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In this excellent work on the Pūrāṇas, Dr. Srinivasan has again made the highly complex and sophisticated literature of an equally complex and sophisticated culture accessible to the contemporary reader. He has a gift for communicating complex ideas in a way that makes them clear and easy to grasp, but does so without losing sight of their inherent complexity.” Professor Jeff Long, Elizabeth College, PA
Jeffery D. Long
Professor of Religion and Asian Studies
In this excellent work on the Pūrāṇas, Dr. A.V. (Sheenu) Srinivasan has again made the highly complex and sophisticated literature of an equally complex and sophisticated culture accessible to the contemporary reader. His earlier writings, covering such topics as Vedic weddings and the Bhagavad Gītā, as well as his masterful Hinduism for Dummies, are wonderfully balanced on several levels. In terms of complexity and simplicity, attempting to communicate complex ideas in a way that is clear and easy to grasp always runs the risk of oversimplification: of ‘dumbing down’ the topic and losing much of its essence. Dr. Srinivasan has a gift for communicating complex ideas in a way that makes them clear and easy to grasp, but does so without losing sight of their inherent complexity.
Even more difficult to maintain, though, especially regarding the topic of religion, is the balance between what are sometimes called emic and etic, or ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ perspectives. Dr. Srinivasan, a Vedic priest who, from his infancy, has been steeped in the intricacies of Hindu traditions, is certainly an insider when it comes to Hinduism and Hindu texts. This has, however, in no way impeded his curiosity or prevented him from delving deeply into the Indological scholarship that has been pursued largely by outsiders to the tradition he practices. In the works of A.V. Srinivasan, one finds a perspective that has been enriched by the convergence of both insider and outsider perspectives, both of which are seen as having value and as having something to contribute to the conversation.
The dating of texts, for example, has often been a topic of contention between traditional Hindu scholars and Indologists. Based on references, including astronomical and astrological references, within the texts themselves, the dates traditionally assigned to most Hindu texts are considerably earlier than those assigned by Indologists, based largely on the linguistic structures of these texts. Both traditionalists and academic scholars, however, are in agreement that these texts have been passed down orally for many centuries before taking on their current written form. One way to accommodate both approaches is to differentiate between the text as it currently exists, accepting the verdict of Indological scholarship regarding its dating, while emphasizing that the tradition on which this text is based stretches back considerably further than its current iteration–perhaps even, in some cases, back to the period affirmed by tradition. This is an approach I have often taken in my own teaching and writing and which I am pleased to see Dr. Srinivasan take as well. Though each individual case certainly involves its own issues and critical questions, and though neither a traditional nor an Indological approach is entirely unproblematic, to respect both approaches to knowledge, affirming that each has its own integrity and yields its own distinctive insights, is a most welcome way to proceed, especially in this era in which difference of opinion so often leads to mutual suspicion and recrimination, and very little in the way of genuine understanding.
This work on the Pūrāṇas, taking the clear and open-minded approach that it does, is especially welcome in regard to this particular set of texts. Numerous books have been written on the fairly brief but profound Bhagavad Gītā, including a book by Dr. Srinivasan himself. Similarly, the epic Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata have been explored extensively. The Pūrāṇas, though, are, at least in comparison to these other Hindu texts, relatively little known in the western world. But as Dr. Srinivasan explains, they are central to the self-understanding of the average Hindu, and have been so for many centuries. The ‘magnifying glass’ of the Vedas, it is through the Pūrāṇas, rather than the through the Vedas themselves, that Vedic knowledge is made available to the average Hindu. The average Hindu, though, receives this knowledge over the course of an upbringing steeped in pūrāṇic stories and the rituals that bring these stories to life. How is an outsider, or even one who has grown up in the tradition but who wants to study it in a systematic fashion, to approach this daunting mass of text? Dr. Srinivasan has provided an absolutely invaluable guide to one who wants to begin a serious study of the Pūrāṇas, as well as to scholars who need a quick and easy reference source. The summaries of the major Pūrāṇas that Dr. Srinivasan has provided are an especially valuable feature of this work, and one to which I know that I, personally, shall return again and again.
I thank Dr. Srinivasan, whom I know as Sheenu, for the work he has done in putting together this book–a labor of love, to be sure. Even more than that, though, I am grateful for his friendship.
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