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Book Review: Hinduism in Ancient India and the Various Aspects of its Traditions by Greg Bailey

These seven essays from the book range from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata to the mythologies that form the core of Hinduism

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  • “Hinduism in India: The Early Period’ is a compilation of essays highlighting different aspects of Hinduism
  • The Book is edited by Greg Bailey and published by SAGE
  • It is made up of seven essays covering a variety of epics and mythologies

August 15: 2017:  A compilation of essays defining various aspects of Hinduism and its traditions, Sage Publications brings to you a beautiful book by Greg Bailey, titled “Hinduism in India: The Early Period’.

Although it is complex to concise something as vast as Hinduism in a single book, Greg Bailey’s topics of selection are worthy of comprehension.

There is a total of seven essays that make up this book. These seven essays range from epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata to the mythologies that are at the core of Hinduism. Bailey’s efforts of compiling the most vital of events together should be applauded.

However, Free Press Journal had rightly observed that ‘Hinduism in India’ is sort of redundant due to the fact that India’s gift to the world was Hinduism and even today Hinduism largely refers to India.

ALSO READ: Arundhati Roy’s Latest Fiction “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” makes it to the Long-list of Man Booker Prize 2017

CHAPTER 1

The first chapter of the book, is, of course, the introduction to the book written by Greg Bailey himself. He provides an overview of Hinduism and its principles. It was rightly observed in the review that most readers are accustomed to the usage of BC and AD for studying chronology, whereas the book has used BCE and ACE which can prove to be an impediment for some time. Referring to Axel Michaels, Greg Bailey has highlighted the significance of rituals in Hinduism. Rituals like sacrifice and asceticism are at the very core of Hindu religion. But they are not exclusive to Hinduism. Sacrifices and asceticism are present in other religions as well. Furthermore, Bailey explains the division of rituals into three distinct parts. The first two of these include- Devotional practices/ beliefs and Public Animal Sacrifice. Sacrifices are now rare in the modern practice of Hinduism.

CHAPTER 2

The second chapter of the book is also written by the editor Greg Bailey. It is about the wider aspects of Hinduism. It also states the classification of Historical periods. The writer then talks about how different rulers and empires contributed to the shaping up of Hinduism. The four phases of Hindu life, i.e. student life, householder, hermit and ascetic wandered are also presented. But this is a little discrepancy because last two phases are retirement and renunciation. The chapter ends with a discussion on the conflict of class between mainstream and independent Hindus.

CHAPTER 3

The third chapter of the book is titled ‘Rituals’. It is written by Axel Michaels. The chapter is interesting because rituals are integrated deeply within the religion. However, a lot of discrepancies are to be found. Renunciation, according to Michaels, is a ritual. But there is no reason to believe so. Secondly, ‘Garbha’ which is the womb is referred to as the semen. Being from another religion, it may have been immensely complicated for the writer to figure out Hindu rituals.

CHAPTER 4

The fourth chapter of the book is dedicated to Mahabharata, authored by Adam Bowles. Bowles has done a good research on the Hindu epic and his study is shown in his writing. For those who do not know the Mahabharata, this chapter is a revelation. The chapter is in fact so extensive that one might conclude all of Hinduism is tells the story of Mahabharata.

CHAPTER 5

Titled ‘Mythology’, the fourth chapter of the book is written by Greg Bailey. Free Press Journal suggests this chapter can be avoided due to the many lapses present. Bailey’s reference of technical institutes teaching management techniques and western based management techniques is nothing but preposterous.

CHAPTER 6

‘Religious Pathways’ is the chapter five written by Angelika Malinar. Her literary expertise helped Swami Vivekananda find pithy treatment. This chapter is a powerful one. If any discrepancy it is that the Bhakti movement which played a major role in influencing Hinduism and society was not discussed extensively. The focus given to Bhakti could have been much more.

CHAPTER 7

The chapter seven of the book is the longest chapter also. Written by Eric John Lott and titled ‘Hindu Theology’, it talks at great length about the Epics, Puranas, Vedas, Bhagwad Gita, Vedanta, and Poetry. Lott’s attempt is worth applauding because he tried to cover a very broad topic in a nutshell. Issues of sentiments have been objectively met by the author.

CHAPTER 8

The last chapter is a dedication to Hindu art by author Crispin Branfoot. Religion is influenced by its art and scriptures. The author has talked about temples, scriptures and other art forms that have resulted in our knowledge of Hinduism. Crispin Branfoot has done a remarkable job of talking about art, which is itself limitless. Over so many years, different art forms have helped to shape Hinduism but Branfoot had tried to cover most of these. Temples of Khajuraho, Angkor Vat, and Mamallapuram have all been mentioned.

To conclude, the book is good for anybody who wants to refer to some events or definitions since the categorization of the essays and their sequence is a job well done. It is interesting to read this painstaking effort by authors and scholars to objectively portray the different aspects of the religion that is Hinduism. Their efforts are exhibited in their writings.

– prepared by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394


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Shankaracharya: A remarkable genius that Hinduism produced (Book Review)

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

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He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita
He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.

Title: Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker; Author: Pavan K. Varma; Publisher: Tranquebar Press; Pages: 364; Price: Rs 699

This must be one of the greatest tributes ever paid to Shankaracharya, the quintessential “paramarthachintakh”, who wished to search for the ultimate truths behind the mysteries of the universe. His genius lay in building a complete and original philosophical edifice upon the foundational wisdom of the Upanishads.

A gifted writer, Pavan Varma, diplomat-turned-politician and author of several books including one on Lord Krishna, takes us through Shankara’s short but eventful span of life during which, from having been born in what is present-day Kerala, he made unparalleled contributions to Hindu religion that encompassed the entire country. Hinduism has not seen a thinker of his calibre and one with such indefatigable energy, before or since.

Shankara’s real contribution was to cull out a rigorous system of philosophy that was based on the essential thrust of Upanishadic thought but without being constrained by its unstructured presentation and contradictory meanderings.

He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. He wrote extensive and definitive commentaries on each of them. Of course, the importance he gave to the Mother Goddess, in the form of Shakti or Devi, can be traced to his own attachment to his mother whom he left when he set off, at a young age, in search of a guru and higher learning.

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.
Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess.

Against all odds, Shankara created institutions for the preservation and propagation of Vedantic philosophy. He established “mathas” with the specific aim of creating institutions that would develop and project the Advaita doctrine. He spoke against both caste discriminations and social inequality, at a time when large sections of conservative Hindu opinion thought otherwise.

Shankara was both the absolutist Vedantin, uncompromising in his belief in the non-dual Brahman, and a great synthesiser, willing to assimilate within his theoretical canvas several key elements of other schools of philosophy. He revived and restored Hinduism both as a philosophy and a religion that appealed to its followers.

Also Read: Hinduism: The Nine Basic Beliefs that you need to know

Varma rightly says that it must have required great courage of conviction as well as deep spiritual and philosophical insight for Shankaracharya to build on the insights of the Upanishads a structure of thought, over a millennium ago, that saw the universe and our own lives within it with a clairvoyance that is being so amazingly endorsed by science today. The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara’s philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess. The added value of the book is that it has, in English, a great deal of Shankara’s writings. Unfortunately, most Hindus today are often largely uninformed about the remarkable philosophical foundations of their religion. They are, the author points out, deliberately choosing the shell for the great treasure that lies within. This is indeed a rich book. (IANS)