Indian History And Its Historians

Part VI :  The Pernicious Effects Of A False History

An Indian stamp honoring Pāṇini.
An Indian stamp honoring Pāṇini.

One of the criticisms leveled at the new breed of Indian historians who wish to uncover the authentic history of India, after the morass of inconsistencies into which it has sunk, is that they are motivated by political considerations and that they are ‘nationalistic’. 

While one fails to see any violation of ethics in being a nationalist, the charges seem lame if perplexing to us Indians. Political motivations have always dominated the pursuit of Indological studies during the colonial era right from the outset, since the time Sir William Jones discovered the Sanskrit language. One such political motivation was the need for the Europeans to define their identity outside the burdensome framework of Semitic traditions, which dominated their religious life until then. The notion that the North European Viking owed much of his civilisation to the Mediterranean Semite was not palatable to most of the elite in European countries. The length and intensity of that shame is unimaginable today but was as real as their current deep reluctance to accept the historical facts that locate the Proto-Indo-European in India ! 

The discovery of Sanskrit was a matter of immense “political” relief : that, finally, the languages of Europe did not after all derive from Hebrew but from an ancestor language which was initially assumed to be Sanskrit. In the immediate aftermath of the discovery of Sanskrit by Sir William Jones, there was a great gush of admiration and worship of the sublime nature of Sanskrit texts such as Kalidasa’s Sakuntala. But that appreciation was political, not in truth, barring a few souls, of whom Voltaire was amongst the foremost. 

The ideas of racial superiority were still dominant in 18th Century Europe despite the Renaissance and the much celebrated Age Of Enlightenment. And it showed, as the Europeans realised that the present day practitioners of Sanskrit were not blonde and blue-eyed, nor as mightily depraved or strong as they themselves were. The fact that they had conquered, robbed and tortured, their own cultural forebears would have been a horribly uncultured thing to do on part of the Europeans, and was hence equally shameful and unacceptable. 

The European Indologists therefore came upon an ingenious explanation, which led them to declare that the Sanskrit culture of the subcontinent was not native to the subcontinent but was impregnated by a small band of nomadic Viking like marauders – the Aryan invaders. These “specialist” scholars then proceeded to root and project themselves, within the short span of 200 British-rule years, as being the intellectual class of India. Of course, the Macaulian project would “educate” the natives and create sidekicks by thousands, and increase their tribe.

This hypothesis (because that is what it was) had of course no basis in fact, but it served the purpose and killed several birds with one stone. It denied India the autochthonous legacy of the dominant culture of the subcontinent, helped create a schism in the Indian body politic, implied that the native Indic was incapable of original thought and certainly not capable of producing a language like Sanskrit. It still fulfilled their obsessive need to escape from the Semitic umbrella and yet did not pin them down to the influence of a “subject” people. The thesis held the ground that their ancestors did not come from India but from a long lost Shangri-La, of whom there were no survivors; an exceptionally nice fit, to say the least, since the hypothesis could never be contradicted !

Thus was born the mythical Aryan, whose only qualification was that he should hail from a land that was anywhere but India, a nowhere, preferably from a region not very densely inhabited or conscious of their antiquity. It gave the excuse for the British to claim that they were indeed the later day version of that long-lost impregnating race, destined to lord it over lesser, more unfortunate people by reason of the fact that they were “Aryans.” One only has to refer to some these stalwarts such as Trautmann (1997) or Chakrabarti (1997), to feel the perversion.

In sum, Indic study during the British era has always been accompanied with a healthy dose of imperialist dogma and by the colonialist’s disdain for a people who, they felt, could be so easily vanquished in battle by a handful of Englishmen. These attitudes and presuppositions are deeply entrenched in the psyche of the Occidental, fortified as they are by text books which retain the caricaturised view of India and its native people. This is in addition to the normal human tendency to exhibit a degree of pride and the urge to devalue civilisations other than their own. 

