Hinduism on Freud

Book Review

Hinduism on Freud’s Couch -Makkhan Lal

Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America. (Eds.) Krishnan Ramaswami, Antonio de Nicolas and Aditi Banerjee. Published by Rupa & Co.
*Prof. Makkhan Lal is the founder Director of Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management, an institution of higher learning and research. Before joining DIHRM, he had taught in the Banaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University. He was the first Charles Wallace Fellow in Cambridge University and Senior Fellow at Clare Hall. He has published 16 books and over 150 research papers.

Invading the Sacred is one of the most powerful books I have read in the recent past. In fact, I have never felt so disturbed by reading just one book and have never found so much material on distorted version of Hinduism in one tome. The book revolves around distortions about vulgarisation of Hinduism in the studies of American White scholars in the name of psychoanalysis and the debate initiated on it by Mr. Rajiv Malhotra [1] through his path-breaking paper RISA Lila-1 Wendy’s Child Syndrome. [2] In this review article, efforts have been made to retain, as far as possible, the original language of the book. The central theme of the book is that the ideas which formed the keystone of moral realisation offered by the British for colonialism and exploitation continue to enjoy wide academic respectability in the West even today. What has changed over a period of time is the intellectual jargon that clothes these analyses. The goal of the book is to explain how and why such images of India and its culture and civilisation are produced, sustained and propagated even today. It shows that these chaotic and selective images of India are not only product of the personal biases and prejudices of journalists, TV produces, religious bigots or individual researchers but also of entrenched institutionalised mechanism. Starting in well-respected, ostensibly ‘research-based’ but culturally parochial, halls of American and Western academe, these images filter down into mainstream Western culture where they acquire an incredible force in shaping how India is seen. With some variations, the portrayals of India have the features, familiar to us from Western media and colonial and missionary literature. Indian culture is defined by a series of abuses, such as caste, sati, dowry murders, violence, religious conflict, grotesque deities and so on. This book i.e. Invading the Sacred challenges these western portrayals of India in a most systematic manner.

The Players

The starting point of the book is a searching analysis of how elements of American Academy, especially the powerful American Academy of Religion (AAR), like to imagine and portray India and Hinduism. In contrast to how American Business Schools view India – a place of opportunity, problems and problem-solving creativity – these scholars project a generally negative, chaotic and backward view about India.
As with any large academic field, Religious Studies in the US is highly organised and features prestigious journals, academic chairs, and planned and extensive programmes of study. The AAR is a primary organisation for academic scholars of Religious Studies in the United States. Religion in South Asia (RISA) is a unit within the AAR for scholars who study and teach about religion in the Indian subcontinent.

The AAR traces its origin back to 1909 when an organisation was formed for Professors and scholars of Biblical Studies whose ‘purpose was to stimulate scholarship and teaching in [Christian] religion’. In 1922, the name was changed to National Association of Biblical Institutions (NABI). [3] Thus, its early history was clearly Bible-centric. In 1963, stimulated by the ‘change in the study of religion4, NABI became the American Academy of Religion (AAR). The AAR ‘has over 8,000 members who teach in some 1,500 colleges, universities, seminaries and schools in North America and abroad’. [5]

Since its inception, the Religious Studies organisations that evolved into AAR have maintained close relations with the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), founded in 1880. For many decades, the two have held their conferences jointly. While SBL members primarily study and promote insiders’ views of Judeo-Christianity [6], the AAR members are not supposed to promote any particular viewpoint, and are required instead to pursue study of religions through a neutral lens. The stated mission of AAR is to promote objectivity from within, or outside of, any particular religious tradition. With a growing membership, the AAR has developed an enormous clout over the direction of Religious Studies in particular and the humanities at large.

The Impact

Americans in general are deeply religious people who see the world through the lenses of religion, particularly some variants of Judeo-Christianity. Western representation of India is inseparable from depiction of India’s religions, particularly Hinduism. Many post-colonial scholars of Indian origin have tried unsuccessfully to wish this link away. The problems of India are seen by Americans as inseparable from the problems of Hinduism. Attempts by secular Indians to distance themselves from Hinduism have led to an academic vacuum about Indian traditions, which has been filled by Western and American scholars who often have their own agendas to serve.

The researches and writings of religious scholars associated with AAR and RISA go beyond the discipline’s boundaries, penetrating the mainstream media, and directly impacting the American public perception of India via museum displays, films and textbooks. The study of religion informs a variety of disciplines, including Asian Studies, International Studies, Women’s Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, History, Literature, Journalism, Education and Politics. Western theories of Hinduism have produced fantastic caricature of Hindus that could be dramatised by Hollywood movies, satirical TV sit-coms, or animated sci-fi cartoons. In all this, AAR’s Religion in South Asia (RISA) group can be identified as a key source of Western academic influence over India-related studies.

Inputs from these scholars decidedly have an impact on US foreign policy. For instance, a recent conference at the University of Chicago featured Wendy Doniger, Martha Nussbaum, Amartya Sen, among others; who discussed about the generic ‘Hindu groups’ as the most serious threat to India’s democracy. Indeed, in the conference announcement, Nussbaum claimed that ‘Americans are wrong to be focusing on Islamic fundamentalism as a threat to democracy’. She alleged that thinking about India is instructive to Americans, who in the age of terrorism can easily over-simplify pictures of the forces that threaten democracy… In India, the threat to democratic ideals comes not from a Muslim threat, but from Hindu groups’. [7]

Unlike in India, the academic study of religions in the US is a major discipline involving over 8,000 university professors, most of whom are members of AAR. Within this organised hierarchy, the study of Hinduism is an important and influential discipline. The book highlights the fact that the discipline has been shaped by the use of Euro-centric categories that are assumed to be universal by Western syndicated research. The producers and distributors of this specialised research/knowledge comprise a sort of closed, culturally insular cartel, which has disastrous consequence for original thinking about India and Hinduism.

