Oh History! My History!

01 Sep

A .1.The other day I was reading azygos’s very well written article

The Marxization of the Upanishads wherein he discusses the skewed attitude of one of our showcased historians Romila Thapar on ancient Indian history and heritage. I agree with azygos, entirely. I wonder what prompted a trained historian to take a lopsided view of things. I also share Melody Queen’s anxiety about the contents of Indian History curriculum in school; as also the issue of young Indian intellectuals’ cold shouldering history, as an academic pursuit.

2. In a way of speaking, the issues are related. The way in which history is written, the manner in which it is taught in the schools and the light in which history is understood   are largely responsible for keeping the bright minds away from history. I am not suggesting there are no good histories.

3. There is plenty of good History along with some bad ones, as it happens anywhere else, even in science. Good history can be recognized by the honest use of its sources, by transparent methods, open-minded interpretations and a balanced presentation. In fact, understanding history is a part of what is good history. There is a difference between writing History and recording the past, which is the task of an administrator. History is the study and analysis of the past.

4. Now, the writing of History is based on the subjectivity inherent within whatever academic is writing that history. Our experiences and view of life also matter. Our attitudes are shaped within the contemporary environment. It is not possible to bring in cold objective standards to measure a work of history. Further, a good history of one generation may become the bad history for the next generation. Thus, there are difficulties in identifying good history.

5.  As someone said to me the other day, human eye and human mind have much in common. The eye cannot see things that are too close to it – you need someone else (or a mirror) to look at the speck of dust fallen into your eye. The eye cannot see very distant objects either. Similarly, human mind cannot look at itself and cannot foresee too far. They both operate in a limited range. Both can be mislead.

5.1. History does the work of a mirror in addition to providing long-term perspectives. If there is a limitation to History, it is the human mind that works at it and that looks at it. So long as our minds are cluttered with cobwebs of bias or motives, History would remain tainted. This was my main concern, along with the helpless anxiety watching History abused by some self-proclaimed rationalists who decry anything of value in Indian history or in the Vedic past. They do not realize that History is not merely a process of discovery; it could be a process of liberation too. Then, how does one liberate ones mind?


B. Writing of History

1. History has always been a contentious subject. Some say, History is what the victor writes and that historians are condemned to repeat themselves. Some others call History a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel.

2. The reason such epithets are hurled at History is mainly because any one event will have many versions of the truth and it is difficult to judge objectively which version   of that “truth” is the truth. In the process, History is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. It would therefore be useful to look into such factors as:who wrote the history, about whom? Why they wrote it? How they wrote? Etc

3. Who? And About Whom?

3.1 What we call “history” of the ancient times are invariably the writings of the “civilized” societies about the ‘‘others”. Such writing were usually triggered either by curiosity about the “other” or by revulsion against them. Even the celebrated historians of the bygone ages loved to write about strangers’ .And, those writings were not history per se, as we understand the term today.

3.2. What was significant in those histories was their dominant theme: “they’” are different from “Us “, they are less than “Us”.

3.3 The “Us” versus “Them” syndrome has always prevailed in History. It continues to operate. For instance, the histories, as recognized, of USA-native Indians, Spaniards- Latin and Central American kingdoms, Australia-native Aboriginals, New Zealand- Maoris etc. are so heavily lopsided it leaves one gasping for a breath of sanity.

3.4. The political and economic domination of one nation over the other also led to distortions in the histories of vanquished nations. During the times of the British Empire , the English wrote the histories of the East and India . It was quite common in those histories to deprecate or mock at anything East or Indian. For instance, let us take James Mill’s the History of British India , which was a standard reading of the Imperial cadres about to embark on a voyage to the land of “deceit and perfidy”. The author of the “bible for the British Indian officers” never once visited India nor was he familiar with any Indian language. Nevertheless, Lord Macaulay described the book “the greatest historical work which has appeared in our language since that of Gibbon”. The theme of Mill’s history was to brand India as a land of “inferior civilization”, to deprecate India ’s achievements in science, medicine, art or philosophy, to attribute anything of value in India to the largess of the Europeans. The message to the “boys” was: the Indians are lesser humans, they are unlike “us” treat them as such and be weary of the “deceit and perfidy”.

In Thapar’s case too, she identifies herself with an ideology and looks at “them”; and they are not “us”.  The result is a distorted view of ancient Indian history.

4. Why?

4.1. Histories have been written or rewritten for a whole set of wrong reasons.

Histories were written, rewritten not to reveal the past but to obliterate or erase the past; to impose a pet political or religious ideology and to prop up new heroes and to condemn old heroes. Added to that, was the abuse of history to support whatever a group or a political leader wanted to show. Histories have been written to teach children hate a particular group or a country.  Therefore, if anyone claims a monopoly on a particular piece of history, it is then heavily tinged with an ulterior motive.

4.2.Take for instance the case of Romila Thapar’s views on Upanishads .Here, the effort to thrust an ideology or the anxiety to project herself as a  rationalist hence  be acceptable to  those that matter; appear to be dominant. The commitment to an ideology overshadows the historian. The understanding of the ethos of the Upanishads and the interpretation of the events in the context of its times, sadly get lost in the din. Certain of her observations leave you speechless:

– Upanishads were not the outcome of philosophic-spiritual enquiries but a ploy by Kshatriyas to discourage the Brahmaical wastage of wealth in rituals, so that the surplus money could be used for maintaining powerful states.

-Upanishads have relegated the Vedas and the old doctrines to an inferior position.

-Those of uncertain social origin such as Satyakama and women such as Maitreyi, the wife of Yajvavalkya were included perhaps to make a point.

4.3. It is amazing how anyone could come up with such notions and worse still call it an interpretation of history. She grossly misunderstood the Upanishads and the essence of its times. I fail to understand what she meant when she said that by recognizing women and a few others the Rishis were trying to make a point. What point? To whom? What were they trying to prove?

Is she suggesting that the Rishis were anxious to seek justification and approval from Marxists who might appear thousands of years later? She is obviously imposing her prejudice of gender bias on a past generation that had an unbiased worldview and a unique self-perception. Whereas a good History interprets the events in the context of its times and in the light of its ethos.

