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Misrepresentation and Stereotyping of Hindu Dharma in History Textbooks in India

By Vishal Agarwal

10 July 2004

We all generalize about people, about groups, about ideologies and so on in our lives. But when this generalization is judgmental, when it is not based on the complete set of evidence available to us and when we are unwilling to consider new or contrary data to revise our judgment, this generalization becomes a stereotype[1]. A stereotype is a highly exaggerated negative view of the reality. It is especially resorted to by people who are quick to condemn people who are different from themselves, or in other words, by people who are themselves intolerant. Prejudice[2] is rarely expressed explicitly. It is more often demonstrated through creation of stereotypes, through the creation of a hated or a disliked ‘other’, through an excessive and obsessive focus on the negatives of this ‘other’, through half-truths, repeated and deliberate misrepresentation and so on.

In this review, we examine three influential texts on ancient Indian history to ascertain if their authors bear a negative prejudice against Hindus and Hindu Dharma[3]. All the three authors of these texts are Marxist historians.

CASE I

Romila Thapar’s ‘Ancient India, A Textbook of History for Middle Schools’. NCERT: New Delhi (1987)

This review deals with the withdrawn NCERT textbook on history for impressionable students of Std. VI authored[4] by the eminent historian Romila Thapar.

When the text of the first edition of the book (published in 1966) is compared with its current edition (July 1987, reprinted 13 times till January 2000), we do not find any significant differences between the two. The changes are primarily cosmetic – sentences added here and there, a word or two changed, and so on. Some errors are corrected here, a subtle shift in emphasis made elsewhere, and so on. This means that in 34 years (1966 – 2000), Thapar does not see the need to revise completely her understanding as well as her presentation of history of ancient India to middle level school children of India.

1. Obsession with ‘Brahminism’: Thapar obviously does not fail to mention that Vedic Aryans ate beef, even in her brief discussion on their food habits (pp. 40-41)–

“The cow held pride of place among the animals because the Aryans were dependent on the produce of the cow. In fact, for special guests beef was served as a mark of honour (although in later centuries, brahmanas were forbidden to eat beef).”

The assertion that only Brahmins were forbidden to eat beef, and not other sections of the Indian society seems to be politically motivated, because it promotes anti-Brahminism, and would tend to discredit any modern day anti-cow-slaughter movements in India as ‘Brahminical’. Thapar has obviously not offered any proof that other sections of the Indian society, the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas for instance, were allowed to eat beef in ‘later centuries’. The subtle bias appears so often in the text that the student can scarcely miss her emphasis on the Brahminical hegemony. Thus, the Brahmins are mentioned as recorders of laws that promoted casteism and discrimination against lower castes (page 53), they bestowed divine right to rule upon kings only if they submitted to Brahminical ceremonies (page 50), their influence was great because they were king’s advisors and without them the king could not rule (page 50), the king collected taxes for various reasons among with the support of Brahmins is mentioned (page 50), as priests they became messengers between gods and men, and ‘so were naturally powerful’ (page 43), the Brahmins became more important than other castes, and the kshatriyas in particular, by ‘making religion very important’ (page 42), only the Brahmins were forbidden to eat beef in later ages (pages 40-41) and so on.[5] One can hardly assume that Thapar has made all these remarks in a matter-of-fact manner or in a dispassionate manner considering that her own publications say that she is very ‘sensitive in the way the past is used by the present’.[6] Apparently, Thapar does not have anything to say anything positive about this community, and appears to have a penchant for back-projecting current politically and socially fashionable ideas about inter-caste relationships into ancient India. It is entirely questionable if ancient Indians who were not Brahmins perceived their Brahmin neighbors in the manner that Thapar is trying to depict them.

2. Caricaturing the Vedas: The description of the Vedic religion is quite reductionist (page 43-44) and might well have been taken from a Christian Missionary propaganda booklet. There is no attempt to related Vedic religion with modern Hindu religious practices, an omission which contributes to dullness of reading the chapter. Every possible opportunity is availed of by Thapar to ridicule or mock Vedic learning. For instance, she picks up 1 out of more than 1000 hymns in Rigveda, and then misinterprets it (page 42)–

“…Young boys stayed with the priests who taught them how to recite the hymns of the Vedas. There is an amusing description of the pupils in one of the hymns. It is said that the pupils repeating the lesson after the teacher sound like frogs croaking before the coming of the rains.”

The view that Rigveda VII.103, alluded to by Thapar above, is somehow ‘amusing’ is refuted by current scholarship, which sees a fairly serious rain-charm here.[7] In fact, no derision of Veda reciting Brahmins is implied in this hymn at all.[8] It is unfortunate that as a specialist in ancient Indian history, Thapar is ignorant of the language of the original texts (such as the Vedas) or even of significant secondary literature on them.

3. Animosity against Hindu Rituals: There are many academically sound ways of studying religion[9] and religious rituals. Thapar however indulges in a wholesale negative stereotyping of rituals, and spares no opportunity to refer to them in a contemptuous, or in a politically loaded manner. Contrasting Vedic religion with Buddhism and Jainism, Thapar (page 57) says –

“Buddhism and Jainism had followers among the craftsmen, traders, peasants and untouchables, because they felt that these religions were not difficult to practice. The brahmans on the other hand had made their religion difficult to practice because of the many ceremonies and rituals…..”

Amongst the various faults of Vedic rituals mentioned by Thapar, bluntly or subtly, are that

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· they made religion difficult to practice,

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· promoted Brahminical hegemony,

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· promoted the theory of the divine right of kings to rule,

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· promoted superstition, were costly and an unnecessary drain on cattle and other wealth,

bullet

· were too lengthy,

bullet

· were a fiction created by crafty Brahmins and so on.

Not one positive role of rituals in human life is mentioned. The entire treatment of Vedic ritualism is therefore slanted and makes the student averse towards Vedic religion per se.

It is surprising that there is hardly any worthwhile discussion of Upanishadic doctrines in the book[10] although much space is devoted to Jainism and Buddhism. One would expect that after frequent criticisms of Vedic ritual in subtle and not so subtle ways in her textbook, Thapar would have dwelt upon the advantages or the positive aspects of Upanishadic thought. However, any positive presentation of any aspect of Hinduism and Hindu spirituality as such has no place in Indian ‘secularism’, and therefore the omission is not surprising.

4. Subtle Propaganda against Sanskrit: While discussing the Ashokan edicts, a subtle bias is created in the minds of students by stating that while Prakrit was spoken by the common people, whereas Sanskrit was spoken by the educated upper classes (page 62) where there is actually no need to say so. Thapar’s own ideological and political slant becomes obvious when one notices how she fails to mention that the Buddhists and Jains themselves composed their texts in Sanskrit in later times, even when she could have done so later in Chapter VI.

Rather, in Chapter VIII of the textbook, Thapar does not fail to mention that -

“The Vedic religious texts were in Sanskrit which only the priests and the few who were educated could understand…..Writers such as Dandin wrote in Sanskrit, since they were writing for the court circles and the upper castes.” (page 114)

She never asks how many Buddhists and Jains continued to understand Pali and Prakrit in later centuries, or how many Muslims in India understood Arabic, the language of Koran. This constant linkage of Sanskrit with ‘upper castes’ and ‘Brahmins’ is designed to create hatred against the beautiful language in the impressionable minds of students. There is no mention that Sanskrit is a beautiful language with a very systematic grammar compiled by Panini, or that scholars of various faiths all over India wrote in Sanskrit because it served as a link language. In fact, it is surprising that Thapar should promote prejudice against Sanskrit when she herself writes her books in and addresses her audience in various talks in English – another elitist language in contemporary India! In fact, the period under which Thapar makes the above remark also saw Buddhists and Jains often switching to Sanskrit for composing their own texts.

