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Survey of Hinduism, A

Third Edition

Klaus K. Klostermaier

Publication Year: 2007

This third edition of the classic text updates the information contained in the earlier editions, and includes new chapters on the origins of Hinduism; its history of relations with Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam; Hindu science; and Hindu measures of time. The chronology and the bibliography have been updated as well. A comprehensive survey of the Hindu tradition, the book deals with the history of Hinduism, the sacred writings of the Hindus, the Hindu worldview, and the specifics of the major branches of Hinduism—Vaisnavism, Saivism, and Saktism. It also focuses on the geographical ties of Hinduism with the land of India, the social order created by Hinduism, and the various systems of Hindu thought. Klaus K. Klostermaier describes the development of Hinduism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including present-day political Hinduism and the efforts to turn Hinduism into a modern world religion. A unique feature of the book is its treatment of Hinduism in a topical fashion, rather than by chronological description of the development of Hinduism or by summary of the literature. The complexities of Hindu life and thought are thus made real to the reader, and Hindus will recognize it as their own tradition.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vii


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pp. ix-xi

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Preface to the Third Edition

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pp. xiii

The Survey of Hinduism in its preceding two editions has gained wide acceptance and has received much encouraging comment in scholarly reviews. It was especially gratifying for me to see it appreciated by Hindu students and scholars—a token for the fulfilment of my ambition to present Hinduism in such a way that Hindus would recognize their own traditions in it. Many of the...


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pp. xv-xvi

Note on Transliteration and Pronunciation

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pp. xvii-xviii

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pp. 1-14

More than eight hundred million of India’s over one billion people call themselves Hindus.1 In addition, some fifty million Hindus are living outside India: eighteen million in Nepal, the only country that has declared Hinduism its state religion, fifteen million in Bangladesh, three million in Sri Lanka, two million in Pakistan, the rest all over the world. North America is by now home...

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Part I: Hinduism: Sources and Worldview

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pp. 15-16

The long history, the vastness, and the heterogeneity of Hinduism offer enormous challenges to each and every description of the tradition. The very question of identifying the beginning of Hinduism has become one of the most controversial topics in Indian studies. For the time being two irreconcilable notions are being heatedly discussed in scholarly and popular literature. The...

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CHAPTER ONE: The Beginnings of Hinduism

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pp. 17-29

The ancient Persians, who occupied the lands west to the Indus River called the whole country lying across the Indus River Sindh and its inhabitants Sindhus, a designation that was later taken over by the Greeks who succeeded them and resulted in the now commonly used designations of India and Indians. The Muslims, who began invading India from the eighth century...

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CHAPTER TWO: Hindu Dharma Orthodoxy and Heresy in Hinduism

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pp. 30-44

Translations can sometimes be quite revealing. If we try to find an Indian synonym for the term religion (admittedly difficult to define even within the Western tradition!) we have to choose from a variety of terms, none of which coincides precisely with our word. The most common and most general term is dharma, today usually translated as “religion.”1 Another important aspect...

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CHAPTER THREE: The Veda: Revelation and Scripture in Hinduism

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pp. 45-58

No other living tradition can claim scriptures as numerous or as ancient as Hinduism; none of them can boast of an unbroken tradition as faithfully preserved as the Hindu tradition. The sources of Hinduism are not only historical materials to be worked up by the scholar of antiquity; they have been recited and studied by the faithful throughout the ages. The reading of a Hindu...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Itihāsa-Purāṇa: The Heart of Hinduism

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pp. 59-73

Itihāsa, history/story, is the collective term for the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, in Western publications usually called the Great Epics.1 Related to them in character and importance are the Purāṇas, “ancient books,” of which eighteen are accepted as Mahāpurāṇas, important scriptures of the major Hindu traditions. Itihāsa-Purāṇa is often called collectively the fifth Veda, the...

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CHAPTER FIVE: The Bhagavadgītā

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pp. 74-85

Throughout the last thousand years of the history of Hinduism, the popularity and authority of the Bhagavadgītā, the “Song of the Lord,” has been, and still is, unrivalled.1 The Vedāntins accepted it as the third of the prasthānas and it has also been received by the masses as a book of spiritual guidance and comfort. Whoever reads it for the first time will be struck by its beauty and...

