Jul 14 2014

Age of Kali – Re-writing History

The Indian Council of Historical Research is a body that receives funding from the Indian government with regards to history. A lot of it’s work involves development of history textbooks.

One of the things I have mentioned is that Indian history is often warped to portray Indian history in a way more positive light.

The two examples I quote are Subash Chandra Bose, a man who threw his lot in with the Empire of the Sun and Nazi Germany. Yes, the man is a fascist and even has airports named after him…

And the other is a tale about the first Mughal Emperor, Babur. Babur’s story is told as one where he lead his troops to drink from a stream, leaving those who plunged their heads into the water behind as he regarded them as unaware and thoughtless. That was the source of his victory.

Not the first usage of cannons in Indian warfare that he brought with him that effectively changed how war was fought.

History is rewritten to be more romantic and more fantastic rather than realistic. And it allows for this fantasy that the past of India was this paradise ruined by the Brits. And no where is this seen by the new head of the ICHR, Yellapragada Sudarshan Rao was a member of the Hindutva group, the RSS and his fundamentalist leanings shine through in this interview.

You have lashed out against Marxist historians and their interpretation of history. Why is the writing of history a Right vs Left debate?

I think it is time to think about India’s history from an Indian perspective. For the last 60 years, our writing and understanding of history has been influenced by the West. Indian research has been far too dependent on the West to write its own history. We are dependent on their translations and interpretation. And, these are my personal views, history writing in India is Euro-centric and imperialistic. The ICHR, I understand, is in the process of acquiring digital records from centres of history in the US and Europe. This will not only give us access to our own records but will also aid us in writing history from our perspective.

Marxist Historians? Typical strategy is to denounce your detractors as things like “marxist” without knowing what that actually means.

The lens of history must be unbiased lest we warp it through our own foolishness. In effect, the RSS and the Hindutva wish to write history to push Hinduism in a special light. India already fares poorly as it is through the politicisation of history into stories, the Hindutva will only make it worse.

You have been appointed by the BJP government. Don’t you think institutions such as the ICHR should be free of politics?. 

The MoU (memorandum of understanding) prepared by the founding fathers of ICHR gave the powers to the government to appoint heads of social and historical institutes. I have no qualms in admitting that these appointments are political. Have previous heads of social institutes been questioned about their appointments? Why are these questions asked only about me? The government has been formed by a democratic process. It has been elected by the people. To question that is to question democracy itself. Unlike other social institutes, the ICHR attracts a lot of attention because history is an important subject. But history belongs to the people. We have not shown or written a comprehensive history of India to the people of India. History is by the people, for the people and of the people.

You know there is a hilarious problem with demanding Indians write history and then quoting Abraham Lincoln.

You are the author of the Mahabharata project? What is the project about?

There is a certain view that the Mahabharata or the Ramayana are myths. I don’t see them as myths because they were written at a certain point of time in history. They are important sources of information in the way we write history. What we write today may become an important source of information for the fut­ure in the future. When analysed, of course, they could be declared to be true or false. History is not static. It belongs to the people, it’s made by the people. Similarly, the Ram­ayana is true for people…it’s in the collective memory of generations of Indians. We can’t say the Ramayana or the Mahabharata are myths. Myths are from a western perspective.

Yes. The man thinks the Ramayana and Mahabaratha are not epics but historical records. This is one of the reasons I tend to laugh at the whole demands to prove the historicity of Jesus. Even if there was a Kuru kingdom and a Krishna there was no war where opponents killed each other by the millions. The death toll of the Mahabaratha exceeds the number of people alive at the time across the planet! Lanka was not burned by a flying monkey. Now these conflicts may have had a shred of truth to them, but they are like King’s Cross Station to Harry Potter.

You may have wondered why I was initially scathing about his “History for Indians by Indians and of Indians” and here it is. Whenever someone tries to exclude ViTAL parts about India and believe me one of the parts he will want to exclude is the Indians of WW I and II who are an already poorly remembered and sorry lot…. they generally want to exclude things in order to insert their own bullshit.

I LIKE the Mahabaratha, don’t get me wrong. But I also like reality and see it as a story rather than historical fact.

What does that mean?

For us, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are true accounts of the periods in which they were written.

Yes, the man is clear about his stance. I am not just reading between the lines. It’s like declaring the Bible as historical fact.

But shouldn’t the writing of history be rooted in historical evidence and research?

