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

The Aatish Taseer Interview – S. Prasannarajan

Aatish Taseer

S. PrasannarajanAn overwhelming sense of being Indian runs through the pages of The Way Things Were.

I had been looking for that sense of Indianness for many years; and I found it in a strange way, through Sanskrit. I can still remember that morning, five or six years ago, when, at the Oriental Institute at Oxford (irony of ironies!) I read aloud my first ever words of Sanskrit: Bṛhad-aśva uvāca. Bṛhadaśva spake. Such a little thing—so commonplace in epic—but it went through me like a chill. I had the feeling of being spoken to over the ages. And the words, though simple, were full of Indo-European resonance, full of a shared history of sound and meaning: aśva, cognate with the Latin equus, is related to such words as equerry and equestrian. And uvāca, the perfect form of the verb vac, to speak, is cognate with the Latin vox and vocare, from where we have words like voice and vocal. So, you see, even this little fragment, when unpacked, conveyed a sense of history. I didn’t know all this at the time, of course; I was simply responding with a child’s excitement to the sound of the language; but I must on some instinctive level have sensed its deeper resonance.

An existential knowledge…. Or is it like being in the world?

• Do you mean to ask if this ‘sense of being Indian’ is something abstract and conceptual as opposed to lived and real? I suppose it is more idea than reality. It’s interesting that you ask this question because it goes to the heart of what The Way Things Were is about. Very early on it is said of Toby: ‘there was never a man who knew more about India and, yet, knew India less, than Toby. He was like one of those men who fall in love with the idea of a woman, while all the time insulating themselves from her reality.’ This tension between India, as idea, and India, the reality, is central to the novel. It comes up again and again, as does the question—so shrill in our times—of what it really means to be Indian. Who has the monopoly on authenticity? Who is in possession of a true knowledge of the past?

And Sanskrit in your book, as it is being used by Skanda. builds a semantic bridge between the past and the present, between emotion and knowledge…. Right?

• Exactly. My agent, Andrew Wylie, described it rather beautifully, in my view, ‘as central metaphor and as a kind of chorus.’ I think that’s right. At one point in the novel Toby and Uma are arguing about why Skanda must learn Sanskrit. And Toby says: ‘It [Sanskrit] will give him the ability to see through language. Not just in India, but across the Indo-European belt. It will give him an instinctive idea of the past. And, in a country like India, where people have so few means to possess such an idea, it will give him a kind of confidence.’

So: on the one hand, there is the confidence of being able to connect past with present, but on the other—and hardly less important!—there is the ability to connect East with West. Speaking personally, I used to feel such a sense of embarrassment about being an English writer in India. But it was something that grew less as I was exposed to Sanskrit. I began to see the history of these languages—the Indo-European languages, at least—as a shared history; I began to see their deep interconnectedness. And since language was my medium after all, it made the past feel less fragmentary; I was less embarrassed by our colonial history, more able to make a whole of things.

This book, shall I say?, is also an argument with an India you are still coming to terms with.

• Argument is too strong a word. What the novel does is dramatize a cultural problem. It is a problem I consider to be inimical to intellectual growth in India. And that is her inability to reach into the past for cultural and intellectual nourishment, for confidence, for a sense of herself. We live a strange divided reality in India. On the one hand, there is the extraordinary continuation of the past into the present, the likes of which exists hardly anywhere else. Rites unchanged for twenty-five and thirty centuries; a vast corpus of ancient literature; hundreds and thousands of people still immersed in the life of Tradition. No need to romanticize this older India; it is in many ways decayed and cannot on its own meet the needs of the present. But its existence without question represents an extraordinary fact. It should energise modern India, excite in her a curiosity about herself, but it doesn’t. The modern country, which itself is shabby and dwarfish, stands apart. The two Indias do not speak to each other. Both are in need of each other, for growth and renewal, but nowhere is anyone able to open an intellectual stent so that the blood may flow from one India into the other. This, in my view, is a cultural problem. I believe it has prevented India, despite being a democracy, from finding her voice. She remains a country with little to say to the world, with no story about herself that she wishes to project into the future.

A political, cultural, and civilizational argument?

• We may have got there in the last question! But let me say that India’s inability to find her voice is not simply a cultural problem; it takes a political shape too. So, we have the Congress on one side—the party of the old establishment—cynical, deracinated, black-hearted. That they had to go is no surprise. But we must ask ourselves what has come in their place? The PM himself, though not a man of learning, has very good instincts. But what about his cabinet? The idea that a woman like Smriti Irani is in charge of education is enough to make you want to throw yourself from a mobile phone tower. Can she really be expected to understand the enormity of the challenge before her? Does she have any idea of what role the humanities play in free societies, the sense of wonder they are to inspire? Does she understand our historical situation? Does she know what a delicate business it is to steer a country like India away from its colonial past into a future free of cheap revivalism? Can we ask so much of Smriti Irani? Or do we have to accept that an amazing opportunity to profoundly change education in India has once again been lost?

Has you ancestral memory influenced your imagination—and shaped your argument?

• I can definitely say that this book came out of a feeling of euphoria at the rediscovery of classical India in my own life. There were moments when that excitement—either at a set of cognates or a verse in the Kumārasambhava or at the sheer genius of Mallinatha’s commentary—was like an animating force behind the narrative. It took me back to my book again and again; it filled me with a sense of urgency. The character in the book who embodies this excitement is Toby. Once he glimpses the genius of ancient India, he is never able to look at the modern country he sees around him in the same way again. The contact with the past transforms his relationship to what remains of old India in present-day India. He comes to see his duty as something akin to how a pundit in Benares once explained to me the need to keep teaching the Veda in our time: ‘Sometimes when the rains are very heavy, the farmer stores away a pouch of the seed in some high place. Then, once the flood recedes’—nice metaphor for the approach of an enlightened time!— ‘he sows the seed in the field and there is a crop again.’

Mrs Gandhi, Delhi riots, Ayodhya … you get into the perversions, pathologies and passions of modern India. Are you a writer haunted by your political inheritance?

• How can I not be! The drama of those years—bookended by the Emergency and the demolition of the Mosque—is real. At home: the Emergency; Mrs. Gandhi’s defeat and return to power; the creation of Bhindranwale; his death in Blue Star; Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination. Abroad: Mullahs in Tehran; Soviet tanks in Kabul; Bhutto’s head in a hangman’s noose. The return of religion, of conservatism. Of Reagan and Thatcher. All this, and we are not even half the way through! It was very near to me, you know: my father was in jail under Zia, my mother was covering these things for the Indian papers. She was coming home with stories about what was happening. This was my direct material.

Is India on your mind a great hurt, a let down, a hope…?

• The truth is that I’m waiting for something specific to happen. It could never have happened so long as the Madonna and Child were in power. They were, in fact, determined that it did not happen. I’m referring to a specific moment in the life of a country when its idea of itself takes shape and it is able—urbi et orbi—to tell a story about itself. It is a moment that certainly happened in Russia in the 19th century; it happened in Japan; I think it might be happening in China. It’s a very delicate moment; it can go easily wrong; the danger of it being lost to authoritarianism or chauvinism is very great. It is something that should have happened in India, but it hasn’t. India seems still just to be muddling through. It is as Maniraja says in the novel: ‘This should be our moment, a moment that comes but once, and we’ve let it pass us by. People think it’s an administrative issue, a question of policy and reform, but it’s not. It is cultural; these things are inseparable from history.’

Delhi of a certain vintage, its class mannerisms and attitudes, comes alive so naturally in your book. Memories of growing up?

• It is hard for me to conceal my contempt for the people I grew up amongst. There was an outward veneer of sophistication about them, but it was very thin: they were in fact shallow and stupid people. Many of them went into politics. Some became chief ministers, one a prime minister, others senior ministers. And what did they do with their power? Absolutely nothing. They had seen the world when few could; they had been to the best schools; but none of it had any impact on them. They never tried to understand why some societies worked and others didn’t. They were disgusted by the people who had brought them to power. And they either left them roughly as they had found them or they looted them, squirreling away money for diamonds and flats in Knightsbridge. Nothing makes me happier now than to see that the age of this class of person is over. The drawing rooms of Delhi have been emptied of influence. And it’s a wonderful thing!

No one gets it as real as you do. Reminds me of Rushdie’s Bombay. Is Delhi the city that adds to your imagination—or more? How much it matters as a place in your imagination?

• Yes! This must be what Coetzee means when he says: ‘there is no mere landscape.’ Delhi, at some point, became the landscape of my imagination. It can happen. You mention Rushdie and Bombay; I can think of others. Bellow and Chicago, Joyce and Dublin. It takes a certain kind of city at a certain point in its development, doesn’t it? Delhi is definitely at that point. The little world that I grew up in—of privilege and influence—has been completely exploded, encircled, turned inside out. The cities within the city have been stitched together with infrastructure. A new urban whole has come into being. There are subcultures in Delhi; there are immigrants; there is something of an intellectual life. It’s quite a significant moment.

Do the people in your life, or people you know or see, are always in the risk of getting into your pages?

• Apparently they live in mortal fear of that. Or, so I’m told. But I don’t think I do it anymore than anyone else. I just get caught more often. No one should take it personally. It’s never out of malice, but out of curiosity and interest. And there is very rarely a direct match; more often than not there are multiple models for a single character. Only rarely does an old aunty get dragged off her sofa in Lutyens Delhi and thrown—Sikh husband, Marxist parents, great corpulence and all!—headfirst into my novel without a paddle. But these are rare moments of playfulness.

At one level, The Way Things Were is a generational epic, a family story becomes the story of a nation…. Isn’t it a “classic” novel that way?

• Yes, but it also subverts the traditional novel. There is a second narrative in the present, which acts almost like a framing device. There is quite an interesting variation from the idea of omniscience. How are Skanda and Gauri aware of what is happening in the other narrative, the narrative in the past? Who is telling the story? Skanda is no Nick Carraway and yet he seems to be responding to the unfolding of the story. There is that pressure of the past against the present. This is what I was aiming for. I tried many times to write the story straight—an old fashioned novel set between 1975 and 1992—but I couldn’t. It was only when I found my frame—this thin, very still narrative in the present, under which the past seethes—that I was able to get my material to move.

I find refined classicism throughout the novel, sustained by Skanda’s Sanskritised sensibility. What will you say?

• Yes, but Skanda’s interest in Sanskrit, though full of emotion, is at the end of the day a scholarly interest. It is not revivalist; it is not of the Rajiv Malhotra kind. Men like him—Malhotra and his cohorts—have poisoned the pool of classical studies. They’re not scholars; few of them have even a passable knowledge of Sanskrit; but they’re determined to shut down serious scholarship, determined to coerce Western academia into telling them the few banalities they want to hear: things that warm their little NRI hearts: the Aryans did not come from elsewhere but sprang up out of the soil of India; Sanskrit is not one of many Indo-European languages, but the mother of all languages…. Now when you start to refashion the past to fit the needs of the present, you must ask yourself why? Why do I want the past to be one way and not another? Because if you set to work blindly remaking the past, you can do it a lot of harm. These monkeys, they want the white man to tell them that India—which Malhotra couldn’t bring himself to live in—was once the greatest country of all. Only then will they go away and let serious people get on with their work. It’s sad to see this kind of sloganeer get traction in India—I read the other day in the paper that Delhi University had embarked upon a project to prove the Aryans were not foreigners. Such foolishness! It makes me fearful for India. And these are naturally fears that my novel is very alive to.

India remains an argument unresolved, but you, as a writer trapped by her, have not abandoned hope?

