First Draft | Indian history is badly distorted: Here’s how it can be rewritten

Is Indian history being “rewritten” at the moment? This is a basic question which comes to mind when we see the kind of hullabaloo being cre...

Is Indian history being “rewritten” at the moment? This is a basic question which comes to mind when we see the kind of hullabaloo being created all over the world, not just in India, over the claims/allegations being made by supporters/opponents (respectively) of the ruling BJP dispensation, to the effect that the writing of history in India has been taken out of the hands of historians and been handed over to people inclined to a particular “rightist” or “Hindutva” ideology.

This is not true. Even if there are ideologically inclined people in the support base of the BJP, they have little say in the affairs and decisions of the ruling dispensation which has never shown any particular inclination for any kind of ideological thinking or action. In this particular matter, we have repeated declarations and assurances by the concerned BJP ministers (and though generally, I take their declarations with a heavy pinch of salt, in this particular case I am sorry to say I have no doubt they are being scrupulously honest when they declare that no changes of a “Hindu-ideology”-kind have been made), which are proudly broadcast by their party media.

My reason for making this point very clear at the very beginning of this article is that the article should by no means be thought of as in any way a defence of, or apologia for, the indefensible BJP government. If anyone in this government, or anyone from within its support base who is in any position to influence the decisions of this government, feels that history requires to be rewritten, they will always (and I mean always) be willing to keep those feelings in cold storage under various pretexts and excuses. In any case, the only kind of rewriting that can be expected from the kind of people who manage to make themselves heard in this government are those whose ideas of “rewriting history” will be confined to:

1. Giving prominence to historical figures shunned and reviled, or shoved into the background by the Congress/Leftist mafias who have controlled discourse in India since 1947.

2. Putting up massive statues, building grand (and well publicised) temples, and renaming places (often in connection with the historical figures mentioned earlier).

3. Promoting the most fundamentalist, obscurantist or frankly childish ideas about ancient Indian chronology, society and achievements.

Therefore: NO! Indian history is not being rewritten. The real questions here are therefore:

1. Why Does Indian History Need to be Rewritten?

2. How should Indian History be Rewritten?

I. Why does Indian history need to be rewritten?

Actually, it is not just Indian history that needs to be rewritten. The teaching of blatantly false, and even dangerously destructive and toxic, history is a major world problem or phenomenon. A well-known adage says "History is written by the victors".

At a primary level, the two great imperialist religions (Christianity and Islam) have conquered most of the world, after destroying all the Pagan religions which had lived in comparative peace and mutual acceptance/tolerance before the rise of the Great Proselytisers. And today, after the complete rewriting of the history of the world by the all-powerful forces represented by these two religions has created a picture where all the other destroyed Pagan religions have been completely and very effectively demonised, vilified and blackened, it is the last surviving bulwark of the Pagan religions of the past, Hinduism (=Indian Paganism) which is now the target of these two imperialistic religions. So the whole of history is now to be viewed through a prism where everything Muslim or Christian is sacrosanct, and everything Hindu is condemnable. The dark texts, ideologies, doctrines and histories of Christianity and Islam are completely whitewashed and Christianity becomes a "Religion of Love" and Islam a "Religion of Peace", while the whole of Hinduism is reduced to the iniquities of the caste-system and Hinduism becomes a "Religion of Evil" or a "Religion of Iniquity, Exploitation and Superstition".

***

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***

AL Basham (one of whose pupils, surprisingly, was Romila Thapar!), incidentally, had the following to say about the ethos of Indian/Hindu civilisation and its history: “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.” (The Wonder That Was India, 1956, p.8-9).

But after 1947 it became almost a religious dogma of Indian and Western historians, and of those who controlled academic writing and media propaganda in India and most of the world, to rewrite history and to project ancient Indian/Hindu civilisation as a remarkably and uniquely inhuman civilisation, whose only characteristic was an iniquitous caste system.