Her comment that Upanishads did not come about as a philosophical development but as a ploy hatched by Kshatrias to cut costs on Yagnas (sacrifices) is a gross misinterpretation of our intellectual heritage. To start with, the Kshatrias who performed them as a means for attaining their aspirations never viewed Yagnas as an economic activity. She imposed her views on a generation who were totally unconcerned with such ideologies. The Marxists/Socialists have long discarded the so-called Marxist idea she imposed. They no longer view all human activities as economic activities; else, how does one explain the acts of a Gandhi, a King, and a Mother Theresa or even of a suicide bomber. She took an out dated and a myopic view of human aspirations. Understanding History is a part of good History. You do not find that understanding here .

A paper titled “A socialist analysis of the materialist conception of History” produced by the Socialist Party of Great Britain states, “A short acquaintance with Marx’s writings would show how absurd it was to attribute such a superficial view to him.” The same holds good for Thapar’s interpretation of Upanishads.

  ( )

Perhaps there are few other social sciences as badly abused as history.

[That brings to my mind one of the characters in a much-discussed Kannada novel Aavarana written by SL Bhyrappa. The book is centered round the way in which Indian History is written and interpreted.  For more on it please read Aavarana by SLB

Please also check a copy of his article: What would be the fate of TRUTH if a Historian turn’s to be a Fiction author?]

5. How?

5.1 History along with Economics and Government falls Under “Social Sciences”. Many, however, wonder whether history is a science or an art. Jared Diamond in his essay why did Human History Unfold Differently on Different Continents for the Last 13,000 Years says, even historians themselves do not consider history to be a science. Historians , he says , don’t get trained in the scientific methods; they don’t get trained in statistics; they don’t get trained in the experimental method or problems of doing experiments on historical subjects. Further, though each branch of History demands individual skills and insight, not much is done to fine-tune the objective tools to suit the specialized requirements.

5.1.1. Contrary to the popular notion, history never repeats itself – similar things happen but they are never the same. The study of history has so far not yielded any sort of model of human society that can predict events with any sort of precision, it never will. It is not a science. If history is art, then so is a jigsaw puzzle. History probably has more in common with philosophy or maybe even law, in that it is about finding truths about a thing.

[Jared Diamond says, some may be justified in saying History is closer to art than science. I, however, feel History is independent of those classifications. The reason those labels were created was, perhaps, to form different administrative departments at universities. For instance, in England it is an Art; in USA it is a Social Science; and in Germany it is a Science.

[I am not aware of the status of History and its place in Indian Universities, today. I request those well informed on the issue kindly to post their views.]

5.2 Another school argues History is science. The word science, they point out, is derived from its Latin root “scientia” meaning “producing knowledge or science” and therefore it allows them to seek knowledge by whatever methodologies that are available and that are appropriate. They say, there are many fields where replicated experiments (as in physics or Chemistry) would be immoral, illegal, or impossible. History is one of such fields and historians are justified in adopting methods that are appropriate to their field.

5.3. There is a view that states History is an audit. This view is based on the premise that both history and auditing are “evidence-based” practices. Sources, in both cases, provide evidence to support judgments and opinions. It says if Historical methods are carried out properly, it will help “maximize the chance of arriving at the truth”.

5.3.1. There is a counter argument to this view. It points out that truth needs to be tempered by fairness and understanding in the context of its times: mere correctness is not enough. Moreover, judgments of fairness cannot so easily be reduced to matters of practice and method. The accounting/auditing methods do not provide options/choices. Where no single viewpoint emerges as the “best explanation”, then it would be unethical for the historian to present a single position as the only position. Further the audit repots usually say,”this financial statement gives a true and fair view, not the true and fair view. Hence the motives of the preparers of financial statements need to be critiqued, not just the statements themselves. The analogy between history and auditing is brittle and should not be pressed hard . (

5.4 There are those who say, it is neither science or art nor commerce, History is memory. History is not the story of strangers. It our story had we been born a little earlier. History is memory; we have to remember what it was like to be a Roman, or a Jacobite or an Asoka or even – if we dare, and we should dare – a Nazi. History is not abstraction; it is the enemy of abstraction.

5.5. They argue that if you cannot feel what our ancestors felt, then all you can do is judge them and condemn them, or praise them and over-adulate them.  According to this school, you have to feel and think like your ancestor.


I think it is not one or the other approach. The basic question is how to write a good, credible and a balanced history. It is the judicious combination of the three; the scholarship, the objective methods and an understanding of the ethos of the times that helps the historian to gain a better insight into the past humans and their ways of living, based on evidence and several perspectives.


It is needless to point out what was lacking in Thapar’s approach; there was not a speck of understanding of what she was dealing with. I share azygos’s conclusions.


C. History in Schools

1.  Undue importance is placed on memorizing dates, names, battles, regions etc. It would kill a child’s interest in history if the child were to be forced to learn without understanding.

1.2. Dates have a limited role in the learning of history. They provide a point of reference. The important things are: the causes and consequences, continuity and discontinuity, changes, innovations, response to a challenge etc. Time in History is a kind of relationship. The present is the result of the choices people in past made while the future will be the coming together of several events developing today .The understanding of processes is more important than learning facts by heart.

1.3. Unless History catches the imagination of the child there is little possibility of him/her pursuing it later in life. The teaching methods in middle and high school levels are crucial.

2. the basic question is; How do we present India in the best light, in a balanced manner.

2.1. Melody Queen makes very valid observations on the difficulties and the risks involved in teaching Indian History to Indian children in foreign lands. She feels,” the situation isn’t going to change much unless independent, unbiased research is encouraged.” Then, pursuing a study history in the academia is a trade off -cost vs. benefit. University, education is an expensive proposition. In addition, peer pressure and social stigma in Indian circles are attached to study of History.


2.2. The study of history is not rewarding. Job opportunities are few. They are not well paid. The career prospects are dismal. Not many young and bright opt for History in the Universities. These are realities of life.

2.3. The issues mentioned by Melody Queen  relate not merely to academia but to the community as a whole. They go beyond the issue of teaching History; they involve the question of the identity of a community and of valuing cultural conservation.

