Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
This important essay will be presented in three parts. We start with Part 1 today. Parts 2 and 3 will be posted in the next two days.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated some years ago, Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist, interpreted this as the “the end of History.” By this he meant that liberal democracy with the United States as its flag-bearer had ultimately triumphed over rival ideologies like monarchy, fascism and now even communism. This was therefore the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution. But the United States is a superpower in the outer world only since its wealth hides a spiritual poverty and growing psychological and social unrest. We are living in a spiritually troubled age and no mere technological superpower can properly guide our world; it would also require the collaboration or the guidance of a spiritual superpower to do this. India has the potential to be this spiritual superpower, but it would require great effort on its part to realise this potential. The question is whether the country and its leaders are willing to make this effort. I see two choices before India at the beginning of the 21st century; either India remains true to its genius and rises from its present state of being an intelligent camp-follower of the West to become a spiritual power-house, in Sri Aurobindo’s words “the guru of the nations.” If it becomes camp-follower, no matter how flourishing, it will cease to be India.
Long before India became free, Sri Aurobindo kept reminding his countrymen “that India was arising, not to serve her own material interests only, to achieve expansion, greatness, power and prosperity, — though these too she must not neglect—, and certainly not like others to acquire domination of other peoples, but to live also for God and the world as a helper and leader of the whole human race.” [15th August 1947 Message]
India has become free politically but the history of the last fifty [sic] years shows that we continue to be a colony of the West, intellectually and culturally. The Indian psyche has been so badly decimated by colonialism that we have lost confidence in ourselves and give the impression of being alike an adolescent who is yet uncertain about his identity. But the fact is that we are among the oldest civilisations in the world with an unbroken tradition that goes back to at least nine thousand years.
The greatest obstacle to our progress today is the negative self-image we have of our country and its civilisation. Our intelligentsia is suffering from a defeatist mentality and we are convinced that our best strategy for survival is to hang on to the apron strings of the West, intellectually and culturally. This mindless imitation of the West seems to me nothing short of suicidal.
President Abdul Kalam in his book entitled Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power within India points out that all nations which have arisen to greatness have done so because they have been characterised by a sense of mission. He gives the example of Germany which rose from the ashes twice in the course of four decades in the last century only because its people’s sense of destiny never dimmed. Then he adds: “Unfortunately for India historic forces have never given a common memory to all communities by taking them to their roots a millennium down the ages. Not enough effort has been made in the last fifty years to foster that memory…. It is when we accept India in all its splendid glory that, with a shared past as a base, we can look forward to a shared future of peace and prosperity, of creation and abundance. Our past is there for ever with us. It has to be nurtured in good faith, not destroyed in exercises of political one-upmanship.”
But the history of India that has been written during the last two hundred years and that is being taught in our schools and colleges gives rise to an exactly opposite feeling—to a feeling of confusion, self-loathing and helplessness. It is a history written primarily by Eurocentric historians who have represented India as lacking historical agency and serving a role in history that is subservient to the agenda of Europe. They have broadcast the notion that India throughout its history was a passive field activated primarily by the incursion of invading groups. We need to counteract this notion and restore the historical agency of Indians by stressing the numerous ways in which India has served as a civilising and economic force in the world. Unless we reject this false Eurocentric history and cleanse our minds of the encrustations placed on it by the colonialist Western narrative, we can not become a free people. As Subhash Kak has pointed out, “Our school books talk about Socrates, Plato and Aristotle—and rightly so— but they don’t mention Yajnavalkya, Panini and Patanjali, which is a grave omission. Our grand boulevards in Delhi and other cities are named after Copernicus, Kepler and Newton, but there are no memorials to Aryabhata, Bhaskara, Madhava and Nilakantha!”
The model of history which still lingers in our history books, now written by leftist historians, may be called the “invasion theory” of Indian history, which assumes that India has been a passive unchanging entity which has undergone changes only when motivated by outside forces in the form of active aggressors. Now it is of course true that India was invaded over the course of its long history, usually from the interior of Asia. But this is a pattern seen throughout Eurasia, in which sedentary agricultural societies situated along the coasts or along the river valleys were periodically invaded by nomadic tribes from the interior. It is unlikely that India suffered invasions with any greater frequency than, say, China. We at least had a natural barrier in our Himalayas and the Hindukush mountains; China had no such natural protection and so the Chinese spent incredible time and energy constructing a series of walls and guard posts. But ultimately no barrier remains impermeable. The point is that there is no good reason to particularly dwell on invasions as a motivating force in Indian history.
Much has happened during the last few decades that simply negates the assumptions that were at the basis of the theory of Aryan invasions in 1500 BC. Archeological digs have confirmed that the Saraswati river flowed down to the sea parallel to the modern day Indus, before a major earthquake in about 1900 BC robbed it of its two tributaries, the Satluj and the Yamuna, which were captured by the Sindhu and Ganga rivers. Since this river is praised as the greatest river in the Rigvedic times, it is clear that the Rigveda predates 1900 BC in the least. There are scholars who say that 1900 BC only marks the final drying up of the river and it had ceased to flow to the sea around 3000 BC. There is absolutely no evidence of a break in the Indic tradition, going back to 10,000 years. There is no break in the skeletal records, ceramic styles and artistic expression in India between 4500 BC and 800 BC; if you compare that with regions that have suffered invasion, such as the Americas you will see a clear break in all these things. Summarising from all this evidence, we can say that the theory that Aryans invaded India in 1500 BC is wrong; it is a scholarly invention that does not square with the facts as we know them. This does not mean that Indo-Europeans could not have entered India before 4500 years BC.
The concept of an Aryan-Dravidian divide is a by-product of the racist discourse of the 19th century. It is now being recognized that if by one reckoning Sanskrit, Greek and Latin belong to a family, by another, Sanskrit and Tamil and Telugu and Kannada belong to another. Linguists are now talking of the concept of India as a linguistic area. Culturally, India shows a great unity as far back as the 2nd millennium BC. There is evidence which suggests that this unity is at least 4000 years old. It is interesting in this context to note that Tamilian kings in South India and Sri Lanka called themselves Aryan, which simply means in Sanskrit ‘cultured.’
It is now widely recognized that such theories of history are basically ethnocentric justifications of European colonialism. The received version of Indian history today is the one developed by Western, mainly British, historians, during the colonial period. This has created an image of India and its civilisation which is antithetical to the West’s image of itself. Western civilisation is seen as masculine, rational and scientific while the Indian is viewed as feminine, mystical, irrational, and world-negating. Europe saw India as a decadent nation where the original vitality of the Aryan migrants from the Indo-European tribes was sapped by the admixture of the native races.
As Ronald Inden has shown in his book Imagining India, the West’s representation of India is based on its own desires for world hegemony and fantasies about its rationality. India has been depicted as a civilisation of villages, caste, spiritualism and divine kings, and as a land ruled by imagination rather than reason. All this has had the effect of depriving Indians of the capacity to order their world. As a consequence, India was dominated by the West or its surrogates, and even now, several decades after independence, we continue to be so dominated. This provided plenty of justification for colonising India and thereby civilising it. But unfortunately the same negative tone continued until recently because history writing became the prerogative of the Leftists in India. The more recent BJP-NDA regime [referring to 1999-2004 government] did not address the question of systemic reform although much political capital was invested on the matter of the revision of textbooks. Since a proper objective process is not yet in place, there was no guarantee that the next government will not throw out the current textbooks, and this is precisely what has happened.
To be continued….