Indian Pursuit of Scientific Temper: The dumbing down of Hindu civilization – Rajiv Varma

Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil Online“A word of caution. We [must] all stop thinking and articulating in speech and writing words and phrases like ‘false realm of mythology.’ It is absolutely Romilla Thapar. Mythology like pagan is [a] derogatory description of non-Abrahamic worship, cultures and worldview. As tho Jesus alone or Mohammed alone are historical while Hindu devas and devis are all mythology” – Radha Rajan

Rajiv VarmaIt is good to see resistance is offered to this idea. I will extend this to put this resistance in a certain framework. Indians who find “science” in Vedas or historicize Ramayana or Mahabharata or Puranas, actually end up demeaning our culture and civilization. It is akin to dumbing down a horse to the level of a donkey, so that the horse can fit into a herd of donkeys.

In their classical definitions – “Science” and “History” are disciplines that are contextual to the Western civilization. The evolution of classical “Science” in the West is not an intrinsic development, it is in response to the Abrahamic colonization of the West that began with Emperor Constantine. After 17 centuries, this colonization has been internalized no doubt, and now the then colonized have became the “new” colonizers, but it is colonization nevertheless.

Thus the Science/Philosophy/Knowledge development during Graeco-Roman-Hellenestic pre-Christian era has a certain philosophical disconnect with Renaissance and post-Renaissance “Science”. While the Graeco-Roman knowledge development had a natural rhythm, the post-Renaissance science evolved in the backdrop of earlier Dark Ages that was a direct consequence of Christian colonization of the West.

While it may be true that Renaissance thinkers did rely, inter alia, on (for example) Cicero’s De Natura Deorum for inspiration in their quest for new knowledge, they never did escape the outer orbit of Christianity. Thus, it explains the formation of now discredited “sciences” such as craniometery, which became the basis of racism and genocide later. There is a certain amount of “irrationality” (or I call it unnaturalness) in the Western “scientific rationalism or temper”. That is – “it” is limited to the cartesian plane – and it is not allowed to look beyond it – transcend it, because the Christian God is waiting on the other side, to save the souls.

The efforts like the so-called Noetic Sciences are still disjoint in their conceptualization. Western Science can make giant strides, but it cannot do one thing – it cannot see beyond the “Edge of the Universe” – it does not have the means to – and most importantly it does not have the will to do so. The limitation is provided by the Christian worldview. One can see that the notion of secularism, protects Christianity, God and Jesus business from scrutiny.

On the other hand Vedic Rishis have no such handicap. The material and non-material transcend. Hence the sciences that evolved in Ancient India were in tune with the natural rhythm of human civilizational development. The Vedic epistemology established the scope for a Rishi to explore the worlds beyond the “Edge of the Universe” if his/her inquest pointed in that direction. The system never posed any problem in this regard. A student of civilizations can see that harmful sciences like craniometery would have had no chance of forming in a naturally inquisitive culture like India. Thus, Vedic knowledge system is much more comprehensive than Post-Renaissance “officially secular but Christian-nevertheless sciences.”

Therefore, finding such (Christian-European) “science” in Vedas is demeaning to the Vedic culture.

It is the colonized Indian mind that sees the (Christian-European) “science” as virtuous, and due to its deep-seated inferiority complex, seeks validation from the West

Ditto with “history”. Again, post-Renaissance academic discipline of “History” is also a false benchmark to aspire to for Indians. Western discipline of History also exists in Christian framework, whose evidentiary parameters are limited to a set that disables a researcher and an academician to go prior to the dates of Genesis. It is made to sound rational, but in essence it is highly irrational. If Indians were to re-write their history based on Christian parameters, all they would get is a molehill and never discover the mountain that they have.

Then, there is another problem that is even more severe. The authors of Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Puranas never intended to tell legends for the purpose of “modernist” historical validation. The purpose of this corpus of literature is adhyatmic (spiritual). These are tools for a human to know his larger Self (capital S). Valmiki never intended for the shrota of Ramayana to start digging graves to find cartesian evidence of existence of Rama or Sita. Ramayana serves only one purpose – viz. spiritual empowerment for the purposes of upholding Dharma. Ramayana serves as a living kernel of the Indic/Hindu civilization. Not a cartesian history book.

I am not against finding historical evidences for the Indian past. But that needs to be a separate discipline. I am not for dumbing down Ramayana and Mahabharata to “fall” to a pseudo-benchmark that our colonialist has set for us.

