Tuesday, April 30, 2019
FAITH 40 INSIGHTS INTO HINDUISM by DEVDUTT PATTANAIK
Hinduism has always been an all-encompassing religion, willing to adopt and adapt the best from other fellow religions. In his latest book titled ‘Faith 40 Insights into Hinduism’, Devdutt Pattanaik creates a master list of relevant questions and answers them all in a simple and fascinating manner. Every chapter begins with a query that has often been asked by the lay person, and the author unravels each mystery in his own engaging fashion, enhancing the experience with his own little illustrations. The yellow hard bound cover with silver lettering strikes the eye like a ray of sunshine, or like the silver lining that indicates the presence of the sun.
The book is divided into four sections: Belief, Customs, Scriptures and History. The author puts forward his reasons for writing this book. He wants people to view Hinduism with a more forward–looking gaze, not allowing it to remain confined to a time, a geography or a scripture. Thus, he strives to make it relevant to ‘contemporary space and time’, keeping in mind that ‘nature is diverse, culture is dynamic.”
The first section on Belief elaborates on concepts intrinsic to Hinduism like the beginning of the world, the religion as mythology, the significance of gurus, views on death, suicide, karma, patriarchy, the caste system and yoga, as the author connects the past with the present. The author stresses on the fact that Hinduism is rooted in the idea of rebirth (karma) and the material world, though self-sustaining and self-created dependent on a spiritual principle (atma).
The chapters have intriguing titles: ‘Can rakshasas or asuras be called the Hindu devil?’ and ‘Is Hinduism’s Narasimha like Hollywood’s Wolverine?’ thus creating a curiosity in the mind of the reader. The debate about Hinduism being feminist or patriarchal is cleverly argued, as is that about Hindu views in death and suicide.
In section two, titled ‘Customs’, the author starts with what rituals are. “Rituals are full of colour and fragrance, gestures and songs, stories and performances, food and music and clothes. They make Hinduism visible. Without them there is no Hinduism to see or hear or smell or touch or taste.” How evocative is this, as every word conveys the emotion that is Hinduism.
Other interesting questions are thrown up in this section. Why do Hindus worship idols and light lamps? The latter question finds a fascinating answer, one not commonly known by many. Another rare explanation is on the sacred thread and how it embodies Vedic wisdom. The author also raises a pertinent point about how the world craves vengeance in the name of ‘justice’ by keeping alive the ills of the past, and using them as fodder for the present. He also talks about vegetarianism and how turning ‘blood’ into contamination forms the basis of ‘untouchability’, which is a dangerous idea. In my opinion, this idea, seen in the light of Sabarimala, is what makes the issue a highly sensitive one.
The last two sections revolve around Scriptures and History. The author gives us an overview of the Vedas, as also that of the Tamil Veda that consisted of three books, which marked the rise of the bhakti movement of India. The Manusmriti speaks of the code of conduct for human society, pertaining mainly to Brahmins and Kshatriyas, and remains a significant book on dharma-shastra as it documents the prevalent social practices of its time. A time did come, however, when it was seen as the source of India’s inequalities as people felt that it institutionalized the caste system.
Further questions are asked and explained. Did the Aryans come into India or spread out of India? Why do we give race so much of importance? Were the Hindus casteist? And interestingly, is the samosa Indian or Vedic?
Forty questions are asked and answered in simple terms by an author who is well-versed in Hindu philosophy and culture. The final truth that he puts forth puts things in perspective. “Hinduism does not believe in changing people’s minds or replacing old ideas. It believes in expanding their minds and adding new ideas. Hence, there is no need to convert, just enlighten, empathize and accommodate.”
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