5. Privileging Other Religions over Hinduism: On page 83, Thapar unnecessarily pays credence to the legend that Christianity arrived in India in the first century A.D. As a historian, she should have been a little more skeptical because competent scholars reject this legend and place the arrival of Christianity into India at least 3 centuries later. Apparently, excessive skepticism must be practiced by secular historians when Hinduism is discussed, but the standards can be relaxed a little for other faiths.

Not surprisingly, Thapar includes the following ‘disclaimer’ type statement in her textbook, a statement that was absent in the first edition of the book[11] -

“In the Gupta period, Hinduism became a powerful religion. The word ‘Hindu’ was however not used until a later time by the Arabs when they referred to the people of Hind, i.e., India. The Hindus were worshippers of Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu. Since the worship of Shiva and Vishnu became very popular at this time, we refer to it as Hinduism even during the Gupta period.”

Thapar is wrong in sating that the word ‘Hindu’ was used first by Arabs. It was first used by the Persians, and is used to refer to people of India in the inscriptions of the Persian Emperor Darius I as early as 6th century B.C.E.[12] Cognates of ‘Hindu’ and ‘India’ also occur in Chinese and Greek writings several centuries before Arabs used the words. One wonders why Thapar is so extra- cautious here to point out the anachronistic usage of the word ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hinduism’ by her, when her entire textbook is so full of such anachronistic terms.

For instance, was the ‘Kashmir valley’ termed as such in prehistoric times (pg. 12)? Did ‘India’ exist as an entity (religious, cultural or political) in pre-Harappan times (pg. 13)? Is there any evidence for the existence of ‘Jainism’ and ‘Buddhism’ before 400 B.C. (chapter 4) more than there is evidence for the existence of ‘Hinduism’ in the Gupta Age? Did the Kushanas arrive from the ‘Chinese Turkestan’ (pg. 85)[13] in the first century A.D.? Did Zoroaster really preach ‘Zoroastrianism’ (pg. 111) in ‘Iran’, ‘sometime before 600 B.C., as the textbook claims?

My point is that the ancient past is necessarily described with the help of modern terms and names, and this is obviously the case with Thapar’s textbook also. However, the selective manner in which Thapar makes a special case of the late nature of the word ‘Hinduism’ clearly indicates that she wishes to indoctrinate the Hindu students that their faith is not as old as they believe it to be and that their religion as such did not exist as such before the Gupta Age.[14]

It is really amusing to see how Thapar and other Marxist historians first accept the hegemony of Protestant Christian terminology in defining religious ‘isms’ and then proceed to declare that the religion ‘Hinduism’ did not exist till recent centuries. From an orthodox Hindu perspective, one could assert even today that the Semitic religions are nothing more than ‘panthas’ or sects in relation to Sanatana Dharma. So why impose Western and Eurocentric concepts on Indian students? One could argue that the very category ‘religion’ is inappropriate to describe the sacred traditions of India and China, just as the category ‘dharma’ may not apply to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The 9th chapter, which is the last one in the book, has a 3 page long section on Islam which summarizes the historical evolution of the religion as well as its religious tenets. This was totally unnecessary as it does not have much of a bearing on ancient Indian history. It will be noted that while long sections in the book have been devoted to Buddhism, Jainism and Islam, the references to Hinduism are perfunctory or incidental. There is absolutely no meaningful description of doctrines of the Upanishads, the Gita, the Darshanas, or of the rise of Vedanta. There is not even a mention of Adi-Shankaracharya, who lived in the period covered by the text. Or even a brief summary of the contents of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, except a statement that they are records of battles between Aryan chieftains[15] and that they were redacted in the Gupta period.

Since the Gupta period is often designation as the ‘Golden Period of Hindu India’, the latest edition of her textbook predictably omits to mention this designation, whereas her Std. VIII NCERT textbook on medieval India does not fail to give the title ‘The Age of Magnificence’ to the chapter dealing with the Mughal period. Likewise, it is easy to see that whereas her descriptions of Islam and Christianity fairly conform to emic methodology, all her characterizations of Hindu Dharma are closer to the etic anthropological norm.

Thapar presents the advent of Islam to India singularly as an enriching experiencing. The destruction brought by Islamic armies is totally blacked out. In fact, the advent of Islam to India is balanced with the advent of Buddhism/Hinduism in South East Asia in the following words (page 125) –

“The Arabs not only introduced Islam but also a number of new cultural influences to India, which were to grow and develop in later centuries. Thus, on one side, India was exporting its culture and, on the other side, it was importing a new culture.”

Need I even comment on this false equation? Extensive studies by scholars on the extension of Hindu-Buddhist culture and civilization from India to South East Asia exist and even a cursory knowledge of these should make its contrast with the advent of Islam and Arabs into India quite apparent to the lay reader.

To conclude this brief review focusing on Thapar’s treatment of Hindu Dharma and related aspects, we can say that her textbook has a very subtle slant against Brahmins, Hinduism, Sanskrit, Vedas and Hindu Philosophy and religion as such. The bias, which is certainly related to the author’s Marxist affiliations, appears in the form of

· A selective overemphasis of certain aspects of ancient India (such as Brahminical hegemony, or the elitist status of Sanskrit),

· Misrepresentation of certain facts or blatant errors (notably in the treatment of Vedic Aryans), suppression of inconvenient facts (such as the devastation brought by Islamic armies),

· A one sided presentation (such as excessive dwelling on the negative aspects alone of Vedic ritual)

· A lack of discussion on aspects of Hinduism (such as Upanishadic philosophy, or the themes of Ramayana and Mahabharata), other than the sectarian worship of Vishnu and Shiva.[16]

CASE II

D. N. Jha’s “Ancient India, In Historical Outline” (2nd edition). Manohar Publishers and Distributors: New Delhi. 1998

The back side of the title cover page states that the book was first published in 1977, and reprinted 9 times till 1997. A Hindi translation was first published in 1980, and this was reprinted 8 times till 1997. The book was even translated in Chinese in 1984, when that country was thoroughly Communist. If Thapar exhibits her prejudices and her Hinduphobia in a very subtle manner through selective truths and politically loaded descriptions, Jha is simply crude and juvenile. Let us consider a few examples from his book, often recommended to University level students.

1. Obsession with beef eating: Discussing the Chalcolithic cultures of India, he writes the following politically loaded sentence (p. 29) –

“They ate beef, though there is no strong evidence of their eating pork.”

Discussing Vedic rituals, he says (p. 56) –

“Elaborate sacrificial rites undermined the importance of the Rigvedic gods, some of whom faded into the background. The priests became the chief beneficiaries of the sacrifices and consequently gained in power. Cattle were slaughtered at sacrifices often in large numbers. Animal bones with cut marks found in course of excavations at Atranjikhera and other places are mostly cattle. Public rituals, therefore, led to the decimation of the cattle wealth, whose importance for the developing agricultural economy can hardly be overestimated.”

The assertion that ‘public rituals, therefore, led to the decimation of cattle wealth’ is baseless and the author has not presented any proof. The construction of the sentence quoted above too gives the impression of special pleading.

