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Why I Am a Hindu

An insider’s guide to the history of Hinduism

By Shashi Tharoor
12-minute read
Audio available
Why I Am a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor

Why I Am a Hindu (2018) is a meditation on religion and national identity from the perspective of one of India’s leading politicians, Shashi Tharoor. Written with an eye to the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, it unpacks the 4,000-year-old history of his faith and argues that today’s Hindutva movement is perverting an ancient tradition of tolerance and diversity. If Indians want to see their country flourish, Tharoor concludes, they’ll have to reject the ruling party’s chauvinism and embrace that great cultural legacy.

  • Politics buffs and history students
  • Anyone fascinated by one of the world’s largest religions
  • Champions of multiculturalism and tolerance

Shashi Tharoor is an Indian parliamentarian, author and ex-diplomat. A member of the Indian National Congress party, he has represented the district of Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala since 2009. His previous books include the novel Riot (2001) and An Era of Darkness (2017), a study of British misrule in India during the colonial period.

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Why I Am a Hindu

By Shashi Tharoor
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Why I Am a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor
Synopsis

Why I Am a Hindu (2018) is a meditation on religion and national identity from the perspective of one of India’s leading politicians, Shashi Tharoor. Written with an eye to the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, it unpacks the 4,000-year-old history of his faith and argues that today’s Hindutva movement is perverting an ancient tradition of tolerance and diversity. If Indians want to see their country flourish, Tharoor concludes, they’ll have to reject the ruling party’s chauvinism and embrace that great cultural legacy.

Key idea 1 of 7

Hinduism is a rich religion full of diversity.

Every faith is unique. Take the Semitic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the most common creeds in the Western world. Each has its own distinctive set of beliefs about the world and the divine. But they also overlap: all three, for example, believe that there’s only one God and that he’s a real, if intangible, entity. A true believer must accept that core doctrine.

Hinduism, on the other hand, is a completely different kind of religion. Unlike their monotheistic counterparts, Hindus believe in many gods. These include Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, and Shiva, the destroyer. There are also a wide array of sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Rigveda. Every Hindu is free to choose which god she worships, which texts she reads and when and where she prays.

That makes Hinduism a deeply personal faith which varies from one believer to the next. The common thread? Every Hindu strives for self-realization and oneness with Brahman, a genderless soul which represents the ultimate truth permeating all reality. The absence of rules means that Hindus can follow different paths toward that goal: no one but the individual believer can determine which one is best suited to achieving their spiritual aims.

This idea is deeply rooted in the tradition itself. Take Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), a monk whose religious teachings have had a profound effect on the author’s understanding of his own faith. According to Vivekananda, anyone can achieve divinity if they study, pray and maintain their discipline. How exactly they did that, he argued, was up to them – after all, the path to divinity can’t be predetermined. Dogma and doctrine thus took a back seat in Vivekananda’s understanding of Hinduism. What really mattered was merging one’s soul with Brahman and achieving true freedom.

As we’ll see in the next blink, this profound commitment to diversity and freedom means that Hinduism even recognizes the value of following different religions.

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