Have a question about Hinduism? Now you need look no further. The Encyclopaedia of Hinduism—11 hardbound volumes with full-colour illustrations—is here to enlighten you. The encyclopaedia, which was 25 years in the making, is the brainchild of Swami Chidanand Saraswati of the Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh. A frequent visitor to the US, Swami Chidanand realised a desperate need for a go-to book on Hinduism and its traditions to answer the many questions that surfaced in the West, especially from children of the growing Indian diaspora.
“The Indian cultural, spiritual tradition—the history, the philosophy—all of that will be properly understood here in the West,” Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, managing editor of the Encyclopaedia of Hinduism, told Outlook. “There are so many misconceptions, so much misinformation about Hinduism and Indian culture. There are many books on the subject, but when one looks for something authoritative, definitive, unbiased, academic, that text had not yet existed.”
The international edition of the Encyclopaedia was released at the University of South Carolina on August 26. The 11-volume set, published by Mandala Publishing in California, comes with a price tag to match its size: $995. All proceeds from the encyclopaedia are going to a charity dedicated to the environmental clean-up of Indian rivers. The books are divided into 12 subject areas.
To ensure comprehensive coverage, the entries of the Encyclopaedia are prepared under the following twelve subject areas
The project, initially based out of Pittsburgh, was hosted by the University of South Carolina, where it remained until 2003, when it was moved to India. “The University of South Carolina came forward and supported the project, which is why it is fitting to come full circle and have the launch there,” says Sadhvi Bhagawati. “Anybody who believes in karma would say the Encyclopaedia of Hinduism and the University of South Carolina are karmically linked!”
Hal French, professor of religious studies at the University of South Carolina, wrote some entries and also served as associate editor of the encyclopaedia since its inception. French, who did his doctorate on Swami Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna movement in the West, told Outlook one of his roles was to get western scholars involved, “partly because this is, as I would define it, not a Hindu encyclopaedia, but an encyclopaedia of Hinduism. From the start the vision was to include inside and outside views.”
The project was conceived in 1987, before computers became ubiquitous and the internet a research tool, a fact those associated with the project cite to explain why it took time to finish. Many contributors hand-wrote their entries, often in languages that ranged from Gujarati and Bengali to Sanskrit. The texts were put through a long, arduous process that involved translation into English, editing, review by a team of experts, and more editing. “Every article was edited between eight to 10 times before we were done,” said Sadhvi Bhagawati.
French acknowledges the “long trail” with a laugh. “We had some people, donors as well as contributing authors, who wondered if this thing was ever going to come off! But Swamiji and Dr Rao were very patient; their energies made it come to pass.”
Another goal is to give the Indian diaspora a better understanding of and connection with its faith and traditions.
“As an Indian American, I have strongly been influenced by Hinduism, a melting pot of spiritual, philosophical and cultural ideas and practices that originated in India,” says Prof Meera Narasimhan, chair of neuropsychiatry and behavioural science at the Univ of South Carolina’s School of Medicine. “As a physician trained in Western medicine, it provided me with an abundance of knowledge to help better understand the mind, body, spirit connection that is key to understanding health, as it pertains to disease and wellness.” Narasimhan led efforts to organise the encyclopaedia launch conference at the university on August 26.
The encyclopaedia has struck a chord in India, where it was released in April 2010. “The original impetus was for people abroad, but...we have found that the excitement over it and the need for it is just as great in India as anywhere else,” says Sadhvi Bhagawati.
While students in India go through an educational system that doesn’t encourage them to question their elders, students in the US are offered a cursory lesson in world history that doesn’t help them appreciate things like Hinduism and Indian history. The Encyclopaedia of Hinduism will give parents something from which to provide answers to their children, and to children a source to turn to when they don’t understand aspects of their own history, tradition and culture, says Sadhvi Bhagawati.
Narasimhan believes the encyclopaedia will deepen inter-cultural dialogue. “It will have something for everyone,” she says. “This is a lasting legacy for students and families, wherever they are,” adds French.
By Ashish Kumar Sen in Washington DC
This refers to the report on the Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (Bhasya on Shastra, Sep 9). Someone closely connected with the project says that one of the main misconceptions about Hinduism is that it condones the caste system. Well, maybe the authors found one unclear link between caste and Hinduism and that was sufficient for them to form an opinion. Otherwise, even a novice can see that the caste system forms the basis of Hinduism. It may be useful for preaching and converting people, but it’s not credible in a historical or factual sense.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Hope caste and its abuses, mechanism of discrimination, segregation, hate-mongering and barbarous ways have got adequate focus in the Encyclopedia. Americans need to be warned and careful about the Hindus, who in US, have started practicing what they breath, dream and propagate all over the world---their caste. US must take note that the Hindus have started discrimination of the low caste immigrants in their country.
The next to face their hatred will be the Afro-Americans. This will be a serious source of agony for them.
They may have ultimately to wage another civil war to crush Hinduism's high flown caste philosophy.
Better take care.
The Parsi and Arabs pronounce “S” as “H”, like “Saptah” became “Haptah”. Whoever is staying in this country and whatever religion he is following, is Hindu by geographical definition or name. The place where Hindu lives came to be known as Hindustan or the region which is watered by the river Sind or Hind is known as Hindustan. The European called the Sind river as Indus river. The place which is watered by Indus River, they called India. In this way our country got one more name “India”, and to the people, they called Indians. India is also a geographical name. Hindu or Hinduism is not a religion, the way Indian or India is not a religion. Both are geographical names. Others name of India are Aryavart, Bharat-Varsh, Bharat, Jambu Dweepa.
Hinduism has been derived from the word Hindu. Hinduism was a name given in English language in the Nineteenth Century by the English people to the multiplicity of the beliefs and faiths of the people of the Indus land. The British writers in 1830 gave the word Hinduism to be used as the common name for all the beliefs of the people of India. According to the Hindu Scholars, Hinduism is a misnomer and the religion ‘Hinduism’ should be either referred to as ‘Sanatana Dharma’, which means eternal religion, or as Vedic Dharma, meaning religion of the Vedas. According to Swami Vivekananda, the followers of this religion are referred to as Vendantists.
While there are hundreds of books in English on Greek and Roman mythologies, there are not many decent books in English on Hindu mythology and Hindu religious and philosophical concepts. Given this reality, the 11-volume Encyclopaedia has not come a day too soon. Hope the publishers bring out cheaper editions so that more people can afford to own copies of the Encyclopaedia.
"Two of the biggest, she says, is that Hinduism condones the caste system and that it is a polytheistic religion "
May be the authors found one unclear link between caste and the Hinduism and that was sufficient to declare caste system not part of Hinduism. Otherwise even a novice can see that caste system form the basis of Hinduism. It may be fine for religious preaching, but it is definitely not credible in historical or factual sense. By admiting castes and discrimination they could make it authentic After all no religion texts are free from biases. Bible and Koran find no problem with slavery and genocides.
I sincerely believe there are lot of good things in Hindu scripture but this kind of partial view will discredit the entire work.
A good start indeed, something would have been considered communal if it was an Indian university.
A little sad to think that it is still "someone else" telling you, who you are. Outsourcing your own idea, identity and definition to someone else, is not less than giving away the command and control over yourself.
Knowledge is power, and this power lies somewhere else.
I wonder how China or Japan would have reacted if something similar would have been happening to them.
On precautionary note: If history teaches us anything, then one has to be extremely careful of whatever is being done in a US university.
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