Brahmin-bashing has an agenda – Maria Wirth

Brahmin boys in a Vedic school

Maria WirthWhy are the so-called atrocities of the caste system so hyped? The reason may well be to divert the attention from those who actually should feel guilty about what they did and still do to India. … The goal is to make Vedic knowledge disappear in India, because it poses a danger for Christianity and Islam. – Maria Wirth

Common people in the West know hardly anything about India. But one thing they all know: India has an “inhuman” caste system, which is an important feature of their religion, Hinduism. Most also “know” that Brahmins are the highest caste, which oppresses the lower castes, and worst off are the untouchables.

I learnt this already in primary school, but knew nothing at that time about the concentration camps of Nazi Germany only a few years earlier or about the atrocities of slavery or colonialism. Yet the Indian caste system with Brahmins as villains was part of the curriculum in Bavarian schools in the early 1960s, and it still is today: some time ago I asked three young Germans in Rishikesh what they associate with Hinduism. Their prompt reply was, “caste system”.  Surely, they also had learnt that it was most inhuman. In all likelihood, all over the world school children are taught about the “inhuman” caste system. Why?

There is likely an agenda behind it.

Yes, the caste system exists, and untouchables, too. And it exists all over the world. Curiously, “caste” (casta) is Portuguese for race. It is not even an Indian term. The ancient Vedas mention four varnas—Brahmins, Kshatryas, Vaishyas and Shudras, which form the body of society, like the head, arms, thighs and feet form the body of a human being. It is a beautiful analogy which implies that all parts are important. True, the head will be given more respect, but will you ignore your feet? Not everyone is made for intellectual work, fortunately, because a society without farmers, traders, workers won’t be possible. All have their role to play. And in future lives, there are likely to be role reversals.

Varna was not hereditary originally. It depended on one’s predominant guna (quality of character) and one’s profession. The job of Brahmins was specifically to memorise the Vedas and preserve them absolute correctly for future generations. They had to have predominately satwa (pure) guna and had to stick to many more rules for purity than any other caste.

Brahmins were the guardians of the purity of the Vedas. So it is understandable that they would not touch those who for example remove the dead bodies of animals or clean the sewers, though a society needs people who do these jobs too. In the West, people also wouldn’t shake hands with them. But no issue is made out of it.

Due to their satwa guna, Brahmins were least likely to be abusive to other groups in society. Usually it is the group which considers itself socially just above another group, which looks down on those lower. This trait is there in all societies, but it is true that in India, unfortunately over time, the four varnas were inherited by birth. There are today many Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, who do not follow their dharma any longer and therefore should not consider themselves as belonging to their inherited varna.

But why is the structure of the society in India constantly decried, when nobody accuses for example the nobility, the highest “caste” in the West, that it does not mingle with workers and won’t live in their neighbourhood?

Why is nobody upset that the British allowed only “whites” into the club of Madikeri town in Karnataka and probably all over the country, as an old Indian gentleman told me? If I remember right, he said that the sign at the club read, “Dogs and Indians not allowed”.

Why is nobody upset that the agriculture policy of the British colonialists starved some 25 million Indians to death? 25 million men, women and children slowly dying because they had nothing to eat in a country that was one of the richest before the British took over…. There are terrible pictures on the net of Indians only being skin and bones, barely alive.

Why is nobody upset that the British, after slavery was abolished, sent indentured labour from India all over the world in cramped boats, where a big number died during the journey already (and were spared the torture in the sugar cane estates)?

Why nobody talks about what the Muslim invasions did to Hindus and especially to Brahmins? How cruel they were? How many Hindus were killed or made slaves? How many Hindu women committed mass suicide by jumping into fire so that they won’t fall into the hands of the Muslim troops?

Nowadays, due to ISIS we can well imagine what happened then, yet the Leftists and even “respectable” British parliamentarians are not concerned with all this. They are concerned with the “most inhuman caste system” of India. It can be safely assumed that the colonial masters tried to drive a wedge between the castes by “fixing” the former fluidity of varnas in their census from 1871 onwards. And today, their democratic successors, though without political power in India, try to drive a wedge with the help of manipulative media and even parliamentary legislation in their own country.

My point is: what Brahmins did by segregating themselves from others or even snubbing others is negligible in comparison what Christian colonialists and Muslim invaders did.

So why are the so-called atrocities of the caste system so hyped? The reason may well be to divert the attention from those who actually should feel guilty about what they did and still do to India. It’s not the Brahmins. Many of them suffer today, mainly due to reservation and, though poor in many cases, by being excluded from benefits which are given to religious minorities or lower castes.

But this is not the only reason why the caste system and Brahmins are being bashed worldwide. Another important agenda is to shame Brahmins, to make them feel guilty about their forefathers and to make them reluctant to follow their original dharma of learning and teaching the Vedas. The goal is to make Vedic knowledge disappear in India, because it poses a danger for Christianity and Islam. It can easily challenge their so-called “revealed truths”. Vedic knowledge makes sense and is therefore the greatest obstacles for Christianity and Islam to expand over the whole world.

Unfortunately, a lot of Vedic texts are already lost. The former Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram, Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati, says in his book “The Vedas” that out of 1180 shakhas, into which Veda Vyasa divided the four Vedas some 5000 years ago, only eight are still in use. (Just wondering: would a search in England, Germany and other countries rediscover some of this treasure?)

It is about time to stop this Brahmin bashing and stop portraying the Indian caste system as the worst that has ever befallen humanity. It sounds so fake, especially when ISIS gets neutral treatment by just mentioning facts, like, “ISIL burns 19 Yazidi women to death in iron cages because they refused to have sex with fighters” without any emotional colour or condemnation.

Some time ago, I saw an old Brahmin couple in a temple in south India. They had dignity, but were very thin. When prasad (sacred food) was distributed, they were in the queue before me. Later I saw that they joined the queue again…. It was in all likelihood due to poverty.

Brahmins don’t need to feel guilty about their forefathers. They can be proud of them, because it is only thanks to them that India is the only country that has preserved its precious, ancient wisdom at least partly. Yet others should indeed feel guilty, but those others are brazen and won’t. They rather vitiate the atmosphere with unjustified hatred for Hinduism and anti-Brahmanism.

» Maria Wirth is a German author and psychologist who has lived in Uttarakhand for many years.

Caste-based Reservations

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The Tamil Veda – Koenraad Elst

R. Nagaswamy with Kanchi Shankaracharya

Dr Koenraad ElstDr Nagaswamy is … the foremost epigraphist of Tamil and of Sanskrit in South India. I recently met him for the first time at the book presentation in Delhi, and was struck by his enormous erudition and responsible scholarly attitude. – Dr Koenraad Elst

Linking Tamil with the Vedas seems to be a ploy by the wily Tambrams (Tamil Brahmins) to justify their own existence. They seek to explain their imposition of the ugly invasion-derived patriarchal casteist Aryan culture on the peaceful feminist egalitarian native Tamils by inventing a primeval Tamil Vedic culture. Or so the anti-Brahmin Dravidianist movement, in power in Tamil Nadu for more than half a century, will assure you.

This book, Tamil Nadu: the Land of the Vedas, by R. Nagaswamy, tells a different story. The author is a Tambram alright. But he is also the foremost epigraphist of Tamil and of Sanskrit in South India. I recently met him for the first time at the book presentation in Delhi, and was struck by his enormous erudition and responsible scholarly attitude. In this authoritative 640-page book, he gives an overview of the Tamil and Sanskrit inscriptions found throughout the towns and villages of Tamil Nadu, and thereby reconstructs the true history of the region. Far from being an aboriginal zone on which the foreign culture of the invading Aryans was imposed, it turns out to have been pervaded with typically Vedic culture since the beginning of the written sources.

