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Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)

An Inner Approach to Indian History (Prof. Kittu Reddy) – Part 2

P1050897

We continue with our preview of the book on Indian History by Prof. Kittu Reddy

Please read Part 1….

HISTORY AND CULTURE OF INDIA: A NEW APPROACH

Prof. Kittu Reddy

CHAPTER I: THE STUDY OF HISTORY

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 and what are its sources?
  • What is the relation between the external events in the human life and the inner psychological state?
  • What is the importance of the individual in history?
  • Does life have a deeper purpose and can history help us find it and give human life a direction?

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:
a) archaeology
b) literature
c) legends
d) new technological methods

Archaeology
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.[1]

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.[2]

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.

[1] Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 20, pp. 345-346

[2] CWSA, Vol. 12, p. 427

To be concluded….

Go to Part 3

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About Beloo Mehra

Beloo is the author of two books, one on Indian Education, titled "ABC’s of Indian National Education" and an ebook featuring a selection of her essays, titled "The Thinking Indian." She holds several degrees in Education and Economics, has extensive teaching experience at school and university level in India and the US, and has a keen interest in the educational, social and cultural thought of Sri Aurobindo. She currently lives in Pondicherry, spends her time doing some reading, some writing, some teaching, some gardening and a whole lot of reflecting on life, living, society, politics, religion, art, literature, India, the World, and everything else under the Sun and the Moon.

4 comments on “An Inner Approach to Indian History (Prof. Kittu Reddy) – Part 2

  1. Pingback: An Inner Approach to Indian History – Prof. Kittu Reddy (Part 1) | matriwords

  2. Pingback: An Inner Approach to Indian History (Prof. Kittu Reddy) – Part 3 | matriwords

  3. Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay
    March 29, 2016

    Very insightful indeed. Spirituality is truly another means of looking at things apart from Reason and Intelligent Will. While there was no such distinction from earliest times to even during Mughal age, this divide between inner and outer approach started with the advent of Judeo-Christian thought and especially Macaulay’s hijack of the education system.

    Since then close to 6-7 generations of Indians have accepted the outer view as the only truth, thereby destroying 200 generations worth of accumulated wisdom, except for a few like Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda. Who knows how long it will take us to go back?

    On the other point with regards to historicity of events, I cannot comment on the first two. But the Krishna related incidents have a lot of research by both traditional as well as modern scholars till as late as 1950’s who so no reason to doubt the historicity of either Krishna or Arjuna (or Rama for that matter). There is a considerable body of scholarly work published in reputed journals like Bhandarkar Oriental, etch which abruptly came to a halt with Nehru’s advent.

    It is in fact very much possible, to systematically inspect all the Vedic lores,itihasa and Puranasa to create a very convincing and synchronized historical tradition. Many have done this (some are very farfetched and unfortunately get publicized to ridicule Hindus) but others are rock-solid – for example Pradhan’s and Pargiter’s work stand out for the depth of analysis they have done, although they do not necessarily agree because of different translations used. Pradhan had the added advantage that he was extremely proficient in Sanskrit.

    While Pargiter posits a date of 950 BCE, Pradhan argues for a date of 1150 BCE for the MBh War. I have verified many of Pradhan’s claim by verifying with sources and using an excel for tabulation (the boon of modern science) and till date have found not any significant inconsistencies. Pargiter assumes rather short reigns – but had he assumed the typical long reign of an average king, both Pargiter and Pradhan would converge.

    Apart from this I have also referenced other independent works and they all converge towards 1000 BCE +- 100 years, based solely on relative chronology with respect to Buddha or Chandragupta Maurya. Astronomical traditions however present irreconcilable differences – and point to very early dates. But even assuming 1000 BCE, there are 95 generations recorded prior to that covering Benares, northern India, Magadh, Kosala etc – which would yield 3000 BCE as a very conservative starting point of mature Indic thought encompassing both the within and without.

    The major disconnect between historical tradition and modern history happened with the introduction of Aryan invasion and its ridiculously low timelines and brazen assumptions, That pretty much killed our historical tradition.

    PS: 1 month old recent archaeological finding’s in Benares shows signs of continuous civilization since 4000 BCE (IITK Sandhi study), somewhat validating our historical tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beloo Mehra
      March 30, 2016

      Thank you once again for such a thorough and insightful comment. You have added so much depth and detail to this series with your comments. I am in awe of how much you read and research and analyse! Highly impressive. Thanks for sharing some of these nuggets from your research about the historicity of Krishna. I have only read one work in this regard – a book by N S Rajaram. That was also wonderful.

      Your last paragraph is right on the mark. The AIT really messed up many things for us – not only for our historical tradition but also for our social-cultural fabric as well as our understanding of who we are, to begin with. We continue to pay the very high price for it, in so many ways. So much of division, fragmentation, distrust between groups, political unrest, regional chauvinism, casteism, etc etc – pretty much everything that is wrong with our socio-political environment has to do with our not knowing who we are, as you yourself wrote in your essay!

      But I have faith that the clouds of ignorance and darkness will disappear and the light of truth will shine through. Things are changing, though a bit slowly, but as many masters have said, India lives in millenia, not in centuries!

      Thank you!

      Like

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This entry was posted on May 4, 2015 by in Books, Guest Post, India and tagged , , .

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