SV: Rajaram's bull (response to VS)

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann reimann at UCLINK4.BERKELEY.EDU
Mon Aug 7 17:25:46 UTC 2000

Although L. M. Fosse has already replied to some of Vidyasankar remarks on
his post, I will also offer some comments as Vidyasankar was clearly
referring to something I wrote.

>Case in point - to say that something is Vedic, not Hindu,
>presupposes a definition of what is Hindu. Now, what is the
>Indological definition of "Hindu"? Is there even one commonly
>accepted definition? If there is one, and if it does not accept
>the notions the Indian people have about it now, you can expect
>some immediate friction. So there is no point in being surprised
>by the vehemence that some things evoke.

Yes, like the response of Lakshmi Srinivas, who called it a Judeo-Christian
(?) statement on my part.

You are right that this has to do with how you define Hindu or Hinduism.
And you are also right concerning the difficulty to define it.  Several
scholars have discussed this, such as Brian Smith.  Many years ago Wendy
Doniger came to the conclusion that for the Gupta period the best one could
say to characterize a belief as Hindu was that it had to accept two things:
 1. The authority of the Vedas, and  2. The existence of reincarnation.
However, accepting the authority of the Vedas does not imply practicing the
religion described in the Vedas.  Therefore, it is standard scholarly
procedure to make a distinction between Vedic literature and religion and
post-Vedic literature and religion.  This distinction is largely based on
the religious practices reflected in the literature.  On the post-Vedic
side you have Hinduism (PurANic - ZAstric Hinduism if you prefer), Buddhism
and Jainism (and other later traditions).
I don't want to get into a discussion about this, but I assume you would
agree that not many Hindus today would identify as Hinduism a religion that

no RAma (no SItA)
no KRSNa (no RadhA)
no avatAras of ViSNu
no HanumAn
no GaNeza
no KArttikeya
no DurgA
no KAlI
no temples
no yugas, manvantas or kalpas
no strict vegetarianism
no well-developed theory of reincarnation (especially in the early and
middle Vedic periods)

They surely would recognize many of the gods, but some of their roles and
their importance would not be as familiar, and the gods would have no
consorts (no LakshmI, no PArvatI), and no mounts (no GaruDa, no Nandin).
And so on.

Scholars usually use the term Hinduism in this way, but of course another
term could be used.  In fact, it is more and more common to refer to, for
instance, PurANic religion, but this does not include as much as Hinduism.

Maybe the problem is that we are mixing two levels of discourse here.  On
the academic level these distinctions are made because they are helpful and
make sense, there is no implied attack on the beliefs of people who are
Hindu.  And this is the "register" in which I have used the terms.  On a
different level, for some Hindus who are not informed about these
considerations, I think you are right to point out that this could be
interpreted to mean something derogatory.  This is especially true because
today in India defining "Hinduness" is a major concern for many.  The thing
is that this list, as Dominik Wujastyk has tried to remind us over and over
again, is meant to be an academic list, although it has often become a
forum for introductory ideas and concepts.

>Another example - all the professionals on this list know much
>about the alliance of brAhmaNa and kshatriya in classical India.
>However, to be very blunt about it, if you think this is obvious
>to the modern Indian, or that it should be obvious, you are living
>in an ivory tower.

Why should professionals assume that it is obvious to the modern Indian?
Professionals in the field of Biblical studies don't assume that modern
Jews and Christians are well informed about (or accept) their research.

>Consequently, the word "Brahminical" evokes no image of the
>kshatriya contribution to Indian society, and creates a false
>picture of Brahmin on one side and all the non-Brahmin castes
>on the other - a very potent potion in the caste ridden politics
>of India today.

Brahminical, in the sense I used it, implies the varNa dharma.  Would it
sound different to you if I said dvija instead?  But I agree that it is
important to be aware of the impact the use of the term can have today.

>To say that Indologists are by and large
>interested only in the Rg Veda and the IVC, and not in British
>colonial India, is to ignore how inseparably linked the two are

I have more of a problem with this. If doctors in colonial India were
imperial colonialists, does that mean that medicine and colonialism are
inextricably linked?  I think there is a lack of understanding here about
what many contemporary Indologists do and who they are.  This is where I
imagine more diffusion could only help.

>To simply assert that contemporary Indologists do
>not subscribe to the assumptions of those who lived a hundred
>years ago is not going to be believed, unless supported by proof.
>And we are sufficiently wary, to insist that the proof of the
>pudding be in the eating.

What, according to this, would constitute proof?  Rejecting every idea of
previous Indologists? Many of them made very important contributions; one
can decide what to accept and what to reject.  Contemporary Indologists
(such as Pollock) are writing about the biases of some previous scholars.
It is important not to fall prey to conspiracy theories and absolute

Best regards,

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann
University of California, Berkeley

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