After presenting Hindu reformers and the ‘nationalist historians’ of 1800’s -1920’s in a poor light, Jha exempts three scholars from his insulting generalizations (p. 22) –

“This does not apply to Rajendra Lal Mitra (1822-91), Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar (1837-1925) and Vishwanath Kashinath Rajwade (1869-1926) who generally adopted a rational attitude to the past. Mitra published a tract to show irrefutably that in ancient times beef-eating was not a taboo…”

Apparently, Mitra has been transformed from a ‘nationalist’ to a ‘rational scholar’ only because he happened to have written a ‘tract’ on beef eating in ancient India – a topic that is a monomaniacal obsession with these scholars.[17] The tract is reprinted these days as a booklet by persons with a clear political agenda in mind.[18] In fact, the reduction of Mitra to a writer of a mere tract is an insult to his versatile genius,[19] and a negation of the prolific literature he produced, on topics that are beyond the grasp of the Jhas and Thapars of our times.[20] And in fact, the British colonialists sometimes dismissed Mitra as a patriot and a nationalist[21], something that Thapar too does in her recent book ‘Early India’ (2003)!

In his description of the economy in the later Vedic period, Jha predictably comes to pastoralism, and of course, to the question of beef eating [p. 54][22]-

“All this does not mean a total disappearance of pastoralism, which continued to remain a reasonably prominent feature of life. This is suggested not only by the remains of cattle bones bearing cutmarks at Hastinapur, Atranjikhera, etc., but also by the later Vedic texts, especially the Shatapatha Brahmana, which refers to Yajnavalkya’s spirited arguments in favour of beef eating.”

The ‘spirited arguments’ in favor of beef eating that are attributed to Yajnavalkya are merely a secular fantasy of Jha. Nowhere in the Satapatha Brahmana does the Sage offer ‘spirited arguments’ to this effect. Jha has perhaps referred to a plain statement constituting half a sentence (Satapatha Brahmana 3.1.2.21, whose interpretation is disputed, incidentally) in the third book of the Brahmana, which is a huge text containing literally thousands of sentences and hundreds of paragraphs. Thus, this grand-total of half a sentence constitutes, what Jha calls ‘spirited arguments’ in favor of beef eating!

Talking of emergence of Classical Hinduism in the pre-Gupta period, Jha makes an astonishing insinuation (p. 136) -

“Simultaneously with the emergence of these gods, Brahmanism was assimilating a variety of popular cults. Animals, trees, mountains and rivers came to acquire divine associations. The cow became an object of worship; the seeds of modern communal Indian politics were thus sown.”

Tomorrow, he will say that when Valmiki wrote the Ramayana, the seeds of Ayodhya dispute were sown!

2. Bogey of Hindu fundamentalism and Hinduphobia: Jha’s obsession with Hindu fundamentalism in the 2nd ed. of book seems to be motivated by contemporary political considerations, as an absence of certain statements in the first edition of the book indicate. Discussing change and continuity in Indian religion, he remarks (pp. 38-39) crudely –

“But to trace contemporary Indian religious practices to Harappan times often ignores the elements of change that crept into them from time to time. For example, the discovery of many graves in Harappa and other places proves beyond doubt that the Harappans buried their dead, in north-south orientation, along the different types of goods. This practice is in sharp contrast to the subsequent practice of cremation. It is a different matter that if a communalist Hindu is told that all his ancestors did not practice cremation may well jump down our throat!”

There are several instances in the book where the word Hindu is used in conjunction with negative epithets unnecessarily. For instance, he says (p. 41)[23]

“Some scholars continue to believe in pan-Aryanism and go so far as to claim that India was the cradle of world culture. Blind racial prejudice has led them to believe and propagate that every peak of Indian cultural achievement must be Aryan; accordingly the authors of even the Harappan culture have been taken as Aryan. This idea has always betrayed a strong upper caste Hindu bias, because the Aryans did not include the shudras and untouchables. The bias is glaringly evident in the activities of Hindu communal and revivalist organizations in recent years.”

Amusingly, the statement is made with regard to those historians who advocate colonial versions of the Aryan invasion theory, when in fact Jha’s own viewpoint on the advent of Indo-Aryans into India is not much different from their’s!

3. Ridiculing/Caricaturing Hindu Beliefs and Scriptures:

He makes the following tasteless remark on Sarasvati river (p. 43)–

“...the Saraswati (now lost in the Rajasthan deserts and existing only in the imagination of the credulous as flowing underground up to Prayag or Allahabad and joining the Ganga and Yamuna there)…”

The Hindu belief (linking the Sarasvati with Yamuna and Ganga) is derived from historical facts and is supported by later texts on Sarasvata Sattra ritual which clearly ask the pilgrim to proceed from the source of dried up Sarasvati (Plaksa Prasrvana) to Jamnotri for completing the rite[24]. In modern times, numerous geologists, Indologists and archaelogists from all over the world have lent support to the fact that sometime around 1500 BCE or earlier, tectonic movements or river capture caused the Yamuna waters to flow into Ganga instead of Sarasvati. If Jha continues to ignore this overwhelming evidence, the credulity is his.

Jha’s description of Vedic deities [pp. 51-52] is merely a paraphrase of the reductionist descriptions found in D. D. Kosambi’s works. For instance, on p. 51, he has merely the following unflattering words for Indra –

“Among the gods the most popular was Indra, who shared some of the characteristics of the Greek god Zeus. Always ready to smite dragons and demons, he is credited with the sacking of many cities and is therefore called Purandara (breaker of forts). A warlord leading the Aryan tribes to victory against the demons, Indra is described as rowdy and amoral, and as fond of feasting and drinking Soma, which was the name of a heady drink as well as the Vedic god of plants…….His servants were the Gandharvas (heavenly musicians). Their female counterparts were the beautiful, libidinous and seductive nymphs (apsarasas). One of them, Urvashi, admitted to her earthly lover Pururavas that ‘friendship is not to be found in women’ and has been associated with some kind of hetaerism.”

On Lord Krishna it is a pity that Jha cannot see anything other than a ‘questionable personal track record’ in Sri Krishna. He says (pp. 136-137) –

“The brahmanical religion, which evolved through a process of syncretism with popular cults, was based on the doctrine of bhakti. Borrowed from Buddhism, it preached that a completely personal relationship between the god and his devotee was possible through devotion and not just by performing sacrifice. Devotion was to arise from unflinching faith; not surprisingly Krishna, despite his rather questionable personal track record, was accepted as the incarnation of the supreme Vishnu. The concept of bhakti was first expounded clearly ostensibly by Krishna himself in the Bhagavadgita.”

Explaining the genesis of the Epics, he refers (p. 137) to the Gita in the following words[25]

“The most important interpolation was the Gita, which has been dated around the second century BC. It contains 700 tightly woven stanzas, which provide the first clear exposition of the Vaishnava faith. No wonder the Gita later became the basic text of the Vaishnavas. In our own times it is talked about more than read, its glaring contradictions and poetic excellence being conveniently ignored by those who tirelessly swear by it.”

It is unfortunate that these are the only words that Jha chooses to describe the Gita. There is no summary of its tenets, and his characterization of it as a text that was used only by Vaishnavas is misleading in the light of commentaries by Shaivites like Ramakantha and Abhinavagupta on it. Whereas Jha sees the Gita merely as a historical document with no relevance in modern times, even British colonialists, such as Governor General Warren Hastings found great solace in its message[26] and had described the translation into English of the Gita as a ‘gain of humanity’[27].

