Shashi Tharoor offers a profound re-examination of Hinduism, one of the world's oldest and greatest religious traditions.
Opening with a frank and touching reflection on his personal beliefs, he lays out Hinduism's origins and its key philosophical concepts — including Vedanta, the Purusharthas, and Bhakti — before focusing on texts such as the Bhagadvagita. The 'Great Souls', or key individuals of Hinduism, from Adi Shankara to Vivekananda, are discussed, as are everyday Hindu beliefs and practices, from worship to pilgrimage to caste.
Tharoor is unsparing in his criticism of extremism and unequivocal in his belief that what makes India a distinctive nation with a unique culture will be imperilled if Hindu 'fundamentalists', the proponents of 'Hindutva', or politicised Hinduism, seize the high ground. In his view, it is precisely because Hindus form the majority that India has survived as a plural, secular democracy.
A book that will be read and debated now and in the future, Why I Am a Hindu, written in Tharoor's captivating prose, is a revelatory and original contribution to our understanding of religion in the modern era.
Tharoor, an Indian writer and member of parliament in the Indian National Congress, embraces his dual role to offer a personal account of his relationship to Hinduism and a trenchant critique of recent Hindu nationalism. The first part of the book is an explication of Hindu theology and the author's reasons for faith; the second part offers a history and criticism of 20th-century Hindu nationalism. The personal testimony shared in the first half is engrossing as Tharoor nimbly pulls together an overview of key Hindu texts, emphasizing that their heterogeneity is a strength and providing a long bibliography for further reading. His expressions of devotion are also refreshingly genuine, and accessible even to a reader with little knowledge of Hinduism. The second half, however, is less likely to appeal to an audience outside India; while its criticisms are sound, the level of detail makes it tedious reading for readers with no or little interest in Indian politics. With meticulous explanations of his positions in support of pluralism and against "Hindutva" (politicized Hinduism), the tone reads like the campaigning of an opposition politician which, in fact, Tharoor is. Although general readers will find much here hard to parse, those interested in Indian politics will get a thorough account of Tharoor's beliefs and the politics of the Indian National Congress.