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The Hindus: An Alternative History

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  1,145 ratings  ·  152 reviews
From one of the world?s foremost scholars on Hinduism, a vivid reinterpretation of its history

An engrossing and definitive narrative account of history and myth that offers a new way of understanding one of the world?s oldest major religions, The Hindus elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds.

Hinduism does not lend itself easily to a str
Hardcover, 800 pages
Published March 19th 2009 by Penguin Press (first published 2009)
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The Style Page Jeremiah, I suggest that you enroll in continuing ed online courses offered by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

I can't think of "unbiased"…more
Jeremiah, I suggest that you enroll in continuing ed online courses offered by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

I can't think of "unbiased" scholars in Indic studies. You have to read different views and make up your own mind. In fact, the way you laid out Indian history might reflect bias.

You might be interested in reading The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati by Michel Danino.(less)
The God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyA Fine Balance by Rohinton MistryThe White Tiger by Aravind AdigaShantaram by Gregory David RobertsSiddhartha by Hermann Hesse
638 books — 721 voters
An Area of Darkness by V.S. NaipaulThe Satanic Verses by Salman RushdieRangila Rasul by Pandit Chamupati M.A.The Hindus by Wendy DonigerShivaji by James W. Laine
Banned books of India
32 books — 13 voters

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Ali Sheikh
May 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
Where Exactly Is India, Ms. Doniger?

Banned in Bangalore, the New York Times op-ed said. Why ban a book, no matter how offensive, the literati fumed. No one can truly ban a book in the Internet age, friends pointed out. Naturally, I bought a copy—and more to the point, read the book.

Before we proceed, let me say that I do not support banning any book (or even legally requiring a book to be withdrawn from circulation, as was the case with this book in India). But I do hold that every banned book i
Nandakishore Varma
Mar 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
(Before reading)

I need to read this book on priority. Hindus are shifting more and more to the right in India, which prompted Penguin to remove this from circulation and pulp the remaining copies. It is time that we fight against such intolerance, and save our country from becoming a theocracy!

(After reading)

I could understand why this book angers the Hindu right. It argues (rightly, IMO)that there is no monolithic "Hinduism" - no "Sanatana Dharma" (Eternal Law) as the conservatives claim.

Michael Flick
Apr 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: worst

I can't think of a better word to describe this book. It's often irreverent, disrespectful, flippant, snide, and glib.

It's a scholarly, rather than a popular, work: 690 pages of text with 1,991 endnotes and innumerable footnotes (well, I didn't count them, but there were a great many--I'd guess more than 200). The author does her own translations of Sanskrit texts as short prose paragraphs (and not many), from which it is difficult to imagine the poetic original or why anyone would pass
I understand that this particular book has been at the center of a prolonged dispute over censorship and the importance of religious freedom and offensive content in Indian law. I am in no place to comment on it, as I have no substantial knowledge of the issue. I will only comment on the book from my limited vantage point.

The subtitle of "alternative history" is a deliberate choice. Doniger eschews the perspective of wealthy literate elites (Brahmins, mainly) and she does not restrict herself t
Sam Schulman
Jul 27, 2010 rated it did not like it
I am still reading this book, which has provoked both nonviolent and violent protests against it within the Hindu world, much to Wendy's dismay (see this and this I am not a Hindu, and if you open the old girl's book you will see a chatty, discussion of Hinduism in an haut en bas style that you would be familiar with if it concerned itself with Christianity, for example, particularly in a feminist vein. But these ...more
Apr 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
The Hindus by Wendy Doniger is one of the worst books I've ever had the misfortune to read. As an Indian-American with an inherent love for academia, I picked up this book with high hopes, especially after I noticed it had won a few awards. Oh, how I wish I hadn't.

It's true that Doniger has conducted a great deal of research, but I find her thinking, her writing, and her interpretations extremely ignorant and insulting. She lacks an understanding of the culture or the many subtleties within the
Jon Stout
Apr 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
More than one friend has said, “Write a lot about this book,” so the pressure is on. When I first saw the reviews for The Hindus An Alternative History, I jumped at the chance to read an opinionated, panoramic discussion of Hinduism, because I have had miscellaneous experiences and opinions of Hinduism ever since my Peace Corps days in Nepal, and I wanted to deepen and consolidate my knowledge.

Doniger acknowledges that hers is an “alternative” history, because it is written with a view to fillin
The Style Page
Jun 28, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: asia, india, hinduism
The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago is really not a history at all. In her book, Doniger retells Hindu stories and provides snarky interpretations. One story is about fusing the head of a Brahmin woman onto the body of a Dalit woman. Doniger provides several variants of the theme of transposed heads.

Best use of The Hindus:
Door Stopper

As I read The Hindus: An Alternative History, I became aware of a pattern: it was as though several authors were writing as Wendy D
Edward Smith
Aug 03, 2011 rated it did not like it
I'm not done reading this book, and after months of attempts to get through it I've seriously contemplated abandoning it altogether. That is something that I rarely do, but I find this book to be incredibly tiring. The thing that annoys me the most, is the arrogant attitude of the author which comes across as almost being a parody of Feminist academics/ Women's Studies. As much as I had objections to Edward Said trashing Western scholarship on foreign cultures, this book really is Orientalist in ...more
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminism
Surely history is one of the most important things for us to imagine and to realise that we are imagining.

