India, a resilient civilisation – Michel Danino


Prof Michel DaninoThe final riddle: Why did this Hindu civilisation not disappear, like so many other great Pagan civilisations? The answer will have to be as complex as the civilisation itself. – Prof Michel Danino

We saw India as a land of paradoxes, which seems to revel in them, the better to reconcile them; as generating a culture obsessed with the infinite and the cosmic; hunting for consciousness everywhere, from the supra cosmic to the smallest animal (with us in between, if we will remember); viewing this whole world as sacred, since it is pervaded with consciousness; harmonising the individual and the collective while respecting, even encouraging, differences and multiple paths; we saw principles and practices of environmental conservation rooted in the concept of Nature’s sacredness and simple living; a deep reverence for and pursuit of knowledge in every field, from the most abstrusely philosophical to the most practical, with high traditions of education as a result; a knowledge that was not elitist, and often the product of an interaction between different social layers; we discussed the endlessly discussed notion of Dharma; India’s quest for the meaning of life beyond all dharmas, and therefore for the supreme knowledge (which is also self-knowledge); and how this bewildering multiplicity of dharmas, paths and social groupings, has led to the stereotype of India as a chaotic, unorganised place, while a different kind of order runs below the surface.

Taken together, these master ideas do help us understand India’s journey. A few are shared with other cultures, but not the totality of them. Do they amount to a complete definition of Indian civilisation? But more such key concepts have been at work in India; for instance, a preoccupation with beauty (as the Greek historian Strabo wrote in the first century BCE, “Since Indians esteem beauty, they practise everything that can beautify their appearance”—how times have changed!). Or the twin notion of sacrifice and self-sacrifice, with its perceptible, though dwindling, influence on Indian ethos (think of our countless “unsung heroes”). Indeed, the list is open-ended.

In fact, one might ask, why not ahimsa? Is it not central to India? The answer, expectedly, is, yes and no. There is nothing absolute about ahimsa in classical Indian thought or literature: it is highly valued, but its application varies according to the situation, the ways open for the sustenance of dharma, and one’s svadharma: that of a monk is not that of a warrior. It is true, however, that the manner in which India interacted with neighbouring cultures and civilisations fascinated early European students of India, as it was quite unlike anything they were familiar with elsewhere: India’s culture—including Buddhism, what goes by the name of Hinduism and, to a lesser extent, Jainism—radiated well beyond her borders, but very rarely through a military campaign of conquest. As Hu Shih, a Chinese thinker and ambassador to the U.S. in the 1940s, once put it, “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 2,000 years without ever having to send a single soldier across her border. … China was overwhelmed, baffled and overjoyed. She begged and borrowed freely from this munificent giver.”

The final riddle: Why did this civilisation not disappear, like so many others? The answer will have to be as complex as the civilisation itself. Geographical, environmental, social and historical factors all played a part. And cultural: it had some in-built resilience and adaptability, precisely because it was non-dogmatic, non-exclusivist (there are no “believers” and “unbelievers” in Indic religions), dependent on no central authority, and apparently “unorganised”. But that alone would not have sufficed, as most of the early Pagan religions, which disappeared under the onslaught of Christianity and Islam, shared those characteristics, while in the case of Hinduism (that of Buddhism being more complicated), strategies of decentralised resistance were adopted across the land, as superbly documented by the historian Meenakshi Jain in her recent book, Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples. In the end, perhaps it has something to do with the depth of the roots that India grew.

How long will these roots live? There is no quantifying such a thing, nor any guarantee that what goes by the name of Indian culture will survive the twenty-first century. Much of India’s intellectual class has been trained to hate it, not realising that their rootless concepts of democracy and secularism will never provide a cement that can hold India together. But the real danger is not there: it is with those who are supposed to embody that culture. For most, it has become a social veneer or a set of “traditions” they believe (wrongly, in general) to be very ancient and blindly insist upon. They are those Sri Aurobindo referred to when, precisely a hundred years ago, he warned: “In the stupendous rush of change which is coming on the human world as a result of the present tornado of upheaval, ancient India’s culture, attacked by European modernism, overpowered in the material field, betrayed by the indifference of her children, may perish for ever along with the soul of the nation that holds it in its keeping.”

Sri Aurobindo also wrote, “The soul of Hinduism languishes in an unfit body. Break the mould that the soul may live.” Time will break the mould; that is its job. Let us see if the soul will have enough energy left to build a new body. – The Indian Express, 30 April 2019

» Prof Michel Danino is a French-born Indian author, scholar of ancient India, and visiting professor at IIT Gandhinagar.

Yagnavalkya & Maitreyi


India as a Western scholar saw it – David Frawley

Rashtrapati Bhavan

Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley)Should a decent government come to power the opposition pursues pulling it down as its main goal, so that they can gain power for themselves. The idea of a constructive or supportive opposition is hard to find. The goal is to gain power for oneself and to not allow anyone else to succeed. – Dr David Frawley

A defeatist tendency exists in the psyche of modern Indians perhaps unparalleled in any other country today. An inner conflict bordering on a civil war rages in the minds of the country’s elite. The main effort of its cultural leaders appears to be to pull the country down or remake it in a foreign image, as if little Indian and certainly nothing Hindu was worthy of preserving or even reforming.

The elite of India suffers from a fundamental alienation from the traditions and culture of the land that would not be less poignant had they been born and raised in a hostile country. The ruling elite appears to be little more than a native incarnation of the old colonial rulers who haughtily lived in their separate cantonments, neither mingling with the people nor seeking to understand their customs. This new English-speaking aristocracy prides itself in being disconnected from the very soil and people that gave it birth.

