“The Life of Hinduism” Edited by John Stratton Hawley & Vasudha Narayanan

Perhaps as you grow older, you become more interested in religion and spiritualism. This could be one reason why these days I have been reading books I would never have sought out even 10 years ago. One on this list is, ” The Life of Hinduism” edited by John Stratton Hawley, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Religion at Bernard College, and Vasudha Narayanan, Professor at the University of Florida. This was first published by the University of California Press in 2006. The version I read is the one published exclusively  for South Asia by the Aleph Book Company in 2017. 

You don’t have to read this book at one go. The structure allows you to dip into the book whenever you feel like it and read an essay or two. The book is a collection of 20 essays which cover a range of topics associated with Hinduism. They are by 19 different authors and are neatly divided into eight distinct chapters or Parts as they have been titled, each having between two to four essays. The Parts are about: Worship, The Life Cycle, Festival, Performance, Gurus, Caste, Diaspora, and Identity. Each essay is followed by exhaustive notes for those who wish to pursue their reading further.

Some of the essays that I remember vividly are, “Marriage: Women in India” by Doranne Jacobson, ” A Ramayana On Air” by Philip Lutgendorf, and “Holi: The Feast of Love” by McKim Marriott.  Although I have mentioned that you can read the book in any order, do please first read the introduction by the editors: Hawley and Narayanan. You can’t afford to miss this because it lays down some basic constructs like what “Hinduism” is all about, and the Five Strands in the Life of Hinduism.

Much of the fascination for Hinduism as a religion is how it has in a sense moved with the times. The authors have chosen Bengaluru ( earlier called “Bangalore” where incidentally I live) to start their story. They develop the theme of how the ancient co-exists with the modern in this South Indian city. I guess the same thing is happening all over India but to a lesser degree that it is in Bengaluru.

I would most heartily recommend this book to anyone in the world who wants to know about Hinduism. I would recommend this book even more to Hindus, especially amongst such of our  youth who practice their religion with indifference, as the stories of their rich inheritance are  quite revealing and educative .


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