This is where the problem starts, for “when the Dravidian movement was at its height, … a claim was made that there was ‘pure Tamil’ at the beginning which was unadulterated by the Aryas.” (p.169) And in fact, that may well be true, but then long before the first texts were written. Even the oldest Tamil writings show signs of Sanskrit influence, with Tolkāppiam’s first grammar already modelled on Sanskrit grammar and Tiruvalluvar’s first poems already influenced by Vedic culture.  But long before that, out of sight for us, we can still infer that there must have been a time that Tamil was spoken there, and Sanskrit or Prakrit were not.

Settlement of Brahmins

In the age well before Christ, Tamil rulers started inviting Brahmin communities to settle around their capitals and confer the prestige of Vedic civilization upon their dynasties. As soon as written history starts, we see magnates and rulers surrounding themselves with Vedic culture, witness e.g. the praise for the royal sacrifice Rājasūya Yāga performed by a Chola king, by the famous poetess Avvaiyār. (p.6) In inviting a Brahmin, Tamil magnates applied four criteria: (1) he studies the Vedas; (2) he is poor; (3) he has a large family; and (4) he is honest and righteous. (p.2)

The Patiṛṛupattu poems point out that the ancient Tamil kings studied Vedas and Vedāngas, and performed daily Vedic rites mentioned as Pañca Mahā Yajñas in Vedic tradition. Avvai, the greatest poet of the Sangam age, praises the three crowned Tamil kings for performing Vedic sacrifices. All the Chola kings studied the Vedas and established Vedic colleges. All the great Tamil kings of the Sangam age performed Vedic sacrifices as seen from Puranānūru poems. In birth rites, death rites, marriage rites etc., the ancient Tamils followed Vedic injunctions. The kings appointed Vedic scholars as their chief ministers and presented them with lands called brahmadāyas.

It was among the duties of Brāhmins to interpret law to the villagers. As a consequence of the brahminization of their societies, the ancient kings followed prescriptions of Dharma Śāstra. The process of elections to village assemblies, the subcommittees called vāriyams and the paruṭai (pariṣad) system were the backbone of village life. The epigraphical wealth of Tamil Nadu shows that the sabhā system of the Vedic tradition was widely spread throughout the province. The Vedic Dharma Śāstras, esp. Manu and Yājñavalkya, were the most followed judicial texts. The technical language of these texts are used verbatim in judicial pronouncements, taken from Tamil records from earlier than the 7th century. Even the selection of judges was made after their passing an examination on Dharma Śāstra. Individual grhya sūtra texts like Āpastambha and Baudhāyana were the guiding principles of family life.

The most ancient Tamil grammar Tolkāppiyam followed Bharata‘s Nātya Śāstra in the division of the landscape as aintinaikaḷ. Likewise, the division of poetry into aham and puram based on sriṅgāra and tāṇdava of Nātya Śāstra. The famous text Silappadikāram is a nāṭaka kāvyam (dramatic composition) based on Nātya Śāstra. This was composed to glorify the karpu (chaste) form of marriage prescribed in the Vedic system. Kaṇṇaki the heroine was married as per the Vedic rites.

ānasambandar

In the 7th-9th century, four principal Shaiva poets or Nāyanmārs lived, three of them Brahmins. (p.171-212) Saint Jñānasambandar, who was the greatest contributor to Tamil music and devotional literature, was a chaturvedi who was performing daily Vedic rites. Saint Appar was an agriculturist, who has rendered several passages from the Veda, especially Śrī Rudram, into delightful Tamil. Nammaḻvār‘s Thiruvāymoḻi is so replete with Vedic passages, that his poems are called “Vedas rendered in Tamil”.

The one who gets most attention here is Tirujnānasambandar, who is worshiped as incarnation of Murugan. In Madurai, though, Sambandar came in conflict with the Jains. He gave a realistic description of Jains as fasting, wandering naked, eating with their hands, shouting in Prakrit, plucking their hair, emitting foul smell because they refrain from washing themselves, cleaning their teeth or washing their mouths, not knowing the Vedas and their auxiliaries, and frequently resorting to arguments. (p.200-201)

It gets worse when they burn down his abode: “When the mandir in which Sambandar stayed at night was torched by the Jains, he sang the heat should afflict the Pāṇḍya for not offering protection to Shaivites.” (p.198) Still he desires to engage the Jains in debate for ridiculing the Vedic sacrifices: “In two songs, he declares his intention to debate with them. He cures the king, but the Jains say that Sambandar had first made him sick with a mantra. In a fire test, his palm leaf remains unburnt; in a water test, his palm leaf flows upstream, not so that of the Jains. The Jains had first demanded that the losing side be hanged; another version is that Sambandar demand they become Shaiva, part of them do, other prefer the gallows.”

In their frantic attempts to somehow counter the Hindus’ enumeration of the countless Muslim atrocities on them, the secularists had seized upon Sambandar as the long-sought-after case of a Hindu who did to others what Muslims so royally did to them. But no, that is not what happened. Sambandar never persecuted the Jains and answered their ridiculing his own tradition with a civilized offer of a debate. He only concluded a wager with his Jain critics, viz. that the loser of the competition adopt the sect of the winner. No blood or persecution involved. It was the reigning king who saw to it that those who did not abide by the contract, suffered the self-chosen consequences.

Hundreds of songs, e.g. on each of the places of Shaiva pilgrimage, or to ward off bad planetary influences, or as a musical invitation to dance, are cited here. These often feature the Shaiva title Naṭarāja: “Western Indologists … say the word natarāja is found in inscriptions only from around the 14th century and so the concept of natarāja itself is late and has nothing to do with the Vedic tradition.” But already “Sambandar says Śiva is ‘the king of dance’ (naṭam āḍiya vēntan)” which “is a definite proof to show the concept of natarāja is earlier to 600 CE.”

Southeast Asia

The Vedas have been the perennial spring of Indian and the whole of South East Asian civilization, for the past 3500 years in almost all fields of human culture including History, Art, Architecture, Music, Dance, Administration, Judiciary, Law, Social life and so on. The rulers of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos and other lands, besides all parts of India and its Northwest, have been following the Vedic laws (the smṛitis) and personally observing codes of life which are specifically mentioned in hundreds of ancient records through the centuries. The monumental holdings like the great temples of Ankor Wat, Ankor Tom, Bantai Sri of Cambodia and the temples of Prambanam in Indonesia were mainly inspired by great Vedic scholars. Tamil Nadu equally benefitted from the very beginning from the riches of Vedic lore. Shaṅkara‘s contribution to the outlook of the Tamil temple movement is discussed as seen from an inscription in a Chola temple.

Expanding Tamil culture even served as a conduit for spreading Vedic culture to Malaysia (Tamil malai = mountain), Indonesia (India-island), Thailand (erstwhile capital Ayuthaya = Ayodhya) and Cambodia (Kambūja, originally the name of a part of Afghanistan). Thus, in Cambodia, we find the worship of the goddess Nidrā, prayed to in the Vedic Nidrā Sūkta, long forgotten by most Indians.

Caste

After this excursus on Southeast Asia, the last part of the book (p.612-626) is explicitly about Tambrams. Yet: “It is however wrong to imagine they alone have contributed to this richness. Every section of Tamil society has produced men of greatness.” (p.626) The point is well taken, but I estimate that it will not convince the Dravidianists.