This is a train of thought that needs to be explored further, but let us revert to our topic. It is not as if there was a total lack of scholarly impulse and intellectual curiosity among Indologists then, regardless of nationality and despite much pressure from European academics to toe the embedded line. But this stream of objective scholars died out pretty soon and became almost extinct in the nineteenth century, with a few exceptions amongst the French. European Indologists came to subscribe to the promoted thought, and fell into the habit of emphasising that Indic research by native scholars, who threw up alternate conclusions, were shallow and unsubstantial, or were derived from work done by the Greeks, as Sir William Jones had postulated. 

The fact is that British presence in India began with nibbles and encroachments long before the Battle of Plassey, in 1757 CE, but so overriding was the British concern for commerce and power that they remained insulated from subcontinental culture and its civilisational treasure for almost three hundred years, until the arrival of a relatively well educated scholar like Sir William Jones. He indeed noticed the similarities between Sanskrit and European languages. Prodosh Aich, after extensive research into primary sources, comes to the conclusion that the vaunted linguistic scholarship of Sir William was, to put it mildly, much exaggerated. 

The coming of the British and the discovery of Sanskrit by Sir William had a terminally fatal effect on the conduct of scientific studies in India. It cut off the Indic from his own native source of traditional learning and replaced it with the traditions of a land far away, with which he had no contact and did not relate to. One consequence was that literacy fell to 6% of the population at the turn of the 20th century. Education was tightly controlled by the government and all support to schools that did not teach English was summarily stopped, except in states that were ruled by a local Maharajah such as Travancore, Cochin, Baroda and Mysore. 

India was turned into a vast Gulag where no ideas, other than those of the British, were allowed to flower and propagate, and the Indian was effectively barred from traveling to foreign lands, except on a one way trip as indentured labor, lest they return with subversive notions of freedom and democracy which, as Churchill remarked on more than one occasion, were not applicable to subject populations of British colonies. So great was the travel restriction that the Indic internalised this consequence to be a native characteristic that presumed aversion to adventure and exploration. There was no fund allocation for research and no encouragement to savants, who had little opportunity to pursue further studies. The steady stream of Indic scholars and researchers, which lasted till about 1780 CE, finally dried up.

Most certainly, there were gains from change in the medium of instruction to English. Indic youngsters in later times were at an advantage when it came to gaining admission to graduate studies in North American universities, in part due to the fortuitous circumstance that a substantial part of the new world communicated in English language. Coupled with the investment in higher education made by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, it catapulted India into one of those leading countries that supplied educated hands to western economies. More lately, it has been a major player in the Information Technology for a while. 

But the negatives remain. The vast majority of the Indian population is not a participant in this new bounty, because they do not have access to expensive schools that are modelled to include costly environment and scarce scholars with teaching abilities in a foreign tongue. The most telling impact of the newly coined endeavor called philology, with its unwanted gush of attention engendered ever since the discovery of Sanskrit, was the manner in which the Indic was viewed by the rest of the world and, even more importantly, the internalisation of British and European view of India by the average literate English educated Indic. Till then, the Indic was widely respected throughout the world and his geographical origin was synonymous with scholarship. 

Today it is commonplace in India to deride somebody who expresses pride in his tradition, and his civilisation, as being jingoistic. The British went to extraordinary lengths to undermine the civilisational commonalities amongst the people of India by various means and diverse instruments. Anything that had a negative impact was played to the hilt. The knowledge and pride of India’s antiquity, history and cultural heritage, was systematically downvalued and new datelines had to conform to the belief that India did not contribute anything of significance to the civilised world, and that all she knew in the area of science and mathematics was learnt from the Greeks. The Indian was uniformly characterised as a shiftless, indolent individual with very few redeeming qualities. 

So great was the change and so lasting its effect that today vast numbers of Indian youth have almost the same opinion of India and Indic traditions that the colonial overlords had, and propagated, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. There has been a massive change in the psyche of the Indic, much of it for the worse, a fact that was brought out in vivid portrayals by V S Naipaul, when he coined the phrase ‘the wounded civilisation’ in his reference to the Indian subcontinent. Examples of the internalisation of the European views of India abound today. Even eminent Indian historians like RC Majumdar have expressed some of these views in his works, without substantiating how they have been arrived at.

… to be continued

English: This is one of 12 miniatures from a m...
One of 12 miniatures from a manuscript of Hindu rituals and devotional tracts. The manuscript is written in the Sanskrit language, in Sarada script. It has 74 pages and was made in Kashmir during the 18th century.

