Remembering Anandamayi Ma – Maria Wirth

Maria Wirth“Behind all the different, perpetually changing names and forms in this universe there is only ‘one thing’—Brahman, Bhagwan, God or however you like to call it. That alone is eternal, ever the same. All appearances are contained in it, like in a mirror. That is the I of our I. Life is meant to realise this—to realise who we really are and drop the wrong identification with our person.” – Maria Wirth

Anandamayi MaNext to the Ramakrishna Mission in Dehradun, there is a small ashram where 33 years ago, on 27th August 1982, Anandamayi Ma left her body. Anandamayi Ma, who was born in 1896 as Nirmala Sundari in what is now Bangladesh, was and still is revered all over India for having being extraordinary saintly and wise right from childhood. Devotees still come to her samadhi in Kankhal, even though many of them have never seen her in person. I was fortunate to meet her and would like to share some of those precious memories.

During the Ardha Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in April 1980, some foreigners asked me to join them to receive their guru, Anandamayi Ma, at the railway station. I was curious, because I had seen a photo of her in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. The photo was taken in the 1930s and showed a beautiful woman. Almost fifty years had passed since then and I was surprised that she was alive and anyone could meet her.

At dawn we went to the railway station. A group of Indians were conspicuous by their well-groomed appearance. They were devotees of Ma. Then the train from Varanasi pulled in. Four young men in spotless white dhotis entered and carried Ma out on a chair, to which four handles were attached.

Ma looked delicate, was wrapped in white cloth and her black hair fell over her shoulders. She looked at us with calm eyes. There was no reaction on her face, no sign of recognition of her devotees, many of whom she would have known for decades. She simply looked and her eyes moved slowly around the group. It was pleasant, and I had the strange feeling, that nobody was there behind those eyes.

When I saw her like this, tears were rolling down my cheeks. There was no reason for tears and yet they didn’t want to stop. “That’s normal, when one is touched by a great soul”, someone next to me, who had noticed it, reassured me. And indeed I felt being touched by a very pure soul.

Anandamayi Ma went to her ashram in Kankhal and we followed. At the ashram gate, flower vendors awaited us. Everyone entered the ashram with flowers or fruits in his hands. In the centre of the courtyard, a chair was placed for Ma. She sat down and we, about thirty people, were standing around her.

Now she asked some of her devotees about how they were doing, whether “sab thik hai” and so on. The questions were commonplace, and yet there was a sense of sublime grandeur in the air. I noticed it again: her gaze was different. It touched the heart and widened it. Because of this short, fleeting gaze, I went from then on every evening to Kankhal.

Was Ma enlightened? I did not know, but felt it was possible. Melita, a journalist from Germany, who had been with Ma for many years, explained to me what enlightenment meant.

“Ma sees in everything and everywhere only the one Brahman, that is, her own Self. For her, ‘others’ don’t exist. She herself has said that only because of convention she differentiates between herself and others. In truth, she doesn’t see a difference and there is no difference.”

So basically, an enlightened being and we ordinary mortal differ only in one aspect: an enlightened being feels this oneness of all as real, whereas we think we are separate and even prefer this illusion, though we, of course, are also at home in the oneness. Oddly, we even want to be separate; we are fond of our person, our thoughts, feelings, relationships, memories, hopes. Why should we give up this feeling of being separate? Just because it is not the truth?

Few are ready for it in spite of the assurance that truth is heaven, and illusion compared to it hell. Our suffering originates from our imaginary isolation and is unnecessary, claim the sages. I tried to imagine what Anandamayi Ma perceived, while she looked at us. Did she see our bodies and her own body merely as transitory waves on the one ocean, while feeling blissfully immersed in its depth and vastness?

Concepts like truth and God, which, so far, I had not considered relevant, seemed in the Indian context important, relevant and natural. Ma formulated the essence of Advaita Vedanta in clear terms.

Behind all the different, perpetually changing names and forms in this universe there is only ‘one thing’—Brahman, Bhagwan, God or however you like to call it. That alone is eternal, ever the same. All appearances are contained in it, like in a mirror. That is the I of our I. Life is meant to realise this—to realise who we really are and drop the wrong identification with our person.

When Ma’s mother had died and was laying out in the ashram, Ma had laughed her hearty laugh as usual. Her devotees felt that her behaviour was not appropriate for the occasion. Ma reacted surprised: “Why? Nothing has happened!” For her dying was like changing a dress. Who would be sad over losing an old dress, when one is still fresh and alive?

While waiting for Ma’s darshan in the evenings, we were singing bhajans. Once, a girl of about ten sat next to me. She sang full throatily, yet a little out of tune. Her clapping was also slightly out of rhythm. When I heard her singing like this, my heart suddenly went out to her and was overflowing with love.

Just then Anandamayi Ma appeared, supported by two women. Even before she reached the cot, she briefly stopped, half turned and looked sort of irritated into my direction. When she finally sat down on the cot, her glance settled on me for a long time. In all likelihood Ma’s glance was attracted by the love that I felt for that girl, and she really did not perceive us as separate persons. After all, she often said that it is a mistake to consider oneself as separate from others. But almost certainly all of us, as we were sitting there on the veranda, wished that she appreciated us personally….

Ma didn’t oblige. A genuine guru can see that the ego is the culprit who makes life difficult. Naturally she or he is not interested in flattering the ego—on the contrary.  “The association with an enlightened being consists in getting blows for the ego”, Anandamayi Ma once remarked.

Ma had a cure for all worries:  “Trust in Bhagawan. He certainly will look after you and all your affairs, if you really put full trust in him and if you dedicate all your energy to realise your Self. You then can feel completely light and free”, Ma claimed and it sounded convincing. By ‘Bhagawan’ she meant the formless essence in everything. Yet this essence is not something abstract and cold. It is love and can be experienced as the beloved. “You are always in his loving embrace”, she claimed.

Feel Bhagawan’s presence in you 24 hours a day. Be aware he moves your feet, he makes your eyes see, he makes your mind think’, she advised us.

I wonder whether she, in her elevated state, knew that this is not that easy for us. It may have been so obvious and natural for her. – Maria Wirth Blog, 31 July 2015

» Maria Wirth is a German psychologist and author who lives in Uttarakhand.

