2 – An “eminent historian” attacks Arun Shourie – Koenraad Elst

Nalanda

Koenraad Elst“Like any stage magician, Jha indulges in misdirection. While he himself has been caught in the act of misquoting his source (Yadava), and repeats this act of dishonesty in this very article, he tries to offset his embarrassment by a flight forward, viz. heaping imaginary allegations and plain swearwords upon Arun Shourie.” – Dr Koenraad Elst

D.N. Jha’s “Reply to Arun Shourie”, dated 9 July 2014, was published in shorter form as “Grist to the reactionary mill”, Indian Express, 9 July 2014. It starts as follows: “I was amused to read ‘How History Was Made Up At Nalanda’ [28 June 2014, The Indian Express] by Arun Shourie, who has dished out ignorance masquerading as knowledge – reason enough to have pity on him and sympathy for his readers!”

Shourie had charged him with fudging evidence to distort the historical narrative of the destruction of the ancient Nalanda Mahavihar. Jha therefore considered it necessary to “rebut his allegations and set the record straight instead of ignoring his balderdash”. Note the unscholarly language, and this at his advanced age. We are dealing with a verbal street-fighter who has been given a post as an academic. Further down, we see him belittling his opponent, typical for the nouveau riche who thinks the world of his own status. When Shourie doubts miracle-tales as historical sources, Jha does not justify his own use of the same, but plays up his academic status: “Acceptance or rejection of this kind of source criticism is welcome if it comes from a professional historian but not from someone who flirts with history as Shourie does.”

Prof D. N. JhaMisdirection

The article is, as usual in secularist polemics, an exercise in misdirection. Beating around the issues of history, Jha draws the reader’s attention away from those by indulging in nit-picking: “My presentation at the Indian History Congress, to which Shourie refers, was in 2006 and not 2004 as stated by Shourie. It was not devoted to the destruction of ancient Nalanda per se – his account misleads readers and pulls the wool over their eyes.” His entire presentation may have contained material for several more articles, but here Shourie has focused on one daring lie of Jha’s in the course of that presentation, viz. the claim that the disappearance of Nalanda University was due to Hindus rather than Muslims.

Jha: “It was in fact focused on the antagonism between Brahmins and Buddhists, for which I drew on different kinds of evidence including myths and traditions.” At least he has the merit of pointing to a rhetoric that, that force of repetition from high pedestals, has by now almost become an established fact, viz. that Hindus themselves did to Buddhists what they allege Muslims did to them. Hindus have let this lie fester for decades, and at their own peril.

Jha: “In this context I cited the tradition recorded in the 18th century Tibetan text, Pag-sam-jon-zang by Sumpa Khan-Po Yece Pal Jor, mentioned by B. N. S. Yadava in his Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century — with due acknowledgement, although in his pettiness Shourie is quick to discover plagiarism on my part! (I may add that ‘Hindu fanatics’ are not my words but Yadav’s, which is why they are in quotes. How sad that one has to point this out to a winner of the Magsaysay Award!)” Jha did mention Yadava as his source in general, but his quoted phrase “Hindu fanatics” was such that it gave the reader the impression of being from the Tibetan original. Either way, both he and Yadava are plainly wrong when they use the anachronistic term “Hindu fanatics”, because the source text only calls them “beggars”. There is no indication at all that they acted out of fanaticism; instead, it is explicitly mentioned that they were angry at being mistreated by some Buddhist monks.

The crux of Shourie’s argument is that Jha, too lazy to go to the original source, merely quotes Yadava as an authority but omits to mention that Yadava himself considers the source untrustworthy. That is clearly dishonest, and Jha has been caught in the act of committing it. Yet, in this article, Jha nowhere addresses the allegation that he himself has been dishonest, a central point of the article he claims to reply to. He even repeats the same trick: invoking Yadava as authoritative support for the Tibetan fairy-tale.

Jha: “In his conceit Shourie is disdainful and dismissive of the Tibetan tradition, which has certain elements of miracle in it, as recorded in the text.” Correction: he is only dismissive of the use a Marxist historian makes of it. In the Ayodhya affair, Marxists, and secularists in general, dismissed the Hindu side’s claim (which was not even miracle-mongering, just tradition-based) as “irrational”. And that claim was also based on documentary and archaeological evidence, whereas this Tibetan tale stands alone, is from five hundred years after the fact, and is contradicted by other evidence.

Jha: “Here is the relevant extract from Sumpa’s work cited by Shourie: ‘While a religious sermon was being delivered in the temple that he [Kakut Siddha] had erected at Nalanda, a few young monks threw washing water at two Tirthika beggars. (The Buddhists used to designate the Hindus by the term Tirthika). The beggars, being angry, set fire on the three shrines of Dharmaganja, the Buddhist University of Nalanda, viz. — Ratna Sagara, Ratna Ranjaka including the nine-storeyed temple called Ratnodadhi which contained the library of sacred books’ (p. 92). Shourie questions how the two beggars could go from building to building to ‘burn down the entire, huge, scattered complex’.”

Shourie is perfectly right to question the verisimilitude of this story. At any rate, Nalanda University comprised more than these three buildings. Whether this Tibetan miracle-tale is true or not, it does at any rate not pertain to the wholesale destruction of Nalanda, though that destruction did take place. The whole university was flattened by fire (as archaeology can confirm), not just three shrines but the teaching and living quarters as well. If anyone could be tricked by the Tibetan tale into thinking that it pertained to this wholesale destruction rather than narrating some small incident, at least it should not be a historian.

Arun ShourieBrahmin-Buddhist antagonism

Jha: “Look at another passage (abridged by me in the following paragraph) from the History of Buddhism in India written by another Tibetan monk and scholar, Taranatha, in the 17th century: ‘During the consecration of the of the temple built by Kakutsiddha at Nalendra [Nalanda] ‘the young naughty sramanas threw slops at the two tirthika beggars and kept them pressed inside door panels and set ferocious dogs on them’. Angered by this, one of them went on arranging for their livelihood and the other sat in a deep pit and “engaged himself in surya sadhana” [solar worship], first for nine years and then for three more years and having thus “acquired mantrasiddhi” he “performed a sacrifice and scattered the charmed ashes all around” which “immediately resulted in a miraculously produced fire” which consumed all the eighty-four temples and the scriptures some of which, however, were saved by water flowing from an upper floor of the nine storey Ratnodadhi temple. (History of Buddhism in India, English tr. Lama Chimpa & Alka Chattopadhyaya, pp.141-42).

If we look at the two narratives closely they are similar. The role of the Tirthikas and their miraculous fire causing a conflagration are common to both.”

Clearly, the two miracle tales have a common source. A polemicist would boast that he has no less than two sources available, but a genuine historian would soberly realize that he can draw only on a single source, centuries removed from the events it claims to narrate.

Jha: “Admittedly, one does not have to take the miracles seriously, but it is not justified to ignore their importance as part of traditions which gain in strength over time and become part of the collective memory of a community.” Notice the very different tune he is singing compared to the Ayodhya controversy. Back then, the whole mission of the “eminent historians” was to debunk the temple destruction scenario which they conceived as merely “part of traditions which gain in strength over time and become part of the collective memory of a community”. Here a sheer miracle story is not debunked, but on the contrary invoked as a decisive historical source.

Jha: “Nor is it desirable or defensible to disregard the long-standing antagonism between Brahmins and Buddhists, which may have given rise to the Tibetan tradition and nurtured it until the 18th century or even later. It is in the context of this Buddhist-Tirthika animosity that the account of  assumes importance; it also makes sense because it jibes with Taranatha’s evidence. Further, neither Sumpa nor Taranatha ever came to India. This should mean that the idea of Brahminical hostility to the religion of the Buddha travelled to Tibet fairly early, became part of its Buddhist tradition, and found expression in 17th-18th century Tibetan writings.”

Another explanation for this Tibetan tradition of hostility could be that they heard how Buddhism had been mistreated in India by the Muslim invaders, and concluded that “Indians” or “Hindus” (the two terms were not yet distinct) had done it. Even today, when the communication distance to the West is far smaller than to Tibet back then, numerous Westerners who hear about something wrong in India assume it must have been the doing of Hinduism. But if the Tibetans really thought that Hindus had been anti-Buddhist to the point of destroying major Buddhist shrines, they were simply misinformed. A historian should not merely quote sources, he should also ask himself how pertinent those sources are, and especially whether they are trustworthy. The question of truth, though central to the Indian Republic’s official motto, goes unconsidered too often.

At any rate, there was no “long-standing antagonism between Brahmins and Buddhists”, if only because most Buddhist writers were born Brahmins themselves and partook of Brahminical culture. Buddhist institutions in India flourished under Hindu rule for 16 centuries, otherwise there would have been nothing of them left for the Muslim invaders to destroy. By contrast, when Islam appears on the scene, Buddhism disappears, and not on account of two Tirthika beggars. Cases of polemic between Buddhists and Brahmins may be cited, as also between different Brahminical schools and different Buddhist sects, but they were only the normal exercise of freedom of opinion. They cannot be equated to the Islamic destruction of Buddhism in Central and South Asia.

Marxism

Jha: “Acceptance of the two Tibetan traditions, the one referred to by me has been given credence not only by Yadava (whom Shourie, in his ignorance, dubs a Marxist!) but also by a number of other Indian scholars like R. K. Mookerji (Education in Ancient India), Sukumar Dutt (Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India), S. C. Vidyabhushana (Medieval School of Indian Logic), Buddha Prakash (Aspects of Indian History and Civilization), and many others. They were all polymaths of unimpeachable academic honesty and integrity. They had nothing to do, even remotely, with Marxism: which is, to Shourie in his bull avatar, a red rag.”

