Were the Aryans cattle thieves?

Were they the world’s first cattle-rustlers and cowboys?  The historian Wendy Doniger thinks they were.

hindus_bookI am currently reading her “The Hindus : An Alternative History” by Wendy Doniger, Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago.  It’s a fascinating 690 page tome that purports to cover the history of India from 50 million BCE to the current.

There is much we don’t know, though.  Consider the Aryans, the people who came after the Indus Valley Civilization.  Wendy calls them the “Vedic people” to avoid the Nazi/ racial connotations that the word “Aryan” has acquired over the years.  Here are the various theories she says historians have about the Aryans/ Vedic people:

1.  They invaded India from Central Asia;

2. They peacefully migrated from Central Asia;

3.  They were always resident in Punjab, and actually migrated outwards to Iran, Anatolia, Greece, Italy and ancient Britain.

4. The Vedic people lived in the Indus Valley.

You can see they have managed to cover all possibilities – clearly Wendy and other historians really don’t know much about who the Aryans/ Vedic people were and where they came from.   That is understandable – we are, after all, talking about around 1700 BCE.  But what I find puzzling is that Doniger then confdently goes on to assert that the Aryans/ Vedic people (whoever they were) were in fact cattle thieves.

She says in Page 111 :

As nomadic tribes, the Vedic people sought fresh pastureland for their cattle and horses.  As pastoralists and, later, agriculturists, herders and farmers, they lived in rural communities. Like most of the Indo-Europeans, the Vedic people were cattle herders and cattle rustlers who went about stealing other people’s cows and pretending to be taking them back. One story goes that the Panis, tribal people who were the enemies of the Vedic people, had stolen cows from certain Vedic sages and hidden them in mountain caves. The gods sent the bitch Sarama to follow the trail of the cows; she found the hiding place, bandied words with the Panis, resisted their attempts first to threaten her and then to bribe her, and brought home the cows (10.108).

The Vedic people, in this habit (as well as their fondness for gambling), resembled the cowboys of the nineteenth century American West, riding over other people’s land and stealing their cattle.

Now, all I can see from the above story is that the Aryans/ Vedic people were cattle herders and that sometimes other people stole their cattle.    Clearly, you’d think, this story cannot be the basis for Wendy’s cattle-stealer theory, even though she mystifyingly includes it here.   But apparently it is.

When I searched online on what other historians think about the cattle-stealing myth, I found that the whole story is really a symbolic one, as a lot of things in the Vedas are.

This post has a detailed explanation of the various symbolisms involved – for instance, one explanation is that the PaNis are the demons of darkness, stealing the rays of light and hiding them away at night, and SaramA, the Dawn, recovering them in the morning, as a matter of daily routine.  In  his essay “The Legend of the Lost Cows in the Rg Veda”    Dr. Gopalan R.  Shastri explains that in the Vedas, the Sanskrit word go means both “cow” and “light” and the “finding and recovery of the lost cows means the finding of Surya, the finding or conquest of the Swar Loka, the abode of Surya”.

The American philosopher and historian John Fiske writes in the Atlantic Monthly (Vol 48) that “the struggle is not for a herd of perishable cattle, but for dominion of the universe”.  He says “these celestial cattle, with their resplendent coats of purple and gold, are the clouds lit up by the solar rays; and the demon who hides them in the cavernous rock is the  fiend of darkness..”

I am baffled as to why Wendy, who holds a doctorate in Sanskrit, first chooses to take the literal meaning when she must surely understand the symbolism involved, and second, why she does not even mention the alternate interpretation of the text that many historians believe.

Instead, she goes on to talk about the “scornful attitude of these Ancient Indian cowboys…  towards  the  “barbarians” (Dasyus or Dasis) whose lands they rode over (adding insult to injury by calling them cattle thieves).”  From there, she goes on to compare the Aryans’ treatment of the Dasyus to the American cowboys’ treatment of the Navajos, and more in the same vein.


An Aryan/ Vedic era Cowboy?

An Aryan/ Vedic era Cowboy?

I find it exceedingly hard to believe that the sages who wrote the Rig Veda could be cattle thieves.  But they certainly were cattle herders, and they had horses.  So I am now stuck with this mental picture of a priest in white robes galloping across the vast plains of Punjab on a horse, white robe flying in one direction in the wind, tufted hair flying in another.

The priest is from Sanjay’s Flickr stream. The photoshopping is mine.


64 thoughts on “Were the Aryans cattle thieves?

      • I think the goris and aryans prefer our depictions in their “books” be that of the characters in Lord of the Flies and the tribal pig dance (this is why they created aryan dravidian theory when in reality dravidian refers to South Indian language group and Tamil preceded Sanskrit and in actuality aryan race is their own construct to define the blue eyes yellow hair white skin albino recessive genes (genes mother nature passes down if inbreeding has occured:)

        If you actually go thru the Vedas, the actual aryans (arya in Vedic scriptures refers to those of honest, virtuous, and noble character while northern Europeans created an aryan race from this simple adjective found in our scriptures), animals were to be protected by humans especially cows and horses. Indeed the Vedas and Hindu scriptures are not something out of a JR Tolken novel of witches and fairies and dwarves, but instead Hindu scriptures were the inspiration for all that followed. It is told that much of Greek mythology is inspired from our Hindu Gods and Hindu Goddesses (this makes sense since first Greek literatures arose in 700BC while most of our literatures have existed much earlier).

