Book Review:- India: A Sacred Geography—A Disturbing New Front

Diana L. Eck “is professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University and…

Diana L. Eck “is professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University and is Master of Lowell House and Director of the Pluralism Project.” She has written an atlas of sorts of connectedness and shared mythology that binds the people of the Indian subcontinent with Hinduism.

 While I am almost done reading the book, I did want to pen down and share my thoughts based on what she has written about two sacred places that are associated with Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. These are Dwaraka and Ayodhya.


Dwaraka

For thousands of years of long association with Lord Krishna, the Mahabharata describes this capital of the Vrishnis as being submerged by the seas after the death of Krishna. Part of Dwaraka had been reclaimed from the sea, when Krishna had requested Varuna to recede, so as to allow for the realization of Vishwakarma’s plan for the city. “The master plan was so elaborate that Krishna needed to ask the sea to recede in order to carry it out.”  Here, Prof Eck errs when she writes of Krishna as “a wise and strong king.” The king of Dwaraka was Ugrasena, and not Krishna. But let us let that pass.

 S.R. Rao was the legendary archaeologist who conducted some of independent India’s first excavations and which resulted in the unearthing of the Harappan port of Lothal. He also conducted India’s first-ever underwater marine archaeological excavations between 1985 and 1989 off the coast of Dwaraka.

dwaraka-vishnu.jpg

A Sculpture of Vishnu from the onshore excavation of Dwaraka.

These efforts unearthed the remnants of a city that had submerged some 3500 years before present. If ever there was an archaeological discovery of epic proportions, this qualifies as one. Events dismissed as myth, legend, imagination, and fantastical by learned people believing in reason and science were now being confirmed by science and reason.

Yet, Diana Eck chooses, curiously enough, to tell us nothing about S.R. Rao, his credentials or qualifications. All she has to say on the topic is this – “Some of the remains could be dated to the second millennium B.C.E., according to S.R. Rao, whose book The Lost City of Dvaraka explores the data produced from the marine archaeological explorations.

I could not fathom why her reaction to possibly the most stunning archaeological find of the century was so remarkably blasé, even hurriedly dismissive:

Fascinating as it is, what was “really there” at this ancient port is only marginally relevant to the legendary city of Lord Krishna … The landscape of the faithful is not shaped by archaeology, but by a faith that simply assumes the connection between Krishna of old and Krishna here today.

Eck’s rather offhand dismissal of the evidence unearthed at Dwaraka raises some questions.

1.    Is she doubting the veracity of the findings? She seems to impute that, without ever stating so openly. Certainly there is an air of flippancy – “Fascinating as it is…

2.    Is she claiming that the interpretation of the data unearthed by the excavation was coloured by the “faith” of the people? Eck seems to more than hint when she writes, “a faith that simply assumes the connection between Krishna of old and Krishna here today.” The implication being that any findings, even by someone as distinguished as S.R. Rao would ipso-facto be rendered unacceptable because of his “faith.” That Eck gives S.R. Rao’s credentials a complete pass is perhaps not accidental. There is an unswerving and unyielding resolve that Eck displays in not wanting to cede space or even grant any legitimacy to any counter-factual narrative. This is a pattern that repeats in the section on Ayodhya.

3.    I found it a little more than puzzling why Eck wants to root the faith of the Hindus in and only in the space of mythology. Even where evidence suggests a root of faith in fact – a fascinating topic for any academic in the space one would assume – she is very, very reluctant to want to connect faith to fact. History, archaeology, facts are “marginally relevant“. This last point is also very pertinent, as we will see later on.

In any case, what is not in dispute is that Eck makes a decision to emphasize more the faith of the Hindus that reveres the geography of Dwaraka over any historical evidence that connects the faith to fact. Such a connection in her estimation is “only marginally relevant” – the faith of the people must take priority over the historicity, or lack of. If people believe it to be so, then so it must be.

Does Eck’s postulation hold true when she covers Ayodhya?

To find that out, let us now move to the city of Ayodhya.

Ayodhya

Mural paintings of Ramayana

 Eck takes the reader down the same journey that Lord Rama took during the course of his fourteen years of exile – “Crossing the Ganga, On to Prayaga“, “Chitrakoot“, “Panchvati“, “Kishkindha” (Hampi), “Rameswara“, and back to Ayodhya. The tradition of Ramlila is then juxtaposed with “a new ramlila” – Ramanand Sagar’s “Ramayana.”

 It is here that Eck tackles the elephant in the room head-on: Ayodhya, Rama, the Babri masjid, and the events leading up to the 6th of December, 1992. It is her assertion that this “new retelling of the epic“, with its “now-national authority” is what was put to “effective use” by the “rising Hindu nationalist movement.

If the rise of the so-called Hindutva movement was facilitated by the retelling of the epic, one would be remiss in one’s duty if one failed to mention the role played by the Congress party’s prime minister at the time, Rajiv Gandhi. It was he who had expressed a desire to have a television program on the Ramayana made. The words of the prime minister could not be dismissed. Ramayana saw the light of day, despite the best efforts of a recalcitrant bureaucracy and an obdurate state-controlled broadcaster – Doordarshan (there is a fascinating tale to be told about the person heading Doordarshan at the time, but that needs to be told separately).

Eck quotes Hans Bakker’s Ayodhya – “The careful historical and textual work of scholars has placed the beginnings of the actual worship of Lord Rama in Ayodhya in the eleventh or twelfth century C.E.

The choice of words is deliberate, and careful. There is a marked exclusion of almost any other reference to the antiquity or the historicity of Ramayana, the worship of Rama, the spread of the divinity of Rama across the country, the antiquity of the veneration of Ayodhya.

Eck writes, reinvigorating herself with some textual support by way of a “lament” from Sheldon Pollock, that it was the advent of the “powerful forces of the Central Asian and Turkic “other” that caused the utilization of Rama in the “political sphere.

