Dharma is NOT the same as paganism

April 2014

In this post Rajiv explains how there is a common fallacy among people to equate Dharma with paganism and how it's very dangerous to do this since it becomes a step towards digestion into Western Universalism through first, digestion into paganism. A related topic where the holy spirit is equated to Shakti or Kundalini and how that is a complete misrepresentation can be read here.

Rajiv deals with fundamental differences between Dharma and Western Universalism in his seminal work Being Different. The book site can be accessed here and to join the discussion exclusively on the ideas contained in Being Different, please join this group.

A conversation with a fellow traveller on a flight to Delhi prompted Rajiv to clarify things through this post. He says:

The 10-hour brainstorm with someone sitting next to me in the flight to Delhi was interesting. This was a well-informed individual, yet not closed minded or fixated. So I became interested in explaining many things that he was keen on understanding. It became clear to me that too many Indian postcolonialists as well as Hindu thinkers are mixed up on the relationship between dharma and paganism.
Just because two entities each differ from something X, it does not follow that both entities are the same
​. An orange and mango each differ from a banana but it does not mean that mango = orange. This is the simple error with huge consequences that many thinkers make when they assume that since paganism and dharma each share the following characteristics of difference with christianity:
  1. They got colonized and harmed by Christianity
  2. They differ from christianity because they allow pluralism of deities, no central institutional authority
  3. They differ from christianity because they did not seek to expand through evangelism.etc
  4. They differ from christianity because they did not limit God to male form.
  5. etc.
That therefore dharma = paganism.
This is devastating for dharma as it has the effect of digesting dharma into paganism.
Indeed many western digesters make the argument that same/similar ideas to dharma already existed in the Greco-Roman pre-christian faiths. This trick makes them digest dharma into the pre-Christian phase of Europe, which got later superseded by Christianity. So whatever dharma teaches them can be repackaged as part of early Europe before christianity.
In other words, many good cop western scholars equate dharma = pre-Christian Greco-Roman paganism and praise it profusely. Hindus foolishly celebrate this and thank them with rewards.
A good example of this error by a Hindu thinker is made by S.N. Balagangadhara, a  postcolonialist, whose main research has been on how "religio" (traditions of Greco-Roman pagans) got digested into "religion" (Christianity), and the former got wiped out. So far so good. (This is well known to historians of Christianity anyway.)
But the blunder comes when he assumes dharma =  paganism without even bothering to argue this. It is unconsciously applied. The result is that his decolonizing thesis is from a pagan perspective and not a dharma one. (All postcolonialists are not the same as they argue against western colonialism from different vantage points; for instance there are many Muslim postcolonialsits, Marxist postcolonialists, etc.)
He does not establish a dharma-specific framework, one that differs from both paganism and christianity.
Some key ingredients of dharma not found in paganism or at least not as developed in an integral manner are:
  1. Rishis: The notion that rishis achieved the unity consciousness potential available to all of us and this was the empirical method of attaining ultimate knowledge. There are no pagan rishis in this proper sense, not just the term but the meaning.
  2. Yoga: 1 is the result of a lack of yoga as systematic technologies for humans to attain higher states of consciousness.
  3. Tantra: In paganism there is a lack of cohesive, comprehensive techniques married to theories of antah-karan/adhyatma-vidya, etc
Paganism never had a fully worked out metaphysics with the sweeping scope of dharma. In fact dharma has several such systems each far more sophisticated than anything paganism offers.
What is common among all "native faiths" including paganism, dharma, etc. needs to be celebrated; and there are important alliances needed to contain Christian and Islamic expansionism.
But be clear on whats different in dharma, what I have called non-negotiable. Do not slip into becoming digested into paganism. That is just another stomach leading to Western Universalism - in BD I point out the unresolved inner schisms in WU and hence why it is synthetic

The Role of Prophets in Judaism and History Centrism

April 2014

This is an important thread where Rajiv Malhotra touches on how the history centrism of Abrahamic faiths is in direct conflict with Hinduism's basic tenets and how this is a key facet of how Dharmic faiths are different from Judeo-Christian ones. He also touches upon how people advocating the sameness theory are in fact dangerously helping the digestion of Hinduism into Abrahamic faiths. There are other links on this forum which also touch on various nuances of the same idea. All these ideas are dealt with in his seminal work Being Different. Here's a link to a site which exclusively discusses the book Being Different. To other posts on this site dealing with different nuances of the topic in question, please click here and here:

A forum member Jayant encountered the following question when explaining history centrism to a Hindu friend.

He wrote:

We know according to Nicene creed, Adam and Eve in Eden garden ate apple from tree of knowledge and they committed sin. Hence god curse them and all their progeny for eternal damnation. In Christianity solution for this problem has been found through crucification of Jesus hence humans got saved. In Islam they don't consider Jesus as son of god hence solution they give is Adam and Eve did committed sin, but all merciful god forgiven them then and there. 
Now what about the period of Judaism i.e. period between god cursing Adam and Eve and arrival of Jesus. When they have been cursed for eternal damnation then why god kept sending prophets with new instructions ?