Western schools of thought look at material evidence of history. We can’t produce material evidence for everything. India is a continuing civilisation. To look for evidence would mean digging right though the hearts of villages and displacing people. We only have to look at the people to figure out the similarities in their lives and the depiction in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. For instance, the Ramayana mentions that Rama had travelled to Bhad­ra­chalam (in Andhra Pradesh). A look at the people and the fact that his having lived there for a while is in the collective memory of the people cannot be discounted in the search for material evidence. In continuing civilisations such as ours, the writing of history cannot depend only on archaeological evidence. We have to depend on folklore too.

In effect the ICHR will begin to detract from archaeology. After all? Who needs evidence when you can make up wild stories from local accounts. We may as well claim the Mandaha is real and will gobble up the sun!

In politicising archaeology only archaeology and the people’s genuine history will suffer. This is like smashing Buddhas. In fact?

I would consider this more harmful than the idiots who destroy historical artefacts. See? Those are destroyed because of the fear of the truth. What he wishes to do is to take a bunch of lies and label them as true and then use the archaeology to support his claim. Ancient beakers become trinkets of Rama to be worshipped at temples next to pointless dolls as we fall for the same foolishness as the Catholic Church and it’s relics.

Are you for correcting the writing of history?

I won’t put it that way. But real history has to come through. I am a follower of truth. The ICHR should encourage research about India and Greater India—from Southeast Asia all the way to Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. There is enough archaeological evidence to show the connect of our civilisation there.

And the truth being the Hindu Creationist World VIew.

What is your view on Ayodhya?

Is it not a fact that mosques as structures came to be in India in 1000 AD? Is it not a fact that the mosque was built by a lieutenant of Babur? A historian can only enlighten people on the facts of history. Historians can at best say evidence of earlier remains of a Hindu structure are there. Conflicting views are created by political leaders. If Ayodhya is not the place of Ram, where did he live? Looking at the present structures in Ayodhya, we can see people still living the way that finds a mention in the Ramayana. Historians can only give their opinion to enlighten people.

I say this to Israel and I say this here yet again. Historical Ownership of the Land does not justify CURRENT ownership of the land especially if no one alive at the time is left. The past is the past and to use it to spread hate and fear and justify the deaths of thousands is poison we should not adhere to.  I am proud that I am no longer a Hindu solely due to this vile action. My path of atheism began when the RSS and people like yourself whipped each other to a frenzy and destroyed the Babri Masjid leading to the riots.

We killed each other for a stupid doll. We are no different from the stupid Israelis and Palestinians and Christians who fought over a stupid piece of land on the entire planet because they thought their special version of the same god told them so. Enlightened? We are not the Buddhas and Gandhis when we act like this.

We are Tamerlane. Butchers and Barbarians. It doesn’t matter what was there before the Babri Masjid was built, the fact it stood meant that there were people alive who used the area.

The joke here is that this hampers development. How many pointless and illegal temples exist in India that are defended by fanatics that turn cities into gridlocks and roads into nonsensical kafkaesque nightmares? Tear them down. Let the cities of India breathe and flow. Build them in proper places.

The fact here is that the agenda is simple.

1. Rama Exists

2. He is a god

3. His Birthplace was Ayodhya

4. Therefore it was okay to tear down the Muslim Mosque (and kill all those people) if it means restoring the History of India.

Doesn’t correcting history pose a problem? Why only cast it in the context of two communities? How about Dalits and untouchability?

The question of untouchability is relatively recent, as recent as 3,000 years. And it has its basis in the economy. It was not based on social status. Did we hear of untouchability before this period of 3,000 years? Let me give you an example. Sage Vishwamitra went to a Dalit hut and asked for dog’s meat as he was hungry. The Ramayana and Mahabharata are replete with instances of different castes, did we find a mention of untouchability there?

Yes. Yes we fucking did you moron. Karna specifically is cursed as he is a Vaishya pretending to be Kshatriya. He is cursed to forget his most powerful weapons at the time he needs it the most so at no point is he able to win Kurukshetra despite being (arguably) the most powerful adversary the Pandavas face. He is cursed by the freaking Avatar of Vishnu who hates fucking Kshatriya! Karna’s caste repeatedly denies him progress in life and he is heavily mistreated by everyone for being effectively a “double casted person” leading to Duryodhana finally recognising him thus winning his undying loyalty despite Duryodhana being a victim.

In fact? Karna is MEANT to teach you perspective. In Karna’s eyes, his mother abandoned him because she was ashamed of him at birth. He was effectively raised by people who drove carts while his brothers lived in luxury. His armour meant he could never fit in as a cart driver but his parents caste held him back from learning the skills of war. Karna’s learning of the art of war was by guile and cunning to Parushurama. He has it hard throughout his life. The only “break” he gets is that the villain of the entire damn book treats him like a human being.