Marxism is no longer what it used to be; its fall in the Soviet Union and decline in China are making themselves felt even in India at last. Some erstwhile Marxists do not like to be described as Marxist anymore. In the 1990s, Romila Thapar was mentioned in Tom Bottomore’s Dictionary of Marxism as a representative of Marxist history-writing without any discussion, but today she avoids the label “Marxist”. They may be telling one more lie here, this time about their own label, but some of them may genuinely have outgrown Marxism. I leave it to Jha and Shourie, and first of all to Yadava, to decide which description of Yadava is the correct one. But Marxism has conditioned the Indian history discourse, even through many who would reject the “Marxist” label for themselves. It will take time to undo its influence.

Worse is that here again, Jha repeats his lie. Yadava has explicitly written that the said Tibetan tradition is “doubtful”, but once more Jha cites him in its support. He insists on proving Shourie’s allegation right.

Odantapuri

Jha: “Now juxtapose the Tibetan tradition with the contemporary account in the Tabaqat–i-Nasiri of Minhaj-i-Siraj, which Shourie not only misinterprets but also blows out of proportion. Although its testimony has no bearing on my argument about Brahmanical intolerance, a word needs to be said about it so as to expose Shourie’s “false knowledge” – which, as G. B. Shaw said, is ‘more dangerous than ignorance’. The famous passage from this text reads exactly as follows:
“He [Bakhtiyar Khalji] used to carry his depredations into those parts and that country until he organized an attack upon the fortified city of Bihar. Trustworthy persons have related on this wise, that he advanced to the gateway of the fortress of Bihar with two hundred horsemen in defensive armour, and suddenly attacked the place. There were two brothers of Farghanah, men of learning, [Nizamu-ud-Din and Samsam-ud-Din] in the service of Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, and the author of this book [Minhajuddin] met with at Lakhnawati in the year 641 H and this account is from him. These two wise brothers were soldiers among that band of holy warriors when they reached the gateway of the fortress and began the attack at which time Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar, by the force of his intrepidity, threw himself into the postern of the gateway of the place, and they captured the fortress and acquired great booty. The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven; and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and, when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus were killed. On becoming acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and the city was a college, and in the Hindu tongue, they call a college Bihar” (Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, tr. H. G. Raverty, Calcutta, vol 1, 1881, pp.551-52).

“The above account mentions the fortress of Bihar as the target of Bakhtiyar’s attack. The fortified monastery which Bakhtiyar captured was ‘known as Audand-Bihar or Odandapura-vihara’ (Odantapuri in Biharsharif, then known simply as Bihar). This is the view of many historians but, most importantly, of Jadunath Sarkar, the high priest of communal historiography in India (History of Bengal, vol. 2, Dacca, 1948, pp.3-4). Minhaj does not refer to Nalanda at all: he merely speaks of the ransacking of the ‘fortress of Bihar’ (hisar-i-Bihar). But how can Shourie be satisfied unless Bakhtiyar is shown to have sacked Nalanda? Since Bakhtiyar was leading plundering expeditions in the region of Magadha, Shourie thinks that Nalanda must have been destroyed by him – and, magically, he finds ’evidence’ in an account which does not even speak of the place. Thus an important historical testimony becomes the victim of his anti-Muslim prejudice.”

I remember Sita Ram Goel himself pointing out to me that this passage is about Odantapuri, not Nalanda. So Shourie may have misidentified the institution here. But of course, a description of the Islamic sacking of Odantapuri implies nothing about other places not mentioned. Would the motives that led to the destruction of Odantapuri not have applied to Nalanda as well. We have it from the horse’s mouth, and now also from Jha, that the Islamic invaders sacked Odantapuri and killed every single inmate. We learn elsewhere that in the same military campaign (end of the 12th century), a thousand temples in Varanasi and many more religious institutions at other places were destroyed. Would it then, even without appeal to other sources, be so strange to assume that they did the same to other institutions, which were left unmentioned but nonetheless disappeared? Would that not be far more likely than Jha’s contrived hypothesis that, after sixteen centuries of allowing Buddhism to flourish, Brahmins in their very hour of need suddenly turned against Nalanda?

Ikhtiyar ad-Din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar KhiljiIslam destroyed Nalanda

Jha becomes distinctly unpleasant when he starts throwing around allegations: “In his zeal, [Shourie] fudges and concocts historical evidence and ignores the fact that Bakhtiyar did not go to Nalanda from Bihar (Biharsharif). Instead, he proceeded to Nadia in Bengal through the hills and jungles of the region of Jharkhand, which, incidentally, finds first mention in an inscription of AD 1295 (Comprehensive History of India, vol. IV, pt. I, p.601). I may add that his whole book, Eminent Historians, from which the article under reference is excerpted, abounds in instances of his cavalier attitude to historical evidence.”

Notice the rhetorical sleight of hand: Shourie the non-historian has made only one mistake of historical fact, and yet Jha multiplies his invective as if it were a habit. By contrast, Jha the history professor has repeatedly been caught in distortions and manipulations in this debate alone, yet he reckons he can get away with those.

But then Jha admits the very thing which secularists, and partly he himself, had set out to deny: “It is neither possible nor necessary to deny that the Islamic invaders conquered parts of Bihar and Bengal and destroyed the famous universities in the region.” So, next time the Vishva Hindu Parishad starts a temple reclamation campaign, it can cite Jha in support.

Jha: “But any one associating Bakhtiyar Khalji with the destruction and burning of the university of Nalanda would be guilty of gross academic dishonesty. Certainly week-end historians like Shourie are always free to falsify historical data, but this has nothing to do with serious history, which is always true to evidence.”

History may be true to the evidence, but Jha with his hair-brained reliance on a much later foreign testimony isn’t. Circumstantial evidence certainly still points to Bakhtiyar Khilji as the culprit, since we don’t know of another commander at that time and in that area. Not every event on his campaign was recorded. As all genuine historians know: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But even his name makes little difference for the larger debate that motivated Jha to his distortions. Numerous holy warriors of Islam displayed the same behaviour as Bakhtiyar Khilji because they had the same motive: the doctrine of Islam with its hatred of Pagans and their institutions. In spite of so much denial and so many distortions, secularists cannot alter that historical fact. Islam had the motive and the chance. Hinduism had the chance for sixteen centuries to destroy the Buddhist institutions but showed no interest because it lacked the motive. Islam, by contrast, appeared on the scene and immediately Buddhism disappeared. Islam is guilty.

Book-banning

Jha’s final word: “Shourie had raised a huge controversy by publishing his scandalous and slanderous Eminent Historians in 1998 during the NDA regime and now, after sixteen years, he has issued its second edition, from which the article under reference has been excerpted. He appears and reappears in the historian’s avatar when the BJP comes to power and does all he can to please his masters. His view of the past is no different from that of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their numerous outfits, consisting of riff-raff and goons who burn books that do not endorse their views, who vandalize art objects which they label blasphemous, who present a distorted view of Indian history, and who nurture a culture of intolerance. These elements demanded my arrest when my book on beef-eating was published, and they censured James Laine when his book on Shivaji came out. It is not unlikely that Shourie functions in cahoots with people like Dina Nath Batra, who targeted A. K. Ramanujan’s essay emphasizing the diversity of the Ramayana tradition; Wendy Doniger’s writings, which provided an alternative view of Hinduism; Megha Kumar’s work on communalism and sexual violence in Ahmedabad since 1969; and Sekhar Bandopadhyaya’s textbook on modern India, which regrettably does not eulogise the RSS. Arun Shourie seems to have inaugurated a fresh round of battle by fudging, falsifying and fabricating historical evidence and providing grist to Batra’s mill.”

Jha seems to suggest that publishing these allegations (which he doesn’t refute) was only safe with the NDA in power. Apparently the UPA would have done the Eminent Historians’ bidding and arrested Shourie for slander. Then again, maybe as an intellectual Jha found it below his dignity to appeal to the authorities, and preferred the proper medium of a debate. In that case, we would like to see his refutation.

The rest of his final allegation is an exercise in guilt by association. This is beneath the standards of an intellectual but proper for a political polemicist. We have already pointed that the allegation of “fudging, falsifying” etc., repeated here, is unjustified and applies more to Jha himself. Then he associates Shourie with the VHP-RSS penchant for banning books. In reality, Shourie as a crusader for civil rights and probity in public life has always been on the side of free and frank debate. The RSS, by contrast, is a lot more like Jha himself: never addressing issues but grandstanding on extraneous factors: status and the perceived interests of secularism in Jha’s case, patriotic indignation in the case of the RSS. He supposes that is “not unlikely that Shourie functions in cahoots with people like Dina Nath Batra”: this is worse than empty speculation, as it is easy to verify that Shourie was not involved in these recent book-banning operations. Indeed, Jha himself has been targeted, so he knows from experience that those who persecuted him comprised Batra but not Shourie.

To sum up: like any stage magician, Jha indulges in misdirection. While he himself has been caught in the act of misquoting his source (Yadava), and repeats this act of dishonesty in this very article, he tries to offset his embarrassment by a flight forward, viz. heaping imaginary allegations and plain swearwords upon his critic.

Hindu passivity

But he will largely get away with it, and secularists will go on quoting his speech at the Indian History Congress as an argument of authority for their truly daring thesis that “not Muslims but Hindus destroyed Nalanda University” and that this was but an instance of the long-standing hostility between Brahmins and Buddhists. Since the record is not being set straight from any powerful forum, it may even become part of the received wisdom.