One would give a serious consideration to Jha’s views on Hindu dharma provided he had some basic acquaintance with its texts and traditions. This does not seem to be the case. For instance, Jha’s description of the six systems of Hindu orthodox philosophy, although brief, is nevertheless replete with an astonishingly large number of errors. He says [page 165] –

Yoga dealt with the control of the body physically, and its basic text goes back to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali of the second century BC. But the redaction of the sutras in their basic form is attributed to Vyasa who lived seven centuries later.”

In reality, only a small portion of the Yogasutras of Patanjali deals with a ‘control of the body physically’, this being the subject of a separate branch of Yoga called the Hathayoga. Vyasa was not the redactor of the sutras, rather he was their commentator.

On Vedanta, he remarks [ibid] – “Vedanta (also called Uttaramimansa), claiming to have originated from the Vedas, forcefully rejected the theories of the nonbrahminical schools.”

The Uttaramimamsa does not ‘claim to have originated from the Vedas’, as Jha suggests. Rather it professes to systematize the apparently divergent teachings in the Upanishads and related portions of other texts, and weaves out a coherent doctrine from them. Moreover, Vedanta cannot be equated to Uttaramimamsa as Jha has done. Uttaramimamsa specifically refers to the Brahmasutras and their philosophy, while Vedanta subsumes the Brahmasutras, the Upanishads (and portions of Aranyakas) as well as the Bhagavadgita. In fact, in some schools of Vedanta, even the Bhagavata Purana is counted as a canonical Vedantic text.

Since Jha gets the basic fundamentals of two of the most important schools of Hindu philosophy wrong, it is not surprising that his views on Hinduism are so grotesque. Jha [page 165] also states that in the eighth-ninth centuries, “Vedanta became an undying theme of Indian philosophy”. This is incorrect, and the eclipse of other schools by Vedanta occurred a little later. In the aforementioned centuries, Nyaya Darshana was perhaps more dominant than Vedanta[28]. Thus, not only has Jha got the fundamentals of these philosophies wrong, he errs even in their historical development and evolution.

The entire section on classical Hinduism appears as if written by a bigoted Christian missionary with no clear understanding of Hindu beliefs. A mundane, materialist (=Marxist) twist is given to each and every aspect of Classical Hinduism. For instance, in discussing the doctrine of Bhakti, Jha [pp. 161-162] makes the suggestion –

“The doctrine of bhakti, enunciated first in the Gita and a vital force in Vaishnavism and Shaivism, became socially more relevant in the Gupta period. It preached that one could obtain final liberation only through devotion to and faith in god, and not just by performing sacrifices. God was accessible to all through bhakti. This new form of piety was in tune with the social outlook of the times, when the feudatories considered themselves as mediating at the feet of their masters. This explains the new accent on the doctrine of bhakti in Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Mahayana Buddhism.”

To equate the doctrine of Bhakti with some kind of feudalism in a typically Indian Marxist fashion reflects Jha’s desiccated understanding of our dharma and darshana. Earlier, he makes a questionable remark on the genesis of Samkhya philosophy (pp. 69-70) –

“Purana Kassapa, still another contemporary preacher, regarded the soul as distinct from the body and laid the foundations of what came to be known as the Samkhya philosophy.”

No serious scholar will trace Samkhya philosophy to Purana Kassapa.

5. Communalizing the Past: On the historicity of Ramayana, his [p. 57] cavalier remarks are as follows[29]

“To the east of the Ganga-Yamuna confluence, there existed the kingdom of Koshala. Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, came to be associated with it. Neither he nor his father Dasaratha figures in contemporary literature; it is a different matter that in our own times his overzealous devotees have unashamedly politicized him to damage the social fabric of India.”

(Jha certainly has got his geography wrong. Koshala was not really ‘east’ of the confluence of Ganga-Yamuna, but rather north of it. In fact, in a map in the book between pages 80 and 81, Jha has himself shown Kosala to the northwest of the confluence of Ganga and Yamuna. Incidentally, the spelling of ‘Kosala’ in the map is different from ‘Koshala’ – another instance of shoddy work. In the map between pages 120-121, the city of Ayodhya itself is shown exactly to the north of the confluence.)

6. Brahmin-bashing: Commenting on the discovery of India by European scholars, Jha makes the astonishing remark (p. 17) –

“In 1785, Charles Wilkins rendered into English the Bhagavadgita, the most popular religious text of the upper caste Hindus, to be followed in 1787, by his translation of the Hitopadesh, a popular collection of fables composed by Narayana in the twelfth century in Bengal.”

The ‘popular’ character of the Hitopadesh is contrasted with the ‘upper caste’ associations of the Gita. One wonders how many ‘lower’ caste Hindus had studied the Hitopadesh.[30] In fact, in all pre-modern societies, literacy was the preserve of the elites and India was no exception. This greatly restricted the first hand study of the sacred texts to the priestly and ruling elites. Yet, one would hardly come across a history text titled ‘Outline of Ancient Europe’ that starts with the words ‘The Bible, the religious text of elite priestly class of the society, was translated into German by Martin Luther’. Indian Marxist Historians however never tire of prefixing the words ‘upper-caste religious text’ whenever they mention the Gita in their public discourses.[31] And numerous other self-alienated Indians, ignorant of their own tradition, and fed on such slanted historiography, irrelevantly characterize the text as ‘upper-caste’ even in their newspaper columns.[32] And unfortunately, the view seems to have gained currency in non-Marxist works a well.

But how accurate is the view that the Gita was primarily an upper-caste scripture? Arvind SHARMA[33] discusses this idea and explains why it is incorrect. He notes that the Gita was not merely treated as a philosophical text, but it also served as a source of mass devotional-movements in various parts of India. It continued to be commented upon by scholars in different regions, and in different languages throughout the period in which much of India was under the rule of Muslim rulers. The very fact that Wilkins chose to translate indicates that he deemed it a popular or an esteemed text in the eyes of Hindus. No doubt, in the preface of his translation, he mentions how zealously the Brahmins guarded the doctrine of the Gita from even the unsophisticated amongst their own caste. But then, it could be argued that the doctrines of the text were nevertheless communicated to the laity in myriad forms – plays, harikathas and so on.

In the Sri Vaishnava community of south India, the Gita has been expounded to people of all castes by the Vaishnava Acharyas after one of their early teachers, Sri Yamunacharya (10th century C.E.) wrote his Gitarthasamgraha on the text. In Maharashtra, the largely low-caste community of Warkaris have been studying the Jnaneswari, a beautiful 700 year old Maharashtri translation of the Gita written by Sant Jnaneshwar around 1290 C.E. The Gita was translated into Braj around 1320 C.E., Malayalam (1400 C.E.), Maithili (1615 C.E.), Gujarati (1620 C.E.), Madhyadeshiya Hindi (1435 C.E.) and into several other vernaculars comprehensible to Hindus of all social strata.[34] Outside India, the text was translated into Javanese as early as in 1000 C.E.