Rajiv's reply:

Jews do not believe there has been a universal savior to rescue humanity. Such a man is called messiah and they are still waiting for the messiah to come. 
They reject that Jesus was the messiah. Thats what differentiates Jews from Christian. Release 2.0, i.e. Jesus as savior, is deemed a fraudulent claim, So they run on release 1.0, i.e  Old Testament or Torah. For a quick refresher watch the Youtube on my "systems model" of History Centrism:

According to Jews, God gave them a special deal: They got chosen doe this. They have to obey certain rules he laid down and in exchange they (and only they) would be rescued in God's special care. The strategy was for God to first create a role model set of tribes (= Jews) and later ask them to lead the whole world and spread the franchise. But until Jews have complied with his wishes and God gives the next Release they are NOT to evangelize and try to convert others. They are still working on Release 1.0.
None of the Abrahamic theologians I debated could refute my position that: 
1) These 3 history centric religions cannot resolve their core differences without serious compromises. 
2) The only way out for them is to reject their history centrism principle.
3) This, in turn, requires rejecting core metaphysics on the nature of God/Man/World separation, etc.
4) This entails having to swallow what I refer to as Poison Pills see IN.
5) In effect, they would end up getting digested into Hinduism. 
6) This is why Hindus must STOP trying to digest Christianity, or Jesus = avatara, or jesus lived in India, etc. UNTIL the above points are clearly understood - first and foremost by our leaders.

In response another forum member Aditya wrote:

On a related note, I was having a discussion with a friend about various mystical traditions. He was very impressed with so-called "Jewish mysticism" and Gnosticism (a form of Christian mysticism) and wanted to explore them further. I was explaining that all the Dharmic systems/traditions are inherently mystical by definition. He was taking it in the direction of a sameness argument: "all mystical traditions are the same as any other mystical traditions.
This simply isn't true....
I explained that Hinduism is inherently mystical and has a HUGE body of Scripture, traditions, and practices ("Inner Sciences") that have existed in some form for thousands of years. These other mystical traditions do not even come close to being nearly as fully developed as Hinduism in this respect. Also, the mysticism of history-centric religions are a "side branch" of the respective source religion and have struggled to survive because they are a huge threat to the core doctrines of the respective history-centric religion. They are not the featured event, but instead are a side show. 
With Hinduism, on the other hand, the featured event is the mysticism. There is no "side show" of mysticism and hence no struggle for survival within the tradition itself. And if there were a side show, it would be come kind of "history centric Hinduism" which is somewhat of a contradiction in terms....
Rajiv replied:

1) In response to liberal Judeo-Christian sameness (as ploy for digestion), you must create a wedge between this and their own history centrism. The mysticism that complies with history centrism is inherently limited and a way to domesticate true mysticism within the contours of history centrism.
2) After some gymnastics, he will try to claim he is not history centric as in Nicene Creed. Thats a good shift.
3) Now you take this even further and discuss specifically the history centrism of Jesus. A few of them will play the game of going further and will say that Jesus is not a historical person, or if he is, his historicity is not critical. This opens a wedge to discuss the whole metaphysics of Christianity as I have explained in BD. Now you must discuss the contradiction between a-historical jesus and church doctrine.
4) If he accept further that he rejects the church doctrine, and has his own belief in jesus: Now show that such a jesus is USELESS: As non compliant with church doctrine its just his personal opinion not backed by Christian theology. As a FULLY Hindu-ized Jesus in every respect, he is useless because Hinduism already has whatever such a jesus brings plus much more. So why not just become Hindu and stop the gymnastics?
5) The bottom line of having many such encounters is to understand that this sameness of mysticism is a pathway to digest Hindus - who tend to be confused already. 
Watch my Youtube conversation with Mark Tully where he tries to play this sameness Good Cop -- he likes Hinduism and wants no differences discussed. Note I keep asking that we remove differences by his adoption of Hinduism, and not the other way around.

Thread continues with Jayant who writes:

So as per your explanation for Judaism, (1) is similar to Islam where Adam and Eve have been forgiven by god then and there after committing sin. But it only differs in (2) with Islam, where for judaism these instructions were only for jews(chosen one) and in Islam any person who follow version 3.0 of instructions (set of do's and don'ts)  goes to Heaven. Hope I am getting it right.
With these, few more questions are coming to my mind. 
A) if Jews were given only certain instructions then why it took around 48 male prophets and 7 female prophets. ? Why they are so many versions like 1.1, 1.2 and so on. God wanted them to be perfect tribe before evangelize the world ? If so then does their latest prophet got the final set of instructions(like Koran) or still there are more prophets in pipeline ?
B) Once they got their final version, Is there any prophecy from god that Jews will going to get a messiah like Mohammed and they can start their evangelizing activity through out the world ? 
Rajiv's response:

A) God sent a series of Releases like CEO sends updated HR policy manuals. Jews dont question God's reasons or rights to do this, though they speculate. There is no certain way of knowing what God might do next, as he's the boss who keeps his cards close to the vest. But there is no finality clause in Release 1 as there is in Islam (Release 3).
B) Islam has lot more similarities with Judaism than with Christianity. This is ironic but true. 
Muslims regard Jesus as a prophet but NOT as son of God. There was never any son or daughter of God nor does he intend to produce any. The Judaic Islamic systems are based on God using regular humans as prophets to be intermediaries to communicate with us. Only Christianity has one "avatara-like" incarnation called jesus - but its dangerous for Hindus to accept jesus as avatara for reasons i explained many times. 
Muslims believe their Release 3 is final, perfect and complete. Older Releases 1 and 2 get acknowledged but MUST GET DIGESTED to fit into Release 3. So prior Abrahamic prophets are listed in Qur'an and accepted, but superseded by Mohammad who brought 3.0 that supersedes. 
The whole interfaith dialogue amongst the three abrahamic religions has tried hard to find ways to fit these 3 releases together in a win-win-win way. This has not happened and i show why it cannot happen ever without compromising one or more of the players.
Only a stupid or very ignorant Hindu would want to claim sameness with these beliefs. 
Digestion is very dangerous. Its easier to deal with encounters where the other side is openly rejecting us and wants to convert explicitly. At least our folks by now can understand whats going on, whereas most of them cannot interpret digestion properly. 