Ultimately, Western Science will self-destruct and will become extinct, just like the Neo-neanderthal man, because of its own limitation. Graeco-Roman-Hellenestic, Chinese and Vedic Knowledge Systems have a better chance of survival and growth, because of their natural rhythm.

Let us not dumb down our horses to the level of donkeys.

When the term “scientific temper” was inserted in the Indian Constitution, good ole Panditji had no clue that the West had hoodwinked him into a herd of donkeys.

See also

“Debate about Indian contribution to science must not be seen as jingoism,” says Dr Joshi – Navtan Kumar

Navtan Kumar“Joshi cites the statement of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, during the Infosys Science Prize ceremony in Kolkata, in which he said Indian research was deeply influenced by the knowledge of foreign works on the subject. ‘But there was no specific mention of what India has given to others. There should be an objective view as far as sharing of knowledge is concerned,’ says the veteran BJP leader.” – Navtan Kumar

Murli Manohar JoshiSenior BJP leader and former Union minister, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi is peeved that all talk of ancient Indian science is being branded as jingoism by a section of the “intellectual” class. He says there is no doubt that India has learnt many things from the West, but wonders why there is no talk about what India has given to others.

Speaking to this correspondent, Joshi says the time has come for a “reappraisal” of the history of science. “This is the responsibility of the academic institutions, authors and thinkers to ponder over this issue. The government can only act as a facilitator, which can encourage people to explore space and time and compare that with rest of the world,” he says.

Joshi cites the statement of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, during the Infosys Science Prize ceremony in Kolkata, in which he said Indian research was deeply influenced by the knowledge of foreign works on the subject. “But there was no specific mention of what India has given to others. There should be an objective view as far as sharing of knowledge is concerned,” says the veteran BJP leader.

He says that there is plenty of evidence, mainly documentary, to suggest that India has made significant contribution to science in the past. “And this is not me (talking), but many Western experts and academicians have said this for a long time. Please have a look at their writings in several books.”

Bhaskara IIHe points out that according to Jean Filliozat, the trigonometric “sine” is not mentioned by Greek astronomers and mathematicians. But it was used in India from the Gupta period onwards: the Surya Siddhanta gives a table of sines, which the Arab astronomers picked up from their Indian contacts and passed them to Europe in 12th century. The only conclusion possible is that the use of sines was an Indian development and not a Greek one, he adds.

John Playfair, in 1789, referred to certain astronomical tables received from the East Indies by European scholars at an early stage in their contact with the East. Some of these tables were received from Siam (Thailand) and their “epoch” corresponded to 21 March 638 AD. But interestingly, the “meridian” of these tables was not Siam but Benares, now Varanasi.

Other tables received from South India had one thing in common. Their epoch coincides with the era of “Kali yuga”, that is, with the beginning of 3102 BC. Playfair finds that the positions of the planets given in these tables is close to the positions calculated with the help of modern integral calculus and the theory of gravitation. So, for him, the inescapable conclusion is that these positions were observed by the Brahmins and it is rather a wonder that the Brahmins could do so rather precisely at so distant a past.

PythagorasSimilarly, E. J. Urwick has said that Pythagoras accepted the most popular Indian theories of the time. Almost all the religious, philosophical and mathematical doctrines ascribed to him were known in India in the 6th century BC. According to Urwick, the transmigration theory, assumption of five elements, the Pythagorean theory in geometry etc., have their close parallels in ancient India.

Seidenberg, while discussing the origin of geometry, argued that the Babylonians knew the algebraic aspect of this theorem as early as 1700 BCE, but they did not seem to know the geometric aspect. The Shatapatha Brahmana, which precedes the age of Pythagoras, knew both the aspects.

Joshi feels that there should be an “academic debate” on the issue. “I am saying this as a student of science. No political colour should be attached to it,” says Joshi, who did his PhD in Spectroscopy and then taught physics at the Allahabad University.

Asked to comment on the papers presented by some scientists at the Indian Science Congress, suggesting things like aeroplanes existed 7,000 years ago, and thus creating much controversy, he says, “That is not the issue. The issue is whether there was scientific tradition in India or not; whether or not India made original contribution. What were the landmarks in these areas? Sadly, nobody is discussing this. As a result, people are taking extreme positions. Some say it was developed while others say it was under-developed. But there is a need to take an objective view on the issue. While talking about Western contribution, we should also discuss what India has given to others.”

