Is there a need to rewrite Indian history? – Anil Athale

Gunga Din

Col Dr Anil AthaleHistory is not merely a chronicle of past events; it forms the psyche of a nation. … If in the 70th year of Independence we are stirring to break the mindset of being the Gunga Din of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, it is something to applaud. – Col Dr Anil Athale

There has been hullabaloo over the change/obliteration of certain historic events and personalities from history textbooks in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra, all BJP-ruled states. While our “learned” netas burst into histrionics to prove their itihaas, some historians say the reality of India is that we don’t know about our own history because we are such “colonised” people.

A lively debate has begun in the media on the issue of changes made in the history textbooks of schools in Rajasthan and now in Maharashtra. Not having studied Rajput history or the battle of Haldighati, which is now being claimed as a victory for Rana Pratap and not Akbar, I will refrain from commenting on the issue. But applying pure military logic, if Akbar had won such a great or comprehensive victory, how did Rana Pratap survive and subsequently establish his own kingdom at Udaipur?

It must be noted that none of Akbar’s adversaries who lost a battle against him survived to tell the tale. But as mentioned earlier, the whole episode needs further research.

It is a well-known fact that history is written by the victors. Since large parts of Rajasthan and North India remained under Mughal sway, this “bias” in the narration of events is easily understood. If one is now looking at the facts afresh, there is nothing to get hot under the collar about.

The reality of India is that we don’t know about our own history because we are such colonised people. Even today, we are unable to break away from a colonised mindset. We lack a sense of history, and with that we lose stature in the world.

As to the tweaking of history, since most of the time it was the Congress that was in power, it had the maximum opportunity. As far as ancient or colonial history is concerned, it was more an act of omission rather than commission. Indian historians have been one of the laziest intellectuals with very little new research. Post-Independence governments continued to teach colonial-era history with a heavy pro-British bias. Partly, this was due to the fact that most Indians of that generation, including the freedom fighters, were in awe of the British.

The post-Independence history of the 1962 India-China war has been doctored to absolve Nehru of all blame and instead made Krishna Menon the fall guy.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power for a very short time and has not had the opportunity to tailor history to suit itself. The BJP has concentrated mainly on correcting the pro-British and pro-Muslim bias of history.

On the heels of correctives applied in Rajasthan textbooks, comes news of similar exercise in Maharashtra. Objections have been raised about downsizing Akbar and Mughal rulers. The “usual suspects” have raised the spectre of “saffronisation” of history. The counter-argument to this is was Akbar relevant to the region that comprises Maharashtra? And the honest answer to that is no. The Mughals ruled in Delhi and were confined to the North Indian plains. Other than an unsuccessful attempt to annex the Ahmednagar sultanate, at that time led by Chand Bibi, the Mughals and Akbar had little role in the politics or social life of contemporary Maharashtra. It was only during the time of Akbar’s grandson Aurangzeb that Mughal rule came to Maharashtra.

The recent controversies ought to have raised the fundamental distortion of Indian historiography—the pronounced North Indian bias. Maharashtra formed part of the Chalukya empire for a very long time. It then came under the sway of the great Vijaynagar empire. Yet, our history teaching cursorily dismisses these important periods. It is obsessed with the happenings in Delhi and its surroundings.

Since the British were the last rulers of India, the pro-British bias is even more pronounced. For example, Warren Hastings essentially ruled the Bengal region. But he is portrayed as the Governor General of India! It should be mentioned here that during that time, Mahadji Shinde, the Maratha ruler of Gwalior, had more territory under his control. Yet, in the history books, written mostly by the British, Warren Hastings commands a whole chapter with Mahadji Shinde only getting a passing reference.

The neglect of the Cholas and Pallavas and the sidelining of their commendable maritime empire in the all India narrative is scandalous to say the least. The thoroughly colonised mindset of Bengal has forgotten about its South East Asian links altogether. Stone plaques in the Pallava script are found in faraway Samarinda, capital of Central Kalimanthan (old Borneo). And it is only now that Lachit Borphukan, who defeated the Mughal armies in the battle of Saraighat in 1671, has come into the national consciousness.

The Mughals and British colonial rulers did not just stop at the imposition of their narrative, they also destroyed many monuments that could remind Indians of her past. The British conquered Pune in 1818. At that time there was a seven-storey high palace inside the awe-inspiring Shaniwarwada fort, easily the tallest building in India at that time. On February 27, 1828, a great “mysterious” fire started inside the palace complex. The conflagration raged for seven days. Only the heavy granite ramparts, strong teak gateways and deep foundations and ruins of the buildings within the fort survived that mysterious fire. Result, when in a recent movie on Bajirao, the filmmakers showed a magnificent palace, many even in Maharashtra termed it fiction.

Colonised Indian minds have been repeatedly taught: ours is history, yours is mythology. If in the 70th year of Independence we are stirring to break the mindset of being the Gunga Din of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, it is something to applaud.

History is not merely a chronicle of past events; it forms the psyche of a nation. History of having achieved great things in the past, together, fosters nationalism and enthuses the present generations to achieve great things. It is time we break the shackles of “Inglistani elite” (Mahatma Gandhi in his essay Hind Swaraj) and discover our true past.


  • July 2017: The Rajasthan Education Board decides not to mention Jawaharlal Nehru in the new social science textbooks of Class VIII.
  • Rajasthan education minister Vasudev Devnani claims Maharana Pratap defeated Mughal emperor Akbar in the battle of Haldighati in 1576, and not the other way round.
  • A chapter on the national movement omits names of Nehru, Sarojini Naidu and Madan Mohan Malviya. Also, no mention of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse.
  • July 2017: The Maharashtra Education Board reduces Mughal reign to just three lines and decides to focus more on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in history textbooks of Class VII and IX.
  • May 2016: Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks introduces a chapter on ‘economic thought’ in the Economic Higher Secondary textbooks which includes Deendayal Upadhyay, Chanakya and Mahatma Gandhi as the main economic thinkers.
  • January 2009: The Class X Social Science textbook of Chhattisgarh Board of Secondary Education incorporates the Salwa Judum in a chapter on social security from Naxalism. – Deccan Chronicle, 14 August 2017

» Col Dr Anil Athale (retd) is the former head of history division, Ministry of Defence. He has written a book about 18th and 19th century India. He is based in Pune.

Indian soldiers on the China border

See also


Audrey Truschke and academic bullying – Koenraad Elst

Aurangzeb and his apologist Audrey Truschke

Koenraad ElstLike Truschke herself, I am neither Hindu nor Indian, yet I can read for myself with what explicit glee the Muslim chroniclers described temple destructions and massacres of unbelievers. – Dr Koenraad Elst

Audrey Truschke is a Professor of Religious Studies in Stanford, California, and has gained some fame with her work on the patronage of Sanskrit by the Moghuls. In order to get that far, she had to toe the ideologically mandatory line: neither in America nor in India does the Hindu-baiting establishment allow a dissident to get seriously established in the academic world. Predictably, we see her elaborating the same positions already taken by an earlier generation of academics, such as whitewashing Aurangzeb. Not that this was a hard job for her: one gets the impression that she is a true believer and really means what she says. Then again, she may have done an excellent job of creating the desired impression all while secretly knowing better.


Her position in the article “The Right’s problem with history” (DNA, 26 Oct. 2016) is summed up as: “Unable to defend a fabricated history of India on scholarly grounds, many foot soldiers of the Hindu Right have turned to another response: bullying.” It would be normal to compare secularist historians and their Western dupes with people of the same rank, namely different-minded historians, in this case belonging to the “Hindu Right”. These are not exactly numerous, having been blocked systematically from academe by the single permitted opinion in both India and America, but they exist. Yet, they and their output are absent from her paper. From a street bully, I would expect a denunciation of street bullies, and from an academic a polemic against her own peers.

Hindu Nationalists : Banner image accompanying Truschke's article in DNA The photograph accompanying the article tells it all. If it had been about her own school of history, the picture would have shown established historians involved in this debate, such as Wendy Doniger or Sheldon Pollock. But now that the opposition is at issue, it shows a group of non-historians, not in an air-conditioned college hall but in a street demonstration exercising their freedom of expression. The reader is expected to recognize them as representatives of the “Hindu Right”, and as “bullies”.

She testifies to verbal attacks she herself has endured “from members of the Hindu Right”, and which she evaluates as “vicious personal attacks on the basis of my perceived religion, gender and race”. Correction: she could have maintained the very same religion, gender and race and yet never be attacked by those same Hindus (indeed, most Jewish female whites have never experienced such attacks), if she had not belonged to the “scholars who work on South Asia” and who have earned a reputation as Hindu-baiters. She has been attacked on the basis of what she has written, nothing else.

But it is true, and deplorable, that an uncouth but vocal class of people clothe their denunciations of an ideological position in foul personal attacks. It so happens that I know her plight very well, for I too receive my share of what some would call “hate mail” when I express skepticism of beliefs dear to Hindu traditionalists (e.g. the eternity of Sanskrit, the supernatural origins of the Vedas, the Rama Setu, or the Krishna bhakti verses in the Gita). And also when going against the dogmas of her own school, such as that Muslim rule in India was benign, or that Sanskrit has an origin of white invaders oppressing black natives. Nothing dangerous, though, and I doubt her claim of “physical attacks” on Indologists, unless she means the egg thrown at Wendy Doniger in London.

From the start, Truschke tries to capture the moral high ground by citing one of her lambasters as tweeting: “Gas this Jew.” In America, such reference to the Holocaust is absolutely not done, and Indian secularist circles adopt the same sensitivities once they see these as valid for the trend-setting West. To the Hindu mainstream, this hyper-focus on anything associated with the WW2 is not there, and they had no history with antisemitism; but still this quote would be unacceptable there, for regardless of what Jews exactly believe, Hindus tend to respect other faiths.

However, her claim might be correct (not sure there), for there are indeed some Hindu hotheads who have adopted this kind of rhetoric. In pre-internet days, they would brew their own conspiracy theories, but now the access to websites carrying elaborate Western conspiracy theories, starring the Zionist World Conspiracy, entices them into using this kind of language. Certainly deplorable, but not at all representative for the “Hindu Right”: hardly even for its bullies, not for its leaders (both V. D. Savarkar and M. S. Golwalkar described the Jews as role models for loyalty to one’s own roots) and not at all for the “Hindu Right” scholars whom she is carefully ignoring.

Academic bullying   

This “bullying” had best been compared to the “bullying” on the other side. Like, for instance, the two attempts by Leftist students to silence me, as a twice scheduled speaker, at the Madison Wisconsin South Asia Conference in 1996 and a private event preceding it, hosted by Prof Andrew Sihler. Or the successful protests against the Dharma Civilization Foundation’s offer to fund a chair at UC Irvine, when so many US chairs are comfortably being funded by the Saudis.

But on Truschke’s own side, the dividing line between bullies and academics is not so neat. Why stoop to street bullying if you have tenure? It is far more effective, then, to resort to academic bullying. Thus, in their intervention in the California Textbook Affair, where Hindu parents had sought to edit blatantly anti-Hindu passages, the explicitly partisan intervening professors even managed to get themselves recognized as arbiters in the matter. This would have been unthinkable if those bullies had not been established academics. (And this I can say even though my criticism of the Hindu parents’ positions exists in cold print.) Her focus on street bullies has the effect of misdirecting the reader’s attention, away from the more consequential phenomenon of academic bullying.