Jeffrey adds to the discussion. He writes:
Rajiv has written of Jesus, "As a FULLY Hindu-ized Jesus in every respect, he is useless because Hinduism already has whatever such a jesus brings plus much more. So why not just become Hindu and stop the gymnastics?"
A Christian might, however, become Hindu and still retain a belief that Jesus did exist and was an avatar in the Hindu sense, and that what has emerged as Christianity is a massive distortion of the authentic teaching of that Jesus avatar. 
Rajiv intervenes on this point. He writes
Pls dont distort avatara as that involves many things that cannot be removed from the notion. Example: There cannot be only one exclusive avatara. Etc. Lets not facilitate digestion of Hinduism, pls, using the Good Cop approach that this "original Christianity" was same as Hinduism anyway. A dangerous thing for Hindus to fall for. A partial similarity does not qualify as sameness. An apple has many similarities with an orange, a bicycle with a car...
Jeffrey continues
If one looks at the Gnostic literature suppressed by the church (and only rediscovered in the twentieth century), many early Christians held a worldview that was essentially Dharmic in its contours (a cycle of rebirth, Jesus as an enlightened master teaching by example the way to liberation, and so on).  This was the case right up until the Second Council of Constantinople, in the sixth century, where all such ideas were declared heretical--a council called not by the pope, but by the Emperor Justinian.  The Cathars held a worldview and followed a practice that was basically the same as Jainism, albeit cloaked in Christian language, until they were wiped out in a crusade launched in the thirteenth century by the ironically named Pope Innocent III.  Christianity, as it is known today, is a digestion of this earlier tradition--essentially a Gnostic or mystical branch of Judaism, probably influenced by ancient contacts with India--by the ideology of imperial Rome, which was able to utilize Abrahamic monotheism as a way to command exclusive loyalty to a single church-state complex.  This state-supported version of Christianity then turned upon and digested (as well as declaring outright war upon) the earlier Pagan traditions of Europe.  For many centuries, those who would dissent from this ideology and affirm the more ancient belief system (e.g. Giordano Bruno, who affirmed both rebirth and the existence of extraterrestrial life) would be burned at the stake.
Maria contributes to the discussion. She writes:
Yes, Mr.Jeffrey. I fully agree with Mr. Malhotra. Why do we need to retain anything? I keep saying that there is no way of keeping oneself at the two sides of the fence, given so many incompatibilities that there are between Christianity and Hinduism, no matter initial similarities. 
We as hindus give a respect to all, and demand respect from all. But giving respect doesn´t mean to praise to the skies neither Jesus nor proph. Muhammad. For that matter, we have both Christians and Muslims who will impose each of them on us. They don´t need our help with our undefined positions. 
Rajiv response was to point out that those who didn't take clear positions and preferred to sit on the fence advocating sameness of religions, were generally stage 2 u-turners. He reiterated that this phase was dangerous because the mirage of sameness led to a false "feel good" factor among Hindus who believed they were legitimized by a westerner. He also gave the example of Unitarians who tried hard to make "whitened Bengalis" (or sameness experts) of Ram Mohan Roy and other Bengali bhadralok with the result that they are an extremely marginalized (<1%) group among the US Christian population. He uses this example to drive home the point that most other Christian denominations reject "sameness". Rajiv also uses the fashion for sufism (a digestion tool) among Hindus today, pointing out that only a very small portion of mosques allow sufi music and dance. He stresses that the core of Islam has no place for sufism.

Rajiv ended by requesting people who preach sameness to approach hard core Christian denominations and ask them if they would be prepared to:
  • install deities of Krishna, Ram, Kali, Durga...
  • accept reincarnation, karma theories
  • accept immanence and satchitananda cosmology
Rajiv posts part of another mail from Jeffrey and his response to that.

First Jeffrey's point:
Clearly if one were to see Jesus as an avatar in a Hindu sense then all claims of his being the only one or of Christianity being exclusively true go out the window. What is being proposed here is a Hindu digestion of Christ, not a Christian digestion of Hinduism. The Poison Pill would be: is the person who views Jesus in this way willing to also and equally worship and revere Sri Ram, Sri Krishna, etc? That would be the test of such a person's fundamental commitment--to a Dharmic view or to an exclusivist view.
Rajiv's response:
Not so. There are lots and lots of additional elements in Hinduism's integral unity. Incomplete knowledge is dangerous. You must accept multiple avataras, deities including female (such as kali), the idea of immanence, the abandonment of original sin and hence reject the story of Eden as believed in dogma, and so forth.
Each time a digesting liberal christian offers "I will accept Hindu principle x" hence claim sameness, I take the demand further and also ask for accepting y. If y gets accepted then accept z. This only ends when the TOTAL INTEGRAL UNITY of Hinduism's cosmology gets accepted.
This creates two problems. Firstly, there is no reason to convert Hindus if everything gets accepted. Secondly the integral unity Hinduism contains poison pills that undermine christianity.
Of course you can keep remodeling a hut to eventually turn it into a massive palace. But let them keep doing it and let us not make it easy and incomplete.
Mark Tully tries this hard in my 1.5 hour Youtube with him. Please watch. No point coming back every few months to try the same thing again and again hoping we will get tired and give up.
Rajiv's comment to "sameness" advocates to try influencing Christian denominations drew response from Jeffrey who states, that that has been his effort for a long time. He also says that his positions are in conformance with that taught by Ramakrishna Mission or Vedanta Society. Rajiv says that one has to defend one's viewpoints on their own merit and not as theories of this or that denomination.

