Koenraad Elst: Examining Romila Thapar’s version of India’s past – Sandeep Balakrishna

Marxist historian Romila Thapar of JNU New Delhi

Ranbir ChakravartiThe 18 September 2015 print edition of the Marxist fortnightly Frontline cover story was a detailed interview of Marxist historian Romila Thapar conducted by Ranabir Chakravarti, Professor of Ancient History at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Predictably, the interview is in the nature of fawning over Prof Thapar and proceeds along expected lines which, among other things, upholds the Marxist ideological version of Indian history as the only authentic history. Contrary or alternate readings even when backed by solid research and evidence are dismissed and labelled as nothing more than Hindutva propaganda to say the least.

Sandeep BalakrishnaAnd so, with a view to better understand the context, motivation and other deeper issues surrounding this interview, IndiaFacts Editor Sandeep Balakrishna sought an interview with Dr. Koenraad Elst.

To claim that Dr. Koenraad Elst’s credentials are impressive is to understate it. He studied at the Katholieke Universiteit (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. This thesis was published as Decolonising the Hindu Mind, a seminal treatise on the subject.

Koenraad ElstIn the present time, Dr. Elst is perhaps the handful few in the academia who continues to courageously tell the uncomfortable truth about Islam and Leftism. As an independent researcher he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European civilizations, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. His enormous contribution to the Ayodhya debate continues to enrich scholars and serious students of the subject alike.

Dr. Elst’s two-volume work on the RSS titled, The Saffron Swastika is a great eye-opener and mandatory reading for all who seek to understand the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the larger Hindu movement in proper perspective. Equally, his Negationism in India—Concealing the Record of Islam is regarded as a classic.

He has also published innumerable works on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, and Maoism, among others.

His work on Ayodhya and the larger Hindu revivalist/nationalist movement entailed him to undertake a deep-dive into the forces on both sides of the issue. Among other things, history, and more specifically, Marxist historians played the most significant role in those momentous years. As a scholar who had firsthand experience who was equipped with deep study of these subjects, as a person who lived those years, and as a victim of Marxist historians, Dr. Elst is uniquely placed to provide his perspective on the present Frontline interview with Romila Thapar.

► Sandeep Balakrishna (SB): Elst, Prof Romila Thapar mentions that the kind of academic scholarship and history writing currently done is “impressive” and that “at least among those historians who work at the better universities and colleges.” Equally, she reminisces about how “history was taught fifty years ago, and the kinds of struggles that we had in those days to give a new direction to historical writing, and the kind of direction that is now being taken, it is in fact an impressive change. I am pleased with the way things have gone, although admittedly the change is not universal in the universities and most have still not caught up with history as it is taught in the best centres.” In this light, several questions arise, Dr. Elst: (a) Can you list some of these current history books that Prof Thapar finds impressive. (b) Which are these “better” universities and “best” centres where this sort of impressive history writing takes place? (c) How would you compare the history taught 50 years ago to the history that emerged after Prof Thapar gave it said direction?
► Koenraad Elst (KE): Given that this is a digital medium not constricted by space limitations, I may be forgiven for answering rather amply. There is already so much hurried superficiality these days.

Fifty years ago, R.C. Majumdar was at the end of his career. As he was a very prominent historian, whose History of India and History of the Freedom Struggle was required reading throughout the History departments across India, he was the main figure to be shot down. He was typical of the intellectuals at the heart of the Congress movement: secular-minded in a Gandhian way, but far more steeped in Hindu tradition than we can now imagine, and naturally accepting the religious and “communal” factors in history.

Other such historians were Jadunath Sarkar and, effectively, the anthropologist G.S. Ghurye. They naturally accepted and documented Islam as a factor in Hindu-Muslim conflict and in the well-documented fact of Islamic iconoclasm, c.q. the subversive role of the Christian missions.

I don’t know what universities she has in mind, but I imagine it would be the pioneers of her own version of history, JNU and AMU. Further, most serious universities have followed suit or are using her school’s textbooks.

There are very few hold-outs of Hindu-minded history, and these are admittedly not very creative, nor have they got international standing. The Marxists have always had their eye on the cultural sector, but after Indira Gandhi needed their support in a power struggle, some fifty years ago, they really got their chance. Thapar’s collaborators P.N. Haksar and Nurul Hasan changed the face of India. “Hindu” became a dirty word, and any young historian classified as a conscious Hindu could forget an academic career.

This power equation was aggravated by the passivity of the Hindu Nationalists. As the only nationally organized Hindu force, they claim to be the vanguard of Hindu society. If so, they should not be proud of their achievements in this field, where Hinduism has only been losing ground. They have never invested in scholarship.

The result can now be seen, when Narendra Modi’s government would like to pack the universities with pro-Hindu or pro-Modi vice-chancellors and other prominent professors, but fail to find qualified people.

In 2009 I attended a pro-Hindu conference about the politics of history in Delhi, with the usual wailing about the reigning anti-Hindu bias. But there was no session about what Hindus themselves had done wrong in M.M. Joshi’s textbook reforms of ca. 2002, a horror show of incompetence.

To be sure, on the Hindu side there are some valuable individual historians, such as Meenakshi Jain, who has documented the dismal defeat of the “eminent historians” in the Ayodhya debate (Rama and Ayodhya, 2013). But organized Hinduism has produced nothing except some obscurantist repetition of scripture as if it were history.

In recent years, centre-stage has been taken by less ideological historians such as Upinder Singh, daughter of the former Prime Minister. In that sense, her own school of Leftist history-writing has lost some ground, in the wake of the loss of credibility of Marxism as such.

Still, this mainstream secularist school has essentially adopted some key dogmas that the Left in its age of dominance has rendered synonymous with serious scholarship, such as the Aryan invasion and the absence of a “communal” motive in the Muslim conquests. The Hindu perspective is still being ignored or despised.

► SB: Prof Thapar also criticizes popular history as being outdated or as “not history at all,” and that such history is propagated by “people who are not professional historians.” As someone who has left behind a sizeable body of work critiquing the Thaparesque school of history, how would you define a “professional” historian, and is that tag mandatory for people who actually want to do original, serious scholarly work on their own? This question applies to even those non-tagged people who’ve already done such work. Or is this sort of tagging a tactic to discourage such potential endeavours and to dismiss such work?

► KE: For her class of people, a “professional historian” is a historian with academic status. The Marxist historians are very status-conscious and constantly pull rank, especially when faced with informed arguments.

For a scholar, this is weak, but for sophomores, it is uppermost in their minds: climbing the status ladder. When you know the academic circles, you become far less inclined to be overawed by academic status: many professors have obvious ideological prejudices and bend their findings to suit their presuppositions.

Moreover, in many countries to some extent, and certainly in India, scholars in the humanities are selected for ideological conformity with the dominant school. After nearly half a century, this has led to a situation where a post of “eminence” is simply equivalent with ideological conformity, at least passively (not raising your head), often actively (furthering the dominant paradigm).

As you know, the late Sita Ram Goel, a qualified historian, was an outsider to academia, working as a publisher and book-seller. Books like his History of Hindu-Christian Encounters are of such calibre, importance of topic, and originality, that he should have been offered a teaching post. But he was a dissident, so Soviet-type historians kept him outside the institutions. An example right now is Shrikant Talageri, whose work is simply revolutionary, creating history where until recently there was only hazy speculation, viz. the Vedic age. Real scholars would not care that he is an outsider, but focus on his methodology and his findings. 

► SB: On methodology, Prof Thapar provides a rather detailed explanation about how one should be learned in various disciplines like archaeology, linguistics, Sanskrit, Prakrit, geography, genetics, reading inscriptions and so on in order to write on ancient India. Yet, it is a fact that Prof Thapar doesn’t know Sanskrit and she herself admits that “sometimes when reading contemporary archaeological reports I can’t fully understand them because they require training in science.” Yet Prof Thapar is described as a preeminent scholar and historian of ancient India. So, how do you reconcile the two, and two, where does her own admission put her work in light of this?

► KE: I have little to add on to her personal qualifications. Sanskrit, at least, would really be necessary if you research ancient India. But history is something else than archaeology: historians deal with sources speaking a human language, chiefly writings and inscriptions, whereas the archaeologists (and likewise, nowadays, the geneticists) try to draw sense from mute objects.

I myself have to confess that the technical details of an archaeological report bore me. But their conclusions are of course indispensable for up-to-date historical scholarship. Like Prof. Thapar, I am not equipped to follow the details of the new genetic findings; but of course I have to take their conclusions into account. She does not incriminate herself by admitting that she is ignorant about other fields than history, these human limitations are just normal.

It gets worse, however, when a scholar simply ignores the findings in adjacent fields. This is what you see in the debates on Vedic chronology and the Aryan invasion. Thus, most historians laugh at the ignorant claims of some self-styled “history rewriters” in the Hindu camp, who put the Mahabharata war in the 4th millennium BCE. These base themselves on scripture, treating it as a literal record, and date events in the light of a Puranic tradition dating the beginning of Kali Yuga to 3102 BCE.

To be sure, the doctrine of four world ages is as old as the epic, and even much older: judging from its presence among the Greeks and Germans, and even as far as the Mayas, it must have existed since distant pre-Vedic days.

But the time-spans attributed to them are far younger, betraying an estimate of the precession cycle discovered in ca. 150 BCE. These time-spans are in thousands of years, not hundreds of thousands of years as in the Puranas. So the Mahabharata war can reasonably be estimated to about 1400 BCE, which is in tune with the genealogical data in the Puranas, their most historically reliable part.

But what is more, and now I come to my point, this scripturalist chronology flies in the face of the findings of several auxiliary sciences. Thus, chariot warfare is central to the Mahabharata’s plot: it cannot be an addition by a later editor.

Now, we know through archaeology that war chariots (as distinct from slow carts) originated only in the 3rd millennium, and that the heyday of chariot warfare was the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium, before cavalry warfare took over.

The war between the Egyptians and the Hittites, the Biblical pursuit of the Israelites by the Pharaoh, the Trojan War, all took place around 1200 BCE. To say that the Mahabharata battle took place in 3139, as traditionalists do, would imply that chariot technology took all of 1600 years to travel to West Asia.

But we know that military technology travels very fast, because generals eager for victory quickly adopt whatever innovation is in sight. Moreover, it implies that the Indians had a more advanced metallurgy (needed to produce chariots, as well as swords and shields) than archaeology can trace for the 32nd century BCE.

Another auxiliary science is archaeo-astronomy. Among the astronomical circumstances described in the epic is the full moon near the star Magha/Regulus after the winter solstice. Now, this star, in its slow precessional movement of 1° per 71 years, has crossed the solstitial axis in ca. 2300. In 3139 BCE, it was some 12° before the solstice, whereas in ca. 1400 BC, it was some 13° past it, as required by the description in the epic. So, the traditionalist chronology ignores the contribution of astronomy.

Prof. Thapar will probably agree with me that traditionalist chronology is bad science because it ignores the findings of these other sciences. However, established chronology including her own school suffers from the same flaw.

Thus, we have several astronomical data in Vedic literature that are incompatible with the established chronology. In the Kaushitaki Brahmana, dating from the late Rig-Vedic period, this solstice position of Magha is registered, so that points to ca. 2300. But according to her, this would mean at least 800 years before the Vedic seers started the composition of the Vedic hymns, and at least a thousand years before the Kaushitaki Brahmana was composed. The definitely post-Vedic book Vedanga Jyotisha gives two independent astronomical data that both necessitate its being written in the 14th century BCE, again centuries before its conventional date.

She has tried to explain this away by opining that the authors must have described reminiscences of earlier positions passed down by their ancestors. But this is impossible: the Vedanga Jyotisha is a hands-on work on observational astronomy: it tells priests where to look in the sky when they want to conduct their rituals.

What a strange world it would be, where everybody describes ancestral observations but no one describes what he himself actually sees. So, her escape clause is an explicit admission of what too many historians only do silently: ignore the findings of an important science adjacent and relevant to history-writing. The situation is that a handful of astronomical data consistently support a higher chronology, that not one of them supports the established low chronology, and that nonetheless most scholars in India and abroad proceed as if these data were not a permanent challenge to their conventional chronology.

► SB: While it’s known that even today, Prof Thapar seems unwilling or unable to let go of the now-discredited Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory, what is interesting is that from the beginning of her career as a historian of ancient India, she like many of others of her school, seem to have a penchant for propounding a theory (or at best a hypothesis) based on the absence of evidence. If this sort of thing is done in the sciences, the concerned scholar would not last a second in the academia no matter what his/her standing or experience. Yet she seems to have largely gotten away with it over the course of her long career. In which case, has history and humanities in general become free-for-all?