        Our architecture (temples), and literatures formed so many of the concepts we see today whether the roles of women, vegetarianism, knowledge as a pursuit of life, agriculture, astronomy (in the Bhagavad Gita astronomical tables provided date of writing), maths (trigonometry and geometry are Sanskrit origin while in western schools you will only hear of Roman’s stick figures and no mention of how the Greek used alphabets for numbers but indeed, credit is not given that the first formal numerical system, place value system, decimal system, as well as exponential system we use came from the Hindus (See Sulba Sutras maths and Indian mathemetics in Google as well as this site, let me know if link (re book written by Arabs on the use of Indian numerals by by Arab Al-Kharizwami )doesn’t go through


        but in same way Satyajit Ray wrote most of the script for ET (same plot, characters) and credit was not given for fear so too our texts and history are bastardized for their “other” gori complexes.


        to see more articles regarding this subject, type who wrote the script for ET in Google.

      • @ Mrs Sanjay

        I dont see why are you angry at poor old Gandalf the Gray? It was Ian McKellen’s greatest role in Peter Jackson’s (a New Zealander) epic rendering of a Finn’s Novel (Finns/Nordics are again Aryans you see).
        Indias contribution to civil society is well known. But Indias arrogance and lethargy is also well known. Repeating a hundred times that India Invented positional arithmetic wont achieve anything. No one pays royalty for the zero or decimal system.

        When Al Beruni visited India during the 9th century AD he continuously complained that Indian intellectuals were arrogant and continuously stressed the wrong as right and were unwilling to read the great works of the Greeks and Romans before them. Read it yourself. I have read the original Persian script. That arrogance still exists in Indians (including you and me) and its hard to put it off. The first place to start ma’am is reading JRR Tolkein’s epic.

        FYI Indian mathematics only developed under the Guptas and yoga ayurveda etc only in 5th Century CE. Ganesha was “invented” in 10th century CE. If Indians had been more open and united – we could have quashed the Muslim invasions and also triggered industrial revolution – but we didnt – and we didnt conquer the world either. So stop complaining that Hindus are not given credit. WE (Hindus) need to first be at par with the rest of the world in rational thought, reasoning, justice, science, philosophy, religion and art. THat wont happen overnight if someone recognizes Hindu contribution.

      • Greek mythology was created in 700 BC 2 millenia after Vedas.

        Indian mathematics dates to 800 BC Sulba Sutras

        see Indian mathematics in Google for exact dates.

        The first University Takshila dates to 700 BC.

        Please take your 5th century crap elsewhere

      • @Sita

        So what if the Vedas dated 2000 years before Greeks. Rational thinking, democracy, individualism, concept of private property, volunteer armies, civilian life, written history and modern scientific thinking was all started by the Greeks, enhanced by Romans, lost in Dark ages but preserved by early Muslim scholars, mixed with Eastern Values in middle ages, rediscovered in the Renaissance. The problem is that there is no practical use of the Vedas in today’s world.
        We are facing a severe threat from the Muslims who want to destroy every infidel on the planet. When its time for Hindus, Jews Europeans and Americans to join hand and fight terror and darkness, I wonder what make you crib about someone writing some fiction about our past. I have read so many books that say that Jesus never existed and was actually the Egyptian God Horus (the sun with 12 constellations as disciples). Western media continuously makes fun of Jesus please see Family Guy and South Park.
        Europe tried to draw cartoons of Mohammed, etc. It only shows your prejudice to not accept someone’s analysis that too on a blog.
        Honestly no matter how India’s past is portrayed, that wont change a single bit in our knowledge attitude or thought process. Grow up and stop picking misogynistic fights.

      • So instead it is better that we allow foreigners their caricatures of our history? it is our lack of arrogance that allows and allowed the plundering of our history and our scriptures whether the Vedas, Puranas or the meaning of Khajurajo temple (stat or that Kama Sutra had nothing to do with Hinduism. It’s like referring to beastiality and incest videos in west as a part of Christianity!

        Please visit American Hindus Against Defamation. Ganesha is in the Vedas. Most of what you see in Bible is rip off of our texts as “Christ” spent his youth in India; Constantine is credited in Rome history with creating “the Euro supremacist ideologies and propaganda which ensued” and though
        women were auctioned off in early American history to bidders, and beheadings occurred throughout Europe in their criminal justice system(copying from Islamic thought) and heavy foreign slave taking occurred (copying from Judaism views) and white albino women did not by themselves have a history of being “Hindu Goddesses” so much of what is our Hindu India history was never based on an arrogance, but instead peace and compassion, easier to be taken advantage of from those outside whose history this does not belong to!

        Such that our history and words are used instead to accomplish the same task instead of warring Greeks (something that is promoted heavily in western schools to young kids, how Greeks were nomadic war mongers always invading neighboring areas). I appreciate Canterburys tales and other wonderful Euro authors, but I agree with the opinion, that the author’s work you are questioning should be scrutinized (not her biography necessarily- it is not relevant).

        Instead how this has always occured throughout India’s history and will continue to unless bloggers like yourself create awareness regarding it.

      • You still dont get the point do you! No one can plunder history – its there in the past. They can slander our scripture but that is inconsequential. Those scriptures are scriptures, they dont mean anything in todays world at least for tangible reasons.
        I agree that the Leftist Indian government history books have long twisted Indian history but changing that does not solve any problems that India faces. While the developed world moves toward post Modernism, India lags behind in feudal medieval quarrels. gory incidents like Tipoo Sultan murdering hundreds of British women and Children or Nana Sahib Peshwe II of Oudh ordered the butchering of British Soldiers wives and Children in 1857, the systematic trauma of Hindu Women by Sati is often forgotten in the mad rush for patriotism.

        I ask you for once – IF you care so much about Hindu scripture and History and its preservation, picking fights on Blog should be the last thing anyone should do.

        Dharmic philosophy and spirituality has immense impact on todays world. However hard anyone tried or tries, Hinduism wont go away – it will be rediscovered again and again. At the same time fighting for Hindu supremacy is as lunatic as Muslims claiming that Quran is ONLY word of so called God. Man is innately competitive and its natural that there will be clash of societies. I would suggest you take the chill pill and carefully read our history and separate it out from our values and spirituality. The moment you blur the lines between what happened to us as men in real history and what happened as per scripture/holy books, things get nasty …

      • There is no prejudice however, from the opinion that makes light of the author Wendy Doniger by stating, well just read her other work and don’t make a big deal of it!