I myself have been barred from several Indologist forums by active intervention or passive complicity of the same professors who otherwise clamour “censorship!” when anything at all happens to a book they favour. Thus, they are so very sensitive that they dramatically talked of “threats to freedom of speech” when … Three Hundred Ramayanas, a book belittling a Hindu scripture, was not selected as required reading in Delhi University, though otherwise, it remained freely available. They claim to champion “freedom of speech!” when Wendy Doniger’s error-ridden book Hinduism was withdrawn from circulation, though it was never legally banned but was left available for another publisher; who did indeed come forward, so that the book is again lawfully omnipresent. But when I appealed to them to intervene for annulling my banning from the Religion in South Asia (RISA) list, which had been done in violation of its own charter, they all looked the other way.

A recent example. In 2014, I read a paper on the Rg Vedic seer Vasishtha and his relative divinization in a panel on “divinization” at the European Conference for South Asia Studies in Zürich. My paper was enthusiastically received, also by the panel’s organizers when I sent in the final version for publication. First, they accepted it, but then, I received an embarrassed e-mail from the organizers stating that they could not include my paper, without any reason given. Upon my enquiring, the half-line reply said that it did not fit their project. In all its insignificance, this still managed to be a blatant lie, and their earlier acceptance confirmed that this could not have been the reason. But some higher up had warned them that I am to be treated as excluded, just like on many other occasions.

Far more seriously, both in America and in India, scholars suspected of pro-Hindu sympathies are blocked in their access to academe, and their work gets studiously ignored. For India, a tip of the blanket over this hushed-up phenomenon was lifted by Dr A. Devahuti: Bias in Indian Historiography (1980). It is seriously in need of an update, but I am given to understand that one is forthcoming. For America, a start was made by Rajiv Malhotra with his books Invading the Sacred (2007) and Academic Hinduphobia (2016).


Coming to contents, Truschke accuses “Hindu Right-wingers” of attacks on “academics”. I would have expected them to attack “anti-Hindu Left-wingers”, and indeed I learn that this is exactly how they see it—and how they see her. If she doesn’t like being characterized this way, she is herewith invited to stop calling her adversaries similar names. The binary Left/Right is at least problematic here, yet for a quarter century I have seen this scheme used to explain matters. Except that the Left doesn’t call itself Left: it treats itself as the natural centre, and anything to its right is deemed politically coloured: “Right” or very easily “extreme Right”.

Anyway, she calls “alleged Hinduphobia” nothing more than “a strawman stand-in for any idea that undercuts Hindutva ideology”. The term was made popular by Rajiv Malhotra, whom I have never known to swear by “Hindutva”, a specific term literally translated as “Hindu-ness” but now effectively meaning “the RSS tradition of Hindu nationalism”. At any rate, one does not have to follow Hindutva, or even be a Hindu or an Indian, to observe that American India-watchers utter a strong anti-Hindu prejudice in their publications. Not to look too far, I can find an example in myself: I have written a number of publications criticizing both Hindutva as an ideology and the Hindutva organizations, yet I can off-hand enumerate dozens of illustrations of Hindu-baiting by supposed India experts in the West as well as by their Indian counterparts.

At most, one can criticize the term “Hinduphobia” for being etymologically less than exact. Words in -phobia normally indicate an irrational fear, and fear is not the attitude in which Hinduism is approached. The term was coined on the model of Islamophobia, a weaponized word meant to provoke hatred, yet now a thoroughly accepted and integrated term among progressive academics. A phobia is normally a psychiatric term and its use to denote political adversaries is of a kind with the Soviet custom of locking up dissidents in mental hospitals. And indeed, people shielding Islam from proper enquiry do treat their opponents as mentally warped marginals. But the core of truth in the reprehensible term “Islamophobia” is at least that it points to “fear of Islam”, a religion which its critics do indeed diagnose as fearsome. Hinduism, by contrast, has been criticized as cruel, evil, superstitious, ridiculous, but not as a threat. It is only Hindus who flatter themselves that the “Abrahamics” want to destroy Hinduism because they fear it as being superior and more attractive.

The use of the term Hinduphobia is predicated upon the already existing acceptance and use of the term Islamophobia. If the UN, the governments of the US and EU, etc., and the pan-Islamic pressure group OIC, were to give up this ugly and vicious term, then the Hinduphobia term so disliked by Truschke would lapse with it and get replaced again by the older and more accurate term Hindu-baiting. But until then, it throws the Islamophile and Hindu-baiting scholars of Truschke’s persuasion back on the bare fact that they themselves have and display the kind of prejudice against Hinduism of which they accuse the Islam critics.


According to Truschke, “a toxic combination of two realities fuel the Hindu Right’s onslaught against scholars of South Asia: Hindu nationalist ideology rests heavily on a specific vision of Indian history, and that version of history is transparently false.”

Now it gets interesting, with two competing views of Indian history, one true and one false: “Hindu nationalists claim that India’s past featured the glorious flourishing of a narrowly defined Hinduism that was savagely interrupted by anybody non-Hindu, especially Muslims. However, the real story of Indian history is much more complicated and interesting.”

A “narrowly defined Hinduism” is only projected into the Hindu past by semi-literate non-historians who do indeed man the middle ranks of the uniformed RSS ranks. No serious Hindu historian, not the lamented Jadunath Sarkar, R. C. Majumdar, Harsh Narain or K. S. Lal, nor contempory scholars like Bharat Gupt or Meenakshi Jain, would be foolish enough to simply deny the “diversity and syncretism” that Truschke sees in India’s past. But here again, we see how Truschke has chosen not to address the scholars of a competing persuasion, but the village bumpkins.

In one sense, however, even the most sophisticated historians will affirm that India’s past was indeed “glorious”. And it was not at all “complicated”: India was simply independent. Yes, ancient India had its problems too, it had local wars, it was not paradise on earth, but in one decisive respect, Indians under Muslim or British occupation correctly remembered it as “glorious”: it ruled itself. When the British told Mahatma Gandhi that his hoped-for independence would only throw India back into its headaches of casteism, communalism and the rest, he answered that India would, of course, have its problems, “but they will be our own”. Compared to being under foreign tutelage, such self-rule is nothing less than glorious.

This brings us to Truschke’s own field of research: “Especially problematic for Hindu nationalists is current scholarship on the Indo-Islamic rule, a fertile period for cross-cultural contacts and interreligious exchanges. This vibrant past is rightly a source of pride and inspiration for many Indians, but the Hindu Right sees only an inconvenient challenge to their monolithic narrative of Hindu civilisation under Islamic siege.”

Note how two issues are artfully mixed up here: the questionable monolithic view of Hinduism and the very correct view of a Hindu civilization besieged and raped by Islam. It is true that non-historian “Hindu nationalists” are rather inaccurate in their “monolithic narrative of Hindu civilisation”; but it is not true that the period of “Indo-Islamic rule” is a “source of pride and inspiration”, nor that it is contested only by “Hindu nationalists”. Her notion of “current scholarship” is of course limited to her own school of thought, heavily over-represented in academe, partly due to its aggressive policy of exclusion vis-à-vis others.

There are admittedly those who identify with foreign colonizers: many Indian Muslims identify with Mohammed bin Qasim and with the Moghuls (whom Pakistan considers as the real founders of their Indo-Islamic state), and many Nehruvian secularists share and continue the British opinions about India and Hinduism. But those who identify with India, even if they admit some good aspects of these colonizations, do not take any pride at all in having been subjugated. Yes, there were instances of collaboration with the colonizers, such as the hundreds of thousands of Indians whose sweat made the “British” railway network possible, or the Rajputs whose daughters filled the Moghul harems in exchange for their fathers’ careers in the Moghul army. But those instances are at most understandable, a lesser evil in difficult circumstances, but not a source of “pride and inspiration”.

A few episodes of Muslim occupation were indeed “vibrant”, viz. after Akbar’s realistic appreciations of the existing power equations persuaded him to rule with rather than against his Hindu subjects. Then, as everybody already knew, Hindus did indeed give their cultural best, rebuilding the temples which the Sultanate had demolished (and which would again be demolished by Aurangzeb)—a tribute to the vitality of Hindu civilization even under adverse circumstances. And some Muslims did indeed engage in “interreligious exchanges”, such as Dara Shikoh translating the Upanishads into Persian; later, he was beheaded for apostasy.

But even then, academics had better use their critical sense when interpreting these episodes, rather than piously taking them at face value. In the Zürich conference already mentioned, I heard an “academic” describe how contemporary Hindi writers praised Aurangzeb, the dispenser of their destinies. Well, many eulogies of Stalin can also be cited, including by comrades fallen from grace and praising Stalin even during their acceptance speeches of the death penalty; but it would be a very bad historian, even if sporting academic titles, who flatly deduces therefrom that Stalin was a benign ruler. Govind Singh’s “Victory Letter” to Emperor Aurangzeb was, in all seriousness, included among the sources of praise, leaving unmentioned that Aurangzeb had murdered Govind’s father and four sons. Every village bumpkin can deduce that Govind hated Aurangezb more than any other person in the world, and that he was only being diplomatic in his writing because of the power equation. Academics laugh at kooks who believe in aliens, but it took an academic, no less, to discover an alien who actually admired the murderer of his father and sons.

According to Truschke’s admission, a lot of Hindus are “happy to underscore the violence and bloodshed unleashed by many Indo-Islamic rulers”, but she wrongly identifies them as “Hindu Right”. It doesn’t require a specific ideological commitment nor even any religious identity to observe well-documented historical facts. Mostly documented by the Muslim perpetrators themselves, that is. Thus, like Truschke herself, I am neither Hindu nor Indian, yet I can read for myself with what explicit glee the Muslim chroniclers described temple destructions and massacres of unbelievers.

The mistake of plagiarism

“In contrast to the detailed work of academics, the Hindu nationalist vision of India’s past stands on precarious to non-existent historical evidence. As a result, the Hindu Right cannot engage with Indologists on scholarly grounds. Indeed, the few Hindutva ideologues who have attempted to produce scholarship are typically tripped up by rookie mistakes—such as misusing evidence, plagiarism, and overly broad arguments—and so find themselves ignored by the academic community.”

The inclusion of “plagiarism” among her list of “rookie mistakes” gives away that she is fulminating specifically against the work of Rajiv Malhotra, whom she is careful not to mention by name. For his book Indra’s Net, he was famously accused of plagiarism (by a mission mentor), for he quotes the American scholar Andrew Nicholson’s book Unifying Hinduism, in which he concurs with the same position that Hinduism had elaborated its common doctrinal backbone long before the Orientalists “invented Hinduism”. In fact, he only used Nicholson as a source to prove that Westerners too could acquire this insight, there was nothing “Hindu nationalist” about it. And he amply quoted him in so many words, though a few times, for the flow of the narrative, he merely rephrased the theses of this much-quoted author. By that standard, most papers contain plagiarism; but what passes unnoticed elsewhere becomes a scandal when done by a self-identifying Hindu.

