Tipu Sultan: Common icon of Pakistan and Congress – Balbir Punj

Tipu Sultan

Balbir Punj“Tipu’s ambition, no doubt, was to achieve personal power. The only ideological underpinning to his life was his commitment to Islam. And starting with Muhammad Ghazni, Muhammad Ghori, and Aurangzeb, he had many precedents available to him to follow in his conduct as a ruler. The reign of each one of them (and several others) is marked by wanton destruction of Hindu temples, killing of ‘infidels’ and forcible conversions of non-Muslims to Islam.” – Balbir Punj

Tipu Sultan's SwordWhy did the Congress government in Karnataka plan state-wide celebrations of 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan’s 165th birth anniversary on November 10th?  Resurrecting Tipu’s memory at this time has no historic significance, except that it may serve the party’s political ends.

Next year Karnataka goes to polls.  And Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah—a lateral entrant into the party has nothing much to show the tech savvy state voter to get back to power once again. In fact, he is facing the combined opposition of several interest groups within his own party. These groups have been knocking on the doors of  Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi for some time now, in hopes of showing Siddaramaiah the door.

It is under this circumstance that the Congress has resorted to its age-old game of divisive politics. Reviving Tipu Sultan’s memory on November 10 has raised widespread opposition in Karnataka, and not from Hindus alone, but from many other communities, including Christians from Mangaluru and the West Coast of Karnataka.

According to news reports from Mangalore, an important Christian centre, United Christian’s Association leader Alban Menezes said that  Tipu in 1784 had  destroyed the Milagres Church in Mangaluru built in 1680. Menezes added: “Tipu had imprisoned 60,000 Catholics,  suspected of being British spies.”

History records that the Congress’ new found ‘secular icon’, Tipu, made the captive Christians walk all the way to Mysuru without any food or water and thousands perished on the way. In 2013, the same Christian organisation had protested along with Hindu organisations against naming a central university in Srirangapatnam after Tipu.

Tipu Sultan Stamp India Post (15 July 1974)No doubt, Tipu put up a brave fight against the British. He did so against the Marathas as well, the principal power fighting the East India Company, which was striving to colonise India. It was only in 1803, after the company forces under General Lake defeated the Maratha army in a battle at Patparganj (present day Noida), that the British captured Delhi and became the real rulers of India. The then Mughal emperor, who was a pensioner of the Marathas, happily started accepting the dole from his new masters!

Tipu’s opposition to the British did not mean he was in principal opposed to foreigners colonising India. He invited the French to invade the country. After a eunuch Ghulam Qadir blinded the then Mughal emperor Shah Alam II on August 10, 1788, Tipu had no compunction in writing to  Zaman Shah Durrani, the then ruler of Afghanistan to attack India and help him finish the Marathas and the British to establish an Islamic empire.

Tipu’s ambition, no doubt, was to achieve personal power. The only ideological underpinning to his life was his commitment to Islam. And starting with Muhammad Ghazni, Muhammad Ghori, and Aurangzeb, he had many precedents available to him to follow in his conduct as a ruler. The reign of each one of them (and several others) is marked by wanton destruction of Hindu temples, killing of ‘infidels’ and forcible conversions of non-Muslims to Islam.

Hyder AliTipu’s father Hyder Ali had usurped the kingdom from the Wodyars, the Hindu ruling family of Mysuru state. Hyder who was a military officer in the state, rapidly rose to power and emerged the defacto ruler of Mysuru in 1761. He claimed descent from the Quraysh tribe of Arabs, the—tribe prophet Muhammad belonged to. In his last commandant to his son Tipu, Hyder wrote,  “The Mussalmans are more united and more enterprising than the feeble Hindu. It is to them that should belong the glory of saving Hindustan…. My son, combine all your efforts to make the Koran triumph. If God helps this noble endeavour, the day is not far, perhaps, when the sword of Muhmmad will place you on the throne of Tamerlane .”

Tipu tried his best to live up to the expectations and the ideals his father had laid for him and even went a few steps further in promoting the Islamic agenda and following what he perceived were his religious duties.

Colonel Mark Wilks’ Historical Sketches, K. P. Padmanabha Menon’s History of Cochin State and Sardar K. M. Panikkar’s and Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai’s articles and the detailed accounts left behind by the court historians of Tipu vividly bring out the ugly reality that the 17 odd years of his regime witnessed massive persecution of non-Muslims, vandalisation of their religious places and forced conversions to Islam.

One of the leading Congressmen of pre-independence days K. Madhava Nair observes in Malabar Kalapam (Mappila Outrage), “The communal Mappila outrage of 1921 in Malabar could be easily traced to the forcible mass conversions and related Islamic atrocities of Tipu Sultan. Many thousands of Hindus were forcibly converted into the Muhammadan faith.”

In a letter to Budruz Zuman Khan on 19 January 1790, Tipu himself states: “Don’t you know I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam? I am determined to march against that cursed Raman Nair (Rama Varma Raja of Travancore) very soon, since I am overjoyed at the prospect of converting him and his subjects to Islam, I have happily abandoned the idea of going back to Srirangapatanam now.”

Panikkar cites a letter from Tipu, dated 18 January 1790, and written to Syed Abdul Dulal: “With the grace of Prophet Mohammed and Allah, almost all Hindus in Calicut are converted to Islam. Only on the borders of Cochin State a few are still not converted. I am determined to convert them also very soon. I consider this as Jihad to achieve that objective.” Tipu tried to replace Kannada with Persian and made the latter a Court language. He changed the names of several places. The new names had Islamic colour.

PNS Tipu SultanMuch is made out of the grants Tipu had made to some Hindu temples. In V. R. Parameswaran Pillai’s biography of the Dewan of Travancore, the author states: “With respect to the much-published land-grants, I had explained the reasons about 40 years back. Tipu had immense faith in astrological predictions. It was to become Emperor (Padushah) after destroying the might of the British that Tipu resorted to land grants and other donations to Hindu temples in Mysuru, including Sringeri Mutt, as per the advice of the local Brahmin astrologers. Most of these were done after his defeat in 1791 and the humiliating Srirangapatanam Treaty in 1792. These grants were not done out of respect or love for Hindus or Hindu religion but for becoming Padushah as predicted by the astrologers.” Sadly for the Congress, it has been late in recalling what it considers the sterling role of Tipu Sultan in India’s history, for Pakistan has done it much earlier and on a far bigger scale. Till date the Pakistan Navy has named three of its war ships as PNS Tipu Sultan. The first was acquired in 1949 (in service until 1979), second in 1980 (scrapped in 1994) and the last one in 1994. It has also named its missile and several educational institutions after Tipu.

Does not the fact that Congress and Pakistan share a secular icon in Tipu say a lot? – The New Indian Express, 14 November 2015

» Balbir Punj is a senior journalist, columnist, and BJP member of the Raja Sabha.

Tipu Sultan, Republic Day tableau representing Karnataka, 2014

See also

Koenraad Elst: Examining Romila Thapar’s version of India’s past – Sandeep Balakrishna

Marxist historian Romila Thapar of JNU New Delhi

Ranbir ChakravartiThe 18 September 2015 print edition of the Marxist fortnightly Frontline cover story was a detailed interview of Marxist historian Romila Thapar conducted by Ranabir Chakravarti, Professor of Ancient History at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Predictably, the interview is in the nature of fawning over Prof Thapar and proceeds along expected lines which, among other things, upholds the Marxist ideological version of Indian history as the only authentic history. Contrary or alternate readings even when backed by solid research and evidence are dismissed and labelled as nothing more than Hindutva propaganda to say the least.

Sandeep BalakrishnaAnd so, with a view to better understand the context, motivation and other deeper issues surrounding this interview, IndiaFacts Editor Sandeep Balakrishna sought an interview with Dr. Koenraad Elst.

To claim that Dr. Koenraad Elst’s credentials are impressive is to understate it. He studied at the Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University, he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. This thesis was published as Decolonising the Hindu Mind, a seminal treatise on the subject.

Koenraad ElstIn the present time, Dr. Elst is perhaps the handful few in the academia who continues to courageously tell the uncomfortable truth about Islam and Leftism. As an independent researcher he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European civilizations, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. His enormous contribution to the Ayodhya debate continues to enrich scholars and serious students of the subject alike.

Dr. Elst’s two-volume work on the RSS titled, The Saffron Swastika is a great eye-opener and mandatory reading for all who seek to understand the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the larger Hindu movement in proper perspective. Equally, his Negationism in India—Concealing the Record of Islam is regarded as a classic.

He has also published innumerable works on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, and Maoism, among others.

His work on Ayodhya and the larger Hindu revivalist/nationalist movement entailed him to undertake a deep-dive into the forces on both sides of the issue. Among other things, history, and more specifically, Marxist historians played the most significant role in those momentous years. As a scholar who had firsthand experience who was equipped with deep study of these subjects, as a person who lived those years, and as a victim of Marxist historians, Dr. Elst is uniquely placed to provide his perspective on the present Frontline interview with Romila Thapar.