• Probably a lot of writers feel trapped by their place, doomed to certain material. I’m thinking of those frantic letters of Dostoevsky to various family members from Europe. ‘I must absolutely return to Russia—he writes from Florence—‘here I will end by losing any possibility of writing for the lack of my indispensable and habitual material—Russian reality (which feeds my thoughts) and the Russians.’ I feel pretty much the same way about India. It’s a difficult relationship, full of anxiety and frustration, but it feeds me as a writer. The West doesn’t work on me in the same way; I can’t read the faces, I can’t fill in the blanks; nothing suggests itself to me. In India I feel alive as a writer. It’s not about hope, really; it’s my place, that’s all.

Of India, do you wish the way thing were, politically, different?

• I’ve always thought of politics as an expression of other things. And, as such, I can see in the politics of India many things that worry me about her more generally. It is, for instance, no surprise to me that the Gandhi family enjoyed the power they did. That, to me, was the political manifestation of a historical condition; I felt it was inseparable from India’s distrust of herself, from her easy servility before the white man. It is for this reason that the Modi election was so important. It was a rare instance of India trusting to herself, throwing up one of her own, one who did not have the blessings of the West at all. And I was pretty dazzled to hear him speak at the U.N. I liked his style and confidence. He seemed so much more urbane and serious than many who had been educated in the West. But I can’t say this is true of the people who surround the prime minister. Modi needs in fact to build an intellectual base of his party from scratch; his people don’t sound good; they sound limited. If he is to succeed, he must provide an intellectual alternative to the power of the English-speaking classes; and, as an extension, the Congress Party. Otherwise, there’ll be a lot of Bharat Mata ki Jai and little else. – Open Magazine, 28 November 2014

» Aatish Taseer is a British-born writer, the son of Indian journalist Tavleen Singh and the late Pakistani politician and businessman Salmaan Taseer. He is an accomplished author, translator, and journalist.

Why I am not a Hindu – Koenraad Elst

Dr Koenraad Elst“I am a friend. And that loyalty is not dependent on the attitudes of some Hindus towards my person. I am convinced that, in spite of some human failings, the best Hindu doctrines are true, and Hinduism is a far more desirable world view and way of life than its challengers.” – Dr Koenraad Elst

How I did not become a Hindu 

Both Sita Ram Goel and Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley) have written a book called How I Became a Hindu. I could never write such a book because I have deliberately made a choice not to identify myself as Hindu. In this article I will explain “why I am not a Hindu”. 

Leaving Christianity

Before starting out, let me put aside any possible confusion with another publication in existence: the book Why I Am Not a Hindu by Kancha Ilaiah, a convert to Christianity. I have seen post-Christian Westerners grimly use it as a formidable argument against Hinduism, not realizing that it is an ordinary missionary pamphlet against caste, to which Hinduism is falsely reduced. Unlike Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian and Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim, hefty tomes written by apostates who knew their childhood religion very well, Why I Am Not a Hindu is a caricature for simpletons. It starts out with a few interesting sketches of caste life in his childhood village, but then descends into unwarranted theoretical speculations for which he is simply not equipped.  Essentially he assumes, like most haters of Hinduism, that “Hinduism is caste, wholly caste and nothing but caste”, and that the only way to break free from caste is to destroy Hinduism root and branch. The author is hopeful that Hinduism is indeed losing out, and a recent book by him muses about a “post-Hindu India”. That is of course the missionary vision.

It is not my vision. I think Hindus are better off staying Hindu, and that South Asian Christians and Muslims had better shed their divisive faiths and return to the Hindu civilization which their ancestors left. I know first-hand that there is life after apostasy from Christianity or Islam, being an apostate from Christianity. I belong to the generation that collectively walked out of the Church. In my society, the Flemish part of Belgium, the vast majority in my childhood used to be practising Catholics, now these are only a small minority. There is no danger that many will return to the faith, even on their deathbeds:  the knowledge pin-pricking the basic Catholic truth claims is just too strong. 

Recognizing one’s friends

However, when tempted to think that that is obvious, internet Hindus are there to accuse me of being a clog in a world conspiracy, mostly as a missionary agent. These people really live in a fantasy world, for a real-world organization that means business, such as the Church (actually any Church), would at least pay its agents. Well, I am not being paid by the Church nor by any other lobby group. Worse about their lack of worldly wisdom is that they haven’t heard about the very real decline of the Church. Anachronistically, they are still fulminating against T.B. Macaulay and Max Müller and feel very brave when kicking against corpses; more recent developments have passed them by. Yet, I keep on meeting Hindus who assume I am a believer, even after having read me, or who suspect I merely claim to be past all that in order to gain the confidence of the Hindus, but am secretly an agent for the Church.

Not being able to recognize your own friends is a very serious drawback in life. It is my experience that Hindus are very defective in this regard. One of the five books of the Pañcatantra is meant to teach “the art of making friends,” originally to three not-so-gifted princes. Presumably the fables succeed in making even these dummies understand how to make friends. Among Hindu activists, by contrast, I notice a greater proficiency in the art of making enemies. This takes two forms: treating friends as enemies, and turning friends into enemies.

In the diaspora Hindu movement in the US and the UK, I have been privy, just in the last three years, to good initiatives getting marred by infighting, defections and hostilities against ex-friends. In this case, it seems to me that giving names and details will only make matters worse, so I won’t. But one example I can easily divulge is the attacks on myself.  Ever since I took upon me the unpleasant job of giving Hindus feedback about their glaring and costly mistakes in history rectification initiatives, I have received quite an amount of hate mail. And mind you, I am not using the term “hate mail” (or “death threats”, a term used by Romila Thapar, who was safe and sound but couldn’t stand being criticized) lightly. It does not mean a mail from someone who disagrees. If only internet Hindus were to argue dissenting points of view, that would be fine; but more often than arguments they just give you abuse.

One serious example of making outsiders into enemies concerns those Hindus who borrow conspiracies about the Jews. Some Western forums and websites specialize in stories about “the Israeli secret service Mossad having engineered the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001” or about “the Jewish bankers behind the world financial crisis of 2008” (and of 1929 etc.). Individual internet Hindus sometimes internalize this line of rhetoric, and they are too blind or too self-important to see that they are beautifully playing into the hands of their enemies. After centuries of Hindus giving a uniquely good treatment to their Jewish minority, after V.D. Savarkar and the BJP supporting Zionism, after cases of collaboration between American Hindus and the “Jewish lobby”, and after the mounting military cooperation between Israel and India, the powerful Indo-American secularist lobby, well-entrenched in the universities, would love to break this Hindu-Jewish alliance. Enter the Hindu lobby, that gives them all they want to hear, and especially to quote. Those lobbyists (once more confirming S.R. Goel’s impression that they are “the biggest collection of duffers that ever came together in world history”) are easily capable of driving a wedge between the Hindu activists and any friends they threaten to make. But the internet Hindus concerned are too smug and too wrapped up in their fantasies to see the strategic implications of their fanciful arrogance for the broader Hindu cause.  

In India, the Hindu activists are closer to power, with a handful of BJP governments in some states or other, and now (December 2014) even a BJP government at the centre. Power tends to quell infighting, firstly because there are constructive things to do, with tangible tasks and results; secondly, because any individual disgruntledness or unease can always be bought off with a post or perk. But that is the peace of the lowest common denominator. It is OK that Hindus don’t roll on the floor fighting each other, but it is another question whether they are focused enough to achieve anything in their times in power – other than keeping the enemy out of power.

At any rate, I am a friend. And that loyalty is not dependent on the attitudes of some Hindus towards my person. I am convinced that, in spite of some human failings, the best Hindu doctrines are true, and Hinduism is a far more desirable world view and way of life than its challengers. 


I do know that numerous Hindus object to foreign converts and spew their venom at “white Hindus”. They may even be the same people who otherwise like to quote the praises of Hinduism by Arthur Schopenhauer, Mark Twain, Romain Rolland and other Westerners. At one time I was not aware of this phenomenon. And yet it is but the in-your-face dimension of a deeper-seated mistrust and unease among Hindus of any transgressing of the boundaries between inside and outside Hinduism.          

Indeed, at one time I was so enthusiastic about Hinduism that I had made up my mind to formally convert. I mentioned my desire to become a Hindu to Prof. Kedar Nath Mishra, the philosopher of Banaras Hindu University who had accepted me as a Ph.D. candidate. However, I immediately noticed his lack of enthusiasm, much in contrast to how a Muslim would react. Out loud, he only commented that this matter should certainly not be hurried. This is in fact only common sense: even responsible Christian missionaries eager to make conversions still insist on verifying whether a candidate is serious. If he loses his initial fervour for his new religion and quits it, this would mean that much ado had been about nothing, and constitute a greater loss of face for his conversion sponsor than his accession was a gain. So, the temporization is universal and reasonable. But I sensed there was more to it than that.

One is member of a caste by birth. There is no conversion possible from one’s own birth-group to another. All the castes combined have been called Hindu society, so one is a Hindu by birth. One is born within a community, and while people can change jobs, swap wives or borrow new ideas, they cannot change the facts pertaining to their birth. So, Prof. Mishra was born as a Hindu and has remained a Hindu until his death; while I was born as a non-Hindu and will die as a non-Hindu.

Even Hindu organizations explicitly preaching and practising conversions, such as the Arya Samaj and the Vishva Hindu Parishad, only target former Hindus or people on the margins of Hindu society. Their “recoversions” only concerns Indian Muslims or Christians whose ancestors were Hindus, or tribals who only recently were seduced by the missionaries. We see the same thing among other national religions. In the Iranian community of Los Angeles, as well as in Ossetia and Tajikistan, many Muslims reconvert to their ancestral Zoroastrianism (even though the Ossetes’ Scythian ancestors may have largely escaped the specifically Zoroastrian reform of the Iranian religion), but the Zoroastrians do not welcome non-Iranians. In Yakutia, an ethnically Turkic republic within the Russian Federation, the traditional Turkic religion (which is not Islam) has become legally recognized in 2014. The Russian Orthodox Church (more nation-oriented than the Catholic and Protestant Churches) did not object, on the understanding that only native Yakuts would feel attracted to this religion, while Russians would remain Orthodox. So, outside Christianity and Islam, and even within some strands of Christianity, there exists an identification of religious traditions with national communities, into which one has irrevocably been born (or not).

Many Hindus welcome converts, and take pride in the existence of Westerners who have embraced Hinduism. However, I do not want to enter a house where other inhabitants object to my presence. I don’t mind if they object to my ideas or my conduct, but if they object to my very presence, I have to take their attitude into account. And so, I am only too aware of those other Hindus who find it rather bizarre that outsiders would want to become Hindu. Moreover, their negative attitude does not amount to disrespect: most of them can respect me as a Westerner, it is only the strange inclination to perforce self-identify as a Hindu which they object to.

Traditionally, Hinduism only knows collective conversion, or at least integration which Christians might describe as conversion, i.e. a whole existing community that retains its own ways and autonomy but accepts the over-all framework of Vedic society; and very exceptionally, individual conversion through marriage. If an existing Hindu community accepts you as a son-in-law, then everybody accepts you as a member of that particular community. One never knows whom one may yet meet in life, but so far, this hasn’t happened to me. 

Link with India

This fact of a rejection by others, by a sizable part of the legitimate Hindu population, is already enough for me not to call myself a Hindu. It is a conception of converting religions to consider the most true or somehow most desirable religion as the one of which we should be a member. If you wax enthusiastic about a Hindu practice like yoga, most Hindus will say: go ahead and practise it, become a European yogi, or as the case may be, a Japanese yogi, a Rastafarian yogi, a Hottentot yogi. At the end of your life, you may write an autobiography: Story of a European Yogi, but please don’t affect being a Hindu.

