Hinduism: A Way of Life and a Mode of Thought, Usha & Indra Nath Choudhuri, Niyogi Books, Pp 280, Rs 1495.00
IN this very comprehensive study of Hinduism, the husband-wife duo has done painstaking research and covered presumably all possible aspects of Hinduism.
Hinduism has been in existence for nearly 5,000 years and is the oldest amongst the functioning religions of the day. Hinduism is a living religion and a living phenomenon.
Hinduism is not defined with clear boundaries but denotes a variety of traditions, rituals and beliefs. Though there is a wide variety in the Hindu tradition in the form of castes, certain common features abound and these include belief in rebirth, the validity of the Vedas, moksha and the social hierarchy of caste. The doctrines of karma, samskara, moksha and so on are common to all philosophical and religious thinking. The doctrine of karma recognises that our present life is determined by our previous life and depending on the actions that we perform, we find ourselves in different stages of the spiritual journey. The doctrine of samsara maintains that the cycle of birth and death continues until one obtains moksha.
Over the millennia Hinduism has undergone numerous changes because of internal pressures rather than external influences though the locus has been the ancient Vedic religion. Hinduism owes its origin not to any single teacher or book but to the collective wisdom and spiritual insight of a group of seers known as rishis and hence “has no known founder, no known historic beginnings. It is known as Sanatana Dharma.”
The authors observe that there is no word as “Hindu” in Sanskrit. It finds no mention either in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita or the Smritis and the Puranas.
Today the word dharma is translated as religion but in Sanskrit, dharma meant social order. The concept of dharma in Vedic literature is free from all dogmas and rigidity. Thus Hinduism “is a working hypothesis of human conduct adapted to different conditions and requirements of life.” Hinduism is the name of a plurality of traditions. “This plurality imparts a spirit of tolerance to the people of this faith. Hinduism as system of beliefs, as a conglomeration of the schools of philosophy is indeed toleration…Hinduism has no scripture like a Quran or a Bible. It has many scriptures,” point out the authors.
How correct the authors are when they say, “Hinduism is not a closed system dominated by a priestly class. It is a way of life. It is a socio-ethical principle, a centripetal force in Nature which holds and sustains and keeps things at the centre. It is an all-pervasive principle of sustenance present at all levels of existence.” Hinduism is exclusively “a construct of the Orientalists and which was later picked up by nationalist Hindus to attempt to show the Indian civilisation as a uniform structured whole.” In fact Hinduism became an important element in the construction of national unity against the backdrop of colonial subjugation.
The book is written well but the photographs hardly do any justice to the text. They are very small in comparison to the page area and dispersed few and far between such that instead of enhancing the text, they leave much to be desired. The book at least provides some essential knowledge about Hinduism which has been a perpetual source of mystery not only to others but also to its followers and believers.
(Niyogi Books, D-78, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase I, New Delhi-110 020; www.niyogibooks.com)