► KE: To be sure, historians have to navigate between many uncertainties and unknowns. Some of these may be resolved through research or by unexpected discoveries, others will be your companion throughout your career. So you ought to exercise some clemency here and accept that the rules of the hard sciences do not always apply to history. Even so, her school could indeed have done better in the Aryan origins debate.

In terms of the evidence now available, you are right to call the Invasion Theory (which some weasels now prefer to call a Migration Theory, though it amounts to the same thing) “discredited”. But in terms of academic opinion, it is not yet discredited at all.

I have participated in a number of Indo-Europeanist conferences where the linguists present had often not even heard that there exists an Indian indigenist theory, an “Out-of-India Theory”. And if they had heard of it, they did not bother to study it, because they had also been cautioned that it was supported by evil Hindu nationalists. Note that this is a very unscholarly attitude: a real scholar would realize that someone’s motive for supporting a theory implies nothing whatsoever for the correctness of that theory.

If it did, how could anyone ever support the Aryan Invasion Theory, as she does? That theory is many times more politically connoted than the Indian Homeland Theory. It was politically used in many more countries, for a much longer time, and not by some ivory-tower scholars but from positions of power.

It was used by British colonialism, by the Nazis, by the Nehruvians, the Ambedkarites (in spite of B.R. Ambedkar’s own opposition to it), the Dravidianists and the Christian missionaries in India. It is politicized through and through.

Yet Prof Thapar, like most academics concerned, supports it. But she is right to ignore these political taints: they are inconsequential for the invasion theory’s correctness. And me too, I treat it as a legitimate competitor in the Homeland debate, though I have finally concluded against it.

► SB: A related question: given her long expostulations on AIT and Harappa in that interview, it appears that she hasn’t perhaps updated herself with the latest in genetics and archaeology, for example, with the kind of dedicated and top-notch work done by say Michel Danino. As someone who continues to closely follow and render your own inputs in this matter, your views, Dr. Elst?

► KE: Here we meet the problem once more that we just discussed: scholars willfully ignoring the conclusions from related disciplines.

Western linguists who support a more westerly Homeland (hence an Aryan invasion from there into India) ignore the findings of Harappan archaeology. The latter only confirms a complete cultural continuity since before the Harappan cities and lasting through their abandonment. It has failed to find a single trace of Aryans entering India.

By contrast, in Central Europe, an invasion from the east ca. 2900 BCE, amply attested both by archaeology and by genetics, has been identified with Indo-Europeanization. That is what an “Aryan invasion” looks like, and it is completely missing in India. Yet, of this state of affairs in Harappan archaeology, Western scholars are completely ignorant; or else they fail to draw conclusions from it for their own field.

Last March I participated in a conference of Indian archaeologists in Delhi. One archaeologist after another testified how his own Harappan excavation site only threw up cultural continuity instead of an Aryan immigrant revolution. Everybody there was skeptical of the invasion theory.

I was sitting next to the nonagenarian éminence grise of Indian archaeology, Prof. B.B. Lal, who had just publicly said: “Vedic and Harappan are but two sides of the same coin.”

At that very time, I received an e-mail from a top American linguist defending a westerly Homeland theory, shared by virtually all his colleagues. I then realized that this was a unique situation: a consensus of top scholars for theory White, and a consensus of scholars in a very related field for theory Black, with neither feeling challenged to respond to the other.

Historians ignoring the astro-chronological evidence, linguists ignoring the archaeological evidence: this is abnormal and unhealthy, and the first thing to do now is to break through these walls and get people to listen to the other side.

Actually, this problem of stonewalling is even worse. There are, for instance, philologists who avoid any association with the sterling philological work of Shrikant Talageri. The topic of “history within the Vedas” is quite legitimate, and has been with us for some two centuries. Nobody has revolutionized this field the way Talageri has.

Yet many students of ancient history or of Vedic literature are ignorant of his work, often willfully so. Come to mention it: his conclusions are right inside Romila Thapar’s field, so she ought to speak out on it. Fifteen years after the publication of his book The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, it is about time. (Abroad, top philologists H.H. Hock and M. Witzel, two Germans working in the US, have spoken out, and Talageri has also answered them.) And merely parroting smug denunciations will not do, at least not for a top historian like Romila Thapar.

► SB: It is also interesting to note in the interview how, after still holding on to said theories about an Aryan Invasion, and falsely extrapolating “some sort of a horse sacrifice” in Central Asia which has a “later reflection in the Vedic corpus” [i.e. Ashwamedha], the interview quickly jumps to how all those who disagree with the AIT are breeding a “chauvinistic attitude,” and how therefore India is not the “greatest of all civilisations,” and further, how accepting ancient India’s greatness would again lead to “the disastrous direction that Aryanism took in Europe in the 20th century” and cautions of how “Historical theories coupled with extreme nationalism and the politics of identity can have severe consequences….” I don’t see this as anything different from the standard, Marxist-template-ish discourse that we’re all familiar with. So, is this a stubborn insistence on a pet theory that refuses to come to terms with reality or is it something else?

► KE: As Talageri has shown, the horse sacrifice originates in the Vedic period and then becomes prominent. Subsequently it was exported to Central Asia.

If remains of an Ashwamedha are found there, it is not earlier but later than the Vedic testimonies of this ritual. Its performers are not on the way to, but on the way out from India. There is no need at all to deny the Central-Asian findings related to the Veda, only the implied chronology of the Vedas is wrong. Which is no wonder, as the present chronology is not based on anything.

If scholars write, say, “Kena Upanishad (ca. 500 BCE)”, I always wonder: “How do they know that?” For doing proper history, the first thing to straighten out is the chronology of ancient India. In that respect, Romila Thapar has always been a follower, not a leader. Her school has been dominant for half a century, yet no progress at all was made in this respect, they merely parroted the dates that British scholars had thought up.

Perhaps she is too old now to change her mind in view of new evidence, but I don’t think she is attached to a non-Indian Homeland per se. She just hates the Hindu nationalists. Now that these are openly supporting the Indian Homeland hypothesis (which has existed for more than 200 years, since well before the notion of “Hindutva” even existed), she just has to oppose this theory any which way.

As for her allusions to Nazism, that is really rich. Let us be clear that the Nazis completely supported the Aryan Invasion Theory, like she does. Hitler, Thapar, same struggle!

This theory was the perfect paradigm of the Nazi worldview: (1) the dynamic White Aryans trekked all the way to India and naturally defeated the indolent Black Aborigines; (2) these race-conscious Aryans imposed the caste system as an apartheid system to protest their racial purity, an example to follow; (3) unfortunately, some race-mixing took place nonetheless, and the Aryan castes, though still superior to the Aborigines, became inferior to their European Aryan cousins; (4) but fortunately, now they were being uplifted again by the rulership of their British cousins, the best thing that ever happened to India.

Though Subhas Bose and many millions of Indians expected Hitler, with all his vegetarianism and swastika, to support them against the British, Hitler actually glorified the British Empire and had offered German manpower and expertise to administer it. He thought the leaders of the Freedom Movement should be shot and India put back in its place, for he thought he was having the best interests of the darker races in mind when he tried to keep them in subjugation to a “superior” white nation.

Yes, there is plenty of criticism of the Hindutva movement (I myself have written quite a bit of it), but here it is really on the right side. Opposing the Aryan Invasion Theory is not only defensible from a scholarly viewpoint, it also happens to be politically correct.

Most people don’t judge a theory by whether it is true, but by the company it puts them in. If a truth is spoken by a despised group, they will feign to oppose this truth, and even interiorize that position. So, anyone desiring to be in the good books of the international establishment, will oppose an Indian Homeland.

Mind you, in this respect (in contrast with the economic realm), the Modi regime is not yet part of the establishment, and it doesn’t invest in a serious (as opposed to a flaky) redrawing of the scholarly power equation. It is still fashionable to laugh at the Indian Homeland position, so if Thapar chooses the safe side, the reason may not be any deeper than this: it need not be true, but it’s cosy. People who are not just camp-followers of the Aryan Invasion Theory, but who can actually defend it with serious arguments, are only a few. She is not one of them.

► SB: Equally, when Prof Thapar claims that “Questions that are historically debatable should be treated as such, with scholars holding variant views and each one’s views being weighed in terms of the evidence,” there’s something amiss, eerie even. As you’re aware, there’s a vast body of precisely such variant views, evidence, etc, which I’m sure she’s aware of yet doesn’t deign to even mention. Further, she mentions that this kind of thing “reduces the possibility of a historical debate.” Over the last three decades at least, accomplished scholars like Sita Ram Goel, Ram Swarup, yourself, Vishal Agarwal, Dr. Rajaram, Dr. Meenakshi Jain and others have painstakingly produced volumes aimed at fostering precisely this historical debate. Is this both willful blindness to and denial and/or dismissal of alternate/opposing/different views?

► KE: Last summer, two important Indo-Europeanist conferences took place in my neighborhood, in Leiden (Netherlands) and in Marburg (Germany). They commemorated the decipherment of Hittite one hundred years ago. Most linguistic arguments for a westerly Homeland are easy to shoot down. That is why most believers always tell you that the proof exists—only it is someone else who has provided it.

My own professor of Indo-European linguistics said that linguistics couldn’t really decide it but that it “had been proven” by the archaeologists. Most people there are like Indian civil servants, expert at passing the buck. But at those conferences, there were a few people who said they themselves had the proof for a Pontic Homeland.

It is essentially this: Indo-European and Uralic were originally one family, maybe 10,000 years ago, somewhere in Bactria-Sogdia. This language moved westward to the Ural-Pontic region and was adopted by locals speaking Northwest-Caucasian, an ergative language (i.e. the object of a verb-with-object, e.g. “he sees her”, is in the same case as the subject of a verb-without-object, e.g. “she goes”) with heavy consonant clusters but few vowels—unlike Uralic but like Sanskrit. This substrate influence of Northwest-Caucasian is sought to explain the Indo-European declension system and other grammatical traits, and its heavy consonant clustering.

Already two remarks: other leading linguists at these conferences were skeptical of this scenario, and the same linguistic traits (ergative structure, consonant clustering) equally count for Tibetan, the immediate neighbor of Manali and Ayodhya, where Aryan history began according to the Puranas. Just to say that this is not gospel truth, just a theory. But this is now the backbone of the belief in a westerly Homeland, and the Indian Homeland School should respond to it.

But then a third remark: this theory was developed in perfect ignorance of Kazanas’s and Talageri’s argumentation for an Indian Homeland. While our side should indeed keep up with developments within the Aryan Invasion School, they should do the same, and so far they haven’t.

Unlike the American Indologists, who are hand in glove with the Indian secularists and openly partisan, these European linguists know little of Indian politics and would be open to pro-Indigenist arguments on merit. They would only demand that these are methodologically sound.

Unfortunately, anti-Hindu intellectuals act as gate-keepers and make communication between India and the West difficult for non-established Indian historians. Then again, today there are ways to get around this, and at least my own little person is working to get this debate going.

This is my own initiative: the organized Hindu movement should take an advance on the results, and it will eventually reap the fruits, but it is not doing anything at all to further this research and this debate.

And this makes me think of one more important aspect of the Aryan debate. A debater confident of his position will seek to debate the strongest version of the opposing position. In that case, the Thapar School would have discussed Talageri’s work threadbare. In reality, they prefer to highlight the Hindutva people who think “history-rewriting” means restating Puranic accounts of history. They seek out the weakest version and then thump their chest at having refuted or ridiculed it. This is seeking cheap success rather than seeking the truth. It is a trick used by the not-so-competent.

► SB: A common strand that runs throughout Prof Thapar’s interview is how she alleges that, starting from the Harappan civilization, the “nationalist” and “chauvinist” “version” of Indian history denies diversity, and how this denial is rooted in the “the fear of having to see the past differently, that is, of seeing it as complex interactions of diverse cultures”. This is ridiculous at worst, and ironical to say the least given that right from the Vedic corpus to the massive volumes of dharmashastric texts, local customs, traditions, etc … all of these reflect the contrary: of an all-inclusive umbrella that has incorporated precisely this diversity. For example, it’s well known that Jagannatha in Puri is actually what’s known as a “tribal God.” Thus, contrary to what Prof Thapar claims, if fear was at the root, the “tribal God” of Puri would’ve been destroyed long ago. Exactly how does this pass of as history much less “history reading” and “scholarship?”

► KE: The Thapar School is very status-conscious. When I studied the RSS, I thought it was an RSS trait that they will hire as a guest speaker an enemy with status rather than a friend without it.

