Sunday, July 27, 2014


Samskritam and History : A Conspectus
Dr. Vijaya Rajiva
Ever since the controversy broke regarding Prof. Y. S.Rao's appointment as head of ICHR the main line of criticism has come from the Left/ Marxist/Liberal contingent (along with foreign critics) that since Prof.Rao argued for the historicity of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, this is an ideological, not a scholarly appointment.
He has not followed the principles of historical writing, so the criticism goes, and has engaged in dogma and ideology.
Prof. Rao continues to argue for the validity of his arguments and so have Indic scholars. The leading critic (as is to be expected) from the Left/Marxist/Liberal camp is historian Romila Thapar. She presents the familiar arguments (whether accurate or not) that Prof. Rao has not published work recognised by peer scholarly groups and that his methodology is skewed since it follows basic 'Hindutva' ideology etc. ( "History repeats itself", 11 July, 2014, India Today, Romila Thapar).

However, she says something very interesting also : 

"Rumour has it that since he is working simultaneously on various projects, a recognised monograph has still to emerge. The projects are linked to spiritualism, yoga, the spiritual contacts between India and Southeast Asia, and such like. Whatever connections there may be between these themes and basic historical research, they are at best tenuous, and it would require a mind of extraordinary insight and rigour to interweave such ideas." (History repeats itself).

This is a surprising admission by Thapar that such a project is possible, if only that it requires a mind of extraordinary insight and rigour to interweave such ideas.

There is nothing offhand to say that Professor Rao does not have such a mind. But more pertinently, it can be pointed out that Rao is working on the collective work of Indic scholars of the last three to four decades, who have departed from the traditional Western interpretations of Indian history.

These scholars have investigated such topics as :

1. The so called Aryan invasion theory (and rejected it)

2. The discovery of the Sarasvati river.

3. The antiquity of the Sarasvati Sindhu civilisation (formerly known as the Indus Valley civilisation).

4. The prior status of Vedic civilisation, i.e. that it antedates the Sarasvati Sindhu civilisation.

5. The antiquity of Hindu astronomy, prior to that of even the Babylonian, certainly that of the Greeks.

6. The antiquity of Hindu mathematics and its influence on Babylonian and subsequently Greek.

7. The creation of Sanskrit by the end of the Ice Age, i.e. circa 10, 000 BCE.

The names of these scholars are by now familiar to many Indian readers : B.Lal, Valdiya , Kalyanraman, Rajaram, Subash Kak, Shivaji Singh, David Frawley, Narahari, to name some from among the many distinguished names.

These scholars have used impeccable standards of historical scholarship and Prof. Rao has no doubt called upon this resource, in addition to his own research and that of many other junior scholars. To assume that only the Left/Marxist/Liberal scholars have followed normative standards of historical scholarship and historiography, is to display a narrow intolerance and as well an ignorance of the work done by these Indic scholars. Indeed some of their own claims themselves are of dubious quality (reference is to the Left/Marxist/Liberal contingent).

What is of further interest (to the present writer ) is the work done by two contemporary Vedic and Sanskritic scholars in the field of Hindu Astronomy and Paninian grammar.

Dr. David Frawley (aka Vamadeva Shastri) has published more than 20 books, which connect the many themes that Romila Thapar talks about and which require an extraordinary mind and insight. These are his works in Hindu Astronomy, Yoga, Ayurveda etc.

In his chapter on Hindu Astronomy in the book Gods, Sages, Kings (1991) he points out that the Vedic seers acquired their knowledge of the heavens through keen observation of the skies ( a prerequisite of any so called scientific method ). These observations add up to their knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes some 6,000 years BCE. Western scholars have traditionally attributed the discovery of the precession of the equinoxes to  Greek astronomer Hipparchus (190-120 BCE).

In this carefully argued work Dr. Frawley who has done his own translations from the Veda says :

"When ancient people observed the stars, they saw a different orientation than we do today. The seasonal points of the solstices and equinoxes fell among different stars than they do now. This is because of slow changes in the Earth's orientation to the constellations according to the precession of the equinoxes.

The Vedas present such ancient astronomical positions in many places. These have been largely ignored because they give dates much earlier than those conventionally ascribed to Vedic culture. . . . (Gods, Sages and Kings, page  147 Google Books)."

Many of the earlier Western scholars writing about India were not well informed about such topics as Hindu Astronomy in the ancient period. They became acquainted with the topic only in the works of Hindu astronomers and thinkers in the Christian era, such as Aryabhatta, the author of Surya Siddhanta and so on.

It was not only in these fields but even in linguistics and language study that the distortions took place. Contemporary Sanskritist and scholar Dr. B.V. K. Shastry has pointed out that these linguistic distortions affected the study of Samskritam and its culture, and the word itihasa (history). This happened mainly because of lack of understanding of the Panini-Patanajali-Yaska tradition of language and linguistics :

"It is well known that the history of India . . . . has been misinterpreted using several layers of distortion :

Source Book distortion (Vedas badly translated and constructed in alien ways).

Source Native Language distortion (Sanskrit distortion by giving up Panini-Patanajli-Yaska tradition and substituting it with Max Mueller-MacDonnell-Michael Witzel).

Sidelining the hard evidence of archaeology . . . . "

(Email communication to colleagues).

It must be pointed out that most of the Left/Marxist/Liberal critics of Hindu scholarship are not acquainted with Sanskrit and rely on those self same distorted secondary sources. Ms Thapar herself is not versed in Sanskrit and therefore her history of ancient India suffers from this limitation.

Hence, Prof. Rao's project of revising Indian history is to be seen in the context of these distortions of Indian history. One can only wish him and the project all the best in that endeavour.

(Dr. Rajiva taught Political Philosophy at a Canadian university).

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