Historical Outlook and its Distortion

The word 'Hindu' is rarely seen in medieval vernacular bakthi literature as well. The general absence of the words 'Hindu' and 'Hindu dharma' in the pre-colonial Sanskrit texts and their limited connotation in the not – too – frequent occurrences in the bakthi literature of north India clearly indicate that Indians did not create a Hindu religious identity for themselves.

Historians often tend to think, that history writing can be consistently seen as a succession of one  ideational position after another.

The rapidity which the nature of history writing has been changing, does indeed make it attractive to situate the different varieties of products by historians in their respective chronological and philosophical contents. Increasingly, the arena where the historians practise their craft is becoming an arena of contestation.

The audience, exposed to growing varieties of the product, is turning eclectic.

Turning to the history of India’s early past, disjuncture between pre-colonial modes of history – writing and the way Indology developed from the close of the 18th century to the achievement of political independence from a colonial regime and beyond has been of significance for the shaping of cultural consciousness itself.

This consciousness is nation specific, but neither the Idhikasa – Purana tradition nor the Islamic tradition will explain how we currently periodize our history or fashion our historical icons.

Whatever be the ideological source of particular variety of writing, contradictory pulls have to be accommodated.

The nationalist premise of yester years has turned into imperialist mould of historical premise – making, placing the 'Aryans' in the centre of the civilizational impulse, the north – south dichotomy, the concept of 'golden ages' and so on.

History – writing with regard to India’s early past has moved considerably over the last six decades. Priorities have been redefined. However, shifting of priorities have not ended in shifts in ideational position.

For example, pre-Mauryan and post-Mauryan invasions of northern India occupied a large space in imperialist Vincent Smith’s 'Early India' and Cambridge History of India Volume, I but were not so significant in H.C. Ray Chaudhri’s Political History of Ancient India.

Achaemenid, Macedonian and post-Mauryan and Yavana – Saka – Pakhalava – Kushana history have become part of a much larger pattern of pan-Indian history.

This shift in historiography has to be understood as the replacement of invasions has a causal factor in the making and unmaking of Indian history. Let me try and illustrate this with reference to the 'Aryan' question in the Indian coutext.

The beginnings of text-based Indological studies learned heavily on the concept of 'Aryans' and of 'Aryanisation' as the major civilizational process in India. It created two dichotomies, namely Aryan, non-Aryan and the Aryan – Dravidian. The dichotomies have disappeared somehow in narratives which deal with histories of 'post-Vedic' periods.

Accommodation of archeological evidence from different parts of India has made us aware of the multiple sources of Indian Cultural patterns and of the possibility of looking at the texts from more meaningful angles.

Today a historical perspective which accepts the premise of stages of social evolution rejects the 'Aryan' as the sole and universal agent of social change.

Total bypassing of texts as historical evidence from the process of the understanding of early cultures will lead to archeological fundamentalism.

A professional historian is concerned with how methodologies of archeology and text study, can meaningfully converge to improve our vision of the past.

The major use of texts for historians has been in the form of compilation of  what are considered as historical data: these data are then ordered to reconstruct the society of which the text was a product.

Texts have thus been taken to provide names for historical epochs and notions such as 'Vedic Age' and 'Epic Age' have still survived. Even an awareness of the fact that texts do not necessarily correspond to a chrono-cultural span as defined by archeology, have not deterred professional historians from using both archeology and 'texts'.

Problem arises when correlation becomes glaring when selected 'data' from the epics are deployed to prepare an agenda for ‘epic archeology’ which in a way, becomes prelude to 'Vedic' archeology or 'Aryan' archeology. It is worthwhile to note that curious identification of Harappan Civilization with 'Rig Vedic Civilization' is based upon a comparison of traits.

The suggested truths of identity  subsequently pass on to non specialist audience as a palatable capsule establishing facile identities such as Harappan Civilization = Rig Vedic Civilization,  a devious as well as cheap way of escaping rigours of serious research.

The quest for India’s national identity through the root of Hindu religious nationalism began in the 19th century.

Indigenist propaganda writings support the myth of Aryan autochthony and propagate the idea that India and Hinduism are eternal. Can Indian National identity be traced through false stereotypes of Hinduism? Was the 'Vedic-Hindu' a pro genetor of Modern Hinduism? Was Hinduism a tolerant religion? These are not questions.

India as a country evolved over a long period and the formation of its identity had much to do with the perceptions of the  people who migrated into the sub continent at different times.

The first use of 'Hindu' in the religious sense is found in the Kitabu-ul-Hind of Alberuni (AD 1030). The ambivalence surrounding the word continued for a long time until Ziauddin Barani wrote the history of India (Tarikh – i – Firuzshahi). The word 'Hindu' is rarely seen in medieval vernacular bakthi literature as well.

The general absence of the words 'Hindu' and 'Hindu dharma' in the pre-colonial Sanskrit texts and their limited connotation in the not – too – frequent occurrences in the bakthi literature of north India clearly indicate that Indians did not create a Hindu religious identity for themselves.

