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

C. I. Issac: Christian ICHR member calls for ban on conversions – G. Sreedathan

G. Sreedathan“Although a St Thomas Christian himself, Issac disputed the claim that St Thomas landed in Kerala and converted Namboodiri Brahmins. ‘They are targeting higher jatis. They realized that without converting Brahmins they can’t bust the very foundation of Hinduism. In this line they deputed Robert de Nobili, an Italian padre, to Madurai in 17th century CE and he studied Sanskrit and wrote Jesus Veda, and lived in sanyasin attire in order to convert high-class Hindus, and miserably failed.'” – G. Sreedathan

Prof C. I. IssacThe lone Christian member in the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) under the Human Resources Development ministry and noted historian, C. I. Issac, has put up a passionate defence of the Sangh Parivar’s ghar wapsi (home coming) programme and called for a ban on conversions.

A retired history professor and author of over 10 books, including Evolution of Christian Church in India, Issac is now vice-president of Kerala-based right-wing think-tank Bharateeya Vichara Kendram. “Ghar wapsi is not religious conversion. It is a measure of opening doors for those who left earlier from poorva dharma due to historical reasons. Article 25 of the Constitution is not a provision for a one-way traffic or of a non-return valve. In no way with this Article, the founding fathers of our Constitution thought of any sort of conversion. Their intention was the healthy coexistence of all cultures and religious groups. Conversion by brainwashing, coercion, allurement, incentives, etc. is cruel in cultural terms,” said Issac.

According to him, ghar wapsi is a legitimate right of the Hindus. This movement began not only after May 26, 2014.  “Its origin in Kerala goes back to British period that is 1921. It started systematically as the shuddhi movement in the 19th century CE by Arya Samaj leader, Swami Dayananda Saraswati.”

Calling for capital punishment for indulging in conversions, he said, “The conversion is a criminal offence against humanity. The death of a religion means the total vanishing or death of a culture, civilization and knowledge system which generated by a religion through generations…. We lost the Greeks, Mayans, Persians, Romans, etc, like classical societies legacies. We missed Bamian rocks of Afghanistan. Nobody can New Delhi Archbishop Anil J.T. Coutoretrieve the lost knowledge. They have a substantial, objective, and observationally demonstrated information framework, obtained through generations. We, as an enlightened society, are bound to secure all societies and their commitments appropriately,” he added.

When his attention was drawn to Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto’s statement in an interview to Business Standard that he has a problem with the word ghar wapsi and not conversion, he said, “Behind this answer a fraudulent design is hidden. Ghar wapsi means return to poorva dharma. In it there is nothing as wrong. On the other hand, if it is conversion they can level charges against the Hindu society in international forms that Hindus are forcibly converting Christians to Hinduism, Hindus are fundamentalists, etc. Now they can’t raise such allegations. Above all in Hinduism there is no provision of conversion to Hinduism. Prima-facie, one may feel it is an innocent and genuine demand. But in fact it is cunning and putting Hindus in doldrums.”

Claiming himself to be a practicing Christian, he said, “The Church has good relations with me. When I was nominated to ICHR, the bishop arranged a meeting to congratulate me. I believe in Christ but I don’t believe Christ as the only way.”

On Delhi church attacks, he said, “Martyrs and saints are fuels for the gigantic engines of the Church (like jihadis for Islam) without which it cannot sustain. The nature and character of the Delhi church attack is doubtful. All the churches subjected attacks were suffered with minor damages. After the Delhi election they never pressed for the arrest of the persons behind attack or further investigations. It can be considered as a self-goal strategy.”

St. ThomasAlthough a St Thomas Christian himself, Issac disputed the claim that St Thomas landed in Kerala and converted Namboodiri Brahmins. “They are targeting higher jatis. They realized that without converting Brahmins they can’t bust the very foundation of Hinduism. In this line they deputed Robert de Nobili, an Italian padre, to Madurai in 17th century CE and he studied Sanskrit and wrote Jesus Veda, and lived in sanyasin attire in order to convert high-class Hindus, and miserably failed. Madras Bishop Arulappa bribed Ganesh Iyer and converted him as John Iyer and deputed him for manipulations and attempted to high-jack ancient Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar.” – Business Standard, 11 July 2015

» G. Sreedathan Sr Assistant Editor at Business Standard, New Delhi Area.

Roberto de Nobili

Evolutionary biology cannot prove any theory about a linguistic homeland: Koenraad Elst – Scroll.in

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

The following comments are in response to a Scroll.in article called Video: an animated map shows how Sanskrit may have come to India by Shoaib Daniyal.

Koenraad Elst♦ Thanks to Scroll for mentioning my name in an article lambasting the Out-of-India Theory as a Hindutva concoction similar to the Flat Earth theory. 

The OIT was actually the first Homeland theory of Indo-European, prevalent till ca. 1820, and had nothing to do with the 20th-century ideology of Hindutva. (Of which I am a published and consistent critic, but if the author has to compensate for his lack of hands-on understanding of the controversy by labelling better-informed people as “Hindutva”, so be it.)

A research result from evolutionary biology cannot possibly prove any theory about a linguistic homeland, because genes don’t talk: you can genetically (or archaeologically) prove any migration you want, but then you still don’t know what language the people concerned spoke.  This is usually pointed out by the opposing camp, by the believers in an Aryan invasion of India, because the non-linguistic evidence is so massively going against their pet scenario: whereas in Central Europe, plenty of archaeological and genetical evidence proves an Indo-European invasion from the east ca  2900 BCE, such evidence is totally lacking in India. Thus, it has freshly been shown that the lactose tolerance (milk-drinking habit) of the Europeans resulted from this overwhelming immigration from the East: through Ukraine (where the cows’ genes show Indian ancestry) ultimately from India.

Textually too, the Vedas (and in more detail though by hearsay, the Puranas) report emigrations from, not immigrations into India during the period concerned. In linguistics too, the last bulwark of the non-Indian homeland theory is coming down step by step through the work of Nicholas Kazanas, Shrikant Talageri and myself.

Prof B.B. LalRemember the Ayodhya controversy: for 20 years we were lambasted and ridiculed in similar terms by the Indian secularists and their dupes in Western academe. But we were proven right while the secularists and their dupes have egg all over their faces. The pillar-bases proving (among many other things) the demolished Hindu temple in Ayodhya were first dug up by BB Lal, the same man who jettisoned his earlier Aryan invasion beliefs and now, at 90+, elaborates the Out-of-India scenario and declares: “Vedic history and Harappan history are but two sides of the same coin.” He was lambasted for his Ayodhya findings just as he is still lambasted for his stand on Indo-European history, but he was proven right then and is now being proven right again. — Koenraad Elst


♦ What a poor piece about how Sanskrit came to India. It’s reflective of the mediocrity in Indian media where lazy bloggers-turned-journalists dish out “factual” pieces on complex topics (such as history in this case) with minimal rigour, research or objectivity. For example, the writer Shoaib Daniyal makes sweeping inferences based on one  research study (inflated as “seminal”), multiple references to Wikipedia and a PowerPoint slide-turned-video to support it. And that’s the extent of his rigour to explain the history of a civilisation going back 6,000 years. — Ankit S.


♦ Can you please provide documents on how you come to this conclusion? Anyone can make graphics to say that man came from Mars. Does the author have any archaeological evidence, or is this just false propaganda. — Alokjyoti Bal


♦ This was a very informative piece. The potshot at the Sangh Parivar was unnecessary. Why can’t an article on Sanskrit be only about Sanskrit? It will just give some people an excuse to start trolling. The influence of right-wing groups (both Hindutva and Islamist) is often amplified by too much media attention. — Soumyakanti Chakraborty


♦ Scroll.in started like a beacon of liberal press. With this article, it buries the myth.

The way you have so polemically dumped the alternative theories reeks of a bigoted agenda. The author seems to be a twenty-something with little exposure to the world of theoretical research or of the way history evolves.

The question whether Sanskrit evolved from Latin/Persian or vice-versa is still being debated amongst international historians. Suffice to say that language colleges in Europe still teach of Sanskrit as the “Mother of all languages” (I am sure you won’t check the curriculum for your petty-minded article).

It is sad that a progressive website has tumbled down to such depths of shallow journalism. I think you must stop considering yourself as history experts. You are not. — Kulveer Singh


♦ I have come across several stories in Scroll.in which talk of Hindutva Loonism. It appears that authors are direct descendants of Macaulay and other Europeans who could not digest anything which showed India in good light.