Yet, numerous Indologists started a holier-than-thou tirade against the “plagiarism”, a comical drama to watch. Malhotra then walked the extra mile writing Nicholson out of his narrative and quoting original sources instead (thereby incidentally showing the amount of plagiarism that Nicholson himself had committed, though no Indologist ever remarked on that). But this inconvenient development was given the silent treatment, and Truschke still presupposes that there ever was a substantive “plagiarism” case against Malhotra, and by extension against the whole “Hindu Right”.

Malhotra has indeed been “ignored by the academic community”—until he found the way to make his critique non-ignorable. That indeed shows a lot of skill in dealing with the way of the world, for until then, Hindus had only painstakingly proven themselves right and the “academics” wrong, but had had no impact at all. By contrast, Malhotra, by personalizing his argument into specific dissections of the work of leading scholars such as Wendy Doniger, Sheldon Pollock or Anantanand Rambachan, has earned a session at the annual conference of the trend-setting American Academy of Religion. On Indological discussion forums, his input is frequently mentioned, though the academics mostly keep up their airs of pooh-poohing that interloper, in a bid to justify their ignoring his actual critique of their own work.

By the way, notice my term: a “self-identifying Hindu”. As the case of Malhotra has amply exemplified, it suffices to stand up as a Hindu, or to own up Hinduism, in order to be dubbed “Hindu Rightist”, “Hindutva ideologue”, as well as “fanatic”. “rookie” and all the fair names Hindus have been called by Prof Truschke’s august school of thought. To them, the acceptable Hindu, or what Malhotra calls a “sepoy”, is one who never identifies as a Hindu, but rather as “Indian” (or better, “Bengali”, “Malayali” etc.), “low-caste”, and ideologically “secularist”. The exception is when countering criticism from self-identified Hindus, for then, he is expected to say: “But me too, I am a Hindu!” That way, he can fulfil his main task: as long as there are Hindus, he must deny them the right to speak on behalf of Hinduism and to give it a presence at the conversation between worldviews.

History debates

Most Hindu scholars had or have not found the way to impose their viewpoint on the sphere of discourse yet. In the case of objective scholars among non-Hindus, this would not have mattered. It is, after all, their own job to trace any material relevant to their field of research, including obscure works by other scholars, even adversaries. But in this case, there are some cornerstones of the Indological worldview which tolerate no criticism nor alternatives, so these are to be carefully ignored.

Thus, Shrikant Talageri’s case against the Aryan Invasion Theory, the bedrock of the “academic” view of ancient Hindu history, is painstaking, detailed, voluminous, factual and well-formulated, yet Truschke’s own entire tribe of “academics” simply goes on ignoring his case without bothering to refute it. (Well, there are two articles talking down to him, but we mean actual refutations, not mere denials.) If academics were to live up to the reputation they have among laymen, they would have set aside their current business to deal with this fundamental challenge to their worldview.

Or take A Secular Agenda by Arun Shourie, PhD from Syracure NY and stunningly successful Disinvestment Minister in the A. B. Vajpayee Government, when India scored its highest economic growth figures. It was a very important book, and it left no stone standing of the common assumption among so-called experts that India (with its religion-based civil codes and its discriminatory laws against Hinduism) is a secular state, i.e. a state in which all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their religion. Though the book deconstructs the bedrock on which the “experts” have built their view of modern India, they have never formulated a refutation. Instead, they just keep on repeating their own deluded assumption, as in: “The BJP threatens India’s structure as a secular state.” (Actually, the BJP does not, and India is not.) They can do so because they are secure in the knowledge that, among the audiences that matter, their camp controls the sphere of discourse. Concerning the interface between religion and modern politics, the established “academic” view is not just defective, it is an outrageous failure.

Or consider historian Prof K. S. Lal’s works on caste and religion, refuting with primary data the seeming truism, launched by the Communist Party ideologue M. N. Roy and now omnipresent in the textbooks, that the lowest castes converted en masse to Islam because of its claimed message of equality. Islam mainly won over the urban middle castes (and not because of equality, a value rejected as ingratitude towards the Dispenser of destinies in the Quran, but because of the privileges vis-à-vis non-Muslims), not the Untouchables. Again, the silent treatment has been the only response the “experts” could muster.

The Ayodhya affair

It is uncommon for Audrey Truschke and the opposite school to have any kind of direct debate at all. In the US this was, until Rajiv Malhotra, unthinkable for lack of any pro-Hindu school willing and able to stand up to the overwhelming anti-Hindu bias among those Indologists willing to wade into any controversial subject. But in India, there have been a few such confrontations. And on those occasions, the “academics” did not cover themselves with glory.

One consequential instance in India was the Ayodhya scholars’ debate in the winter of 1990-1991, organized by the Janata (Left-populist) government headed by Chandra Shekhar. This was won hands down by the scholars affirming the existence of a Hindu temple underneath the Babri Masjid, first against a delegation of Muslim leaders unfamiliar with historical methodology, selected by the Babri Masjid Action Committee, then against a group of Marxist academics called in by that same Committee for saving the day. The latter’s position was but an elaboration of the official orthodoxy created by a group of academics from JNU when they issued a statement, The Political Abuse of History (1989), denying the existence of temple remains underneath the Babri Masjid. It had been taken over as gospel truth by most of the academic and journalistic India-watchers in the West, including Truschke’s mentors. They kept the lid on the debate’s outcome.

More detail about the controversy can be found in my paper The Three Ayodhya Debates (2011). But since I do not hold an academic chair, she might not take me seriously, so let that pass. Instead, I may refer her to the excellent book Rama’s Ayodhya (2013) by Prof Meenakshi Jain of DU. No Indian or Western academic has refuted it or even formally taken cognizance of it. After court-ordered excavations in 2003 had definitively confirmed the existence of the temple, acknowledged in the court verdict of 2010, they have all turned conspicuously silent on Ayodhya.

Indeed, what insiders knew all along, has now become official: the stance of the “academics”, both Indian and Western, has been an outrageous failure. It relied entirely on the authority of a few “experts” already known for their anti-Hindu positions. Their “expertise” fell through completely once they were cross-examined on the witness stand, as amply documented by  Prof Jain.

That those “experts” didn’t manage to uphold their case against the temple was a surprise only to their dupes, including the American India-watchers. At least, I assume these were dupes and had genuinely swallowed the no-temple claim (“concocted by the wily Hindu fundamentalists”). The alternative is that they were deliberate accomplices in the Ayodhya deception, an artificial controversy that killed thousands and brought down several governments. I would prefer not to think such things about scholars like Audrey Truschke and her mentors.

A remarkable aspect of the experts’ fall from grace was the smugness with which they took the witness stand. They had not deemed it necessary to brush up their knowledge of Ayodhya, or to give their ill-founded statements of opinion a more solid basis at least after the fact. They had for so long publicly pretended, as Truschke now does, that the Hindu side merely consisted of a bunch of deplorables, that they didn’t see the need to gear up for the confrontation.


The Ayodhya controversy was part of a larger issue, viz. Islamic iconoclasm, which victimized many thousands of places of worship in India and abroad, starting with Arabia. Or at least, that is how historians like Sita Ram Goel and Profs Harsh Narain, K. S. Lal, Saradindu Mukherji saw it: turn this one controversy into an occasion for educating the public about the ideological causes of the iconoclasm that hit Hindu society so hard and so consistently for over a millennium. But the RSS-BJP preferred to put the entire focus on their one toy in Ayodhya, and obscure or even deny the Islamic motive behind it. (The ideological impotence and non-interest on their part provides yet another contrast with the academics’ imaginary construction of a wily, resourceful and highly motivated Hindu movement.)

As part of his effort, Goel published a two-volume book giving a list of two thousand purposely demolished temples, mostly replaced by mosques. The part on the theology of iconoclasm proved irrefutable, and has never even been gainsaid on any of its specifics. The list of two thousand temples equally stands entirely unshaken, as so many challenges to the reigning school that tries to downplay the tradition of iconoclasm pioneered by the Prophet. Ever since, the dominant policy has been to disregard Goel’s work and carry on whitewashing the record of Islam regardless.

Since stray new proofs of Muslim temple destruction keep popping up, that school has developed an alternative discursive strategy to prevent such cases from suggesting their own logical conclusion. It now preaches that a few temple destructions have indeed taken place, but channels this admission towards a counterintuitive explanation: that Hinduism is to be blamed for these, not Islam. The core of truth is that a handful of cases have been documented of ancient Hindu kings abducting prestigious idols from their adversaries’ main temples, just as happened in Mesopotamia and other Pagan cultures. These are then presented as the source of inspiration for Aurangzeb’s wholesale destruction (documented in his own court chronicles) of thousands of temples and many more idols.

Not that any of the many Muslim iconoclasts ever testified that such was his inspiration. Their motivation, whenever explicitly stated, and whether inside or outside of India, is invariably purely Islamic. Since the negationist school is unable to document its thesis, let me show them by example how to do it.

Kashinath Pandit’s book A Muslim Missionary in Mediaeval Kashmir (Delhi 2009) contains a translation of the Tohfatu’l Ahbab, the biography of the 15th-century Islamic missionary Shamsu’d-Din Araki by his younger contemporary Muhammad Ali Kashmiri. After describing the many temple demolitions Araki wrought or triggered in thinly populated Kashmir (many more than the “eighty” which the secularists are willing to concede on Richard Eaton’s authority for all of India during the whole Muslim period), the biographer gives Araki’s motivation in practising all this iconoclasm.

Does he say: Araki then recalled the story how a Hindu king ran off with an idol and thereby felt an urge to do something entirely different: destroy all the idols and their idol-houses with it? No, he recounts the standard Islamic narrative of the Kaaba: it was built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham for monotheistic worship (thus yielding a far more authoritative precedent than idol theft by an infidel king), until unbelievers made it “a place for the idols and a house for the statues. Some Quraish chieftains (…) turned this House of God into the abode of devilish and satanic people. For innumerable years, this house of divine light and bliss became the worshiping place for sorcerers and depraved people and the centre of worshippers of idols (made of stones).”

Fortunately, this injustice didn’t last, neither in Mecca nor in Kashmir: “When the last of the prophets (Muhammad) saw this situation, he lifted Imam ‘Ali Murtaza on his shoulders so that defiled and impure idols and images were struck down in the House of God. (…) In the same manner, Kashmir was a den of wicked people, the source of infidelity and a mine of corruption and aberration.” (p.258)

And then the enumeration of Hindu sacred places levelled and mosques built in their stead resumes. An extra detail of interest for all those who idealize Sufis is that the text lists many occasions when “Sufis” and “Derwishes” participated in massacres and temple demolitions.

At any rate, that is what a Muslim testimony of the motive for temple destructions looks like. At least in the real world, not in the make-believe world of our “academics”. I had already challenged Richard Eaton (the originator of this thesis, a self-described Marxist) and his followers to come up with such evidence in 1999, but nothing has ever materialized. Come on, Prof Truschke, you can make an excellent career move by producing this proof.