I bought this book some time last year, with very little thought, because I heard it was being withdrawn from publication at the request of the BJP government. Normally, I try not to read books written by outsiders like this, but I don’t like book-banners so I made an exception with trepidation and tried to take the text with plenty of salt. As literature at least, this book turns out to be
Simone Roberts
Feb 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Here's the thing. Doniger is one of the, no kidding, premier American scholars of India's philosophical and epic traditions. But, she's not a philosopher. She's a scholar of comparative religion and mythology; as such she uses more literary methods to read her subject texts. (Many reviewers seem surprised by this.) She's also at the mature end of her career. She displays a sense of humor about her subjects that comes from long, long familiarity.

Some of her puns and jokes are hilarious, and some
Mera Bharat Mahan
May 03, 2009 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: only those who have had a prior introduction to Hinduism.
Recommended to Mera Bharat Mahan by: Penguin Press
The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago is really not a history at all. In her book, Doniger retells Hindu stories and provides snarky interpretations. One story is about fusing the head of a Brahmin woman onto the body of a Dalit woman. Doniger provides several variants of the theme of transposed heads.

As I read The Hindus: An Alternative History, I became aware of a pattern: it was as though several authors were writing as Wendy Doniger.

Chapter 18, Phil
Jul 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Readers interested in Indian culture/religion/history, anthropologists in general
Recommended to Terence by: New Shelf at library
Just as my first exposure to Buddha came through the sieve of Gore Vidal’s Creation (see my review of Karen Armstrong’s Buddha - so too my first exposure to any representation of Hinduism came via the same medium. In that book, Cyrus Spitama – grandson of Zoroaster and Darius of Persia’s ambassador to the Indian kingdoms – witnesses a Vedic horse sacrifice, one of the most important rituals of ancient Indian kingship:

For an Indian ruler the horse sacrifi
Apr 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned

It's a very informative read. The way the information has been organized into descriptively titled chapters, helps to get into the book by going to the chapter directly. There is no chronological flow in the specific details that the chapters give about a subject, however, the subjects do follow the pattern of change as it happened historically. For example, you may go directly to the chapter that talks about Mahabharata although it happened after Ramayana and the book places the chapter after R
Feb 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
A letter to Penguin India (my publishers)

Everybody is shocked at what you have gone and done—at your out-of-court settlement with an unknown Hindu fanatic outfit—in which you seem to have agreed to take Wendy Donniger'sThe Hindus: An Alternative History off the bookshelves of 'Bharat' and pulp it. There will soon no doubt be protestors gathered outside your office, expressing their dismay.

Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so? Have you forgotten who you are? You are part of one of the o
Divya Singh
Feb 14, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book is a result of incomplete research and the fact that it contains several unjustified judgments from someone with a distant perspective and incomplete understanding of Hindu culture, makes it a bad choice academic and teaching purposes. In the least of its understanding, this book is misleading and at times giving false information.
Sidharth Vardhan

This is just to add a remark about one of the biggest criticisms of this book - that it was written by an outsider and who (as critics seem to think 'it follows') didn't know anything about Hinduism. Doniger herself answers the criticism well. And anyway, I don't think most Hindus ever opened any of their bigger scriptures.

Still.... MM Kalburgi, a rationalist with strong views against idolism and winner of Kendrya Sahitya Akademi Award was murdered on August 30 this year. MM Kalburg
Nov 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
An interesting read... for a change found a Western Writer who got the stories right... Wendy Doniger has a Phd in Indian Studies and Sanskrit.. and she has done her homework with this book... Really liked the format of the book and the snippets of the stories that she has given... Gives a very nice perspective on hinduism, its myths and the popular stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharatha. The take on the evolution of the different practices in the religious context are given without any bias ...more
May 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Doniger covers so much ground, from pre-Aryan times to yesterday, and most of the contraversial topics (suttee, caste, tantra, beef-eating in the past, multiplicity of and contradictions among the sacred texts, relations with other religions), and she does it, as far as I can tell, with erudition, delicacy, and wit. She's also very knowledgeable of pop cultural adaptations of Hindu materials, both in India and outside. A very smooth, engrossing read. I wished for more pictures.
Jul 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read the heavy tome that is 'the Hindus' around 2 yrs back. It is one of those books which I was left a little ambivalent about (though the author earned my respect by sheer expanse and knowledge of Hinduism, given she is an authority on the subject, not a surprise). It is not a 'here is Hinduism so let me let you about it right from the start' kind of a book. It is a book which is best read once one is comfortable with the 'Hinduism' epics, stories as we already know them. Then read this as ' ...more
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An outstanding book. I highly recommend this book to any educated adult, in order to get a rich and insightful look at one of the most important religious cultures in the world. Fantastically learned, clearly and engagingly written, brilliant.
Mukesh Kumar
Feb 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone who wishes to understand India and its culture
Recommended to Mukesh by: The illiberal fanatical groups who got it banned
Shelves: favourites
Started reading this as a protest against the disgusting capitulation of Penguin India in front of the fanatics. And before I knew it, was stuck for good in its tilism like, meandering passages, with their stories within stories and myths within histories within myths kind of labyrinths, grinding my way at times, gliding at others. The whole book is a huge tome on Hinduism, a mind bogglingly detailed and researched work, full of history, myths, legends, stories and anecdotes, popular and counter ...more
JP Schmidt
I was drawn to this book by a lifelong interest in the complexities of Indian religion and society. The author, an American scholar of Sanskrit and Indian religion, rights engagingly if she sometimes goes in a bit too much for jokey plays on words and ideas.