In fact there is no Hindutva except in the minds of Congress and leftists, the public school educated and the missionaries (Muslim or Christian).

I have no link to BJP or RSS or Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Reading of Indian history with an open mind has brought me to same conclusions. The term Hindu refers to natives of India adhering to indigenous culture. For political reasons,, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs have been separated, not in too distant a past. All these Indian faiths are to be contrasted actually with Semitic religions, which have the aim of eliminating all native or Indian religions.

Most of your articles are a step in that direction. Confuse Hindus. Belittle Hindus. And degrade Hindus. Expedite the destruction subtly.

If Padmini is likely to be a fiction, so is Jodha, so is the greatness of Akbar, so is the moaning of Babar about absence of gardens in India, which might have been destroyed by Muslim invaders—one finds lots of references to gardens in Sanskrit literature. Why always speak of “Hindu” fiction and remain silent about fiction of other communities.

Why not accept that sati, purdah and degradation of status of women in Indian society was a result of Muslim invaders. Why not accept that most Hindus became Muslims due to Jazia and Christians due to patronage and financial temptations in the name of charity.

Everybody from writers on Scroll.in to PK to OMG berate Hindus while other religions, races and ethnicities have plenty of ills. It is irritating. Please editor, either follow a balanced approach or abandon touching subjects that denigrate and hurt Hindus and their culture.

Hindus have an eternal existence. They should be a  world heritage. (I remember in an article in Scroll.in the writer lambasted the eternalness of “Hinduism”.). Your authors always question beliefs of Hindus. They do not have courage to question Muslims or Christians.  — Anil Dutta 

» Source: Scroll.in, 27 June 2015

Swastika Sanskrit Etymology

See also

Ramayana not a work of fiction – Kumar Chellappan

Kumar Chellappan“Dr Chaubey and Prof V. R. Rao, an anthropologist in Delhi University, said that the studies proved that these groups of people have maintained their genetic continuity for more than 10,000 years. ‘This again sets at rest the Aryan Invasion Theory. There is no inflow into the genetic traits of these tribes from outside elements,’ said Saroj Bala, a specialist in Vedic and Ramayana studies, who shot into fame by calculating the date of birth of Lord Rama based on planetary positions.” – Kumar Chellappan

Rama & GuhaRamsevak of the Kol tribe from the Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh, stands head and shoulders above other Indians.  Genetic studies prove that he is one of the descendants of King Guha of Ramayana. An international team of researchers consisting of geneticists, anthropologists, archaeologists and historians have found that Ramayana, written 10,000 years ago, is a chronicle of events and characters recorded by Sage Valmiki and not a work of fiction.

The mystery behind the characters in Ramayana has been solved by a team led by Dr Gyaneshwer Chaubey, ace genetic scientist of the Estonian Biocentre in Estonia. A three-year long research by Dr Chaubey and his team drawn out from Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, Delhi University, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas has found that the Gyaneshwer ChaubeyBhils, Gonds and the Kols, categorised as Scheduled Castes and Tribes by the modern day administrators of India are the true descendants of characters featured in Ramayana. The peer reviewed scientific paper authored by the team has been published by PLOS ONE, a respected scientific portal.

The Kol tribe, found mainly in areas like Mirzapur, Varanasi, Banda and Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, are the descendants of the Kol mentioned in Ramayana, according to Dr Chaubey and his team. Remember Guha, the chieftain of Sringaverapura who helped Lord Rama, Sita and Laksmana cross the Ganga during their journey to the forests? “Guha, the Nishad king, is the ancestor of the present day V. R. RaoKol tribe we found in these regions. This ancestry was established by genetic studies. These groups of people carry the basic indigenous genetic traits of India. Ramsevak and thousands like him spread across the States of UP, MP, Odisha, Chhattisgargh are the true descendants of Lord Rama and his contemporaries,” Dr Chaubey told The Pioneer from Tartu in Estonia via video conferencing.

Dr Chaubey and Prof V. R. Rao, an anthropologist in Delhi University, said that the studies proved that these groups of people have maintained their genetic continuity for more than 10,000 years. “This again sets at rest the Aryan Invasion Theory. There is no inflow into the genetic traits of these tribes from outside elements,” said Saroj Bala, a specialist in Vedic and Ramayana studies, who shot into fame by calculating the date of birth of Lord Rama based on planetary positions.

Saroj BalaProf Rao said the studies confirmed that the characters mentioned by Valmiki in Ramayana are real life characters. “King Dasaratha, Rama and others were not fictional characters,” he said.  Dr S. Kalyanaraman, an Indologist of repute, said the Kols are the iron smelters about whom there are mentions in Indus script excavated from the banks of Indus as well as River Saraswathi.

“This paper by Gyaneshwer Chaubey and team is an attempt to explain the roots of Hindu civilisation which has been distorted by creating false ethnic identities by the categorisation of people,” said Dr Kalyanaraman. He said a comprehensive study incorporating all tribes should be undertaken which would prove that the breaking up of essential unity of Bharatiya identity based on caste and ethnicity are academic fiction with no basis and a distortion of the history of ancient India. – The Pioneer, 15 June 2015

Rama crossing the Ganga

Ask the past – Michel Danino

Michel Danino“Whether the inquiry was philosophical, medical or agricultural, India’s knowledge traditions were continuous and cumulative: savants, thinkers, artists did not normally demolish their predecessors’ work but built upon it and enriched it with their contributions, even if that involved sharp criticism at times. This richness of many-sided knowledge and freedom of inquiry is what we have lost in our linear and impoverished education, which discourages or penalises original thinking. Young Indians know next to nothing of this huge intellectual heritage, while many of our ‘intellectuals’ are content to scoff at it.” – Prof Michel Danino

SaraswatiIndia is perhaps the only civilisation of the ancient world that turned knowledge into a goddess. It was, in any case, regarded as sacred and so was its transmission: there was an old saying that a teacher, however great a scholar, who failed to find one student worthy of his learning, would have to go to hell. More historically, bas-reliefs in temples and other monuments often depict gurus teaching disciples; and when Dharmaswamin, a Tibetan monk, visited in 1235 the ruined site of Nalanda University, sacked four decades earlier by Bakhtiyar Khilji, he found a 90-year-old teacher, Rahula Shribhadra, still instructing a class of 70 students — perhaps Nalanda’s last class, stubbornly taught by a nonagenarian.

Knowledge was, however, not shapeless or a collection of snippets. Previous articles in this SandHI series have shown how it was carefully structured, yet shunned compartmentalisation: language and grammar often had underlying mathematical models; India’s earliest geometry resulted from complex fire altars and a philosophy of sacrifice; mathematics occasionally used poetry to express itself and shared with philosophical systems concepts of zero and infinity and the science of logic (variously called nyayayukti, tarka, anvikshiki, depending on the approach or school of thought); Aryabhata’s concept of beginningless and endless time, Indian astronomers’ use of yugas and the Kali Era are rooted in classical Hindu concepts; Ayurveda relied on fundamental philosophical views of the human and the cosmic, and had close links with alchemy and metallurgy; architecture was a meeting ground of cosmological concepts (most of them part of vastushastra), geometry (including the application of various sets of proportions) and building technology.

Dancer from Mohenjo-daroHarappan beginnings

When and how these knowledge systems took shape remains a matter of debate. Most of them go back two to three millennia, but a few clearly have roots in the Harappan or Indus or Indus-Sarasvati civilisation (2600 to 1900 BC for its urban or mature phase): its legacy to classical India of advanced practices in town planning, water harvesting and management, sanitation, metallurgy and craft technologies is rich and now well documented, although studiously ignored by our textbooks.

Mohenjo-daro’s Great Bath is often seen as the ancestor of pushkarinis. Almost every major city area or structure follows the same sacred proportions that classical architecture will use (this is especially visible at the impressive site of Dholavira in the Rann of Kutch, where the dimensions of every fortified enclosure and every reservoir obey strict ratios). The perky Dancing Girl has an arm covered with bangles, as do rural Rajasthani or Gujarati women even today; this bronze figurine was cast by the ‘lost-wax’ technique, in which a wax model is first made, covered with thick clay, fired, and molten bronze is then poured into the hardened clay mould — a technique transmitted to historical India and to today’s bronze casters.