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Indian History And Its Historians

Portrait of Srimushnam Vyakarna Subbaravachary...
Portrait of Srimushnam Vyakarna Subbaravacharya (+1837) a reknown sanskrit scholar

Part V :  British Colonial Indology (1780 CE – 2000 CE)

In reality this field of study was dominated by German scholars. Interest in Indology only took concrete direction and shape after the British came to India, with the discovery of Sanskrit by Sir William Jones in the 1770’s. Other names for Indology are Indic studies or Indian studies or South Asian studies. Almost from the beginning, the Puranas attracted the attention of European scholars. But instead of trying to understand the Puranas, and the context in which they were developed, the Occidental went about casting doubts on the authenticity of the texts and, in fact, altering the chronology which could be found in a particular Purana. 

The extraordinary level of interest by German scholars in Indic matters is a very interesting narrative in its own right and we need to reflect upon its highlights. The German speaking people experienced a vast increase in intellectual activity at about the same time that Britain colonised India. We do not understand the specific factors that came into play during this time, other than to remark on the tremendous intellectual ferment that was running concurrently during the French revolution and the keen interest that Napoleon showed in matters scientific, including the contributions of the orient. 

Clearly the remarks that Sir William made about Sanskrit as well as the high level of interest in Sanskrit language that he triggered, contributed to the overall sense of excitement. But why was it Germany and not Britain, the center of research on the Oriental contributions. The answer lies in the intense search for nationhood that was under way in Germany during that period. When Sanskrit was discovered, and it dawned on the Germans that the antiquity of Sanskrit was very great, and that Sanskrit and German were somehow related, the Germans suddenly had an answer to the question of their own ethnic and linguistic origins.

Sir Henry Maine (1822 – 1888), an influential Anglo-Indian scholar and former Vice Chancellor of Calcutta university, who was also on the Viceroys council, pronounced a view that many Englishman shared about the unification of Germany.

A Nation Has Been Born Out Of Sanskrit

From the beginning, the great interest that Germany showed in Sanskrit had more to do with their own obsessions and questions regarding their ethnic and linguistic origins. It had very little or at least far less to do with the origin of the ancient Indic. And yet, that does not stop the proponents of AIT (Aryan Invasion Theory) in India, whose knowledge of European history appears to be rudimentary at best, from asserting that AIT is an obsession of nationalistic Hindus. Such is the fate and perversion of history that conquered nations are expected to suffer !

Different aspects of this fascinating chapter – postulation of an Aryan race and its corollaries, Indo European and Indo German people – are described by various authors … Trautmann, Rajaram, Arvidsson, and very recently by Prodosh Aich. The interesting but curious aspect of this phenomena is that while the concept of Aryan race has been well nigh discarded by most of the modern generation in the Occident, it lingers on in our narrative of Indian History, a relic of the heyday of Europe’s dominance on the world scene. In those heady times as colonial powers, they promoted racist theories eulogising their occupation of distant lands, and over strange people, as part of their heritage as an Aryan people. Kipling’s phraseology, “white man’s burden.” is at once succinct of their superiority in psyche and of the racist outlook in behaviour and strategy formulation. 

In contrast to the Germans and the French, whose interest was catalysed by the ubiquitous presence of Indic civilisation in South East Asia, the British had aparticular reluctance to study the nature and extent of the Indic civilisation. First and foremost, amongst their reasons for such neglect, was the aversion to admit that a subject people had any worthwhile civilisation to speak of, let alone one that was of far greater antiquity than their own.

Britain was the last of the three major powers in Europe to have a chair in Sanskrit; it was almost 50 years after the death of Sir William that England got around to establishing a chair at Oxford, the famous Boden chair.

 *  *  *

Rajagriha or Rajagrha (Sanskrit)

The ancient capital of Magadha, famous for its conversion to Buddhism in the days of the Buddhist kings. It was the royal residence from Bimbisara-raja to Asoka, and the seat of the first Synod or Buddhist Council held 510 BC.The famous Saptaparna cave, in which the Buddha’s select circle of arhats were initiated, was in this famous city. 