A second reason is that “Hindu”, as the Persian form of Sindhu (the Indus river), refers to India. Originally it meant “one who lives at or beyond the Indus”, a purely geographical term meaning “Indian”, later the Muslim invaders turned it into a geographical-cum-religious term: “any Indian Pagan”. According to V.D. Savarkar, a Hindu is one who considers India both his Fatherland and Holy Land. The West now has a sizable Hindu population, but they are for the most part People of Indian Origin. When Hindus praise the work benefiting Hinduism that I have done, they typically speculate that I “must have been born in India in my past life”. So, there is always that connection to India. Well, at present I may be a regular traveller to India, but my roots lie in Europe.

To put it crudely, I don’t care for India. It is true that Hinduism grew up on Indian soil, and I strongly disagree with those colleagues who insist that “yoga isn’t from India”. Of course India is historically the place where Hinduism grew up, and even now India is worth defending against those who besiege it. But the ideas and practices that make up the beauty of Hinduism could have come about elsewhere too, and partly they have. Religions related to or typologically similar to Hinduism have existed though they have largely been wiped off the map by Christianity and Islam, and even these have preserved certain traditions that Hindus would feel familiar with. So, India as the cradle of Hinduism is a fact of life, but it is also relative and a shaky foundation for a religion that sees itself as the eternal Dharma. “One day, India too will go,” to quote my yoga teacher Dr. Pukh Raj Sharma from Jodhpur. 

Compare with Christianity. Numerous Hindus have the tendency to identify Christianity with the West. In reality, Christian missionaries see it as the universal truth, equally valid for Indians as for Westerners. The geographical claim is at any rate historically untrue: in the Roman Empire, the Christians were called the “Galileans” to mark their religion as an import into the West from the Middle East. Pilgrimage to Jerusalem as the site of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection has a certain place in Christian history, if only because it provided the casus belli of the Crusades, but it testifies to the Europeans’ awareness that Christianity originated outside Europe. European ex-Christians with nationalist convictions hold it against Christianity that it is foreign. The Christian answer to that would not be to deny its foreign origin, but to insist that it is the true religion and that therefore everyone should accede to it. As for European culture and its national divisions, these can get a place in Christianity: inculturation has a long history, and to a large extent, national folklore has indeed merged with Christianity. So, in India’s case, a feeling of Indianness is welcome to flourish in Indian churches, using Indian materials during rituals or singing Indian music, as long as everyone believes in the imported teachings of the Church. 

Secondly, this identification with a nation just doesn’t apply. The motor car has been invented in the West, but the cars on the Indian roads apply the exact same mechanical principles which the German inventors once implemented to build the first motor car. There is no such thing as “Indian car mechanics,” this science is universal. The Law of Gravity was discovered by an Englishman, Isaac Newton, but would have been just the same if it had been discovered by anyone else, anywhere else. Likewise, anything true is universally true, so if the Christian core teachings are true, they should also be accepted as true by Indians; if not, they are not true for Westerners either. That is why it only shows incomprehension to argue about whether Christianity is or is not Indian; the only sensible question is whether it is true. Yajñavalkya never argued about the Indianness (a concept that didn’t even exist yet) of the doctrine of the Self. Nor did Shankara engage in debates about whether Dualism was more Indian than Non-Dualism; he only cared about which view was more true. So, let us follow in the footsteps of these great Indian thinkers and forget about Indianness.

However, Hinduism pertains to more than just the truth of a doctrine. It effectively also has a geographical component. For that reason, I may agree with the Hindu thinker Yajñavalkya, be doctrinally on the same wavelength, yet not be a Hindu. 

Hinduism as Paganism

Without creedal religions like Christianity, the world simply consists of a landscape of different sects or traditions. These are not foreign to one another, as witnessed by the practice of interpretatione romana, i.e. Julius Caesar’s approach of the Celtic deities he encountered in Gaul and whom he “translated” into the corresponding deities in the Roman pantheon. The practice already existed in the ancient Middle East, and can easily be seen in the names of the week days, where the names of the planets were translated from Sumerian to Akkadian and Aramaic, these to Greek, thence to Sanskrit and Latin, thence to Hindi, English etc. The planet Jupiter was Marduk to the Babylonians, Jupiter to the Romans, Thor to the Brits, Guru to the Indians, etc.

The ancient Arab traders went on pilgrimage to the Somnath Temple, because in the moon-bearing Shiva they recognized their own moon-god Hubal. And conversely, Indian traders doing business in Arabia went to the Kaaba in Mecca because its presiding deity Hubal was clearly their own Shiva. Yes, in the human netherworld there were local differences, but these were not consequential. The places from which you see the starry sky are different, but the stars in heaven are the same.

So, I have decided to focus on the absolute unity of heaven, more than on the relative difference of the vantage points on earth. Therefore, I don’t care any more about being from here or from there, the truth would in each case turn out to be the same. It doesn’t change anything to my world view or my way of life whether I artificially try to change myself into a Hindu or naturally define myself as being European and all other levels of identity that happen to apply to me. 

A Hindu name

In Western yoga circles, I know numerous people who have received a Sanskrit name, and many of them also use it. A few have even gone to the town hall or the court to change their civil names and officially register the Sanskrit names. Though I have received quite a few initiations (diksha) from Hindu gurus, somehow I have never been given a Sanskrit name. Fortunately so, for that saves me the trouble of having to decide whether to actually use this name or not. Probably not.

Not that it matters to me if others do it. Most Westerners who have a Sanskrit name live among Westerners and so there is no occasion for confusion. By vocation, I am more in touch with Hindu society, and that makes it confusing if I would adopt a Hindu-sounding name. (For the same reason, I disapprove of converts to Christianity retaining their Hindu names, a new Church policy consciously seeking to confuse and conceal.) Also, it is but normal that those who become Hindu monks get a monastic name, just as a Catholic monk changes his civil name to a given monastic name.

My own given name is Germanic and profound enough. Koen means “brave”, raad means “counsel” “deciding what is to be done”. Its Greek equivalent was Thrasuboulos, which happens to be the name of a victorious general, national liberator and pioneer of democracy in Athens, killed in battle while fighting for his polity. So, I will just keep it.

That also happens to be the Hindu thing to do. Thus, some equality-minded Hindus hide their caste-specific last name, e.g. calling themselves (to name one example I have known) Maheshvari Prasad instead of the recognizably Brahmin name Maheshvariprasad Sharma. Yet, they will never intrude into another caste by giving themselves a last name suggestive of another caste identity, say Maheshvariprasad Yadav or Maheshvariprasad Varma. So likewise, I will not intrude into the Hindu commonwealth by claiming a Hindu identity and calling myself by a Hindu name.

Hindus don’t have this notion of a creedal identity. A creed or world view can be chosen (and indeed I have the experience of trading in a religion imposed on me for another persuasion); while an identity is simply there. So, I just accept that I carry the non-Hindu name Koenraad without having chosen it, and I will not choose another one. ♦

Book Review: Outlining Hinduism’s essence and history, entry by encyclopedic entry – Koenraad Elst

Encyclopedia of Hinduism

Swami Chidananda Saraswati and scholar contributors to the EH

Koenraad Elst“The importance of this Encyclopedia in a Hindu self-reassertion is that Hindus have at last decided to speak for themselves. Whereas outsiders like Wendy Doniger can only speak of Hinduism in caricatures, here Hindus have given an account of their own understanding of their civilization. What we ourselves do, we do better.” – Dr Koenraad Elst

Kapil KapoorDecades of effort by hundreds of scholars have brought to completion the 11-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism, the brainchild of the India Heritage Research Foundation and Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan, and published by Mandala Publishing. In its 25-year gestation, first Prof. K. L. Seshagiri RaoK. L. Seshagiri Rao and then Prof. Kapil Kapoor served as its general editor. Kapoor wrote a scholarly introduction. With a foreword by Dr. Karan Singh, the work contains contributions by over 1,500 scholars in 7,500 articles. These deal with saints, kings, language, history, arts and crafts, temples, pilgrimages, philosophies and concepts. Space is also given to meritorious Indologists and to foreigners inspired by Hindu thought and culture, from ancient Chinese to modern American. Most persons, temples and festivals are illustrated with photographs or paintings. Full indexes, the hallmark of professional reference books, allows readers to find any significant term in the articles. The basic production values are good for India, at the normal standard for an academic publications. A major plus is color photos, though individual photo credits are not given, only a bulk list of contributors. A negative is the lack of hyphenation. Articles could use more refined editing, which will hopefully happen if the work is put online.

Specialists of each department of the vast domain of Hinduism might find fault with the compressed way their pet subject gets treated, but completeness is not of this world. The articles constitute good introductions to their topics, and the truly interested reader is invited to proceed from there. At least he is not being misled by gross mistakes, as would be the case with the many flawed contributions on easily the most-consulted source, Wikipedia. That might be a decent source on neutral topics like physics, but on Hindu subjects it is emphatically not recommended by the specialists. Nor is any contributor to the Encyclopedia grossly biased; they are truer to its scholarly ethic of being a neutral and non-controversial source of information. This, again, will come as a pleasant surprise for those who rely too much on Wikipedia, where many topics of serious debate have been hijacked by one of the contending parties, shutting the other party’s version out or ridiculing it. In the present case, we are dealing with a real scholarly work.


An important criterion for scholarliness is: how does the work deal with certainties, probabilities and uncertainties? Are they properly reflected, or are they all replaced with a quasi-religious certainty? Generally, factual uncertainty is simply conceded, e.g., the entry Vikramaditya says: “Conflicting theories have been put forward by historians regarding the real origin of King Vikramaditya and his dynasty.”

Chronology is a major problem in Hindu history, and this is frankly admitted: “Tiruvalluvar’s age is also not known properly. There are different viewpoints.” The Shankaracharya entry primarily dates Shankara’s birth to the 8th century, as accepted by Orientalists, but also mentions that some of his followers place his birth around 500 bce, though implying a clear preference for the former option. On the origins of the Vedic people, the Arya entry simply gives the existing theories. One of these is the contentious Aryan Invasion Theory, which is correctly treated as still a valid contender, but juxtaposed with rival theories. This instills confidence in the reader; the concession of uncertainty implies that when certainty is assumed, the given explanation has been corroborated by the latest research.

Given the numerous contributors, however, not all are equally rigorous. On occasion an author proves a bit too eager to embrace an insufficiently proven hypothesis, e.g., the Sanatana Dharma entry mentions as fact that the Mayas in Central and the Incas in South America had borrowed much from the Hindus. While this need not be impossible, it is at least controversial. An encyclopedia is not the place to launch daring theories; it should just summarize the non-contentious information agreed upon by experts.

Sometimes a defect in one entry is compensated by the hoped-for information under another entry. The Chaturyuga entry (the Four World Ages) simply gives the usual Puranic story believed by most Hindus, with the world ages having astronomical time-spans, without asking any questions. It does not mention the hypothesis that the Chaturyuga (a very ancient concept held by non-Indian peoples as well) later got filled in with a numerical value which coincidentally approximates the precession cycle of less than 26,000 years. Yet this hypothesis is in tune with all we know about the Indian reception and elaboration of the Hellenistic discovery of precession, i.e., the cycle which the constellations make vis-à-vis the equinox. This is not merely an invention by the much-lambasted Orientalists; it was also opined in writing by, for instance, Sri Yuktesvar in 1894. However, the entry Yuga does give a more historical account, specifying that in the late-Vedic Vedanga Jyotisha, the word still meant a period of five years, a much more modest magnitude than in the Puranas. The entry Dvapara Yuga specifies how the jump from manageable time-spans (with the four ages spanning 12,000 years, or roughly half of the precession cycle) to the Puranic astronomical time-spans was made: the years were interpreted as “divine years” and hence multiplied by 360.

Perhaps inevitably, few plain mistakes have managed to pass the editorial sieve. Thus, the entry Sahasrara Chakra, “thousand-spoked wheel,” speaks of the Shatachakra Nirupana, which means “investigation of the hundred wheels,” but this classic 16th-century sourcebook about the chakras is actually called the Shatchakra Nirupana, “investigation of the six wheels.” This was a spelling error.