► Sandeep Balakrishna (SB): Elst, Prof Romila Thapar mentions that the kind of academic scholarship and history writing currently done is “impressive” and that “at least among those historians who work at the better universities and colleges.” Equally, she reminisces about how “history was taught fifty years ago, and the kinds of struggles that we had in those days to give a new direction to historical writing, and the kind of direction that is now being taken, it is in fact an impressive change. I am pleased with the way things have gone, although admittedly the change is not universal in the universities and most have still not caught up with history as it is taught in the best centres.” In this light, several questions arise, Dr. Elst: (a) Can you list some of these current history books that Prof Thapar finds impressive. (b) Which are these “better” universities and “best” centres where this sort of impressive history writing takes place? (c) How would you compare the history taught 50 years ago to the history that emerged after Prof Thapar gave it said direction?
► Koenraad Elst (KE): Given that this is a digital medium not constricted by space limitations, I may be forgiven for answering rather amply. There is already so much hurried superficiality these days.

Fifty years ago, R.C. Majumdar was at the end of his career. As he was a very prominent historian, whose History of India and History of the Freedom Struggle was required reading throughout the History departments across India, he was the main figure to be shot down. He was typical of the intellectuals at the heart of the Congress movement: secular-minded in a Gandhian way, but far more steeped in Hindu tradition than we can now imagine, and naturally accepting the religious and “communal” factors in history.

Other such historians were Jadunath Sarkar and, effectively, the anthropologist G.S. Ghurye. They naturally accepted and documented Islam as a factor in Hindu-Muslim conflict and in the well-documented fact of Islamic iconoclasm, c.q. the subversive role of the Christian missions.

I don’t know what universities she has in mind, but I imagine it would be the pioneers of her own version of history, JNU and AMU. Further, most serious universities have followed suit or are using her school’s textbooks.

There are very few hold-outs of Hindu-minded history, and these are admittedly not very creative, nor have they got international standing. The Marxists have always had their eye on the cultural sector, but after Indira Gandhi needed their support in a power struggle, some fifty years ago, they really got their chance. Thapar’s collaborators P.N. Haksar and Nurul Hasan changed the face of India. “Hindu” became a dirty word, and any young historian classified as a conscious Hindu could forget an academic career.

This power equation was aggravated by the passivity of the Hindu Nationalists. As the only nationally organized Hindu force, they claim to be the vanguard of Hindu society. If so, they should not be proud of their achievements in this field, where Hinduism has only been losing ground. They have never invested in scholarship.

The result can now be seen, when Narendra Modi’s government would like to pack the universities with pro-Hindu or pro-Modi vice-chancellors and other prominent professors, but fail to find qualified people.

In 2009 I attended a pro-Hindu conference about the politics of history in Delhi, with the usual wailing about the reigning anti-Hindu bias. But there was no session about what Hindus themselves had done wrong in M.M. Joshi’s textbook reforms of ca. 2002, a horror show of incompetence.

To be sure, on the Hindu side there are some valuable individual historians, such as Meenakshi Jain, who has documented the dismal defeat of the “eminent historians” in the Ayodhya debate (Rama and Ayodhya, 2013). But organized Hinduism has produced nothing except some obscurantist repetition of scripture as if it were history.

In recent years, centre-stage has been taken by less ideological historians such as Upinder Singh, daughter of the former Prime Minister. In that sense, her own school of Leftist history-writing has lost some ground, in the wake of the loss of credibility of Marxism as such.

Still, this mainstream secularist school has essentially adopted some key dogmas that the Left in its age of dominance has rendered synonymous with serious scholarship, such as the Aryan invasion and the absence of a “communal” motive in the Muslim conquests. The Hindu perspective is still being ignored or despised.

► SB: Prof Thapar also criticizes popular history as being outdated or as “not history at all,” and that such history is propagated by “people who are not professional historians.” As someone who has left behind a sizeable body of work critiquing the Thaparesque school of history, how would you define a “professional” historian, and is that tag mandatory for people who actually want to do original, serious scholarly work on their own? This question applies to even those non-tagged people who’ve already done such work. Or is this sort of tagging a tactic to discourage such potential endeavours and to dismiss such work?

► KE: For her class of people, a “professional historian” is a historian with academic status. The Marxist historians are very status-conscious and constantly pull rank, especially when faced with informed arguments.

For a scholar, this is weak, but for sophomores, it is uppermost in their minds: climbing the status ladder. When you know the academic circles, you become far less inclined to be overawed by academic status: many professors have obvious ideological prejudices and bend their findings to suit their presuppositions.

Moreover, in many countries to some extent, and certainly in India, scholars in the humanities are selected for ideological conformity with the dominant school. After nearly half a century, this has led to a situation where a post of “eminence” is simply equivalent with ideological conformity, at least passively (not raising your head), often actively (furthering the dominant paradigm).

As you know, the late Sita Ram Goel, a qualified historian, was an outsider to academia, working as a publisher and book-seller. Books like his History of Hindu-Christian Encounters are of such calibre, importance of topic, and originality, that he should have been offered a teaching post. But he was a dissident, so Soviet-type historians kept him outside the institutions. An example right now is Shrikant Talageri, whose work is simply revolutionary, creating history where until recently there was only hazy speculation, viz. the Vedic age. Real scholars would not care that he is an outsider, but focus on his methodology and his findings. 

► SB: On methodology, Prof Thapar provides a rather detailed explanation about how one should be learned in various disciplines like archaeology, linguistics, Sanskrit, Prakrit, geography, genetics, reading inscriptions and so on in order to write on ancient India. Yet, it is a fact that Prof Thapar doesn’t know Sanskrit and she herself admits that “sometimes when reading contemporary archaeological reports I can’t fully understand them because they require training in science.” Yet Prof Thapar is described as a preeminent scholar and historian of ancient India. So, how do you reconcile the two, and two, where does her own admission put her work in light of this?

► KE: I have little to add on to her personal qualifications. Sanskrit, at least, would really be necessary if you research ancient India. But history is something else than archaeology: historians deal with sources speaking a human language, chiefly writings and inscriptions, whereas the archaeologists (and likewise, nowadays, the geneticists) try to draw sense from mute objects.

I myself have to confess that the technical details of an archaeological report bore me. But their conclusions are of course indispensable for up-to-date historical scholarship. Like Prof. Thapar, I am not equipped to follow the details of the new genetic findings; but of course I have to take their conclusions into account. She does not incriminate herself by admitting that she is ignorant about other fields than history, these human limitations are just normal.

It gets worse, however, when a scholar simply ignores the findings in adjacent fields. This is what you see in the debates on Vedic chronology and the Aryan invasion. Thus, most historians laugh at the ignorant claims of some self-styled “history rewriters” in the Hindu camp, who put the Mahabharata war in the 4th millennium BCE. These base themselves on scripture, treating it as a literal record, and date events in the light of a Puranic tradition dating the beginning of Kali Yuga to 3102 BCE.

To be sure, the doctrine of four world ages is as old as the epic, and even much older: judging from its presence among the Greeks and Germans, and even as far as the Mayas, it must have existed since distant pre-Vedic days.

But the time-spans attributed to them are far younger, betraying an estimate of the precession cycle discovered in ca. 150 BCE. These time-spans are in thousands of years, not hundreds of thousands of years as in the Puranas. So the Mahabharata war can reasonably be estimated to about 1400 BCE, which is in tune with the genealogical data in the Puranas, their most historically reliable part.

But what is more, and now I come to my point, this scripturalist chronology flies in the face of the findings of several auxiliary sciences. Thus, chariot warfare is central to the Mahabharata’s plot: it cannot be an addition by a later editor.

Now, we know through archaeology that war chariots (as distinct from slow carts) originated only in the 3rd millennium, and that the heyday of chariot warfare was the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium, before cavalry warfare took over.

The war between the Egyptians and the Hittites, the Biblical pursuit of the Israelites by the Pharaoh, the Trojan War, all took place around 1200 BCE. To say that the Mahabharata battle took place in 3139, as traditionalists do, would imply that chariot technology took all of 1600 years to travel to West Asia.

But we know that military technology travels very fast, because generals eager for victory quickly adopt whatever innovation is in sight. Moreover, it implies that the Indians had a more advanced metallurgy (needed to produce chariots, as well as swords and shields) than archaeology can trace for the 32nd century BCE.

Another auxiliary science is archaeo-astronomy. Among the astronomical circumstances described in the epic is the full moon near the star Magha/Regulus after the winter solstice. Now, this star, in its slow precessional movement of 1° per 71 years, has crossed the solstitial axis in ca. 2300. In 3139 BCE, it was some 12° before the solstice, whereas in ca. 1400 BC, it was some 13° past it, as required by the description in the epic. So, the traditionalist chronology ignores the contribution of astronomy.

Prof. Thapar will probably agree with me that traditionalist chronology is bad science because it ignores the findings of these other sciences. However, established chronology including her own school suffers from the same flaw.

Thus, we have several astronomical data in Vedic literature that are incompatible with the established chronology. In the Kaushitaki Brahmana, dating from the late Rig-Vedic period, this solstice position of Magha is registered, so that points to ca. 2300. But according to her, this would mean at least 800 years before the Vedic seers started the composition of the Vedic hymns, and at least a thousand years before the Kaushitaki Brahmana was composed. The definitely post-Vedic book Vedanga Jyotisha gives two independent astronomical data that both necessitate its being written in the 14th century BCE, again centuries before its conventional date.