The selective and questionable ‘academic research’ and its consequences filter into American classrooms, textbooks and media. Thus, the average American learns much about India from the received wisdom of the Academy.

Structure of the Book

The book is about the recent challenge to this state of affair i.e. the depiction of Indian culture and religion as pathological, exotic, queer and abusive – initiated by Mr. Rajiv Malhotra, an Indian diaspora intellectual, and the responses and counter-attacks from the academic religious studies establishment in America. As a result of this debate, the Indian Americans and others have started to systematically critique the misrepresentations of Hindu traditions with the hope to widen the range of ideas presented in the Academy. This has generated a groundswell of support among the Indians worldwide and appreciative participation by many academicians. At the same time, however, it has brought anger from many entrenched academicians who see a threat to the status quo of power.

The book is divided into four sections. Section–I (pp. 13-115) is a summary of Mr. Rajiv Malhotra’s path-breaking paper critiquing the academic study of Hinduism, which has opened up serious debate. [9] The evidence shows serious problems with the training, competence and the mindset of academic scholars of Hinduism and raises questions about their parochial approaches and methodologies and at the same time the peer reviews. This section gives many examples, of how the image of India and Hinduism are distorted by these scholars. Imagine the psychological damage wrought on an Indian who is made to read a text that says that ‘Ganesa’s trunk symbolises a limp phallus; Ganesa’s broken tusk is a symbol of castration complex of Indian men; his large belly and love for sweets are proof of Hindu male’s enormous appetite for oral sex; Lord Siva is interpreted as a womaniser whose temples encourage ritual rape, prostitution and murder; Ramakrishna Paramahansa was a conflicted homosexual and a pedophile who sexually abused Swami Vivekananda; Lord Rama caused oppression of Indian minorities and women; goddess Kali is the mother with penis; tantra temples are centers of rape and murder rituals, and so on. This section also gives examples as to how American scholars not only try to justify such outrageous writings but also how various foundations and organisations go to the extent of praising and awarding such works and giving prestigious appointments.

Section-II (pp. 117-247) contains various other scholarly and thoughtful essays, many of which resulted from Mr. Rajiv Malhotra’s attempts to start a critique of academic Hindu phobia. These include noted academicians like Prof. S.N. Balagangadhara, Dr. Allan Rolland, Prof. Somnath Bhattacharya and Dr. Yevette Rosser, among others. These essays by experts in various fields highlight serious problems with the use of Euro-centric lenses and methodologies on Indian thought and culture and also raise questions about the level of scholarly training in the Academy.

Section-III (pp. 249-340) chronicles what transpired in the wake of all this intellectual ferment. It describes both the community activism by the Indian American community and the actions and reactions of many scholars from the academic establishment. The Diaspora and a few courageous members of academia attempted to start a serious, no-holds-barred debate on the merits of the issues raised. But on the other side are many Western scholars who insist that they know Indian culture, perhaps even better than the Indians themselves. They see any criticism from ‘outsiders’ as an attack from unqualified people who are ‘emotional’ and ‘dangerous’ rather than rational. Any attempts at debate are branded as ‘Hindutva’ or ‘saffron’ or ‘fundamentalist’ without any basis. It seems that the mere act of defiance against the American institutional establishment can attract wrathful condemnation.

Section-V (pp. 341-404) examines how this debate was, and is, being played out in the American mainstream media – such as in Washington Post and New York Times – as well as niche publications like the Diaspora press and alumni magazines. It provides an account of well-entrenched stereotypes and tropes as well as attempts to challenge them.

Why Blame Others?

The editors of the book and contributors to it are very clear that the entire blame for biases and selective portrayals of Hinduism and Indian culture can not be laid at the doorsteps of the AAR, RISA or even the biased scholars within it. Indians themselves have contributed to the problem in significant ways. While American universities have major programmes for studying world religions and cultures, Indian universities do not offer similar programmes and provide the intellectual inputs to the world. Indeed, the discipline of Religious Studies does not even exist in most universities in India due to the particular myth that positive knowledge about, and intellectual involvement with, religion breeds communalism. Many Americans are shocked to learn that there is a deep prejudice among India’s intellectually colonised intelligentsia, according to which secularism implies the exclusion from, or even condemnation of Indic religions in, civic society – which is exact opposite of the respectful place given by American secular civic society to its majority Judeo-Christian traditions.

Unlike all other major world religions, Hinduism does not have its own home team, by which we mean a combined group of academic scholars who are both practitioners of the faith and well-respected in the academia at the highest levels. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism each have their respective home teams in the academics – in fact, multiple homes representing different denominations of these religions. Even China has recently established numerous well-funded Confucius institutes around the world that teach Chinese civilisational approaches to human issues on par with western models.

However India’s case and responsibility of Indian academia and universities does not end here. Even the departments (like Sanskrit, Archaeology, History, Culture, Philosophy etc.) where religious studies could be undertaken have not fulfilled their obligations to the nation and its people. The reason for this apathy/failure/willful negligence is best illustrated by Prof. Dilip Chakrabarti, who observes how the West has bred and bought off a whole generation of elitist Indians, and how this axis operates:

After Independence … [Indians] – especially those from the ‘established’ families – were no longer apprehensive of choosing History as an academic career… To join the mainstream, the historians could do a number of things: expound the ruling political philosophy of the day, develop the art of sycophancy to near-perfection or develop contacts with the elite in bureaucracy, army, politics and business. If one had already belonged to this elite by virtue of birth, so much the better. For the truly successful in this endeavour, the rewards were many, one of them being the easy availability of ‘foreign’ scholarships/fellowships, grants, etc. not merely for themselves but also for their proteges and the progeny. On the other hand, with the emergence of some specialist centers in the field of South Asian social sciences in ‘foreign’ universities, there was no lack of people with different kinds of academic and not-so-academic interest in South Asian history in those places too. The more clever and successful of them soon developed a tacit patron-client relationship with their Indian counterparts, at least in the major Indian universities and other centers of learning. In some cases, ‘institutes’ or ‘cultural centers’ of foreign agencies were set up in Indian metropolises themselves, drawing a large crowd of Indians in search of short-term grants or fellowships, invitations to conferences or even plain free drinks. [10]