So, while encyclopedia entries have to be handled with care, yet it is a treasure-trove of information. This review focuses on potentially controversial points, but most users will be more interested in the biographies of saints, the history of philosophical schools or the description of temples, which make up the bulk of this work.


There are, however, three subtler or more implicit dangers found in this type of project. One is Hindu sectarianism: many contributors have pledged allegiance to one particular sect, and this might shine through. In a number of “Hinduism” schoolbooks used in England and Holland which the present writer has evaluated, it was found that while the authors certainly had toned down their sectarian biases, still their allegiances often remained visible. Thus, a description of Shiva or Saraswati as a “demi-god” is a give-away of ISKCON (Hare Krishna) theology, while a reduction of the many Gods to “different manifestations of the one God” betrays an Arya Samaj viewpoint. That need not be a problem, but in the case of an encyclopedia, readers might hold it up for criticism.

In the present work, this tendency seems to have been avoided. Presumably, the different sects and their doctrines and temples have been described each by its own votaries, who had no axe to grind against it. Instead, and understandably, some articles seem to reflect modern scholarly theories to the exclusion of others. Thus, the entry Vishvamitra gives a particular account of the Vedic “Battle of the Ten Kings” (viz. putting the Bharata dynasty among the Vedic king Sudas’s enemies) that is popular in university courses because it applies the Aryan invasion scenario; but it is not really supported by the original Vedic report. This, therefore would not be accepted by a dissenting school of thought. Even this modern sectarianism is kept to a minimum, though. Thus, the entry Hindu Eras simply juxtaposes the different interpretations of the existing calendar systems or the different dates attributed to the Mahabharata war.

The Borders of Hinduism

A second problem might be what is not treated. Thus, many North Indian Hindus have never heard of the ancient Tamil grammar Tolkappiyam or the poet Tiruvalluvar. While they might have heard of the Chola empire or the Virashaiva sect. These may not really form part of their Hindu consciousness. Traditions insistently described by Christian missionaries as “not Hindu”—especially the Indian “Scheduled Tribes”—are similarly regarded by many Hindus. They may not openly describe the tribals as un-Hindu, but they don’t actively include them in their mental horizon. If this encyclopedia is to be considered a compendium of all available knowledge on Hinduism, then it should either include these borderline communities or write them definitively off as not belonging to the Hindu fold.

South India is sufficiently included: each of the Dravidian names and terms mentioned has an ample entry. Many lesser saints and temples are also dealt with. On the tribal front, the picture is less systematic, more haphazard. There is an entry Thang-ta (“sword-spear”) for the martial art of Manipur, of which even the existence is probably known only to very few readers. On the other hand, an important term like sarna, “sacred grove,” the physical center of worship for the tribes of the Chotanagpur plateau, is absent. Sacred trees are still common in popular Hinduism, and connect with the open-air fire rituals of the Vedic age, which differ from the later temple worship. But then, the entry Santal, the name of one of these tribes, does give a lengthy account of their religious practices centered around the Bongas, roughly equivalent to the devas. It also mentions the “sacred grove.” Similarly, there are entries like Hill People of Tamil Nadu. Much information about the tribals is also indirectly given in entries like Ritual Arts and Crafts of Arunachal Pradesh.

The interference by Christianity and Islam with Hinduism is given practically no attention, though one article deals with Hindu-Christian interaction. Of course, Hindu civilization as subject matter for an encyclopedia is already big enough. Thus, the entry Ayodhya deals with the place’s temples, famous characters and significance for the Hindus, but pays only minimal attention to the temple-mosque conflict that became front-page news across the world. Most Muslim stalwarts, including the main destroyers of temples and persecutors of “unbelievers,” are simply not mentioned. The 17th-century Moghul prince Dara Shikoh has an entry, but that is because he tried to integrate Hinduism into a state syncretism (which never durably materialized because Dara was killed by his more orthodox brother, Aurangzeb) and translated the Upanishads into Persian. This translation was then rendered into French and triggered a first wave of European enthusiasm for Hinduism.

Telescope Effect

A third danger apparent in too many Hindu writings on Hinduism (and most of the authors here are practicing Hindus) is the “telescope effect,” viz., that phenomena from very different eras are all seen on a one-dimensional canvas, “the past,” routinely called the “Vedic” age. Thus, the ancient astrology termed Vedic—the determination of auspicious times on the basis of the 28 lunar asterisms—tends to get conflated with the imported Hellenistic horoscopy based on the 12-part Zodiac, which is advertised in numerous books as “Vedic.”

There is an insufficient realization that institutions and concepts also have a history. Many entries are given the definition that “tradition holds” or that is “traditionally believed.” But it is the job of an encyclopedia to be critical vis-à-vis what is generally believed. Thus, the word Upanishad is traditionally explained as “sitting down at the feet (of the guru).” This may even be true, but it seems the entry Upanishad should have mentioned the dissidence among modern scholars who think that it means “metaphor.”

This need for historicity may concern major topics of Hindu history, such as the caste system. Among enemies of Hinduism, it is common to project caste at its worst onto the entire Hindu past, then to conclude that “caste is intrinsic to Hinduism.” What is meant here is the hoped-for death of Hinduism itself: “If we want to abolish caste, we have to destroy Hinduism itself.” Though this is a life-and-death issue for Hinduism, we find that many unthinking Hindus espouse this same projection, perhaps because in the glory days of caste it was equally upheld as eternal and unchanging. But the scholarly finding is that it has indeed changed. Caste in the age of the Rig-Vedic “Family Books,” India’s oldest documents, was non-existent, or at least never mentioned. Later it was understood to be hereditary though only in the fatherly line, and for the last 2,000 years it was the boxed-in endogamous institution that we have come to know.

Moreover, the Western term caste conflates two very different concepts known to all Hindus: varna, “color/category,” the four classes typical of any complex society, with counterparts in other cultures; and jati, “birth-group,” the thousands of endogamous communities, an institution stretching deep into tribal society and largely existing even among Indian Christians and Muslims. When tribes were integrated into expanding Vedic society, they were allowed to retain their distinctive mores and especially the continuation of their separateness through endogamy. Thus, as low-caste leader Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar observed, tribes became castes. This was an application of the principle of nonviolence: integration without hurting the pre-existing group identity. The entry Caste vaguely nods towards this principle of historicity, and it gives examples of how people in the Vedic age chose their own professions regardless of what their families had been doing. But it might have discussed the need for historicity more pointedly, especially as this topic is so controversial and much in need of clarification.

As one example of this illusion of an unchanging institution, many Hindus know the Vedic sages Vishvamitra and Vasishtha only through their adventures in a Puranic story where the quarrel between them is explained in caste terms. These caste considerations are completely absent in the sages’ original Rig Vedic appearances. This later addition of the caste angle is satisfactorily explained under the entry Vishvamitra.

For another example: according to the entry Asura, the Family Books call the dragon Vritra an asura, a term which had not yet acquired a negative connotation. But he is also described as a Brahmin, at least according to the younger epic Mahabharata, which applies to the Vritra-slayer Indra the law that people had to do penance for the sin of killing a Brahmin. This is apparently a projection of Rama’s penance for killing the Brahmin Ravana. Here, the primary mention of Vritra in the Rig Veda should have been clearly distinguished from the later elaboration in the Epics, which drag in an anachronistic caste angle. It seems that the final editing of the Epics coincided with the promotion of caste to a central feature of Hinduism.

Accounting for Change

We discern in the foreword a learned version of what most Hindus nowadays will tell you when asked to describe their religion—and it nicely illustrates the problem. By summarizing the main traits of Hinduism, it at once shows the pitfalls in an enterprise like this: it doesn’t sufficiently realize that the basic Hindu concepts have a history, too; the South Indian and tribal traditions are conspicuous by their absence; and Hinduism gets reduced to one (admittedly large and normative) of its forms, viz., the Vedic or Brahmanical lineage.

Thus it lists four purusharthas or goals of life in Hinduism. These lists appear in numerous Hindu catechism books and introductory works. Yet, if we apply the exacting standards of an encyclopedia, this is only partly true. Originally there were only three goals of life: kama/sensuality, artha/lucre and dharma/ethics. The latter category included all religion-related activities, everything that deals with the relation of the part (the individual) with the whole (the universal). The notion of mukti or moksha, “liberation,” did not appear until the Upanishads—and it was elevated to a goal of life only after liberation-centric Buddhism became popular. An encyclopedia must give an account of this history, against the unhistorical tendency among contemporary believers to absolutize the fourfold scheme with which they happen to be familiar.

Similarly, among the stages of life (ashramas) there were originally only three: as pupil devoted to knowledge, as householder and pillar of society, and as an elderly man withdrawing into the forest, literally or figuratively. The best-known example of the latter stage is when the seer Yajnavalkya ends his married life and launches the all-important doctrine of the Self in a farewell speech to his wife Maitreyi. The category of sannyas, renunciation, did not exist yet. The difference with the third stage, vanaprastha, “forest-dweller,” is that the latter came after the householder stage, while sannyas replaced the householder stage altogether. It implied asceticism not as a stage of life but as a lifelong vocation and was marked by specific rituals which an aging family man did not undergo. It was practiced by the munis, mentioned in the Rig Veda in the third person as marginal wanderers—definitely distinct from the Vedic Seers themselves, who were court-priests or otherwise members of an elite in the center of society. But then prince Siddhartha Gautama, patronized by the kings and rich magnates, created his own very successful sect of celibate monks. Only in those new circumstances, at least according to modern scholarship, did the Brahmin establishment feel the need to integrate the lifestyle of sannyas as a fourth life stage. Even then, a moment’s reflection will show that this “stage” sat uneasily next to that of vanaprastha.

The foreword also lists four types of yoga, just as you will find in the works of Swami Vivekananda. Most Hindus nowadays will agree that there is karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, as well as raja yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, the first three are called karma marga, “the path of action;” jnana marga, “the path of knowledge;” and bhakti marga, “the path of devotion.” They are not called yoga, and certainly not the high-definition yoga described in Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutra: “Yoga is the stopping of the mind’s motions” (which this encyclopedia, following Vivekananda, equates with raja yoga). The Gita did not pretend that bhakti, the loving concentration on a divine person different from oneself, is a form of self-immersion, which yoga is. Indeed, the foreword elsewhere quotes the bhakti poet Kabir as writing that yoga is of no use. Not that either yoga or bhakti is bad for you, but they are different from one another. Reliance on a God is different from reliance on oneself. This used to be well understood, for instance in the 16th-century polemic between the bhakti master Guru Nanak and the Nath Yogis. It is a sign of the increasing illiteracy in Hinduism among modern Hindus (a problem aggravated by secularist education) that the two are conflated into “bhakti yoga.” A conceptually precise encyclopedia would be welcomed as a tool for setting the record straight.

The foreword is an interesting starting point. It is no surprise that, for instance, it takes the Aryan invasion for granted; this is the scenario that most Hindus were spoon-fed throughout the colonial and Nehruvian age, although modern research has challenged the theory. But in the body of an encyclopedia proper we expect (and usually find) higher standards. Its handling of Hindu concepts should be critical rather than pious. Otherwise it would only be an oversized catechism.

So, how do these threefolds or fourfolds fare in this encyclopedia? The article on purushartha defines these as the “four goals of life,” but then separates dharma, artha and kama as the trivarga, the “division in three.” It locates these in the empirical world, whereas moksha is said to deal with the spiritual world. The threefold scheme is mentioned, but not sufficiently given historical justice; its seniority is not explained. Thus we see a compromise between the scholarly, objective approach and that of contemporary believers. This pattern repeats itself throughout this encyclopedia under many of the controversial, historically eventful or ideology-laden entries. Don’t expect any lambasting of conventional schemes or merciless historicizing of commonly used concepts, the approach that many Western Indologists take pride in. On the other hand, in most cases the facts the reader will need are indeed given, but only in passing, without any emphasis. Admittedly, in a project of this magnitude there is no room for emphasis.