Suhag A Shukla, legal counsel for the Hindu American Foundation states that Hindus are just beginning to join the civic process in the US, the description of Hinduism that reflects the practice of Hinduism should be expounded upon; for that, inputs from the community are essential.


It is good that the community has some say in what should go into the textbooks. That however brings in its wake the responsibility to arrive at a clear and balanced view of our religion and culture. That again underlines the need for professional study and research.

2.4. The problems cited by melody Queen are not confined to USA; they are relevant in today’s India too. In fact, the position in India is worse. The History-situation in India is pathetic.

2.4.1. The Indian History Congress (IHC) held its 66th annual session at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, West Bengal , 28-30 January 2006. In its Resolution (Two) expressing its anxiety about the History textbooks prepared for schools, it states, “The IHC does not agree with the reduction of space set aside to History in school teaching and the proposed trivialization of the substance of History, in the name of reducing ‘information burden’ or making facts ‘interesting’. The IHC also feels that there were no adequate reasons for doing away with the pre-saffronization History text books, which had been widely acclaimed.”


Not only that the history input is diminished, but also its quality is uncertain. We are not sure how we present the Indian History to our children.

Please read an article written Shri S L Bhyrappa about how the History text books come to be written in India   What would be the fate of TRUTH if a Historian turn’s to be a Fiction author?

2.4.2. As regards research and other studies in Indian History, there is no mention or anxiety expressed about their status in either the 66th or the 67th Annual sessions of IHC.

The resolutions passed at the Indian History Congress held its 67th annual session in Kerala, on March 10-12, 2007 do not go beyond expressing anxiety over           Government intervention in the administration of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the National Archives of India (NAI).


3. Melody Queen mentions that a significant number of those who write on Indian History are not Historians per se. (I am not sure about that.)Yet, those young persons write about History out of love for the subject. However, I wonder whether, what they write about History is regarded as History in the academic circles. The reason is they are not a part of the trained, professional academia; and it takes a certain discipline and training to be a Historian. For instance, Professor Michael Wetzel remarks what the non-specialist academics write on issues outside their areas of expertise is not scholarly but is of a religious-political nature promoted by Hindutva.


I am aware what I have just stated is debatable. I wish it provoked some sane debate.

3.1. Regarding Wetzel’s last comment, I fail to understand why it should be dubbed Hindutva if one writes, with reason, that about 2000 years or earlier the ancient Indians made great strides in philosophy, mathematics, medicine and literature; and they had universal vision and perspective of life. Those are facts. If they are presented cogently why should it offend the “secular minded” gentries?

3.2.Amartya Sen , the noted economist , in his book Identity and Violence said, “One of the oddities in the post colonial world is the way non-western people tend to think of themselves as quintessentially “the others”…they are led to define their identity primarily in terms of being different from western people. Something of this “otherness” can be seen….even in the contribution this reactive view makes to fundamentalism”.

In effect what Sen is saying is that even though the ex-colonies got rid of the colonial yoke, they live perpetually trying to convince themselves that the yoke no longer burdens them. With due respect to the Nobel Laureate, I beg to differ. If he were talking of India , I would call it an oversimplified cliché. If one tries to find ones roots and ones identity, it is a process of self-discovery and it certainly cannot be construed as an endless stream of reactions to a bygone relation. It is the beginning of a process” when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”, as Nehru put it. But , as V.S. Naipaul said every awakening has its fringe groups. We need to say we have a point of view; and say it with restraint.

3.3. At the same time, it is essential to maintain a sense of balance in projecting our past and to avoid over adulation. Mark Tully says a sense of balance is the hallmark of Indian tradition. He writes in his India ’s unending journey, “ India ….believes in perpetual search for balance. So , the answer to any question can never be final, no theory should be closed to questioning, and no policy should be taken so far that it creates imbalance.” I hope that balance and sanity will prevail and guard against over adulation.

D. Understanding of History

1. I wish to emphasize again, all History is not bad History. There is truth in History. There are facts in History that one cannot deny, things did happen. History is -an ever-changing and fascinating puzzle with both personal and cultural significance. A good student of History will always look for the other point of view, knowing that our understanding of History changes over time. I have always looked upon that as a process of learning, a self-discovery.

1.1.The discussion under paragraph B was to put on guard saying , there is always going to be fundamental flaws in History, just as in any Academic field and be fore – warned of that and learn to spot the bad apples. That was NOT a general view on History.

2. The bad History will always be there. Nevertheless, our historians can evoke awareness and educate our ordinary men and women and especially our children about good history. If they can project a vision for History, what should History be in future and what human spirit should aspire for, then they would have rendered a great service to the country and its future generations This is not a day’s work, they need to keep chipping at it every day .

3. My impression is, the writing of history and reading of it has improved, thanks largely to the enthusiasm of the younger generation. As the walls crumbled, as the ideologies vanished and as the world shrunk, the views have broadened. Access to history and historic materials has vastly improved. The very fact we lay our hands on a variety of texts, writings etc. and discuss history openly on this Forum is a tribute to spirit of history. I hope that we will eventually arrive at a convincing method for explaining patterns of human life and human history.

That will , however, remain a distant dream unless : our Government and Universities honestly address the basic issues relating to teaching Indian History, pay greater attention and importance to History in the Universities, lend greater support to  the Research organizations, make study of History a rewarding career ; and  our Historians do not tend to work towards approvals and justifications.

4.  How I wish more members joined the debate on the issues brought out in azygos article, Melody Queen’s comments and this note..!!  It concerns all of us.

Please visit  Where do we go from here? for more discussion on “Invading the sacred and other issues”.


Posted by on September 1, 2012 in History


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29 responses to “Oh History! My History!

