“India is a prime example of a once great civilisation with an incredibly rich spiritual, literary, artistic, cultural and intellectual heritage … a heritage that Indian academic and political leaders honour more in the breach than in the observance.” – Devan Nair
The age of colonialism may be over, but not that of neo-colonial captive minds in India as elsewhere in the former colonial territories. Nations struggled for and won political liberation from imperialist thraldom. But their tertiary institutions of higher learning hardly ever (with rare indigenous exceptions) displayed any compelling urge to free themselves from the restrictive, Eurocentric disciplinary paradigms inherited from western universities, or to delve into their own unique native spiritual, cultural and intellectual resources that, even if not altogether annulled, were rendered more or less obsolete. And it was precisely from the corridors of domestic academia that the dangerous and divisive infection of captive minds spreads to all fields of the public life of a once subject nation.
India is a prime example of a once great civilisation with an incredibly rich spiritual, literary, artistic, cultural and intellectual heritage, not to speak of production, manufacturing and medical expertise; a heritage that Indian academic and political leaders honour more in the breach than in the observance. Nationalist rhetoric and ritual genuflection, with an eye on the voting predilections of a volatile electorate, are the best the politicians seem capable of. Most worrisome of all is that the infection has affected the perceptions and self-appraisal of large sections of the Indian national collectivity itself, despite the intuitive pronouncements of great spiritual leaders of the Indian renaissance like Dayananda Saraswati, Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo.
In the highly praiseworthy cause of countering and arresting trends inimical to India’s right development as a member of a global community of nations, I am confident that [this] work is of crucial importance, not only for Indian and international practitioners of Indian insights (as in Auroville), but also for the Indian social/political/national collectivity itself. I am sure you will agree that our aim should be, not to denounce everything western, as there is much of great value in western achievements, particularly in the vital fields of modern science and technology, which are today inseparably part and parcel of the global heritage of mankind. On the contrary, [this] goal is to counter the threat to genuine globalisation posed by the tendency in certain western academic quarters to denigrate eastern traditions, and to shamelessly appropriate, using different terminology and without due acknowledgement, the work of Indian pioneers in the important field, for instance, of the psychology of consciousness, and to present such clearly dishonest efforts as original western discoveries. That is intellectually dishonest, which deserves to be exposed and dissolved in the blinding glare of broad daylight. A genuinely global community of nations can and should only proceed on the basis of honest scholarship. Unmasking self-serving dishonesty in some areas of western or eastern scholarship is a service towards expediting the irreversible evolutionary process towards a genuinely united humanity.
To give just one illuminating illustration, we might mention the nearly universal and quite uncritical acceptance by both Indian politicians and the generality of national and international academics, of the 19th Century myth of the “Aryan invasion of Dravidian India” and of the arbitrary classification of the population into Aryan and Dravidian ethnic types. The damage inflicted on the political perceptions of the population poses a threat to the very integrity of India as a unique political and cultural entity. Witness the two most dominant political parties of Tamil Nadu, the DMK and the AIADMK (the ‘D’ standing for ‘Dravida’). They swallowed hook, line and sinker the shallow, ill-researched “findings” of 19th Century European Indologists. Even India’s present national anthem perpetuates the Aryan/Dravidian divide by referring to ‘Dravida’. It was a wrong-headed decision to discard the original national anthem Vande Mataram (“Salutation to the Mother”) for the land of Bharatmata was originally conceived, not as a merely secular/geographical abstraction, but as Mother India Herself). It was the mantric potency of Vande Mataram that ignited the fiery beginnings (1905-1910) of the Indian aspiration for complete independence from British rule after Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal. And the man who picked it out from Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s classic Bengali novel Anandamath was no less a leader than Sri Aurobindo himself. To the surprise and consternation of the British Viceroy and his officials, thousand-throated cries of Vande Mataram rent the skies of India during the inspiring beginnings in those dramatic years of the national independence struggle.
