Book review History Recommended Read

Book Review | Amazing Secrets of Hinduism By ED Viswanathan

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Amazing Secrets of Hinduism is a nifty, little book on Hinduism, written by the US-based author ED Viswanathan.

Meant to be a primer for those who don’t know much about Hinduism, Amazing Secrets of Hinduism ticks most of the boxes. It educates and informs. It sets the platform for deeper exploration into the subject if one wants to take that route.

The author writes in a breezy manner. You can just open the book and start from there. There are no chapters as such, but, small, byte-sized vignettes instead.

It’s a great fit for people who want to be well-versed with their roots and their history, but don’t have time to engage in a deep exploration.

The book also doesn’t make any fanatical statements nor does it propound any political agendas in the garb of religion. It’s a simple book that gives you an overview of one of the oldest civilizations on earth.

Being a religion with no founder in particular, Hinduism and its origins stir the interests of many. ED Viswanathan defines Hinduism as a way of life. He says it’s the research output of countless learned men called Rishis (the enlightened sages).

He demystifies and delineates the ancient literature which puzzles many of the present generation. After reading this book, you would know a good deal about Hindu scriptures and how one is different from another. Specifically, you would have a fair idea about the Vedas, the Upnishads, the Darshanas, the Agamas, the Dharam Shastras and the Itihaasas.

Amongst many interesting insights in the book, one that totally captured my interest is the existence of an atheist literature in Hinduism called Cārvāka or Charvaka philosophy. Following is a tenet from the Charvaka Philosophy:

Heaven and Hell are nothing but inventions. The only goal of humans is to enjoy pleasures and avoid pain.

Until I read this book, I had no idea that a school of thought that flies in the face of the Vedas not only exists but it has also been accepted as a counterthesis and given the same reverence as other extant Indic texts.

The book also answers profound questions: What does it mean to surrender to God? What does God want of us? What happens to us when we die? Author leans on Bhagavad Gita to provide answers to these and many other existential questions.

Some parts in the book make you think at a deeper level whereas others make you question author’s arguments. Sample this, for example:

Of all the literary texts, the book discusses the Vedas in detail. About Rig Veda, the linguistic evidence suggests the text was written aroud 1500 BCE. ED Viswanathan says that it’s older than the epic of Gilgamesh. Notably, the Sumerian epic poem was composed in 2500 BCE and is widely considered to be the oldest extant literature.

You may find this confusing. But this is where the idea of inquiry comes in, something ED Viswanathan emphasizes in the preface. He requests the reader to question everything and not accept everything at its face value.

It seems counterintuitive. You write a book about ancient history and then dissuade the readership to not believe something just because it has been handed down through generations. Though that’s the exercise the author wants you to undertake – check your facts, investigate. That’s also the core essence of Hinduism – the relentless pursuit for truth.

That brings me to two major lacunae in the book. One is the lack of depth about many topics, and second is the lack of bibliography. The former could make a certain section of the purists feel dissatisfied because a book on Hinduism without the convoluted details is unimaginable. However, that can’t be held against the author because his objective is only light up a spark.

The lack of a bibiliography, however, is a major shortcoming. It is something that could be hard to condone for many readers.

Conclusion

Reading Amazing Secrets of Hinduism is akin to going through a crisp slideshow. Each page is embedded with curiosity-piquing pieces of information.

A fast reader can finish this book in 2-3 hours max. But if you are like me who likes to nibble and imbibe information, it could take slightly longer.

Finally, if you want a primer to start your quest into Hinduism or Indology, this book aptly fits the bill. But if you seek a deep-dive into the subject, please look elsewhere.


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