Gayatri Chakravorty-Spivak has explained how Western historians deny Indians’ contribution in the field:

It is almost as if we don’t exist. That is to say, colonials, even upper class colonials, do not exist as agents. It is not as though these historians don’t know a lot of people like that when they go for their fieldwork and so on. But when it comes to the work they present we never hear of people… you never see anything that puts them on the same level of human agency. [11]

And finally scholars who have done substantial work that challenges the western scholars’ theses are demonised, accused of communalism, Hindutva, etc.

Mr. Rajiv Malhotra has rightly pointed out that while Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Korean, Arabs and even various European cultures such as Irish, Italian and French for instance have already funded and managed the American academic representation of their cultural identities, Indian Americans have not done so to a comparable extent. They have been content with building temples, while their cultural portrayals in the education system and the media has been abandoned to the mercies of the dominant Western traditions. [12] The results have hardly been fair and balanced. In a world where perception and reality are interlinked, this is worrisome for Indians the world over.

Authenticity of representation and full participation in shaping the understanding of one’s culture has implications beyond the fields of anthropology and cultural and religious studies. A number of historians and sociologists have pointed out that the control of others’ depiction by the White Americans has led to their ethnic cleansing, incarceration, enslavement, invasions and genocides. Native Americans, Blacks, Jews, Gypsies, Cubans, Mexicans, Chinese, Philippines, Japanese, Vietnamese and now Iraqis have suffered brutalities that were legitimised by their depictions as primitive, exotic, irrational, heathen, savage, dangerous and lacking in human values. [13]

On a wider canvas, one may feel upbeat about India’s success from business and economic points of view that is exemplified by books like Gurucharan Das’ India Unbound or Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat or even a large number of articles in business periodical like Forbes, Fortune and Business Week. But the fact remains that perceptions change with much efforts. Diplomat and intellectual Simon Anholt [14] observes that while India is shining in business, especially IT, there are many other factors determining its image and credibility. This image, in turn, will either facilitate or hamper India’s quest for economic growth in a globally competitive world. He writes:

A country is like a brand because it has a reputation, and because that reputation partly determines its success in the international domain. The ability of each country to complete against others for tourists, for investments, for consumers, for the attention and respect of the media and other countries is significantly determined by power and quality of its range… What seems certain is that India’s brand new image is a fragile one, based on a couple of prominent sectors and a handful of globally successful entrepreneurs… but it isn’t yet clear how ‘Capitalist India’ fits together in the public imagination with the Indo-Chic of music, fashion and movies and with the ‘Traditional India’ image of vast, mysterious, culturally rich but chaotic and even desperate country. A clear, single, visionary national strategy is badly needed – but one that is, of course, rooted in truth and not in wishful thinking. [15]

Anholt’s point is that unless Indians take charge of engagement with the world vis-à-vis their country and its culture is portrayed properly, the economic future of all Indians may be at stake.

Importance of this image and branding was very much visible in the recent acquisition of Arcelor by Mittal Steel. It’s Chairman Lakshmi Mittal’s culture, race and religion came under great scrutiny. The New York Times reported that Arcelor’s principals initially ridiculed the idea of a merger with ‘a company of Indians’ and it was only after shareholders threatened to revolt that they backtracked. The Times also reported that the offer by Mittal was originally mocked as ‘monkey money from an Indian’. Mittal was viewed as ‘Attila the Hun attacking from the East taking over an iconic company from the West’. [16] Arcelor even turned to a shadowy Russian Conglomerate – on the publicly declared grounds that they were Europeans (and therefore civilised) – to act as a White Knight to present takeover by the Indians.


In this section, we will get some glimpses of American scholars engaged in the study of Indic religion, primarily Hinduism. This is not a group of rag-tag scholars engaged in sensationalism but a group of scholars that is well entrenched in American academia, holding positions in such exalted seats of learning as Chicago and Harvard Universities. These scholars say their study is based on Freudian psychoanalysis of the texts and their objects – be it gods, goddesses or revered saints like Ramakrishna Paramhansa. It may be pointed out that:

“Psychoanalysis… has been insufficiently aware of its underlying paradigm and its deep roots in Western culture. The implicit model of man that underlies the psychoanalytical meta-theory is certainly not universal; the psychoanalytical notion of the person as an autonomous, bounded, abstract individual is peculiarly a Western notion. In contrast, the holistic model of man that underlines Indian mystical approaches and propels their practices is rooted in the very different Indian cultural tradition which, in some ways, lies at an opposite civilizational pole.” [17]

Thus, the validity of applying Freudian psychoanalysis to the non-western religions is questionable. Most of the Hindu saints and ascetics remain unconcerned about these academic matters and psychoanalytic paradigm. However, Sri Aurobindo did take note of it and said that it is “difficult to take psychoanalysis seriously”. He said that “as a science [that] was still in its infancy – inconsiderate, awkward and rudimentary at one and the same time”. He further commented that “one cannot discover the meaning of the lotus by analyzing the secrets of the mud in which it grows”.

