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Out with the legislated history of Bharat

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A public statement entitled ‘Hypocrisy and Indian History’ has within two days of it being released gathered supporters by the thousand. Written by a group of historians, archaeologists and scholars of the Indian civilisation, the joint public statement has issued a clear and much-needed call for an unbiased and rigorous new historiography of India.

The 50 signatories (at this time supported by more than 4,000 via an online petition) have condemned the “pernicious imposition by the Leftist School of a ‘legislated history’, which has presented an alienating and debilitating self-image to generations of Indian students, and promoted contempt for their civilisational heritage”. The authors of the joint statement have opened a first front in the quest for India’s Leftist historians – long held as the only writers and interpreters of the history of an ancient and exceedingly rich civilisation – to face a reckoning that will undoubtedly be grim for their school.

'Bheelalas' (also Bhilala), Sehore (MP, the old Central Provinces), 1862, from the Waterhouse Albums

‘Bheelalas’ (also Bhilala), Sehore (MP, the old Central Provinces), 1862, from the Waterhouse Albums

They have pointed to a few of the more odious recent instances of the Left historians doing their duty to the former Congress-led government – on 26 October 2015, a group of 53 Indian historians publicly said they were alarmed by what they perceived as a “highly vitiated atmosphere” in India. Soon after, an “Open letter from overseas historians and social scientists” (numbering 176) followed, and this letter warned against “a dangerously pervasive atmosphere of narrowness, intolerance and bigotry” and “a monolithic and flattened view of India’s history”.

Such made-to-order intellectual endorsing of what has been a tactical political campaign against the BJP government has disturbed many historians, archaeologists and scholars of the Indian civilisation.

hist_quote1The authors of this statement have said their response is to the hypocritical attempts by leftist historians to claim a moral high ground. “Many of the signatories of the above two statements by Indian and ‘overseas’ historians,” they explain in their statement, “have been part of a politico-ideological apparatus which, from the 1970s onward, has come to dominate most historical bodies in the country, including the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and imposed its blinkered view of Indian historiography on the whole academic discipline”.

The authors of the (welcome and timely) call to free Indian historiography from the intellectual gulags of the left include a number of current members of the ICHR, several former members of the council, several scholars of the Archaeological Survey of India, university professors, Sanskrit scholars and linguists. They provide seven good reasons why their call is important, and these are (reproduced directly from the call):

'Kali Ghat, Calcutta', from 'Picturesque India. A handbook for European travellers, etc.', by W S Caine, G Routledge & Sons, 1890

‘Kali Ghat, Calcutta’, from ‘Picturesque India. A handbook for European travellers, etc.’, by W S Caine, G Routledge & Sons, 1890

1. A reductionist approach viewing the evolution of Indian society almost entirely through the prism of the caste system, emphasizing its mechanisms of “exclusion” while neglecting those of integration without which Indian society would have disintegrated long ago.

2. A near-complete erasure of India’s knowledge systems in every field —philosophical, linguistic, literary, scientific, medical, technological or artistic — and a general under-emphasis of India’s important contributions to other cultures and civilizations. In this, the Leftist School has been a faithful inheritor of colonial historiography, except that it no longer has the excuse of ignorance. Yet it claims to provide an accurate and “scientific” portrayal of India!

3. A denial of the continuity and originality of India’s Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh culture, ignoring the work of generations of Indian and Western Indologists. Hindu identity, especially, has been a pet aversion of this School, which has variously portrayed it as being disconnected from Vedic antecedents, irrational, superstitious, regressive, barbaric — ultimately “imagined” and, by implication, illegitimate.

hist_quote24. A refusal to acknowledge the well-documented darker chapters of Indian history, in particular the brutality of many Muslim rulers and their numerous Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and occasionally Christian and Muslim victims (ironically, some of these tyrants are glorified today); the brutal intolerance of the Church in Goa, Kerala and Puducherry; and the state-engineered economic and cultural impoverishment of India under the British rule. While history worldwide has wisely called for millions of nameless victims to be remembered, Indian victims have had to suffer a second death, that of oblivion, and often even derision.

5. A neglect of tribal histories: For all its claims to give a voice to “marginalized” or “oppressed” sections of Indian society, the Leftist School has hardly allowed a space to India’s tribal communities and the rich contributions of their tribal belief systems and heritage. When it has condescended to take notice, it has generally been to project Hindu culture and faith traditions as inimical to tribal cultures and beliefs, whereas in reality the latter have much more in common with the former than with the religions imposed on them through militant conversions.

Illustration 'Women of Bombay' from 'What I saw in India', by H S Newman, Partridge & Co., 1885

Illustration ‘Women of Bombay’ from ‘What I saw in India’, by H S Newman, Partridge & Co., 1885

6. A biased and defective use of sources: Texts as well as archaeological or epigraphic evidence have been misread or selectively used to fit preconceived theories. Advances of Indological researches in the last few decades have been ignored, as have been Indian or Western historians, archaeologists, anthropologists who have differed from the Leftist School. Archaeologists who developed alternative perspectives after considerable research have been sidelined or negatively branded. Scientific inputs from many disciplines, from palaeo-environmental to genetic studies have been neglected.