“We have also made ample contribution in science. Talking about India’s contribution should not be taken or misunderstood as ‘jingoism’ or ‘distorted nationalism’. There is always a case to be studied objectively. Rather than condemning the Indian view all the time, we should discuss how others got ideas from us, like how Pythagoras got the Buddhist concept,” he says.

SushrutaOn the role of the government, he says, “The government should create conditions so that India becomes the ‘principal contributor’ to science once again. For this, there should be a proper vision and encouragement. Science should have no monopoly for the rich or affluent. Rather, it should be used to work for the overall well-being of civilisation.”

He says, as Minister of Human Resources Development, he started the process. “I tried to discuss ancient Indian science, traditions, context and level of scientific theory. We should talk about these things.” Joshi also defends Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark that plastic surgery existed thousands of years ago. “When he said this, he basically highlighted the achievements of Indian science. Sushrut had done it 500-600 BC,” he says. – The Sunday Guardian, 18 January 2015 

The state of ancient Indian historical studies in modern India – J. K. Bajaj

Prof Dilip K. ChakrabartiThis is a summary of the talk by Dilip K. Chakrabarti given at Lala Diwan Chand Trust in Delhi on 27 November 2014 and sponsored by the Centre for Policy Studies and the Diwan Chand Institute of National Affairs. Dr. Chakrabarti is Emeritus professor of South Asian Archaeology, Cambridge University, and Dean, Historical and Civilizational Centre, Vivekananda International Foundation, Delhi.

A number of points regarding the present state of ancient Indian historical studies deserve consideration. Out of the few hundred universities and university-level institutions, only a few offer courses in ancient India. Even among this handful of institutions, the places where the subject is taught with some kind of competence and expertise are very few. Why is the study of ancient India in modern Indian educational system so limited and so poor? The answer is rather unpleasant: we Indians are not seriously interested professionally in our ancient past; there is no prestige in its study and at the end no job. More unpleasantly, there is also some hostility from the vested interest groups of historians of “modern India.” To give only two examples, Nalanda International UniversityProf. Gopa Sabharwal, in which the Ministry of External Affairs is directly involved, is known to have recently filled the posts in its “school of historical studies.” The selected professor/dean is an anthropologist with specialization in Rajasthani folk literature. The academic credibility of another professor recruited to this school seems to be his knowledge of the Korean language. He has done some translation work but his research credentials in history are not at all clear. A third person recruited on a junior level seems to have done primarily de-construction work so far; detailed empirical research does not seem to have played any major role in his research record. Although the other recruits have something to do with history, none of them has anything to do with ancient India. Secondly, Presidency College University in Kolkata does not have any ancient Indian historian among the people recently recruited for its Department of History. For the last 50 years at least historians of the West Bengal universities have shown profound contempt for ancient India. This has taken different forms, one of which is that the MAs in Ancient Indian History and Culture, and Archaeology are usually not recruited for history teaching in the undergraduate colleges of the state.

R.C. MajumdarThe third point is that ‘”Hindu-baiting” is also a feature of many of the current studies on ancient India. Upinder Singh, a Delhi university historian, criticizes R.C. Majumdar by saying that he equated ancient India to Hinduism. She forgets that Buddhism and Jainism, two other visible religions of ancient India, were offshoots of Hinduism and that historians like R.C. Dutt had no hesitation to equate ancient India to Hindu civilization. When it comes to the study of the religion of the Indus civilization, a good number of Indian and foreign scholars are rather disturbed by the mention of Hinduism in that context. Hindu-baiting is also manifest in the way the status of Hinduism as a religion has been denied by various scholars. Their idea is that if the census operators of British India had categorized people not as Hindus but as adherents of Siva, Vishnu and others, Hinduism would not have emerged as the majority religion of India.. It would have emerged as an agglomeration of different sectarian groups. Western scholars have consistently argued this ignoring the overarching principle of unity that one finds in the Upanishads and they have been joined by Indian scholars like Romila Thapar.

H.D. SankaliaThe fourth point is that there is very little sense of nationalism among the Indian ancient historians and archaeologists of the post-Independence generation. The situation has deteriorated so much that any claim of high antiquity for anything Indian is viewed with suspicion. It is this almost endemic attitude which prevented people from looking at Indian history in proper historical perspective. H.D. Sankalia’s influence on Indian archaeology has been enormous — he was a kind of archaeological guru in the Deccan College, Pune, but according to him the sun of civilization for India lay always in the West. This is a bizarre opinion, but it is this attitude which still persists in the institute where he spent many years.