Despite the fact that psychoanalysis has been largely rejected within the contemporary western academia, it has become a very fashionable methodology to study Indian culture. It is, perhaps, because of the fact that no other methodology provides so much freedom and latitude to abuse and denigration of Indian culture under the garb of academic inquiry. This is proved by some of the studies by American academics analysed below:

Ramakrishna Paramhansa on the Couch of Jeffery Kripal

Under the guidance of Wendy Doniger [18], a Professor in Chicago University, Jeffery Kripal19 did his Ph.D. dissertation on Sri Ramakrishna. During his research, Mr. Kripal visited the Ramakrishna Missions in West Bengal. Several people at various offices of Ramakrishna Mission enthusiastically helped him during his research. [20] The scholars at the Ramakrishna Mission learnt about Kripal’s sensational conclusions years later after Kripal’s book came out. It was acclaimed as a great research book and won the First Book Award from American Academy of Religion (AAR), where Doniger and her colleagues hold not only powerful positions but virtually hold veto powers when it comes to South Asian studies on religions. The Encyclopedia Britannica listed Kripal’s book (and not Romain Rolland’s) as its top choice for learning about Ramakrishna Paramahansa. This goes to show that even a shoddily researched and hastily peer-reviewed work, if accepted and promoted by a favourable academic establishment, can swiftly become authoritative.

Mr. Jeffery Kripal’s work hinges on his translation of an old Bengali text along with the application of Freudian psychology. As can be seen subsequently in the text, much of his thesis is based on incorrect translation of Bengali writings about the life of Ramakrishna and indeed his complete ignorance of the Bengali language and culture. This has been established by several Bengali language and culture experts. [21] It was also reported that the sole Bengali language expert on Jeffery’s thesis committee absented himself when the dissertation was accepted. Even more importantly, none of the scholars on the AAR Award Committee, who glorified this by awarding its prestigious First Book Award, knew Bengali. Yet, the accuracy of translation was considered to be a defining aspect of this ‘prize-worthy’ research book! It is difficult to imagine that such a Ph.D. dissertation, if it were based on sources in Aramaic or Hebrew or Arabic, would emerge full blown in the field of Biblical studies or Quranic studies without an independent and thorough crosschecking.

Let us see what Jeffery Kripal writes about Ramakrishna on the basis of his psychoanalysis:

— “Ramakrishna was a conflicted, unwilling, homoerotic, Tantrika… Tantra’s heterosexual assumptions seriously violated the structure of his own homosexual desires. His female Tantric Guru and temple boss may have forced themselves… on the saint… but Ramakrishna remained… a lover not of sexually aggressive women or even of older men but of young, beautiful boys.” [22]

— Kripal asserts that his interpretation of Tantra as ‘sexy, seedy and strange’ is authentic while the long-standing Indian and Western philosophical interpretations of Tantra are just a cover-up. Kripal says that “Tantra is associated with magical power, strangeness, seediness and sex.” [23] All philosophical expositions and writings are rejected by Kripal because “they are designed to rid Tantra of everything that smacked of superstition, magic or scandal”. [24] Kripal insists that “Ramakrishna’s mystical experiences were constituted by mystico-erotic energies that he neither fully accepted nor understood”. [25]

— On the basis of his psychoanalysis theories, Kripal reconstructs Paramhansa’s early life as follows:

“The literature on sexual trauma suggests that individuals who have experienced abuse often become adept at altering their state of consciousness… lose control of their bodily, and especially their gastronomical, functions, experience visions and state of possession, become hypo-sensitive to idiosyncratic stimuli (like latrines), symbolically re-enact the traumatic events, live in the state of hyper-arousal… become hypersexual in their language or behaviour, develop hostile feelings towards mother figures, fear adult sexuality, and often attempt suicide. This list reads like a summary of Ramakrishna’s life.” [26]

Thus, Kripal denies any experience of trance, samadhi etc. by Paramhansa and reduces the whole thing to Paramhansa’s sexual abuse during his childhood. However, Swami Tyagananda points out that “None of the symptoms enumerated in the literature on sexual trauma [quoted by Kripal] is present in Ramakrishna’s life. [27]

— Kripal translates Bengali word khol (lap of mother) as ‘on the genitals’ and opines that “it is clear that Ramakrishna saw ‘the lap’ as normally defiled sexual space.” [28] Let us remember that in Indian culture and tradition, the ‘lap’ of mother is the most sacred and revered and attached to tender emotions. A poem written by Rabindranath Tagore and later adopted by independent Bangladesh as its National Anthem has the following lines: “Takhon Khela dhula sakal phele, O Ma, tomar, Khole Chete ashi” (The translation done by Tagore himself is: “After the day’s play is over, O Mother, I run back to your lap.”)

This shows how Jeffery Kripal is deliberately essentialising important and really the most sacred word into a connotation that goes well beyond the primary, secondary or tertiary meanings of the word, simply to suite his thesis.

— Similarly, Kripal justifies his translation of ‘head’ as phallus: “the head in the mystical yoga and Tantra [is] the ultimate goal of one’s semen and so an appropriate symbol for phallus.” [30]

— Jeffery Kripal translates ‘ast-aste aparsha karchhen’ (touching softly) as ‘softly touching’ to mean sodomy.

Kripal claims that Ramakrishna’s “uncontrollably rubbing sandal paste on the penises of boys.” [31] Kripal forgets that in the Indian culture, elders lovingly pat and caress children out of affection.