But I now realize it is rooted in a pan-Hindu trait shared by Hindu-born secularists. In fact, it is a universal trait but with important exceptions. In the West, and especially in the US, they appreciate new ideas even if they are brought by someone coming in from the wild. There, the emphasis in on creativity, and it doesn’t matter what status or entitlement/adhikara you have; if it works, it’s alright. So when they have a difference of opinion with anyone, they will natural take a condescending pose, like alleging that your position is not “scholarly”.

► SB: Talking about cultural nationalism, Prof Thapar claims that “Traditions, as we know from history, are invented through the generations or on particular occasions.” This is quite a bold claim to make given that I don’t think anyone can use the word “invent” with “tradition.” From my limited studies, traditions just grow organically, in a way, to say, as collective and mutually shared social and religious practices over several generations. My question is twofold: (a) What is the motive behind making such assertions in the context of cultural nationalism? and (b) How does Prof Thapar link this with her other claim that “The construction of cultural nationalism can be rooted in colonial interpretations of a culture, rather than in interpretations that might have existed in pre-colonial times?”

► KE: It is simply true that in the colonial period, Indians have acquired a self-perception that didn’t exist before. Swami Vivekanada and Gandhi strongly promoted the idea that India is spiritual while the West is materialistic.

But even before Muslim and British colonialism, Hindus had already started reinterpreting their past.

Puranic Hindus paid lip-service to the God-given revealed Vedas whereas the Vedic seers themselves knew that the hymns were not revealed by a Supreme Being but skillfully composed by human poets.

Ancient Hindus wrote the Vedas, medieval Hindus crawled before the Vedas. Most Hindus believe that the seers Vishvamitra and Vasishtha had a caste-based rivalry, because at a later time caste had become very important, whereas the Rig-Veda doesn’t mention anything about caste. So, the distant past is distorted by the recent past and by the present, and it is part of the historians’ job to reconstruct the events as they looked to their own agents.

A different but related distortion: the recent past obscuring the distant past. I see this in the Aryan debate all the time. So many internet Hindus resolve to disprove the Aryan invasion, and then they start fulminating about Max Müller.

I don’t care what Max Müller said or did, he lived in the 19th century whereas we seek to know what happened thousands of years ago. The supposed motives of the coiners and propagators of the theory in the 19th century (colonial, missionary, racist …) cannot possibly say anything whatsoever about the facts of the Indo-European dispersal more than 5000 years ago, or about the presumed Aryan invasion of 3500 years ago.

I compare it to being asked to describe a tree in the distance and then proceeding to describe the nearby window through which you look at that tree. If Hindus want to get anywhere with their Aryan debate, the first thing needed is a moratorium on mentioning anything from the colonial period. All the noise about Max Müller only serves the laziness of people who don’t want to acquire the skills to research ancient history.

► SB: It is a given that in a Romila Thapar interview or essay, at least one question or mention will be made about secularism, the tone and tenor of which we are intimately familiar with. So it is with this interview as well. Here, “I would say that secularism in the same sense means putting religion in its place, and maintaining that religion is not to be the single dominant factor in politics and in society and its institutions. The identity of society has to be an open identity.” Forgive my ignorance Dr. Elst, but what exactly does an “open identity” for a society even mean, even in purely lexical terms?

► KE: Effectively it means: no identity. It certainly means: no majority, for it could put its stamp on the society as a whole. In some respects, I think she is right about this. For Pakistan, for instance, it would be a healthy innovation.

► SB: Prof Thapar also claims without proof that “When one gives a definition of a Hindu, it is generally in terms of members of upper castes since the basis of the definition is from the texts of these groups.” To my knowledge, until British started studying Hinduism systematically (for whatever purposes), nobody in India had even attempted to define the term “Hindu.” Indeed, as far as my knowledge goes, there hasn’t been a comprehensive study that shows how Hindus viewed themselves prior to alien Muslim invasions. And so, on what basis does Prof Thapar claim what she does?

► KE: Lack of historical consciousness. The definition of “Hindu” is very simple. Originally a purely geographical Persian term for “India(n)”, the Muslim invaders introduced it with a mixed geographical-religious meaning: “an Indian Pagan”.

Christians and Muslims were not included because they were not “idolaters”, and Parsis were not because they were not deemed Indian. But all Indian Pagans, including Brahmins and other castes, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), Jains, tribals, even communities yet to be born, like Lingayats, Sikhs, the Ramakrishna Mission, they were all “Hindu”.

In Islamic theology, they were all going to hell anyway. To the Muslims, distinctions of social rank or religious tradition didn’t matter in the least. Their negative definition of “Hindu” was taken over in the definition used in the Hindu Marriage Act, and essentially also in V.D. Savarkar’s definition of “Hindutva”.

Now, I am not at all impressed when you list that so many millions of Sikhs say: ham Hindu nahin! I am not impressed by all the rhetoric with which the R. K. Mission is trying to leave the sinking ship of Hinduism.

“Hindu” is now a dirty word, the secularists have seen to this, and so everybody is running towards the exit, saying: “We are not Hindu.”

Well, this is simply a matter of definition. Tribals who convert to Christianity can legitimately say that they are not Hindus (in spite of the RSS’s weasel position that they are then “Christi Hindus”), but otherwise they are Hindu by definition. Even if millions of people say that “1 + 1 = 4”, I will maintain that it is 2, and I will be proven right in the end.

It is in the Ayodhya debate that I have learned the power of historical scholarship. After the 1989 statement by the JNU historians, starring Romila Thapar, the historical position, though having been a matter of consensus between all the parties involved, was suddenly tabooed.

There had already been partial archaeological excavations confirming that there had been a temple on the site where the Babri Masjid was built. Even if you decided to doubt the consensus, the balance of evidence was already clearly on the side of the temple.

Yet, the whole media and political class, and all the foreign India-watchers, suddenly had to pretend that the historical position was but a ridiculous Hindutva concoction. Well, through all this commotion, the historical facts remained what they were, and they were amply confirmed by the excavations of 2003.

There are still a few Leftists maintaining that there had never been a temple at the site, but most people concerned just look the other way, embarrassed at having been led by the nose so badly. And with such a death toll as a result.

Imagine that this JNU statement had never been made. PM Rajiv Gandhi would have worked out a deal, denounced as “horse-trading” but with the merit of avoiding lots of political commotion and physical violence. He would have bought off the Muslim leadership with some goodies and left the site to the Hindus, thus also boosting his own popularity in the elections. There would not have been an Ayodhya affair, merely the building of just another temple. The BJP was not even on the horizon yet.

But no, the “eminent historians” preferred lies and bloodshed (and apparently also the rise of the BJP). It is not often in history that the intervention of intellectuals has had so much effect at the mass level.

But I was saying that Ayodhya has taught me the power of historical scholarship. There was a lot of hue and cry, there was the demonization of the pro-temple position which I also held—in my personal case there was the veto against any academic position for me. But when all was said and done, we were proven right. All the commotion had made no difference to the facts of history. The “eminent historians” were proven wrong.

Why, in fact, has Romila Thapar been interviewed now? Though she was already well-known, her hour of glory came with the unnecessary and artificial Ayodhya controversy. But in that controversy, she was on the wrong side.

It doesn’t always come about, but in this case it did happen: justice. The wrong side, though absolutely dominant for more than a decade, was proven wrong. Her major claim to fame is now as the historian who was proven wrong, and this in a self-created controversy. I feel for her, she threw away her good reputation at the end of her career.

Then again, she can still win it back by crossing the floor in time. She is in an excellent position, for instance, to create the much-needed dialogue between the different schools and disciplines in East and West; to stop the stonewalling, the guilt-by-association and the ridiculing that obstructs or poisons the debate.

► SB: When asked about the reason for the popularity of the Ramayana, Prof Thapar claims that “Evidence of the widespread popularity of the Ramayana is of course more recent…. I am referring to when the Ramanandi sect begins to propagate the Ramayana and Rama bhakti….” and the Kamba Ramayana and Krittibas. To put it bluntly, the good professor is bluffing. As you’re aware, one of the earliest evidences of Ramayana’s popularity can be had in Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsham, and we know his period generally falls in the 5th century. She also recounts the now-familiar refrain about how Ramayana “celebrates and upholds the patriarchal family order.” While she’s entitled to her interpretations, the political subtext is unmissable. I’d like you to elaborate more on this, Dr. Elst.

► KE: The patriarchal family order is also upheld by the Bible, the Koran etc, yet I can’t remember her protesting against that. Worse is that she judges ancient writings (well, not the Bible or the Koran) by the standards of today, a capital mistake for a historian.

The past is the past, every historian ought to know that; only political propagandists blur the distinction between ancient facts and modern standards.

Anyway, the popularity of the Ramayana is not so important, but you are right that it was a thousand years older than she claims. Her position follows from the anti-Hindu fervor of the Ayodhya controversy. Need we say more about it?

► SB: Throughout the interview, there’s plenty of alarmist talk about how we’re now living in an atmosphere where “hegemonic thoughts” and “obscurantism” are growing, and how the good professor has taken “them on as I often have to do.” Equally, there’s also this condescension that stops short of saying that ordinary people must be lectured to about history etc, and that only historians have a special mandate to change the world or whatever. This again is familiar for anyone who has followed the careers of these Eminent Historians. Yet, even as India has mostly moved on from ideology-as-history, this refrain from these Eminent Historians continues to reverberate. What gives?

► KE: Well, they are old now, and throughout their career this attitude has served them well. I guess they will not change now. It is again this status consciousness, this pulling rank, this looking steeply down on people without adhikara [conferred by these Marxists].

It is a fact, though, that the Modi government and its local dependencies do give the impression of promoting, or at least of giving space to, backward tendencies. There are plenty of Hindus with very backward attitudes and beliefs. That is partly the revenge of a deliberate choice made long ago by Guru Golwalkar. He had a very anti-intellectual prejudice (“do you need to read a book to love your mother?”), which became official policy of the RSS, and as they never listen to feedback; that has remained effective till today.

Just watch how Hindutva spokesmen perform in TV debates: their communication skills are dismal, because they have always despised intellectual work, both in scholarship and on the media front.

► SB: Finally, one must really celebrate the ingenuity of Eminent Historians in coining innovative terminology. Of course, we’re familiar with “otherness,” “upper caste middle class chauvinism,” etc. I came across new ones coined by Prof Thapar here: “Aryanism,” “Sanitised Aryanism,” “Syndicated Hinduism.” Your comments,  Dr. Elst?

► KE: In Europe we have a media-conscious philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, who egged the French president on to invade Libya and oust Colonel Qadhafi—an unqualified disaster, a very dark cloud without any silver lining. But he is very good at coining catchy phrases.

Likewise, I won’t deny that Prof. Thapar has a gift for turning an English phrase and putting her thoughts into sticky new expressions. Good for her. – IndiaFacts, 6 October 2015

» This interview was compiled by the IndiaFacts Team. Sandeep Balakrishna is the IndiaFacts Editor and CEO. Koenraad Elst is a Belgium Indologist and Historian. This interview originally appeared on IndiaFacts with the title “Examining the Marxist Version of India’s Past.”

George Orwell Quote

The Ivy League Syndrome: Stop feeding the crocodile – Rajiv Malhotra

Ivy League Colleges

Rajiv Malhotra“We need first and foremost … a new corpus of content and discourse, one that would challenge the prevailing discourse on Indian civilization. Such provocative discourses simply cannot be produced from within the walls of the very same [Ivy League] fortress that has to be exposed and dismantled. It cannot be achieved as an ‘inside job’ because that would entail a greater degree of personal risk and brilliance than what is available among our academically certified scholars today.” – Rajiv Malhotra

Narendra Modi & Mark ZuckerbergA new humanities discourse around India has to be created from scratch. The existing one, is beyond repair.

Recently, Narendra Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley was attacked in a petition by US-based academicians led by scholars like Wendy Doniger and Sheldon Pollock. Over 80 per cent of the signatures were by Indian ‘sepoys’ joining the bandwagon. As a rejoinder, there emerged two counter petitions supporting Modi, each signed by much larger numbers of US-based academicians, who were also mostly Indians. This clash between the two camps of Indians is important to analyse because they represent two entirely different constituencies.

The anti-Modi petitioners proudly characterised themselves as faculty members of South Asian Studies, the new term for what was known as Indology in the colonial era. Stated simply, this is the study of India’s faiths, culture, history, politics, journalism, social sciences and related areas. On the other hand, the pro-Modi academicians were mostly from science, technology, business, medicine, law and other technical fields. I will refer to the former group as ‘South Asianists’ and the latter as ‘technocrats’. It is not a mere coincidence that these opposing camps are shaped by the disciplines they work in. It is important to understand the reasons for this.

