Wendy Doniger is an eminent Indologist and Sanskritist at the University of Chicago and has written extensively on ancient Indian religious and cultural history over the last four decades. She is well known in India, where some of her books are included in reading lists of several universities. But another kind of celebrity occurred in 2009, with the publication here of her book The Hindus: An Alternative History. Some of her comments in it sparked a shrill public controversy, with protests and rejoinders that eventually led its publisher to pulp the book. Any relevance of this background for the book now under review should be clearer in the near future.
As evident from the book’s title and preface, it is broadly in continuation of the author’s research, first formulated in her thesis at Oxford, on The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology. That subject is examined further here. It focuses on three texts from ancient India: Manusmriti, Arthashastra and Kama Sutra. These were regarded as authoritative expositions respectively on Dharma, Artha and Kama, the three aims of human life often expounded in other old texts also.