        I apologize that it is my history and culture, so I found it necessary to poke fun at someone who would make “light of it” and ask “why bother having an opinion of the author” then go on about the biography of the author, and then on about how it is “utterly ridiculous that such ideas are accepted into mainstream”

        I am just fascinated by all the paradoxes and subpar opinons on opinons and blogs of those things that are important to actual Hindu Indians, sorry.

        and thank you Gorigirl for removing the “overall 40% of South Asian males are marrying out while 25% of South Asian females are marrying out”.

        Perhaps she has too much time to form opinions on subjects that don’t really matter to her and opinions on those that it does matter to!

        🙂 What the heck, lol!! I wish I had that much time!! 🙂

      • http://www.nipissingu.ca/department/history/muhlberger/histdem/indiadem.htm

        article on Democracy in Ancient India, which preceded Greek ideologies (promoted to fuel Euro centric superiority complex claiming that Democratic thought did not exist outside of Europe), from article:

        “Though evidence for non-monarchical government goes back to the Vedas, 12 republican polities were most common and vigorous in the Buddhist period, 600 B.C.-A.D. 200. At this time, India was in the throes of urbanization. The Pali Canon gives a picturesque description of the city of Vesali in the fifth century B.C. as possessing 7707 storied buildings, 7707 pinnacled buildings, 7707 parks and lotus ponds, and a multitude of people, including the famous courtesan Ambapali, whose beauty and artistic achievements contributed mightily to the city’s prosperity and reputation. The cities of Kapilavatthu and Kusavati were likewise full of traffic and noise.13 Moving between these cities were great trading caravans of 500 or 1000 carts”

      • Thank you for a great comment!

        Buddhism predated Christianity by 700 years &

        Hinduism predated it by 2800 years so of course history needs to be written to benefit the new race, books written by new historians.

        Here is a fascinating video Buddhism: Amazing Facts with re: oscillating universe theory found in Buddhism

        (of course you will not read about this aspect in foreign Physics books)

        Hinduism you have to remember as well, created such concepts as atma (soul) energy (of body ie pranas, chakras), anu meaning atom which is Sanskrit term, and relevance to “mind” as the great Hindu sages state, one cannot see their thoughts nor their mind correct?


        blog author, thank you for posting this. What you wrote about is what has happened through out much of India’s history and is still occurring whether found in high school textbooks, the work of Wendy Zoniger, or other fanciful caricature depictions of our history ie God Hanuman in the show Zena The Princess Warrior (she was in battle with Hanuman) or Burger King having advertisement of Goddess Laxsmi for their ads, or the classic Indiana Jones movie portraying Hindus as human sacrificing when in fact Vedic scriptures formed vegetarianism. Dr. Knapp has provided all of the sources of these verses relating to vegetarianism in the Rig Veda, so yes indeed, this is another contrived and far fetched opinion of Wendy Zoniger, but nonetheless typical, and always important to post these caricatures and create awareness! Thank you thank you thank you!

        There is a fantastic organization by the name of American Hindus Against Defamation who were successful in preventing the airing of zena defeating God Hanuman and the portrayal of Hindu religion.

        Here is their website: http://www.hindunet.org/anti_defamation/ and all of the work they have done.

  1. The question is, why are you reading Doniger in the first place? The psychoanalytical school of thought at the U of Chicago’s religious study program has always struck me as utterly ridiculous – or at least it would if these people hadn’t managed to get so many of their ideas accepted as mainstream.

      • Certainly you should read a book before forming an opinion on it. 🙂 However, given Doniger’s history in translating Hindu scripture, I’m just not sure why you’d want to read (and form an opinion on) her work. Rather better to say, “Well, I suspect this won’t be worth my time given my knowledge of Doniger” and move on to the next book on your reading list.

        But perhaps you have more reading time than I do (or read quicker!) and can fit in subpar works…

      • You have the advantage over me there – I have no idea about Doniger’s history in translating Hindu scripture. I’ve read about people abusing this book, but I had no idea exactly why.

      • lekhni, late follow-up: Doniger is part of the Chicago Univeristy’s Religious Studies program, which has a strong leaning towards psychoanalytical readings of texts. The problem there, of course, is that Freudian theories (which psychoanalysis is based on) have been widely criticized and largely thrown out of the field of psychology as not based on scientific evidence nor demonstrably useful to patients of therapists. Yet it is still latched onto in some humanities fields as a good way to interpret human behavior and thoughts.

        Thus you have academics like Doniger who interpret their field of study through the lens of psychoanalysis. An analogy from my field of study (economics) would be using Das Kapital and Marxism as a lens to view current economic issues. Do some people still do that, and defend it as right? Sure. Is it actually a legitimate way to interpret the world? No, not really.

        It’s true that I haven’t read Doniger’s latest work, so I’ll refrain from judging it. But I have seen how, in earlier works, she uses one questionable translation from Sanskrit after another to read sexual meaning into passages where it simply isn’t there in order to pull out the interpretation that she apparently wants. That’s reason enough for me to doubt her scholastic integrity as a whole – and until evidence to the contrary appears, I choose to read works by less controversial and more widely respected (by the academic community of religious studies experts) authors.