Arya, Dasa, Asura

Arya is defined as “noble,” its classical meaning, but also as the self-referential term of the Vedic Aryans, its Vedic meaning. This is entirely correct, though the latter meaning could have been clarified further by stating that the Hittites and Iranians also referred to themselves by related words. Thus everyone used it in the sense of “us” as against “them.” It was originally a relative ethnic term, with the Iranians considering all others, including the Vedic people, as “them.” One man’s Arya is another man’s Anarya, and vice versa. In India, as the Vedic tribe (the Pauravas and their subtribe, the Bharatas) became identified with the word Arya, this term came to mean “Vedic,” “civilized,” and hence “noble,” as opposed to the uncultured people who had not been exposed to the Vedic tradition. So, the text of the encyclopedia is correct but incomplete. To convey actual understanding, a bit more information would have been helpful.

Dasa, nowadays “servant,” very clearly referred to the Iranians, as did Dasyu, Pani and probably Shudra. The first three have Iranian equivalents and are known in Iranian contexts from Greek and Iranian sources. The Rig Veda describes them as “without Indra,” “without fire-sacrifice” and other known characteristics of the Mazdean (Zoroastrian) tradition. It is rank nonsense to assert that these terms have anything to do with “dark-skinned natives,” as the Aryan Invasion Theory has inculcated in far too many people. Here, most Hindus including the authors under discussion are too defensive and fail to assert the Iranian origin of the words which later came to mean “servile class.” The Dasa entry starts with the common meaning, “servant,” then dilates upon its figurative religious meaning (as in the name Ramdas, “servant of Rama”), but doesn’t give any information on the word’s origins. This is already defective from a scholarly viewpoint, and it is also politically unwise, for the enemy has lost no time to propagate the notion that the “Dasas are the natives reduced to slavery by the Aryan invaders.” In their dominant discourse, the fact that Hindus ignore this claim merely shows “Brahminical hypocrisy.”

Similarly, the term asura again refers to the Iranians. At first, asura was virtually a synonym with deva, as correctly observed here. But by the time of the Rig Veda’s tenth and youngest book, after the war with the Iranians (Battle of the Ten Kings and Varshagira battle, the latter featuring Zarathushtra’s patron king Vishtaspa), the two terms had ethnically grown apart: deva meant “deity” for the Indians, “devil” for the Iranians; and with asura/ahura, it was the reverse. In war psychology, everything relating to the Iranians was demonized. By the time the two sides became friends again, the term asura had frozen in its meaning of “demon” and became associated with all kinds of enemies or evils unrelated to its original ethnic connotations.

Separate Sects

Another criterion for evaluating a work on Hinduism with scholarly pretentions is: does it account for the vexed question whether Buddhism, Sikhi (as Sikhs call Sikhism), etc., are part of Hinduism or are separate religions? Politicians and half-baked intellectuals treat Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and the tribal traditions as separate religions, whether from the calculation that being nice to the separatist lobbies pays on election day, or out of sheer anti-Hindu animus. Anti-Hindu policies have even driven the Arya Samaj and the Ramakrishna Mission into claiming non-Hindu status. Yet, a truly historical view would treat them all as just so many sects within the sectarian continuum called Hinduism.

This encyclopedia gives a mixed picture. Implicitly, the continuity between these sects and developments within Hinduism is asserted in many articles. Thus, the entry Alara Kalama factually describes this teacher’s importance in the Buddha’s meditative career: the technique he taught led the Buddha to keep practicing meditation (while abandoning the self-mortification which other teachers had made him do) and to develop the Vipassana (“mindfulness”) technique that gave him Liberation. The Buddha made his own version of Hinduism, as any Hindu guru is entitled to, and as arch-Hindus like the Vedic Seer Dirghatamas before him or the philosopher Shankara after him have also done. But he never broke away from any existing religion. On the contrary, when he was asked near the end of his life what the secrets of a stable society are, he mentioned among other things the continued respect for the existing sages, pilgrimages and (by definition pre-Buddhist) sacred places.

Likewise, central concepts of Sikhi are properly derived from ancient Hindu concepts, e.g., the mantra So’ham (“I am He,” viz. He who lives in the sun) has Vedic origins but reappears in glory in Sikh scripture and practice. The entry Dasham Granth recounts how the last Sikh guru, Govind Singh, had stories from the Puranas translated for his flock. There are literally hundreds of indications for the view that Sikhi is just one among the many Hindu traditions. A scholar sometimes must speak truth to power and say unpleasant things merely because he has found them to be true. In this case, no matter how politically desirable it may seem to play along with Sikh separatism, the historical facts say with one voice that Sikhi is but a Hindu sect. Treating the Sikh gurus as non-Hindu is completely anachronistic: none of them ever realized that he was the leader of a new religion separate from Hinduism. Even Guru Nanak’s utterance: “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim,” falsely interpreted by separatists as an abdication from Hinduism, is a typically Hindu thing to say. In Islam, religious identity is everything: it decides whether you go to heaven (if Muslim) or to hell (if non-Muslim). By contrast, in Hinduism, it may mean something in this world but nothing ultimately: your mukti or liberation does not depend on what community you belong to, but whether you practice the spiritual path. When Mahatma Gandhi took an anti-identitarian position: “I am a Hindu, I am a Muslim, I am a Christian, I am a Sikh,” his opponent Mohammed Ali Jinnah rightly commented: “That is a typically Hindu thing to say.”

Then again, some of the entries concerning the Sikh gurus or the holy places of the Sikh sect do speak of “Sikhs and Hindus.” The mere fact that they figure in an encyclopedia of Hinduism speaks sufficiently against the Sikh separatist position, but the editors have not wanted to press the point. Purists might say they have lapsed into politicians’ talk in a concession to the recent and British-created phenomenon of Sikh separatism. But in fact it was wise to accommodate this separateness to some extent. Firstly, it is a matter of politeness; e.g., Muslims entirely follow the precedent behavior of Mohammed and hence could sensibly be called Mohammedans, but as they themselves prefer to be called Muslims, we courteously use that term. Secondly, an encyclopedia has to care about its reputation, which directly impacts on its capacity to function as an authoritative source of information. If it bluntly said, “Sikhs are Hindus,” then it would be decried in many influential places as “Hindu chauvinist” or worse.

At any rate, if so many sects and individuals declare “We are not Hindu,” it is not because they have doctrines or practices that are incompatible with Hinduism; this encyclopedia amply shows they are entirely embedded in Hindu history. It is only because Hinduism has lately acquired a bad name and is under attack from many sides, a situation that drives people away. This cannot be countered by Hindus insisting: “But you are Hindus!” The editorial decision not to make an issue of this is a correct one. But the day Hinduism wins back its glory, these sects will come flocking back and thump their chests: “We are Hindus, too! We are better Hindus than you!”


After surveying this encyclopedia, our judgment must be that it is a great, useful and necessary enterprise, but minorly marred by typically Hindu flaws. It admirably avoids the pitfalls of sectarianism and Indo-Aryan chauvinism, and greatly limits the telescope effect of equalizing all time-depths to just “the past.” Indeed, the problem of anachronism is much less serious than you’d fear when reading the kind of missives put out by “internet Hindus.” The latter’s defective sense of time-depth reaches ridiculous heights which anti-Hindu academics love to highlight, e.g., the claim that the Aryan migration of some five thousand years ago is the same as the spread of mankind from India northward more than fifty thousand years ago; or the claim that Rama lived a million years ago yet spoke the very same language that grammarians codified less than three thousand years ago; or the claim that “ancient Hindus conquered the world.” Those pitfalls are completely avoided here. The sober facts about Hinduism make this civilization outstanding enough; it doesn’t need these comical assertions.

The project was started near the end of the age of printing. Soon after, the Encyclopedia Britannica decided to drop its print edition and go exclusively online. It is fortunate that Hindus just made it with their printed encyclopedia. Future generations won’t care any more, but our generation still values a book more if it has appeared in print. To gain a foothold in the world of books as a solid reference, this printed version was necessary. On the other hand, for future editions it probably stands to reason that they will appear only online (the present reviewer read from a PDF rather than the 11 paper tomes). The advantage will be that any new information can speedily be added, and that any rare mistakes can be corrected forthwith.

The importance of this work in a Hindu self-reassertion is that Hindus have at last decided to speak for themselves. Whereas outsiders like Wendy Doniger can only speak of Hinduism in caricatures, here Hindus have given an account of their own understanding of their civilization. What we ourselves do, we do better. – Hinduism Today,  October/November/December 2014

VIDEO: How Hinduism is misrepresented in American academia – DCF

Battle for Indian History: How to fight it, and how not – Virendra Parekh

First War of Indian Independence (1857)

Virendra Parekh“Tampering with history can … undermine India’s self-image. A wrong perception of the past can obscure a clear view of the present. That indeed was the route taken, first by colonial masters, Christian missionaries and in recent decades by Leftists. Each of these groups had a direct political interest in moulding the way Indians looked upon themselves and others.” – Virendra Parek

R.C. Majumdar1 – A history in service of rulers

Indian history is a battlefield. Hindu nationalists fight off invading colonial canards and Marxist mumbo jumbo of materialistic interpretation of history. Secularists, alarmed by the saffron surge, sound shrill warnings against communalization of history writing. Stalinist activists masquerading as historians girdle up to resist intrusion of sundries (i.e. anyone outside their clique) onto their turf in media, academia and research institutions. Muslim scholars resist attempts to portray Islam and Muslims as villains. Academic historians raise their hands in despair at politicization of the past to serve current needs. And the new generation just wonders why there is so much fuss over an age that is dead and gone.

Indeed, why should it matter who writes history? The short answer is that for India history matters because it extends into the present. India’s history is hoary, chequered and continuous. The link between history writing and actual politics is extraordinarily strong here. Witness the critical role that the myths of Aryan invasion, Brahmanical persecution of Buddhism and Jainism and non-religious motives for temple destruction by Muslim conquerors play in the current political discourse. An unusually large part of India’s history has been disputed for political reasons even when well established e.g. denial of Islam’s utterly destructive role. It is impossible to make sense of the present— its complexities, problems, challenges, opportunities and possible solutions—without a proper understanding of the past.

There is another, deeper reason for Indians to learn and remember their past. India derives her sense of nationhood, her self-image, her identity from her ancient past. That past is kept alive and the sense of national unity sustained through a living tradition: Veda, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata, literature of saints, pilgrimages, modes of worships and rituals that are similar in substance though differing in details and a collective memory of foreign invasions and heroic resistance offered by national icons of valour and sacrifice. Unlike histories of Ancient Rome, Egypt or Mesopotamia, which survive only in museums and monuments, Indian history is a living presence in the lives of millions.

Tampering with history can, therefore, undermine India’s self-image. A wrong perception of the past can obscure a clear view of the present. That indeed was the route taken, first by colonial masters, Christian missionaries and in recent decades by Leftists. Each of these groups had a direct political interest in moulding the way Indians looked upon themselves and others. As in several other matters, enemies of Hinduism and Hindu society have a much clearer understanding of the stakes involved than the Hindus. The former, therefore, lead the assault and the latter try to defend themselves—usually in a bumbling, apologetic manner.

It is therefore important for us to remember that great many historians of India had their own reasons for distorting or suppressing facts. British historians, nationalist leaders of freedom struggle, Aligarh school of historians and Marxist activists passing for historians, all had some purpose other than presentation of colourless truth in their treatment of historical material. Their predilections have vastly compounded the complex task of writing an authentic history of an ancient civilization like India stretching over several millennia.