Finally is a warning from Rajiv where he cautions all those who advocate sameness:
The most dangerous lie is the one that most closely resembles the truth. 

An Independent Review of Paul Courtright's book on Ganesa - Chapter 17 part 5

Pdf of the book is available for free download here

Ganesha as a Trickster

Courtright cites the British anthropologist Edmund Leach approvingly: Leach sees this characteristic as Ganesa’s closes link to the trickster: Ganesa’s broken tusk and severed head with the long flaccid trunk are the clearest signals of his sexual ambiguity.

Concluding his own estimation of Ganesha as a ‘trickster’, Courtright then likens the deity to a eunuch:

His sexuality remains ambiguous, as his relationship with his mother and father, his detachable tusk/phallus and his similarities to eunuchs all suggest.

All the above passages of Courtright are not only dubious from an academic perspective, they are also plainly offensive, and perverse. Perhaps, Courtright et al always see life through a different aperture than most of us. Perhaps, they always see everything as a cigar, and
the cigar as only a Lingam.

The Worship of Ganesha

Chapter IV deals with the worship of Ganesha in homes, in temples, and during public festivals in Maharashtra. Overall, the description is balanced, readable and nothing out of the ordinary. It is clearly written from the perspective of an observant outsider. A few references to Indian literature on the subject are thrown in, besides some from the works of the Indologists as well, perhaps to give the entire narrative a quasi-academic flavor. For the Hindus, the chapter perhaps does not offer much that is not already known to them in general terms. For the Westerners or even Westernized Indians, the narrative could serve as a useful and informative background on how the tradition of worship of Ganesha is actually practised in our times.

Chapter V titled, ‘Ganesa in a Regional Setting: Maharashtra’ deals with the well-known fact of deep devotion of Maharashtrians to Ganapati. It opens with a strange comment, based on an old work, that in South East and in East Asia he is more often portrayed as demon. Perhaps this has changed in the last six decades since the book referenced by Courtright was written. One of us, who has worked in and has traveled to that part of the world (Thailand, Bali and Java, Singapore)
would clearly question this characterization today. At least in our own times, he is a beloved deity for the Hindus of Bali (and even more so in eastern Java), as well as for the Buddhists in urban Thailand. (For more on the rest of the chapter please read page 242, 243 and 244, chapter 17)

Taking Liberties with Liberal Arts (Courtright’s Ph.D. Thesis)

We had an opportunity to obtain a copy of Courtright’s Ph.D. thesis300 of which the book under review is an expansion. Interestingly, in the Preface of his thesis, the author states:

Nearly ten years ago, while I was teaching conversational English at Ahmadnagar College in central Maharasthra, several of my students invited me to join them and their families for the annual celebrations to the Hindu god Ganesa. At that time all I knew about Ganesa was that he was the elephant-faced deity who Hindus regarded as the god of good fortune. I had seen his picture in numerous shops in the city and had gathered the impression that the good fortune he was believed to bring had largely to do with the financial success and material well-being. Hindus seemed to view him with a compelling light-heartedness which I found quite different from the more somber attitudes my Protestant upbringing had taught me were appropriately religious.

He states that during the Ganesha Festival at Ahmadnagar, the Maharashtrian dancers made him dance with them and as a result, “I had become united with them. It seemed that I had finally experienced India ‘from the inside’.” He expresses his acknowledgements to his informants in the following words:

Although the title page lists me as the author of this dissertation, many others have been involved in its completion. The people of Maharashtra, displaying attitudes of hospitality for which India is famous, welcomed my frequent inquiries about their festival and its traditions, patiently submitted to my interviews, and made my research pleasurable. No scholar could hope to have greater cooperation than I received from them.

Through our analysis of the resulting book, we have seen the manner in which Courtright  expressed his gratitude for the cooperation offered by Maharashtrian Hindus: calling the cherished deity of his ‘native informants’ as something of a eunuch, something like a homosexual, and a pervert harboring sexual fantasies for his mother! Perhaps, it is not out of place to mention that even Courtright’s PhD thesis is so full of errors, that it does not even spell the names of Hindu texts and common Hindu terms correctly. (For more on this please read page 245 and 246, chapter 17)

Conclusion: Academic Scholarship, or ‘Peer-Reviewed Pornography’?

The above examples are but a small specimen of erroneous translations, selective use of Hindu textual evidence, insufficient knowledge of Tantric and Yogic traditions, and the over-sexualization of passages in Hindu texts that characterize Courtright’s book, page after page, and chapter after chapter. It is fair to say that being based on incorrect data, his interpretations and his reconstruction of the Hindu deity Ganesha are by and large invalid.

