[I had sent this article to Rajiv Varma on 14th April 2014. He was one of the organizers of the "Global Hindu Conference 2014" organized in San Jose (California) on 26th-27th April 2014. I don't know if the paper was read in the seminar concerned ("Seminar on Developing Hindu Historiography") by Koenraad Elst, nor whether it has been included in the published journal of the papers read at the Conference].
Historiography is the art of systematically presenting and recording a series of factual events in the form of a narrative (=history). It can be the chronological story of an entity (a person, an institution, a community, a nation, the world) or a subject (an art, a science, an ideology). It is usually done in the context of human affairs, in the perspective of a series of other related events, in relation to other entities and subjects, and for the purpose of future record and reference.
In the case of the history of India, which is undoubtedly one of the Great Civilizations of the world, this is the one and only art or science which the native inhabitants consistently failed to develop systematically right from the most ancient times. As Monier Williams, in his Sanskrit-English dictionary (Introduction, page 21), notes: “Scarcely a subject can be named, with the single exception of historiography, not furnishing a greater number of texts, and commentaries or commentaries on commentaries, than any other language of the ancient world”. In this respect, India stands apart from almost all other ancient civilizations and civilized nations, which may or may not have developed the number of arts and sciences that India did, but which strove to preserve historical records; and where they did not specifically record historical narratives, they left us datable and decipherable records which can help in decoding episodes and periods of their history.
[The most recent discovery (The Times of India, 18 January 2014), at Abydos in Egypt, is a case in point. An unsuspected tomb was discovered, as recently as in 2013, buried under three meters of sand. The wall paintings discovered in this tomb, containing a painted inscription, have revealed the existence of a lost (or hitherto unknown) Egyptian dynasty of 16 (generations of?) pharaohs who ruled the area from 1650 BCE onwards. The pharaoh referred to in the inscription is named Senekbay. India has yet to yield any similar datable and decipherable record earlier than the Ashokan inscriptions of the 3rd century BCE!]
In the absence of datable and decipherable records before the third century BCE, and an absence of an indigenous sense of historiography even after that, India’s direct historical sources came to be mainly those provided by foreigners: the accounts of foreign visitors to India from China from the Buddhist period onwards; Chinese, Persian and mainly Greek sources for a few centuries after that; Muslim sources (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and later indigenous Islamic) for a very long period after that; and finally the accounts of European visitors (from Marco Polo onwards) and colonial administrators and writers in more recent times. The only Indian sources for older periods are the incidental historical material that can be gleaned mainly from religious and secular (but non-historiographical) records: Vedic, Puranic, Classical Sanskrit, Buddhist, Jain, and regional or sectarian writings or texts.
The history systematically reconstructed from all these diverse sources, mainly by British scholars in the colonial period, and from the twentieth century onwards also by Indian scholars trained in the same British/western traditions of historiography, naturally turned out to be a history written from the eyes and perspective of outsiders.
The objective of this article is therefore to provide the guidelines for writing a historical narrative of India from the most ancient times possible from an Indian perspective, and to list out the parameters for such an exercise [It is possible that my field of history being the ancient pre-Buddhist period, many of my parameters may seem to be more, or mainly, applicable to the ancient period]:
To begin with, we must understand what is meant by “from an Indian perspective”.
It does not mean from a perspective colored with Indian or Hindu biases, prejudices and preconceptions. It means simply a perspective free from the various biases, prejudices and preconceptions (Christian, Islamic, colonial, British/European, Congress, Secularist, Marxist, etc.) which have hitherto colored the writing of Indian history. It means writing Indian history in a manner which is comprehensive and coherent, rational and objective, and based on scientifically verifiable sources. In short, it should be such that no other honest and objective historian, non-Indian and non-Hindu, should be able to brand it as biased with a clear conscience.
Specifically, it does not mean writing history from the point of view of applying or justifying real or imagined Hindu religious parameters. The following are a few guidelines:
1. History: The first point to be remembered is that what is sought to be presented is history. The subject is not the formation of the Universe beginning with the Big Bang, the separation and formation of the Earth from the sun, the geological ages of the Earth, the zoological beginnings of Life on Earth, the history of Homo Sapiens on this earth, or even the migrations of prehistoric man from his supposed beginnings in Africa. Therefore, the time frame is not to be measured in millions, or even tens of thousands, of years. Most of the history of human civilization, barring of course the roots of human activities like the beginnings of agriculture going back into earlier millenniums, pertains to a period after 5000 BCE or so, and it will do well to remember that the time frame of history is really more modest than is usually assumed by people, particularly writers and scholars striving to write Indian history from an Indian perspective.
