History of the Project

The spiritual and cultural tradition of India—like the river Mother Ganga—is alive and vibrant; its spirit is boundless, and it embraces and nourishes all life through which it flows. The time has come to capture the roots of this heritage for universal good and human welfare.India’s cultural heritage is multi-stranded and complex, forming an intricate tapestry of wisdom, insight, and tradition. The timeless truths are available and beneficial to people of all religions, all faiths and all walks of life. Hinduism is not a dogma, but rather a way of life that brings depth, richness, integrity, understanding, and meaning to our daily lives.

Despite the influence of Hinduism across the globe, India’s spiritual heritage is widely misunderstood in the West. It has become imperative to provide an authentic, objective, scholarly, standardized, and comprehensive source of reference and information. We hope that this Encyclopedia will provide a better understanding of Hinduism, deepen inter-cultural dialogue, and serve as a standard reference for students, teachers, seekers, and anyone interested in the world’s oldest living tradition.

To encapsulate India’s spiritual and cultural heritage in a single literary portfolio is an enormous task. Nevertheless, under the inspiration of H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, the Founder and Chairman, India Heritage Research Foundation has accomplished the momentous challenge of publishing the first, complete, authentic multi-volume encyclopedia of Hinduism. This Encyclopedia is a comprehensive compilation of the vast ocean of knowledge, history, and experience that constitutes Indian culture.

Birth of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism

In August 1987, at the Hindu-Jain temple in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, USA, a temple founded by H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, President and Spiritual Head of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh (Himalayas), India, a special Sahasra Shivalinga Abhishekam was held. Pujya Swamiji led the community as well as hundreds of guests from other cities and states, in performing a ceremony dedicated to the divine in the form of Lord Shiva. Several revered spiritual leaders were invited for the event, including Pujya Swami Dharmanandji, Pujya Swami Sivaya Subramuniyaswamiji, founder and publisher of Hinduism Today magazine and Pujya Sushil Muniji.

Following the conclusion of the abhisheka, many of the devotees (who serendipitously included several scholars on Hinduism, including Dr. K.L. Seshagiri Rao) sat with Pujya Swamiji in the temple, discussing the state of Hinduism in America. They shared concerns over the diluted way in which Hinduism was being presented by schools, universities, and colleges throughout the West, and the dearth of authentic sources of reference on authentic Hinduism. Hindu youth being born, raised, and educated in the West, were coming face to face with misconceptions, misinformation, and consequentially prejudice and disparagement. When their American friends queried them on various aspects of Hinduism, they frequently had neither answers nor any place to turn in search of answers. Embarrassed, these youth would return home and express their frustration to their parents.

In many instances, their parents also didn’t have answers. Hinduism is more properly considered a way of life than a “religion” in the traditional sense. It is inclusive, expansive, and permissive of innumerable names and forms of the one Supreme Being. It manifests in day to day life more than in religion classes. Hence, Indians who had been born and raised in India, steeped in Hindu culture, may have observed and practiced Hindu rites and rituals without necessarily knowing their specific meaning or significance. They were simply part of daily life. However, when they moved to the West and their children questioned practices which were so different from those of their friends, these parents often had no adequate way to explain Hinduism to their children.

Here were also an increasing number of Westerners who were interested in learning about Hindu culture and particularly the spiritual and philosophical traditions. However, there was no standardized reference to which they could turn for authoritative information.

As these concerns and dilemmas were discussed that summer afternoon, conversation shifted to the idea that a major text should be created, encapsulating all of the details of Hinduism. It was noted that every major religious tradition had produced one or more encyclopedias on their respective religion, as an authoritative source of information and an academic tool for research. References were made to the New Catholic Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Judaica. It was pointed out that the government of Sri Lanka was preparing an Encyclopedia of Buddhism and the Turkish and Indonesian governments had brought out Encyclopedias of Islam. Punjabi University in Patiala was preparing the Encyclopedia of Sikhism.

Yet, there was no Encyclopedia of Hinduism. This lack of an authoritative, comprehensive, and up-to-date encyclopedia of one of the oldest, largest, and most influential religions on earth with over 7,000 years of history and prehistory had been bemoaned by scholars for many years.

Pujya Swamiji, whose entire life has been focused on action for the benefit of humanity, for whom seva IS sadhana immediately said, We should bring out an encyclopedia of Hinduism. Weshould provide our children, and our children’s children, and all the children of the world with anauthoritative, informative, insightful, and inspiring source of reference for Hinduism. He turned to Dr. K.L. Seshagiri Rao, a respected professor from University of Virginia and to all those present, and he said that with Dr. Rao guiding the project from the academic side, they would undertake this mammoth task for all of humanity. A multi-volume encyclopedia of the world’s oldest living religion was a huge commitment. Do you really think it can be done? someone asked Pujya Swamiji. He closed his eyes, entered a meditative trance, and opened them a short while later. Yes,” he replied. “It can be done and we will do it.”