To conclude then, Courtright’s book may be considered as an example of excellent pornographic fiction, and also as an example of careless academic scholarship. It is therefore surprising that scholars in South Asian and Indology programs in the United States have praised the book and awarded it prizes. It makes one wonder if this is due to the fact that the level of scholarship in Indian and Hinduism studies is really substandard in American Universities.

In an apparent effort to defuse the crisis, Courtright wrote an email to an internet list of scholars in South Asian Studies:

I wrote it over twenty years ago, in a different discursive environment than we have now . . . were I writing that book today I would, hopefully, be more aware of how it might be read by some Hindu readers in both India and its diasporas.

This confession must be quite puzzling to any honest academic. This approach raises questions regarding ethics and honesty in scholarship. Is an academic expected to play to the gallery, as Courtright has confessed he did and perhaps intends to do in the future as well? If so, is it not a violation of objectivity, ethics and honesty? One may understand that interpretations of literature, history, or any other observable phenomenon changes as new proven theories and data
emerge. But why should the interpretation change according to the readers? What kind of academic objectivity is that? Is it not a corroboration of the accusation that there is a deeply entrenched anti-Hindu bias among Wendy’s Children?

Courtright apparently felt that so long as his audience was not Hindu and annoyingly knowledgeable, he could depict Hinduism in an obscene manner—perhaps as an ‘inside’ ethnic joke shared with his white colleagues. One cannot help but recall Doniger’s thigh-slapping, triumphant amusement upon ‘learning’ from Kripal that the Sri Ramakrishna that many ‘moronic’ Hindus worship as the epitome of their religion could be academically tried and convicted as a conflicted, maladjusted homosexual, and a pervert to boot. Those were cozy
times indeed to laugh about the heathen and his blindness, with one’s buddies. Today, with more Hindus constituting the audience, Courtright feels that he has to calibrate his interpretations differently. Strangely, the academic reaction to this bizarre phenomenon ranges from a
deafening silence to showering praises on him.

Books such as those of Courtright and Doniger merely conform to the latest fad in eroticizing ‘exotic’ cultures, just as a few decades earlier it was very fashionable for some Western anthropologists to go ‘bravely’ to some remote island in the Samoa archipelago to study the sexual practices of Samoans. Such studies not just demean the culture that forms their subject. They are like the gaze of a pervert that mentally disrobes a lady standing in front of him. Indeed, the book reviewed by us does not necessarily illuminate its purported subject matter. Rather, it allows us to act as voyeurs of the mind of the author. Hindus and Indians do not need such ‘dedicated’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘respectful’ and ‘loving’ scholars to promote an understanding of our heritage in the West, just as an abandoned orphan would do well without the love of a pedophile.

Read chapter 17 part 5 from page 241 to 247

Pdf of the book is available for free download here.

Go to Chapter 18

An Independent Review of Paul Courtright's book on Ganesa - Chapter 17 part 4

Pdf of the book is available for free download here.

Courtright’s ‘Limp Phallus’ not attested in texts of Ganapatya Sect

Anyway, his fiction of limp trunks and phalluses is not exactly supported by the Hindu texts. For instance, the Ganesha Purana (Upasana Khanda 12.38) states that the trunk of Ganesha is so strong that it is more powerful than that of Airavata and other elephants who are guardians of the eight quarters of the Universe. Courtright thus misses a good opportunity to discuss ‘Penis-Envy’. The Tantric texts, which Courtright ignores, distinguish clearly between the trunk and his phallus, and the latter does perform its intended functions according to these texts. In short, data from the texts ignored by Courtright completely negates his own fantasy about Ganesha’s trunk.

Numerous depictions of the deity actually show him with a raised or an erect trunk. Courtright has ignored the diversity of the Hindu tradition with regard to the deity and has chosen only those aspects that fit his predetermined thesis.

Courtright should have considered the fact that in Indian culture, the lifted trunk of an elephant represents a salute by the animal. The deity is not really supposed to salute us, which is why He may have a lowered trunk in most of His iconic representations so as to symbolize His benevolence and omnipotence.

Ekadantin of Hindu Tradition—Courtright Castrates Ganesha Thrice

Now we have another curious fact regarding Lord Ganesha. One of the tusks of the deity is broken, or missing. How does Courtright unravel this mystery? As expected, under the subject ‘The Tusk’ in his book, all kinds of disjointed, unrelated, disparate Puranic narratives are brought together in an artificial manner by Courtright to lay the ground for discussions on beheading, decapitation, amorous play and all such sexual, Freudian materials in Chapter III. Ignored of course are the mystical and spiritual interpretations of his single tusk in Hindu tradition (e.g., Mudgala Purana 2.52.13–14) wherein the tusk is related to maayaa.

It is definitely worth investigating what meaning Hindu tradition itself accords to the broken tusk of the deity. To determine the traditional meanings of the broken tusk, we explored a wide range of Hindu texts, from Kaavyas to the Puranas, and found the following explanations. In a major Purana text, Lord Vishnu explains the word ekadanta as follows: The word eka means ‘supreme’ or pradhana, and the word danta denotes strength. “To Him (Ganesha) who is supremely powerful/strong, I (Lord Vishnu) offer homage”.