To sum up: on the one hand, we have Islamic icononoclasts and their contemporary supporters saying in so many words that Islam made them do it. Moderns who highlight this evidence are, in Truschke’s estimation, “bullies”. On the other, we have no evidence at all for the claim that the Islamic iconoclasts, intent on destroying Hinduism itself through its icons, took inspiration from Hindu icon-stealers, who installed the icon in their own temple for continued worship (as if abduction, wanting to have something close to you, were the same thing as murder, i.e. wanting something to disappear from this world). This claim is nothing more than special pleading. Yet, people who propagate it are, in Trusche’s description, “academics”.


The bourgeoisie sets great store by status. Scholars go by a different criterion: knowledge. They know, through learning or personal experience, that for some of the great insights and discoveries we are indebted to outsiders and amateurs; and that quite a few of their colleagues have big titles and positions not corresponding to their actual knowledge. They also know that holding (or at least uttering) the required opinions can make or break an academic career: either formally, as when a non-Anglican could not get admission to Oxford University, or informally, as under the reign of progressivist conformism today.

To think highly of the academic world presupposes a link between scientific achievement and academic rank, and this largely makes sense in the exact sciences. In the humanities, especially in the social “science” and literature departments, this link is also deduced, but only as a parasitical extension of the conventions in the exact sciences. Much of what passes for scholarship these days is only ideology wrapped into jargon. Some sophomores take it seriously: having just gained entry into the academic world, they idealize it and are proud of their belonging to a higher world distinct from lay society. And most laymen believe it: over-awed by status, they assume that academic status presupposes both knowledge and objectivity, the basis of academic authority.

There exists a test for objective knowledge: a good theory predicts. Physicists who know the relevant parameters of an object in motion, can predict its location at future times. Well, how about the predictions by the academic India-watchers? In the mid-1990s, when the BJP’s imminent coming to power was a much-discussed probability, top academics predicted that a BJP government would turn India into a Vedic dictatorship, whatever that may be. They were put in the wrong even swifter than expected: in 1996, BJP leader A. B. Vajpayee was prime minister for 13 days, then lost the vote of confidence, and instead of seizing power for good, he meekly stepped down. Academics predicted the victimization of Dalits and women, gas chambers, “all the Indian Muslims thrown into the Indian Ocean”, and what not. Well, the BJP has been in power from 1998 till 2004, and since 2014: where are those gas chambers?

Scholars of modern India, as well as historians of fields relevant for contemporary political debates, have a lot to be modest about. They may have academic positions, but their record is not such that they are in a position to talk down to outsiders, the way Audrey Truschke now does. – Pragyata, 30 November 2016

» Dr Koenraad Elst is an author and Indologist based in Belgium.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple replaced by Aurangzeb's Gyanvapi Mosque, Varanasi (James Prinsep 1834)

Knowledge of Indian psyche a must for understanding Indian history – Shivaji Singh

Rishi : Eye of In-sight

Prof. Shivaji SinghHuman history consists of actions and behaviors; actions and behaviors are related to intensions; and intentions are governed by psyche. … Indian psyche may be defined in terms of Indian chiti, that is, the Indian social and symbolic worldview.— Prof Shivaji Singh

History is not just a narrative of events and processes in some space-time context, nor space and time are the only coordinates of history. History is, at a deeper level, a ‘sense of the past’—an awareness rooted deep down in a people’s psyche. Writing nine centuries ago, the famous Indian historian Kalhaa, the author of the Rājataragiī, designates history as ‘Bhūtārtha’, that is, ‘Meaning or Sense of the Past’:  

Ślāghyaḥ sa eva guṇavāna rāgadvesh-bahishkṛtaḥ
Bhutārtha-kathane  yasya  stheyasyeva  Sarasvatī.           

“Praiseworthy is that man of quality alone who is above (the feelings of) love and hatred and whose intellect remains steady while narrating the sense of the past.” — Rājataragiī 1.7

It is this ‘sense of the past’, based on steady intellect, that gives relevance to the discipline of history. With centuries and millennia receding behind, records of past are gradually obliterating and submerging in the womb of oblivion, and there is indeed some wisdom in the saying ‘Let the dead past bury its dead’. But, the ‘sense of the past’ continues. It never dies. It lives forever as part and parcel of our being and helps unfold our becoming. Why is that so?

This is because, as I have already noted elsewhere,[1] yesterdays are indestructible. They remain subtly present in today and have an inevitable impact on tomorrow. It is this indestructibility of yesterdays that has made history an important discipline all over the world. Being a sizable segment of collective memory and a part and parcel of effective social psyche, history acts as a powerful vehicle of culture and tradition from generation to generation. History shapes and defines the social identity of a people in course of its process. It teaches men lessons to learn from the past. It acts as a source of morale in times of distress. Imparting education of historical knowledge should, therefore, aim at developing positive collective memory and healthy social psyche. In fact, historical knowledge is of use only when it contributes to our wisdom.

Recently, Prof S. N. Balagangadhara of Ghent University, Belgium, posed a pertinent question: ‘What do Indians need, a History or the Past?’ He underlined this question by making it the title of his Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Memorial Lecture organized by the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi, in 2014.[2] By ‘Past’ he means the sense of history I am talking about here today. Unlike history which is just a kind of information, sense of history is a sort of inner-formation that keeps our consciousness vibrant. History is useful only when it has a sense. History is just a record if it has no sense. History is dangerous when it is given a wrong sense. That is what I intend to emphasize in this address.

But, what do I mean when I say that space and time are not the only coordinates of history? Let us now come to that.

Mānasa (Psyche): An Important Coordinate of History

No history could be conceived without a reference to space and time. This is unanimously accepted. Hence, space and time are called coordinates (parameters or circumscriptions) of history. But, they are necessary, not sufficient, coordinates of any history involving human beings. Human history consists of actions and behaviors; actions and behaviors are related to intensions; and intentions are governed by psyche. This systemic interrelatedness (Zusammenhang) implied in human history needs to be understood.

Then, again, nobody would disagree to the principle that history should be judged, not pleaded. Even those who knowingly or inadvertently plead history wouldn’t deny this principle. However, it would be prudent, I think, to go a step further and add or, rather, qualify: History should be judged in the context of the Mānasa (psyche) of the people whose history we are judging. Like Space and Time, Psyche must always be taken as an important coordinate or point-of-reference in history. One may even go further and say, psyche is the basic coordinate for space-time sense itself is psyche-relative.[3]

I believe, therefore, that Indian psyche is the one and the only correct lens to look at and judge Indian history. But, what is Indian psyche? What are its main characteristic features? Let us explain briefly.

Defining Indian Psyche (Bhāratīya Mānasa)

You go to any part of India from Kashmir to Kerala, meet a rich or a poor Hindu of any varṇa, jāti and profession; you will find that he/she shares the same or almost similar perceptions about dharma and karma, about jīvātmā and paramātmā (individual and absolute Self), about āvāgamana (birth-rebirth cycle), about puṇya and pāpa (virtue and sin), etc. Taken together they constitute a typically Indian mental make-up that transcends the geographical boundaries of India. It is present in varying degrees in all Diaspora Indians wherever they are in the East or the West. This is commonly designated as ‘Indianness’.[4] This Indianness is reflected not only in commonality of cosmological and eschatological beliefs; it is expressed also in day to day behaviours, attitudes and manners. It emanates from the social and symbolic worldview—the Chiti or the collective Chitta—that the Indians share and within which they acquire their basic responses.

Indian psyche may, therefore, be defined in terms of Indian chiti, that is, the Indian social and symbolic worldview. As we shall presently see, this worldview is centered around an unique concept called Ṛita. But, before we explain this Ṛita-based social and symbolic worldview it is necessary to see how Indian tradition perceives human mind.

Indian perception of the architecture of human mind    

Indian tradition attaches great importance to human mind and has gone deep into its analysis. A distinction between ‘mana’ and ‘chitta’ is clearly implied in several Rigvedic references.[5] Look at the following famous Rigvedic verse:

Samāno mantraḥ samitiḥ samāni samānam manaḥ saha chittameshām,
Samānam mantramabhi mantraye vaḥ samānenam vo havisha juhomi.

“Common is our prayer, common our assembly. Common is our mana along with our chitta. With our common prayer I approach you and offer our common oblation to you.” — Ṛigveda 10.191.3

In this verse Mana and Chitta are mentioned separately along with Mantra (prayer or counsel) and Samiti (assembly) when Agni (the ritual fire) is being invoked for fostering unity and accord in each of them. This makes it quite clear that a distinction was indeed made between Mana and Chitta even in that hoary past that we call the Rigvedic Age.

A perusal of the relevant Rigvedic references shows that Chitta is an agency of mental activity related to but different from that of Mana. A distinction is made between ‘Manana’ and ‘Chintana’ the functions respectively of Mana and Chitta. Scholars not well grounded in indigenous Indian paradigm of psychology often fail to notice this distinction and use ‘Manana’ and ‘Chintana’ in the same sense of ‘thinking about’, ‘reflecting on’ or ‘comprehending something’.

There are several subtle differences between the two, but the main distinctive feature is that while the function of Chitta is ‘reflection’ that of Mana is ‘paying attention’. For Chintan, therefore, it is not necessary that the object being reflected upon be present before the eyes of the person doing Chintana

The distinction between Mana and Chitta was further clarified by later Vedic thinkers who dived deep into the mysteries of human consciousness. According to the Taittirīya Upanishad (3.10), the individual Self is enclosed by five different sheaths (koshas). In an ascending order they are:

  1. The physical body (Annamaya Kosha),
  2. Energy sheath (Prāamaya Kosha),
  3. Mental sheath (Manomaya Kosha),
  4. Intellect sheath (Vijñānamaya Kosha) and
  5. Emotion sheath (Ānandamaya Kosha).

Subhash C. Kak[6] comments on these koshas in a language understandable to modern-day science-oriented scholars, and I quote him:

These sheaths are defined at increasingly finer levels. At the highest level, above the emotion sheath, is the self. It is significant that emotion is placed higher than the intellect. This is recognition of the fact that eventually meaning is communicated by associations which are influenced by the emotional state.

The energy that underlies physical and mental processes is called Prāa. One may look at an individual in three different levels. At the lowest level is the physical body, at the next higher level is the energy systems at work, and at the next higher level are the thoughts. Since the three levels are interrelated, the energy situation may be changed by inputs either at the physical level or at the mental level. When the energy state is agitated and restless, it is characterized by rajas; when it is dull and lethargic, it is characterized by tamas; the state of equilibrium and balance is termed sattva.

The key notion is that each higher level represents characteristics that are emergent on the ground of the previous level. In this theory mind is an emergent entity, but this emergence requires the presence of the self.

According to the Sānkhya system, an individual mind is conceived to have five constituent parts: Mana, Ahankāra, Chitta, Buddhi, and Ātman. It may, however, be noted that in this enumeration Ātman is not considered to be a finite category. These constituent parts of mind have been discussed at great length in ancient Indian literature. These discussions provide a deep understanding of the structure and function of a normal human mind.