Hinduism viewed as eternal (Satana dharma) and a monolithic religion. The acceptance of  the authority of the Vedas is an important feature of Brahminical orthodoxy, but their number being only from an amorphous category of 'fifth Ved' came into being in the later Vedic period. (Idhikasa Puranam Panjaman Vedanam Vedam – Chandogyo Upanishad).

This is one example of the fact that Vedas did not always enjoy pre-eminence even in Brhaminical Hinduism. Anti Vedic ideas are noticeable in Rig-Veda itself. (The famous passage which equated brhamanas with creating Brhamans with Crocking frogs, Rig Veda, VII 103).

In addition to the satirisation of the brahmins there is also evidence of the questioning of Vedic knowledge. It is true that all post Vedic Brahmincial religious traditions did not look to them for legitimacy.

A careful scrutiny of puranic content shows that Brahmanism of the Dharma Sutras and Smritis underwent a complete transformation at the hands of Purana composers, to acquire a wholly new aspect which can be described 'Puranic Hinduism'.

The transition from 'Brahminism' to 'Hinduism' was neither sudden, abrupt nor was it complete braking away from the past tradition. It was more the outcome of a slow and gradual process of evolution and growth, reflecting a remarkable continuity along with significant shift, ideological thrust and approach. 'Puranic Hinduism' developed at a time when society was in the throes of a changing economic and political order

The period experienced a flourishing market economy giving way to closed economic order while foreign and indigenous tribal groups staked their claim to political power. The factors that led to a transformation were religious rivalry, and the projection of Vishnu as a compassionate God.

Popular religious practices such as Dana, Tirthas, Vrada and Jaba came into vogue in place of Vedic Yajnas. Puranas, came to be composed in the 3rd – 4th century onwards.

Civilized societies cannot ban the teaching of unsavoury aspects of their past on the grounds that it would hurt centiments are confused children or it would diminish patriotic feelings among its children.

Historians cannot afford to fabricate fantasies to show the past greatness and become a laughing stock of the world. Should America remove slavery from its text books or Europe the Saga of witch hunting and Hitlers genocide of the Jews.

Amartya sen argues that “India’s persistent heterodoxy” and its tendency towards multi religious and multi cultural co-existences “had important implications for the development of science and mathematics in India (History and the Enterprise of Knowledge”, address delivered to the Indian History Congress, January 2001, Calcutta) In fact Sanskrit and Pals have a larger literature in defense of atheism, agnosticism and theological scepticism than in any other language.

Let me close this discussion with the historical evidence for eating of beef in ancient times. these are statements drawn from well known  sources for example. The Sathapatha Bramana and the Vasishtha Dharma Sutra 4.8 mention honoring guest by serving beef.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, makes the interesting statement that if a leaner and long-lived son is desired, then rice cooked with veal or beaf should be eaten.The eating of beef is also attested form archeology (H.D. Sankaliya. "The Cow in History Seminar, May 1967, 93”).

Comparative studies of cattle keeping economies point to people generally not eating live stock indiscriminately, but eating beef on ritual occasions or as a mark of status. The archeological evidence suggests a more wide spread use of  cattle for food.

The institution of Varna/Caste did sanction social inequalities. Varna and caste cannot be taught without discussing social groups involved in it, and asking questions like who were its supporters and when did it became widespread? What were the compulsions in  a society that accepted these divisions and was there a protest against them? I wish to quote Late professor R.S. Sharma’s 11th standard text book (Page 240, 241) on Varna System.

“Religion influenced the formation of social classes in India in a particular way in other ancient societies, the duties and functions of social classes were fixed by law which was largely enforced by the state.

But in India Varna laws   enjoyed the sancation of both the state and the religion. The functions of priests, warriors, peasants and labourers were defined in law and supposed to have been laid down by divine agencies. Those who departed from their functions and where found guilty of offences were subjected to secular punishments.

They had also to perform rituals and penances, all differing according to the Varna. Each Varna was given not only a social but also ritualistic recognition.

In course of time, Varnas or social classes and Jadis or castes were made hereditary by law and religion ………. The peculiar institution of the caste system certainly helped the growth of society and economy at the initial stages …………….. What was done by slaves and other producing sections in Greece and Rome under the threat of whip was done by Vaishyas and Sudras out of conviction formed through brahmincal indoctrination  and the Varna system”

History has always been written and rewritten. But by whom? Peter Gieyl, a Dutch historian reflecting on various versions of the Napoleonic legend rightly called history, “an argument without end” It is in that sense that Croce declared that “all history is contemporary history”.

Today history is a discourse. Official history by Government fiat is not history but propaganda. Banning and Censorship are increasingly becoming a pernicious part of civil and political governance.

The fundamentalism that menacingly threatens India today is an aggressive Hindu fundamentalism which is pugnacious in its tone and posture. Politically aligned to the concept of a  newly invented Hindu India, 'Hindu' fundamentalism physically and ideologically threatens those who oppose it or fail to accept its dominance.

The irony of the situation is that despite all the talk of Bharatiyakaran or Indianisaiton the historiography of Rastriya Swuayam Sevak Samaj ideologues and followers is still colonial.

Although they call others children of Macaulay, they themselves are descendants of James Mill in their periodisation of Indian history into Hindu, Muslim and British.

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