      • to gorigirl

        Certainly you need to change the false statistics on your page stating 40% of Indian males are marrying foreigners and 25% of Indian females are! The graph clearly explains 5% are. You reworded paragraphs sent from the author of the study. Certainly you found your nice Hindu husband to provide you forever while you blog about “how the British viewed India” – the British and Goris loved all the diamonds from India including Hope which is sitting in US and the other largest Kohinoor as well the rest of the rubies and golds. Certainly, you should pretend you worship Gori exploitation and the rewriting of India’s history. In western High School books, it is taught that the “goris” civilized the dravidians of India, when in fact it is the opposite! Such gori inferiority complexes! Latin, nor Italian, nor German existed even as languages until 1rst centuries. The oldest University, literatures, maths, and astronomy resided first in India from 2800 BC (Western invasion theory states Aryans invaded 1500 BC). Your “aryan” race is a new race created through a form of albinism (why white skin cannot handle sun – is 10x risk of skin cancer and for white women who have thinner skin 3x faster aging!) The Youtube video Origin of North Europeans explains it.

      • “gory incidents like Tipoo Sultan murdering hundreds of British women and Children or Nana Sahib Peshwe II of Oudh ordered the butchering of British Soldiers wives and Children in 1857”

        I would say Europe had many more feudal wars than India who in her 10,000 year history did not systematically anhiallate foreign cultures as Spain Portugal and England did to the Americas; please see Christopher Columbus genocide Daniel Paul article in Google.

        What happened re Tippoo Sultan followed the British invasion initiated in Bengal. During British stay in India 10 million Indian Hindus died of famine (an approved genocidal tactic). This did not occur previously in India’s history except during Uk’s 100 year stay in which all things valuable in India were plundered including wealth from our industries. Our GDP plummeted by 20 percentage points from their stay. Invasions are never pretty- Tippoo Sultan killing a few hundred versus all of our wealth and 10 million innocent Indian Hindus is like comparing a drop to a sea; or think of the millions of Natives in America who lost their lives which occured at the same time.

        Maya in Sanskrit means illusion. You can still visit and see the ancient astrnomical tables


        Article above is regarding plumbing knowledge found in South America; Indus Valley Civilization maintained the oldest and most sophisticated plumbing system.

      • Certainly gorigirl it is vital to actual Hindus and Indians abroad who are not fascinate by their own goriness to “read” the “utterly ridiculous psychoanalytical thoughts” of Aryans in west and to share their opinions with the rest of actual Hindu Indians?

        Wouldn’t you agree? and is it not important gorigirl, for you to form your trifling yet so utterly bland opinions on why are we reading these opinions from such fictional authors and to make nonsensical statements which contribute no actual or real value other than to state “why form an opinion”.

        is this psychoanalytical babble to you? are you in therapy and confusing the work of a would be historian to your own psychobabble?

        I suggest before posting more psychobabble you read through actual Vedic texts http://vedabase.net

        and historians who know what India’s history is without their meaningless and utterly bogus psychobabble opinions!


        To all readers, please if you go to gorigirl’s blogpage she is re wording false statistics on her page from an author of an asian Interracial study. Do not take her “utterly fancy words” at face value.

      • Just analyzing your utterly nonsensical psychoanalytical babble while you claim false statistics on your page, certainly, what the heck lol

      • No, you were not being too analytical- and try not to be persuaded by the certainly utterly bland opinions of a gori who on her blog had a post on “how British viewed the Indians” – analyze her instead her use of words such as “psychoanalytical” for a topic such as this – which is in fact very important to all Indians! An objective person would view that alone as an utterly nonsensical opinion spoken to merely defend her Gori kind! 🙂 lol

    • The question why ask someone why they are reading something that pertains to their specific history? Certainly it is not your history, so perhaps you have a difficult time grasping a simple concept like that? I think your opinion is utterly ridiculous! Please do find some other topics to post some utterly bland opinions! Perhaps your own Irish history would be of more fascination to you? How are the pubs in Ireland by the way? Do they turn into savages upon their 10th lager? lol

  2. Likely the first cattle thieves were whoever first came up with the idea of domesticating cattle. Preindustrial people have been stealing cattle from each other from the dawn of time right up to the last days of nomadic cattle herding. Various groups could have easily practiced these acts without them forming the primary economic activity for the group. Also, I’m sure no one was seriously suggesting that Vedic sages personally stole cattle.

    I see no fault with calling Vedic peoples “cattle herders and cattle rustlers” except perhaps that the two terms are tautologous. I do find the force-fitted cowboy-Indian analogy a little galling though.

    • Yes, I too found the American cowboy-Vedic people analogy too much to swallow. I agree that much of the interpretation of any text really stems from one’s own life experiences. So I have no problem if Wendy describes the Upanishads’ philosophy by paraphrasing Janis Joplin (page 180) or thinks that the psychology of the Vedic settlers in the forests, as described in the Aranyakas, can be best understood by reading Philip Roth’s novel “I married a Communist” (Page 171).

      But I have an issue with making statements without the backing of a study, a paper or a body of research. If Wendy has any research to support her claims on the so-called Aryan cowboys, I wish she would include them either as footnotes or chapter notes. Unfortunately, I found neither.

  3. Lekhni: I admit the book is on my reading list so I am not going to offer a prejudicial opinion. Doniger’s scholarship re Hinduism is widely known and amongst self-appointed keepers of Hinduism, much maligned. Her focus on sexual interpretations for instance does nothing to win her any friends either. Heterogeneity is one of the key traits of the Hindu philosophy so any objections can be countered and counter-objections can be raised. None would be entirely correct or false. My friend Salil wrote a piece on the book and Doniger that you may like: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main42.asp?filename=hub050909other_peoples.asp

    Salil has also written a book recently called ‘Offence, the Hindu case’ which is one in a series. I’d recommend it highly. You know my view on academic freedom of exploration and speech already.

  4. Lekhni: Another thing to ponder is that both Doniger’s and Willie Dalrymple’s books came out together. He has described pretty strange people who practise their own interpretations of Hinduism. Somehow he isn’t getting any brickbats while that is all Doniger is getting. I wonder why.