Harappan symbols and designs — from the swastika to the intersecting circles and the endless knot — have survived; even the general design of the enigmatic Indus seals, with an animal standing before a ‘ritual stand’ and below an inscription, survived on coins from Mauryan and later times. Living customs such as the anjali namaskar with joined hands or the application of vermilion at the parting of the hair are traceable to Harappan traditions.

We know little of the Harappans’ thought and belief systems. Their rigorous town planning and obsession with standardisation — from the Indus seals and script to pottery styles and designs, from brick proportions to weights — bespeak a high sense of order. Several deities appear on the seals; while their identities remain speculative, their iconography is familiar: one stands below an arch of pipal leaves, just like Shiva under his arch of fire: another, with three faces, sits on a throne in mulabandhasana (a difficult posture, with the two heels brought back under the hips). Indeed, Harappans appear to have practised some form of yoga, judging also from figurines in various asanas and the so-called, but probably mis-called, Priest-King with his half-closed eyes conveying a sense of inward contemplation.

Salomon ReinachThe Aryan imbroglio

Surprisingly, whether Vedic literature, the earliest in India, begins before, during or after the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation remains an unsettled question after almost a century of Harappan archaeology. The answer hinges on whether one accepts or rejects the mainstream view that Aryan-speaking tribes swept into the Indian subcontinent around 1500 BC, some four centuries after the decline of the Harappan cities, and settled in northwest India to compose the Vedic hymns. In that perspective, the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation would be pre-Vedic and would therefore have little to do with subsequent developments in the Ganges plains, where, in the first millennium BC, a new civilisation emerges that will soon give rise to the kingdoms and empires we are familiar with, and ultimately to ‘classical’ India.

Mainstream or not, the Aryan theory has seen many avatars, from a brutal and massive conquering invasion swamping the indigenous people to a largely peaceful immigration limited to a few waves of ‘trickling-in’ Aryans. This tactical retreat — a dilution, rather — has been necessitated by the failure of archaeology, anthropology and genetics to support the old scenario, and their occasional success in opposing it. It would have completely faded away but for linguistics, which still insists on the origins of the Sanskritic branch of the Indo-European family of languages being located outside India — but where and when, there seems to be no agreement in sight.

We cannot go deeper here into the complex question of the origins of Vedic culture, except to point out that the characterization (‘demonisation’ would be more appropriate) of critics of the Aryan scenario as ‘hindu chauvinists’ or ‘hindutva communalists’ is deeply dishonest, although widespread in India as in the west. In reality, strong opposition to the Aryan paradigm was first voiced not by Indians but by European scholars such as British archaeologist and philologist Isaac Taylor (1890) or French archaeologist Salomon Reinach (1892). Several noted Indian scholars did follow suit — P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar (1914), B.N. Datta (1936), A.D. Pusalker (1950), P.V. Kane (1953) — as well as prominent public figures: Swami Vivekananda (1897), Sri Aurobindo (1914) or B.R. Ambedkar (1946), none of whom can invite the above invectives.

In recent decades, British anthropologist Edmund Leach, US bioanthropologist Kenneth A.R. Kennedy, US archaeologist Jim Shaffer, French archaeologist Jean-Paul Demoule, Italian linguist Angela Marcantonio, Estonian biologist Toomas Kivisild, all of them accomplished academics, have vigorously argued against the Aryan paradigm. Expectedly, our ‘demonisers’ have studiously ignored them, exerting themselves instead to create an impression in the public mind that Hindu fanatics alone oppose the Aryan invasion/migration theory.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jnana_yogaThe Vedic tradition

Let us leave this controversy to trace the first organisation of knowledge in the Vedic age, whether it is to be positioned before, during or after the Indus civilisation. The Vedas themselves are collections (samhitas) of hymns invoking divine powers for a multiplicity of purposes, from the most material level (protection, victory, wealth, progeny) to the most spiritual: some hymns explicitly call for the divine birth in us, while others, such as the famous Gayatri mantra, pray for the illumination of the mind. The river-cum-goddess Sarasvati is praised as the ‘impeller of happy truths’ who ‘awakens in the consciousness the great flood and illumines all the thoughts.’

By the time of the early Upanishads, a distinction is made between paravidya, the supreme knowledge of the nature of the brahman, and aparavidya, which includes pretty much all else: the knowledge of the universe, the human world and the sacred texts. A portion of aparavidya dedicated to the study and understanding of the Vedas is structured into six vedangas, or ‘limbs of the Veda’: grammar, prosody, phonetics, etymology, rituals and astronomy (the last initially for the elaboration of calendars).

Along with the Ganges civilisation, six darshanas or systems of philosophy emerge early in the first millennium BC, each giving rise to a primary literature that will, in turn, produce numerous commentaries, schools, sub-schools, and rich intellectual debates all the way to pre-colonial times. The six darshanas have been called astika (‘orthodox’ is a poor translation) because they were founded on the authority of the Vedas. Keeping in mind that equivalent English terms are approximate at best, they are:

  1. Vedanta or, broadly, the Upanishadic philosophical tradition;
  2. Nyaya or logic, which inquired deep into concepts of perception, inference, means of validation and categories;
  3. Vaisheshika, an atomistic inquiry into the nature of the physical world and its relationship with consciousness; it famously declared that ‘whatever exists is knowable and nameable’;
  4. Samkhya, which sees the universe as the result of the interplay of prakriti (nature) and purusha (the knower, a witness of pure consciousness);
  5. Mimansa or Vedic exegesis; and
  6. Yoga.

The last hardly needs a definition, although it may be useful to recall that it aims at the union with the divine consciousness. The level of that union and the method chosen to achieve it define the countless schools and systems of yoga. They are, at bottom, systems of self-exploration and self-fulfilment. Founders of the early schools of yoga, such as Kapila or Patanjali, would have been bemused by our current debate on whether yoga is ‘secular’ or not, ‘Hindu’ or not; they may have scratched their beards, if they sported one, convinced that this must be one of the signs of an advanced Kali Yuga, the age of ignorance.

RamayanaTransmission

Indeed, liberation from ignorance was the pursuit and ultimate objective common not only to the above six darshanas, but also to several others, called nastika (‘unorthodox’) because they did not accept the authority of the Vedas. There we find, among others, the Buddhist and Jain philosophies, the various systems of tantra, and a few atheistic schools such as the Charvaka, which laid emphasis on the exclusive truth of sensory perception; they do not appear to have appealed to the society and soon dwindled.

Buddhism and Jainism, although today regarded as ‘separate’ religions, in fact shared much with their late Vedic sisters: concepts of dharma and karma, the cessation of rebirth as ultimate objective, and the pursuit of happiness here and now. Recall Ashoka: “What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men.” In time, these two ‘religions’, if we must call them that, also integrated a number of Vedic and Puranic gods and goddesses, from Indra to Sarasvati, into their pantheons. The symbiosis (much more than rivalry) worked both ways: when Buddhism faded away from northern India, largely under the Islamic impact which left most of its brilliant centres of learning in ruins, it did not ‘disappear’, as is often said, but was partly reabsorbed by an ever-assimilating Hinduism, its teachings and worship.

If Hinduism had by then regained much of its old vigour, its two great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, deserve some credit for this. Those timeless texts are not only outstanding teachers of dharma and knowledge, but a gigantic tapestry of human life, its meaning, its limitations and tragic contradictions. They are also, incidentally, a mine of information on ethnography, polity and governance, warfare, social customs, sacred geography, ceremonies and rituals, diet, dress and ornaments, environmental changes, and much more. With countless regional adaptations and translations, they worked out the cultural integration not only of India but also of much of southeast Asia.

All this knowledge was transmitted by a variety of methods, from the formal institutions of Buddhism (not just Nalanda but thousands of monasteries across India) to the smaller gurukulas (often centred on temples) and village schools, not forgetting the hari katha tradition of wandering scholars who recited the two epics and other texts night after night in village after village, so that even the so-called illiterate were not uneducated but part of those knowledge traditions. The illiterate was cultured; today’s literate is uncultured.

Ramachandran GuhaA knowledge society?

When we look back on ancient India, we often imagine that its culture was, in the main, ‘spiritual’ and ‘otherworldly.’ Without going into the reasons for this misconception, let us point out that India’s so-called ‘spirituality,’ her philosophies, arts and literature, flourished best when the civilisation was materially most developed and opulent. From the Mauryan to the Gupta empires and beyond, this is a clear lesson of history.