Later on, in what the historians call the post-Vedic Period, a simplified concept of four-limbed Inner Self (Antaḥkaraṇa Chatushṭaya ) became stereotyped. According to it, the four limbs of Antaḥkaraṇa were organized in an order of hierarchically increasing potency as Mana, Chitta, Buddhi and Ahankāra. Without going into details, the main features of Antaḥkaraṇa Chatushṭaya may be briefly summarized as follows:

Mana is the lower mind. It collects sense impressions about external objects through the five sense organs of hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell. However, it’s quite choosy. It collects only those impressions of the objects in which it is made interested by Chitta. Mana is extremely powerful, as attested to by the Bhagavadgītā (6.34). It controls the body and sensory organs. But it cannot control Chitta, Buddhi and Ahankāra since they are higher and increasingly more powerful mental agencies.

Chitta keeps stored the pieces of information and experiences gathered by Mana. It is a sort of memory bank of the mind. It occasionally reflects on them but always keeps them ready in a ‘recall mode’ to be supplied to Buddhi if and when desired by the latter. Buddhi, the Intellect, rationalizes the info received from its subordinates (Chitta, Mana and sense organs). It often indulges in its abstraction, and draws its opinions and conclusions on the basis of that knowledge. Ahankāra is the most powerful of all the limbs of Antaḥkaraṇa. It is the I-consciousness, that is, the awareness of an individual’s Self-identity. This understanding of the structure and functions of human mind continues in Indian cultural tradition till today.

Latest trends set in the field of science by quantum physics[7] and cybernatics[8] have now made it somewhat possible to interpret at least partly the ancient Indian concept of human mind in scientific jargon. From system theoretic angle human mind may be described in terms of its morphology and ecology conceived as subsystems. Mana, Chitta, Buddhi, and Ahankāra are the hierarchically organized constituent parts of human mind. They constitute the morphology of human mind. Koshas (sheaths), Guṇas (sattva, rajas and tamas) are its oscillating states. Geo-cultural features of the cultural tradition constitute what may be said to be the ecology of human mind. Both these morphological as well as ecological systems continue interacting with each other ever maintaining a dynamic equilibrium between the two. This ensures continuity in change which is the real sense of being eternal (Sanātana).

It is also important to note that Ahankāra (I-consciousness or Asmitā) manifests itself in two ways: (a) as a physical and habitual self-awareness, and (b) as an ideal self-awareness. Ordinarily a person perceives his self-awareness in terms of his physical and social being and identifies his self with his body. This is an instinctive human tendency present everywhere and in all ages. But, then, there is an ideal self-awareness too which men accept as distinct from their physical and habitual self-awareness, and which is derived from the cultural tradition to which they belong and varies accordingly.[9]

Chiti, the fountain head of Bhāratīya Mānasa

The origins of Indian Chiti (that is, the social and symbolic worldview from which Indians acquire their basic responses) are untraceable. They go back beyond the earliest times to which Indian literature, archaeology, linguistics, folklore and visual art remains like sculptures and paintings lead us to. Indian tradition takes it to be eternal, not a product of history.[10]

Chiti’ is the fountainhead of Mānasa or psyche. Although bequeathed to us by Vedic seers, this concept of ‘chiti’ was introduced to modern socio-cultural and political discourse by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay first of all through an essay published in Rāshradharma in 1948. Later on, he elaborated this concept in his speeches and writings particularly in the series of lectures on Ekātma Mānava Darśana that he delivered at Mumbai during 22nd to 25th April 1965.[11]

In one of his above mentioned lectures at Mumbai, he has clearly stated:

It is true that the society is composed of a number of individuals. Yet it is not made by people, nor does it come into being by mere coming together of a number of individuals.

In our view society is self-born. Like an individual, society comes into existence in an organic way. People do not produce society. It is not a sort of club, or some joint stock company, or a registered co-operative society. In reality, society is an entity with its own ‘Self’, its own life; it is a sovereign being like an individual; it is an organic entity. We have not accepted the view that society is some arbitrary association. It has its own life. Society too has its body, mind, intellect and soul. Some western psychologists are beginning to accept this truth.[12]

Many more scholars have expressed similar views. G. C. Pande, for instance, writes:

Human community is not an externally related assemblage of physical individuals but a common self-consciousness where the perception of ideal values provides the force which controls the blind instincts or calculated search for mere interest and the individual recalcitrance arising from it. It is the working of higher rational and moral values which constitutes the inner core or unity of human societies.[13]

Among Western scholars William McDougall was perhaps the first to realize the importance of collective and integrated psyche in formation of human social groups. In his famous book The Group Mind, published as far back as in the first quarter of the last century, he has tried to sketch the principles of mental life of groups and their bearings on national life and character. McDougall takes due precaution to ward off any possible misunderstanding that his views were influenced by, or even had any sympathy with, the political philosophy associated with German ‘idealism’. He devotes several pages of the preface of the book to explain how his views and approach differ from those who hold forth German ‘idealism’ and finally remarks:

I have striven to make this a strictly scientific book, rather than a philosophic one; that is to say, I have tried to ascertain and state the facts and principles of social life as it is and has been, without expressing my opinion as to what it should be. But, in order further to guard myself against the implications attached by German ‘idealism’ to the notion of collective mind, I wish to state that politically my sympathies are with individualism and internationalism although I have, I think, fully recognized the great and necessary part played in human life by the Group Spirit and by that special form of it which we now call ‘Nationalism’.[14]   

My purpose of taking this diversion of peeping into the mind of the author of The Group Mind has been mainly to guard against a possible misconception. Since William McDougall, the author of the book under reference, has been referred to by Deendayalji in some of his writings and speeches, any aspersions on McDougall for his imagined sympathy to German ‘idealism’ were liable of being transferred to Deendayalji by a cunning pseudo-secularist. I wanted to eliminate any chances of this possibility.

McDougall suffers from the Western prejudices of his time against India and Indian culture. Like majority of scholars of his generation, both Indian as well as foreign, he believes in ‘Race Theory’ that has been discredited now. But, in spite of all this, he must be remembered for some pioneering contributions that he made in the field of Collective Psychology. First and foremost, he attempted a total catharsis of Collective Psychology of his time that was badly polluted by advocates of German ‘idealism’. Then, he took the lead in emphatically advocating the idea that ‘nationalism’ is an expression of collective spirit; and his concept of ‘spirit’ is almost identical to what Deendayalji has designated as Chiti.

William McDougall deserves to be remembered for yet another leading contribution. He underlined the common perception that the mind of a group of higher order like a socio-cultural, religious or political group or a nation is an aggregate of individual minds “plus a mystical and shadowy entity, the spirit of the whole, that hovers uncertainly above the individuals and intervenes only on great occasions, in national crises, in wars, revolutions, general elections and general strikes”. And, although being a traditional psychologist he prefers to explain it in terms of Gestalt Psychology[15] and openly admits: “It continues to be permissible for the historian and the man of letters to write of the soul or spirit of a people.[16]

In fact, it is this ‘soul or spirit of a people’ that the Indian intellectual tradition conceives as ‘Chiti’, the innate social and symbolic worldview from which men acquire their basic responses.

Propagation of Dharma is India’s ordained national mission

That, nations have their unique inherent missions to fulfill, is not a new idea. It was underlined prominently by the Italian nationalist and patriot Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872) over a century and a half ago. “Every people”, stated Mazzini, “has its special mission, which will cooperate towards the general mission of Humanity.”[17] In fact, to Mazzini, it is this given mission of a people that constitutes their sense of ‘nationalism’.[18] Many eminent thinkers have endorsed this view of Mazzini about ‘national mission’ ever since. As an illustration, I quote below Annie Besant:  

As Mazzini truly said: ‘God has written a line of His thought over the cradle of every people. That is its special mission. It cannot be cancelled; it must be freely developed.’

For what is a Nation? It is a spark of the Divine Fire, a fragment of the Divine Life, out breathed into the world, and gathering round itself a mass of individuals, men, women and children, whom it binds together into one. Its qualities, its powers, in a word, its type, depend on the fragment of the Divine Life embodied in it, the Life which shapes it, evolves it, colours it, and makes it One. The magic of Nationality is the feeling of oneness, and the use of Nationality is to serve the world in the particular way for which its type fits it. This is what Mazzini called ‘its special mission,’ the duty given to it by God in its birth-hour. Thus India had the duty of spreading the idea of Dharma, Persia that of Purity, Egypt that of Science, Greece that of Beauty, Rome that of Law. But to render its full service to Humanity it must develop along its own lines, and be Self-determined in its evolution. It must be Itself, and not Another. The whole world suffers where a Nationality is distorted or suppressed, before its mission to the world is accomplished.[19]

Annie Besant is perfectly justified in maintaining that ‘spreading of the idea of Dharma’ is India’s divinely allotted mission, India’s very purpose of existence as a nation.

Some historical manifestations of inherent Indian mission

The manifestation of India’s mission may be traced back to the Rigvedic words ‘Kivanto Viśvamāryam’. It is not a slogan or a clarion call to proselytise, as misunderstood by some. As is clear from its context, it is a pious inner wish, a cordial prayer to make the whole world noble: Indram vardhanto apturaKivanto Viśvamāryam (Ṛigveda 9.63.5).

Similarly, when the Manu-Smiti (2.20) enjoins that people all over the world should learn their distinctive duties and behaviours from the learned people of this country, it is subconsciously expressing the Indian mission, not indulging in vain boasting.  

In modern times, it was this inherent mission of India (namely, spreading the idea of Dharma) that was being fulfilled through Swami Vivekanand when he addressed the Parliament of World Religions at Chicago in September 1983 that was followed by a large number of his speeches in different cities of USA for about two years and his lecture tours and interactions with people in England and Germany.

Swami Vivekanand was fully conscious about this predestined mission of India. “We Hindus”, says he, “have now been placed, under God’s providence, in a very critical and responsible position. The nations of the West are coming to us for spiritual help. A great moral obligation rests on the sons of India to fully equip themselves for the work of enlightening the world on problems of human existence.“[20]

What is Dharma?

What is ‘Dharma’ which is the cornerstone of Indian psyche and whose practice and propagation is thought to be the divinely ordained mission of India? One thing is evident; it is not religion, a fact endorsed also by the Supreme Court of India.[21]

On this issue it would be most appropriate to consult Bharat Ratna P. V. Kane, the renowned author of the multi-volume History of Dharmaśāstra. He writes: “The writers on Dharmaśāstra meant by Dharma not a creed or religion but a mode of life or a code of conduct, which regulated a man’s work and activities as a member of society and as an individual and was intended to bring about the gradual development of a man and to enable him to reach what was deemed to be the goal of human existence.”[22]

Dharma, like Artha (economic interests) and Kāma (satisfaction of sexual, emotional and artistic instincts) relates to human beings in general, not to any particular class, community or nationality. This is why the three are put together in a single category Trivarga constituting the first three Purushārthas (objectives of human life). The enumeration of characteristic features of Dharma in ancient Indian texts as, for instance, in the Manu Smiti (6.92) as also the etymologically derived meaning of the term lead us to one and the same conclusion, that is, Dharma is an innate sense of duty and outlook—a sort of basic nature—that governs actions, activities and behaviors of human beings.