Far from being a castrated phallus, the broken tusk of Ganesha is a potent weapon. The Ganesha Purana, Kridakhanda (chapters 62–70) describes a battle waged between Devàntaka and Ganesha, the latter assisted by his spouses. Devàntaka uproots the tusk of Ganesha, but the deity uses this very broken tusk to penetrate the demon’s chest and thus kills him. (For more on this please read page 230, chapter 17)

Courtright considers Ganesha’s beheading as a castration, his trunk as a symbol of a limp phallus and now his broken tusk as another castration. It is therefore legitimate to ask if one person can
be castrated and emasculated thrice! And from a psychoanalytical perspective, one may wonder who it is that has actually demonstrated a Penis Envy in this entire episode!

Indian Males in relation to Ganesha’s Sexuality, Celibacy and Incest:

Courtright summarizes his Freudian interpretations on Ganesha in the following manner:

Iconographically Ganesa’s body is that of a plump infant. Although at least one Puranic source has an account of his marriage, Ganesa is generally represented as celibate, a celibacy suggested visually and perhaps caricatured by his exaggerated but perpetually flaccid trunk. Finally, his insatiable appetite for sweetmeats [modaka]—a source of many amusing tales—raises the question (from a psychoanalytical perspective) of whether this tendency toward oral erotic gratification may not serve as compensation for his arrested development at not reaching the phallic stage as well as the severing of the maternal bond he underwent at the beheading hand of his father. Gananath Obeyesekere interprets Ganesa’s celibacy, like his broken tusk, as the punishment he receives for incestuous fixation on his mother.

This generalization of Ganesha is preceded by something even more sinister. Indians as a whole are force-fit into a stereotypical category by Courtright, and then this stereotype is subjected to a demeaning Freudian analysis. Courtright is not alone in treating the stereotyped Indian male as a subject of Psychoanalyses. In fact, he draws upon the works of Sudhir Kakar and the like repeatedly in this chapter.

Courtright says:

Ganesa’s celibacy links him both to his father and his mother, but for opposite reasons. He remains celibate so as not to compete erotically with his father, a notorious womanizer, either incestuously for his mother or for any other woman for that matter.

There is nothing in the tradition to defend this portrayal of Ganesha as an incestuous son. So, anecdotes that none can verify, are used to bolster the case.

Once Parvati asked Ganesa whom he would like to marry; he replied, ‘Someone exactly like you, Mummy.’ And Mummy got outraged by such an openly incestuous wish and cursed him with
everlasting celibacy.

Courtright quotes A.K. Ramanujan, who doesn’t name his source. In any event, Ramanujan’s version is very different from those that other South Indians are aware of. In that version, when Ganesha tells Parvati that he would want a bride just like her, she laughs at him, and jokingly tells him that he may never get married in that case, implying that there is none comparable to Shakti. It seems that Ramanujan has added his own spin to this tale in his amateurish attempt at psychoanalysis. The fact is that in a vast country such as India, with more than a billion people (or 700 million people in 1980s when Courtright wrote his book), there are literally thousands of tales and stories about different deities floating around orally amongst the Hindu masses. Should one bring together these stories with passages of older texts and then construct a psychoanalytical theory on them? Is this methodology sound?

Even though in this unverifiable tale, the child Ganesha alone is pronounced guilty of harboring incestuous thoughts, Courtright is quite eager to indict Parvati too on this count. He has no hesitation in invoking a tale that, by his own admission, does not find any mention in published editions of the Varaha Purana, but is only to be found in the writings of Abbe Dubois, the missionary that never concealed his hatred for Hinduism. In this invented and disparagingly
presented tale, the beauty of the newborn Ganesha fascinates all women and this triggers a supposedly incestuous jealousy in Parvati, who curses his beauties to vanish.

It is very common in India for sons when asked, what kind of girl they want to marry, to say that they would marry someone like their own mother. The Indian ethos emphasizes sacrifice, and the mother is often the embodiment of sacrifice.

Having unfairly declared Ganesha an incestuous son, Courtright proceeds to present even the most innocent events of Ganesha’s life as sordid tales of incest. In a Sri Lankan legend, Ganesha competes with his brother Skanda for a mango. While the latter circumambulates the world, Ganesha simply circumambulates his parents and wins the mango. Courtright quoting Obeyesekere concludes that the mango is a symbol for the vagina, and hence this episode of Ganesha eating the fruit symbolizes his incestuous possession his mother. (For more on this please read page 232 and 233, chapter 17)

In the Song of Songs in the Old Testament, the breasts of a woman are likened to bunches of grapes. Should we, following Courtright-Obeyesekere ‘methodology’, see hidden meanings every time a Christian or a Jew offers wine?

There is a Maharashtrian folk tale that narrates the intrigues between a Mahar soldier and a woman of the palace under Peshwa rule. The illicit liaison is exposed and the soldier, whose name is Ganapati, is punished by death. His spirit, according to the folklore, haunted the king. To propitiate it, he installed the effigy of the slain soldier at the gate of the palace in the form of the deity Ganapati and required everyone to pay obeisance to it. There is nothing in this story to compare with the legend of the deity Ganesha, except the name and the fact that the Mahar’s effigy was installed in the form of the deity, but Courtright sees striking parallels in this tale with the supposed incest of Ganesha with his mother. Such meaningless parallels promote
neither an understanding of the deity, nor do they promote knowledge. Instead they offer an insight into Courtright’s perverse mind.