Anandamayi Ma's Samadhi Shrine

Guru is like a full moon – Chaitanya Keerti

Adhi Guru Dakshinamurthy

Swami Chaitanya Keerti“A guru is the one who liberates us and with whom we are in deep love, faith and reverence. A guru is a presence. Through him one gets the first glimpse of divinity. A guru creates, transforms and gives a new birth to a seeker so that with complete trust one can follow his guru while travelling through many unknown paths and doors and opening many unknown locks. His blessing is a vital phenomenon. Through a guru, we can look into our own future and can be aware of our own destiny. Through him, we start growing up like a seed trying to sprout towards the sky.” – Swami Chaitanya Keerti

Full moon over Arunachaleshwar TempleThousands of disciples of various gurus, especially in India, will be celebrating July 22, the night of full moon, to express their gratitude towards their gurus. The full moon in July is very significant, and it is called Aashadh Purnima. It is such a time, when we can never be sure if the full moon will be visible in the sky or not.

Osho has given a very poetic expression to this. He says: “Guru is like full moon and disciple is like Aashadh (the month of clouds and rains). The moon of Sharad Purnima is beautiful because it is in the empty sky.”

“There is no disciple then, the guru is alone. If the same beauty happens in Aashadh, then it is something, where the guru is surrounded with cloud-like disciples.”

Rishi Vyasa“The disciples have come with their darkness of many lives. They are like dark clouds, they are the weather of Aashadh. If the guru can shine like the full moon in that atmosphere of darkness, if he can produce light, only then he is the guru. That’s why Aashadh Purnima is called Guru Purnima.”

This brings us to another question: Who is a guru?

A guru is the one who liberates us and with whom we are in deep love, faith and reverence. A guru is a presence. Through him one gets the first glimpse of divinity. A guru creates, transforms and gives a new birth to a seeker so that with complete trust one can follow his guru while travelling through many unknown paths and doors and opening many unknown locks. His blessing is a vital phenomenon. Through a guru, we can look into our own future and can be aware of our own destiny. Through him, we start growing up like a seed trying to sprout towards the sky.

In Osho’s words: “Guru means one who has gravitation, around whom you suddenly feel as if you are being pulled. The guru is a tremendous magnet, with only one difference. There is a man who has charisma—you are Adi Shankarapulled, but you are pulled towards him. That is the man of charisma. He may become a great leader, a great politician. Adolf Hitler has that charisma; millions of people are pulled towards him. Then what is the difference between a charismatic leader and a guru? When you are pulled towards a guru you suddenly feel that you are being pulled inwards, not outwards.”

When you are pulled towards Kabir, Nanak or Buddha, you have a strange feeling. The feeling of being pulled towards them and at the same time you are being pulled inwards—a very strange paradoxical phenomenon: the closer you come to your guru, the closer you come to yourself.

The more you become attracted towards the guru, the more you become independent. The more you surrender to the guru, the more you feel that you have freedom you never enjoyed before.

Guru does not exist as an ego—he exists as a pure presence and godliness radiates through him. He is transparent. – Asian Age, 22 July 2013 

» Swami Chaitanya Keerti, editor of Osho World, is the author of Osho Fragrance.

Harnessing heritage – Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma“The SandHI Series of articles that the Financial Chronicle hosted … were an effort to give a brief glimpse of the range and rigour of traditional Indian knowledge systems. They suggest strong reasons for integrating Indian knowledge systems in mainstream education as opportunities for discovery, research and interpretation of our intellectual inheritance. This will equip students to critically evaluate the information available and to construct knowledge free from the stereotype labelling of knowledge as ‘traditional,’ ‘modern,’ ‘east,’ ‘west.’” – Amita Sharma

RishiIf one were to represent the contemporary educational scenario in India dramatically, a morality play would probably be a good choice. A host of actors battle the ground for knowledge, each claiming to be truer than the other, accusing the other of ‘tempting the mind’ of the nation with falsehoods.

The more cacophonous the contestation becomes, the more it begins to look like a ‘dumb charade.’ Instead of enquiring into what ‘truth’ is — which, in fact, is the very essence of education and the only way in which knowledge is discovered — the skirmishing sides want the rights to lay down a set of pre-determined forms as truth, defeating the very ground of knowledge or the need for education.

Such claims and counter claims are about power, not about education and the struggle is to seize the education system to make it a means of generating symbolic forms — of whichever hue — that in turn, entrench the power system.

This is the worst form of intellectual paranoia and fundamentalism and is symptomatic of the failure of the education system to develop a culture of critical consciousness capable of rational debate, self-reflection, imbued with faculties to evaluate and sift information to construct know­ledge and to disc­riminate betw­een the spheres wh­ere such knowledge can be used. Where is the great intellectual tradition of India that delighted in debate and celebrated questioning as a way of seeking knowledge? Why has the freedom to let ‘thoughts…wander through eternity’ sunk into the narrow confines of dogmatic facts, swerving between defensiveness and aggression, unsure of what they claim and why.

While there are several reasons for this, the deep-lying malaise is the loss of self-esteem and pride and the confidence in our own intellectual abilities and identity. This is the result of a steady and subtle colonisation of the mind that may have started historically with British rule over India but that continues post-independence. Modern day educational systems perpetuate the domination of western epistemologies.

This has spawned a mimetic knowledge system where the norms of knowledge construction and its legitimisation is on borrowed terms. We do not engage with our own environment and culture. Happy with borrowed language and borrowed technologies, we do not invest enough in research and cripple our ability to think originally and construct knowledge from our own resources, relevant to our society.

As a result, development problems of the nation get mortgaged to imported and ill-suited technologies. For example, dam structures in India often modelled on the slow-moving rivers of the US, do not add­ress the problem of silting caused by the fast-flowing rivers of India.

Oddly enough, the insistence of a ‘national’ educational system enc­ourages prescriptive content and information as ‘knowledge forms’ that cannot be interrogated or be deviated from. Paradoxically, the discourse of ‘national’ concerns be­comes yet another way of colonising the intellectual space of the country.

This is aggravated by the bureaucratisation of the academic system where academic institutions occupy the bottom rung of a hierarchy as subordinate ‘offices.” Bureaucrats as the neo-colonisers devise ways in which education institutions are to be controlled. Excessive control and regulation does not necessarily mean better quality, and standardisation of content does not necessarily mean better standards. So the increased numbers of educational institutes do not add up to quality. In the absence of quality, education barons thrive, commercialising education.

In such a context, educational debates whether in the guise of ideological warfare or regulatory norms or legal frameworks skim the surface of problems, evading the pivotal question of educational reform — how can the nation foster the creativity of its people to trigger their intellectual and material development in sustainable and ethical ways.

The question remains dormant also because it is believed that it is enough to canonise its concerns theoretically in the National Curricular Framework (NCF) which describes educational goals as value development and building a cohesive society, fostering a national identity preserving cultural heritage. The NCF also emphasises indigenous knowledge, the development of aesthetic sensibilities and the interface between cognition, emotion and action, by linking learning to work and life.