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    May 31, 2014 at 8:57 pm

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    June 2, 2014 at 7:12 am

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  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    hello sir,

    i have to say that your blog is probably the most interesting and thought provoking piece on history all by itself. it makes me wonder if you are a teacher or a professor by profession.

    i have to read melody-queen’s blog too. history is not my subject but history is a contentious subject in my home not because the content but the way it is presented in american classrooms. my son’s school district has provided a wonderful and comprehensive textbook with colorful pictures and stories that are easy for a kid’s mind. but amazingly, american teachers are not required to follow strict guidelines during presentation of their instructions. they do not use this prescribed textbook in class. instead, his teacher brings articles he feels like teaching from magazines, cds, dvds and clippings off newspapers or internet articles. they even had discussions about ongoing current events as presented on cnn that morning! nothing wrong you may say. history after all is concurrently created as we continue to learn about history from past. but my son’s history classes are fragmented, loosely tied and flaky. although these kids are not required to do rote memorization, kids also need structure along with substance. memorizing is absolutely boring, but the opposite has turned out to be boring too because the teachers have discarded structured textbooks by the wayside. they have adopted electronic media to extract and produce their daily dose of history on the flickering overhead monitor. one minute it’s there, and then it’s gone. kids may comprehend that day’s story, but the story remains an orphan! it has no cross-reference, no intertextuality and no place in puzzle. gestalt processing through compound eyes has a strange effect on a kid’s brain and he never gets the full picture. passing a test is easy, but history seems to vaporize the day after the test because the house of history was built in a virtual world without a concrete foundation or the steel columns. sequence is key to creating a good database. american schools teach science in the same flaky way. this is a topic for another day.
    just thought of giving my perspective as a worried mom.

    thanks again for another impeccable essay.


    Ranjini Sharma

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      dear Ranjini Sharma,

      thank you for your comments. i am not a teacher or professor in history.

      the history, the indian history is one of my interests; just as the indian way of life and indian thought, especially evolution of indian thought is. most of my blogs relate to those areas.

      i confess i do not know much about teaching methods for history in schools. that is the reason i did not comment on it in the blog. i could not also reply you, earlier. the parents who have school going kids would be in a better position to debate on those issues.

      you have posted your views on the practices in the portland area. your worries are valid. similarly, melody queen has aired her views about the practices in ca.

      the question is, what next? where do we go from here?

      thank you


  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    dear sir:

    your blog is a dissertation on history itself. history, as you have rightly pointed out, isn’t a clinical science. a certain amount of subjectivity is bound to creep in while interpreting history, which is fine, so long as it is tempered with caution. the key is to maintain a balance. problems arise when all objectivity is thrown to the winds by ‘historians’ like romila thapar.

    i agree with r-sharma on the loose structure of us curriculum, in so far as it pertains to teaching methods. the broad curriculum is set by the state/ district boards and the teachers have a certain amount of latitude in adopting creative teaching methods. it is setting up of the curriculum itself that is worrisome. again there may be minor variations from state to state. the california text book controversy on hinduism is of recent memory. see link for more details:
    the american hindu foundation quoted in your blog, is also a party to this lawsuit. michael witzel effectively sabotaged ahf efforts to rectify discrepancies. given all the happenings, one cannot help being pessimistic. it ultimately boils down to who shouts the loudest. we can only hope truth prevails.

    it is not possible to overturn centuries of half-truths, distortions and light treading of our history overnight. politics, history and religion have enmeshed to create a holy mess in our country. it takes a lot of concerted effort to bring about change. it is heartening to note ‘non-historians’ studying and presenting history in new light. it would be wonderful if they are accepted in academic circles. we should lobby towards this. that would be a real harbinger of change.

    but more importantly, is the goverment willing to rewrite history objectively? for unless history is rewritten on the home-turf, it is going to be a tough sell overseas.

    as a concerned citizen,

    melody queen

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      dear melody,

      thank you for your prompt response. as you may have noticed, the later part of the article is largely based on the issues raised in your comments. they relate to the content in schools books, the role of the community in deciding the curriculum, acceptance of the “non-historians’” writings on history by the academia. r-sharma added a dimension to that. i am glad you commented on all issues.

      your parting question,”is the government willing to rewrite history objectively?” is more than a billion dollar question.

      thanks again

  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:38 pm


    i am proud about my past. but if one lets past dictate everys ingle thought and action in the present, it is just a burden. it is not just the left eye wihich can get jaundice. the right eye can too !and also let us not select just some parts of history and base all our actions (including writing novels) on such stuff.



    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:39 pm

      dear palahali,

      thank you. the substance of the post, as i understand, is that no ideology should be thrust on history and its interpretation; right, left or whatever. the plea is for honest projection of events and a balanced interpretation considering all views. i am not pushing for an agenda.

      the other dimension to the issue is teaching history in schools and methods of teaching.

      i would appreciate if you could kindly articulate your views, so that other members may join debate.

      thank you


  6. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    mr. rao
    two questions spring to my mind as i read your and azygos’ pieces:
    one is the age of upanishads. according to some (i am not a professional historian so i cannot quote anyone offhand, but i am sure that i read more than one), upanishads predate the vedas, and upanishads have had their own evolutionary path, quite independent of the vedic influences. more importantly, it was supposed to a king (raja bali) who educated a young brahmin boy who thought that vedas were the end of all knowledge.

    the second pertains to the historian’s right to interpret or engage in some sort of textual exegesis. for instance, given thapar’s background and ideology, she perhaps wants to understand everything (or locate every event of the moment) from a class struggle frame. this need not necessarily be accurate but what we have in indian history is either oral (largely) or interpretation. if so, does she have the right to do this? (not like everyone has the right to free speech but from a professional perspective). what struck me as i scanned (i must confess i did not deeply read azygos’ piece) the pieces was thapar’s similarity to crowds and power (canetti). a monumental work no doubt but leaves you highly skeptical some of his arguments, derivations and ideas. but then, it was in the aftermath of wwii, and everything that culminated in crowds and massses were uncritically accepted i would think. it is perhaps in the same fashion that thapar gained currency. it is entirely possible that there was an exploited class during the gupta regime that allowed the “haves” to live in resplendent luxury. let us not forget the ’50s america as a parallel. but one argument to leads to another, and it culminates in nonsense.

    i think it will be useful if you can comment on and clarify these.
    many years ago, a few of us, after the usual weekly consumption of substances, speculated on the real meaning and the real events behind that great fairy tale red riding hood. a few years later i was to learn that we were not very far from the pastoral origins of this cautionary tale. although i am not sympathetic to thapar, i would like to leave some room for just such an occurence.