At the end of 1990, Sita Ram Goel and myself visited the VHP headquarters at R. K. Puram, Delhi. To some of their bigwigs (names available), I argued passionately that since they had been forced to make a historical case for their Ayodhya demand, and for other reasons too, they badly needed to invest in serious history-writing, rather than relying on either the output furnished by their enemies or the caricatures produced by incompetent Hindus of the P N Oak variety. Wise old Goel just smiled, knowing already what the effect of my enthusiastic plea would be. One VHP leader concluded the conversation by assuring me: “We will think about your suggestion”— the polite way of saying: “Drop dead.” As we left, Goel said: “You could just as well have talked to my wall.” The Sangh Parivar was determined not to invest in chicken but only in eggs; not to involve itself in building a Hindu worldview but to continue focusing on empty locomotion.

Today, 24 years later, no Hindu force has invested anything at all in rectifying India’s history. In about 2002, HRM Minister M. M. Joshi had the history textbooks rewritten, only to prove for all to see the incompetence of most people he picked for the job. (Notice, Prof. Jha, that Arun Shourie was not involved in this operation either.) The secularists had no problem in overruling this reform, and no Hindu force deigned to address the question: “What have we done wrong?” They only went on wailing about the daring injustice perpetrated by the secularists without ever wondering what they themselves could have done or could still do. Hindu moneybags who like to show off their commitment to Hinduism, finance large temple-building projects or sponsor their declared enemies, but never think of financing the research that Hindu society badly needs. And so, bad but highly-placed historians like D. N. Jha can go on rubbishing Hindu history.

» Dr Koenraad Elst studied at the KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. He blogs at http://koenraadelst.blogspot.in/

Eminent Historians

1 – How history was made up at Nalanda – Arun Shourie

Nalanda

Arun Shourie“Surely, no self-respecting Marxist could have made his account rest on not just one miracle — acquiring siddhis and raining fire on to the Nalanda structures — but two, for we also have the streams of water running down from the scriptures.” – Arun Shourie

“The mine of learning, honoured Nalanda” — that is how the 16th-17th century Tibetan historian, Taranath, referred to the university at Nalanda. At the time I-Tsing was at the university, there were 3,700 monks. The total complex had around 10,000 residents. The structures housing the university were as splendid and as extensive as the learning they housed. When excavations began, the principal mound alone was about 1,400 feet by 400 feet. Hieun Tsang recounts at least seven monasteries and eight halls. The monasteries were of several storeys, and there was a library complex of three buildings, one of them nine storeys high.

As the Islamic invaders advanced through Afghanistan and north-western India, they exterminated Buddhist clergy, they pillaged and pulverised every Buddhist structure — the very word “but”, the idols they so feverishly destroyed, was derived from “Buddha”. Nalanda escaped their attention for a while — in part because it was not on the main routes. But soon enough, the marauders arrived, and struck the fatal blow. The ransacking is described in the contemporary Tabakat-i-Nasiri by Maulana Minhaj-ud-din.

Minhaj-ud-din rose and came to the notice of the rulers of the time — Qutb-ud-din Aibak and others — because of his raids and depredations, and because of the enormous booty he gathered, booty sufficient for him to set himself up as a plunderer in his own right. “His reputation reached Sultan (Malik) Qutb-ud-din, who despatched a robe of distinction to him, and showed him honour,” the historian writes. With its high wall, its large buildings, Nalanda seemed like a well-endowed fortress to Ikhtiyar-ud-din and his force. He advanced upon it with two hundred horsemen “and suddenly attacked the place”. Minhaj-ud-din continues,

“The greater number of inhabitants of that place were Brahmans, and the whole of those Brahmans had their heads shaven, and they were all slain. There were a great number of books there; and when all these books came under the observation of the Musalmans, they summoned a number of Hindus that they might give them information respecting the import of those books; but the whole of the Hindus had been killed. On being acquainted (with the contents of the books), it was found that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindu tongue, they call a college, Bihar [vihara].”

“When that victory was effected,” Minhaj-ud-din reports, “Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar returned with great booty, and came to the presence of the beneficent sultan, Qutb-ud-din I-bak, and received great honour and distinction.…” — so much so that other nobles at the court became jealous. All this happened around the year 1197 AD.

Prof D. N. JhaAnd now the Marxist account of the destruction of this jewel of knowledge. In 2004, D. N. Jha was the president of the Indian History Congress. In the presidential address he delivered — one to which we shall turn as an example of Marxist “scholarship” — this is the account he gives of the destruction of Buddhist viharas, and of Nalanda in particular:

“A Tibetan tradition has it that the Kalacuri King Karna (11th century) destroyed many Buddhist temples and monasteries in Magadha, and the Tibetan text  Pag Sam Jon Zang refers to the burning of the library of Nalanda by some ‘Hindu fanatics’.”

“Hindu fanatics”? The expression struck me as odd. A Tibetan text of the 18th century using so current an expression as “Hindu fanatics”? Especially so because, on Jha’s own reckoning, Hinduism is an invention of the British in the late 19th century? So, what is this “Tibetan text”? What does it say? Had Jha looked it up?

Pag Sam Jon Zang was written by Sumpa Khan-Po Yece Pal Jor. The author lived in 1704-88: that is, 500 years after the destruction of Nalanda.

That is the first thing that strikes one: our historian disregards the contemporaneous account, Tabakat-i-Nasiri, and opts for a text written 500 years after the event. But had he read the text at all? Could a self-respecting Marxist have at all believed what is written in it?

This is how Sarat Chandra Das, the translator and editor of Pag Sam Jon Zang, sets out the account of the destruction of Nalanda as given in this text:

“While a religious sermon was being delivered in the temple that he (Kakuta Sidha, a minister of a king of Magadha) had erected at Nalanda, a few young monks threw washing water at two Tirthika beggars. The beggars being angry, set fire on the three shrines of dharma ganja, the Buddhist university of Nalanda — that is, Ratna Sagara, Ratna Ranjaka including the nine-storey building called Ratnadadhi which contained the library of sacred books” (pg 92).

Two beggars could go from building to building of that huge campus and, with all the monks present, burn down the entire, huge, scattered complex?

And, the account of the relevant passage reproduced above is the one set out by Sarat Chandra Das in his Index. That is, it is just a summary of the actual passage — in an index, it scarcely could be more. What does the relevant section, and in particular the passage about the burning down of the library, say?

The author is giving an account of how Dharma has survived three rounds of destructive attempts. One round was occasioned by the fluctuating relations between Khunimamasta, a king of Taksig (Turkistan?), and Dharma Chandra, a king of Nyi-og in the east. The latter sends gifts. The former thinks these are part of black magic. He, therefore, swoops down from “dhurukha” and destroys “the three bases” of Magadha — monasteries, scriptures and stupas. Khunimamasta drives out and exiles the monks. Dharma Chandra’s uncle sends many scholars to China to spread the teaching. He receives gold as thanksgiving. He uses this and other gifts to appease rulers of smaller kingdoms to join the fight against the king of Taksig (Turkistan?). The uncle thereafter revives “the three bases”. Almost all the shrines are restored and 84 new ones are built. And so, the dharma survives.

In the next round, “the teacher who taught Prajnaparamita for 20 years is assassinated by burglars from dhurukha. His blood turned into milk and many flowers emerged from his body. (Thus) he flew into the sky.”

We now come to the crucial passage, the one that Jha has ostensibly invoked. I reproduce the translation of it by Geshe Dorji Damdul in full:

“Again at that time, there was a scholar by the name Mutita Bhadra, who was greatly involved in renovating and building stupas. Eventually he had a vision of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra. He flew to Liyul by holding the garment (of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra) and there he made great contributions to the welfare of sentient beings and the Dharma. Reviving the Dharma that way, the Dharma flourished for 40 years in the Central Land (Magadha?). At that time, during the celebration over the construction of a shrine in Nalanda by Kakutasita, a minister of the king, some naughty novice monks splashed (dish) washing water on two non-Buddhist beggars and also pressed (the two) in-between the door and (the door frame.) Angry over these gestures, one (beggar) served as the attendant to the other who sat in a deep pit for 12 years to gain the siddhi of the sun. Having achieved the siddhi, they threw ashes of a fire puja (havan) they did, on 84 Buddhist shrines. They were all burned. Particularly, when the three dharma ganja of Nalanda — the shrines which sheltered the scriptures — as well got consumed in fire, streams of water ran down from the scriptures of Guhyasamaja and Prajnaparamita, which were housed in the ninth storey of the Ratnadhati shrine. This saved many scriptures. Later, fearing penalty from the king, the two (beggars) escaped to Hasama in the north. However, the two died due to immolation, which happened on its own.”

Surely, no self-respecting Marxist could have made his account rest on not just one miracle — acquiring siddhis and raining fire on to the structures — but two, for we also have the streams of water running down from the scriptures.

But we strain unnecessarily. There is a clue in Jha’s lecture itself. He doesn’t cite the Tibetan text, he does what Marxists do: he cites another Marxist citing the Tibetan text! To see what he does, you must read the lines carefully. This is what we saw Jha saying:

“A Tibetan tradition has it that the Kalacuri King Karna (11th century) destroyed many Buddhist temples and monasteries in Magadha, and the Tibetan text Pag Sam Jon Zang refers to the burning of the library of Nalanda by some ‘Hindu fanatics’.”

As his authority, Jha cites a book by B.N.S. Yadava, Society and Culture in Northern India in the Twelfth Century. What did Yadava himself write? Here it is: “Further, the Tibetan tradition informs us that Kalacuri Karna (11th century) destroyed many Buddhist temples and monasteries in Magadha.”