Nor will the cursory nod to some non-Brahmin castes. Thus, the Cholas recognized that the country was mainly based on the rural economy and so entrusted the revenue administration of the village in the hands of officers belonging to the cultivators’ family of Veḷḷālas, conferred with the title mūvendavelārs. The Chola kings established several nallur as exclusive cultivators’ villages in addition to the brahmadeyas of the Vedic Brāhmanas. This is all too transparent as perfunctory lip service to modern egalitarianism. It is like the popular Hindu reference to Shankara’s distinction between ātma vidyā (self-knowledge) available to everyone, and veda vidyā (knowledge of the Veda) exclusively available to the upper castes: a consolation prize for the non-Brahmins.

We dare to suggest, however, that the Dravidianists drop their casteist perspective and their envy in order to take pride in the Tamil Vedic heritage. As for the non-Vedic part of their heritage, no one is preventing them from writing an equally impressive compendium.

Conclusion

This book is one of the major academic contributions to the study of Tamil culture. For learners of Tamil, it can at once serve as a reader providing another view of some 2300 years of Tamil literature. Nagaswamy points out “Tamil Nadu continues to be the Land of the Vedas”, thus summarizing the book’s message. – Pragyata, 20 July 2017

» To buy the book (Rs 900), call Chennai at (044) 2491 6005 or write to Tamil Arts Academy, 22nd Cross St, Besant Nagar, Chennai, Tamil Nadu – 600090.

Tamil Nadu: The Land of the Vedas by R. Nagaswamy

Where is the Brahmin, seeker of the highest truth? – Makarand Paranjape

Brahmin

Prof Makarand R. ParanjapeIndia is filled not only with Brahmin-baiters and Brahmin-haters, but also of brainwashed and de-brahminised Hindus. … The main strategy is to ascribe all the evils not only of the caste system but of Hinduism itself to “Brahminism.” – Prof Makarand Paranjape

No right-thinking Indian can justify the ancient régime of varna vyastha, whose injustices, inequalities, and indignities have survived into our own times. Yet, arguably, it is caste, not ideology, that is still the driving force in Indian society and politics. This contradiction of repudiation-reification makes us pose the moot question, “Has the Brahmin disappeared from India?”

Some 20 years ago, Saeed Naqvi, in The Last Brahmin Prime Minister of India, conferred that dubious distinction on P. V. Narasimha Rao. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ascension to the august office proved Naqvi wrong. Rani Sivasankara Sarma’s autobiographical account in Telugu, The Last Brahmin, published soon after Naqvi’s, also asks similar questions, though from a socio-religious, rather than political, standpoint.

I was startled to learn that on his last visit to India in 1985, the great philosopher and teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti raised the same question in his conversation with Professor P. Krishna at Rajghat, Varanasi (A Jewel on a Silver Platter: Remembering Jiddu Krishnamurti by Padmanabhan Krishna). Krishnamurti is quick to clarify that “Brahmin” is “Not by birth, sir, that is so childish!” As the conversation unfolds, Krishnamurti narrates a story to illustrate.

After defeating Porus, Alexander is impressed by the efficiency of the former’s administration. Alexander hears that the person responsible, Porus’s Brahmin Prime Minister, has left the capital after the loss. Sending after him, Alexander is further surprised at the Brahmin’s refusal to call on him. Deciding to visit him instead, Alexander asks, “I am so impressed with your abilities. Will you work for me?” “Sorry,” says the Brahmin, “I must teach these children; I no longer wish to serve emperors.”

Krishnamurti’s tale is a variation of the story of Alexander the Great and the Stoic. The latter refuses to give up philosophy even in face of the monarch’s threats or blandishments; clearly, this story has both Greek and Indian versions. Krishnamurti concludes: “That’s a Brahmin—you can’t buy him. Now tell me, Sir, has the Brahmin disappeared from this country?”

In thus defining a Brahmin, Krishnamurti is following a tradition as old as the Buddha. In Canto 26 of the Dhammapada titled, “Who is a Brahmin,” the Tathagata says, “who is devoid of fear and free from fetters, him I call a Brahmin.” Verse after verse clarifies, enumerates, and explains the qualities: “He who is contemplative, lives without passions, is steadfast and has performed his duties, who is free from sensuous influxes and has attained the highest goal—him I call a Brahmin” (386). “Not by matted hair, by lineage, nor by birth (caste) does one become a Brahmin. But the one in whom there abide truth and righteousness, he is pure; he is a Brahmin” (393).

Traditionally, those born in the Brahmin jati were supposed to aspire to and espouse such high ideals, whether Vedic or Buddhist. But in these contentious times, the Buddha’s words themselves have been politicised. There are many “modern” translations of the Dhammapada where the word “Brahmin” has been removed completely. The Vedas, of course, are rejected altogether for being “Brahminical.” The object is clearly to attack, denigrate, and destroy the abstract category called “Brahmin.”

Often, the main strategy is to ascribe all the evils not only of the caste system but of Hinduism itself to “Brahminism.” Actually, the latter word was invented by Orientalists to refer to the worship of “Brahman” in contra-distinction to the Buddha, which was called Buddhism. The rule of Brahmins, though there was possibly never such a thing in actual Indian history, should more properly be termed “Brahminarchy”, a term no one uses. Much misinterpretation has also entered our own languages through the back translation of “Brahminism” as “Brahmanvad.” The latter is understood as the ideology of Brahmin domination promoting a hierarchical and exclusionary social system.

Maharaja NandakumarThe history of anti-Brahminism should not, however, be traced to Phule, Periyar, or even Ambedkar, who were all trying to reform rather than destroy Hindu society. The real culprit was more likely British imperialism. If the Muslim invaders tried to annihilate the Kshatriyas, the British attempted to finish off the Brahmins. After the East India Company assumed the overlordship of Bengal, their first execution was of “Maharaja” Nandakumar, a leading Brahmin opponent of the Governor-General, Warren Hastings. On 5 August 1775, Nandakumar was hanged for forgery, a capital crime under British law. But how was such a law applicable to India?

Macaulay, though an imperialist, called the execution a judicial murder. He accused Elijah Impey, the first Chief Justice of the Calcutta Supreme Court, of colluding with Hastings.

The hanging of Nandakumar took place near what is now the Vidyasagar Setu. The entire Hindu population shunned the British, moving to the other bank of the river, to protest against British injustice and to avoid the pollution caused by the act.

Today, India is filled not only with Brahmin-baiters and Brahmin-haters, but also of brainwashed and de-brahminised Hindus. My own university, JNU, is full of pamphlets and posters against Brahminism, one even blaming “Brahminical patriarchy” for the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed, who went missing on 15 October 2016. Anti-Brahminism, however, is never considered hate-crime or hate-speech. Why? Don’t Brahmins have human feelings or rights? Brahmins, moreover, are soft targets, scripturally and culturally enjoined not to retaliate. As the Dhammapada (389) puts it, “One should not strike a Brahmin; neither should a Brahmin give way to anger against him who strikes.”

Is it time intellectually to re-arm Brahmins so that they maintain both their own dignity and the veneration of their inherited calling? Does the ideal of the Brahmin continue to be relevant to India, whether we define a Brahmin as one who cannot be bought, a seeker of the highest truth, or a teacher and guide? Shouldn’t such a person, regardless of the jati she or he is born in, continue to be a beacon of light and leadership? As to those born into the community, they may well remember the Kanchi Paramacharya’s sage advice: Fulfill the responsibilities but do not expect the privileges of your birth. – Swarajya, 6 January 2017

» Prof Makarand Paranjape is an author and teaches English at JNU, New Delhi. 