There is probably no other country where It has become a national pastime among its educated class to denigrate its own culture and history, however great that has been over the many millennia of its existence. When great archaeological discoveries of India’s past are found, for example, they are not a subject for national pride but are ridiculed as an exaggeration, if not an invention, as if they represent only the imagination of backward chauvinistic elements within the culture

‘Overwhelming’ Minorities

There is probably no other country where the majority religion, however enlightened, mystical or spiritual, is ridiculed, while minority religions, however fundamentalist or even militant, are doted upon. The majority religion and its institutions are taxed and regulated while minority religions receive tax benefits and have no regulation or even monitoring. While the majority religion is carefully monitored and limited as to what it can teach, minority religions can teach what they want, even if anti-national or backward in nature. Books are banned that offend minority religious sentiments but praised if they cast insults on majority beliefs.

There is probably no other country where regional, caste and family loyalties are more important than the national interest, even among those who claim to be democratic, socialist or caste reformers. Political parties exist not to promote a national agenda but to sustain one region or group of people in the country at the expense of the whole. Each group wants as big a piece of the national pie as it can get, not realising that the advantages it gains mean deprivation for other groups. Yet when those who were previously deprived gain power, they too seek the same unequal advantages that cause further inequality and discontent.

India’s affirmative action code is by far the most extreme in the world, trying to raise up certain segments of the population regardless of merit, and prevent others from gaining positions, however, qualified they may be. In the guise of removing caste, a new casteism has arisen where one’s caste is more important than one’s qualifications either in gaining entrance into a school or in finding a job when one graduates. Anti-Brahminism has often become the most virulent form of casteist thinking. People view the government not as their own creation but as a welfare state from which they should take the maximum personal benefit, regardless of the consequences for the country as a whole.

Outside people need not pull Indians down—Indians are already quite busy keeping any of their people and the country as a whole from rising up. They would rather see their neighbours or the nation fail if they are not given the top position. It is only outside of India that Indians succeed, often remarkably well, because their native talents are not stifled by the dominant cultural self-negativity and rabid divisiveness that exists in the country today.

Being anti-Hindu, anti-India

Political parties in India see gaining power as a means of amassing personal wealth and robbing the nation. Political leaders include gangsters, charlatans and buffoons who would stop short at nothing to gain power for themselves and their coteries. Even so-called modern or liberal parties resemble more the courts of kings, where personal loyalty is more important than any democratic participation. Once they gain power politicians routinely do little but cheat the people for their own advantage. Even honest politicians find that they cannot function without some deference to the more numerous corrupt leaders who often have a stranglehold on the bureaucracy.

Politicians divide the country into warring vote banks and place one community against another. They offer favours to communities, like bribes to make sure that they are elected, or stay in power. They campaign on slogans that appeal to community fears and suspicions rather than create any national consensus or harmony. They hold power based upon blame and hatred rather than on any positive programs for social change. They inflame the uneducated masses with propaganda rather than work to make people aware of real social problems like overpopulation, poor infrastructure or lack of education.

Should a decent government come to power the opposition pursues pulling it down as its main goal, so that they can gain power for themselves. The idea of a constructive or supportive opposition is hard to find. The goal is to gain power for oneself and to not allow anyone else to succeed.

To further their ambitions, Indian politicians will manipulate the foreign press to denigrate their opponents, even if it means spreading lies and rumours and making the country an anathema in the eyes of the outside world. Petty conflicts in India are blown out of proportion in the foreign media, not by foreign journalists but by Indians seeking to use the media to score points against their own opponents in the country. The Indians who are responsible for the news of India in the foreign press spread venom and distortion about their own country, perhaps better than any foreigner who dislikes the culture ever could.

The killing of one Christian missionary becomes a national media event of anti-Christian attacks while the murder of hundreds of Hindus is taken casually without any real importance, as if only the deaths of white-skinned people matter, not the slaughter of the natives. Missionary aggression is extolled as social upliftment, while Hindu efforts at self-defence against the conversion onslaught are portrayed as rabid fundamentalism. One Indian journalist even lamented that western armies would not come to India to chastise the political groups he was opposed to, as if he was still looking for the colonial powers to save him!

Not a banana republic

Let us look at the type of leaders that India has had, with its Lalu Prasad Yadav (ex-CM Bihar) or Mulayam Singh Yadav (ex-CM, UP) to mention but a few. Such individuals are little more than warlords who surround themselves with sycophants. Modern Indian politicians appear more like colonial rulers looting their own country, following a divide and rule policy, to keep the people so weak that their power cannot be challenged.

Corruption exists almost everywhere and bribery is the main way to do business in nearly all fields. India has an entrenched bureaucracy that resists change and stifles development, just out of sheer obstinacy and not wanting to give up any control.

The Congress Party, the oldest in this predominantly Hindu nation, had given its leadership to an Italian Catholic woman simply because as the widow of the last Gandhi prime minister, she carried the family torch, as if family loyalty were still the main basis of political credibility in the country. And such a leader and a party are deemed progressive!

The strange thing is that India is not a banana republic of recent vintage but one of the oldest and most venerable civilisations in the world. Its culture is not trumpeting a militant and fundamentalist religion trying to conquer the world for the one true faith but represents a vaster and more cosmic vision. India has given birth to the main religions that have dominated East Asia historically, the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh, which are noted for tolerance and spirituality.

