Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
We continue with our preview of the book on Indian History by Prof. Kittu Reddy
Please read Part 1….
This chapter introduces to the reader some basic and important ideas related to the study of history. Let us begin by briefly exploring the following questions:
WHAT DOES HISTORY TEACH US?
History as it is commonly understood is the story of man. It is the story of his evolution from his early primitive state to the more developed being that he is now. This may also be seen the growth of civilisation and culture. We learn how he made use of his early tools and gradually controlled and mastered his environment; we study the growth of his political and social systems, of the building and breaking of kingdoms and empires. We see the growth of art and culture in all its diverse forms and the enrichment of his inner life. In sum we see how man has evolved over the ages.
But what exactly is meant by evolution? When we say that man has evolved, we mean that he has developed a new power of consciousness and awareness. This power enables him to become conscious not only of the world around him but also of his inner world. In other words, he becomes both conscious and self-conscious; and this is possible because he has developed a new power and faculty called Reason. It is this faculty, which marks the great difference between man and animal. To this is added another quality, which is the unique privilege of man – the Intelligent Will. The Intelligent will is the quality, which enables him to implement and put into practice what his mind, and reason understand and see. These two powers – Reason and Intelligent Will – are the secret of his evolutionary progress. We see the application of these two powers in all the fields of human activity – the pure and practical sciences, his social and political development, his art, and culture and in all the fields of knowledge. Therefore, while studying History, which deals mainly with the external record of human life, it becomes critically important to keep in mind this fundamental fact that human progress is primarily due to these two powers – Reason and Intelligent Will.
But at the same time, there has been in man another urge – a greater aspiration, which has led him to a power higher than Mind; this power is the spiritual power. There have been periods in history, when both individuals and masses of men have been moved or at least touched by this higher force. This is especially true in Indian history, although it has played a role in other civilisations. These periods have had great and beneficent results in human life. We must keep this too in mind in studying history.
To summarize, the study of history deals with the external events of human life in its different aspects; but at the same time we must remember that the forces that activate these events and human progress are Reason and Intelligent Will and a higher power, the Spiritual power.
WHAT ARE THE SOURCES OF HISTORY?
It is a natural question that we all must ask: how do we know what has happened so many thousands of years ago? What are the sources of our knowledge? There are broadly speaking four main sources of ancient history:
d) new technological methods
Archaeology has been one of the most important sources of ancient history. It is the scientific study of material remains of past human life and activities; this includes the study of fossils, relics, monuments etc. Sometimes these are found on the surface of the earth and experts and scientists take them up and make detailed investigations; very often, however excavations deep below the surface are needed for such studies. Remarkable discoveries are made in such excavations. Most of us are familiar with the examples of Mohenjodaro and Harappa sites in India and the example of Troy in Asia Minor; whole townships have been found and have helped us get a good view of the society, life and culture of the people of those times.
Literature and Legends
Another important source of our knowledge of the past is literature. The ancient literature of humanity consists of epics, dramas, poetry and scriptures; all these give us a great deal of information on the life and thought of ancient man. The epics, in particular, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in India and the Iliad in Greece have given us a very clear picture of ancient civilisations. The two Indian epics give us not only a vivid description of the political and social systems but also a fine depiction of the values and ideals that moved the people of India in those times; many of these values are still cherished by the Indian people and to this date have a profound effect on the masses of India. Sri Aurobindo explains the significance of these epics in these words:
A profound stress of thought on life, a large and vital view of religion and society, a certain strain of philosophic idea runs through these poems and the whole ancient culture of India is embodied in them with a great force of intellectual conception and living presentation.
Similarly the scriptures of a people, like the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita reveal to us the religion and the deeper spiritual values of the Indian people. They have had a profound impact and have created movements that have influenced Indian history; the same can be said of the dramas and poetry. No doubt it will be said that there is a lot of imagination and fiction in the literature of a people and they do not constitute history in its true sense; it is even doubted by many that Christ or Krishna ever existed and yet none can deny their influence on large masses of men and on history. To quote again from Sri Aurobindo:
There are four very great events in history, the siege of Troy, the life and crucifixion of Christ, the exile of Krishna in Brindavun and the colloquy with Arjuna on the field of Kurukshetra. The siege of Troy created Hellas, the exile in Brindavun created devotional religion, (for before there was only meditation and worship,) Christ from his cross humanised Europe, the colloquy at Kurukshetra will yet liberate humanity. Yet it is said that none of these four events ever happened.
We now begin to see that the external life of man is greatly influenced by the thoughts and the psychological forces that move him, and these must therefore be given their due place in the study of history.
New Technological Methods
Today, many new methods are being used by historians. These include satellite photography, carbon dating and many other methods which we need not discuss here. Suffice it to say that with the advance of technology we are able to get more and more precise information about the past of man.
 Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 20, pp. 345-346
 CWSA, Vol. 12, p. 427
To be concluded….
Go to Part 3