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Meet Swami Achuthananda, author of Many Many Many Gods of Hinduism
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Norm Goldman


Reviewer & Author Interviewer, Norm Goldman. Norm is the Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com.

He has been reviewing books for the past fifteen years when he retired from the legal profession.

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By Norm Goldman
Published on November 2, 2013
 


Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com Interviews Swami Achuthananda Author of Many Many Many Gods of Hinduism

                                                                                                                                          

Today, Bookpleasures.com is pleased to welcome as our guest Swami Achuthananda, author of Many Many Many Gods of Hinduism.

Norm:

Good day Swami and thanks for participating in our interview

Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.

Swami:

Namaste!

Although I wasn’t born in India, I grew up in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Early in my childhood, I had the opportunity to study Indian classical music under the tutelage of Jesudas, one of the greatest singers India ever produced. It struck me those days that Jesudas, a Christian by birth, was not allowed entry into some of the Hindu temples of India, even though his songs are regularly played in the temple premises. Years later I learned that nothing in the scriptures says that non-Hindus should not be allowed in temples. Temples were just upholding their tradition. And thus began a journey in understanding the religion and culture of India.

Currently I live in Australia and works as a technology consultant in the Sydney/Brisbane area. My fascination with India continues – especially the food, dances, and music. A visit to India is always enlightening in many ways and constantly reminds me how much we take life for granted.

In case you are wondering, my classical music career went nowhere.

Norm:

What purpose do you believe Many Many Many Gods of Hinduism serves and what matters to you about your book?

Swami:

Not too long ago, a Hollywood movie called Slumdog Millionaire captured the hearts and minds of the world. It won international acclaim and a host of awards at the Oscars. While the movie poignantly depicted the plight of poverty-stricken children of India, it also rekindled an interest in India’s age-old values and traditions. 

Many Many Many Gods of Hinduism is a continuation of this journey to discover India and Hinduism. It is the story of Hinduism that can be read by anyone, regardless of their background. The early chapters explore the history and culture. The concepts and ideologies are next explained to build the framework of Hinduism. The 20-odd final chapters present the controversies associated with Hinduism, something which you rarely find in any other literature.

At the end of the journey, you come away with a solid understanding of Hinduism. You will soon marvel at your own appreciation of the Indian culture. When you meet people of the subcontinent, you will greet them with a Namaste. Who knows? You might even take a liking to Bollywood dancing  The investment in learning is worthwhile because the world is becoming more interconnected. The unmistakable signs of India can be found everywhere – from Indian food to accent to dances. The list just goes on.

Norm:

How does your book differ from many the other books that deal with the same subject matter and what would you say is the best reason to recommend someone to read your book?

Swami:

Hinduism has been around for ages, so any new book will be just old wine in new bottle, right? Well, that’s not always the case. Although the concepts are the same, the style and presentation have changed. The older, rambling style of prose has been replaced with shorter, engaging style to cater to a modern audience. Much research has gone into effective presentation and learning skills over the last few years and new techniques have been developed. One of them, for instance, is relational learning, which involves relating new information to things that you already know. What this means is if you are familiar with Christianity or Buddhism or Islam then comparing Hinduism with these religions enhances your comprehension and learning. This technique is employed throughout the book.

The starting point of this book is different and the range is broader compared to other books. A bit of history is introduced at the start where you’ll notice, for instance, the similarity of Indian languages like Hindi and Bengali to Spanish or English. The German fascination for the Indian caste system is explained, and the controversial Aryan Invasion Theory is dissected. The Hindu Chakra system is discussed in detail and then used a framework to analyze issues surrounding the religion. This should be of interest to students of religious studies.  

A third of the book is on controversies surrounding the religion. These are topics that are hotly debated on media and online forums. Things get really heated and intense. Regardless of your background, you will form an opinion and that’s the purpose of the book – to engage you in the learning process.

Norm:

What was the time-line between the time you decided to write your book and publication? What were the major events along the way?

Swami:

Overall it took me about 6 years. For two years, I was paralyzed with the dreaded writer’s block. During this time, days went by without any progress or direction.

That said, four years is still a lot of time for a book. It seems current authors churn out books every other year. Today you have digital versions that can be perused from the comforts of your home. Most rare and little-known books have been digitized. That wasn’t the case in 2006. There was no Kindle. I had to visit state libraries for rare books that you couldn’t find elsewhere, physically locate them from the shelves for reading, and then make notes during the library opening hours. It wasn’t as bad as it may sound because once in a while you stumble upon an interesting book from the shelves that will capture your imagination.

I am happy to report that I have been completed cured of writer’s block without any medication or surgery.

Norm:

Where do you get your information or ideas for your book?