Despite the NCF, learning operations in all Indian classrooms are verbatim memorisation of officially sanctioned knowledge available in the textbooks.

Guru & ShishyaHow can educational processes be liberated from their own ent­renched authoritarianism so as to stimulate critical consciousness and holistic development that the national curricular framework posits?

As a first step, there is a need to re-examine the existing epistemological hegemonies that inform the text books without which the spirit of critical enquiry cannot be the guiding force of our educational system. The dominant epistemological paradigm in the current educational processes is based on western knowledge systems. Colonising constructs of India have marginalised its own powerful knowledge systems, or brushed it off as an amalgam of rituals and myths.

The long unchallenged dominance of such discourses, have not only spawned questionable and spurious theories about Indian culture and society, they have unfortunately obviated the memory of our own history and knowledge systems from the minds of our own people.

The strength and rigour of Indian knowledge systems have been elaborated upon by several scholars in diverse contexts, quite a few eminent ones being of non-Indian origin, but are strangely enough rejected by modern Indians — a testimony of their allegiance to their progressive education! It is said that if one does not know one’s own language, it is doubtful if one will have the ability to acquire competence in a foreign language. Indians need to know their own intellectual inheritance and to be able to evaluate it in its own context as well as its contemporary significance. And in a way to understand the critical implications of the choices they make now.

This kind of a statement arouses mainly amused disbelief or vehement rejection. Why deal with what is obscurantist? An indulgent attitude prefers to treat traditional knowledge systems as interesting antiquities, objects as in a museum, cultural/ethnographic studies rather than knowledge systems. Even those who believe in the strength of Indian knowledge systems ask the question — why should one know of one’s intellectual inheritance? Of what use is it to us? Does it offer a better solution to current problems? If not, how does it matter if one knows it or not?

The SandHI Series | Indian Knowledge SeriesAll these criticisms stem from a very limited idea of what is rejected. The SandHI Series of articles that the Financial Chronicle hosted in the Know pages from April 2015 to June 2015 were an effort to give a brief glimpse of the range and rigour of traditional Indian knowledge systems. They suggest strong reasons for integrating Indian knowledge systems in mainstream education as opportunities for discovery, research and interpretation of our intellectual inheritance. This will equip students to critically evaluate the information available and to construct knowledge free from the stereotype labelling of knowledge as ‘traditional,’ ‘modern,’ ‘east,’ ‘west.’

Such intellectual decolonisation will spur original creative discourse. It will also encourage a greater engagement with the local context as many traditional knowledge systems that have continued historically to serve human needs have been preserved as community practice. Such knowledge has an inherent dynamism and innovative energy generated by the real life contestations of its users but is relegated the place of folk customs and finds scarce place in text books or any formal educational curriculum. Research shows how several of these folk practices tested by time and real world challenges are constructed on valid scientific grounds. Neglect of these traditions has been a loss to its practitioners and researchers.

Local problems create a new idiom of knowledge by compelling innovation and encouraging re-interpretation of traditional knowledge forms in terms of their contemporary relevance. A study of traditional practices will offer opportunities to evolve appropriate technologies to address problems ranging from every day existence such as water, food , productivity to major environmental hazards on a more sustainable, equitable basis.

This will also imply the re-legitimisation of traditional knowledge practitioners as equal knowledge partners. Currently, there is a hierarchical relationship between the main curriculum like math and language and a co-curriculum like vocational education, privileging the former over the latter and discouraging lateral movements. It also creates a paradoxical situation, wherein despite the emphasis on skill development and practical knowledge, existing skills honed in real world and relevant to the knowledge domain are not recognized because they are not encoded in formal treatises. As a result, there is a dearth of skilled teachers, the real practitioners for whom the skill is not just a curriculum unit with a credit but a source of survival.

A good example comes from the community of artisans and artists. Design schools can conduct workshops with artisans and artists but they cannot be acknowledged as teachers because they lack formally prescribed educational qualifications. This restricts knowledge transfer.

IIT KanpurAn interesting innovation to break this impasse is IIT Kanpur’s intervention with the toy clusters of Varanasi, the moonj grass weavers of Allahabad and the metal sheet workers of Kanpur integrating traditional production processes with improved technologies in ways that empower traditional artisans while also working out IPR related issues of community owned traditional design products and technologies and to outline fair-trade strategies for these creative communities. The Design Manifesto released by the ministry of human resource development in January 2014 builds on such initiatives, foregrounding community needs to evolve appropriate technologies, valuing local knowledge systems, and integrating experiential learning with formal theorisation, well exemplified in the design education curricula and pedagogies in IIT Bombay.

Such engagements of premium academic institutes with local problems and the traditional knowledge resources in creative communities should help steer Make in India towards tradition bonds. They reverse the process of epistemological schizophrenia caused by formal educational systems wherein multiple world views clash, those that inhere in the community and those that the academic institution imports and the ability to negotiate between them instead of being encouraged is suppressed leading to a sense of alienation. Ironically, having driven a wedge between the school and the community by the way knowledge is legitimised, educational policies of the state then expect the school to be a platform for community participation.

An inclusive epistemic approach recognises the significance of culture as the locus of knowledge and its use. This recognition has the potential to make knowledge transformative. The World Dev­elopment Report 2015: Mind and Culture, underscores the importance of culture, which provides mental models that influence what individuals understand and espouses integrating knowledge scattered across many disciplines to inform development strategies.

While the implications of such an epistemology for formal education in India appear to prompt a radical re-designing, it is interesting to note that theoretically at least, the National Curricular Framework recognises that “ideally, various learning experiences should make an integrated whole.” This seems close to the way traditional Indian knowledge systems entwined multiple knowledge fields. Fragmented worldviews and the domination of economic reasons have been partly responsible for splintering knowledge into ‘useful ‘ and ‘useless’ with deleterious impact on the individual and society. Socially, this creates a false division of the math type as bright and gifted and the arts type as frivolous and unemployable. This has had a reductionist effect on educational systems, by knocking off subjects deemed irrelevant denting the traditions of liberal education.

At the individual level, this creates what T.S. Eliot calls the dissociation of sensibility, the disconnect between reason and im­agination, the loss of in­tuitive cognition — the source of creativity and innovation. Increasingly, even the market now recognises the higher productive value of holistic cognitive capabilities over simply specialised skill sets as these become rapidly obsolete and fail to respond to complex situations.