The reader should be able to now start connecting the dots as to why Eck includes the reference to Bakker’s “Ayodhya”.

If not, here is some more.

Ponder over the choice of words when she writes about the “Ramayana’s imaginary world“. Some may detect a careful but seemingly casual insertion of the stamp of fiction on the Ramayana’s and its events’ authenticity. Some, but not all. This is important, because of the excavations that took place at Ayodhya in 2003.

Diana Eck seems to be very aware of the excavations at Ayodhya and what they unearthed. And so she is setting the stage for what follows, and an important part of that argument of hers is her interpretation of the history of the “controversy.

The Dog that Didn’t Bark

The history of the Babri mosque is traced to an inscription from 1528 “that the mosque was built by Mir Baqi at the command of King Babur. … Hindus called it the Ramjanamsthan, “Rama’s birthplace,claiming that on that site stood a temple dedicated to Lord Rama on the very site of his birth, the columns of the temple having been put to reuse in the building of the mosque.

 Like the case of the dog that didn’t bark, deciphering Eck calls for excavating what she does not write. Her omissions speak louder.

1.    The construction of the mosque is a fact: to this point there is obviously no dispute. The existence of a temple at the site however, for Eck, has to get no more legitimacy than an unsubstantiated plea of “Hindus.” If a temple indeed “stood on that site“, and if its columns were reused in the building of the mosque, was the temple demolished? Did the temple dissolve into mother earth spontaneously? Was it demolished by Mir Baki, or Babur? In either case, Eck does not comment. I am tempted to call it a case of taking the fifth amendment!

Dwarapala from Ayodhya masjid site.

From the ASI excavation at Babri Masjid

Eck writes that the “most important site associated with Rama is svargadvara“, according to Bakker’s translation of the Ayodhya Mahatmya. Eck however, chooses not to tell us that there was a timeless association of Janamsthan as Rama’s birthplace, something which even the early British bureaucrats were careful to document:

1.    Carnegy (Patrick Carnegy, the first British commissioner of Faizabad), for instance, wrote, “It is locally affirmed that at the Mahomedan conquest there were three important Hindu shrines … at Ayodhya.” These were the Janmasthan, the Sargadwar Mandir and the Treta-ka-Thakur.

2.    Carnegy stated that the Janmasthan marked the place where Rama was born.

3.    [H.R.] Nevill repeated Carnegy’s account, adding that, “This desecration of the most sacred spot in the city caused great bitterness between Hindus and Musalmans.

Let us now see the history of the dispute. When did it arise? Eck writes that Ramjanmabhumi was “among the sleepiest sites in Ayodhya.” It was “because of disputed claims in the mid-nineteenth century, the British had effectively fenced the site off.” This piece of information – “sleepiest” or “fenced the site off” – is mostly neither here nor there, and certainly at best, should be tangential to the narrative.

I will examine even this phrase in some detail later.

Excavating The Omissions

Let us now move on the excavations of 2003. I will cover the conditions under which the excavation was conducted. But, it is important first to examine what Eck has to say on the topic. The topic of the excavation is the proverbial elephant in the room that Eck cannot ignore.

 Therefore, Eck chooses her words, yet again, carefully.

 “The archaeologists whose trenches are there under the blue tarps attested there was a temple there. Other Indian historians and archaeologists, both Hindu and Muslim, have contended that the textual and archaeological evidence for a temple at that site is very slim, even nonexistent. An archaeologist from the University of Allahabad wrote frankly in summarizing his findings, “There is not a single piece of evidence for the existence of a temple of brick, stone, or both.”

 Slimmer still is the evidence that this or any single place in Ayodhya was, in fact or faith, the birthplace of Rama. Those who have studied the Ayodhya Mahatmyas in the Puranas find no textual evidence for any important site related to Rama’s birth before the sixteenth century.

 Before proceeding, it is important to first identify certain points made by Eck:

 First, she writes that there were excavations, but that they are somehow conducted in secret. Note the use of the phrase – “under the blue tarps.” The evidence of the temple is only from those “archaeologists“, not from “other archaeologists.

 Second, she writes about the evidence of a temple being “slim, even nonexistent“.

 Third, when she writes that an “archaeologist from the University of Allahabad wrote frankly in summarizing his findings, “There is not a single piece of evidence for the existence of a temple of brick, stone, or both.” One has to go to the references to unearth that the archaeologist cited is a D. Mandal. I will look at D. Mandal in more detail.

 An impartial academic’s credibility and integrity would be called into serious question if he/she presented only one side’s view. Eck, for some reason, cannot seem to find a single archaeologist who she can cite as speaking in favour of the temple. It is certainly curious.

Let us now take these three points in some detail.

First, the excavations.

Who are these “archaeologists” who uncovered a temple that Eck seems so reluctant to dignify with an identity in the main part of the book?

  • These excavations were conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India, as per the directive of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court of Uttar Pradesh, in 2003. In August of the same year, a 500-page report was submitted to the High Court.
  • The excavations were conducted on the “basis of a preliminary Ground Penetrating Radar survey of the area” and which “revealed a variety of anomalies possibly associated with ancient structures.
  • More critically, these excavations “were carried out in the close presence of judicial observers, advocates, parties and their nominees.

·         To maintain transparency, all excavated material had to be sealed in the presence of representatives of the parties and kept on the very day of recovery in the strong room provided by the Commissioner of Faizabad.

Excavation work at Ayodhya

Should I go on still further about the “excavations” that Eck dismisses so lightly? I hope the reader gets an idea.

Next, what did the excavations from 90 trenches uncover?

·         The site was first occupied by Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW)-using people in the first millennium BC (Period 1).

·         The next cultural occupation dated to the Shunga period (second-first century BC; Period II), when the site witnessed the first structural activity in stone and brick.

·         During the early medieval period (11th-12th century AD; Period IV), the remains of a huge structure, nearly 50 m in north-south orientation, were unearthed.