Swami:

Information for this book was sourced from many places like bookstores, libraries, newspapers, magazine articles, religious journals, websites etc. I have referenced books authored by both Eastern and Western authors. As writers of non-fiction, we usually provide material for fiction writers, among others. Sometimes works of fiction can also be an excellent source of reference for us. The one that comes to my mind is Yann Martell’s Life of Pi.

While researching on a specific topic, nothing can beat the libraries where you can put books side by side and compare. I often seek out rare, little-know works, which few have come across. These are old textbooks, past their use-by dates, that can be found only in big libraries like the state or national libraries. The wealth of information you can obtain from these books are often underrated.

Norm:

Why did you chose the format of writing sixty-four short essays concerning Hinduism?

Swami:

The short essays approach was chosen to cater to the 21st century reader, who lives in a world of constant distraction. You see, modern readers tend to fall the wayside when you speak a tad too long, and involuntarily gravitate to their sports channel or women’s weekly or Facebook accounts 

Having seen the mini-essay style presentation in other fields, I found it to be very powerful and effective. Readers get a feel of progress and a sense of accomplishment as they finish each chapter. My empirical evidence suggests that information retention is high using this technique when compared to the conventional approaches.

Norm:

What was the most difficult part of writing your book?

Swami:

Non-fiction writers cannot be just purveyors of information for fiction-writers and others. The challenge of every non-fiction writer is to write like a good fiction-writer and make the topic interesting and engaging. Most readers have short attention span and if you fail to grab their attention in a few words, they tune out inadvertently. I believe this is the most difficult part in writing since it means you have to be not only creative about presenting the information in unique ways, but also careful not to sound repetitive.

Norm:

Why do you believe that there may not be the same curiosity for Westerners concerning Hinduism, as compared to such religions as Christianity or Islam?

Swami:

There are many reasons. First, the notion that Hinduism is a complex tradition with millions of gods, and to understand Hinduism you have to study about all these gods. Second, existing literature is not accessible to the average reader since they are written by professors of eastern religions and scholarly in nature.

Finally, Hinduism is going through a phase where there are no leading figures, like Dalai Lama, to promote the religion at the international level. Swami Vivekananda brought worldwide attention to the religion in the 19th century, and Mahatma Gandhi, in the 20th century. Since then there’s has been a dearth of inspirational heroes.

Norm:

As a follow up, why is there so much misinformation concerning Hinduism?

Swami:

One of the key reasons is the invincibility of Max Muller, the 19th century German Indologist and Sanskrit scholar, among European scholars. Even with satellite evidence proving to the contrary, theories like the Aryan Invasion Theory continue to survive, if not flourish, even in the 21st century.

Another common source of misinformation comes from the fact that books on Hinduism are written by westerners who have little understanding about the culture of the subcontinent. Those who lived in India or visited the country know how much the culture and religion is linked. Max Muller wrote so many weighty tomes about Hinduism without ever visiting India.

In recent times, scandalous academic works without sufficient peer reviews were promoted in the academia by RISA (Religions in South Asia) scholars. This malady of denigrating Hindu gods in the name of psychoanalysis was aptly termed Wendy’s Child Syndrome by Rajiv Malhotra, Indian-American writer, speaker and founder of Infinity Foundation. All these have served to further muddy the waters.

Norm:

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

Swami:

Yes, a lot from their reviews or emails or comments in online forums. Most people thought the book was engaging, but sometimes provocative. For some it was an eye-opener: “Your book opened up a lot of things about your religion that I never considered. Your passion was backed up by a major amount of research.” Some pointed out that this is NOT a religious book in the conventional sense, since it is not about connecting with god. Almost everyone commended on structuring the book on short chapters, where you can start anywhere without any loss of continuity. “This is a tour of ancient India and Hinduism in 24 hours.” Many also found that there’s a cornucopia of information and nuggets of insights, ideal for anyone studying about or travelling to India.

Well, who said religious books were boring?

That said, there were some negatives. Not everyone was amused by the humor. Some thought my style was too casual and occasionally offensive. Others said the short chapters oversimplify Hinduism and the contributions of many Hindu saints were not mentioned.

Norm:

Where can our readers find out more about you and Many Many Many Gods of Hinduism?

Swami:

Popular websites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble have the book.


Follow Here To Purchase Many Many Many Gods of Hinduism: Turning believers into non-believers and non-believers into believers


I am on Facebook and always available for a quick chat at swamia@mmmgh.com

Norm:

As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.

Swami:

During this journey, I came across many people who have made significant contributions towards Hinduism. I would like to shortlist 3 people, who greatly influenced me in writing this book.

  1. David Frawley, for his pioneering work on dispelling myths about Hinduism, such as the Aryan Invasion Theory

  1. Linda Johsen, for her lifelong dedication and her passion for Hinduism

  2. Rajiv Malhotra, for his efforts at unearthing scandalous works and his work for the Infinity Foundation

Norm:

Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors

Swami:

It was my pleasure. Thank you for presenting this opportunity.

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