    • Shefaly, but isn’t ‘“heterogeneity” being a key trait of Hindu philosophy‘ and “pretty strange people who practise their own interpretations of Hinduism” contradictory? 🙂
      I though acceptance of “strange people” (unlike Shias and Sunnis blowing each other, or Catholics and Protestants fighting) – either by elevating them to the divine or giving them dignity (third sex) – is/was somewhat unique to Hinduism.

      I’d imagine that many Hindus would likely think Aghoris and their practices strange, but if no one is harmed, live and let live.

      The one response to Wendy’s new book that I’ve read, is by Aditi Banerjee, and she writes quite cogently and logically. I’m glad that Hinduism allows “self-appointed keepers” like her to emerge (??? ?? ??? ???) who don’t need the backing of an academic position/Chair to make their point – perhaps that explains its resilience? It seems quite lazy and disingenuous to me that scholars like Wendy use labels like “Hindutva” and “right-wing fascist” to avoid answering valid criticisms regarding their works or engaging in a debate, and then talk about Hinduism’s openness to debate.

      BTW, could you please ask your friend Salil to write a piece on what exactly does he mean by the term “Hindutva”, since he uses it in his column? 🙂
      I still have to come across a valid and widely-accepted definition of the word, and it seems like an easy label to throw around by all and sundry without an attempt made to understand/explain what it means.

  5. Lekhni & Shefaly:
    I think we bring too much of our middle/upper-middle class-comfortable lives into our interpretation of what Doniger and Dalrymple write about. Doniger doesn’t hesitate to crush toes to convey her point, Dalrymple is more circumspect and conciliatory in tone. See the following sample below for a chapter from Nine Lives:

    “These poems of union and separation may be read partly as metaphors for the longing of the soul for the divine, and of the devotee for God. Yet they are also clearly an expression of unembarrassed joy in sexuality, part of a complex cultural tradition in pre-colonial India where the devotional or metaphysical and the sexual are not regarded as being opposed; on the contrary, they are seen to be closely linked. The temple girls were auspicious, and the devadasis retain this auspiciousness in Karnataka today.”

    Doniger has a tendency to paint everything she interprets with a broad brush, offending vastly larger groups of people, especially when she often highlights sexual metaphors vs. the divine interpretation. Purists are shocked by this, just as we term the lives of those like “Rani Bai” and “Kaveri” to be those of ‘pretty strange people’, not ‘normal’ like us.

    • Sujatha, you make a very valid point here which I agree with, and which I’ve come to realize over the past few years:
      “I think we bring too much of our middle/upper-middle class-comfortable lives into our interpretation of what Doniger and Dalrymple write about.”

      Perspective of a non-practicing intellectual vs. that of a practitioner, and the differences between the two. I’ll take Vyada Gita’s story (ascetic, housewife, butcher) any day over books written by intellectuals like Wendy, if I want to learn more about Hinduism or about life. And Kabir’s doha of reading too many pothis remains relevant to this day. 🙂

    • That’s very true, of course. But I haven’t found anything to object to any of Doniger’s depictions of women or sexuality, and Dalrymple’s above interpretation seems quite possible to me.

  6. A not-so-complimentary view of wendy’s interview here-


    Shri Shrikant Talageri does a non-spiritual analysis of rig veda and explains much regarding AIT/OIT that can be read online here- http://www.bharatvani.org/books/rig/
    His latest book “Rig Veda and Avesta- the final evidence” published by Aditya Prakashan(now Impex Biblio) is compelling and conclusive.

    Shri Rajiv Malhotra discusses much on wendy and her like in various articles here-


    • Actually, Incognito/Estheppan, I’d like to completely disagree with your post. Here is what you say :

      “Such being the case, when one Wendy Doniger, a self-claimed jew, without having achieved spiritual realisation or brahma-jnana nor intenting to seek it, attempts to give a widely varying “interpretation”, in fact one that goes entirely against Valmiki’s Ramayana, and peddles it through crass sensationalism as seen in this so-called “interview” by Outlook magazine, it becomes apparent that the motivations are much less than honourable.”

      Why the shocking anti-Semitism? And why do you believe that one needs to have brahma-jnana to read or interpret the Ramayana? I’m sorry, we may disagree on Doniger, but I cannot find any common ground with you.

      • >>>“Why the shocking anti-Semitism?

        why make the charge of anti-semitism ?

        the point was, she claimed to be a jew, that is, holding different view and belief system than the indianview.
        That needs to be highlighted because her etic approach prevents her from understanding indian culture and ramayana as demonstrated by her.

        if somebody claims to be a jew (which she categorically did in her interview) and if that fact is mentioned, do you have to see it as ‘anti-semitism’, and that too of the ‘shocking’ variety ?

        If you are prone to getting ‘shocked’ by such misreadings and misunderstandings, you may need to keep some anti-shock tablets nearby when you go browsing the internet.

        >>>”And why do you believe that one needs to have brahma-jnana to read or interpret the Ramayana?”

        If you had cared to read the text with more application of mind, you would notice that what was written was- “without having achieved spiritual realisation or brahma-jnana nor intenting to seek it, attempts to give a widely varying “interpretation”,

        brahma-jnana per se is not required to read or understand ramayana, though such ‘understanding’ will of course be limited to that extent. For example, a qualified mathematician would understand a text on fourier series equations or tensor analysis in a different way than a layman.
        Indian texts were produced by realised sages.
        To understand them correctly, realisation or brahma-jnana is similarly invaluable.
        Or guidence by a realised sage.
        To interpret them in a widely differing manner, as doniger has attempted, well, that definitely makes brahma-jnana essential.

        It is no wonder that despite reading and ‘translating vedas‘, people like Doniger, Max Mueller and Michael Witzel have not attained self-realisation. Reason being that their motivations were different from that of the sages who produced those texts.

        Example, a surgeon uses a knife with skill and knowledge to make a person healthy.
        The same tool in the hands of one with different motivation and knowledge level can be deadly.