·         On the remains of the above structure, a massive structure was constructed (Period VII, twelfth to sixteenth centuries)

·         This massive structure was different from residential structures and provided sufficient evidence of a construction for public use.

·         It was over this massive structure that the Babri Masjid was constructed in the sixteenth century (Period VIII).

·         The pre-NBPW deposit had strengthened the Hindu belief that the story of Rama and Ayodhya was earlier than that of Krishna and Hastinapur.

·         In other words, the excavations revealed that Babri Masjid was erected over, and with full knowledge of, a pre-existing structure.

These points are reproduced, or adapted, from “Rama and Ayodhya”, by Meenakshi Jain (read book review here).

So, a site that Eck calls as “among the sleepiest sites in Ayodhya” turns out to have had constructions and occupation going back three thousand years!

 In analyzing Eck’s statement about the evidence of a temple being “slim, even nonexistent“, the most charitable analysis can be that she was very, very parsimonious with the truth. Let’s just leave it at that.

 The “Archaeologist”

Third, Eck writes that an “archaeologist from the University of Allahabad wrote frankly in summarizing his findings, “There is not a single piece of evidence for the existence of a temple of brick, stone, or both.”

Who is this distinguished archaeologist on whose testimony Eck is willing to rest her reputation and argument of the non-existence of a temple beneath the Babri mosque?

You would have to go to the references in her book to unearth that the archaeologist cited is a certain D. Mandal.

D. Mandal admitted that he had “acquired knowledge of archaeology”. He had never obtained “any degree of diploma in archaeology”

 And who is this distinguished expert, D. Mandal?

1.    During examination by the Allahabad High Court, Mandal confessed that his book was based “chiefly” on the photograph taken by Prof. B.B. Lal near the Babri Mosque.

2.    The High Court also noted that D. Mandal is also a card holding member of the Communist Party (page 3648, para 3628)

3.    The inscription, on a stone slab approximately 5 feet by 2.25 feet, fell from a wall of the Babri Masjid during the demolition. … Professor Ajay Mitra Shastri, a specialist in Epigraphy and Numismatics, … stated that it was engraved in the chaste and classical Nagari script of the eleventh-twelfth century AD. It recorded that a beautiful temple of Vishnu Hari, built with heaps of stone and beautified with heaps of golden spire, unparalleled by any other temple built by earlier kings, was constructed at the temple city of Ayodhya. [188]

4.    [D. Mandal] advised that the temple it referred to should be looked for elsewhere and not at the place where the inscription was found! He offered absolutely no explanation for this meaning. [pg 192]

5.    D. Mandal admitted that he had “acquired knowledge of archaeology”. He had never obtained “any degree of diploma in archaeology” Page 3654 para 3628). [pg 210]

6.    D. Mandal agreed that “there are three methods of periodization in archaeology. The first is layer-wise, second is dynasty-wise and third is century-wise… Periodization has been done in the ASI Report on basis of all three methods…” (pages 3842-3843) [pg 212] The pièce de résistance regarding Eck’s chosen expert archaeologist must come from Mandal’s own words, delivered under oath to the High Court:

7.    Pages 3646-3647 para 3628:

1.    I never visited Ayodhya.

2.    I do not have specific knowledge of history of Babur’s reign.

3.    Whatsoever little knowledge I have about Babur is only that Babur was the ruler of the 16th century, Except for this, I do not have any knowledge of Babur.

If D. Mandal is the most authoritative voice Eck can unearth against the evidence of a temple, I no longer wonder why she chose not to put his name down in the main text and instead bury it in the references!

 To reiterate, this D. Mandal is the person that Eck cites as her primary archaeologist as being representative of the opinion of  “other archaeologists.

 Amplification or Diminution?

Reading Diana Eck, it would not be unexpected for the casual reader to get the impression that there is no great case to be made for either the antiquity or ubiquity of Rama worship going back more than a few centuries.

 Perhaps we need to turn to Meenakshi Jain’s “Rama and Ayodhya” once more, and see what the evidence has to say:

 1.    The earliest representation of an episode from the Ramayana that has so far come to light is a terracota from Kaushambi, dated, on stylish grounds, to the second century BC.

2.    Rama’s story was popular in Gupta times [pg 56]

3.    The Chittagong plate of Kantideva of the ninth century AD affirmed the popularity of the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. … The Khalimpur copper-plates of Dharmapala of the Pala dynasty (AD 775-812), referred to the incarnations of Vishnu, including Dashrathi Rama and the construction of the Sethubandha… [pg 71]

4.    The Jain temple of Parshvanatha at Khajuraho, dated AD 950-970, contains among the oldest sculptural depictions of Rama as a form of Vishnu [pg 59]

5.    The temples at Halebid and Belur are ranked among the finest. The art of the Hoysalas [AD 1000-1306] testifies to the spread of interest in the Ramayana in the south.

6.    Kautilya (fourth century BC) knew the central story of the Ramayana. The reference is the Arthashastra (1.6. 8) [pg 21]

7.    As early as AD 251, K’ang-seng-hui rendered the Jataka form of the Ramayana into Chinese [pg 22]

8.    The Ramayana was well-known at the commencement of the Christian era. [pg 21]

9.    There was hardly a Purana that did not contain a rendition of the Ramayana. The Vayu Purana, the first work in the category, was written around the fifth century AD. Other Puranas like the Vishnu Purana, the Matsya Purana and the Padma Purana all had accounts of Ram’s story.

10.  According to a persistent tradition recorded by Francis Buchanan, an official of the East India Company, Ayodhya had been desolate after the flight of Rama to heaven, accompanied by the people of the city. It was re-peopled by King Vikramaditya of Oojein (Ujjain) half a century before the Christian era, and embellished with 360 temples. [pg 94]

The evidence speaks to an inextricably entwinedness of the historicity of Ayodhya with the divinity of Rama going back at least two millennia. It is inconceivable that an academic like Eck has no knowledge of these facts.

 Conclusion

 Eck writes that “To think of Rama in mythic rather than historical terms does not diminish his importance, but amplifies it.