Brahmin & Moghul

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Vedic Rishis: The ancestors of all Indians – Maria Wirth

Maria Wirth“Is it not time that Indians wake up to the treasure hidden in their scriptures which are much older than what western scholars estimated? Those scholars were influenced by the Christian belief that the world was created only some 6000 years back. The Rishis had always thought big and their estimate of the age of this universe is collaborated by astronomy. Further, their claim “the world is maya” was ridiculed, but nowadays nobody ridicules it unless he wants to make a fool of himself.” – Maria Wirth

BrahminSome five years ago there was a small news item in a national paper. At that time Jairam Ramesh was the minister of state for environment and forests and he had stated, ”India is losing at least 2000 patents every year on traditional formulations as the knowledge on these has never been documented.”

I wondered whether the politicians, administrators and academics actually knew where their ancient tradition is documented and what it contains. There is a big gap between the English-speaking academics and the Vedic pandits. The former tend to think that they are superior and represent India’s intelligentsia. However there is great, often untapped knowledge in the other camp of Sanskrit pandits. Their knowledge might even be more crucial for a harmonious society. Sadly, both groups don’t meet because they don’t understand each other. If they would meet and exchange, India in all likelihood would be a frontrunner in scientific innovation, as well as in philosophy and consciousness research. For example, the statement of the Vedas that Parabrahman desired to transform itself into many, and that Brahman is awareness, could have let to the discovery that matter is basically energy (or rather awareness), long before Einstein.

Unfortunately the study of India’s tradition was gravely neglected in independent India. It was even demeaned by so-called intellectuals whose intellect was obviously challenged or rather brainwashed by British education. With the new government, this pitiable situation might change, and the signals that come from the HRD ministry are encouraging.

Many of the Leftist ‘intellectuals’, however, can be expected to shout “saffronisation”. And they usually shout loudly. Sure, everybody has the right to freely express his opinion, but the right to be heard all over the world is reserved for few individuals, and so far, those intellectuals enjoyed this privilege. The Vedic pandits on the other hand, who preserve the traditional knowledge, have been sidelined and even unfairly charged with being the main cause for the backwardness of India.

The bias against the Indian tradition is difficult to understand, except for a lack in self-confidence, because the knowledge that the Rishis uncovered is truly amazing. It is the heritage of all Indians. If any other country had such long history and such great achievements to show, they would stress it on every occasion. Yet in India, this knowledge has been ignored. Instead, academics were ever ready to take up any hypothesis provided it came from the west.

Jesus & DarwinFor example, Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Indians don’t realize that Westerners have only Darwin or the Church to choose from, and Darwin looks more probable, though not really convincing. Indians have other options: they could consider the possibility that there are cycles from Satya Yuga to Kali Yuga. There is plenty of evidence in Indian scriptures that in ancient times, India was spiritually and technologically highly developed.

Over the years, a few attempts were made to dig out India’s treasure. For example, in some universities, a course on Indian psychology is now on offer that has been sourced from ancient scriptures and Sri Aurobindo’s deliberations on the topic. This happened only after Westerners had added a new stream to western psychology that is based on Vedic insights. Yet the Indian origin of ‘transpersonal psychology’ is not acknowledged.

In regard to psychology and philosophy, ancient India was far ahead of the modern west. Still, even today, Indian psychology students learn the simplistic theories of Pavlov and Skinner, whereas in the West, “consciousness studies” have taken off in many universities and institutes.

Ayurveda is finally appreciated in India again, mainly thanks to the efforts of Swami Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna. Yet here, too, it had made already an impact in the West. The Charaka Samhita, a comprehensive treatise about what constitutes health, how to remain healthy and how to regain health, is about 2500 years old. Sushruta Samhita is another treatise from that time. Many formulations in those treatises have not yet been tested in modern times. Some formulations have been tested and several greatly valued drugs were the result of taking ancient scriptures seriously.

Yet ayurveda, psychology and of course yoga are only some aspects of India’s ancient knowledge. There is much more, and so far it was left mainly to foreigners to exploit it for their own benefit.

Yajur VedaImportant concepts that are uniquely found in the Vedas have meanwhile been proven correct by science. Some other concepts still need to be scrutinized, but never has any concept been proven wrong. Yet most educated Indians are ignorant about their great ancestors and don’t give them the respect they deserve.

For example the credit for the discovery of the earth going around the sun should be given to the Vedic Rishis and not to Copernicus, who lived only a few hundred years ago. Or the credit for the discovery of the solar spectrum of colours and the cosmic rays should be given to them and not to Newton and Hess respectively. Here are a few samples of what a Vedic pandit had translated and written down for me:

  • Earth goes around the sun – Rg Veda 10. 22. 14. and Yajur Veda 3. 6.
  • Sun neither rises nor sets – Atraya Brahman 3’44 and Gopatha Brahman 2’4’10.
  • Sun and whole universe are round – Yajur Veda 20. 23
  • Moon is enlightened by the sun – Yajur Veda 18, 20.
  • There are many suns – Rg Veda 9. 114. 3.
  • Seven colours in the sun – Atharva Veda 7. 107. 1.
  • Electromagnetic field, conversion of mass and energy – Rg 10. 72.

As the ancient Rishis were on target on these issues, their other statements may well also be correct or at least worthy of being taken seriously. Please see in this context my article on India’s wisdom and modern science.

ConfuciousChina is not hesitating to extract what it can from its ancient knowledge, and why not? A major part of the money that is generated worldwide through Feng Shui and acupuncture flows back to China. In contrast, India is getting a measly 2 percent of the money from the huge yoga market in the West, a report stated.

Is it not time that Indians wake up to the treasure hidden in their scriptures which are much older than what Western scholars estimated? Those scholars were influenced by the Christian belief that the world was created only some 6000 years back. The Rishis had always thought big and their estimate of the age of (this) universe is collaborated by astronomy. Further, their claim “the world is maya” was ridiculed, but nowadays nobody ridicules it unless he wants to make a fool of himself.

The greatest treasure of India’s wisdom, however, lies in the knowledge of what the human being truly is: he is not a separate person, the Vedas claim. He is one with Brahman. His essence is pure, infinite consciousness. And it is possible to realize this truth by living a dharmic life and doing sadhana. When the mind is stilled by dropping thoughts, the divine dimension of one’s being is accessed. True inspiration and intuition come from this level, and true happiness as well.

And how to drop thoughts? In the Vijnanabhairava, one of the texts of Kashmir Shaivism, 112 methods are described. Maybe they are already patented in the West and come to India in the form of seminars held by foreigners charging hefty fees? The participants from the wealthy elite would not notice.

However, in spite of the lack of traditional knowledge in the English educated classes, Indian tradition is fortunately still alive among many who don’t speak English. They make India still positively stand out among other countries, in spite of the vigorous attempts by media to blacken her image.

These Indians were not brainwashed by the British education against everything “Hindu”. They don’t need psychological workshops. They still have reverence for their ancestors, though they may not know what their Rishilegacy consists of in detail, yet they know the basics like: “Ishwar or Brahman is everywhere” and “harming others will harm them in turn”. Many are grateful that especially Brahmins have taken great pains over the millennia and still take pains to preserve the Vedas for posterity by learning an incredibly huge number of slokas by heart.