      • assuming that only people of a certain attainment and self-realisation can access the “true meaning” of the scriptures is exactly the kind of argumentation brahmins used to claim superiority over other classes. we’ve all seen where that led us

        the fact remains that wendy doniger has spent a lot more time and effort studying sanskrit and the scriptures than much of the rest of us. that in itself qualifies her to provide her interpretation of the texts. whether you agree or disagree with her interpretation and supporting evidence is another matter. dispute the interpretation, not the person. claiming that being foreign-born or jewish makes a person unable to understand the essence of the scriptures is frankly xenophobic and uncalled for

      • >>>“…wendy doniger has spent a lot more time and effort studying sanskrit and the scriptures than much of the rest of us. that in itself qualifies her ..

        she seems qualified to give you spiritual guidance.
        go ahead.

      • @Incognito –

        Putting scriptures off laymen means justification of an intelligent elite. Well then if you think you are as self realized as the sages, then you should write a treatise explaining it to laymen. If you are not then you cannot pass judgment whether or not they are. If everyone does not have Brahma Jnana, then all interpretations of the scriptures become equivalent – be it satirical, spiritual, literal, comical, speculative, disruptive, dramatic, etc.

        I dont know why Hindu men consider women so demeaning. Had Ms Wendy been a man, I bet your views would be different. Please dont be so Islamic in your views saying My god is better than every one else.
        True Brahma Jnana lies in knowing that there is no such thing as Brahma Jnana … Grow up !

      • >>>“Putting scriptures off laymen means justification of an intelligent elite.

        scriptures … that word does not sit right with bharatiya samskriti.

        ramayana is not a scripture.

        The rest of the comment is your construct.

        Btw, bharatiya samskriti does not consider a person as ‘layman’ or ‘intelligent’ permanently.
        Sudhakara who wrote ramayana was a jungle robber at one stage in his life.
        If he had written ramayana during that phase of his life, perhaps it may have sounded similar to wendy’s.

        >>>“if you think you are as self realized as the sages, then you should write a treatise explaining it to laymen”

        the ‘sages’ were born as any ‘layman’. They acquired wisdom during their lives by seeking the truth about life; and wrote the ‘treatises’ explaining everything that needs to be explained.
        All that is needed of the ‘layman’ today is to inculcate an interest to know more about life. The voluminous works of the sages will guide him in realising himself.

        >>>“If you are not then you cannot pass judgment whether or not they are.”

        Keep that judgement of yours to yourself. Thanks.

        >>>“If everyone does not have Brahma Jnana, then all interpretations of the scriptures become equivalent

        Thats true. Thats why it is necessary to have brahma-jnana if the intention is to interpret such texts in ways quite different from what the original author intended.

        Otherwise it would be like students of english language, sociology and journalism re-interpreting Einstein’s equation E=mc2 in their own ways.

        >>>“I dont know why Hindu men consider women so demeaning”

        Well, if you have observed such a thing, then you must ask those people who call themseves ‘Hindu men’. Though, don’t know what that has got to do with the subject discussion.

        >>>“Had Ms Wendy been a man, I bet your views would be different.

        What are you going to bet ?

        Naturally your ‘attention’ escaped this comment- http://elekhni.com/2009/11/the-cycle-of-women-in-the-workforce/#comment-31142

        >>>“Please dont be so Islamic in your views saying My god is better than every one else.

        Fail to see reference to ‘My god’ or any such thing in the previous comments under discussion.
        Do you have a past history of suffering hallucinations, per chance ?

        >>>“True Brahma Jnana lies in knowing that there is no such thing as Brahma Jnana

        Thanks for clarifying that. Was worried on that count.

      • @ Incognito –

        First of all I dont want this to turn out into a slugfest. I am as devout a Hindu and as devout a Hindutva supporter as you probably are. I am also a proud follower of South-West India’s leading Dvaita philosophical schools.

        Your ignorance is highlighted by many things – that you are incognito means you are scared of revealing your identity which means you are scared of what you stand for and that you have disabled replies to your comments which shows more insecurity.You also are giving a line by line rebuttal as if you are writing a GRE critique what are you? a 19 year old?
        Also you dont seem to have the distinction between religion and history. You are one of my fellow Shaka-ite who does not know which dynasties ruled the subcontinent and thinks that Patanjali, Sushruta and Charaka, etc were thousands years before CE. WTF?

        Now to your rebuttal – Yelling Bharatiya samskrity doesnt harp anything. This samskriti could not protect us from the murdering muslim invaders. Neither did it protect from looting imperialist or at present protecting us from looting politicians and unethical industrialist. There is nothing magical in any religion. Everyone involved is human. So their physical or mental prowess does not exceed you, me, Wendy or Lekhni. even the sages were not superhuman – and there are no such things as superpowers.

        Well the sages could not explain Fourier transform, nor electricity, nor weather, nor geography, nor physics nor the theory of relativity. Up until 1000AD when Al Beruni visited the Subcontinent (before the Islamic invasion) many Hindu scholars argued that the Earth is flat and it sits on 4 elephants on a turtle. The “sages” were no engineers either and they did not convert India into an ancient Military Superpower either nor did they build anything close to the grandeur of the Pyramids of Egypt, the Greek Parthenon, the Roman aqueducts or baths, the Forbidden city, etc. The sages could not understand the beauty of Individualism as Socrates did, could not write anything about democracy as the ancient Greeks could.

        Without meeting any such “realized sage” I refuse to accept they were any more intelligent or knowledgeable than I am.

        I apologize for writing “Hindu Men”. I meant All Men in general have a very poor judgment of works by many Women scholars. I think this is sad as women have been historically oppressed, and till date they are often at the receiving end of criticism, which would have been passed had they posed as of a male writing/researching/preaching.