Both from an intrinsic and an instrumental perspective, it becomes important to consciously encourage cross-disciplinary studies, specially between science and liberal arts, technology and culture. The pedagogy of such cross-disciplinary study needs careful designing. The challenge is to develop processes that transact learning objects in ways that stimulate exposure to multiple knowledge fields encouraging the abilities for multiple interpretations, for analysis and synthesis of different ways in which reality is constructed, broadening and deepening comprehension , making for more inclusive perspectives. For example, a musical instrument can teach music, material sciences, physics, engineering, math, history, aesthetics. Examples can multiply. This will reduce the burden of too many subjects, while enriching understanding at many levels.

Such cross-disciplinary organisation of knowledge would also, for example, enlarge the study of history from just a narrative of political events to the study of ideas and the development of different knowledge systems. It would also nudge the study of history from the refracting lens of contemporary ideologies to scientific evidence. This in itself would do much to liberate us from the political prison-house of communal identities and to discover a truly national identity.

Most significantly it would change the way languages are taught. Lan­guages are taught as me­ans of social communication and fall in the domain of culture or literature. Never of science or technical knowledge. Cons­equently, they are not regarded as vehicles of knowledge. Worse, they get confounded with the religious beliefs of the community to which they belong. Politicisation of language has spelt the death of several important knowledge systems.

SanskritA good example is Sanskrit — one of the oldest Indian languages which holds much of our scientific, technical, philosophical and linguistic knowledge from the Vedic to the medieval period. There is a growing interest in this intellectual heritage, not only to clarify India’s place in the growth of ideas, but also to explore sustainable, and locally relevant solutions to current societal, environmental, and medical challenges. A similar case can be made for other classical languages in India. A study of classical languages will not only unlock a vast reservoir of knowledge of significance to the contemporary world, but will unravel an inheritance of ideas that have much in common, again highlighting a shared identity despite manifest differences.

The reason that this sort of cross-disciplinary study that knits together traditional with modern knowledge systems, and traverses multiple knowledge fields, has not taken off is the difficulty of finding teachers competent to use integrative pedagogies. To nurture academic institutions in this direction, it is important to allow them academic autonomy. It is this that will, over time, build the three pillars of a strong knowledge economy: creative thinking, innovations and a holistic world view.

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a study of colonisation, Caliban accuses Prospero: “You taught me language; and my profit on’t is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you for learning me your language.” A nation cannot build itself if it cannot think for itself. The SandHI Series of the Financial Chronicle reminds us that we have a rich inheritance of thinking in India. Modern India, in making itself, will be the stronger by building on it. – Financial Chronicle, 22 June 2015

» Amita Sharma is former additional secretary in ministry of human resources development. Right to Education

Ask the past – Michel Danino

Michel Danino“Whether the inquiry was philosophical, medical or agricultural, India’s knowledge traditions were continuous and cumulative: savants, thinkers, artists did not normally demolish their predecessors’ work but built upon it and enriched it with their contributions, even if that involved sharp criticism at times. This richness of many-sided knowledge and freedom of inquiry is what we have lost in our linear and impoverished education, which discourages or penalises original thinking. Young Indians know next to nothing of this huge intellectual heritage, while many of our ‘intellectuals’ are content to scoff at it.” – Prof Michel Danino

SaraswatiIndia is perhaps the only civilisation of the ancient world that turned knowledge into a goddess. It was, in any case, regarded as sacred and so was its transmission: there was an old saying that a teacher, however great a scholar, who failed to find one student worthy of his learning, would have to go to hell. More historically, bas-reliefs in temples and other monuments often depict gurus teaching disciples; and when Dharmaswamin, a Tibetan monk, visited in 1235 the ruined site of Nalanda University, sacked four decades earlier by Bakhtiyar Khilji, he found a 90-year-old teacher, Rahula Shribhadra, still instructing a class of 70 students — perhaps Nalanda’s last class, stubbornly taught by a nonagenarian.

Knowledge was, however, not shapeless or a collection of snippets. Previous articles in this SandHI series have shown how it was carefully structured, yet shunned compartmentalisation: language and grammar often had underlying mathematical models; India’s earliest geometry resulted from complex fire altars and a philosophy of sacrifice; mathematics occasionally used poetry to express itself and shared with philosophical systems concepts of zero and infinity and the science of logic (variously called nyayayukti, tarka, anvikshiki, depending on the approach or school of thought); Aryabhata’s concept of beginningless and endless time, Indian astronomers’ use of yugas and the Kali Era are rooted in classical Hindu concepts; Ayurveda relied on fundamental philosophical views of the human and the cosmic, and had close links with alchemy and metallurgy; architecture was a meeting ground of cosmological concepts (most of them part of vastushastra), geometry (including the application of various sets of proportions) and building technology.

Dancer from Mohenjo-daroHarappan beginnings

When and how these knowledge systems took shape remains a matter of debate. Most of them go back two to three millennia, but a few clearly have roots in the Harappan or Indus or Indus-Sarasvati civilisation (2600 to 1900 BC for its urban or mature phase): its legacy to classical India of advanced practices in town planning, water harvesting and management, sanitation, metallurgy and craft technologies is rich and now well documented, although studiously ignored by our textbooks.

Mohenjo-daro’s Great Bath is often seen as the ancestor of pushkarinis. Almost every major city area or structure follows the same sacred proportions that classical architecture will use (this is especially visible at the impressive site of Dholavira in the Rann of Kutch, where the dimensions of every fortified enclosure and every reservoir obey strict ratios). The perky Dancing Girl has an arm covered with bangles, as do rural Rajasthani or Gujarati women even today; this bronze figurine was cast by the ‘lost-wax’ technique, in which a wax model is first made, covered with thick clay, fired, and molten bronze is then poured into the hardened clay mould — a technique transmitted to historical India and to today’s bronze casters.

Harappan symbols and designs — from the swastika to the intersecting circles and the endless knot — have survived; even the general design of the enigmatic Indus seals, with an animal standing before a ‘ritual stand’ and below an inscription, survived on coins from Mauryan and later times. Living customs such as the anjali namaskar with joined hands or the application of vermilion at the parting of the hair are traceable to Harappan traditions.

We know little of the Harappans’ thought and belief systems. Their rigorous town planning and obsession with standardisation — from the Indus seals and script to pottery styles and designs, from brick proportions to weights — bespeak a high sense of order. Several deities appear on the seals; while their identities remain speculative, their iconography is familiar: one stands below an arch of pipal leaves, just like Shiva under his arch of fire: another, with three faces, sits on a throne in mulabandhasana (a difficult posture, with the two heels brought back under the hips). Indeed, Harappans appear to have practised some form of yoga, judging also from figurines in various asanas and the so-called, but probably mis-called, Priest-King with his half-closed eyes conveying a sense of inward contemplation.

