An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Was Hinduism Invented?

This is a critique of the book “Was Hinduism invented?” by Brian Pennington by Aruni Mukherjee (University of Warwick, England).

I find the obsession of the Western thinkers and literalists with “Religion” thoroughly” debilitating for their OWN cause. They have ended up commoditizing God! I have never believed that there was any “religion” called Hinduism.. nor should there be one! The core of what is called “Hinduism” was evolved over many years by efforts of many learned .. .and most importantly HONEST men! They did not have to hide behind the shield of structure to stay in currency! They simply followed their word! It is VERY interesting to me that in all those THOUSANDS of years there was no ONE major branch of the tree which ultimately comprised “Hinduism” which called itself as “different” .. and within the last 800 years we have at least half a dozen.. each claiming a difference and a structure! And to me .. all those “prophets”, Gurus, Masters.. ended up creating mess in the society and their followers were left no better than before!

So the salvation was in the freedom of belief and the right to follow any teachings.. and even the humility to combine thoughts and philosophies of various thinkers… because they realized that Ego was the greatest enemy!

Western thinking of course, just makes you follow one book .. your own.. depending on who you think is right.. and thats all.. everything is straitjacketed.. and your freedom is just about as wide as the book! You cannot even go around reading others’ thoughts with an open mind (but for the sole purpose of denouncing others!).. it is inconceivable for most that one can love Jesus, Krishna and Buddha at the same time! Because they have made a RELIGION OUT OF SPIRITUALITY!!

Therefore, in my view, the question that Peddington asks is a rather RETARDED ONE!

William Wilberforce, a British parliamentarian who died in 1833, once spoke of the “dark and bloody superstitions” that embody the creed that came to be termed Hinduism.

Prior to that, the mind-boggling diversity in sub-continental religious practices existed without a common definition to bind them together, and this “crystallization of the concept” is what Brian K Pennington traces in his book Was Hinduism Invented? Britons, Indians and the Colonial Construction of Religion.

Between 1789 and 1832, the Orientalist fascination for the “cloud of fables” – according to William Jones, the 18th century Indian historian – embodied in Vedic literature was replaced by the East India Company-backed intelligentsia who were preoccupied with utilitarian criticisms of the “sinister principles” of the same, depicted nowhere more vividly than in the works of James Mill and Thomas Macaulay.

Pennington argues that the modern avatar of the somewhat homogenized ancient religion that can be loosely termed Hinduism is a direct reaction to such seething and degrading criticism from the colonial academics, some of it indeed valid (such as vilifying the sati tradition – the traditional Hindu practice of a widow immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre).

He argues that the elites within Hindu society entered a “dialectical space” with colonialism, thereby producing a defensive self-determined version of their faith. While celebrating colonial promotion of certain scriptures, they vehemently opposed stereotyping, as can be seen in the outcry among the Bengali educated middle classes over the label of the effeminate babu. This similar dialectic process was behind the rise of Hindu nationalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as behind the progress made by the Hindutva movement of the late 1990s.

Nevertheless, Pennington refuses to present the colonial state with the credit of transforming “fragmented, disparate, localized, particularistic and ever-changing mini traditions” into a world religion. Whereas “Indophoebia” and the “racist science” of the 19th century did indeed contribute substantially toward the development of a defensive definition of Hinduism, crediting the state with the invention of Hinduism as we know it is ignoring the “mess of encounters” that can better explain this development.

Whereas literary critic Edward Said accused the West of essentializing the East, the opposite argument is also true. Pennington makes a distinction between various classes of Hinduism’s “other”, and argues that class, nationality, outlook and background of the actors on the ground made the encounters between, say, a missionary and a peasant much different from that between a colonial academic and a local historian.

What follows from the importance of the nature of the “other” is the fundamental significance of religious values in this discourse, discarded by many schools of historians preferring to focus solely on socio-economic trends. Pennington associates himself with Partha Chatterjee who wrote in the first volume of the Subaltern Studies about the various ways in which the downtrodden communities often express themselves in the form of their religion. This is also seen in the works of David Hardiman on Adivasis or indigenous people in western India, as well as that of Saurabh Dube on the Satnamis of central India.

read more

Get Drishtikone Updates
in your inbox

Subscribe to Drishtikone updates and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Comments are closed.

Get Drishtikone Updates
in your inbox

Subscribe to Drishtikone updates and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.