Whether the inquiry was philosophical, medical or agricultural, India’s knowledge traditions were continuous and cumulative: savants, thinkers, artists did not normally demolish their predecessors’ work but built upon it and enriched it with their contributions, even if that involved sharp criticism at times. This richness of many-sided knowledge and freedom of inquiry is what we have lost in our linear and impoverished education, which discourages or penalises original thinking. Young Indians know next to nothing of this huge intellectual heritage, while many of our ‘intellectuals’ are content to scoff at it. The loss is considerable — nothing less than the essence of Indian culture. Perhaps, it is not too late to show to some of our bright young minds that they can still be enriched, stimulated or inspired by their distinguished predecessors. We will not go back to the past, but we may build a better future if we study some of its accomplishments, the best of which include a high vision of the goal of human life. – Financial Chronicle, 16 June 2015

» Prof Michel Danino is the author of The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati, and guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar, as well as member of the Indian Council of Historical Research. Contact him at micheldanino@gmail.com

The SandHI Series | Indian Knowledge Series

Remembering Karmayogi Sita Ram Goel – Virendra Parekh

Sita Ram Goel
Virendra ParekhThis is the original unabridged article which appeared in a commemorative volume on Sita Ram Goel many years ago. It is well worth reading as author Virendra Parekh has faithfully recorded in detail Sita Ramji’s views on Islam, Christianity, Communism, Secularism, Hinduism, his own work and Voice of India. – Editor 

“How old are you?” Sita Ramji asked me. “Forty.” “You are younger than my younger son”, he said affectionately. Thus began my first and only meeting with Sita Ramji in November 1993. I was on my way to Manali along with my family and had happily foregone sightseeing in Delhi in order to be able to meet him. As a bonus, Sita Ramji had offered to take me to Ram Swarupji.

For years, his writings had just mesmerized me. Even a few paragraphs were enough to bring out his originality of approach (more about it later), incisive analysis, fiery style and a stubborn refusal to be tamed by considerations of political correctness imposed by the Mullah-Marxist-Missionary-Macaulayite combine. If style is the man, then the picture that Sita Ramjiís writings threw up was that of a sterling patriot who happened to be a great scholar and a fearless fighter. Brahmakshatriya is the only word that comes to the mind to describe him.

George Orwell QuoteHowever, what put him in a class apart from angry pamphleteers was his reverence for truth, a breadth of vision combined with an eye for detail and accuracy, and a willingness to go wherever his search for truth led him. If he had only contempt for Indian secularists, he had no burning desire to be counted among the officially recognized champions of Bharatiyata. He was a seeker of truth, not a camp follower. He would not spare Hindu kings for their myopia, disunity and strategic failures. He would praise Gandhiji for arousing Hindu society by stirring its heart like the Savarkars and Hedgewars never could, because his commitment was to the ideal of truth, goodness and beauty, not to any individual or group.

Our conversation was brief and informal, but Sita Ramji did make a few perceptive remarks. “Where Brahmins are blind, Kshatriyas are lame”, he said. “Intellectuals (Brahmins) are the eyes of the society, and the ruling class its arm. Hindu society, which is not lacking in numbers, valour or devotion to its culture, is kicked around in its own land, because Hindu intellectuals lack vision”, he explained. He referred to the fateful decision of the Vijayanagar King Ramaraya to have two battalions of Muslim archers who could shoot from the horseback. In the critical battle of Rakshasi-Tangadi, widely though erroneously known as the battle of Talikota (1565), these battalions deserted their employer and joined the invaders. Ramaraya lost the battle and his life. The great Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar which had kept the saffron flag aflutter in the South for over two centuries, suffered a terrible blow from which it could never recover. “Look at the irony, Parekh. In this land of Lord Ram and Arjun, the idea of having our own archers did not occur to the king”, commented Sita Ramji.

He went on to say that there should be a Catalogue of National Mistakes which must be taught to all children in the schools with a view to avoiding their repetition. History which does not provide an insight into our weaknesses and mistakes, which is merely a source of false pride through glorification of a mythical past, is no history at all. Secularists would readily accept this, but their definition of India and Indianness would be suspect.

In the afternoon, Sita Ramji drove me from his residence in Shakti Nagar to Maharani Bagh where Ram Swarupji was staying. It was one more act of kind affection from a great person who had over the years replied to each of my letters, enlightened me by answering every question I asked, communicated his candid views on several issues, and sent me for free all the publications of Voice of India, some of them beyond my means.

My meeting with Ram Swarupji was brief, lasting about an hour. I told him that measured against the depth and vastness of his knowledge, he had written very little. He smiled and said that it may be true in some sense, but he did not like to be repetitive. Around 9 p.m., Sita Ramji dropped me at the hotel where my family and friends were waiting for me. I could not have asked for more. My purpose of coming to Delhi was fulfilled.

Ram SwarupHis mission

During our conversation, Ram Swarupji made an important point about the work of Voice of India. It deserves greater attention. For long, Hinduism has been defined for Hindus by its enemies. They denigrated whatever hindered their designs on us. They told us that Brahmins were a class of deceitful exploiters and oppressors, that Sanskrit was a dead language, that Hinduism was a mumbo-jumbo of silly superstitions, puerile priest craft and meaningless mysticism, and that the caste system was the root of all evils afflicting Indian society. They even taught us that the Vedic Aryans had come to India from outside (so why cavil at Muslim or Christian invaders?), that the history of India was actually a series of India’s conquests by one invader after another.

Their praise was motivated, too. The missionaries and mullahs always praise Hindu society for its tolerance and generosity (something that they have never shown to it or other rival creeds) and expect the Hindus to look the other way when they themselves malign Hinduism and convert its weaker sections through force, fraud and allurements. The missionaries always praise Hindus for their religiosity, but never for their religion. The pope praises Hinduism for its secondaries, while hiding his contempt for its primaries.

The enemies of Hinduism floated false notions about their own creeds, too. We were told that Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood; that Christianity has nothing but love and mercy for non-believers, that Marxism has the master-key to the “ascent of mankind from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”

The greater tragedy is that the Hindus have gone along with this con game, slavishly or foolishly. What the enemies of Hinduism found wrong with us, we found wrong with ourselves. Even today, few Hindus can see through these mischievous canards. Hindus feel flattered by the motivated praise of their tolerance by the missionaries, little realizing that it is a ploy for their moral disarmament against a ruthless, systematic onslaught on their culture and tradition; that it is akin to a sermon on detachment and renunciation by a pickpocket while he is relieving you of your wallet.

Centuries of cultural and political enslavement have led Hindus to look at themselves and others through the tinted spectacles forged by the inveterate enemies of their religion and culture. Voice of India, said Sita Ramji, wanted Hindus to use their own eyes for looking at themselves and at others. All its efforts were directed at equipping them for doing so. The means of achieving this end was a detailed and objective first-hand study of the rival ideologies (Islam, Christianity and Marxism) from their primary sources. It meant a study of their scriptures, their sources of inspiration, their worldview, their objectives and methods and their historical record. It also meant studying Indian history from primary sources and interpreting it, on the basis of undisputable and recorded facts, from the perspective of Indians rather than that of invaders and conquerors.

Perhaps for the first time in its long and chequered history did Hindu society take up this Herculean task. Ordinary Hindus had long regarded Islam as barbarism masquerading as religion, at least for non-Muslims. They had not regarded Christian missionaries as anything more than wily, cunning, arrogant fanatics who were hand in gloves with India’s foreign masters. And for all their skills in sophisticated slander and manipulation of the mind, the Communists have not been able to expand their influence (or whatever is left of it) beyond the two corners (Bengal/Tripura and Kerala) of India. However, Hindu scholars had by and large neglected to examine critically the tall claims made by these ideologies. This was at par with the failure of the Hindu rulers to keep abreast of developments in the neighbouring lands, even those developments that had a direct bearing on national security.

The consequences of both these failures have been heavy. The myopic refusal of the Hindu rulers to look beyond their nose led to the political enslavement of the country whereas the failure of the Hindu scholars to examine critically the doctrines of Islam and Christianity, not to speak of Communism, left the ideological field open to the enemies of Hinduism. Whatever they said about their own creeds went uncontested.