— Tribhanga is one of the most common pose in Indian sculptures. Tribhanga means three curved body poses; literally, three bends. This is also Krishna’s most common pose and in Bhakti poetry, he is named as ‘tribhangi-laal’. However, Kripal translates this pose as ‘cocked hips’ and see how he interprets it in the case of Ramakrishna: “Stunned by the cocked hips of the boy, Ramakrishna falls into Samadhi.” [32]

— Referring to Ramakrishna’s celebrated meeting with a sanyasin of Naga sect, Kripal imagines that there happened a lot in that meeting for which there is no evidence whatsoever. He writes:

“What it must have been like for Ramakrishna, a homosexually oriented man, to be shut away for days in a small hut with another stark-naked man. Vedanta instruction or not, it was this man’s nudity and more especially, his penis, that normally caught Ramakrishna’s attention. How could it not? [33]

— Even in correspondence and replies to reviews of his book, Jeffery Kripal insists that “Ramakrishna’s mystical states were accompanied, and likely generated, by some ethically problematic acts, among them pedophilia”; and in the reprint of the book declares that “the case of Ramakrishna’s homosexuality… seems to be closed… Kali’s Child has been alluded (to) by scholars… for being right.” [34]

Blood Thirsty Tongue and Self-Feeding Breasts

Sarah Caldwell is another illustrious member of RISA and, like Jeffery Kripal, has been bestowed with awards for one of her research papers, ‘The Blood Thirsty Tongue and the Self-Feeding Breasts: Homosexual Fellatio Fantasy in a South Indian Ritual Tradition’.

She writes:

“This essay demonstrates that in Kerala, symbolism of the fierce goddess [Kali] does not represent abreactions of the primal scene fantasies of a Kleinian ‘phallic mother’ or introjection of the father’s penis; rather, we will show that themes of eroticism and aggression in the mythology are male transsexual fantasies reflecting intense pre-Oedipal fixation on the mother’s body and expressing conflicts over primary feminine identity. [35]

The essential rituals of the Bhagavati cult all point to the aggressive and fatal erotic drinking of the male by the female, the infamous orgy of blood sacrifice of male ‘cocks’ at the Kodungallur Bhagavati temple; the male veliccappatu’s cutting of his head in a symbolic act of self castration… [Kali] is herself, first of all, a phallic being, the mother with a penis… she is the bloodied image of the castrating and menstruating {thus castrating} female… In this type of analysis the phallic abilities of the goddess disguise castration anxieties ultimately directed toward the father as well as homosexual desire for the father’s penis. Following Freud, such analyses stress the father-son polarity of the Oedipal conflict as the central trauma seeking expression. [36]

As Alter and O’Flaherty amply demonstrate, milk and breast-feeding are also symbolically transformed in the male imagination into semen and phallus… The ascetic male who retains the semen becomes like a pregnant female with breasts and swollen belly; the semen rises like cream to his head and produces extraordinary psychic powers… Not only are the fluids of milk and semen, symbolic equivalents, but the act of ‘milking’ or breastfeeding becomes a symbolic equivalent to the draining of semen from the phallus in intercourse. [37]

Caldwell uses the English word ‘cock’ for the rooster (a male domestic fowl) so as to link the ritual with the phallus. The use of word ‘cock’ in place of rooster or male domestic fowl is clear example of how her psychological predispositions enter into a supposedly ‘scholarly’ interpretation. So she goes so far as to put quotation marks around the word ‘cock’ (meaning a rooster as well as penis) in order to emphasise the double meaning that she is aware of but not the locals. In other words, this is a projection of scholars. Further “essentially, this shows the importance of psycho-analysing these scholars in order to evaluate their work.” [38]

Abusing Ganesa and Siva

Lord Ganesa has been the target of Mr. Paul Countright’s psychoanalysis in his book on Ganesa. The book even transcends the line of academic language. Given below is an example of his pornographic interpretive description of Siva and Ganesa:

[F]rom a psychoanalytic perspective, there is meaning in the selection of the elephant head. Its trunk is the displaced phallus, a caricature of Siva’s linga. It poses no threat because it is too large, flaccid, and in the wrong place to be useful for sexual purposes…. So Ganesa takes on the attributes of his father but in an inverted form, with an exaggerated limp phallus – ascetic and benign –whereas Siva is ‘hard’, erotic, and destructive. [39]

[Ganesa] 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. [40]

Ganesa is like a eunuch guarding the women of the harem. In Indian folklore and practice, eunuchs have served as trusted guardians of the antahpura, the seraglio. They have the reputation of being homosexuals, with a penchant for oral sex, and are looked upon as the very dregs of society. (Hiltebeitel 1980, p.162). […] Like the eunuch, Ganesa has the power to bless and curse; that is, to place and remove obstacles. Although there seem to be no myths or folktales in which Ganesa explicitly performs oral sex, his insatiable appetite for sweets may be interpreted as an effort to satisfy a hunger that seems inappropriate in an otherwise ascetic disposition, a hunger having clear erotic overtones. Ganesa’s broken tusk, his guardian staff, and displaced head can be interpreted as symbols of castration…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 that 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.” [41]

These bizarre interpretations, wholly manufactured by Courtright, are far outside the tradition and even worse, they caricature and ridicule Hinduism. Because Courtright was confident that he would not be held accountable by peers, or by the follower of Hinduism for manufacturing offensive images about a revered deity of Hinduism, he could candidly admit that he has no evidence for what he says, and then proceed to pronounce his flights of fancy as valid and scholarly interpretations. In other instances, evidence is invented from non-existent textual sources. Such books are not presented as fiction, or even acknowledged as parochial, limited interpretations – they are received by the academy as authoritative scholarly works. They then percolate into the mainstream culture via textbooks, media images, and explanations of Ganesa in American art museums.

Courtright’s book had an unexpected impact when it became a catalyst for waking up the Diaspora. What brought the Indian-American community to its feet was the realisation that wild ideas from the book were being presented in museums and other fora as fact. Many Indians wrote articles critical of Courtright’s interpretations. One critic wrote a particularly sarcastic piece, mimicking Doniger’s approach but applying it in the reverse direction to interpret Christian symbols and narratives. Using evidence similar to Courtright’s, this anonymous writer offered the following tongue-in-cheek analysis:

Jesus was a filthy and indecent man. He learned some magic tricks from the visiting Persian merchants. The Romans often invited him to perform at their parties, and in exchange, they offered him wine. So he routinely got drunk, tried to be ‘a notorious womanizer’, and was a hobo all his life. Since Jesus’ mother was a prostitute, she did not want to announce the true identity of his father, and had to make up a story for the illiterate nomads. Therefore, Mary claimed that Jesus was born without physical intercourse. So all his life, Jesus guarded the myth of his mother’s virginity and hid the immoral activities of his father and other customers who visited her for sex. The Roman commander played a joke upon Jesus by crucifying him using the cross, symbolizing that the cross was the phallus which his mother must have used for his conception. Thus, his followers today carry a cross as the phallic symbol of his immaculate conception. [42]

The sarcastic scribe then asked, “How would the above be considered if it were written by a non-Christian academic scholar in a country where Christianity is a small minority – just as Hinduism is a small minority in the US?”