Nobody can say that all British history of India was wrong. While many British historians were prejudiced, some had genuine curiosity about a culture which was very different from their own. They applied modern methods of historiography to India. They collected, collated and compared old manuscripts, deciphered old, forgotten scripts and systematically mapped out historical monuments built over centuries by a variety of rulers and scattered over a large area. With this, they uncovered an important segment of India’s past which even Indians as a people had largely forgotten. Their labours established India as an ancient civilization with a glorious past, wide influence and remarkable continuity, rather than an area of darkness.

For all these positive factors, British historians distorted our history in some very important respects. They could never shed their sense of racial and cultural superiority. As rulers of a fast expanding empire, they had some definite political needs. For example, the subject people should have no higher notion of their past beyond their present status which they should accept without murmur, preferably with gratefulness. The British taught us that India had never been a nation but a conglomeration of miscellaneous people drawn from diverse sources, that its history had always been a history of invaders and conquerors, that Indians were indifferent to self-rule, and so long as their village life remained intact, they did not bother about who ruled at the Centre.

All these lessons were tirelessly taught and dutifully learnt. So much so that even after the British left, they form an important part of our mental make-up. How often do we hear that India is a multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-cultural entity trying painfully to acquire some principle of unity! The very phrase ‘Indian sub-continent’ implies a subtle denial of the essential unity of India.

The Britishers’ main interest was to write a history which justified their presence in India. They held India by the right of conquest and had to recognise the legitimacy of this right in the case of their predecessors like the Arabs, Afghans and Mughals. Thus, British historians sought to justify the Muslim rule in India by presenting Mughals as empire builders and themselves as their successors. Hindu resistance to Muslim rule was played down by the British historians as rebellions and revolts by local chieftains against the legitimate central authority. In the process, they conferred on Muslim rulers a legitimacy that the latter had never enjoyed in the eyes of the Hindus. For Hindus, Muslim rule was as much as an alien imposition as the British, to be resisted as much as was permitted by the circumstances.

In a great irony, this view of India’s history came to be endorsed enthusiastically by nationalist leaders during the struggle for freedom against the British. In the vain hope of winning over Muslim support in the struggle for independence, nationalist leaders started rewriting the history of medieval times. Under their inspiration, Muslim rule became indigenous, Muslim rulers became national kings, and those who fought them were suitably downgraded. The great historian R C Majumdar tells us how, under this motivation, national leaders created an imaginary history with one of them even proclaiming that Hindus were not at all a subject race under Muslim rule, and how “these absurd notions, which would have been laughed at by leaders at the beginning of the 19th century passed current as history at the end of that century.” (Preface to Vol. VI of The History and Culture of Indian People)

The national leaders at the time of independence were quite content with the history written by the colonial rulers. For one, as Ram Swarup remarks, to throw off an intellectual and cultural yoke is far more difficult than to throw off a political yoke. More importantly, the notion that India had never been a nation, that it had not known any freedom or freedom struggle in the past enabled these leaders to exalt their status by claiming that they were the first nation builders, that they had led the first freedom struggle India had ever known and, indeed, India became free for the first time under their aegis.

The whitewashing and indigenization of the Muslim rule received a powerful boost from the “modernist” Muslim historians, particularly from the Aligarh Muslim University. Sired by late Mohammad Habib, this school said that the barbaric atrocities committed by the Turks should not be blamed on Islam. The wars in the medieval India should be treated purely as political wars waged by some states ruled by Muslim sultans against other states ruled by Hindu rajas. The Muslim sultans were interested in building an empire even as Hindu rajas were interested in expanding their kingdoms. It should not be held against Muslim sultans if the peculiar caste structure of Hindu society made them victorious most of the time, we are told.

S.L. BhyrappaOn the top of all this came in 1970s the communist ‘historians’ who converted history into a powerful assault on Hindu society, Hindu culture and Hindu Dharma. The noted Kannad literateur S L Bhyrappa has given us a first hand account of the beginning of massive rewriting and falsification of Indian history undertaken by Indira Gandhi government in the garb of national integration.

“During the year 1969-70 the Central Government under Mrs. Indira Gandhi established a committee under the Chairmanship of G Parthasarathy, a diplomat close to Nehru-Gandhi family. Its task was to integrate the nation through education. At that time I [i.e. Bhyrappa] was a reader in Educational Philosophy at NCERT and was selected as one of the five members of the committee. In our first meeting Mr. Parthasarathy, as Chairman of the committee, explained the purpose of our committee in typically diplomatic language: ‘It is our duty not to sow the seeds of thorns in the minds of the growing children which will grow up as barriers to national integration. Such thorns are found mostly in the history courses. Occasionally, we can find them in language and social science courses also. We have to weed them out. We have to include only such thoughts that go towards inculcating the concept of national integration firmly in the minds of our children. This committee carries this great responsibility.’” Mr. Bhyrappa saw through the game and opposed the proposal through cogent arguments. He was promptly dropped from the committee. (Distorting Indian History – I” by S L Bhyrappa) 

This was the genesis of the history books written by leftists, including NCERT text books. Since then, Stalinist activists masquerading as historians have deliberately and systematically distorted every period of our history to fit it into Marxist categories.

Indian history which is intellectually fashionable, politically correct and taught in schools and colleges comprises lies, half truths and distortions emanating from the all these sources. The result is predictable. It cannot stand even elementary scrutiny; it must rely on patronage and power to remain in currency, as we shall see.

Arun Shourie2 – Guidelines intended to misguide

British historians, nationalist leaders of freedom struggle, Aligarh school of historians and Marxist activists passing for historians, all had some purpose other than presentation of colourless truth in their treatment of historical material. Indian history which is intellectually fashionable, politically correct and taught in schools and colleges comprises lies, half-truths and distortions emanating from the all these sources.

The seed is contained in the NCERT guidelines for history books announced in 1982. These are full of recommendations for telling lies to our children, or for not telling them the truth at all. The guidelines say, quite commendably, that ‘the term Aryan cannot be used as a racial category’. However, the Aryan Invasion Theory, baseless and divisive as it is, is to be retained faithfully. The guidelines go on to say in the same breath that “historians have been told to stress the interaction between Aryan and non-Aryan cultures”. The division of ancient Indian culture into Aryan and non-Aryan is itself derived from the theory of an Aryan invasion. As Sita Ram Goel points out, as long as we continue to talk of Aryan and non-Aryan cultures, the terms ‘Aryan’ and ‘Dravidian’ cannot be divested of racial connotations.

But worse is to follow. The guidelines stipulate that the ancient period of Indian history cannot be referred to as Hindu period. They warn against over reliance on and use of myths as history (i.e. Ramayana and Mahabharata as also Rama and Krishna should find no place in history). “Over glorification” of country’s past is forbidden and the “Gupta Age can no longer be referred to as the golden period of Hinduism”, say the guidelines.

As regards the medieval period, the guidelines say that “Muslim rulers cannot be identified as foreigners except for early invades who did not settle here; Aurangazeb can no longer be referred to as the champion of Islam; Shivaji cannot be over glorified in Maharashtra textbooks; characterization of the medieval period as a dark period or as a time of conflict between Hindus and Muslims is forbidden. Historians cannot identify Muslims as rulers and Hindus as subjects. The state cannot be described as theocracy, without examining actual influence of religion. No exaggeration of the role of religion in political conflicts is permitted … nor should there be neglect and omission of trends and processes of assimilation and synthesis.”

History scholar Sita Ram Goel has commented on each of these guidelines in great detail and shown how they make it impossible to write an honest history of India. Doing away with the distortions inherent in these guidelines will be first task of future historians.

Notice how accurately the guidelines conform to the perceptions of British historians, the Aligarh school and Marxists. Needless to say, those who laid down the guidelines belonged to the same group of ‘eminent’ historians who wrote textbooks in conformity with them.

The result is predictable. The history books written by these ‘eminent’ historians cannot stand a moment’s scrutiny.

In a powerful challenge to the eminence of the so-called eminent historians, the journalist scholar Arun Shourie documented their lies, perversions and double standards in his book Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud. Fifteen years after its publication, its contents remain uncontested on veracity and accuracy.

He showed how the Leftists have deliberately and systematically falsified our history in a massive though clumsy and dishonest attempt to fit it into Marxist categories. Giving concrete examples, he has laid bare their ideological predilections as well as their dirty tricks. The book covers entire gamut of Indian history, encompassing ancient, medieval and modern periods. A few examples will suffice for our purpose.

Consider, for example, what our students are taught about Bhagavad Gita. Gita has been a source of spiritual inspiration, guidance and solace for millions, as also philosophical speculation for thinkers through the ages. Commentators from Shankara and Ramanuja to Tilak, Aurobindo, and Gandhiji in our age have sought to interpret it in the light of their own intuition and experience.

All of them, however, missed what is self-evident to our eminent historian: “The doctrine of Bhakti, clearly enunciated first in the Gita … became socially more relevant in the Gupta period … when the feudatories considered themselves as meditating at the feet of their masters.” This is because Bhakti “reflected the complete dependence of the serfs or tenants on the landowners in the context of Indian feudal society”.

That pearl of scholarly insight is from D N Jha’s Ancient India. And he has borrowed it from his theoretical ancestor D D Kosambi: “Thus, Gita was a logical performance for the early Gupta period when expanding village settlement brought in new wealth to a powerful central government.”

What a way to decide the date of Gita and interpret its message! But the great scholar cannot stop till he has ‘demonstrated’ the ultimate failure of the scripture. “The Gita might help reconcile certain factions of the ruling class … but it could not possibly bring about any fundamental change in the means of production [notice the assumption that this was the task of the scripture, from which follows the failure!], nor could its fundamental lack of contact with reality [despite its being ‘a logical performance for the age’] and disdain for logical consistency [which the great dialectician Shankara, among others, missed] promote a rational approach to the basic problems of Indian society.”

Coming to the medieval period, NCERT guideline stipulate that historians cannot identify Muslims as rulers and Hindus as subjects, and that the state in medieval India under Muslim rule cannot be described as a theocracy without examining the role of religion in political conflicts.

Here, in their zeal to whitewash the dark and blood-soaked record of Islam in India, the eminent historians disregard, among other things, the detailed and meticulous contemporary records including those maintained by the court chroniclers of the Muslim rulers themselves.

Thus, this is what some Hindu records say about the condition of Hindus under Muslim rule. Gangadevi, the wife of Kumar Kampana (died 1374 AD) of Vijayanagara, writes as follows in her Madhurãvijayam regarding the state of things in the Madurai region when it was under Muslim rule: “The wicked mlechchas pollute the religion of the Hindus every day. They break the images of gods into pieces and throw away the articles of worship. They throw into fire Srimad Bhagwat and other holy scriptures, forcibly take away the conch shell and bell of the Brahmanas, and lick the sandal paints on their bodies. They urinate like dogs on the tulsi plant and deliberately pass faeces in the Hindu temples. They throw water from their mouths on the Hindus engaged in worship, and harass the Hindu saints as if they were so many lunatics let large.” 

Chaitanya Mañgala, a biography of the great Vaishnava saint of medieval India, presents the plight of Hindus in Navadvipa on the eve of the saint’s birth in 1484 AD. The author, Jayananda, writes: “The king seizes the Brahmanas, pollutes their caste and even takes their lives. If a conch shell is heard to blow in any house, its owner is made to forfeit his wealth, caste and even life. The king plunders the houses of those who wear sacred threads on the shoulder and put scared marks on the forehead, and then binds them. He breaks the temples and uproots tulsi plants. The bathing in Ganga is prohibited and hundreds of sacred ashvattha and jack trees have been cut down.’