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CHAPTER SIX: The World of the Hindu

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pp. 86-100

Hinduism, like all traditional religions, offers a comprehensive world view in which everything has its place and where all individual parts contribute to a meaningful total picture. All astronomical, geographical, historical, cultural information that was available at a given time is overarched by a philosophy that anchored its ethics, its anthropology, and its sociopolitical laws ultimately in a...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: The Many Gods and the One God of Hinduism

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pp. 101-117

When English publications on Vedic religion speak about gods, they use this term as translation for the Vedic word deva or devatā.2 Thus they enumerate faithfully the eleven celestial gods, the eleven atmospheric gods, and the eleven terrestrial gods. F. Max Müller was struck by the evident fact that in a number of Vedic hymns, the deva to whom the song was addressed was praised...

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Part II: Trimārga: The Three Hindu Paths to Liberation

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pp. 119-121

One of the oldest, most popular, and most important ways of viewing Hindu religiosity is the distinction of three “paths”: karmamārga, the path of works, jñānamārga, the path of knowledge and bhaktimārga, the path of loving devotion. Some conceive of these as representing a kind of evolution of Hinduism— depending on which of the paths one considers the highest, the sequence...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: The Path of Works: Karmamārga

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pp. 122-135

In February 1962 Indian newspapers were carrying numerous articles describing measures to meet a predicted aṣṭagraha, a particular astronomical conjunction of earth, sun, moon, and the five major planets. The astrologers were unanimous in considering it an exceedingly evil omen—possibly the harbinger of the end of the world. Some journalists were serious; others tried...

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CHAPTER NINE: Purity and Merit: The Twin Concerns of Karmamārga

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pp. 136-146

Although certain aspects of purity in Hinduism certainly have to do with bodily fluids and their discharge—menstruating women are considered ritually impure, to mention the most obvious of such instances—it would be wrong to identify the issue of purity in Hinduism totally with this, as some, under the influence of a recent school of anthropology, seem to do. In addition to...

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CHAPTER TEN: Saṃskāras: The Hindu Sacraments

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pp. 147-155

The saṃskāras, often called the sacraments of Hinduism, are rituals by means of which a Hindu becomes a full member of the socioreligious community.1 They begin with conception and end with cremation, “sanctifying the body and purifying it in this life and after death.”2 The classical śāstras list a great number of saṃskāras that apparently were in use in former times; nowadays...

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CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Path of Knowledge: Jñānamārga

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pp. 156-165

The Upaniṣads, also called Vedānta, “the end of the Veda,” are the basis for the mainstream of the Indian philosophical and mystical tradition, which refers to them as to its source and ultimate authority. The hymns from the Vedic Saṃhitās today mainly serve a practical purpose as part of the ritual; very few draw their personal religion and beliefs from them. The Upaniṣads, however...

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CHAPTER TWELVE: Ātman and Brahman: Self and All

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pp. 166-172

A great number of important topics are dealt with in the Upaniṣads but their central concern is undoubtedly the knowledge of, and path to, ātman and brahman. The great amount and the diversity of the statements relating to ātman-brahman in even the principal Upaniṣads makes it impossible to offer a synthesis. All we can do is to mark major trends of thought. One of these is the...

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Karma, Vidyā, Mokṣa: Liberation from Rebirth

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pp. 173-180

Death is a theme that looms large in the Upaniṣads. Death is the creator and the destroyer of all that is. Death, especially in the form of re-death (punarmṛtyu)2 is the greatest evil that threatens the human existence. Belief in rebirth seems to be accepted in the Upaniṣads without further argument. Scholars generally assume that it forms part of the religion of the indigenous...

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN: The Path of Loving Devotion: Bhaktimārga

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pp. 181-197

The majority of Hindus today are followers of the bhaktimārga, whose exterior manifestation in temples, images, processions, feasts, and popular gurus characterize so much of present-day India. The term bhakti, used so frequently as the keyword in this form of religion, defies an exact and adequate translation.1 In addition to the general difficulty of translating crucial words from Sanskrit...

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Lord Viṣṇu and His Devotees

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pp. 198-217

In those and similar words countless people praise Viṣṇu, whom they have accepted as their one and supreme Lord. The hymn mentions a few of the fundamental tenets of Vaiṣṇava faith—especially the immanence of Viṣṇu in all beings and his transcendence—and we shall consider a few more, without claiming to be able to exhaust the wealth of imagery and speculation produced...

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Śiva: The Grace and the Terror of God

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pp. 218-231

The historical homeland of Śiva religion in more recent times, however, has been the Tamil country. Both Śiva’s name and his main mythology seem to come from there; the “Red God” was only later given a Sanskrit name, phonetically close to the Tamil one, which is translated as “the graceful one.” Tribal religions of northwest India have contributed other features. The ambivalence...