This understanding of Dharma becomes still clearer when we consider it in context of Ṛita.  Ṛita is a concept found exclusively in Vedic faith-system. It is the central concept. Other concepts such as Satya, Dharma, Tapa, Yajña, Devatā and Purusha, etc. are derived from it or are closely related to it. In fact, Ṛita is the utsa (the fountainhead or original source) of the entire Vedic faith-system. Let us, therefore, try to comprehend this basic concept a bit more closely.

Several scholars have tried to grasp the meaning of Ṛita. Methods employed have been mainly: (a) root derivation or etymology of the term, (b) considering its textual variations in literature to find a generally applicable sense, and (c) examining its modern cognates with the implicit belief that they continue to carry the original meaning of the term. The methods are indeed justified but the outcomes, however, are far from being uniform.[23]

Basically Ṛita stands for the ‘Law’ or ‘Order’ according to which the entire universe and all its animate and inanimate beings are moving on their ordained paths. The Chinese concept ‘Tao’ appears to be nearer in meaning but it fails to fully express the connotation of Ṛita. The western concepts ‘Lex naturalis’ and ‘Archetype’ are comparable but not equivalent. Its renderings in English as ‘Eternal Order’ or ‘Cosmic Order’ too are inadequate. In fact, Ṛita is an entity that is cosmic in its spatial extension and eternal in its time dimension, but it is something more additionally. Unlike natural laws, it has consciousness and a nature. Its nature is to be proper, true, divine, pious, religious, perfect, brilliant, glorious, and all else which is noble and desirable all rolled into one.

The Rigvedic people believed in an Ultimate Reality or Essence, a belief that was to characterize Indian culture throughout the subsequent ages and become one of its hallmarks. Ṛita is considered to be the mental perception of that Reality (Ṛitam mānasam yathārthasankalpanam, Sāyaṇa on Rigveda 10.190.1; and Satya is the verbal expression of the same Reality (Satyam vāchikam yathārthabhāshaṇam, ibid.) Ṛita and Satya are, thus, not two different entities. They are two modes in which the same entity, the Ultimate Reality, becomes perceptible to human beings. In the Upanishadic dictum ‘Satyameva jayate nānṛitam’ (Mundakopanishad, 3.1.6), meaning ‘Satya alone triumphs, not Anṛita’, Anṛita is pitted against Satya as its antonym. This again testifies to the Ṛita-Satya identity.

Just as Ṛita and Satya are identical, Satya and Dharma too are one and the same. The Bṛihadāraṇyaka Upanishad (1.4.14) confirms: “Verily, that which is Dharma is Satya” (Yo vai sa Dharmaḥ Satyam vai ). Thus, Ṛita, Satya and Dharma are three dimensions of one and the same Essence or Ultimate Reality. Bhāratīya Mānasa (Indian psyche) takes that Essence as ‘Human Ideal’ and interiorizes its three dimensions, Ṛita, Satya and Dharma, respectively at mental, verbal and practical application levels (that is, at the levels of mana, vachana and karma).

Thus, Dharma is acting in tune with the Ultimate Reality or Essence conceived as a Cosmic, Eternal and Noble Order.

Indian history needs contextualization, not just decolonization or Indianization

Understanding Indian history in the background of Indian psyche is what I mean by contextualization of Indian history. Let me repeat what I said earlier: Human history consists of actions and behaviors; actions and behaviors are related to intentions; and intentions are governed by psyche. This systemic interrelatedness (Zusammenhang) implied in human history needs to be understood. And, Indian history should be fully contextualized by taking into consideration the third coordinate besides time and span, namely, psyche. Then, and then only, Indian history can be properly comprehended and interpreted.

Contextualization is more comprehensive a task than decolonization and indigenization (that is, Indianization in Indian context). Contextualization may involve decolonization and/or Indianization but it is a task much more inclusive in scope and basically different in nature. In fact, it is a holistic framework of looking at various segments of the ‘past’ in the background of contextual psyche.  

Currently, we are passing through an overall thought revolution known as ‘decolonization of mind’. It is an anti-colonial and postcolonial consciousness. It entails washing away mental distortions produced by colonialism by going back to one’s indigenous roots and thought systems. Since colonization was a global phenomenon (remember the cliché, Sun never sets in the Empire), decolonization has got to be global. In Africa, we find the famous Kenyan novelist and postcolonial theorist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o titling his book on the role of language in literature as Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (published in 1986). In America, we see eight Indigenous intellectuals coming together to create the volume entitled For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook (published in 2005).[24]   

Worth mentioning in this context is also the international conference on Decolonizing Our Universities held at Penang, Malaysia (June 27-29, 2011). The participants in this conference belonged to as many as four continents. They had arrived at Penang from far separated places, from Nigeria in the west to Japan in the east and from Turkey in the northwest to Australia in the southeast. This shows how widespread in space is this yearning for decolonization. The following few lines from the summary of discussions submitted by the delegates at the end of this conference deserve our attention:

We agreed that for far too long have we lived under the Eurocentric assumption—drilled into our heads by educational systems inherited from colonial regimes—that our local knowledges, our ancient and contemporary scholars, our cultural practices, our indigenous intellectual traditions, our stories, our histories and our languages portray hopeless, defeated visions no longer fit to guide our universities—therefore, better given up entirely.[25]

Brushing away Eurocentric assumptions and reinvigorating indigenous intellectual traditions are the two intertwined aspects of decolonization. Recently (5-7 February 2015) a Conference entitled Strategic Retreat was organized by Dharma Civilization Foundation[26] at Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Sansthan, Jigani, Bengaluru. Several speeches delivered in this conference provide valuable insights for historians engaged in removing colonial distortions in Indian history. Decolonization is indeed useful and necessary. Eurocentric assumptions need to be brushed aside. Contextualization, however, is a perspective that transcends temporal situations like colonization or decolonization and provides a general framework for doing history.

The term ‘Indigenization’ has a distinct meaning. It should not be taken to stand for decolonization, much less for contextualization. When you take an idea or a theme from an alien source and modify it to suit your national needs it is called Indigenization. That is the literal meaning of the term. Indigenization is useful in many academic disciplines and, therefore, welcome. But, it is hardly of any use in history. In fact it has created several misconceptions.

Under constraints of time, I shall be able to draw your attention to only two wrong notions that have been perpetuated by uncritical indigenization: one relates to misapplication of the materialist conception of human progress to Indian history, and the other pertains to the misconception that ancient Indians lacked historical sense.

It is wrong to impose a materialistic view of human progress on Indian history  

Most of the historians and archaeologists even today refrain from using the words ‘Vedic Civilization’ because in their understanding a culture can be called a civilization only when it has been urbanized and they believe that the Vedic people were a non-urban people. The fact, however, is that every society has its culture as well as its civilization. While culture is reflected in mental refinement, civilization is expressed by worldly material progress. So, how they take ‘Vedic Culture’ to be true but ‘Vedic Civilization’ to be false? In fact, they consciously or subconsciously believe in a materialist conception of human progress. Wherefrom have they acquired this idea? It is not far to find it.

It was suggested initially by Lewis H. Morgan in 1877 in his book Ancient Society: Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization. Frederic Engels adopted and developed this notion in his famous essay entitled The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (written in German which appeared in Zurich in 1884). From there it was taken up by V. G. Childe and applied in the field of archaeology.

Needless to add that this materialist conception of human progress is totally inapplicable to Indian history. Indian psyche is basically spiritual. It does not deny worldly gains. Rigvedic prayers stand witness to the fact that the Vedic people were optimistic, not otherworldly. They desired prosperity and victory. But, they believed in the philosophy of tyaktena bhuñjīthā so emphatically advocated in the Īśāvāsyopanishad.

The misimpression that ancient Indians lacked historical sense

Many foreign scholars, as also several indigenous ones, have censured ancient Indians for their lack of historical sense. From Alberuni in the eleventh century down to some (whom I need not name) in the present (twenty-first) century, for literally a millennium now, this blame on ancient Indians has been orchestrated. But no one has ever tried to explain why that is so. Why should ancient Indians be so different from their contemporaries inhabiting other parts of the globe? Why has India failed to produce a Thucydides or a Sima Qian?

The fact, however, is that ancient Indians did have a sense of history as we understand history today, that is, a record of human actions, activities and behaviours that are conceived to be worth preserving. But they had simultaneously a higher perception of history in tune with their psyche and the tradition that their psyche had created.

Let us first take the normal (empirical) sense of history. As I have discussed in detail elsewhere.[27] far back, in as early a period as the Rigvedic, as many as three genres of historical narratives were distinguished: Praśastis, Gāthās and Nārāśasīs. In the Later Vedic period, three new forms of historical narratives came into existence. They were: Akhyāna, Itihāsa, and Purāa. Other varieties like Vamsanucharita (genealogy of kings) and Charita (history of heroes) followed soon. But, as has been ably demonstrated by Professor Arvind Sharma, this record is to be met with mainly in the inscriptions.[28]

However, the ancient Indians developed, besides the normal (empirical) history called Ākhyāna, a more nuanced concept of history. It was a sort of Vyākhyāna, rather than Ākhyāna. They designated it as Itihasa.  It is based on a cyclical concept of history, repeating but not replicating, and couched in time cycles of yugas and kalpas. Although the idea of kalpa is presently traceable back only up to Mauryan times,[29] it must have been there all along since it is a part and parcel of the innate Indian Ṛita-based chiti.

Itihasa aims at perpetuating and strengthening the tradition. It is a reflection and reassertion of the perennial ‘you reap what you sow’ principle (karma-phala-sambandha-svabhāva) maintained by tradition. History provides particular instances to substantiate the moral laws held by a tradition. This is why Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra (1.3.2) takes Itihāsa to be a Veda. The Amarakośa (1.6.4 and 2.7.12) designates Itihāsa as Purāvṛitta and takes itihya and itihāvya as synonyms of pāramparyopadeśa (Teachings about   Tradition). Professor G. C. Pande is perfectly justified when he says that:

By connecting the particular empirical instances with ideal meanings revealed in tradition, Itihāsa accomplishes the impossible task of spanning the gulf between the empirical and the transcendent. Itihāsa, thus, is not a collection of stock tales but a storehouse of wisdom, of Veda.

This brief analysis should suffice, I believe, to make it clear that Indians have from the very beginning an empirical as well as an ideal sense of history. In accordance with their Ṛita-based psyche they attached more importance to idealized history than to empirical history. Therein lies the reason why India preferred to produce a Vyasa and a Valmiki, not a Thucydides or a Sima Qian. This also explains why the Indian tradition gives more importance to memory and orality than to writing and historiography. Writing and historiography distance the past from the present, whereas memory and orality make the present and the past coexist.

But before I close, let me humbly respond to Professor Balagangadhara’s question: What do Indians need: A History or the Past? My considered view is: We Indians need both our History as well as our Past. There is no binding to choose only one of the two. We can, as our ancestors did, have both, But, like our ancestors we should preserve only that history which is worth preserving.


