Lalitambika Antarjanam was born in 1909 in the Kottarakara district of southern Kerala of literary parents who both wrote poetry. ... Lalitambika’s short story “Revenge Herself,” published in the Malayalam journal Mathrubhumi in 1938 and here translated by Vasanti Sankaranarayanan, is based on an actual event. ... In “Revenge Herself,” Lalitambika describes the lifestyle of Tatri, a young Nambudiri woman in the late nineteenth century. ... Tatri, like other Nambudiri women, was brought up to believe that her husband would be her pratyaksha deivam, visible god; her pati devata, husband god. A good woman was a pati vrata, her husband’s devotee. Lalitambika’s novel Agnisakshi also refers to Parasurama, one of the ten incarnations of the Lord Vishnu, who according to legend threw his axe into the sea and raised a piece of land that later came to be known as Kerala. (The Life of Hinduism, 218-9)
To begin with, she was as innocent as any one of you. she too once made karuka garlands. She too prayed like you, raptly clasping her black string. She fasted on all auspicious days. She was innocent, she had neither looked upon a man nor spoken with him. Grandmothers used to uphold Tatri as a model of propriety to all the young girls who come of age. ...
On a certain night a new courtesan appeared on the festival grounds and temple precincts. She was beautiful and witty. Her modest attracted men even more than her beauty. Princes, courtiers, and Nambudiris, all sought her company. At first she kept them all at arm’s length, saying she was a married woman with a husband who was still alive. She withheld a crucial detail about herself, however — the community to which she belonged. They brushed aside her pleas to be left alone. They argued that in Kerala, the land of Parasurama, a woman was allowed as many husbands as the chose. The only women who were outside this rule were the Nambudiris. The rest, they said, were free to enjoy their pleasure. Oh, these men who seem so honorable, so saintly! Men who expect unquestioning faithfulness from their own wives, but who are quite willing to ruin another’s!
“But, all the same, we as Nambudiris can never forget Tatri. From your world of darkness and silence you hurled a random firecracker as a warning and a challenge. Nevertheless it ignited a torch for us in our generation, and there will be greater fires in times to come. Your revenge will be forgiven because of those radiant future fires.” (The Life of Hinduism, 227)
The case studies that follow offer a few salient examples of particular modes in which aspects of Hinduism have made inroads into the West. (IH, 349)
Swami VivekanandaIn 1893, the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in tandem with the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, attracted a number of influential figures. Among these were Annie Besant of the Theosophical Society and Swami Vivekananda. Educated as a lawyer and a member of the Brahmo Samaj, Narendranath Dutta (1863-1902) eventually turned to the teachings of the unconventional Hindu saint, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, and became his most celebrated disciple. After Ramakrishna’s death, Dutta took up official renunciation and eventually assumed the name Swami Vivekananda. ... Invited to speak in various venues in the United States and England after the Chicago gathering, Swami Vivekananda then returned to India, formed the Ramakrishna Order [a.k.a. the Vedanta Society], and dispatched teachers to the West. Vivekananda’s visit to the West is regarded as a pivotal moment in the West’s burgeoning interest in Hinduism. ...
The Vedanta Society
The influence of the Vedanta Society in the West was so great in the twentieth century that it is not unusual to still find introductory texts on Hinduism portraying “Hindu religion/philosophy” essentially as radical non-dualist Vedanta in the tradition of Sankara. A quote from the Rg Veda (1.164.46) that runs, “Ekam sad; vipra bahudha vadani” (Truth is one; sages all call it variously) conveys their inclusive, tolerant spirit. The Vedanta Society exemplifies the transmission of those facets of Hinduism that have intellectual appeal, and which meld well with Western rationalism and Christian monotheism. (IH, 350)
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born in central India, and obtained a university degree in physics. Having served for many years under one of the leaders of a Sankara monastery in North India, he began his own organization which came to be known as the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement. TM took the West by story in the early 1970s after attracting such high profile disciples as members of The Beatles, a popular music band. The organization claims to have taught its technique to over five million people and now runs a variety of educational centers.
Transcendental Meditation consists of mantra repetition, which is to be performed in two 20-minute sessions daily. TM is presented very clearly as not a religion, lifestyle, or philosophy, but a simple technique that reduces stress and enhances mental tranquility, and as a result brings with it other health and even economic benefits. It has supported scientific research into the physical and psychological benefits derived from the practice of its technique. It would not be an exaggeration to acknowledge that the Transcendental Meditation movement was a major contributor to the general acceptance in the West of meditation as an effective means of stress reduction, and similar techniques are now routinely prescribed by medical professionals. TM exemplifies the promulgation of a technique derived from ancient yogic practices, but divorced from its religious and soteriological contexts. ... In doing so, the TM method has not been perceived as much of a threat to Western religious traditions, and it is now rare to hear accusations of “brainwashing” and so on, which were commonplace during the years of its introduction to the West. (IH, 351)
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1988), although mostly unknown, has been one of the most influential patriarchs of yoga practice in the West. ... Although all the schools spawned by Krishnamacharya’s teachings purport to integrate all of the Eight Limbs (astangha) presented in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, and other yoga treatises, the schools primarily emphasize posture and breath work, at least in the initial stages.Yoga has entered the mainstream in the West and is widely practiced as a form of physical fitness exercise responding to Western preoccupations with longevity and quality of life. As in the case of Transcendental Meditation, the liberative purposes of yoga, as expressed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, are downplayed or completely ignored. Because of the differing objectives, it might be more appropriate to label the configurations of the Western practices as yogic techniques, rather than the darsana of Yoga, per se. (IH, 355-6)
The Life of Hinduism, 249-53
God: The One in Many
The “Personalized Religion”
The Five Manifestations of the One
Love of All Life: Nonviolence
Contributions to the World