Ayodhya Kanda 112.27Ayodhya Kanda 112.19Ayodhya Kanda 72.48Ayodhya Kanda 72.45Ayodhya Kanda 12.86-7Ramayana stampsSita temple, Nuwara Eliya, SrilankaSri Rama darbar coin 597 CE November 11, 2007
A lesson of history
By R. Balashankar
“HISTORY smiles at all attempts to force its flow into theoretical patterns or logical grooves; it plays havoc with our generalizations, breaks all our rules; history is baroque.”
After finishing The Story of Civilization to 1789 in ten volumes Will and Ariel Durant reached this conclusion and wrote in their celebrated treatise, The Lessons of History, that human history is a brief spot in space, and its first lesson is modesty.
As a student of history, I have read almost all the great historians including our eminent historians of the Marxist genre. Nowhere have I encountered the kind of sweeping arrogance and cavalier disregard for facts as in the Indian Leftist historians. They pronounce with all finality. They have an ideology, a predetermined hypothesis, which they promote as history. For them their agenda is their history. And in this they heavily lean on colonial historians who themselves worked on a peculiar frame. But we see even the colonial historians possessed some level of intellectual honesty which our indigenous ones sadly lack. So V.A. Smith writing a history of India for the British wrote, “The deep waters of Hinduism are not easily stirred. Ripples on the surface leave the depths unmoved.” We cannot see this humility in our Indian counterparts. And they have done immense harm and deliberate damage to our understanding of our own history. And in all this they depend on secondary sources. And that is why when William Dalrymple criticised Indian historians for not utilising primary sources and said that the records in the National Archives remain largely untouched many Indian readers agreed. Arnold Toynbee repeatedly refers to Marxism as an offshoot of the church. To him it is almost a heresy, “a leaf torn out of the book of Christianity and treated as it were the whole gospel.”
Is that the reason for our eminences to lose their wood for the tree? As Will and Ariel noted, “As his studies come to a close the historian faces the challenge: Of what use have your studies been? Have you found in your work only the amusement of recounting the rise and fall of nations and ideas, and retelling ‘sad stories of the death of kings’? Have you learned more about human nature than the man in the street can learn without so much as opening a book?”
In spite of the bewildering diversity of race, language, religion and political divisions of the people of India, a fundamental unity could be observed in their history; in the cultural homogeneity. It has been built up through ages. Indian empires have been of the hegemony type and the unity of India, till recently has not been political or administrative. The caste system, which is peculiar to India cuts at the roots of social solidarity. Though the racial and linguistic differences are greatly exaggerated, at present, they are real. “Hinduism the forest of faiths is not a centripetal force to a large extent”, says R. Sathianathaier, in his History of India, Vol.1.
The remarkable unity of India is mainly due to the outlook of her people on life and to their common heritage. We can speak of the people of India, but not of Europe in the same sense. Through ages the Indians, gradually evolved a common way of life. Sir Alfred Risely says, “Beneath the manifold diversity of physical and social type, language, custom and religion, which strike an observer in India, there will still be a certain underlying uniformity of life from the Himalayas to the Cape Camorin.” Dr. V.A. Smith points out that “India beyond all doubts, possesses a deep underlying fundamental unity, far more profound than produced either by geographical isolation or political suzerainty. That unity transcends innumerable diversities of blood, colour, language and dress manners and sect.” The sense of unity of India was always present in the minds of Indian theologians, political philosophers and poets. The spread of Hinduism all over the country from ancient times helped the emergence of the spirit of unity. “The Epics and the Vedas have been respected throughout the country. The respect for the cow, worship of common gods, places of pilgrimage etc. also helped the development of a sense of unity”, says Sathianathaier.