 Note that this is the same assertion she made when dismissing the evidence presented by the excavations at Dwaraka – “Fascinating as it is, what was “really there” at this ancient port is only marginally relevant to the legendary city of Lord Krishna … “

Both are rather ambitious assertions. Both seek to deny the factual, and diminish the historical. In neither case does Eck present any reasoning to persuade the reader to abandon what is factual. Some may even call Eck’s aforementioned statement a rather misplaced expression of hubris supported not even by the flimsiest of corroboratory affirmation.

 But more importantly, the fundamental question posed by the book is one that is never directly asked, much less directly answered in the entire book. It is this: if India is indeed a sacred geography, as Eck asserts repeatedly, then what is NOT sacred? What then is sacred enough to fight to protect? What about places that were once sacred but are no longer sacred?

 Eck probably anticipates this question, but defers answering it. Even when she does answer it, it is not in the form of a direct response to a rhetorical question. Ignore also that the response comes at the the very end of the book. I mean literally the very end, in the last paragraph of the book, before it opens into the Acknowledgments, References, and Index!

 “Lalla, a fourteenth-century devotional poet from Kashmir, wrote: “I, Lalla, went out far in search of Shiva, the omnipresent lord; having wandered, I found him in my own body, sitting in his house.” [bold emphasis mine]

Sure, Hindus have considered what is sacred within is also sacred outside.

 To accept this in the context of Eck’s book means something more, much more.

 Eck’s suggestion is that since everything is sacred, there is plenty of choice, and that no single place should be treated as sacred enough to create a fuss over—”Tirthas are plentiful – where the rivers meet, where the hill rises, where the temple flag waves.

 This is not a casual statement. If one place ceases to be sacred, Hindus should move on and find some other place to consecrate. In Eck’s estimation, the factual, the historical have no place in determining the “faith” of the people. She refuses to cede that space to the Hindus.

Dwaraka is where Eck first shows her hand—evidence is brushed aside. At Ayodhya, she plays her cards in a more direct way. While at Dwaraka she argued for the “faith” of the people as determining the sacredness of a place, at Ayodhya she denies even this right that she had magnanimously granted the Hindus. The “faith” of the Hindus, she argues, must make way for the what facts speak to. The “facts” are those that she selects and presents.

 Does Eck’s book make the case that the most “sacred” geography for the Hindus is “inner”? It suggests as much.

 I am of the opinion that Eck’s book leads to the inescapable conclusion that she is not against a gradual elimination of the Hindu’s sacred space from the external world to the internal. Her books lays out the case – never directly – that such a diminishing should not elicit any great protest from the Hindus.

 It is in this that Eck’s book opens a very subtle but very very disturbing new front in the assault on Hinduism.

 Views expressed are personal. My thanks to the Indic Academy and its Book Club initiative for a copy of this book.

Abhinav Agarwal is a son, husband, father, technologist and an IIM-B Gold Medalist.
  • Vineet Menon

    All in all, there are more evidence of Krsna being a historical figure than Jesus. But then again, that doesn’t bother us Hindus.

    There was another recent article by Eck on scroll.in (http://scroll.in/article/802047/theres-an-idea-of-india-from-early-times-much-before-the-mughals-or-the-british-scholar-diana-eck). Not very surprisingly she mixes stupid opinionated comments with facts like compatriot Pollock.

  • arko bose

    I read about S R Rao after reading your piece. His excavations dug out Met Dwarka. Now, if you read about what we know about both Dwarka and Met Dwarka, you will find not a single scholarly paper that says that either of these two places is the mythological city of the fictitious character of Krishna.

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” – Carl Sagan

    • m kv

      Yes, please apply the same standards to the West when historicity of Jesus is claimed. More importantly, how could Roman numerals users (Greeks and Co) which have no means to do even straightforward addition, subtraction, let alone multiplication, division and no way to represent zero, fractions, decimals would have “discovered” so much of what is attributed to them? Does double standards require not even ordinary evidence? Reference: Cultural Foundation of Mathematics (Publishers: Pearson Education) by CK Raju.

      • arko bose

        I do apply the same standards to Christian and every other mythology. There is no historicity to Jesus’ story as propagated by Christian mythology.

        Your comment on arithmetic history is completely irrelevant to the present discussion.

        • m kv

          1. Applying the same standards is different from applying the same probability of “degree of myth-ness” or “degree of historicity” to both. On what evidential basis are you applying the same “probability” of historicity? None.

          2. It is relevant. It shows that the Western academia applies the same fraudulent differential standards of evidence for its own historicity vs the non-Western world.

          Now, please excuse me and do not waste anymore of your time and others time.

          • arko bose

            1. Err,,, I don’t know about you, but applying the same standards means applying the same rules of Bayesianism: assign a probability to a theory, update the probability in the face of new evidence, or in the face of repeated efforts at finding new evidence turning up nothing. So far, you have presented zero evidence. So your theory ends up in the same square as Jesus’: square zero.

            2. Even if what you claim about the arithmetic history is true, that in no way negates the observations made in this book.

            Oh, and you don’t get to tell me what to do with my time.

          • m kv

            1. Please read the article for reference to archaeological evidence. Vacuous claims are not acceptable.
            2. Analogy and the issues raised in this article are obviously beyond brain-blinded people.

            You obviously do not get polite way of saying do not waste my time.

  • m p

    Migration from Mathura to Dwaraka:-

    Migration of Yaduvanshi Ahirs (i.e Shri Krishna’s Clan) defies normal migration pattern of various groups in Gujarat. In normal migration pattern, like migration of kunbi patels, Migrants first settle in North Gujarat and quickly spread to fertile plains of central and south Gujarat. Much later, they would migrate to semi-dry Dwaraka region (i.e. Saurashtra and Kutch desert). In sharp contrast, Yaduvanshi Ahirs are concentrated in region surrounding Mathura and Dwaraka with hardly any presence in Southern Rajastan, North, Central and South Gujarat. This shows that migration took place from Mathura to Dwaraka.