Sita Ramji and Ram Swarupji moved in to fill this vital gap. In the nineteenth century, Swami Dayanand Sarawati, founder of the Arya Samaj, had subjected the Quran and the Bible to the test of traditional Hindu polemics. Before him, Brahmins from Tamil Nadu had asked a few pertinent questions to Christian missionaries. But the task before the duo was truly daunting. As Sita Ramji wrote to me in a personal letter: “My heart sinks when I think of the organizational, financial and political resources at the command of our adversaries. Voice of India is not even a drop in the ocean.”

Sita Ramji went about his lifework in the spirit of a true Karmayogi. Calculations of personal cost and benefit never mattered to him. His detachment (anasakti) afforded him tenacity, fearlessness and independence of judgment. He sat at the feet of great masters like Vyasa, Valmiki, the Buddha, Vivekananda and Aurobindo and recaptured a vision of India that was dazzling in its brilliance. This vision defined for him the mission of Voice of India.

Sri AurobindoNational vision

As Sita Ramji himself pointed out, his vision of India is nothing new. It is only a restatement in modern language, in a modern setting, of the ancient Vedic vision as enshrined in the Vedas, in the Upanishads, in the Jainagama, in the Tripitaka, in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, in the Puranas, in the Dharmashastras and in the latter-day poetry of saints and siddhas. We have had countless spokesmen of that vision throughout our history.

The first dimension of that vision is that India is the land of Sanatana Dharma. India’s national identity is coterminous with Sanatana Dharma. As Sri Aurobindo said in his Uttarpara Speech, India would rise with the rise of Sanatana Dharma, India would sink if Sanatana Dharma sank and India would die if it were at all possible for Sanatana Dharma to die. The second dimension of that vision is that of a vast and variegated culture. According to adhara and adhikara, various sections of our population, various segments of our society, various regions of our country, developed their own culture, their own art, their own literature. It is a vast fabric, this art and literature. But its spirit is the spirit of Sanatana Dharma. It is informed by Sanatana Dharma in all its details.

The third dimension of that vision was that this great society, the society which we describe as Hindu Society today, was reared on the basis of spirituality and a great culture created by Sanatana Dharma. The Hindu social system, epitomized in the phrase varnashrama dharma, has degenerated under the onslaught of foreign invasions and is the subject of severe criticism today. It was originally, and it has been for centuries, a harmony model which enabled people of various abilities and inclinations to live together as an organic whole. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan pointed out, the varna vyavastha was founded on two ideals: firstly, society should be based on cooperation and accommodation, not competition and exclusion; secondly, the highest place in society should go to the men of learning and character, not to the men of wealth and power. As for ashrama dharma, the division of life into four stages of brahmacharya (period of celibacy and learning), garhasthya (period of householding), vanaprastha (period of retirement) and sannyasa (period of renunciation), indicates that this life is a pilgrimage to the eternal life through different stages. For all its weaknesses and distortions, varnashrama dharma has saved Hindu society from the destruction which overtook so many societies outside India at the hands of Christianity, Islam and Communism.

The fourth dimension of that national vision is that the history of India is the history of the Hindu society, of Hindu culture, of Hindu spirituality. In short, it is the history of the Hindu nation and not the history of foreign invaders as we are being taught today.

The last dimension which India’s great men have stressed, which they have affirmed again and again, is that this land of Bharatvarsha is one indivisible whole; that it is the cradle of Hindu society, of Hindu culture, of Hindu spirituality; that it is the homeland of the Hindu nation. Other communities are welcome to live in this land provided they come to terms with Hindu society and Hindu culture. Today, Bharatavarsha stands divided into several countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which are not only politically but also culturally hostile to each other; and we seem to have become reconciled to that division. But the vision that was given to us by our great men was that of Bharatvarsha as an indivisible whole, not only geographically but also culturally.

It was from this perspective that Sita Ramji judged ideologies like Islam, Christianity, Communism and their united front, which in India is called secularism, as well as Indian history and contemporary developments. Thus, about the demolition of the Babri Masjid, he wrote to me in a personal letter: “My only grievance is that the Hindus had to do it surreptitiously. I never thought that the Hindus would assert themselves or that the Communist empire would disintegrate. I have fought for both. I am fulfilled.”

One has only to look around to realize how far we have moved away from this pristine vision of India shining in its natural glory. We are taught that even today’s truncated India is a multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-many-other-things entity struggling to evolve some principle of unity that can hold together its disparate components; that it is a nation in the making, to use a phrase dear to the secularist elite. Indian history has been massively perverted. Stalinist activists masquerading as historians have thoroughly and systematically distorted and falsified every period of Indian history with the malicious intention of cleansing it of all Hindu influences, to negate every dimension of the national vision outlined above. The very idea of India is adulterated to suit the designs of invading ideologies.

Sita Ramji made it his lifework to defend this national vision of India as it has existed through millennia. He has set out the problem and its solution in the books Hindu Society Under Siege and Defence of Hindu Society. His books relating to Indian history (Story of Islamic Imperialism in India; Heroic Hindu Resistance to Muslim Invaders; and Muslim Separatism, Causes and Consequences) convincingly nail the secularist propaganda. In Perversion of India’s Political Parlance, he traced and exposed the secularist sleight of hand whereby Muslim communalism became respectable as “secularism” while Indian nationalism was reviled as “communalism”. When he handled the works of others, Sita Ramji brought out the depth, perspective and relevance of the original work in bold relief. His publication of The Calcutta Quran Petition, the Niyogi Committee Report on the Activities of Christian Missionaries, and, to some extent, Catholic Ashrams: Sannyasins or Swindlers? provides examples of this. His two major contributions, Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them (Vol. I & Vol. II) and History of Hindu-Christian Encounters are classics of original research and will stand the test of time.

Sita Ramji’s works (and VOI publications in general) are characterized by a depth and an intellectual honesty that are rare in secularist writings on Hindutva. The views and arguments of the other side are rendered faithfully and then answered cogently by setting out an alternative perspective backed by facts and reasoning. Ancient India had this tradition of scholarly debate. It is said of Shankara, the great philosopher, that he formulated the arguments of his opponents better than they themselves could. Indeed, these are elementary features of public debate in a civilized society, but Indian debate on issues like (what passes for) secularism, the cultural content of Indian nationalism, the nature of Indian society, the interpretation of Indian history and the role and direction of the Indian State leaves much to be desired on this count.

Much of Hindutva writing is characterized by whining and self-pity, dwelling on the atrocities and injustices heaped on Hindus by others. Sita Ramji carried the battle to the enemy camp, taking on the adversaries in a frontal attack. Instead of calling himself secular and others pseudo-secular, as the BJP is doing, he discussed secularism (of the Indian variety) threadbare and showed that it was far from being a noble idea. Instead of presenting Hinduism as a monotheistic religion, he showed that monotheism as extolled in the Abrahamic religions was a monstrous idea responsible for a great deal of strife and bloodshed in the name of God.

J. NehruCritique of India’s secularism

Sita Ramji’s critique of what passes for secularism in India is epitomized in the title of his book India’s Secularism: New Name for National Subversion. Jawaharlal Nehru, who had not used the term in his pre-Independence writings or speeches, picked up a prestigious word from Western political parlance and made it mean the opposite of what it meant in the West. In the West, secularism stood for rationalism, universalism and humanism. In India, it is a united front of all anti-Hindu ideologies: Islam, Christianity and Communism. Each of these is an intolerant, aggressive and violent ideology. Each of them aims at conquest of the world by rooting out other religions. Each of them has a history soaked in the blood of the innocent. All over the world, they are enemies of one another; but in India, they are always found on the same side against their common enemy: Hinduism.

In the West, secularism was directed against Christianity, which spurned reason, suspected science, punished doubt and claimed absolute monopoly of truth in all matters, secular and spiritual. In India, secularism is ranged against Hinduism which respects reason and experience, which imposes no belief system but enjoins everyone to realize the spiritual truths in the cave of his heart through his own effort in his own way.

It is the ultimate irony of Indian politics that those who masterminded this subversion of the national psyche have positioned themselves as guardians of democracy and secularism in the country, and that votaries of authoritarian ideologies lecture the Hindus on the virtues of pluralism. And the Hindu society, which is the national society, which has borne the brunt of all foreign invasions and fought all freedom struggles, is driven into a corner and made to shout that it is secular, that it regards Islam and Christianity as noble religions, that it regards Islamic heroes as its own.