In an introductory textbook on Eastern religions that is used extensively in undergraduate courses on World Religions and Asian Studies, Awakening: An Introduction to the History of Eastern Thought, Dr. Patrick Bresnan writes ‘authoritatively’ about Siva. Note that the sensationalistic prose and imagery he employs has now become a commonly accepted depiction of Siva in academic circles:

Entering the world of Siva worship is to enter the world of India at its most awesomely mysterious and bewildering; at least for the non-Indian. In Shiva worship, the Indian creative imagination erupts in a never-ending multiplicity of gods and demons, occult rituals, and stunning sexual symbolism… Linga/yoni veneration was not the whole of it… Young women, known as devadasis, were commonly connected with Shiva temples, and participated in, the rituals, sometimes only in a symbolic fashion; sometimes not. In a degraded form the devadasi became nothing more than temple prostitutes. These extremes were more often to be found among the practitioners of Tantra, that enigmatic antithesis of conservative Hinduism that developed in northeastern India. Some Tantra temples became notorious for all kinds of extreme practices, including ritual rape and ritual murder. In Calcutta, at the Temple of Durga (one of the forms of Shiva’s shakti) there was an annual festival at which many pigs, goats, sheep, fowl, and even water buffaloes would be slaughtered and ritually burned before the statue of the goddess. [43]

Consider following statements in various books about Ganesa, Siva and Parvati:

— Beheading is considered a regular symbol of castration both in dreams and fantasies; the elephant head (of Ganesa) “be a relic of the conflict in the ritual system between father and son and of the marriage of the son to the mother.” [44]

— The broken tusk of Ganesa is the symbol of his being castrated by Siva. Goldman says “the legend of Ganesa… is much clearer example of story representing the primal Oedipal triangle of son, father, and mother and sons attempt to posses the mother to the exclusion of the father, an attempt that leads to violent conflict and the final symbolic castration of the son.” [45]

— “This [castration] makes Ganesa sexually ambiguous or a sexless being who can be longer commit incest with his mother…” [46]

— “Ganesa icons with trunk and a single tusk are generally recognized as phallic.” [47]

— “The elephant trunk, which perpetually hangs limp, and the broken tusk are reminiscent of Siva’s own phallic character, but as these phallic analogs are either excessive or in the wrong place, they pose no threat to Siva’s power and his erotic claim on Parvati.” [48]

This sensationalised, extreme story of rape and murder at Siva temples is described in an introductory textbook meant for common use. This is disturbingly problematic, especially for Hindu minorities around the world. Let us reverse the situation to make the point. A hypothetical book informs its readers about the historically frequent occurrences of sex, rape and unwanted pregnancies in nunneries or recently exposed epidemic of pedophilia among catholic priests and evangelical ministers. Such a book will not include statements such as “being the bride of Christ and crucifix-veneration was not the whole of it. In a degraded form, the nuns who were ‘married’ off to Jesus were little more than church prostitutes, available to the powerful among the priesthood as well as laity”.

Nor would one approve a statement like “catholic churches are notorious for all kinds of extreme practices from rape of children to official protection for the rapist over decades”.

Indeed, such statement could be backed by enormous amount of data. For instance, in the US alone, hundreds of Christian priests have been implicated for the molestation of children. Of the nearly 200 dioceses in the country, every single one ‘except a handful’ has reported many such incidents. The victims are in thousands and the problem goes back to at least half-a-century. [49]

Since cannibalism does occur occasionally in Western societies, another equivalent scenario would be a textbook statement such as, “young Christian men and women are taught at an early age that eating flesh and drinking blood of godman Jesus is a good thing. They regularly participate in rituals where human flesh and blood are consumed, sometimes symbolically, sometimes not”.

The academic world is flooded with books and so-called research monographs by American scholars, especially from Chicago and Harvard Universities. No Hindu gods and goddesses are left out. The language, the contents, and indeed the graphic descriptions, leaves one wondering whether he is reading a book on religion, mythology and about gods and goddesses or pornography wherein each and every object, each and every word, and in each and every description, the only thing visible is sex, sex, sex and more sex in all its manifestations possible through imagination. Not that there is no criticism on the issue in the academic world, but the defence of such gutter literature is much more vociferous, shrill and strong in the name of what they called peer reviews.

Psychoanalysis of Authors

There has indeed been a huge outcry amongst the Indian Diaspora against such publications that can be termed as nothing but products of sick and perverted minds. There arose a great demand for the psychoanalysis of the authors themselves. Though no such analysis exists, but information available about scholars of such pornographic writings leaves little doubt that most of them are the products of broken homes, unwanted pregnancies, torture and abandonment by spouses, sexually abused childhood and so on. These writings reflect their personal experiences in life. Cynthia Humes says that Sarah Caldwell’s work (like Kirpal’s) is largely autobiographical in nature. Humes writes:

