The Sacred Thread: Hinduism in Its Continuity and Diversity

The Sacred Thread: Hinduism in Its Continuity and Diversity

The Sacred Thread: Hinduism in Its Continuity and Diversity

The Sacred Thread: Hinduism in Its Continuity and Diversity

Excerpt

In a single book, which examines the history and development of Hindu religious experience and thought from its earliest records to modern times, it is inevitable that much has been left out in order to make the broad outlines clearer. What has been passed over in silence is just as much part of the rich fabric of Hinduism. For Hinduism has never been a unitary phenomenon. In particular, there has always been a fascinating interplay between its more religious and more speculative elements. As a religion Hinduism tends towards the philosophical in its emphasis on the importance of knowledge, while Hindu philosophy sees that knowledge as having essentially a religious purpose in the achievement of the goal.

The history of Hinduism stretches over a vast time-span, during most of which the existing political boundaries of the Indian sub-continent did not exist. Accordingly the term India is used in this book in a geographical sense as referring to the whole sub-continent, except in those parts of the last two chapters where recent political events are referred to. The names of areas are generally those of the modern states of the Indian Republic, which in many cases have reverted to older names (e.g. Tamilnad for Madras State and Karnataka for Mysore).

The original terms, including names, retained in the book are presented in the standard transliteration for Sanskrit, from which most come (and are taken over virtually unchanged into the modern Indian languages). The basic point is that each sound has only one representation (unlike our clumsy English orthography). Long vowels are distinguished from short by the macron (ā), except that e, ai, o and au are long, all being diphthongs in origin. The letter h always signifies aspiration even in combinations like th and ph (to be pronounced as in goatherd and uphill). A subscript dot distinguishes retroflex consonants (ṭ, ṭh, ḍ, ḍh, ṇ), pronounced with the tongue far back in the mouth, from the dentals (t, th, d, dh, n) made with the tongue against the teeth. There are three sibilants, s pro-

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