7. A disquieting absence of professional ethics: The Leftist School has not academically critiqued dissenting Indian historians, preferring to dismiss them as “Nationalist” or “communal”. Many academics have suffered discrimination, virtual ostracism and loss of professional opportunities because they would not toe the line, enforced through political support since the days of Nurul Hasan. The Indian History Congress and the ICHR, among other institutions, became arenas of power play and political as well as financial manipulation. In effect, the Leftist School succeeded in projecting itself as the one and only, crushing debate and dissent and polarising the academic community.

hist_quote3And there we have it. I signed the petition (which you will find here) and commented: “The Indic approach to understanding the patterns of the past has been systematically denied, suppressed, altered, misrepresented, miscast, ridiculed and marginalised by the historians who are the subject here. In my view, aspects that have a great deal to do with shaping events and the lives of peoples – language and spirituality – have been ignored altogether by the ‘leftist school’. In so doing, a gigantic corpus of work and memory concerning our Bharatiya past has been concealed or neglected to a condition of near ruin, and this has been disastrous for the transmission of the values and ideas which are part of our heritage. That is why I welcome this call for a new historiography of Bharat.”

The 50 original signatories of this statement are:

1. Dr. Dilip K. Chakrabarti, Emeritus Professor, Cambridge University, UK; Dean, Centre of Historical and Civilizational Studies, Vivekananda International Foundation, Chanakyapuri, Delhi; member, ICHR
2. Dr. Saradindu Mukherji, historian, retired from Delhi University; member, ICHR
3. Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Director, CPR Institute of Indological Research, Chennai; member, ICHR
4. Dr. M.D. Srinivas, former professor of theoretical physics; former vice-chairman, Indian Institute of Advanced Study; chairman, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai; member, ICHR
5. Dr. Meenakshi Jain, associate professor of history, Delhi University; member, ICHR
6. Michel Danino, guest professor, IIT Gandhinagar; member, ICHR
7. Prof. B.B. Lal, former Director General, Archaeological Survey of India
8. Dr. R.S. Bisht, former Joint Director General, Archaeological Survey of India
9. Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Govt. of Tamil Nadu; Vice Chancellor, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya, Kanchipuram
10. Dr. B.M. Pande, Former Director, Archaeological Survey of India
11. Prof. Dayanath Tripathi, former Chairman, ICHR; former Head, Dept. of Ancient History, Archaeology and Culture, D.D.U. Gorakhpur University, Gorakhpur; former Visiting Professor at Cambridge, British Academy
12. Prof. R.C. Agrawal, President, Rock Art Society of India; former Member Secretary of ICHR
13. Prof. K.V. Raman, former professor of Ancient Indian History & Archaeology, University of Madras
14. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Dancer and Research Scholar
15. Prof. Kapil Kapoor, former Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Antararashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, Wardha (Maharashtra)
16. Prof. Madhu Kishwar, Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
17. Dr. Chandrakala Padia, Vice Chancellor, Maharaja Ganga Singh University (Rajasthan); Chairperson, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
18. Sachchidanand Sahai, Ph.D. (Paris), National Professor in Epigraphy, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, Advisor to Preah Vihear National Authority under the Royal Government of Cambodia; member, ICHR
19. Dr. J.K. Bajaj, Director Centre for Policy Studies, Former Member ICSSR
20. Dr. Makarand Paranjape, Professor of English, JNU; Visiting Global South Fellow, University of Tuebingen
21. Dr. Nikhiles Guha, former professor of history, University of Kalyani, West Bengal; member, ICHR
22. Prof. Issac C.I., member, ICHR
23. Prof. (Dr.) Purabi Roy, member, ICHR
24. Prof. Jagbir Singh, Former Professor and Head, Dept. of Punjabi, University of Delhi; Life Fellow, Punjabi University, Patiala.
25. Dr. G.J. Sudhakar, former Associate Professor, Dept. of History, Loyola College, Chennai
26. Dr. Bharat Gupt, Former Associate Professor, Delhi University
27. Prof. O.P. Kejariwal, Central Information Commissioner & Nehru Fellow
28. Dr. S.C. Bhattacharya, former Professor and HOD, Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, Allahabad University; former National Fellow, IIAS, Shimla
29. Prof. S.K. Chakraborty, former professor, Management Centre for Human Values, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta
30. Dr. Amarjiva Lochan, Associate Professor in History, Delhi University; President, South and Southeast Asian Association for the Study of Culture & Religion (SSEASR) under IAHR, affiliated to the UNESCO
31. Dr. R.N. Iyengar, Distinguished Professor, Jain University, Bangalore
32. Professor (Dr) R. Nath, former Professor of History, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur
33. Kirit Mankodi, archaeologist, consultant to Project for Indian Cultural Studies, Mumbai
34. Prof. K. Ramasubramanian, Cell for Indian Science and Technology in Sanskrit, IIT Bombay; Council Member International Union for History and Philosophy of Science; member, Rashtriya Sanksrit Parishad
35. Dr. M.S. Sriram, Retired Professor and Head, Department of Theoretical Physics, University of Madras; Member Editorial Board, Indian Journal of History of Science; Former Member, Research Council for History of Science, INSA
36. Dr. Amartya Kumar Dutta, Professor of Mathematics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
37. Dr. Godabarisha Mishra, Professor and Head, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Madras
38. Dr. R. Ganesh, Shathavadhani, Sanskrit scholar
39. Sri Banwari, Academic and Journalist; former Resident Editor, Jansatta
40. Dr. S. Krishnan, Associate Professor, Dept of Mathematics, IIT Bombay
41. Dr. Rajnish Kumar Mishra, Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
42. Dr. Vikram Sampath, Director, Symbiosis School of Media and Communication; former Director of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) – SRC; historian and author
43. Prof. K. Gopinath, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
44. Prof. M.A. Venkatakrishnan, former Professor and Head, Dept. of Vaishnavism, Madras University
45. Dr. Sumathi Krishnan, Musician and Musicologist
46. Dr. Prema Nandakumar, Author and translator
47. Dr. Santosh Kumar Shukla, Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
48. Dr. Siniruddha Dash, former Professor & Head, Dept. of Sanskrit, University of Madras
49. Dr. Mamata Mishra, Managing Trustee, Prof. K.V. Sarma Research Foundation
50. Dr. Chithra Madhavan, historian and epigraphist