2. Scientific Approach: The tools for decoding and cataloguing Indian history also should be scientific rather than emotional ones. Archaeology, anthropology, textual analysis, etc., and the various scientific tools and procedures incidental to these disciplines should be made ample use of wherever possible. However, sciences such as DNA studies may do to study prehistoric movements (or, for later periods of time, to derive sensationalist pieces of news such as the alleged presence of the genes of Genghis Khan in a large part of the population of Asia), but when their time frames go back into tens of thousands of years, they really have little or nothing to do with historical questions (as, for example, the “Aryan” or Indo-European question, which is at the root of most studies on the beginnings of India’s civilization, which pertains to a period after 4000 BCE). Likewise, in my opinion, sciences such as astronomy, which are much misused in the study and analysis of ancient Indian history, especially by Indian writers who seek to write Indian history from an Indian viewpoint, are of no use unless the recorded data on the basis of which astronomical claims are made is astronomically precise and unambiguous. Unfortunately, most of the astronomical claims made in this context are arbitrary, whimsical and wishful in nature, and based mainly on purely symbolic or wishful interpretations of phrases and words which are totally devoid of any astronomical import. Indian discussions on astronomy in the ancient texts constitute the weakest elements in present day attempts to write history from an Indian perspective.
3. Source Materials: The most important data base for reconstructing history lies in decipherable and datable records, inscriptional as well as archaeological (material). This is increasingly available in adequate measure from post Buddhist times. The available records, from the period of the Islamic intrusions into India onwards, are so prolific that it becomes easier to reconstruct the history in reasonable detail. Most of the records are, moreover, provided mainly by the intruders themselves, who were in the habit of keeping detailed historical records of all their activities. Hence, secularist and leftist attempts to falsify the history of these periods can be very effectively countered on the intellectual level, as many writers of the Voice of India school, for example, led by Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup, have done, purely on the basis of the detailed records available; and, although the leftist-secularist stranglehold on the academia and media has muffled most of this material, it can be countered in the course of time if there are concerted and coordinated efforts.
It must be noted here that there are literally millions of palm leaf and other manuscripts of various dates (post Ashokan) lying in remote and mofussil areas all over India (and even abroad), in temples, libraries, archives, private collections, museums, etc., which could contain plenty of significant historical and other material. Many of these manuscripts are decaying and getting destroyed due to general apathy and negligence. Collecting, annotating, translating and publicizing the invaluable data in all these manuscripts is a Herculean but necessary task if all that data is not to be lost forever.
In the absence of actual datable and decipherable records of pre-Ashokan times, there is no consensus among Indian scholars and writers who want to write more ancient Indian history from an Indian viewpoint. Many biases, preconceptions, wishful ideas, and religious and political predilections dominate the discussion in the absence of actual datable and decipherable records.
The earliest datable and decipherable inscriptional records are the Ashoka pillars. However, as Harvard Professor Michael Witzel has pointed out, the Vedic texts (but not the Epics or Puranas) constitute oral inscriptions which are as good as actual inscriptions (the only difference, a major one, being that they can not be dated, unlike actual material inscriptions, using scientific methods like carbon dating), and as reliable in deciphering the events of their periods of composition. As Witzel repeatedly puts it in various articles and papers (his words must be noted in full):
“Right from the beginning, in Rgvedic times, elaborate steps were taken to insure the exact reproduction of the words of the ancient poets. As a result, the Rgveda still has the exact same wording in such distant regions as Kashmir, Kerala and Orissa, and even the long-extinct musical accents have been preserved. Vedic transmission is thus superior to that of the Hebrew or Greek Bible, or the Greek, Latin and Chinese classics. We can actually regard present-day Rgveda recitation as a tape recording of what was composed and recited some 3000 years ago. In addition, unlike the constantly reformulated Epics and Purānas, the Vedic texts contain contemporary materials. They can serve as snapshots of the political and cultural situation of the particular period and area in which they were composed. […] as they are contemporary, and faithfully preserved, these texts are equivalent to inscriptions. […] they are immediate and unchanged evidence, a sort of oral history ― and sometimes autobiography ― of the period, frequently fixed and ‘taped’ immediately after the event by poetic formulation. These aspects of the Vedas have never been sufficiently stressed […]” (WITZEL 1995a:91).
“[…] the Vedas were composed orally and they always were and still are, to some extent, oral literature. They must be regarded as tape recordings, made during the Vedic period and transmitted orally, and usually without the change of a single word.” (WITZEL 1997b:258).
“It must be underlined that just like an ancient inscription, these words have not changed since the composition of these hymns c.1500 BCE, as the RV has been transmitted almost without any change […] The modern oral recitation of the RV is a tape recording of c.1700-1200 BCE.” (WITZEL 2000a:§8).
“The language of the RV is an archaic form of Indo-European. Its 1028 hymns are addressed to the gods and most of them are used in ritual. They were orally composed and strictly preserved by exact repetition through by rote learning, until today. It must be underlined that the Vedic texts are ‘tape recordings’ of this archaic period. Not one word, not a syllable, not even a tonal accent were allowed to be changed. The texts are therefore better than any manuscript, and as good as any well preserved contemporary inscription. We can therefore rely on the Vedic texts as contemporary sources for names of persons, places, rivers (WITZEL 1999c)” (WITZEL 2006:64-65).