Jha has clearly lifted what Yadava wrote word for word — at least he has been faithful to his source. But in the very next sentence, Yadava had gone on to say: “It is very difficult to say anything as to how far this account may be correct.”

Words that Jha conveniently left out!

Yadava had continued, “However, we get some other references to persecution.”

He cited two inscriptions and a Puranic reference. And then came to the Tibetan text. Recall what Jha wrote about this text: “… and the Tibetan text Pag Sam Jon Zang refers to the burning of the library of Nalanda by some ‘Hindu fanatics’.”

And now turn to what Yadava wrote about this very text: “The Tibetan text Pag Sam Jon Zang contains a [I am leaving out a word] tradition of the burning of the library of Nalanda by some Hindu fanatics.”

Ikhtiyar ad-Din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar KhiljiClose enough to pass for plagiarism? But wait, there is originality! Notice, first, that two Hindu beggars have become “Hindu fanatics”. Notice, next, that the words “Hindu fanatics” that Jha had put in quotation marks as if they were the words that the author of the Tibetan text had used to describe the arsonists, were actually the words of his fellow Marxist, Yadava. But the best clue is the word that I omitted from what Yadava had actually written. Yadava’s full sentence was as follows: “The Tibetan text Pag Sam Jon Zang contains a doubtful tradition of the burning of the library of Nalanda by some Hindu fanatics.”

Just as he had left out the words, “It is very difficult to say anything as to how far this account may be correct,” Jha now leaves out the word “doubtful”. And all this in the presidential address to the Indian History Congress.

In a word, there is a Tibetan text written five hundred years after the destruction of Nalanda. Sarat Chandra Das annotates it, and includes in his Index a summary in English of a passage in the text — the summary naturally leaves out telling components of the original passage.

Yadava looks only at the summary in the Index — “non-Buddhist beggars” becomes “Hindu fanatics.”

Yadava notes that the account is based on a “doubtful tradition.”

Jha omits the word “doubtful.”

And we have a presidential address to the Indian History Congress!

Given what we have seen of Marxist historians even in this brief book, the brazen-faced distortions — to the point of falsehood — do not surprise me.

What does surprise me is that no one looked up either the source that Jha had cited or the text.

Indeed, in concluding his section, Yadava had stated:

“A great blow to Buddhism was, no doubt, rendered by the Turkish invasions, leading to the destruction and desertion of the celebrated Buddhist monasteries of Magadha and Bengal. Many Buddhist scholars fled to Tibet and Nepal.” – Indian Express, 28 June 2014

» Arun Shourie, a former Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP, was Union minister for communications, information technology and disinvestment. This article has been excerpted from his book, Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud, published by HarperCollins India.

Eminent Historians

 

History textbooks should reflect reality, not ideology – Rakesh Sinha

Prof Rakesh SinhaLeftist historians profess that history should be secular and its content should help inculcate scientific and rational temperament among students. But that does not mean history should be used as a tool to glorify the false, exaggerate selective details and be written with an objective to help them gain dominance in the contemporary ideological-political debate. They are so obsessed with the economic interpretation of history that they metamorphose the episodes. For instance, after the Khilafat fiasco in 1921, riots broke out in Moplah in Kerala. Reports of rapes, looting, burning of houses and forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam shocked the world. … It is bizarre that the Marxists legitimised these perpetrators of rape and conversions as ‘rebels of economic oppression’.” – Prof  Rakesh Sinha

Prof Yellapragada Sudershan RaoWith the ascendency of BJP to power, yet again a debate on the proposed changes in the syllabus of history textbooks has kicked off. A similar debate was also witnessed during the Vajpayee regime. But there is a difference between the two. In the debate that took place during the Vajpayee-led NDA rule, the Left forces were against the idea of change in curriculum, but in 2014, their primary focus seems to target individuals predisposed to head academic institutions. Unfair criticism of Prof Y. Sudershan Rao’s appointment as the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) is one such example. This clearly shows that the Leftist historians are no more in a position to carry on with their philosophy of ‘writing history’.

The debate also has a unique feature. While the Marxist-Nehruvian stream has many big faculty names with it, the nationalist stream has facts and reality on its side. In the debate during the Vajpayee premiership, ‘eminent’ historians of the Marxist clan used their names to appeal to the popular mind and tried to make the forces of alternative history defensive. They are masters in the art of using the ‘power of propaganda’, which they have learnt from the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, in changing the minds of common man. They left no stone unturned to prove that corrections in history lessons were nothing but ‘saffronisation’ and they use this term synonym to ‘communalism’. But they fail to contest issues raised by the nationalist historians. There are umpteen such examples, but Antonio Gramscipresenting only one instance will be enough to prove the fallacy of their argument. The NCERT textbook taught children that the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Tegh Bahadur, who we all know made unparalleled sacrifices for the freedom of religion, was linked to ‘plunder and rapine’.

Leftist historians profess that history should be secular and its content should help inculcate scientific and rational temperament among students. But that does not mean history should be used as a tool to glorify the false, exaggerate selective details and be written with an objective to help them gain dominance in the contemporary ideological-political debate. They are so obsessed with the economic interpretation of history that they metamorphose the episodes. For instance, after the Khilafat fiasco in 1921, riots broke out in Moplah in Kerala. Reports of rapes, looting, burning of houses and forcible conversion of Hindus to Islam shocked the world. British historian L.F. Rushbrook Williams wrote: “The main brunt of Moplah ferocity was borne not by the government but the luckless Hindus, who constituted majority of the population… Massacres, forcible conversions, desecration of temples, foul outrages upon women, pillage, arson, destruction—in short all the accompaniments of brutal and Ali Musliyarunrestrained barbarism—was perpetrated freely.” Reporting the event, the Times of India stated: “Not a single Moplah had been looted by these bands and it is very doubtful whether any Hindu house has been left unmolested…” It is bizarre that the Marxists legitimised these perpetrators of rape and conversions as ‘rebels of economic oppression’.

Their selective amnesia is more than obvious. They omitted important historical facts. For instance, it was Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s insistence that Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) continued. Times of India reported on December 17, 1947, that he appointed Liaquat Ali Khan as the president of Pakistan Muslim League and Mohammad Ismail of Madras as the first president of IUML in a conference held in Karachi. Moreover, their ideological predisposition can be seen while discussing the role of Indian Communists during freedom movement. Their allegation against RSS historians is akin to pot calling the kettle black. They fail to digest that history textbooks should reflect realities, not ideologies. – The New Indian Express, 10 August 2014

» Prof Rakesh Sinha  is the Hony. Director of India Policy Foundation. He is an eminent political scientist. Contact him at rakeshsinha46@gmail.com

Rending the veil of historical negationism in India – Bharavi

S.L. BhyrappaAn analysis of Aavarana: The Veil by S.L. Bhyrappa. Translated into English by Sandeep Balakrishna. Paperback: 400 pages. Publisher: Rupa Books Co., 2014. ISBN-13: 978-8129124883

Introduction

Ostensibly a work of historical fiction, the Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa’s book is apt to touch raw nerves for readers of every persuasion, especially if they endure till the bitter end. Without saying so, it reminds us that the Indian national motto “Satyameva jayate naanrtam” (‘Truth alone triumphs, not falsehood’, Mundakopanishad 3.1.6) takes some character and conviction to live by, or risks being reduced to sloganeering and eventually, to irony and parody in equal parts.

Mr. Sandeep Balakrishna, who has translated the book from the Kannada original into English, richly deserves the collective gratitude of Hindu society for having brought this book to a larger reading public, potentially including foreign scholars.

Among historical novels and even history books, Aavarana is likely to stand tall for its candor and accuracy tempered by human sympathy. Few Indian historians and fewer Indian novelists have dared to approach the subject of this work, either due to a lack of the requisite erudition or for fear of political incorrectness.

The main theme of the book is the prevalent, official negationism of the less savory events and effects of the Islamic conquest of India on the Hindu psyche and society. This negationism is what the term “aavarana” literally denotes – the covering up of inconvenient facts in the service of ideology at best and expediency at worst. However, many other sub-themes are woven together in a literary style that India has known since the days of the Ramayana and Mahabharata – that of the ‘story within a story’. Dialogues between different characters and even mental soliloquies can pique the inquisitive and attentive reader into commencing new directions of investigation, just as the thought-provoking dialogues of classical works do.

The framing narrative in Aavarana is that of a modern Hindu Kannadiga woman in independent India, Lakshmi Gowda, who discards her ancestral religion in favour of what is called ‘Progressive thought’, followed by conversion to Islam for the sake of marrying a Muslim filmmaker and integrating into his orthodox family.

In this and other efforts to break free of what she considers the archaic, patriarchal and parochial mores of Hindu society, she is encouraged by an ‘eminent intellectual’, Prof. L.N. Sastri. He is of her own ethnicity, a Brahmin who leads by example, most prominently by marrying a British Catholic woman and flaunting his beef-eating in a defiant newspaper article.

Many years after her marriage, while filming at Hampi, where the ruins of the Vijayanagar empire lie strewn around, ‘mute witnesses’ (Sita Ram Goel[1]) to wanton destruction motivated by Islamic iconoclasm, Razia Begum Qureshi née Lakshmi Gowda starts the examination of the facts on the ground, literally and metaphorically. Here, news of the death of her Gandhian father who disowned her on her marriage and conversion decades ago reaches her. Razia, emotionally affected by the sudden turn of events, visits her natal house. An intellectually transformative event occurs when she chances upon her father’s study wherein he had accumulated a large number of books (including several by Muslim historians) describing various facets and periods of India under Islamic rule. He was apparently planning to write a book using this material, and had made copious notes, but was unable to complete the work before his death. Wanting to complete her father’s work, but not being an academic scholar herself but an artist, she decides not to write a book on history, but a historical novel based on the material available, and with scrupulous adherence to the truth. This novel is the second narrative within the book.