In pre-Independence days, the Muslim minority had a veto on what was national. Only that leader, that party, that programme was national which was approved by the Muslim leaders. The rest were, by definition, communal. In the post-Independence period, the same game is played in the name of secularism: only that leader, party, organization, or programme is secular which is approved by Muslim leaders. Whatever they disapprove of is, for that very reason, communal. Sita Ramji showed that this deliberate and malicious perversion of thought has thoroughly distorted the national perspective. Love for one’s country and its world-renowned ancient culture has been turned into a cardinal sin. Foreign invaders and tyrants have become lawful rulers while national heroes are downgraded as petty rebels fighting for personal gain. The catchword “secularism” provides a smokescreen behind which several types of imperialism (Islamic, Christian, Communist and Consumerist) are stealing a march over Hinduism.

Sitaramji urged Hindu intellectuals to see through this con game perpetrated on them by the residues of imperialist ideologies with the help of a self-alienated denationalized elite, and to counter it by conducting the public debate in the proper language. Such a language, he said, would substitute “Indian nationalism” for “Hindu communalism”; and “national subversion” for “secularism”; and “Islam” for “Muslim communalism” or “Islamic fundamentalism”.

Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri )Two traditions of worship

A major contribution of Sita Ramji and other VOI scholars, especially Ram Swarup and David Frawley, is a clear enunciation of two types of religious traditions. One may be called the Biblical or Abrahamic tradition and the other, Vedic or Indic tradition. The Bible-derived creeds are founded on a central figure (Jehovah, Allah, God or History) who commands the exclusive and overriding allegiance of the believers. He is jealous, cruel, and brooks no rival. He deals with his people through an intermediary, messenger, prophet, or the sole saviour. His teachings are contained in the Book. The Book is the sole repository of Ultimate Truth.

Thus in these creeds, there is only one Truth; there is only one way to it; the God has given it to us, the Chosen People, and us alone; it is contained in our Book and in our Book alone. Since the Book is authored by God himself, every word in it is true, excellent, immutable and binding. The Book, al-Kitab, is beyond the comprehension of most of even the believers, and certainly the non-believers. We must therefore heed the Church, the Priest.

The faith in the Book is the overriding duty, as is the duty of making others to see the light. Since this is the absolute Truth, since it alone can lead to Heaven or permanent bliss, mankind must be awakened to it for its own good at any cost in whatever way. No sacrifice is too great for holding on to it; no means are impermissible for converting others to it. The very idea of an absolute monopoly of ultimate truth contains within it the seeds of intolerance, aggression, strife and authoritarianism. It is a charter for killing, destruction and subversion with a clean conscience. There will always be more than one claimant to this monopoly while there are bound to be others who refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Church or the Party.

The Vedic tradition, on the other hand, is founded on very different premises. The starting point of this tradition is human consciousness, which can be explored, which can be purified progressively and which can be transcended till it attains the highest heights of knowledge and creativity. At this summit, the Self becomes one with the Universe and sees all things, animate and inanimate, as its own symbols and sequences. In this vast vision, sanctity attaches not only to human life but to the whole of creation. This is the summum bonum of spiritual humanism, which has always been India’s message to mankind.

The Vedic tradition teaches us that spiritual truths are not of the nature of a revelation received by a historical prophet from an extra-cosmic God or some other supernatural source. Nor are those truths contained in or confined to a Book. On the contrary, these truths lie secretly in every human heart and have always been accessible to those who seek for them. These truths are never in need of a crusade for their spread and propagation. On the contrary, these truths are self-propagating due to their own inner strength. The only defence they need is the dedication they inspire spontaneously in all those who invoke them.

Sita Ramji pointed out that the Vedic tradition advises people to be busy with themselves, that is, their own moral and spiritual improvement. Several disciplines have been evolved for this purpose: tapas (austerity), yoga (meditation), jnana (reflection), bhakti (devotion), etc. A seeker can take to whichever discipline (adhara) suits his adhikara (stage of moral-spiritual preparation). There is no uniform prescription for everybody, no coercion or allurement into a belief system, and no claim of merit for aggression against others.

The Biblical tradition, on the other hand, teaches people to be busy with others. One is supposed to have become a superior human being as soon as one confesses the “only true faith”. Thenceforward one stands qualified to “save” others. The only training one needs thereafter is how to man a mission or military expedition, how to convert others by all available means including force and fraud, and how to kill or ruin or blacken those who refuse to come around.

The Vedic tradition has given to the world schools of Sanatana Dharma, which have practised peace among their own followers as well as towards the followers of other paths. On the other hand, the Biblical tradition has spawned criminal cults such as Christianity, Islam, Communism and Nazism, which have always produced violent conflicts as much within their own camps as with one another and the rest of mankind. As Sita Ramji pointed out, the syrupy slogan of sarvadharma-samabhava glosses over the basic difference between these two traditions. This has caused an enormous amount of confusion.

M.K. Gandhi in 1929Critique of Islam

The magnitude of crimes credited to Muslim monarchs by the medieval Muslim historians was beyond measure. In his book The Story of Islamic Imperialism in India, Sita Ramji has devoted two long chapters to the magnitude of the Muslim atrocities. He showed with the help of detailed documentation that with a few exceptions, Muslim kings and commanders were monsters who stopped at no crime when it came to their Hindu subjects. He showed that there was a broad pattern to those crimes. The pattern is that of a jihad in which the ghazis of Islam 1) invade infidel lands; 2) massacre as many infidel men, women, and children, particularly Brahmins, as they like after winning a victory; 3) capture the survivors to be sold as slaves; 4) plunder every place and person; 5) demolish idolatrous places of worship and build mosques in their places; and 6) defile idols which are flung into public squares or made into steps leading to mosques.

Hindus were long familiar with this “behaviour pattern patented by Islam”. Sita Ramji’s distinct contribution was to trace this behaviour pattern to the tenets of Islam. Apologists of Islam, from Mahatma Gandhi to Mohammad Habib, regarded the atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on Hindus as aberrations and deviations from true Islam; they attributed it to greed, political compulsions, inherent barbarism of certain tribes etc. Sita Ramji showed that far from being aberrations or deviations from the true faith of Islam, these atrocities were the logical outcome of the teachings of Islam. Far from being a slur on the fair name of Islam, the behaviour of Muslim rulers towards the Hindus was the true face of Islam, it is what Islam had in store for non-believers. He showed that this is exactly the pattern 1) revealed by Allah in the Quran; 2) practised, perfected and prescribed by the Prophet in his own life-time; 3) followed by the pious khalifas of Islam in the first 35 years of Islamic imperialism; 4) elaborated in the hadiths and hundreds of commentaries with meticulous attention to detail; 5) certified by the ulama and the sufis of Islam in all ages including our own; and 6) followed by all Muslim monarchs and chieftains who aspired for name and fame in this life, and houris and beardless boys hereafter. It is, therefore, poor apologetics to blame the Islamized Turks alone of being barbarous. Islamic barbarism was shared in equal measure by all races and communities who were forced or lured into the fold of Islam—the Arabs, the Turks, the Persians, the Pathans, the Hindu converts. The conclusion is inescapable that Islam brutalizes all those who embrace it. And that is where the blame should be laid in all reason and justice.

“Islam in India is still suffering from the high fever of self-righteousness, though lately it has shifted its claim from the ‘only true religion’ to the ‘only human brotherhood’. Powered by petro-dollars, it is again dreaming of an empire in India. Hindus, on the other hand, have learnt no lesson from history as is evident from their slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhava vis-à-vis Islam, which is only a totalitarian and terrorist ideology of imperialism. And now the Hindu secularists are bent upon perverting the historical record in order to prove that Islam never intended any harm to Hindus or Hinduism!” (Story of Islamic Imperialism, p. 87) And he added a warning: “Will Hindu society have to pay the price again? It is highly doubtful if Hindu society will survive another determined assault from Islam, such is the mental, moral and spiritual health of this society. A society which has no self-confidence, which suffers from self-pity, which indulges in breast-beating at the behest of every Hindu-baiter, and which stands in daily need of certificates of good conduct from its sworn enemies, has not the ghost of a chance in a world which is becoming deadlier with the passing of every day. Can such a society make any creative contribution to the greater good of mankind? Let every Hindu search his heart, and seek the answer.” (ibid.)

