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The Hindus: An Alternative History

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  1,225 ratings  ·  164 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
Hardcover, 800 pages
Published March 19th 2009 by Penguin Press (first published 2009)
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Popular Answered Questions
Cold Cream 'n' Roses Jeremiah, I suggest that you enroll in continuing ed online courses offered by the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

I can't think of…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)

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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Before we proceed, let me say that I do not support banning any book (or even legally requiring a book to be withdrawn from circulation, as was the case with this book in India).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
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 La
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
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 people seem to take their religion seriously, unlike us wiser and more superior N ...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 withi
Cold Cream 'n' Roses
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:
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
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 fi
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 p
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. ...more
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.
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
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 sacrifice is all-important. For one thing it represents/>
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
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
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.
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
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
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 practi
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
Jun 24, 2014 rated it did not like it
Doniger's book is one of the most unreadable books I've ever attempted to read. The text is meandering, excessively verbose, and narcissistic. Her sense of humour has not outgrown elementary school. From the 100 or so pages I forced myself to go through, there is nothing even remotely bannable other than poor writing. I suspect the ban was "arranged" -- nobody would have bought the book otherwise.
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
Feb 25, 2014 rated it did not like it
"Non-sense" might have been too strong a word to use here. But I always have a problem reading something where the author has a conclusion in mind, and then cites facts and evidence to make the point. In this case, Wendy states that her intention for writing the book was to show that the "peripheral" characters (women, Dailits, animals, etc.) also made contributions to the formation of Hinduism. She then cites text, interprets the text, and presents it to support her conclusion. To her credit, s ...more
May 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
(1) Christianity is mainly about the great teachings of Jesus Christ. (2) Christianity is mainly about the inquisition within the Roman Catholic Church. The first statement is a historical fact while second statement is distorted “alternative history”. This simple example illustrates what Wendy Doniger has done to Hinduism in her book.

If one wants to know about Hindus and their ancient philosophy from a western perspective, Heinrich Zimmer, Joseph Campbell, Alain Danielou and R.C. Zaehner are t
Anupa Kar
Oct 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
Wendy Doniger is perfect with her words , absolutely engaging for those who do not know what they are reading , For eg if you read book which falls under fiction category and finally the books turns out to be on psychology . She is good at her throwing away all her skills that has been acquired . But the unfortunate side of this is it is theoretically acquired and not experienced. Second the entire book reads like sarcasm on the religion itself, the choice of words , situations. For any one to w ...more
Vikrant Rana
Oct 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
There are many 'experts' in this world successfully selling their wares, simply on the back of sensationality - their only calling card, because their wares are below par. Ms Doniger is one of them.

This book is a product of a mind who formulated conclusions before even beginning the enquiry, and therefore didn't bother to study a culture before commenting.

It is also a product of the western mind who feels small before the heights of human thought achieved in the east. (In a way it i
Oct 28, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
I wasn't sure if this was history or fiction. Whatever Wendy notices and researches is all true - but I failed to see why her tone was so demeaning. It's not a joke-book that she's writing after all.

One reason she writes this way could be to ask for controversy - which the book's immense publicity has granted her. The other - probably more serious demand - could have been that of a feminist narrative. May be a relatively nonchalant, all-over-the-place writing style could act as an al
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 G
Anshul Sharma
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
The publisher called back this book which I really think was not required. Hindu's are a tolerant bunch and could have appreciated this "alternative history". Which is precisely why I picked up this book. What I do not appreciate is the arrogance and attitude of the author. At ~700 pages, this book is tiring. There are many forced interpretations of the Vedic texts. I did get those missing links of history that I could never find in my schools textbooks - How is Indus valley civilization linked ...more
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
it is everything that the author's preface intends it not to be and not what she intended it to be because she herself could not manage it.

she got too overwhelmed by the stories/excerpts she heard/picked from random sources that she put all of them together to create this book because those excerpts fueled her purpose of presenting contradictory points.

it is easy to raise questions.

the author at no point intended to present an answer only interested in putting
Shubhi Agarwal
A pretty average book, given that it created a huge hype when it released, causing it to be banned in Indian markets. I didnt find something that path breaking about the Indian history in this book. Ofcourse, the research done for it is worth applauding, but the author has tried to give the views of an impartial external viewer, irrespective of what the readers believe in. Probably, that's what hit the clerics and they created the hue and cry.
I found it an okayish read, but ofcourse there
Sanjay Varma
Jun 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
Cannot continue. Chapter 1 opens with a Sufi quote. Chapter 2 opens with E.M. Forster. Apparently there are no Indians/Hindus qualified to describe India. Every sentence of this book argues that Hindus don’t really exist. We have stolen everything from other cultures. As one of her supporting points, the author points out that even the Indian continent itself should be thought of as a part of Africa that migrated north due to plate tectonics. Ms. Doniger claims that Hindus know this and are asha ...more
Ram Raghuwanshi
May 18, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Tried to read it. But after some pages it becomes intolerable. I mean it want to convince me that whole history of India/hindu is about sex, eroticism, vagina, phallus i mean seriously? I agree sex does play its part in history but it not just sex, lust which forms history... Anyone with sane mind will understand the hollowness in authors argument.

Read this book if u wish but with rational logical.. Dont buy her point just because she is saying it. Better fact check it
Jamshed "JAY" Dasturji
Jun 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
How can someone with a doctoral degree in Sanskrit and professor at Chicago make so many absurd statements! I mean this whole book is shrouded in the veneer of academic research yet comes off as a jr high school boys locker room interpretation of Indian history. The only thing it is alternative to is reality. We are provided with recycled stereotypes and assumptions in the name of alternative approach. I cannot believe I both purchased this and read it completely.
Pierre A Renaud
Feb 13, 2014 marked it as to-read
"Penguin's withdrawal of The Hindus causes international outcry | The decision is "shocking, appalling, dreadful and entirely negative," Dalrymple told the Guardian, while Roy, the Booker prize-winning author of The God of Small Things, has called on Penguin to explain why it "caved in". Doniger's widely praised book was pulled from India following a lawsuit from the Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan accusing the University of Chicago professor of "hurt[ing] the religious feelings of millions o ...more
Mar 24, 2014 rated it did not like it
If this book had been marketed as an erotica, it could have joined the league of the classics. I was forced to read due to my curiosity which was generated by the controversy surrounding the book. The writer is unclear about the subject of the book, she quickly changed pace from history, sociology, eroticism, literature and technology . The book ultimately ends up being a dull hodge podge of Indian history.
SamCooper Temp
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
The Author apparantly haven't overcome her personal bias.
The book is infested with mughal apologia which is openly seen when she justifies Mughal persecution of Hindus with absurd and ridiculous arguments/statements such as 'He (mughal emperor) only destroyed the idol and spared the temple' or 'He (Shahjahan) discriminated against non Muslims, demolished their temples yet (somehow) he was OPEN to hindu culture'.
Parag Gupta
Mar 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
I did not read the whole book. You don't need to drink water from every part of the ocean to know it's salty. This book is pure, unadulterated garbage.

Given her recent Op-Ed in the NYTimes,it further validates Doniger has no clue what she's talking about.

After perusing some comments on this board, it is also apparent that a good number of Indians know little to nothing about their own religion.
John Newhall
May 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
I'm not giving it a poor review because of the controversy that surrounds it (which I think is absolutely ridiculous, but worth thinking about). My review is negative because this book is so poorly written that it is nearly impenetrable. Doniger needed to work more closely with an editor on this book. She is undoubtedly the leading figure in Hindu studies, but this book is just terrible.
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