Evidence showing the popularity of Gita amongst various sections of the Hindu society in pre-modern times comes from several other diverse sources.[35] A European observer, Francis Buchanan, notes in 1812 C.E. that the Gita was expounded to the common pilgrims by Maharashtrian Pundits resident at Gaya in Bihar.[36] Another scholar, Dr. Peter G. Friedlander, notes[37] that numerous Gurumukhi manuscripts of Hindi translations of Gita from Punjab, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries exist, indicating the popularity of the text in that region before the British rule. Al Beruni considers it a popular enough text to translate a large portion of it into Arabic, while Abul Fazl mentions it in his Ain-i-Akbari. And finally, one must not lose sight of the fact that the message of Vedanta and other forms of ‘higher’ Hinduism has always been disseminated among the masses by wandering preachers, dramatists and so on in diverse, imaginative and interesting ways. What one needs to keep in mind that though the text of the Gita might not have been well known to the masses first hand, its doctrines were fairly disseminated in the Hindu society. Perhaps that is why, A. L. BASHAM[38] [1989:82-97] seems to link the Gita with the triumph of Theism in the Indian society. Therefore, there are strong reasons to believe that Jha’s characterization of the Gita as an upper-caste scripture in such an out of context manner is inaccurate, and reflects his own dislike for the Hindu scripture, as well as his general contempt for the Hindus.

In this short review, I will leave out Jha’s Hinduphobia as reflected in his total biased refutation of the viewpoint that the Gupta Age was the Golden Age of Hindu India since this issue has been dealt with elsewhere by other scholars[39].

********

CASE III

R. S. Sharma’s “Ancient India, A History Textbook for Class XI”, NCERT [1990]

This textbook was prescribed for lakhs of Indian students between 1990-2001. The Foreword of the text says – “The National Policy on Education – 1986 lays stress on many objectives and areas of knowledge which are closely related to the study of history. Promoting an understanding of India’s cultural heritage, combating superstition and obscurantism, and promoting a humane and forward-looking outlook are among the major objectives of education which are also the basic objectives of teaching history.”

Of course this begs the question – what is superstition, what is obscurantism, what is a forward-looking outlook? In the context of Sharma’s textbook, it appears that only a Marxist mindset is progressive and forward-looking.

Many of the flaws listed in the first two textbooks are repeated verbatim in Sharma’s textbook, and therefore these will not be repeated here. Rather, this brief review will emphasize two distinctive features of his textbook, namely –

Equating religion and ritual with superstition, and atheism with progressive ideology, and similarly, relating Hindu spirituality with prevalence of social hierarchy and discrimination.

Obsession with land-grants made to Brahmins and Hindu institutions, and equation of the same into a Feudalism model

 

1. Progressive versus Obscurantist Historiography:

In the introductory chapter itself, Sharma makes a clever equations (p. 7) and simplistic, inaccurate statements to malign historians (whether Indian or Western) who emphasize the religion and spirituality of India, privileging Marxist historiography indirectly –

“During the last twenty-five years, there has been a sea change in the methods and orientation of those who work on ancient India. They lay greater stress on social, economic and cultural processes and try to relate them to political developments. They take account of their stratification of the texts and compare their conventional nature with archaeological and anthropological evidence. All this bodes good for the future of historical studies. Unfortunately a few Indian writers magnify the role of religion, and believe that everything, good and great, originated in their country. Western writers no longer insist that all such things came to India from outside. But some of the hold that religious ideas, rituals, caste, kinship, and tradition are the main forces in Indian history. They are more concerned with the problem of stability and continuity. They seem to be fascinated by old, exotic elements and want to preserve them for ever. Such an approach implies that Indian society has not changed and cannot be changed. It means that underdevelopment is an integral part of the Indian character. Thus, the chauvinists and sophisticated colonialists use the study of India’s past to prevent its progress. It is therefore, essential to take a balanced and an objective view of ancient India.”

He ends the next chapter also with a similar loaded remark (p. 16) –

“A comparative view may remove the obsession with the idea of the ‘rare’ or unique’ in ancient India and may bring out those trends which ancient India shares with the past societies of the other countries.”

One could rather make the following adverse generalization of Marxist historiography –

“They have made India out to have been an empty land – filled by successive invaders. They have made present-day India, and Hinduism even more so, out to be a zoo – an agglomeration of assorted, disparate specimens. No such thing as “India”, just a geographical expression, just a construct of the British; no such thing as Hinduism, just a word used by Arabs to describe the assortment they encountered, just an invention of the communalists to impose a uniformity – that has been their stance. For this they have blackened the Hindu period of our history, and as we shall see, strained to whitewash the Islamic period. They have denounced ancient India’s social system as the epitome of oppression, and made totalitarian ideologies out to be egalitarian and just.”[40]

Concerning the historiography of Sharma et al, Historian Meenakshi Jain[41] also laments –

“Though purported to be a text on ‘Medieval India,’ Satish Chandra’s book begins with a discussion on Europe in the aftermath of the breakup of the Roman empire, followed by a description of European feudalism, the Arab world from the 8th to the 10th centuries, and last but not least, East and South-East Asia!

That India does not merit even a subsection in the opening chapter perhaps best illustrates the Marxist alienation from the Indic perspective and their utter reliance upon foreign categories and periodizations for understanding events in India. Even though the very first paragraph of the book admits that developments in Europe and Asia only “had an indirect effect an India….”(Page 1), Marxists are unable to break away from imported categories of thought, howsoever ill they fit the Indian reality. They seem incapable of viewing India in terms of itself. For them, it must always move in tandem with Europe, the Arab world, even East and South-East Asia.”

2. The Blood-sucking, Parasitic, Crafty Brahmin:

Discussing the daksina of priests in the Vedic rituals, Sharma says that priests desired to grab as much land as possible (p. 70). Upanishadic doctrines are caricatured in the following manner (p. 70)-

“Emphasis on the changelessness, indestructibility and immortality of atman or soul served the cause of stability which was needed for the rising state power headed by the kshatriya raja. Stress on the relation of atman with Brahma fostered allegiance to superior authority.”

One wonders how this interpretation is valid when the Upanishadic philosophy was primarily resorted to by mendicants, recluses, ascetics and monks who had no significant stake in political power?

Sharma claims (p. 72) that the “higher the varna of the offender, the more severe was the punishment prescribed for him”, which is belied by a simple reading of Manusmriti which actually punishes a Brahmana more than a Shudra for stealing. Punishment for a person of lower caste is severe in case the victim is of a higher caste according to Hindu lawbooks. But at the same time, punishment is greater for many crimes if the perpetrator belongs to a higher caste.

Devout Hindus believe that Brahmanas provide service to the society by performing rituals for them, directing prayer ceremonies, by acting as teachers and so on. However, Sharma considers all this activity as useless, and repeatedly states that they were a burden on the society. For instance, he says (p. 79)-

“Although the Buddhist monks had renounced the world and repeatedly criticized the greedy Brahmanas, in several ways they resembled the Brahmanas. Both of them did not participate in directly in production, and lived on the alms or gifts given but society....”

Sharma imagines that Ashoka’s policy lead to a Brahminical reaction, but offers no evidence (p. 112) –

“The brahmanical reaction began as a result of the policy of Ashoka. There is no doubt that Ashoka adopted a tolerant policy and asked the people to respect even the brahmanas. But he prohibited killing of animals and birds, and derided superfluous rituals performed by women. This naturally affected the income of brahmanas. The anti-sacrifice attitude of Buddhism and of Ashoka naturally brought loss to the brahmanas, who lived on the gifts made to them in various kinds of sacrifices. Hence, in spite of the tolerant policy of Ashoka, the brahmanas developed some kind of antipathy to him. Obviously they were not satisfied with his tolerant policy. They really wanted a policy that would favour them and uphold the existing interests and privileges....”