Arun ShourieCritique of Christianity

Sita Ramji’s views on Christianity are equally clear and instructive. “Hindus, from early-seventeenth-century Pandits of Tamil Nadu to Arun Shourie in the closing years of the twentieth, have spent no end of ink and breath to demolish the dogma of Christianity and denounce missionary methods. But it has hardly made any difference to the arrogance of Christian theologians and aggressiveness of Christian missionaries. That is because the dogma was never meant for discussion. It is an axiom of logic that that which has not been proved cannot and need not be disproved. And who has ever proved that the nondescript Jew who is supposed to have been crucified by a Roman governor of Judaea in AD 33 atoned for the sins of all humans for all time to come? Who has ever proved that those who accept that man as the Only Saviour, will ascend to a heaven of everlasting bliss, and those who do not, will burn forever in the blazing fire of hell? Nor can the proclamation or the promise or the threat be disproved.

“High-sounding theological blah blah notwithstanding, the fact remains that the dogma is no more than a subterfuge for forging and wielding an organizational weapon for mounting unprovoked aggression against other people. It is high time for Hindus to dismiss the dogma of Christianity with the contempt it deserves, and pay attention to the Christian missionary apparatus planted in their midst.

“The sole aim of this apparatus is to ruin Hindu society and culture, and take over the Hindu homeland. It goes on devising strategies for every situation, favourable and unfavourable. It trains and employs a large number of intellectual criminals ready to prostitute their talents in the service of their paymasters, and adept at dressing up dark designs in high-sounding language. The fact that every design is advertised as a theology in the Indian context and every criminal euphemized as an Indian theologian, should not hoodwink Hindus about the real intentions of this gangster game.” (Pseudo-Secularism, Christian Missions and Hindu Resistance, pp. 1-2)

Sita Ramji said time and again that Hindu society was committing a blunder in regarding Christianity and Islam as religions at par with Sanatana Dharma. These are ideologies of power, masquerading as religions. They proceed from very different premises and have very different objectives: “Hindus are committing a grave mistake in regarding the encounter between Hinduism and Christianity as a dialogue between two religions. Christianity has never been a religion; its long history tells us that it has always been a predatory imperialism par excellence. The encounter, therefore, should be viewed as a battle between two totally opposed and mutually exclusive ways of thought and behaviour. In the language of the Gita (ch. 16), it is war between daivi (divine) and asuri (demonic) sampads (propensities). In the mundane context of history, it can also be described as war between the Vedic and the Biblical traditions.” (op. cit., p. 2)

Koenraad ElstFocus on ideas, not people

Notice that the focus is on the ideas, not on people; it is on Islam, not Muslims; on Christianity, not Christians. In his prolific writings, Sita Ramji always took care to distinguish between Islam and Muslims, between Christianity and Christians. At the end of his discussion of the two traditions of worship, he clarified that this analysis cannot be applied mechanically to all persons born and brought up in these two opposite traditions. The head and heart of a person can be smaller or larger than any thought pattern. Therefore, ordinary men born and brought up in both these patterns are found to be of good as well as bad behaviour.

This distinction between ideas and people marks out VOI from many other pro-Hindu organizations. Many Hindus sincerely believe that Islam is good, but Muslims are wicked; Christianity is good, but Christians are crooked. As a result, they are baffled by the behaviour pattern of Muslim leaders or missionaries and harbour prejudices against them. The VOI approach removes prejudices against people, while providing a proper basis for understanding their behaviour: “It has long been a Hindu habit to resent the behaviour pattern of Muslims and Christians, while praising Islam and Christianity as revealed religions. We are asking Hindus to reverse this process, to study Christianity and Islam to see for themselves that Christian and Muslim behaviour patterns follow from the belief system of Christianity and Islam.” (History of Hindu-Christian Encounters, pp. 453-454)

The whole approach to the communal problem is redefined. “Muslims are not to be hated”, Sita Ramji said to me, “they are our own people alienated from their ancestral society and culture by a divisive doctrine masquerading as religion”. So, target the ideas, not the people.

It also imparts a wider dimension to the noble endeavour of VOI. By speaking up for Hinduism as an ancient, pagan religion that has survived the onslaughts of monotheistic creeds, VOI is speaking up for pagan America and Africa, and also for the pagan past of Egypt, Iraq, Persia, Arabia, Greece, Rome and Europe in general. As Ram Swarup put it in the preface to his Hindu View of Christianity and Islam, “Today, there is an awakening in many parts of the world. Many people are coming to know what they have gone through and what they have lost. They have also begun to realize that their present religions are impositions on them, that they once belonged to a different spiritual culture which had a different orientation and was built on a deeper and wider base. As this realization becomes more acute, many of them are trying to break form their present confines and recover their lost identity. They are also seeking a more satisfying spirituality. Probably Hinduism can help them. It has survived many physical and ideological onslaughts and it still retains in its bosom layers of spiritual traditions, intuitions and knowledge which other nations have lost; it can therefore help these nations recover their lost religious roots and identity.”

Krishna teaching the yogas to ArjunaConclusion

Sita Ramji was a karmayogi whose personality was a lively synthesis of jnana (knowledge), karma (action) and bhakti (devotion). This brave son of Hindu society took up cudgels in its defence on a frontier that was left largely unmanned for ages. He showed the difference that an individual can make with dedicated efforts. In any history of the Hindu renaissance, the contribution of Sita Ram Goel and Voice of India will be acknowledged in golden letters.

» Virendra Parekh is a senior journalist based in Mumbai. He writes in English and Gujarati on issues and developments related to Indian nationalism, economy and politics.

Aditya Prakashan Publishers

Voice of India is an imprint of publisher Aditya Prakashan

Circling the square – Amita Sharma

Nataraj & Sadhu

Who knows for certain?
Who shall here declare it?
Whence was it born, whence came creation?
The gods are later than this world’s formation;
Who then can know the origins of the world?
None knows whence creation arose;
And whether he has or has not made it;
He who surveys it from the lofty skies,
Only he knows — or perhaps he knows not.
– Rig Veda (X:129)

Amita SharmaThe Hymn of Creation is, perhaps, one of the profoundest critical gazes cast on the creator in the history of metaphysical thought, putting under erasure an a priori cognisant principle, manifesting a spirit free to doubt and question. This defines ancient Indian knowledge systems, cohabiting different realms of ‘realities’ generating at one level, the language of sophisticated argument, technical detail and codification, and at another, a language that is tentative, suggestive, pushing the borders of the known.

The genesis of ancient Indian knowledge systems is this coupling of intellectual enquiry with a sense of sublime wonder at the great mysteries of life. Ancient Indian knowledge forms were divided into two broad groups, namely para vidya and apara vidya. Para vidya or higher knowledge is knowledge by which the imperishable is known. Apara vidya encompassed worldly knowledge, like science, technology, arts, commerce and management. To the modern mind, thinking in exclusive categories, dichotomising knowledge forms, these two knowledge worlds are dualistically wedged. But the uniqueness of ancient Indian knowledge systems is the coexistence of the transcendental with the empirical, generating several distinctive features. The sacred and the secular flowed into each other.

There was no Inquisition to be feared, no imposed dogma. Savants built upon inherited knowledge forms while equally questioning them. We find Kautilya disagreeing with earlier thinkers of political science on issues of warfare, or Brahmagupta virulently rejecting Aryabhata’s theory of a rotating earth. A huge literature of commentaries, many of them sadly lost, is evidence of ceaseless and tireless scholarly discussion, debate and dissent

Technical knowledge often arose to serve religious practices. Over time, organised systems emerged dealing with language, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, the arts, governance and administration, ethics and yoga and a host of lesser known knowledge systems related to agriculture, animal husbandry, water management, town-planning that were documented in numerous texts rarely studied now.

Today the enmeshing of ideas, of poetry with physics, maths with mantra, science with mysticism, might appear as pre-scientific and, therefore, mere objects of curiosity. Yet when submitted to rigorous tests, they have almost always proved their worth. A few examples illustrate how the complexity of Indian knowledge systems argues for analytical rigour, not a reductionist reading and uncritical rejection. It is not for nothing that 20th century physicists such as Erwin Schrödinger or Werner Heisenberg drew inspiration from Vedantic concepts.

Ancient Indian mathematics arose from the Vedangas — a reflection on the Vedas. The Shulba Sutras, India’s first texts of geometry, composed around 800 – 600 BCE, exemplify traditional epistemological forms and their contribution to modern knowledge. These texts addressed the theological requirement of constructing fire altars with different shapes such as a falcon in flight with curved wings or a tortoise with extended head and legs, but with the same surface area. The altars had to be constructed with five layers of burnt bricks, each layer consisting of 200 bricks and no two adjacent layers having congruent arrangements of bricks. One of the geometric constructions involved squaring the circle (and vice-versa) viz., geometrically constructing a square having the same area as a given circle.