If the Indian establishment, too, honours the ancient Vedic rishis and the modern Sanskrit pandits by discovering and spreading their insights, it would not only help character building in a big way, but also would instill pride in Indians to be the offspring of such great ancestors. The Vedic knowledge could again flow out all over, as it has done in earlier times and humanity as a whole would benefit. – Maria Wirth Blog, 7 June 2014

» Maria Wirth is German and came to India for a holiday after finishing her psychology studies at Hamburg University. With the blessing of a number of saints, she continues to live in India, sharing her insights with German and Indian readers through articles and books. However, when in recent years, she noticed that there seemed to be a concerted effort to prevent Indians—and the world—from knowing how valuable this ancient Indian heritage is, she started to point out the unique value of Indian traditions.

 

Ramachandra Guha: The ignorant, intolerant Indian liberal – Vijaya Rajiva

Professor Icon“If Indian liberalism is represented by the ignorance of the country’s Sanskrit tradition it is not surprising that the Hindus of the country are in turn contemptuous of this failure. The binary opposition that Mr. Guha sets up between patriots and partisans is reflective of the limited nature of his own perspectives. Until he comes to an understanding of his own history, Mr. Guha will remain a limited writer of books that are sponsored by well-known international publishers.” – Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

Ramachandran GuhaOutlook India has done great damage to historian/cricketologist/enivironmentalist and man of many parts, Ramachandra Guha. It has published an advance preview of his forthcoming book ‘Patriots and Partisans’ (Penguin) by printing excerpts from it. The excerpts are placed under the title ‘Who Milks this Cow?’ (Nov. 19, 2012). Mr. Guha refers to himself as a LIBERAL. It is difficult to believe that these excerpts were published without the knowledge of the author. It is possible that the editor of Outlook India was acting either with excessive liberal zeal or what is the more mundane explanation he was trying to boost sagging sales with this sensationalism.

The article is an astonishing collection of vituperative attacks on the Sangh Parivar, the RSS, the Hindutvadins, the Hindus of the diaspora, the Internet Hindus etc. It is astonishing because Mr. Guha seems to be quoting mainly from private emails he received from various quarters which berate him, rebuke him for being anti Hindutva and so on. Now, Ramachandra Guha is not surely lying about these emails, he is too intelligent for that. The question arises as to why he is publicising these emails in the first place. One is tempted to say that he has been set up as a hatchet man! Surely a historian described as a ‘leading’ Indian historian can do better than indulge in these infantile gimmicks?

The present writer had read some of his earlier environmental work approvingly and when the book ‘India After Gandhi‘ came out (2008) it seemed an impressive work, if only for the enormous amount of work that the author had put into it. Its serious evaluation still awaits, but whatever its shortcomings there is no doubt that it represented a serious effort in the genre of historical chronicle. It would be useful to compare and contrast this work with Radha Rajan’s ‘Eclipse of the Hindu Nation‘ (2009). He begins the book by wondering out aloud as to what was special about the Indian achievement and why and so on. One waited to see if he had arrived at some conclusion, which he clearly had not by the end of the book. And it seems that he is still searching. The forthcoming book might resolve the mystery.

However, the excerpts above are not an encouraging prognosis.

Outlook IndiaBut assuming that Mr. Guha was in earnest about his appraisal of the above movements and organisations based on some random emails that he received, one cannot help but wonder whether this promising author has begun to lose it. His ideological dislike, bordering on ‘hatred’ of anything that resembles the different versions of India (different from his ‘liberal’ versions) that have been thrown up, is a disappointment and an intimation of what is to come. This is ‘liberalism’ at its most intolerant and vindictive mode! Its failures are harmful to the country and act as catalysts for discontent.

Hindutva, which is Mr. Guha’s target, has been written about since the time of Savarkar in the 1920s. Shri Savarkar had raised the question of who is a Hindu? He had answered that it was any citizen of the future independent India, regardless of race, religion, caste, creed etc. He was one of the first caste Hindus who initiated intercaste dining and so on. It is this type of thinking that animated Dr. K.B. Hedgewar to establish the RSS (Rashtriya Seva Sangh) in 1925 and whose philosophy the present RSS follows faithfully to the letter. And if the Sangh Parivar organisations which do sterling social service work in the country, do have many members who are vegetarians (Mr. Guha was not sympathetic to this in his book ‘India after Gandhi,’ and this strikes a jarring note in the book) then he is to blame, not the vegetarians!

Indeed, apart from the fact that vegetarianism might be a good thing after all from a health point of view, it might be useful for the reader to be informed that the latest documentary on cattle trafficking, called ‘Their Last Journey,’ mentions that India is the third largest producer of meat in the world and that too under the most horrifying practices which cause untold suffering to the animals. Perhaps Mr. Guha is well advised to view this documentary (it is available here).

Are these people who produce such humanitarian videos to be dismissed as Hindutvadins? If so, three cheers for Hindutvadins! Even by any yardstick (Mr. Guha’s liberalism or otherwise) the job they do in publicising the plight of these animals is something that Mahatma Gandhi himself would have endorsed. Mahatma Gandhi is a name that Mr. Guha frequently evokes in admiration. There are also Hindu groups that work towards the protection of Hindu temples, again surely a worthwhile task when the liberal atmosphere is not conducive to such efforts. Don’t Hindus have the right to protect their temples? Should not the country engage in constructive activity that would keep the temples as World Heritage sites ? Why in a country that is predominantly Hindu should Mr. Guha display a tendency towards unpatriotic proclivities ? Is it surprising then that people write angry letters to newspapers or even to him ? Why indeed do Indian liberals jump up and down at the perfectly respectable word ‘rashtram‘ (of Vedic lineage). The goddess Sarasvati has said: aham rashtrii sangamani abhyudayam (I move people towards their welfare). It is time that Mr. Guha read the Rig Vedic corpus, since no serious historian of the country and its culture can afford to neglect it.

Patriots and Partisans If Indian liberalism is represented by the ignorance of the country’s Sanskrit tradition it is not surprising that the Hindus of the country are in turn contemptuous of this failure. The binary opposition that Mr. Guha sets up between patriots and partisans is reflective of the limited nature of his own perspectives. Until he comes to an understanding of his own history, Mr. Guha will remain a limited writer of books that are sponsored by well-known international publishers.

Then again, Mr. Guha’s pet peeve seems to be Hindus in the diaspora. Many of these whom he maligns not only contribute to the foreign exchange reserves of the country, they also put their money where their mouth is, by supporting worthwhile causes such as the education of girls, or the education of tribal children and so on, which also happens to be organised by the Sangh Parivar organisations. Or is Mr. Guha saying that only the people that he authorises, puts his stamp of approval on, are allowed to undertake such philanthropic works? Here again is liberal narrow-mindedness at its worst!

Now to the question of caste? If, as he says in the excerpts above, his family divested themselves of the sacred thread, is it mandatory for all Hindus in that category to follow suit. Indeed, this much abused section of Hindu society in recent times, has been responsible for the preservation of ancient rituals from Vedic times. A good example (but not the only one) would be the Nambudiris of Kerala who have maintained the Athiratram Yagna rituals unchanged since Vedic times. It is to the scholars from this caste and community that Hindus owe the faithful transmission of Sanskrit texts and traditions. Is Mr. Guha saying that they should all follow in his family’s footsteps and throw out Hindu sacred rituals from the Vedic homa onwards and consign Hindu sacred literature to museums? Indeed all over India it is this community which has through thick and thin , through barbarian invasions and atrocities kept the Hindu Agni alive. Sadly, Mr. Guha in his new-found role as the Grand Inquisitor has forgotten his history.