She has tried to explain this away by opining that the authors must have described reminiscences of earlier positions passed down by their ancestors. But this is impossible: the Vedanga Jyotisha is a hands-on work on observational astronomy: it tells priests where to look in the sky when they want to conduct their rituals.

What a strange world it would be, where everybody describes ancestral observations but no one describes what he himself actually sees. So, her escape clause is an explicit admission of what too many historians only do silently: ignore the findings of an important science adjacent and relevant to history-writing. The situation is that a handful of astronomical data consistently support a higher chronology, that not one of them supports the established low chronology, and that nonetheless most scholars in India and abroad proceed as if these data were not a permanent challenge to their conventional chronology.

► SB: While it’s known that even today, Prof Thapar seems unwilling or unable to let go of the now-discredited Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory, what is interesting is that from the beginning of her career as a historian of ancient India, she like many of others of her school, seem to have a penchant for propounding a theory (or at best a hypothesis) based on the absence of evidence. If this sort of thing is done in the sciences, the concerned scholar would not last a second in the academia no matter what his/her standing or experience. Yet she seems to have largely gotten away with it over the course of her long career. In which case, has history and humanities in general become free-for-all?

► KE: To be sure, historians have to navigate between many uncertainties and unknowns. Some of these may be resolved through research or by unexpected discoveries, others will be your companion throughout your career. So you ought to exercise some clemency here and accept that the rules of the hard sciences do not always apply to history. Even so, her school could indeed have done better in the Aryan origins debate.

In terms of the evidence now available, you are right to call the Invasion Theory (which some weasels now prefer to call a Migration Theory, though it amounts to the same thing) “discredited”. But in terms of academic opinion, it is not yet discredited at all.

I have participated in a number of Indo-Europeanist conferences where the linguists present had often not even heard that there exists an Indian indigenist theory, an “Out-of-India Theory”. And if they had heard of it, they did not bother to study it, because they had also been cautioned that it was supported by evil Hindu nationalists. Note that this is a very unscholarly attitude: a real scholar would realize that someone’s motive for supporting a theory implies nothing whatsoever for the correctness of that theory.

If it did, how could anyone ever support the Aryan Invasion Theory, as she does? That theory is many times more politically connoted than the Indian Homeland Theory. It was politically used in many more countries, for a much longer time, and not by some ivory-tower scholars but from positions of power.

It was used by British colonialism, by the Nazis, by the Nehruvians, the Ambedkarites (in spite of B.R. Ambedkar’s own opposition to it), the Dravidianists and the Christian missionaries in India. It is politicized through and through.

Yet Prof Thapar, like most academics concerned, supports it. But she is right to ignore these political taints: they are inconsequential for the invasion theory’s correctness. And me too, I treat it as a legitimate competitor in the Homeland debate, though I have finally concluded against it.

► SB: A related question: given her long expostulations on AIT and Harappa in that interview, it appears that she hasn’t perhaps updated herself with the latest in genetics and archaeology, for example, with the kind of dedicated and top-notch work done by say Michel Danino. As someone who continues to closely follow and render your own inputs in this matter, your views, Dr. Elst?

► KE: Here we meet the problem once more that we just discussed: scholars willfully ignoring the conclusions from related disciplines.

Western linguists who support a more westerly Homeland (hence an Aryan invasion from there into India) ignore the findings of Harappan archaeology. The latter only confirms a complete cultural continuity since before the Harappan cities and lasting through their abandonment. It has failed to find a single trace of Aryans entering India.

By contrast, in Central Europe, an invasion from the east ca. 2900 BCE, amply attested both by archaeology and by genetics, has been identified with Indo-Europeanization. That is what an “Aryan invasion” looks like, and it is completely missing in India. Yet, of this state of affairs in Harappan archaeology, Western scholars are completely ignorant; or else they fail to draw conclusions from it for their own field.

Last March I participated in a conference of Indian archaeologists in Delhi. One archaeologist after another testified how his own Harappan excavation site only threw up cultural continuity instead of an Aryan immigrant revolution. Everybody there was skeptical of the invasion theory.

I was sitting next to the nonagenarian éminence grise of Indian archaeology, Prof. B.B. Lal, who had just publicly said: “Vedic and Harappan are but two sides of the same coin.”

At that very time, I received an e-mail from a top American linguist defending a westerly Homeland theory, shared by virtually all his colleagues. I then realized that this was a unique situation: a consensus of top scholars for theory White, and a consensus of scholars in a very related field for theory Black, with neither feeling challenged to respond to the other.

Historians ignoring the astro-chronological evidence, linguists ignoring the archaeological evidence: this is abnormal and unhealthy, and the first thing to do now is to break through these walls and get people to listen to the other side.

Actually, this problem of stonewalling is even worse. There are, for instance, philologists who avoid any association with the sterling philological work of Shrikant Talageri. The topic of “history within the Vedas” is quite legitimate, and has been with us for some two centuries. Nobody has revolutionized this field the way Talageri has.

Yet many students of ancient history or of Vedic literature are ignorant of his work, often willfully so. Come to mention it: his conclusions are right inside Romila Thapar’s field, so she ought to speak out on it. Fifteen years after the publication of his book The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, it is about time. (Abroad, top philologists H.H. Hock and M. Witzel, two Germans working in the US, have spoken out, and Talageri has also answered them.) And merely parroting smug denunciations will not do, at least not for a top historian like Romila Thapar.

► SB: It is also interesting to note in the interview how, after still holding on to said theories about an Aryan Invasion, and falsely extrapolating “some sort of a horse sacrifice” in Central Asia which has a “later reflection in the Vedic corpus” [i.e. Ashwamedha], the interview quickly jumps to how all those who disagree with the AIT are breeding a “chauvinistic attitude,” and how therefore India is not the “greatest of all civilisations,” and further, how accepting ancient India’s greatness would again lead to “the disastrous direction that Aryanism took in Europe in the 20th century” and cautions of how “Historical theories coupled with extreme nationalism and the politics of identity can have severe consequences….” I don’t see this as anything different from the standard, Marxist-template-ish discourse that we’re all familiar with. So, is this a stubborn insistence on a pet theory that refuses to come to terms with reality or is it something else?

► KE: As Talageri has shown, the horse sacrifice originates in the Vedic period and then becomes prominent. Subsequently it was exported to Central Asia.

If remains of an Ashwamedha are found there, it is not earlier but later than the Vedic testimonies of this ritual. Its performers are not on the way to, but on the way out from India. There is no need at all to deny the Central-Asian findings related to the Veda, only the implied chronology of the Vedas is wrong. Which is no wonder, as the present chronology is not based on anything.

If scholars write, say, “Kena Upanishad (ca. 500 BCE)”, I always wonder: “How do they know that?” For doing proper history, the first thing to straighten out is the chronology of ancient India. In that respect, Romila Thapar has always been a follower, not a leader. Her school has been dominant for half a century, yet no progress at all was made in this respect, they merely parroted the dates that British scholars had thought up.

Perhaps she is too old now to change her mind in view of new evidence, but I don’t think she is attached to a non-Indian Homeland per se. She just hates the Hindu nationalists. Now that these are openly supporting the Indian Homeland hypothesis (which has existed for more than 200 years, since well before the notion of “Hindutva” even existed), she just has to oppose this theory any which way.

As for her allusions to Nazism, that is really rich. Let us be clear that the Nazis completely supported the Aryan Invasion Theory, like she does. Hitler, Thapar, same struggle!

This theory was the perfect paradigm of the Nazi worldview: (1) the dynamic White Aryans trekked all the way to India and naturally defeated the indolent Black Aborigines; (2) these race-conscious Aryans imposed the caste system as an apartheid system to protest their racial purity, an example to follow; (3) unfortunately, some race-mixing took place nonetheless, and the Aryan castes, though still superior to the Aborigines, became inferior to their European Aryan cousins; (4) but fortunately, now they were being uplifted again by the rulership of their British cousins, the best thing that ever happened to India.

Though Subhas Bose and many millions of Indians expected Hitler, with all his vegetarianism and swastika, to support them against the British, Hitler actually glorified the British Empire and had offered German manpower and expertise to administer it. He thought the leaders of the Freedom Movement should be shot and India put back in its place, for he thought he was having the best interests of the darker races in mind when he tried to keep them in subjugation to a “superior” white nation.

Yes, there is plenty of criticism of the Hindutva movement (I myself have written quite a bit of it), but here it is really on the right side. Opposing the Aryan Invasion Theory is not only defensible from a scholarly viewpoint, it also happens to be politically correct.

Most people don’t judge a theory by whether it is true, but by the company it puts them in. If a truth is spoken by a despised group, they will feign to oppose this truth, and even interiorize that position. So, anyone desiring to be in the good books of the international establishment, will oppose an Indian Homeland.

Mind you, in this respect (in contrast with the economic realm), the Modi regime is not yet part of the establishment, and it doesn’t invest in a serious (as opposed to a flaky) redrawing of the scholarly power equation. It is still fashionable to laugh at the Indian Homeland position, so if Thapar chooses the safe side, the reason may not be any deeper than this: it need not be true, but it’s cosy. People who are not just camp-followers of the Aryan Invasion Theory, but who can actually defend it with serious arguments, are only a few. She is not one of them.