Bankim Chandra ChattopadhyayThe fifth point is that most of the teachers and students of ancient India feel no affinity with the history and culture of the period because they do not have much clue to the language in which the ethos of the period manifested itself. There was a time when Sanskrit was more or less compulsory in Indian schools. As most of the Indian languages are rooted in different forms in Sanskrit, the sense of alienation between the past and the present was much less. A Bengali of my generation could fall in love with the Sanskrit-inspired passages of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, among others. Not many Bengalis of the modern generation can read them in original. I consider that a calamity for Bengali culture but we cannot do anything about it unless the study of Sanskrit is made mandatory in schools. – HPI, 1 December 2014

» This report prepared for Hindu Press International by Dr. J. K. Bajaj, Center for Policy Studies, Chennai.

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.

Denial is not a cure for historical abuse, truth is – Amish Tripathi

Amish Tripathi“Examine honestly the troubling episodes of our history; accept the truth and learn from it. Forgive, but do not forget. This truth will kill the poison that is coursing through a few extremists in India. Denial is not a cure for historical abuse. Truth is.” – Amish Tripathi

Victoria & African ChiefOne of the greatest gifts that children can receive from their parents is an emotionally stable childhood. Materialistic trappings cannot compensate for the bliss of growing up in a well-adjusted, happy family; one where the child is not exposed to domestic violence, warring parents, physical or emotional abuse. Sadly, both research and anecdotal evidence indicate that many children are deprived of this blessing and grow up in dysfunctional families. They develop coping skills to handle traumatic experiences: Sometimes denial (convincing their conscious mind that no abuse happened) and at other times unfocused anger (allowing inner rage to poison their mind to the extent that they become hateful, even towards those unrelated to the abuse). One doesn’t need to be a psychologist to know that both approaches are unhealthy. 

As it is with children, so it is with countries. Few countries can rightfully claim that they have no ‘history’ to contend with. But it is easier to gaze charitably at the past with quiet confidence when the country is successful. During my recent travels across the United States on a fellowship programme, it was apparent that the Anglo-Saxon American mind was unscathed by the oppression of British colonial rule (the African-American mind is another matter). My journey through the Arab world, however, told a different tale. They still cringe at the memory of the persecution and oppression they had suffered for centuries through Mongol, Turkish and later European conquests. The present-day outbursts of ‘unfocused anger’ in the Arab world could well be strongly associated with this historical abuse — besides other issues, I admit. 

The psychological strategy of ‘denial’ however — where the victim convinces himself that no (or minimal) abuse happened — finds almost matchless expression in India. 

Winston ChurchillOne example of this is the attitude of many Indians towards the British Raj. 

Many believe that, while there may have been some injustices meted out during the British Raj, overall, colonial rule was beneficial. Some even claim that the British created India, as, apparently, we weren’t a nation before their arrival. If one draws up a list of the excesses of the British Raj, the worst, we are told, was the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, where over 1,000 Indians were killed in cold blood. But is this the worst that they did? Not by a long shot. In the early 1940s, Winston Churchill consciously ordered a scorched earth policy in eastern India to halt the advancing Japanese army, which led to the death of 1.5 to 4 million Indians. That’s nearly as many as the number of Jews that Hitler ordered to their deaths. Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis gives troubling accounts of the vast numbers — in the millions — killed by British policies. A little-known fact in India is that the edifice of the British Raj (and the white man’s ‘civilising mission’) was built on the biggest drug-running racket in the history of humanity. The British forced Indian farmers to grow opium, which was then smuggled into China. The Chinese economy — not to mention the lives of millions of Chinese — was destroyed through this trade. At the same time, millions of Indians died as food crops were forcibly replaced with opium (besides other crops for British trade), leading to recurring food shortages and famines. 

These events have been carefully airbrushed from Indian history books. Why? Some will say that those who have dominated the Indian imagination for most of its independent history — the Indian anglicised elite — have obscured these facts due to loyalty to the country of their cultural ancestors: Great Britain. But I think that would be too grave a charge. I have interacted with many members of the anglicised elite. I admit that most of us would find it difficult to understand their strangely eccentric culture, but they are not Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Baburtraitors. They do love India in their own peculiar way; but many of them believe that Indians cannot handle the truth and ‘social peace’ can only be maintained by ‘airbrushing’ history to remove the ugly portions. Besides the British era, this also includes other painful historical episodes, like the brutal Turkic invasions of India in the medieval period, rated as one of history’s bloodiest conquests (read Tarikh-i-Ferishta to know more). 