It has produced Sanskrit, perhaps the world’s greatest language. It has given us the incredible spiritual systems of Yoga and its great traditions of meditation and self-realisation. As the world looks forward to a more universal model of spirituality and a worldview defined by consciousness rather than by religious dogma these traditions are perhaps the most important legacy to draw upon for creating a future enlightened civilisation.

The irony is that rather than embracing its own great traditions, the modern Indian psyche prefers to slavishly imitate worn out trends in Western intellectual thought like Marxism or even to write apologetics for Christian and Islamic missionary aggression. Though living in India, in proximity to temples, yogis and great festivals, most modern Indian intellectuals are oblivious to the soul of the land. They might as well be living in England or China for all they know of their own country.

They are isolated in their own alien ideas as if in a tower of iron. If they choose to rediscover India, it is more likely to occur by reading the books of Western travellers visiting the country, rather than by their own direct experience of the people around them. – Organiser, 23 April 2018

~ Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) is a renowned author and teacher of Vedic knowledge, including Yoga, Ayurveda, Vedanta and Jyotisha. In March 2015 he received the prestigious Padma Bhushan award from the Government of India.

Media Theories


Defining the civilisation of India – Michel Danino

Jal Mahal Jaipur (© Vijayaraj P.S.)

Prof Michel DaninoDemonisation is what a certain class of historians and intellectuals—and many “South Asian studies” departments—have promoted, painting India as a land of primitive culture and unredeemed social abuse; they have refused to acknowledge the integrating cultural roots of the land, – Prof Michel Danino

In the world of South Asian studies highly inflected with ideology and long-term political strategies, the word “civilisation” is rather out of date. It is still applied to dead civilisations, such as those of ancient Egypt or classical Greece or the Mayans; however, pseudo-liberal and postmodern intellectuals are wary of a living civilisation such as India’s: the term implies a disturbing macro-phenomenon, when the current academic trend is towards micro-studies that make it easy to send subtle or not-so-subtle messages: focus on one dark spot (often retaining only the data that will fit your predetermined conclusions), and the student or reader will be hypnotised into trusting that the whole must be as dark as the part.

A couple of years ago, I attended in an Indian institute a class given by a visiting European anthropologist, who was also an old India hand. At some point, she stated (as would any historian or archaeologist worth their salt) that there was so much more to understand about India and Indian society than caste. A surprised student raised her hand to ask how India could be understood if not through the prism of caste—a telling but painful admission of abysmal ignorance about her own country. And indeed, caste and gender are the two omnipresent prisms in India studies, whether ancient or modern. In this blinkered view nurtured by highly biased curricula and textbooks, there is indeed no room for a “civilisation”.

I will not attempt to define the word; the general understanding of an advanced stage of human society with a complex state structure, scientific, technological, artistic and other cultural developments, will do for the moment. Soon after European Orientalists, in the eighteenth century, began to study India, they realized they were dealing not with a nation in the European sense of the world, but with something on a bigger scale than even ancient Mesopotamia or Egypt—bigger in historical, geographical and demographic terms, also in terms of sheer cultural and religious diversity that nevertheless built up to one coherent whole: precisely what goes by the name of Indian civilisation.

Those Orientalists, followed by generations of more rigorous Indologists, did attempt to grasp it, initially mainly by reference to its chief or most ancient texts: the Vedas, the Upanishads, the two Epics or the Puranas, along with the whole Buddhist literature. This produced a number of “textual” definitions, which do have their own value, but fall short when we move to the field of history: how far are the values or concepts spelt out in the texts reflected in actual events and social developments?

In fact, I once heard a well-known historian (and a fine scholar—the two not necessarily going together) declare in a conference in Kerala that there was nothing very different about Indian history from, say, European history: the two shared “bloody warfare”, social exploitation, and so on. It seemed to me that such a sweeping statement was untenable, but disproving it would take a book-size argument. Instead, in a series of monthly articles, I propose to try and make out the specificities of Indian civilisation: if the term has any validity at all, there must be something different about it from what would define, say, Chinese or Mesoamerican civilisations. What or where is that difference? And how has it found expression in the millennia-old developments on this subcontinent? I will not attempt a systematic scholarly study, but will try to extract a dozen “master ideas,” to use Sri Aurobindo’s term, which have been that civilisation’s prime movers—and which did find expression in historical developments.

In such an exercise, two extremes stare us in the face, those of glorification and demonisation. Glorification is what Europe’s first Orientalists indulged in, imagining India’s golden age of advanced knowledge, perfect non-violence and humaneness, a romantic view that persists with many enthusiasts who prefer facile shortcuts to serious study. Demonisation is what a certain class of historians and intellectuals (and many “South Asian studies” departments) have promoted, painting India as a land of primitive culture and unredeemed social abuse; besides, they have refused to acknowledge the integrating cultural roots of the land, proposing for India’s sole salvation the fate of a “multicultural” nation on the failed European model, instead of trying to understand premodern India’s own brand of multiculturalism and therefore her own strengths. This “idea of India,” as they call it, is little more than a reincarnation of the colonial diktats about ancient India, especially those about “Brahminism”, “elitism” (knowledge being supposedly denied to low castes), the “otherworldliness” of Indian philosophy, the absence of useful knowledge in premodern India (all of which therefore came to us from the West, and especially from modern science), the barbaric condition of Indian society, and so on.

Steering clear, therefore, of those twin pitfalls, I will take up those master ideas one by one, tracing their origins (whether textual or otherwise) and, whenever possible, their manifestations in history, sometimes all the way to our present times. This will amount, in effect, to an empirical definition of Indian civilisation — as the one that conceived those seminal ideas and attempted, at least, to give them a living reality.