► SB: Equally, when Prof Thapar claims that “Questions that are historically debatable should be treated as such, with scholars holding variant views and each one’s views being weighed in terms of the evidence,” there’s something amiss, eerie even. As you’re aware, there’s a vast body of precisely such variant views, evidence, etc, which I’m sure she’s aware of yet doesn’t deign to even mention. Further, she mentions that this kind of thing “reduces the possibility of a historical debate.” Over the last three decades at least, accomplished scholars like Sita Ram Goel, Ram Swarup, yourself, Vishal Agarwal, Dr. Rajaram, Dr. Meenakshi Jain and others have painstakingly produced volumes aimed at fostering precisely this historical debate. Is this both willful blindness to and denial and/or dismissal of alternate/opposing/different views?

► KE: Last summer, two important Indo-Europeanist conferences took place in my neighborhood, in Leiden (Netherlands) and in Marburg (Germany). They commemorated the decipherment of Hittite one hundred years ago. Most linguistic arguments for a westerly Homeland are easy to shoot down. That is why most believers always tell you that the proof exists—only it is someone else who has provided it.

My own professor of Indo-European linguistics said that linguistics couldn’t really decide it but that it “had been proven” by the archaeologists. Most people there are like Indian civil servants, expert at passing the buck. But at those conferences, there were a few people who said they themselves had the proof for a Pontic Homeland.

It is essentially this: Indo-European and Uralic were originally one family, maybe 10,000 years ago, somewhere in Bactria-Sogdia. This language moved westward to the Ural-Pontic region and was adopted by locals speaking Northwest-Caucasian, an ergative language (i.e. the object of a verb-with-object, e.g. “he sees her”, is in the same case as the subject of a verb-without-object, e.g. “she goes”) with heavy consonant clusters but few vowels—unlike Uralic but like Sanskrit. This substrate influence of Northwest-Caucasian is sought to explain the Indo-European declension system and other grammatical traits, and its heavy consonant clustering.

Already two remarks: other leading linguists at these conferences were skeptical of this scenario, and the same linguistic traits (ergative structure, consonant clustering) equally count for Tibetan, the immediate neighbor of Manali and Ayodhya, where Aryan history began according to the Puranas. Just to say that this is not gospel truth, just a theory. But this is now the backbone of the belief in a westerly Homeland, and the Indian Homeland School should respond to it.

But then a third remark: this theory was developed in perfect ignorance of Kazanas’s and Talageri’s argumentation for an Indian Homeland. While our side should indeed keep up with developments within the Aryan Invasion School, they should do the same, and so far they haven’t.

Unlike the American Indologists, who are hand in glove with the Indian secularists and openly partisan, these European linguists know little of Indian politics and would be open to pro-Indigenist arguments on merit. They would only demand that these are methodologically sound.

Unfortunately, anti-Hindu intellectuals act as gate-keepers and make communication between India and the West difficult for non-established Indian historians. Then again, today there are ways to get around this, and at least my own little person is working to get this debate going.

This is my own initiative: the organized Hindu movement should take an advance on the results, and it will eventually reap the fruits, but it is not doing anything at all to further this research and this debate.

And this makes me think of one more important aspect of the Aryan debate. A debater confident of his position will seek to debate the strongest version of the opposing position. In that case, the Thapar School would have discussed Talageri’s work threadbare. In reality, they prefer to highlight the Hindutva people who think “history-rewriting” means restating Puranic accounts of history. They seek out the weakest version and then thump their chest at having refuted or ridiculed it. This is seeking cheap success rather than seeking the truth. It is a trick used by the not-so-competent.

► SB: A common strand that runs throughout Prof Thapar’s interview is how she alleges that, starting from the Harappan civilization, the “nationalist” and “chauvinist” “version” of Indian history denies diversity, and how this denial is rooted in the “the fear of having to see the past differently, that is, of seeing it as complex interactions of diverse cultures”. This is ridiculous at worst, and ironical to say the least given that right from the Vedic corpus to the massive volumes of dharmashastric texts, local customs, traditions, etc … all of these reflect the contrary: of an all-inclusive umbrella that has incorporated precisely this diversity. For example, it’s well known that Jagannatha in Puri is actually what’s known as a “tribal God.” Thus, contrary to what Prof Thapar claims, if fear was at the root, the “tribal God” of Puri would’ve been destroyed long ago. Exactly how does this pass of as history much less “history reading” and “scholarship?”

► KE: The Thapar School is very status-conscious. When I studied the RSS, I thought it was an RSS trait that they will hire as a guest speaker an enemy with status rather than a friend without it.

But I now realize it is rooted in a pan-Hindu trait shared by Hindu-born secularists. In fact, it is a universal trait but with important exceptions. In the West, and especially in the US, they appreciate new ideas even if they are brought by someone coming in from the wild. There, the emphasis in on creativity, and it doesn’t matter what status or entitlement/adhikara you have; if it works, it’s alright. So when they have a difference of opinion with anyone, they will natural take a condescending pose, like alleging that your position is not “scholarly”.

► SB: Talking about cultural nationalism, Prof Thapar claims that “Traditions, as we know from history, are invented through the generations or on particular occasions.” This is quite a bold claim to make given that I don’t think anyone can use the word “invent” with “tradition.” From my limited studies, traditions just grow organically, in a way, to say, as collective and mutually shared social and religious practices over several generations. My question is twofold: (a) What is the motive behind making such assertions in the context of cultural nationalism? and (b) How does Prof Thapar link this with her other claim that “The construction of cultural nationalism can be rooted in colonial interpretations of a culture, rather than in interpretations that might have existed in pre-colonial times?”

► KE: It is simply true that in the colonial period, Indians have acquired a self-perception that didn’t exist before. Swami Vivekanada and Gandhi strongly promoted the idea that India is spiritual while the West is materialistic.

But even before Muslim and British colonialism, Hindus had already started reinterpreting their past.

Puranic Hindus paid lip-service to the God-given revealed Vedas whereas the Vedic seers themselves knew that the hymns were not revealed by a Supreme Being but skillfully composed by human poets.

Ancient Hindus wrote the Vedas, medieval Hindus crawled before the Vedas. Most Hindus believe that the seers Vishvamitra and Vasishtha had a caste-based rivalry, because at a later time caste had become very important, whereas the Rig-Veda doesn’t mention anything about caste. So, the distant past is distorted by the recent past and by the present, and it is part of the historians’ job to reconstruct the events as they looked to their own agents.

A different but related distortion: the recent past obscuring the distant past. I see this in the Aryan debate all the time. So many internet Hindus resolve to disprove the Aryan invasion, and then they start fulminating about Max Müller.

I don’t care what Max Müller said or did, he lived in the 19th century whereas we seek to know what happened thousands of years ago. The supposed motives of the coiners and propagators of the theory in the 19th century (colonial, missionary, racist …) cannot possibly say anything whatsoever about the facts of the Indo-European dispersal more than 5000 years ago, or about the presumed Aryan invasion of 3500 years ago.

I compare it to being asked to describe a tree in the distance and then proceeding to describe the nearby window through which you look at that tree. If Hindus want to get anywhere with their Aryan debate, the first thing needed is a moratorium on mentioning anything from the colonial period. All the noise about Max Müller only serves the laziness of people who don’t want to acquire the skills to research ancient history.

► SB: It is a given that in a Romila Thapar interview or essay, at least one question or mention will be made about secularism, the tone and tenor of which we are intimately familiar with. So it is with this interview as well. Here, “I would say that secularism in the same sense means putting religion in its place, and maintaining that religion is not to be the single dominant factor in politics and in society and its institutions. The identity of society has to be an open identity.” Forgive my ignorance Dr. Elst, but what exactly does an “open identity” for a society even mean, even in purely lexical terms?

► KE: Effectively it means: no identity. It certainly means: no majority, for it could put its stamp on the society as a whole. In some respects, I think she is right about this. For Pakistan, for instance, it would be a healthy innovation.

► SB: Prof Thapar also claims without proof that “When one gives a definition of a Hindu, it is generally in terms of members of upper castes since the basis of the definition is from the texts of these groups.” To my knowledge, until British started studying Hinduism systematically (for whatever purposes), nobody in India had even attempted to define the term “Hindu.” Indeed, as far as my knowledge goes, there hasn’t been a comprehensive study that shows how Hindus viewed themselves prior to alien Muslim invasions. And so, on what basis does Prof Thapar claim what she does?

► KE: Lack of historical consciousness. The definition of “Hindu” is very simple. Originally a purely geographical Persian term for “India(n)”, the Muslim invaders introduced it with a mixed geographical-religious meaning: “an Indian Pagan”.

Christians and Muslims were not included because they were not “idolaters”, and Parsis were not because they were not deemed Indian. But all Indian Pagans, including Brahmins and other castes, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), Jains, tribals, even communities yet to be born, like Lingayats, Sikhs, the Ramakrishna Mission, they were all “Hindu”.

In Islamic theology, they were all going to hell anyway. To the Muslims, distinctions of social rank or religious tradition didn’t matter in the least. Their negative definition of “Hindu” was taken over in the definition used in the Hindu Marriage Act, and essentially also in V.D. Savarkar’s definition of “Hindutva”.

