Is Madhav Deshpande an amnesiac?

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Kalavai Venkat

Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer, an atheist, a practicing orthodox Hindu, and author of the book What Every Hindu Should Know About Christianity. Follow him on Twitter: KalavaiVenkat

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Is Madhav Deshpande an amnesiac?

By Kalavai Venkat

 You are by now aware of the Hindu initiative to end selective discrimination against Hindus in California textbooks, and the organized opposition they faced from anti-Hindu ideologues led by Michael Witzel.

 Madhav Deshpande is a professor of Sanskrit & Linguistics from the University of Michigan. He is a signatory on Witzel’s infamous petition, in which the signatories pleaded ignorance to the Hindu edits, yet pledged to oppose the edits. Some media houses have been covering this subject. Wall Street Journal [WSJ] has been one of those. Deshpande was apparently upset that WSJ did not demonize the Hindus enough. He wrote a letter to the editor, where he fretted:

 “In the Madhva Vaisnava family of Deshpandes in southern Maharashtra where my grand-father grew up, the name of god Shiva was banned from the house, because they were worshippers of Vishnu. In the Madhva Vaishnava dialect of Marathi in our house, they would not use the common Marathi verb “shiv” to sew clothes, but found alternative words.

 Even while scrubbing floors, the Madhva Vaishnava women of my family many generations ago used to scrub floors with vertical motions of hand, rather than sideways, because that resembled the Shaiva marks on the forehead. Such was the Shaiva/Vaishnava divide, part of daily experience even within my own family a few generations ago.” [Sic!]

 On January 25, 2006 6:30 pm, Deshpande reproduced this letter in the infamous political list Indo-Eurasian_research. Even if WSJ is unlikely to publish this anti-Hindu tirade, at least Deshpande has firmly established his credentials as a loyal crusader.

 I have never heard of this wild allegation that Vaishnava women scrubbed floors in vertical motion, which would have required a conscious effort against the Law of Conservation of Energy, given the fact that Indian women scrub floors in squatting position. Well, then, scientific approach has never been the forte of our Indologists. But, this allegation surely helped portray Vaishnavas, at least in the eyes of the ignorant, as some kind of rabid fanatics. Never mind the fact that Vaishnavas are a numerically insignificant minority that suffered immensely during Islamic raids, yet diligently preserved their religious and literary traditions.

 I was getting ready to hear next from Deshpande that Vaishnavas did not comb their hair sideways because that too resembled the sacred mark on Siva’s forehead. Then a distinguished scholar drew my attention to what Deshpande had written on September 30, 2003 8:32 am in the IndianCivilization list:

 “I come from a Marathi Brahmin family where we worship both Vishnu and Shiva, including Shiva in his linga form.

 v  Did Deshpande suffer a momentary loss of memory regarding what he had written about his liberal family traditions just two years ago?

v  How did his family ban any trace of Siva as well as worship the Siva Linga? Did this transition occur over a single generation? If so, does this not merely attest to the flexible and dynamic nature of Hinduism?

v  Does Deshpande portray his family as liberal when he is in the company of a Hindu audience, and as rabidly sectarian when he is in the company of an anti-Hindu audience?

 Will Madhav Deshpande speak up?

 When Deshpande claimed that Vedic Hindus were monotheistic, I merely thought that his understanding of Hindu philosophy is pathetic. Now, he comes across more like a Guillermo Sheikh von Speer!

 The author is an India-born, Silicon Valley-based orthodox, practising, agnostic Hindu. He can be reached at


Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer, an atheist, a practicing orthodox Hindu, and author of the book What Every Hindu Should Know About Christianity. Follow him on Twitter: KalavaiVenkat


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