Friday, January 27, 2006

Hinduism is 111.5 Trillion Years Old

AND OTHER TALL TALES FROM THE SCHOOL-TEXTBOOK DEBATE IN CALIFORNIA.


Just a light entry today, with a minimum of commentary.

On January 25 the Eccentric Star site posted a lengthy Christian Science Monitor story on Hindu nationalists’ attempts to influence school textbooks—in California. It's enough to try rewriting history on the Indian subcontinent, where the nationalists are permanent political movers and shakers—but in Sacramento?

It's worth reading the CSM story for comic value alone, since the Hindus' attempts to influence California school textbook language make the loopier ideas of U.S. creationists look Nobel Prize-worthy.

Instigating the California debate were two US-based Hindu groups with long ties to Hindu nationalist parties in India. One, the Vedic Foundation, is a small Hindu sect that aims at simplifying Hinduism to the worship of one god, Vishnu. The other, the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), was founded in 2004 by a branch of the right-wing Indian group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

This year, as California's Board of Education commissioned and put up for review textbooks to be used in its 6th-grade classrooms, these two groups came forward with demands for substantial changes.

Some of the changes were no-brainers. One section said, incorrectly, that the Hindi language is written in Arabic script. One photo caption misidentified a Muslim as a Brahman priest.

But instead of focusing on such errors, the groups took steps to add their own nationalist imprint to Indian history.

In one edit, the HEF asked the textbook publisher to change a sentence describing discrimination against women in ancient society to the following: "Men had different duties (dharma) as well as rights than women."

In another edit, the HEF objected to a sentence that said that Aryan rulers had "created a caste system" in India that kept groups separated according to their jobs. The HEF asked this to be changed to the following: "During Vedic times, people were divided into different social groups (varnas) based on their capacity to undertake a particular profession."

The hottest debate centered on when Indian civilization began, and by whom. For the past 150 years, most historical, linguistic, and archaeological research has dated India's earliest settlements to around 2600 BC. And most established historical research contends that the cornerstone of Indian civilization - the practice of Hindu religion - was codified by people who came from outside India, specifically Aryan language speakers from the steppes of Central Asia.

Many Hindu nationalists are upset by the notion that Hinduism could be yet another religion, like Islam and Christianity, with foreign roots. The HEF and Vedic Foundation both lobbied hard to change the wording of California's textbooks so that Hinduism would be described as purely home grown....

Eliminate mentions of discrimination against women as discrimination against women; put a noble spin on the despised caste system; portray Hinduism as somehow mystically wedded to the land despite evidence to the contrary. I should also mention that the Vedic Foundation until recently had a note on its site claiming Hinduism was 111.5 trillion years old; current theories hold that the Solar System itself is only 4.6 billion years old.

Why the Hindu nationalist groups feel they should export their worldview to the Left Coast is unclear. I could make all sorts of arguments about how these groups stand to reap soft-power benefits downstream from Californian schoolchildren trained to see the Hindu nationalist worldview as right and just. But maybe it's just embarrassing that some nations and states take their science and history more seriously.

15 comments:

Nadim said...
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Nadim said...
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Paul D. Kretkowski said...

Nadim was spamming, folks.

Sailesh Ganesh said...

A couple of comments/clarifications.

During the Vedic period, people were indeed divided into different social groups based on ability. But this somehow degenerated into a caste system based on birth. The caste system, as well as the initial grouping are both products of the local culture, rather than of the religion itself. Agreed, the caste system as it degenrated into was cruel and inhuman, but it had nothing to do with the religion itself.

Almost all of the recent research seems to indicate that the Aryan invasion theory was only a myth. While it may be true that people from Central Asia migrated to India, they were probably absorbed into local culture rather than they the introducing their religion into the land. Plus, Aryan denotes a noble person, noble in thoughts and actions, rather than any group as such.

Hindus do not look at Hinduism as a religion. The correct name is Sanatana Dharma, which means eternal law (dharma also means righteousness, religion, etc.), that is, the laws of the universe that have prevailed forever. Hindus essentially believe that the universe is created and destroyed repeatedly, and that the present creation is only one among many in a series, and the laws of the universe remain valid throughout. In that context, Hinduism being 111.5 trillion years old does seem plausible (though debatable), with the current creation being 4.6 billion years old.

The reaction of the Hindus can be understood if you consider that for over two hundred years, ever since the colonial invasion of India, the British (and the west) have been ridiculing Hinduism by nitpicking aspects that are not relevent to the religion. Worse yet, Indians were systematically taught to do the same, which they did because they lacked a proper knowledge of Hinduism. The reaction that you see today (misguided or not) is only one that fights to preserve the religion against such forces, which, sadly, exist even today.

vfdvgf said...
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the said...
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Anonymous said...

Please note that there is nothing called Hinduism. Its just for the convenience of some scholars that they named some groups worshiping different set of Gods but still having common culture that they were not able to understand as Hindu. This is also true that western scholars just for the sake of showing that western world is superior has always ridiculed the Indian knowledge. For them its hard to digest that there were intelligent people existed before they even got civilised.

Anonymous said...

Though British had been constantly saying Hinduism might have started around 2600BCE how are they so sure of that. Evidences may have found as such of dwarka city for example. 32000 years old city found. Now where is british archeologist.

Apart from all that HINDUISM was the first religion in this world and will always remain..

Arifhak said...

Though i don't know much about Hinduism, but through all the studies and researches done it is a religion that is old enough, for a person who lives in 21st century, to know its actual depth. Well that part of the history is actually "debatable" (@Mr. Ganesh). What makes everyone including me a little bit crazy is about the "111.5 trillion years old religion thing" more precisely religion that existed even before the existence of solar system.I myself do not understand the need of those so many years... Please clearfy..

Arifhak said...

Though i don't know much about Hinduism, but through all the studies and researches done it is a religion that is old enough, for a person who lives in 21st century, to know its actual depth. Well that part of the history is actually "debatable" (@Mr. Ganesh). What makes everyone including me a little bit crazy is about the "111.5 trillion years old religion thing" more precisely religion that existed even before the existence of solar system.I myself do not understand the need of those so many years... Please clearify..

sid said...

Well said

sid said...

Well said

Dinesh D said...

nice post! we all should respect everyone's religions as we are divided by religious sentiments and united as humans.I also once saw a muslim boy chanting lingashtakam shloka in favour of lord shiva.This made me realize later that we all are one.

Anonymous said...

God creates all the universe then also destroys it after specific time . Whenever he creates this creation of earth , heaven ,hell humans etc he creates knowledge about all the things and code of conduct for humans. ( this is required logically , because how he will decide who will go to hell or heaven after his death etc. ) this is called Hindu Dharma(actually Dharma means law or duty). But that Hindu dharma itself allows Gurus or Prophets etc to create their own laws for their followers. (Jesus Christ to Christians , Mohammed to Muslims etc ). Actually everybody following same religion( created by God himself) but different sects.
And this Hindu religion (or law ) is created every time the universe is recreated. That's why Hindu groups claim It is 111 trillion years old. Because they have puranas (old religious history books shows stories from so many years back!. Puranas even show years after which god destroys the world and recreates it. Many of the things told by puranas has proved to be true.For example story of Dwaraka city is found true
Do not think it is a joke. Because Hindu calender's long back calculating solar and lunar eclipse to precision of some seconds or minutes. from ancient times. So in history channel itself shown city in india which is 32000 years old. So more study is required on this

Unknown said...
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