Apparently, Brahmins were just social parasites, exploiters, promoters of superstition, conceited and intolerant people. In a brief description of the varnas in early Tamil kingdoms, Sharma of course does not fail to mention that ‘Tamil brahmanas took meat and wine’ (p. 138) and that they functioned as poets, receiving fabulous gifts from the kings as a result. He conveniently forgets to mention that many Sangam poets were also Brahmins. The particular mention of the meat eating and wine drinking habits of Sangam Age Tamil Brahmins by Sharma is somewhat puzzling, because contrary references can be cited from old Tamil literature. For instance, there is a mention of he delicious vegetarian cuisine that a Panan[42] is served while he visits a Brahmin household.[43] Likewise, the Neelakesi, a Tamil Jaina epic, contains numerous sarcastic remarks Buddhist monks in Tamil Nadu for constructing their monasteries on the sea cost so that they can get a steady supply of sea-food. The heroine of this epic then contrasts these monks with the austere Brahmins who desist from meat in their diet even though Vedic sacrifices allow eating the flesh of animals. Interestingly, a recent book by Romila Thapar actually declares that Brahmins became vegetarian when they settled down in Tamil Nadu,[44] directly contradicting Sharma!

Sharma makes the unsubstantiated suggestion (p. 156, 158 etc.) that Guptas were perhaps Vaishyas[45], and then says that this is why they recruited officers from lower varnas as well (p. 156). Sharma alludes to the fact that in the Gupta period, Shudras were allowed to perform certain domestic rituals, but links it to the suggestion that this naturally brought additional fees to the priests (p. 159). Again, discussing the rise of classical Hinduism, Sharma does not forget to worry himself with the income of priests (p. 162) –

“Many festivals also came to be celebrated. Agricultural festivals observed by different classes of people were given religious garb and color, and turned into good sources of income for the priests.”

Chapter 22 onwards focuses a great deal on the land-grants made by rulers in various parts of India to Brahmin settlers. No quantitative analyses is given to indicate what percentage of agricultural land was actually gifted to Brahmins, and made tax-exempt. Rather, the repeated mention of land-grants, and the fact that they did not pay tax to the kings makes it appear that perhaps a majority of arable land came to be possessed by Brahmins. However, such a quantitative assessment would not be in the interest of Marxist historians, who like to compare the second half of the first millennium to the feudal society of Europe, where much arable land was administered by feudal lords. The choice of words in the text often betrays immaturity and an extra-academic agenda on the part of the author. For instance, he states (p. 178) that Brahmins collected taxes from the peasantry in the land granted to them by the Pallava ruler ‘for their own enjoyment’. Sharma does not clarify what percentage of Brahmin population were given land grants. This question is very relevant because even in modern times, most rural Brahmins are no better economically than the predominant landowning castes in their respective regions, including Tamil Nadu.

Chapter 27 and 28 deal obsessively with the supposed increasing hold of Brahmins in the Indian society, their increasing economic clout (besides their religious authority) due to land-grants made to them by kings, the consequent rise in ‘feudalism’ in India, inter-caste conflict leading to a decline in trade, decline in urbanism, development of ornate styles of Sanskrit prose and poetry and the construction of massive temples, especially in south India. He uses this selective data in a very tendentious way to advance the thesis of rise of Feudalism in India in post Gupta period (p. 200) –

“By and large, the social system worked well from the age of the Buddha to Gupta times. Then it underwent a change on account of internal upheavals. Priests and officials began to be granted lands for maintenance, and gradually there emerged a class of landlords between the peasants and the state. This undermined the position of the vaishyas and caused modification in the varna system.”

The thesis is so contrived, and largely remains a subject of a substantially vacuous debate amongst Indian Marxist historians that it would not be out of place to cite a dissenting scholar[46] in extenso

“… R. S. Sharma, whose Indian Feudalism has misguided virtually all historians of the period, not only because it is entirely written from the a priori assumption of the ‘dark age’, doggedly searching for point by point parallels with Europe, but also, more accidentally, because there has never been anything to challenge it. Following Sharma, historians have looked for an Indian parallel to European ‘feudalism’, a type of social organization characterized by general economic and cultural decline which in Europe was once explained, similarly, with reference to barbarian invasions and the rise of Islam. Sharma has repeated his view innumerable times-almost verbatim often, and hardly developing them. They can be summarized as follows.

The Indian economy in the seventh to tenth centuries, according to Sharma, became almost exclusively rural or agrarian-oriented, with trade and urbanism suffering a distinct decline, internally, but also externally as the India trade fell off because the Byzantines stopped importing silk from India (having introduced the silkworm from China themselves), and because of ‘the expansion of the Arabs under the banner of Islam’. Sharma says that this can be deduced from the absence of finds of Indian gold coins in these centuries and the apparent paucity of coins in general, even though texts refer to the abundant use of coined money and land charters speak of taxes in gold and there remains evidence of commercial activity on the coasts. Trade and commerce were ‘feudalized’, and India acquired ‘a closed economy’. The major positive evidence from which Sharma claims to derive his thesis (apart from the negative evidence relating to the absence or paucity of coins) are charters of grants of land or villages to brahmans, temples ‘and others’ which appear in significant numbers in many parts of the sub-continent towards the end of the rule of the imperial Guptas. These charters are evidence of the agrarian reorientation of the age, and of the ‘decentralization’ or ‘fragmentation’ of political power-the parallel of European ‘infeudation’. The origin and development of the Indian form of ‘political feudalism’ Sharma thus finds in ‘land grants made to brahmans’. In the ‘feudal’ economy the Indian village became ‘nearly self-contained’ (with ‘local needs locally satisfied’) while at the same time ‘ a class of landlords’ arose, with hierarchic control over land being created ‘by large-scale sub-infeudation, especially from the eighth century onwards’, and with vassals and sub-vassals who had to supply troops to and fight for their lord. ‘A class of subject peasantry’, i.e. ‘serfdom’, with peasants being forcefully attached to the soil, also arose in many parts of India. There was even ‘a significant link between the breakdown of slavery and enterprise of serfdom’. And finally, the process of ‘feudalization’ is accompanied by the formation of ‘regional cultural units’, the proliferation of castes, the beginnings of the development of regional and local languages (‘the local element in language was strengthened by the insulation of these areas’), regional scripts too, and ‘regional styles in sculpture and construction of temples’. It is clear that Sharma, loyal to a ‘materialist’ explanation, feels that these latter tendencies are the cultural superstructure of the ‘feudal’ economy, the increasing insularity of India’s economy which was not reversed before the eleventh century, when ‘India witnessed an expansion of commercial activities.’

This should be enough to show that Sharma’s thesis essentially involves an obstinate attempt to find ‘elements’ which fit a preconceived picture of what should have happened in India because it happened in Europe (or is alleged to have happened in Europe by Sharma and his school of historians whose knowledge of European history is rudimentary and completely outdated) or because of the antiquated Marxist scheme of a ‘necessary’ development of ‘feudalism’ out of ‘slavery’. The methodological underpinnings of Sharma’s work are in fact so thin that one wonders why, for so long, Sharma’s colleagues have called his work ‘pioneering’.”

Interestingly, although Sharma never fails to refer to Hindu texts when he wants to magnify exploitation by Brahmins, their spiritual and temporal power in the ancient Indian society, and the investiture of material benefits of Brahmins by rulers. However, he hardly ever mentions the Hindu scriptural injunctions that clearly ask Brahmins to shun royal patronage and live a life of constant deprivation and austerity. Thus, once again we see how there is a selective focus in the textbook, designed to promote prejudice and animosity in the minds of school children against Brahmins, Hindu texts and Hindu Dharma as such.

