Why I am a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor

Reviewed by Yash Sinha, BBA D, Batch of 2024, Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai.

Why I am a Hindu is a book which consists of two sections as the author sees it, the first section very much talks about Hinduism and its brief history. The belief in the religion and the epics of the religion, also the various changes and customs which have been followed. It highlights various ideas of Hinduism, for example how a belief in God is not a compulsion as compared to other religions.

The writer touches on the ideas of many Indian gods and their multiple Puranic stories and also on how they are united by the supreme Brahman’s principle. He stresses that Hinduism has no doctrinal absolutism, which makes it such a happily liberal religion. He impresses upon his reader that Hinduism is – and can only be – experienced and interpreted subjectively, using this lovely metaphor: “Hindu thought is like a vast library in which no book ever goes out of print; even if the religious ideas a specific volume contains have not been read, enunciated or followed in centuries, the book remains available to be dipped into, to be revised and reprinted with new annotations or a new commentary whenever a reader feels the need for it…”. The author familiarizes us with the kind of Hinduism with which he was born and provides an outline of religion along with a sprinkling of anecdotes. The second chapter, entitled “The Hindu Way,” discusses traditional Hindu concepts such as paramatma, brahman, dharma, maya, mukti, varna, ashrama, and yugas. The chapter provides a comprehensive but concise view of Hinduism and could be a good starting point for anyone interested in learning more about this religion. The third chapter, entitled “Questioning Hindu Customs,” explores the stubborn territories of caste, superstition, and “godmen”. The author claims that this inherently unjust sorting social system, an irrational reliance on gurus, and excessive faith in signs and omens are not only embedded in the Hindu tradition, but are also the unfortunate corollary of a weak and directionless society.

The author profiles some of the greatest religious personalities in the fourth and last chapter of section one, called “Great Souls of Hinduism,” which either made questions or transformed religion. From the wise Vyasa, Yagnavalkya and Patanjali to Mahavir Jain and Gautama Buddha; from Adi Shankaracharya and Ramanuja to the saints of Bhakti; from Kabir, Nanak and Mirabai to Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Osho, the writer tells the stories in the context of many of India’s major religions.

The book’s second part is called “Political Hinduism.” This is where the meticulous context-building of Tharoor becomes particularly useful through the history of Hinduism. He begins to build his case with the notion of secularism, which when seen through Western political theory’s lens becomes a moot point. Tharoor compares this with Hindutva’s theory as initially suggested by VD Savarkar and perpetuated by his RSS predecessors and successors such as MS Golwalkar and Deendayal Upadhyay. The author explains the Hindutva policy brand of the BJP as being based on a victim-turned-avenger complex, a narrative of failure and loss, and resentment of the Muslim community.

In my opinion the book gives a deep knowledge of Hinduism as a religion and not as Dharma, I believe there is a greater need for today’s generation to understand the idea of Dharma. This concept is missing in this book in detail, the idea of Dharma has never been about rights like the method of religion. It has always been about duties and this civilizational land of Bharat has always been the land of seekers. It is not restricted to a single book, god or set of principles and this is the very reason that Bharat is very diverse in nature.

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