Passages From India

Michael Dirda in The Washington Post:

Book Any of us might make the same mistake: I didn't really notice the subtitle of Wendy Doniger's massive study, “The Hindus.” I knew that she was an eminent Sanskrit scholar at the University of Chicago, author of many books about cultural, religious and folkloric beliefs, and a translator of several Indian classics, including “The Rig Veda” and “The Kamasutra.” Her annotations to the latter, that notorious manual of sexual practice, are, I can attest, as entertaining and informative as the book itself.

However, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” is probably too scholarly and specialized for readers looking simply for an introduction to Indian philosophy and religion. In its notes Doniger suggests that her book could be used for a 14-week course, and I suspect that it originated as a series of class lectures. She herself recommends some more conventional histories and guides, including Gavin Flood's “An Introduction to Hinduism,” John Keay's “India: A History” and that old standby, A.L. Basham's survey “The Wonder That Was India.” While Doniger does trace the evolution of Hinduism from the time of the Indus Valley Civilization (2,500 B.C.) to the present, she deliberately emphasizes a small number of recurrent threads, in particular the ways that “women, lower classes and castes, and animals” have endured or surmounted their traditional status. Horses, for instance, are typically glamorous, cows sacred and dogs despised — but not always.

More here.