  • pratik

    superb post, thanks for the review.

  • Karigar Medha

    In case you were lulled by the cuteness of Diana Eck’s earlier books, & didn’t know of her machinations to get Subramaniam Swamy out of his Harvard Visiting Professorship via smear campaigns …. Good details by Abhinav Agarwal

    • Bahu of Bengal

      … along with the usual scoundrels like Amartya Sen, Amitav Ghosh, and Sugata Bose.

    • R Nanjappa

      Leave alone Harvard. How has the BJP govt treated him in the last one year? What position or responsibility has Modi given him , in the govt? Is he not above most of the present bunch in the govt in intellectual caliber? Then why is he not given any position in the Cabinet- while even a Narasimha Rao could recognise his talents and engage him, even though he was not a congress member? (Unless they are utilising his services secretly)

      Subramaniam Swamy is too bold, and too straight , and too ucompromising on fundamentals for any authority to feel comfortable. And his intellectual powers and vigour easily dwarfs many. Today, he is the only leader to talk boldly and openly and sensibly about the Islamic threat. Do you think the BJP or Modi can stand it? They too are opportunists and hyprocrites- (when they are not being plainly idiotic) just like the bunch that excluded him from Harvard ..
      Swamy is a one-man institution. Not many people recognise that, as yet.

      • Karigar Medha

        It is quite ridiculous to equate the bunch from Harvard with the folks at BJP, I’m sorry to say. The Harvard folks are the top levels of an anti-India (& yes, anti-Hindu) nexus that control the gates & levers of who gets in & stays in mainstream institutions, based on whether they toe the Western (academic/media) line on India. They have nothing in common, especially in terms of motivations regarding Swamy. I’d suggest that “leave alone BJP” since it doesn’t belong in this discussion, and is a red herring …

        • R Nanjappa

          Not just Harvard, about every university in the US is anti-Hindu- indeed terribly anti-Hindu. And yet, some of them engage nominal, de-Hinduised Hindus ( like decaffeinated coffee) just for show. If you go deeper, they are also anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-orthodox in everything. In fact, in the name of multiculturalism, feminism, Marxism, Freudianism, etc they are favouring/courting other ethnic groups and denigrating their own Western civilisation ( seen by them as white, male, Anglo-Saxon, Christian, etc) The have ditched even the founding fathers of their own constitution and republic. They have dumped even Shakespeare and Milton .They are actively courting/promoting Muslim interests and do not allow criticism of Islam on their campuses. Not only our Swamy, every one who speaks openly about the Islamic threat is excluded. So, why should we hold it against them only in respect of Swamy?

          The dons of Harvard and other universities like our own JNU are no better than mafia dons- holding tightly to their own groups and positions- like the Forty Thieves. These universities ceased long ago to be institutions pursuing objective learning. Whether it is evolution, economics, politics- one has to toe their line and swallow their prescription. or one will have no place there. Most of them are just tin horns. Only those who still regard Harvard as a great center of real learning should feel if one like Swamy is excluded. Would you like Ali Baba to join the forty?

          Ceratainly, BJP cannot be excluded from the discussion. Harvard may be openly anti-Hindu- thank God for that. But BJP is anti-Hindu in a more insidious way- they are against real Hindu interests, while posing as its friends and champions. Pope John Paul ii came to India in 1999 and on Diwali Day declared in Delhi that in the new millennium, the church should target converting Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. And the BJP’s “liberal” face Vajpayee as PM hailed the Pope as bringing light to India- as if it had been in darkness. And recently, P.M. Modi participated in a purely church function to felicitate two Kerala Christian priests raised to sainthood. Modi is such an utter idiot he did not know why and how the saints are created by the church. Are not such leaders enemies of Hindus? Is not their party anti-Hindu? They are more dangerous than Harvard,if anything! Open enemy is any day better than one posing as friend and guardian.
          My point about Diana Eck is not that she is an angel- all white. But she is not all black ,either. She is not a Judith M.Tyberg but she is not Wendy Doniger or Jeffrey Kripal, either.There are certainly the Western prejudices in her work, but I feel there is no venom. Perceptions may differ.

          • Karigar Medha

            It’s not about personalities & individual biases – which are becoming the distraction here, but about institutional biases. Analysis of BJPs shortcomings is a valid subject, but it just doesn’t belong here. BJP is not a force (intentionally OR unintentionally) of Breaking India ( for those kind of forces, see/read the exceedingly well researched BI book at http://breakingindia.com/images/bic.pdf in case you were unaware of it). Western academic India study nexuses (of which Eck is one of the top tier, as Abhinav has rightly caught on to) are in the game of Breaking India, starting with the intellectual front using history / religion / social fissures. So it is quite unhelpful to drag in an unrelated case of a patriotic Indian political party (no matter what its other faults) into the discussion. Also please ponder on why Abhinav (this reviewer) would end with ” It is in this that Eck’s book opens a very subtle but very very disturbing new front in the assault on Hinduism.”

          • R Nanjappa

            That the Christian missionaries, colonialists, Indologists, orientalists etc have been trying to undo India is not news to those who follow history keenly and who follow Sri Aurobindo that India is a Shakti, Power and not a piece of earth. That was the stated object of both Max Muller and Macaulay.Recently Rajiv Malhotra has brought the phrase “Breaking India” to the conscious attention of all thinking Indians- a great service. This we are aware of, and grateful for.

            But my point is that Indian institutions themselves are working as agents or instruments of this break up. While our universities and the educational system as a whole is still following the line of Macaulay (now reinforced by the Marxist view of history), even our orthodox circles regard Max Muller and his translation (interpretation) of our scriptures as something noble. For this we are to blame, not Harvard and its dons.