And what of the real intentions of these 19th Century western gentlemen still so greatly revered by several leading Indian academics? In a marvellous book The Invasion That Never Was by Michael Danino/Sujata Nahar, published by The Mother’s Institute of Research Delhi (1996), the best known icon of 19th Century Indology Max Muller was effectively demolished in his own words; hoisted on his own petard, as it were. I quote directly from Michael Danino: “Even the celebrated Max Muller (whose research work, interestingly, was commissioned and generously paid for by the East India Company after he had been engaged by Macaulay), wrote to his wife ((ref. Friedrich Max Muller, Life and Letters, Vol.1; London: Longmans, 1902, p. 328): “This edition of mine and the translation of the Veda, will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of their religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last three thousand years.” So? The seemingly “impartial” scholar was in truth a Macaulayite tool for the accomplishment of grandiose imperial aims.
This plan misfired largely due to the great Indian savants (not academics, mind you!). The first to dispute the Aryan myth was Dayananda Saraswati. He rejected out of hand the whole 19th Century European view of the Veda. Here Michael Danino quotes Sri Aurobindo: “Dayananda seized justly on the Veda as India’s Rock of Ages. In the matter of Vedic interpretation I am convinced that whatever may be the final complete interpretation, Dayananda will be honored as the first discoverer of the right clues.” (ref: Sri Aurobindo, Centenary Edition 1972, Vol. 17, p. 334). Danino continues: “By the same token, Dayananda forcefully opposed the Christian missionaries’ vilification of India’s ancient culture, and engaged in public debates with some of them (and with maulanas too), especially in Punjab where a wave of conversions had taken place.”
Danino proceeds to quote: “Dayananda’s performance in public debates not only stopped further conversions, but also gave birth to a new movement, ‘shuddhi’ (purification) of those who had been enticed away from Hindu society…. It sent a wave of consternation through the missionary circles and restored Hindu confidence. In days to come, the missionaries became more and more reluctant to meet Dayananda in open forums.”
Writes Danino: “With Vivekananda’s deep knowledge not only of Hindu scriptures but of Western history and religions, he was quick to see the gaps in the Aryan edifice.” In a lecture in USA, Vivekananda remarked scornfully: “And what your European Pandits say about the Aryans swooping down from some foreign land snatching away the land of aborigines and settling in India by exterminating them is all pure nonsense, foolish talk. Strange that our Indian scholars too say ‘Amen’ to them…. And all these monstrous lies are being taught to our boys.” (Vivekananda, Complete Works, Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1963; Vol. V, p. 534-535).
Danino goes on to write that in another lecture, this time in India, Vivekananda was in a more humorous mood, but mercilessly to the point: “Our [European] archaeologist dreams of India being full of dark-eyed aborigines, and the bright Aryans came from, the Lord knows where. According to some, they came from Central Tibet, others will have it that they came from Central Asia. There are patriotic Englishmen who think that the Aryans were all red-haired…. If the writer happens to be a black-haired man, the Aryans were all black-haired. Of late, there was an attempt to prove that the Aryans lived on the Swiss lakes…. Some say now that they lived at the North Pole. Lord bless the Aryans and their habitations! As for the truth of these theories, there is not one word in our scriptures, not one, to prove that the Aryan came from anywhere outside India, and in ancient India was included Afghanistan. There it ends. And the theory that the Shudra caste were all non-Aryans … is equally illogical and equally irrational…. The whole of India is Aryan, nothing else…. And the more you go on fighting and quarrelling about all trivialities such as ‘Dravidian’ and ‘Aryan,’ and the question of Brahmins and non-Brahmins and all that, the further you are from that accumulation of energy and power which is going to make the future India.” (Vivekananda, Lectures from Colombo to Almora; Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 1992; p. 222, 230).
Coming to Sri Aurobindo’s immense contribution, Danino writes: “A systematic refutation of the Aryan invasion theory had to wait until Sri Aurobindo. In 1910, after he had worked for a decade to awaken the spirit of independence in India, and spent a year in prison, he learned that the British had finally decided to deport him under new draconian laws (they regarded him as “the most dangerous man we have to deal with at present”); leaving Bengal he sought refuge in Pondicherry, then a French possession. There, soon afterwards, he took up his study of the Veda…. While reading the Sanskrit text, he also came to question the European scholars’ view of the Veda which, ‘like the majority of educated Indians,’ he had so far ‘passively accepted without examination.’ (ref. Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda, Centenary Edition, vol. 10, p. 33-34). He soon realised that ‘If the modern interpretation stands, the Vedas are no doubt of high interest to the philologist, the anthropologist and the historian; but poetically and spiritually they are null and worthless. Its reputation for spiritual knowledge and deep religious wealth is the most imposing and baseless hoax that has ever been worked upon the imagination of a whole people throughout many millenniums. Is this, then, the last word about the Veda? Or is it not rather the culmination of a long increasing and ever progressing error?’” (Sri Aurobindo, Archives and Research, Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, April 1985, p. 27).