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Written by makanaka

November 20, 2015 at 00:59

The Lahori astrolabist

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Image from Archnet, Lahore collectionLahore is the city of Mughal heritage. Grand buildings with delicate landscaping express the story of a splendid era of building construction. Some chapters of this monumental architecture have been torn or distorted by subsequent rulers and others are slowly turning to ruin but still stand as a witness of Mughal grandeur, as these wonderful images from the architectural website Archnet demonstrate. Lahore contains three gems of Mughal architectural treasure: Lahore Fort, Jehangir’s tomb and Shalimar Gardens. The fort and gardens were declared Unesco World Heritage Sites in 1981.

Raza Rumi, a freelance writer from Pakistan, writes an evocative diary of Lahore at ‘Lahore Nama’ (he also writes regularly for the Pakistani weekly The Friday Times, The News and Daily Dawn).

“Mughal Empress Noor Jehan (d. 1645) was prophetic when she composed the epitaph for her own grave,” he writes. “It runs thus: ‘Pity us, for at our tomb no lamp shall light, no flowers seen/ No moth wings shall burn, no nightingales sing’. What she did not foresee was that a similar fate would befall the nearby tombs of her brother Asif Khan and husband Emperor Jehangir at Shahdara.”

Image from Archnet, Lahore collection“They too were laid to rest in the empress’s once delightful and sprawling Dilkusha Gardens across the Ravi river from the imperial Lahore Fort. The legendary Mughal couple so cherished Lahore that both chose it as their last abode. Little did they know that in times to come, an indifferent archaeology department would be made the custodian of their tombs.”

But there is an astonishing tale obscured in the Mughal history of Lahore. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in northwest India a Lahori family maintained a remarkable workshop that, through four generations, produced numerous well-made scientific instruments, in particular planispheric astrolabes and celestial globes.

Lahore, on the upper course of the Indus river, was then the capital of the Mughal province (or suba) of the same name, later called the Punjab. The activity of these metalworkers covered the reigns of the second through the ninth Mughal rulers of India, who spoke the vernacular Turki but maintained Persian as the official language of the court.

Islamicate celestial globe

Globe dated 1055 H/AD 1645-1646, by Diya-al-Din Muhammad of the Lahore workshop

“The earliest extant instrument by this family is an astrolabe made in 975 H/AD 1567-1568 by the apparent founder of the workshop, Allahdad. He called himself simply Ustadh Allahdad Asturlabi Lahuri, that is. Master-craftsman Allahdad, the Astrolabist from Lahore.’

“Three extant astrolabes were made by him, only one of which is dated. The name Allahdad is a compound of Allah (God) and dad (gift),” wrote Emilie Savage-Smith in her extraordinary research work, ‘Islamicate Celestial Globes: Their History, Construction, and Use’ (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1985).

“It is only from other members of the family—his grandsons and greatgrandsons—that further information about Allahdad can be gathered.”

“In the name as it is written by later family members, Shaykh Allahdad Asturlabi Humayuni Lahuri, it is likely that Humayuni was intended to indicate the fact that the founder of the workshop had lived at the time of Humayun, who ruled India from 1530 to 1556 as the son and successor of Babur, the Timurid conqueror who had come from Kabul in the Afghan mountains into the Indus plain to found the Mughal dynasty in India.”