The problem of the texts not being scientifically datable is offset by the fact, as I have shown in my third book, “The Rigveda and the Avesta – The Final Evidence” (2008), that we have Rigveda-related texts and inscriptional data in areas further west – the Avesta in ancient Afghanistan and the Mitanni material in ancient West Asia – with which the Rigvedic data can be studied comparatively. And the Mitanni material consists of scientifically datable inscriptional and archaeological data. Thus we automatically get datable evidence for the Rigvedic period.
4. Data versus Myth: In reconstructing history from textual and inscriptional sources, blind citation is one thing to be avoided. In respect of texts, it must be remembered that texts like the Epics and the Puranas, as well as many other Sanskrit texts of a non-religious character, have been continuously redacted and updated in the period from their original point of composition to the time they were actually written down in manuscript form. Hence, data in these texts is valid only for the actual point of time to which the manuscripts are dated, and can not be treated as sacrosanct testimonials for events and people of much earlier times described in these texts. However, many Indian writers make it a point of prestige to treat the data in these texts as conclusive evidence, and draw all kinds of strong conclusions from it which go against the actual evidence and against logic.
Thus, for example, many Indian writers insist on placing the dates of Adi Shankaracharya, the Guptas and Mauryas, and the Buddha, to take just a few examples, hundreds of years (sometimes over a thousand years) before their generally accepted dates. References in the Mahabharata to Yavanas and Romakas are taken as evidence that these were ancient tribes of the Mahabharata period, rather than as evidence that the Mahabharata was revised and redacted in post Ashokan times when Greeks and Romans were familiar people to the redactors. Most commonly, the date of the Mahabharata war is regularly taken to be 3102 BCE on the basis of a calculation made by Aryabhata in the year 500 CE or so, more than 3500 years after the alleged event.
Another feature of inscriptional evidence is that even when the writers of these manuscripts were recording contemporary materials, they were also indulging in recording myths and legends, religious beliefs and concepts, and stories of divinity, magic and miracles. Treating such data as historical evidence is clearly dubious historiography. Leave alone the miracles and myths in the ancient Epics and Puranas, or the accounts of miracles in the life of Adi Shankaracharya over 1300 years ago or Sant Dnyaneshwar over 700 years ago, or the tales of medieval kings and saints of the last few centuries, we even have “eye-witness” records of the miraculous powers and feats of godmen and swamis of the twentieth century and even of those still living and flourishing today. In citing even contemporary records from ancient and medieval texts and manuscripts, it is necessary to distinguish very sharply between the historical grains and the mythical-fictitious chaff. Again, this is something many Indian writers fail or refuse to do.
The need for such intelligent use of textual and inscriptional references applies to the accounts of foreign writers and historians as well, ancient (Greek, Chinese, Arab, etc.) or modern (western historians, Indologists and Indophiles of the last two centuries).
Thus, anything and everything written by the ancient foreign visitors to India is not authentic historical material. They also recorded myths, pedestrian or illusory impressions, and sensationalist tales and descriptions, in their accounts. SD Kulkarni, in his BHISHMA series, quotes Greek accounts to claim as a testified fact, for example, that Indians of that period, among other things, lived to an average age of 150 years.
Likewise, many western writers of the last two centuries, including Indologists and Indophiles (lovers of Indian culture and spiritualism), have written a lot on Indian, Hindu and Indological topics, which is not all necessarily scholarly: their writings have ranged from the most authentic scholarly writings to writings of the Tilak-SD Kulkarni-PN Oak brands. Countering the views of those writers who had anti-Indian or anti-Hindu biases (or in many cases, those scholars who in all honesty made wrong interpretations or arrived at wrong conclusions) is definitely an important part of writing Indian history from an Indian perspective. But quoting as clinching “western” authorities the pleasing or convenient views of other western writers who are biased in favor of India (for which bias itself, of course, we certainly owe them our affection and respect), but who are as illogical and biased in their ideas and interpretations as many of their Indian counterparts, is definitely something to be avoided. However, profusely quoting such writers is a regular feature of Indian writing of history from an Indian perspective.
5. Objective Approach: The most important fact to be kept in mind is that a true historian should be completely objective (a) in analyzing all the relevant data and evidence, and in arriving at conclusions thereof, and (b) in the language and style of presentation.
It may appear that most of this article concentrates on finding fault with writers writing from an Indian viewpoint. But this is because we already know what the faults of the opposing side are:
(a) They write to various agendas (secularist, leftist, pseudo-Gandhian, colonial, European, Christian, Muslim, casteist, etc.).
(b) They portray the Indian or Hindu side from the very worst possible angles and the Christian or Muslim sides from the very best possible angles.