And the rewriting of history is constantly and continuously taking place all over the world: every time there is a regime change, history books change and the new narratives often go to opposite extremes of the earlier narratives: this has happened not only in all the countries all over the world which freed themselves from colonial rule, but also whenever ideological or political regime changes take place in any country: whether after the rise of Nazism in Germany or after the fall of Nazism in Germany; whether after the establishment of Communist rule in the Soviet Union or after the fall of Communism and break-up of the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc; whether in Saddam's Iraq or in post-Saddam Iraq; whether in pre-Partition India or in present-day Pakistan which was a part of that India — the unbelievable extent to which the Pakistani textbooks preach false history and hatred of India and Hindus has been highlighted several times.

So the question is not, and cannot be — can never be — whether it is right or wrong to rewrite history. The question is about what direction the rewriting will take: any rewriting which takes the historical narrative "from Untruth to Truth" is not only right, it is compulsory and indispensable. So just the fact of rewriting history is nothing to be bashful or ashamed of, it all depends on whether the rewriting leads towards the Truth or away from it.

The rewriting of Indian history in the direction of falsehood has been taking place in post-Independence “Secular” India right from the day Leftists took control of Indian history-writing, but it has reached monstrously gigantic and blatantly brazen proportions in the last few decades, whenever Hindus tried to throw off their intellectual shackles. The two most prominent examples will suffice:

1. The Ayodhya temple issue: Ever since Islam entered India, it has a continuous history of desecrating and destroying temples and idols, and this entire history has been noted down in merciless, gloating detail by the Islamic historians themselves. Hindus never had a steady tradition of recording historical events, but the Hindu traditional memory also preserved this tradition of Islamic iconoclasm and temple destruction. All history books down the centuries, including those by colonial writers, recorded all this massive history of iconoclasm and temple-destruction.

Once completed, it will be the largest Hindu temple in the world. Image courtesy Viraat Ramayan Mandir

But the moment, the Ram janmabhoomi at Ayodhya became an active issue among a section of Hindus, the entire army of academic and media forces, Indian and international, joined hands in a massive campaign to rewrite the history of the Ayodhya site, and anyone who claimed that the mosque structure was built on a demolished temple became a “revisionist” and a “falsifier” and “rewriter” of history. It took the destruction of the structure, the excavation and detailed study and analysis of the demolished structure by eminent archaeologists, and the court judgement on the basis of their archaeological reports, for the truth to be finally accepted. So ultimately that turned out to be a failed attempt by the Leftist rewriters and falsifiers of history.

2. The Identity of the Rig Vedic Sarasvati river: Ever since Indologists started studying the Rig Veda, the Rig Vedic Sarasvati has been identified with the Ghaggar-Hakra river system which passes through Haryana and moves out into the Arabian Sea from Sind. The first Western scholar to propose that the Ghaggar-Hakra was the Vedic Saraswati was the French geographer Louis Vivien de Saint-Martin in 1855 in his very massive and detailed book, Geography of India’s North-West According to the Vedic Hymns.

After that, this identification has been fully endorsed by almost every single eminent Indologist, geologist and archaeologist in the last over 160 years. A representative list, first of the Western scholars down the ages, and then the Indian (and Pakistani) ones: Max Müller, Keith and Macdonell, Monier-Williams, Pischel, Geldner, Hopkins, RD Oldham, CF Oldham, Wilson, Renou, Benfey, Muir, Lassen, Stein, Jane McIntosh, Wilhelmy, Mortimer Wheeler, Bridget and Raymond Allchin, Gregory Possehl, JM Kenoyer, Jean-Marie Casal, Kenneth Kennedy, Rosen, Southworth, Pargiter, Gowen, Burrow, Basham, Shamsul Islam Siddiqui, AH Dani, BB Lal, SP Gupta, VN Misra, Dilip Chakrabarti, M Israil Khan, SR Rao, KS Valdiya, AD Pusalker, HC Raychaudhary, DC Sircar, Ashok Aklujkar, and many more.

A few scholars (Bergaigne, Lommel, Lüder), on the basis of the present-day poor condition of the Ghaggar-Hakra, had expressed doubts, and concluded that the Rig Vedic river may have been “a celestial river” and not an earthly one, and on the same grounds Roth suggested that it could be another name for the Indus. Roth's suggestion was partially accepted by Zimmer, Griffith, Hillebrandt and Ludwig, and yet all these scholars, Roth included, accepted that in many hymns of the Rigveda, it did indeed refer to the Ghaggar-Hakra!