            But the most important instruments of this anti-India movement now are our own political parties. It was the Congress of Gandhi- Nehru combine which broke up India first. Then Nehru broke it up again into narrow linguistic walls through his linguistic states. I have lived in 7 States speaking as many languages for over 40 years and know by experience that India is today one only on paper- in the map ( or when a cricket match is played with Pakistan).. Christians and Muslims do not fight over language- it is only Hindus who do.Linguistic identity has obliterated our sense of Hindu unity, and local loyalties have replaced national feeling. Our so called “national parties” are responsible for this.

            I see BJP also in this light. It is also dancing to the divisive tunes. Come Cauvery water issue- it speaks with double tongue: the unit in Karnataka will demand not to release water to Tamil Nadu and the unit in Tamil Nadu will demand release of water. Come the issue of Belgaum, the units in Maharashtra and Karnataka will speak in opposite voices ( or will keep diplomatic silence, if elections are not around.) Are these not examples of ‘breaking India’? I can give more.

            Any outside force can harm us only when we have lost our internal strength. The BJP , no less than others, is aiding and abetting this breaking up.

            Mujhe dena gaizae mein dhamkiyan,
            Miley lakh bar ye bijliyaan,
            Mera sultanate ye aashian,
            Mera milkiyat ye char pankh.

            Well, you have provided points for reflection. Thank you.

          • JagoBharatVasiyo

            Hobnobbing with the enemies is pure politics and political compulsions so both Vajpayee and Modi had to do it, Also, being a PM, they have to be fair to all, or at least pretend to be else you know how the media will slaughter them for several weeks by spinning the news and churning all kinds of lies.

          • R Nanjappa

            The English language media in India is leftist, anti-Hindu in the name of secularism. They are not going to appreciate or applaud Modi or his govt, no matter what the govt does.They are not at all fair or balanced or objective in reporting . The media painted Vajpayee as the liberal face of Hindutva or BJP ( vis a vis Advani) and poor Vajpayee succumbed to the game, and had to appear more liberal then he even was, just to live up to that image and appear being fair or fairer than ever! In the process, he failed to serve or advance his constituency. So far, Modi has done better, by keeping the media at a distance and not engaging with them in their games! However, his govt’s work is not getting adequate press or publicity. I have had experience of press conferences and know what it takes to get the press people to attend them and report. Modi and his govt should not forget that they represent the hope of authentic nationalistic India, its unity and integrity. This is what they have to care for and promote- not these self-styled intellectuals and pseudo secularists and the media they shout through.

            As far back as in 1908, Gandhiji wrote in “Hind Swaraj” that the newspapers are often dishonest and that they report in favour of parties in whose interest they are edited.I have been an avid reader of the leading newspapers of the country for the last 60 years : The Hindu in Madras, The Times of India, The Statesman,The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express.I know how they prove the truth of Gandhi’s statement, and how they have deteriorated over the years. To day, we have the social media on the Internet through which we get to know the facts. So, it is best for Modi to concentrate on his work and not to care a hoot for these so called media which specialises in distortion of truth. ..

      • AnalyseAbhishek

        Well said, sir! People like Swami and Shouri should have been better utilized. Perhaps Modi was playing it safe. But now we can see that his mandate was not for playing it safe…

      • JagoBharatVasiyo

        Actually, I think BJP is making best use of his skills which is to take on the big and powerful which nobody else even wants to talk about let alone take them down.

  • Bahu of Bengal

    I attended a presentation by Diana Eck on her book, and she autographed my copy. I don’t have a problem with her statement about Dwaraka; however, Mr. Agarwal has identified many problems with her coverage of Ayodhya, and this article should be forwarded to her. In her presentation, Ms. Eck expressed her anguish about the destruction of the Babri Masjid.

    • Karigar Medha

      Indeed. that’s a good observation. Eck is a “good cop” of western academics of Hinduism (ref Rajiv Malhotra’s detailed understanding of these personalities, one by one), so has been all about “Pluralism” etc with her official face. When ‘politicized’ issues are around, she shows her true colors.

  • I will be writing a strongly-worded letter to the United Nations, Interpol, WHO, Ministry of Coal and Walmart DEMANDING that IMMEDIATE action be taken against this fraud Dr. MS (note the ‘S’ instead of the correct ‘5’) who is spending all his time impersonating me and making me sound like an uneducated oik. I expect him to be hunted down and his tiny dingle cut off as punishment. Impersonation of someone as tall, light-skinned, beautiful and all-round fantastic like me, with the genius IQ of 5000 Einsteins, should be punishable by death. Assuming that the UN are not full of short, dark-skinned low-IQ woman-hating Hindoos like the imposter posting under the name Dr. MS, I expect the order to be carried out without delay.

    In the meantime, whoever you are, STOP IMPERSONATING ME otherwise I will strangle 200 squirrels per hour until you stop. You have been warned, you dirty woman-hating Hindu.

    • Vineet Menon

      Hahahahahahhah..
      jajajajajjajajajjaj

  • Singhal_abhishek

    Nice Article Abhinav .

  • Cartmanesan

    great article. Well researched and well put together.

  • R Nanjappa

    I have read the book. It is a mixed bag. I would say very few Westerners do or can understand our religion. Persons like Sir John Woodroffe, Krishna Prem, David Frawley are the exceptions. They understand because they have “experienced”- case of knowledge by identity, not cerebration, or speculation. Even so Diana Eck is better than the average academic, Western or Indian.

    The basic theme of the book is that India is a distinct civilisation, and it cannot be equated with a mere nation-state in the European sense. Consider these:

    — (for the people who might be called ‘Hindu’) ” the unity of India is not simply that of a nation-state, but that of geographic belonging, enacted in multiple ways. Hindu pilgrims measure the span of India with their feet.” page 45

    –This book investigates a particular idea of India that is shaped not by the modern notion of a nation-state,but by the extensive and intricate interrelation of geography and mythology…that.people of ancient India …gave a single name to this diverse subcontinent is itself noteworthy. The name is Bharata. …This is an indigenous name. page 45

    –India, like Japan, China and Greece, links its modern identity with an ancient and continuous civilization.