(c) They indulge in massive suppression and distortion of facts and invention of stories in pursuit of these portrayals.
(d) And they pursue these agendas on a full-fledged war-footing on the basis of a near-complete control of the arena of political discourse, of the media and of academic forums.
We know that we have to counter all this. Voice of India publications represented the first true Indian intellectual response to this anti-Indian enterprise, and set out the basic approach for the writing of Indian (and world) history from an Indian perspective. But the Indian perspective should not be as faulty as the anti-Indian perspective. Hence there is a need to concentrate on correcting the faulty attitudes and techniques of writers writing from an Indian viewpoint.
Objectivity in analyzing all the relevant data and evidence, and in arriving at conclusions thereof, is therefore very important. Suppression and distortion of facts and invention of stories in pursuit of an anti-Indian/Hindu agenda can not be countered by suppression and distortion of facts and invention of stories in pursuit of a pro-Indian/Hindu agenda.
The biggest obstacle for the objective Indian historian is that he is up against a political propaganda machine of Orwellian proportions which is so all powerful as to be beyond imagination and description. This automatically creates a reaction which inhibits him from being truly objective in analyzing Indian history: there is always a fear that, in objectively and critically analyzing Hindu texts, religion and history, he may be playing into the hands of the all powerful enemy.
Just one example of the omnipotence of this propaganda machine will suffice: the demolition of one mosque structure in Ayodhya on the 6th of December 1992. This, probably the first non-Hindu religious structure deliberately demolished by Hindus in the whole of historical memory in order to make way for a Hindu temple, is today branded as one of the most atrocious and momentous acts in human history, easily comparable with the holocaust of Jews in Nazi Germany. This single demolition followed the 1400-year old long deliberate destruction and demolition of literally hundreds of thousands of temples all over India and their replacement by mosques (including in the last seven decades itself, countless temples in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir; and including in fact the very Hindu temple, as the Indian judiciary itself has now confirmed, which originally stood on the very spot occupied by the mosque-structure demolished on 6/12/1992), recorded in ruthless and gleeful detail by the Islamic historians themselves. And yet, this demolition of a single mosque structure was treated as something more cataclysmic than the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki: from the day the demolition took place, it has been the subject of truly countless and endless newspaper headlines, books, articles, speeches, intellectual discussions, demonstrations and rallies (including maatam rallies), and endless rhetoric.
The very next day after the demolition took place, the whole country – and in fact, the whole world – erupted and exploded in “shock”, “indignation” and “outrage”. Every other newspaper carried front page pictures of thousands of “outraged” secularists (including members of organized NGOs) demonstrating outside the offices of Hindu organizations held responsible for the demolition, holding up placards with slogans like “sharm se kaho ham Hindu hain” (say with shame that we are Hindus). The same secularists who insisted that the Islam which expressly authorizes the demolition of non-Islamic religious structures (unlike Hinduism which requires respect for all religious structures) is a “noble” religion, and that Hindus must forget (and even feel ashamed for remembering at all) the demolition of hundreds of thousands of Hindu temples, now wanted Hindus to feel eternal “shame” for this single demolition of a demolished-temple-turned-into-a-mosque structure.
[Let me make it very clear at this point: all this is not in defence of the cynical political party and other cynical organizations which made a political “card” of the Ayodhya issue for their cynical ends].
Most importantly, this cataclysmic event is now held fundamentally responsible – in fact, as the fundamental root cause – for every single Muslim riot, grievance, and terrorist act since that date (and, one assumes, retrospectively, for every invasion, conquest, massacre, temple-demolition, riot and terrorist act which took place in the last 1300 years before 6/12/1992 in anticipation of this horrific event).
In such an atmosphere, where Hindus are eternally in the sinful role of Oliver Twist asking for more, the task of an Indian, and specifically Hindu, writer of Indian history becomes very difficult. Can he analyse Hindu history objectively – critically appraising eras, personalities, texts, events and developments – without the fear that every word of criticism he writes will be fodder for the gargantuan anti-Hindu propaganda machine, where one Hindu sin overturns and neutralizes a million Hindu pieties and a million non-Hindu sins? Or must he write as an ideological pamphleteer, out to glorify Hindu history through thick and through thin and to justify, whitewash or sweep under the carpet every Hindu failing and every Hindu fault, and to further every Hindu religious or nationalistic bias and prejudice?
Writers striving to write Indian history from an objective perspective also themselves often carry the baggage of various biases and prejudices based on caste, community, language, region, socio-economic backgrounds, family traditions, personal experiences, party or organizational affiliations, etc. But even more to the point, they now stand to face attacks, for perceived slurs in their writings, from casteist individuals and organizations of every category (Brahmin to OBC to Dalit), from chauvinistic regional, sectarian and linguistic elements, and even from the fans and followers of different political individuals and parties of every persuasion. These attacks are largely verbal, political and legal, but can go as far as vandalism (the vandalism of the Bhandarkar Research Institute library in Pune is a case in point) and physical attack, and, till now, only fall short of the serious death threats that perceived slurs on Islam can evoke.