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Devī: The Divine Mother

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pp. 232-247

It is in the very nature of the bhaktimārga to elevate the deity to whom worship is rendered to the highest position in the universe and to identify the object of one’s praise with the principle of creation and salvation. Followers of the Goddess, the Śāktas, adore Devī and give to her all the attributes of divinity, as the following hymn shows. This stotra is recited every year at the time of...

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Mudalvan, Murukan, Māl: The Great Gods of the Tamils

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pp. 248-259

The Sanskritization of Indian culture that took place gradually with the spread of Vedic religion from Northwestern India, brought about a certain measure of uniformity and universality of ritual and belief. As the Vedic caturvarṇa organization of society took hold of the entire country, so the celebration of Vedic yajñas became a status symbol all over India from North to South. The...

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Part III: The Structural Supports of Hinduism

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pp. 261-262

Hinduism is a way of life and not only a religion or a system of philosophy in the more narrow sense of these words, and Hinduism is what it is because of the physical reality of India: the land and its people. Hinduism is intimately connected with the specific features of the landscape of India in which the Divine has revealed itself to its people. The mountains, the rivers, and the...

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CHAPTER NINETEEN: The Divine Presence in Space and Time: Mūrti, Tīrtha, Kāla

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pp. 263-287

That space and time are permeated and filled with the presence of the Supreme is not a mere theological idea with the Hindus: it is a tangible reality in India. Countless temples, quite many of impressive dimensions, many also of very recent origin, manifest the presence and power of Hinduism in all towns and villages. Numberless images—artistic creations in stone, metal, and wood and...

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CHAPTER TWENTY: The Hindu Social Order: Caturvarṇāśramadharma

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pp. 288-297

The historic development and the theory of caste has been expertly described and analyzed in such classics as H. Hutton’s Caste in India2 and more recently in L. Dumont’s Homo Hierarchicus.3 It has been both defended as the best and most natural functional division of society, of model value for the whole world and also attacked as the root cause of all social evil and economic...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Saṃnyāsa: The Highest Hindu Aspiration

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pp. 298-310

The Vedic system of caturvarṇāśrama singled out one of the four great sections of society for professionally practicing religion: studying and teaching the Veda, performing sacrifices for themselves and for others was defined as the foremost social duty of Brahmins.1 In the course of their individual lives, too, a progressive spiritualization was provided for. After the period of...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: Strīdharma: The Position of Women in Hinduism

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pp. 311-324

Recent incidents of satī and a rash of “dowry murders” have made headlines not only in India, but all around the world and have focused attention to women’s issues in India, evoking all kinds of responses: from spokesmen for Hindu orthodoxy, from representatives of political parties, from vocal Indian women’s movements, and from social scientists and observers of contemporary...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: Hindu Structures of Thought: The Ṣaḍdarśanas

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pp. 325-332

All cultures—as the languages associated with them reveal—have made attempts to transform their life experiences into abstract concepts and connect these into coherent mental world pictures. Indian culture has done so more than most others: coining words, translating reality into thought, elaborating systems of explanation on the basis of universal principles are some of the most...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: Hindu Logic and Physics: Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika

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pp. 333-341

The Vaiśeṣika Sūtras, ascribed to Kaṇāda, are, in the words of S. N. Dasgupta, “probably the oldest that we have and in all probability are pre-Buddhistic.”1 That does not entitle us, however, to make any statement about the age of the system itself, which is known particularly for its interesting early atomistic theory and its classification of categories. Vaiśeṣika may initially have been a...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: Hindu Metaphysics and Psychology: Sāṁkhya-Yoga

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pp. 342-350

Yoga is one of the most popular and most ambiguous words in Indian literature, a word with which everybody seems to be familiar, as the advertisements of numerous Yoga schools suggest. Etymologically the word is derived from the root yuj-, to join, to unite. Pāṇini, the grammarian, explains the meaning of yoga as virtually identical with that of our word religion, union with the Supreme. Patañjali, in his...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: Hindu Theology, Old and New: Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta

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pp. 351-367

Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā (often simply called Mīmāṃsā), the “earlier enquiry” has dharma as its proper subject and the karma-kāṇḍa of the Vedas as its scriptural source. Uttara-Mīmāṃsā, the “latter enquiry,” better known as Vedānta, has brahman knowledge as its subject and the jñāna-kāṇḍa of the Veda as its scriptural basis. Though historically there was considerable friction between the...

