Book Reviews- Hindu Myths- Mere Christianity

A statue of Hindu deity Shiva in a temple in B...
Image via Wikipedia

Over the month long break I took, I was helping firm up my ideas for R for Analytics , I also took a break and read some books. Here are brief reviews of two, three of them-

1) Hindu Myths

This is a classical book translated from original Sanskrit written by Professor Wendy O Flaherty of University of Chicago. I found some of the older myths very interesting in terms of contradictions, retelling the same story in a modified way by another classic, the beautiful poetic and fantastic imagery evoked by Hindu myths. Some stories are as relevant in prayers, fasts and religious ceremonies as they were around 11000 years while most have morphed , edited or even distorted.

It should help the non Indian reader understand why hundreds of millions of conservative Indians worship Shiv Ling ( or literally an idol of the Phallus of Shiva), the Hindu two cents of creation of the universe, and the somewhat fantastic stories on super heroes /gods/ in the ancient world.

The book suffers from a few drawbacks in my opinion-

1) Sanskrit is a bit like Latin- you can lose not just the flavor but original meaning of words and situational context. Some of the stories made better sense when i read a more recent Hindi translation.

2) An excessive emphasis on sexual imagery rather than emotional imagery. The author seems wonder struck to read and translate ancient indians were so matter of fact about physical relationships. However the words were always written in discrete poetic than crass soft pornography.

3) Almost no drawings or figures. This makes the book a bit dense to read at 300 pages.

I liked another book on Hindu Myths (Myth= Mithya which I read in 2009) and you can see if you can read it if you find the topic interesting.

A Handbook of Hindu Mythology

Hindus have one God.
They also have 330 million gods: male gods, female gods, personal gods, family gods, household gods, village gods, gods of space and time, gods for specific castes and particular professions, gods who reside in trees, in animals, in minerals, in geometrical patterns and in man-made objects.
Then there are a whole host of demons.
But no Devil.

Mere Christianity by C S Lewis is a classic book on reinterpreting Christianity in modern times. However the author wrote this when World War 2 was on and it seems more like a British or Anglo Saxon interpretation of beliefs of Christ Jesus– who was actually a Jewish teacher born in Middle East Asia.

While the language and reading makes it much easier to read- it is recommended more at Western audiences, than Eastern ones, as it seems some of the parables are a more palatable re interpretation of the New Testament. The Bible is a deceptively easy book to read, the language is short and beautiful-and the original parables in the Gospels remain powerful easy to understand.

C S Lewis tends to emphasize morality than religiosity or faith, and there is not much comparison with any other faith or alternative morality. Dumbing down the Bible so as to market it better to reluctant consumers seems to be Mr Lewis intention and it is not as scholarly a work as an exercise in pure prose.

However it is quite good as a self improvement book and is quite better than the “You Can Win” kind of books or even business concept books.

Note- I find reading books on religion as good exercises in reading the fountain source of philosophies. As a polytheist- I tend to read more than one faith.

Economic: Indian Caste System -Simplification

I am often asked by Western and non Indian people regarding the caste system. It trips me a lot trying to explain the complexity, necessity and current scenario given the history.

Here is an effort- The Indian /Hindu caste system was primarily an economic system to divide labor. In the original Manusmriti ,named by the King Manu- it was flexible.

A son of blue collar worker could become a warrior if he was brave etc.

A couple of centuries later – the top castes primarily the priests decided to make it rigid. No more social intermingling or marriage between castes, and no more migration of occupation regardless of merit.

This led to a lot of lower caste people leaving Hinduism to join religions like Islam ( post 1000 AD, Muslim Invasions and Mughal Rule) and Christianity ( post the arrival of English).

Post 1947 , many of “lower castes” preferred to remain within Hinduism but adopted Buddhism as their primary worship mechanism.Also India‘s leaders in the 1940’s , many of whom were educated in UK as lawyers ( including Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Jawahar Lal Nehru) decided this system had weakened the nation state and divided the energies of India, besides being obviously inhumane and degrading.

The Constitution of India was shepharded in 1950  by an assembly led by Dr. B R Ambedkar , one of the very first educated lower castes ( also called Harijan , after Mahatma Gandhi’s name for them, literally Hari -Jan people of the Lord).That Cosntitution endures as India remains the finest example of a Democracy in the non Western world.

The Indian constitution established 7.5 % jobs reservation in Government jobs and educational institutes at a college and masters level only for lowest and most educationally backward castes ( hence called scheduled castes), 15 % jobs reservation in Government jobs only for tribal people ( hence called scheduled tribes). The provision is renewed every 10 years. Think of it as a constitutionallu bound affirmative action.

In 1990, another 27.5 % of jobs and educational seats were reserved for castes that were socially okay but educationally backward. This caused some riots, delays, political actions, but was finally implemented by 2007.

Opponents of the new affirmative action say that this is like doing two wrongs to make a right. Supporters say data proves that reservation has led to social advancement ( especially in the State of Tamil Nadu).Rollback of the new system is a political impossibilty thanks to unity among hitherto repressed classes.

As an upper caste Hindu ( embarassingly enough my caste is both a warrior and a kingly royal caste , which gives me zero benefit in 2010 AD)……..

In God we Trust..All others must bring Data.

Unfortunately, when it comes to politics the same data is either hidden, partially hidden, or interpreted in different ways especially with regards to projecting sampling error or decisions.

Phew…!! That was an analytical layman definition of the Indian Caste System over 2000 years.

Note- The Indian soldier caste is Kshatriyas not Kshatritas..