Even self-declared “Hindu”, rather than sectarian or casteist, writers, individuals and organizations, have taken up this hyper-sensitive siege-mentality attitude to the extent that even exposures of the shady or criminal shenanigans of present-day individuals (I would like to avoid names in general, but here I must mention the name of Asaram Bapu) or of horrible social evils (like the activities of inhuman khap panchayats in rural areas in every part of India) are treated as attacks on Hinduism, and the critics are treated as agents of anti-Hindu forces. How much more so, then, would the objective writer of Indian history not face the ire of self-styled Hindu protagonists if his writings were to contain rational critical evaluations of Hindu beliefs, customs, ideas, myths, events, textual references, Epic and Puranic figures (including Gods and avatars), ancient and medieval kings, rishis and holy men, etc.?
To compound matters, recent events have brought to prominence the writings of a low class of gutter-mentality western academic “scholars” of Hinduism and India, who do not strive to critically evaluate but prefer to indulge in vomit-and-paste tactics. There are indeed many things in Hinduism, as in every human institution, which can be criticized. But how can the following conclusions of their so-called “psychological” analysis be justified on the basis of the data in the available textual material: that Ganesha represents a eunuch guarding a harem, that he harbors incestuous desires towards his mother Parvati, that his trunk represents a limp phallus, that his broken tusk is representative of an obsession with castration, that his love for sweets indicates a predilection for oral sex? All this makes any rational criticism of Indian/Hindu history more and more difficult since it raises, or could be manipulated to raise, comparisons and associations with anti-Hindu writings of this kind.
[Again, I want to clarify that I do not agree with those who want such writings (à la Doniger’s Children) to be banned. Banning, or in this case partial withdrawal of the book, only gives millions of dollars worth of free publicity to them, and gives a tremendous boost to their total sales and profits. What was needed was to expose the dirt and venom in their writings to the Indian public on a massive scale, so that the kind of things written by them would be known to the Hindu public who matters, and who otherwise generally blindly assumes that western scholarship is something sacrosanct. And even more, to name and expose the Hindu academics and “intellectuals” who support such gutter-writing. And most of all, to name and expose those Hindu industrialists and capitalists who do not come out openly as anti-Hindus (which label many of the “intellectuals” may not seriously object to) but who massively fund such writings through endowments and donations to western Universities and awards to such writers].
In these circumstances, how can a historian, writing the history of India from an Indian perspective, write objectively without becoming the target of the ire of both the anti-Hindu and the self-declaredly Hindu sides?
The answer is that a historian must write objectively if his writings are to stand the test of time. The finer points of how to go about it will require greater discussion, open-mindedness, honesty, objectivity, unity and co-ordination among writers of Indian history. A partisan attitude towards the writing of Indian history is bad historiography and will only be futile and counter-productive in the long run.
It would do well to remember what the historian A L Basham had to say about Indian civilization, in his book “The Wonder That Was India”: “At most periods of her history India, though a cultural unit, has been torn by internecine war. In statecraft, her rulers were cunning and unscrupulous. Famine, flood and plague visited her from time to time, and killed millions of her people. Inequality of birth was given religious sanction, and the lot of the humble was generally hard. Yet our overall impression is that in no other part of the ancient world were the relations of man and man, and of man and the state, so fair and humane. In no other early civilisation were slaves so few in number, and in no other ancient lawbook are their rights so well protected as in the Arthasastra. No other ancient lawgiver proclaimed such noble ideals of fair play in battle as did Manu. In all her history of warfare Hindu India has few tales to tell of cities put to the sword or of the massacre of non-combatants…There was sporadic cruelty and oppression no doubt, but, in comparison with conditions in other early cultures, it was mild. To us the most striking feature of ancient Indian civilisation is its humanity.” India was the only place in the world, before modern times, where people oppressed in other parts of the world could expect to find refuge, relief and respectability, and the freedom to live their lives in peace, safety and security in the way they wished.
But Indians/Hindus are also human beings, and the bane of being human beings is that there will always be as many “wrong” people (evil, cruel, self-interested, manipulative, biased, exploitative, unreasonable, thoughtless, misguided, stupid, short-sighted, or whatever) as there will be “right” ones (good, humane, reasonable, selfless, intelligent, thoughtful, far-sighted, etc.) at any given time or place. There were “wrong” people in ancient India as well, as in all times and places. All the writers in those times (including the “wrong” people among them) wrote in Sanskrit (including, in earlier times, in Vedic Sanskrit) or in the Literary Prakrits (and later on in time, in the earlier forms of modern day Indian languages), and there were (as in all times) “wrong” people among the kings, scholars and religious men of those times. As the saying goes, history is written by the victors, and the victors can, and usually do, include “wrong” people. Therefore, everything which has come down to us in text and tradition is not necessarily “right”, simply because it was written by someone in ancient India who wrote in Sanskrit (even Vedic Sanskrit) and/or because it has been sanctified by reverent tradition.