Salomon ReinachThe Aryan imbroglio

Surprisingly, whether Vedic literature, the earliest in India, begins before, during or after the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation remains an unsettled question after almost a century of Harappan archaeology. The answer hinges on whether one accepts or rejects the mainstream view that Aryan-speaking tribes swept into the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BC, some four centuries after the decline of the Harappan cities, and settled in northwest India to compose the Vedic hymns. In that perspective, the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation would be pre-Vedic and would therefore have little to do with subsequent developments in the Ganges plains, where, in the first millennium BC, a new civilisation emerges that will soon give rise to the kingdoms and empires we are familiar with, and ultimately to ‘classical’ India.

Mainstream or not, the Aryan theory has seen many avatars, from a brutal and massive conquering invasion swamping the indigenous people to a largely peaceful immigration limited to a few waves of ‘trickling-in’ Aryans. This tactical retreat — a dilution, rather — has been necessitated by the failure of archaeology, anthropology and genetics to support the old scenario, and their occasional success in opposing it. It would have completely faded away but for linguistics, which still insists on the origins of the Sanskritic branch of the Indo-European family of languages being located outside India — but where and when, there seems to be no agreement in sight.

We cannot go deeper here into the complex question of the origins of Vedic culture, except to point out that the characterization (‘demonisation’ would be more appropriate) of critics of the Aryan scenario as ‘hindu chauvinists’ or ‘hindutva communalists’ is deeply dishonest, although widespread in India as in the west. In reality, strong opposition to the Aryan paradigm was first voiced not by Indians but by European scholars such as British archaeologist and philologist Isaac Taylor (1890) or French archaeologist Salomon Reinach (1892). Several noted Indian scholars did follow suit — P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar (1914), B.N. Datta (1936), A.D. Pusalker (1950), P.V. Kane (1953) — as well as prominent public figures: Swami Vivekananda (1897), Sri Aurobindo (1914) or B.R. Ambedkar (1946), none of whom can invite the above invectives.

In recent decades, British anthropologist Edmund Leach, US bioanthropologist Kenneth A.R. Kennedy, US archaeologist Jim Shaffer, French archaeologist Jean-Paul Demoule, Italian linguist Angela Marcantonio, Estonian biologist Toomas Kivisild, all of them accomplished academics, have vigorously argued against the Aryan paradigm. Expectedly, our ‘demonisers’ have studiously ignored them, exerting themselves instead to create an impression in the public mind that Hindu fanatics alone oppose the Aryan invasion/migration theory.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jnana_yogaThe Vedic tradition

Let us leave this controversy to trace the first organisation of knowledge in the Vedic age, whether it is to be positioned before, during or after the Indus civilisation. The Vedas themselves are collections (samhitas) of hymns invoking divine powers for a multiplicity of purposes, from the most material level (protection, victory, wealth, progeny) to the most spiritual: some hymns explicitly call for the divine birth in us, while others, such as the famous Gayatri mantra, pray for the illumination of the mind. The river-cum-goddess Sarasvati is praised as the ‘impeller of happy truths’ who ‘awakens in the consciousness the great flood and illumines all the thoughts.’

By the time of the early Upanishads, a distinction is made between paravidya, the supreme knowledge of the nature of the brahman, and aparavidya, which includes pretty much all else: the knowledge of the universe, the human world and the sacred texts. A portion of aparavidya dedicated to the study and understanding of the Vedas is structured into six vedangas, or ‘limbs of the Veda’: grammar, prosody, phonetics, etymology, rituals and astronomy (the last initially for the elaboration of calendars).

Along with the Ganges civilisation, six darshanas or systems of philosophy emerge early in the first millennium BC, each giving rise to a primary literature that will, in turn, produce numerous commentaries, schools, sub-schools, and rich intellectual debates all the way to pre-colonial times. The six darshanas have been called astika (‘orthodox’ is a poor translation) because they were founded on the authority of the Vedas. Keeping in mind that equivalent English terms are approximate at best, they are:

  1. Vedanta or, broadly, the Upanishadic philosophical tradition;
  2. Nyaya or logic, which inquired deep into concepts of perception, inference, means of validation and categories;
  3. Vaisheshika, an atomistic inquiry into the nature of the physical world and its relationship with consciousness; it famously declared that ‘whatever exists is knowable and nameable’;
  4. Samkhya, which sees the universe as the result of the interplay of prakriti (nature) and purusha (the knower, a witness of pure consciousness);
  5. Mimansa or Vedic exegesis; and
  6. Yoga.

The last hardly needs a definition, although it may be useful to recall that it aims at the union with the divine consciousness. The level of that union and the method chosen to achieve it define the countless schools and systems of yoga. They are, at bottom, systems of self-exploration and self-fulfilment. Founders of the early schools of yoga, such as Kapila or Patanjali, would have been bemused by our current debate on whether yoga is ‘secular’ or not, ‘Hindu’ or not; they may have scratched their beards, if they sported one, convinced that this must be one of the signs of an advanced Kali Yuga, the age of ignorance.

RamayanaTransmission

Indeed, liberation from ignorance was the pursuit and ultimate objective common not only to the above six darshanas, but also to several others, called nastika (‘unorthodox’) because they did not accept the authority of the Vedas. There we find, among others, the Buddhist and Jain philosophies, the various systems of tantra, and a few atheistic schools such as the Charvaka, which laid emphasis on the exclusive truth of sensory perception; they do not appear to have appealed to the society and soon dwindled.

Buddhism and Jainism, although today regarded as ‘separate’ religions, in fact shared much with their late Vedic sisters: concepts of dharma and karma, the cessation of rebirth as ultimate objective, and the pursuit of happiness here and now. Recall Ashoka: “What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men.” In time, these two ‘religions’, if we must call them that, also integrated a number of Vedic and Puranic gods and goddesses, from Indra to Sarasvati, into their pantheons. The symbiosis (much more than rivalry) worked both ways: when Buddhism faded away from northern India, largely under the Islamic impact which left most of its brilliant centres of learning in ruins, it did not ‘disappear’, as is often said, but was partly reabsorbed by an ever-assimilating Hinduism, its teachings and worship.

If Hinduism had by then regained much of its old vigour, its two great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, deserve some credit for this. Those timeless texts are not only outstanding teachers of dharma and knowledge, but a gigantic tapestry of human life, its meaning, its limitations and tragic contradictions. They are also, incidentally, a mine of information on ethnography, polity and governance, warfare, social customs, sacred geography, ceremonies and rituals, diet, dress and ornaments, environmental changes, and much more. With countless regional adaptations and translations, they worked out the cultural integration not only of India but also of much of southeast Asia.