Then there is this searing cry of Guru Nanak recorded in the Guru Granth Sahib: “having lifted Islam to the head, You have engulfed Hindustan in dread … these dogs have destroyed diamond-like Hindustan, (so great is their terror that) no one asks after those who have been killed … Hindus have been forbidden to pray at the time of the Muslim’s namaz, Hindu society has been left without a bath, even those who have never uttered Ram, can get no respite” (Mahla 1.360 and 1.417).

Here is a falsehood and worse from the same period: “Firuz executed a Brahmin for abusing the prophet of Islam. On the other hand, there were some instances of conversion of Muslims to Hinduism. Thus, Chaitanya, the great Vaishnava reformer, converted a number of Muslims.” So writes Satish Chandra in his Medieval India.

Contrast it with this: “A report was brought to the Sultan that there was in Delhi an old Brahman who persisted in publicly performing the worship of idols in his house; and that people of the city, both Musalmans and Hindus, used to resort to his house to worship the idol…. An order was accordingly given that the Brahman should be brought into the presence of the Sultan at Firozabad…. The true faith was declared to the Brahman and the right course pointed out, but he refused to accept it. Orders were given for raising a pile of faggots before the door of the darbar. The Brahman was tied hand and foot and cast into it; the tablet was thrown on top and the pile was lighted. The writer of this book was present at the darbar and witnessed the execution … the wood was dry, and the fire first reached his feet and drew from him a cry, but the flames quickly enveloped his head and consumed him.”

That is the heart-rending eye-witness account of the incident recorded in Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi of Shamsuddin bin Sirajuddin Afif, courtier of Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1350-1388 AD) himself.

A classic example of what Ram Swarup calls history versus historians. And yes, some germination of composite culture, too.

Our eminent historian does not, of course, tell us how many Muslims Chaitanya converted, by what means and how it compares with lakhs upon lakhs of Hindus whose conversion the Muslim historians of the time celebrated. It would go against his secular credentials to note that in every case, Muslims were only returning to their ancestral religion.

Nor is the falsification confined to individual incidents. It covers entire epochs, running over centuries.

Relying on another ‘eminent’ historian R S Sharma, Satish Chandra informs us that the Indian economy in the seventh to tenth centuries became almost exclusively rural or agrarian-oriented, with trade and urbanism suffering a distinct decline, internally, but also externally as the India trade fell off because the Byzantines stopped importing silk from India.

Andre Wink (Al-Hind, The Making of The Indo-Islamic World, Oxford University Press, Vol. I, 1990, p. 220-222), notes, “… R. S. Sharma, whose Indian Feudalism has misguided virtually all historians of the period, not only because it is entirely written from the a priori assumption of the ‘dark age’ doggedly searching for point by point parallels with Europe, but also, more accidentally, because there has never been anything to challenge it.”

After examining the material on which Sharma relied to formulate his thesis, Wink says: “Sharma’s thesis essentially involves an obstinate attempt to find ‘elements’ which fit a preconceived picture of what should have happened in India because it happened in Europe (or is alleged to have happened in Europe by Sharma and his school of historians whose knowledge of European history is rudimentary and completely outdated) or because of the antiquated Marxist scheme of a ‘necessary’ development of ‘feudalism’ out of ‘slavery’. The methodological underpinnings of Sharma’s work are in fact so thin that one wonders why, for so long, Sharma’s colleagues have called his work ‘pioneering’” (Quoted by Meenakshi Jain in A Random Survey of Satish Chandra’s Medieval India).

About Mughal empire before Aurangzeb, Satish Chandra tells us: “There was no atmosphere of confrontation between the Sikhs and Mughal ruler during this period. Nor was there any systematic persecution of Hindus, and hence, no occasion for Sikhs or any group or sect to stand forth as the champion of the Hindus against religious persecution.”

Really? The atrocities committed by Babur when he invaded India in 1521 drew a poignant cry from Guru Nanak who in his agony took God to task: “Thou hast sent Yama disguised as the great Moghul Babar, Terrible was the slaughter, Loud were the cries of the lamenters, Did this not awaken pity in Thee, O Lord?” (Adi Granth, p. 360) It was the martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev in 1606 by Jahangir that proved a turning point in the attitude of Sikh Gurus towards the Muslim rulers when they decided to defend their rights by arms. Sir Edward MacLagan notes in The Jesuits and the Great Mogul (p. 28): “Throughout the journey from the coast to Fatehpur, the Fathers found that the Hindu temples had been destroyed by Mohammedans.” During the reign of Akbar, Governor of Lahore Husain Khan had decreed that “the Hindus should stick patches of different colours onto their shoulders or on the bottom of their sleeves, so that no Muslim might be put to indignity of showing them honour by mistake” (Sri Ram Sharma, Religious Policy of the Mughals, p. 14. Italics added).

And finally a sample, from the modern period, of wilful disregard of evidence or shameful ignorance.

Explaining the growth of Muslim separatism during the struggle for Independence, Bipan Chandra informs us (in Modern India) that the very nature of nationalist movement alienated the Muslims. In other words, Hindus are to be blamed for Muslim separatism and Partition.

“Militant nationalism was to some extent a step back in respect of growth of national unity … speeches and writings of some militant nationalists had a strong religious and Hindu tinge…. Tilak’s propagation of Shivaji and Ganapati festival, Aurobindo’s semi-mystical conception of India as mother, the terrorists’ oath before goddess Kali and the initiation of anti-partition agitation with dips in Ganga could hardly appeal to the Muslims…. The reformers put a one-sided emphasis on the religious and philosophical aspects of cultural heritage…. Hindu reformers invariably confined their praise of the Indian past to its ancient period … the manner in which history was taught also contributed to the growth of communal feelings….”

The learned historian never pauses to ask: Why should the Muslims object to any expression of Hindu sentiment or symbolism if that expression is not directed against them or their tradition?

Shourie points out that Muslim separatism is rooted in the teachings of Quran and Hadis as the separation between the believers and non-believers is of very essence in Islam. In addition to citing from Quran and Hadis to support his point, he quotes V S Naipaul’s heart-rending account (in Beyond Belief) of the consequences of this insistence on the believers: “Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert’s world view alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his own.” The eminent historian totally disregards this separatist tendency inherent in Islam and lays the blame squarely on Hindu nationalists, reformers and history teachers.

These are not isolated illustrations handpicked to drive home the point. The bias, the predilection, the prejudice and the mindset peeping from these examples prevail throughout these history books.

Yet, the shoddiness and incompetence visible in history books written by the so-called eminent historians are not entirely or even mainly due to individual carelessness or lack of information, as we shall see.

Sita Ram Goel3 – A history cast in a mould

The shoddiness and incompetence visible in history books written by the so-called eminent historians are not due to individual carelessness or lack of information. For communists, the use of any history is to prove their dogma. The moving power of communism is a deep-rooted self-alienation and its main ally is cultural and spiritual illiteracy. The Leftist writers have done their best to propagate these ‘values’ through their books on history.

Their histories are set to a formula: Ancient India must be presented as a land of discord, a land in the grip of a social and political system marked by injustice, extreme inequalities and oppression leading to perpetual social tensions. Islamic period must be presented as one in which the ‘composite culture’ flourished, a policy of broad toleration was the norm, and any departures from that policy were just aberrations of individuals which can be traced to wholly secular causes. When coming to the modern period, these Hindus wielding the sword of Islam show an extraordinary empathy for and understanding of Muslim separatists and separatism. Shourie has documented their shift from erasure to parity to absolution.

However, since the existing evidence in all the cases point to the opposite direction, their eminences have to strain every nerve to make the story fit into the preconceived mould. Inventions, conjectures, double standards and circular reasoning are, therefore, the hallmark of their creations.

In their world of make-believe, Hinduism is Brahmanism, an ‘ism’ which serves the interests of Brahmins. These interests can be served only by exploitation and oppression of lower castes. Hence, Hinduism is necessarily an arrangement for exploitation and oppression of the masses. “The ideological conflict between Vedic Brahmins and the followers of newly-born protestant creeds [a maliciously misleading description of Buddhism and Jainism] may have been a potential source of social and religious tension, though an actual example of this is wanting”. Is this history?

If some statement of Kautilya supports the thesis of these historians (like low wages of artisans who were mostly shudras), it is proof of empirical reality. However, if it goes against the thesis (e.g. recommendation for recruitment of shudras and vaishyas in the army) then the absence of empirical evidence is cited to doubt its observance in practice.

Clearest statements in several texts that a person becomes Brahmin by character and conduct, not by birth, are brushed aside as desiderata; but statements of Manu prescribing discriminatory punishments for identical offences are taken as proof positive that differential justice was, in fact, meted out in practice.

Brahmins invented the theory of Karma, we are told, to persuade the poor masses to serve their masters well in this life so as to get reward in subsequent life; they invented avatarvad to persuade the suffering masses that they need not do anything in particular, that God himself will take care of it. The fact that Karma theory can be and has been interpreted to mean exactly the opposite, that having explained avataravad to Arjuna, Krishna exhorted him to fight and uproot the evil, is conveniently glossed over.

The Mauryas are denounced for setting up a centralised administration, while the Guptas are denounced for decentralizing it. When Manu specifies different tasks for different sections, he is held up as champion of an exploitative order. Simultaneously, the Guptas are condemned for demanding the same work as compulsory labour from all sections of society.

Romila Thapar cited three inscriptions about an incident involving the alleged persecution of Jains by Shaivas. Sita Ram Goel looked them up. He found that two of them had absolutely no connection with the incident while the third one, held to be spurious, told an entirely different story.

Double standards and contradictions of Leftist historians become all the more remarkable when contrasted with their treatment of Islamic rulers. Bhakti is just a reflection of the total subservience of the hapless tenant to the landlord under feudalism. But Islam, which literally means ‘surrender’, is a noble sentiment – total submission to the will of Allah. Taxes levied by Mauryas were oppressive exactions for maintaining coercive apparatus of the empire, but the Jaziya extracted by Sultans was a little something by paying which Hindus could lead normal lives. The Mauryas instituted a centralised, over-bearing state. Their army was an instrument for maintaining domination, the coercive arm of the state. Their legal and judicial system was an important weapon in the hands of the ruling class. However, such a thing is never said of the Islamic law or the armies of Sultans and Mughals.

All epochs in the ancient period from which people can draw pride or inspiration are tarred in some manner or the other. By contrast, the aggression, butchery and devastations committed by Islamic rulers are sanitised through a three-layer filter. First, the devastation is attributed to individuals and not to the religion. Second, among individuals, it is made out that just a few individuals – a few isolated exceptions – indulged in it. Third, it is said that they committed aggression, destroyed temples, pulverized idols, not because of some religious belief but because as rulers they had to put down their opponents who happened to be Hindus, and because of mundane considerations of greed for the riches of the temples, the need to establish political sway over conquered territory, etc.

However, Muslim historians of medieval India treat every war waged against the Hindus as a jihad as enjoined by the Prophet and the Pious Caliphs. While narrating deeds of wanton cruelty and rapacity they express extreme satisfaction and gleeful gratitude to Allah that the mission of the Prophet has been fulfilled, the light of Islam brought to an area of darkness, and idolatry wiped out.

Even a ‘saint’ like Amir Khusrow, supposed to be the pioneer of secularism in India, writes in his Khazãin-ul-Futûh also known as the Tãrîkh-i-Alãî:  “The whole country by means of the sword of our holy warriors has become like a forest denuded of its thorns by fire. The land has been saturated by the waters of the sword, and the vapours of infidelity [Hinduism] have been dispersed. The strong men of Hind have been trodden under foot, and all are ready to pay tribute. Islam is triumphant, idolatry is subdued. Had not the law (of Hanifa) granted exemption from death by the payment of jiziya, the very name of Hind, root and branch, would have been extinguished.”