South Asianists learn about India using Western-developed frameworks, vocabularies and theories that have Western cultural biases built into them. This hegemonic discourse on India subverts Indian native categories and the Vedic worldview, characterizing Indian civilization as a human rights nightmare whose solutions must come from Western thought. In other words, the South Asian Studies lens uses the West’s past for interpreting India’s present. The solution offered is that India’s desirable future is to mimic the West’s present society. The field is driven by the consensus of Ivy League gatekeepers, who can act like a sort of mafia to make or break an individual’s academic career.

The technocrats are not burdened by such culturally-determined programming, at least not to the same extent. Their disciplines are based more on empirical data and logic. In other words, it is possible to argue one’s controversial thesis in Chemistry, for instance, by demonstrating laboratory evidence that is verifiable. But it is not as easy to prove a theory of human rights violations without dealing with cultural biases of various kinds. The humanities are inherently more subjective, and hence vulnerable to power plays.

Another difference is that the technocrats tend to be more logical. A typical batch of students entering college in the technocrat fields tends to have higher scores in mathematics (i.e. logical mind-set) than their counterparts entering humanities and social sciences. Add to this that India’s technocrats are now super confident, knowing that they are second to none in their fields. They have achieved global success based entirely on merit. Therefore, they see no reason to bow down to Westerners when it comes to interpreting their Hindu heritage. This latter quality is what differentiates me from the Indian scholars of Hinduism Studies:  I owned companies where I employed many Americans, and a large number of managers from many nations reported to me. I find that Indians lacking such a background of managing Western professionals with authority are afraid to take them on, because of their deep inferiority complexes.

In other words, our colonized mentality can be isolated largely to our professionals in the humanities and social sciences. We have a clash between Indians in the two camps of humanities and technical fields. The technocrats tend to be patriotic and the humanities/social sciences scholars tend to be Hinduphobic and apologetic. The Indian media, in turn, are largely educated in fields with deep influences from South Asian Studies.

I am not against Western Ivy Leagues in general. But I oppose their stranglehold over South Asia Studies in particular. This is equivalent to the power of colonial era Indology that was headquartered in places like Oxford.

Until recently, the South Asianists and their mainstream media supporters have had a virtual monopoly as the voice and face of India. But in recent years, a counter voice has emerged that cannot be dismissed. Only a couple of months ago, I was personally the target of a massive attack demanding that my books be withdrawn (ironically by the same South Asianists who oppose such bans when their own books get targeted). While it garnered 240 signatures, a counter petition initiated by Madhu Kishwar that supported me got well over 10,000 signatures. Every such victory is another nail in the coffin of the Hinduphobic forces.

The clash is also over who has the adhikara (authority) to speak for our heritage. South Asianists close ranks to mock at the voices that are not certified by their institutions. But our tradition has always valued experience over book knowledge. Our history is filled with exemplars who did not get certified by any institutions resembling the Western Ivy Leagues.

Infinity FoundationWith this background, I wish to discuss the right and wrong approaches to address this problem. In the 1990s, my Infinity Foundation pioneered the funding of Western academicians in order to improve the portrayal of Indian civilization. It took over a decade and several millions of my hard-earned dollars before I understood the academic game. Gradually, I developed my insights into how insidious the South Asian Studies machinery is. I witnessed first-hand the complex funding mechanisms, intellectual and political networks, and interlocking of agendas across government, private foundations, church and academics. That is when I concluded that planting chairs in such a giant machinery was like feeding a crocodile hoping to turn it into a friend.

I am now an ardent critic of Indian movements that seek to establish Hinduism-related chairs within Western academe. Such projects are premature and counter-productive, driven naively by glamour and prestige.

What we need first and foremost is a new corpus of content and discourse, one that would challenge the prevailing discourse on Indian civilization. Such provocative discourses simply cannot be produced from within the walls of the very same fortress that has to be exposed and dismantled. It cannot be achieved as an ‘inside job’ because that would entail a greater degree of personal risk and brilliance than what is available among our academically certified scholars today. It would also need a large critical mass of like-minded scholars in one place, with political clout and will. It is a sheer waste to develop a random scattering of chairs here and there, occupied by individuals craving personal (petty) career success.

Given the cost of setting up one academic chair in USA (approximately $4 million), it would be far better to use that money and set up a whole department of scholars in India with the concentrated goal to develop a new discourse on some specific topic. As an example, a centre to develop a Hindu perspective on women’s status and role could be tasked to produce game changing discourse on that theme. This would then be disseminated worldwide through multiple channels. Several such theme-specific centres ought to be established in India. This is how China has taken control of the way China is being studied worldwide. They did not outsource the knowledge production about their civilization the way Indians have.

Such an approach would nurture the ‘Make in India’ spirit in the field of South Asian Studies. It would keep the adhikara and world-class expertise within Indian institutions. The new genre of discourse would also be intimately connected with our traditional mathas and peethams, rather than with the likes of Ford Foundation, Western churches and think tanks and their paradigms. This would de-colonize our youth and media once they realize that we are the best experts on who we are as a people. – Swarajya, 19 September 2015

South Asian studies in the WestSouth Asian studies in the West

Dharmashastra: How we can transform society with Hindu dharma – Rohini Bakshi

Satyavrata is Vaivaswatha Manu

Rohini Bakshi“I believe that our dharma tradition is flexible, practical and humane. Undoubtedly, ancient texts have rules and beliefs that are abhorrent to our modern, liberal sensitivities, and in no way am I suggesting that we follow ancient practices to the detriment of any section of society. Rather I’m proposing that ten or five, or four, or even three learned manīṣīs form a pariṣad and write a fresh dharma text or texts. They have never stopped being written.” – Rohini Bakshi

Manu and Brihaspati Articles about the dharmaśāstras invariably focus on Manu and come in a highly polemic form. You are likely to see listings of verses from Manu which are deleterious, for instance, to the status of women, or you might see an exclusive focus on verses from Manu extolling women. So I was understandably and pleasantly surprised to see this blogpost by @vAsukeya, which focused on not only the ability, but also the requirement of dharma texts to adapt to the need of the times—a little known and much ignored characteristic of dharma literature. I hope to persuade you with this article that the alleviation of social ills blamed on the dharma tradition can be solved most effectively through the tradition itself.

The fundamental basis of this column is to show why we need to “bother with” Sanskrit. Studying the nature of dharma texts directly, rather than depending on polemics is most certainly an example. 

Dharmaśāstras are normative and considered binding on members of the Ārya community. A lesser known fact is that they reveal intense disputes and divergent views on a variety of topics.[1]

This nuance that is lost unless we study and understand the texts ourselves rather than depend on bowdlerisers and narrative builders. Not only do individual dharma texts differ from each other, one can find contradictory rules within the same text (as we see in Manu with regard to women). In addition, and more germane to our discussion, dharma literature far from being set in stone, has repeatedly shown its ability to respond to socio-economic, cultural and political change.

Take, for example, the inclusion in Manu of a systematised rājadharma detailing the duties and responsibilities of a king. In the dharmasūtras that predate Manu,[2] references to statecraft, the king, judicial and royal procedures are scattered and scarce.

Scholars posit that the advent of large kingdoms and empires (such as Mauryan) made the need to present rājadharma systematically imperative. Another fundamental change in the dharma texts is the accommodation of bhakti and the concept of an iṣṭa deva/devī.

Prayaścitta (expiation) in the early dharmasūtra were limited mostly to recitation of Vedic hymns, fasts, and other austerities. Later texts like the Parāśarasmṛti (PS) include the worship of gods (as we know them today) to atone for transgressions. PS 6.7 states that a killer of certain birds can purify himself by showing reverence to Śiva (Śivapūjyaviśudhyati). The bali offering to Nārāyaṇa in the Vaiṣṇava Vaikhānasasmārtasūtram (10.9-10) again is evidence of how the worship of an iṣṭa god had become the norm.

Manu sits at the watershed of the Vedic and the Purāṇic modes of worship. While tradition sees continuity rather than rupture between these two, there is no denying that modes of worship and expiation were changing. So Manu displays the decreasing importance of early prayaścitta like the aśvamedhayajña in statements like “A man who abstains from meat and a man who offers the horse sacrifice every year for a hundred years, the reward for their meritorious acts is the same.” (M 5.53) Yet, in Manu, the killing of a cow is a lower order transgression (upapātaka), the prayaścitta for which is the same as if the perpetrator were to give instructions as, or receive instructions from a paid teacher, or cut down trees for firewood. (M 11.60-67. For the prayaścitta, see M 11.109-118) Compare Manu’s stance to an entire chapter in Parāśarasmṛti (Ch 9 Gosevopadeśavarṇanam) on how to care for cows/cattle. It has detailed prayaścitta for every conceivable harm—unwitting or deliberate—that might come to them. PS 9.52 states clearly that Manu was wanting in this area. This reflects the heightened importance of cows in Hinduism, as was practised in that era.

Let’s look at another example—that of the “purification” of women. Vasiṣṭhadharmasūtra (VD) has this to say about women: “A woman is not polluted by a lover (28.1) … whether she has strayed on her own or she has been expelled, whether she has been raped forcibly or abducted by robbers, a wife who has been defiled should not be forsaken. There is no law permitting the forsaking of a wife. One should wait for her to menstruate; she is purified by her menstrual period (28.2-3).”

Compare this leniency with Manu (8.371) who mandates that an unfaithful woman should be “devoured by dogs in a public square frequented by many.” Yet, at 11.171, Manu says “The husband should keep an adulterous wife confined in a single room and make her perform the observance prescribed for a man who has sex with another man’s wife.”

Reflecting the leniency of Vasiṣṭhadharmasūtra, the 10th century Devalasmṛti, written in Sind [now dealing with the changed scenario of contact with and abductions by foreign invaders (mlecchaiḥ)] mandates that women taken by force are purified by abstaining from sexual intercourse and food for three nights. Even if they become pregnant and bear a child from the said abduction, they were as pure as gold after their menses resumed after the birth of the child.

@vAsukeya’s path breaking blog quotes Manu, Yāgñavalkya, and renowned commentary Mitākṣara from P. V. Kane’s magisterial study of the dharma texts. He says practices which are lokavikṛṣṭa (distanced from) or lokavidviṣṭa (odious) should be discontinued. So, not only does the dharma tradition absorb new practices, it is required to expel old ones which have become distasteful. Manu Chapter 5 on rules for food allows the eating of meat if it is part of the Vedic sacrifice.

If a dvija refuses to eat ritually consecrated meat, “after death he will become an animal for twenty-one life times.” (M 5.35-36) Yet at 5.56, he says that abstaining (from meat) brings greater rewards. This ambivalence reflects the debate on meat-eating that was raging at the time, as a reading of an un-edited version of the contemporaneous Mahābhārata shows. In forbidden foods, Manu does not mention beef even once. The only cow related product to be eschewed is colostrum (gavyam ca pīyūṣam at 5.6). By contrast, the later Parāśara is unequivocal. If the brahmin consumes beef, he must perform a severe penance to atone. (P 11.1)

With these contradictions, how are we to determine which is the correct rule and which isn’t? Well, the famous and infamous Manu is in no doubt. “When there are two contradictory scriptural provisions on some issue … tradition takes them both to be the law … for they have both been pronounced to be the law by wise men (manīṣibhiḥ) (M 2.14). And what happens when specific laws have not been laid down? Then a pariṣad, a legal assembly of learned people can be formed. Depending on their qualifications, this could consist of ten people, or five or four or three. Parāśara concurs at 8.7 and 11. However M 12.113 categorically states, “When even a single brahmin who knows the Veda determines something as the law, it should be recognised as the highest law….”

What does this all too brief excursion of dharma texts tell us? Well it tells me that far from being static, fossilised and retrogressive, the dharma tradition is a dynamic, fluid one, all too ready to adapt and change with times. For instance, Āpastamba outlines what noble conduct is in the gambling hall. (Ā 2.25.12-14)

Manu, however, feels the need to suppress it with violence, including execution for gamblers. (M 9.221-228) Parāśarasmṛti explains it best when it proclaims itself to be a dharma text for this yuga (kali). It specifies at P 11.50 that there are different dharmas prescribed for different ages, and that the good brahmin must not be censured for following the yuga-dharma. As the age is, so should the brahmin be.

This brings me to the purpose of undertaking this study. I believe that our dharma tradition is flexible, practical and humane. Undoubtedly, ancient texts have rules and beliefs that are abhorrent to our modern, liberal sensitivities, and in no way am I suggesting that we follow ancient practices to the detriment of any section of society. Rather I’m proposing that ten or five, or four, or even three learned manīṣīs form a pariṣad and write a fresh dharma text or texts. They have never stopped being written.