The gist of what makes the book "alternative" is that she more or less rejects the traditional Hindu narrative on the origins of various facets and strains of the multifarious religious tradition. She wisely avoids coming down on any particul
Shweta Ganesh Kumar
Apr 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
I confess, the only reason I started to read this book was because of Penguin India's cowardly decision to pulp the book, in the face of misplaced fundamentalist rage.

However, despite the sheer size of the book. I found myself drawn to it thanks to Wendy Doniger's refreshing style for what is clearly an academic tome on the Hindu religion.
She never talks down or bores and takes you through the history of Hindu religion, right from the beginning, yes, the beginning, to the way it is practised to
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
A well-written but academic reinterpretation of Hinduism through the lens of marginalized groups and peoples (women, lower castes, foreigners, animals). Some on this site have taken issue with the prominence of the author's voice in the text -- I personally enjoy academic writing that isn't afraid to have a personality. There is a decided emphasis on early Hindu texts and history, and rather little on modern Hinduism. Some familiarity with Hindu texts and with Indian history is probably a necess ...more
John Mabry
Nov 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow! What a tour-de-force! This is kind of a grab-bag of Hinduism, definitely not for the neophyte, who would be lost before s/he began. But for those who already have a good grounding in Hinduism, there are delightful tidbits on nearly every page. I had many "no way..." moments in this book--which was delightful and surprising. Basically, it's a romp through Hindu history, with special attention to the perspectives of the marginalized voices--women, the lower castes, and animals. Absolutely won ...more
Sajith Kumar
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
This book is officially banned in India in response to the huge outrage followed its publication in 2009. Penguin had withdrawn all copies from circulation and destroyed the available ones. I got this copy from the public library, which must have somehow escaped the culling. People usually make much ado about nothing, especially if a book dealt with subjects considered to be holy, in an unconventional way. I was under the impression that this one also might have been misunderstood by the masses ...more
Masen Production
“I have never wasted my time so much as I feel I have after reading a Ms. Doniger. Her total book is a comparison of circa 1500 BC with present day sensibilities. I have lost out on her analogy of various facts because somehow I feel she has trivialized the whole Indian scenario. For her Sita is an object of desire and insinuates that Lakshman had more than sisterly feelings for her (one example). Her quoting of the Bhagvata Purana with trivial punctuation's as & when she thinks its relevant ...more
Ramshankar Shri
Nov 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Yudhishthira bowed to the great sage and said,"Tell me briefly how I may be released from my sins.Many men who had committed no offence were killed in the battle between us and the Kauravas. Please tell me how one may be released from the mortal sin that results from acts of violence against living creatures, even if it was done in a former life."
Markandeya said,"Listen, your majesty,to the answer to your question:Going to Prayaga is the best way for men to destroy evil.The god Rudra,the Great G
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Naturally when I wanted to read a book on the history and evolution of Hinduism I didnt want to rehash the things that already come up in the many histories of India that I have read before. Considering that this is me we are talking about though, the book with the largest amount of butthurt Hindu nationalist reviews and common target of censorship campaigns in India was the one I had to try.

I'm really glad I did. While I see *some* of the criticisms of this book as being overly flippant and hav
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“Racism quickly came to color the English usage of the Sanskrit word arya, the word that the Vedic poets used to refer to themselves, meaning “Us” or “Good Guys,” long before anyone had a concept of race. Properly speaking, “Aryan” (as it became in English) designates a linguistic family, not a racial group (just as Indo-European is basically a linguistic rather than demographic term); there are no Aryan noses, only Aryan verbs, no Aryan people, only Aryan-speaking people. Granted, the Sanskrit term does refer to people rather than to a language. But the people who spoke *Indo-European were not a people in the sense of a nation (for they may never have formed a political unity) or a race, but only in the sense of a linguistic community.10 After all those migrations, the blood of several different races had mingled in their veins.” 2 likes
“James Joyce, in his novel Finnegans Wake, in 1939, punned on the word “Hindoo” (as the British used to spell it), joking that it came from the names of two Irishmen, Hin-nessy and Doo-ley: “This is the hindoo Shimar Shin between the dooley boy and the hinnessy.”30 Even Joyce knew that the word was not native to India.” 1 likes
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