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      dear asho5

      thank you for your comments. you have raised a few important issues.


      1. upanishads did not predate samhithas (vedas) as you mentioned. it is the other way. upanishads evolved over a period of hundreds of years centered round the germ ideas contained in the samhithas. the major upanishads number about thirteen. not all of them came into being at one time. they arose over a period in fulfillment of the needs of the time. the total number of upanishads today is about 108. the discussions in intellectual circles are generally with reference to those thirteen major upanishads.

      2. contrary to what you mentioned, the upanishads or its earlier texts never at any time lay claim for discovering the ultimate truth; neither did they prevent anyone from questioning their opinions. on the other hand, they encouraged the seekers to think, contemplate, question and find their own solutions.

      the guidance provided by the rig veda and the texts that followed it, including the upanishads, was never rigid. the framework was suggestive and flexible. they encouraged the seekers to be mature, and independent. that is a very significant feature of the indian scriptures, in sharp contrast to the texts of the other religions.

      for more on this issue please read: enduring values in indian society.

      2. history

      1. the other issue you raised is about interpretation of history. i do not dispute anyone’s right to interpret history. you will appreciate that right brings in it wake a certain responsibility. what is expected of a trained and a reputed historian is honest use of sources, a balanced interpretation of events taking into account the possible views. however, when personal bias clearly colors the tone and “facts” of a work and obviously detracts from its objectivity, it is time to look elsewhere for a lucid, impartial account of history. it is unfortunate that personal politics and ideologies overshadow the historian. . the last thing we need is deliberate distortion of our history already battered from many sides.

      2. take the issue on hand that suggests upanishads did not come about as a philosophical development but as a ploy hatched by kshatrias to cut costs on yagnas (sacrifices). that was a gross misinterpretation of our intellectual heritage. to start with, the kshatrias who performed them as a means for attaining their aspirations never viewed yagnas as an economic activity. she imposed her views on a generation who were totally unconcerned with such ideologies. the marxists/socialists have long discarded the so-called marxist idea she imposed on upanishads. they no longer view all human activities as economic activities; else, how does one explain the acts of a gandhi, a king, and a mother theresa or even of a suicide bomber. she took an out dated and a myopic view of human aspirations and thrust it on a past generation. understanding history is a part of good history. you do not find that understanding here.

      3. about twenty-five female seers mentioned in the rig veda. they were recognized for their merit and wisdom.thapar’s contention is that the rishis recognized the female seers just to make a point. is she suggesting that the rishis were anxious to seek justification and approval from marxists who might appear thousands of years later? she is obviously imposing her prejudice of gender bias on a past generation that had a different worldview and a unique self-perception. a good history interprets the events in the context of its times and in the light of its ethos.

      4. these issues do not stop at mere reading or writing history. they spill into school curriculum, research and further studies and educating our next generation. they eventually involve questions of our identity and valuing cultural conservation.

      5. i appreciate your concern for intellectual freedom and scope for individual interpretation. that freedom has never been questioned or denied. the anxiety arises when someone misinterprets history and uses it as a vehicle to push personal agenda.

      that leads us to the basic question how do we present india in the best light, in a balanced manner. a good history, i reckon , is the judicious combination of the three; the scholarship, the objective methods and an understanding of the ethos of the times that helps the historian to gain a better insight into the past humans and their ways of living, based on evidence and several perspectives.

      6. i did not quite get the point you were making about gupta times. could you kindly articulate them?

      thanks for asking


      ps: please also check the link:what would be the fate of truth if a historian turn’s to be a fiction author?

      • sreenivasaraos

        March 21, 2015 at 1:46 pm

        mr. rao

        thanks for your reply

        as i said, this is what i read, and i do not know how accurate those accounts are.
        wrt guptas, yes, it was confusing but i was referring to the earlier works of the marxist historians who made waves by talking about slavery and misery amidst the regal splendor of the guptas, vijayanagara and so on.

        in any event, i continue to find indian history a problem because so much is left to interpretation, and the authenticated studies take a long time to reach the public domain. (again, i suspect the western history is some sort of self-glorification at this moment, but i am not concerend with them now).


  7. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    dear asoh5

    i agree indian history is a problem.

    the history of the west is , as you said, is in a happier position. it is better documented. chronology is not a huge issue, unlike in indian history. a system of checks and balances is in place where each european country can cross check with its neighbor and put things in perspective( unlike in indian –chinese –burmese histories where it is difficult to plot events on time-line basis). glorification, as you say, comes largely from the fact many were not subject to foreign domination. though the countries interacted well among themselves, they managed to retain their identities because the foreign influx was minimal.

    india ’s story is different. the influx of foreigners continued down the ages. about 500 years b.c.e the greeks, the sakas (scythians) came to india . the persians have of course been a part of the indo-aryan heritage even from the times of the rig veda. in the early centuries before the present era, the kushans from central asia entered through the north-west. in the first century a.d., the spanish jews as also st.thomas, the apostle, reached the malabar coast in south of india . this process continued with the arrival of huns in the fifth century, arabs in the eighth century, and with the mughals who invaded and settled in 15th century. around the same period, portuguese landed on the coast of their home. on the other side of the sub continent, the mongoloid shans entered assam while mongolians inhabited the upper tracts of the north. thereafter the western traders such as the dutch, the french and the british vied with each other to get a foothold in india . eventually the british prevailed not only over its rivals but also over the native indian rulers. the british empire lasted in india for nearly a century thereafter. the continuous influx of foreigners over a long period rendered indian scene complex and colorful.

    it is a multicultural society. there are many dimensions, many perspectives. each segment of the society owes allegiance to its cultural and religious roots. the “history” as publicized is therefore cautious and timid. we have still not been able to arrive at a credible version of our history. writers that please those that matter are treated as good and safe historians, on an ad hoc basis.

    it was nice talking to you.

    please keep talking

  8. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    dear rao sir:

    these are some thoughts that crossed my mind after i made my initial comment.

