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Monday, June 17, 2024

The intellectual convenience and selective amnesia of Romila Thapar and other Hinduphobic ‘historians’

Romila Thapar has spoken and written on a number of topics but her words and thoughts are premised, at times, on a sense of intellectual convenience and selective amnesia, at various places. Critically looking at these nuances in a contextualised manner is important.

The Aryan migration theory has had a chequered past and a somewhat dramatic fall in recent times. In the work ‘Which of Us Are Aryans?’ written by Prof. Thapar and Michael Witzel, philology has been assumed to promote this idea.

The idea is that Mittani has had Indo-Aryan loan words, such as in the Mitanni-Hittite treaty of 1380 BCE. These include proper nouns, theonyms and hippological terminology. There are tantalizing hints that the migration may have been the other way – from Bharat westward.

In the Baudhayana Shrauta Sutra (18:44), there are two groups mentioned: one led by Ayu that went eastward but another led by Amavasu that migrated westwards. This could also be taken metaphorically to mean fluxes and divergences, as per Vedic orthopraxy.

We then have the Kikkuli manual with its various Indo-Aryan terms. Michael Witzel himself contends that “a scenario of IE emigration from Punjab is, of course, possible—the direction and spread of innovations cannot easily be determined unless we have written materials.”

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar famously said: “The theory of invasion is an invention […] because of a gratuitous assumption which underlies the Western theory. The assumption is that the Indo-Germanic people are the purest of the modern representatives of the original Aryan race.”

A slight detour – it is interesting that there was a school of Occidental thought that accepted the significance of Indic elements, particularly Sanskrit. Voltaire once said that “everything came to us from the Ganges”. (quoted in ‘Europe Looks at India’, 1946).

Scottish linguist James Burnett says in his work ‘Of The Origin and Progress of Language’ that “there is a language still existing, and preserved among the Brahmins of India which is a richer and in every respect a finer language than even the Greek of Homer.”

In this context, Raja Rammohan Roy’s letter to Lord Amherst in 1823, disparaging Sanskrit, is unfortunate. Speaking of knowledge of Sanskrit, he says “its acquisition is well known to have been for ages a lamentable check to the diffusion of knowledge.”

Over time, colonial complexes possibly made intellectuals like Franz Bopp say “I do not believe that […] European languages are to be considered as derived from Sanskrit. I feel rather inclined to consider them together as subsequent variations of one original tongue.”

This was the precursor to the search for PIE, the philological premise for the Aryan invasion theory. As Shaffer put it, “it is time to end the ‘linguistic tyranny’ that has prescribed interpretative frameworks of pre-and proto-historic cultural development in South Asia.”

This tyranny and abject racism of some of the intellectuals of the colonial period is seen best in the words of Archibald Campbell Carlyle: “The Hindus have become the coffee dregs, while we have remained the cream of the Aryan race.”

The claim by Prof. Thapar that Mahmud Ghazni was motivated only by wealth skews the discussion on exclusivism. Undermining the attack on Somnath, she says “…at approximately the time of the raid, the Chola King, Rajendra I, was marching his armies up the eastern coast”.

The context for this lies in Prof. Thapar’s denial of a pan-Bharat consciousness in those times. The Somnath attack is regarded to have been around 1026 AD, while Rajendra Chola’s march ended by 1022 AD, when Gangaikonda Cholaeswarer temple was built at Kulampandel!

Mahmud seemingly fled after the raid, avoiding contact with Raja Bhoja who was seemingly advancing, taking a rather dangerous path through Sindh, as highlighted in ‘The History of India as told by its own Historians: The Mohammadan Period’ by Elliot and Dawson.

It is a shame that Hinduphobes like Maulana Sajid Rashidi, who said that the Somnath attack was to end ‘wrongdoing’, claimed to have got their ideas from Prof. Romila Thapar!

She also has written on the Itihasa (epics). She writes about the concept of exile to the forest reinforcing ‘the dichotomy of Grama, settlement, and Aranya, forest, central to cultural perceptions’ – a thought at variance from the primacy of nature in Dharmic traditions.

She displays her skewed reading of the Bhagavad Gita with the words “Krishna speaking from the perspective of a caste society explains to Arjuna that as a kshatriya it is his Svadharma […] to fight against evil even if it means killing kinsmen.”

She poses Shantiparvan as ‘a polemic in the debate with the heterodoxy’. She indicates the parallelism of Yudhishtira and Bhishma’s thought on Rajadharma to Mauryan scions like Ashoka and Chanakya’s deliberations in Arthashastra, respectively.

She speaks extensively on the ‘Bhriguisation’ of our epics, to deify central figures such as Shri Krishna and Shri Ram. It is interesting to note the nuanced (at times unflattering) description of Maharishi Parasurama, descendent of Maharishi Bhrigu, in the Itihasa.

An interesting tidbit of history: JNU was largely aligned with the Left due to Prof. S. Nurul Hasan, who happened to also inaugurate the ‘Archaeology of the Ramayana Sites’ project in March 1975. This project found ample evidence of a Sri Ram Mandir under the Babri Masjid.

On Ayodhya, Dr. K. K. Muhammed, former Regional Director (North) of ASI, once said, “A set of historians including Romila Thapar […] argued that there was no mention of the dismantling of the temple before 19th century and Ayodhya is Buddhist-Jain centre.”

We must contextualise the reading of Prof. Thapar’s history within the historical interplay of constructed histories. A towering figure in this is Prof. R. C. Mukherjee, who gave some insights on historiography, even publicly opposing the-then Congress government on this.

Firstly, he said, it is wrong to try to visualise ancient Indian state and society from an occidental angle. For instance, Kashi Prasad Jayaswal’s theory of a parliamentary form of governance in ancient India – a replica of the British form, was deemed unnecessary.

He spoke against pacifist strands of thought as being preeminent in Hinduism, as promulgated by M. K. Gandhi, highlighting the practice of ‘aśvamedha sacrifice and eulogy of digvijaya’. He opposed the repudiation of charges that “Muslim rulers ever broke any Hindu temple.”

On the government then, he says: “They are not willing to tolerate any history which mentions facts incompatible with their ideas of national integration and solidarity. They do not inquire whether the facts stated are true.”

The idea of systematic Hindu intolerance appeared in 1969, in the booklet titled ‘Communalism and the writing of Indian History’ written jointly by Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra. The claim was Hindu kings destroyed (foreign Dharmic places) of worship too.

“Maybe, perhaps, probably mostly… therefore”, in Shourie’s words, elevated this to a ‘fact’. On closer inspection, Harbans Mukhia pointed to Prof. Thapar, who pointed to Richard Eton for the source of the claim, with the Eton-ian work written years after the 1969 piece!

As per Purva Kāraṇāgama, conquest meant the continued veneration of deities from the vanquished kingdom, which is what the much cited Kharavela and Narasimhavarman did! Even King Harsha of Kashmir is said to have “acted like a Turushka” in his iconoclasm, as per Kalhana.

The historiographical denigration of Indian civilization started with James Mill, who delineated the parameters for history writing in and on colonial India. D. D. Kosambi looked at history in terms of ‘bonds of production’, class conflict and ‘dialectical materialism’.

Kosambi is regarded as having brought a ‘paradigm shift’ by Prof. Thapar. The almost-Marxist school of Kosambi was perfected by her. As we enter a new period of reclaiming our civilizational consciousness, let us not be slaves to her school of tinted historiography.

(This article has been compiled from the tweet thread posted by @Zeit_MjGM on July 10, 2023, with minor edits to improve readability and conform to HinduPost style guide)

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