A fundamentalist can take the position that everything was “right” and glorious in ancient India and Hinduism, in Hindu texts, in the actions of the heroes (gods, avatars, kings, rishis) in those texts, and in the customs, traditions and beliefs that have come down to us in those texts. But a true historian, even, or I would say particularly, a historian who wants to write Indian history from an Indian perspective, can not take a fundamentalist position: he must write as an objective, dispassionate recorder or narrator of history.
This is particularly difficult, as we have already seen, because of the solid phalanx of anti-Hindu forces that he will be up against. But the following points should be kept in mind:
1. The “wrong” things in Hinduism, and thereby in Hindu/Indian history, are far, far less in size, number and proportion to the “wrong” things in the ideologies and histories of Christianity, Islam, Communism, Capitalism, or, indeed, of any other nation or civilization. To show matters in their perspective, there should be serious efforts to develop the Voice of India school of analysis of the enemies of India and Hinduism, and to disseminate and propagate the facts on a systematic and coordinated basis.
2. The “wrong” things in Hinduism, and thereby in Hindu-Indian history, are only incidental to Hinduism (or they are one or a few among countless alternative things), while the “wrong” things in other religions and ideologies are fundamental to those religions and ideologies, and without them those religions and ideologies would cease to exist or have any meaning. The identity or existence of Hinduism is not dependent on any of its incidental parts.
[Incidentally, I would like to quote here from something I read on the internet: an article entitled Nothing New or Alternative in Doniger's “Linga”, her “narrative of religion", which I found very well put. The writer, Bharat Gupt, begins the article as follows: “For Hinduism studies, the 21st century opens with an audacious tome by Wendy Doniger, ‘The Hindus An Alternative History’, Penguin/Viking 2009. This act of ‘courage’ or saahasa (also done with plenty of saa-haasa or tongue in cheek humor), ends up being closer to the ancient meaning of the word saahasa as used in Indian law codes, that is, an offence. After reading only a few pages of this book, I was reminded of something I did in my greener days. In late teens, when I had enough Sanskrit to read Valmiki, I went to my village educated mother, hoping to shock her, with my discovery that Valmiki’s Rama when in exile used to hunt the deer, roast the meat and offer it to Sita. My mother, though not pleased at this great news, watched me intently to study my intentions and quickly took away my sadistic pleasure by quoting a line from Tulsidas, of whose Ramayana, she was a daily reader. ‘Naanaa bhaanti Raam avataaraa/ Raamayana shata koti apaaraa’ (Rama has taken many kinds of avatars and Ramayanas are hundred crores in number). Today I marvel at the profound meaning this rural untutored woman had deciphered from the text of Tulsi that some of us are unable to grasp even though we may have spent a life time of reading and teaching heavy classical texts in Sanskrit and that too sitting on the cushion of a salary. She not only kept ‘her Rama’ intact, but showed no antagonism, distaste or horror of the ‘hunter Rama’ who was just another avatara, and not somebody who would threaten her faith, demolish the ‘myth of the holy cow’, endanger notions of Hindu vegetarianism, create doubts about the historicity of Rama, or give a boost to the tension between ‘Hindu attitude to violence in sacrifice and the Hindu ideal of nonviolence’ in life, a favorite theme in Doniger’s book. Myths or stories are many and in many versions. Do they mean to burden us with a past to be carried as a cross or are they meant to liberate us from ignorance and illusion that we ourselves create? Or, are myths to be interpreted as ‘narratives’ that aim to make a people, Hindus specially, uncomfortable, dislocated and even ashamed of their own heritage in order to make them yield to predatory cultures? These are some of the questions that come to mind while reading Doniger’s massive volume.” I would say it is not just a question of meat-eating, since vegetarianism is a noble concept which entered Hinduism only after Buddhism and Jainism; nor is it only a question of myths. There are many worse or unacceptable things in Hinduism. But the Indian/Hindu historian (or his Indian/Hindu reader) should not allow them to either (a) make him feel uncomfortable, dislocated or ashamed of his heritage, or fall a prey to predatory cultures, or (b) make him feel compelled to adopt an attitude of justifying, whitewashing or sweeping them under the carpet, much less actually glorifying them in any way.]