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Part IV: Hinduism Encountering the “Other”

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pp. 369-370

During its early history many movements arose in India that broke away from mainstream Brahmanism—such as Jainism and Buddhism—movements that developed into major independent traditions. For many centuries Hindu thinkers were busily working out arguments against Jains and Buddhists, whom they considered ritually heretical and philosophically mistaken. In the course of the...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: Hinduism and Buddhism

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pp. 371-380

Gautama Siddhārtha, the founder of Buddhism, grew up in a Hindu aristocratic family.1 Having recognized the transience of beauty, enjoyment, and earthly life, he decided to become a saṃnyāsi, as thousands before him had done, in order to search for the eternal. The quest took him to some of the most famous masters and philosophers of his time, whose meditation practices he learned...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: Hinduism and Christianity in India

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pp. 381-393

News of the burning of an Australian Christian missionary and his young sons near an Indian village made headlines the world over in January 1999 and led to many commentaries on the relations between Christians and Hindus in India. As there are centuries-old hatreds between Hindus and Muslims, there are centuries-old suspicions between Hindus and Christians. Ashok Chowgule...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: Hindus and Muslims in India

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pp. 394-409

On February 27, 2002, a group of about two thousand agitated people stopped the Sabarmati Express outside the station of Godhra, Gujarat. After exchanging abuses with those inside, they began to throw bottles filled with gasoline into compartments of the first four carriages. Soon the train was engulfed in flames. Fifty-eight people on the train perished in the fire. The attackers were...

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CHAPTER THIRTY: Hindu Reforms and Reformers

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pp. 410-428

The history of Hinduism consists of a series of challenges and responses to challenges, reforms and efforts to resist change, struggle between those who tenaciously cling to tradition and those who wish to go with the times. It took centuries before Hinduism responded as a body to the challenge that Buddhism and Jainism had posed—it needed a Maṇḍana Miśra and a Śaṅkara...

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CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: Mahātmā Gandhi: A Twentieth-Century Karmayogi

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pp. 429-440

Gandhi, the film, was, in many ways, a surprising success both outside India and inside. No doubt the acting of Ben Kingsley, the photography of Sir Richard Attenborough, and the dramatic mass scenes filmed in India did much to make it so attractive to so many. However, it surely also succeeded in getting something of Gandhi’s own life and thought across, and Gandhi himself proved to...

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CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: Hindūtva—Hinduism—Hindu Dharma

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pp. 441-454

The whole world watched with fascination and horror the televised demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, by thousands of Hindu political activists and the subsequent large-scale rioting, burning, and looting in dozens of India’s major cities. While for decades the West used to stare at the growth of Communism in India as the greatest threat to democracy, it finally awoke...

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Part V: Miscellany

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pp. 455

There were some issues that did not fit into the framework of the earlier four parts, but were deemed sufficiently important to be included in this Survey of Hinduism. They do not form a coherent unit by themselves and are simply juxtaposed...

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CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: India and the West

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pp. 456-465

Since the beginning of recorded history, the West has been fascinated by India.1 From classical antiquity onward, countless fanciful tales and amusing fables circulated throughout Europe about the peoples of India, its strange animals, and stranger plants, its scorching sun and torrential rains, its sky-high mountains and raging rivers. While most medieval books about the...

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CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: Hinduism and Science

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pp. 466-475

The word Hindu designates not just a particular religion in the narrow modern sense, but it stands for a cultural tradition that developed over thousands of years on the South Asian subcontinent, embracing also different religions, such as Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism, Śāktism, and others. The Hindu tradition comprises, besides religious rituals and festivities and detailed ethical regulations...

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CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: Hinduism and Ecology

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pp. 476-489

The ecological crisis that exercises so many people in the Western world has also reached India, one of the most densely populated countries of the world with one of the fasted growing economies. In order to alleviate mass poverty, governments since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru have pushed ahead with industrialization and agricultural development—the “Green Revolution” has...

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CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX: Hindu Measures of Time

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pp. 490-496

The traditional Hindu calendar is lunar-solar (Figure 36.1). While the months (māsa) are defined by the moon cycles, the beginning of the year (varṣa) is fixed by either the solar spring or fall equinox. The difference between the year of twelve lunar months and the solar year (amounting to roughly 10.87 days every year) is made up by inserting an intercalary month every third year: the...

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pp. 497-507

In 2005 a team of French archaeologists, led by Laurent Marivaux of the University of Montpellier, found in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, in the Indus River basin, fossils of primate teeth belonging to the Oligocene (ca. 34–23 million BCE), fueling renewed speculation about an Asian origin of primates and of hominids over against the long-held opinion about an African...


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pp. 509-512


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pp. 513-586


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pp. 587-610


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pp. 611-660


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pp. 661-700

E-ISBN-13: 9780791480113
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791470817
Print-ISBN-10: 0791470814

Page Count: 718
Illustrations: 39 b/w photographs, 3 maps, 30 figures
Publication Year: 2007