Ganesha as a Eunuch

Several sacred stories pertaining to Ganesha describe him as a doorkeeper or guard outside his mother Parvati’s inner chambers. Courtright sees in this a parallel to an old Indian practice of posting eunuchs as guards of the doors to harems. He then quotes an Indologist to the effect that
these eunuchs had a reputation of being homosexuals, with a penchant for oral sex, and that they were frowned upon as the very dregs of society, implicitly ascribing the same qualities to the charming Ganesha and reducing his symbolism to ‘an explicit denial of adult male sexuality’. (For more on this please read page 233 and 234, chapter 17)

Courtright then quotes Edmund Leach, an anthropologist, in support of his own interpretations:

This combination of child-ascetic-eunuch in the symbolism of Ganesa—each an explicit denial of adult male sexuality—appears to embody a primal Indian male longing: to remain close to the mother and to do so in a way What will both protect her and yet be acceptable to the father. This means that the son must retain access to the mother but not attempt to possess her sexually. As a child, a renouncer, or a eunuch, he can legitimately maintain that precious but precarious intimacy with his mother because, although he is male, he is more like her then he is like his father. This may explain why Ganesa takes on these qualities through his own choice or why he willingly accepts them as mutilations from others—even from Parvati herself—so long as they will guarantee his continued proximity with her.

The Modaka as a (Sexual) ‘Toy’

Hindus fondly depict Lord Ganesha as devouring a sweetmeat called modaka. Courtright applies the ‘oral’ and ‘anal’ paradigms of Freudian ideology to interpret this in a sexualized manner:

The perpetual son desiring to remain close to his mother and having an insatiable appetite for sweets evokes associations of oral eroticism. Denied the possibility of reaching the stage of full
genital masculine power by the omnipotent force of the father, the son seeks gratification in some acceptable way. As long as he remains stuffed full he is content and benign, like a satisfied infant at its mother’s breast. If Ganesa should go hungry because of the devotee’s failure to feed and worship him first before all other gods, then his primordial hostility is aroused, to the detriment of all. Feeding Ganesa copious quantities of modakas, satisfying his oral/erotic desires, also keeps him from becoming genitally erotic like his father . . . Ganesa’s impatience for food suggests an anxiety, a hunger that is never completely fed no matter how many modakas he consumes. He is the child forever longing for the mother’s breast—that fountain of life-giving elixir he once enjoyed without distress in infancy but is now denied because of the father’s intrusion . . . Ganesa’s story is, in part, the story of maternal attachment, loss, and indirect but incomplete compensation. As a celibate child, and resembling the ambiguous figure of the eunuch, Ganesa is one whose masculinity remains partial, trimmed, and contained. Unable to take full possession of his mother in the face of his father’s beheading/castrating power, Ganesa lives a threshold existence—near but nor far enough— seeking his own fulfillment in dutiful service to his parents and taking pleasure in an endless flow of sweetmeats from adoring devotees. He is the mythical expression of the male wish for maternal intimacy denied in real life in the course of growing up, a fantasy in which the defeats of the son must suffer at the hands the father are compensated indirectly by an orally erotic celibate proximity to the mother. (For story on the moon and Ganesha’s tusk please read page 235 and 236, chapter 17)

As we extracted these and similar passages from Courtright’s book for our review, we felt a lot of mental agony seeing that he could use words such as ‘limp-phallus’, ‘castration’, ‘orally erotic’, ‘eunuch’, ‘amorous play’ and so on in the context of a child, even if it be mythical
for a Christian such as Courtright (but Divine for us). Our American readers could perhaps feel our pain by imagining a situation in which Courtright would use such language for the baby Jesus, or if you are not religious, an all-American anthropomorphic child-character such as Mickey Mouse.

Hindus invoke the presence of and blessings of Lord Ganesha at the start of all our prayers. Mickey Mouse is not worshipped of course, but he continues to delight millions of adults and children all over the world with his delightful antics. If someone were to obsessively and insistently see genitalia and other kinds of sexual stuff in the character or persona of the baby Jesus or Mickey Mouse, we would normally conclude that he is suffering from some pathological disorder requiring medical attention. While reading his book on Ganesha, the thought that kept repeating in our mind page after page was—how could he have written this? Why did he do this?

Sexualizing the Hindu Child: The Initiation Ceremony (Upanayana):

In her two-page Foreword, Wendy Doniger refers to the use of Freudian analysis in the following words:

The episode of beheading by the father cries out for (and has been given by others) a party-line Freudian analysis; Courtright does, indeed, sail through this particular strait, but though he listens with unwaxed ears to the song of the psychoanalytical sirens, he is not seduced. He offsets the Freudian analysis with his own striking model of the parallels between the Ganesa story and the Hindu ritual of the initiation of a young boy . . .

And what are these parallels that deserved a special acknowledgment by Wendy Doniger? While describing his sexualized version of Ganesha and the stories associated with Him, Courtright takes a step forward and transplants erotica onto the solemn Hindu ceremony of upanayana
in which young Hindu males are initiated into their student life. In effect, after demeaning the Hindu male, Courtright targets the innocent Hindu child. The upanayana ceremony involves a symbolic transformation of the would-be teacher of the student into his new father. This father-son relationship between teacher-student is maintained for a lifetime and does not sever the relationship of the student with his biological father. However, Courtright sees something sexual in this whole affair.

