Posted in Book Review

Hinduism – A Clarifying Introduction

புத்தகம்: ஹிந்து மதம் ஒரு அறிமுகத் தெளிவு
எழுதியவர்: ஸ்ரீரங்கம் வி மோகனரங்கன்
பதிப்பு: சந்தியா பதிப்பகம்
விலை: ரூ 170
(http://www.sandhyapublications.com/katturaigal.aspx)

Overall, I found this book an engaging reading. The book should appeal to the logical mind of the present-day youth, who are products of the scientific education system and to whom atheism appears to be a fashionable option. Although the author claims that this book is primarily targeted at beginners, this book should serve as a good, clarifying companion to even those who have had some kind of initiation into the literary works of Hinduism.

The author’s effort in demystifying Hinduism to the target audience is commendable. The book, to a greater extent, succeeds in unravelling the vedic religion in its truest form – free of its biases and abuses. The book answers some of the most fundamental questions and misconceived notions of Hinduism. Also, the choice of appropriate references (pramanams) to drive home the concepts remains this book’s biggest asset. The chapters clarifying the ritual aspects of Hinduism make for interesting reading. In addition, the wealth of information representing diverse traditions in the cross-references adds a lot of credibility to this book and reinforces its unbiased nature.

The ‘நுழைவு வாயில்’ chapter serves as a good introduction section. It helps to set the reader expectations right at the beginning. The ‘உருவாய் அருவாய்’ chapter clarifies the foundations of Hindu philosophy quite well. However, when the author points out that most philosophical schools within Hinduism draw from the same source (Veda/Vedanta) for concepts related to Reality (Tattva Nirupanam), he could have added a couple more lines to explain why the knowledge of reality varies across schools (siddhanthams), despite drawing from the same source. Though the author has pointed out who the Supreme Self (paramatma) is according to each tradition, an explanation regarding why Advaita recognizes only one tattvam, while Visishtadvaitam recognizes three could have been added as clarifying inclusions.

When explaining the concept of various traditions, the author makes an interesting point:
ஒரு ஜீவனுக்கு கர்மாதீனமாக ஒரு சம்பிரதாயத்தில் ஈடுபாடு கிட்டுகிறது. ஒரு ஆகம-ரீதியான சம்பிரதாயத்தை மற்றொரு சம்பிரதாயத்துடன் ஒப்பிடுகையில் ஏற்றத்-தாழ்வுக்கு இடம் இல்லை.

But, கர்மத்தின் அடிப்படையில் மனிதர்களுக்குள் ஏற்றத்-தாழ்வு நிலவும் பொழுது, கர்மத்தின் அடிப்படையில் கிட்டும் சம்ப்ரதாய சம்பந்தத்தில் ஏன் ஏற்றத்-தாழ்வு இருக்கக் கூடாது என்ற கேள்வி எழுகிறது.

‘நீயா நானா’ தலைப்பில் மதத்தை ஒரு அலுவலகமாக பாவித்து செய்யப்பட்டுள்ள ஒப்பீடு மிக அருமை. இது தொடங்கி முடிவு chapter பர்யந்தமாக பல லௌகீக உவமைகள் தந்து கருத்துகளைக் கையாண்டிருக்கும் விதம் பாராட்டிற்குரியது.

In this age of information revolution, where every possible information (authenticated and false) is available to seekers at the click of the button, the chapters on what to read to know about Hinduism, how to read them and what to avoid is a welcome necessity. I also appreciate the provisioning of references at the rear end by the author which encourages the reader to probe further if he/she is interested.

The fact that the author has written the whole book setting aside his personal affiliation is another aspect that works in this book’s favour. Today’s youth looks at religion with a lot of pessimism. It is imperative for an author to be as unbiased as possible in demystifying Hinduism to such a target audience.

The book is replete with ‘‘warnings’, which I think will help the reader to exercise his/her judgement before accepting the words of such people/books at face value. One such example is reproduced below:

இதிஹாசங்கள்-புராணங்கள் எல்லாம் வேதாந்தம் புகட்டும் தத்துவ உண்மைகளை பல கதைகளின் மூலமும், பெரியோரின் விளக்கங்கள் மூலமும் நன்கு விளக்கி காட்ட வந்தவை. அவற்றில் மனிதனின் நடைமுறை வாழ்க்கைக்கு விதிமுறை தேடுதல் என்பது ஹிந்து மதம் சொல்லாதது.”

In sum, one needs to go through the book multiple times to understand it better. The book is a culmination (and a high-level synthesis) of the thoughts that have circumnavigated this country under the broad aegis of Hinduism. The author has undertaken the arduous task of simplifying Hinduism for the present day youth and can be said to have broadly succeeded in his effort. The book, being a collection of essays  written by the author on the topic, gives the reader an impression that their organization could have been better. At times, the reader is taken back and forth between similar topics which could have been avoided. Also, it would have been better if the book went through one more round of proofreading as there are a few spelling mistakes.

This book will be a worthy possession to anyone who wants to know about Hinduism and the overarching similarity between the different philosophical schools that come under it.

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