I do not doubt the sincerity of Caldwell’s belief that the goddess was somehow ‘running my show’ or that her personal tragedies had ‘meaning and significance beyond my personal lusts, fears, neuroses, and confusions’. Abundant examples of Caldwell’s lingering resentment are given free rein, deservedly in some ways toward her now ex-husband but less so toward her disapproving academic guide. This guide (despite his assistance in interviews, and arrangements to have one of his students aid her in settling in, and provision of some obviously helpful advice) she grills for his attempt to influence her research program. She further suspects him of avariciousness toward her grant and, ironically, belittles his suspicion of her possible infidelity (a suspicion that turns out to be justified). These become examples of Obeyesekere’s theories of ‘progressive orientation’, underscoring how Caldwell’s personal confession authorizes her broad psychoanalytic theories about a remarkably similar projected rage and resentment in the person of Bhadrakali. In so doing, Caldwell preserves and in important ways, I believe, even enlarges the power differential between author and reader that authorizes her participant-observer projections onto her subjects. [50]

Similarly, Jeffery Kripal’s past has been too much traumatic. Kripal himself writes that his father was a dark complexioned Roma (gypsy) who married a woman of Germanic descent. Prof. Narasingha Sil looks at Kripal’s psychosexual psychology as follows:

We learn that prior to joining graduate school at Chicago, Jeffrey was training to be a monk or a minister at a Catholic seminary, where he was ‘forced to explore the interfaces between sexuality and spirituality’ and he felt ‘more than tortured by [his] own psychosexual pathologies’. By ‘psychosexual pathology’ Kripal means, as he put parenthetically, anorexia nervosa. This means, as is well known, a pathological condition in which the patient cannot retain any food (or faeces, if we choose to go by a Kripal-like psychoanalytic symbolism which he applied to Ramakrishna) in the body. He also writes that he felt his readings in Christian bridal mysticism somewhat unholy because of its apparent homoeroticism. However, upon further cogitations (or perhaps meditations) on the subject, Kripal ‘came to a rather surprising conclusion in regard to [his] own mystico-erotic tradition: heterosexuality is heretical. He then tells readers that his ‘religious life was quite literally killing [him]’ – his ‘body weight had sunk well below the normal’. It was at this juncture that the future biographer of Ramakrishna turned his attention to stuff Hindu and chanced upon the Bengali priest of Dakshineswar. [51]

Another influential scholar, rather the one who has been leading this whole psychoanalytic group in the US, is Prof. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, who is Mircea Eliade Professor of History and Religion at the University of Chicago. She wields considerable influence in the study of Hinduism and is a high-profile scholar in the field. She is former president of American Academy of Religion (AAR) and a past president of Association of Asian Studies (AAR). Doniger’s writings and her knowledge of Sanskrit have been questioned time and again by scholars. Even her fellow travelers like Michael Witzel from the Harvard University have exposed her lack of even elementary knowledge of Sanskrit language and Hinduism. She has been even accused of plagiarising eminent scholars. About her academic approach, Nicholas Kazanas, an eminent European Indologist, examined Doniger’s obsession with sexual connotations. Referring to her book, Women, Androgynes and other Mythical Beasts, Prof. Nicholas Khazans writes that she is obsessed with only one meaning – the most sexual imaginable:

O’Flaherty [a.k.a. Doniger] seems to see only one function… of fertility and sexuality, copulation, defloration, castration and the like: even bhakti ‘devotion’ is described in stark erotic terms including incest and homo sexuality.

Doniger is known for her racy, bawdy and notorious interpretation of Hindu texts. A BBC-linked website describes her as follows:

Prof. Wendy Doniger is known for being rude, crude and lewd in the hallowed portals of Sanskrit academics. All her special works have revolved around the subject of sex in Sanskrit text.


Mr. Rajiv Malhotra, his Infinity Foundation, and a large number of his associates have done immense service to Hinduism by compiling and bringing out a consolidated study about the most vulgarised and distorted literature being produced under the garb of academic/research work by a small group of scholars who suffer from racism and mental sickness. Not that no criticism was made before Mr. Malhotra took over the campaign against such literature. But it was mostly confined to a handful of academic journals. The merits of this book and of Mr. Malhotra’s efforts lie in the fact that the whole thing has been brought out into the public domain, where it should have been long back. The fact that a large number of Western and American scholars as well as people joined the issue shows the importance attached to the matter. Commenting upon Paul Courtright’s work and approach on Ganesa, Prof. Antonio de Nicolas says:

The first responsibility of a scholar in describing, writing, speaking, teaching other cultures is to present those cultures or the elements of those cultures in the same manner those cultures are viewed by themselves, and by the people of those cultures. If not, then the scholars in using those cultures in the name only and his goal in their destruction, if not in intention at least in fact. ‘The flaccid phallus of Ganesa’ is an invention of author. An author who does not know how to present cultures by their own criteria should not be allowed to teach those cultures. His freedom of speech is not guaranteed by his ignorance. Freedom stops here. Opinions are not the food of the classroom at the hands of Professors. They guarantee knowledge. [52]

Prof. de Nicolas turns the mirror towards Paul Courtright and asks:

Would Dr. Courtright like to open a door to the enemies, or outsiders, of Christianity to do the same with Bible for example? Would he or others find it offensive if a Hindu scholars with full credentials and knowledge described the creation myth of the Bible as an absurd and gross sexual representation? For one thing Freud would not be needed. The Bible is very explicit. The creation myth (history) says very clearly that the Creator created the world by ejecting his semen ruh (pronounced as ruah) and mingling it with waters. In other words, the Creator created through masturbation. And if you stretch the story all the way to Jesus and follow the patrilineal lines given to him, turns out that Yahweh is his father.

Can you be more gross? And would any Ph.D. in religion be able to answer this attack? You see a Pandora’s Box is let open to inflict enormous pain on believers. Why not see the same pain on Hindus when their Gods are attacked? We are talking about interpretations not realities!!!