Their precise list is of my own choosing, the result of my personal studies and observations. Another student of India is bound to come up with a different list, unavoidably so. Remember the British economist Joan Robinson’s striking insight: “Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.” Perhaps there lies our first master idea, after all. – The New Indian Express, 10 June 2018

» Prof Michel Danino is a French-born author and visiting professor at IIT Gandhinagar. 

Manikarnika Ghat Varanasi (© Vijayaraj P.S.)

Don’t deny BHU’s Hindu character – Faizan Mustafa


Faizan MustafaWe should be proud of the Hindu character of BHU and in view of its origin and purpose, retain ‘H’ in BHU. It does not impinge on our secular character. – Faizan Mustafa

Shakespeare was wrong in saying “What’s in a name?” There is a lot in a name. The names of institutions have far greater significance than the names of individuals as they give us an idea about their history, purpose and character. A UGC audit team recently suggested that the words ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ be dropped from the names of two denominational universities: Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). It not only exceeded its brief but also showed its ignorance of the history and the unique character of the universities.

It is also wrong to assert, as some have done, that while AMU was meant to serve primarily Muslim interests, BHU did not give central importance to Hindu interests. In fact, the editor of Leader (an English newspaper started by BHU founder Madan Mohan Malaviya) said the birth of BHU was in fact the beginning of Hindu renaissance. To deny the Hindu character of BHU is to rewrite history.

“No Hindu who has received an English education ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. It is my firm belief that if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater amongst the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence,” said Lord Macaulay. To counter the ill effects imparted by the British educational institutions, Hindus wanted a university of their own. The Central Hindu College was founded in 1898 by Annie Besant and Bhagwan Das to promote the study of Hindu shastras along with western education. Revival of Hinduism was the primary goal of this institution. Khalsa College was similarly founded in 1892 to conserve Sikhism.

The MAO College at Aligarh founded in 1877 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had a similar motive but there was a difference. Here, Sir Syed was more interested in western education than the revival of Islam. As many as five fatwas were issued against him, including one from Mecca. He and his college were called evil. While Sir Syed was for radical reforms in Islam, Malaviya represented and practiced Hindu orthodoxy. Malaviya’s links with Hindu organisations were quite cordial.

In 1887 Madhya Hindu Samaj sent him as its delegate to the newly-founded Indian National Congress session. Malaviya was one of the founders of Hindu Mahasabha which too was formed with the intention of promoting the Hindu identity. He repeatedly said that Hindus should take pride in their Hindu identity as the British education system had inculcated in them a feeling of inferiority. But when the Hindu Mahasabha adopted an aggressive and exclusionary approach, Malaviya withdrew himself from its activities. Malaviya as the third vice-chancellor of BHU in 1938 permitted the construction of two rooms on campus for the RSS to carry out its activities.

In 1904 at the Congress session, Malaviya’s proposal for the BHU was unanimously adopted. The British government also supported the proposal in the hope that it would produce loyal British subjects. Harcourt Butler, member education, Government of India , without mincing words said about the BHU Bill that “educating the youth in India in the Hindu religion would inspire loyalty to the government and would serve to quell growing sedition in India”.

The Hindu kings were of the similar view. When Butler informed the promoters of both the universities that the secretary of state did not agree to using “Hindu” or “Muslim” in the names of the universities, both communities opposed it. The Maharaja of Darbhanga, president of Hindu University Society, wrote to Harcourt Butler that “the new name will not appeal to the Hindu public at large”. He also said in any case, a “change of name will not alter the essential Hindu character of the proposed University”. The Viceroy Lord Hardinge’s letter of 7th October, 1912 to the secretary of state saved the day as he persuaded him to concede this genuine demand.

Malaviya was also opposed to the non-cooperation movement. In fact Gandhiji at the Nagpur session of Congress where the non-cooperation resolution was adopted did acknowledge Malaviya’s absence; otherwise he would have opposed this resolution. Gandhiji considered institutions run with British support as “satanic”. He advocated BHU’s closure as the education was not nationalist. When Malaviya did not concede, Gandhiji got an alternative nationalist university established at Benaras itself: Kashi Vidyapith. At its inauguration in 1921, Gandhiji regretted that Malaviya had even refused to attend the function. Similarly in Aligarh, Jamia Millia Islamia was founded as an alternative to AMU by the nationalist Muslims with Gandhiji’s patronage. Subsequently it was shifted to Delhi.

The BHU reflected its Hindu character. The university’s Supreme Governing Body till 1951 consisted only of Hindus. Only Brahmins were permitted to teach at the College of Theology. When non-Brahmin donors and kings objected to this, Malaviya convinced the members on the basis of Manusmriti. Non-Brahmins were not admitted even as students of the Theology College as according to the shastras, they were not entitled to perform the duties of priests. On the same basis, women too were excluded.

In 1945, even Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan who had succeeded Malaviya refused to go against the regressive decisions. Thus it is absurd to say that BHU was progressive and AMU was sectarian and regressive. We should be proud of the Hindu character of BHU and in view of its origin and purpose, retain ‘H’ in BHU. It does not impinge on our secular character. In 1965, the Centre’s similar proposal was opposed even by the RSS and was dropped. The BHU is certainly better than most universities in India and its character has not diluted its academic standards. The New Indian Express, 10 November 2017

» Faizan Mustafa is Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

BHU Emblem

Vishwanath Temple at Banaras Hindu University


How to teach Indian history, and how not to – N. S. Rajaram

Kamlesh Kapur

Dr. N. S. RajaramIt is now a time-worn cliché that the teaching of Indian history has been distorted. The real question is how to correct it. A committed teacher has taken an important step by showing how to go about doing it. – Dr N. S. Rajaram

Speaking before the Kerala History Association, Kochi on 18 Dec. 2005, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, then President and among the most respected intellectuals in India observed: “The best historians present us with descriptions and analyses of the past that make unfamiliar times and places somehow comprehensible. In seeking to penetrate the veil of the past, we end up by studying how other individuals and societies dealt with the practical and existential problems at least related to our own.” 