As recently as the 17th century, Trayambakayajvan wrote the very conservative Strīdharmapaddhati, and a hundred years later Bālam Bhaṭṭi by Bālakṛṣṇa gave wide latitude to women in property matters and other rights. All it takes is one learned brahmin who knows the Veda to change what we define as dharma. This has phenomenal implications for the uplift of the oppressed and underprivileged members of Hindu society. For us to come comprehensively into the 21st century, all we need is an age appropriate dharmaśāstra.

And if your reaction is to scoff, remember, when Manu was written, it was a new text. – DailyO, 21 August 2015


1. Olivelle, P, 1999, Dharmasūtras, OUP, pg xxi

2. While absolute dating is impossible, a relative chronology is accepted widely. The dharmasūtras are believed to pre-date Manu, while other key dharmaśāstras postdate him. Please see Kane, P.V., History of Dharmaśāstras. Approximate dates: Dharmasūtras 600 – 200 BCE; Manu 200 BCE – 100 CE; Parāśara 500 CE.

» Rohini Bakshi’s interests include Sanskrit (founder #SanskritAppreciationHour), Indian Army, womens’ empowerment, and justice for #1984. She describes herself as a devout Hindu, egalitarian, and liberal. She tweets @RohiniBakshi.

Manusmriti recorded on palm leaves

Evolutionary biology cannot prove any theory about a linguistic homeland: Koenraad Elst – Scroll.in

Human migration out of Africa to India and then to Europe.

The following comments are in response to a Scroll.in article called Video: an animated map shows how Sanskrit may have come to India by Shoaib Daniyal.

Koenraad Elst♦ Thanks to Scroll for mentioning my name in an article lambasting the Out-of-India Theory as a Hindutva concoction similar to the Flat Earth theory. 

The OIT was actually the first Homeland theory of Indo-European, prevalent till ca. 1820, and had nothing to do with the 20th-century ideology of Hindutva. (Of which I am a published and consistent critic, but if the author has to compensate for his lack of hands-on understanding of the controversy by labelling better-informed people as “Hindutva”, so be it.)

A research result from evolutionary biology cannot possibly prove any theory about a linguistic homeland, because genes don’t talk: you can genetically (or archaeologically) prove any migration you want, but then you still don’t know what language the people concerned spoke.  This is usually pointed out by the opposing camp, by the believers in an Aryan invasion of India, because the non-linguistic evidence is so massively going against their pet scenario: whereas in Central Europe, plenty of archaeological and genetical evidence proves an Indo-European invasion from the east ca  2900 BCE, such evidence is totally lacking in India. Thus, it has freshly been shown that the lactose tolerance (milk-drinking habit) of the Europeans resulted from this overwhelming immigration from the East: through Ukraine (where the cows’ genes show Indian ancestry) ultimately from India.

Textually too, the Vedas (and in more detail though by hearsay, the Puranas) report emigrations from, not immigrations into India during the period concerned. In linguistics too, the last bulwark of the non-Indian homeland theory is coming down step by step through the work of Nicholas Kazanas, Shrikant Talageri and myself.

Prof B.B. LalRemember the Ayodhya controversy: for 20 years we were lambasted and ridiculed in similar terms by the Indian secularists and their dupes in Western academe. But we were proven right while the secularists and their dupes have egg all over their faces. The pillar-bases proving (among many other things) the demolished Hindu temple in Ayodhya were first dug up by BB Lal, the same man who jettisoned his earlier Aryan invasion beliefs and now, at 90+, elaborates the Out-of-India scenario and declares: “Vedic history and Harappan history are but two sides of the same coin.” He was lambasted for his Ayodhya findings just as he is still lambasted for his stand on Indo-European history, but he was proven right then and is now being proven right again. — Koenraad Elst

♦ What a poor piece about how Sanskrit came to India. It’s reflective of the mediocrity in Indian media where lazy bloggers-turned-journalists dish out “factual” pieces on complex topics (such as history in this case) with minimal rigour, research or objectivity. For example, the writer Shoaib Daniyal makes sweeping inferences based on one  research study (inflated as “seminal”), multiple references to Wikipedia and a PowerPoint slide-turned-video to support it. And that’s the extent of his rigour to explain the history of a civilisation going back 6,000 years. — Ankit S.

♦ Can you please provide documents on how you come to this conclusion? Anyone can make graphics to say that man came from Mars. Does the author have any archaeological evidence, or is this just false propaganda. — Alokjyoti Bal

♦ This was a very informative piece. The potshot at the Sangh Parivar was unnecessary. Why can’t an article on Sanskrit be only about Sanskrit? It will just give some people an excuse to start trolling. The influence of right-wing groups (both Hindutva and Islamist) is often amplified by too much media attention. — Soumyakanti Chakraborty

♦ Scroll.in started like a beacon of liberal press. With this article, it buries the myth.

The way you have so polemically dumped the alternative theories reeks of a bigoted agenda. The author seems to be a twenty-something with little exposure to the world of theoretical research or of the way history evolves.

The question whether Sanskrit evolved from Latin/Persian or vice-versa is still being debated amongst international historians. Suffice to say that language colleges in Europe still teach of Sanskrit as the “Mother of all languages” (I am sure you won’t check the curriculum for your petty-minded article).

It is sad that a progressive website has tumbled down to such depths of shallow journalism. I think you must stop considering yourself as history experts. You are not. — Kulveer Singh

♦ I have come across several stories in Scroll.in which talk of Hindutva Loonism. It appears that authors are direct descendants of Macaulay and other Europeans who could not digest anything which showed India in good light.

In fact there is no Hindutva except in the minds of Congress and leftists, the public school educated and the missionaries (Muslim or Christian).

I have no link to BJP or RSS or Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Reading of Indian history with an open mind has brought me to same conclusions. The term Hindu refers to natives of India adhering to indigenous culture. For political reasons,, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs have been separated, not in too distant a past. All these Indian faiths are to be contrasted actually with Semitic religions, which have the aim of eliminating all native or Indian religions.

Most of your articles are a step in that direction. Confuse Hindus. Belittle Hindus. And degrade Hindus. Expedite the destruction subtly.

If Padmini is likely to be a fiction, so is Jodha, so is the greatness of Akbar, so is the moaning of Babar about absence of gardens in India, which might have been destroyed by Muslim invaders—one finds lots of references to gardens in Sanskrit literature. Why always speak of “Hindu” fiction and remain silent about fiction of other communities.

Why not accept that sati, purdah and degradation of status of women in Indian society was a result of Muslim invaders. Why not accept that most Hindus became Muslims due to Jazia and Christians due to patronage and financial temptations in the name of charity.

Everybody from writers on Scroll.in to PK to OMG berate Hindus while other religions, races and ethnicities have plenty of ills. It is irritating. Please editor, either follow a balanced approach or abandon touching subjects that denigrate and hurt Hindus and their culture.

Hindus have an eternal existence. They should be a  world heritage. (I remember in an article in Scroll.in the writer lambasted the eternalness of “Hinduism”.). Your authors always question beliefs of Hindus. They do not have courage to question Muslims or Christians.  — Anil Dutta 

» Source: Scroll.in, 27 June 2015

Swastika Sanskrit Etymology

See also

Ramayana not a work of fiction – Kumar Chellappan

Kumar Chellappan“Dr Chaubey and Prof V. R. Rao, an anthropologist in Delhi University, said that the studies proved that these groups of people have maintained their genetic continuity for more than 10,000 years. ‘This again sets at rest the Aryan Invasion Theory. There is no inflow into the genetic traits of these tribes from outside elements,’ said Saroj Bala, a specialist in Vedic and Ramayana studies, who shot into fame by calculating the date of birth of Lord Rama based on planetary positions.” – Kumar Chellappan

Rama & GuhaRamsevak of the Kol tribe from the Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh, stands head and shoulders above other Indians.  Genetic studies prove that he is one of the descendants of King Guha of Ramayana. An international team of researchers consisting of geneticists, anthropologists, archaeologists and historians have found that Ramayana, written 10,000 years ago, is a chronicle of events and characters recorded by Sage Valmiki and not a work of fiction.

The mystery behind the characters in Ramayana has been solved by a team led by Dr Gyaneshwer Chaubey, ace genetic scientist of the Estonian Biocentre in Estonia. A three-year long research by Dr Chaubey and his team drawn out from Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, Delhi University, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas has found that the Gyaneshwer ChaubeyBhils, Gonds and the Kols, categorised as Scheduled Castes and Tribes by the modern day administrators of India are the true descendants of characters featured in Ramayana. The peer reviewed scientific paper authored by the team has been published by PLOS ONE, a respected scientific portal.

The Kol tribe, found mainly in areas like Mirzapur, Varanasi, Banda and Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, are the descendants of the Kol mentioned in Ramayana, according to Dr Chaubey and his team. Remember Guha, the chieftain of Sringaverapura who helped Lord Rama, Sita and Laksmana cross the Ganga during their journey to the forests? “Guha, the Nishad king, is the ancestor of the present day V. R. RaoKol tribe we found in these regions. This ancestry was established by genetic studies. These groups of people carry the basic indigenous genetic traits of India. Ramsevak and thousands like him spread across the States of UP, MP, Odisha, Chhattisgargh are the true descendants of Lord Rama and his contemporaries,” Dr Chaubey told The Pioneer from Tartu in Estonia via video conferencing.

Dr Chaubey and Prof V. R. Rao, an anthropologist in Delhi University, said that the studies proved that these groups of people have maintained their genetic continuity for more than 10,000 years. “This again sets at rest the Aryan Invasion Theory. There is no inflow into the genetic traits of these tribes from outside elements,” said Saroj Bala, a specialist in Vedic and Ramayana studies, who shot into fame by calculating the date of birth of Lord Rama based on planetary positions.

Saroj BalaProf Rao said the studies confirmed that the characters mentioned by Valmiki in Ramayana are real life characters. “King Dasaratha, Rama and others were not fictional characters,” he said.  Dr S. Kalyanaraman, an Indologist of repute, said the Kols are the iron smelters about whom there are mentions in Indus script excavated from the banks of Indus as well as River Saraswathi.

“This paper by Gyaneshwer Chaubey and team is an attempt to explain the roots of Hindu civilisation which has been distorted by creating false ethnic identities by the categorisation of people,” said Dr Kalyanaraman. He said a comprehensive study incorporating all tribes should be undertaken which would prove that the breaking up of essential unity of Bharatiya identity based on caste and ethnicity are academic fiction with no basis and a distortion of the history of ancient India. – The Pioneer, 15 June 2015

Rama crossing the Ganga

Remembering Karmayogi Sita Ram Goel – Virendra Parekh

Sita Ram Goel
Virendra ParekhThis is the original unabridged article which appeared in a commemorative volume on Sita Ram Goel many years ago. It is well worth reading as author Virendra Parekh has faithfully recorded in detail Sita Ramji’s views on Islam, Christianity, Communism, Secularism, Hinduism, his own work and Voice of India. – Editor 

“How old are you?” Sita Ramji asked me. “Forty.” “You are younger than my younger son”, he said affectionately. Thus began my first and only meeting with Sita Ramji in November 1993. I was on my way to Manali along with my family and had happily foregone sightseeing in Delhi in order to be able to meet him. As a bonus, Sita Ramji had offered to take me to Ram Swarupji.

For years, his writings had just mesmerized me. Even a few paragraphs were enough to bring out his originality of approach (more about it later), incisive analysis, fiery style and a stubborn refusal to be tamed by considerations of political correctness imposed by the Mullah-Marxist-Missionary-Macaulayite combine. If style is the man, then the picture that Sita Ramjiís writings threw up was that of a sterling patriot who happened to be a great scholar and a fearless fighter. Brahmakshatriya is the only word that comes to the mind to describe him.

George Orwell QuoteHowever, what put him in a class apart from angry pamphleteers was his reverence for truth, a breadth of vision combined with an eye for detail and accuracy, and a willingness to go wherever his search for truth led him. If he had only contempt for Indian secularists, he had no burning desire to be counted among the officially recognized champions of Bharatiyata. He was a seeker of truth, not a camp follower. He would not spare Hindu kings for their myopia, disunity and strategic failures. He would praise Gandhiji for arousing Hindu society by stirring its heart like the Savarkars and Hedgewars never could, because his commitment was to the ideal of truth, goodness and beauty, not to any individual or group.

Our conversation was brief and informal, but Sita Ramji did make a few perceptive remarks. “Where Brahmins are blind, Kshatriyas are lame”, he said. “Intellectuals (Brahmins) are the eyes of the society, and the ruling class its arm. Hindu society, which is not lacking in numbers, valour or devotion to its culture, is kicked around in its own land, because Hindu intellectuals lack vision”, he explained. He referred to the fateful decision of the Vijayanagar King Ramaraya to have two battalions of Muslim archers who could shoot from the horseback. In the critical battle of Rakshasi-Tangadi, widely though erroneously known as the battle of Talikota (1565), these battalions deserted their employer and joined the invaders. Ramaraya lost the battle and his life. The great Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar which had kept the saffron flag aflutter in the South for over two centuries, suffered a terrible blow from which it could never recover. “Look at the irony, Parekh. In this land of Lord Ram and Arjun, the idea of having our own archers did not occur to the king”, commented Sita Ramji.