Guha and his editor!With regard to the Dalit question his family’s service in helping them is to be commended. But his further assumption that this is the only effort being made in India is ludicrous. Both the GOI and the NGOs (which include the Sangh Parivar organisations) and ordinary individuals have worked to alleviate the situation of the Dalits? En passant, it should be pointed out to him that it is one of his much disliked Hindus in the diaspora who has written an excellent recent monograph on the topic. He is well advised to read Dr. Rakesh Bahadur’s ‘Equality and Inclusion: Progress and Development of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes In Independent India‘ (2010).

As for the question of minorities, he rightly raises the question of violence, but is selective in pointing out only that which is committed by the Hindus and is silent on the atrocities committed by the minority community (in this case the Muslim) both historically, in recent times and at present.

Outlook India may unintentionally be doing a service to the nation by the preview. Readers can expect to read more of the same and are forewarned. Far from being the work of a contemporary Indian intellectual it might turn out to be a diatribe against Hindus in general. The inquisition against the Hindutvadins is usually that.

» Dr Vijaya Rajiva is a Political Philosopher who lives in Montreal and taught at a Canadian university.

See also

The Dravidian identity crisis – S. Aravindan Neelakandan

S. Aravindan NeelakandanToday, the 100-year-old Dravidian movement is struggling to remain relevant. It has become socially, culturally, historically and spiritually a failed movement. Like all failed movements it lives in desperation. And like all desperate entities it seeks violence and hatred to justify its existence.” – S. Aravindan Neelakandan

M. KarunanidhiOur enemies, the Brahmins, should tremble in fear.” When DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi made this public statement early this year as part of the centenary of celebrations of the Dravidian movement, Bishop Robert Caldwell of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) would have had rolled over in ecstasy in his grave. After all, it was Bishop Caldwell who gave the fundamentals of the racial framework for the interpretation of south Indian history.

Like the term ‘Arya’, the term ‘Dravida’ also has a long history. Traditional Indian psyche with its diverse streams, including the Vedic, Buddhist and Jain, never interpreted these terms in racial terms. While the term ‘Arya’ relates to a person of culture, ‘Dravida’ refers to a specific geographical region well within the cultural matrix of India. However, after Max Muller read racial meaning in the term ‘Arya’ and Europeanised it as ‘Aryan’, colonial-missionary binary constructs of Aryan-aboriginal started fast percolating into the psyche of educated classes of Indians — both Brahmins and non-Brahmins. Bishop Caldwell, whom DMK supremo praised limitless, added a conspiracy theory to this racial framework. No, Aryans did not conquer the Dravidians, he said, but they sent their stooges the cunning Brahmins who through their religion enslaved the Dravidian kings. According to Caldwell, Tamil kings were gullible enough to accept the title ‘Shudra’ when Brahmins told them that it was a title of honour. ‘Cunning Aryans’ also invented what is now known as Hinduism as a means to enslave Dravidians!

Bishop Robert CaldwellToday, the Aryan-Dravidian binary stands rejected by archaeology and dismissed repeatedly by genetic studies. However, the apologists of the Dravidian movement claim that it was nevertheless a tool for social emancipation and had to be understood in that context. How much truth is contained in such a claim?

The racial theory enunciated by Caldwell had three components: The Aryans, the Dravidians and the Dalits. The Dalits were of little consequence in the narrative constructed by Caldwell. His main aim was projecting the Aryan-Dravidian divide. And this became an integral part of Dravidian political ideology. Herein lies the main spiritual weakness of the Dravidian movement: It could never speak whole-heartedly for the Dalit rights. Throughout the history of the Dravidian movement one sees this deficiency. Rettaimalai Srinivasan, one of the pioneers of the Dalit movement in Tamil Nadu, which was then part of the Madras presidency, though then he had no reason to question the Aryan-Dravidian theory, realised that even if one accepts the binary, the so-called Brahminical and non-Brahminical religious traditions were organically linked. In fact, he along with Baba Saheb Ambedkar at the Round Table Conference in London had petitioned the British to label the depressed classes as “non-conformist Hindus or reformist Hindus or protestant Hindus”.

Rettamalai SrinivasanAnother great Dalit leader of Tamil Nadu was M.C. Rajah. He parted ways with the Justice Party, which was the political expression of non-Brahmin politics. He, too, was appreciative of the reform agenda then taken up by the Hindu Mahasabha. Ayyankali, the first Dalit freedom fighter of Kerala, who successfully won the educational rights of Dalits in Kerala through a bitter battle, had no use for the Aryan-Dravidian racial construct. Incidentally, he had his initial inspirations from monks who had their roots in Arya Samaj. Nor did Sri Narayana Guru ever use the racial framework of Caldwell for his social emancipation fight. Rather, he used Advaita Vedanta for the liberation of the oppressed.

The decisive blow against the Dravidian ideology as a tool for social emancipation was dealt by none other than Ambedkar. Bodhisattva of our times, Ambedkar rejected the racial interpretation of Indian social reality decisively. Discarding the Western theory that the so-called untouchables and Brahmins belonged to different races, Ambedkar stated that if anthropometry was to be considered a science then based on exhaustive data, Brahmin and the Dalit did not belong to separate races but one. “The Brahmin and the untouchable belong to the same race,” he said. This was a basic fundamental truth which the south Indian non-Brahmin movement, which labelled itself ‘rationalist’, never grasped.

M.C. RajaE.V. Ramasami (EVR), the primal patriarch of Dravidian racism, who was also donning the cap of “the sun of rationalism” never understood the fallacy of his demand for Dravidstan. In July 1947, he attacked Ambedkar of betrayal and as having gone to side of “dry North Indian philosophy” and standing for a “United India”.

The Dravidian race theory also contained in it a denial of Dalits as part of the same race. This contempt for Dalits as part of the Dravidian movement has often manifested itself in abusive and violent forms. EVR himself often spoke in venomous contempt against the Dalits. Dalit leaders of his time protested vehemently against his disparaging remarks attributing the rise in the price of cloth to Dalit women wearing jacket. It was only after decades, that too during an election period, that EVR came up with a lame explanation for his alleged statement which did not cut much ice across the Dalit leaders.

The unkindest cut of all came in the form of a Dalit massacre in 1969. In a village in Tamil Nadu (the notorious Keezhvenmani massacre) non-Brahmin upper caste landlords torched alive landless Dalit workers, who were non-violently agitating for an increase in the wages. EVR came up with a condemnation of the incident. He started with the condemnation of the concept of Satyagraha, which according to him had made common people rebels. Then he ended up condemning those who ‘instigated’ the Dalits to fight for higher wages. There was not a single word of condemnation against the non-Brahmin landlords.

Dr. B.R. AmbedkarAmbedkar was bitter about Hindu society for its suicidal maintenance of the oppressive caste system. But he never let that bitterness become hatred. He never compromised on the safety and integrity of the nation. He always saw him as part of the great process of renaissance and social emancipation movement that started with the wisdom of the Upanishads and manifested in the compassion of Buddha. He and his movement were staunchly rooted in the principles of democracy and Ambedkar traced the spiritual basis of Indian democracy to the ‘Mahavakyas’ of the Upanishads. One finds such deeper and holistic understanding of Indian social history conspicuous by its absence in the Dravidian movement.