3. Subordinating Hindu Philosophies to Atheism: Chapter 25 deals with developments in Philosophy.

Sharma makes an incorrect claim (p. 184) that Purusha was introduced into the Samkhya system after the fourth century AD and that old Samkhya philosophy was purely materialistic and did not admit the Purusha. In fact, several scholars have pointed out that pre-Classical Samkhya Philosophy may have had a strong element of Theism.[47] In order to impart a further materialistic tinge to Samkhya system, he interprets shabda (pramaana) as ‘hearing’, when in reality it means scriptural authority or testimony of reliable and virtuous persons.

The description of Yoga is caricaturist (pp. 184-185) –

“.....Practice of control over pleasure, senses and bodily organs is central to this system. In order to obtain salvation, physical exercises in various postures called asana are prescribed, and the breathing exercise called pranayama is recommended. It is thought that through these methods the mind gets diverted from worldly matters and achieves concentration. These exercises are important because they presuppose some development of the knowledge of physiology and anatomy in ancient times, but they also indicate a tendency of running away from worldly difficulties.”

In the above description, the definitions of asana and pranayama are reductionist, and the last statement is purely unnecessary and superfluous.

In Sharma’s discussion (p. 184) of Vaisheshika school, belief in God is somehow equated with a non-scientific mindset –

“The Vaisheshika thus marked the beginning of physics in India. But the scientific view was diluted with belief in God and spiritualism, and this school put its faith in both heaven and salvation.”

The very purpose of Mimamsa is stated (p. 184) as exploitation –

“Through the propagation of the Mimamsa, the Brahmanas wanted to maintain their ritual authority and preserve the social hierarchy based on brahmanism.”

The implication is that rituals promote social hierarchy and inequality.

His caricaturing of Vedanta (pp. 184-185) is reminiscent of the Christian missionary allegation that this philosophy promotes fatalism. Sharma forgets that if praarabdha (fate) is a part of the karma doctrine, so is purushaartha (effort). But in an effort to malign Vedanta, Sharma mentions only the former, and leaves out the latter[48]. He interprets Vedanta as follows (pp. 184-185)-

“Such a view promotes the idea of stability and unchangingness. What is true spiritually could also be true of the social and material situation in which a person is placed.

The theory of karma came to be linked to the Vedanta philosophy. It means that in his present birth a person has to bear the consequences of his actions performed in his previous birth. Belief in rebirth or punarjanma becomes an important element not only in the Vedanta system but also in several other systems of Hindu philosophy. It implies that people suffer not because of social or worldly causes but because of causes which they neither know nor can bring under control.”

Interestingly, Sharma devotes more space to the Charvaka (materialist, atheist) school of philosophy than any individual school of Hindu theistic philosophy. Not surprisingly, he does not say one negative word against this school. In fact, he closes the chapter by lamenting the decline of atheism in India and the rise of theistic schools with the following caricaturist remarks (p. 185) which condemn both rituals and spirituality as agents of social exploitation and stagnation -

“By the fifth century A.D., materialistic philosophy was overshadowed by the exponents of the idealist philosophy who constantly criticized it and recommended performance of rituals and cultivation of spiritualism as a path to salvation; they attributed worldly phenomena to supernatural forces. This view hindered the progress of scientific enquiry and rational thinking. Even the enlightened people found it difficult to question the privileges of priests and warriors. Steeped in the idealist and salvation schools of philosophy the people could resign themselves to the inequities of varna-based social system and the strong authority of the state represented by the king.”

In fact, Sharma constructs his theory of Indian economic and urban decline post Gupta period and then relates it to the rise of Hindu spirituality based on Upanishads (p. 202) –

“Materialist philosophy received the greatest impetus from Charvaka, who lived in about the sixth century BC......However, with the decline in trade, handicrafts and urbanism the idealist system of philosophy came to the forefront. The idealist system taught that the world is an illusion and ignorance. People were asked by the Upanishads to abandon the world and to strive for real knowledge. Western thinkers have taken to the teachings of the Upanishads because they are unable to solve the human problems created by modern technology.”

The implication is that resort to Vedanta is a sign of socio-economic regression, and escapism and therefore India cannot progress by clinging to this philosophy. Ironically, while Sharma castigates neo-colonialists in the beginning of his book for promoting a distorted, romantic image of an unchanging Indian, Sharma himself imitates another set of racist, missionary colonialists in advocating such a negative, distorted and a desiccated and distorted view of Indian spirituality, religion and ritual!

The extremely propagandist and judgmental views of Sharma on various aspects of Hindu dharma do not meet any criteria for a scholarly, academic study of religion in general, and Hinduism in particular. It is unfortunate that a mandatory school textbook has been used by him to thrust such one-sided views upon high-school children of India.

To conclude then, let me remind the reader of the definitions of stereotype and prejudice stated by me in the beginning of this brief article. Is it fair to say that the treatment of Brahmins, Hindu beliefs and rituals, Vedic culture, Hindu philosophies and texts etc., by the three Marxist historians is characterized by an obsessive focus on their perceived negatives, by a preponderance of negative judgments, and by a deliberate use of selective data to present a highly exaggerated negative view of the reality? The question needs to be answered, because the Government of India has decided to reinstate the two school textbooks in thousands of schools under their jurisdiction from the next academic session. If the answer to the above question is in the affirmative, it becomes our moral duty to object to these historians’ hate speech against our religion, culture, civilization and heritage. Our impressionable school children must not be subjected to such despicable hateful political propaganda against their will.

THE END

[1] CHARON, Joel M. 2001. Ten Questions, A Sociological Perspective. Wadsworth Thompson Learning: Belmont (California), pp. 247-265

[2] The following study gives a nultifaceted view on prejudice and discrimination –

ALLPORT, Gordon W. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.: New York

[3] Note that these books have been prescribed collectively as suggested or mandatory reading to millions of school and college students in India over a period of thirty-five years.

[4] The textbook was mandatory reading for students of Standard VI in schools affiliated to the CBSE.

[5] Moreover, the Vedic religion is consistently equated with Brahmins, and therefore gets condemned in the minds of impressionable students ‘by guilt of association’ with the crafty Brahmins.

[6] THAPAR, Romila (ed.). 2000. India, Another Millennium. Viking: New Delhi

[7] See pg. 208 of MAURER, Walter H. 1986. Pinnacles of India’s Past – Selections from the Rgveda. University of Pennsylvania Studies on South Asia, vol. 2. John Benjamin’s Publishing Company: Amsterdam/Philadephia.

[8] See the extensive discussion on the purport of this hymn in H. D. VELANKAR’s Rgveda Mandala VII, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan: Bombay (1963).

[9] See for instance McCutcheon, Russel and Willi Braun. 2000. Guide to the Study of Religion. Cassell: New York and London

[10] Only a reductionist anthropological statement is made on the Upanishads. Even elementary foreign texts on ancient Indian history do better in this regard.

[11] The statement is clearly motivated by Thapar’s political considerations, her antipathy towards Hindus and Hinduism and are a subtle form of hate-mongering against Hinduism that permeates the textbook as such. It should be seen in the light of her other political writings in recent years, such as ‘Syndicated Hinduism’, ‘Syndicated Moksha’, ‘Imagined Communities’, ‘The Tyranny of Labels’ and so on. It is really disturbing to see how school children have been subjected to such a subtle propaganda all these years through their history textbooks published by the NCERT.