He went on to say that there should be a Catalogue of National Mistakes which must be taught to all children in the schools with a view to avoiding their repetition. History which does not provide an insight into our weaknesses and mistakes, which is merely a source of false pride through glorification of a mythical past, is no history at all. Secularists would readily accept this, but their definition of India and Indianness would be suspect.

In the afternoon, Sita Ramji drove me from his residence in Shakti Nagar to Maharani Bagh where Ram Swarupji was staying. It was one more act of kind affection from a great person who had over the years replied to each of my letters, enlightened me by answering every question I asked, communicated his candid views on several issues, and sent me for free all the publications of Voice of India, some of them beyond my means.

My meeting with Ram Swarupji was brief, lasting about an hour. I told him that measured against the depth and vastness of his knowledge, he had written very little. He smiled and said that it may be true in some sense, but he did not like to be repetitive. Around 9 p.m., Sita Ramji dropped me at the hotel where my family and friends were waiting for me. I could not have asked for more. My purpose of coming to Delhi was fulfilled.

Ram SwarupHis mission

During our conversation, Ram Swarupji made an important point about the work of Voice of India. It deserves greater attention. For long, Hinduism has been defined for Hindus by its enemies. They denigrated whatever hindered their designs on us. They told us that Brahmins were a class of deceitful exploiters and oppressors, that Sanskrit was a dead language, that Hinduism was a mumbo-jumbo of silly superstitions, puerile priest craft and meaningless mysticism, and that the caste system was the root of all evils afflicting Indian society. They even taught us that the Vedic Aryans had come to India from outside (so why cavil at Muslim or Christian invaders?), that the history of India was actually a series of India’s conquests by one invader after another.

Their praise was motivated, too. The missionaries and mullahs always praise Hindu society for its tolerance and generosity (something that they have never shown to it or other rival creeds) and expect the Hindus to look the other way when they themselves malign Hinduism and convert its weaker sections through force, fraud and allurements. The missionaries always praise Hindus for their religiosity, but never for their religion. The pope praises Hinduism for its secondaries, while hiding his contempt for its primaries.

The enemies of Hinduism floated false notions about their own creeds, too. We were told that Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood; that Christianity has nothing but love and mercy for non-believers, that Marxism has the master-key to the “ascent of mankind from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”

The greater tragedy is that the Hindus have gone along with this con game, slavishly or foolishly. What the enemies of Hinduism found wrong with us, we found wrong with ourselves. Even today, few Hindus can see through these mischievous canards. Hindus feel flattered by the motivated praise of their tolerance by the missionaries, little realizing that it is a ploy for their moral disarmament against a ruthless, systematic onslaught on their culture and tradition; that it is akin to a sermon on detachment and renunciation by a pickpocket while he is relieving you of your wallet.

Centuries of cultural and political enslavement have led Hindus to look at themselves and others through the tinted spectacles forged by the inveterate enemies of their religion and culture. Voice of India, said Sita Ramji, wanted Hindus to use their own eyes for looking at themselves and at others. All its efforts were directed at equipping them for doing so. The means of achieving this end was a detailed and objective first-hand study of the rival ideologies (Islam, Christianity and Marxism) from their primary sources. It meant a study of their scriptures, their sources of inspiration, their worldview, their objectives and methods and their historical record. It also meant studying Indian history from primary sources and interpreting it, on the basis of undisputable and recorded facts, from the perspective of Indians rather than that of invaders and conquerors.

Perhaps for the first time in its long and chequered history did Hindu society take up this Herculean task. Ordinary Hindus had long regarded Islam as barbarism masquerading as religion, at least for non-Muslims. They had not regarded Christian missionaries as anything more than wily, cunning, arrogant fanatics who were hand in gloves with India’s foreign masters. And for all their skills in sophisticated slander and manipulation of the mind, the Communists have not been able to expand their influence (or whatever is left of it) beyond the two corners (Bengal/Tripura and Kerala) of India. However, Hindu scholars had by and large neglected to examine critically the tall claims made by these ideologies. This was at par with the failure of the Hindu rulers to keep abreast of developments in the neighbouring lands, even those developments that had a direct bearing on national security.

The consequences of both these failures have been heavy. The myopic refusal of the Hindu rulers to look beyond their nose led to the political enslavement of the country whereas the failure of the Hindu scholars to examine critically the doctrines of Islam and Christianity, not to speak of Communism, left the ideological field open to the enemies of Hinduism. Whatever they said about their own creeds went uncontested.

Sita Ramji and Ram Swarupji moved in to fill this vital gap. In the nineteenth century, Swami Dayanand Sarawati, founder of the Arya Samaj, had subjected the Quran and the Bible to the test of traditional Hindu polemics. Before him, Brahmins from Tamil Nadu had asked a few pertinent questions to Christian missionaries. But the task before the duo was truly daunting. As Sita Ramji wrote to me in a personal letter: “My heart sinks when I think of the organizational, financial and political resources at the command of our adversaries. Voice of India is not even a drop in the ocean.”

Sita Ramji went about his lifework in the spirit of a true Karmayogi. Calculations of personal cost and benefit never mattered to him. His detachment (anasakti) afforded him tenacity, fearlessness and independence of judgment. He sat at the feet of great masters like Vyasa, Valmiki, the Buddha, Vivekananda and Aurobindo and recaptured a vision of India that was dazzling in its brilliance. This vision defined for him the mission of Voice of India.

Sri AurobindoNational vision

As Sita Ramji himself pointed out, his vision of India is nothing new. It is only a restatement in modern language, in a modern setting, of the ancient Vedic vision as enshrined in the Vedas, in the Upanishads, in the Jainagama, in the Tripitaka, in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, in the Puranas, in the Dharmashastras and in the latter-day poetry of saints and siddhas. We have had countless spokesmen of that vision throughout our history.

The first dimension of that vision is that India is the land of Sanatana Dharma. India’s national identity is coterminous with Sanatana Dharma. As Sri Aurobindo said in his Uttarpara Speech, India would rise with the rise of Sanatana Dharma, India would sink if Sanatana Dharma sank and India would die if it were at all possible for Sanatana Dharma to die. The second dimension of that vision is that of a vast and variegated culture. According to adhara and adhikara, various sections of our population, various segments of our society, various regions of our country, developed their own culture, their own art, their own literature. It is a vast fabric, this art and literature. But its spirit is the spirit of Sanatana Dharma. It is informed by Sanatana Dharma in all its details.

The third dimension of that vision was that this great society, the society which we describe as Hindu Society today, was reared on the basis of spirituality and a great culture created by Sanatana Dharma. The Hindu social system, epitomized in the phrase varnashrama dharma, has degenerated under the onslaught of foreign invasions and is the subject of severe criticism today. It was originally, and it has been for centuries, a harmony model which enabled people of various abilities and inclinations to live together as an organic whole. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan pointed out, the varna vyavastha was founded on two ideals: firstly, society should be based on cooperation and accommodation, not competition and exclusion; secondly, the highest place in society should go to the men of learning and character, not to the men of wealth and power. As for ashrama dharma, the division of life into four stages of brahmacharya (period of celibacy and learning), garhasthya (period of householding), vanaprastha (period of retirement) and sannyasa (period of renunciation), indicates that this life is a pilgrimage to the eternal life through different stages. For all its weaknesses and distortions, varnashrama dharma has saved Hindu society from the destruction which overtook so many societies outside India at the hands of Christianity, Islam and Communism.

The fourth dimension of that national vision is that the history of India is the history of the Hindu society, of Hindu culture, of Hindu spirituality. In short, it is the history of the Hindu nation and not the history of foreign invaders as we are being taught today.

The last dimension which India’s great men have stressed, which they have affirmed again and again, is that this land of Bharatvarsha is one indivisible whole; that it is the cradle of Hindu society, of Hindu culture, of Hindu spirituality; that it is the homeland of the Hindu nation. Other communities are welcome to live in this land provided they come to terms with Hindu society and Hindu culture. Today, Bharatavarsha stands divided into several countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which are not only politically but also culturally hostile to each other; and we seem to have become reconciled to that division. But the vision that was given to us by our great men was that of Bharatvarsha as an indivisible whole, not only geographically but also culturally.

It was from this perspective that Sita Ramji judged ideologies like Islam, Christianity, Communism and their united front, which in India is called secularism, as well as Indian history and contemporary developments. Thus, about the demolition of the Babri Masjid, he wrote to me in a personal letter: “My only grievance is that the Hindus had to do it surreptitiously. I never thought that the Hindus would assert themselves or that the Communist empire would disintegrate. I have fought for both. I am fulfilled.”

One has only to look around to realize how far we have moved away from this pristine vision of India shining in its natural glory. We are taught that even today’s truncated India is a multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-many-other-things entity struggling to evolve some principle of unity that can hold together its disparate components; that it is a nation in the making, to use a phrase dear to the secularist elite. Indian history has been massively perverted. Stalinist activists masquerading as historians have thoroughly and systematically distorted and falsified every period of Indian history with the malicious intention of cleansing it of all Hindu influences, to negate every dimension of the national vision outlined above. The very idea of India is adulterated to suit the designs of invading ideologies.

Sita Ramji made it his lifework to defend this national vision of India as it has existed through millennia. He has set out the problem and its solution in the books Hindu Society Under Siege and Defence of Hindu Society. His books relating to Indian history (Story of Islamic Imperialism in India; Heroic Hindu Resistance to Muslim Invaders; and Muslim Separatism, Causes and Consequences) convincingly nail the secularist propaganda. In Perversion of India’s Political Parlance, he traced and exposed the secularist sleight of hand whereby Muslim communalism became respectable as “secularism” while Indian nationalism was reviled as “communalism”. When he handled the works of others, Sita Ramji brought out the depth, perspective and relevance of the original work in bold relief. His publication of The Calcutta Quran Petition, the Niyogi Committee Report on the Activities of Christian Missionaries, and, to some extent, Catholic Ashrams: Sannyasins or Swindlers? provides examples of this. His two major contributions, Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them (Vol. I & Vol. II) and History of Hindu-Christian Encounters are classics of original research and will stand the test of time.

Sita Ramji’s works (and VOI publications in general) are characterized by a depth and an intellectual honesty that are rare in secularist writings on Hindutva. The views and arguments of the other side are rendered faithfully and then answered cogently by setting out an alternative perspective backed by facts and reasoning. Ancient India had this tradition of scholarly debate. It is said of Shankara, the great philosopher, that he formulated the arguments of his opponents better than they themselves could. Indeed, these are elementary features of public debate in a civilized society, but Indian debate on issues like (what passes for) secularism, the cultural content of Indian nationalism, the nature of Indian society, the interpretation of Indian history and the role and direction of the Indian State leaves much to be desired on this count.

Much of Hindutva writing is characterized by whining and self-pity, dwelling on the atrocities and injustices heaped on Hindus by others. Sita Ramji carried the battle to the enemy camp, taking on the adversaries in a frontal attack. Instead of calling himself secular and others pseudo-secular, as the BJP is doing, he discussed secularism (of the Indian variety) threadbare and showed that it was far from being a noble idea. Instead of presenting Hinduism as a monotheistic religion, he showed that monotheism as extolled in the Abrahamic religions was a monstrous idea responsible for a great deal of strife and bloodshed in the name of God.

J. NehruCritique of India’s secularism

Sita Ramji’s critique of what passes for secularism in India is epitomized in the title of his book India’s Secularism: New Name for National Subversion. Jawaharlal Nehru, who had not used the term in his pre-Independence writings or speeches, picked up a prestigious word from Western political parlance and made it mean the opposite of what it meant in the West. In the West, secularism stood for rationalism, universalism and humanism. In India, it is a united front of all anti-Hindu ideologies: Islam, Christianity and Communism. Each of these is an intolerant, aggressive and violent ideology. Each of them aims at conquest of the world by rooting out other religions. Each of them has a history soaked in the blood of the innocent. All over the world, they are enemies of one another; but in India, they are always found on the same side against their common enemy: Hinduism.

In the West, secularism was directed against Christianity, which spurned reason, suspected science, punished doubt and claimed absolute monopoly of truth in all matters, secular and spiritual. In India, secularism is ranged against Hinduism which respects reason and experience, which imposes no belief system but enjoins everyone to realize the spiritual truths in the cave of his heart through his own effort in his own way.