Aaravana: The VeilAn eye for detail

This is a novel with a mission – to encourage Indians to think objectively about their history on the basis of primary evidence, rather than take refuge in pleasing platitudes that have metastasized into unsupportable speculations and mindless sloganeering in the service of political and ideological fashions. In this account of not one, but several intellectual journeys, Razia is the freethinker who has done a Malhotran U-turn[2] in reverse, and Prof. Sastri is the distilled essence of our ‘eminent historians’ who write ‘official history’.

Bhyrappa deals very knowledgably and with great sympathy and accuracy about doctrinal matters and worldviews essential to the Hindu-Islamic encounters, not incidental to them. In the latter category of incidental matters we may include linguistic borrowings and the adaptation of Hindu art forms to Islamic tastes, the basis of the much-beloved and laboriously contrived, but nevertheless unreal, contemporary ideal of a ‘composite culture’.

The overall effect of this approach is to maintain a rare clarity of thought and a high level of detail, framing each issue in sharp relief, until the reader can disagree with the inevitable conclusions only by closing (or banning) the book. This is what the Indian secular establishment has been doing – ‘strangling by silence’[3] – simply refusing to acknowledge, leave alone trying to systematically examine the literary and material evidence.

Perceptive and conscious Hindus will additionally find in this book a welcome literary revival of their hoary philosophical tradition of ‘poorva paksha’. This involves rendering the opinion of others with utmost honesty and fidelity. Each of the arguments and thoughts of the characters involved is imbued with these admirable qualities precisely because this is truly a book of essentials. As Bhyrappa writes in the acknowledgements, he spent time traveling, researching texts and interacting with people to the extent of having practicing Muslims advise him on the finer points of Islamic customs and manners. This level of research constitutes a clean and hopefully irreversible break with the harmful legacy of mindless sloganeering by Hindu religious and political leaders culminating in Gandhi’s ‘sarva dharma sama bhaava’ (equanimity towards all religions) – an opiate designed for Hindu consumption that no Muslim or Christian can subscribe to without committing a combination of social hypocrisy and doctrinal heresy.

Hindu leaders (except perhaps the late Swami Dayananda Saraswati of the Arya Samaj) have historically contented themselves with blaming fanatics among Muslims, but obstinately refrained from even the simplest study of core Islamic doctrines, leave alone analysis of the consequences of those doctrines for the Hindu society. Thus, Hindu leaders lead their followers astray by pretending to know all about Islam (and other competing ideologies) without having read any foundational texts worth the name.

Dr. Shreerang Godbole, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – ‘National Volunteer Association’), exposed a major instance of self-deception among contemporary Hindu nationalists in a series of articles and some revealing correspondence[4]. Instances of Hindu-led, self-delusional ‘inter-faith’ exercises can be multiplied, going back to the nirguna(‘attribute-free’) strains of the medieval Bhakti movement itself and, nearer our own times, Gandhi’s obstinate attempts to remain doctrinally illiterate. Bhyrappa administers the much-needed corrective to such persistently ad hominem and ad hoc reactions from Hindus by going back to the fount, as we shall see.

HijraReopening suppressed facts

Aavarana also treads on territory that has been scrupulously kept out of sight in Indian textbooks, and even in much of Hindutva literature – the enslavement of Hindus by Islamic conquerors that, in the case of young male captives, was often accompanied by forced emasculation. Even a cursory review of Islamic history (e.g. the Ottoman caliphate) will indicate that the slave-taking and eunuch-making described in the book was but a local instance of a more widespread behavioral pattern. When such uncomfortable facts cannot be avoided, the standard secularist tactic is to either allege ulterior motives on the part of the informant (shoot-the-messenger or spit-and-run policy) or to creatively recast the account as an ancient instance of some contemporary social ideal.

An example of the last tactic was recently in evidence in the self-described ‘India’s national newspaper’, The Hindu. In his review of a work on the history of the Delhi Sultanate, Mr. Ziya-Us-Salam bemoaned contemporary homophobia and prejudice against the transgendered and neutered, saying that the Delhi sultanate was much ‘wiser’ in such matters by highlighting that Alauddin Khilji’s famous general, Malik Kafur, was both a eunuch and a converted Hindu, not a Turk. Yet, Kafur’s gender was never a point of concern for his contemporaries. All the way into Mughal times, eunuchs continued to hold important positions and to actively participate in the politics of the time.[5] The review concluded with a clarion call for an equitable attitude towards LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) rights:

“In the liberal ways of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughals lie a few lessons for us today.”

Now, a liberal attitude towards contemporaneous LGBT individuals is unexceptionable for anyone who cares for human rights. But, the inconvenient historical fact glossed over is that Malik Kafur was surnamed ‘Hazardinari’ i.e., ‘costing a thousand dinars’. He was a Hindu boy captured as booty during Alauddin’s Gujarat campaign, castrated and eventually sold for the aforementioned dinars. Understandably, you would be hard-put to discover prejudice against eunuchs in a society that created them and valued them for their services. These facts again highlight the contemporary relevance of Bhyrappa’s investigation into the liberties one can take with historical facts, even to support valid social causes. Razia’s novel within Aavarana is in the form of the autobiography of a eunuch who was a newly-married seventeen year-old Hindu prince prior to his capture and enslavement in war, followed by forced castration.

We will let the late historian K.S. Lal have the last word on the status and role of eunuchs under the Islamic dispensation:

“The need for turning so many boys and men into eunuchs and also obtaining them from outside is obvious. The safety, security and surveillance of a large number of beautiful women in the seraglio could not be left only to female matrons. And normal healthy men could not be trusted to serve in the harem in which resided so many sex-starved young women. So the safest thing was to make men who were on duty in the harem harmless. The king also lived in the harem, and nobles and servants personally attending on him also had to be eunuchs. The cruelty entailed in this system was nobody’s concern in a despotic regime. On the other hand, it was very advantageous to the master. Once a man was made eunuch, his sensibility for manhood was dwarfed, his spirit of assertiveness destroyed, and he was perforce turned into a loyal and devoted slave; it did not matter to the master if his loyalty and devotion were fruits of compulsion. So the practice of making eunuchs went on and on under Muslim rule. If eunuchs were denied “the greatest pleasures attainable in this world”, they were compensated by sometimes performing great feats of bravery, by showing great loyalty to the master or by just piling up great wealth.

It is not the task of the historian to pity the eunuchs or condemn those who emasculated them. But pernicious was the system in which man could exploit man to this extent. It is another matter that most eunuchs perforce reconciled themselves to their lot, though cruelty and crime could go no farther than deforming and desexing of man by man. Many people suffered because of the medieval Muslim slave system, but undoubtedly the eunuchs suffered the most.”[6]

Thus, the signal merit of Aavarana lies in the scrupulously faithful characterization of not only historical events and persons, but also the contemporary secularist Indian-Islamic axis and praxis. The secularist technique of maintaining hegemony by limiting access to relevant information or depending on the ignorance of their audience is a technique that is long past its expiry date.

Most damagingly, in Bhyrappa’s hands, the prompt juxtaposition of the lofty, yet shifty, Indian secularist ex-cathedra proclamations and ‘analyses’ with the inconvenient historical data leaves the reasonable reader in no doubt as to how silly Indian secularism can be when it is not actively poisoning Indian society. Thereafter, only the wilfully duplicitous or compulsively self-deluded can keep up the charade of Indian secularism. That this simple juxtaposition could have been successfully deferred for nearly half a century after India’s independence in 1947 speaks volumes of the intellectual climate of the Nehruvian-Stalinist state that India had been reduced to, until the advent of more modern and less controllable forms of information transfer, particularly the internet.

Aavarana vividly demonstrates the truth of Arun Shourie’s assertion – ‘cut out and store their (i.e. secularists’) vituperation — in less than no time it mutates into the ridiculous.’[7] These facts sufficiently account for the extreme distaste with which Bhyrappa is being viewed by sections of the Kannada (secular) literary establishment.

Even more problematically from the Indian secularist viewpoint, Bhyrappa has not fallen into the vulgar error of blaming Muslims as a community. Going deeper than the compilation of various historical accounts, he highlights the doctrinal foundations of Islam – the Koran, the Hadiths and the Sunnah. These foundational texts of Islam, we find, in and of themselves, sufficiently account for the attitudes and behavior of conscious Muslims towards Kafirs and their practice of Kufr. In less politically correct times, this was an obvious fact admitted as much with pride by Muslim historians themselves, and is still being repeatedly highlighted by the so-called ‘radical’ Islamic groups and regimes, but it bears restating in the current climate of gratuitous, and often, professional obfuscation.

Heads in the SandAcademic corruption and the Indian progressive/secular/Marxist intellectuals

Aavarana will (or should) make every academic (and not only in the social sciences) sit up and think, if not cringe: Absolute truth may well be distant, abstract, even unattainable, but are they doing violence to more mundane, observable facts in blind devotion to cherished theories? And, what about the hefty governmental grants and patronage that are employed to these ends? Do academics that make honest errors bother to correct themselves?

However, Aavarana’s most ominous and troubling question about the academic establishment (especially its Indian avatar) is left unstated, so let us make it explicit.