Therefore, a Hindu/Indian historian should have full confidence in his freedom to write about the “wrong” or inhuman aspects in Hinduism and in Hindu/Indian history (and, incidentally, the Hindu activist in his freedom to fight uncompromisingly against the “wrong” things in Hindu society and practice) without feeling that he is any way dismantling the defences of Hinduism and leaving the field open to enemy ideologies. [Note: many Hindu “reformers”, who claim to be doing the same, stand exposed when they adopt different criteria for examining and judging Hinduism and for examining and judging other religions and ideologies. That is the ultimate test of objectivity. Examine the writings of Dr Ambedkar, a sharp critic of Hinduism for example in his “Riddles in Hinduism”, and compare it with his equally sharp criticism of Islam in his “Thoughts on Pakistan”: that is objectivity. Even an opportunistic and decadent (and, in my opinion, frankly unreadable) writer like Salman Rushdie shows some objectivity in his logical criticism of all religions.]
As Basham, quoted above, points out, “the most striking feature of ancient Indian civilisation is its humanity”. And an Indian/Hindu historian should have pride and confidence in this innate humanity in the Indian psyche, and not become a Hindu version of a Christian or Marxist evangelist or apologist. The only criteria for an Indian/Hindu historian wanting to present Indian (and world) history from an Indian perspective must be the innately Indian/Hindu criteria of Truth, Sense of Justice, and Humaneness or Humanitarianism.
Along with avoiding presenting history from an agenda based on the partisan principle of suppressio veri, suggestio falsi, and on apologetics, and on glorifying certain personalities or institutions or condemning others in a partisan manner, the historian should also avoid using language (e.g. excessive use of adjectives, going into ecstasies and delivering paeans and panegyrics, etc.) based on such an attitude: I give as an example a paragraph from a seminal book (“Hindutva”) by a person (Savarkar) that no Indian can not respect: “At last the great mission which the Sindhus had undertaken of founding a nation and a country, found and reached its geographical limit when the valorous Prince of Ayodhya made a triumphant entry in Ceylon and actually brought the whole land from the Himalayas to the Seas under one sovereign sway. The day when the Horse of Victory returned unchallenged and unchallengeable, the great white Umbrella of Sovereignty was unfurled over that Imperial throne of Ramchandra, the brave, Ramchandra the good, and a loving allegiance to him was sworn, not only by the Princes of Aryan blood, but Hanuman, Sugriva, Bibhishana from the south – that day was the real birth-day of our Hindu people. It was truly our national day: for Aryans and Anaryans knitting themselves into a people were born as a nation.” This is a very common style of Indian writing. It is best to state all the facts and let the facts speak for themselves. Of course, a historian has to place the facts in their correct perspective, but this also can be done in a dispassionate and logical manner (and language).
6. A Truly Indian Perspective: Finally, if the aim is to write Indian history from an Indian perspective, the perspective should be a truly and completely Indian one. There are basically two major facets to a true history of India, and historians usually concentrate on only the first one.
The first facet is the history of the Classical Indian civilization. The standard official history of India runs on the following lines: it starts with the Indus Valley civilization, followed by the Aryan Invasion and the Vedic Period, followed by the Buddhist period, the Maurya Period, the Gupta Period, (after a gap) the Islamic invasions and the Delhi Sultanate, and finally the Period of the Mughals, Marathas, Sikhs, Rajputs, Bahmanis and Vijayanagar, leading to the European Colonial Period, and finally the long-drawn out Independence movements followed by Independence itself in 1947. There are sometimes fillers in between of religious movements, from Adi Shankaracharya to the saints of the various Bhakti movements.
This standard history suffers from two glaring lacunae in its representation of the Classical Indian civilization. The first (and the more serious) lacuna is the absence of a definite indigenous history for the period prior to the Buddha. An attempt is made to fill this gap with the help of the totally hypothetical Aryan Invasion theory, which was invented by linguists three centuries or so ago to explain the similarities between the languages of North India and the languages of Europe. As I have irrefutably proved [I know how much my use of this adjective irks many people, but irrefutable it is; and its irrefutability is emphasized by the dogged refusal of protagonists of the Aryan invasion Theory to even attempt to try to contest, on academic grounds, the evidence and case presented by me in my three books], the Indo-European languages originated in India, and the ancestral forms of the Indo-European languages of Europe and of other parts of Asia were originally taken to those areas by migrants from India: mainly the Anus and Druhyus described in the Vedic and Puranic texts, but also (in the case of the ancient Mitanni and Kassites of West Asia) by sections of the Purus who developed the Vedic culture, and in later times by the Gypsies or Romany. The true history of the period attributed to the “Aryan Invasion”, and for a few thousand years before that (including the identity of the Harappan civilization), can be reconstructed from a rational analysis of the data in the Vedic and Puranic texts.
