“Rush Hour for the Gods” by William Dalrymple, in The National Interest, May–June 2010.
Modernization bodes change for country dwellers. In India, even the provincial Hindu gods are not immune to the forces of standardization and commercialization, observes travel writer William Dalrymple, who just published Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India. But the extinction of tree sprites and snake gods does not mean that India is going the way of Europe and becoming more secular. Rather, religion is becoming uniform, politicized, and, often, fundamentalist—a menace to the pluralism and tolerance that have long characterized the country’s religious life.
Hinduism—a religion with no founder and no single founding text—is by its nature diffuse and multifaceted. As Dalrymple points out, individual deities were long believed to “regulate the ebb and flow of daily life,” right down to the needs of village livestock and the sweetness of well water. It was colonial scholars who “organized the disparate, overlapping multiplicity of non-Abrahamic religious practices, cults, myths, festivals, and rival deities that they encountered across South Asia into a new world religion that they dubbed ‘Hinduism.’ ”
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