The Hindu tradition can seem overwhelmingly complex--compared with other major religions it is not "organised"; there is no "identifiable human founder", such as Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed, and Hindus have never been interested in drawing up a "definition" of their beliefs. This fluid attitude has led to a rich diversity from "naked sadhus practising archaic forms of penance", to elephant-headed gods to the hundreds of thousands of deities in the Hindu pantheon--the staggering array can seem unfathomable to the outsider.
Klostermaier, one of the foremost writers on Hinduism, addresses the difficulties of a concise history from the outset. He suggests the religion is probably much older than commonly thought; that the Vedic tradition dates back to "possibly as early as 6000 BC", then he goes on to debunk the prevailing beliefs surrounding the "so-called" Aryan invasion theory that most textbooks still assert, namely that Hinduism began when the Aryans invaded India around 1500 BC. Klostermaier argues convincingly that "there is absolutely no archeological or literary evidence for this theory," that "it was the brain-child of foreign colonies who could but imagine that all elements of higher culture in India must have come from outside that backward country."
Klostermaier also gives an accessible overview of the religion, and gives a concise analysis of its main strands and philosophies, ending with a look at what's been happening in recent times. In keeping with his other books on the subject, including Hinduism: A Short Introduction and A Survey of Hinduism, this is an impressively erudite and authoritative work, backed up with extensive footnotes and references, a full glossary and an exhaustive bibliography. The weight of Klostermaier's knowledge may make this heavy-going for readers completely new to Hinduism but anyone with a serious interest will find this an essential reference book. --Louise McNamara
'Solid, comprehensive scholarship... I enjoyed reading it.' - Harold Coward, University of Victoria