On November 21, 1987 Pujya Swamiji organized a meeting to form the India Heritage Research Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated—in its initial stages—to bringing out the multi-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism. IHRF’s activities have blossomed and expanded greatly in the last two decades, and now include innumerable charitable and humanitarian projects, including free schools, orphanages, vocational training programs, women’s upliftment projects, rural development, disaster relief, ecological preservation, and much more (see www.ihrf.com).

Pujya Swamiji was selected as Chairman of the Board of IHRF, as it would be through his leadership, inspiration, and blessings that the Encyclopedia would come to fruition. Pujya Swamiji requested Dr. Rao to serve as the Chief Editor of the Encyclopedia.


The Board recommended that the Encyclopedia should be authoritative and lucid; it should be easily comprehensible by the average educated person; it should be informative on the rich and ancient Hindu heritage, yet relevant to the modern world; it should be profound but not abstruse,sensitive to the Hindu tradition, but not narrow in outlook; it should be educational without losing the spiritual substance of the tradition; it should be useful and informative to the students of the humanities in general and to students and teachers of religion in particular.

Early Days

From 1987–1992, Pujya Swamiji and Dr. Rao traveled around the globe, meeting renowned scholars of Hinduism and Indic studies. An international team of hundreds of scholars was established. These scholars, under the guidance of Dr. Rao and Dr. Vidya Niwas Mishra, began to put together a “master list” of entries. This list swelled to approximately 10,000 entries, pertaining to every aspect of Hindu culture, civilization, spiritual tradition, and history. Ultimately, over the years, duplications and redundancies were removed, topics were merged, and the final master list includes approximately 7,000 entries.

This master list was divided into the following twelve subject areas:

  1. Art: Architecture, Music, Iconography, Painting, Dance, Drama, Theater Performance, and Sculpture.
  2. Hinduism in Global Context: Nepal, Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America, Mauritius, Africa, and the Caribbean.
  3. History, Historiography, and Geography: Religious Developments in Hindu Kingdoms and Empires. Epigraphy, Numismatics, Flora and Fauna, Mountains, Rivers, and other pertinent data.
  4. Language and Literature: Texts and commentaries in Sanskrit and in different Indian Languages, Folk Literature, Myths, Legends, and Journals.
  5. Philosophy: Metaphysics, Psychology, Ethics, Six Systems of Indian Philosophy, Jaina, Buddhist and Sikh Thought, Tantra, Saiva Siddhanta, and Contemporary Hindu Thought.
  6. Polity: Political Institutions, Judicial Systems, Economics, Law and Order, Military History, and Weapons.
  7. Religion and Spirituality: Knowledge Texts, Gods and Goddesses, Saints, Mystics and Teachers, Rites and Ceremonies, Holy Places, Sectarian Movements, Temples, Sacraments and Modern Developments.
  8. Sciences: Ayurveda, Astronomy, Astrology, Mathematics, Cosmology, Chemistry, and other relevant disciplines.
  9. Social Institutions and Movements: Education, Varnasrama Dharma, Tribes and their Customs, Status of Women, Sports and Pastimes, Feasts, Fasts, Festivals, Diet, Dress and Cosmetics.
  10. Spiritual Disciplines: Karmayoga, Bhaktiyoga, Ha hayoga, and Tantra.
  11. Scholarship in Hindu Studies: Ideological, Theosophical, and Commentarial Tradition, Oral Tradition, Philological Studies, Sociological, Mystical, and Comparative Studies.
  12. Women Studies: Full coverage of issues related to the important role played by women in cherishing, maintaining, and transmitting Hindu heritage.

Establishment of EH headquarters in Pittsburgh

It became clear that a project of this magnitude would require a head office from which correspondence, organizational activities, record-keeping and day to day work could take place.

In 1992, Drs. Naval and Nila Kant generously donated the funds to establish an office for the Encyclopedia of Hinduism and India Heritage Research Foundation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.  At this office, conceptual work of EH, planning of the Project, and its preparatory work (both academic and administrative) were undertaken, with Pujya Swamiji’s blessings and leadership, and with the enthusiastic help of many leaders and volunteers.