The second big lacuna is that while the Maurya dynasty and the Gupta dynasty (the overwhelming importance of which two dynasties in Indian history can not be denied) are given their rightful place in Indian history books, little is said about the great dynasties of the south: the Pandya, Chola and Chera. Incredibly, while the Maurya dynasty lasted for around 137 years (322 BCE to 185 BCE) and the Gupta dynasty lasted for around 230 years (from 320 CE to 550 CE), the three southern dynasties lasted from the time of the Buddha at least (say from 500 BCE) to well into the second millennium CE, each a period of over 1500 years, and they left us some of the greatest extant masterpieces of Indian literature, art and architecture. The main concentration of Indian history books in the ancient period is on the Gandhara to Bihar belt, and little attention is given to most other parts of India. This approach requires to be balanced out.
The second facet is the total fact of India itself. India is culturally the richest area in the world. It has the widest range of climate, topography, flora and fauna. It is the only area in the world which has, native to it, all the three races of the world (Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid); and it has, native to it, six (Indo-European, Dravidian, Austric, Sino-Tibetan, Burushaski and Andamanese) of the nineteen or so language families in the world, three of them restricted to India. The range and variety, and the richness, of its culture, and the richness and importance of its fundamental contributions to the world in every field (music, dance, literary forms, games, physical and martial systems, culinary arts, art and architecture, attire, fundamental sciences, etc, etc,) is unparalleled. It gave birth to the widest range of philosophies, and some of the major religions of the world (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism), and is the only area in the world which will go down in history for giving asylum to the followers of all other religiously persecuted people (Jews, Zoroastrians, Syrian Christians, etc.) from all parts of the world since long before the modern era. But:
1. The essential details of the richness of all these different aspects of India’s culture find no place in history books. To most historians, the study of richness in different fields of culture is not vital to the study of Indian history.
2. In the last few hundred years of western scholarship, there have been sustained efforts to ignore India’s contributions to the world in every field, or to obfuscate them by attributing them to other sources, or to misattribute important aspects of Indian culture to the invention of immigrant or invader groups in historical times. Correcting these misattributions is also a task which has remained largely untouched. [Again a word of caution here: this does not mean a chauvinistic campaign to claim that everything in the world originated in India, or to deny the genuine contributions of the rest of the world, or of immigrants into India from the rest of the world, to India’s culture and ethos. A case in point is an acrimonious and endless debate going on in internet circles over the Greek origins of certain aspects of Indian astronomy and astrology].
3. Indian culture is rich because in addition to the cultural richness of the Classical Indian civilizational stream (including both Vedic/Sanskrit culture and the culturally, even if not linguistically, fraternal “Sangam” culture of the south), India has a second stream consisting of many rich ethnic (mainly “tribal”) strands of culture equally Indian and independent of the Classical Indian civilization. On the one hand, we have leftist-secularist elements, and most particularly the extremely powerful international missionary lobbies, striving to create a cleavage between the two to facilitate the balkanization (or at least weakening) of India or the religious conversion of sections of the population (notwithstanding the fact that the two streams are generically identical to each other, and both are generically opposed to Christianity and western civilization). On the other, we have nationalist elements trying to create paradigms (often with the help of Puranic myths interpreted in convenient ways) where the cultural (and sometimes even the linguistic!) strands of the second stream can somehow be shown to be derivatives of the Classical Indian (Vedic/Sanskrit) stream. A logical understanding of the true situation is completely absent among historians.
It will therefore be the job of the Indian historian to fill out all these shortcomings in the writing and presentation of Indian history.
These are essentially all the points that I have to make on the subject of “Parameters for the Writing of Indian History”. It is possible I may have failed to make myself clear in what I wanted to say. The subject requires greater (non-politicized and non-acrimonious) discussion and debate among Indian historians, certainly at least among those who want to write a truly objective history of India from an Indian perspective free of the anti-Hindu biases which dominate Indian historiography today.
SAVARKAR: Hindutva, Savarkar V.D, Veer Savarkar Prakashan, Mumbai, 1969 (orig. publ. 1923).
TALAGERI 1993: The Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism, Talageri, Shrikant G., Voice of India, New Delhi, 1993.
TALAGERI 2000: The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, Talageri, Shrikant G., Aditya Prakashan (New Delhi), 2000.
WITZEL 1995a: Early Indian History: Linguistic and Textual Parameters. Witzel. Michael. pp. 85-125 in “The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia”, ed. by George Erdosy. Walter de Gruyter. Berlin, 1995.
WITZEL 1997b: The Development of the Vedic Canon and Its Schools: The Social and Political Milieu. Witzel, Michael. in “Inside the Texts, Beyond the Texts”, ed. by M.Witzel, Cambridge 1997 (being the proceedings of the International Vedic Workshop, Harvard univ., June 1989).
WITZEL 2000a: The Languages of Harappa. Witzel, Michael. Feb. 17, 2000.
WITZEL 2006: Central Asian Roots and Acculturation in South Asia: Linguistic and Archaelogical Evidence from Western Central Asia, the Hindukush and Northwestern South Asia for Early Indo-Aryan Language and Religion. in “Indus Civilization: Text and Context”, edited by Toshiki Osada, Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 2006