Danino: “With his usual keenness of vision, Sri Aurobindo wrote: ‘In India we have fallen during the last few centuries into a fixed habit of unquestioning deference to authority…. We are ready to accept all European theories, the theory of an ‘Aryan’ colonisation of a Dravidian India, the theory of nature-worship and henotheism of the Vedic Rishis … as if these hazardous speculations were on a par in authority and certainty with the law of gravitation and the theory of evolution.’ (ref: Ibid., p 41). ‘So great is the force of attractive generalisations and widely popularised errors that all the world goes on perpetuating the blunder talking of the Indo-Aryan races, claiming or disclaiming Aryan kinship and building on that basis of falsehood the most far-reaching political, social or pseudo-scientific conclusions.’” (Sri Aurobindo, the Origins of Aryan Speech, in The Secret of the Veda, op. cit., p. 193).
“How prophetic”, writes Danino, “if we consider that this was written some twenty year before the growth of Nazism with its claims to ‘Aryan kinship’! In his Secret of the Veda, which started appearing from 1914, Sri Aurobindo called on his fellow countrymen not to be ‘haunted by the unfortunate misconstruction of the Veda which European scholarship has imposed on the modern mind.’” (The Secret of the Veda, op. cit., p 193).
Danino continues: “Taking a straight look at the original text, with no preconception, no a priori theory, Sri Aurobindo observed, ‘it did not take long to see that the Vedic indications of a racial division between Aryans and Dasyus and the identification of the latter with the indigenous Indians were of a far flimsier character than I had supposed.’” (ref: Ibid., p. 36). “This division was ‘a conjecture supported only by other conjectures … a myth of the philologists’”. (ref: Ibid., p 40). “Sri Aurobindo added. ‘The indications in the Veda on which this theory of a recent Aryan invasion is built, are very scanty in quantity and uncertain in their significance. There is no actual mention of such an invasion’” (ref: Ibid., p. 24). “Above all, he wanted the Indians to develop their own independent judgement: ‘A time must come when the Indian mind will shake off the darkness that has fallen upon it, cease to think or hold opinions at second and third rank and reassert its right to judge and enquire in a perfect freedom into the meaning of its own Scriptures. When that day comes, we shall … question many established philological myths; the legend, for instance, of an Aryan invasion of India from the north, the artificial and inimical distinction of Aryan and Dravidian which an erroneous philology has driven like a wedge into the unity of the homogeneous Indo-Afghan race…. (India’s Rebirth, Paris: Institut de Recherches Evolutives, 1993 , p 91-92) ‘”.
Continues Danino: “Some eighty years later, we know that the ‘wedge’, driven now not only by scholars but also by politicians, has only gone absurdly deeper. Yet Sri Aurobindo’s study of Tamil, which he did with the help of Subramania Bharati (the national poet of Tamil Nadu), led him to discover that the ‘original connection between the Sanskrit and Tamil tongues’ was ‘far closer and more extensive than is usually supposed’ and that they were ‘two divergent families derived from one lost primitive tongue’”. (Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda, op. cit., p. 36). “The division between Indo-European and Dravidian languages had collapsed: ‘My first study of Tamil words had brought me to what seemed a clue to the very origins and structure of the ancient Sanskrit tongue.’” (ref: Ibid., p. 46).
“Sri Aurobindo’s study, however, led him to far more momentous results, for he recovered the long-lost symbolism of the Veda, and brought to light the Rishis’ extraordinary experience.” These results, however, are of far greater value to living practitioners of Indian Yoga, than to academics, and recourse must be had to the major portion of Sri Aurobindo’s Secret of the Veda for that purpose.