After this sage observation, Dr. Kalam came specifically to Indian history and noted: “My observation is that in India many have written history of India [coming] both from the Indian historians recently and by those who had conquered us. So far, even 58 years after Independence, the dogmas, rituals, systems and norms of the historical past, imposed by the last millennium of invasion and conquest, still continue to condition our minds.” Most tellingly he emphasized: 

“We tend more to conform to the past [as described by our invaders and occupiers], rather than think in true freedom and create a future, free from the pain of the past. Now time has come, in the 21st century, we need new breed of historians who can make the past meet the present and create the future….”   

More than a century before Dr. Kalam, Swami Vivekananda told a group of youngsters (1891): “Study Sanskrit, but along with it study Western sciences as well. Learn accuracy, my boys, study and labor so that the time will come when you can put our history on a scientific basis. … The histories of our country written by English writers cannot but be weakening to our minds, for they talk only of our downfall. How can foreigners, who understand very little of our manners and customs, or our religion and philosophy, write faithful and unbiased histories of India?”   

He then went on to observe: “Naturally many false notions and wrong inferences have found their way into them. Nevertheless they have shown us how to proceed making researches into our ancient history. Now it is for us to strike out an independent path of historical research for ourselves, to study the Vedas and Puranas and the ancient annals (Itihasas) of India, and from them make it your sadhana (disciplined endeavor) to write accurate, sympathetic and soul-inspiring history of India. It is for Indians to write Indian history.” 

Without resorting to polemics, Vivekananda exhorted his youthful audience to “…never cease to labor until you have revived the glorious past of India in the consciousness of the people. That will be the true national education, and with its advancement, a true national spirit will be awakened.” What he left unsaid was that such an approach would need them to develop new tools of historical research leading to new methodologies 

Historical method 

One scholar who appears to have taken this message to heart is Smt Kamlesh Kapur, an educator of great experience both in India and the US. She has put her knowledge, experience and the spirit invoked by Dr. Kalam and Swami Vivekananda into practice in producing the book Portraits of a Nation: History of Ancient India. In addition to giving the facts of history as can best be reconstructed the author provides details of methodology used and historiography.  

A book along these lines should have been, and could have been, written fifty years ago, but was not. The reasons are several, but two need to be highlighted because they have persisted. First, there was the Nehruvian feudal establishment; and pandering to his tastes and prejudices became the route to recognition and career success. This meant that the views advanced in Jawaharlal Nehru’s amateurish and entirely Eurocentric Discovery of India became entrenched in history books as the “authorized” view. To go with this, a whole generation of historians beginning with Romila Thapar and R. S. Sharma were trained by a single British professor, A. L. Basham of the School of Oriental Studies in London. Basham was more a religious scholar than a historian or archaeologist, but his legacy has persisted. 

It is unhealthy for any institution to be so in-bred in its research and faculty, with everyone trained to think the same way. A prime example is the Center for Historical Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Until recently it was dominated by the Marxist historian—and Basham student—Romila Thapar and a clique around her. A singular feature of ‘scholars’ belonging to this clique is their ignorance of Indian languages, especially Sanskrit. This is true of Thapar also though it has not stopped her from writing extensively about Vedic India! As a result they are totally dependent on English translations made by colonial scholars. This has resulted in what Sri Aurobindo called their “lack of sturdy independence” and “excessive deference to European authority.” 

What this clique has produced is copycat scholarship, with status tied to how closely they follow their erstwhile European masters. This makes them oppose any revisions to Eurocentric models like the Aryan invasion theory and the Aryan-Dravidian myth. In fact, the strongest defenders today of these discredited notions are not Europeans anymore but their Indian followers. Harappans as Dravidians and victims of the Aryan invasion is propagated not by European scholars but Dravidian politicians like Karunanidhi. (One exception is Asko Parpola who was paid a generous reward by Karunanidhi for endorsing the DMK ideology built on the scientifically discredited Aryan-Dravidian divide.) 

This sheds light on another aspect of the post-Independence history establishment, especially of the JNU-AMU (Aligarh Muslim University) school, known more for political activism than any contributions to scholarship. Underlying their political posturing is the denial of everything good about India. Vedas and Sanskrit were brought by invading Aryans; Indian astronomy is of Greek origin; Muslim invaders including Babar never destroyed any Hindu temples—you get the drift. 

Much of this can be explained by the fact that this arrogance and posturing is a façade to cover up their deficiency in scholarship and inferiority complex. Being ignorant of both science and primary sources (in Sanskrit), they feel their best defense lies in denial and attack. This came to the fore when this writer and the late Natwar Jha in 2000 proposed a solution to the Harappan script puzzle by linking its language to Vedic Sanskrit and presenting readings of a large number of inscriptions. 