Now, I am not at all impressed when you list that so many millions of Sikhs say: ham Hindu nahin! I am not impressed by all the rhetoric with which the R. K. Mission is trying to leave the sinking ship of Hinduism.

“Hindu” is now a dirty word, the secularists have seen to this, and so everybody is running towards the exit, saying: “We are not Hindu.”

Well, this is simply a matter of definition. Tribals who convert to Christianity can legitimately say that they are not Hindus (in spite of the RSS’s weasel position that they are then “Christi Hindus”), but otherwise they are Hindu by definition. Even if millions of people say that “1 + 1 = 4”, I will maintain that it is 2, and I will be proven right in the end.

It is in the Ayodhya debate that I have learned the power of historical scholarship. After the 1989 statement by the JNU historians, starring Romila Thapar, the historical position, though having been a matter of consensus between all the parties involved, was suddenly tabooed.

There had already been partial archaeological excavations confirming that there had been a temple on the site where the Babri Masjid was built. Even if you decided to doubt the consensus, the balance of evidence was already clearly on the side of the temple.

Yet, the whole media and political class, and all the foreign India-watchers, suddenly had to pretend that the historical position was but a ridiculous Hindutva concoction. Well, through all this commotion, the historical facts remained what they were, and they were amply confirmed by the excavations of 2003.

There are still a few Leftists maintaining that there had never been a temple at the site, but most people concerned just look the other way, embarrassed at having been led by the nose so badly. And with such a death toll as a result.

Imagine that this JNU statement had never been made. PM Rajiv Gandhi would have worked out a deal, denounced as “horse-trading” but with the merit of avoiding lots of political commotion and physical violence. He would have bought off the Muslim leadership with some goodies and left the site to the Hindus, thus also boosting his own popularity in the elections. There would not have been an Ayodhya affair, merely the building of just another temple. The BJP was not even on the horizon yet.

But no, the “eminent historians” preferred lies and bloodshed (and apparently also the rise of the BJP). It is not often in history that the intervention of intellectuals has had so much effect at the mass level.

But I was saying that Ayodhya has taught me the power of historical scholarship. There was a lot of hue and cry, there was the demonization of the pro-temple position which I also held—in my personal case there was the veto against any academic position for me. But when all was said and done, we were proven right. All the commotion had made no difference to the facts of history. The “eminent historians” were proven wrong.

Why, in fact, has Romila Thapar been interviewed now? Though she was already well-known, her hour of glory came with the unnecessary and artificial Ayodhya controversy. But in that controversy, she was on the wrong side.

It doesn’t always come about, but in this case it did happen: justice. The wrong side, though absolutely dominant for more than a decade, was proven wrong. Her major claim to fame is now as the historian who was proven wrong, and this in a self-created controversy. I feel for her, she threw away her good reputation at the end of her career.

Then again, she can still win it back by crossing the floor in time. She is in an excellent position, for instance, to create the much-needed dialogue between the different schools and disciplines in East and West; to stop the stonewalling, the guilt-by-association and the ridiculing that obstructs or poisons the debate.

► SB: When asked about the reason for the popularity of the Ramayana, Prof Thapar claims that “Evidence of the widespread popularity of the Ramayana is of course more recent…. I am referring to when the Ramanandi sect begins to propagate the Ramayana and Rama bhakti….” and the Kamba Ramayana and Krittibas. To put it bluntly, the good professor is bluffing. As you’re aware, one of the earliest evidences of Ramayana’s popularity can be had in Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsham, and we know his period generally falls in the 5th century. She also recounts the now-familiar refrain about how Ramayana “celebrates and upholds the patriarchal family order.” While she’s entitled to her interpretations, the political subtext is unmissable. I’d like you to elaborate more on this, Dr. Elst.

► KE: The patriarchal family order is also upheld by the Bible, the Koran etc, yet I can’t remember her protesting against that. Worse is that she judges ancient writings (well, not the Bible or the Koran) by the standards of today, a capital mistake for a historian.

The past is the past, every historian ought to know that; only political propagandists blur the distinction between ancient facts and modern standards.

Anyway, the popularity of the Ramayana is not so important, but you are right that it was a thousand years older than she claims. Her position follows from the anti-Hindu fervor of the Ayodhya controversy. Need we say more about it?

► SB: Throughout the interview, there’s plenty of alarmist talk about how we’re now living in an atmosphere where “hegemonic thoughts” and “obscurantism” are growing, and how the good professor has taken “them on as I often have to do.” Equally, there’s also this condescension that stops short of saying that ordinary people must be lectured to about history etc, and that only historians have a special mandate to change the world or whatever. This again is familiar for anyone who has followed the careers of these Eminent Historians. Yet, even as India has mostly moved on from ideology-as-history, this refrain from these Eminent Historians continues to reverberate. What gives?

► KE: Well, they are old now, and throughout their career this attitude has served them well. I guess they will not change now. It is again this status consciousness, this pulling rank, this looking steeply down on people without adhikara [conferred by these Marxists].

It is a fact, though, that the Modi government and its local dependencies do give the impression of promoting, or at least of giving space to, backward tendencies. There are plenty of Hindus with very backward attitudes and beliefs. That is partly the revenge of a deliberate choice made long ago by Guru Golwalkar. He had a very anti-intellectual prejudice (“do you need to read a book to love your mother?”), which became official policy of the RSS, and as they never listen to feedback; that has remained effective till today.

Just watch how Hindutva spokesmen perform in TV debates: their communication skills are dismal, because they have always despised intellectual work, both in scholarship and on the media front.

► SB: Finally, one must really celebrate the ingenuity of Eminent Historians in coining innovative terminology. Of course, we’re familiar with “otherness,” “upper caste middle class chauvinism,” etc. I came across new ones coined by Prof Thapar here: “Aryanism,” “Sanitised Aryanism,” “Syndicated Hinduism.” Your comments,  Dr. Elst?

► KE: In Europe we have a media-conscious philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, who egged the French president on to invade Libya and oust Colonel Qadhafi—an unqualified disaster, a very dark cloud without any silver lining. But he is very good at coining catchy phrases.

Likewise, I won’t deny that Prof. Thapar has a gift for turning an English phrase and putting her thoughts into sticky new expressions. Good for her. – IndiaFacts, 6 October 2015

» This interview was compiled by the IndiaFacts Team. Sandeep Balakrishna is the IndiaFacts Editor and CEO. Koenraad Elst is a Belgium Indologist and Historian. This interview originally appeared on IndiaFacts with the title “Examining the Marxist Version of India’s Past.”

George Orwell Quote

No more Aurangzeb Road – Ravi Shankar

Aurangzeb Road renamed Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road

Ravi Shankar Etteth“India is a predominantly Hindu nation, as the census says. We have spent decades in self-denial. Conquerors like Aurangzeb are the bottom feeders of Indian history. Let the textbooks show him and his ilk as they really were—psychopaths, bigots and mass killers.” – Ravi Shankar

Mogul Emperor AurangzebHistory is a never-ending blockbuster, bristling with action, murder and assassinations, pogroms, romance, despotism and power. It also constantly reinvents itself. It would take the archaeology of imagination to reconstruct the past, as it had happened before. Or ones which have been erased or destroyed forever. History is also a narrative that can be changed. Stalin knew it. So did Mao Zedong and the Nazis. Also Aurangzeb.

Renaming Aurangzeb Road is the best thing that has happened to Indian history in a long time. India, in its newborn flush in 1947, decided to abandon morality and score moral upmanship over Pakistan, since there is no Jawaharlal Nehru Road or Mahatma Gandhi Marg in that blighted country. So, what the hell, let the Congress show that a majority Hindu nation can set aside its differences with history and celebrate the memory of tyrants and rapists. Hence roads were named after despoilers, mass murderers and violators of India—Aurangzeb, Shah Jehan, Akbar, Babur and others. The Leftist secular conspiracy to sterilise Indian education and portray India’s Muslim conquerors as either benign secularists like Akbar, or aesthetes like Shah Jehan, and Aurangzeb as just a regular guy who imposed a religious tax were fed to generations of students. In textbooks, they shared the pantheon with Rana Pratap Singh, Rana Sanga, Guru Tegh Bahadur, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Pazhassi Raja and Veerapandiya Kattabomman as equals. Babur sacked the Somnath Temple, and destroyed the Ram Temple to build a mosque. Akbar subdued Rajputs mercilessly and created comprador alliances. Shah Jehan destroyed hundreds of temples in Benaras. Aurangzeb was a fratricide who demolished the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, and temples in Khandela, Udaipur, Chittoor, Jodhpur and the reconstructed Somnath Temple, and built large mosques in their place. He destroyed schools run by Hindus. It is doubtful whether any Indian Muslim would like to be associated with this fanatic serial killer in spite of objections from the All India Muslim Personal Law Board members, the pan-Islamic All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, the Shah Waliullah Institute, and Shah Jahan & Mumtaz Mahalothers. The secular argument that Aurangzeb is part of Indian history and cannot be demeaned by knocking his name off a road sign is sheer bilge. Even in a country full of Neo-Nazis, Germany has no Adolf Hitler Strasse. America has no road named after the Ku Klux Klan. No European city has been honoured with Attila’s moniker. No street in Italy bears Mussolini’s name. Not even a Sonia Gandhi Marg. No London square is named after Enoch Powell. But when the Congress government fiddled with history by renaming Delhi’s Curzon Road as Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Queensway as Janpath, York Road as Motilal Nehru Marg, and Connaught Place as Rajiv Chowk, secularists applauded—out with British imperialism. Let’s just stick to Aurangzeb.

