In the summer of 1953, a massive drought hit the Chinese province of Zhejiang. Villagers took the disaster as a sign that deities were angry at officials for converting temples for secular uses and destroying ritual items, including statues and dragon boats. To placate the gods, villagers rose up to try to take back religious spaces and pray for rain by resuming boat racing, which officials saw as a “superstitious” practice incompatible with the spirit and law of the new People’s Republic.
Liberal intellectuals, whether in India or writing about India, may not take kindly to Brian A Hatcher’s latest book Hinduism Before Reform. But it is a book that they must read to examine the roots of their attitude towards everything perceived as right-wing Hinduism in India and the Indian diaspora.
“Dissatisfaction with the womanly rôle,” the psychologist Alfred Adler wrote in Understanding Human Nature (1927), “is … more evident among [women] who escape from life because of some so-called ‘higher reasons’. Nuns, or others who assume some occupation for which celibacy is an essential, are a case in point.” Adler, of course, was not judging such women negatively, as he felt that women should not have to be controlled by the patriarchal nature of 20th-century society and that they should be able to develop their own roles.
What is Zen? If it were really just enigmatic aphorisms such as “I swallowed up all the Buddhas and Patriarchs / Without ever using my mouth” as an answer to the equally enigmatic question “The ten thousand things return to one; to what does the one return?” then presumably it would have not engaged the West as much as it evidently has.
Some books are next to impossible to review. Silk Roads is one: encyclopedic in scope and structure, made up of several dozen short essays by almost as many different authors, each lavishly illustrated with indescribable photos of objects and places.
Hagiography. What a fascinating word; at one time I thought the “hag” implied the study of witches! The word, which of course literally means “writings on [the lives of] saints”, has also taken on a pejorative meaning, in the sense that since saints are supposedly exceptionally good people, even considered “perfectly-formed at birth” as Alexander Gardner puts it, admiringly servile biographies which flatter exceptionally bad people or even mediocrities must also be hagiographies, because they make those people look like saints.
The number of books incorporating “the Idea of India” into their title in recent times is indicative that this idea has been in a crisis for a while. Siddhartha Sarma’s Carpenters and Kings is one more response to this crisis of India, dealing with an oft-ignored population group. In an environment where the Hindu Right suggests that Christianity and Islam are foreign to India, this book seeks to “set the record straight” and demonstrate that the history of Christianity in India is a nearly two-millennia-long story of great complexity.