The untouchables are MENTIONED repeatedly by old stories including by Narada. One of the stories of the sage includes a test of a man attaining Morksha or Transcendence. As he sits Vishnu in the form of an untouchable comes up to him and asks him for water. The man gives it to him out of kindness, that is the test for Morksha, whether he was kind of simply acting. But they are mentioned.

And this tries to rewrite caste as something mild and harmless in the Mahabaratha. Parushurama is the Avatar of Vishnu who slew ALL kshatriya men to place Brahmins at the top of the social strata.


As a historian, are you trying to give a religious interpretation to history?

I am a Hindu and a Brahmin. To be a Hindu isn’t a religion. In my personal practices, I can adopt religious practices of the community to which I belong—as a Shaivite or a Vaishnavite. But that is not what being a Hindu is about. Reli­gi­ons are recent manifestations. I feel the­re’s only Sanatana Dharma. There was no conflict between communities or on religious lines as there was only one sanatana dharma. Now there are several reasons for conflict to take place. Besides, Muslims are the only ones who have retained their distinct culture. Can Christians or Muslims say all religions are one? A Hindu can say that. There was no conflict when there was sanatana dharma, Conflict or contests came about when temples were destroyed and mosques built on the sites in medieval times.

And the medieval conflicts being pursued today by a sullen RSS are just stupid. Do you have any idea of how stupid it is that Kumar should hate Iqbal solely because Iqbal’s ancestors were douchebags? I mean? That’s like most of China kicking the shit out of Mongolia! It’s stupid, and the fact this is the man who is now in charge of history books in India leads to a frighting conclusion that education in India is allowing hindutva nonsense to sneak in.

Didn’t Hindus destroy Buddhist monuments?

I agree. But Buddhism was on the wane then, in decline. But were thousands of people killed as they were in the raids to the Somnath temple? I won’t use the word corrections here. But the real history has to come up.

It’s okay if we do it!

And you want to know something funny? The majority of my readers won’t have a damn clue about what I am talking about since this isn’t Christianity and the gods and topics being discussed are not mainstream in Atheism.

TL;DR, Indian Hindu Nationalist government appointed Hindu Fundie to a post on History Education and he believes that Hindu Epics are true stories and that they should be taught as history and also wishes to try to change the tone of education and history from archaeological sources to a fantasy.

He is a Hindu Creationist and they just gave him the keys to the History Textbooks.


Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    Who gets to write the science textbooks now?

    Will medical curricula throw out cell theory and focus on prana & chakras?

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    Sanatana Dharma

    Oh, yeah, the belief – in the face of all evidence – that when we die we are reborn, and that our actions during our lives somehow are scored and counted by some mysterious celestial power?? Hey, that’s a load of bollocks. Rejecting the frilly bollocks-loads piled atop that basic load of bollocks doesn’t make you any more rational.

  3. 3
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    I have some clue, and one of the reasons I read here is because you aren’t US-Christian-centric. It’s unfortunate that India is on the fundie-conservative path from the top down since the elections, more so than it was. And this development is plain stupid-scary.

    I’m glad you write here, since I would never find a lot of this news, and mostly not your flavor of commentary, on my own.

  4. 4
    Rich Woods

    And you want to know something funny? The majority of my readers won’t have a damn clue about what I am talking about since this isn’t Christianity and the gods and topics being discussed are not mainstream in Atheism.

    You might underestimate us, Avi. Most of us may not be familiar with many of the specifics in this instance, but fundamentalist revisionism is easily recognisable across a spectrum of religious and political beliefs.

    That said, I certainly appreciate the lesson in specifics. It’s the basis for further reading.

  5. 5

    And you want to know something funny? The majority of my readers won’t have a damn clue about what I am talking about since this isn’t Christianity and the gods and topics being discussed are not mainstream in Atheism.

    Hmmmm, yeah… Like Rich said. Perhaps there’s a reason we’re here, I don’t know? Anyway, I’m about as conversant with Hinduism and the history of India as you seem to be with Islam. Go ahead and dissect the Mahabharata if you want.

    But anyway, there is not much to say about this guy, or too much. At some point, people are so full of shit, you hardly know where to start rebutting them. He wants to take history and replace it with mythology and propaganda. Unfortunately, when you do that, you get a population with grave difficulties distinguishing fact from fiction and analysing cause and effect in past and current affairs. Just like a certain large and well-known western country whose name will go unmentioned, but whose inhabitants frequently confuse historical fiction for historical evidence and think they can change current events by something closely resembling magic.