Only a few scholars, such as Brunnhofer, Hertel and Hüsing held that the Rig Vedic Sarasvati was in Afghanistan or even in Iran: but since these scholars located the whole of the text in Afghanistan and Iran, and this identification of the Sarasvati was only a part of their whole scenario, their writings on this point were outright rejected by all the other Indologists.

Michael Witzel is now frequently cited as an authority for the Rig Vedic Sarasvati being in Afghanistan. Here is what Witzel himself had to say on this matter before the full implications, for the AIT, of the identification with the Ghaggar-Hakra, were made clear by me in my books:

In this paper on Rig Vedic history written in 1995, Witzel categorically tells us “Sarasvatī = Sarsuti; Ghaggar-Hakra” (WITZEL 1995b:318). He concludes the paper/article with a summary of the “Geographical Data in the Rig Veda” in detailed charts covering ten pages (WITZEL 1995b:343-352), giving the geographical data classified into columns as per five areas (which he classifies as West, Northwest, Panjab, Kurukṣetra, East) from west to east.

In these charts, he specifically locates every single reference (mentioned by him) to the Sarasvatī in Books 6, 3 and 7 exclusively in Kurukṣetra: VI.61.3,10 (WITZEL 1995b:343, 349), III.23.4 (WITZEL 1995b:343, 347), VII.36.6 (WITZEL 1995b:344, 349), VII.95.2 (WITZEL 1995b:344, 349) and VII.96.1,2 (WITZEL 1995b:344, 349). Further, wherever, in the main body of the article, he gives geographical areas in sequence from west to east in these three Books, the Sarasvatī is inevitably to the east of the Punjab (WITZEL 1995b:318, 320).

The turnaround started when the new evidence of satellite photography showed that the majority of Harappan sites were located on the banks of the Ghaggar-Hakra when it was in full flow, and new and detailed geological studies showed that the Ghaggar-Hakra had started drying on a major scale by 1900 BCE and was a mere shadow of its former self by 1500 BCE. This was the calibrated date at which, according to Indologists and the AIT — in accordance with the evidence of Linguistic Analysis (of the date of commencement of separation of the twelve branches of IE languages from each other in the Original Homeland being around 3000 BCE) — had required the Indologists to date the first entry of Indo-Aryans into India at 1500 BCE at the earliest.

The new evidence made it impossible that the Indo-Aryans could have started trickling in into India after 1500 BCE, and then composed the long text of the Rig Veda many centuries laterafter all the earlier "non-Aryan" inhabitants had vanished without leaving a trace or memory behind them, all the local rivers had been given new "Indo-Aryan" names (leaving not a trace of any former names — a situation unprecedented in World History), and the composers had lost all memories of any immigration or even of any extra-Indian past; and yet given glowing references in their hymns to the banks of the Sarasvati river, in full spate, as their native habitat.

This definitely meant that the Vedic Aryans were natives of the area, and that the sites discovered on the Sarasvati in full spate were Indo-Aryan sites and the Harappan civilisation was inextricably linked to the Vedic civilisation, and that the area where the twelve branches split from each other in 3000 BCE was in northwestern India and not in the Steppes.

Even Witzel, before the full implications, for the AIT, of the identification with the Ghaggar-Hakra, were made clear by me in my books, had accepted the logical implications of all this:

“[…] since the Sarasvatī, which dries up progressively after the mid-second millennium B.C. (Erdosy 1989), is still described as a mighty stream in the Ṛig Veda, the earliest hymns in the latter must have been composed by c.1500 B.C.” (WITZEL 1995a:98).

“Prominent in book 7: it flows from the mountains to the sea (7.59.2) ― which would put the battle of ten kings prior to 1500 BC or so, due to the now well documented desiccation of the Sarasvatī (Yash Pal et al. 1984) […]. Two hymns (7.95-96) are composed solely in praise of the Sarasvatī.” (WITZEL 1995b:335, fn 82).