All this knowledge was transmitted by a variety of methods, from the formal institutions of Buddhism (not just Nalanda but thousands of monasteries across India) to the smaller gurukulas (often centred on temples) and village schools, not forgetting the hari katha tradition of wandering scholars who recited the two epics and other texts night after night in village after village, so that even the so-called illiterate were not uneducated but part of those knowledge traditions. The illiterate was cultured; today’s literate is uncultured.

Ramachandran GuhaA knowledge society?

When we look back on ancient India, we often imagine that its culture was, in the main, ‘spiritual’ and ‘otherworldly.’ Without going into the reasons for this misconception, let us point out that India’s so-called ‘spirituality,’ her philosophies, arts and literature, flourished best when the civilisation was materially most developed and opulent. From the Mauryan to the Gupta empires and beyond, this is a clear lesson of history.

Whether the inquiry was philosophical, medical or agricultural, India’s knowledge traditions were continuous and cumulative: savants, thinkers, artists did not normally demolish their predecessors’ work but built upon it and enriched it with their contributions, even if that involved sharp criticism at times. This richness of many-sided knowledge and freedom of inquiry is what we have lost in our linear and impoverished education, which discourages or penalises original thinking. Young Indians know next to nothing of this huge intellectual heritage, while many of our ‘intellectuals’ are content to scoff at it. The loss is considerable — nothing less than the essence of Indian culture. Perhaps, it is not too late to show to some of our bright young minds that they can still be enriched, stimulated or inspired by their distinguished predecessors. We will not go back to the past, but we may build a better future if we study some of its accomplishments, the best of which include a high vision of the goal of human life. – Financial Chronicle, 16 June 2015

» Prof Michel Danino is the author of The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati, and guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar, as well as member of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Contact him at micheldanino@gmail.com

The SandHI Series | Indian Knowledge Series

Anti-yoga Muslim leaders march back to medieval times – Balbir Punj

Balbir Punj“The backward march has been the goal of the Muslim Personal Law Board ever since it opposed the apex court’s decision on maintenance of divorced women and demanded changes in law that upheld what was held up as their divine tradition—that is deny the basis of any such maintenance. Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi … also succumbed to the mindless orthodoxy. He overturned the court judgment, despite strong pleas from liberal Muslim opinion represented by … Arif Mohammad Khan. It was a major setback to the efforts to wrench out the Muslim psyche from the stranglehold of Islamic fundamentalism.” – Balbir Punj

Mohammad Rabey Hasani NadwiIt is not surprising that the Muslim Personal Law Board has opposed observing June 21 as International Yoga Day. And while doing so, it has several “secularists” on its side. It only confirms that the orthodox Islamic leadership in India continues on a backward march into medieval times with “secularists” singing the marching tune.

Whether this particular opposition is in the interest of the Muslim masses, who need physical and mental healthcare as much as any other human being does irrespective of his religious beliefs or un-beliefs or even prejudices, is a matter for the intended beneficiaries to decide.

The backward march has been the goal of the board ever since it opposed the apex court’s decision on maintenance of divorced women and demanded changes in law that upheld what was held up as their divine tradition—that is deny the basis of any such maintenance. Then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, for all his computer-savvy image of his early days in power, also succumbed to the mindless orthodoxy. He overturned the court judgment, despite strong pleas from liberal Muslim opinion represented by his cabinet colleague Arif Mohammad Khan. It was a major setback to the efforts to wrench out the Muslim psyche from the stranglehold of Islamic fundamentalism.

Imam Umer Ahmed IlyasiSince then, it has been a slide further and further into primeval times for this community and a marginalisation of its liberal leadership. From the Babri issue to Taslima Nasrin’s book and now, the direction has been back to the middle ages. The undercurrent of admiration for the resurrected caliphate of the 7th century onwards as the ideal political institution in this age of technology and information further underlines this ugly reality. Obviously, a good section of the community does not agree with the proponents of such orthodoxy. The All India Imam Organisation, only the other day, met the prime minister and supported his idea of celebrating International Yoga Day. That organisation claimed the community was for the projection of what it characterised as bharatiyata.

How misleading the position of the board is can be grasped from the fact that when this commemoration was proposed last October by our prime minister in his address to the UN General Assembly, as many as 177 nations supported the subsequent resolution. Now, as many as 192 nations—including many Muslim-majority—are participating in the Yoga Day.

The other aspect of this Islamic orthodoxy distancing the community from one cultural practice of the bharatiyata to another is the subtle advice against participating in the lighting of the brass lamp at the beginning of events, the refusal to say pranam or namaste in greeting other Indians, etc. The board itself has opposed the proposition of all liberal, modern minds that the age of consent for marriage should be 18 and not 15.

There are over 700 yoga centres in the US alone and more in Canada, the UK, France, Germany, etc. Leading Indian yoga masters have received tremendous support, even adulation, in many of these countries. Several million people abroad practice yoga and most of them are from local non-Hindu communities.

Dr John DenningerThe respect that yoga has earned among scientific circles abroad is revealed in a Bloomberg report dated November 22, 2013, saying: “Scientists are getting close to proving what traditionally was held to be true for centuries. Yoga and meditation can ward off stress and disease.” The report reveals that John Denninger, HMS instructor in psychiatry in the Massachusetts General Hospital, is leading a five-year study on yoga’s effect on this.

Noted foreign expert on Indian classical traditions Dr David Frawley in his book, Yoga and Ayurveda, says that yoga and ayurveda are two closely related spiritual or sacred sciences rooted in India’s Vedic traditions. Both have holistic health as a common factor, though yoga is at its high point towards self-relalisation.

Constitution of IndiaThe learned men constituting the Muslim Personal Law Board must explain if they are against all national symbols as they have rejected yoga for its “religious” roots. Would they reject the slogan, “Satyameva Jayate”, or our national symbol of Ashoka Chakra also because all of them derive from religious texts or events?

Do we understand that the board will advise their followers not to associate in any manner with what is derived from or has roots in Hindu religion? The so-called secular parties that have also taken up cudgels against teaching of yoga and readings from the Bhagavad Gita in schools have also to explain whether they would side with the Islamic orthodoxy that is distancing itself from all that is part of Indian culture and has religious roots.

Unfortunately for them, there is little that can be entirely separated from the Hindu tradition in the country. For instance, will the board order its followers to shun Hindustani classical music with its deep-rooted spring in the Hindu bhakti tradition? In the dance forms including Kathak that have Bharata’s magnum opus Natya Shastra as the fundamental book? Or in the Shilpa Shastras, all of which say the ultimate goal of even sculpture is to capture the ananda of the divine?