    1. who can be considered a historian? what are the qualifications required? like a person with a degree in engineering is called an engineer, like a person who has a degree in medicine is called a doctor, is there a similar parameter for study of history? ? are there any precise scientific tools or engineering devices used to measure and plot history on a graph? given that history isn’t a rigorous science, to ask more pointedly, what is it that confers the status of “historian” to people like romila thapar? what is that would make (a lay person like) me an outcaste in academic history circles?
    2. the next question, how is this differentiation between academic and non-academic history established? is such differentiation even relevant or required? how can the powers that be and the puppet strings behind them even sit in judgment as to what is acceptable history (academic) and what is not (non-academic)?

    how long will it be before sanity prevails?

    Melody Queen

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:51 pm

      dear sir:

      after i had commented earlier last week about half-truths and distortions peddled in american textbooks and the futility of studying anything indian in american academia (see links below),

      i had had second thoughts that i might be wrong; that my fears were unfounded; that mine might be a lone insane voice.

      apropos to that, i just chanced upon the latest online copy of outlook india edition dated june 29, 2007. the front-page article is entitled “invading the sacred” by aditi banerjee, running into 10 pages. please follow the links below for more of her article.

      invading the sacred: an analysis of hinduism studies in america

      aditi is the co-author of the book “invading the sacred”

      excerpts from her article:

      “invading the sacred the story of why i became involved with co-editing a book that analyzes the representation of hinduism in american academia and the ensuing and ongoing politics when such representations are challenged both by the indian diaspora as well as by academicians aditi banerjee

      “…however, i then came across prof. david gordon white’s book, kiss of the yogini: tantric sex in its south asian context, in which he remarks that the bindi a hindu woman wears represents a drop of menstrual blood.”

      “…prof. wendy doniger, mircea eliade professor of history and religion, university of chicago; past president of american academy of religion and association for asian studies; award-winning author of numerous books on hinduism:

      “holi, the spring carnival, when members of all castes mingle and let down their hair, sprinkling one another with cascades of red powder and liquid, symbolic of the blood that was probably used in past centuries.” [1]

      “…prof. paul courtright, professor of religion and asian studies and former chair of the department of religion and of asian studies at emory university. [from ganesa: lord of obstacles, lord of beginnings, which won the history of religions award from the american academy of religion:]

      “its (ganesa’s) trunk is the displaced phallus, a caricature of siva’s linga. it poses no threat because it is too large, flaccid, and in the wrong place to be useful for sexual purposes.” [3]

      “…jeffrey kripal, j. newton rayzor professor of religious studies and chair of the department of religious studies at rice university. [from kali’s child, which won the best book award from the american academy of religion and was listed by encyclopedia britannica as its top choice for learning about sri ramakrishna:]

      claims that the mystical experiences of saints like sri ramakrishna and swami vivekananda were the result of sexual abuse and sexual confusion;
      this is what is being taught in institutes of higher learning in the us. i haven’t read the books by these “eminent” people, nor do i intend to. i strongly urge everyone to read aditi banerjee’s article for more details.

      i thought it important to bring this to the attention of interested sulekhites.

      thank you once again for letting me use your blog space.


      Melody Queen

      • sreenivasaraos

        March 21, 2015 at 1:51 pm

        dear melody

        thank you for posting that article by aditi banerjee informative and distressing at the same time. i am aghast that such vast scholastic resources are wasted merely to vilify hinduism. .. (

        some of the concerns that aditi raises in her article find an echo in the present blog and the discussions that followed. it signifies that your fears are not baseless and many others share them.

        following are some observations of aditi banerjee:

        -“why?” why does this coterie of scholars produce work that is academically suspect by their own standards, that insists on sexualizing and sensationalizing the sacred, and that is so at odds with what hindus know to be true about their own traditions? the second question usually is, “why is there such a discrepancy between the american academic treatment of hinduism and that of other religions?”

        -in order to understand the agendas driving forth this ‘sham’ scholarship, we have to understand …it is being used not to criticise some fringe elements of hindu thought or practice but rather to undermine hinduism itself.

        -this school of academicians has constructed a narrative–one, as documented in this book, deployed to affect government policy and mainstream media representations of hinduism–that tells a compelling story to the public and to those in power. this tactic has been used many times over in american, and more generally western, history to demonize minority cultures in order to justify their destruction.

        -we believe that scholarship regarding hinduism deserves special scrutiny and sensitivity….it is not that we eschew honest critiques and evaluations of hinduism. ….we promote debate and dissension but ask that it be an honest and fair debate

        -our critics often accuse us of being chauvinistic, of being apologists seeking to glorify some long lost vedic age that either never existed or can never again be revived. to the contrary, we believe that the genuine study of hinduism is exceptionally relevant to the modern world, and that traditional hindu approaches must be included in any toolbox of cultural solutions addressing the human rights, environmental, conflict resolution and gender discrimination challenges faced by global society today.

        the question: is what next? where do we go from here?

        aditi ends her article on a highly optimistic note. i hope and pray her wish is fulfilled

        -it is my hope that a few years from now, a young woman will sit at her desk, surrounded by shelves full of the dharma shastras, of classical hindu texts on yoga and the various darshanas of hindu philosophy, and of puranas describing our deities and ancient lore in their full glory, and that she will engage with, question, and interpret these texts with fresh eyes. it is my hope that her voice will resound within the walls of the ivory tower alongside other voices; that her perspective will help shape how others view one of the world’s greatest religions; that her insights will contribute to the fount of creativity and compassion from which we leave behind a world more peaceful, prosperous and healthy than the one into which we were born. it is my hope that this book, invading the sacred, will help open up the space and resources for that young woman to explore how the oldest forms of hindu philosophy can pave new ways of thinking; to enable her to engage with other traditions and cultures not through intellectual ‘invasions’ but through constructive purva-paksha. that is the underlying mission of this book, and that is my personal hope, both for that young woman and for us all.

        thanks again


      • sreenivasaraos

        March 21, 2015 at 1:55 pm

        melody queen

        thanks for the details, have read it on the link provided,such issues need specific response from indians who have a fair knowledge on history as well as domain knowledge about how these so called professors operate, they need to be challenged in their own domain.

        srinivas rao : i was unable to place comments on the subject for the past three days, some technical hitch only on your blog space, finally after 30 odd attempts could manage.