Indians were great chroniclers of history. A detailed study of the sources and chronology will enable us to understand the sense of history of the Indian of the distant past. The sources of Indian history are Literary, (Indigenous & Foreign), Epigraphy, Numismatics and Archaeology (Monuments). Indian literary source consists of partly sacred and partly secular literature. There are the four Vedas, the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, the Upanishads, the two great Epics—Ramayana and Mahabharata—the Brahamasastras, the Puranas, and the Buddhist literature, the Jain literature and other literary and secular works. Of the four Vedas—the Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva, the Rig Veda is the oldest and it contains a lot of information about the history and political system of the people. The Brahmanas are a prose commentary on the Vedic hymns. The philosophical meditation of the sages on God, soul and the world are found in the Aranyakas and the Upanishads. The Indian religious thought is found in them. The Sutras deal with rituals, domestic rights and Dharma. The two great Epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the famous works in Sanskrit literature. They give us an insight into the political and social conditions of the people in their times. The Mahabharata is considered an encyclopaedia of ancient Indian culture. It gives us a detailed account of religion and philosophical system. It deals with the fine arts like music, dance, painting and architecture. In Santiparva, it deals with the origin of state, kingship, political theories as well as law and administration.
The value of Puranas as a source of Indian history has come to light by the researches of P.E. Pargiter. Previously, the Puranas were considered baseless legends by some scholars. Saint Vyasa is believed to have composed eighteen major and eighteen minor Puranas before the composition of Mahabharata. Some of the Puranas contain reference to the origin of Nanda, Maurya and Satavahana dynasties. The Puranas also contain information about philosophy, art, architecture, social history and political organisation.
Archaeology is the study of the material remains of the past, or “technology in the past tense.” Prehistoric Archaeology of the historical period deals with the civilisation, and Archaeology of the historical period with the more impressive artistic work of man. Therefore, an ancient Indian statue or building would come under Archaeology, but treaties on it under technical literature. Archaeology supplies the most direct evidence of the past; unedited by any author. But, it cannot assist much in the recovery of political history. (History of India Vol. 1 by Prof. R. Sathianathaier)
The ancient Indians were great masters in writing, and out of their early writings came a special group of treatises called Smrti and Dharmasastras written by Manu, Atri, Visnu, Harita, Yajnavalkya, Usanaas, Angiras, Yama, Apastamba, Samvarta, Katyayana, Brhaspati, Parasara, Vyasa, Sankha, Likhita, Daksa, Gautama, Satatapa and Vasistha. These great lawgivers were followed by many commentators who because of changed circumstances tried to interpret the texts in the light of the new facts.
In one of the best modern interpretations of Ramayana, Benjamin Khan in The Concept of Dharma in Valmiki Ramayana says, “I hold Valmiki as one of those great exponents who through the vehicle of poetry expressed their interpretation of the law of Dharma. Thus, the importance of the Ramayana becomes twofold. It is a literature as well as a vade mecum for moral reference. It makes a universal appeal owing to the lucidity with which the noblest thoughts have been expressed. While not claiming to be a moral treatise it has tried to combine religion and morality in such a comprehensive way as to include all the spheres of human life. Indeed it is our pride, as a beautiful record of moral lives led and lived by human beings like us. The Ramayana may be described as a manual of morals which, without entering into technical details, would instruct the reader in the duties of life.”
The greatness of the Ramayana lies in the fact that by becoming a national moral code it inspired many writers to repeat its story and morals, and with the passage of time, many Ramayanas came into existence to replenish our moral heritage. So we find that besides Valmiki’s Ramayana almost a dozen other works dealing with the same theme, such as the Yoga Vasistha Ramayana, the Adhyatma Ramayana, the Ramayana in the Mahabharata called Ramopakhyana. the Mahanataka, autorship of which is ascribed to Hanuman, Devi Ramayana (here prominence is given to Sita as a divine personality), the Padma Purana which relates many curious tales of Rama, Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti’s Uttara Ramacaritam and Mahaviracaritam, Tulsidas’ Ramacaritmanasa, Krttivasa (in Bengali) and Kamban Ramayana (Tamil). The Rama story is also found in Jaina and Buddhist literature.