Now, right or wrong, at least the temple-breakers and Kafir-enslavers had the honesty to admit the reality of their intentions and actions, and acknowledge their rootedness in doctrinal convictions. Do our academics have any such principles, or do they hunt with the hounds and run with the hare as it suits them? Are they rank opportunists who fall into one of the four categories of ‘eel-wrigglers’ enumerated by the Buddha?[8]

One can only shake one’s head with cynicism when we find Prof. Sastri eating beef as a gesture of defiance one day, but happily agreeing to give a discourse on the wisdom of cow protection for a Gandhian organization on the next. This writer witnessed in person an ‘eminent historian of India’ waving off Timur’s admission of Islamic motives in his autobiography by censuring the British historians who documented this (Elliot and Dowson) for their ‘imperial-colonial motives’ (see: shoot-the-messenger and spit-and-run above). So, I can tell from experience that Prof. Sastri is pretty much true to type, as are the outnumbered and organizationally outmaneuvered Hindu activists who try to call the secularist bluff at ‘progressive’ seminars.

But then, Prof. Sastri is also the true hero of this novel. Without his undeniable erudition and command over the English language that are ‘gainfully employed’ to justify anything ‘progressive’ with aplomb, to suppress key facts and wilfully indulge in outright fabrication when mere misinterpretation won’t suffice, all in the name of secularism and communal harmony (see: eel-wriggling, above), the central problem of the novel – the veiling (Aavarana) of the truth in history-writing – would not even exist. Verily a case of philosophia ancilla theologiae (pace St. Thomas Aquinas)! In passing, we also note that Yoginder Sikand’s confession about the lucrative and prestigious progressive academic-activist circuit[9] eerily corroborates Bhyrappa’s characterization of Prof. Sastri, so that this book is well-nigh ‘certified’ too by high authority, if such were required. This only enhances Bhyrappa’s standing as a careful and conscientious gatherer of facts and as a consummate storyteller who weaves them into a coherent narrative.

Non-Indian academics and assorted “India/Hinduism experts” should also take Bhyrappa’s unstated warning seriously. From their positions of prestige, they should not mindlessly first swallow, or worse, unthinkingly propagate, notions fed to them by their native informants (or ‘academic collaborators’) in the Indian secularist establishment. They need to engage directly with primary data to make sure that they are not being fed cock-and-bull stories sugar-coated with fashionable ideologies by the allegedly progressive secularists of India. More importantly, for their own sakes, they also need to get their act in order and function with at least some appearance of disinterested objectivity, if they are to salvage what is left of their integrity

On the Hindu side, Ram Swarup’s words bear reiteration if Hindus are not to discredit themselves in turn by going to the opposite extreme and disregarding all academic researchers (even those hostile to Hinduism) as a matter of policy:

“… But there were also others (British historians) who had genuine curiosity and in spite of their pre-conceived notions, they tried to do their job faithfully in the spirit of objectivity. In the pursuit of their researches, they applied methods followed in Europe. They collected, collated and compared old manuscripts. They deciphered old, forgotten scripts and in the process discovered an important segment of our past. They developed linguistics, archaeology, carbon dating, numismatics; they found for us ample evidence of India in Asia. They discovered for us much new data, local and international. True, many times they tried to twist this data and put fanciful constructions on it, but this new respect for facts imposed its own discipline and tended to evolve objective criteria. Because of the objective nature of the criteria, their findings did not always support their prejudices and preconceived notions. For example, their data proved that India represented an ancient culture with remarkable continuity and widespread influence and that it had a long and well-established tradition of self-rule and self-governing republics, and free institutions and free discussion.” [10]

An example of negationism by a non-Indian academic is that of Richard Eaton who documented cases of temple destruction by Sufis in the book, Sufis of Bijapur[11]. However, flying in the face of facts, Eaton has also written apologetics for Islam. One would think that, being a free American citizen and an academic with tenure at the University of Tucson, Arizona, he would have robustly stood by his scholar’s prerogative to unearth inconvenient facts with complete honesty, and left it to the distant Indian society to deal with these facts as best as it might. In fact, this is routinely done in every case of ‘drain inspection’ carried out on the ills of Hindu society.[12]

Rather, Eaton laboriously tried to establish a false parity between Hindu and Islamic kings by highlighting an imagined ‘continuity’ in temple destruction, citing pre-Islamic instances of rival Hindu kings taking away images of deities during conquest for re-installation in their own temples.[13]

This ‘continuity’ is, of course, entirely in the eye of the scholar. A little thought and common sense will indicate that the Hindu kings’ appropriation of images worshipped by their rivals is in no way equivalent to the Islamic act of carrying away Pagan idols where their eventual fate is not respectful re-installation and worship in the Islamic Sultan’s personal shrine, but melting down for precious metals, or breakage and embedding into doorsteps so that they could be subjected to desecration by the faithful for the foreseeable future. These indignities are in addition to disrupting Pagan idol-worship at the original site, which is not the case with pre-Islamic India, where the defeated Hindu king was free to re-commence worship of a different image. Eaton’s (and others’) historical skullduggery rooted in a studied refusal to examine Islamic doctrine for reasons underlying Islamic behavior have been documented and critiqued at length by Koenraad Elst in his book Negationism in India.[14]

Ram SwarupOn the Pagan response to prophetic revelatory religions

Bhyrappa ends his work on a very tantalizing note that has not been much remarked upon even in favorable reviews as far as I could see – Vivekananda’s attempted yogic analysis of wahi – the process of divine revelation in Islam. He also offers instances wherein Hindu thought categories are used to analyze events, something that is hardly met with even in Hindu-friendly literature.

So far, the Hindu revivalist author Ram Swarup has been the only Hindu to interpret the process of prophetic-monotheistic revelation from a yogic viewpoint.[15] On the secular front, the Dutch scholar Herman Somers, a former Jesuit priest and a qualified psychologist had unearthed psychopathological syndromes associated with many instances of prophetic revelation in the Bible, including that of Jesus. His findings, inaccessible to those who don’t know French or Dutch (including this author), have been ably summarized by the Belgian Indologist Koenraad Elst in his book Psychology of Prophetism.[16]

Hindus, especially their assorted, well-funded gurus, would do well to read these books and develop their own informed critique of other religions at deeper, doctrinal levels and desist from misleading their families and flocks with misinformation in the guise of ‘promoting religious harmony’. This intellectual shoddiness and poverty of thought has been termed ‘radical universalism’ by Frank Morales, a Hispanic-American convert to Srivaishnava Hinduism.[17]

Bhyrappa has therefore performed a signal service to Hindu society by taking his readers on a whirlwind tour of both the historical and doctrinal aspects of the Hindu-Islamic encounter, while scrupulously avoiding the pasting of collective or inherited guilt on contemporary communities. It is obvious that durable peace between these two communities will require a lot more than mere political correctness and formal niceties involving soppy, Bollywood-style inter-religious love stories, lavish Mughlai food or florid Urdu poetry, not to mention candlelight fairs at the Indo-Pak border post at Wagah.

Taslima NasrinConclusions

Aavarana is a literary efflorescence (detractors would like to say recrudescence) of what the likes of Sita Ram Goel,[1] Arun Shourie[18] and Koenraad Elst[14have painstakingly achieved for serious history writing over the last few decades – an exposé of the official Indian negationism of the career of Islam in India, as well as the legal censorship of all doctrinal critiques of Islam that has prevailed for most of independent India’s recent history. The denial of asylum to the Bangladeshi atheist-feminist writer Taslima Nasrin and the denial of an Indian visa to Salman Rushdie by the Indian government are merely two notable manifestations of this self-imposed censorship.

Of course, two can play this game of officious legality and offended religious sensibilities. Thus, the Hindus, in their turn, filed cases in the courts against the Muslim painter M.F. Hussain and the Jewish-American academic Wendy Doniger, on the grounds of offending their religious sentiments. As a result of legal harassment, M.F. Hussain chose to end his days in exile in Qatar and Penguin India, the publishers of Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, opted for an out-of-court settlement, pulping all the unsold copies of Doniger’s book and refraining from releasing any new copies in India.

Interestingly, Doniger could not resist doing her own bit of veiling – Aavarana – in the wake of this controversy. Referring to Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, under which Penguin India were hauled to court in the first place, she wrote as follows in a statement in Outlook magazine:

“They (Penguin India) were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”[19]

The innocent reader may justifiably conclude that this villainous law is preoccupied solely with offended Hindu sentiments, something that would befit the secularist scarecrow of a rabid Hindu theocracy. However, on closer inspection, the British-era law, though intended primarily to pre-empt Islamic riots that erupt with monotonous predictability on grounds of outraged religious sensibilities, takes adequate care to use neutral language befitting an even-handed concern for all groups:

“Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India (originally ‘British India’)…[20]

Yes, any class of Indian citizens, not just Hindus – potentially every religious, linguistic, regional, vocational, sectarian, or caste grouping. Suppressio veri, suggestio falsi, and that too by an American academic, the “Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions; also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought, and the College…”[21] no less.

Given such instances, Bhyrappa’s concerns about the truth being hidden or conveniently diminished by our ‘eminences’ holding forth from their lofty pulpits are fully warranted. Time and again, the Indian secularist establishment and their foreign fellow travelers have painted themselves into inconvenient corners, often with their own weapons used against those very cherished humanistic values and ideals whose custodianship they have arrogated to themselves.