This of course demolishes the Aryan-Dravidian myth. The reaction of JNU-AMU clique was not any attempt at refutation, but a personal attack in the Communist magazine Frontline. Even here, Romila Thapar, lacking the self-confidence to deal with our work (based on Vedic Sanskrit), went to Hindu-baiter Michael Witzel of Harvard to mount the attack. (The recent attack on Subramanian Swamy and Rajiv Malhotra by Witzel and his colleague Diana Eck is not without precedent.) 

In pursuit of their goals, this clique has not hesitated to deny and even falsify evidence. A prime example that had tragic consequences was its denial and falsification of evidence for the existence of a prior temple and its destruction beneath the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. This was noted by the judge who severely criticized these scholars for their role. In its judgment on the long-standing Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, the Allahabad High Court flayed the role played by several witnesses including Thapar’s protégé Shireen Ratnagar.  She was forced to admit under oath that she had no field experience in archaeological excavations in India. 

Still their hostility bordering on hatred towards their ancestral land and culture is hard to comprehend. They owe everything to India; unlike Indian scientists and professionals, they would be nonentities in the West. Perhaps Shakespeare said it best when Julius Caesar was murdered by his erstwhile followers: “What private griefs these men have, alas, I know not.” 

Be that as it may, Kamlesh Kapur in Portraits of a Nation: History of Ancient India suffers from no such deficiencies or ignorance of primary sources and science. She displays a refreshingly original approach to the sources. She observes that the Vedas, the Rig Veda in particular has been the most faithfully preserved text of the ancient world and hence has suffered least in terms of interpolations. We must treat the Vedic records—names, dynasties, astronomical statements, etc—as the most reliable and accord them the highest priority. 

This is a valuable insight: it means that statements that seemingly violate our beliefs—like Aryans as nomadic invaders—cannot be dismissed. If the Rig Veda describes a maritime society of rivers, oceans and ships as David Frawley pointed out more than 20 years ago, we cannot ignore it and insist that it was nomadic-pastoral. Also to be admired is the author’s bold multidisciplinary approach by looking at natural history, genetics, and archaeo-astronomy in addition to the usual sources like archaeology and literary records. In fact, some of this material appears for the first time in a textbook (as opposed to articles and research monographs by Oppenheimer, Cavalli-Sforza and this writer). 

In the process, the author succeeds in building a sound foundation in historiography not only for her book but for all future students of Indian history. A particular strength of the book is that its author is no ivory tower academic writing to impress peers, but an educationist who has worked with students and teachers for many years. She has seen the problems at ground level, and has produced a book that is at once up to date and pedagogically sound. 

To appreciate the value of Kamlesh Kapur’s work it helps to have some idea of the magnitude of the distortion, nay perversions, inflicted on generations of innocent young minds by self-serving academics in the name of history. It is a vast subject, but here is a brief summary. It is a case study in how not to teach history, or any subject for that matter. 

Historians or ‘distortians’ 

While most educated Indians now have at least an idea that their history has been distorted, few know the lengths to which “scholars”—European and Indian—have gone to preserve and perpetuate the Aryan myth. Given the Aryans’ importance to their worldview, it is extraordinary that after two hundred years of voluminous outpourings, these scholars are still unable to identify them. Originally they were claimed to be a race related to Europeans but science has discredited it. 

After the defeat of Nazi Germany, scholars avoid overtly racial arguments but the basic idea of an invasion by Europeans bringing civilization to India is retained even if they acknowledge that ancient Indian records know nothing of any such invasion. All we have are repeated assertions of their central dogma. As expressed by the late Murray Emeneau, a leading linguist: 

“At some time in the second millennium B.C., probably comparatively early in the millennium, a band or bands of speakers of an Indo-European language, later to be called Sanskrit, entered India over the northwest passes. This is our linguistic doctrine which has been held now for more than a century and a half. There seems to be no reason to distrust the arguments for it, in spite of the traditional Hindu ignorance of any such invasion.” 

This is typical of the field, with arguments closer to theology than to science. In short Emeneau and his ilk are telling us: “Evidence be damned, we know Aryans invaded India and brought the Vedas.” Aryans are needed because there can be no Aryan invasion without the Aryans. It is a case of the tail wagging the dog, but theology cannot exist without such “logic”. Scientists, however, had long ago dismissed the idea of the Aryan race. As far back as 1939, Sir Julian Huxley, one of the great biologists of the twentieth century had observed: 

“In England and America the phrase ‘Aryan race’ has quite ceased to be used by writers with scientific knowledge, though it appears occasionally in political and propagandist literature…. In Germany, the idea of the “Aryan race” received no more scientific support than in England. Nevertheless, it found able and very persistent literary advocates who made it appear very flattering to local vanity. It therefore steadily spread, fostered by special conditions.” 

These “special conditions” were the rise of Nazism in Germany and British imperial interests in India. Its perversion in Germany leading eventually to the Nazi horrors is well known. The fact that the British turned it into a political tool to make their rule acceptable to Indians is not generally known. A recent BBC report acknowledged as much (October 6, 2005): 

“It [Aryan invasion theory] gave a historical precedent to justify the role and status of the British Raj, who could argue that they were transforming India for the better in the same way that the Aryans had done thousands of years earlier.” 

That is to say, the British presented themselves as “new and improved Aryans” that were in India only to complete the work left undone by their ancestors in the hoary past. This is how the British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin put it in the House of Commons in 1929:

 “Now, after ages, … the two branches of the great Aryan ancestry [Indians and the British] have again been brought together by Providence…. By establishing British rule in India, God said to the British, “I have brought you and the Indians together after a long separation. … It is your duty to raise them to their own level as quickly as possible …brothers as you are….” 

