University of South Carolina officials joined with Hindu spiritual leaders to unveil the first comprehensive encyclopedia of one of the world’s largest religions Monday.
The 11-volume work contains more than 7,000 pages explaining Hinduism and its practices. It also includes articles about Indian life, art, medicine, and women’s issues, among many other topics. There are an estimated 1.1 billion Hindus in the world, making it the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam.
“This is monumental,” said USC religious studies professor Hal French, who has helped edit the encyclopedia during the 25 years it required to put together. “I had my skeptical moments. But I think it does represent… the most comprehensive rendering of the Indian tradition.”
French was part of the original team of scholars and spiritual leaders who were organized in 1987, largely by the efforts of Swami Chidanand Saraswati. Saraswati, the head of the Parmath Niketan Ashram (a secluded spiritual retreat in the Himalayas), helped to guide and sponsor the massive undertaking.
“The Encyclopedia is not for Hindus and Indians only,” he told reporters Monday, “It’s not to promote Hinduism or convert people… If you are a Hindu, it will help you become a better Hindu. If you’re a Jew, become a better Jewish… That’s what is needed today.”
The encyclopedia’s managing editor Sadhvi Bhagawati Sarawati said some of the experts who contributed to the encyclopedia wrote their articles by hand in the script of their original languages. Those articles had to be typed and translated. Those translations had to be checked again.
Bhagawati said the enormous collection is meant as a resource for Indians who have questions about a faith that has a strong oral tradition and is not clearly structured in the way that most Westerners consider religion.
“We no longer can afford, on any level, to not be as deeply educated as we can be about the world’s traditions and the world’s cultures,” she said Monday.
The proceeds from the encyclopedia’s sales will go towards cleaning and preserving India’s rivers.