It is the ultimate irony of Indian politics that those who masterminded this subversion of the national psyche have positioned themselves as guardians of democracy and secularism in the country, and that votaries of authoritarian ideologies lecture the Hindus on the virtues of pluralism. And the Hindu society, which is the national society, which has borne the brunt of all foreign invasions and fought all freedom struggles, is driven into a corner and made to shout that it is secular, that it regards Islam and Christianity as noble religions, that it regards Islamic heroes as its own.

In pre-Independence days, the Muslim minority had a veto on what was national. Only that leader, that party, that programme was national which was approved by the Muslim leaders. The rest were, by definition, communal. In the post-Independence period, the same game is played in the name of secularism: only that leader, party, organization, or programme is secular which is approved by Muslim leaders. Whatever they disapprove of is, for that very reason, communal. Sita Ramji showed that this deliberate and malicious perversion of thought has thoroughly distorted the national perspective. Love for one’s country and its world-renowned ancient culture has been turned into a cardinal sin. Foreign invaders and tyrants have become lawful rulers while national heroes are downgraded as petty rebels fighting for personal gain. The catchword “secularism” provides a smokescreen behind which several types of imperialism (Islamic, Christian, Communist and Consumerist) are stealing a march over Hinduism.

Sitaramji urged Hindu intellectuals to see through this con game perpetrated on them by the residues of imperialist ideologies with the help of a self-alienated denationalized elite, and to counter it by conducting the public debate in the proper language. Such a language, he said, would substitute “Indian nationalism” for “Hindu communalism”; and “national subversion” for “secularism”; and “Islam” for “Muslim communalism” or “Islamic fundamentalism”.

Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri )Two traditions of worship

A major contribution of Sita Ramji and other VOI scholars, especially Ram Swarup and David Frawley, is a clear enunciation of two types of religious traditions. One may be called the Biblical or Abrahamic tradition and the other, Vedic or Indic tradition. The Bible-derived creeds are founded on a central figure (Jehovah, Allah, God or History) who commands the exclusive and overriding allegiance of the believers. He is jealous, cruel, and brooks no rival. He deals with his people through an intermediary, messenger, prophet, or the sole saviour. His teachings are contained in the Book. The Book is the sole repository of Ultimate Truth.

Thus in these creeds, there is only one Truth; there is only one way to it; the God has given it to us, the Chosen People, and us alone; it is contained in our Book and in our Book alone. Since the Book is authored by God himself, every word in it is true, excellent, immutable and binding. The Book, al-Kitab, is beyond the comprehension of most of even the believers, and certainly the non-believers. We must therefore heed the Church, the Priest.

The faith in the Book is the overriding duty, as is the duty of making others to see the light. Since this is the absolute Truth, since it alone can lead to Heaven or permanent bliss, mankind must be awakened to it for its own good at any cost in whatever way. No sacrifice is too great for holding on to it; no means are impermissible for converting others to it. The very idea of an absolute monopoly of ultimate truth contains within it the seeds of intolerance, aggression, strife and authoritarianism. It is a charter for killing, destruction and subversion with a clean conscience. There will always be more than one claimant to this monopoly while there are bound to be others who refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Church or the Party.

The Vedic tradition, on the other hand, is founded on very different premises. The starting point of this tradition is human consciousness, which can be explored, which can be purified progressively and which can be transcended till it attains the highest heights of knowledge and creativity. At this summit, the Self becomes one with the Universe and sees all things, animate and inanimate, as its own symbols and sequences. In this vast vision, sanctity attaches not only to human life but to the whole of creation. This is the summum bonum of spiritual humanism, which has always been India’s message to mankind.

The Vedic tradition teaches us that spiritual truths are not of the nature of a revelation received by a historical prophet from an extra-cosmic God or some other supernatural source. Nor are those truths contained in or confined to a Book. On the contrary, these truths lie secretly in every human heart and have always been accessible to those who seek for them. These truths are never in need of a crusade for their spread and propagation. On the contrary, these truths are self-propagating due to their own inner strength. The only defence they need is the dedication they inspire spontaneously in all those who invoke them.

Sita Ramji pointed out that the Vedic tradition advises people to be busy with themselves, that is, their own moral and spiritual improvement. Several disciplines have been evolved for this purpose: tapas (austerity), yoga (meditation), jnana (reflection), bhakti (devotion), etc. A seeker can take to whichever discipline (adhara) suits his adhikara (stage of moral-spiritual preparation). There is no uniform prescription for everybody, no coercion or allurement into a belief system, and no claim of merit for aggression against others.

The Biblical tradition, on the other hand, teaches people to be busy with others. One is supposed to have become a superior human being as soon as one confesses the “only true faith”. Thenceforward one stands qualified to “save” others. The only training one needs thereafter is how to man a mission or military expedition, how to convert others by all available means including force and fraud, and how to kill or ruin or blacken those who refuse to come around.

The Vedic tradition has given to the world schools of Sanatana Dharma, which have practised peace among their own followers as well as towards the followers of other paths. On the other hand, the Biblical tradition has spawned criminal cults such as Christianity, Islam, Communism and Nazism, which have always produced violent conflicts as much within their own camps as with one another and the rest of mankind. As Sita Ramji pointed out, the syrupy slogan of sarvadharma-samabhava glosses over the basic difference between these two traditions. This has caused an enormous amount of confusion.

M.K. Gandhi in 1929Critique of Islam

The magnitude of crimes credited to Muslim monarchs by the medieval Muslim historians was beyond measure. In his book The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India, Sita Ramji has devoted two long chapters to the magnitude of the Muslim atrocities. He showed with the help of detailed documentation that with a few exceptions, Muslim kings and commanders were monsters who stopped at no crime when it came to their Hindu subjects. He showed that there was a broad pattern to those crimes. The pattern is that of a jihad in which the ghazis of Islam 1) invade infidel lands; 2) massacre as many infidel men, women, and children, particularly Brahmins, as they like after winning a victory; 3) capture the survivors to be sold as slaves; 4) plunder every place and person; 5) demolish idolatrous places of worship and build mosques in their places; and 6) defile idols which are flung into public squares or made into steps leading to mosques.

Hindus were long familiar with this “behaviour pattern patented by Islam”. Sita Ramji’s distinct contribution was to trace this behaviour pattern to the tenets of Islam. Apologists of Islam, from Mahatma Gandhi to Mohammad Habib, regarded the atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on Hindus as aberrations and deviations from true Islam; they attributed it to greed, political compulsions, inherent barbarism of certain tribes etc. Sita Ramji showed that far from being aberrations or deviations from the true faith of Islam, these atrocities were the logical outcome of the teachings of Islam. Far from being a slur on the fair name of Islam, the behaviour of Muslim rulers towards the Hindus was the true face of Islam, it is what Islam had in store for non-believers. He showed that this is exactly the pattern 1) revealed by Allah in the Quran; 2) practised, perfected and prescribed by the Prophet in his own life-time; 3) followed by the pious khalifas of Islam in the first 35 years of Islamic imperialism; 4) elaborated in the hadiths and hundreds of commentaries with meticulous attention to detail; 5) certified by the ulama and the sufis of Islam in all ages including our own; and 6) followed by all Muslim monarchs and chieftains who aspired for name and fame in this life, and houris and beardless boys hereafter. It is, therefore, poor apologetics to blame the Islamized Turks alone of being barbarous. Islamic barbarism was shared in equal measure by all races and communities who were forced or lured into the fold of Islam—the Arabs, the Turks, the Persians, the Pathans, the Hindu converts. The conclusion is inescapable that Islam brutalizes all those who embrace it. And that is where the blame should be laid in all reason and justice.

“Islam in India is still suffering from the high fever of self-righteousness, though lately it has shifted its claim from the ‘only true religion’ to the ‘only human brotherhood’. Powered by petro-dollars, it is again dreaming of an empire in India. Hindus, on the other hand, have learnt no lesson from history as is evident from their slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhava vis-à-vis Islam, which is only a totalitarian and terrorist ideology of imperialism. And now the Hindu secularists are bent upon perverting the historical record in order to prove that Islam never intended any harm to Hindus or Hinduism!” (Story of Islamic Imperialism, p. 87) And he added a warning: “Will Hindu society have to pay the price again? It is highly doubtful if Hindu society will survive another determined assault from Islam, such is the mental, moral and spiritual health of this society. A society which has no self-confidence, which suffers from self-pity, which indulges in breast-beating at the behest of every Hindu-baiter, and which stands in daily need of certificates of good conduct from its sworn enemies, has not the ghost of a chance in a world which is becoming deadlier with the passing of every day. Can such a society make any creative contribution to the greater good of mankind? Let every Hindu search his heart, and seek the answer.” (ibid.)

Arun ShourieCritique of Christianity

Sita Ramji’s views on Christianity are equally clear and instructive. “Hindus, from early-seventeenth-century Pandits of Tamil Nadu to Arun Shourie in the closing years of the twentieth, have spent no end of ink and breath to demolish the dogma of Christianity and denounce missionary methods. But it has hardly made any difference to the arrogance of Christian theologians and aggressiveness of Christian missionaries. That is because the dogma was never meant for discussion. It is an axiom of logic that that which has not been proved cannot and need not be disproved. And who has ever proved that the nondescript Jew who is supposed to have been crucified by a Roman governor of Judaea in AD 33 atoned for the sins of all humans for all time to come? Who has ever proved that those who accept that man as the Only Saviour, will ascend to a heaven of everlasting bliss, and those who do not, will burn forever in the blazing fire of hell? Nor can the proclamation or the promise or the threat be disproved.

“High-sounding theological blah blah notwithstanding, the fact remains that the dogma is no more than a subterfuge for forging and wielding an organizational weapon for mounting unprovoked aggression against other people. It is high time for Hindus to dismiss the dogma of Christianity with the contempt it deserves, and pay attention to the Christian missionary apparatus planted in their midst.

“The sole aim of this apparatus is to ruin Hindu society and culture, and take over the Hindu homeland. It goes on devising strategies for every situation, favourable and unfavourable. It trains and employs a large number of intellectual criminals ready to prostitute their talents in the service of their paymasters, and adept at dressing up dark designs in high-sounding language. The fact that every design is advertised as a theology in the Indian context and every criminal euphemized as an Indian theologian, should not hoodwink Hindus about the real intentions of this gangster game.” (Pseudo-Secularism, Christian Missions and Hindu Resistance, pp. 1-2)

Sita Ramji said time and again that Hindu society was committing a blunder in regarding Christianity and Islam as religions at par with Sanatana Dharma. These are ideologies of power, masquerading as religions. They proceed from very different premises and have very different objectives: “Hindus are committing a grave mistake in regarding the encounter between Hinduism and Christianity as a dialogue between two religions. Christianity has never been a religion; its long history tells us that it has always been a predatory imperialism par excellence. The encounter, therefore, should be viewed as a battle between two totally opposed and mutually exclusive ways of thought and behaviour. In the language of the Gita (ch. 16), it is war between daivi (divine) and asuri (demonic) sampads (propensities). In the mundane context of history, it can also be described as war between the Vedic and the Biblical traditions.” (op. cit., p. 2)

Koenraad ElstFocus on ideas, not people

Notice that the focus is on the ideas, not on people; it is on Islam, not Muslims; on Christianity, not Christians. In his prolific writings, Sita Ramji always took care to distinguish between Islam and Muslims, between Christianity and Christians. At the end of his discussion of the two traditions of worship, he clarified that this analysis cannot be applied mechanically to all persons born and brought up in these two opposite traditions. The head and heart of a person can be smaller or larger than any thought pattern. Therefore, ordinary men born and brought up in both these patterns are found to be of good as well as bad behaviour.

This distinction between ideas and people marks out VOI from many other pro-Hindu organizations. Many Hindus sincerely believe that Islam is good, but Muslims are wicked; Christianity is good, but Christians are crooked. As a result, they are baffled by the behaviour pattern of Muslim leaders or missionaries and harbour prejudices against them. The VOI approach removes prejudices against people, while providing a proper basis for understanding their behaviour: “It has long been a Hindu habit to resent the behaviour pattern of Muslims and Christians, while praising Islam and Christianity as revealed religions. We are asking Hindus to reverse this process, to study Christianity and Islam to see for themselves that Christian and Muslim behaviour patterns follow from the belief system of Christianity and Islam.” (History of Hindu-Christian Encounters, pp. 453-454)

The whole approach to the communal problem is redefined. “Muslims are not to be hated”, Sita Ramji said to me, “they are our own people alienated from their ancestral society and culture by a divisive doctrine masquerading as religion”. So, target the ideas, not the people.