    –the understanding of India in the West has followed primarily a Western agenda, from the land called “Indika” by Megasthenes, to the “Hindustan” of Turk and Afghan Muslim dynasties, to the India of John Stuart Mill,..to the India of postcolonial studies that still sees India through the lens of Western interventions.

    –“whether there have been alternative ways of imagining the complex collectivity of India in a distinctly Indian idiom ? What are some of the ways in which India has seen itself and enacted its regional and pan-regional identities? Political analyses do not touch this question. pages 46-7

    –Hindu narrative and mythology are richly interwoven with the geography of India. In this sense, despite its strong transcendental spirituality, Hinduism is a highly locative tradition in which place matters. page 48

    –every story has a place, every place a story.

    –geography of this kind is more than a map. It is a three-dimensional sacred landscape page 49.

    –There is arguably no other major culture that has sustained over so many centuries, and across such diverse regions, a fundamentally locative or place-oriented world view. Page 55.

    –the land is filled with encoded meanings and long traditions of cultural memory. The Himalayas are never mountains alone, but inhabited by the gods and filled with the lore of the Pandavas. page.449

    –The particularity of the sacred, the differentiation of the multitude of the places in which the sacred is apprehended, , and yet the affirmation of the everywhere of the sacred- this is the particular genius of the theology given expression in the landscape of India. page 453.

    And about the immense significance if the idea of Tirtha, she says, in the very last para of the book:

    “While the tirtha may ferry one over the trials and tribulations of the earthly life, the tirtha is finally a ferry to help one to cross over from the entanglement of repeated birth and death to the freedom of liberation.” page 456.

    What a way to express the Idea that for Indians , India is not a mere piece of earth but a sacred power and presence- as Sri Aurobindo would say? Thus the whole of India is Mokshapuri, for every sacred place is invoked every where- in a small village in the remote corner of Tamil Nadu, you will get a southern Kashi (Thenkasi) or Siva Ganga.

    ‘Vande Mataram” has been able to take hold so powerfully in modern India not because it was fabricated and instrumentalized in the colonial context by Hindu nationalists old and new, but because of the widespread associative meanings that have long linked the land and the goddess. Page 299.

    Well, Sir, is this not something good that we get from an academic, that too sitting in that Harvard?

    Eck concedes that India’s nationality has to be understood as conceived by India through history- and not as imposed by the Westerners and their imitators in India. Is this not something?.

    Now, having stated this theme, the execution goes awry at places. What is so strange that Dwarka and Ayodhya are not presented properly? Is it a new phenomenon? But how many Indians have presented it properly, either, in a scholarly or accessible, and affordable account? We are still good only at reaction, it seems.

    Eck displays all the blidspots of an average Westerner, academic or not. Such as–

    – not acknowledging Saraswati
    = Considering Muslims as real inhabitants, instead of as invaders and their descendants which they largely are.
    – considering Sufis as the main representatives of the Muslim faith in India.
    -In modern times Sri Ramakrishna testified to the sanctity of Mathura-Brindavan,, Nawadweep and Varanasi, and the holiness of Ganga. This is not referred to at all.

    The treatment of Ayodhya seems to be influenced by some deeper constraint or motive- her tenure in Harvard, perhaps?

    i feel her treatment of Dwaraka is not that bad. She does acknowleldge:

    “Between 1985 and 1989, nine marine archaeological expeditions were mounted; there, beneath the sea, they found remains of old ramparts, buildings, and streets. Some of the remains could be dated to the age of the Mahabharata-, in the second millennium B.C.E, according to S,R.Rao…Even earlier materials were also found.” Page 382.
    I feel this concedes the vital point. There will always be debate about the details and their significance.This is not new Our weakness is that our intellectuals are loony, and there is none among us to investigate the truth objectively, as they did in respect of Troy.

    Considering the the totality, the book is a mixture of sugar and sand- as SRi Ramakrishna would say. The sugar is far more overwhelming than the sand and hence , that much easier to separate. That a noted academic from the West concedes that India has a tradition of – and RIGHT TO- consider her history and geography in her own light, and not in terms of Western notions is not a small point.We must build up from here.

    Incidentally, Diana Eck has also written a book ” DARSAN” – about the significance of Murti puja and how we relate to it. She does not regard the murtis in temples as “idols” as Westerners and even most Indians do. She regards them as IMAGES. She states:

    ” In the Hindu tradition, there has never been the confusion of “image’ with “idol”, and in India, pilgrimage is the natural extension of the desire for the darsan of the divine image, which is at the heart of all temple worship”. Page 5 ibid.
    ( Darsan:Seeing the Divine Image in India. Indian edition 2007. Motilal Banarasidass.) her definition of ‘Darsan’ is also noteworthy.
    This shows that she got at least somethings right.

    • Bahu of Bengal

      Comprehensive review R Nanjappa. Thank you.

    • Krispy K

      Thanks for the post. Very useful summary.

    • Kailash

      Mr. Nanjappa,
      If a doctor cure your whole body so it can stay alive but cuts your hands intentionally, would you still call that doctor a good one ? Hasn’t Diana Eck done the same thing here in the book?
      Isn’t even the smallest Intellectual deception, dishonesty and misrepresentation a form of violence of the higher order in the sense that it perpetuates harm and conceals TRUTH for generations or may be forever ?

      • R Nanjappa

        Yes, sir. I have already said that we cannot expect proper understanding ( and fairness and objectivity) from Westerners unless they have experienced our truths first hand. Diana Eck is a dilution, not exception. My point is just this: she is not a William Archer or Wendy Doniger or Jeffrey Kripal. And there certainly are points in the book which we can work to our advantage. When it is said for instance that Hinduism is rooted to the place, does it not prove the Aryan Invasion theory wrong? The idea of nation-state is very recent, (19th century European phenomenon) and if a people can think of their Unity on other terms, it is an admission that our civilisation is more ancient, and continuous. If a western writer can openly accept that, is it not something? If we examine the book like this, we can see points which are not against us. It abounds in typical western prejudices-some of which I have mentioned. But it does not mean there are no other points. Let us remove or ignore the objectionable points and see if there is anything beyond. After all, we remove a whole lot from a jack fruit, before we take the pulp.