        I dont want to foster any enmity, but opposing something just for the sake of opposing or because you are unable to comprehend it as the truth shows high levels of pre-conceived notions or brainwashing. It is akin to many Muslims, who are unable to interpret the world outside the Quran.

        You should have been smart enough to understand that people purposefully rake controversial topics like Jesus/Moses never existed, or Muhammad was a pedophhile murdered, etc because Historical fact and religion do not go together.

        The great misfortune for many humans lies in the fact that they don’t tend to separate out History from Religion. This is true for ignorant Christians who think that a person called Jesus Christ really Existed or Jews who think that Moses existed or Muslims who think that Muhammed met God. The very fact that Hindu teachings and philosophy are so open ended is a reason to make them eternal. All our Vedas, Puranas, epics and other works are not bound to time or history as in humanity’s past.

        The folly lies in mixing the religious works with the real world history of the subcontinent and the world.

      • >>>“I am as devout a Hindu and as devout a Hindutva supporter as you probably are.

        That, symbolic of the rest of your comments, reveals deficiency towards comprehension and propensity towards assumption.

        >>>“that you have disabled replies to your comments which shows more insecurity

        Others have commented there. How did they ?

        >>>“You also are giving a line by line rebuttal

        Isn’t that, without losing sight of the main gist of the message, a better way of replying than hallucinating like you are demonstrating ?

        >>>“that you are incognito means you are scared of revealing your identity which means you are scared of what you stand for “

        Example of the susceptability to hallucination mentioned above.

        Btw, what is your identity ?

        What are you ?

        Where do you come from ?
        where do you go ?

        Did you really come from your mother’s womb ?
        What happens to you when you die ?
        What happens to your this identity that you identifies with ?

        You do not know yourself. Yet you assume otherwise.
        Some may call that hallucinating. You may call that truth.

        The point is, does your identity have anything substantial to it that can be considered reasonably permanent, which will justify identification with it ?

        Never mind, you are free to consider yourself any which way you choose.
        If some others do not share your ideas of identification, extend the freedom of choice that you enjoys to them also.

        >>>“This samskriti could not protect us from the murdering muslim invaders.”

        How do you know that this samskriti did not protect ?

        Why do you think India is still not 100 percent islamic like Iran or Afghanistan ?
        Let alone 100 percent, not even 50 percent ?
        This despite a millennia of their attack and subjugation ?

        dharmo rakshati rakshitaH

        Those who abandon dharma, need to enjoy the consequences. As indians have been doing over a millennium now.

        >>>“Everyone involved is human. So their physical or mental prowess does not exceed you, me, Wendy or Lekhni. even the sages were not superhuman – and there are no such things as superpowers.”

        A terrestrial ant, if you ask him, may reply that things dont grow more than 20mm above earth. He may conclude that everything that seems taller than him reach upto 20mm, not beyond that. That is because of his physical limitation in making large measurements vertically.

        Some people, likewise, are limited in their comprehension due to their own limitations.

        They, though unware, yet have the inherent potential to realise greater stuff.

        >>>“the sages could not explain Fourier transform …

        The website of Shri Rajiv Malhotra mentioned in the original comment is a good place to start learning.

        >>>“Up until 1000AD when Al Beruni visited the Subcontinent(before the Islamic invasion) many Hindu scholars argued that the Earth is flat …

        Please don’t reveal your ignorance in this abject fashion. Apart from being unbecoming, it is actually disappointing, and much worse.

        Heard of Aryabhatta ?

        >>>“Without meeting any such “realized sage” I refuse to accept they were any more intelligent or knowledgeable than I am.

        Sure there are many ‘realized sages’, desperately seeking audience with your highness, wanting to clarify thigh highness’s doubts on that subject.

        >>>“I meant All Men in general have a very poor judgment of works by many Women scholars.

        Thigh highness surely knows many such authoritative things.

        bharatiya parampara, in contrast, takes guidance from Saraswati in all scholarly matters.
        It says “mathru devo bhava.
        In fact it recognizes and respects divinity in every being, in the entire creation itself, including the elements.

        Thigh highness, occuppied as evident, with western concerns, understandably overlooks this point. but natural.

        >>>“All our Vedas, Puranas, epics and other works are not bound to time or history as in humanity’s past.

        bharatiya darshanas are really to be experienced.
        It is this experiential nature that makes them perennial source of wisdom.
        Thigh highness, occupied as evident, with western concerns, seems to have deprived thighself of such experience.

        Never mind, everything will occur in its own time. karma runs its course.


      • Navigation is Sanskrit origin word so I think they knew something of geography. -the art of ship building originated in India; cotton & dress originated in India; what is your background that you prefer the same biased and in accurate view of India’s history? Anu in Sanskrit means atom so I think they knew something of “electricity”; the first plastic surgeries occurred in India; medicine as a field of study first occcured in India; (India knowledge regarding healing properties of turmeric and other spices existed hundreds of years before British two years ago attempted to patent turmeric for drug use – this was stopped by knowledgable Indians!)

        Please type Famous Hindu scientists in Google to learn of our work in the sciences. You say Shriniwas there are not humans with superpowers? Yet you are unaware of the fact that Hindu sages such as Baba Ramdev can control their body temperature in sub zero weather? The science of meditation, yoga if you research it, alone is practically a super human art & is capable of producing super human effects in terms of biological & physiological impact. And funny isn’t it that God Hanuman inspired “Superman” his flying over city of Lanka!

        They did not know the earth was not flat, yet astronomy & astronomical recordings accurate to today’s standards are proven from India? If you visit Mayan ruins, their astronomical tables still exist & Sanskrit tablets dating to 3000 BC have been found in Brazil. The cell phone you are using today was co created by Jagdish Bose, his work was pivotal in its final creation. As well our ground breaking work in nano technology. The first four integral laws of an atom was spelled out by a Hindu by name of Nila Kantan — all of these things you will never learn of in your Rome and Greece propaganda books in west (whose literatures were formed after 1rst cent or just few years before) and whose own history included complete refusal to use numbers in place of sticks by order of the clergy until much recent centuries! See the articles below 🙂

        Vedic age maths & great site re our Hindu Vedic history as documented by actual Vedic Hindus!