Circling the SquareThe Baudha­yana Shulba Sutra says, a rope stretched along the length of the diagonal produces an area which the vertical and horizontal sides make together. This is a precise geometric expression of the Pythagorean theorem, which states that the sum of the squares of the two sides of a right-angle triangle equals the square of its hypotenuse. Were we more aware of the contribution of Indian geometricians, the Pythagorean theorem might today be equally known as the Shulba theorem.

The Vedic mantras are chanted till today after a ritual prayer. Have we ever noticed the incantation involves large numbers? For example, the mantra at the end of the annahoma (food-oblation rite) performed during the ashvamedha invokes powers of 10 from a hundred to a trillion.

Maths and verse enmeshed not just in style, but in substance. Pingala (300 – 200 BCE), author of the earliest known Sanskrit treatise on prosody, Chandaḥsāstra (the science of metres), gave elaborate rules for listing out all possible combinations of ‘heavy’ (long) and ‘light’ (short) syllables in Vedic metres. In the process, Pingala constructed prastāras or tables which noted the combinations in what would be called today a binary system of notation (for instance, ‘long-long-short … long-short-short’). The science of metres led to the Indian equivalent of the famous Fibonacci numbers (in which each number is the sum of the preceding two: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…).

A Vedic hymn could have more than one meaning, embedding philosophical speculation with mathematical concepts. A famous shloka from Ishavasya Upanishad reads, purnamadah purnamidam purnat purnamudachyate purnasya purnamadaya purnameva vashishyate: “That is whole; this is whole. From the whole comes the whole; take away the whole from the whole, what remains is the whole.” Mathematically, this can be interpreted in terms of zero as well as infinity, both of which are meanings of purna.

While the zero (variously called shunya, purna, bindu …) as an empty place-holder in the place-value numeral system appears much earlier, algebraic definitions of the zero and its relationship to mathematical functions appear in the mathematical treatises of Brahmagupta in the 7th century whose Brahmasphutasiddhant had basic operations (including cube roots, fractions, ratios and proportions) as well as applied mathematics (including series, plane figures, stacking of bricks, sawing of timber, and piling of grain). His concept “divided by zero = infinity” is etymologically interesting: khachheda means divided by kha, where kha (space) stands for zero.

Consider the way the decimal story unravels. The present system of decimal numbers needed two fundamental discoveries: the concept of zero and the principle of place value. Both were developed in India between the 1st and the 6th centuries CE. The first inscription with a decimal place-value notation is from Sankheda in Gujarat, dated 346 in the Chhedi Era, or 594 CE, where ‘3’ stands for hundreds, ‘4’ for 10s and ‘6’ for units. But five centuries earlier, the Buddhist philosopher Vasumitra, discussing the counting pits of merchants, had remarked, “When [the same] clay counting-piece is in the place of units, it is denoted as one, when in hundreds, one hundred.”

Decimal representation was also employed in a verse composition technique, later labelled bhuta-sankhya (literally, object numbers) used in technical books. Since those were composed in verse, numbers were often represented by objects. The number 4, for example, could be represented by the word Veda (there are four Vedas), the number 32 by the word teeth (a full set consists of 32), and the number 1 by moon, sun or atman, all of which are unique. So, “Veda-teeth-moon” would correspond to 4-32-1 or our decimal numeral 1324, as the convention for numbers then was to enumerate their digits from right to left.

This rich tradition of mathematics flowered in some of the greatest mathematicians of their times who contributed towards discovering and formalising mathematical principles. Aryabhata I (born 476 CE) described fundamental principles of mathematics and astronomy in 121 verses of Aryabhatiya which deal with quadratic equations, trigonometry or the value of π, correct to 4 decimal places. His calculation of the circumference of earth was within 12 per cent of the actual value, his table of planetary positions and his lengths of the sidereal and solar years remarkably precise. Brahmagupta (born 598 CE) studied many geometrical figures, introduced negative numbers and defined mathematical infinity as “that which is divided by zero”.

Bhaskara IIBhaskara II (born 1114), author of Lilavati and Bijaganita, proposed solutions to cubic and biquadratic equations, worked out an efficient algorithm for some types of second-degree indeterminate equations and laid down some of the foundations of calculus.

As in the case of mathematics, early astronomical insights were embedded in sacred texts often veiled in allegorical or poetical forms. The Rig Veda refers to a wheel consisting of 360 spokes, clearly the days of the year; some of its verses have been interpreted in terms of eclipses and meteor showers.

The Aitareya Brahmana (3.44) declares, “The sun never really sets or rises. … Having reached the end of the day, he inverts himself; thus he makes evening below, day above…. Having reached the end of the night he inverts himself; thus he makes day below, night above; He never sets; indeed he never sets.” This seems to reflect an awareness of the sphericity of the earth.

The famous scholar Sayana (c. 1315-1387) commented thus on a hymn to the sun from the Rig Veda (1.50.4): “Thus it is remembered, O Surya, you who traverse 2,202 yojanas in half a nimesha.” With a yojana of about 13.6 km and a nimesha of 16/75th of a second, this amounts to 280,755 km/sec — just 6 per cent from the speed of light (299,792 km/sec) — a coincidence worth noting.

The Puranas describe time units from the infinitesimal truti, lasting (according to Bhaskara II) one 2,916,000,000th of a day or about 30 microseconds, to a mahamantavara of 311 trillion years. Time is seen as cyclical, an endless procession of creation, preservation and dissolution. The end of each kalpa brought about by Shiva’s dance is also the beginning of the next. Rebirth follows destruction. Each Brahma day and each Brahma night lasted a kalpa or 4.32 billion years, adding up to 8.43 billion years which is not too far from the current 13.7 billion years for the age of the universe (another coincidence, which the US astronomer Carl Sagan noted).

In contrast, till the 19th century, much of Europe was convinced that the universe was no more than 6,000 years old. And while we are on coincidences, let us mention that Jain texts state that there are 8.4 million species on earth, which compares well with the figure of 8.7 million arrived at in a 2011 research paper.

Chitrakut

Sacred geographies enfolded astronomical observations. According to the German archaeologist Holger Wanzke, the east-west alignment of the main streets of Mohenjodaro’s citadel (or acropolis) was probably based on the Pleiades star cluster (Krittika), which rose due east at the time; it no longer does because of the precession of the equinoxes. Ujjain, associated with the legendary king Vikramaditya, is located on the Tropic of Cancer; it was a centre of astronomical observations. Chitrakoot is associated with Rama, who is often represented symbolically as an arrow. Mapped with GPS, ashrams and other holy sites there form arrows that point to the sunrise and sunset on the summer solstice. Varanasi’s 14 Aditya shrines precisely track the sun’s path through the year, embedding time in the ancient city’s map.

Surya Shrines Varanasi

The purpose of alluding to diverse forms of cultural codification of knowledge is that even while ambiguity may en-wrap them, they have a steady stream of scientific insights that merit research. The significance of culturally embedded knowledge is supported by our material inheritance.

For the growth of a truly scientific spirit, it is necessary that we critically evaluate our intellectual inheritance. Bhaskara II said, “It is necessary to speak out the truth accurately before those who have implicit faith in tradition. It will be impossible to believe in whatever is said earlier unless every erroneous statement is criticised and condemned.”

In ignoring our own knowledge legacy, or rejecting it as myth, are we guilty of creating an uncritical modernism that stultifies its own growth?

Fields Medal winner, Manjul Bhargava has said that he was inspired not only from ancient Indian mathematicians, but also from his practice of tabla and his knowledge of Sanskrit. The statue of Nataraja, a symbol of the dance of subatomic particles, which adorns the CERN where the hunt for the ‘ultimate’ particles goes on, is a reminder that India’s wisdom offers much to the world in its tireless research into the mysteries of life in its infinite complexity. – Financial Chronicle, 13 April 2015

» Amita Sharma is former additional secretary in the Ministry of Human Resources Development. 

» With inputs from the French-born Indian author Michel Danino, currently guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar.  

» Maps courtesy Rana P.B. Singh & J. McKim Malville.

The SandHI Series | Indian Knowledge Series

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