India is a predominantly Hindu nation, as the census says. We have spent decades in self-denial. Conquerors like Aurangzeb are the bottom feeders of Indian history. Let the textbooks show him and his ilk as they really were—psychopaths, bigots and mass killers. India is on the road to revival. The names of tyrants have no place on the highways of modernity. – The New Indian Express, 6 September 2015

» Ravi Shankar Etteth is an author, cartoonist and columnist for The New Indian Express. Email him at ravi@newindianexpress.com

Aurangzeb's general order for the demolition of Hindu temples (9th April 1669) included the Somnath Temple in Gujarat.

Demolition of Keshava Rai Temple, Mathura, by order of Aurangzeb

Shivaji leaving Aurangzeb's court in anger.

Hindus forced to pay the jizya tax.

Prince Dara Shukoh paraded in public before being executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb.

Aurangzeb's firman ordering the demolition of the Vishwanath Temple at Varanasi in August 1669 CE

Image Reference

The need for a resurgent Bharat – Vamadeva Shastri

Abhaya Mudra

Vamadeva Shastri / David FrawleyA nation is largely defined according to its history. There is a great battle going on relative to the history of India. After independence, history studies and national institutions, such as the Indian Council of Historical Research, were dominated by socialists, if not Marxists, who were naturally hostile to the older dharmic culture of the region. … When the greatness of India’s past, such as the extensive urban sites along the ancient Sarasvati River were discovered, this largely Delhi intelligentsia found little to be proud of or made known. The older Vedic period was reduced and not made into anything foundational for India as a whole. It was treated as a limited culture said to originate from outside of India in Central Asia.” – Pandit Vamadeva Shastri

BharatvarshaThere is an ongoing battle occurring at many levels relative to the concept of India and what India is, was and is meant to be. This is not merely a scholarly debate to arrive at truth but resembles more a struggle for power. Whoever controls the idea of India, as presented at media, education and government levels, to a great extent controls the country along with its resources, and shapes its future.

In this debate about India, the term Bharat—which is the correct and long-term name for the country—is usually left out, as that would immediately change the tenor of the discussion.

Bharat is the traditional name of India and is enshrined in the constitution, showing that those framed the constitution were aware of the importance of the term and its equivalence for India as a whole. Article 1(1) of the Constitution states, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”

If we use the term Bharat for India a number of issues of the nature and identity of the country are automatically solved. Bharat is the name of India in the region’s literature going back to Vedic times and shows a continuity of the country for thousands of years.

If we look at India only since 1947, we start with the idea of partition and tend to build upon it with further partitions and divisions of culture, people and language, each with its own separate identity. Those who are biased against the older history of India avoid the term Bharat so that they can redefine India today as if it no real past as a country before 1947, which allows them to turn the country into what they would like it to be, with no specific culture of its own.

Some modern thinkers say that India as a country was invented by the British during the period of colonial rule, who put together under a single administration the diverse group of peoples, countries, cultures and languages of the subcontinent, which overall had little in common to begin with. Other credit the Moguls (who called India “Hindustan”) for providing some sense of national unity to the far-flung land.

If we use the term Bharat, no one can say that there is no unity of culture, civilization or history to the region. Bharat implies a history of the country going back to the famous Vedic emperor Bharata, one of the early kings in the ancient Puru dynasty said to have reigned long before Rama, Krishna or Buddha.

Bharatiya Samskriti: The Culture of Dharma

Indian culture translates as “Bharatiya Samskriti” in the older terminology of the region, which also explains a lot as to what it is. Indian culture is not something invented over the last century or two and enshrined in the intellectual circles of modern Delhi. Indian culture is Bharatiya Samskriti, the culture of Bharat.

Samskrit is not simply a language but a way of culture and refinement, and a body of knowledge. The idea of Bharatiya Samskriti naturally brings back the culture of Bharatiya or Indian classical music, dance, poetry, philosophy, medicine, mathematics and science, and aims at a renaissance for them in the modern age. It includes the Prakrits or regional languages of the country as well as their cultural traditions, which are all linked together.

The culture of classical India or Bharatiya Samskriti is first of all a culture of dharma. It is built upon an effort to understand the dharma of all life and all aspects of human life and culture. This dharmic culture embraces a pluralism of spiritual paths, including the many sects of Hinduism, as well as Buddhists, Jain, and Sikhs and can be extended to anyone who honors a pluralistic view and respect for the whole of life.

Who are those who uphold the culture of Bharata or Bharatiya Samskriti in India today? It is not the English language media or even most of academia. These groups may address aspects of the traditional culture, but usually in a fragmentary manner, forgetting the overall connections, examining local folk customs in isolation for example. Or they may denigrate the idea that there was any overriding culture for the region as a whole.

Those who uphold the culture of Bharat are now on the periphery and often criticized as narrow-minded or out of date, though the dharmic culture of classical India or Bharat cultivated a broader view of life and consciousness than what we see in predominant modern ideologies and educational trends. Yet these voices of Bharat can still be heard and are making their present felt again.

This means that there is no need to create a new Indian culture post-independence in order to bring unity and identity to the country. The need is to honour the ongoing continuity of Bharatiya and Dharmic culture, its relevance for the future and its ability to adapt itself to the times, including its capacity to embrace and integrate diverse views. If India is a free and democratic country today, it is because of its history as Bharat.

Yet Dharmic culture is not confined to the boundaries of any political or religious system or dogma. This Bharatiya Dharmic culture was not limited to the subcontinent of India but spread throughout Asia and influenced Europe and much of the rest of the world as well. Yet it was in Bharat itself that this characteristic dharmic civilization most took root and survived.

Bharatiya culture is largely a culture of knowledge and promotes learning, considering meditation as the most important form of study that one can do. The symbol of Bharatiya culture is the Yogi or Buddha sitting in meditation pose. This dharmic culture of knowledge can embrace science as well as spirituality and sees consciousness as the underlying ground of the entire universe. The Bharatiya tradition of learning and knowledge is the basis for the success of India’s diaspora in the US, UK and western world.

There are those who say that India is an inclusive concept but Bharat is communal because it is mainly Hindu, though Hindu Dharma itself has a pluralistic and respectful view of life. But traditional Bharat never tried to invade and conquer other countries. There us no history of wars of religious conquest or conversion by Bharatiya armies, or any Bharata based colonial rule and exploitation of other lands.

The Bharatiya model is an excellent model for the modern era in which we must integrate a number of cultures from throughout the world. Compared to the inclusive and synthetic Bharatiya model of culture, socialist and Marxist models are narrow, repressive and materialistic. Even the capitalist model lacks the depth of the dharmic approach and its sense of compassion.

What should be our model for defining India, if not Bharata? Is it China, the Soviet Union, the EU or the USA? Is it Nehruvian socialism, Bengali communism, European nationalism, or American consumerism? These may have some benefits but reflect much more circumscribed views of human life and culture.


Bharat has the longest and most extensive literary continuity of any modern country or culture. This extends through its massive Sanskrit literature to the main local languages from Tamil to Hindi, which are linked to Sanskrit, and often have larger literatures of their own than the literature of modern European countries.

The concept of Bharata as comprising the entire subcontinent of India is clear in the Mahabharata itself, which is over two thousand years old. The Mahabharata embraces every portion of greater India from Sri Lanka in the South to Uttara Kuru or the lands beyond the Himalayas to the north.

The Mahabharata is not just a story of ancient kings but outlines the kingdoms, countries and cultures of the region. It reflects all the main sects of Hindu Dharma as Vaishnava, Shaiva, Ganapata, and Shakta but also honors freedom of thought and inquiry, with extensive dialogues examining numerous subjects, spiritual and mundane. It discusses the rule and laws of kings and the role of dharma in all aspects of life. No other country or region, whether Europe, China or the Middle East, has a text of such extent and a continuity of culture as the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata looks back on the older Vedic tradition, which originated in the Saraswati region of North India over five thousand years ago, when the Saraswati was a great river. Yet today it is in Kerala in the South that we find the strictest adherence to Vedic rituals and practices, showing the extent of influence of this ancient culture.

Saraswati RiverThe Battle Over History

A nation is largely defined according to its history. There is a great battle going on relative to the history of India. After independence, history studies and national institutions, such as the ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research) were dominated by socialists, if not Marxists, who were naturally hostile to the older dharmic culture of the region.

Their goal was to emphasize a new India defined in the post-independence era that was removed from its traditional past. There were a few traditional figures like Ashok and Akbar who were brought in as historical precedents of their idea of India, but much of the history of the country was ignored. When the greatness of India’s past, such as the extensive urban sites along the ancient Saraswati River were discovered, this largely Delhi intelligentsia found little to be proud of or made known. The older Vedic period was reduced and not made into anything foundational for India as a whole. It was treated as a limited culture said to originate from outside of India in Central Asia.