    We have not shown or written a comprehensive history of India to the people of India. History is by the people, for the people and of the people.

    Hey, why not just scrap the textbooks make Bollywood films instead?

  6. 6

    On this sort of subject, some Indians object to the “Aryan Invasion Theory” as some sort of defense of colonialism or something. They object to the idea that central Asian nomads that overrun the northern Indian subcontinent about 1500 – 1000 BCE bringing with them Sanskrit, the ancestor of the Indic Indo-European languages.

    I fail to see how that is such a great insult. Even the most nationalistic Britons don’t object to the “Anglo-Saxon invasion theory” of how English got to Great Britain.

    Linguistically, it’s evident that English is a Germanic language, despite a heavy overlay of non-Germanic vocabulary. Basic vocabulary and grammar are not much affected by borrowing. It’s more evident when one compares Old English and Old Norse and Old High German — they are more alike than the modern languages. Likewise, Sanskrit is much like Old Persian, while their present-day descendants are much more distinct.

    The ancestral Indo-European homeland is a much-argued-over issue, but it’s nowadays thought to be in the steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas about 7500 – 5500 years ago. They were late Neolithic and Copper Age, and they likely domesticated the horse.

    It’s evident that Sanskrit has some differences from Proto-Indo-European. From Latin and Greek and some other branches, PIE distinguished between vowels *e and *o, the * is a reconstruction. However, in Sanskrit, these vowels were mashed together as a.

    But some Indian nationalists claim that the Indo-European homeland had been in India. There are several difficulties with this hypothesis, like borrowings in Sanskrit but nowhere else (The Out of India Model for Indo-European | Beyond Highbrow – Robert Lindsay).

  7. 7

    Michael Witzel, of the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University, has criticized one version of the Out of India theory in very gory detail. Detail like horse bones not being found in the Indian Subcontinent before about 2000 – 1700 BCE,

  8. 8

    First of all, a minor quibble – the term “Marxist Historians” is not necessarily a piece of propaganda. Plenty of historians during the late 20th century quite openly identified themselves as such – Eric Hobsbawm, E.H. Carr,, G.E.M. De Ste Croix and one of my old D.Phil advisors, Chris Wickham to name but a few. Such historians believe that the insights of Marx and his successors into the nature of class struggle are an effective and important framework within which to understand history, and economic history in particular. Though inevitably they tend to come in for scorn from right-wing historians who dislike the insights of Marx.

    It is actually almost impossible to keep one’s personal prejudices from history writing, though it is generally considered good form to at least try! The matter of history is so complex and varied, our evidence imperfect and the processes at work so difficult to pin down that one must, of necessity, fill in the gaps a little with one’s own conjectures. At least if one is to go beyond merely noting the existence of evidence, toward trying to analyse and synthesise it into an understanding of process, nuance and the sweep of causality. But the personal investment of the academic into their work is not a problem unique to history – it’s just that historians (and historians of contentious periods or topics to modern society especially) are especially exposed to it. Nobody has a perfect, unflawed lens through which to view the evidence of the past – since we’re all using human brains steeped in culture and assumptions for the task, it could not really be otherwise.

    But what really makes me wonder about this person is the repeated assumption that Indian civilization is a “continuous civilization”, and presumably that other civlizations are not. Does he really think that only in India have there been people living continuously on the land for the last six thousand years? That nowhere else is layer upon layer of past settlement buried below the feet of its current residents? Does he think that you can go rooting round for Medieval London, or the Londinium sacked by Boudicca, without disrupting the London of today? Does he think that settlement patterns in India have remained identical since the days when the Mahabarata was first written down? That there have been no abandoned villages or new settlements or migrations or ethnic mixing or wars of disruption and conquest? For that matter, does he not realise that Hindu culture itself (or, rather, Hindu cultures, for there have been very many) has changed and adapted and altered throughout its history – including its very early history – just as all other cultures have?

    Quite frankly one expects a young, brash, unseasoned nation like the USA, with barely more than three centuries of historical consciousness to its name, to exalt in this kind if ignorant historical exceptionalism, but it comes as a shock to see it in a nation as old and venerable as India. Then again, the Chinese have tended to think of themselves as the historical exception for millennia, the Japanese still do, and only a century or so ago it was a central pillar of British imperial pretensions, so I probably shouldn’t be very surprised.

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