  1. Reference is to my Foreword to Smt. Kamlesh Kapur’s Portraits of a Nation: History of Ancient India (published in 2010) pp. vii-viii. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers.
  2. N. Balagangadhara (2014): What do Indians Need, A History or the Past? A challenge or two to Indian historians.  7th Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Memorial Lecture, organized by ICHR, New Delhi. Available on Internet. Link:
  3. Cf. Modern Scientific versus Bhāratīya Traditional Sense of Time. My Lecture delivered at All India Conference on Hindu Cosmology in Consonance with Modern Science, organized by Bhāratīya Itihāsa Sankalan Samiti at Tirupati on February 10-11, 2007.
  4. Even Jawaharlal Nehru, despite all British impact on his education and personality, had a glimpse of Indianness. In his Foreword to Filiozat’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.” All current discourses relating to ‘Idea of India’ or ‘Personality of India’ are centered around this concept of Indianess.
  5. Antiquity of the Rigvedic hymns is debated. However, there cannot be any doubt that some of the hymns were composed when the river Sarasvati was flowing in full force. Latest hydrological studies relating to the river show that the image of the ‘Mighty Sarasvati’ presented by these early Rigvedic hymns matches only with conditions in Hakra Wares Culture period (8th–7th millennium BCE). Vide Sarkar, A. et al. Oxygen isotope in archaeological bioapatites from India: Implications to climate change and decline of Bronze Age Harappan civilization. Sci. Rep. 6, 26555; doi: 10.1038/srep26555 (2016).
  6. Subhash C. Kak (1997/2005): ‘Science in Ancient India’, published in S. R. Sridhar and N. K. Mattoo (edited): Ananya: A Portrait of India, pp. 399-420. New York: AIA.
  7. Quantum physics has proved the existence of ‘God’ in its own way. It is not the God who sits in heaven dolling out rewards and punishments. It is a power beyond nature that often overrules the laws of nature. Its existence explains ‘why biological beings have feeling and consciousnesses’. See, Amit Goswami (2008): God is Not Dead. Charlottesville, Virginia: Hampton Roads Publishing. First paperback edition published in 2012.
  8. Cybernetics, particularly the systems thinking derived from it, has proved extremely useful for understanding complex phenomena.  In fact, systems analysis was applied first of all in comprehending the complex networking of human brain. Thereafter it was fruitfully applied in fashioning guided missiles and other ‘intelligent’ systems. After its success in the field of organismic biology and control engineering it was applied in different areas of social sciences too since it was realized that human action and behaviour are equally complex. For a brief outline of Systems Theory, see Shivaji Singh (1985); Models, Paradigms and the New Archaeology, pp. 46-59. Varanasi: Dept. of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, Banaras Hindu University.
  9. For a detailed analysis of self-awareness, see G. C. Pande (1985): An Approach to Indian Culture and Civilization, pp. 133-39. Varanasi: Dept. of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, BHU.
  10. Professor G. C. Pande remarks: “That the social and symbolic world within which men acquire their fundamental responses is a fragile and historic human creation rather than a natural perennial fact, is an idea which grew up and gained currency as recently as the nineteenth century.” See for this quote his book An Approach to Indian Culture and Civilization, p. 7. See on this point also his book Bhāratīya Paramparā ke Mūla Svara, published in 1989 (2nd Ed.) p.1.
  11. Vide Dīndayāla Sansāra, A portal created by Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. Link:
  12. Vide for fuller details, my presidential address Need for Revitalizing Bharatiya ‘Chiti’, the Fountainhead of Indian Nationalism delivered at the 9th National Conference of ABISY, Gwalior, October 26-28, 2012.
  13. C. Pande (1985): op. cit. p.14.
  14. William McDougall (1920/27): The Group Mind, p. xi. Cambridge: The University Press.
  15. Gestalt psychology, devoted mainly to the study of perception, emphasizes the fact that the whole of anything is greater than its parts and that the whole requires for its interpretation laws or principles that cannot be arrived at by the study of parts alone.
  16. William McDougall, op. cit., p. xiii.
  17. P. T. Bury edited (1960): The New Cambridge Modern History, Vol. 10, p. 225. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  18. Ignazio Silone (1939): Living Thoughts of Mazzini, p. 17. London: Cassell, and New York: Longman.
  19. Quoted from The Case for India, presidential address delivered by Annie Besant at the 32nd Session of Indian National Congress held at Calcutta on 26 December 1917.
  20. Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1970-1971), Vol 3, p 139.
  21. Cf. The Supreme Court of India’s three-judge-bench judgement dated 11th December 1995 on a number of appeals which arose from the decisions of the Bombay High Court relating to the validity of the elections of certain candidates to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.
  22. V. Kane (1968-77): History of Dharmaśāstra, Vol. 2, Part 1, p. 2.
  23. For details see, V. M. Apte (1942): ‘Ṛita in the Ṛigveda’. Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, Vol. 28.
  24. Now, a new volume, as a sequel to the earlier one, has appeared in 2013. Edited by Waziyatawin and Michael Yellow Bird. It is entitled: For Indigenous Minds Only: A Decolonization Handbook.  
  25. Visit the site Inside Higher Ed, see ‘Decolonizing our universities: another world is desirable’. Link:
  26. Dharma Civilization Foundation is an USA-based non-profit organization with the mission: “To establish the systematic study of Dharma, its interpretation and application through the creation of academic and intellectual infrastructure and institutions”. Visit:
  27. Reference is to Contending Paradigms in Indian History: Did India lack historical Agency?, Chairman’s Address delivered by me at the International Conference on Indian History and Geopolitics, organized conjointly by ABISY and Indic Studies Foundation, USA, at India International Center on January 9-11, 2009.
  28. Arvind Sharma (2003): Hinduism and Its Sense of History. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  29. In Aśoka’s Rock Edicts Nos. 4 and 5 we find the words ‘ava kapam’ (yāvat kalpam) and ‘āva samvaa kapa’ which mean up to the end of kalp. P. V. Kane remarks that the word samvaa in ‘āva samvaa kapa’ may refer to samvartaka, the name of the destruction whose fires and clouds, according to the Mahābhārata (Vanaparva 188.69), bring kalpa to an end. See, History of Dharmaśāstra, Vol. 3, pp. 889-90.

» 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 Akhila Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY). This address was presented at an Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) conference in New Delhi on March 27, 2017.

Manu and Seven Sages of Sanatana Dharma

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

Kamlesh Kapur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical method 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historians or ‘distortians’ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koenraad Elst

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

Theory of origin

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

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

Cultural continuity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Devdutt Pattanaik really save Hinduism from Western distortions? – David Frawley

Devdutt Pattanaik

Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley)Devdutt Pattanaik is a popular interpreter of Hindu sacred stories, what are now, not always respectfully, called “myths”. In a recent article “From Macaulay to Frawley, from Doniger to Elst: Why do many Indians need White saviours”, he claims that “Indians do not really need Europeans and Americans to tell them what Hinduism, Sanskrit or Vedas were, are or should be.”

Attacking both Western critics and Western defenders of Hinduism

The title of the article appears appealing given the many Western distortions of Hinduism. Yet strangely, Pattanaik criticises both Western defenders of Hinduism as well as critics, lumping them both together as if they were two sides of the same bad coin, suggesting that neither understands the Hindu tradition.

Pattanaik would like us to think that he is honouring this tradition of great yogis that has suffered so much from colonial, missionary, Marxist and neo-modern misinterpretations. But in the majority of his own writings, he himself follows the current politically correct Western scholarship that denigrates Hinduism at a cultural level and downplays its deeper philosophical and yogic dimensions. His comments on Hindu gods and goddesses are often in terms of modern psychology and leftist politics, as if these deities were human beings with personal problems and social biases, not symbols of transcendent and cosmic powers.

Now Pattanaik is suddenly critical of the same controversial Western scholars like Wendy Doniger and Sheldon Pollock that he has previously defended. The mythological approach he uses is an approach they also use and is very different from India’s own dharmic school of thought. Is he questioning that mythological angle that he has so extensively promoted?

Looking deeper, Pattaniak’s article betrays a subterfuge. His critique of Western defenders of Hinduism appears more strident than his questioning of anti-Hindu views. Clearly Western scholars defending Hinduism are his main target, and by implication the defence of Hinduism itself.

India connections of Western interpretations of Hindu Dharma

Pattanaik makes a point that one has to be born a Hindu to be a real Hindu that is connected to “birth” and “geography”, no doubt to discredit any Western attempts to speak for Hinduism. This is historically easy to disprove given the numerous Hindu temples and kingdoms from Angkor Wat in Cambodia to Vietnam and the Philippines whose populace were not simply born Hindus in what is now India.

Yet the deeper question in all such discussions is the nature of the interpretations given, not the skin colour of the person advocating them. Most important is the methodology that such interpreters follow. Individual scholars are usually representatives of schools of thought that must be examined overall.

The denigrating approaches of such as Doniger and Pollack have prominent Indian supporters, notably Marxists like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, whom Pattanaik does not mention. Similarly, the view of Hindu Dharma by Western Hindus has its roots in teachers from India. The books of Sitaram Goel and Ram Swarup have framed much of the defence of modern Hinduism. Yet this trend goes back to Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, Lokmanya Tilak and India’s Independence movement that challenged Eurocentric ideas of religion, culture and history.

Mahatma Gandhi’s criticism of Christian missionaries is also relevant here. It ultimately is based upon Vedic texts that address the nature of the mind and the meaning of human life in a very different manner than dominant Western schools of thought.

Pattanaik has tried to place Hinduism’s Western defenders on the “right”of the political perspective, with its critics on the “left”, forgetting that right and left in politics are Western views, not Indian and neither is dharmic. He reflects the statements of anti-Hindu writers who routinely label Hinduism as right-wing and regressive.

Pattanaik further describes Western defenders of Hindu Dharma as “authoritarian” and “Abrahamic” in approach, as if they were presenting a distortion of Hindu Dharma. This is also nothing new. The same charge is made by Luytens’ Delhi against any Hindu groups in India that have sought to proudly promote Hindu Dharma. Such verbal theatrics only shows that he remains ambivalent about presenting Hindu teachings in a respectful manner. He does not otherwise criticise Abrahamic traditions.

Problems with ancient history

Pattanaik seems to have a particular problem with the historical view of the Harappan or Indus Valley civilisation as Vedic, as supported by Western Hindus. Yet, this is also the view of the Archaeological Survey of India and its former director general Prof B. B. Lal. It is the view of the Geological Survey of India based upon Landsat Satellite photography and numerous ground water studies of the long dry Sarasvati River. It is the view of India’s great gurus today. To call it into question because it is also a view of white Hindus is neither accurate nor sincere. It suggests that Pattanaik does not like the idea of a history of India that gives prominence to Vedic and Hindu contributions.

Is sadhana necessary to truly understand Hindu Dharma?

Hindu teachings, as in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, have at their core a yogic pursuit of higher consciousness, including experiences beyond the human intellect and its limiting dualities. They hold that the physical world is but an outer aspect of a multi-dimensional universe of consciousness, with our inner self having many bodies and many births and ultimately extending beyond all time and space.

Pattanaik does not seem comfortable with such yogic spirituality, which Doniger and company routinely ignore or dismiss, though he throws a few Sanskrit terms around in order to sound traditional. He is particularly unhappy with my claim that Yoga sadhana should be part of any authentic interpretation of Hindu texts. Yet that is not merely my personal view, it is found in all the great traditions of India that emphasise meditation over mere book learning. If sadhana is not part of one’s study of Hinduism, one can only claim to have the view of an outsider.