Secularists, especially Bhyrappa’s fellow Kannadigas like Girish Karnad, Aravind Adiga and U.R. Ananthamurthy, have concentrated their ire on Bhyrappa, either disowning him or condemning him. Aravind Adiga characterizes Bhyrappa as a novelist ‘in search of an ending’ and one who is ‘in danger of having a fanbase composed entirely of bigots’.[22] Indeed, the ‘danger’ exists precisely because of the falsification and fabrication that has become de rigueur in the teaching (or preaching?) of Indian history.[1][14][18] Six years ago, when asked about his (Adiga’s) own choice to portray the crushing poverty of India in his novel, Adiga proclaimed that ‘provocation is one of the legitimate goals of literature’.[23] Clearly, he is not interested in extending that legitimacy to Bhyrappa now. Another instance of the famed ‘Aavarana’?

The only way to ‘save’ Bhyrappa, if the likes of Adiga sincerely want it, is to have the snooty ‘eminences’ dismount their high horses, and make amends for their chronic negationism, and allow for glasnost in the critiques of ‘minority religions’. And, a truly secular way to combat the feared ‘Hindu bigots’ would be to address their legitimate contemporary concerns regarding Islamic violence as well as treat the historical record of Islam in India in a more professional manner than has been in evidence so far.

Of course, none of this is possible without at least a tangential critique of Islamic doctrine, a move fraught with a real, as opposed to an imaginary shot (pun intended) at martyrdom that every secularist knows only too well.

There are more vital and interesting facts in this novel, especially about traditional Hinduism, the views on conquest and polity in the Dharmashaastras, historical material on Aurangzeb’s times and policies and so on, that have not been purposely touched upon by this reviewer to avoid ‘spoilers’.

Bhyrappa deftly has Razia write a bibliography within Aavarana, which indicates the extent of research and reading he has undertaken. Therefore, aside from the dominant theme of the Hindu-Islamic struggle, Hindus can learn much about their own heritage, legacy and history from Aavarana, and the bibliography can serve as a starting point for further inquiry. In addition to fulfilling its literary function as a novel on a historical theme using classical Hindu literary devices, Aavarana can reasonably double as a popular introduction, a Berlitz if you will, for lay Hindus to the landscape of what may well develop into an academic specialization in its own right – ‘Indian secularism studies’.

Jihadi: Koran in one hand, AK-47 in the other!The elephant herd in the already crowded room – recurring street riots, petty violence and arson, not to mention chronic acts of terrorism against the Hindu populace of India, often aided and abetted by the Indian Muslim enclave of Pakistan – cannot be wished away by platitudes alone. This book should initiate introspection among serious and observant Hindus and Muslims about the doctrinal foundations of their respective religions.

Under the circumstances, resolving to consciously eschew the less humane aspects of religious doctrines and practices might seem a reasonable course of action to adopt. However, upon such objective scrutiny and reform, person-and history-centric religions like the Abrahamic ones[24] will probably end up all the worse for the wear, as compared to Pagan ones. And therein lies the rub: Why should anyone willingly choose inconvenient truths over beautiful secular constructs? A Pagan myself, I may tentatively suggest an answer culled from an Abrahamic text – ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’.[25]

All right-thinking (in the sense of ‘decent’ not ‘politically conservative’) Hindus and Muslims should be thankful to Bhyrappa for holding up a mirror to their attitudes and mores, unflattering though the reflections may be on occasion. After all, to err is human, but not to realize one’s error when so clearly highlighted would only qualify as incorrigible obstinacy or sheer perversion. Though hardly remarked upon by inimical secularists, a relentless focus on fact and truth constitutes the truly ‘fanatic’ aspect of this singular novel. Posterity will recall it as a pioneering literary contribution to the Hindu-Islamic narrative from the Hindu side or, to put a truly secular slant on it, a sorely needed infusion of reality into the fashionable, not to say lucrative, business of inter-faith dialogue in India.

Notes and References

  1. Hindu temples: What happened to them (vol.1).   A preliminary survey. (1990). SR Goel (ed).   pp. 41-154. Voice of India, New Delhi, India. http://voiceofdharma.org/books/htemples1/ch10.htm
  2. Dey A. (2006). Rajiv Malhotra’s “U-turn theory.” http://www.deeshaa.org/2006/02/16/rajiv-malhotras-u-turn-theory/
  3. Elst K (2001). India’s only communalist: A short biography of Sita Ram Goel. http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/articles/hinduism/sitaramgoel.html
  4. Time for stock-taking: Whither Sangh Parivar? (1997). Goel SR. (ed.) Voice of India, New Delhi, India.
  5. Ziya-us-salam. In wiser days. In The Hindu, April 25, 2014http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/in-wiser-days/article5947289.ece
  6. Lal, KS (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India, ch. 9. Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, India. http://voiceofdharma.com/books/mssmi/ch9.htm
  7. Shourie A. Cut, paste and preserve their calumny. In The Observer,January 22, 1999. http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/print/19990122.htm
  8. In the Brahmajala Sutta the Buddha refers to ‘ascetics and Brahmins’ who equivocate as those who ‘wriggle like eels.’ http://buddhasutra.com/files/brahmajala_sutta.htm
  9. Sikand Y. Why I gave up on ‘social activism.’ In Countercurrents, April 19, 2012. http://www.countercurrents.org/sikand190412.htm
  10. Swarup R. Historians versus history. In The Indian Express, January 15, 1989. http://www.voiceofdharma.com/books/htemples1/ch6.htm
  11. Eaton RM. (1978). Sufis of Bijapur, 1300-1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A.
  12. This refers to Gandhi’s characterization of the racialist and anti-Catholic historian Katherine Mayo’s (in)famous book Mother India as being a ‘the report of a drain inspector.’
  13. Eaton RM. Temple desecration in pre-modern India and Temple desecration and Indo-Muslim states. In Frontline, December 22, 2000 and January 5, 2001. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00islamlinks/txt_eaton_temples1.pdf; http://ftp.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00islamlinks/txt_eaton_temples2.pdf
  14. Elst K. (2002). Negationism in India: Concealing the record of Islam. Voice of India, New Delhi, India. http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/books/negaind/
  15. Swarup R (1982). Hindu view of Christianity and Islam. Voice of India, New Delhi, India.
  16. Elst K (1993). Psychology of prophetism: A secular look at the Bible. Voice of India, New Delhi, India. http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/books/pp/
  17. Morales, FG. All religions are not the same. The problem with Hindu universalism, a critique of radical universalism. In Hinduism Today, July/August/September 2005 issue. http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=1424
  18. Shourie A (1998). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud.ASA Publications, New Delhi, India.
  19. Doniger W. I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Statement in Outlook, February 11, 2014. http://www.outlookindia.com/article/I-Do-Not-Blame-Penguin-Books-India/289473
  20. The Indian Penal Code. Of offences relating to religion (Chapter XV). Note that the chapter itself refers to ‘religion’ not specifically ‘Hinduism.’ http://districtcourtallahabad.up.nic.in/articles/IPC.pdf ,
  21. Quoted verbatim from the official website of Prof. Wendy Doniger at the University of Chicago. http://divinity.uchicago.edu/wendy-doniger
  22. Adiga A. A storyteller in search of an ending. In Outlook, March 11, 2013. http://www.outlookindia.com/article/A-Storyteller-In-Search-Of-An-Ending/284084
  23. Adiga, A. Provocation is one of the legitimate goals of literature. Interview with Vijay Rana, InThe Indian Express, 18 October 18, 2008 http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/-provocation-is-one-of-the-legitimate-goals-of-literature-/374718/0
  24. Malhotra R. Dharma Bypasses ‘History-Centrism.’ Published June 13, 2013. http://www.speakingtree.in/spiritual-blogs/masters/philosophy/dharma-bypasses-historycentrism
  25. The Bible. John 8:32 (King James Version). Lest I should be accused of indulging in radical universalism and aavarana myself, I hasten to add that the original context of the statement has nothing to do with knowing objective or cosmic truths. The ‘truth’ referred to is simply Jesus’ reiteration to his Jewish followers that he was indeed their promised messiah. But the rhetorical impact is significant nevertheless. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage

Justice Katju demands permanent visa for author Taslima Nasrin – PTI

PCI Chairmain Markandey Katju“In my opinion she should be given a permanent visa to reside in India. … Several bigots and fanatics have hounded her ever since she wrote her book Lajja. I have read the book. It only depicts the atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh after the demolition of Babri Masjid. There is nothing against Islam in that book,” – Justice Katju

Taslima NasrinHolding that Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin has been hounded for her novel Lajja, Press Council of India chairperson Justice Markandey Katju today demanded that she be given a permanent visa to reside in India.

In a statement released here, Katju said he had read in the newspapers that Nasrin’s visa has been extended by the Indian government by only 2 months.

“In my opinion she should be given a permanent visa to reside in India,” Katju, a former judge of the Supreme Court said.

“Several bigots and fanatics have hounded her ever since she wrote her book Lajja. I have read the book. It only depicts the atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh after the demolition of Babri Masjid. There is nothing against Islam in that book,” he said.

The controversial writer, who is living in exile since 1994, has been refused a one-year visa by the government and instead given permission to stay in India for two months.

Upset over India’s decision to grant her 2-month visa, Nasrin, who had to leave Bangladesh in 1994 in the wake of death threat by fundamentalist outfits for her alleged anti-Islamic views, said the decision was “beyond my imagination”.