Preposterous as it sounds today, it was a ploy to create an Indian elite loyal to the British rulers by flattering them as long-lost brothers, now being uplifted from their degraded state. The ploy was so successful that English educated Indians continue to cling to this fiction long after the British themselves admitted to the fraud. While the British can live without their creation, their followers in the Indian history establishment cannot do without it. Their identity no less than their politics is bound up with it. 

All this is a matter of record. Our historians don’t have to learn Sanskrit or study the Vedas to understand it. Yet they are curiously reluctant to expose such passages that bring their whole history into discredit. They loudly denounce the Nazi misuse of Aryan myth, but carefully avoid mentioning its British version. Worse, they continue to perpetuate it by resorting to various subterfuges. 

Thomas Trautman (Aryans and British India) makes no mention of these even while acknowledging the British effort to create an Indian identity through a concocted Aryan kinship. In India: Brief history of a civilization (2011), he falls back on the Aryan migration—or invasion—with Sanskrit as a foreign import. He resorts to spurious arguments like the ‘rare’ depiction of the Aryan horse in Harappan archaeology to preserve the Vedic-Aryan, Dravidian-Harappa divide. (Why? Did those horses speak Sanskrit?) 

When I presented some of this material at a workshop in the U.K., a member of the audience, not a historian, joked that these people who engaged in distortion on such a monumental scale should be called “distortians” rather than historians. Historians in the audience did not find it funny. 

In the U.S., these “distortian” scholars are in a state of near panic and running to wealthy Indians for money with cries of “Sanskrit in danger if you don’t fund us.” Our response should be: “Sanskrit thrived for thousands of years long before any of you Indologists appeared on the planet. Vyasa, Valmiki, Bhasa, Kalidasa nor any of the great figures in the Sanskrit pantheon needed to go to you distortians or your blighted departments.”  – Vijayvaani, 18 February 2017

» Dr N. S. Rajaram is a mathematician who publishes on topics related to ancient Indian history and Indian archaeology, alleging a Eurocentric bias in Indology and Sanskrit scholarship, and arguing for the Indigenous Aryans theory instead. He publishes with Voice of India, New Delhi.

Portraits of a Nation: History of Ancient India by Kamlesh Kapur

Even the greatest specialists have failed to prove the Aryan Invasion Theory – Koenraad Elst

Koenraad Elst

Shoaib DaniyalThe Belgian Indologist Dr Koenraad Elst responds for a second time to the article “Video: An animated map shows how Sanskrit may have come to India” by Shoaib Daniyal published in 2015, which challenged the theory that the Aryans are indigenous to India. Dr Elst’s first response to Daniyal’s article is here.

Theory of origin

While I do not much mind an ignorant pen-pusher pontificating about the Aryan invasion debate, some concomitant modesty would at least be in order. Ridiculing any scepticism about the 19th-century Aryan Invasion Theory merely shows that the writer is quite unaware of the state of the art.

So he equates the rivalling Out-of-India Theory with Flat Earth and Creationism. But it is very easy to find material evidence against both the latter, such as the fossil record. By contrast, your contributor is quite unable to muster any evidence against the Out of India Theory. Even Harvard professor and Aryan Invasion Theory champion Michael Witzel admits that no material evidence of Aryans moving into India has been found “yet”, that is after two centuries of being the official hypothesis sucking up all the sponsoring. So, your correspondent thinks himself superior, successful where the greatest specialists have failed?

Cultural continuity

A year ago I was participating in a Delhi conference on the Sindhu-Saraswati Civilisation. While there, I received an e-mail from one of the world’s foremost specialists on the linguistic aspect of Indo-European origins, H. H. Hock, all the way from the US. Predictably, he upheld the now-dominant invasion scenario and added that no one takes the Out-of-India Theory seriously today (though it was the dominant assumption from 1786 till ca. 1820).

Among linguists, this is approximately true: Nicolas Kazanas, Shrikant Talageri and myself have been in splendid isolation in those circles. But then, linguists who can competently argue in favour of the Aryan Invasion Theory are hardly more numerous. As I have verified at several specialist conferences, most concerned linguists do not work on the problem of the origins, which has an aura of obsoleteness, and blindly follow the dominant theory because it happens to be what their textbooks contained. Which is what non-linguists like the cited team from Auckland also do.

However, while I read this e-mail, I was surrounded by the creamy layer of Indian archaeology. Each professor read his paper presenting the findings at a particular Harappan site where he was digging, and each of them reported a complete cultural continuity, no trace of an invasion.

Sitting next to me was the dean of Indian archaeology, the nonagenarian professor B. B. Lal. When he was young, he made his name by “proving” that the archaeologically attested Painted Grey Ware indicated the Aryans on their way into India. That “proof” is cited till today in favour of the Aryan Invasion Theory, at least in India. But in reality, Lal himself has renounced that hypothesis decades ago, realising that his posited link with Aryan invaders was itself based on a tacit acceptance of the omnipresent Aryan Invasion Theory. Today, he emphasises that there is no trace at all of any Aryan invasion.

You choose to poison the debate by insinuating a Hitler reference into it. Suit yourself, but again it proves your ignorance, for Hitler was a zealous follower of the Aryan Invasion Theory. If the Out-of-India Theory has been associated with Hindutva (wrongly, for V. D. Savarkar, who launched this political concept, was an Aryan Invasion Theory believer), its alleged political use is at any rate only a trifle compared to the Aryan Invasion Theory.