Rajgir

is the current name of the city and a notified area in Nalanda district in the Indian state of Bihar. The city of Rajgir (ancient Rajagriha or Rājagha; Pali: Rājagaha) was the first capital of the kingdom of Magadha, a state that would eventually evolve into the Maurya Empire. Its date of origin is unknown, although ceramics dating to about 1000 BC have been found in the city. The epic Mahabharata calls it Girivraja and recounts the story of its king, Jarasandha, and his battle with the Pandava brothers and their ally, Krishna.

Rajgir is also mentioned in Buddhist and Jain scriptures, which give a series of place-names but without a geographical context. The attempt to locate these places is based largely on references to them in the works of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, particularly Faxian and Xuanzang. It is on the basis of Xuanzang’s records in particular that the site is divided into Old and New Rajgir. The former lies within a valley and is surrounded by low-lying hills. It is defined by an earthen embankment (the Inner Fortification), with which is associated the Outer Fortification, a complex of cyclopean walls that runs (with large breaks) along the crest of the hills.

New Rajgir is defined by another, larger embankment outside the northern entrance of the valley, and is next to the modern town.

 … to be continued

English: Sanskrit manuscript using the Ranjana...
Sanskrit manuscript using the Ranjana script, with an illustration of the Buddha sitting below the Bodhi Tree, day and night. Manuscript either from India or Nepal, date unknown.

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Journal : Alternate History

The Indo-European Homeland

The discredited Aryan Invasion hypothesis (AIT), which we observed about in much detail in previous “Alternate History” blog posts, was essentially motivated by a concern for loss of European primacy in world heritage, linguistic and cultural. The next few tranche in this series shall deal with alternate facts in that regard.

We have seen the evidence of the oldest literary records of Indo-European family of languages : the Rig Veda and the Avesta. They clearly, unambiguously reveal a split of Proto-Aryans into Indo-Aryans, who stayed on in the Indian subcontinent, and Indo-Iranians, who moved from their homeland in in Kashmir to Punjab and Southern Afghanistan, and from there on to west and northwest.

The hypothesised route of Aryan ‘invasion’ through Central Asia and Afghanistan is in fact the route along which the Indo-Iranian branch of Proto-Aryans migrated to Iran and Asia Minor and northwards to Russian regions of Central Asia.

This deals a body-blow to the very roots of AIT, which dogmatically places the original Indo-European homeland in the region northwest of Central Asia, that is in and around South Russia. It clearly points instead to the likelihood that the Indo-European family of languages originated in the Indian subcontinent.

Expectedly, scholars and historians are not convinced by the facts of the case that rule out their pet theory. But more, their reaction to any research, especially by an Indian, takes on rabid expressions aimed at the messenger, from declaration of suspicion to branding him as a fundamentalist or a chauvinistic nationalist. The message then remains unattended for the light of another day !

 The Curious Case Of Victor H. Mair

The fraudulent hypothesis presented by a Western scholar, Victor H. Mair, is a glaring case cultural bias and deep seated prejudice. In a compilation of papers presented at International Conference on Bronze Age and Iron Age held at University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archeology through April 19-21 in 1996, edited by himself, Mair prefaces his presentation with a sharp diatribe against “extremists, chauvinists, and other types of deranged and possibly dangerous persons” in oblique reference to those who locate the Indo-European homeland in highly improbable, if not utterly impossible places as the Arctic, along the Indus Valley, or in Tarim Basin in China. Mair calls them “nationalists and racists of various stripes; kooks and crazies who attribute the rise of Indo-Europeans to extraterritorial visitations.”

At the same time, Mair places himself in a beatific light by announcing that he himself is impelled to carry out “the search for Indo-Europeans and their homeland”, and to “pursue it with enthusiasm”, because : “I perceive such an inquiry to be (1) intrinsically compelling, (2) innately worthwhile, (3) historically significant, (4) humanistically important, (5) devoid of political content, (6) scientifically solvable, and (7) intellectually satisfying”, He, of course, dismisses scholars of a lesser breed with the pompous announcement : “If other people want to distort or pervert the search for their own purposes, that is their problem.”