To quote B. Khan again, “We find that Valmiki depicts a society where women are held in honour, a society, which is free from the horrors of the Sati system, a society in which child-marriage is unknown and maidens are free to choose their husbands. It was a society with political and economical freedom where men had their proper occupations; it was a society in which domestic virtues were emphasized. Valmiki realised that all other moral excellences depend on the foundation of domestic virtues. The Ramayana is the epic of domestic virtues. Though asceticism, and self-mortification crept into the society, yet Valmiki firmly held that the householder’s stage is the best of all the asramas. The caste system had not assumed the rigidity it acquired later; it was only an economic device and not a birth-principle. At any rate, in his time, it had not degenerated into a ‘grand conspiracy against the brotherhood of mankind’. Valmiki did not hesitate to condemn the doctrine of Fate, which was rendering the nation impotent. He ridiculed all those who pinned their faith to destiny and lowered the value of human efforts. For him, it is human will which is the spring of all human action and even if there is anything like destiny, it can be made to change its course by man’s prowess.” (The Concept of Dharma in Valmiki Ramayana by Benjamin Khan published by Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.)
I have quoted extensively from such authorities on the subject only to show how absurd and biased our socalled eminent leftists are. For them Ramayana and Mahabharata are myths. For them the Marine Archaeological evidences which conclusively established the historicity of Sri Krishna are of no value. They teach and rely on the socalled Aryan Invasion theory of the colonial masters as their gospel truth though it has been effectively challenged and buried by almost all the modern-day eastern and western historians. And they help in the preparation of affidavits like the one shamefully submitted in the apex court to claim that Sri Ram did not exist and that Ramayana was a fiction. Which other fiction in world history has evoked so much universal reverence and historic value?
As APJ Taylor commented in the context of writing a history of World War, “Historians often dislike what happened or wish that it had happened differently. There is nothing they can do about it. They have to state the truth as they see it without worrying whether this shocks or confirms existing prejudices. ….I do not come to history as a judge….I make no moral judgement of my own.”
Will and Ariel establish this point more eloquently. “Our knowledge of any past event is always incomplete, probably inaccurate, beclouded by ambivalent evidence and biased historians, and perhaps distorted by our own patriotic or religious partisanship. Most history is guessing, and the rest is prejudice. Even the historian who thinks to rise above partiality for his country, race, creed, or class betrays his secret predilection in his choice of materials, and in the nuances of his adjectives. The historian always oversimplifies, and hastily selects a manageable minority of facts and faces out of a crowd of souls and events whose multitudinous complexity he can never quite embrace or comprehend. Again, our conclusions from the past to the future are made more hazardous than ever by the acceleration of change.
“We do not know the whole of man’s history; there were probably many civilisations before the Sumerian or the Egyptian; we have just begun to dig! We must operate with partial knowledge, and be provisionally content with probabilities; in history, as in science and politics, relativity rules, and all formulas should be suspect. Perhaps, within these limits, we can learn enough from history to bear reality patiently, and to respect one another’s delusions.” (The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant.)
There is a missing link in the history of India. Some behave as if India’s history began on August 15, 1947. This is the Marxian view. Few others think that the Hindu history terminated with the martyrdom of Rana Pratap or even earlier with Prithviraj Chauhan. True; for almost 800 years Hindu history writing took a pause. All these years the entire creative genius of India was geared on preservation and defence. So we have the great Bhakti literature. A great resistance movement that produced greatest of Indian heros like Chhatrapati Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh. And during this period India did not produce great works of history, art, architecture or science of the magnificence of the pre-Muslim period. But is that enough a justification to deny the Hindu his history? As Arnold Toynbee notes, “The tension in Hindu souls must be extreme, and sooner or later it must find some means of discharging itself.” He further noted, “The large hearted, broad minded religious spirit that was once almost worldwide survives in India almost alone. It is now laid upon India to preserve this spiritual heritage as a common treasure for mankind—a treasure of inestimable value.”
Where has this treasure come from? It is in the Ramayana, in the Hindu tradition. And that is why Toynbee said, “You have not made Hinduism the official religion of the Indian union.You have established a secular regime…Hinduism has refrained from insisting on being given a privileged status, and in this act of self denial it has, I should say, been strikingly true to its own spirit. The same care and tradition of toleration comes out in the attitude to Muslim and British architecture, some of which were ugly and even offensive”. (Faith of a Historian)
It is this value that we want to emphasise through this Deepavali Special on the History of Ram and Ram Sethu. And this Hindu tradition of “Self-denial” is what we want leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Karunanidhi of the UPA to ponder and appreciate before going ahead wantonly trying to destroy the ancient-most historic treasure of the Hindu history.