27 November, 2020

When Shloka Speaks To Shloka

A text-centric conspectus studies Hinduism’s pluralistic ways, ignores living reality

When Shloka Speaks To Shloka

Can one tell a history of the Hindus through their stories? That is the challenge that American scholar and Sanskritist Wendy Doniger sets herself in this book, a culmination of many years of teaching and engagement with Hindu thought and writing. One thing those years have made clear to Doniger is the difficulty of defining Hinduism. The term itself lacks any roots within India—only after the seventeenth century can we find the first usage of the title ‘Hindupati’ or Lord of the Hindus—and there is no agreed doctrine, founder, or church-like institution with which it is identified. There is no Hindu canon. Nor do the Hindus themselves form a race, or inhabit a narrowly specified territory.

What does connect them and set them apart, Doniger argues, is the fact that their imaginations, and many of their social practices, are structured by a vast web of stories—texts that spin across and through the languages and cultures of the subcontinent. Doniger calls it ‘intertextuality’, the self-conscious...



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