I make no apologies for continuing with quotes from Danino, for the good reason that they cannot be improved upon. He next writes: “The question we should now ask is: Are our latter-day historians, who still swear by Marx or Max Muller, or both, and often have a poor knowledge of Sanskrit and India’s traditions, better equipped than a Swami Vivekananda or a Sri Aurobindo, with their depth of understanding and erudition, to tell us what the meaning of the Veda is and the conclusions we are to draw from it?… Yet it is not as if there were no scholars in India to agree with these great seers. We will cite here only two of these striking examples of genuine but ignored Indian scholarship.
“Some ten years after the serialisation of the Sri Aurobindo’s Secret of the Veda, R. Swaminatha Aiyar, a Tamil administrator, linguist and mathematician, carried out extensive research on the so-called Dravidian languages, but not ‘without previously disposing of a large number of misconceptions and untenable theories about Dravidian languages and Dravidian culture, which have come into existence since the publication of Bishop Caldwell’s Dravidian Grammar. (Ref: R. Swaminatha Aiyar, Dravidian Theories (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, 1987). “After a thorough scrutiny of the grammar and roots of these languages, his conclusions confirmed Sri Aurobindo’s own findings on the deep connection between Tamil and Sanskrit. Swaminatha Aiyar found most Dravidian verb forms of ‘Indo-Aryan origin,’ and that ‘the basic portion of Dravidian vocabularies consists of words of Indo-Aryan origin though … these words have been greatly corrupted and are very difficult of recognition.’ As N.S. Rajaram, also a mathematician and linguist from South India, remarks in a recent study, ‘Dravidian languages are strongly inflected like Sanskrit, and cases and declensions are also quite similar…. In some ways these so-called Dravidian languages have preserved ancient forms and usages from Sanskrit better than North Indian languages like Hindi.’” (N.S. Rajaram, The Politics of History, op. cit., p. 175).
To continue with Danino. “B.R. Ambedkar is our second example. Known in India chiefly for his campaign in support of the lower castes (he himself was a Harijan) and his work on the Indian Constitution, it is often overlooked that in order to find out the truth of the European theories about Aryans and non-Aryans, high and low caste, he did precisely what Sri Aurobindo exhorted Indians to do: he went to the source, and studied the Veda for himself, with an open mind. His conclusions are unequivocal, though regrettably they are largely ignored by those who profess to follow his lead and who more often than not make a strident use of the very theories he sought to demolish: ‘The theory of invasion is an invention. This invention is necessary because of a gratuitous assumption that the Indo-Germanic people are the purest of the modern representatives of the original Aryan race. The theory is based on nothing but pleasing assumptions, and inferences based on such assumptions. The theory is a perversion of scientific investigation. It is not allowed to evolve out of facts. On the contrary, the theory is preconceived and facts are selected to prove it. It falls to the ground at every point.’ (ref: B. R. Ambedkar, quoted by D.B. Thengadi in The Perspective [Sahitya Sindhu Prakashan]).
My conclusions are:
- The Vedas do not know any such race as the Aryan race.
- There is no evidence in the Vedas of any invasion of India by the Aryan race and it having conquered the Dasas and Dasyus supposed to be the natives of India.
- There is no evidence to show that the distinction between Aryans, Dasas and Dasyus was a racial distinction.
- The Vedas do not support the contention that the Aryans were different in colour from the Dasas and Dasyus…. If anthropometry is a science which can be depended upon to determine the race of a people….. (then its) measurements establish that the Brahmins and the Untouchables belong to the same race. From this it follows that if the Brahmins are Aryans the Untouchables are also Aryans. If the Brahmins are Dravidians, the Untouchables are also Dravidians….’
(B. R. Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches [Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1986-1990], Vol. 7, p. 85 and 302-303, quoted in Koenraad Elst’s Indigneous Indians, Agastya to Ambedkar, op. cit., p.410-411).
Danino completes this particular chapter of his book, thus: “Despite these remarkable protests, none listened; we Indians have long had the inexplicable habit of accepting change only if comes to us from the West. Yet in recent years, some voices have begun to be heard, both in the West and in India, asserting that the time has come to chuck out this worm-eaten theory once and for all. The cumulative evidence from all scientific branches of knowledge, especially archaeology, has become simply too overwhelming to be ignored, except for historians with dubious motives.” – Hindu Focus, 14 October 2009
» Devan Nair (1923-2005) was a former President of Singapore and follower of Sri Aurobindo.
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