        Those of us who think she is wrong and mischievous, and misrepresents etc should give a detailed reply – as sir John Woodroffe did to Archer. Recently Vamsi Juluri has done something like that. Oh, what an excellent book he has written, without being polemical!

        This is our weakness. Whether it is translation or interpretation, we do nothing original. Most of our writers cannot follow the current academic jargon or standard. So this field has been taken over by foreigners, by our default. But when they write something, we object. What they write gets into the academic circuit, and our objections go to the dust bin. That is why I said we seem to be good only at reaction.

        As for Ayodhya too, why should we be so touchy when we know it is what we can expect from them? Mahatma Gandhi too said that the Gita is an allegory, that his Rama is not the son of Dasaratha, etc. Why do we celebrate him? There is Tyagaraja, the Saint-Singer of Carnatic music. He did japa of Rama mantra 96 crore times and had the vision of Rama. Yet he sang: “Natachi Natachi suche, Ayodhya nagaramu ghaanare” (They kept walking, and did not find Ayodhya.). The song goes on to say that Rama is Atma Rama and unless one realised him within by sincere devotion and meditation, one cannot find Ayodhya outside. Now, do we expect Diana Eck or people of her ilk to find Ayodhya? How many Indians can do that, either?

        If we read the literature on our philosophies, we find so much mutual abuse , logic chopping, sophistry etc, we will lose all respect for any philosophy.So when a foreigner writes something wrong, I am not disturbed. I do not value their good opinion, so I do not get upset by the wrong interpretations, or prejudices. I know this is what they are capable of. Do we expect a blind man to stare like a king?

        • m kv

          Between the “good cop” and “bad cop” there is a whole spectrum of cops! All are part of a bigger coordinated game plan. And you sir, are sadly falling for it. Good luck!

    • AnalyseAbhishek

      Thanks for the detailed comment. As helpful as the article itself. Comments such as these are the reasons I keep looking for some gems amidst a whole lot of sand and occasionally, filth!

    • JagoBharatVasiyo

      I don’t know if you are familiar with Rajiv Malhotra’s works, but ones you read them, you will understand a whole lot better of the very subtle ways of these westerners to undermine our traditions. I urge you to read the following books.

      BOOK: “BREAKING INDIA” – How Breaking India Forces are manipulating India to cause it’s break up
      BOOK: “Being Different” – How Hinduism is different from Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity, Islam
      BOOK: “Battle for Sanskrit” – How western scholars deliberately manipulate Sanskrit to English translations to create divisions in India and change original meanings.

      http://flipkart.com/breaking-india-western-interventions-dravidian-dalit-faultlines-english/p/itmdyv89rhkpwcht?q=Breaking+India+%3A+Western+Interventions+In+Dravidian+And+Dalit+Faultlines+%28English%29&as=on&as-show=on&otracker=start&as-pos=p_1_breaking+india&pid=9788191067378

      http://amazon.in/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/276-7996407-3534441?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=breaking+india

      BOOK: “INVADING THE SACRED”

      http://rajivmalhotra.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Invading-the-Sacred-Final.pdf
      http://rajivmalhotra.com/ (Excellent Videos to Watch)

      Kindly share these links with all your friends, family and on social media.

      Rajiv Malhotra interviewed by young California enterpreneur, Balaji Srinivasan
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhDs3OPqMQ4

      Breaking India Video: Please watch this Breaking India video,
      “Breaking India – Rajiv Malhotra – Where is India in the Eagle’s Eye (America)”
      http://youtube.com/watch?v=HpwPqK6RUGE

      • R Nanjappa

        Yes sir. I am aware of all his books, and read them. I also follow keenly his blogs and videos. He has opened our eyes, and given us a new idiom and grammar to understand things. He has an original approach and is doing excellent work- which Hindu institutions, including orthodox Mutts have failed to do.
        He is focussed on the threat to Hinduism and India- which is wholly justified and timely. However, there is something deeper going on. What is going on is a total take over of the academies and media in the West by the left, with its efforts to promote an agenda which is against all forms of established civilization and religion. Universities in the US are teaching rejection of their own tradition which they term as- the Christian, Anglo-Saxon White male dominated. They are as much against Christianity and Judaism as they are against Hinduism. Surprisingly, they are soft on Islam. They reject their own literary and cultural icons like Shakespeare, Milton, Moses, Jesus, etc. Before a Jeffrey Kripal psychoanalysed Sri Ramakrishna and pronounced him a pedophile, their ilk had done it to Moses and Jesus! Only. Vatican was strong enough to join issues and say, among others, that psychoanalysis of deceased persons was not an approved method of analysis!

        When it comes to India, this leftist force and the Church and Islamic elements have found a common cause and have converged. But the US has been anti-India ever since Independence, and they have consistently supported Pakistan and the Muslims and Christians against Hindus in their own land.Chester Bowles and John Kenneth Galbraith have recorded how difficult it was for them to get their administrations see India with friendly eyes. The left usually follows salami tactics- isolate and deal with one issue or party at a time. It is the leftist line that the Indian media is following in India. It is the mother of all evils.They have no popular support, but can make huge noise through the media which they control and manipulate. It is this leftist force which is the fountain of mischief all over the world. They control Harvard ( Fraudvard?) as much as New York Times. The same game is played out in India through JNU and newspapers like The Hindu and Times of India.

  • Vinay Mangal

    Ha ha…. these imperialists masquerading as historians are now running naked….
    ..Hats off agarwal bhai..

  • Krispy K

    Unfortunately, the words “professor” and “religion” in the same sentence often require “religion” to be replaced with “bullshit”.