All stories about gods are bad stories. [53]

The net results and impacts of works like those of Wendy Doniger, Jeffery Kripal, Paul Courtright and Sarah Coldwell on the people and society have been best summarised by Prof. Jeffery D. Long of Department of Religious Studies, Elizabethtown College. He laments:

Indeed hateful speech and false information can create a climate in which violence is to the expected… So how long will it be before a crazed gunman attacks a crowded Hindu temple in American believing… that Hindus are possibly demons? How many children will grow up believing Hinduism is ‘filthy’ religion, or that Hindus worship the devil? When they grow up, how will such children treat their Hindu co-workers and neighbours? Will they give them respect due to a fellow citizen and human being? [54]


1. Shri Rajiv Malhotra is founder President of Infinity Foundation, Princeton, New Jersey, an NGO involved extensively in promoting education and correct interpretation of Indian heritage. See http://www.infinityfoundation.com/

2. See Shri Rajiv Malhotra’s article on Peer-Review Cartel at: http://rajivmalhotra.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=new&id=46&Itemid=34

3. NABI in Hebrew means ‘prophet’. This word NABI is the most common word in qawwalis and songs sung at the mazars of sufi saints.

4. A Brief History of the American Academy of Religion, http://aarweb.org/about/history.asp

5. Ibid.

6. “6000 members from every continent provide a forum to test ideas and advance the understanding of the Bible’s role in public arena.” From the SBL website: http://www.sbl-site.org/aboutus.aspx

7. Conference announcement at http://chonicle.unchicago.edu/051103/india.shtml

8. See ref. 2 above

9. http://rajivmalhotra.sulekha.com/; http://www.infinityfoundation.com/ and Arvind Sharma, 2004, “Hindus and Scholars” Religion in the News, Vol. 7, No.-1.

10. Dilip Chakrabarti, Colonial Indology-Sociopolitic, pp. 6-7

11.Gayatri Chakravarti Spivak ‘Neocolonialism and secret agents of Knowledge’ The Oxford Literary Review, 13 (1991) pp. 220-251.

12. Not only in American or European Universities and schools, the situation remains the same even in Indian universities and schools.

13. See Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building; Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment: The Myth of American Frontier in the Age of Industrialization; Richard Slotkin, Regeneration through Violence; and Robert Layton, Who needs the Past.

14. Simon Anholt, 1998, ‘Nation Brands of the 21st Century’, Journal of Brand Management, Vol. 5, No. 6.

15. Simon Anholt, Economic Times, Feb 5, 2007.

16. Heather Timons and Anand Giridharadas, ‘Arcelor Deal with Mittal Establishes New Steel Giant’ New York Times, June 25, 2006; and Heather Timons and Andrew. Kramer, ‘News Analysis: Arcelor’s Russian Roulette’, New York Times, May 30, 2006.

17. Sudhir Kakar, ‘Reflections on Psychoanalysis, Indian Culture and Mysticism’, review of The Oceanic Feeling: The Origin of Religious Sentiments in Ancient India by J.M. Masson.

18. See details about Wendy Doniger in ‘Psychoanalysis of Authors’, Section of this article.

19. See details about Jeffery Kripal in the last section of ‘Psychoanalysis of Authors’.

20. Little did honest and innocent helpers of the Jeffery Kripal knew his real intension and agenda. They, perhaps, thought that here is another Romain Rolland.

21. Swami Tyagananda, along with several other scholars like Prof. Narasingha Sil and Prof. Somnath Bhattacharya questioned Kripal’s grasp of Bengali and his questionable use of original sources.

See http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mardalap_rv/s_rv_tyya_kali_frameset.htm. Also see various chapters in the book under review.

22. Jeffery Kripal, Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teaching of Ramakrishna, 2nd Ed. pp. 2-3

23. Ibid, pp. 28-29

24. Swami Tyagananda, ‘Kali’s Child Revisited’ Evam: Forum on Indian Representations-I, Nos. 1-2(2002): pp. 173-90.

25. Jeffery Kripal, Kali’s Child, pp. 4-5.

26. Ibid, Pp. 298-99.

27. Swami Tyagananda, ‘Kali’s Child Revisisted’, p. 184.

28. Jeffery Kripal, Kali’s Child, p. 2.

29. Swami Tyagananda, ‘Kali’s Child Revisited’, p. 185

30. Jeffery Kripal, Kali’s Child, p. 76.

31. Ibid, p. 301

32. Ibid, p. 66

33. Ibid, p. 160

34. Ibid, pp. XXI, XXII

35. Sarah Caldwell, ‘The Bloodthirsty Tongue and the Self-Feeding Breasts: Homosexual Fellatio Fantasy in South Indian Ritual Tradition’, In Vishnu on Freud’s Desk, Eds. T.G. Vaidyanathan and Jeffery Kripal. p. 333

36. Ibid, p. 343

37. Ibid, p. 350

38. Rajiv Malhotra in RISA Lila 1: Wendy’s Child Syndrom.

39. Paul Courtright, Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginning, p. 121.

40. Ibid, p. 110

41. Ibid, p. 111

42. Book Review on Amazon.com

43. Patrick Besnon, Awakening: An Introduction to History of Western Thought, pp. 98-101.

44. Philip Spratt, Hindu Culture and Personality, pp. 126 & 186.

45. R.P. Goldman, 1978 ‘Fathers, Son, Gurus: Oedipal conflict in Sanskrit Epics”. Journal of Indian Philosophy, vol. 6, pp. 371-72

46. Paul Courtright, Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginning, p. 117.

47. G. Obeyesekere, The Cult of Goddess Patni, p. 471.

48. Paul Countright, Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginning, p. 95

49. See website run and maintained by former victims of Church at:


50. The ‘personal confessions’ refers to Caldwell’s writing about how she was sexually abused.

51. See Prof. Sil’s post-script of March 22, 2002 at http://www.infinityfoundation.com

52. Invading the Sacred, p. 285

53. Ibid. p. 287

54. Ibid. p. 1