Taslima is now a citizen of Sweden. She had been living in exile since 1994 and has lived in the US, Europe and India in the last two decades. However, on many occasions she had expressed her wish to live in India permanently, especially in Kolkata. – The Economic Times, 1August 2014

 

Bharat by Batra & Co. – Anil Dharker

History Lessons In Gujarati Schools

Anil Dharker“Mr Batra is not the first man to claim that planes were invented in ancient India because our epics refer to them. That’s because people like Mr Batra do not have the imagination to credit our ancient writers with imagination: if a writer described flight hundreds of years ago, it was not because he had witnessed a plane taking off, but because he imagined people in flight. Writers of science fiction take their characters through time and space, not because they have seen this happening, but because they have let their imagination soar. Only the literalists are capable of believing that what is written is proof of having been witnessed.” – Anil Dharker

Dina Nath BatraIf you care about India’s children, prepare to shed a tear now. If you care about Gujarat’s children, prepare to cry buckets now. Because Dinanath Batra, ace scholar, perfervid activist, slayer of Donigers, is a revered figure in the schools of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s motherland.

Mr Batra’s office-cum-residence, however, is not in Gujarat but in Delhi. It is located in Saraswati Bal Mandir, a school affiliated to Bharatiya Vidyapeeth. The lift plays music, but it’s not the usual muzzak or distortions of Mozart, but the Gayatri Mantra. His own room is dominated by portraits of Maharana Pratap, Swami Vivekananda, Chanakya — who are the real heroes of India he says, yet haven’t got their due. He sees it as his mission to correct this. Actually, it’s only part of his mission. He wants to completely overhaul our system of education, which is “distorted by Marx and Macaulay.” This is almost a Modism. (A real Modism would be “mauled by Marx and Macaulay”.) The proposed overhaul of the curriculum embraces every possible subject.

If you remember your days at school, almost the first thing you did in geography class was to learn to draw a map of India. Dinanath Batra’s students would have to relearn the basics, because Mr Batra’s India would not be the truncated version we live in now, but the glorious Bharat of old, the Akhand Bharat of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh which includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and unless I am mistaken, even Burma.

Mr Batra’s erudition covers every possible subject:

  • Aeronautics: “Pushpak Viman, a flying chariot used by Lord Rama, was the first aeroplane in the world”.
  • Mathematics: “Vedic maths is the real mathematics and must be taught in schools”.
  • Medicine: “When the royal couple couldn’t produce an heir, they were asked to do gai puja, and their cow devotion helped them beget a son”.

All this stems from his belief that “we must reject English education and revert to our ancient languages.” We should reject Western education because it has not given our ancient wisdom its due. “Our rishis were scientists,” Mr Batra says, “Whose inventions in the fields of technology, medicine, science have been appropriated by the West.” So he doesn’t want children to celebrate birthdays by blowing candles on cakes, an imported idea, but by wearing swadeshi, taking part in a havan, reciting the Gayatri Mantra and feeding cows. The Books of Batra have many such pearls of wisdom. There are nine books, all made supplementary reading for schools in Gujarat, and to encourage the reading of which free copies are being distributed to 35,000 government schools. Mr Batra has his ideas on creating an ideal society, too: “Keeping a good friend circle is not enough. To keep it faultless, a good company is also required. This means a company of saints and learned people. The student that goes to a RSS shakha daily, he finds miraculous change in his life.”

Mr Batra is not the first man to claim that planes were invented in ancient India because our epics refer to them. That’s because people like Mr Batra do not have the imagination to credit our ancient writers with imagination: if a writer described flight hundreds of years ago, it was not because he had witnessed a plane taking off, but because he imagined people in flight. Writers of science fiction take their characters through time and space, not because they have seen this happening, but because they have let their imagination soar. Only the literalists are capable of believing that what is written is proof of having been witnessed.

Batra's BooksTejomay BharatSadly for the student going to Gujarat government schools, Mr Batra is not alone in his looniness. A 125-page book called Tejomay Bharat, not written by him has also been mandated along with Mr Batra’s, as supplementary reading for all government primary and secondary schools. Here are some passages from it: “What we know today as the motorcar existed during the Vedic period. It was called anashva rath. Usually a rath (chariot) is pulled by horse, but an anashva rath means the one that runs without horses or yantra rath, what is today motorcar. The Rig Veda refers to this…”

“We know that television was invented by a priest from Scotland called John Logie Baird in 1926. But we want to take you to an even older Doordarshan…. Indian rishis using their yog vidya would attain divya drishti. There is no doubt that the invention of television goes back to this…. In Mahabharata, Sanjay sitting inside a palace in Hastinapur and using his ‘divya shakti’ would give a live telecast of the battle of Mahabharata … to the blind Dhritarashtra”

“America wants to take the credit for invention of stem cell research but the truth is that India’s Dr Balkrishna Ganpat Matapurkar has already got a patent for regenerating body parts…. You would be surprised to know that this research is not new and that Dr Matapurkar was inspired by the Mahabharata. Kunti had a bright son like Sun itself. When Gandhari, who was not conceiving for two years, learnt of this, she underwent hysterectomy. From her womb a huge mass of flesh came out. (Rishi) Dwaipayan Vyas was called. He observed this hard mass of flesh and then he preserved it in a cold tank with specific medicines. He then divided the mass of flesh into 100 parts and kept them separately in 100 tanks full of ghee for two years. After two years, 100 Kauravas were born of it. On reading this he (Matapurkar) realised that stem cell was not his invention. This was found in India thousands of years ago.”

This book’s content adviser is Harshad Shah, vice-chancellor of Children’s University in Gandhinagar and former Gujarat chairman of Vidya Bharati. By the way, Tejomay Bharat objects to our country being called India. It says, “We should not demean ourselves by calling our beloved Bharatbhoomi by the shudra (lowly) name ‘India’. What right had the British to change the name of this country? … We should not fall for this conspiracy and forget the soul of our country.”

Mr Shah at least is from Gujarat. How does Mr Batra from Delhi exert such a strong influence on that state’s education system? And what are Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s views on this?

Narendra Modi as Gujarat's Chief MinisterCould they be any different from the views expressed in the following two passages?

“It is congratulatory that Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks is publishing writer Dinanath Batraji’s literature. It is hoped that this inspirational literature will inspire students and teachers…. Seeds of values which are sown in the childhood emerge with time like a large banyan tree of idealism. Then it becomes possible to build a citizenship based on character and intelligence”

We should be surprised if the Prime Minister’s views are too different. After all, the two passages above are from the forewords of two books by Mr Batra. The forewords are by Mr Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. – The Asian Age, 30 July 2014

» Anil Dharker serves as head of the National Film Development Corporation and as a film critic and novelist. He is a columnist for many of India’s leading newspapers such as The Times of India, The Economic Times, Mid-day, The Hindu and DNA. At various stages in his life, he has been an engineer, a film critic, a film censor and a promoter of New Cinema. 

Sanskrit: First words recorded on a gramophone disk were from the Rig Veda – WHN

Thomas Edison HMV had once published a pamphlet giving the history of gramophone record. Gramophone was invented by Thomas Alva Edison in the 19th century. Edison, who had invented many other gadgets like electric light and the motion picture camera, had become a legend even in his own time.

When he invented the gramophone record, which could record human voice for posterity, he wanted to record the voice of an eminent scholar on his first piece. For that he chose Prof. Max Muller of  England, another great personality of the 19th century. He wrote to Max Muller saying, “I want to meet you and record your voice. When should I come?” Max Muller who had great respect for Edison asked him to come on a suitable time when most of the scholars of the Europe would be gathering in England .

Friedrich Max Muller by Lock & WhitfieldAccordingly Edison took a ship and went to  England. He was introduced to the audience. All cheered  Edison’s presence. Later at the request of Edison, Max Muller came on the stage and spoke in front of the instrument. Then Edison went back to his laboratory and by afternoon came back with a disc. He played the gramophone disc from his instrument. The audience was thrilled to hear the voice of Max Muller from the instrument. They were glad that voices of great persons like Max Muller could be stored for the benefit of posterity.

After several rounds of applause and congratulations to Thomas Edison, Max Muller came to the stage and addressed the scholars and asked them, “You heard my original voice in the morning. Then you heard the same voice coming out from this instrument in the afternoon. Do you understand what I said in the morning or what you heard in the afternoon?”.

The audience fell silent because they could not understand the language in which Max Muller had spoken. It was ‘Greek and Latin’ to them as they say. But had it been Greek or Latin, they would have definitely understood because they were from various parts of  Europe. It was in a language which the European scholars had never heard.

Max Muller then explained what he had spoken. He said that the language he spoke was Sanskrit and it was the first sloka of Rig Veda, which says “Agni Meele Purohitam”. This was the first recorded public version on the gramophone plate.

अग्निमीळे पुरोहितं यज्ञस्य देवं रत्वीजम |
होतारं रत्नधातमम || Rig Veda 1.001.01

aghnimīḷe purohitaṃ yajñasya devaṃ ṛtvījam |
hotāraṃ ratnadhātamam || Rig Veda 1.001.01

Why did Max Muller choose this? Addressing the audience he said, “Vedas are the oldest text of the human race. And “Agni Meele Purohitam” is the first verse of Rig Veda. In the most primordial time, when the people did not know how even to cover their bodies and lived by hunting and housed in caves, Indians had attained high civilization and they gave the world universal philosophies in the form of the Vedas”

When “Agni Meele Purohitam” was replayed the entire audience stood up in silence as a mark of respect for the ancient Hindu sages.

The verse means

“Oh Agni, You who gleam in the darkness, to You we come day by day, with devotion and bearing homage. So be of easy access to us, Agni, as a father to his son, abide with us for our well being. ”World Hindu News, 29 April 2014

Victor V Disc Phonograph (Gramophone) ca. 1907

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