However, the bell rang somewhat late in the day, and in the last two decades a veritable Crusade has been launched by AIT writers to rewrite history by identifying the Rig Vedic Sarasvati with the Afghan river Helmand rather than with the Ghaggar-Hakra. And the most stunning part of this whole massive Crusade, which is massively and fully backed by all the academic writers and media persons (and outright politicians) who control all discourse, is that it is the persons who continue to maintain that the Vedic Sarasvati is the Ghaggar-Hakra river who are being tarred as the "revisionists" and "rewriters of history"!

So, in short, being accused of "rewriting history" is nothing to be ashamed, apologetic or concerned about: it is something to be proud of. Yes, Hindus want to rewrite history, in order to correct lies and distortions, and take the writing of history "From Untruth to Truth". The only thing we must be careful is not to allow the project to be hijacked by people on our own side who want to take the rewriting "From One Untruth to Another Untruth".

II. How should Indian History be Rewritten?

I have written on this before, so some of this will be repetition.

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 civilisation. The standard official history of India runs on the following lines: it starts with the Indus Valley civilisation, 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 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 civilisation. 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, 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 civilisation), 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 cannot 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.

There are other famous and extremely important dynasties in other parts of India, like the Ahom dynasty in Assam. 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 thoroughly 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 arguably a fourth in the Australoid Vedda of Sri Lanka); 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, sculpture and architecture, attire, arts and sciences, 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.

It is said that the Mahabharata declares about its contents: “What is here is nowhere else; what is not here is nowhere.” This is definitely the case about Indian culture. India is the world in microcosm. Everything is there in India. There are aspects of Indian culture which look as if they are aspects of the cultures of aboriginal Australia, Africa or native pre-Columbian America. There are aspects of Indian culture which look as if they are aspects of Mongol, Tibetan, Chinese, Malay, Arab, or Persian culture (and I am not referring here to Islamic aspects) — and the truth is that all these are native aspects of our very own Indian culture: I personally feel proud when I see an Andamanese tribal or a Ladakhi hill-dweller or a northeasterner — proud that I and that person are brother members of the same great Indian family.

It is time to inculcate in all Indians this same awareness of the richness, diversity, unity and greatness of our total Indian culture. And this has to be a central ideal in the rewriting, presentation and propagation 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].

A deep and detailed understanding of India's immense contributions to the world in every field of human experience and activity should be an essential part of history rewriting.

3. Indian culture is rich because in addition to the cultural richness of the Classical Indian civilisational 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 regional and “tribal”) strands of culture equally Indian and independent of the Classical Indian civilisation. 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 balkanisation (or at least weakening) of India or the religious conversion of sections of the population (notwithstanding the fact that the two streams, apart from both being Indian, are typologically identical to each other, and both are typologically opposed to Christianity, Islam and Western civilisation — both equally kafir and heathen and “hellbound”). 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.

Hence a fundamental understanding of the essential unity of the diverse native cultural elements in India is vital, and must be a part of historical discourse.

4. Further, an understanding of Indian history is incomplete without an understanding of the ideals which contributed to this great civilisation. And, to be frank, this cannot be done without understanding exactly how or why these ideals differ from the ideals of the powerful international forces which, though mutually hostile to each other outside the Indian sphere, have united to form an ultra-formidable front of what has been correctly named by Rajiv Malhotra as the “Breaking India Forces”. And for this, history writers must take up the task of spelling out in graphic terms and propagating to every Indian not only the greatness of Indian ideals (represented in Hinduism and Indian history) but also the opposite brand of anti-ideals enshrined in the texts and doctrines of its enemies.

Here in this article it is only my job to give my views on the “whys” and “hows” of rewriting Indian history. It will be the job of Indian historians to fill out all these shortcomings in the writing and presentation 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-politicised 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.

The author has written several books on the Aryan theory and provided strong evidence suggesting that the original homeland of the Indo-European languages was in north India. He also writes on music, history, religion and politics. Views expressed are personal.

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