institutions or organizations to leverage.

They thus lack access to the key channels of distribution of knowledge—the mainstream media, the upper echelons of premier educational institutions, think tanks and policy makers. They also lack the fluency in English and Western style thought to reach a global audience. And finally, those few who do have this fluency—like Malhotra—are sought to be discredited and silenced by Doniger and others. Doniger herself dismisses Malhotra’s voice by claiming he knows “nothing about the subjects he writes about.”[5]

On the one hand, Hindus who want to study and write about their own tradition have to play by the rules of Western scholars who control the channels of distribution of knowledge in today’s world. They have to follow their dictates on scholarly etiquette.

On the other hand, according to these same Western scholars, Hindus dare not insist on any criteria or qualifications on who can speak authoritatively about their own tradition. That would be chauvinist or fundamentalist, but the Western restrictions, rooted in Eurocentric paradigms, are simply about upholding objective academic standards! They cannot have it both ways.

Ultimately, what Malhotra is fighting for is the space for these voices of adhikaris from within the tradition to have a level playing field and equal access to shape the discourse about their own tradition. Hindus are the only ones of the major world religious traditions whose discourse is defined and dictated by outsiders to the tradition; the academic discourse about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and, to an extent, Buddhism, has been shaped largely by the mainstream voices from within the tradition with academic freedom to create controversial views at the fringes.

The case of Hinduism has been the exact opposite, largely as a result of the colonialist hangover that privileges Eurocentric voices over indigenous ones even within India itself today.

Malhotra seeks to reverse the gaze, to highlight the distortions implicit in Western interpretations of Indic traditions, to create the space in this area monopolized by Western thought for indigenous voices and authentic views from within the tradition to emerge. He is fighting for traditional scholars who do not have wherewithal to fight for themselves as yet.

Until that day when there is a true level playing field, Indologists will have to acknowledge and be sensitive to the fact that they have disproportionate power in defining how Hinduism is understood, including by Hindus themselves. They have to be willing to entertain serious, substantive challenges from critics like Malhotra to ensure the discourse about Hinduism is not just Eurocentric but balanced by voices from within the Indic traditions.

At this critical juncture, where the very definition of foundational concepts of Dharma and Indian civilization are up for grabs—such as yoga, Sanskrit, Hinduism as a religion and the continuity of Indic civilization and Hinduism—the stakes are incredibly high. If Malhotra’s opponents get their way, they will be emboldened to continue their attack on voices that oppose their pointedly left-wing ideology.

Ultimately, this controversy is not just about Rajiv Malhotra, but about what he has come to represent. He is the foremost scholar taking on these Western Indologists and counterattacking their assault on the samskriti, history and civilizational fabric of India and Hinduism. He is the only one who has had the courage to stand up to the Western academy and advocate for alternative voices.

Those in the other camp are closing ranks. The fatal flaw within Indian society has always been disunity and internal bickering. It is time to set aside these petty politics and unify for this cause, which is not about Rajiv Malhotra as an individual but about something much larger.

We have to fight back; to expose these scholars who are attacking Malhotra and show their underlying agenda and the games they are playing; to ensure that the publishers of Malhotra’s books do not buckle under pressure; to demand an equal place at the table for assertive Hindu voices from within the tradition as a counterbalance to predominantly Western voices in the discourse and debate over Indian civilization and Hinduism.

If you believe that assaults on intellectual freedom should be stopped, then you must stand with Malhotra.

If you believe that the Western academic discourse cannot possibly be the only legitimate discourse about India, Indian civilization and Hinduism, then you must stand with Malhotra.

If you believe that, in addition to academic voices, there must be equal space for the voices of scholar practitioners from within the tradition, then you must stand with Malhotra.

If you believe that, in the spirit of true multiculturalism and diversity, the process of reversing the gaze must be encouraged in order to challenge fundamental Eurocentric assumptions and implicit biases, then you must stand with Malhotra.

If you believe that, just as competition must be encouraged in the marketplace for the health of the economy, the flowering of multiple views and ideas must be encouraged for true scholarship, then you must stand with Malhotra.

If you believe in Indian unity and Hindu continuity, then we all must stand with Malhotra—because for so long, and mostly alone, he has fought and stood for all of us.