It also imparts a wider dimension to the noble endeavour of VOI. By speaking up for Hinduism as an ancient, pagan religion that has survived the onslaughts of monotheistic creeds, VOI is speaking up for pagan America and Africa, and also for the pagan past of Egypt, Iraq, Persia, Arabia, Greece, Rome and Europe in general. As Ram Swarup put it in the preface to his Hindu View of Christianity and Islam, “Today, there is an awakening in many parts of the world. Many people are coming to know what they have gone through and what they have lost. They have also begun to realize that their present religions are impositions on them, that they once belonged to a different spiritual culture which had a different orientation and was built on a deeper and wider base. As this realization becomes more acute, many of them are trying to break form their present confines and recover their lost identity. They are also seeking a more satisfying spirituality. Probably Hinduism can help them. It has survived many physical and ideological onslaughts and it still retains in its bosom layers of spiritual traditions, intuitions and knowledge which other nations have lost; it can therefore help these nations recover their lost religious roots and identity.”

Krishna teaching the yogas to ArjunaConclusion

Sita Ramji was a karmayogi whose personality was a lively synthesis of jnana (knowledge), karma (action) and bhakti (devotion). This brave son of Hindu society took up cudgels in its defence on a frontier that was left largely unmanned for ages. He showed the difference that an individual can make with dedicated efforts. In any history of the Hindu renaissance, the contribution of Sita Ram Goel and Voice of India will be acknowledged in golden letters.

» Virendra Parekh is a senior journalist based in Mumbai. He writes in English and Gujarati on issues and developments related to Indian nationalism, economy and politics.

Aditya Prakashan Publishers

Voice of India is an imprint of publisher Aditya Prakashan

Circling the square – Amita Sharma

Nataraj & Sadhu

Who knows for certain?
Who shall here declare it?
Whence was it born, whence came creation?
The gods are later than this world’s formation;
Who then can know the origins of the world?
None knows whence creation arose;
And whether he has or has not made it;
He who surveys it from the lofty skies,
Only he knows — or perhaps he knows not.
– Rig Veda (X:129)

Amita SharmaThe Hymn of Creation is, perhaps, one of the profoundest critical gazes cast on the creator in the history of metaphysical thought, putting under erasure an a priori cognisant principle, manifesting a spirit free to doubt and question. This defines ancient Indian knowledge systems, cohabiting different realms of ‘realities’ generating at one level, the language of sophisticated argument, technical detail and codification, and at another, a language that is tentative, suggestive, pushing the borders of the known.

The genesis of ancient Indian knowledge systems is this coupling of intellectual enquiry with a sense of sublime wonder at the great mysteries of life. Ancient Indian knowledge forms were divided into two broad groups, namely para vidya and apara vidya. Para vidya or higher knowledge is knowledge by which the imperishable is known. Apara vidya encompassed worldly knowledge, like science, technology, arts, commerce and management. To the modern mind, thinking in exclusive categories, dichotomising knowledge forms, these two knowledge worlds are dualistically wedged. But the uniqueness of ancient Indian knowledge systems is the coexistence of the transcendental with the empirical, generating several distinctive features. The sacred and the secular flowed into each other.

There was no Inquisition to be feared, no imposed dogma. Savants built upon inherited knowledge forms while equally questioning them. We find Kautilya disagreeing with earlier thinkers of political science on issues of warfare, or Brahmagupta virulently rejecting Aryabhata’s theory of a rotating earth. A huge literature of commentaries, many of them sadly lost, is evidence of ceaseless and tireless scholarly discussion, debate and dissent

Technical knowledge often arose to serve religious practices. Over time, organised systems emerged dealing with language, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, the arts, governance and administration, ethics and yoga and a host of lesser known knowledge systems related to agriculture, animal husbandry, water management, town-planning that were documented in numerous texts rarely studied now.

Today the enmeshing of ideas, of poetry with physics, maths with mantra, science with mysticism, might appear as pre-scientific and, therefore, mere objects of curiosity. Yet when submitted to rigorous tests, they have almost always proved their worth. A few examples illustrate how the complexity of Indian knowledge systems argues for analytical rigour, not a reductionist reading and uncritical rejection. It is not for nothing that 20th century physicists such as Erwin Schrödinger or Werner Heisenberg drew inspiration from Vedantic concepts.

Ancient Indian mathematics arose from the Vedangas — a reflection on the Vedas. The Shulba Sutras, India’s first texts of geometry, composed around 800 – 600 BCE, exemplify traditional epistemological forms and their contribution to modern knowledge. These texts addressed the theological requirement of constructing fire altars with different shapes such as a falcon in flight with curved wings or a tortoise with extended head and legs, but with the same surface area. The altars had to be constructed with five layers of burnt bricks, each layer consisting of 200 bricks and no two adjacent layers having congruent arrangements of bricks. One of the geometric constructions involved squaring the circle (and vice-versa) viz., geometrically constructing a square having the same area as a given circle.

Circling the SquareThe Baudha­yana Shulba Sutra says, a rope stretched along the length of the diagonal produces an area which the vertical and horizontal sides make together. This is a precise geometric expression of the Pythagorean theorem, which states that the sum of the squares of the two sides of a right-angle triangle equals the square of its hypotenuse. Were we more aware of the contribution of Indian geometricians, the Pythagorean theorem might today be equally known as the Shulba theorem.

The Vedic mantras are chanted till today after a ritual prayer. Have we ever noticed the incantation involves large numbers? For example, the mantra at the end of the annahoma (food-oblation rite) performed during the ashvamedha invokes powers of 10 from a hundred to a trillion.

Maths and verse enmeshed not just in style, but in substance. Pingala (300 – 200 BCE), author of the earliest known Sanskrit treatise on prosody, Chandaḥsāstra (the science of metres), gave elaborate rules for listing out all possible combinations of ‘heavy’ (long) and ‘light’ (short) syllables in Vedic metres. In the process, Pingala constructed prastāras or tables which noted the combinations in what would be called today a binary system of notation (for instance, ‘long-long-short … long-short-short’). The science of metres led to the Indian equivalent of the famous Fibonacci numbers (in which each number is the sum of the preceding two: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…).

A Vedic hymn could have more than one meaning, embedding philosophical speculation with mathematical concepts. A famous shloka from Ishavasya Upanishad reads, purnamadah purnamidam purnat purnamudachyate purnasya purnamadaya purnameva vashishyate: “That is whole; this is whole. From the whole comes the whole; take away the whole from the whole, what remains is the whole.” Mathematically, this can be interpreted in terms of zero as well as infinity, both of which are meanings of purna.

While the zero (variously called shunya, purna, bindu …) as an empty place-holder in the place-value numeral system appears much earlier, algebraic definitions of the zero and its relationship to mathematical functions appear in the mathematical treatises of Brahmagupta in the 7th century whose Brahmasphutasiddhant had basic operations (including cube roots, fractions, ratios and proportions) as well as applied mathematics (including series, plane figures, stacking of bricks, sawing of timber, and piling of grain). His concept “divided by zero = infinity” is etymologically interesting: khachheda means divided by kha, where kha (space) stands for zero.

Consider the way the decimal story unravels. The present system of decimal numbers needed two fundamental discoveries: the concept of zero and the principle of place value. Both were developed in India between the 1st and the 6th centuries CE. The first inscription with a decimal place-value notation is from Sankheda in Gujarat, dated 346 in the Chhedi Era, or 594 CE, where ‘3’ stands for hundreds, ‘4’ for 10s and ‘6’ for units. But five centuries earlier, the Buddhist philosopher Vasumitra, discussing the counting pits of merchants, had remarked, “When [the same] clay counting-piece is in the place of units, it is denoted as one, when in hundreds, one hundred.”

Decimal representation was also employed in a verse composition technique, later labelled bhuta-sankhya (literally, object numbers) used in technical books. Since those were composed in verse, numbers were often represented by objects. The number 4, for example, could be represented by the word Veda (there are four Vedas), the number 32 by the word teeth (a full set consists of 32), and the number 1 by moon, sun or atman, all of which are unique. So, “Veda-teeth-moon” would correspond to 4-32-1 or our decimal numeral 1324, as the convention for numbers then was to enumerate their digits from right to left.

This rich tradition of mathematics flowered in some of the greatest mathematicians of their times who contributed towards discovering and formalising mathematical principles. Aryabhata I (born 476 CE) described fundamental principles of mathematics and astronomy in 121 verses of Aryabhatiya which deal with quadratic equations, trigonometry or the value of π, correct to 4 decimal places. His calculation of the circumference of earth was within 12 per cent of the actual value, his table of planetary positions and his lengths of the sidereal and solar years remarkably precise. Brahmagupta (born 598 CE) studied many geometrical figures, introduced negative numbers and defined mathematical infinity as “that which is divided by zero”.

Bhaskara IIBhaskara II (born 1114), author of Lilavati and Bijaganita, proposed solutions to cubic and biquadratic equations, worked out an efficient algorithm for some types of second-degree indeterminate equations and laid down some of the foundations of calculus.

As in the case of mathematics, early astronomical insights were embedded in sacred texts often veiled in allegorical or poetical forms. The Rig Veda refers to a wheel consisting of 360 spokes, clearly the days of the year; some of its verses have been interpreted in terms of eclipses and meteor showers.

The Aitareya Brahmana (3.44) declares, “The sun never really sets or rises. … Having reached the end of the day, he inverts himself; thus he makes evening below, day above…. Having reached the end of the night he inverts himself; thus he makes day below, night above; He never sets; indeed he never sets.” This seems to reflect an awareness of the sphericity of the earth.

The famous scholar Sayana (c. 1315-1387) commented thus on a hymn to the sun from the Rig Veda (1.50.4): “Thus it is remembered, O Surya, you who traverse 2,202 yojanas in half a nimesha.” With a yojana of about 13.6 km and a nimesha of 16/75th of a second, this amounts to 280,755 km/sec — just 6 per cent from the speed of light (299,792 km/sec) — a coincidence worth noting.

The Puranas describe time units from the infinitesimal truti, lasting (according to Bhaskara II) one 2,916,000,000th of a day or about 30 microseconds, to a mahamantavara of 311 trillion years. Time is seen as cyclical, an endless procession of creation, preservation and dissolution. The end of each kalpa brought about by Shiva’s dance is also the beginning of the next. Rebirth follows destruction. Each Brahma day and each Brahma night lasted a kalpa or 4.32 billion years, adding up to 8.43 billion years which is not too far from the current 13.7 billion years for the age of the universe (another coincidence, which the US astronomer Carl Sagan noted).

In contrast, till the 19th century, much of Europe was convinced that the universe was no more than 6,000 years old. And while we are on coincidences, let us mention that Jain texts state that there are 8.4 million species on earth, which compares well with the figure of 8.7 million arrived at in a 2011 research paper.


Sacred geographies enfolded astronomical observations. According to the German archaeologist Holger Wanzke, the east-west alignment of the main streets of Mohenjodaro’s citadel (or acropolis) was probably based on the Pleiades star cluster (Krittika), which rose due east at the time; it no longer does because of the precession of the equinoxes. Ujjain, associated with the legendary king Vikramaditya, is located on the Tropic of Cancer; it was a centre of astronomical observations. Chitrakoot is associated with Rama, who is often represented symbolically as an arrow. Mapped with GPS, ashrams and other holy sites there form arrows that point to the sunrise and sunset on the summer solstice. Varanasi’s 14 Aditya shrines precisely track the sun’s path through the year, embedding time in the ancient city’s map.

Surya Shrines Varanasi

The purpose of alluding to diverse forms of cultural codification of knowledge is that even while ambiguity may en-wrap them, they have a steady stream of scientific insights that merit research. The significance of culturally embedded knowledge is supported by our material inheritance.

For the growth of a truly scientific spirit, it is necessary that we critically evaluate our intellectual inheritance. Bhaskara II said, “It is necessary to speak out the truth accurately before those who have implicit faith in tradition. It will be impossible to believe in whatever is said earlier unless every erroneous statement is criticised and condemned.”

In ignoring our own knowledge legacy, or rejecting it as myth, are we guilty of creating an uncritical modernism that stultifies its own growth?

Fields Medal winner, Manjul Bhargava has said that he was inspired not only from ancient Indian mathematicians, but also from his practice of tabla and his knowledge of Sanskrit. The statue of Nataraja, a symbol of the dance of subatomic particles, which adorns the CERN where the hunt for the ‘ultimate’ particles goes on, is a reminder that India’s wisdom offers much to the world in its tireless research into the mysteries of life in its infinite complexity. – Financial Chronicle, 13 April 2015

» Amita Sharma is former additional secretary in the Ministry of Human Resources Development. 

» With inputs from the French-born Indian author Michel Danino, currently guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar.  

» Maps courtesy Rana P.B. Singh & J. McKim Malville.

The SandHI Series | Indian Knowledge Series


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