There remains a crucial need to correct the history of India from distorted accounts that have prevailed since the British era. As a New India arises with confidence in its own civilisation and global stature, this reductionist view of India as primitive, divided, politically incorrect and lacking in continuity is suspect and appears as India seen through the shadow of foreign rule and hostile ideologies.
India so far has not adequately reclaimed its history in the post-Independence era in a way that shows the true stature, duration and influence. Even after 75 years of Independence, the main history of India taught is coloured by derogatory interpretations of those with little respect for India’s great traditions, though a new movement to counter it is steadily rising.
The history of India as commonly given in textbooks and media accounts worldwide is the view of scholars who have little direct knowledge of India’s way of thought and view of culture, who prefer to interpret India according to their own cultural biases as if these were unquestioned truths.
Such a view of India’s history reduces India’s profound 5,000-year dharmic civilisation and its vast cultural, yogic and intellectual traditions to a mere footnote to Western culture and politics of the last few centuries, in which India has little relevance, and is often a subject of abuse and hoped for reformation.
The New Reduction of India to South Asia
Recent views of India’s history add a new negationism. For them there was no India, but only a few temporary, disjointed cultures and kingdoms, with outside dominated empires like the Mughals or the British, and no enduring or characteristic Indic civilisation behind these.
Such scholars see only a nebulous South Asia region, without much cohesion or contribution to world civilisation, so no separate or unique place in history is required for India apart from the diverse groups and cultures of the region. This is a contrary position as compared to China, which is given its historical identity and cultural continuity, even though China borrowed much of its philosophy and spirituality from India through Buddhism.
The Greek author Megasthenes at the time of Alexander over two thousand years ago wrote a book called Indika about India, which the Greeks honoured. There was extensive trade between Rome, the Middle East and China with a land called India for many centuries. Note terms like Hindusthan for the region, or Bharat Varsha and its sixteen regions or Janapadas found in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts. Geographical terms like Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific, Indochina and Indonesia have long been used and show the importance of India but are similarly now being rejected.
India’s contribution to science, medicine and philosophy, for example, though India gave much more than just decimal mathematics to the world, is similarly seldom highlighted. Rather the British view of Macaulay, who tried to destroy India’s extensive educational system, or the communist views of Karl Marx, are given precedence, as if India’s contribution to world civilization was minimal in all respects.
Contrary to such views, India in its Sanskrit and regional dialects has produced the largest and oldest literature in the world, replete with historical references, names of kings, kingdoms, peoples, geographical regions, sages and cultural practices. Note the many Vedas, Agamas, Puranas, Jatakas, Sutras, and local accounts for such literature.
The Influence of Modern India
In addition to this negation of ancient India is an attempt to negate modern India and its influence. Since Swami Vivekananda, Indic-based traditions of Yoga, Vedanta, Ayurveda, Tantra, Sanskrit, Indian music and dance have spread globally and gained a dedicated following in almost every major country and region of the world. Great yogis and gurus from India have travelled and gained followers globally
Yet in accounts of modern India the role of Indic civilisation in spiritualising the world, is hardly mentioned. Nor is the fact that Indian immigrants to the US or UK have wonderful temples and a thriving community contributing to the peace and welfare of the countries where they now arise. The youth in the West after their studies of history can scarcely name any figures of civilisational importance from ancient or modern India.
The contrary idea is given that India as a nation was created by the British and only gained its identity with India’s Independence in 1947, which can be attributed largely to Jawaharlal Nehru who was an Anglophile. Meanwhile India’s history books have largely been written by Marxists and reflect their political agenda. The idea of a superior Socialist/Nehruvian India arose to counter or even erase ancient Bharat Varsha.
The effort to reclaim India’s history
Yet sadly today, when Indian thinkers try to correct this slanted history, they are accused of political, nationalistic and religious biases, as if they had no credibility. The fact is that existing historical accounts of India starting with the Aryan Invasion Theory, reflect political and religious biases, but coming from outside of India, by groups who have sought to politically control or convert India, exploit it commercially, or divide India into smaller countries they can more easily dominate.
Certainly, independent India, for its 75th anniversary, needs to reclaim its history, just as many countries free of colonial influence are doing. An Indic criticism of Western civilisational influences should also have its place in the discussion. There should be no monopoly on history by one group or another, though efforts to control history have long occurred among colonial, communist, leftist and fascist regimes.
The fact is that a history of India without an Indian voice or point of view, given India as one the cradles of civilisation, remains incomplete and presents a distorted view not only of India but also of the history of humanity, which has an inner yogic dimension, not simply an outer political expression.
India’s textbooks need major changes providing an Indic/Bharatiya view of its place of respect. This is part of an open pursuit of truth, in which all sides must be heard. Today there seems to be an apartheid in academia and the media in which an Indic view, particularly a Hindu view, will not be given a voice.
India’s view of civilisation as the pursuit of dharma and higher consciousness, cannot be reduced to materialist concerns or to those of exclusivist beliefs. Indology has perhaps been the worst aspect of Orientalism. Time for it to be put in the dustbin of history. India’s civilisation has the most in depth cosmic dimension to its view of world and Self, which transcends all such outer historical theories, and must be examined accordingly.
Howsoever we view history, it is clear that the human race remains an unevolved species in terms of consciousness, still caught in massive violence and prejudices, which we find throughout the world.
Honouring the sages of India can help all humanity. But to truly appreciate these great yogis, rishis and gurus, we must recognise their enduring role in India’s civilisation and history, and their influence on the whole of Asia and beyond that is spreading globally today to the entire planet.
The writer is the director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies and the author of more than 30 books on yoga and Vedic traditions. The views expressed are personal.