Mair proceeds to present his thesis in a quasi-humorous vein, likening the spreading Indo-European family to a spreading amoeba. And he presents his final conclusions about the schedule of migrations and expansions of the Indo-European family in the form of a series of nine maps, supposed to represent the situations in 4200 BC, 3700 BC, 3200 BC, 3000 BC, 2500 BC, 2000 BC, 1500 BC, 1000 BC, and 100 BC respectively.

We are concerned here only with his depiction of the Indian geographical area in these maps : incredible as it will seem to any scholar who is even generally acquainted with the facts of the Indo-Iranian case, Mair’s map for 1500 BC shows the undifferentiated Indo-Iranians still located in the north and west of the Caspian Sea !

Which western academic scholar in his right sense, with least concern for academic credentials, will accept such a depiction of the Indo-Iranians in 1500 BC as being honest, based on known facts ? A blatantly mischievous distortion, to say the least ! But Mair, with his trademark pompousity, sweepingly claims that his maps “are intended isochronously to take into account the following types of evidence : linguistic, historical, archaeological, technological, cultural, ethnological, geographical, climatological, chronological and genetic-morpho-metric – roughly in the order of precision with which I am able to control the data, from greatest to least. I have also endeavoured to take into consideration types of data which subsume or bridge two or more basic categories of evidence (e.g. glotto-chronology, dendrochronology, and linguistic paleontology).”

An examination of the maps, on the whole and not just in respect of the Indo-Iranians, shows that Mair would be hard put to explain how his arbitrarily and whimsically drawn-out schedule of migrations and expansions fulfils any one of the above academic criteria, let alone all of them.

Mair claims to be interested in “the search for the Indo-Europeans and their homeland” for a variety of noble reasons but it is clear that his “search” is as far from his intentions as it could be, since his answer – South Russia – is pre-determined. And he lets out that his own “personal preference” would have been to locate the core of the homeland “in Southern Germany, northern Austria, and the western part of what is now the Czech Republic”, i.e. in Hitler’s home ground ! and all those who advocate any other solution automatically fall, in his opinion, in the same category as “kooks and crazies who attribute the rise of Indo-Europeans to extra-territorial visitations”.

Mair is a Western bumpkin masquerading as a scholar editor, working out a history to suit his personal preferences. By what he presents, Mair deserves his own epithets : “extremist, chauvinist… deranged and possibly dangerous person” and seems doubly dangerous, being without the conscientious which is the hallmark of a true scholar. He is deliberately dishonest in going along with the promoted thesis in existing academic environment monopolised by historians with Western pedigree, with whom he well connects, and grants respectability to most blatant fiction while condemning genuine research and shunning fact-based conclusions.

We shall present the “alternate facts” in such an environment, dear Reader …

through the next few posts in the series !

Please refer https://vamadevananda.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/journal-alternate-history-7/ and links therein for previous adaptations from the most brilliant, insightful analysis ever undertaken …

by Shrikant G. Talageri available @ http://www.voiceofdharma.org/books/rig/index.htm

The White Woman’s Burden

The White Woman’s Burden | OPEN Magazine.

 

An amazingly frank and simply expressed experience of an Australian woman married to an Indian husband who not only happened to be brown but was actually shorter than her. She occasions the worst of attitudes in otherwise perfectly common of our countrymen. Our behaviour then reeks of racism, by that colour we associate with erstwhile colonial masters – privileged, powerful, carnal, sensuous, high up and prized.

Run the colonial hangover into current society and we would be inclined to conclude that this brunette or goldilocks would be a pleasure to have, perhaps a drug addict and just, just possibly cheap ! Her coloured husband – who ? – is likely be upon as a shady, un-Hindu, creature of the shadows, making hay of this shining beauty. ” Move aside,” he’d be roughly sidelined.

The indignity of prejudice is deep on the Indian psyche and it is important we became aware, on our way to its purge. That supeiority, even if found of the great Sanatan pride, leaves us prey to abysmal inferiority that surfaces before a white woman with a ocal husband, in India.

O, my countrymen ! It’s human being, just … since your judgment is stuck in your hind, in your exclusive cultural ignorance, your wallet or in your genitals. Wake up to the beauty and freedom of being just human.