      • Biased opinions and portayals disguised as factual by a Professor of Hinduism, of all things. When Christianity or Judaism is examined, is it done so as a caricature? A caricature exhibited as factual accounts?

        The Laffer curve can help better explain it perhaps since it certainly explains how co efficients in a given model produce negative outcomes in the long run production curve and the causal effect is also indeed a form of flagellation! For the sake of historical essence and purity, this work is analogous to utilizing aggregate diminishing knowledge of Vedic history (background in Economics as well:) and distorting it as the author deems worthwhile

        Taken from an Amazon review of Wendy Doniger’s work “This book wonderfully illustrates the fact that merely possessing two Ph.D. degrees, from prestigious universities though they may be, doesn’t necessarily free one’s mind from deep rooted biases and prejudices”

        nor those biased opinions and critiques of others whose history is also rooted in Celtic crosses per se. Interesting side note: the eating of horses, cows, elephants and most animals is strictly prohibited in the Vedas (type sanskrit meaning anu vedabase in Google and find verse 3/6/28). I believe our history and texts are distorted to defend horse and cow eating in France and Ireland since the Bible states “thou hath dominion over all creatures”. There is some need to bastardize our religion and history, in my opinion…and it should not be taken lightly that a Professor is doing this.

        Sanskrit texts to those readers who ‘have time to read and form biased opinions (though referred to as fact?) on our history, religion, and our texts’.

        Ashvamedh Yagnya is in reality: a horse would sit through a ceremony where mantras were chanted and then he would be let go- whosever kingdom he then walked into, that king would either have to give up his kingdom to the king the horse belonged to or fight for his kingdom. There did not ever exist animal sacrifice in majority Vegetarian India then or now. Vedic texts nor India’s Vedic history. British published a dictionary referred to as Vachaspatyam – a book literally, of wrong translations. Max Mueller who referred to the Vedas as “intended from the beginning for an uncivilized race of mere heathens and savages contains a great deal of what is childish and foolish” was behind the paying and distorting of Sanskrit Vedic texts.

  7. Mail ur post to Wendy. She needs to rectify her mistake. Otherwise we all have to raise our voice in unison against wrong depiction of Aryans.. er Vedics

    • Do you believe she will change her mind? I did not think her views arose out of a mistake/ misunderstanding, I thought they arose from strongly held beliefs 😦

  8. After reading this post, I suddenly remembered the music video for British Band Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus trying to act like Cowboys in the West.

    With DNA evidences more and more showing that the Genetic markers of the Indian Subcontinental natives (like me) migrated from Africa-mideast since early on (20-30k years ago after the last Ice age ended) upto the Vedic period, I seriously doubt any single theory about origins. What worries me is the ignorance about our heritage and origins of people in India and how the mainstream textbooks are rigged by left and right wingers alike, and in spite of having the Internet, the denial of many Indians about their own past and the justification of the same by the mainstream media and the intellegentia …

  9. Pingback: Indian History Carnival – 23 | DesiPundit

  10. Sorry for intrusion. I think taking literal meaning per se should not be viewed as an offence at all. We cannot expect non-Hindus to believe that there was anything other than the literal meaning.

    What to me strikes as very weird about the particular example you quoted is : just by looking at a bunch of specific stories can one make such general remarks about the entire civilization? It is like watching kill bill and concluding that today’s human beings are all assassins coming up with newer and newer methods of killing each other. My main problem with Doniger is that she does not do *any* new analysis – just comes up with wild, fantastic conspiracy theories like this.

    • Well, Doniger is not any ordinary reader – she has been teaching Hindu Mythology at the University of Chicago for 30 years. So she should understand meanings other than the literal one.

      Given all this background, you are right – it is very strange that she comes up with that fantastic theory with zero analysis or explanation.

  11. Shefaly,
    >>Doniger’s scholarship re Hinduism is widely known and amongst self-appointed keepers of Hinduism, much maligned. Her focus on sexual interpretations for instance does nothing to win her any friends either. Heterogeneity is one of the key traits of the Hindu philosophy so any objections can be countered and counter-objections can be raised. None would be entirely correct or false.
    Please! Like other folks have shown, Wendy’s “Hindu scholarship” is a fraud. There’s entire encyclopaedic content in Hinduism that talks about how and why the Vedas should be interpreted. If Wendy hasn’t read those, then she has no business to claim that she’s a scholar of Hinduism. If she has and still “interprets” them like she has done, then she’s dishonest. And for your information, there are NO self-appointed guardians of Hinduism or anything. Her critics are equally erudite, and don’t go around appropriating hallow titles like guardians of Hinduism.

    The point is not so much about her sexual interpretation but more about HOW she arrives at those interpretations. It’s neither scholarly nor is it true. The thing about “None would be entirely correct or false” is–I’m sorry to say this–bunkum. Like in Mathematics, there is a definite, logical method of proving something in Hindu philosophy. Wendy throws all of this to the winds. For example, she looks for material on temple architecture in the Kama Sutra while I’m sure she knows (given her credentials) there’s an entire corpus of temple-building (called Aagama Shastra) literature in Hinduism.

    You further say “Heterogeneity is one of the key traits of the Hindu philosophy” without defining what exactly you mean by heterogenity.

    I sincerely recommend that you please read up on the critiques of Wendy Doniger’s works.

  12. Pingback: A book critics award for Wendy Doniger? | The Imagined Universe

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  14. Pingback: Why Wendy Doniger’s book should not be withdrawn | The Imagined Universe

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