On the contrary, the Dravidian movement rooted itself in the false racial doctrine of Aryan-Dravidian theory. It was based on a racial hatred for Brahmins as the other. Though in later days, democratic compulsions forced C.N. Annadurai to overcome this hatred, he too was not above lamenting that the social reality of Tamil society prevented him from implementing Hitler’s methods in eliminating the Brahmins. However, the people of Tamil Nadu were cautious in the sense that they repeatedly rejected the hardcore pseudo-rationalist, racist DMK and preferred the ADMK which during the charismatic M.G. Ramachandran’s time was more inclusive of the Dalits, more sensitive to Hindu religious sentiments and had a better democratic and humanitarian face.

E.V. RamaswamyToday, the 100-year-old Dravidian movement is struggling to remain relevant. It has become socially, culturally, historically and spiritually a failed movement. Like all failed movements it lives in desperation. And like all desperate entities it seeks violence and hatred to justify its existence. The term ‘social justice’ has become synonymous in the Dravidian movement for a racial hatred for Brahmins and a passionate hatred against Indic spiritual traditions. Thankfully, people have realised its ideological bankruptcy. – The Pioneer, New Delhi, 18 August 2012

» With inputs from M. Venakatesan, author and an emerging Dalit historian.  S. Aravindan Neelakandan is the co-author of a path-breaking book on Dravidian and Dalit faultlines, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines.

King Porus’ defeat of Alexander at the Battle of the Hydaspes (Jhelum) – N.S. Rajaram

N.S. Rajaram“Indian history has been distorted to meet the ideological needs of the ruling powers, a situation that continues to the present day. The pattern though is startling: just as the myth of the Aryan invasion was created to make Vedas and Sanskrit foreign imports, the myth of Greek superiority beginning with Alexander’s victory in India was concocted to make Greek learning superior to Indian. It was a claim the Greeks themselves never made. It was not for nothing that Napoleon called history a ‘fable agreed upon.'” – Dr. N.S. Rajaram

Alexander & BucephalusAccording to colonial British historians and their Indian followers, Alexander’s campaign in India (actually West Punjab now in Pakistan) was one of the most important episodes in Indian history. The reasons given are two. First it allowed scholars to establish a chronological marker for Indian history by identifying Sandracottos of Greek records with Chandragupta the founder of the Maurya Empire. This made him a contemporary of Alexander whose dates are known from other sources. This equation, known as the ‘Greek Synchronism’, is hailed as the sheet anchor of Indian history and chronology. All other dates are derived assuming it to be correct.

No less importantly, Alexander’s ‘victory’ has been used as evidence of European superiority over Indians even in ancient times. This soon led to the claim that all Indian achievements from astronomy and mathematics to Sanskrit drama and epic poetry must have been borrowed from the Greeks. (like: Ramayana was a copy of the Iliad!) It is commonplace among Western Indologists to claim that all Indian science and mathematics were borrowed from the Greeks after Alexander. (If so why didn’t the Greeks have the decimal place value system for another thousand years, which they got from India?) Some even claim that Indian writing was borrowed from the Greeks. Anyone who questions this is immediately denounced as a chauvinist incapable of logic.

Chandragupta MauryaThe idea is fantastic. Alexander entered India in the winter of 327 — 326 BC and left when a mutiny of his soldiers forced him to retreat with heavy losses. As we shall see later his stay was brief and troubled. Philip, the satrap he left in charge of the garrisons was murdered by the locals and his garrisons swiftly overrun. Seleucus who tried to recover them was defeated and driven out. But to go by the accounts of colonial scholars, Alexander must have brought an army not of soldiers but scholars and scientists who taught Indians everything from writing to astronomy — all in a matter of months!

Contrast this with the British experience. Their rule lasted two centuries, and at its height included all of India. And yet India retained its identity and knowledge, learning from the British of course but adapting them to Indian conditions. The Greeks were in control, if at all of a remote corner of India for a few months. How could they achieve so great a transformation in so short a time that the British couldn’t in centuries? But such questions are dismissed as chauvinistic and unworthy of debate. So it is best to leave these claims alone and look at what the records have to say.

Samudragupta

Greek and Indian records

Before we examine these claims, especially Alexander’s supposed military success against the Indians a few facts should be kept in mind. No Greek records from the period survive; we know about them only from later, much later accounts that refer to them. This includes the Indica of Megasthenes which is only known from references in later works by writers like Strabo, Diodorus, Plutarch and a few others. And none of them mention the word Maurya. Several scholars have suggested that Sandrocottos of the Greek records could have been Samudragupta of the later Gupta dynasty. This would topple the Greek synchronism and place the Maurya dynasty including Chandragupta and Ashoka several centuries before Alexander.

The point to note here is that the whole of Indian chronology rests on the correctness of this linguistic similarity between Sandrakottos and Chandragupta (Maurya). There is no technical or inscriptional evidence to support it. Ashoka’s inscriptions don’t mention Alexander even though other kings are mentioned by name. Nonetheless historians for the most part have taken it as proven although a few dissident scholars are questioning it citing some recent archaeological finds. It is important to note that Ashoka’s date, as well as the dates of his inscriptions are deduced from this Greek Synchronism and not based on any scientific grounds like radiocarbon tests. (Recent archaeological data relating to stratification seem to cast doubt on it, but this line is not pursued here.)

R.C. MajumdarIn all this there is an implicit assumption that Western sources are always reliable and objective and should be accepted without question. But the trustworthiness of Greek accounts on which much of this version of history is based, including those of Megasthenes and his successor Deimachus, has been questioned from the earliest time. The late R.C. Majumdar pointed out that we must give up any notion that they were somehow more reliable than others — a view propagated by colonial historians. Even the ancient Strabo (c. 65 BC — c. 24 AD) wrote: “Generally speaking, the men who hitherto have written on the affairs of India were a set of liars. Deimachus holds the first place in the list, Megasthenes comes next…. Of this we became the more convinced whilst writing the history of Alexander. No faith whatever can be placed in Deimachus and Megasthenes.”

ChanakyaIn contrast to the paucity of Greek records, we have ample records from Indian sources — Hindu, Buddhist and Jain — from the periods before and after Alexander. The most famous of these is the Arthashastra of Kautilya who was a contemporary of Chandragupta Maurya and hence of Alexander if his identification with Sandrakottos is correct. While they know nothing of Alexander, they do note invasions by others like the Scythians (Shaka), Huns (Huna), Persians (Parasika), Parthians (Prithu-Parthava) and others. The word ‘Yavana’ (Yona in Prakrit) is fairly common in the late ancient age, but does not always mean the Greeks (or Ionians) much less Macedonians.

The first identifiable reference to Alexander in an Indian work is found in Banabhatta’s Harshacarita written almost a thousand years after Alexander’s invasion. In this Bana refers to an Alikasundara and his campaign against a country ruled by women (stree-rajya) or ‘Amazons’. They are probably the same as the Massagetae whose warrior queen Tomyris defeated and killed the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great around 535 BC. Their country corresponds to modern Kazakhstan, so Alexander would have encountered them on his march towards Afghanistan (or Bactria).

AristotleThis suggests that the impact of Alexander’s march on India has been exaggerated out of all proportion to reality by historians of the colonial era. In order to get a truer picture it is necessary to have some idea of the historical and political background to Alexander’s campaign which was part of Macedonia’s expansionist policy and not just a bolt from the blue. Alexander was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia and Olympias, the fourth of Philip’s seven (or eight) wives. As Macedonians, they were looked down upon by the Greeks as half-barbarians. Probably to counter this, Philip engaged Aristotle to tutor Alexander in Greek learning.

It was Philip who initiated an expansionist policy by invading and occupying Athens and other parts of Greece proper. To this end Philip introduced a military innovation known as the ‘phalanx’ — a compact and disciplined infantry formation that could fight as a unit. This proved successful against the tribes of Asia Minor and Central Asia, as well as the once mighty but now disintegrating Persian Empire. These were pitched battles in which Alexander’s disciplined phalanxes proved superior. They proved less effective in India where he needed to move against large formations over vast areas.

PhalanxPhilip was assassinated in 336 BC, plotted by Alexander’s mother Olympias according to some historians. Alexander III (to give his official name) inherited his father’s kingdom as well as the powerful army that he had created. He continued Philip’s policy of subduing the Greek states, which they intensely disliked, and expanded east and south until his forces were in Asia Minor (East Turkey). Egypt, which was chafing under Persian rule threw off its yoke and greeted Alexander as liberator. In 334 BC, he turned his attention to the wealthy but decaying Persian Empire.

Alexander’s campaign against the Persian Empire consisted of a series of raids in which he plundered wealthy cities like Issus, Susa and Persepolis, the last of which he reduced to ashes. They were not unlike Mahmud of Ghazni’s raids into India 1300 years later. Darius III, the unworthy bearer of a great name, proved both incompetent and unpopular. He was captured and killed by one of his own subordinate rulers, Bessus of Bactria. In his Persian campaigns Alexander was greatly helped by his general Parmenion (c. 400 — 330 BC) who had loyally served his father also. Alexander repaid hiDarius IIIs loyalty by having the seventy year-old general executed on false charges of disloyalty. (This shows that Alexander was not the kind of man to reward a defeated adversary like Porus.)

By 330 BC, Alexander found himself in Central Asia and Bactria (Afghanistan), trying to consolidate his hold over what were once parts of the Persian Empire. He was now near the border of India. He, like his contemporaries had heard a great deal about the country and its legendary wealth. Whether it was his love of plunder or imperial ambition that attracted him, he descended into the plains of Punjab in the winter of 327 BC.

This shows that Alexander was not the first foreigner to take an interest in India. There were others — traders, mercenary soldiers and adventurers before and after Alexander. Some even set up kingdoms, or tried to until uprooted or assimilated into in the region of the northwest. They are referred to as the Indo-Greeks. They should be seen as part and parcel of long standing encounters between India and the people to the west though most of them were not military in nature. We need to have some idea of this to get a truer picture of Alexander’s campaign and its impact.

Hérodotus

“History — a fable agreed upon”

Links between India and the West, including the Mediterranean world of Greece, Ionia, Egypt and Rome is of untold antiquity. It is important to recognize that the ancient Greeks did not see themselves as Europeans, but as one with other people of the Mediterranean region that included Egypt, Babylonia and Persia. To them Europe and its people were barbarian. As previously observed, Alexander and his fellow Macedonians were seen by the Greek elite as barely a step removed from being barbarians.

Other than a few questionable references in the Old Testament, the earliest Western work to mention India appears to be the Histories of Herodotus (c. 484 — 425 BC). His writings indicate that there were others before him who had visited India including possibly Pythagoras (c. 570 — 495 BC). It is not known if Herodotus himself was ever in India. His writings (or those ascribed to him) do not suggest any great familiarity with India of the time. But they do show that India and its people were already familiar to the Greeks centuries before Alexander.

Until the campaigns of Alexander, there was no large scale Greek presence in India though a few Greek colonies did exist in the northwestern regions of the subcontinent. Following his failure to gain a position in India and the defeat of his successor Seleucus Nikator, relationships between the Indians and the Greeks and the Romans later, was mainly through trade and diplomacy. Also the Greeks and other ancient peoples did not see themselves as in any way superior, only different. Herodotus in fact is full of admiration for Egyptians, Persians and the Ethiopians (Africans). The notion of Greeks as superior to Indians and other non-Europeans was a conceit introduced by Europeans of the colonial period.

Alexander & PorusTo preserve this conceit of ‘European’ superiority, colonial officials made the Greeks all but the bringers of knowledge to India — a claim the Greeks themselves never made. As a first step, these ‘scholars’ turned what was Alexander’s disastrous defeat into a victory that somehow resulted in his ‘defeated’ opponent ending up with more territory! Alexander also had to face a mutiny by his supposedly ‘victorious’ army and forced to beat a hasty retreat that resulted in the near destruction of his army and his own premature death. Further, his position became so weak that Alexander dared not return by the northern route by which he had come but took the forbiddingly inhospitable southern desert route where water is very scarce. (This is reflected in the legend of how Alexander on his deathbed gave the last cup of water he was about to drink to a thirsty soldier.)

This historically realistic picture was first brought to light — to Indians at least — by the famous Russian general and military thinker Marshal Georgy Zhukov. In his convocation address delivered at the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, Zhukov stated that Alexander’s conduct in the aftermath of his battle with Porus showed that he had suffered a catastrophic defeat. According to Zhukov, Alexander in his Indian campaign had fared far worse than Napoleon in Russia. A careful examination of Greek and Roman sources like Plutarch reinforces Zhukov’s analysis who was undoubtedly familiar with them. In particular it shows that his supposed victory over Porus was a later fabrication.

Marshal Georgy ZhukovHere is how Plutarch described Alexander’s ‘victory’: “This last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians’ courage and stayed their further progress in India…. Alexander not only offered to Porus to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself but gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he had subdued.” So Porus emerged from his war with his territory doubled and his gold stock augmented. This can only mean that Alexander had to buy peace with Porus to ensure a safe passage for himself and his troops. How this constitutes victory is known only to colonial historians and their gullible Indian followers.

Worse fate awaited Alexander and his army on their way south. As he was trying to withdraw, Alexander nearly lost his life in a battle near Mulasthana (the modern Multan), and managed to escape thanks to the bravery of his friend Peucestas who sacrificed his life to save Alexander. Alexander and what was left of his army beat a hasty retreat towards Babylon through Sind only to be decimated. The ‘world conqueror’ died in Babylon — a shadow of his arrogant self. All this is recorded by Plutarch who goes on to add, “Alexander left deceptive monuments to exaggerate the scale of his successes in India.”

This should give an idea of how seriously Indian history has been distorted to meet the ideological needs of the ruling powers, a situation that continues to the present day. The pattern though is startling: just as the myth of the Aryan invasion was created to make Vedas and Sanskrit foreign imports, the myth of Greek superiority beginning with Alexander’s victory in India was concocted to make Greek learning superior to Indian. It was a claim the Greeks themselves never made. It was not for nothing that Napoleon called history a “fable agreed upon.”

Prithviraj Kapoor (To balance this it should be added that the 1941 movie Sikander with Sohrab Modi as the brave but defeated Porus and Prithviraj Kapoor as the victorious Alexander chivalrously restoring the defeated Porus to his kingdom did as much to seal the myth of Alexander and his nobility as any colonial era history book. It was released at the height of World War II when the nationalist sentiment was running high. It captured the mood of the people.)

In conclusion we may say that while ancient records may not give us a full picture of the Battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum River) between Alexander and Porus, they certainly tell us it was far from being a victory. Of one thing we can be sure: like Napoleon’s march on Moscow, it was the beginning of the end of Alexander’s career as world conqueror. After a disastrous retreat through Sindh and Makran, Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC, broken in health and spirit. – Folks Magazine, 2 March 2012

» Dr. Navaratna S. Rajaram is a mathematician and historian who publishes with Voice of India.

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