All this falsification was carried out and justified in the name of national integration. The results of this massive wilful exercise in untruth are visible to all except those who are under an ideological compulsion not to see them. Hindu-Muslim unity remains as much of a mirage as it was in the days of Mahatma Gandhi. In fact, Islamic imperialism has become many times more self-confident and self-righteous than on the eve of Partition. Caste system, which was for ages the most cohesive factor and a sure source of strength for Hindu society, has been converted into a cancer which poisons the very springs of our politics. Regionalism fostered by local patriotism, missionary machinations, and sectarian separatism has assumed so alarming proportions as imperil the very unity of the country.

The project was doomed to failure right from the start. Voices of warnings from competent historians were not wanting. S Krishnaswami Aiyangar held that the value of study of history would be destroyed by the slightest interference with the recording of its actual course, or if it were made to subserve other purposes, however noble. “For instance, we cannot hope to end fanaticism in character and convictions of the nation’s youth by omitting from history all that which tends to promote sectarian fanaticism, and telling the lying tale that there were no fanatics or acts of fanaticism before us. The right way to proceed is to register the fanatical acts and those influences which were responsible for the perpetration of fanatical deeds, and by pointing out the dire consequences to human society that such deeds entailed.” (Quoted by E Sreedharan in A Textbook of Historiography, 500 BC to 2000 ADp. 449)

R C Majumdar wrote in his presidential address at the sixth annual conference of Institute of Historical Studies at Srinagar in 1968 which he could not attend that “History divorced from truth does not help a nation. Its future should be laid on the stable foundations of truth and not on the quicksand of falsehoods, however alluring it may appear at present. India is now at the cross roads and I urge my friends to choose carefully the path they would like to tread upon.”

These words of warning have acquired an enhanced validity in the present context. The false notions strongly fortified by a doctored history have confused our intellect, clouded our vision and paralysed our will to face deadly enemies out to dismember our country and destroy our cultural identity. At same time, we are faced with a situation when the distorted version has become the standard one and any attempt to correct it immediately draws howls of protest against “brazen attempts to communalise history” even from people who should know better. We need a clearer understanding and more frank acceptance of the past so as to cope better with the present.

Ram Swarup 4 – How to fight this battle, and how not

Any talk of rewriting history, as Ram Swarup remarked, leaves a bad taste in mouth. It offends our sense of truth by arousing suspicion of manipulation of evidence and distortion of perspective. The manner in which the exercise was carried out in communist countries has only served to confirm that suspicion.

But India is in a peculiar position. Here the boot is on the other foot. India has the dubious distinction of having its history written by people who were in varying degrees hostile or alien to it in some way or other. Indeed, it faces a situation in which the distorted version has become the standard one. Any attempt to correct it immediately draws howls of protest against “brazen attempts to communalise history” even from people who should know better. We need a clearer understanding and more frank acceptance of the past so as to cope better with the present.

There is another equally weighty reason for having a fresh look at the current version of India’s history: emergence of new material significant enough to unsettle long-held beliefs. The rediscovery of the Vedic river Saraswati, delineation of its course from Himalayan range to the sea on the western coast, discovery of more Harappan settlements spread over a vast area and the materials they yielded have established that the Vedic Aryans were native to India and the Indus Valley civilisation was continuation of an older civilization. Use of modern astronomy and computer simulation has enabled verification of astronomical references in ancient texts to determine important dates. These have helped establish historicity of major events and protagonists in both the epics with fairly accurate estimate of their dates. The details are far from settled, but the broad drift of conclusions is unmistakable.

The recent surge in militant Islam has prompted several thinkers in the West to study its primary sources and bring out the intolerance, aggressiveness and proneness to violence that is inherent in it, so far as non-Muslims are concerned. (As an aside: it is amazing but true that although the Hindus have suffered most and worst at the hands of Islam and its followers, they have as a group shown little inclination to study their tormentor.) Conscious attempts to downplay the role of religion in medieval India now look misguided as also the attempts to explain away Islamic separatism as a reaction to ‘Hindu’ nationalism in modern period.

Taken together, the new material has vindicated the national vision that a very large majority of Indians have cherished through millenniums and has been articulated in recent times by such savants as Swami Vivekananda, Maharshi Aurobindo and Bankim Chandra. This vision regards India as the cradle of Sanatana Dharma, which has spawned a vast and variegated culture welding the most diverse mass of humanity into an organic whole known as the Hindu society. The ancient Bharatavarsha is the indivisible homeland of Hindu society. The history of India is history of Hindu society and civilization and not of those who invaded it. It is a saga of its origin, growth, its achievements, the challenges it faced and met as also its setbacks and shortcomings.

A word of caution is necessary here. Many historians set out to fight colonial historiography with a patriotic one. However, from patriotism to chauvinism is but a step. If the imperialist historians were prone to see everything bad in India’s past, some nationalist historians tend to see everything good in it. In their writings, emotion and sentiment usurp the place of reason; detachment, objectivity, balance and perspective all take a back seat. A deep conviction of India’s past glory has led some historians to stretch their arguments to a ridiculous extent. K P Jayaswal, for instance, asserted the existence in ancient India of constitutional monarchy, parliamentary government, voting of grants and address from the throne. P N Oak said England, Italy, Arabia, Iran and Iraq were Hindu countries once upon a time, West Minster Abbey was a Shiva temple and English is a Sanskrit dialect.

Another variant of the theme was that ancient India did not lag behind modern Europe in scientific achievement. We are told that there were firearms and aircrafts in epic periods. Dinanath Batra traces stem cell research to Mahabharata era and thinks that the Vedic Aryans moved around in motorcars then known as anashwaratha (horseless chariot). Usually these writers rely on stretching the meanings of words in ancient texts and offer little else to substantiate their conclusions.

Overtly nationalist history suffers from the same defect—deviation from the ideal of objectivity—that it seeks to ‘correct’ in other versions of history. This is the inevitable result of using history to serve current interests. Moreover, the desire to ‘prove’ that ancient India had the institutions and ideals that are cherished by modern West betrays a subtle inferiority complex.

But the worst offence of zealots masquerading as historians is that they have discredited the really serious Hindu scholarship. By wildly exaggerating his case even when he had something like that (e.g. Taj Mahal), Oak brought into disrepute all serious scholars (best represented by Voice of India) who assiduously sought to sift truth from the falsehood. The enemies of Hinduism had only to liken these scholars’ work with Oak’s to debunk it without bothering to examine it in any detail.

That apart, Oak did not realise that his work could be cleverly used by missionaries to undermine the very tradition that he thought he was defending and glorifying. Some missionaries have spent lifetime studying Vedanta not for moksha but for devising ways to present it like an extension or variation of Christianity so as to fool the gullible Hindus into conversion.

Koenraad Elst puts it pithily, “The very numerous P.N. Oak party members among the Hindus are not only an endless source of laughter for all enemies of Hinduism. They are also a useful fifth column within the crumbling fortress of Indian Paganism. For the sake of Hindu survival, it is vital that real history gets restored: not only against the secular anti-Hindu version, but also against the Hindu caricature.” (Christianity is not Krishna-Neeti and the Vatican was never a Shiva temple by Koenraad Elst).

An imagined past can never breed real sense of pride or glory. As R C Majumdar said, the task of the historian is merely to show what really happened. The ascertainment of the truth of the past so far as it can be ascertained is the one object, the one sanction, of all historical studies.

He went on to say, “history is no respecter of persons and sentiments and must always strive to tell the truth so far as it can be deduced from reliable evidence by following the cannons commonly accepted as sound by all historians. A historian has to express the truth without fear, envy, malice, passion or prejudice, and irrespective of all extraneous considerations, both political and humane. In judging any remark or opinion expressed in such a history the question to be asked is not whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, mild or strong, impolitic or imprudent, but simply whether it is true or false, just or unjust, and above all, whether it is or is not supported by evidence at our disposal.” (Preface to The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. VI, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay.)

Sir Jadunath Sarkar, doyen of Indian historians, went even further. “I would not care whether truth is pleasant or unpleasant, and in consonance with or opposed to current views.  I would not mind in the least whether truth is or is not a blow to the glory of my country. If necessary I shall bear in patience the ridicule and slander of friends and society for the sake of preaching truth. But still I shall seek truth, understand truth and accept truth. This should be the firm resolve of the historian,” he said in Presidential speech given at a historical conference in Bengal, 1915.

He further clarified his position on history in a letter to Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1937. He wrote: “National history, like every other history worthy of the name and deserving to endure, must be true as regards the facts and reasonable interpretation of them….”

Many nationalists, and most RSS sympathizers, would squirm at these formulations. They need not. The achievements of Hindu society are so glorious that they do not need extra polishing. Please remember that even after sticking to such high standards of objectivity both Dr. Majumdar and Sir Jadunath Sarkar are regarded as nationalist historians.

At the same time, history should also enlighten us about our shortcomings, failures and mistakes if it is to serve as a guide for future. R C Manjumdar says that the haze of glory in which Prithviraj Chauhan lives in popular memory is considerably dimmed when we realize the consequences of his failure to pursue Shahabuddin Ghori to Multan and drive him out of India. He did not regard 1857 as a national war of independence. Jadunath Sarkar is often charged with a bias against Islam and Muslims but he was equally unsparing in his account of atrocities of Maratha raiders in northern India. Sita Ram Goel judged Marathas harshly for losing the battle to the British, and allowing India to pass under another imperialist yoke. For, at that time the Marathas were the only power in the field with a potential to win national freedom from Islamic imperialism, and save India from British imperialism. Such judgments would multiply as we approach the modern period about which we have far more recorded facts. There is no reason for us to accept their views, but then we should come up with other relevant facts to counter them.

What is to be done? Ideally, Indian Council of Historical Research under its new Chairman Prof. Y Sudershan Rao should engage competent scholars who could marshal the new evidence on major themes of Indian history and present a convincing case for revising the current version of history. The outcome will depend on its selection of scholars to take up the task. If they are chosen on the basis of their proximity to certain individuals or organizations, then the result will be predictable. Alternatively, Hindu organizations should come forward to fight this battle. They must invest money, people and infrastructure in serious history. As a last resort, a small group of Hindu scholars could pool their resources together and prepare and submit a case for revising history books to the concerned authorities. The exercise would be timely as the central HRD ministry is reportedly planning to revise NCERT history textbooks.

But does the Hindu society still have the will, the resources and the determination to put the record straight? Is it even aware of the danger facing it? Time will tell.


  1. Historians Versus History“, Ram Swarup in Hindu Temples: What happened to them, Vol. I & II, Voice of India, New Delhi. Vol. I 1990, Vol. II 1993.
  2. The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India, Sita Ram Goel, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1994.
  3. The History and Culture of Indian People, Vol. VI and VII, R C Majumdar, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay. Vol. VI, 4th Ed. 1990, Vol. VII 3rd Ed. 1994.
  4. Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud, Arun Shourie, ASA, Delhi, 1998.
  5. Textbook of Historiography, 500 BC to 2000 AD, E Sreedharan, Orient Blackswan, Hyderabad, 2004.
  6. A Random Survey of Satish Chandra’s ‘Medieval India’, (NCERT 2000) by Meenakshi Jain,
  7. Nationalism and Distortions in Indian History, N S Rajaram, Voice of India, New Delhi, 2000.

» Virendra Parekh is the Executive Editor of Corporate India and lives in Mumbai. 

Battle of Assaye: Marathas vs British

British troops leaving India in 1947

See also

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


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

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

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

Prof D. N. JhaMisdirection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arun ShourieBrahmin-Buddhist antagonism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Ikhtiyar ad-Din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar KhiljiIslam destroyed Nalanda

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Hindu passivity

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

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

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

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

Eminent Historians


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