This new father/son, guru/disciple. Acarya/brahmacarin relationship creates a new bond of affection in the context of absolute domination by the authority figure and utter dependence of the disciple. The sexual nuances of this relationship are well hidden, but it is significant that in the myth Siva gives Ganesa his weapons and in the ritual the acarya gives the brahmacarin the ascetic’s staff [yogadanda]—symbols, like the broken tusk, of the detached phallus. Carstairs notes further ‘There is also a powerfully repressed homosexual fixation on the father. This is shown . . . in indirect and sublimated form, in a man’s feeling toward his Guru—in one context in which a warm affectionate relationship (although a passive and dependent one) is given free expression.’

So, the scholarly pair of Carstairs and Courtright have debased even the ‘teacher–student relationship’ in Hindu society (perhaps privileging the Western version indirectly) by imparting perverse sexual connotations to it. We are indeed curious to know how Courtright would
psychoanalyze his relationships with his own students. (For more on this please read page 237, chapter 17)

In the Indian ascetic tradition, there is a long-standing controversy on whether the staff should be single or if it should be a triple-staff (tridanda). One wonders what would be Courtright’s perspective on this controversy. Hindu tradition sees the danda as a symbol of chastisement or discipline, whether inflicted or self-enforced. When a young student assumes a danda, he is in effect vowing that he will live according to the prescribed rigors of student life.

It may be pointed out here that Hindus have been performing the upanayana ceremony for their children, often aged five to eight years, for several thousand years now. If there is any reality to Courtright’s imaginative interpretation that danda = penis, then the inescapable conclusion is that millions of Hindu children have been subjected unconsciously (or consciously) to sexual abuse by being handed a pseudo-penis in their hand by a male elder during the ceremony. While we find such sexualized interpretations of the upanayana defamatory and degrading, Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty finds it so apt and insightful that she made a special mention of it in her Foreword to Courtright. The consequences of such essentializing can indeed be grave for an American minority. One wonders how Doniger and Courtright (and the Prize committees that lionize these scholars) view Hindu-American parents who have celebrated their seven year-old’s upanayana—as potential perverts who should be kept away from white children? (For more on the upanayana ceremony please read page 238 and 239, chapter 17)

This interpretation is supported by explanations in numerous traditional commentaries.The staff is seen to be a reminder and a symbol of Dharmic authority, or Dharmic discipline with which the teacher invests the student and motivates him to pursue his divinely ordained duty of studying the sacred texts before he gets married.

The staff is widely used to symbolize authority and discipline in numerous cultures all over the world, and Hindu texts are no exception. Perhaps Courtright could explain to us what the staff of Moses, which parted the Red Sea, stands for in his Freudian world.

Courtright does not even make the pretense of acknowledging how the Hindu tradition itself interprets the staff of a celibate student, something that he could have found out by referring to even basic works on Hindu samskaras or sacraments. He would have found that according to some authorities, studentship was considered as a long sacrifice, and therefore, a student was expected to bear the staff just as a scholar would in a long sacrifice. Paraskara Grihyasutra 2.6.26 suggests that the purpose of the staff was to protect against human and non-human attackers. According to Manava Grihyasutra 1.22.11, the student is a traveler on the long road of knowledge. When this paradigm is considered, the staff assumed by the student then becomes reminiscent of the staff used by a traveler. According to the Varaha Grihyasutra, the staff was the symbol of the watchman. Apararka in the Yajnavalkya Smriti 1.29 states that bearing the staff makes the student self-confident and self-reliant when he goes out to the forest to collect fire-sticks for yajnas, for tending the cattle of his teacher, or when he travels in darkness. In other words, while the Indian tradition takes the staff as a symbol of authority, discipline, protection and so on, Courtright sees just a Penis.

Marriage of Ganesha

Hindu tradition is not uniform on the marital status of the deity. While the dominant view depicts him as a son devoted to his mother and as a bachelor, other traditions state that he has two wives. Courtright expends a lot of energy in depicting the ‘eunuch’ and ‘oral’ nature of Ganesha, in keeping with his Freudian paradigms. So when conflicting textual evidence relating to his marital status emerges, it has to be explained away in some way. Courtright does this with the following

Iconographically he is sometimes represented sitting between Siddhi and Buddhi, but there is little in the way of mythology about his marriage in the textual tradition. These women appear more like feminine emanations of his androgynous nature, saktis rather than spouses having their own characters and stories. (For more on this please read page 240, chapter 17)

Courtright continues:

The celibate character of his marriage is evoked by the seventh century poet, Bana, who wrote of Ganesa and his bride as the fusedandrogyne, lacking sufficient separateness from one another to
engage in the erotic possibilities of marriage. ‘May the single tusked Ganesa guard the universe, who imitates his parent’s custom in that his bride, it seems, has been allowed to take that half of
him wherein his face is tuskless.’

Banabhatta is in fact referring to the concept of ardhnaariishvara283 that depicts Siva and Parvati (who definitely are not a celibate couple) as two halves of one deity, and suggests that the wife of Ganesha, being tusk-less, represents a similar conception with her constituting that side of his which does not have the tusk (since one of his tusks is broken). (For more please read page 241, chapter 17)

Read chapter 17 part 4 from page 229 to 241

Pdf of the book is available for free download here.