These exclusivists and their secular-political vote bank seekers tend to ignore what many among Muslim masses and intelligentsia, specially cultural leadership have already made part of their life including their religious life. Hymns of worship sung at many places of Muslim Peers are encased in Hindustani ragas.

The most famous classical musicians, be it Ustad Allauddin Khan or the Dagar Brothers, or any of the great songs sung by them have religious, mainly Hindu, ideas of self-realisation, merging with the divine and such themes at their core.

Ustad Alauddin KhanWe would wait to see if the board, in its new-found—derived from the Wahhabi puritanism—enthusiasm for keeping the Muslim masses untouched even by the cultural stream derived from Indian, mainly Hindu, traditions, evoke a boycott, in which case are they moving towards a cultural partition of India? It is reassuring that a section of Muslims, including the imams, has already answered this by opposing any cultural partition in its entirety and re-emphasising on bharatiyata as its flagship. As anybody with a strong sense of history and responsive to modernity will see, Wahhabi exclusivism and an Islam-only mindset is increasingly finding resistance—among Muslim-majority nations themselves.

Perhaps some sections of Muslims are beginning to assert. In the yoga discourse also, they are bound to assert themselves rejecting the cultural partitionists. Incidentally, June 21 is also the day the sun is staying longer on the northern hemisphere despite the Islamic leadership that would like to reject everything we speak about with warmth about this life-giver of the planetary system. – The New Indian Express, 13 June 2015

» Balbir Punj is national vice  president, BJP. E-mail: punjbalbir@gmail.com

Surya Namaskar sculpture at New Delhi Airport

Yoga has a religion and it is Hinduism – Atanu Dey

Dr Atanu Dey“Yoga is a technique that was developed in India centuries ago, and belongs to Hinduism … in the sense that those who created it self-identified as Hindus … and [it] is preserved in the sacred scriptures of what is known as Hinduism. All of yoga’s ancient practitioners have been Hindus and only in modern times, have non-Hindus started using the technique. Practicing yoga does not make one a Hindu. But merely because non-Hindus or non-Indians can (and do) practice yoga does not alter the fact that yoga is a Hindu tradition.” – Dr Atanu Dey

HeadstandMy immediate response to the assertion that “Yoga has no religion” is a flat denial. Because I know Yoga, Yoga is a friend of mine and I can truthfully attest to the fact that Yoga does indeed have a religion. He’s a Hindu. Therefore anyone making the claim that Yoga has no religion is either ignorant or is a liar (maybe both) since it is categorically and emphatically false. Do I make myself clear?

Oh, they mean the practice of yoga, the set of physical and mental exercises that originated in India and is widely used across the world for improving physical and spiritual well-being? Well, well, then let me address that “Yoga has no religion” claim. Spoiler alert: it is a stupid, meaningless statement made by the congenitally ignorant demonstrating a mentally disabling but well-deserved inferiority complex.

“Yoga has no religion” belongs to a category of statements that are syntactically sound but semantically empty like the statement “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” (Briefly hold the cursor over the link for a reference. Always a good idea to do so.)

The statement is indeed well-formed and has the usual English subject-predicate structure with ‘Yoga’ as the subject and the predicate ‘has no religion.’ And unless the subject refers to a human being (real or imaginary), the statement is semantic nonsense: it is neither true nor false. Meaningful statements are either true or their converse is true. Consider the statement “Cars have no possessions.” It is meaningless because neither it nor its contradiction is true. People have possessions; inanimate objects don’t.

Cars can be possessions, however. Or a car may be abandoned and therefore have no possessor. Cars can be possessed but cars do not possess. That distinction is important and worth keeping in mind if one is interested in not coming across as an imbecile.

Yoga is a technique (I am not referring to my aforementioned friend who has a PhD in material science, not spiritual science), a way of doing or thinking about things just like modern science, or motorcycle maintenance, or psychoanalysis, or minimalism, or gymnastics, or terrorism. All of those things are not people. Only people have the capacity to understand, believe in, and profess ideologies such as a religion. Thus it is meaningful to say that James has or does not have a religion. If James is a self-identified atheist, one can truthfully assert that “James has no religion.” But saying “Material science has no religion” is revealing asininity.

Islamic TerrorismA related cretinous statement to “Yoga has no religion” is “Terrorism has no religion” — usually made by the same retards. Terrorism is a technique or a strategy, not a person. A terrorist is a person. Therefore a terrorist can be said to have or not have a religion. Thus, for instance, when a terrorist asserts that he is following the commands of Allah as revealed to the prophet of Islam and preserved in the Islamic holy book the Koran, and kills innocents as he blows himself up, it makes sense to say, “the terrorist is a Muslim” but it makes no sense to say “Terrorism has no religion.”

Those statements are just plain abuse of language. One does not have to take a course on general semantics or become an expert on Korzybski’s thesis to stop misuse of language. I argue for the proper use of language, and basic sanity in general.

Narendra ModiAnyway, let’s get back to yoga—note the lower-case ‘y’. Yoga is a technique that was developed in India centuries ago, and belongs to Hinduism (and its theological off-springs such as Buddhism and Jainism) in the sense that those who created it self-identified as Hindus (regardless of whether they used the word “Hindu” or “Sanatan Dharma”) and is preserved in the sacred scriptures of what is known as Hinduism. All of yoga’s ancient practitioners have been Hindus and only in modern times, have non-Hindus started using the technique. Practicing yoga does not make one a Hindu. But merely because non-Hindus or non-Indians can (and do) practice yoga does not alter the fact that yoga is a Hindu tradition and its provenance is entirely Indian.

Let me use this analogy. I love bhajans. I love Buddhist chants. I love Christian sacred music. Mozart’s “Requiem in D minor” or Bach’s “St Matthew’s Passion” or Handel’s “Messiah”, move me to tears. That music is absolutely, distinctly Christian. My appreciation of it does not make me a Christian, and the fact that non-Christians can relate to the music does not uproot the music from its Christian ground. Music does not have a religion but different religions have different musical traditions. Meera bhajans are Hindu; Tibetan chants are Buddhist; Gregorian chants are Roman Catholic.

Yoga is Indian and more specifically Hindu in that sense. Hindu sacred texts contain its principles; Hindus were its principal authorities; Hindus, and only Hindus, practiced it for centuries. The yoga asanas such as the Surya Namaskar are Hindu practices. The Wikipedia notes, “Its origins lie in India where its large Hindu population worships Surya, the Hindu solar deity. This sequence of movements and asanas can be practised on varying levels of awareness, ranging from that of physical exercise in various styles, to a complete sadhana which incorporates asana, pranayama, mantra and chakra meditation.”

