Book Review: Why I Am A Hindu by Shashi Tharoor

Book Name: Why I Am A Hindu

Author: Shashi Tharoor

Publisher: Aleph

Rating: 4.7/5

Book Blurb: In Why I Am a Hindu, one of India’s finest public intellectuals gives us a profound book about one of the world’s oldest and greatest religions. Starting with a close examination of his own belief in Hinduism, he ranges far and wide in his study of the faith. He talks about the Great Souls of Hinduism, Adi Shankara, Patanjali, Ramanuja, Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and many others who made major contributions to the essence of Hinduism. He delves deep into Hinduism’s most important schools of thought (such as the Advaita Vedanta). He explains, in easily accessible language, important aspects and concepts of Hindu philosophy like the Purusharthas and Bhakti, masterfully summarizes the lessons of the Gita and Vivekananda’s ecumenism and explores with sympathy the ‘Hinduism of habit’ practised by ordinary believers. He looks at the myriad manifestations of political Hinduism in the modern era, including violence committed in the name of the faith by right-wing organizations and their adherents. He analyses Hindutva, explains its rise and dwells at length on the philosophy of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, its most significant ideologue. He is unsparing in his criticism of extremist ‘bhakts’ and unequivocal in his belief that everything that makes India a great and distinctive culture and country will be imperilled if religious ‘fundamentalists’ are allowed to take the upper hand. However, he also makes the point that it is precisely because Hindus form the majority that India has survived as a plural, secular democracy.
A book that will be read and debated now and in the future, Why I Am a Hindu is a revelatory and original masterwork.

Review: Why I Am a Hindu is a timely book because the ancient Indian religion is being usurped for political reasons and there is a lot of confusion as to what Hinduism stands for. While the finer aspects of the religion have been debated, the present political climate where wearing the religion on your sleeve has become the new norm, this book serves a useful purpose. It chronicles the Hindu religion from its origins and discusses questions of Hindu identity including the newfound politics of Hinduism.

This is one of Tharoor’s better works. His earlier works were marked by a lot of research but resulted in fewer sales as they targeted a niche readership but lately, he has been writing for the masses.

The book Why I Am A Hindu is sort of a layman’s guide to the ancient religion that has stood the test of time and has gradually evolved into a massive political and socio-cultural force that not only unites but can also divide people at times.

The book starts from the origin of Hinduism and discusses later developments such as the Puranas, the Gita but do not expect religious commentary as the author is not a religious scholar. Nevertheless, the information here is quite correct and nothing seemed amiss.

“The Puranas mark a significant development in Hinduism, with a much greater emphasis on the worship of Gods in human form, unlike the earlier Vedic faith…”

Almost all aspects of Hinduism have been fully covered in the book which must have called for massive research and the effort is praiseworthy.

The great Hindu religion is known for tolerance and acceptance which are the most significant hallmark features as it were- sadly the Hindu nationalist movement has tried to muzzle the voice of the moderates which is basically against the foundational teaching of the religion itself- that advocates discussion and dissent.

He is perhaps right in rejecting the political use of Hinduism as a tool of vote bank politics but his own party is quite guilty of playing the opposite vote bank card: that of minority appeasement. If the minority vote bank can be used as a political tool, then why not Hindu nationalism? It is only when the majority Hindus united against the political appeasement of minorities, do we see scholars protesting against this newfound force. The silence of intellectuals over vote bank politics during the earlier Congress rule was rather deafening. Nevertheless, religion and politics need to be kept separate from each other but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

“There are basically two kinds of politics in our country; the politics of division and the politics of unity.”

Let’s just hope the politics of unity can prevail but aren’t all political parties in India somewhat guilty of playing the politics of division? This is something Tharoor should have also discussed in detail in his book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *