Decoding the Idea of India – Michel Danino

Ramayana & Mahabharata

Prof Michel DaninoWhen the ancient Greeks referred to “India”, the Chinese to “Tianzhu” or the Arabs to “Hind”, they had in mind something more than a mere geographical expanse beyond the Hindu Kush or the Himalayas; what their testimonies express is an underlying cultural unity as a defining factor for “India”. – Prof Michel Danino

It is often said that Indian history is not very different from that of other parts of the world: the same power struggles, the same tales of warfare, treachery or conquest, the same social injustices and exploitation.
The conclusion, explicitly stated or not, is that India’s road to progress lies in the modern “idea” of a “secular” nation built on the democratic structures and principles that post-Enlightenment Europe created for itself. Nothing better can be conceived of, apparently, even though Western democracies are increasingly beset with challenges to their very foundations.

But let us remain with India for now. As a nation, modern India, thus, emerged from the colonial age; there is no dispute on that. But did something identifiable as “India” exist earlier? When the ancient Greeks referred to “India”, the Chinese to “Tianzhu” or the Arabs to “Hind”, they had in mind something more than a mere geographical expanse beyond the Hindu Kush or the Himalayas; what their testimonies express is an underlying cultural unity as a defining factor for “India”.

Said al-Andalusi, a Spanish historian and astronomer, for instance, wrote in 1068, “The Indians, among all nations, through the centuries and since antiquity, were the source of wisdom, justice and moderation. They were a people endowed with virtues of self-control, creators of sublime thoughts, universal fables, rare inventions and remarkable conceptions.”

History of IndiaAt the other end of the spectrum, we find a British historian, John R. Seeley, spelling out in 1883 the colonial gospel: “India is not one country, and therefore it has not one civilisation. It has not even so much unity as it seems to have…”

It was therefore the colonial rule that created that unity and made India one nation. If so, what did the Vishnu Purana, a text at least 1,500 years old, mean when it stated, “The country that lies north of the ocean, and south of the snowy mountains, is called Bharata”?

Indologists have long identified a few mechanisms that helped create the unity underlying the rightly celebrated, mind-boggling diversity that strikes any student of India. One of them is the institution of pilgrimage, a most effective way, along with trade, to get people to travel the length and breadth of the subcontinent.

Networks of shrines were consciously created, although we shall never know their creators: the char dhams at the four “corners” of the land (Badrinath, Rameswaram, Dwarka, Puri); the fifty-one Shakti mahapithas dotting the entire map, including what are today Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where parts of the body of the deceased Sati are said to have fallen, turning the land into a metaphor for the divine mother; the twelve Jyotirlingas; the Kumbhamela sites (originally twelve of them); the 108 Divya Desam shrines to Vishnu; and numerous regional networks.

The result: “India has, for ages past, been a country of pilgrimages. All over the country, you find these ancient places, from Badrinath, Kedarnath and Amarnath, high up in the snowy Himalayas down to Kanyakumari in the south. For, from the very beginning of history, the people of India always thought of themselves as a people belonging to one great country. What has drawn out people from the north to the south, and from the south to the north in these great pilgrimages? What is the common thought that has made them travel from one region to the other? It is the feeling of one country and one culture, and this feeling has bound us together.” The author of these remarks is not some Hindu communalist but the very embodiment of post-Independence secularism—Jawaharlal Nehru himself.

Second mechanism, closely related to the first, is the creation of a sacred geography in which mountains, rivers, trees and animals, are imbued with divinity; I will return to this in the next article in this series. And a third is the spread of the two Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, across the subcontinent and far beyond. It is remarkable how these two grand tales, replete not only with heroism but with human frailty and treachery, captured people’s imagination. The Mahabharata lists 363 communities (janas) across the map, and many of them, including some that we today call “tribal”, returned the compliment by taking pride in owning the epic, translating, adapting or retelling it in endless variations. In Tamil Nadu alone, a recent survey enumerated “about a hundred versions that have come down to us in folklore forms”!

Much more than the Vedas or the Upanishads, the two epics culturally united the land (and much of Southeast Asia) in a tight web. “India has all along been trying experiments in evolving a social unity within which all the different peoples could be held together, while fully enjoying the freedom of maintaining their own differences. … This has produced something like a United States of a social federation, whose common name is Hinduism.”

Again, is this the utterance of some jingoistic mind? Judge for yourself, since Rabindranath Tagore is its author, however offensive it might appear today to a certain class of Indian intellectuals. Note the key phrase, while fully enjoying the freedom of maintaining their own differences.

The whole process was not one ordered by some central religious or political power; it was organic, decentralized and self-regulated. And note the word “Hinduism”, clearly not in the sense of a narrow set of dogmas imposed by a privileged coterie, but as a bewilderingly complex phenomenon of interaction between all layers of Indian society, in which deities, rituals, beliefs and even texts freely travelled back and forth. That too will call for further discussion. – The New Indian Express, 31 October 2016

» Michel Danino is the author of The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati and Indian Culture and India’s Future. He teaches at IIT Gandhinagar. Email:


The strange irony of Indian history – Michel Danino


Prof Michel DaninoHistory is at the root of the identity individuals, communities and nations choose to give themselves, it has immense bearing on current situations, and no nation escapes historical controversies. – Prof Michel Danino

Indian history presents us with a delightful irony. On the one hand, most schools and colleges teach it in such off-putting manner, with stale textbooks full of howlers, that most students come to hate the topic and happily erase it all from their memories the day after the exam. And on the other hand, Indian history seems to be alive and well, if we judge by the numerous historical debates that have filled the public space, from the Aryan theory to the Ayodhya issue, from the record of Aurangzeb or Tipu Sultan to pinning down the responsibility for the Partition, from “terrorism” in the Freedom Movement to Subhash Chandra Bose’s ultimate fate. That such “debates” are conducted more often through mud-slinging, if not demonization, than in a mature and civilized manner is another matter.

We also have a colourful range of scholars: At one end of the spectrum, some, dreaming of Puranic scales of time, are tempted to take Indian history millions of years into the past (or at least many thousands more than archaeology would permit), to visualize vimanas and other advanced technological devices from earliest times, and to imagine ancient India as a perfect golden age. And at the other end, scholars claiming to practise “scientific” history produce, instead, a brand heavily inflected by ill-suited imported ideologies and models, leave alone factual and methodological flaws. In between, are numerous solid, unprejudiced and meticulous historians who are passionate about the discipline; unfortunately, the wider public rarely gets to hear about them as the media can’t get desired sound bites from them .

Is this scene unique to India? By no means. Because history is at the root of the identity individuals, communities and nations choose to give themselves, it has immense bearing on current situations, and no nation escapes historical controversies. Did the Hebrews migrate from Egypt to Palestine as described in the biblical Exodus? Can the French nation be said to have been created by Joan of Arc? Did the “American holocaust” of Native Americans by the Spanish, Portuguese and British wipe out 100 million lives, as asserted by some scholars? Did the nations that declared their “neutrality” during World War II end up helping the Nazis? Did Stalin’s rule of the USSR result in some 60 million deaths? Is there firm evidence for the genocide of Armenians in 1915 by Turkey? Was Tibet ever an integral part of China, as the latter proclaims? Could the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been avoided?

Such questions can rarely be answered with a fair degree of certainty. Yet it is the job of history to try and answer. What is history, then? A few days ago, I was amused to read that Pakistan’s Sindh Minister for Culture, Tourism and Antiquities demanded that Ashutosh Gowariker, director of the newly released film History of IndiaMohenjo Daro apologize to the Sindhi people for “distorting historical facts and making a mockery of the 5000-year-old highly developed [Harappan] culture and civilization.” I have not watched the film, which does seem to have taken some liberties, but did not expect an avowed piece of fiction and entertainment to be taken so seriously. It is interesting to note in passing that many Indians feel similarly connected to the Indus civilization, many of whose sites are located on this side of the international border. Even such a crude example illustrates sharply enough how history—or protohistory, in this case—remains alive in sensitive ways and is intertwined with questions of national identity.

Yet “history is the lie commonly agreed upon,” in Voltaire’s opinion, which is hardly an optimistic definition. Two hundred years later, the U.S. historians Will and Ariel Durant were a little more explicit: “Our knowledge of any past event is always incomplete, probably inaccurate, beclouded by ambivalent evidence and biased historians, and perhaps distorted by our own patriotic or religious partisanship. Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice.” An honest statement, but still not too hopeful. If, as the British historian E. H. Carr wrote, history is “an unending dialogue … between the society of today and the society of yesterday,” is such a dialogue possible at all when the data it is built upon is so deficient?

In India’s case, Tagore, in an insightful essay titled The History of Bharatavarsha, bitterly complained in 1903, “Our real ties are with the Bharatavarsha that lies outside our textbooks. … It appears as if we are nobody in India; as if those who came from outside alone matter.” He was echoed in 1942 by the scholar and statesman K. M. Munshi: “Most of our histories of India … deal with certain events and periods not from the Indian point of view, but from that of some source to which they are partial and which by its very nature is loaded against India.”

That, of course, was a reference to colonial histories written by the colonial masters. Has the situation much improved? Can we claim that we now have an “Indian perspective” on Indian history? Today, sober-minded Indologists and historians look at India as a civilization rather than a nation in the modern sense of the term; they ask when and how it emerged, and how it managed to integrate the myriad cultures of the subcontinent into one recognizable whole maintaining its original diversity. They query the social, political and administrative systems it evolved, its cultural developments, its myriad ethnic and linguistic units, and its interface with other cultures and civilizations. Despite yawning gaps in the archaeological, epigraphic, literary and economic records, a picture does emerge.

For a perspective of India to be successful, it should, in my opinion, build a sense of identity and belonging to a stream of civilization. But aren’t there many “ideas of India”? I propose to explore this question in later articles. – The New Indian Express, 24 September 2016

» Michel Danino is the author of The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati and Indian Culture and India’s Future. He teaches at IIT Gandhinagar. Email:

Restored impression of Martand Sun Temple by J. Duguid 1870-73

Surya Temple at Marttand, Kashmir from Hardy Cole's Archaeological Survey of India Report 1869

Forget the Koh-i-Noor, the British looted greater treasures from India – Rakesh Krishnan Simha

English pirate Henry Every loading treasure from the captured Moghul ship Ganj-i-Sawai near Yemen.

Rakesh Krishnan Simha“The most savage Islamic invader such as Timur or Mahmud Ghazni would be unable to match the efficiency of the British killing machine. For instance, after the First War for Independence in 1857, the British may have killed up to 10 million Indians in reprisals. In War of Civilisations: India AD 1857, Amaresh Misra, a writer and historian, says the British pursued a decade-long campaign to wipe out millions of people who dared to rise up against them.” – Rakesh K. Simha

On 7 September 1695, state sponsored English pirates attacked a large Indian trading ship, the Ganj-i-Sawai, carrying 900 passengers and crew from Yemen to Surat. After murdering a large number of the men and raping the womenfolk over several days, the pirates took off with gold, silver and precious stones with an estimated value of £200,000 to £600,000 ($400 million in modern times). For perspective, the average annual salary in England in 1688 was around £32.

That was the wealth from just one ship in a single day. During the approximately thirteen thousand days of British rule in India, vessels sailed daily for Britain from ports all along India’s coasts. They were laden with incalculable quantities of wealth and other valuables such as icons, statues, scrolls and books looted from the treasuries of Indian kings, businessmen, temples, landlords, schools, colleges, charitable institutions and the common people.

The thoroughness of the loot can be assessed from the British sacking of Jhansi in 1858. D. V. Tahmankar writes in his book The Ranee of Jhansi that on the first day the British led by Dalhousie carted away the more valuable property, jewellery, gold, silver and money. By the end of the fourth day, they had taken all the rich clothes, beds, mattresses, sheets, blankets, carpets, hinges and bolts on doors and windows, pots and pans, cereals and lentils, farm animals, chairs, charpoys (string beds), bedsteads and even water wheels and ropes with which the people drew water from the wells. “Not a single useful thing was left with the people.”

Dalhousie was following the lofty precedent set a hundred years earlier by Governor Generals Robert Clive and Warren Hastings. Clive had taken £250,000 as well as a jagir worth £27,000 when he returned home to England. That bounty apparently wasn’t enough and he proceeded to steal a million pounds more by shaking down the prostrate Indian kingdoms, businessmen and the peasantry. At his trial Clive said that considering the quantum of wealth he had seen in India, he was astounded at his own moderation at not taking more.

But the loot of gold and silver is hardly enough to destroy an economy. For, in the previous seven centuries, Islamic invaders from Arabia, Turkey, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Persia had raided India countless times and yet India remained wealthy. For instance, what Persian Nader Shah looted in his 1739 invasion of India was greater than the cash appropriated by Clive and his successors in the two decades after 1757.

Even during the reign of the most avaricious and cruel Muslim tyrants, such as the Tughlaqs, Khaljis, Lodhis and Aurangzeb, the people of India’s villages continued in their age old ways of economic production. This is because the Islamic invaders did not tamper with the village economy. It took Britain’s colonial wrecking machine to bring down India.

The British caused irreparable losses to India in a number of sectors. Like a huge sponge Britain soaked up the country’s wealth and simultaneously ruined its industry, agriculture and education. And as a parting shot, they divided the country, thereby ensuring that India would never again be the dominant economic power it once was.

Damascus Steel BladeEconomic Loss

In 1993 Belgian economist Paul Bairoch presented a detailed study of the world economy. In Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes he said that in the year 1750 China’s share of global GDP was 33 percent, India’s 24.5 percent, and the combined share of Britain and the US was two percent. In order to investigate Bairoch’s claims, the OECD constituted the Development Institute Studies under professor Angus Maddison of the University of Groningen. The data Maddison compiled showed India had the largest economy on the planet for 1700 of the past 2000 years.

From 1 CE to 1000 CE, India had a 32 percent share of global GDP. During the second millennium, Islamic invasions disrupted economic activity, and India yielded the top spot to China. Still, India’s share remained at 28-24 percent between 1000 CE and 1700 CE. By 1947, when India became free, the country’s GDP comprised around three percent of the global economy. Here’s how it happened.

First, let’s look at the steel sector, the backbone of any economy, in which India had been a world leader for millennia. India in the eighteenth century had literally thousands of steel mills. The world’s best steel i.e. wootz originated over 2500 years ago in Tamil Nadu where it was known as ukku. The Arabs introduced ukku steel to Damascus, where an entire industry developed for making the legendary Damascus sword. The twelfth century Arab traveller Edrisi mentions the Hinduwani or Indian steel as the best in the world. However, the British banned the production of ukku in 1866 and the process was lost.

Historian Romesh Chandra Dutt explains:

India in the eighteenth century was a great manufacturing as well as a great agricultural country, and the products of the Indian loom supplied the markets of Asia and Europe. It is, unfortunately, true that the East India Company and the British Parliament, following the selfish commercial policy of a hundred years ago, discouraged Indian manufacturers in the early years of British rule in order to encourage the rising manufactures of England. Their fixed policy, pursued during the last decades of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth, was to make India subservient to the industries of Great Britain, and to make the Indian people grow raw produce only, in order to supply material for the looms and manufactories of Great Britain.

Then there was the ‘cost’ of governing India a.k.a. the white man’s burden. Maddison writes (PDF) in The Economic and Social Impact of Colonial Rule in India:

During the period of direct British rule from 1858 to 1947, official transfers of funds to the UK by the colonial government were called the Home Charges. They mainly represented debt service, pensions, India Office expenses in the UK, purchases of military items and railway equipment. Government procurement of civilian goods, armaments and shipping was carried out almost exclusively in the UK.

Maddison points out that British employees in the colonial government were paid high salaries. The viceroy received £25,000 a year, and governors £10,000. In 1911 the Indian Army had 4378 British officers and practically no Indian. One Englishman notes his father did not have a very successful career as a civil servant in India, “but had 21 servants to start married life, 39 when he had three children, and 18 when living on his own. The 18 servants cost him less than six percent of his salary”.

The starting salary of a British employee in the engineering service was about 60 times the average income of an Indian worker. D. H. Buchanan points out in The Development of Capitalist Enterprise in India that European managerial personnel were paid overly high salaries despite the fact they were usually less efficient.

In the Tata steelworks in 1921-22 the average salary of foreign supervisory staff was Rs 13,527 a year, whereas Indian workers were paid Rs 240. These foreigners cost twice as much as in the US.

Under an Indian administration, income from government service would have accrued to the local inhabitants and not to foreigners. The diversion of upper-class income into the hands of foreigners inhibited the development of local industry because it put purchasing power into the hands of people with a taste for foreign goods. This increased imports and was particularly damaging to the luxury handicraft industries.

Maddison adds :

From 1757 to 1919, India also had to meet administrative expenses in London, first of the East India Company, and then of the India Office, as well as other minor but irritatingly extraneous charges. The cost of British staff was raised by long home leave in the UK, early retirement and lavish amenities in the form of subsidized housing, utilities, rest houses, etc.

There were also substantial private remittances by British officials in India either as savings or to meet educational and other family charges in the UK. In the interwar period, these amounted to about £10 million a year, and (economist Dadabhai) Naoroji estimated that they were running at the same level in 1887. These items were clearly the result of colonial rule.” £10 million is more than $4 billion today’s money.

In addition, there were dividend and interest remittances by shipping and banking interests, plantations, and other British investors; to some extent, these were normal commercial transactions, but there was a large element of monopoly profit due to the privileged position of British business in India; and, in many cases, the original assets were not acquired by remitting funds to India but by savings from income earned locally, or by purchase of property on favourable terms, e.g. the land acquisitions of plantation companies. About a third of the private profit remittances should therefore be treated as the profits of colonialism.

Another form of wealth transfer can be described, without hyperbole, as daylight robbery. Economist Gurcharan Das explains:

The British government transferred its surplus revenues back to England. Since India consistently exported more than she imported in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, Britain used India’s trade surplus to finance her own trade deficit with the rest of the world, to pay for her exports to India, and for capital repayments in London. This represented a massive drain of India’s wealth.

Russia-born Paul Baran of Stanford University calculates in The Political Economy of Growth that eight percent of India’s GNP was transferred to Britain each year.

Gold JewellerySavings Loss

The wealth of a country is not its GDP, which is the annual national income. The real wealth is the combined value of cash savings, gold, silver, precious stones, homes, buildings, factories, railways, ports and so on. To illustrate, the US GDP is $17 trillion but American national wealth is more than $50 trillion. British rule forced Indians to unlock their savings. 2ndlook offers a graphic detail of how these savings got denuded.

On 27 October 1931, the British government in London rammed through a series of measures that depressed silver and gold prices and raised interest rates in India. “Done over the protests by Gandhi, trade bodies and merchants and threats of resignation by the Viceroy and his Executive Council, the resulting “money famine” had Lord Willingdon ecstatically say “Indians are disgorging gold.” Indians have a different reason to revile Neville Chamberlain, who with great satisfaction said :

The astonishing gold mine that we have discovered in India’s hordes has put us in clover.

Impoverished Indians were selling their gold and silver savings. The booty was transported due West. One of these ships was the SS Gairsoppa, which was sunk by a German U-boat in the Atlantic in 1941. In 2011 an American exploration company found the SS Gairsoppa’s wreck, which has been found to contain 200 tonnes of silver. The haul was worth nearly £150 million.

Robert Clive and famine victimsPopulation Loss

All war torn countries have in common a low quality of life, lost economic growth and fall in population. India during British rule was no different. The most savage Islamic invader such as Timur or Mahmud Ghazni would be unable to match the efficiency of the British killing machine.

For instance, after the First War for Independence in 1857, the British may have killed up to 10 million Indians in reprisals. In War of Civilisations: India AD 1857, Amaresh Misra, a writer and historian, says the British pursued a decade-long campaign to wipe out millions of people who dared to rise up against them.

Conventional histories have counted only 100,000 Indian soldiers who were slaughtered, but none have tallied the number of rebels and civilians killed by British forces.

It was a holocaust, one where millions disappeared. It was a necessary holocaust in the British view because they thought the only way to win was to destroy entire populations in towns and villages. It was simple and brutal. Indians who stood in their way were killed. But its scale has been kept a secret. – Amaresh Misra in The Guardian

Artificial famines were another major killer. Britain changed the old land revenue system to the disadvantage of the farmer, who had to now pay revenue whether or not the monsoon failed. This led to famines. In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis points out that there were 31 serious famines in 120 years of British rule compared with 17 in the 2,000 years before British rule.

Davis tells the story of the famines that killed up to 29 million Indians. These people were, he says, murdered by British state policy. In 1876, when drought drove the farmers of the Deccan plateau to destitution, there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the Viceroy, Robert Bulwer-Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent their export to England.

In 1943-44, Prime Minister Winston Churchill diverted India’s food stocks to Europe, resulting in the deaths of over three million people by British estimates alone. Indian estimates place the number at up to seven million (pdf). That’s more than Adolf Hitler’s victims in Nazi Germany’s gas chambers.

The regularity of famines and the deaths of millions of its productive citizens undeniably impacted India’s vitality. It had a cascading effect on every sector, whether agriculture, labour, irrigation, industry or guilds. A once proud people were forced out of their lands that had become barren and desiccated. It also led to the Indian diaspora as tens of thousands of Indians were transported to distant colonies in the Caribbean, Fiji and Africa to work as virtual slaves on plantations.

North India Subcontinent MapArea Loss

One reason why India ranked ahead of China in 1700 of the past 2000 years was that the areas that today constitute Pakistan and Bangladesh were part of India. The British sliced off 20 percent of India’s best wheat and rice growing areas. In the early 1940s, Jawaharlal Nehru said that after independence India would take its rightful place as a major world power. He was dead wrong. Due to the loss of important areas as Punjab and Sindh, independent India was born crippled at birth.

Seventy years later, India is still not a major world player. Its relations with both Pakistan and China are bedeviled by boundary troubles, again created by the British. Pre-Partition, India’s location provided easy and strategic access to Arabia, Iran, Central Asia, Burma and Southeast Asia, but with the creation of two hostile territories on its flanks, India became hemmed in by and was hyphenated with minor countries. India is always referred to as a “South Asian giant” which if a compliment at all is a backhanded one.

Partition placed blinkers on Indians and today the country struggles to discover a global role for itself. Although modern Britain is accurately described by Russia as a small island nobody pays attention to, London nevertheless has more diplomatic clout than New Delhi.

Silk RoadTrade Loss

In the pre-colonial era, several important trade routes ran through present day Pakistan. It extended from Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia in the west to India in the east. These routes were severed by the imposition of colonial era borders, impacting national income and the livelihood of traders and manufacturers in India and its neighborhood.

Again, Partition was not only political but also economic. Zafar Mahmood, Pakistan’s commerce secretary in 2012 pointed out (pdf):

… in 1948–49, a hefty 56 percent of Pakistan’s exports was sent to India. For the next several years, a period of tense political relations, India was Pakistan’s largest trading partner. Incredibly, in 1965, the year Pakistan and India went to war, nine branches of six Indian banks were operating in Pakistan.

Undivided Punjab was the focal point of economic activity for places such as Delhi and Kashmir. Karachi and Bombay were economically interlinked. Ancient and thriving trade routes that ran via the areas of Pakistan to Central Asia are little more than abysses today. Rabindranath Tagore’s tragic Kabuliwala, the Pathan who hawked produce from Afghanistan in the streets of Calcutta, is a nostalgic reminder of those days.

Aurel Stein (1909)Cultural Loss

The cultural loss is irreplaceable. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London holds the largest collection (over 40,000 items) of Indian art treasures outside of the subcontinent. To this the British had planned to add no less than pieces of the Taj Mahal (pdf).

Stephen Knapp writes in Crimes Against India that in the 1830s Governor General William Bentinck had worked out plans to dismantle the Taj Mahal and ship the marble to collectors in London:

However, just as the demolition crew was getting to work, word came in from London that the first auction was a failure and all further sales stood cancelled. It was not worth the money to demolish the Taj Mahal.

The transfer of art and artefacts westwards continued. Aurel Stein and Laurence Austine Waddell must be given credit for this. Stein was a Hungarian explorer and scholar who later became a British citizen, receiving generous funding from the British Museum for his expeditions.

He is frequently described as an “imperialist looter” by the Chinese. Waddell was the “Official Collector” of artefacts in India. In one particular correspondence referring to Tibet, Stein compliments Waddell on his explorations and work, but laments he did not have “opportunity to ransack the Chinese Buddhist monasteries before they were looted”.

Tim Myatt writes (pdf) in Trinkets, Temples and Treasures: Tibetan Material Culture and the 1904 British Mission to Tibet, that many major collectors including the Cambridge University Ethnological Institute, the Victoria Institute and University College London wrote directly to the India Office requesting that artifacts be passed on to them.

Given this level of expectation and demand from the most august institutions in the land, it is unsurprising that items were removed to satisfy the clamour of the collectors.

Nalanda, BiharEducation Loss

India’s universities and gurukuls were the tutors to the world. They attracted foreign students in huge numbers. Although nearly all of them, such as Nalanda University, were destroyed by Islamic conquerors before the coming of the British, the country’s schooling system continued as before. Dharampal has explained in The Beautiful Tree how the so called lower castes comprised the majority of students in Tamil Nadu, United Provinces and Bihar.

The British dismantled this egalitarian education system by destroying the guilds that financed these schools. Then they replaced it with a joke. Angus Maddison explains:

The education system which developed was a very pale reflection of that in the UK. Three universities were set up in 1857 in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, but they were merely examining bodies and did no teaching. Higher education was carried out in affiliated colleges which gave a two-year B.A. course with heavy emphasis on rote learning and examinations.

Dropout ratios were always very high. They did little to promote analytic capacity or independent thinking and produced a group of graduates with a half-baked knowledge of English, but sufficiently westernised to be alienated from their own culture. It was not until the 1920s that Indian universities provided teaching facilities and then only for MA students. Furthermore, Indian education was of a predominantly literacy character and the provision for technical training was much less than in any European country. Education for girls was almost totally ignored throughout the nineteenth century.

Now compare British colonialism with that of Russia. When Russia dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991 and set free its 14 republics, these newly independent countries had 100 percent literacy, thriving universities and robust industrial clusters. Ukraine was an agrarian basket case in the 1920s but by 1991 it had the crown jewels of Russian heavy industry. Kazakhs used to be nomads; Kazakhstan is a space power. Uzbekistan produces commercial airliners and military aircraft. The Central Asian republics, which did not even have a script for their languages prior to the arrival of the Russians, became civilizationally uplifted. Inter-marriage among Russians and non-Russians was common in all the republics.

M.A. JinnahHumanity: Greatest Loss

The most egregious effect of Partition is neither economic nor political. It is the poisoning of relations in what used to be close-knit and friendly communities. Punjab, the land of Sufi singers and inter-communal lovers, turned into an inferno where Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims fled their ancient homeland. Lahore’s population was 47 percent Hindu and Sikh; today it’s 100 percent Muslim. The orgy of violence sparked by Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s threat to turn Hindustan into a kabristan (cemetery) if Hindus did not give him Pakistan was as unprecedented as it was unexpected.

The tragedy of Partition, wrote Bombay-based writer Saadat Hasan Manto, was not that there were now two countries instead of one but the realisation that “human beings in both countries were slaves—slaves of bigotry, slaves of religious passions, slaves of animal instincts and barbarity”.

Seven decades later, even as South Asia continues to be the world’s leading laggard in most indices of human development, India and Pakistan continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on their The Koh-i-Noor diamond is the large round white diamond set in a Maltese cross between fleurs-de-lie.militaries and nuclear programmes. This again is a huge opportunity cost of Partition. Had there been no Pakistan, the equivalent of Pakistan’s annual defence budget would have been available for development, rather than for producing Ghauri and Ghaznavi missiles. Neither would India’s defence budget be so high.

If you add up what India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have lost because of British rule and continue to lose with every passing year and compare it with the Koh-i-noor, the diamond would be a “mere peanut”. As the inimitable John Oliver says

All our greatest possessions are stolen…. The entire British Museum is an active crime scene. If we start giving back everything we took from the empire, that building would be completely empty. – Swarajya, 30 April 2016

» Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based journalist and foreign affairs analyst, with a special interest in defence and military history. He is a columnist with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta group, Moscow, and Modern Diplomacy, a Europe-based foreign affairs portal.

John Oliver, TV Show Host

Macaulay acolytes halting transition of our heritage – Anirban Ganguly

Dr Anirban Ganguly“Sri Aurobindo’s words flow across the decades to inspire: ‘Low-pitched and narrow ideals, small hopes and aims, petty caution and cowardice as well as short-sighted and faint-hearted leadership—all these paltry things can never be the right material for building the strength of a nation.’ Our politicians, reminded Sri Aurobindo, ‘should always keep in mind the saying from the Mahabharata: niriho nasnute mahat, the unaspiring shall never enjoy greatness.'” – Dr Anirban Ganguly

Fernand BraudelIn his A History of Civilizations (pdf), a classic study of the origins and evolutions of civilisations, legendary French historian Fernand Braudel (1902-1985) came up, among other things, with a simple and yet perceptive description of civilisation. “A civilisation”, he wrote, “can be approached, only in the long-term, taking hold of a constantly unwinding thread—something that a group of people have conserved and passed on as their most precious heritage from generation to generation, throughout and despite storms and tumults of history.” It is this active preservation and passing on that keeps lighted aspirations for greatness in a people and civilisation.

Sita Ram Goel (1921-2003) This effort at conserving “their most precious heritage”, in the Indian context suffered repeatedly but faced one of its toughest challenges during the British colonial phase and after that, ironically, post independence. The challenge of de-nationalisation or de-culturisation during the colonial or Macaulayean phase and its resistance by some of our most avant-garde thought leaders who ensured that some of that “precious heritage is preserved, defended and re-articulated in a modern idiom and context” is best described by that intrepid ideological anchor, late Sita Ram Goel. About the English system of education, as introduced in India, Goel noted that it aimed at “promoting and patronising a new Indian upper class who, in turn, would hail the blessings of the British Raj and cooperate in securing its stability in India.”

The predominance and hegemony of the Macaulayean system swept off many future leaders. It gave rise to a headstrong and intellectually captive breed of opinion-makers and directors of India’s destiny, who Ananda K. Coomaraswamywere disconnected and divorced from her civilisational ethos, her aspirations, and from the moorings of her spiritual culture and its essential and perennial messages that had once attracted almost the entire thinking world to her doorstep. Despite this intellectual hegemony, India’s “most precious heritage” survived to a great extent because, epoch leaders like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Lokmanya Tilak, Subramaniam Bharati, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya, Veer Savarkar, M. S. Golwalkar, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, to name a few among a select pantheon, succeeded in escaping “its magic spell” and in rediscovering “their roots”. They were, as Goel argued, “great souls, strong enough to survive the heavy dose of a deliberate denationalisation.”

Unfortunately, post Independence, Indian education, cultural planning and action, and the over-all Indian societal ambience and direction failed to ensure that this “most cherished heritage” hardly ever got opportunities to express its many dimensions or direct the course of our national life—both in the field of policy, education and culture. The Nehruvian establishment also created a narrative that was neglectful or lethargic towards the vision and articulations of these epochal thought leaders. Such a reductionist Sri Aurobindoapproach compounded with the hatred for Indian culture perpetrated by Communists and their suppression of these leaders prevented the growth, in Sri Aurobindo’s words, “of a large and noble political ideal”—it killed all aspiration for greatness.

That reductionism is now being reversed and Sri Aurobindo’s words flow across the decades to inspire: “Low-pitched and narrow ideals, small hopes and aims, petty caution and cowardice as well as short-sighted and faint-hearted leadership—all these paltry things can never be the right material for building the strength of a nation.” Our politicians, reminded Sri Aurobindo, “should always keep in mind the saying from the Mahabharata: niriho nasnute mahat, the unaspiring shall never enjoy greatness.”

While Narendra Modi works and aspires towards that civilisational greatness for India, some unaspiring present day Macaulay acolytes ceaselessly work to halt it. They refuse to recognise and project India’s “most precious heritage passed on from generation to generation”. – The New Indian Express, 17 January 2016

» Dr Ganguly is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation,  New Delhi.  Follow him on Twitter @anirbanganguly.

Fernand Braudel Quote

Contending Paradigm of Indian History: Did India lack historical agency? – Shivaji Singh

Prof Shivaji SinghAum dhidhampchetinyaii  shabdabrahmaswayambhuve.
Bhagavatyaii saraswatayaii bhuyo bhuyo namoh namah.

As you all know, history is indeed very important. As a major portion of collective social memory and as a significant segment of effective social psyche, history acts as vehicle of culture and civilization from generation to generation. History of a people shapes and defines the people’s social identity. It invariably provides lessons to learn from past experiences, and acts as a source of morale in times of distress. This is why a continued presence of a positive historical consciousness is considered to be essential for any living and vibrant society.

Unfortunately, however, today in India, history is unable to play its expected useful role of keeping the people emotionally integrated and psychologically buoyant and proud of their heritage. Instead, it is fast turning to be perilous — a major source of division and discard, an unnecessary burden on memory, and an impediment to progress. This is because there have come into existence several versions of Indian history that contradict each other, creating great confusion. History is admittedly an established discipline, but the world of Indian historical discourse has become so chaotic today that it would be a travesty of terms to call it a discipline.

How did the history of India come to such a chaotic condition? And, is there any way out of this mess? These two questions are, I think, the most important ones, demanding immediate attention of all scholars who care for the discipline called history and believe in its usefulness to society. 

Let us have a broad look on the early history of history in India. 

Guru & ChelasThe antiquity and pre-modern stages of Indian historical tradition 

Ancient Indians had a sense of history and historical tradition that goes back to the Rigvedic times. The Rigveda evidences the presence of three literary genres of historical nature: royal and priestly eulogies, Gathas, and Narasamsis — all prevalent in those days, like the Riks, in oral form constituting a floating mass of literature. A verse of Rigveda (IX.10.3) clearly states that kings are graced (anjate) with eulogies (prasastibhih). Several Danastutis (hymns composed in praise of liberalities shown by kings to their priests) also tend to take the form of eulogies. Eulogies were composed for priestly families too. Rigveda VII.33 is an eulogy of the Vasisththas. Rigveda III.33, which is a dialogue between Visvamitra and rivers Vipas (Beas) and Sutudri (Sutlej), is rightly taken by some scholars to be an eulogistic anecdote of the Visvamitras. 

The term ‘Gatha’ in the Rigveda normally means ‘song’, but it gradually develops a more special sense in later portions of the text and stands for songs of historical or legendary content. The word ‘Narasamsa’, from which Narasamsi is derived, denotes according to Yaska ‘praise celebrating men’ (Yena narah prasasyante sa narasamso mantrah. Nirukta IX.9). The difference between Gathas and Narasamsis was that while a Gatha  could relate to human as well as non-human beings (as in Indra-gatha, Yajna-gatha, etc.), the Narasamsis pertained only to human beings. 

In the later Vedic age, three new forms of historical narratives also came into existence. They were: Akhyana, Itihasa and Purana. Akhyana literally means “the communication of a previous event.” Composed in the form of short historical episodes, Akhyanas had become quite popular in the later Vedic times. The Aitareya Brahmana (III.25.1) refers to Akhyana-vids (a class of literary men who had specialized in Akhyana literature). 

The word ‘Itihasa’ literally means “verily thus it happened.” It appears probably for the first time in the Atharvaveda (XV.6.4) but became very prevalent in the later Vedic period itself. It repeatedly occurs in several Brahmanas such as the Satapatha, Jaiminiya, Gopatha etc. Before the term Itihasa acquired a broader sense of all forms of historical narratives, including even law and administration, as in Kautilya’s Arthasashtra (1.5), it denoted only Puravrittam (history in the narrow sense of the term). This, as V. S. Pathak rightly points out, is implied by the Nirukta (X.26) and explicitly stated by the Brihaddevata (IV.46). That, a distinction was made between Itihasa and Akhyana, is also attested to by the Satapatha Brahmana (XI.1.6.9) wherein it is told that Daivasuram (the war between Devas and Asuras) is related partly as Akhyana and partly as Itihasa. 

The term ‘Purana’, according to its etymology as provided by the Vayu Purana, means “that which lives from ancient times” (yasmatpura hynanatidam Puranam, Vayu P. I.203). As a form of legendary lore, Puranas may have existed from pre-Vedic period, that is, from times of antiquity even prior to the composition of Rigvedic mantras. The Atharvaveda (XI.7.24) refers to Puranam along with Richah (mantras), Samani (chants), Yajusha (formulae) and Chhandansi (meters) indicating, thereby, that Purana was fully recognized as distinct literary category by its time. By the time of the Chhandogya Upanishad, Purana definitely denoted actual book or books (Chhanogya Up. VII.1.2). According to A. D. Pusalkar, a well-known scholar in the field of Epic and Puranic studies, “in the later Vedic age, Itihasa preponderated over Purana, but gradually the latter asserted itself. 

By the close of the Vedic period, we meet two additional genres of historical compositions. They are known as Vamsas and Akhyayikas. Literally meaning ‘lineages’, the Vamsas focus our attention on genealogies rather than on history as such. A further development of this species of literature is indicated by the distinction made between Vamsa and Vamsanucharita, the former relating to genealogy of gods and rishis and the latter pertaining to the sequence of dynasties. Both Vamsas and Vamsanucharitas were later assimilated in the Puranas. They were taken to constitute two of the five characteristic features (pancha-lakshanas) of an ideal Purana. Akhyayikas denoted shorter Akhyanas. Both Akhyayikas and Akhyanas were later liberally utilized to swell from time to time the body of the Mahabharata as also of the Ramayana, the two most well-known ancient Indian Itihasa works. 

The early medieval period witnessed a further flowering of Indian historical tradition. Several historical works such as Bana Bhatta’s Harsh Charita, Bilhana‘s Vikramankdeva-Charita, and Jayanaka’s Prithviraja-Vijaya, etc, were written in this period by historians mostly attached to royal courts. Persons of royal blood too, even if rarely, distinguished themselves as a historian. Somesvar III Bhulokamalla, the son and successor of Vikramaditya VI of the Chalukya dynasty of Kalyani, is an example. Known mainly for his famous work Manasollasa, he had also written a biography of his father entitled Vikramankabhyudaya. 

The Indian historical tradition, thus, continued to develop and proliferate unabated during several millennia from its beginnings in Rigvedic times down to the end of the medieval period. As a result, such a rich and huge mass of historical literature came into existence that one could not possibly adequately describe it without classifying it into some sort of categories. Attempts have been made to classify it according to its sources (like Vedic, Buddhist and Jain) or in accordance with its chronology and provenance. However, all such efforts present difficulties for Indian historical tradition in one-piece, a ‘whole’ that cannot be segmented into parts. Even A. K. Warder, who assumes that Indian historiography becomes increasingly regional during the medieval period, admits that “it (always) derives from the universal ancient pauranika history”. 

Why is Indian historical tradition so unique? Where is its wholeness derived from? Let us find out. 

Brahman - AtmaUniqueness and wholeness of the Indian historical tradition 

A characteristic feature of Indian tradition, that has played the central role in shaping its historical paradigm, is the acceptance of the existence of an ultimate reality or essence of which ‘Rita’, ‘Satya’, and ‘Dharma’ are respectively the mental perception, verbal expression and practical application. In Indian tradition, therefore, historical events and processes are judged in the light of their conformity with Rita, Satya and Dharma, the three modes of the Ultimate Reality. 

Let me explain this feature a bit more. The cornerstone of Indian traditional value-system is the concept called Rita. It is difficult to find a concept equivalent to it in any other language or society. Its renderings in English as ‘Eternal Order’ or ‘Cosmic Order’ are inadequate. The ancient Greek vocable ‘anagki’ and the ancient Chinese term ‘tao’ appear to resemble the word Rita in meaning, but they too fail to fully express its connotation. The concepts ‘Lex naturalis’ and ‘archetype’ of Western thought are comparable but not equivalent in conception to Rita. In fact, in time-span Rita is eternal, in its expanse it is cosmic, and by nature it is proper, true, divine, pious, religious, perfect, glorious and noble, all rolled into one. 

It is also worth noting that Rita, Satya and Dharma are not different entities. They are three modes of the same Reality. Commenting on Rigveda 10.190.1, Sayana clearly states that Rita is another name of Satya (ritamiti satyanam). Rita is the mental perception of the Reality (ritam manasam yatharthasankalpanam), and Satya is the verbal expression of that Reality (satyam vachikam yatharthabhashamnam). In the motto: Satyamevajayate nanritam (Mundaka Upanishad, 3.1.6), Anrita is placed in opposition to Satya which also confirms the identity of Rita and Satya. As Rita and Satya are identical, Satya and Dharma too are one and the same entity. “Verify, that which is Dharma is Satya” (yo vai sa Darmah Satyam Vai), confirms the Brihadaranyak Upanishad (1.4.14). When the Reality transforms itself from mental perception and verbal expression into practical application it is called Dharma. 

Events and process that constitute the subject matter of history consist basically of human activities performed through Mana (thinking), Vachana (speaking) and Karma (acting). According to Indian value-system, perceptions, statements and actions are right only to the extent they conform to Rita, Satya and Dharma respectively. Ultimate Reality or Essence in its three modes, thus is the standard by which all human actions and activities, that is to say, entire history is to be judged or evaluated. 

In this concern for Satya (truth), a mode of Rita and Dharma, that compels Kalhana, the author of the Rajatarangini, to unequivocally emphasize the importance of objectivity in historical interpretations. “That man of quality alone is praiseworthy”, says he, “who is above (the feelings of ) love and hatred and whose intellect remains steady while relating the meaning of (the facts of ) the past”. 

Slaghyah sa eva gunavana ragadveshabahishkritah,
Bhutarthakathane yasya stheyasyeva Sarasvati. (Rajatarangini, 1.7) 

Sarvepalli RadhakrishnanA ‘superb’ colonial myth: Ancient Indians lacked the sense of history 

The colonial era of Indian history was an era of historical myth-making. Innumerable myths were created and propagated to falsify history with a view to change Indian psyche and denationalize Indian identity. The Aryans constituted a race of people culturally backward and barbarous but physically vigorous and bellicose! They were the sole possessor of horse and horse-drawn chariots that provided them superior maneuverability in battles against their enemies! They invaded India, destroyed the Indus cities and drove away their occupants, the Dravidians, to South India! Indian people had always been ruled by despotic and tyrannical rulers! The Indian society was static; it remained substantially unchanged throughout its long span of existence until the arrival of the British! The root cause of India’s backwardness was its (Hindu) religion! India as a concept never existed till the British imperialists invented it! So on and so forth; the list of colonial myths is endless. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan succinctly puts it: “The west tried its best to persuade India that its philosophy is absurd, its art puerile, its poetry uninspired, its religion grotesque and its ethics barbarous”. 

Most of these myths have been exploded and the ones remaining are in the process of meeting the same fate, despite the efforts of the intellectuals who still uphold the colonial paradigm and try to redefine and reproduce the myths in a new jargon. However, the myth according to which ancient Indians had no sense of history may be said, in a sense, to be a ‘superb’ myth of a sort for it continues and it continues as a commonplace view! 

The origin of the myth is traced back to German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) and his Euro-centrism. Hegel is on record to have stated: “India not only has old books of religion and brilliant works of poetry but also old codes of law … and yet it has no history”. He indeed suffered from Euro-centrism, a bias shared by many scholars of the colonial era. Rajiv Malhotra has exhaustively quoted from his writings to demonstrate Hegel’s Euro-centrism. I would like to add that Hegel was still more parochial in his outlook for he takes the Mediterranean region, not Europe as a whole, to be the pivot of historical transformations. In fact, it was partly his peculiar metaphysic and his obsession with thesis-antithesis dialectic and largely his ignorance of ancient Indian literature that came in his way of recognizing the age-old Indian historical tradition. Be that as it may, his metaphysic and his dialectic are long since discredited. Years ago, Bertrand Russell had rightly observed: 

“I cannot see any justification, on the basis of his (Hegel’s) own metaphysic, for the view that world history repeats the transitions of the dialectic, yet that is the thesis which he developed in his Philosophy of History. It was an interesting thesis, giving unity and meaning to the revolutions of human affairs. Like other historical theories, it required, if it was to be made plausible, some distortions to facts and considerable ignorance. Hegel, like Marx, and Spengler after him, possessed both these qualifications. It is odd that a process which is represented as cosmic should all have taken place on our planet, and most of it near the Mediterranean. Nor is there any reason, if reality is timeless, why the latter part of the process should embody higher categories than their earlier parts – unless one were to adopt the blasphemous supposition that the universe was gradually learning Hegel’s philosophy.” 

Myths have their own life-time, their own duration of existence. And, when, as in the present case, a myth is created by an eminent philosopher like Hegel, whose influence by the end of the nineteenth century had made most of the intellectuals of America and England largely Hegelian, it has got to last long. But, the real reason for its longevity lies in British colonial interests in India that wanted to show that the Indians were backward, living in prehistory and so in dire need of foreign help to modernize and begin history. The rest of the story as to how the Colonial Power launched on a major project of creating ‘a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellects’ is too well-known to be repeated here. Writing years after independence, A. K. Warder notes: 

“The standard imperialist version of Indian history, worked out during the colonial period, is now most remarkably, taken for granted among modern Indian historians of almost all persuasions, not least among them the ‘Marxists’ (who is this respect remain Hegelians; S.A. Dange is an honourable exception), as well as among academic historians in all other countries, again regardless of political persuasions.” 

In fact, as it is said, one can recognize a cat only if he/she has a picture of a cat in mind, a mental model or an idea of the cat, so to say. The history taught in the colonial era infused in the minds of Indians the modern idea of history which is European in origin. This idea of history had sprouted in Graeco-Roman tradition and developed under the shadow of the 18th century European Enlightenment. It is very much different from the ancient Indian indigenous sense of history, know as Itihasa, that had originated and developed in ancient Indian philosophic cultural context. History, as we know, “develops in close juxtaposition and with constant interactions of associated scheme of ideas”. Since, the formations of the ancient Indian sense of history and the modern European idea of history had occurred in different cultural-intellectual environments, it was natural that they differed in their tone and tenor and more particularly in their ethos. As people all over the world, including India, have at present the modern idea of history in their minds, they fail to recognize ancient Indian historical tradition or recognize it only to the extent to which it anticipates the modern view. 

History of IndiaComparing the ancient Indian and modern ideas of history and their validity 

Despite the fact that the modern idea of history is now globally accepted and the indigenous Indian sense of history is rarely shared by historians even in India, it would be worthwhile, I believe, to compare the two concepts of history and judge their validity purely from an epistemological point of view. 

One significant difference between the two is that while ancient Indian indigenous history, called Itihasa, aimed at man’s self-fulfilment and self-realization, the history current today has either only vague objectives like furtherance of freedom, rationalism and individualism or a hidden agenda to support this or that political ideology. The other important difference is that while Itihasa interpreted historical change in terms of reasons, not causes, current history, under the impact of positivism and other modern concepts, emphasizes causality and value-neutrality.

Now, a point to ponder: Is the notion of casual explanation, in which explanation is based on antecedent causes and conditions, applicable to history? I doubt it. The central concept of history, it must be noted, is action, not behaviour. Behaviour is a quasi-physicalistic, physiological and infra-rational category. Action, on the other hand, is a purposive, goal-oriented activity or conduct. A human action may be reasonable or unreasonable, right or wrong, just or unjust and the like, but it can be interpreted only in terms of its reasons, not causes. Intentions, purposes and motives do not ’cause’ actions, for, firstly, they are not identifiable separately from them, and secondly, they are semantically related to them. 

And, what about the doctrine of value-neutrality, the other postulate involved in modern idea of history? The notion of value-fact dichotomy is totally wrong. Of course, there is a distinction between fact and value, between descriptive and prescriptive, between ‘is’ and ‘aught’, but it is a distinction without dichotomy. Facts and values are the two modes of the same reality. Facts qua facts do not exist. What appears to be a purely factual statement contains an implicit evaluation. A fact can only be understood in terms of a corresponding norm. 

Thus, we see that even from a purely epistemological point of view, the modern idea of history is inadequate. In traditional Indian history, on the other hand, value-fact dichotomy is not accepted. Historical events and processes are judged, as I have discussed above, on the basis of their conformity with Rita, Satya and Dharma, the three modes of the Ultimate Reality or Essence. 

Antonio GramsciConfusion in contemporary Indian historical discourse 

Indian historical discourse is in a state of chaotic confusion and disarray today. Several paradigms of Indian history are endlessly contending with each other for their justification and supremacy. As a result, we have several versions of Indian history current simultaneously. An impartial person willing to know something about India’s past is in a fix, unable to decide as to which one is a trustworthy version. In such a situation, the very utility of history for society is becoming doubtful. 

Until recently, books on historiography described only three paradigms of Indian history: Imperialist, Nationalist, and Marxist. Today we have at least as many more. The colonial era is long since over, but the imperialist paradigm is continuing, albeit it is now called ‘Western Elitist’. The Marxist paradigm is still alive despite the fall of Marxism. It is now more generally known as ‘Secular Marxist’. The Nationalist paradigm has tremendously refined its historical models making them more and more scientific. However, it has been mysteriously renamed as ‘Hindu Nationalist’! 

Among the new ones, the most well-know is the Subaltern paradigm. It emerged in 1980s inspired mostly by Eric Stokes‘ historical writings. It started with the basic assumption that history contains many more complexities and paradoxes than what the monolithic and dogmatic reconstructions of the past have revealed so far. It has apparently borrowed ideas and terminology from Italian philosopher and political theorist Antonio Gramsci (including the term ‘subaltern’ itself) but given them a new context and meaning. Although there is no umbilical cord connecting Subalternists and Marxists, who are in fact very much critical of each other, the elite versus subaltern theme is modeled more or less after the Marxist bourgeoisie versus proletariat. In my view, however, the subaltern paradigm of history in Indian context is a reflection of a larger ongoing literary movement fostering identity politics of the left-behind sections of the Indian society or what is termed as the marginalized social groups. In Hindi literature, it goes by such names as Dalita Vimarsha and Nari Vimarsha. 

The upholders of this postmodern historical paradigm analyse contemporary Indian historiography in two categories: neo-colonialist and neo-nationalist. They are critical of both the categories for they find that both share an elitist perspective that wrongly paints the significant role and contributions of the subaltern groups as a mere response to an elite inspiration, influence or guidance. Elitist historiography, according to them, “renders invisible the quotidian experience of ordinary people”. They, therefore, plead for extending the historical narrative in scope “not only to make room for the pasts of the so-called peoples without history but to address the historicality of everyday life as well.” However, had it been only a question of extending the scope of historical narrative, it would not have been a matter of concern. But, of late, Subalternists have started rejecting what they call “the imagined-into-reality framework of the Indian nation” and raising several other such alarming theoretical issues. 

Another paradigm newly emerging in Indian historical discourse is inspired by the ‘Annales School‘. Founded a century ago by French historians, this school has been quite influential in setting the agenda for historiography not only in France but in other countries as well, particularly in Italy, Poland and Venezuela. Although it has maintained its leftist leaning all along, its focus has been shifting from time to time. At one time it gave serious attention to the role of mentalities in history, linking them with changing social conditions, but now that has been almost given up. However, taking a long-term view of history, emphasizing social rather than political issues, a concern for marginalized peoples, wide range of interests and differing methods of approach may be said to be the hallmark of the Annales School. The Annales School’s approach to history has started influencing Indian historians. Harbans Mukhia of JNU, Delhi, who has edited (jointly with Maurice Aymard of Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris) two volumes on French studies in history, is, to my knowledge, perhaps the most vocal admirer of the Annales School. S. Settar‘s books Inviting Death (New York: Brill, 1988) and Pursuing Death (Dharwad: Institute of Art History, Karnatak University, 1990) too have an Annales’ imprint although not acknowledged openly. 

The ‘Deconstructionist‘, though not a paradigm in the technical sense of the term, is yet another postmodern and post-structuralist historical ‘consciousness’ that has added to the current complexity and confusion in Indian historical discourse. Its roots go back to a school of philosophy that originated in France in late 1960s mainly through the writings of its chief proponent Jacques Derrida. Derrida’s stand is based on two of his basic perceptions: one, dichotomous categories such as mind/body, sacred/profane, signifier/signified, etc., that are generally accepted and used by philosophers and other scholars in their expositions, are arbitrary; and the other, all such expositions contain implicit hierarchies that impose a sort of order on realty subordinating, partly hiding and even totally excluding from our view many of its aspects. His intellectual efforts were mostly aimed at exposing and challenging these dichotomies and hierarchies that come in our way of a proper understanding of reality. ‘Deconstruction’ is the designation Derrida gave to his efforts in this direction and to the procedure he adopted in making them. 

Although the deconstructionists coming after Derrida have sufficiently modified and refined the methods of deconstruction, the aim of its application in historical analysis remains the same. Looking in a broader perspective, it may be said that they have, in fact, brought into sharp focus the old problem of the extent of correspondence – or rather, isomorphism or one-to-one correspondence – between historical reality (history as it happened in some space-time context) and the written history (constructed or reconstructed by the historian). They do not deny the existence of historical reality, which nobody can do, but in tune with the spirit of the postmodern age, they challenge “the old modernist certainties of historical truth and methodological objectivity, as applied by disinterested historians”. They raise questions about the legitimacy of empiricism in constituting history as a separate epistemology (that is, a special form of knowledge) as also about the role and use of historian’s theoretical and explanatory frameworks in historical understanding. 

The confusion is worse confounded since all these different historical paradigms are current simultaneously. What David Harlan observes in reference to postmodern American historiography is equally, if not more, true in context of contemporary Indian historiography: “If we ask, ‘what is historical writing?’ the answer can only be ‘there is this kind of historical writing, and that kind, and then again that kind.” The greatest problem before a student of Indian history today is to cope with such a situation. Shall the concept of validity become altogether irrelevant to history? Is there any way out of this dilemma? I believe that there is one, and now I come to that. 

PsycheA basic knowledge of Indian psyche essential for understanding Indian history 

Long ago, in his famous book: The Idea of History, published posthumously in 1946, R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943) had stated that to know the past the historian must re-enact it in his own mind. He tried to explain his point by several examples. For instance, he said, suppose a historian has certain edict of an emperor before him. “Merely reading the words and being able to translate them”, said he, “does not amount to knowing their historical significance. In order to do that he must envisage the situation with which the emperor was trying to deal, and he must envisage it as that emperor envisaged it”. His statement, as expected, invited several objections. It was argued, for instance, that “an act of thought by becoming subjective ceases to be objective, and thus, by becoming present ceases to be past.” Collingwood continued to answer the objections throughout his life and although he could not satisfy the objectors, he succeeded in making out an important point: an action can be judged properly only in the light of the thoughts and intentions leading to it.

Can anybody judge history, which consists mostly of individual and social actions, without knowing the thoughts and intentions of the historical actor or actors concerned? The answer is unequivocal: one cannot. Despite differences in historical orientations and paradigms scholars in general are unanimous on this point. Thus, Alun Munslow, even though far from Collingwood in time, space and historical perceptions, echoes the same feeling. “The most basic function of the historian,” writes he, “is to understand, and explain in a written form, the connections between events and human intention or agency in the past.” It follows, then, that Indian history cannot be understood and explained without a basic knowledge of the specific structure or rather architecture of Indian psyche, the fountain of all sorts of intentions commonly shared by Indians. 

The two most important ‘building blocks’ of this architecture are Bharatiya Chitta and Mana, that have shaped the psyche of a common Indian, the fundamental source of all his thoughts, intentions and actions. Chitta and Mana are not one and the same in connotation, although both are generally rendered as psyche in English. They must not be confused with what the Annalistes designate as ‘mentality’ too. These are characteristically Indian concepts. For understanding them, we must begin with the Indian notion of ‘Antahakarana’ or inner consciousness, the human faculty that deals with almost all non-tangible matters. Antahakarana is said to have four constituent parts (together known as Antahakarana-Chatushtaya). They are Mana, Chitta, Buddhi and Ahankara related to each other in a hierarchical order. 

The most potent of the four is Ahankara (self-awareness), the sense of being, the consciousness that ‘I am’ or ‘I exist’ (in Sanskrit ‘asmi’ from which the term ‘asmita’ meaning identity is derived). Ordinarily a person perceives his self-consciousness in terms of his physical and social being, and identifies his self with his body (dehatma-buddhi). This is an instinctive human tendency present everywhere and in all ages. But, then, there is an ideal of self-awareness too, “which men accept, as distinct from their actual and habitual self-awareness”, and which is “generally derived from the cultural tradition to which they belong and varies accordingly.” In Indian tradition individual self is taken to be non-different from the Essence or Ultimate Reality. This Ultimate Reality is described by many names like Brahma, Isvara, Paramatma, etc., and worshiped as Godhead under various denominations. In essence it is ever-present (Sat), pure consciousness (Chit) and limitless bliss (Ananda). Being part of the Ultimate Reality, the individual self too shares all the three attributes. It is deathless, but bonded by the body and Ahankara, its consciousness is diluted and bliss jeopardized. The diluted consciousness is called Chitta as against pure consciousness which is Chit. 

Both Chit and Chitta are derived from a basic concept Chiti and all these terms go back to Rigvedic times. Although the concept is living in Indian tradition as attested to by the popularity of a large number of names like Chidambara, Chinmaya, Chidakasa, Sachchidananda, etc., very little work has been done on this significant cluster of concepts. To my knowledge, Deendayal Upadhyaya is the first thinker who has repeatedly drawn our attention to the concept of Chiti. Fortunately, now some institutions like the Research and Development Foundation for Integral Humanism and Deendayal Shodh Sansthan are making commendable efforts in properly explaining Chiti and related concepts.

Mana is also an old Rigvedic concept. While the function of Chitta is reflection, that of Mana is paying attention. Chitta is more powerful than Mana and if Mana finds something pleasurable or desirable Chitta often takes it over from Mana. However, the most important point to be noted is that a considerable part of Chitta and Mana, as also of Ahankara and Buddhi, is determined by the geo-cultural environment in which it develops, although since human being is a human being, different from other zoological beings, a portion of his Antahakarana-Chatushtaya ever remains universal as well. 

Indian history stands distorted badly because the so-called ‘motivated’ and ‘committed’ historians have been intentionally distorting it continuously since the colonial times to foster their political, religious or other ideological interests. This is beyond doubt and by now well-known. But what is not so well-realized is the fact that even those historians who cannot be categorized as ‘motivated’ or ‘committed’ have brought in considerable aberration in Indian history because being ignorant of Indian psyche they have failed to recognize connections between events and human intention or agency in pre-modern Indian history. 

RishiJudging Indian history from a wrong angle: A few illustrations 

The Aryans were a “non-urbanized people and semi-barbarous” who destroyed the non-Aryan Harappan Civilization and “the Rigveda is the epic of destruction of one of the great cultures of the ancient world”. This is the view adopted and expressed in the prestigious UNESCO publication entitled History of Mankind, Vol. 1. One may not wonder on the assertion of the Aryan Invasion Theory in this volume for it was published at a time when that theory was accepted as a Gospel truth. But it is certainly surprising to hear that the early Vedic people were ‘semi-barbarous’ people. Can anybody degrade a people as semi-barbarous who have the honour of bequeathing to posterity a literary composition like the Rigveda, considered to be one of the earliest, if not the earliest, human achievement of its kind, and which contains high philosophical thoughts of several enlightened souls like Rishi Dirghatamas

The reason for this anomaly lies in application of a totally alien-to-Indian-psyche definition of ‘civilization’ in Indian history. This definition, still prevalent among historians and archaeologists, does not entitle non-urban peoples like the Vedic Aryas (who were erroneously supposed to be merely a village folk) to be called civilized. The definition is based on a materialist conception of history. It was initially suggested by Lewis H. Morgan in 1877 in his book: Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of  Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization. Frederick Engels adopted this definition in his famous essay: The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, written in German which appeared in Zurich in 1884, wherefrom it was applied in the fields of archaeology and history by V. G. Childe. The definition is defective in several respects, but we need not elaborate the points here. Suffice it to say that a definition given from a particular view-point cannot hold good for others who do not accept that point of view. 

Many more examples can be cited in which outlandish concepts, totally unfit for Indian historical circumstances, have been unduly inserted in Indian historical discourse. But, instead of listing them I would like to draw your attention to another type of unwarranted imposition on Indian history pertaining not to concepts used in it but to its very structure. 

The structure of any historical narrative depends mainly on its periodization and a proper periodization must indicate the major turns and twists in the spirit of the people concerned, that is, the people whose history we are considering. But, as we know, the periodization of Indian history was done by James Mill on the basis of three major influxes of foreigners in India, be they invaders or traders/colonizers. He divided Indian history into three periods: the Hindu, the Muslim and the British beginning respectively with the (presumed) Aryan and successive Muslim and British arrivals. But Mill was a knowledgeable person, and he was aware that he was violating the basic principle of periodization by keeping in view the outsiders not the insiders. So he propagated the myth of Indian passivity. He asserted that the Indian past had been that of an unchanging, static society. Mill’s periodization still continues with cosmetic change as the ancient, the medieval and the modern. The structure of Indian history he conceived remains intact. 

But, consider, for instance, the situation of India in the 17th century. We find an unmistakable upsurgence in the rise of Ramdas and Shivaji in Maharashtra, the Gurus in the Panjab and the Rajputs in Rajasthan. The upsurgence continues through time and, despite political and economic domination by Britain, finds expression in the Great Uprising of 1857 and in thoughts and actions of Dayanand Sarasvati, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Vivekanand, Tilak, Shri Arvind, and several other saints and savants. K. M. Munshi designates this period in Indian history as the ‘Age of Modern Renaissance’. There have been periods of great expansion and efflorescence in Indian history as well as times of distress when Indians have displayed commendable resistance. The monotonous periodization: ancient, medieval and modern fails to project the paradigmatic trajectory of Indian spirit. 

Finally a word about the ‘Idea of India’ that too has been distorted because of westernized thinking. The Idea of India and the understanding of Indian history are interconnected. If you want to know about India, you need to go through books on its history albeit a bit cautiously. But, if you want to write the history of India, you must be conversant with the personality of India before hand. Several scholars do not appear to be sensitive to this interconnection and take the issue of the ‘Idea of India’ lightly. 

Thus, in his H. D. Sankalia Memorial Lecture entitled ‘The idea of India and its heritage: The millennium challenges’ (delivered in 2000), D. P. Agrawal remarks: “Nations are essentially spatio-temporal concepts, which change with time and geography. So let us not get bogged down into such mires but address the more substantive and challenging issues”. Agrawal is a senior scholar and an old friend of mine whose scholarship I highly admire despite differences of opinion on historical issues. However, I fail to see why Agrawal taking the ‘Idea of India’ as a millennium challenge finally whisks it away as a less-substantive or less-challenging issue. India is not just a spatio-temporal entity that has been changing with time and geography. India has a personality of its own, and the millennium challenge is to define that personality. 

In his lecture, Agrawal quotes the famous words from Nehru’s Discovery of India that depict India as “an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously”. It is true that Nehru emphasized the miscegenation and accretion of cultures in India; and that was true for most of the early epochs of Indian culture. Living at a time when the Aryan Invasion Theory was accepted as an article of faith, Nehru could not think of an original indigenous culture of India. He could not see that the ancient palimpsest he was talking about had, in fact, an original inscription engraved on it so deeply that layer upon layer of subsequent engravings could neither hide nor erase it. 

Nevertheless, despite all British impact on his education and personality, Nehru had occasional glimpse of ‘Indianness’. In his Foreword to Filliozat‘s India (1962), he writes: “There is an Indianness which distinguishes every part of India. … That Indianness is something unique and deeper than the external differences.” Nehru felt this Indianness emotionally and intuitively but he could not locate its primary source (Utsa). 

In fact, Bharatiyata or Indianness cannot be defined in geographical and political terms. It can be defined only culturally as a set of values based on intuitive recognition of transcendental spirituality. Spirituality, it may be noted, is a category of perception higher than religion or even morality. Bharatiyata or Indianness is distinguished by a spiritual vision of life, which the Vedic Rishis have bequeathed to humanity. – GFCHINDIA, 2014

» Prof Shivaji Singh is the former Head of the Department of Ancient History, Archaeology and Culture, University of Gorakhpur. He is presently the National President of the Akhial Bhaarateeya Itihaasa Sakalana Yojanaa.

Hindus for Hitler – Koenraad Elst

 “Germany must become the sword of the Catholic Church.” – Kaiser Wilhelm II quoting Pope Leo XIII; Leo Lehmann in Behind the Dictators

“Thus the Catholic Church is more secure than ever. […] She will remain as a beacon light.” – Adolf Hitler; Leo Lehmann in Behind the Dictators

“The Third Reich is the first power which not only recognizes, but puts into practice, the high principles of the Papacy.” — Avro Manhattan quoting Vice Chancellor Von Papen; Bill Hugh in Secret Terrorists

“The National Socialist commandments and those of the Catholic Church have the same aim.” Edmond Paris in The Secret History of the Jesuits 

“I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.” – Adolf Hitler; John Toland in Adolf Hitler 


Adolf HitlerHindus for Hitler

Anti-Hindu writers love to portray Hindu revivalism as a form of “fascism”. Given the Hindu movement’s record of service to democracy and abiding by democratic norms, they have a hard time sounding serious. Fortunately for them, they find perfect allies in the rare but vocal Hindus who do applaud Adolf Hitler.

Wendy Doniger

During the commotion around the publisher’s withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book Hinduism, an Alternative History, the author herself held a plea pro domo: her article “Banned in Bangalore”, NYT, 5 March 2014. In it, she mocked the ignorant Hindu objection by Dina Nath Batra in his official complaint “that the aforesaid book is written with Christian Missionary Zeal”. When an internet Hindu reproduced this allegation, she replied: “Hey, I’m Jewish.” So far, so good: it is fair and correct to notice that Hindu activists are too smug and too lazy to study their enemies, so that they make embarrassing mistakes about Wendy, including her religious denomination.

Prof Wendy DonigerBut then: “I was hit with a barrage of poisonous anti-Semitism. One correspondent wrote: ‘Hi. I recently came across your book on hindus. Where you try to humiliate us. I don’t know much about jews. Based on your work, I think jews are evil. So Hitler was probably correct in killing all jews in Germany. Bye.’”

This may be an invention: the New York Times readers would not know the ins and outs of Indian politics, but they can be counted on to hear the alarm go off at the mention of anti-Semitism. So Wendy may have invented this case of anti-Semitism so as not to have to bore her readers with categories on Indian public life which they don’t know nor care about. As Vishal Agarwal (The New Stereotypes of Hindus in Western Indology, Hinduworld Publ., Wilmington DE, 2014) has documented, her contentious book contains hundreds of wrong statements, from innocent slips and incorrect data to wilful and ideologically motivated misrepresentations. So, we should not deem her above inventing this outburst. On the other hand, there really are internet Hindus who are capable of utterances like this. They don’t write books or papers, but the inboxs of Hindu activist websites have dozens of examples.

If the above-quoted e-mail really exists, we can infer that it was written by a Hindu who had thus far been ignorant of Jews and anti-Semitism (most Hindus are ignorant about the “Jewish question” in Europe and the Middle East), and who became anti-Semitic on the spot, namely by extrapolating from Wendy to her community, which upon her own declaration is Jewish. The generalization from an individual to her community is of course logically unsustainable, but very common among the kind of people who vent heated reader’s letters. But all these details will be lost on the average reader, who simply comes to associate “Hindu” with “anti-Semitism”. And that was the point of her whole exercise. But Hindu loudmouths don’t see through such tactical schemes and readily take the bait, freely providing their enemies with all the anti-Hindu ammunition they need.

Vinayak Damodar SavarkarHindu pro-Semitism

Hindu activism has always been sympathetic to the Jewish people and Jewish state, at least since 1923 when Hindu leader V.D. Savarkar in his trail-blazing book Hindutva expressed his support for the Jewish project of a state of their own. He had nothing with the Jewish theology of the Promised Land, which he may even not have known, but he observed the nationalist logic that the Jews were a really existing nation and therefore were entitled to their own nation-state. That is also why the Hindu nationalist parties were the only ones in India who, until the advent of diplomatic recognition in 1991, advocated full relations with Israel.

Hindus in general have always admired the revival of Hebrew as mother tongue of Israel, where Hindus themselves are not even capable of pushing through a common second language to replace English. They also feel familiar with Judaic believers as a fellow target of the Christian missionaries, and feel an affinity with the Jewish quasi-Brahminical book-orientedness and the ritualism, food prescriptions and sheer ancientness of Judaism. For what it is worth: Aristotle thought the Jews descended from “the philosophers of India”.   

Yet, Hindus also have a soft corner for conspiracy theories. In the past, they used to make up their own. But now with the internet, they have access to the minutely developed Western conspiracy theories, and the master theory among these is the Zionist World Conspiracy. The blogsite Vijayvaani, for instance, has published a few articles in this vein, e.g. that 9/11 was a inside job masterminded by the CIA together with the Mossad. Amazing how the Mossad managed even to fool Osama bin Laden, who genuinely believed that his Al-Qaeda men had done it; but anyway, that is what millions of conspiracy theorists believe, now including some Hindus.

Quite separate from this phenomenon, there is also a widespread sympathy for Adolf Hitler in India. Among Indian Muslims, this has the same motivation as among Palestinians, viz. Hitler’s anti-Semitism. This is ingrained in Islam and included in the Prophet’s precedent behaviour: he partly exiled and partly murdered the Jews of Arabia, where after the completion of his conquest no declared non-Muslim was left alive. But the same veneration for Hitler also exists among Hindus, though for very different reasons. Most Hindus only know of Hitler as the challenger to the British Empire and thus indirectly as a factor in India’s independence, while they denounce his enemy Churchill as a racist and as responsible for the millions of deaths in the Bengal famine of 1943. Usually they don’t know about Hitler’s anti-Semitism and have only a vague idea of the Jews’ place in European history.

Mein Kampf ed 1926-27A petition against Mein Kampf

In the spring of 2014, some members of the professional Indology list issued a petition to dissuade the leading publishing-house Motilal Banarsidass from republishing a translation of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. This book is very popular throughout the Muslim world, but also in India. Motilal replied graciously and withdrew the book from distribution. The petition’s author, Prof. Dominik Wujastyk (London/Vienna), related on the list that many Hindus he had spoken to, expressed admiration for Hitler, but once they were informed of his massacring the Jews in his domains, they recoiled in horror and embarrassment.

Hindus have a very mistaken view of Hitler. They don’t even realize that Hitler was only forced into war with Britain against his will; that he favoured British domination over India as the realization of his dream (white Aryans ruling over the “inferior races”) and the model for his planned domination of his “vital space” in Eastern Europe; that he opposed the Freedom Movement and advised the visiting British Foreign Minister to have the Congress leadership including Mahatma Gandhi shot. History moves in strange ways, and it is a fact that through WW II, Hitler bankrupted Britain and forced it to relinquish its prized Indian possessions; but he was no friend of the Hinduism or the Indians

Alfred RosenbergNazi Hinduism?

The blogsite Hindu Human Rights has received an e-mail making the following four points, rendered with corrected spelling. We will answer them one by one.

1. “The Myth of the Twentieth Century [by Alfred Rosenberg] is the book on social ideology of Nazism which CLEARLY states the state destruction of Christianity by proxies like Positive Christianity. And replacing it by HINDUISM and German paganism.”

The Nazi high command was inimical to Hinduism, which is briefly lambasted in both Mein Kampf and Hitler’s war-time Table Talk, published by Henry Pickering. Rosenberg was frowned upon by Hitler and other high Nazis for bringing in pre-modern concepts such as this “myth”. But as the Nazi movement was not a monolith (fairly obvious yet news to most experts of the period) nor a religious movement, his ideological idiosyncrasies were tolerated. Yet, even he did not advocate Hinduism as the religion for Germany. Contrary to popular opinion, a return to Germanic Paganism was also not favoured by the Nazis, and emphatically denounced by Hitler in Mein Kampf. The impression that the Nazis revived Germanic Paganism, eagerly fostered by the Christians who try to pass as having been anti-Nazi all along, is due to the 19th-century revival of Paganism-lite which had entered general German culture somewhat, principally the celebration of the Solstices and the use of a particular type of candle. These were incorporated in the rituals of the Hitler Youth and the SS, not because they were Pagan but because they were German.

Post-Christian society does not want to do away with the scientific worldview and admits at most of a very restricted rehabilitation of religion, divested of all its superstitions. This was what was meant by the “Positive Christianity” enshrined in the Nazi charter, the party’s official religious commitment (as opposed to Germanic Paganism, which later on was even outlawed along with all other non-conventional religions or “cults”).  Though raised as a Catholic, later in life Hitler became a typical ex-Christian, retaining a soft corner for Jesus (whose alleged “work”, the struggle against Judaism, Hitler flattered himself as continuing, and whom he defined as blue-eyed and non-Jewish), but ridiculing belief and religiosity as such. Thus, he mocked his Spanish allies during Spain’s civil war, who should have relied on their prayers to the Virgin Mary rather than on the German air force to defeat their enemies.  

While rank-and-file Nazis usually continued their Christian practices, the Nazi leadership consisted of hard-headed military men contemptuous of any religion. Yet they appreciated the organizational achievements of Christianity. Thus, the SS was partly inspired on the Teutonic Order of warrior-monks, and dimly also on the Jesuit Order. Hitler also lambasted systems of hereditary priesthood, which Hindus know well enough through the Brahmin caste, praising instead the Catholic system of celibate priests, necessarily drawn from the common people and thus in greater solidarity with the nation than can be expected of a priestly class locked in its separateness.

The Nazi attitude to Christianity is complex and is not helped by simplistic notions such as Pius XII being called “Hitler’s Pope”. The Nazis had Christian roots and largely Christian voters (in particular, their anti-Semitism had never existed in Germanic Paganism but was central to the Christian scheme), but in the event of victory in World War II, its top cadres planned a secularization and a replacement of Christianity by secular nationalism. A symbol of this planned reform was the replacement of the Christian greeting “Grüss Gott” (not by “Grüss Wotan” or “Grüss Krishna”, as this Hindu Nazi implies, but:) by “Heil Hitler”.

Maybe our Hitler-admiring correspondent is not a Hindu but a secularist. Hitler, at any rate, had no Hindu leanings but was very much a secularist.

German Christian Flag“God-believing”

2. “4% had converted to German Paganism and 1.5-2% to atheism. These pagans and atheists where the most dedicated Nazis. Source: State University of New York George C. Browder Professor of History College of Freedonia (16 September 1996), Hitler’s Enforcers: The Gestapo and the SS Security Service in the Nazi Revolution, Oxford University Press. pp. 166–. ISBN 978-0-19-534451-6. Retrieved 14 March 2013.)”

The 1939 census listed more than 90% of the Germans as Christians, thus necessarily also a majority among those who had supported Hitler in coming to power. It is not fashionable in Christian circles to bring up this fact, as they prefer to highlight anti-Nazi Christians (such as the Weisse Rose student group) and falsely pretend that Christianity was as much a force against Nazism as against Bolshevism. Hindus who want to study any aspect of National Socialism or World War II are very poorly equipped to see through this pro-Christian and anti-Pagan slant in many works on the subject. We have the impression that our correspondent has swallowed it hook, line and sinker. 

In this Christian climate, the “atheist” category, good for some 2%, was frowned upon and identified with “godless Bolshevism”. That is why atheist-minded Nazis joined the other category, Gottgläubig, “believing in God”. This was a vague category of “unspecified religious”, including deism, German peri-Christian mysticism (Hildegard von Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Cusanus, Rudolf Steiner), pantheism, Germanic Paganism and other eccentric religions. The reduction of this category to “Germanic Paganism” is ruthless Christian propaganda, then already used to mobilize the Anglo-Saxon populace against the Nazis, who were depicted as bizarre exotics and Satanists; and it has only spread since and is even being taken over by a Hindu who fancies himself anti-Christian.

The category included many pacifists and other groups temperamentally disinclined to strong-arm Nazism. But yes, it also included Nazis: a top Nazi who strongly identified with this category was Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS. He was creating a new religion out of the bits and pieces he found in many places: memory traces and ancient Germanic religion (the seeress Veleda), Germanic folklore, German-Christian mysticism, German-Christian nature lore, Christian organizational forms, witchcraft and excentric forms of modern science. The religion essentially died with him. It was an interesting attempt of what people will try when the post-Christian condition leaves them looking for something to fill the “God-shaped hole”. But with their own rich and unbroken lineage of spiritual masters, Hindus surely have no need for this syncretic attempt at all. 

Aryan FamilyThe Aryan Invasion Theory

Replying to an argument in an earlier discussion about the so-called Aryan invasion of India, but relevant here, he also reveals:

3. “I am an Out-of-India theorist. Which puts proto-Aryans’ light-brown [skin] with dark hair and eyes like North-Western Indians. On what basis [have] you claimed I consider blonde and blue ‘better’?”

Apparently, our correspondent has earlier been accused of considering one race better than another. We simply accept his protestation that he rejects any claims of racial superiority. But he should expect this kind of allegation if he perforce wants to speak out in favour of the Nazis, who did believe in racial superiority, and very firmly.

In the Nazi scheme of things, the Aryans had invaded India, tried to protect their genetic purity by imposing caste apartheid, but ended up mixing with the natives to some extent. (This scenario is still taught by most Indologists, secularists, Dravidianists and neo-Ambedkarites.) So, to a Nazi, any Indian is definitely inferior: either he is an inferior native if Dravidian or low-caste; or he is an upper-caste Indo-Aryan with some superior Aryan blood in his veins, but unfortunately mixed with some native blood. That is why North-Western Indians are more European-looking, but not fully: their Aryan racial purity has been compromised by some admixture with the dark-skinned natives. So, to Hitler’s mind, they are better off being ruled by the superior pure Aryans from Britain. That is why during their only meeting, he told collaborator Subhas Chandra Bose to his face that Indians have the best possible deal as colonial underlings.

At any rate, the Aryan Invasion Theory was a cornerstone of the Nazi worldview, taught in every Nazi-controlled school. They had it in common with their arch-enemy Winston Churchill, who used the AIT to justify the presence of Britons in India, who had only taken over India the same way that their Vedic cousins once had.

Obviously, the superior Aryans had to have originated in Europe, and then proceeded from there to colonize India, as was their wont. Anything coming in from India was tainted with the inferior native race, witness the Gypsies. In order to racially purify Europe, the Gypsies along with the Jews had to be removed, first according to some yet to be worked out master-plan, then during the war by simple extermination.

If our correspondent really is an Out-of-India theorist, then on this point he is diametrically opposed to the Nazi position.  

Krishna & ArjunaBhagavad Gita

4. “The Nazis had often quoted the Bhagavad Gita to the SS, famously by Himmler. Goebbels had criticized the British take-over of India heavily in his news articles. In the time when the majority of Western countries heavily supported racism (see the reaction to the Japanse proposal of equality in the League of Nations), the CLEAR claim of Goebbels of India as great and ancient … and then the specific Nazi glorification of Hinduism in their literal scriptures speak for themselves.”

In the racial worldview of the Nazis, the biological inferiority of the Hindus was an overriding fact. That is why Hitler mocked their supposed otherworldliness, a trait typical of inferior people who fail in this world and hence have to withdraw in an imaginary world. This in contrast with the down-to-earth Germanic realism, which naturally had to result in competence, victory and conquest. (The exception were the marginal Germanic neo-Pagans, whom he also mocked because they lived in the past and dreamed of a pre-Christian utopia instead of embracing the post-Christian world of science and domination.) But the Gita, being ancient, could be stretched to have been written by the early Aryans who had freshly entered India and were not yet tainted by racial admixture.

At the same time, Orientalism had deeply penetrated German culture. While it could be denounced, it could not entirely be wished away. And so, yes, it had affected Himmler, who swallowed all he could lay his hands on in terms of the occult, secret societies and unconventional religion. He did not propagate the Gita, as some Hindus seem to believe, but he did read it and took some ideas from it – while very purposely leaving out others.

Nazism was still in its infancy and could have taken very different directions. The Army High Command, for instance, invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 thinking it was starting a brief local war, more or less completing the German claim on historically German lands (if, as nationalists often do, you only consider the time of your nation’s greatest expansion). It did not glorify war, which it saw as an extension of politics, meant to project power conditioned by a political plan. There was no plan to conquer Germany’s Western and Northern neighbours, for instance, no ambition to rule these countries, and they only embarked on this invasion (May 1940) reluctantly, with Hitler himself masterminding a very daring strategy which wonderfully succeeded. The ensuing offensives likewise established the German reputation for invincibility, which made many in India go wild (including Mahatma Gandhi, whose Quit India Movement of August 1942 was predicated on an Axis victory). But then Hitler’s strategic luck ran out, the generals tried to save the situation with more careful tactics, but their position continued to decline to inevitable defeat.

In this scenario, not that unusual in military history, the SS and its view on war stood out. Normally, war is sometimes considered a necessary evil, and then embarked upon in a spirit of embracing the inevitable. This is also the case in the Mahabharata, the larger work of which the Gita forms part: Krishna tries non-violent solutions to the enmity between two groups of cousins, and only when these fail, does he counsel a merciless war. This was the first point where Himmler went against Krishna’s example, upholding a modern interpretation of Charles Darwin’s evolution theory: war is a natural and good test to decide who shall survive and who is not worthy of survival. He arrived at the view that war for war’s sake is a good thing. It is only a careless and superficial reading of the Gita (shared, incidentally, by Wendy Doniger) that can see it as a justification of “war for war’s sake”. But I agree that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that the Gita can be a dangerous book in the hands of an incompetent do-it-yourself amateur like Himmler (or a Sanskrit-knowing yet equally incompetent Indologist like Wendy Doniger).

Benedictine SwastikaA second point is the Gita’s doctrine of Nishkam Karma, “action without desire (for its benefits)”. We see traces of it in Himmler’s decision to organize the “final solution of the Jewish problem in Europe”. This expression already existed in the 1930 and meant a planned emigration of the Jews from Germany. A forced emigration is neither pleasant nor fair, but at least it is preferable to being slaughtered. Its relatively innocuous meaning changed drastically in 1941 with the invasion of the Soviet Union. At first, German Jews were being resettled in the conquered territories, but this proved impractical and external emigration was now ruled out by the war circumstances. So something more sinister was being worked out: the secretive extermination of the Jews. People knew vaguely of a plan to deport the Jews to new settlements, so people were not overly upset when they saw the Jews around them being taken away. In some occupied countries, even Jewish committees themselves helped organize the deportation to what they thought were new labour sites in the East.

What did happen was that Himmler took it upon himself to do what race theorists thought best for the German people: eliminate the Jews. He accepted that his SS men would handle this tough task. He relieved even ordinary soldiers of this difficult task, for he had seen how killing, as with a neck shot, was difficult and often became unbearable for ordinary men. He saw this as a kind as ascetic dutifulness: take upon oneself a thankless task, not expecting any reward but doing what has to be done. This ascetic sense of duty could easily be sourced elsewhere, e.g. in Stoicism, widely known among the educated classes of Europe; but it is also present in the Gita, though nowhere applied to the task of extermination.

He could perhaps have used Krishna’s explanation that killing isn’t really killing, just as dying isn’t really dying, because death is only like taking off your clothes to put on fresh ones tomorrow, i.e. in a next incarnation. But he didn’t. Possibly he believed it himself, but as a Nazi, he did not want to propagate an airy-fairy pre-modern doctrine like reincarnation. The Nazi scheme nowhere envisions that the Jews were destined to come back to haunt their killers. The karmic implications taught by the Gita and by much of Hindu tradition did not figure in Himmler’s plans. Nor did the bulk of the Gita, dealing with the Sankhya philosophy’s worldview and its applications, with the need to become a yogi, with the worship of Krishna etc. So, maybe Himmler got a few half-digested ideas from the Gita which he could have gotten from elsewhere too, and most of the Gita’s 18 chapters simply have nothing to do with his project.

As for Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, I know only little of his very considerable output, and have never heard of his utterances in favour of India’s independence. If true, I would expect them to be plastered all over the place by the numerous intellectuals who have an interest in associating Hinduism with Nazism. At any rate, if true, it was never taken over by the Nazi movement of regime. Goebbels has a record of deviating from official Nazism, and not always in a good sense. Thus, he was responsible for the Kristallnacht vandalism and murders, which heavily damaged Germany’s international standing, was resented by the common Germans because they had never voted for riots and disorder in their streets, and disapproved of by the other top Nazis. Not because these disapproved of ill-treatment of the Jews, but because they didn’t want disorder and unexpected private initiatives.

That National Socialists praised Hinduism to the skies and fostered studies of Indian culture, is a fable spread by anti-Hindu authors such as Sheldon Pollock. At most, some Nazis could be found who praised the culture of the still-pure Aryans entering India. Really existing Hinduism, by contrast, was only looked down upon. If living in the Nazi era, our Hindu correspondent could expect to be treated like the Gypsies.

Romani Children in AuschwitzConclusion   

Our correspondent ends his mail in the all too familiar scatological fashion: “If you are unable to give credible answers to these points and break them, based upon reliable references, you are the son of a bitch, a proud brown babu of the British barbarians. And all you can do is trolling like other idiots.”

It is easier to catch mosquitoes with honey than with vinegar, so you would expect internet warriors seeking to convince people to use agreeable language. Instead, many internet Hindus couldn’t care less about the impression they make on their public. After all, they are not into it because they are out to convince people and score an argumentative victory. No, they are into it just to vent their emotions. They foam at the mouth not because they somehow think this has a better chance of convincing anyone, but because they have so much anger and excitement in their hot heads that they simply have to let off steam.

As for the contents, this man surprises outsiders by not thinking strategically at all. He plays massively into the hands of the enemy. A general planning a battle should study the strength and the characteristics of the enemy, as well as the characteristics of the battlefield. This man, by contrast, seems oblivious of the massive anti-Nazi mood in most of the world, which only gets grimmer as time passes. India has the advantage of having extracted more good than evil out of World War II, of having terminated the war-generated animosities in 1945 itself, and of therefore being able to take a more distant view of the different parties in that war including National Socialism. But this doesn’t mean that anything goes. Maybe the Holocaust and other war crimes did not affect you personally, but the facts themselves have to be taken into account.

For victory, you should not only know the enemy, you should first of all know yourself. In this case, a knowledge of Hinduism would at once reveal the fundamental differences with the Nazi worldview. Any contacts or similarities could never be more than accidental. Thus, in the much-maligned Hindu caste society, the Jewish community would simply have formed a caste (as indeed it did on the Malabar coast), just as it effectively did in Germany for many centuries; the Nazi desire to eliminate it, however, constituted a break with this arrangement. Hitler may have been wrong on many things, but he was at least right in one respect: that as a Nazi, he could only hold Hinduism in contempt. Either you are a Nazi or you are a Hindu.

Dr. Koenraad Elst» Koenraad Elst distinguished himself early on as eager to learn and to dissent. He 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

Hitler and the Catholic Church

Hitler and the Catholic Church

Hitler and the Catholic Church

See also

The mystery of the Bible’s imaginary camels – Elizabeth Dias

Elizabeth Dias“The new study again raises the age-old question of biblical accuracy. The phantom camel is just one of many historically jumbled references in the Bible. The Book of Genesis claims the Philistines, the traditional enemy of the Israelites, lived during Abraham’s time. But historians date the Philistines’ arrival to the eastern Mediterranean at about 1200 B.C., 400 years after Abraham was supposed to have lived.” – Elizabeth Dias

Abraham and his wives and camelsOnce upon a time, Abraham owned a camel. According to the Book of Genesis, he probably owned lots of camels. The Bible says that Abraham, along with other patriarchs of Judaism and Christianity, used domesticated camels — as well as donkeys, sheep, oxen and slaves — in his various travels and trade agreements. Or did he?

Last week, archaeologists Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University released a new study that dates the arrival of the domesticated camel in the eastern Mediterranean region to the 10th century BCE at the earliest, based on radioactive-carbon techniques. Abraham and the patriarchs, however, lived at least six centuries before then. The New York Times, in a story about the finding today, announced, “There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place … these anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history.” Behold, a mystery: the Case of the Bible’s Phantom Camels.

The discovery is actually far from new. William Foxwell Albright, the leading American archeologist and biblical scholar who confirmed the authenticity of the Dead Sea Scrolls, argued in the mid-1900s that camels were an anachronism. Historian Richard Bulliet of Columbia University explored the topic in his 1975 book, The Camel and the Wheel, and concluded that “the occasional mention of camels in patriarchal narratives does not mean that the domestic camels were common in the Holy Land at that period.” Biblical History 101 teaches that the texts themselves were often written centuries after the events they depict.

Philistine WarriorThe new study again raises the age-old question of biblical accuracy. The phantom camel is just one of many historically jumbled references in the Bible. The Book of Genesis claims the Philistines, the traditional enemy of the Israelites, lived during Abraham’s time. But historians date the Philistines’ arrival to the eastern Mediterranean at about 1200 BCE, 400 years after Abraham was supposed to have lived, according to Carol Meyers, professor of religion at Duke University.

Then there’s the case of the great earthquake in the prophetic Book of Zechariah. Geological evidence in archeological sites like Hazor and Gezer in Israel date it to the mid-8th century BCE. But the Book of Zechariah, written several hundred years later, uses the event to talk about what will happen at the end of time, notes Eric Meyers, director of Duke University’s Department of Religious Studies and Carol’s husband.

These anachronisms and historical inaccuracies, however, do not trouble biblical scholars. People in biblical times understood and wrote about their past differently from people in the modern, post-Enlightenment world. “We expect history to provide an accurate narrative of real events,” Carol Meyers explains. “The biblical authors, composers, writers used their creative imaginations to shape their stories, and they were not interested in what actually happened, they were interested in what you could learn from telling about the past.”

The Bible has also never been a history book or a scientific textbook, explains Choon-Leong Seow, professor of Old Testament language and literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. Interpreting the Bible is a little like studying Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper, he says. Modern viewers do not consider the Christ figure in da Vinci’s painting an accurate portrait because we know it was painted centuries after the supper happened, but that does not take away from the artist’s spiritual Jewish Torahmessage about Jesus’ last night with his disciples. “For us who believe that this is Scripture, Scripture is important as it has formative power, it forms the people, and it transforms,” Seow says. “It is poetic truth rather than literary truth.”

Understanding the Case of the Phantom Camel as a fight between archeological evidence and biblical narrative misses the entire spiritual point of the text, as far as scholars are concerned. Anachronisms and apocryphal elements do not mean the story is invalid, but instead give insight into the spiritual community in a given time and place. In this case, Bible: Religious romance or history?camels were a sign of wealth and developing trade routes, so it is likely that the biblical writer used the camel as a narrative device to point out power and status. “We needn’t understand these accounts as literally true, but they are very rich in meaning and interpretive power,” Eric Meyers says.

The study is going to ruffle the feathers of people who believe in biblical inerrancy, a doctrine popular among evangelical and other right-orthodoxy movements that says every word in the Bible is literally true. Liberal Judaism and Christianity, says Carol Meyers, often contribute to the problem when they do not look at the complexity of how ancient narratives were formed. Instead of worrying about proving history, she offers this suggestion: “If the Biblical writers are not interested in the facts, but rather in getting a message across, then people of faith can concentrate, instead of trying to verify every last item in the Bible, on what the overall message of the story is, not whether it is historically true or not.”

Case closed. – Time, 11 February 2014

» Elizabeth Dias reports on religion and politics for Time Magazine.