Today the Archaeological Survey of India and Geological Survey of India have placed the Vedic period on a firm footing, showing a continuity of culture in the Saraswati region from the beginnings of agriculture before 7000 BCE to the drying up of the Saraswati River around 1900 BC.

We can identify the early Vedic period with the period from 7000-3100 BCE. Curiously when the Greek scholar Megasthenes visited India along with Alexander’s armies, he noted a tradition of 153 kings going back over 6400 years to a date of around 6776 BCE. This suggests a continuity of dynasties in the region going back a very long time.

We can identify the late Vedic period from 3100-1900 BCE with the urban Harappan period, in which the Saraswati River was already in decline, which is how we find the river described in several later Brahmana texts, in Mahabharata and in Manu Smriti.

The New Battle for Delhi

Delhi is the seat of government in India. But it is also the main center for the English language media and academia in the country, which often uncritically reflects the opinions of its western education and values. This Delhi intelligentsia has had the main role in defining India in recent decades, though the culture of Delhi, particularly of its ruling elite, is very different from the culture of most of the country.

The Delhi elite has redefined India largely in a Nehruvian-socialist-Marxist image, mainly as India after 1947. They have tried to make classical India into a foreign culture or something merely regional, while glorifying recent political trends in the West as capable of defining and raising up India as a modern nation.

Even today we have well-known communists appearing in the media, pretending to be defenders of India and examples of intellectual thinking, tolerance and compassion, though their comrades throughout the world have largely been thrown out of power, with their views discredited.

The Post-Marxist Era and the Twenty First Century

We need to redefine India in the post-colonial, post-Marxist era, which requires the rediscovery of Bharat. While India did throw off the British rule at an outer level in 1947, the rule of colonial based concepts, biases and institutions continued. These were gradually combined with Marxist and leftist concepts that maintained the denigration of the older dharmic culture of the region.

The great majority of Marxist countries in the world came to an end in the period from 1989-1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies. China has moved away from a Marxist orientation and is now re-embracing its Confucian past. Russia once more emulates the Czars and the Russian Orthodox Church. Yet India’s intellectuals continue to promote Marxist ideas in India’s universities as if Marxism were still an important and innovative trend in world thought.

India Resurgent as Bharat

India today in the twenty-first century is becoming resurgent as Bharat, because that is the actual foundation of the country through its enduring culture throughout the centuries.

India’s great dharmic traditions—including Yoga, Vedanta, Buddhism and Ayurveda—have gained respect throughout the world, with millions of followers in every continent. It is this older dharmic culture of Bharat that the world looks up to and hopes India develops, not the recent India of the Nehru dynasty.

Economically speaking, India is rising up today only by casting off the Marxist-Nehruvian-socialist yoke and embracing its own older Vaishya, merchant and dharmic economic traditions, which are similarly an integral part of Bharat. India was not poor when it was Bharat. It became poor when it ceased to be Bharat.

Bharat MataBharat Mata as Mother India

The land of Bharat has always been regarded as Bharat Mata, Mother India. This is not a cultural concept defined by aggression, intolerance, and materialism, but one that honors Mother Earth and Mother Nature and sees culture as a mother who nurtures us, not as a social control mechanism.

Bharat Mata is also Yoga Mata and regards human culture as a movement towards Yoga and the evolution of consciousness, such as Sri Aurobindo so eloquently proclaimed. Bharat Mata is Ma Durga, the protective force the takes us from darkness to light. She is Bharata Bhavani, Mother India as the mother of life and culture. Bharat Mata embodies the Yoga Shakti or power of spiritual striving in humanity. She is not the imposition of a religious concept upon the country but a poetic/spiritual representation of the soul of its people and its dharmic ethos.

Bharat was traditionally Vishvaguru or the world guru among nations for many centuries. People came from throughout Asia and the Middle East to study at its great centers of learning like Takshashila and Nalanda. Bharat was famous for its spiritual and scientific knowledge but also for its art, philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and material prosperity.

Bharat remained prosperous until the period of British rule, showing that the colonial rulers did not raise India up but pulled it down. Colonial rulers tried to remove Bharat and in its place substitute an artificial idea of India, made according to their own biases, which they therefore had the right to rule.

Bharat Mata can be the Vishvaguru or the world guru, but India as defined by the last hundred years only cannot. It is time for Bharat to arise again and awaken the world to a greater destiny and higher awareness that goes back to its great ancient seers and yogis. A resurgent Bharat is of tremendous value for the entire world, if not essential for the future of humanity. – Vedanet, 13 August 2015

» Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (Dr David Frawley) is an author and Sanskrit scholar recognized as a Vedacharya in India. His scope of studies include Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient teachings of the Rigveda. He is the Director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Raksha Bandhan
Raksha Bandhan
Bindeshwari Pathak
Narendra Modi

History is factual and seamless – Sandhya Jain

Chronos (Time)

Sandhya Jain is the editor of Vijayvaani.“As modern India renews ties with Central Asian nations with whom we lost our land links due to Partition, it would help to teach students that while it is a colonial (and post-colonial) fantasy that the Aryans raced down the Central Asian steppes, the Mongols and medieval Turks took this route in their quest for empire. For a century between 1221 and 1327, the Mongols raided the subcontinent, subduing Kashmir and occupying much of modern Pakistan and Punjab. … The Great Khans rank among the world’s greatest imperialists, overrunning Russia, China, and Central Asia.” — Sandhya Jain

Narendra Modi & Islam KarimovAt the banquet hosted for Mr Modi, Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov said, “Quite a lot of history, literature, music, painting and architecture of the Uzbek and Indian people, their mutual enrichment and mutual penetration is linked with the name of our great ancestor Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur and his descendants, with everlasting heritage which they left to humanity”. He added, “ancient Indian culture, which strikes with its depth, perfect form and variety, exerted and continues to exert a startling influence on many countries of the Orient. It is for this very reason that today India and its diligent people enjoy a stable respect in our country”.

Babur, of Mongol-Uzbek descent, founded the Moghul empire; Hindu memory of his legacy clashes with that of the Uzbek, for whom he ranks as a warrior of the genre of Chengez Khan, in an age when History belonged to the conqueror. But the larger point being made by President Karimov is that history is factual—it cannot be undone—and seamless. The continuity of Time links apparently tectonic ruptures.

Hence Chronology (from the Greek god, Chronos, Time) is the backbone of History, against which students are taught about nations and civilisations. Yet textbooks of the erstwhile UPA government, currently under review for correction, are remarkable for persistent disrespect to chronology, depriving tender minds of a coherent sense of history. Some chapters of Indian history have a mixed, even vexed, legacy; shying away from the factual narrative (which alone is required at school level) can only produce an intellectually handicapped citizenry.

The NCERT Social Science textbook, Our Pasts, for Class VII (12-year-olds), deals with new dynasties such as the Rashtrakutas and Cholas in a chapter that suddenly mentions Mahmud of Ghazni, though there was no link between them. The chapter on Delhi Sultanate omits the Turkish invasions which were the backdrop to its establishment. Possibly the intention is to project the Sultanate as an indigenous kingdom, a grave distortion.

Qutbu l-Din Aibak, founder of the Delhi Sultanate, is ignored, while there is sudden mention of Iltutmish as father of Razia, a short-lived ruler of no consequence. This chapter discusses architecture of the Sultanate era, mainly the Quwwat-ul Islam mosque, while a later chapter mentions the Qutb Minar. The eminent historians who oversaw the project (the Who’s Who of history scholars) were so confused that Sultanate architecture again figures in the chapter on Mughal architecture! It mentions the Mongols, without linking them to developments of the time.

BaburAs modern India renews ties with Central Asian nations with whom we lost our land links due to Partition, it would help to teach students that while it is a colonial (and post-colonial) fantasy that the Aryans raced down the Central Asian steppes, the Mongols and medieval Turks took this route in their quest for empire. For a century between 1221 and 1327, the Mongols raided the subcontinent, subduing Kashmir and occupying much of modern Pakistan and Punjab. Their ingress brought them into conflict with the Delhi Sultanate. Hulagu Khan’s desire for conquests in the west took the bulk of the Mongol armies towards Baghdad and Syria, sparing India, though wars continued. In Baghdad, the Mongols converted to Islam; native Mongolians remained Buddhist. The Great Khans rank among the world’s greatest imperialists, overrunning Russia, China, and Central Asia.

Korean Buddhist monk Hyecho, called in Sanskrit Prajñāvikram (704 -- 787 CE). He travelled to India in 723 CE to acquaint himself with the language and culture of the land of the Buddha.It is a safe bet that average students do not know that the Turks originated in Central Asia; the Arab armies converted them to Islam in the seventh century and blocked the land route by which Chinese pilgrims came to India. Korean pilgrim Hyecho was possibly the last to take this route, and witnessed the changes being wrought by the new faith.

It is these ancient land routes—beaten out by traders and pilgrims and followed by armies—that Asia’s contemporary rulers want to revive to mutual advantage; hence the International North South Transport Corridor, BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Ashgabat Agreement, Silk Road Economic Belt and Eurasian Economic Union. Ignorance of history can only be a handicap to the rising generation.