  9. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    dear srinivas rao

    history is always written by a successful king, the man commissioned to write , writes the chronicle as per the wishes of the lord of the day. its always to been seen like govt propaganda, unless collaborated by other evidences such as tales written by travelers and documentation by some other writer in a different location who quotes to buttress his write up.

    however, present day historians mostly marxists start with an assumption and build evidence to prove their assumptions and go to any extent by providing selective interpretations from the works of conquerers to write indian history. history and marxism are two different poles, intolerance in marxism to the past is all glaring and shamefully prescribed to us as history for too long.

    the smrithi sampradhaya of ours has no acceptance to our historians , similarly they are ashamed of looking for collaborative evidence through archaeological sites and correct their blunderous proposition.

    one character by name prof rs sarma another marxist, came up on dd program post ramjanama bhoomi – babri issue, and told the shocked audience that aurangzeb was secular king, he destroyed kashi vishwanath temple as a hindu queen was raped by the pandas inside the temple, this queen had gone to pray and she was part of aurangzebs party……

    such an absurd proposition can come from likes of sarma and romilla thapar, both of whom have really nothing to do with history but with their ideology to perpetuate hate in the name of history


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:58 pm

      for maddss123

      dear sir,

      i share your concerns.
      please also read what would be fate of truth if historian turns to be a fiction author?. it describes how the text book writers are selected. it also mentions the worthies referred by you.

      please also see the comments i posted on karigar’s page.

      thank you


  10. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    sri rao,

    detailed analysis as usual. agree with most of what you say.

    regds aditi banerjee’s article in outlook, the context is the publication of a heavyweight academic book to do a proper & authoritative “khandana” of the western position on india.

    i am reading the book & intend to write a review of it soon. it is very impressive so far.

    please read the book’s foreword on my blog:

    invading the sacred-the foreword

    as it says there, the younger generation shouldn’t & won’t be satisfied with accepteing handed down western “truths” shown by aditi (an american born of indian/hindu heritage, who prefers to call herself hindu-american)

    more people need to get critical about “recieved western wisdom…”

    thanks & regards.


  11. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    i am reproducing an e mail received by me

    the asian age, 7 july 2007
    us textbooks stereotype india

    by v. balachandran

    in 1976, asia society, new york, published the results of their survey
    on the treatment of asia in american elementary and secondary school
    textbooks. a team of 103 experts reviewed 306 books used in 50 states.
    the portrayal of india was “the most negative among all asian
    countries” according to prof. arthur rubinoff of the toronto
    university who felt that this was one of the reasons why congressional
    perceptions on india had been negative. john w. mellor, author of
    india, a rising middle power said that us policy towards india was the
    product of similar stereotypes, in which india was portrayed “as
    poverty-stricken and helpless” since american legislators and decision
    makers were subject to the same impressions as the general public. a
    state department (bureau of educational and cultural affairs) study in
    1982 found that “american attitudes about india, more than about any
    other place, focus on disease, death, and illiteracy.”

    since 1990 official and congressional perceptions on india had
    undergone a substantial change. part of the credit for this should go
    to the wealthy and proactive indian american community who are the
    biggest fundraisers for the congressional and presidential candidates.
    the same could be said about american business community as they are
    developing closer business connections.

    however, this positive perception about india and its culture has not
    permeated into the us educational system. yvette c. rosser, well known
    educationist, author, founder of badshah khan peace initiative and co-
    founder of the g.m. syed memorial committee, wrote in teaching south
    asia: an internet journal of pedagogy (winter, 2001): “stereotypes
    about india and hinduism when taught as fact in american classrooms
    may negatively impact students of south asian origin who are
    struggling to work out their identity in a multicultural,
    predominantly anglo-christian environment.” the same conclusions are
    arrived at in a new book, invading the sacred: analysis of hinduism
    studies in america brought out by infinity foundation, a princeton
    based non-profit organisation founded by rajiv malhotra, who defines
    himself as a “non-hindutva hindu.” this book contains 13 brilliant
    essays by different scholars, four of whom, including yvette rosser,
    are of non-indian origin. kalavai venkat, a contributor, is “a
    practising agnostic hindu.”

    several reasons are attributed for this state of affairs. yvette
    rosser while analysing the asia society survey had said in her 2001
    paper that the authors of textbooks on india had the choice of three
    approaches: asia centred approach, progress centred approach and
    western centred approach. seventy-six per cent of the textbooks
    followed the last approach and came to wrong conclusions. she
    comments, “textbook writers often discuss only the western
    contributions to asian life and fail to mention any asian initiative
    and strengths at all.”

    dr s.n. balagangadhara of the ghent university, belgium, who wrote the
    foreword of the present book also felt that the study of india
    occurred during the last 300 years within the “cultural framework of
    america and europe” which gave more prominence to the caste system,
    worshipping “strange and grotesque deities,” discrimination against
    women, widow burning and corruption. the book says, “selective,
    questionable academic research and its conclusions filter into
    american classrooms, textbooks and media.” the book gives many
    examples how these scholars distort india and hinduism. the core of
    the influential americanacademy of religion (aar) has been following
    a traditionally negative approach towards india as chaotic and
    backward, compared to the us business schools who view india as a
    creative, problem solving land of opportunity. “the producers and
    distributors of this specialised knowledge comprise a sort of closed,
    culturally insular cartel, which has disastrous consequences for
    original thinking about india and hinduism.” this attitude will
    adversely affect the ordinary american’s perceptions on indians
    ethnics: “native americans, blacks, jews, gypsies, cubans, mexicans,
    chinese, filipinos, japanese, vietnamese and now iraqis have suffered
    brutalities that were legitimised by depictions of them as primitive/
    exotic, irrational, heathen, savage and dangerous and as lacking in
    human values.”