The Out-of-India Theory has been upheld mostly in one country for a few decades by a few scholars without any political power. By contrast, the Aryan Invasion Theory has been used politically for some 160 years by major state actors such as the British Empire and Nazi Germany, and in India by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Ambedkarites (though B. R. Ambedkar himself emphatically rejected it), the Dravidianists, the missionaries and of course, the secularists. If you don’t like the mixing of scholarship with politics, you should first of all lambast the Aryan Invasion Theory, not the Out-of-India Theory.

May Allah—or Whoever serves as God to you secularists—give you the wisdom to keep your mouth shut on topics you don’t know enough about.– Koenraad Elst

» Dr Koenraad Elst is a Belgian indologist and historian who publishes with Voice of India.

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

Is Mohenjodaro’s ‘Dancing Girl’ an image of goddess Parvati? – Praveen Shekhar

Mohenjodaro's Dancing Girl

Praveen ShekharAccording to British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, “There is her little Baluchi-style face with pouting lips and insolent look in the eye. She’s about 15-years-old I should think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There’s nothing like her, I think, in the world.” —  Daily-O

Indian Council of Historical ResearchA new research paper published in Itihaas, the Hindi journal of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), has said the famous statue of the “Dancing Girl” of Mohenjodaro from 2500 BC is actually the goddess Parvati, reports The Indian Express.

In the research paper called “Vedic Sabhyata Ka Puratatva” (Archaeology of Vedic Civilisation), retired professor Thakur Prasad Verma of Banaras Hindu University claims the Dancing Girl being Hindu goddess Parvati is evidence that the Harappan civilisation worshipped Shiva.

This claim that the Dancing Girl is Parvati has been made for the first time. Supriya Verma, historian and Jawaharlal Nehru University professor, told Express: “Till date, no archaeologist has ever interpreted the Dancing Girl as a goddess, let alone Parvati. This particular artefact has always been seen as the sculpture of a young girl.”

The small, barely 10.5cm tall, bronze statue is estimated to be around 4,500 years old and has fascinated archaeologists and historians ever since she was found in Mohenjodaro in 1926.

Verma claimed that several artefacts have been found among the ruins of the civilisation that prove that its citizens worshipped Shiva, among them “Seal 420”. The seal shows a horned figure sitting in a yogic posture surrounded by animals. While some historians support this theory, others have contended that the seal shows a woman, not a man.

Priest-King of Indus CivilisationHe adds that the trefoil pattern on the shawl of the “Priest King” sculpture, also excavated from the region, was evidence of Shiva worship because the pattern, according to him, is like the “vilva” or “bilva” leaves that are used to worship the Hindu god.

The article was published in Itihaas’s first edition since Y. S. Rao’s took over as ICHR chairman.

A controversy had generated when Rao was appointed the ICHR head in 2014 by the BJP-led government. Several historians had questioned Rao’s credentials for the post. They were concerned that they had appointed a little known historian to head the Indian Council of Historical Research.

Eminent historian Romila Thapar says Rao’s research is little visible and the articles authored by him on the historicity of Indian epics have not been published in any peer-reviewed journals.

Before taking over as ICHR chief, Rao was working on a project to “fix” the date of the Mahabharata war. He had invalidated the argument of historians like D. D. Kosambi that the Ramayana and Mahabharata have different versions added to them over almost a 1,000 years.

Ten things to know about ‘Dancing Girl’

1) According to PTI Islamabad, a Pakistani lawyer has filed a petition in the Lahore High Court asking his government to bring back “Dancing Girl”, a 5,000-year-old bronze statue so-called, from India.

2) This 10.8cm long bronze statue was found in 1926 from a broken down house on the “ninth lane” in Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan. It was found by excavator D. R. Sahni during the 1926-1927 field season.

3) The “Dancing Girl” is a free-standing bronze figurine, with about 25 bangles on her left arm, and holding a small bowl in her right hand. She has a relatively short trunk and long legs and arms; her head is tilted slightly back and her left leg is bent at the knee. Her right arm is bent, with her hand placed on the back of her hip, that hand apparently clenched around an object, perhaps a baton, which is now missing. She wears a necklace with three large pendants, but is otherwise naked.

4) Experts have it that the “lost wax” method used by the metallurgist involved carving the sculpture out of wax, then covering it in wet clay. Once the clay was dried, holes were bored into the mould and the mouldwas heated, melting the wax. The empty mold was then filled with a melted mixture of copper and tin. After that cooled, the mould was broken, revealing the lady.

5) According to National Museum of India website, “The statue is suggestive of two major breakthroughs. One, that the Indus artists knew metal blending and casting and perhaps other technical aspects of metallurgy, and two, that a well-developed society Indus people had innovated dance and other performing arts as modes of entertainment”.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler6) According to British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, “There is her little Baluchi-style face with pouting lips and insolent look in the eye. She’s about 15-years-old I should think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There’s nothing like her, I think, in the world.”

7) Petitioner Javed Iqbal Jaffrey claimed that the statue is the property of the Lahore Museum. “It was taken to India around 60 years ago at the request of the National Arts Council, Delhi, and was never brought back,” a report in Dawn said.

8) On October 10, he called for a suo motu action by the court.

9) He contended the 5,000-year-old statue enjoyed the same historical importance in Pakistan as Mona Lisa in Europe.

10) Jamal Shah, director general of the Pakistan National Museum of Arts, in a statement said a letter would be written to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to bring the statue back. – Daily-O, 11 October 2016 & 26 December 2016

» Praveen Shekhar is an associate producer for TV Today Network.

Shiva Pashupati of Mohanjodaro