But denial leads to the repressed truth finding expression in ugly forms, resulting in hatred and anger, as we see in some parts of India today. It’s healthier to accept the truth and learn to handle it. Forgive, but do not forget. We should have detailed sections in our history books on the famines caused by British policies; and also on the massive British drug-smuggling business. We should honestly teach Indian students the truth about the horrific brutality of medieval Turkic invaders. 

But we must also teach that history should not extend itself into the present and colour our evaluations of a people today. For example, we don’t need to settle scores with today’s British for the actions of their ancestors. And furthermore, if Indian Christians are not blamed for British excesses just because the British happened to be Christians, why should Indian Muslims be blamed for the vicious Turkic/Mongol/Persian conquests, just because these foreigners happened to be Muslims? We were slaves under foreign rule for 800 years. Let’s not blame our fellow Indians for the crimes of those barbaric foreigners. 

Many civilisations have at some point of time been victims, and at other times, oppressors. Present conduct rather than past ills should determine the way a people are judged today. 

IndiaMy suggestion: Examine honestly the troubling episodes of our history; accept the truth and learn from it. Forgive, but do not forget. This truth will kill the poison that is coursing through a few extremists in India. 

Denial is not a cure for historical abuse. Truth is. Satyamev Jayate. – Hindustan Times, 21 November 2014

» Amish Tripathi is a banker who has become the best-selling author of the Shiva Trilogy. He is passionate about history, mythology and philosophy.

David Frawley: US historian insists ‘Aryans were indigenous to India’ – Heena Kausar

David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri ) during Lecture of  ‘Aryan Theory in The Light of Textual Evidences’, Department of Sanskrit at North Campus in Delhi University in New Delhi on Monday 24/11/2014

Delhi University Arts Faculty

“There is no literary evidence of an Aryan invasion or migration. So called textual references to Aryan invasion or migration require changing meaning of words and taking them out of context.” – Dr David Frawley

Throwing his weight behind the ‘Aryan Project’ by Delhi University’s Sanskrit department, noted American scholar David Frawley said there is a need for an extensive new Vedic study, and insisted that Aryans were indigenous to India. 

“There is a need for extensive new Vedic study and research in India, including considering the mantric and yogic dimensions of Vedic knowledge,” Frawley said on Monday while giving a presentation of his findings on ‘Aryan Theory in The Light of Textual Evidences’. 

Vedic literary evidence — the largest, best preserved and most complete from the early ancient world — reflects a compilation over a long period of time by several kingdoms and dynasties, he said. 

“Such a vast literature cannot exist without a civilization to produce and sustain it over the centuries.” 

“No literary evidence of Aryan invasion or migration. So called textual references to Aryan invasion/migration require changing meaning of words and taking them out of context.” 

“For example, Arya was a term of respect and not about ethnicity. Dark skinned Dasyus are only forces of Avidya or darkness, not a racial metaphor,” Frawley added. 

The western born teacher in the Vedic tradition is popular for his books in which he has rejected the ‘Aryan Invasion Theory’

The Sanskrit department, which has started the project to prove that Aryans were indigenous to the country, will hold at least seven lectures. 

AIT (Aryan Invasion Theory)It also plans to invite national and international scholars to speak on the issue. 

The ‘Aryan Invasion Theory’ is a hotly contested one in the academic world. Noted historians like Romila Thapar and D. N. Jha support the theory, while right-wing historians claim that Aryans were indigenous to the country

“This debate has been there for long but we never had the Sanskrit department doing anything about it. Where were they all these years? Why all of a sudden they have come out. This shows they have a backing now. No historian takes Frawley seriously. His right-wing credentials are well-known,” Jha remarked. – Daily Mail, 25 November 2014

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

Encyclopedia of Hinduism

Swami Chidananda Saraswati and scholar contributors to the EH

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

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

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

Accuracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sectarianism

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

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

The Borders of Hinduism

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

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

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

Telescope Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accounting for Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arya, Dasa, Asura

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

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

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

Separate Sects

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,397 other followers