    the book does not blame the aar alone for this state of affairs.
    “indians themselves have contributed to the problem in significant
    ways.” while american universities have major programmes for studying
    world religions, their indian counterparts do not offer any comparable
    courses resulting in scholarship being confined to “ashrams, mattas,
    jain apasaras and gurudwaras.” those who want to seriously study
    indian religions have to go to american, british or australian
    universities. “even china has recently established numerous well
    funded confucius institutes around the world that teach chinese
    civilisational approaches to human issues on par with western models.”
    the book blames rich indian americans who are merely content with
    building temples “while their cultural portrayal in the educational
    system and in the media has been abandoned to the tender mercies of
    the dominant western traditions.”

    is there a way to tackle this imbroglio? a recent california
    experience has shown that it is possible to reverse the trend with
    hard work. in 2005, christian, hindu, jewish and muslim groups
    complained to the californiastate board of education (sbe) that their
    religions were negatively portrayed in some textbooks. the board was
    in the mood to make the changes proposed by the hindu groups, but
    reversed the stand on the motivated intervention of prof. witzel, a
    harvard sanskrit professor. as a result, the changes made by the sbe
    did not satisfy the hindu groups who chose court action. their suit
    that the textbooks tended to demean and stereotype hindu beliefs and
    practices, opening itself to ridicule was decided partly in their
    favour in 2006. the court held that fair and open process was not
    followed in adopting textbooks to standard vi students and ordered sbe
    to pay part of the costs to the litigants. however, their demand to
    scrap the textbooks was not allowed, although during this year advance
    consultations on the textbooks had begun from march onwards.

    financially strong indian associations should emulate this example. it
    will not be irrelevant to mention here that the american jewish groups
    have been able to wrest fair treatment for their community only by
    aggressive ground action through their anti-defamation league.

    v. balachandran is a former special secretary, cabinet secretariat

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      dear sir:
      the email that you posted makes interesting read. maybe you should format it and post as a separate blog. all the points covered are very valid, particularly the following:

      >>>” while american universities have major programmes for studying
      world religions, their indian counterparts do not offer any comparable
      courses resulting in scholarship being confined to “ashrams, mattas,
      jain apasaras and gurudwaras.” those who want to seriously study
      indian religions have to go to american, british or australian

      – very true; the secular education system that we follow will only let us study doctored history, as borne out by s.l.bhyrappa’s letter from your other post; religious studies is given a go-by because we have to prove we are secular.

      >>>”the book blames rich indian americans who are merely content with
      building temples “while their cultural portrayal in the educational
      system and in the media has been abandoned to the tender mercies of
      the dominant western traditions.”

      >>>”…financially strong indian associations should emulate this example (of collective action). it will not be irrelevant to mention here that the american jewish groups
      have been able to wrest fair treatment for their community only by
      aggressive ground action through their anti-defamation league.

      would be a good way to start with (to set right all the distortions). requires rallying of all like minded people; success shouldn’t be elusive if we display the tremendous amount of unity, patience and perseverance that is required for a cause of this kind.


      Melody Queen

      • sreenivasaraos

        March 21, 2015 at 2:01 pm

        For melody queen

        dear melody

        thank you for the suggestion.

        please visit where do we go from here? for more dicussions on “invading the sacred ” and other issues.


  12. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    this is definitely the best article i read this week.

    since the discussion is long it is difficult to keep the attention but still the message filters through.

    i believe history though not very rewarding as a profession has tremendous impact on personalty building.

    and historians have difficult job.

    they should sometimes serve unpalatable truth but take care that does not lead impressionable mind into negative and destructive thinking.

    may be if some of the bloody details some religious wars were not served in so gory details – many terrorists would not be born.

    it needs fine balance and a impartial mind to be a good historian

    Bijaya Ghosh

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 2:03 pm

      for bijaya ghosh

      dear bijaya

      very happy to see you. you will have a long life. i was just reading your krishnakali. till halfway i was thinking it was about of kali maa and what sri chinmoy wrote about the “black” kali was running at the back of my mind. it was only towards the end it dawned on me that tagore was talking about a delightful, lively and a mischievous village girl. pardon my rustic gullibility. the interesting thing in the poem is the proximity or communication you establish with a distant person. the poet sees the girl , understands her, perhaps better than she does herself, and in a way communicates with her without her realizing it.

      as regards my history, i am glad you read it. it is a bit lengthy because it grew in stages. to start with it was about writing history. then the question of teaching history in schools, selection of the curriculum, teaching methods came along. there were also the problems of indian communities in usa .

      next almost similar issues were brought up in the book “invading the sacred” of course in a broader way and in a professional manner. then we thought we were after all not alone in this issue. the discussions got lengthier. that is why i posted a separate blog where do we go from here? . please read that , in case you find time.

      as raghunath has commented,” we are between the devil and the deep sea. on one extreme we have the so called “secular” experts who fail to the real things that contributed for the development of indian society. they simply intrapolate [opposite of extrapolate!] the present day ideas to the former historical contexts. it lacks simple common sense….. the other extreme is to see everything connected with the past with a kind exhilarated feeling and their emotional and sensitive approach is unreal…….a balanced perspective with no built in prejudice is required for the experts.”

      yet, the question is how we present india in the best light, in a balanced manner.

      the basic question is how to write a good, credible and a balanced history with the judicious combination of the scholarship, the objective methods and an understanding of the ethos of the times , based on evidence viewed from several perspectives.

      we are undecided how to tell our children who we are.

      thanks for reading

      please keep in touch.


  13. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Dear Sreenivasa Rao Sb,

    You wrote, “The reason such epithets are hurled at History is mainly because any one event will have many versions of the truth and it is difficult to judge objectively which version of that “truth” is the truth.”

    As far as I know science, do not believe in absolute truth. For example heat was thought to be a fluid termed “thermic” at one point of time and later heat is stated to be a form of energy! But in both cases there is hardly any malafied intention that is no cooking up or no willful intellectual dishonesty.

    Reconstructing the past with scientific evidences is an uphill task for there will always be some gaps. Then if the historians wear colored glasses lies will seep into as history. Ultimately the lies will be caught and that happened many times in science. Let us move towards ultimate truth. The most dangerous thing is lacing mythology into history.


    DMR Sekhar

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