All nations joining these initiatives are equally concerned with terrorism. There are the Chechens in Russia, Uighurs in China, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda and multiple groups in Pakistan and India. Iran is helping Iraq fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Closer home, fundamentalism in undivided Bengal, specially the Great Calcutta Killing of 1946, forced the Congress to succumb to Partition. But, in recent times, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has emerged as the foremost leader fighting jihadis; she is also denying sanctuary to northeast insurgents from India. To reciprocate, Prime Minister Narendra Modi persuaded West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to help resolve the vexed land boundary dispute with Dhaka. Both nations are now working on the sharing of Teesta waters, and will hopefully tackle the issue of illegal immigrants.

History is thus a continuum. Hence, it is inexplicable how purging Rana Pratap from the story of Akbar makes better history. Even the fact that the early Mughals distrusted and fought the Afghans is suppressed to project the ruling elite as a composite balance of foreign and Indian ethnic groups. Actually, the Mughals incorporated the Marathas much later in a bid to pacify them when they could not be crushed militarily.

Temple destruction may be mentioned or omitted altogether. But centuries of iconoclasm by Muslim armies cannot be equated with stray instances of Hindu rulers taking the tutelary deity of a defeated king to their own realms. The great Vijayanagar empire; the stressful relations between the Sikh Gurus and Jehangir and subsequent emperors, particularly the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur, have place in an honest history. Any reference to Shivaji is meaningless without explaining Aurangzeb’s 25-year bid to expand the Mughal empire into the Deccan. In sum, the modification of textbooks is overdue. – Vijayvaani, 15 July 2015  

» Sandhya Jain is a writer of political and contemporary affairs for The Pioneer, New Delhi. She edits an opinions forum, Vijayvaaniand contributes to a web portal, Niticentral.

NCERT History Textbook 'Our Pasts'

Reclaim civilisational self from shallow history texts – Anirban Ganguly

Dr Anirban Ganguly“Political considerations, ideological affiliations—especially of those who have always tried to establish an imported ideology—of well-resourced groups who have thrived in the Western academia by projecting India as a society in perpetual conflict and instability, has largely influenced the study of history. Their prime political objective, despite their arguments to the contrary, has been to generate confusion and to finally deconstruct Bharat’s civilisational self-perception.” – Dr Anirban Ganguly

R.C. MajumdarIn the preface to his three-volume classic, History of the Freedom Movement in India, R. C. Majumdar (1888-1980), one of India’s most distinguished 20th century historians, made a very telling remark, especially relevant to teaching the history of the Indian freedom  movement to young learners. “I have not hesitated,” wrote Majumdar, “to speak out the truth, even if it is in conflict with views cherished and propagated by distinguished political leaders for whom I have the greatest respect.” He also argued that a “solid structure of mutual amity and understanding cannot be built on the quicksands of false history and political expediency.”

One notices a compartmentalised and selective approach to the study of India, especially when examining the freedom struggle and the role of various regions and leaders. How many, for example, have been taught in some detail, of the rebellions against the East India Company rule in the southern region between 1800 and 1801? Why is the Northeast’s contribution to the freedom struggle and its pre-British civilisational identity and achievements not highlighted, researched and taught? Shall we not marvel to know how V. O. Chidambaram Pillai launched a Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company and challenged the British monopoly of the shipping sector until he was held, charged with sedition, and sentenced to life imprisonment? Sri V.O. Chidambaram PillaiAurobindo’s columns in Vande Mataram still stir the depths of our being and shape our patriotic sentiments. Ranima Gaidinliu’s exploits continue to inspire, as does the poetry of the revolutionary Subramaniam Bharati. Sister Nivedita’s contribution to strengthening scientific research in India against great colonial opposition is worth knowing.

Political considerations, ideological affiliations—especially of those who have always tried to establish an imported ideology—of well-resourced groups who have thrived in the Western academia by projecting India as a society in perpetual conflict and instability, has largely influenced the study of history. Their prime political objective, despite their arguments to the contrary, has been to generate confusion and to finally deconstruct Bharat’s civilisational self-perception. Therefore, all episodes in our history that have strengthened that civilisational self-perception, any individual or movement that has derived inspiration from Bharat’s civilisational self or has worked to discover and disseminate its achievements has been marginalised and suppressed.

So opportunistic and shallow has been the commitment to officially write the history of the freedom struggle that Marxist historians who got down to writing it could never complete it despite spending crores of taxpayers’ money and working on it for over four decades. The “Towards Freedom” project that continues to languish was essentially handed over to a group of scholars with no known commitment to India’s civilisational  K. M. Panikkarethos and who used the opportunity to perpetuate a political line and to exonerate a political class whose only contribution to the struggle for freedom was through collaboration with colonialists and imperialists in suppressing the movement itself.

But finally, there seems to be a gradual reversal of that approach. Attempts are being made to rediscover and re-interpret, as inspiring icons, many marginalised personalities who have made epochal contributions to shape our civilisational self and world view. Efforts are being made to study and disseminate their contributions, the contributions of historical episodes, events and achievements that have instilled a genuine civilisational sense in us. The compartmentalised approach is being challenged and questioned, new ideas, hitherto suppressed, are finding voice.

Such first steps towards restating our civilisational self is an urgent necessity, it alone can lead towards achieving that second dimension of freedom—the freedom of the mind, self and self-perception. – The New Indian Express, 15 August 2015

» Dr Anirban Ganguly is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. Email anirbangan@gmail.com

History of India

The first step towards de-mythifying Nehru – Anirban Ganguly

Dr Anirban Ganguly“The book’s manner of discussing Nehru’s shortcomings directly and unequivocally, and basing the discussion on solid primary and secondary sources, and its way of linking Nehru’s legacy to the challenges of the present Indian polity make the study even more interesting. The predominant Nehruvian narrative has almost always depicted him as a great democrat, liberal, man of vision and an indefatigable administrator. Singh’s work challenges each of these assumptions and through a complex web of arguments and analysis proves the hollowness or unilateralism of these.” – Dr Anirban Ganguly

Jawaharlal Nehru was the archetypical Indian brown sahib.When he had just been two years in office, Prime Minister Nehru once wrote to a close colleague expressing a view which would, 15 years later, in a sense define the decadent political legacy he would eventually leave behind. “I have repeatedly made a mess of things, but, I hope, I have not forgotten the major ideals which Gandhiji taught us…. His (Gandhiji’s) face comes up before me, gentle and reproachful, sometimes I read his writings, and how he asked us to stick to this or that to death, whatever others said or did. And yet these very things we were asked to stick to slip away from our grasp. Is that to be the end of our labour?” Indeed, after an uninterrupted 17 years of steering the ship of the Indian state, Nehru had led the nation “up the blind alley”.

R. N. P. SinghIn his new book, Nehru: A Troubled Legacy, R.N.P. Singh, a former officer of the Intelligence Bureau and author of a number of books on modern India who is presently a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Vivekananda International Foundation, examines in some detail Nehru’s legacy and weaves a narrative that looks at his other dimensions, shorn of all hagiographic sentimentalism.

Nehru, argues Singh, “left behind a confused and anaemic legacy of political culture, with the result that the foundation of Independence laid by him affected not only the present and the future generations of Congress party, but the entire political spectrum of the country…. His arbitrary, autocratic and impulsive decisions shaped India’s political culture in such a way that it diverted the course of politics to the point of systemic failure for the first six decades of Independence”. Singh asks to “ponder as to what went wrong with the foundation of independent India”. Did the “pillars of freedom” go “to the hands of incapable architects?” This book provides significant points to ponder over these questions.

Arranged in eight chapters and with a large appendix section that brings together, for the benefit of the lay reader and serious researcher, a collection of letters that essentially deal with crucial issues in the Nehru era, Singh’s book comes as an important intervention in the process of dismantling the Nehruvian consensus. Chapters such as ‘Seeds of Dynastic Democracy’, ‘Betrayal of Democratic Values’ and ‘Defence Policy in Post-Independence India’ (1947-62) introduce dimensions that are bound to generate a greater interest and certainly aid in making a fresh start to the assessment of India’s first Prime Minister and his complex legacy.

Nehru: A Troubled LegacyThe book’s manner of discussing Nehru’s shortcomings directly and unequivocally, and basing the discussion on solid primary and secondary sources, and its way of linking Nehru’s legacy to the challenges of the present Indian polity make the study even more interesting. The predominant Nehruvian narrative has almost always depicted him as a great democrat, liberal, man of vision and an indefatigable administrator. Singh’s work challenges each of these assumptions and through a complex web of arguments and analysis proves the hollowness or unilateralism of these.

In the end, the author observes that with the passage of time and with the “advent of genuine academic freedom one can be certain that many more tomes will follow to add to what we know about Nehru, the man and the politician. This will make for a more credible and dispassionate assessment of Nehru and for robust research in our universities”. And when this happens, argues Singh, “our view of Jawaharlal Nehru will change, the gap between history and truth will stand bridged” and the “coloured versions produced over the last sixty years … will cease to be relevant”.

Singh’s book is a decisive first step towards bridging that gap between “history and truth”; it is a major contribution to the de-mythification of Nehru. – The New Indian Express, 19 July 2015

» Dr Ganguly is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. Email anirbangan@gmail.com


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