The opening of the office in Columbia, South Carolina

In 1990, Dr. Kaushal Sinha and Arunima Sinha met with Dr. Hal French at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, South Carolina, to request academic assistance from the Religious Studies Department in this mammoth project. The University was supportive, and in 1994 they offered an academic setting, which was further expanded in 1998 to include full academic infrastructure, six offices, a library, and other facilities where regular as well as visiting scholars could work. Ultimately in 1996, the Encyclopedia headquarters were officially shifted from Pittsburgh to Columbia. Dr. Rao had taken voluntary retirement from the University of Virginia in 1995 and hence he led the team of scholars, office workers, and graduate students at the Columbia office. Dr. K.R. Sundararajan and Dr. Ratna Lahiri were both full time senior scholars at Columbia, and dozens of others came and served for short or long time periods, based on their work and familial commitments. Girish Yajnik was the operations manager, handling the databases, and dozens of others helped throughout the years to maintain the office, the files, the correspondence, and the overall operations.


EH progresses from Vision to Reality

Between 1994–1996 satellite offices were established throughout India in several major cities. The Chennai office was headed by C.D. Chidambaram, Seetha Chidambaram and Annapurni Veerapan with S. Thangaraju as P.R.O. and T.S. Vellaiah as coordinator. Dr. B.V. Subbarayappa headed the Bangalore office. Dr. Dhavalikar was in charge of the Pune office, and Dr. Gautam Patel was the head of the Ahmedabad office. Dr. Vidya Niwas Mishra, the Editor-in-Chief, India, a recipient of the most prestigious Padma Vibhushan award from the President of India, and a member of the Rajya Sabha, oversaw the office in Varanasi, and also spent a substantial amount of time overseeing the National Office in New Delhi, together with Prakash Singh who dedicatedly headed the Delhi office.

The satellite offices assigned articles to local, renowned scholars who were established in the various fields. Slowly, the articles began to come back, most of them handwritten, many in languages other than English. This was in the years prior to the availability of email in India and prior to the widespread use of computers. Thus, the challenge of translating and then typing these thousands of articles fell upon the local, satellite centers. Each article was edited a minimum of three times in the early years (further, final editing came later). First, the articles were substance edited to ensure the content was factual and academic, followed by copy-editing and a final review to ensure the smooth and correct flow of language. Higher levels of editing, both substance and copy, were conducted by the teams of executive editors in the USA and India.

In 1998, Honorable Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Prime Minister of India at the time, graced an event held in New York by IHRF, on behalf of the Encyclopedia. Shri Vajpayee spoke effusively in praise of the undertaking, saying, “Your undertaking is rightly called the ‘Project of the Third Millennium.’ This is a monumental undertaking. It is indeed a Jnana Yajna. Hence, all those who have offered their time, talent, and scholarship as ahuti for the success of this yajna deserve our heartiest applause and felicitations.”

From 1996–2002, Brahmaswarup Varma served as full-time director of administration, first from the office in Pittsburgh, and then from New Delhi. He revitalized the New Delhi office and set up an additional satellite office in Nagpur to expedite the work.

In 2003, the Encyclopedia headquarters officially shifted from Columbia to Chennai as all of the final stage writing and editing was taking place in India. Mahalingum Kolapen, editor and author of “Hindu Temples of North America” and other books, moved from the USA to Chennai to complete the project and manage the Chennai office. Mahalingum Kolapen served the project with dedication and commitment until his untimely demise.

Editorial team

The initial board of editors and associate editors were selected in 1989 by Dr. K.L. Seshagiri Rao, Chief Editor, and Dr. Vidya Niwas Mishra, Editor-in-Chief, India. Regional directors during various stages have added additional scholars as necessary. A team of four executive editors in the USA and Canada—Dr. Subhash Kak, Dr. V.V. Raman, Dr. Rama Rao Pappu, and Dr. T.S. Rukmani—served diligently, reviewing, editing and rewriting articles where necessary

In early 2006, Dr. Kapil Kapoor, Professor of English and Concurrent Professor of Sanskrit Studies who had just retired as Rector at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, took over as Editor-in-Chief. From the first moment, Dr. Kapil Kapoor took Pujya Swamiji’s words as adesa and has repeatedly emphasized how blessed and honored he feels to have the opportunity to fulfill this mission. Since then, with Pujya Swamiji’s asirvada, he and his team—two associate editors, six subject-wise associate editors, and thirty-four members of the editorial review team, all senior academics from Indian universities—have worked tirelessly, reviewing, reading, and revising articles and have brought the project from a work in progress to the state of completion and publication.

Preview and Blessing of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism’s First Volumes

On the 3rd and 4th April 2010, during the auspicious time of the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, a special Preview and Blessings Ceremony for the Encyclopedia of Hinduism by the hands of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Pujya Swamiji and many other revered saints and dignitaries was held.