Is Pattanaik changing his views?

Pattanaik’s article is a cover-up for his own errors and prejudices. It is an effort to surreptitiously disown his own past with Doniger and company, perhaps out of fear of being judged politically incorrect by these Western critics that he has often kowtowed before in the past. Attacking Western defenders of Hinduism along the way affords him the appearance of being a neutral observer, and makes it more difficult for him to lump with what Doniger and company castigate as the Hindu right that they usually decry as fascist as well.

Make certain, Pattanaik is no detached observer, but has a vested interest in the very negative interpretations of Hinduism that he now seems to question. He has so far shown little interest in any defence of Hinduism whether by Indians or Westerners, much less promoting its deeper Yoga and Vedantic teachings. While there is nothing wrong with changing one’s views, it is better to be honest about it and admit one’s mistakes. – Swarajya, 1 January 2017

Indraprashta vs. Dinpanah: Nothing communal about the name Indraprashta – Koenraad Elst


Koenraad ElstIndraprastha was founded as the capital of the Pandavas’ small-time kingdom but the area was destined by fate to become the capital of the Delhi Sultanate, the Moghul Empire, Samrat Hemachandra’s short-lived empire, British India spanning the whole subcontinent, and now the Indian Republic. It is a source of pride, and worth celebrating, that here, the “righteous ruler” once chose to highlight the great universal ideas personified in Indra. – Dr Koenraad Elst

Indraprastha was the town founded by the Pandava brothers of Mahabharata fame as their capital. Here, the eldest among them, Yudhishthira, became the “ruler of righteousness” (dharma-râja). More than three thousand years later, on 22-23 November 2016, the Draupadi Dream Trust held the first Indraprastha Conference in the National Museum, Delhi. This was part of a larger initiative on Indraprastha, with an exhibition in the Purana Qila (Old Fort). This fort itself had been built over the ancient site of Indraprastha, now partly made visible by archaeological excavations.

Among secularists, there is predictably an attempt to sow doubt about this. In his 2015 book Where Stones Speak: Historical Trails in Mehrauli, the First City of Delhi, Rana Safvi argues that the finds under the Purana Qila have not been established to be the Pandavas’s city, which was but “mythological”. In particular, they are claimed not to contain the characteristic Painted Grey Ware, as per the 1954 excavations by India’s top archaeologist B. B. Lal. However, 62 years later, the nonagenarian Lal edited the brochure of the present exhibition and, taking into account several excavations since then (which Safvi feigns to ignore), he asserts that PGW was indeed found there, and that it was certainly the city of the Pandavas. Mehrauli was not the oldest part of Delhi, Indraprastha was.

(This repeats two earlier and similar attempts at secularist deception, involving the very same archaeologist. When Lal discovered the temple’s pillar-bases underneath the Babri Masjid, the secularists started nitpicking about his field-notes, when his final report was already in the public domain and affirmed the existence of the temple remains. And till today, defenders of the Aryan Invasion Theory keep on citing as proof of the invasion the identification by the young Lal of the PGW as showing the Aryan invaders on their way deeper into India, a view that he has long dismissed as immature. As ought to be well-known, Lal has for decades testified that there is no proof for this invasion whatsoever, and that Vedic India and the Harappan civilization were two sides of the same coin. In all the three cases, the secularists cite an early or even a non-existent position of Lal’s to trump his well-known mature position.)

Lord IndraLightning

A prastha is an open space, a clearing in the forest where you go and settle, a “colony”. Thus, a vanaprastha, an elderly person who withdraws from society, is “one who goes and settles in the forest” or “one who has the forest as his colony”.

The new town was dedicated to Indra. He was the god of the thunderstorm that puts an end to the oppressive summer heat and opens the rainy season. That is why among the 12 Vedic solar months or half-seasons, he rules the first month of the rainy season. As the Rg-Vedic seer Vasishtha says in his celebrated Hymn of the Frogs, both the priests and the frogs croak with joy when the first rainstorm breaks: the frogs because of the advent of water, the priests because of the manifestation of their god, Indra. Implicitly, the priests’ recitation is humorously likened to the frogs’ croaking.

He was also the slayer of the dragon Vrtra, a model for all the dragon-slayers in the world, such as Zeus killing Typhon, or Saint George, or Siegfried, or Beowulf. In Iran, he was transformed into a demon, but his nickname Verethragna (Vedic Vrtrahan, “Vrtra-slayer”) then became a popular god in its own right. There, we have an Indra on the side of both good and evil.

Less poetically and more philosophically, the Atharva Veda puts him at the centre of the sophisticated concept of Indrajâla, “Indra’s net”. In this net, a diamond in every knot reflects every other diamond knot, and thus the whole. The West needed another four thousand years to develop the similar concept of the holographic paradigm.

In India, Indra’s cult gradually declined after the Mahabharata age. Originally an embodiment of masculine strength, he becomes the subject of poetic variations extolling his (and his wife Shachi’s) sexual prowess. Like his Greek counterpart Zeus, he gets involved in flings on the side, such as with sage Gautama’s wife Ahilya. While becoming a character of fun, he further gets disavowed by the Mahabharata hero Krishna. In the famous Govardhan episode, Krishna lifts a mountain and holds it like an umbrella over the common people to protect them from the storm, embodiment of Indra’s wrath. This spurs on the further decline of the Vedic gods and their replacement with the now-familiar Hindu pantheon. By the time Hindus start building temples in the last centuries BCE, Indra is no longer worshipped.

However, the Buddha arrived just in time for Indra to play a role in his career. it was Indra himself who persuaded the freshly awakened Shakyamuni to start preaching his newfound path. Buddhist monks then spread the cult of Indra to foreign lands as far as Japan. Indra’s weapon, the lightning or vajra, became the emblem of instant Enlightenment. The sought-after “Self-nature” (Chinese zixing) is present all the time, deep in all of us; but when we embark on the path of meditation and finally awaken to it, it strikes like lightning.

Dînpanah and the religion

When the Muslim conquerors incorporated the area into their capital and built the Old Fort there, it was apparently not a case of “a Hindu sacred site destroyed to make way for a showpiece of Muslim power”. Indraprastha had largely fallen in disuse centuries before the conquests, leaving pride of place to other parts of Delhi. Still, the conquerors were aware of the site’s past as Indraprastha, for in his Ain-i-Akbari, Moghul chronicler Abu’l Fazl writes that it had been built on the site of “Indrapat”. There was probably no explicitly communal angle to it when the Muslim rulers chose the Indraprastha site.

That changed when the second Moghul emperor Humayun decided to reorganize the area as his own glimpse of paradise, calling it Dînpanah, “refuge of Islam”. Dîn is the general Semitic word for “justice, righteousness”, even “religion” (roughly, dharma). It was in this sense that the syncretistic emperor Akbar was to use it when he founded the Dîn-i-Ilâhî, the “divine religion”. This new religion was meant as a confluence between Hinduism and Islam, symbolized by Akbar’s newly-founded city of Ilâh-âbâd (“divine city”, wrongly transcribed by the British as Allahabad) on the Ganga-Yamuna confluence. But this religion did not exist yet in Humayun’s time.

Akbar’s usage of Dîn accorded with its original Semitic meaning once used by the Arab Pagans. But it deviated from the meaning that Mohammed had conferred on the term during his rulership in Arabia: specifically the religion of Islam. It is in this more limited sense that the word came to be used in names like Saifu’d-dîn, “sword of Islam”, and likewise in Humayun’s Dînpanah, “refuge of Islam”. Humayun’s rulership of Delhi was short-lived, and when he finally recovered it, he found his Dînpanah in disarray. He did not get a chance to rebuild it for he died soon after. So, it only had a very fleeting existence and made no mark at all in Delhi’s long history. By contrast, the earlier town of Indraprastha had existed for many centuries.

Recently, some well-meaning but illiterate bureaucrat came up with the idea that Lutyens’ Delhi should be renamed as Dînpanah. However, naming a central neighbourhood of Delhi after a particular religion might not go down well with the preponderantly secular-minded population. Probably the bureaucrats who considered naming the area’s development project Dînpanah had not considered this because they had not realized the meaning of Dîn. At any rate, the plan was shelved when they learned of the far better credentials of Indraprastha.

ZeusThe god

Now, some usual suspects will object upon hearing anything with the Vedic god Indra in it: “Communal!” They are mistaken. There is nothing communal about the holographic paradigm. There is nothing communal about sudden Awakening. He is the same storm god whom we find the world over: Zeus among the Greeks, Jupiter among the Romans, Thor among the Vikings (whence Thursday), Marduk in Babylon, Ba’al in the Levant. Note how Indra is likened to a bull, how Zeus seduced princess Europa in the shape of a bull, and how Ba’al was famously worshipped as a bull in the Biblical episode of the Golden Calf.

In fact, in the Golden Calf events, two faces of the storm god were in confrontation: not just Ba’al but even Moses’ god Yahweh are evolutes of essentially the same god. A lesser known face of the storm-god was indeed Yahweh among the Midianite Beduins in northwestern Arabia. Among them, then led by chieftain Jethro, the fugitive Egyptian prince Moses found asylum. That is when he acquired both a wife and a new religion. Yes, Yahweh was originally an Arab storm god, whose name was misinterpreted by the Bible authors as “He who is”. His name stems from a verbal root h-w-h also attested in the Quran, and meaning “to move in the sky”. This is both in the sense of the storm-wind’s blowing (an image of the palpable though subtle power of heaven) and of an eagle swooping down to catch its prey (an image of the sudden whims of destiny).

This Yahweh, this choleric storm god, was then taken to Egypt, apparently in the age when some of Pharaoh Akhnaton’s monotheistic reform was in the air. Next, he led Moses and the Israelites in the legendary Exodus through the desert. He remained powerful, sovereign and choleric, but was theologically transformed into the Biblical “jealous god”, who tolerates no second god beside him. This Yahweh, the sender of prophets, was later to be embraced by Mohammed under the name Allah, from al-Ilâh, “the god”.

Long live Indraprastha!

So, everybody can feel happy with the name Indraprastha. No Muslim invader ever destroyed a temple to Indra, for he had been worshipped before the Hindus even used idols housed in temples. Indra throwing the lightning (elsewhere “Thor’s hammer”) is an apt image of a heavenly intervention in earthly affairs. Everybody naturally considers thunder and lightning to be the prime symbol of heaven’s unchained might over us. Thus there is nothing communal about this name, on the contrary: Indra’s thunder storms are a pan-religious symbol, an embodiment of the basic unity underlying the plurality of religions.

Indraprastha  was founded as the capital of the Pandavas’ small-time kingdom but the area was destined by fate to become the capital of the Delhi Sultanate, the Moghul Empire, Samrat Hemachandra’s short-lived empire, British India spanning the whole subcontinent, and now the Indian Republic. It is a source of pride, and worth celebrating, that here, the “righteous ruler” once chose to highlight the great universal ideas personified in Indra. Therefore, the open-minded Delhiites all agree: Indraprastha amar rahe! – Koenraad Elst Blog, 30 December 2016

» Dr Koenraad Elst is an indologist and historian from Belgium who publishes with Voice of India, New Delhi.

Purana Qila Delhi