[12] The reader may refer to the following article for additional information – LORENZEN, David N. 1999. ‘Who Invented Hinduism’. In Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 41, No. 4, Oct. 1999, pp. 630-659.

[13] One wonders why Thapar did not use some other better name such as ‘Sinkiang’ rather than ‘Chinese Turkestan’, even if she wanted to use modern names of places.

[14] Nor surprisingly, the cited statement on the modernity of Hinduism is absent in the older editions of Thapar’s textbook. Clearly, the political ascendancy of Hindu Nationalism in the late 1980s motivated her to introduce this disclaimer type statement on the term ‘Hinduism’ in her 1987 edition.

[15] This statement is made in the context of the Vedic Age.

[16] S. K. GUPTA [1998. The Prejudiced Past, Rewriting Indian History – Some Reflections on Concept. Indus Publishing Company: New Delhi, pg. 20] closes his assessment of Marxist historiography with the following words – “The Marxist historians do lay a lot emphasis on pluralism, nationalities, wide variety of identities, including the autochthonous groups, yet they deny the significance of culture, tradition, religion – regarded by others as a social force – and indulge in shibboleths and rhetoric rooted in their universal framework of historical materialism. Thus, the kind of empathy one requires in mapping the social reality and understanding a people’s past remains largely missing.” This characterization of Marxist historiography in India is definitely applicable to Thapar’s perfunctory treatment of Hinduism in the textbook.

[17] D. N. Jha has himself published a book ‘The Myth of the Holy Cow’ (Verso Books, 2002) collecting all the beef-eating passages in Indic scriptures. The book is, as expected, full of errors, distortions, misquotations etc.

[18] I have an edition of Mitra’s Beef Eating in Ancient India, published by a Swami BHUMANANDA, who, concludes the preface of his edition with the words – “I shall, however, be highly gratified and consider my labours amply repaid if this booklet can kindle a spirit of toleration among my countrymen and can thereby, to some extent, solve the problem of the present intercenine communal dissensions.” The book was published by the Swami in 1923, and has been reprinted in June 1967 (at the height of the anti-cow-slaughter movement in North India) from Calcutta.

[19] Rajendralala Mitra edited Vedic texts (Aitareya Aranyaka, Gopatha Brahmana, Taittiriya Brahmana, Brhaddevata etc.), Buddhist texts (ashtasahasrika prajnaparamita), historical works (‘Indo-Aryans’ in two volumes), published multi-volume catalogues of Sanskrit manuscripts scattered in private libraries all over India, and wrote on the architectural traditions of Orissa and Bodh Gaya. He was active in organizations (e.g. Hindoo Patriot) that would be termed ‘communal’ by Jha and his ilk.

[20] For brief, yet good accounts of his life and works, refer to MAJUMDAR, R. C. et al. 1978. Rajendralala Mitra (150th Anniversary Lectures). The Asiatic Society: Calcutta and Sisir Kumar MITRA [1973] ‘Raja Rajendralal Mitra’, pp. 1-14 in S. P. SEN (ed.), Historians and Historiography in Modern India. Institute of Historical Studies: Calcutta

[21] Dileep CHAKRABARTI. 1997. Colonial Indology, Sociopolitics of Ancient Indian Past. Munshiram Manoharlal: Delhi, pp. 113-114

[22] As the reader can expect reasonably, the statement on Sage Yajnavalkya’s ‘spirited arguments’ (that exist only in Jha’s imagination) is absent in the 1977 edition of the book. This is another instance of increased politicization of history as a discipline by the ‘secular’ historians.

[23] Only the first 1½ sentences of the paragraphs reproduced here occur in the earlier edition of Jha’s book. Clearly, the revised edition is more tainted by political propaganda.

[24] See for instance Latyayana Srautasutra 10.19.8-10

[25] The last sentence in the paragraph quoted from the ‘revised edition’ of Jha’s book is missing in the earlier edition of the same. The extra sentence adds nothing to historical knowledge of understanding, but merely underscores Jha’s contempt and hatred for Hindus.

[26] PURI, B. N. 1994. Ancient Indian Historiography, A Bi-Centenary Study. Atma Ram and Sons: Delhi/Lucknow, p. 45

[27] ibid, p. 54.

[28] See Hajima Nakamura’s ‘History of Early Vedanta Philosophy’, Motilal Banarsidass: New Delhi (1983), in passim.

[29] Again, these politically motivated remarks are absent in the earlier edition of Jha’s book.

[30] The section is missing in the earlier edition of Jha’s book. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the ‘upper caste credentials of the Gita in the revised edition must be viewed in the context of the recent discovery of Hindu caste system by Indian Marxists. The discovery is of course guided by current political exigencies.

[31] In a talk titled History and Contemporary Politics in India at University of California at Berkeley on 06 November 2002, historian Romila Thapar did not fail to mention the ‘upper-caste’ affiliation of the Gita.

[32] As an example, one may refer to Pankaj Mishra’s article “The God of New Things”, in Boston Globe, dt. 01 December 2002. It is available on-line at http://banners.valuead.com/specificpop/Expedia_02/Site%20102.html?1605964934

[33] “Bhagavad-gita, Its Philosophy and Interpretation.” In Journal of Vaisnava Studies IX.2 (Spring 2000)

[34] For a comprehensive description of various commentaries and translations on the Bhagavadagita down the ages, refer CALLEWAERT, Winand M. and Shilanand Hemraj. 1983. Bhagavadgitanuvada – A Study in Transcultural Translation. Satya Bharati Publication: Ranchi (Bihar)

[35] Professor Shrinivas Tilak refers to several issues of the Marathi monthly journal ‘Gitadarshan’ in this regard (http://www.sandiego.edu/theo/risa-l/archive/msg06310.html)

[36] This is pointed out by William Pinch at http://www.sandiego.edu/theo/risa-l/archive/msg06304.html

[37] See his on-line remarks at http://www.sandiego.edu/theo/risa-l/archive/msg06302.html

[38] 1989. The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism, Ed. and annotated by Kenneth G. Zysk. Beacon Press: Boston.

[39] Shankar GOYAL. 2000. Marxist Interpretation of Ancient Indian History. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute: Pune

[40] Arun SHOURIE. 1998. Eminent Historians. ASA: New Delhi, p. x

[41] Flawed Narratives - History in the old NCERT Textbooks, A random survey of Satish Chandra’s ‘Medieval India’ (NCERT 2000). Delhi Hisorians' Forum: New Delhi. See page 5 in the online text available at http://www.bharatvani.org/SatishChandra-flawed_history.doc

[42] Panans were a jati of people who played on their lute.

[43] Perumpanarruppadai 301 - 310

[44] Romila Thapar, Early India, University of California Press, February 2003, p. 381

[45] Perhaps influenced by the fact that in modern India, ‘Gupta’ is a common surname amongst north Indian Vaishyas. In fact, scholars such as S. R. Goyal have in fact argued cogently that Gupta rulers most likely had a Brahmin origin.

[46] Andre Wink. 1990. Al-Hind, The Making of The Indo-Islamic World, Oxford University Press, vol. I, pp. 220 -222

[47] K. B. Ramakrishna Rao. 1966. Theism in Pre-Classical Samkhya. University of Mysore: Mysore

[48] In a subsequent chapter (p. 194), Sharma even alleges that though the Tantra was or tribal origin, the Brahmins distorted it to serve the interests of their rich patrons! The Brahmins are always blood-sucking, scheming conspirators willing to collude always with the rulers to exploit the masses.