Here’s a clue that yoga is Hindu. Only Hindus name their children Yoga or Yogananada; Christians, Muslims, Jews don’t.

Fr. Gabriele AmorthIndeed, many prominent Muslim and Christian authorities have issued religious edicts prohibiting their coreligionists from doing yoga. These people are quite understandably wary of yoga—it is a Hindu practice and is more than likely to “corrupt” them. Yoga is a gateway, a mechanism, a means, a road to reaching enlightenment. Enlightenment is a uniquely Indian spiritual goal. Unlike in the Abrahamic religions which focus entirely on pleasing a monotheistic god who demands absolute, unconditional obedience, the Indic religions’ goal is liberation or moksha, the removal of the illusion that one is not the supreme being.

Spiritual advancement, not obedience to some super-big-daddy-in-the-sky, is the goal of yoga. Etymologically, yoga is a cognate of “yoke”—to unite, to bind. The idea is to yoke yourself to the ultimate principle behind the universe, the universal consciousness. Yoga is essentially about mind and its control. And if one starts with the physical bits, who knows whether one will gravitate towards the non-physical bits. And that would not be very good for the proselytizing religions.

My position on who should do yoga, who should be prohibited, who should be forced, etc, is very simple. It is in keeping with my fundamental principle: do what you will. I don’t like coercion and I do not coerce. If you want to do yoga, fine. If you don’t want to do yoga, fine. Do whatever you want to do, do it to your heart’s content but don’t coerce—in yoga or anything at all. —  Abridged from Antanu Dey’s Blog, 8 June 2015

» Dr. Atanu Dey is an economist and author of the book, “Transforming India.

Hatha Yoga Asanas

Excavations show Harappan civilisation died as Saraswati dried up – Utpal Kumar

Saraswati River

Rakhigarhi resident looks over ancient siteRakhigarhi, or Rakhi Garhi (Hindi: राखीगढ़ी; Rakhi Shahpur + Rakhi Khas), is a village in Hisar District in the state of Haryana in India, situated in the north-west about 150 kilometers from Delhi. In 1963, archaeologists discovered that this place was the site of the largest known city of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, much larger and ancient than Harappa and Mohenjodaro sites. It is situated on the dry bed of the Sarasvati river, which is believed to have once flown through this place and dried up by 2000 BC. According to the archaeologists, Rakhigarhi is an ideal nucleus from where the Harappan civilisation began in the Ghaggar basin in Haryana and gradually grew from here and slowly expanded to the Indus valley.” – Wikipedia

Priest-King of Indus CivilisationThe Indus Valley civilisation, popularly known as Harappan civilisation, has been a puzzle for several decades now. But with the ongoing excavation in Rakhigarhi, history is on the verge of being rewritten.

“After Rakhigarhi, we can say that the Harappan civilisation was at least 1,000 years older than earlier thought. 

“And contrary to our long-held, conventional understanding, it first emerged in the east and then moved west, originating as it did in the heart of the Ghaggar-Hakra basin, regarded by many as the place where the Saraswati once flowed,” says Vasant Shinde, vice-chancellor of Deccan College who heads the team of archeologists — the largest Harappan site overtaking Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan’s Sind province. 

What’s going to ruffle quite a few feathers, is Harappa’s supposed Saraswati connection, especially the way the drying up of one probably led to the decline of the other. 

Prof Vasant ShindeRewriting history 

Shinde says that prior to his excavation it was believed that Rakhigarhi had all the three phases of the Harappan culture – ‘Early’, ‘Mature’ and ‘Late’. 

“Our work proves that this place doesn’t have the Late Harappan phase. It collapsed around 2000 BC,” says he, adding: “I believe Rakhigarhi’s sudden demise can be explained with the drying up of the Saraswati in 2000 BC.” 

Amarendra NathShinde’s claim is supported by Amarendra Nath, former ASI archaeology director who had carried out an excavation in Rakhigarhi between 1997 and 2000

“The ASI has so far discovered over 2,000 Harappan sites spread over Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. 

“Of these, about 1,400 can be located in the Saraswati belt alone, while the Indus belt doesn’t have more than 300-400 sites,” he says, adding: “We, in the ASI, had reached this conclusion long back. It’s just that this information is coming out now.” 

But not everyone is impressed. A Delhi University professor, wishing to remain anonymous, thinks this entire saga can only be analysed through the politico-ideological prism, rather than the academic. 

“For me, Saraswati is a mythical river and nothing more. It’s not a mere coincidence that all these things are coming up soon after the BJP came to power. 

“It’s an attempt to rewrite the history, the Aryan history,” says he. 

Shinde seems circumspect on the Aryan migration issue

“It’s for historians to decide. But as an archeologist, I can say with confidence that for at least 7,000 years, there has been no migration into this region. 

“You go to the village today, and you will feel you are walking through the same, old Harappan civilisation thriving 5,000 years ago. The style of pottery is similar. So are the food habits,” he says. 

Prof Irfan HabibNath is more direct. 

“There will always be a set of historians who will continue to deny the existence of the Saraswati — to meet their ideological and personal requirements. 

“They can afford to do that as history can be interpretational. (But) Not archaeology, which is based on solid evidences and facts. 

“And evidences for long have been supporting the existence of the Saraswati in the region. Satellite imageries have proved beyond doubt the existence of a ‘mighty’ river drying up 4,000 years ago,” Nath says. 

Michel DaninoMichel Danino, author of The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati, reminds us of the dilemma . 

“If we accept the Vedic hymns’ description of a river flowing from the mountain to the sea and located between the Yamuna and Sutlej, the Ghaggar remains the sole candidate. 

“But as we now know, this description can only apply to the third millennium BCE or earlier, an epoch that does not fit with the conventional scenario of a second millennium Aryan migration into India,” says the French author. Nath has a solution to bridge this ‘historical’ divide. 

“Why don’t the historians objecting to our claims set up their own body of archeologists and excavate these sites? Facts don’t change with the change of experts. 

“Sadly, they won’t come up with such initiatives,” he says. 

Neelesh Jadhao, co-director of the excavation, is excited that Korean forensic experts would conduct DNA tests on the excavated skeletons

“This time we have ensured skeletons don’t get contaminated. We would know for the first time what the Harappans looked like, what they ate, what was the colour of their skin or hair, etc. It will add a new perspective to the Harappan study,” says he. – Mail Online India, 22 May 2015

Archaeologists and scientists of Deccan College, Pune, examining a full-length skeleton of a male excavated from a Harappan burial site in Rakhigarhi in March. Photo: Deccan College, Pune

Rakhigarhi Graphic

Rakhigarhi Dig Siteplan

Sindhu Saraswati Civilization

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